QUESTIONS IN VOLUME 2
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1. I am an atheist who wants his difficulties answered without being accused of moral depravity.
I believe, in the ultimate analysis, with Pascal, that there are two classes of men, those who are afraid to find God, and those who are afraid to lose God. But, to spare you, I will admit that your fear that there might be a God may be perhaps unconscious. Of those who say that they are atheists some are merely unintelligent and do not think; others do think, but merely reject false ideas of God, without knowing how to replace them with the right idea. Since you are not unintelligent I rank you amongst the latter class. Will I accuse you of being morally evil? Of course, I maintain that atheism cannot exist without sin of some kind. If you do not deny God in order to be free from moral restraints, I would have to accuse you at least of a guilty neglect to examine the question as you should. That God exists is certain for everyone with a right conscience.
2. I have been told that the universe itself is proof of God, on the score that it must have had a Creator.
That is a sound argument, for as no individual thing in this universe is self-sufficient, the whole collection of individual things cannot be self-sufficient. If each separate atom is unable to explain itself, all together will be as inexplicable as each. Multiplication does not change the nature of things.
3. Is it not possible that matter itself is eternal?
I admit that it would be possible for an Eternal Cause to produce eternally some basic created reality. We know from revelation that God did not create from eternity. But it would have been possible for Him to do so. However, you must note this. The appeal to the eternity of matter, which cannot be proved, does not exclude the necessity of an outside Cause. The mere duration of a thing does not explain its existence. You cannot explain a running train by saying innocently, "Why it was always running." In the universe we see a succession of causal mutations, each succeeding stage being caused by a preceding stage, and in turn causing a subsequent stage. Every element is dependent, and no one element can explain itself independently of the rest. And if each link in a chain is dependent, the whole chain is dependent. An eternal series of dependent and caused things can be reasonably explained only by One who is independent and uncaused, who exists with a complete self-sufficiency not to be found in finite things. In passing, let me call your attention to the problem of life. Even if matter be eternal, there was certainly a time when life did not exist on this earth, and certainly a time when it began to exist. Any belief that it began spontaneously, and without the creative power of God, is credulity, and unworthy of a reasonable man.
4. Were you to request God to put in an appearance, or manifest His presence beyond doubt to the satisfaction of experimental science, the result would be nil.
Such a request would be absurd. God, as He is in Himself, is immaterial, and experimental science deals with material things. You might as well offer to believe in the Archangel Gabriel provided I dig up his bones. Experimental science does not cover the whole field of reality. It abstracts from the spiritual field altogether, save indirectly at most.
5. People may believe that there is a God, but they cannot know it.
By the use of their reason they can attain to a certain knowledge that God exists. The Vatican Council rightly defined as a dogma of Catholic Faith that natural human reason can know with certainty from the things which He has made that God exists.
6. Unlike intrinsic evidence, extrinsic evidence is not conclusive.
Extrinsic evidence is certainly conclusive. I have no intrinsic evidence that Napoleon ever lived. I have the extrinsic evidence of a multitude of documents, and I am historically certain that he did live. Again, if I see the last car of a train disappearing into a tunnel, I have only extrinsic evidence of the existence of an engine at the other end of the train. Meantime, it is intrinsically evident that a thing which does not contain the ultimate reason of its existence within itself, has that ultimate reason in an outside being. That principle is self-evident, and cannot be refuted. On that principle, a being which obviously is not self-caused is evidence of a cause outside itself, and gives sound and certain knowledge of the fact.
7. The variety of philosophies now extant shows that your conclusion as to the existence of God is not beyond all argument.
That is true, but it is not to the point. I maintain that the conclusion is beyond all valid and reasonable argument, a very different thing. There is not a single argument against the existence of God which cannot be proved fallacious.
8. Is not nature itself divine?
Nature is the effect of a divine creative activity, but it is not itself divine. The word "nature" comes from the Latin "nasci," to be born. It is applied, therefore, to the original character or constitution of some object—a constitution which is the radical principle of all that it is and of all that it does. Thus, by its very "nature" a horse is not a human being. It is not natural to a horse to compose music. That is "natural" which is in accordance with some particular being's nature or constitution. Now we speak of the whole created universe as "Nature" itself. But since it is created—and we speak of it as "Creation"—it cannot be divine in its essential character and constitution.
9. You insist, then, that God is distinct from nature?
Yes. The natural world is full of contradictions, and there can be no contradictions in God. The true and the false, good and evil, all manner of imperfections, ignorance, and knowledge, the conscious and the unconscious, constant movement and change—all these cannot possibly be synthesized into one Being called God. We know how different men desire different things and will different things. Men are obviously distinct from one another. They cannot, therefore, be identical with one and the same God. So if you are God, I am not. If I am God, you are not. And it is impossible to say that all is God. Yet if all is not God, all nature is not divine. The whole of creation may be the effect of divine activity, but the effect certainly is distinct from God.
10. If God is present everywhere in the world, is not creation so inseparable from God as to be part of Him?
God does exist everywhere. He, therefore, co-exists with all created beings. Yet He cannot be identified with created beings. He is in a totally different order of existence. The concept is not difficult. Thought and matter are in different orders of being, yet both co-exist in the same head. A man's material brains could be weighed on a pair of scales; but that would not be weighing the thoughts produced by his soul with the help of those brains. So, too, a current of electricity occupies the same space as solid copper wire; but that mutual presence does not make the copper wire part of the electricity. God's presence everywhere does not make created things part of God. As a matter of fact, God is a purely spiritual Being who cannot have parts. Also, created things are finite or limited, and God is infinite. The finite cannot be part of the infinite. Whilst the universe has its very being "in" God because God is everywhere, God infinitely transcends the universe, differing from it in substance, nature, power, and perfection, and constituting a world of mysterious reality in Himself.
