"Wherefore We must interrupt a silence which it would be criminal to prolong, that We may point out...as they really are, men who are badly disguised." Pope St. Pius X, September 8, 1907, Pascendi Dominici Gregis

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Conversation About Catholicism

Faith is absolutely necessary to existence; the only question is what will you believe in. Even the most rigorous scientist, positivist, or empiricist has faith that his theory that the best way to understand the world (through the scientific method, controlled experiments, and/or observation) is logically sound and that his faculty of logic is to at least a certain extent accurately reflective of phenomena in reality, not to mention that his tools by which he observes the world are not distorted. And even if one is circumspect enough to admit that one's observations are accurate and therefore applicable only to beings that perceive the world in the same manner as you, one must have faith that even this statement is true, as there is no ultimate, indisputable evidence, only massively supportive evidence that this is the case. Is it any surprise then that the scientific method originated and was brought to the pinnacle of its use in cultures heavily influenced by Christendom? But that is for another article.

Thus, I think this recent online conversation concerning Catholicism is instructive. The comments have been slightly modified because of privacy concerns.

Other Person: So what got you so deep into your religion? Was there an ah ha moment? or did it come over time? Convert or be left behind... God really doesn't believe that, does he/she/it?
Actual Anarchy: There wasn't really a zen-like enlightenment "ah ha" moment, just more of a cumulative effect that eventually caught up with me. I was raised a Catholic and went to Catholic school, but that didn't translate into an immediate piousness for me. I was certainly your typical teenager, with many of the same material excesses or superficiality of thought. But there were really two contributing factors that forced me to re-evaluate the value of my faith. Quite ironically, if my Catholic school teachers had actually emphasized these things effectively from the beginning, my Catholicism likely would have stuck.

First, in college I encountered Austrian economics. This particular path to Catholicism applies probably to me and two other people, so it really won't have wide applicability (but you asked!). In short, I studied econ, but wasn't happy with the typical insights provided. In my spare time, I stumbled upon this school of thought and immediately fell in love with it. Truth is beauty is it not? Anyway, as I studied Austrian econ, and it's ability to explain things that other econ theories could not, I delved into the background and reason for this. That led me back to the Doctors of the Church, Thomas Aquinas, Saint Augustine and the scholastic tradition. Heck, if these guys could come up with decent economic theory that can help me make money in the stock market, maybe there was something to this morality thing too?

Second, at approximately the same time, I met a woman I thought I would marry. I didn't think that right away, but as our relationship progressed I came to that conclusion. Avoiding unnecessary details, it didn't work out. That led to a lot of soul searching and in the end, the only answers I could come up with that would ensure things went differently in the future were those presented by the Catholic Church.

In both instances it really was the necessary relationship of cause and effect, or natural law, that led me to see the truth of what the Church teaches. There are a lot of "Catholics" who really don't understand that side of the church, and can end up portraying the Church in a way that does more harm than good. I think, however, if you stick with the eternal, rational truths as taught by the most significant historical teachers of the Catholic Church, you really can't go wrong. "Converting" to the realization of these truths is more important to God, I think, than whether you call yourself a Catholic or not.

Other Person: do you ever question the church? do you ever think that catholicism has a sort of "elitist" tinge to it? are you drawn to any one type (sorry i think there is a better word than type) of Catholic following? ie Jesuit, Marianist, etc?

[At this point, as an aside, I will make a few comments about the questions found immediately above. I have no reason to discourage this person's curiosity, but the way it is expressed is highly indicative. Here is someone that should be able to see from foregoing reply that indeed I am not a slave to Church doctrine, as such, but merely because it has been demonstrated to me through experience to be true. How then can you ask, unless your intentions are less than honest, "do you ever question the church?"   ....With sarcasm apparent, no, the minute I discovered through experience that Catholic doctrine was an accurate reflection of the nature of things I immediately disregarded all past, present and future personal experiences and blindly subjected myself to a ban on the use of my own rational faculties. I am now just a robot totally subject to a doctrine that I cannot even rationalize. Thank you. I mean, c'mon...]

I don't think you can both sincerely and automatically accept what the church teaches. To practice something without understanding its justification is not to practice it at all. It is often those who take what they are taught in religious schools at face value who most misunderstand what traditional scholarship posits.

But if you take the time to understand why moral rules exist and how they are to your benefit, you are more content to let people come and go as they please. Clearly, we are all sentient beings with free will. To some extent at first I rejected Catholic teaching, and it was only in encountering parallel truths through soul-searching elsewhere (in economics, in relationship psychology) that led me to see the necessity of it all.

Also, I accept the doctrines as a whole not on the authority of the Church, except insofar as that authority is based on the Church's recognition of the rational justifications that underlie the bulk of Catholic doctrine. That is to say, basic Catholic morality is rationally coherent. The minute you admit one premise, you admit all the others. And the minute you deny one, you effectively deny the others.

I'm sure you can argue that Catholicism has an elitist tinge to it. Part of this is historical. For centuries the economic situation did not allow much in the way of education for most people, and so the priests would specialize in this. I'm talking, say, 6th century here. That has more to do with the division of labor than elitism, though. I don't think the Catholic church is any more elitist than say the NBA, the NFL, Universities or any other organization that ranks its members and demands excellence in performance.

Not everyone is a St. Augustine, a Thomas Aquinas or a Mother Teresa. To recognize that fact and celebrate accomplishment is neither here nor there. Is nature, in creating the diversity in the first place, also elitist? That's just part of the natural order.

I am most drawn to Spanish Scholasticism, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_of_Salamanca, for their providing of a sound basis for economic theory.

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