Lesson 3- Philosophy And Basic Difference
I hope by now that my listeners understand that philosophy is not the enemy of religion but actually it partner. The Church has always taught that theology and philosophy were sisters because theology was the study of God and philosophy was the pursuit of Wisdom. As I have already mentioned, Jesus, according to the teachings of the Church is Wisdom and, thus, it logically follows, that to pursue Wisdom is to pursue Jesus.
Unfortunately, many Catholics are either ignorant or very ill informed of the treasury of Wisdom, which is contained in the Church. Throughout most of the history of the Western world from the time of the collapse of the Roman Empire in 476 A.D. and through the center Ages, the great Western philosophers were Christians and their philosophical pursuits were Christ-centered. Most of us have heard about St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas who were two of the greatest but there were many, many more who added to the total treasury of which the Church is the guardian.
At eighteen, following my "born again" experience, I toyed with the idea of leaving the Church to join some fundamentalist Protestant congregation but it was the philosophical treasury of the Church that at convinced me to stay. The Protestants emphasized how we could know God though faith, while the Church said that we could know Him through faith and reason and, as a person who enjoys being intellectually alive, I did not want to surrender my power of reason to a blind faith that never asked the deeper questions associated with my beliefs. I didn't want to just believe in the Trinity, I wanted to try to understand it to whatever degree my feeble human mind was able. I discovered that the great philosophers of the Church had the same desire and that they wrote eloquently about their search. They understood that reason was incapable of fully understanding the mysteries of God, but that didn't deter them from pursuing the questions. They described the relationship of faith to the mind and reason by saying that "faith is to the mind what the telescope is to the eye." In other words, just as the telescope allows the eye to see farther than its natural ability permits, so faith allows the mind to know more than its natural reasoning powers could understand. I suspect that God, like any other person, wants us to know and understand Him and that He welcomes our questions.
Therefore, these talks are going to explore the mysteries of faith with the power of reason. That is why my course, as it was taught on the senior high school level, was called Logic and Psychology. It attempted to take ideas and concepts that we all say we believe and see what logical conclusion might be further drawn from them in the light of new knowledge. Before I begin my first analysis, let me review some of the articles of faith that we, as Christians, believe to be true and, later, we will use these premises of faith to draw further conclusions and deeper insights.
First, since our basic belief system comes from the Old Testament and the Jews, we believe, as they did, that God is the Super Rational Beings who created the universe.
We believe in a Trinitarian God because, even though the Jews never identified God as a Trinity, the Old Testament speaks of God the Creator who used His Wisdom as the craftsmen to build the universe and His Spirit to renew it. It wasn't until the revelations made by Jesus in the New Testament that we began to understand that, although there was only one God, there were three distinct persons in Him. The Trinity is one of the deepest mysteries of the Christian faith and it set it apart from the other religions that either believe in many gods, such as the Hindus, or in just one God, such as the Jews and Muslims. As Christians, we believe that there is something paradoxical about God in that he can be one and many at the same time. We believe and claim it, not because we understand it, but because it was revealed to us by Jesus.
Next, we believe that God is using history to unfold a plan that He conceived from the beginning of time leading Humankind towards a Kingdom of God on earth in which, according to the Old Testament prophets, "the lion will lay down with he lamb; justice and peace will kiss; and men will take their weapons or war and beat them into tools for farming." In other words, because of this vision, we are incurable utopians who believe that the world is progressing towards a perfect society called the Kingdom of God. We repeat and remind ourselves of this vision every time we recite the Our Father which says, "Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
Furthermore, we believe that this Super Rational Being, called God, through His Wisdom, created things with a purpose in mind and when we do things according to His will or purpose we support His plan and move the creation that much closer to its final goal. However, when we oppose His will by substituting our own wills and purposes for His, we "miss the target" or "sin" and delay that much longer the coming of His Kingdom. In fact, the word sin, as used in the New Testament, comes from a Greek word that means to "miss the target."
We also believe that God, according to the Jewish Old Testament, made human beings in His own "image and likeness" and, that in some intimate and mysterious way we share in the very nature of God. As the Scriptures say, God made us higher than the animals and a little less than the angels. Since God is a Rational Spirit and has no body, then our resemblance cannot be in our physical body, thus we believe that it must be our rational mind that resembles God.
