Category Archives: apologetics

Is God a Cosmic Sadist?

Question: “Why would a loving God send people to Hell?”
Answer: People choose Hell over God.
Question: “Why would anyone choose Hell over God?”
Answer: Because they’ve spent their lives preparing themselves to make that choice.”
Question: “How could a Christian make that choice?
Answer: By formulating and clinging to a false notion of God that makes us recoil when we see the reality, or by allowing ourselves to be so attached to sin that we don’t want to be relieved of the attachment even in Purgatory.
Question: “Well, why did God make it so hard.  Doesn’t that make Him some kind of Cosmic Sadist who just wants to torture us?”
Answer: That’s a mystery.  The Old Testament basically says that’s what God is, at least from our perspective, and we just have to accept it because He’s God and we’re not.  New Testament atonement theology doesn’t help much, and there are many interpretations that try to get us out of that trap.

The simple answer is love, and the personalism of St. John Paul II.  Yes, God could have made us differently than He did. He could have made the angels differently than He did.  Maybe He has made other life-forms that are different–He certainly seems to love diversity and possibility.  But the fact is, He made us, and He made us such that, just as each specific kind of plant or animal needs certain nutrients and environmental factors to thrive, so people function to our fullest potential when we live according to God’s design and intention for us.


The New Testament tells us over and over that God has “imprisoned all in disobedience” that He might show Mercy to all, that He prizes the sheep who stray and come back more highly, and so on.  Again, it might seem like a weird way to set things up, but the more we understand it as a relationship of love, the more sense it makes.

To be free to love we must be free to reject, and I believe strongly that Christ gives us the freedom to reject Him. I believe that we have to pray to Christ to shape our understanding and our will to accept Him, just as spouses must both try themselves and pray for the grace to improve ourselves to be better people and to love our spouses for who they are, not who they want them to be.

I believe we set ourselves up for rejecting Christ when we form images of Him that conflict with Who He really is and refuse to allow those images to grow. In marriage, we start off with an idealized Other whom we love. As we grow, we realize the Other doesn’t always match that Ideal. The Ideal gives way to the Real, we try to make ourselves more like the Other’s Ideal, and one day hope that we will be together, perfected, in Heaven, where the truly Ideal and the truly Real meet.
The same is true of our relationships with Christ, but the difference is that He is unchanging.  We are mutable and weak, and blessed with the gifts of ignorance and unknowing that He gave us to give us the opportunity to grow.  However, we start with an “ideal” of Christ that we tend to cling to.  If we take our mistaken view of Christ, whatever its basis, without trying to grow in our understanding, we end up like Javert, confronted with the reality of Christ and too proud to admit we were wrong.
In this sense, the ancient Christian tradition, reflected in both Catholic and Orthodox sources, tells us that it might sometimes be easier for a pagan or an atheist who has gone through life with an attitude of sincerely seeking God, to embrace Jesus when she meets Him than for a self-proclaimed Christian who is too self-confident to admit being wrong.
This is also why we must caution ourselves against the extreme of presumption–we use the rather extreme example of someone who has lived a life of erstwhile holiness potentially “snapping” and committing a murder-suicide, but the far more realistic example is that we are too attached to *something* to let it go for Christ when called to do so.
Paradoxically, one of those attachments can itself be scrupulosity.  We can often be the worst Javert’s to ourselves–indeed, in the book, Javert resigns his position, writes a confession, and commits suicide because he has broken the Law by not arresting Valjean on sight.  He cannot forgive himself for being forgiving–the ultimate paradox of the damned.
The possibility of damnation does not make God a Cosmic Sadist–though, as C. S. Lewis, St. Francis de Sales and the Book of Job all tell us, even if God *is* a Cosmic Sadist, we don’t have any choice in the matter so we might as well play by His rules.
At judgement, we put God in the Dock, as Lewis says–we judge Him.  We say, “I can’t accept Your Mercy,” or “I can’t accept Your Justice,” or both.  In Lewis’s Great Divorce, souls are first tempted — not with the more obvious ones but tests of pride, impatience, etc.–and then greeted by Saints they have the biggest grudges against.  This is similar to the Orthodox theory of the “toll booths”—that personal judgement is a journey, where we must stop and confront different temptations that plagued us in life, and if we don’t built up the resistance to them now, we won’t be able to resist them then.  As well as the tollbooths, like in Lewis’s story, the soul is called to both by the Damned and the Saved, and if the soul has kept bad company in this life, she will be drawn to the appeal of the Damned to join them.
It’s like the joke about the millionaire who is told he can decide between Heaven and Hell and after seeing Heaven, he is taken to Hell for his three day preview.  He spends three days at a luxury resort, with every pleasure imaginable, and all his friends and family are having a big party.  So he decides that Hell has been misrepresented and tells the angel he wants to stay in Hell.  He finds himself in torment, with his friends and family chained nearby, cursing him and each other, and the handsome concierge now revealed as Satan, and he asks what happened.  “That was sales pitch.  You purchased.”
The other mistake we can make with every conception of judgement, even the “tollbooths,” is that we think, “Christ forgives everyone.  He will forgive me.”  We presume that we haven’t bought into Satan’s sales pitch.  We presume we will be able to withstand any temptation in our final journey or that we won’t find ourselves agreeing with all the celebrities and internet combox atheists who say that they’d rather be in Hell because all the interesting people are there.
We have to shape our minds, our lives, our desires to make God, as He has revealed Himself to be, desirable to us, and to recognize when the World is trying to make us think differently of Him.