11. What definition accurately conveys to the human mind an idea of the Deity?
Many human words convey accurately as far as they go, but not adequately, a notion of some aspect of God's perfections. But for a definition, not of an aspect of God, but simply of God, the most accurate of all human expressions, though still inadequate, is "The Self-existent Being." Thus, God described Himself to Moses in the words, "I am who am." Exod. III., 14. There is an immense depth of meaning in those few words.God alone exists in His own right. Nothing else "is" of itself and apart from God's causality. All else is but a reflection—a shadow of being; and God is the Author of it. God alone "is"; all else "is dependent.""I am He who is. Do not seek anywhere else," He may be interpreted to say, "to find the cause of My existence. By this I differ from everything else. This Name is proper to Myself, and I cannot give My glory to another."God, then, is essential Being. And since every perfection must "be" in order to be a perfection, the plenitude of His Being is the plenitude of perfection. He is. He does not become, progressing from less to greater perfection. Eternal, He never ceases to be what He was, nor does He change to what He was not. He alone is undivided, infinite, identical, essential, and eternal Being; uncaused, yet causing all else to receive being and such degrees of perfection as He chooses to bestow.God, then, is perfection of Being. He is Truth, for truth is that which is. He is Justice, for justice is the conformity of the will to truth. He is omnipotent, for all else is by Him; good, for evil is the destruction of the true; love, giving benefits to others. He has nothing to fear from any greater than Himself; nothing to envy in any better than Himself. He is Beauty, for beauty is but the splendor of Being, and Truth, and Goodness. All this, and much more, is contained in the simple expression, "I am He who is" as distinguishing God from every other being.
12. You insist on the existence of God. Do you believe that He is a benevolent God, and that His providence extends to all things?
Yes, though I admit that you now introduce a problem which has baffled the keenest intelligences of all the centuries, and one the solution of which goes beyond the limits attainable by limited human reason. However, if reason cannot attain to a full and comprehensive explanation of this problem, it can go a certain distance towards a solution, and it can certainly refute objections against God proposed by human reason in view of the evils in this world.
13. Is everything that happens to man God's will?
From the negative point of view we can certainly say that those things which happen to men would not happen did God will that they should not happen. But, from the positive point of view, the question arises, '"Though nothing can happen against God's will, does God positively will all that does happen?" The answer is: not necessarily.
14. When a person dies, is it God's will that he should do so?
In some cases a death, and all its circumstances, are God's positive will. In other cases, it may be merely God's permissive will. There is a difference between God's positive and God's permissive will. For example, if an employer orders a representative to go from London to Colombo, when the latter goes, he fulfills the positive will of his employer. On the other hand, the employer might express a preference that the representative should go via Capetown rather than via Suez, yet add, "I leave it to yourself to go via Suez if you prefer." If the representative goes via Suez, it is not against the will of his employer. It is at least with the permissive will of that employer, though not a formal command of his positive will. This is merely to show that there is a difference between a positive will and a permissive will; and it is an example which must be kept in mind when dealing with the question of moral and physical evil.
15. If a man is murdered, is it God's will that he should die in that manner?
Since God forbids murder, it cannot be God's positive will that anyone should commit murder. At the same time, whilst people are morally obliged by the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," they are no more physically compelled to keep that commandment than any other. For God has positively willed that man should be capable of a free choice between good and evil. And God's positive will that man should be free to choose the good must carry with it His permissive will of the evil should man abuse his liberty. If, then, a man commits murder, somebody will be murdered, and that also must be included in God's permissive will. So at least we must say that it was God's permissive will that the murdered man should die in that manner. But I could conceive a case where it would even be God's positive will. If a man were bent on murdering somebody despite God's prohibition, God could positively will that his victim should be one man rather than another. Then it would not be His positive will that the murderer should violate the law, yet it would be His positive will that the victim should meet with such a manner of death rather than another.
16. In the latter case the murderer would be merely the instrument of God's will. How could he be held responsible?
The murderer is responsible because he is doing what God forbids, and what he is not in any way compelled to do. Granted that he insists on his guilty action, God will not prevent it because He cannot do so without depriving him of that free will which God will not take back. But he is not the instrument of God's positive will in his violation of the moral law. From the moral point of view he violates God's positive will, and he is responsible for it. On the other hand, whilst there is moral guilt in committing murder, there is no moral guilt in being murdered against one's will. That is why, if God sees a man bent on committing murder, He could positively will that this man rather than that should be the victim. I have personal knowledge of a case in which the wrong man was certainly chosen by a murderer whose vengeance was as ill directed as it was unlawful. And of all the men I have ever met personally, few would be as well prepared to meet God as the innocent victim, and few as quick to express complete forgiveness of his assailant. He immediately accepted it as God's will that he should die then, and that he should die in such a way. But that did not exempt the murderer from guilt.
17. Why did God put us in a world whose natural disasters, such as earthquakes, can destroy us?
St. Paul replied to this difficulty simply by saying, "Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, why hast Thou made me thus?" He stressed the supreme dominion of the Creator, and the limited rights of the creature. Reason tells us that every created thing by virtue of being created must fall short of infinite perfection. It is bound to be a mixture of perfection and lack of perfection. This world has good features, and bad. We should thank God for the good, and leave to God, without any complaints, the fact that imperfection exists. That is better than forgetting the good, and spending one's life complaining that we do not possess still greater immunity from trials and difficulties. Let us remember, also, that this life is not all for us. A perfect destiny awaits us after our probation in this world of opportunity.
18. The sight of the evils in this world makes me doubt the existence of God.
Such a doubt is not reasonable. It is because you concentrate on some particular evils, failing to advert to the good, and above all failing to grasp the universal aspect of all creation. The positive evidence for God's existence and of His goodness is certain and solid. If we fail to understand all God's ways, that is evidence, not that God does not exist, but that our human intelligence is finite and limited. To say that we must fully comprehend all God's ways or deny that there is a God is to hold that the human mind is the infinite, ultimate, and infallible criterion of all truth. That is not reasonable.
19. I cannot believe in a God who creates human beings only to know all kinds of physical pain and suffering.
You are not expected to believe in such a God. God did not create men for such a purpose. Two things are certain. There is a God. Pain and suffering are realities. It is foolish to abandon belief in either of these things because we have difficulty in reconciling them. If we find ourselves baffled, the only thing to do is to go on serving God, content to leave the final solution of the problem to Him.
20. I get so indignant when I see suffering that I agree with the axiom, "The only excuse for God is that He does not exist."