We believe that God established laws, such as the Ten Commandments, in the Old Testament to guide the human race in right behavior. However, these laws proved to be inadequate because even when they did succeed, they only changed behavior not the attitudes that lay behind the behavior. Thus, Jesus informed us that even the man who lusted after a woman in his heart had already committed adultery even though he never acted on it. It was attitude, not just behavior, which God wanted to change. Thus, even when the people followed the law, it was an imperfect solution because it was based on fear and punishment not on rational understanding. Thus God is always yearning not so much for a change in behavior as in a change in heart because this would change the attitudes that lay behind the behavior. One can hear God's frustration with the law when, in the Old Testament, He complains that the Jewish people are like slaves or hirelings who as long as He threatens to whip them or promises to pay them, they will work in His fields. However, as soon as He turns His back, they sit down under a shady tree and fall asleep. How He yearned for a creature that would do His will without any threat of punishment or promise of pay. How He wished for sons and daughters who understood and took a sincere interest in His plan and willingly obeyed
We believe that God's disappointment with the Old Testament, which was based on law, led to the creation of the New Testament based on grace. Thus St. John in his Gospel says, the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."
Most importantly, we believe that God took His Wisdom, which created the laws that govern the universe, and, with the permission of a young Jewish girl named Mary, allowed Him to take on flesh so that He might show us the way to salvation.
We believe that when He came into the world that it was enveloped in Darkness and sin and that He was a Light that shone in that darkness.
We believe that He came to save us, not to condemn us because, since we were already living in Darkness, we were already condemned.
We believe that the salvation that He promised was the "fullness of life", which, by implication meant that most human beings were living unfulfilled lives and didn't know it.
We believe that through His passion, death, and resurrection that, in some mysterious way known totally only by God, He released graces that continue to this day to flood down upon the earth changing the hearts and minds of all who are open to receive them.
We believe that these graces have the power of transforming our basic human nature so that we go through an experience that is like "being born again", not, as St. John says in his gospel, "by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man's decision but of God."
We believe that when we go through this experience, our hearts are changed and by sharing in the Spirit of Jesus, we become adopted sons and daughters of God, who no longer work out of fear of punishment or promise of pay but, rather, out of love for our Father and His Plan for creation.
We believe that, as His adopted sons and daughters, we have an obligation to spend our lives building His Kingdom on earth by inviting others to join us through their own personal conversion to the Gospel and by impacting the world through our good example.
We believe that by living the principles of God's Kingdom in our own lives that we will shape and train our hearts to receive that Kingdom when we die.
I could probably go on with things that we believe but I think that these pretty much summarize what are the basic beliefs of a Christian.
Now every one of these statements of beliefs is what is known in logic as a premise. A premise is something that is assumed or believed to be true and once its truth is accepted, logic can use it to lead us to further conclusions that logically flow from it. For example, if it is true that God is a rational being and it is also true that because I am a rational being I am made in His image and likeness, then it logically follows that if I know what makes Him a rational being, I would also know what makes me a rational being or if I know what makes me a rational being, then I would also know what makes God a rational being.
Thus logic is a powerful mental tool for mining new truths and insights from existing truths and insights. As long as the premises that I base it upon are true, then the conclusions which are logically drawn from those premises ought to be true. However, if my premises are not true, then I can't be sure that any conclusions drawn from them are true. For example, If God is not a rational being and I am, or if I am not really made in the image and likeness of God then knowing God wouldn't necessarily help me to know myself or knowing myself would not necessarily help me to know God. Think about it!
So now that we know how logic works, let explore some philosophical questions to see where they lead us.
Many years ago, as a guest on Dom Latteri's show, I mentioned our animal nature and within minutes I received a call from a listener who challenged me to tell him where in the Bible it says that we have an animal nature. He sounded like a Bible toting and Bible quoting evangelical who, opposing any reference that might be interpreted as suggesting that human beings might have evolved from some lower form of animal, became very upset by any reference to a possible connection between animals and humans. Like most Catholics, I wasn't very good at quoting chapter and verse from the Bible although I had a good sense of what was in it, and I knew that there were either explicit or implicit references in the Bible to our lower appetites that were connected to the animal world. Catholic philosophy is full of references to them using terms like concupiscence and irascible to distinguish between various appetites.
It surprised me that anyone would doubt that we shared, at least in part, some aspects of animal nature. We have similar organs and hormones and many of our biological functions operate according to the same principles as theirs. Male and female hormones are the driving force behind their sexuality and the same is true for us. However, at the same time, it is also true that there are some essential difference between them and us. In fact, while attending LaSalleCollege, one of the issues addressed in a philosophy class was "what was the basic or essential difference between animals and human beings?"