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Vegetables and Grace

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Grace is received according to the mode of the receiver.

So are vegetables.

Some people naturally love vegetables. Most people don’t.

Most people love a few particular vegetables. For me, my favorites are broccoli and spinach, which I’d eat an entire package of on my own if I could but I take Coumadin so I’m only allowed to eat small amounts of them. Ironically, a few months ago I ate a whole bag of broccoli by myself and sent myself to the ER with a clot.

If we don’t have any desire to eat vegetables, we need to have our desires adjusted before we can eat them.

If we grow up eating vegetables, it is easier to love them as an adult. Often, if we grow up eating both, or having our vegetables coated in twinkies, as someone recently suggested, then we are really being taught that vegetables are not desirable.

If we have a desire to eat vegetables but a greater desire to eat junk food, we might eat *some* vegetables but not all the vegetables that are being served to us because we spoiled our dinner by filling up on junk food.

If we fill up completely on junk food, we have no room for vegetables.

So it is with grace.

Our Father in Heaven is offering us a smorgasbord of spiritual vegetables. Our Lady of Victory told St. Catherine Laboure that the precious stones falling from her hands on the Miraculous Medal–the stones which Mel Gibson symbolically has her casting to the earth in The Passion of the Christ, are the graces that go to waste because people aren’t willing to receive them.

Original sin and concupiscence are such that most of us are disinclined to accept His Grace.

Some people are born more naturally receptive to grace.

Some people are born with an inclination to particular graces from God, rather than having a well-balanced spiritual diet, gorge themselves on one kind of grace to the detriment of their overall spiritual life (such as a preference for Scripture or a particular devotion, a scrupulous devotion to COnfession, fasting excessively, doing charitable works without prayer, etc.).

Some people are raised in holy homes and taught to shun the world.

Some people are raised by holy parents who try to teach them the right way, but the enemy sows his seeds of spiritual junk food anyway, and the parents themselves don’t realize the subtle ways they’re teaching that God is second in their lives or that faith is not desirable in itself.

Most people don’t even try to accept God’s grace, and if they try, they get their souls so full of sin that they can’t, and they need to get that out of their systems, one way or the other, before they can take in the graces God is trying to offer them.

The Four Questions 99% of Protestants can’t answer

After a few discussions in the past 24 hours, I am revisiting the Socratic questions that always seem to stymie our separated brethren.

Preface: St. Paul tells us to hold fast to all the Apostle’s teachings, whether by “letter” or “word of mouth” (2 Thess 2:15). Our Lord speaks of the Church having the power to Loose and Bind (Matthew 16:18-19) and frequently speaks of giving us a Church but never speaks of Scriptures as anything other than the Hebrew Scriptures. St. John tells us Jesus said and did many other things that are not recorded in the Bible (21:25). St Peter says that nothing in Scripture is personal interpretation but is to be guided by the Church (2 Peter 1:18-21).
1) So where, in Scripture, is Sola Scriptura? The usual response is some verse about how important Scripture is, but never one that proves it is *exclusive*.
2) Where does the Bible say one must specifically have not just a general foundation for an idea but a specific chapter and verse citation? (Answer, nowhere, since chapters and verses were a Medieval addition and aren’t even consistent among Medieval texts)
3) If one truly believes in “sola Scriptura,” why quote any books or ministers? Is it not really just picking and choosing the Tradition one prefers and calling it Scriptural?
4) Last, but not least, if you are opposed to “secular knowledge,” “images,” etc., what are you doing on the Internet?