Firstly, if there be no God, indignation is absurd. For then suffering is a necessary result of blind material forces. You might just as well get indignant with the sun for rising later in wintertime. Secondly, the absurdity of the axiom you quote should be evident from the fact that any excusing supposes someone at fault; and if God is at fault, He exists. But let me add that, if He does exist, He cannot be at fault. Meantime, the only explanation of evil is that God does exist. Evil cannot exist apart from positive beings to experience it. God did not create evil, but He did create all positive beings, permitting them to lack normal perfection at times. Again, if you say that there is evil, therefore, there is no God; I reply, "There is good, therefore, there is a God." And my reason is stronger than yours, because the good certainly outweighs the evil in this world. And the good cannot be explained without God, whilst the evil can be explained with God. He permitted it only because He was good and powerful enough to draw from it a benefit greater than any harm it can effect.
21. The sight of war, so utterly evil, would make any man indignant, I myself have fallen back on reason, and have become an atheist.
If there be no God, as you now maintain, there would be no men to be at war. And even if there were men, the result of a purely mechanical and necessary evolution, it would not be wrong for them to be at war. If a cog in a machine gets out of place, you are not morally indignant with that cog for its behavior. If there be no God, blind force produced men and produces their conduct. It is as foolish to blame them as to blame an oak tree for not growing straight. As for the use of reason, take this principle. We must neither belittle nor exaggerate the powers of reason. Reason is powerful enough to prove that there is a God; but it is not powerful enough to understand all God's ways. That reason is not capable of understanding all God's ways does not mean that it is incapable of proving His existence. We cannot argue that, because we neither like nor understand what a fellow human being does, he does not, therefore, exist. You discredit reason even whilst professing to be guided by it.
22. Christian Science tells us that you are trying to solve a problem which does not exist, for pain and suffering are not realities at all.
Both the existence of a good God and of pain and suffering are facts. And since both are facts they are not incompatible. That their complete reconciliation is not possible to the human mind I admit. We, therefore, speak of the mystery of suffering. But it is to behave like a school child to take an answer that pleases one, and then go back and tamper with the facts, adjusting them to fit one's conclusion. Some people set out with the principle that human reason must be capable of understanding all things. They accept this principle despite the fact that history shows the almost infinite capacity of the human mind to go astray. Working on this unjustified principle they say, "We don't see how to reconcile a good God and suffering." So they go off into two camps, one section with the enthusiastic credulity of atheism, denying that any good God exists, the other section with equally enthusiastic credulity, denying that suffering exists. The sensible man refuses to deny God or to deny suffering. He has the humility which admits the limitations of human reason, and the faith and trust which continue to serve God in the midst of adversity without tearful protests and moans of despair.
23. If pain and suffering are real, God created them; if they are unreal, they are illusory.
God did not create evil, for evil is the negation of the good. Privations of perfection are not the objective of creative activity. God did create a free will in man capable of failing to do the good dictated by conscience, and positive sense-faculties capable of experiencing pain. Yet pain and moral evil are actual phenomena in this world, and not merely illusions. We do experience an absence of normal health in our bodies, and of moral rectitude in our will. And neither experience is pleasant.
24. Does it not seem strange that God, knowing that would happen, should create man free to please or offend Him? If He could not foresee the future it could be more easily understood.
If God could not foresee the future, instead of being more easily understood, things would be absolutely inexplicable. It is precisely because He foresaw the future, and the greater good He will draw out of these present evils, that He has permitted them. But, apart from this, why did God, knowing what would happen, create men free to please Him or offend Him? Firstly, because His foreknowledge in no way makes anyone offend Him. Knowledge does not cause things to happen. Things which happen give rise to the knowledge of them. Secondly, God gave us free will so that we might have the nobler dignity of being masters of our own destiny, not having to serve Him necessarily and blindly as do trees and inanimate planets and stars. God did not want a forced love from beings capable of an intelligent appreciation of the good. But once God makes man free, man is free either to love God or to reject God; to serve Him, or to rebel against Him. That is, physically. No man is morally free to reject God. God, therefore, forbids that, warning us of its disastrous results. At any rate, there is a God, and we are free. If we cannot see a satisfactory explanation of the difficulties that occur to us, then we trust God in such matters. Many speculative questions which human curiosity would like to have solved have been left mysteries, either because our minds could not grasp the solution even if they were explained, or simply because God does not choose to justify Himself to His own creatures yet.
25. I would like to ask some question aboutman's nature and origin, matters over which I have oftenpondered.
They are important questions, though more important still is thequestion of man's ultimate destiny. However, it is importantthat man should know himself. Many people want to know whateverything else is, yet have little knowledge of themselves,despite their being so much more important than the lesser thingsprovided for their use and benefit.
26. Even if you prove that the soul is different inorigin and nature from the body, what is the gain to humanity?
Immense. Firstly, men would have a right idea of themselves andof a future life awaiting them. Secondly, men would be moved totake the appropriate means to provide for that future. You see, notbelonging to the material order, the soul does not follow thecourse of material things. It does not return to nature and toreabsorption in the universe, but to the great Principle from whichit derived its existence by creation. It returns to God, and to adestiny transcending space and time. That eternal destiny will beeither good or evil, according to the moral state of the soul whenit goes from this world. That surely is an important consideration,and right ideas on the subject cannot but be a gain tohumanity.
27. Is it inevitable that the body should die?
Yes, unless a special miracle were to be wrought in some individual case by Almighty God.
28. Surely science in the end will conquer even death.
Science will never free man from the necessity of having to die. Death is as natural to man as it is to all other living things on the face of the earth, whether they be plants or animals. Death is the condition of the continuity of life in this world. The death of preceding generations is the condition for the existence of succeeding generations and in every individual the law of death prevails. Every part of man's bodily organism has its own definite term of vitality. Old cells die and new cells are formed continually. Every movement, and every use of energy means death to a certain amount of tissue. And in the end, should man escape disease or accident, the day must come when the worn-out organism will fail to produce new cells required for continued existence. The entire organism will then die.
29. Even now life is prolonged by scientific means.
Illness may be temporarily arrested, but that does not mean that science can preserve people from ultimate death. To render man immortal in this life science would have to exclude every possible type of disease, all risk of accident, and the whole process of natural decay in every individual human being. Such a thing will never be.
30. Would you regard a scientifically produced immortality as a challenge to God?
There will never be a scientifically produced immortality of the body. By scientific means men may do their best to prolong life against the ravages of disease, but they will never succeed in prolonging it indefinitely. But, whilst a scientifically produced immortality will never be a fact, the man who asserts that science will eliminate the necessity of having to die does issue a challenge to God. For God has told us that "it is appointed unto man once to die, and after that the judgment." Heb. IX., 27. We cannot, therefore, maintain that man will escape death by any natural means and secure an immortal life on earth.