This particular issue became the basis for my Logic/Psychology class because it provided a macro background for the units that I wanted to teach. Let me explain. After years of teaching, it became apparent that most students, even those who scored in the 90's on a test, would not even be able to pass the same test two weeks later. In other words, whatever they learned went to their short-term memory and little, if any, ever became part of their long-term memory. That's because teaching just facts is like trying to hang Christmas ball without a tree. As soon as you release the ball, it goes smashing to the ground. However, once you have a structure such as the tree, then there is a place to hang them where they will remain in place. The same is true with memory. There are things that you'll never forget and other things that "go in one ear and out the other."
The difference seems to be that those things that we integrate into our basic philosophy or macro picture of reality, become part of our long term memory while those things that we do not integrate make a minor impact on our memory. Therefore, educators have stressed the importance of teaching student macro or meta concepts, which relate to the student's Big Picture of life, rather than just facts, that have no relationship to that Big Picture.
I can testify to the effectiveness of this strategy because I have had students come back to me after ten years and tell me that they can't forget the things that they learned in my class. Whatever I taught them became a part of their total life view.
Therefore, every year when I begin a class, I always begin by asking the question "what is the basic difference between animals and human beings" and I continue to build on that theme throughout the remainder of the course.
What do you think? What is the basic difference between animals and human beings? Well, Catholic philosophy says that the basic difference is that animals have arational or no reflective minds and human beings have rational, reflective minds. Another way of putting this is that "animals are not made in the image and likeness of God and human beings, because they have rational minds, are made in His image and likeness.
Well, what is the difference between an arational, non-reflective mind and a rational, reflective one? The basic difference is that an arational, non-reflective mind is unable to make judgments about it own thoughts. Another way of saying this is that they have a non-dialectical mind because it doesn't dialogue or talk with itself. Therefore, it tends to act impulsively without any rational check on its behavior. We have all had the experience of crazy impulsive thoughts intruding into our consciousness uninvited. The example that I use with my students goes something like this.
"Were you ever on a crowded subway platform during the rush hour and, as the train started to pull into the station, a impulsive thought entered you mind which said `I wonder what that man's face would look like if I pushed him off the platform?" You'd be surprise how many students begin to nod "Yes!"
Fortunately, most of us act like rational beings and we our mind dialogue, evaluate and reflects on the impulse and we realize that it's a crazy idea and should be rejected. Animals, according to the philosophers, don't possess this ability to look objectively at their own thought processes and therefore are slaves to their passions and impulses. In other words, they don't dialogue with themselves.
Of course, there are unsocialized human beings who also seem to lack this capacity. One picks up the paper and reads that two men are shoveling snow and one, disturbed because the other threw snow on his truck, draws a gun and kills him. Two lives are ruined by an impulsive act that didn't consider the logical consequences: one is dead and the other will go to jail.
Or a young woman and her small child, in a car with another woman and her child, are being pursued by her boyfriend, who is the father of her child. She pulls up to a railroad crossing which has its warning lights blinking and bells ringing. He pulls up behind her and, just before the train crosses the intersection, he steps on the gas and pushes her car in front of the train. Four people die: two mothers and their children and the perpetrator, who was unable to control his impulses, will go to jail. The jails are full of people who don't know how to control their impulses and to the extent that they fail to do this, we say that they act like animals.
Most children, like animals, are impulsive. They act first and think afterwards. That is why adults spend so much time controlling their behavior. They just don't think about the logical consequences of their behavior and this makes them a danger to themselves and to others. In fact, we might generalize by saying that the younger and less mature we are, the more impulsive we are.
A second characteristic of the animal mind is that it tends to be hedonistic. In fact, we might refer to hedonism as animal logic because it seems to be the primary motivation upon which animal behavior is based. Hedonism is a philosophy that says, "whatever gives me pleasure is good and whatever gives me pain is bad." If you want an animal to do something, don't waste your time with a rational explanation. He won't understand that. Instead, either reward him for doing it or punish him to deter him from doing it. Once again, we observe the similarity to human children. Every parent wishes that they could reason with their children but, unfortunately, they often discover that "reward and punishment" are more effective, especially when the child is still young. Hopefully, as he grows older, rational understanding will replace hedonistic bribery. When my son, Joe, was just a toddler and was first learning to control his bowels, we would cheer and give him a reward every time he used the potty. After awhile, we had to teach him that using the potty was better than messy his pants. Could you imagine a thirty five year old man who needed people to cheer and give him a reward every time he used the toilet?