On “Belief” and “Believing”

“It’s that time of year . . . ”
If you tell me you’re going to go win a marathon, and I say, “I believe in you,” what am I saying?
Am I saying, “Yes, I do believe you’re real.  You go on existing”?
Or am I saying, “I have confidence that you can achieve this difficult feat”?

Why do we do the same with God?

Scripture takes for granted that God exists.  Belief in God is, rather, about confidence that He would do what He says.

This problem is compounded by the “Santa Claus” question.  My kids were smarter than I was.  They could tell from all the disparate accounts–even in Rankin and Bass specials–that something was amiss in the pop culture narrative.  My wife always worried about people who equate “belief in God” with “belief in Santa,” so we told them the truth from the beginning: St. Nicholas is a real person who lived on earth, and performed many acts of charity and many miracles in his earthly and heavenly lives.

He saved three girls who were going to be sold into slavery by tossing three bags of money into their home at night to pay off their father’s debts.  For this, he is the patron saint of pawnbrokers (the pawn broker symbol is the three bags of coins from St. Nicholas).

He is said to have miraculously flown to a sinking ship.  Thus he is associated with flight and is a patron of sailors.

In the middle ages, people would commemorate his feast by anonymously giving to the poor and saying the gifts were from St. Nicholas.

Ironically, Protestants who thought devotion to Saints was “too pagan” changed it to the Christ Child bringing gifts of Christmas (Krist Kinder, or Kris Kringle), or else the very pagan figure of Father Christmas, all of which got merged in the US to the figure of “Santa Claus,” greed and commercialism personified in the guise of generosity.

Contrary to Peter Pan, simply insisting you believe doesn’t make something happen-that’s Gnosticism. Something is either real, or it isn’t.  You can “believe” the Earth is flat, or that the moon is made of green cheese.  Insisting otherwise isn’t going to change the facts of what the earth and the moon really are.

You can “believe” that God doesn’t exist.  You can “believe” God exists.  However, your belief has no bearing on reality.  Either He does, or He doesn’t.  Belief if it applies to questions of objective truth at all, applies to our assent to the truth, not to whether it *is* true.

“What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do: Truth Himself speaks truly, else there’s nothing true.”

It annoys me when we say things like, “For us, the Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ” or “We believe that Mary was preserved from all stain of sin from the moment of her conception,” and mean, “For us, Santa Claus is a magical being who lives at the North Pole,” or “We believe that the Easter Bunny brings eggs.”

Yes, it is “for” us, teleologically speaking, but it is not “for us” versus “for you.”  The Eucharist *is* the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ.  It’s not “just a symbol.”  It doesn’t *stop* being the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ because you think otherwise.

The Immaculate Conception is a question of historical reality.  I can believe or not believe in the testimony, the evidence and the logical arguments that Mary was preserved from all stain of sin.  It does not cease to be an historical fact if I choose not to “believe it.”  Similarly, my belief doesn’t make it real if it didn’t actually occur.

 

A Feminist Weights in on The Annual “Mary Did You Know” Debate.

I’ve previously blogged about this atrocious “Christmas” song, film critic and recently ordained deacon Steven D. Greydanus wrote a far more eloquent line-by-line response.  However, a new feminist, Protestant response adds a different dimension to the song.  A Presbyterian going by “pulpitshenanigans” published a blog post abou thow “Mary Did You Know?” is “Everything Wrong with American Christians.”  While her post is about 75% correct, she starts off on the wrong foot by essentially granting the song’s central premise.  She asserts that

From day one [Mark Lowry] was taught that women in the bible are evil, maybe Mary was an exception to the evil, I mean she and her “purity” is what all woman should subscribe to.

More likely, as a Liberty University grad fundamentalist, Lowry was taught that Mary was the most sinful woman in history.

We’ve missed the fact that the news that Mary gets through this angel is that her body is about to be violated, she will become pregnant without her consent. She is to carry the child and she is to name him Jesus. She has no choice over her body or even his name.

Uhh, no. She is one of only four human persons in history who ever made a truly free choice.

Adam and Eve were “immaculately conceived,” so to speak. They were created without sin. Faced with the cosmos-shattering decision of following God or themselves, they chose themselves.  They committed the Original Sin that each of us has had since conception (Psalm 51:5).

In Catholic teaching, there are four kinds of “real Presence” of Jesus Christ.  The first is “wherever two or three are gathered in My Name” (Matthew 18:20).  The second is in the Sacred Scripture, the Word of God.  The third is in icons or crucifixes.  The highest, though, is His Presence–Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity–in the Eucharist.