31. Are you sure that, though the body must die, the soul will live on?
Yes, quite sure.
32. If only the fear that death might end all could be replaced by a firm conviction of a future life, many peoplewould be made happy.
That is true. But it is also true that many would be rendered unhappy. There are two classes of people. Some fear that death might be the end of all. Some fear that it might not. Man cannot get away from his moral consciousness. Evil carries with it a sense of impending retribution, and those given to evil are rendered uneasy, not by the thought that death ends all, but by the thought that it might not. They have no desire to meet a just and omnipotent God.
33. What proof is there that the soul will live on?
We have the certainty of God's revelation. Christ said very definitely, "I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am you also may be." Jn. XIV., 3. That you have a prospect of eternal happiness means that you will survive. Again, Christ tells us that He will judge all mankind. Souls will have to be present for that judgment.
34. If a man believed in God, but did not believe in revelation, would not the question of immortality be unaffected?
Even apart from revelation such a man would have to admit immortality. God is wise. He made man the highest form of creation in this world, and endowed him with reason. Man alone can know his Maker. And as love follows the knowledge of what is good, man can love his Maker. It would be an insult to the wisdom of God to suggest that He made such a being to live but a few years and then to end like a tree or a dog. And God is not only wise; He is just. If there is no future life, what of justice? Good and evil are not balanced in this life. Good people often suffer; the evil often do well. In fact, if there is no future life, there is no true morality, for there is no sufficient sanction. Rob, lie, murder - only be careful! If there be immortality, we can understand God reserving the full manifestation of justice for the next life. But if there be no immortality, then there is no God at all. For the dreadful doctrine that there is no immortality, the proofs should be pretty strong. But what proofs are there? There are none. Moreover, God is good. If you could save the life of a good man you would be glad to do it. Will you admit a God who allows good people to die for justice despite His ability to save them from death? The martyrs went to their death blessing and loving God. Would He let them do that knowing that He had nothing in store for them save the death of dogs? Believe me, the human soul is immortal.
35. How will the soul know anything when separatedfrom the body? When unconscious through an injury to the brain, manknows nothing.
The soul does not depend upon the body for its existence. Butfor the operation of thought it does need the use of that bodilyorgan we call the brain, so long as it exists in our presentcomposite state. By the body the soul is linked with this materialworld. And at present, material impressions drawn from physicalexperience provide the foundation for thought. Strictly speaking,thought is independent of the brain. There is no real proportion betweenthought-activity and brain-activity. Whilst the soul remains unitedto the body, an affectation of the brain can cripple thethought-activities of the soul; even as a broken instrument canhinder the operations of an expert worker. But, when separated fromthe body, the soul will be in totally differentconditions-conditions adapted entirely to its spiritual character,and independent of material limitations.
36. Psychologically, what will be the nature of a separated soul\'s experiences?
They will consist in the intellectual vision of purely spiritual realities, and a power to appreciate them. The soul does not see these realities now, because it is immersed in the body, and hindered from seeing in another light. Its proper spiritual light fades before sensitive experience. The light of the sun does not help us to see the stars. It obscures them. Yet the light of the sun is really dim compared with that of the stars. It is merely the nearest light. So death will be but a \"revealing night.\" It will give spiritual freedom to the soul,emancipating it from the chains of mere matter. Then the soul will be immediately conscious of itself and of other beings invisible to us now. It will enter into its own world. It will be conscious of all other spiritual beings, and above all, of God. Here below, we gain fragmentary ideas of God by the study of His work in the whole of creation. After death has released the soul from the body, the soul will come into immediate contact with God as He is in Himself, provided it has deserved to do so. At any rate, God is meant to be the terminus of the soul\'s journey, so that life will carry us back to the Source of all life. Serious and unrepented sin can alone hinder its doing so, the result then being the disastrous wreckage in hell of all hopes and aspirations.
37. Granted that human souls are immortal, and endowed with intelligence and freewill, do they exist in eternity before their advent to this world?
The soul is created by God at the moment of conception. Prior to its creation it is simply non-existent. Some of the ancient Greek philosophers taught that the human soul had an existence before its union with the body, and that it is imprisoned in the body as a punishment for sins committed in its previous life. Aristotle refuted these opinions, pointing out the absurdity of an intelligent soul continuing its existence, yet having absolutely no memory of its previous doings, discoveries, and aspirations. Again, if we turn to the idea of punishment, it is irrational to have souls punished for unknown crimes in such a way that they can neither correct their faults nor acknowledge the justice of the penalty. Finally, if the soul pre-existed, it would do so as a complete entity in its own right. When united with the body, it could not form one composite personality such as we know man to be. Its presence in the body would be a kind of violent possession by an alien spirit. Such an idea is quite opposed to the naturalness of the union between soul and body--a union whose dissolution awakens so much mental apprehension and anxiety. It is certain, then, that human souls do not pre-exist.
38. You suggest that our eternal fate depends upon ourselves?
Yes. It is certain that man has freewill, and can choose what his eternal fate will be. If a man is in a state of serious sin and dies in such a state he will go to hell. But he need not have remained in such a state until death look him. At any moment he could have turned to God, repented of his sins, got forgiveness and chosen a line of conduct which would result in the salvation of his soul.
39. Some people deny freewill.
That is to deny a fact of which we are all quite conscious. I know quite well that, if I am answering these questions for you, it is becauseI have freely chosen to do so. Had I wished, I could have thrown your letter aside, and simply ignored it. At any moment whilst answering, I am free to cease, and turn to the next letter. To tell me that I haven't freewill would be about as intelligible as telling me that I don't exist. The denial of freewill is absurd, and any position which can be reduced to absurdity collapses by the very fact.
40. Do you not say that God is omnipotent, and that His providence extends to all things? In such a case we have to do as He has planned.
Therefore, since He has planned that we should act in many things according to our free choice, we have no option but to admit the existence of freewill.
41. Then all we do is according to His will?
That we are free is according to His positive will; if we exercise that freedom in an evil direction, it is in accordance with His permissive will. I do not mean that He gives us permission in the moral sense to do evil, for He forbids that. But He permits us to be physically free in the sense that He will not compel us to be good in spite of ourselves.