Is it beginning to dawn on you that what I am describing is not only our relationship to our children but also God's relationship with us? Why are we good? Because, like the children, if we are good, God will reward us with heaven, and if we are bad he will punish us with hell. Well, what would happen if God removed heaven and hell from the equation? Why, we would be bad. Maybe the reason that Theresa of Avila is a saint is because she reached a level of spiritual maturity where she was able to say, "Even if there were no heaven, I would still love and serve you; and even if there were no hell, I would still fear the loss of You." At this point, God must have said, "Somebody finally got it!" just as we said when Joey stopped messing his pants without a scolding from us and started to use the potty without any reward. Which raises an interesting question? How many of us are still just immature Christians who, like Muslim men looking forward to the 40 virgins awaiting them in heaven, are serving God for the reward of heaven or out of fear for the punishment of hell.
Now do you understand why God was dissatisfied with the Law of the Old Testament? It was based on the hedonistic principles of reward and punishment that is the way that you have to deal with animals, young children and arational beings. But God wanted a creature made in his own image, one who would act on rational principles without any need of bribes and threats. He wanted one who would do His will even when the consequences were pain and suffering; even if it meant crucifixion and death. That is why in the Old Testament he complains that the Hebrews are like hirelings, who work for wages, and slaves, whom you have to whip.
The Bible says in Romans 8:7-8 " the mind of the flesh is at enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be: and they that are in the flesh cannot please God. " Why not? Because even when it does the right thing, it does it for the wrong reason. In John I it says "and the Light shone in the Darkness and the Darkness could not grasp it." Consider the same quote if I just add or change a few words. , " and the Light of Understanding or Wisdom shone in the Mental Darkness, and those in Mental Darkness could not understand it."
Thus, animals and our animal nature, which is in our flesh, are arational, impulsive, hedonistic. In addition, they are amoral not immoral. When the prefix "a" is placed in front of certain words, it means "not or without." For example, arational means without rational thought, amusement means, "Without thought because "muse" means to think." Asexual mean to reproduce without sex, and atheist means without God. This being the case, it should be clear that amoral means without morality.
Animals and young children, the philosophers and theologians tell us cannot sin because they are amoral. This means that they don't even consider the "rightness or wrongness" of an act. Rather they consider the "pleasure or pain." This could imply that they didn't eat from the "Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil" because, according to the Bible, Adam and Eve were morally innocent until they ate from this tree. It appears that there is some connection between "knowledge" and "moral guilt." The Church teaches that you can't sin until you reach the Age of Reason, which some say is about the age of seven. Notice this does not mean that children under seven don't sin because we all know that they do many things that, objectively speaking, are sinful. Then their innocence is the innocence of ignorance. Even though they may sin, they are not morally responsible until they attain the age where they have the "knowledge of good and evil."
The same is true of animals. They can't sin even though they do many things that, from a human perspective, are sinful. They steal, fight, fornicate, commit incest and a host of other moral infractions but no one holds them legally or morally accountable. They are declared innocent for lack of knowledge. However, a major difference between them and us is that they will remain arational and will never attain the "knowledge of good and evil."
Now if sin means to "miss the target of rational behavior", which it does; and if acting irrationally leads to irrational consequences, which it does; and if irrational consequences create chaos in our lives, which it does, then it logically follows that whether we have the knowledge of good and evil or not, we will still suffer the irrational consequences when we sin. Thus, amoral beings are excused from the moral guilt but not the logical consequences.
Listen to Proverbs I on this issue: Wisdom calls aloud in the street, ... "How long will you simple ones love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge? If you had responded to my rebuke, I would have poured out my heart to you and made my thoughts known to you. But since you rejected me when I called and no one gave heed when I stretched out my hand, since you ignored all my advice and would not accept my rebuke, when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you. "Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me. Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the LORD, since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes. For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm."
Notice, since Jesus is the Wisdom of the Old Testament, that this is Jesus speaking and He is not saying that God will punish their bad behavior. Rather, He is telling them that they will reap the consequences of their foolish acts. If anything, Wisdom is trying to save them from their own stupidity but they won't listen and when they finally are willing to listen, it is too late because the consequences are already upon them. St. John asks, "Why does God condemn man?" and he answers, "Because the Light came into the world and men loved darkness."
The logical conclusion is obvious. We go to hell for being stupid, not for being bad. We are all bad because we sin. But those who follow Wisdom learn from their mistakes or the mistakes of others and repent and reform. Stupid people keep on repeating the same behavior while expecting different results. Wisdom, or Jesus, saves us from the punishment for our sins by saving from the "doing of our sins" because the only punishment for sin is the logical consequences that flow from stupid behavior. Well, I see that my time is up. Here's Dom.