In the Israelite tradition, the Ark of the Covenant was the Presence of God in a similar way, containing in itself the Law (Scripture), the staff of Aaron (foreshadowing the Cross) and manna (foreshadowing the Eucharist).  Anyone who touched the Ark with any sin on his conscience, Scripture tells us, would die.

Gabriel said Mary was “full of grace.”  How can anyone with sin be “full of grace”?  How can anyone with sin truly be “at enmity” with the Devil, as God describes in Gen 3:15?  If a creature with sin cannot touch the Ark of the Covenant, how could a creature with sin bear in her very body God Incarnate?

Here is Mary, greeted by Gabriel, with the message that she’s been chosen by God to be the mother of the Messiah.  She knows the Scriptures.  She knows what it will entail.  She knows she will be potentially accused of adultery and stoned.

Almost every other figure in Scripture who gets visited by an angel, usually with news of a coming miraculous answer to a prayer, including Zechariah, questions the angel out of doubt, even legitimate doubt, and is given either a punishment or a sign.  Mary questions the angel out of concern for her virginity.  She says, aware of the risks, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.  Let it be done unto me as you say.”

Eve had no sin, yet faced with obeying God or potentially dying from self-service, she chose death.  How would we expect Mary to have chosen the hard way of obeying God, when she knew it might mean death, unless Mary *at least* had the same grace that Eve did to start out with?

On Reading “Bad Books”

A question: you have a series of hugely popular books and movies. Some people say they’re demonic. Others say they’re deeply Christian. Some in the first group have actually read them and claim the seemingly Christian symbolism is meant to steer people away from Christ rather than lead them to Him.
While this is specifically inspired by the perpetual Harry Potter controversy, reignited by recent sequels and locally by a parish study, it should be noted that it could apply to lots of contemporary literature, not to mention anything that was on the Index, from Machiavelli to the King James translation to Marx to Victor Hugo.
Now, among readers, you have several sets of people:
1) Those who are not well formed and have no interest in the books or the genre, no reason to read them, and very little need to discuss them. Fine. If that’s the case, go on your merry way and live and let live.
2) Those who are well formed, *do* have interest in the books or genre, *do* encounter lots of people who have interest in them, and can read and analyze and discuss them intelligently. (Noting that, even when the Index was in force, people in this group were permitted to read books on the Index, and noting that many books that were on the Index are considered acceptable today)
3) Those who are students or children of people in Group 2. (Noting that, even when the Index was in force, people in this group under guidance of Group 2 could read the books on the Index).
4) Those who are poorly formed and otherwise weak in the area the books deal with, whom any reasonable Catholic would say probably shouldn’t read the books.
5) Those who are not Catholic or even Christian.
6) Those who are convinced the books are evil and want to condemn them.
If someone in Group 6 encounters someone in Group 2, is there really any point in crying, “You shouldn’t read this book!  It’s evil!” Or condemning Group 2 for trying to educate Groups 3, 4 and 5?
If the person in Group 6 confronts the person in Group 5 with his or her concerns, it’s like when a Baptist randomly shows up at your door and tells you you’re going to Hell.  Why would an atheist care?  So why would someone who is already a non Christian care if a book is going to steer him away from Christ?

Didn’t St. Francis de Sales say something about honey and vinegar?

*However*, let’s say that the person in Group 2 encounters someone in Group d5, and says, “Hey!  Those books you love!  I like them too!  Let’s talk about them!”  Then the person in Group 3 helps the person in Group 5 see how the books point to Christ.  This is how J.R. R. Tolkien influenced the conversion of C. S. Lewis.  Lewis had rejected the notion that “everyone else in the world is a sinner going to Hell for not believing in the true God.”  Tolkien taught him how all religions, not just Judaism, point to Christianity.  He showed Lewis how Christ was the historical fulfillment of all those pagan myths Lewis loved, which was a more satisfying explanation than “Those myths are all lies of demons.”

So the person in Group 2 thinks that the books have merit for fellow Christians if read with guidance.  The person in Group 6 thinks they have no merit, but if Group 6 could get a lot more leverage in dealing with Groups 3 and 5 if he at least adopts the approach of Group 2.