42. Does not that make God responsible for the evil we do?
No. For example, God wills that I should not commit murder. But He has also willed that I should possess freewill, and be master of my own destiny. That necessarily carries with it the possibility of either obeying God's law, or of rebelling against it. And by the very gift of freedom, God must will to permit my defection from duty, even though He forbids it. In His very omnipotence He does not use His omnipotence to prevent my crime. I see many things done which I feel that I would certainly prevent if I had only half God's power. I feel sure that I wouldn't be strong enough to restrain myself. To be able to do it, yet not to do it, would be too much for me. But if I were God, and absolutely omnipotent, and had His wisdom, then just what God does and permits, I would do and permit. All that happens therefore is in accordance with God's will insofar as that will includes all circumstances, and conditions, and interdependent secondary agents, and the many influences which provide a problem ever bewildering to man.
43. Since God willed both the death of Christ and its attendant circumstances, where was the freedom of Judas in betraying Christ?
In the passion and death of Christ many things were due to God's positive will, but many, on the other hand, were due to God's permissive will. That God merely permitted Judas to indulge an evil will, and did not positively inspire his action, is evident from the Gospel itself. Had Judas been compelled to act as he did against his own will, he would not have been morally responsible. Yet the very Gospels which tell us of the fact that he did betray Christ, tell us also that he was morally guilty in doing so. Therefore he was free not to do so. Thus Christ reproached him, "Judas, dost thou betray the Son of Man with a kiss?" Our Lord did not say, "Judas, you have to do this, so I can scarcely blame you." So, too, in Acts I., 25, we are told that "Judas hath by transgression fallen." It is obvious,therefore, from Scripture, that Judas was responsible for his action. A difficulty might arise in your mind from the fact that God had predicted through the prophets that Judas would betray Christ. But that does not prove compulsion. It was not predicted that Judas "must" betray Christ. The prediction was based on the fact that he "would" do so by his own free choice. Judas did not do so because it had been predicted. More expressly we are certain that God's will was not impelling Judas because we are clearly told by God's word that "Satan entered into Judas," and that he then went to the chief priests. Lk. XXII., 3-4. Now the will of Satan is radically opposed to the will of God. But this leads to a second possible difficulty. If not compelled by the will of God, was Judas compelled by the will of Satan? It is obvious that he was not, since the Gospels hold him to be personally responsible. If Judas did the will of Satan it was because he freely consented to do so. There was no need for him to do so; and if he obeyed the suggestions of Satan, he did so voluntarily. We know, too, of our Lord's own efforts to win him to better dispositions prior to the crime.
44. God makes man, and also the will of man. Man did not make his own will any more than he gave himself his intelligence.
You are confusing man's will as a radical power of choice with its exercise in a given direction. The two things are not the same. God made man's will, but He did not "make it up" for man, so that it was determined independently of man in a given direction. Man makes the choice his will enables him to make, though he need not make that choice. If man exercises his power in a wrong way, it is not the power that causes him to do so; it is man's own soul and personality which uses its will wrongly. The murderer does not make his own hand; but he makes that hand throttle his victim. There is a difference between the possession of a power and the use of that power.
45. Leaving God out of it, I still do not believe in freewill. I believe in psychological determinism.
There are no facts of psychology which justify the denial of freewill.
46. Medical men say that a man is, for good or evil, what his brain cells make him.
Not all medical men say that. Those who do may know their physiology, but they betray lamentable ignorance of psychology and philosophy. Brain cells are still brain cells, whether they are living or dead. If they are dead, they cannot make a man anything. If they are living, they owe it to a principle of life distinct from themselves. That principle of life is the rational soul of man. Brain cells do not produce thought. The intelligent soul produces thought, using the data provided by the brain as the central exchange recording sense-experiences in the various terminal faculties.It is quite true that the soul is "conditioned by" the body and by the brain, just as any worker by the quality of his instruments. And in this sense, inherited bodily characteristics or defective bodily qualities can affect a man's character to a great extent. But that does not justify the statement that brain cells make a man good or evil, as if there were no other principles at work in him. Then, too, men equally endowed with well-formed brain cells can employ their capacity in totally different directions, one devoting to a criminal career faculties which would have carried him to the top of the ladder in some honest profession; another devoting intellectual powers to good purposes despite the fact that he could have employed them in criminal pursuits. It is not always a question of heredity. Nor does heredity obey invariable laws.
47. Of course we like to think that we act according to our own deliberate choosing.
There are those who are tainted by an out-of-date materialistic philosophy who like to think that we do not act according to our own deliberate choosing. And they ignore the facts, whilst the normal judgment of the human race is in full accordance with the facts. The most advanced scientists and physicists today are coming back to common sense. In his book, "The Mysteries of the Atom," 1934, Professor Wilson says that in the materialistic conception of the universe prevailing in the nineteenth century, freewill was thought to be impossible, but that the new physics have upset that materialistic conception. "The course of events," he writes, "is not determined by the laws of nature; these merely enable the probability of each possible event to be calculated." What, then, controls the conduct of a human being if natural laws do not? Professor Wilson replies, "The only answer to this question is that we do not know--unless the brain is controlled by spiritual forces not usually included in the physicist's scheme." And he points out that, on the new wave-particle theory of physics, there is always a choice of many possible events for a human being, and that such freedom of will involves no violation of natural law according to the new scientific conception of the universe.
48. If we know beforehand a person's psychological make-up, we know what he will do or say.
We do not know the psychological make-up of other people to any great extent. They do not know it themselves. Man is ever a mystery, even to himself. And such faint indications of psychological make-up as we do possess do not enable us to know in advance what our friends will do or say. We have at best a more or less probable conjecture, and our friends are liable at any moment to do the most unexpected things.
49. We know the number of murders that will be committed next year. How could we know that, if criminals are free?
We do not "know" the number of murders that will be committed next year. From statistics we can form a probable conjecture. But the conjecture as to what will happen is no proof whatever that it must happen, or that individuals who will commit murder will do so by psychological compulsion. If I know that a man has been working for the last four or five years at a given office, I can form a fairly good idea that he will travel there as usual tomorrow morning. But that does not prove that he cannot choose not to go there tomorrow morning. Nor does a conjecture as to the average number of crimes that will take place next year throw any light on the question of freedom of will, unless one can say which individuals will necessarily commit those crimes--and that cannot be done by any manner of means.
