Thursday, July 31, 2008

Kant's Going to Hell for Proving God

A devilishly precocious and beautiful friend of mine recently shamed me into reading Mikhail Bulgakov's "The Master and Margarita". It's a bright-colored tragedy, where wit is often a fatal character flaw.

Yet best of all, it claims that Kant is in hell for proving God.

"But, may I ask," resumed the guest [the devil] from abroad after a moment's troubled reflection, "what do you make of the proofs of God's existence, of which, as you know, there are five?"

"Alas!" answered Berlioz regretfully, "all of those proofs are worthless, and mankind has long since consigned them to oblivion. Surely you would agree that reason dictates that there can be no proof of God's existence."

"Bravo!" exclaimed the foreigner [the devil], "Bravo! You've said just what that restless old sage Immanuel said about this very same subject. But here's the rub: he completely demolished all five proofs, and then, in a seeming display of self-mockery, he constructed a sixth proof all his own!"

"Kant's proof," retorted the educated editor with a faint smile, "is also unconvincing. No wonder Schiller said that only slaves could be satisfied with Kant's arguments on this subject, while Strauss simple laughed at his proof."

As Beriloz was speaking, he thought, "But, who is he anyway? And how come his Russian is so good?"

"This guy Kant ought to get three years in Solovki for proofs like that," blurted out Ivan Nikolayevich, completely unexpectedly.

"Ivan!" whispered Berlioz in consternation.

"Precisely so, precisely so," he cried [the devil], and his green left eye, which was focused on Berlioz, sparkled. "That's the very place for him! As I told him that time at breakfast, 'As you please, professor, but you've contrived something totally absurd! True, it may be clever, but it's totally incomprehensible. People will laugh at you.'"

Berlioz's eyes popped. "At breakfast... with Kant? What kind non-sense is this?" he thought.

"However," continued the foreigner [the devil], unflustered by Berlioz's astonishment and turning to the poet, "he can't be sent to Solovki for the simple reason that for more than a hundred years now he's been somewhere far more remote than Solovki, and there's no way of getting him out of there, I assure you!"

So be wary Alvin Platinga, and all those fancying themselves able to proof God's existence positively.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Fides et Ratio: Part I

The questions boils down to this: Is all belief mere opinion? Even more basic: Is there Truth?

It would be telling to see how Catholic and Protestant laity would answer the question. In a secular society that has only two holy words - Ego and Tolerance - 'Yes' is an incredulous and an audacious answer. Such an answer is blasphemy agaist the two holy words.

Truth for the Ego is enveloped and limited to the experiential - there is nothing past the phenomenological. Or in another way: there can be no metaphysics because there is nothing 'beyond' or 'past' physics. Personal experience is the irrefutable grounds of knowledge. So, meaning is made, not destined.

Tolerance is the natural disposition that follows from such a construction of Truth. It is atomized to the point that it is individualized. Universalism is only in particularity. The vicissitudes of life and myriad of cultures necessarily force each person to live a unique life. As each experience is different than so too is each conception of Truth. Overtime, people accept that Truth is nothing more than personal experience. Truth is amber-hardened opinion. The great motto of society becomes: We can agree to disagree.

This current malaise of secular culture that sees Truth as either dangerous, irrelevant, or relative is something to be regretted.

Though not all see Truth in such sinister and cynical ways. Radical Orthodoxy and Catholicism are both more than happy to say with conviction that the Word is Truth.

Pope John Paul II's Encyclical, "Fides and Ratio" (Faith and Reason) tried so show how the theological tradition of Scholasticism can correct current Christian relativism and cynicism. It opens with a beautiful line:
Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves (cf. Ex 33:18; Ps 27:8-9; 63:2-3; Jn 14:8; 1 Jn 3:2).

In my next post I'll discuss how the encyclical and Aquinas can help re-invigorate Christian belief, evangelism, and community, and most importantly move the Body of Christ past the debilitating stance that Truth is relative.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Need for God

"Now - here is my secret:
I tell it to you with an openness of heart that I doubt that I shall every achieve again, so I pray that you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God - that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond able to love."
-From Douglas Coupland's, Life after God

"Christianity is a crutch." That's what I used to say to other students in high school. I had a theological chip on my shoulder, and I wanted the world to know it. However, looking back, I see that to level such a claim is both entirely true, and completely fallacious. It just depends on where one is standing. Douglas Coupland's little paragraph gets at the ambiguity, and actually illumines quite well why there is a two fold need for God (and why its not a crutch, in one sense).

Robert Penn Warren wrote in All the King's Men, "Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud. There is always something!" And indeed, there is always dirt to be found under the fingers. There is always something. After every absolution there is a new indulgence. To recognize sin must come after first recognizing God. Its a theological driven vision of the world. The path to a pre-existing morality that circumscribes theological particularity is a road toward Kantian ethics. Such a deontic ethic not snuffed out from the beginning, builds into its own self-validating perspective. Sin doesn't prove God. Sin is known only as Sin because of Scripture. In God's goodness He gave grace. To call grace a 'crutch' seems almost vulgar, but visually intuitive. Here, grace is not some helpful third-leg, but a life-source. Grace doesn't help, it saves.

The other reason people need God is because they don't have God. This was what Douglas Coupland meant when he wrote, "I need God." The book was entitled, "Life after God." But there is no such thing. There is no Life after God.

Bertrand Russel wrote a book entitled, "Why I'm Not a Christian." It's not a very good book. Its a collection of essays, and he basically levels one criticism on Christianity: not the divinity of Christ, not the cannibalistic notion of Eucharist, nor the misanthropic stance of being martyred for a cause. No, he thought that basically, Christianity was a philosophical crutch. Russel thought that God resembled a benevolent father-figure far too much for there to be any good to come of it. What he should have said was that he had read Feuerbach, and had agreed with him.

It reminds me of T.S. Eliot who, from his poem The Waste Land, wrote, "The world ends like this, not with a bang, but with a whimper." The man who was an ardent atheist most of his life found God in the end. He probably needed God, because he knew there was no life after God.

So Christianity is a crutch. Either because someone knows God, and knows sin is real, and needs grace from God. Or because someone does not know God - and knows there is no life after God - and for that reason needs God.

There is a popular little poem that has been going around in the past few years, it troubles me a bit.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

In college, back in my youthful naivete that I someday, somewhere misplaced I did feel that way: My deepest doubt was that I was powerful beyond measure. Not anymore.

So, acknowledging sin and doubt is not a goal, but it can be a felix culpa. At times our legs will ache, we will groan from pain. We will want a crutch, and God will be there.