On Van Gogh, Lewis, Koontz, Autism and the Afterlife

Here’s a thought process: I’ve long believed that part of what we take to be “mental illness” is the brain perceiving reality differently, particularly in the case of schizophrenic disorders, hallucinations, etc.: that whatever connection there is between the soul and the mind is overactive, so the person is extra-ordinarily aware of the ordinary spiritual activity that surrounds us. St Anthony of the Desert was once given a view of the angels and demons simply fighting at that moment over his soul, and asked not to be shown it again lest he go insane.
Now, I’ve been thinking a lot the past couple days about sensory overload. If you dare, here are a couple videos that simulate sensory overload experiences:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7oe7yNPyf2c
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IcS2VUoe12M
Tonight, I saw an interesting video on Vincent van Gogh and physics. The article and video can be found here.  Van Gogh’s painting’s, particularly Starry Night, accurately depict the motion of the stars according to the phenomenon called “turbulence,” and Hubble Telescope researchers found that patterns from the Hubble telescope match van Gogh’s work.  That’s the nutshell version of the physics: the articles leave open the question of *how*, but at one point the video touches on the neurological side of things, and that’s what inspired this blog post.  Now, if I understand what they’re saying, all the Impressionists depicted light in a way that’s revolutionary and matches with things scientists discovered later.  They all seemed to intuit or access perceptions of light that most people aren’t aware of, but our brains can still process.
Van Gogh, however, was the only one to do it with such detail and scientific/mathematical precision.    He did all this during the same period of  “mental chaos” that led to both cutting off his own ear and painting his greatest works.  They’re stopping at “apparently, by depicting the chaos in his mind, he accurately depicted the chaos in nature.”
What if the chaos in his mind was caused by perceiving the chaos in nature?
What if van Gogh was what  we call “severely autistic,” and hyper-perception turned to sensory overload?  If you have no idea what “sensory overload” means or is like, and think it means “ate too much sugar” or something, please watch (and listen to) the videos I posted above. The closest possible experience is migraine, and that’s not even half of it.
Imagine: for some reason, van Gogh went into complete sensory overload.  He could see light so well he was seeing turbulence.  He could hear every sound around him in a deafening cacophony.  That’s why he cut off his ear-to try and stop the sound.  He channeled the visual overload by painting things the way he actually saw them.
Now, the theological side of this discussion.  My wife has been reading Dean Koontz‘s books, particularly the Odd Thomas series.  If you don’t know Koontz, and are looking for someone other than the usual litany of ChestertonEliotLewisTolkienO’Connor, read him.  I started with Brother Odd, and was hooked when, within a page, he referred to Batman, Odysseus, and nuns who think they’re “social workers who don’t date.”  Anyway, as she’s told me about different Koontz books, we’ve discussed what things struck me as reminiscent of Lewis, Eliot and O’Connor.  I suggested she read The Great Divorce next, so while she’s read that, we’ve been discussing how Lewis depicts part of Purgatory being the soul’s adjustment to the sheer Reality of Heaven: grass, for example, that feels like walking on knives because it’s so REAL.  St. John Bosco had a dream where he saw a stage of the afterlife that wasn’t even the beginning of the farthest outskirts of what we call “Heaven.”  St. Dominic Savio, who greeted him there having already died years before his teacher, said that “No one can see Heaven and live.”
Perhaps it’s because Heaven is so overwhelmingly real.
Now, if you haven’t, go back and look at the sensory overload videos.
If the phenomenon/symptom that was originally called “autism”–catatonia, retreating into oneself, etc.,–stems from a brain that is so aware and so full of information that the person can’t handle it, and has to find some way of dealing with all that information that shoots in and out constantly–if Vincent van Gogh, as I’m speculating, had such an experience and was so overwhelmed he cut off his ear–if my son can have a meltdown because he suddenly keenly remembers some incident from when he was 2 or 3 years old like it just happened–imagine being suddenly confronted with the ability to instantly remember everything that happened in your life: every good memory, every bad memory.
Imagine being suddenly able to, if you and God will, see or hear anyone, anything, anywhere in time or space, at a level of detail that you cannot possibly imagine now.  That’s to say nothing of the Beatific Vision.
If you were to die after reading this, do you think your psyche (both in the modern and original senses of the word) would be truly prepared for such an overwhelming crash of reality?   It’s what Plato described with his allegorical man from the cave who suddenly goes from seeing nothing but 2D shadows his entire  life to seeing three dimensional people and objects in full color, in the sunlight.  Do you not think that you’d need to at least let your eyes adjust?  Like jumping into a swimming pool, you’d need to adjust a moment to the drastic change in your surroundings.
That adjustment is Purgatory.