50. Criminals are products of heredity and environment.
That is a sweeping and very unscientific assertion. That heredity and environment have an effect upon people to some extent no sensible person will deny. That they necessarily produce a certain type of character is against the facts. Man's reason enables him to perceive the evil character of certain instinctive tendencies, and to conjure up other ideas of his own dignity, personal worth, social standards, and moral values, which neutralize the force of original influences. And man's will enables him to make a free choice of an evil course of conduct, or of a good course of conduct. If heredity and environment determined one's conduct, children of the same family and brought up in the same environment should equally follow the same line of conduct. But they do not. From the most favorable heredity and environment criminals have developed, whilst people have risen above the most unfavorable heredity and environment to become splendid types, through encouragement to take themselves in hand, practice self-control, and to choose deliberately against inherited tendencies. I have met men of the utmost integrity whose brothers have been criminals; deeply religious people from thoroughly irreligious families; children of the same stock and circumstances who have chosen vastly different careers in life, and opposite standards of conduct. It is against the facts to say that heredity and environment determine character by sheer necessity.
51. The determinist tries to cure criminals where the believer in freewill merely punishes them.
You take for granted the very thing you must prove. The real difficulty arises for the determinist who attempts to cure a criminal who necessarily acts in a criminal way. You may urge that we can alter the factors that determine his conduct. Butthat he is determined by such factors supposes the thing you have to prove--that hehas no freewill. Granted freewill, attempts to cure the criminal are not excluded. Wecan try to alter the factors which influence without determining his conduct, and alsotry to induce a change of will on his own part. And a cure is much morelikely our principles than on the determinist hypothesis.
52. Naturally in extreme cases, like that of a homicidal maniac, the determinist would probably fail to effect a cure.
He would fail in a good many other cases, too. Moreover, with his denial ofpersonal responsibility, were his doctrine inculcated in children from their earliest years, he would find that the growing number of criminals would give him more than enough to do. It is significant that, with the driftage from Christian principles, there is becoming more and more evident an increase in crime. A merely secular education which rejoices the materialist far from preventing crime seems butto give it an impetus. In his report on juvenile delinquency to a select Government Committee in London last year, 1939, the appointed expert said, "I consider that a return to the old-fashioned type of religious instruction is essential. I am not a Roman Catholic, but I do honor them for making religious instruction a prime feature in the education of the children of their adherents. A good moral foundation predisposes a young person to eschew evil ways in later life. I would cut out all the fancy stuff in schools, expressionism, pseudo-psychological experimenting, and other foolish 'isms' and 'ologies,' which have no rightful place in a properly runeducational establishment." One of the "isms" which should be excludedfrom influence in education is psychological determinism.
53. The correct method of stamping out crime is to attack their causes.
I agree. But what are the causes? A mechanical deterministic philosophy will never reveal them. It would produce the greatest cause of all--a lack of sense of personal responsibility and of capability of self-management.
54. You would punish a criminal because you believe his wickedness to be solely his own fault.
That is not true.I have never suggested that a criminal's evil conduct is solely his own fault in every case. Believers in freewill make due allowance for such factors as do diminish personal guilt. We certainly say that criminals do deserve punishment insofar as it is their own fault that they have committed crime. Thatis sensible. But to adopt the attitude of the determinist who denies freewill, and declares that no man is ever morally guilty of any evil he does, violates common sense and the sound principles of reason and observation.
55. Do you imagine that, if everybody believed in determinism, men wouldcommit crimes with impunity?
No. I do not hold that the community would appoint no penalties for crime. I agree with Professor Joad's verdict that, if determinism is true, morality must lose its meaning. But, on their own principles, determinists would be determined to act as if determinism was not true, and as if morality was significant, just as they would have to be regarded as determined to think their determinism true when it isn't. That would be the only explanation of their moral indignation with wicked people who, if their theory were right, have no choice but to be wicked. But, if criminals could not escape with impunity, a deterministic philosophy, if adopted, would certainly tend to their multiplication. One is much more likely to develop reliable characters by teaching conscious and deliberate self-control with a sense of moral responsibility than by teaching that people are but the playthings of uncontrollable forces and inclinations. In his book, "The Threshold of Ethics," Dr. Kirk rightly says, "The habit of looking for automatisms, necessities, and compulsions, in our estimates of character, which is generated by the theory of determinism, is a habit which leads wholly in a non-moral direction. The more I treat myself as a plaything of irresistible forces, the more I shall tend to neglect self-criticism and self-discipline; and the less I shall resist the seductive temptations of self-pity, self-excuse, and self-justification."
56. We cannot escape heredity. You cannot produce a thoroughbred racehorse from a pair of broken-down hacks.
If man be no more than a beast, your analogy might apply. But if man is no more than a beast, you must not be surprised if he behaves as a beast. However, man is not a mere animal. Nor is character merely a matter of bodily characteristics only. Some of the finest types of men have arisen from the most unimpressive parentage; and from the best stock defective types have resulted. Freewill is a fact, and a psychological factor in the development of character which cannot be ignored. And upon the use of man's freewill his eternal destiny will depend.
57. What can religion do for God?
It enables us to render to Him the acknowledgment due to Him, and inspires us to obey His laws. We can thus respond in some way to His own great love for us.
58. He can need it very little.
He does not need it at all. But He must needs demand that we do what it is right for us to do. We are unjust if we do not return love for love, and gratitude for gifts received. And not God's future well-being, but our future well-being, is inextricably bound up with our fulfillment of religious duties.
59. Service to our fellow men can do a great deal, and they need it badly.
I agree. But religion does not mean the service of God at the expense of our neighbors. The greater one's love of God, the greater and truer will be his love of his neighbors.
60. Reason is enough to tell me what to know and to do.
Reason, when it is right, is good enough as far as it goes. But it is very liable to error, and when right, does not go far enough. We need the additional truth revealed by God and taught us by the Christian religion. Reason cannot refute the claims of Christ, and in fact disposes us to accept them. Certainly reason cannot replace religion. It gives inadequate knowledge only, and cannot give any vital impulse to observe its own moral precepts.
61. Why cannot a man live a good life without religion?
He can do some good things without religion. He can refrain from drunkenness, and pay his debts to his fellow men. But he cannot live a really good life unless he does the main thing for which he was made. And the main thing is that he knows, loves, and serves God, and regulates his conduct towards his fellow men by motives of love for God.
