Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

27 February 2007

Falling off the face of the earth

So I've fallen off the face of the blogosphere of late. I've been much busier the past few weeks than I anticipated. I'll try to do better.

Teaching at La Salette has been a blast, particularly the pre-schoolers. Three year olds will say just about anything. Very little 'teaching' gets done with these kids but I'm always amused when I leave and hopefully the kids are too. There's something incredibly transparent and authentic about little kids that we lose somewhere along the way. The kids are so wonderfully concrete about everything. As one who thinks of the world as a series of abstractions, these little ones offer a refreshing re-grounding. Happy, sad, fair, unfair, trust, disinterest are all immediate and without guile or deception. The fifth graders are fun too. Even with them, I do more entertaining than teaching.

In other news, apparently Jesus's tomb was found on the Titanic and is sinking. I do try to maintain an open mind about most things however I'm extremely skeptical about this new Cameron documentary. The Discovery Channel web site about the program is pretty snazzy but I fail to see the great revelation in all this. Mitochondrial DNA evidence doesn't really say much. All of the names individually are common. If Jesus was to have a family tomb it would almost certainly be Galilee not Jerusalem. The most compelling part of the whole thing are the statistics they present regarding the likelihood of the names occurring in one tomb. I'm certainly no statistician, archaeologist, historian, or biblical scholar, but from what I've read so far from people that are these things, the data on which the Discovery Channel statistics are based is bad. In any case this will likely become more clear in the coming weeks as more scholars weigh in on the subject. If it turns out the documentary is right, I guess I'll convert to Mammon.

It seems that every Lent someone new publishes the definitive report about the "Real Jesus". Anthony Sacramone wrote a fun article in First Things about the various "Real Jesus's" proposed over the years.


14 February 2007

Snow Day

Today the boys and girls of La Sallette Elementary School were treated to a snow day. This is my first time experiencing a snow day as a teacher rather than a student. It's just as sweet.

12 February 2007

Fides et Ratio

"If there is a God, it's going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed." -Richard Dawkins, Oxford Professor and noted atheist

"Anyone who says he knows God has a depraved spirit." -Basil the Great, bishop and saint (emphasis mine)

I've been reading with a great deal of interest the recent flurry of books and articles on atheism centered primarily around three figures: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris. All three consider supernatural belief to be irrational and at least Dawkins and Harris also consider it to be wantonly destructive. They base their conclusions on what they consider to be solid scientific grounds. As a fervent Roman Catholic and an avid supporter of scientific endeavor these challenges to religion have captured my attention.

As a general rule it's important to understand the thought of intelligent people who disagree with you. Simply seeking out other people who mirror your own world view is utterly stifling both personally and intellectually--diverse opinions help purify thought.

I've had a deep and abiding interest in science for as long as I can recall. When I was younger I eagerly anticipated the arrival of each month's issue of Scientific American. When most kids were watching cartoons I watched Nova on PBS. In fact my interest in science predates my interest in philosophy and religion. I remember learning the basics of Freud with Dad before I knew about the Last Supper, third or fourth grade as I recall. Until high school I was nominally religious at best. My interest in religion came in part from reading Stephen Hawkings' Brief History of Time; I was precocious enough to attempt it in eighth grade. The concepts fascinated me but at the same time left me unsatisfied. Was the Big Bang really it? What was before that? Why was there are Big Bang in the first place? Why is the universe this way and not some other way? Did I simply have to accept the universe as one big brute fact with nothing underlying it? I was, for the first time, confronted with metaphysical questions. It was at this point I took an interest in philosophy and theology which seemed to address these really big questions. Though I've never lost my interest in science and have always put a great deal of trust in what science teaches. Thus any hint of conflict between science and faith troubles me.

As a person devoting his life to religion it is important to understand critiques of my deeply held beliefs. I cannot simply dismiss them as incorrect without openly and honestly looking at the arguments to do so would be both intellectually dishonest and contrary to my commitment to truth demanded by authentic Christian faith. If the atheists' critiques turn out to be true I'll have to make some fundamental life changes. If they turn out to be false, my faith and reason will be strengthened by the challenge of encountering the arguments.

I've already spent a good deal of energy investigating this question and since I'm writing from a Jesuit novitiate you can guess at my provisional answer. Still it is just that a provisional answer. To be truly open to the world (and God) one must be open to change. Ultimate questions are never totally nor finally answered while we still draw breath.

I approach this topic with a trust in the unity of truth. Reason properly executed cannot conflict with true faith. True faith is completely compatible with though very different from proper reason. Both modes of coming to truth must respect the integrity of their distinct methods. It does little good to twist faith to conform to science nor science to faith. If both are true they will be complementary without distortion. God, if my suspicions are correct, is the author of both.

I hope to discuss some of the arguments I've come across in the coming weeks. In addition to reading some of atheism's more recent exponents, I've also taken a look at some historic examples such as Comte, Freud, Russel, Camus, Feuerbach, Marx, and Nietzsche (my second favorite philosopher). Though I plan on discussing the issues thematically rather than by thinker.

For the moment, I want to end this post with the two quotes I began it with. It seems that Basil the Great, Richard Dawkins, and I are in agreement about at least one thing. God is far beyond anything we mere mortals can understand. No philosopher, theologian, or scientist has ever come close to figuring out God. God is deeply mysterious. By definition (albeit an inadequate one) an infinite creator God is well above mere finite mortals. Theologians such as Karl Rahner claim that even in heaven God is incomprehensible. As a person of faith, I do not consider God to be strictly provable. Nature could suggest something beyond itself. In order to prove God one needs to know what precisely one is proving. How can one definitely prove or for that matter disprove a being whose ways are supposed to be inscrutable? Augustine of Hippo put it well: "Si Comprendisti, non est Deus" (If you understand it, it's not God).

10 February 2007

Back in Berkley

I'm back at Loyola House after completing the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius in Gloucester. The Exercises were striking and not at all what I expected. The whole process struck me as remarkably free and organic. It was a spiritual unfolding from within rather than an imposition of method and belief from without. I felt as though my fundamental understanding of myself, other people, the universe, and God have been substantially changed; static images have been replaced by dynamic engagements. My old synthesis of life fell apart; the universe and its creator refused to submit to my constructs. I must learn to live in the presence of a deep, abiding, and living mystery. The Exercises seem not to be a singular event but the beginning of an unfolding and dynamic process. The experience is still too fresh to articulate in a meaningful way. I can say having my fundamental assumptions about life challenged and ultimately found wanting was very difficult but the consolation of seeing the world with new eyes is greater still.

I have many people to thank for making my retreat possible: The staff at Gonzaga Retreat House for hosting the retreat; my brother novices at the Syracuse novitiate for hosting us on our way to and from Gloucester; Special thanks go to my spiritual director Fr. Dave De Marco, SJ for his wisdom and insight in guiding my retreat and just in general.

Next up is teaching at Our Lady of La Salette Elementary School. Guess who's "teaching" pre-schoolers. This should be highly amusing.