62. I have sound ideas of goodness and morality, and can live up to them without religion.
Your very ideas of what is good and moral are drawn from the general Christian culture of the civilization in which you live. To want your moral standards without the religion which gave rise to them is like wanting rain without wanting the ocean from which it is drawn. Renan admitted that to abolish Christianity, yet to wish to retain its ethics, is merely to inhale a perfume from an empty bottle. Men cannot live on perfumes; and even if they could, the emptiness of the bottle will soon mean the end of the perfume. Again, if the Christian religion is true, as it is, then it is necessary for goodness and morality. For its very acceptance will be part of morality, involving the discharging of our debt to God. Religion is as necessary to good morals as the right course is necessary to good navigation.
63. On the whole, I think religion good for women.
It is. Religion gives them their character and happiness. It gives to that sex which has ever been regarded as frail the nobility of angels, of virtue, of sweetness and devotedness. Such are our mothers. But this does not imply that religion is not good also for men. When you say that religion is good for women, do you mean that religion is false? Evidently not, because then it would not be good for anyone. Do you mean that women alone have souls to save? Ancient pagans denied that women had any rights in the field of religion on the score that they had no souls. But no one doubted that men had souls. Do you mean that men belong to earth only, and that heaven is reserved for women? A man needs religion every bit as much as a woman. And it is his duty to be religious, rendering to God the acknowledgment and service due to Him from all intelligent creatures.
64. I have led a happy and contented life, the crux of all human endeavor. Why is religion necessary if this can be attained without religion?
Firstly, the crux of all human endeavor ought not to be the securing of a happy and contented life in this world. Man's main duty is the religious service of God. If you are able to be happy, you owe it to God that you exist, and that those things exist which give you happiness. You, therefore, owe to God the acknowledgment of your debt to Him by religious worship, offering Him your praise and gratitude. To take all, and enjoy it without the slightest manifestation of gratitude to God, is both unjust and most ill-mannered.Again, if you seek happiness, seek it properly whilst you are at it. This world is not all. Your soul is immortal, and eternity awaits you. If the sole source of your happiness lies in the things of this world, then you are living in a fool's paradise. No man can escape death, and every cause of happiness for you will be taken from you whether you like it or not. You brought nothing into this world with you, and you will take nothing of it with you when you die. Where then will you find happiness? Religion is our bond with God who made us, and the earnest and fervent practice of religion keeps us in touch with the God whom we are to meet some day, and with whom we are to be forever, if we are to know happiness hereafter. Your own happiness, therefore, is bound up with your religious duties to God, and you owe Him the acknowledgment which you can render Him only by discharging the debt of religion. Neglect that duty, and you are guilty of a great injustice, and you will make wreckage of your eternity. On your deathbed you may say that you "have had" many happinesses during life. But you won't have them then. They came--only to go; and the memory of them will be no compensation for the miseries you will encounter, and which will never go. Be reasonably happy in this life, if you wish. But take up your duties of religion, make sure of your eternal happiness in the next life, and at all costs save your soul.
65. What precisely do you mean by the saving ofone's soul?
The meaning of that requires a brief analysis of man. Manconsists of body and soul. The body is material and perishable; thesoul is spiritual and imperishable. But the soul is the real you.It is the soul which knows and loves, is happy or miserable. Now asthe soul is immortal, it enters at death into an eternal state,whether it be one of supreme happiness, or of direst misery. By"saving one's soul" I mean going from this world inthe grace and friendship of God, so that one avoids eternal misery,and secures eternal happiness.
66. What are the conditions of salvation?
That we serve God in this life, doing what He commands, andavoiding what He forbids. That surely is evident. If men have notalways done what God commands, or have not always avoided what Heforbids, they must at least be sincerely repentant of their sinsbefore they go from this life to meet their eternal Judge.
67. Religion seems to me to be based on superstition and fear.
Religion as such is certainly not based on superstition, despite the folly into which some people have fallen where religion is concerned. As regards fear, which is by no means the same thing as superstition, nor necessarily supposes it, all genuine religion is based on a reverential and proper fear of God. For the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Craven fear has no place in genuine religion. If any people have adopted religion through motives of craven fear, their conduct would be wrong, and their dispositions would have to be condemned. Their duty would be to rise to higher motives, and seek a proper spirit of religion.
68. Don't you think that where science advances, religion is rejected?
No. In some people pretended science can destroy religion either because of their limited mental powers, or because of their pride and self-conceit. Others do not so much love science as hate religion owing to its conflict with their vices. And their continued talk of a love for science (of which they know little or nothing) is a kind of alibi by which they try to conceal their dislike of religion and pretend to impartiality. The really scientific find no tendency to abandon religion on the score of any conflicting evidence. Science has dethroned the sun-god, Jupiter, stone-gods, and other false deities. It has demolished sorcery, incantations, oracles, and other superstitions to some extent. But true religion remains; and the really scientific mind admits willingly that life is a bigger thing than this earth, and that science itself can never satisfy the needs of human nature.
69. Does not over-concentration on religion tend to insanity?
To overdo anything is a mistake, and this applies even to religion. A well-balanced man avoids extremes in all departments of life, whether by excess, or by defect. And just as one can damage his health by eating too much, or by not eating at all, so one can injure his mind and soul by religious over-indulgence or by neglect of religion. Over-concentration on any particular subject can lead to extraordinary ideas. Thus over-concentration on gangster stories can give a highly impressionable youth the fixed idea that he must go out and distribute gratuitous bullets. I admit that over-concentration in religious directions is likely to be more dangerous than in other matters. For religion is so much a part of man's very being, and of his complete nature, gripping mind and heart and will, and embracing man's imaginative and emotional tendencies, and reaching deep down into the subconscious recesses of the soul. People disposed to insanity therefore, are ever likely to break out into some form of religious mania. That is why religion needs a rational and common-sense approach as few things else. Yet common sense does not go to the other extreme, and neglect religious obligations altogether. There may be religious cranks. But not every religious man is a crank; and to be without any religion is as much a violation of reason and common sense by defect as it is to fall into excess.
70. It's my opinion that religion is a racket, designed to provide a living for those who propagate it.
Do you know anything at all about Christ? Can you find anything in the four Gospels to hint that He designed His religion to provide a living in this world only? When He called His apostles to leave their ordinary means of a livelihood, He did not offer them an easier and more lucrative profession. Religion, of course, like anything else is liable to abuse. Some people undoubtedly have made a money-spinning racket out of religion. And they cannot be too strongly condemned. But that does not justify your sweeping assertion that religion is designed for that purpose. If being provided with a living were the motive,I can assure you that it would never have inspired me to become a Catholic Priest, nor could it inspire me to remain one. Life could offer me much more elsewhere.
71. If money were completely left out of consideration, there would not be so many advocates of religion.
There might be more, from one point of view. For a great many people talk religion, but forget about it once there is any mention of self-sacrifice on behalf of religion. Genuine religion requires the fitting worship of God by man both in his social and individual capacity. Public worship requires Churches, and men set apart to devote their lives to the cause of religion. Genuine religion also requires the proper education of children in their duties to God, to themselves, and to mankind; and this requires schools. Genuine religion also demands works of charity to the destitute and to the sick; and this requires orphanages, hospitals and other institutions. All these things require money. And those who subscribe to these things do so from a sense of religion. Meantime, those who lack the same generosity, sneer at the commercialism of religion.
72. I have all I need, without the aid of any religion.
Do you mean that you have no religion because you don't see what you would get out of it? If it were profitable, would you adopt it? Your judgment of others really reflects your own attitude in the matter. And your boasting of your possessions is like that of one who boasts of his luxuries and of the fact that he has never paid for them. You are indebted to God for all you have, but leave that debt unpaid, rendering no acknowledgment to Him. There are thousands of people who would never tolerate from their own children the indifference and contempt they expect God to tolerate from them.
73. Without any formal religion, people should be left to their own quiet thoughts about the Almighty.
I agree that they would not find that very expensive. It should therefore appeal to all people who are devoid of any spirit of self-sacrifice. But I would suggest that thoughts of the Almighty would be very few and far between in people lacking any education in matters of religion. The substitute you propose in place of religion is very flimsy, unsubstantial, and vague. Quiet thoughts about the Almighty do not constitute religion. Religion requires much more than that.
74. You claim that not only is religion necessary to man, but that he needs a revealed religion?
Yes. The world of mysterious reality proper to God is supernatural and inaccessible to us by our own unaided natural powers--a vast ocean of being, as Fr. Sertillanges well remarks, for which we have no boat, and in which all created reality is a kind of lost island on which we live. Revelation by God is necessary if we are to know truths belonging to that mysterious supernatural order of being.
75. The only source of all our knowledge is the visible and tangible universe about us.
The universe is the natural source of natural knowledge. But it is not the source of all knowledge. God Himself, who is distinct from all the natural things He has created, and supernatural in comparison with them, can make known to man in a supernatural way certain information about Himself and His relationships with men which could not be naturally acquired. In short, whilst the created universe is the source of natural knowledge, God Himself is the source of supernatural knowledge. He has stepped in, as it were, and given men information they could never have attained had He not so acted.
76. Even revelation could come only through man's natural powers.
That is true. But we must not confuse the means by which information comes to us, and the nature and source of that information. I could transmit information to you by telephone. But the information given, as the person giving it, would be in a totally different and higher order of being than the merely material and mechanical instrument used to convey it.
77. It would have to be a spiritual experience coining to us through our senses.
That would be necessary were I, on your own level and in the same order of being as yourself, revealing something to you. I would have to speak, and you would have to hear. For all our normal communications of knowledge are through the senses. But God could communicate to the soul, not as united to the body and the senses, but as an intelligence, whatever ideas He may please. He could do this by immediate interior inspiration, without the senses intervening at all. Of course, in reflecting upon these ideas the soul would use the brain, and try to formulate them in words however inadequately, drawing analogies from sense-data. Any knowledge of supernatural reality thus infused by God, whilst infallibly true, would necessarily remain mysterious to us.
78. The appeal to the mysterious is an appeal to the absurd.
Mysteries revealed by God are truths above the capacity of human reason, but they are not absurd. They are not against reason; they are above reason. If words cannot convey their full sense, no one can prove them to be nonsense. Whatever reason can urge against their truth, reason itself can refute. But reason cannot positively explain their full significance. As a matter of fact, far from being absurd, mysteries are the opposite. The absurd is evidence of the false. But mysteries revealed by God are merely the grandeur of truth itself. They simply bring out the fact that truth is a much greater thing than the small particles of it which the human mind is able to grasp.
79. Does not this mean the abdication of reason?
No. It presupposes the exercise of reason. It is reasonable to believe what God Himself says of Himself and of His purposes. It is quite reasonable, where we can't see clearly, to accept the authority of God who sees all.
80. If we are given the truth about God, I don't see why there should be all this obscurity.
God Himself is not obscure. The trouble lies in our own limitations and in our lack of capacity to understand Him completely. But that does not say that we cannot know that He exists, and that we cannot know quite a lot about Him. Reason, if developed, admits an infinity of things beyond it. If it hasn't got that far it has scarcely commenced work.
81. Would it not have been possible to reveal a clear religion, easy for all to believe?
Granted a revelation of supernatural truth, there is bound to be some obscurity for us. I say for us, because these truths are not obscure in themselves. God sees their full significance as clearly as you see the noonday sun. But the human mind lacks the capacity to see their full significance just as the human eye cannot see infra-red or ultra-violet light rays. By other means we are sure of the reality of these rays. And whilst human reason cannot see for itself that the Trinity, for example, is a fact, by knowledge of God's revelation we are sure that it is a fact.
82. One who accepts revealed religion is expected to believe in miracles.
Revelation includes the fact that miracles have occurred.
83. What is a miracle?
A miracle is an extraordinary event beyond the powers and outside the scope of any created agency, and therefore produced by God Himself. No natural forces could account for it.
84. When you say that nature cannot account for a miracle, what do you mean by nature?
Nature can refer to the whole created universe, with all its proper forces and powers; or it can refer to each individual thing in the universe, as when we say that the nature of a man differs from the nature of a beast. But, whether taken in reference to each created thing, or to all created things, nature embraces all that these things can be or do according to the constitution and powers given them by their Creator. And we maintain that the miraculous transcends completely all these powers.
85. Most people would be very surprised to hear that miracles take place.
As an extraordinary event not due to natural causes, every miracle is calculated to surprise us to some extent. Of its very nature it is a surprising thing. But, from another point of view, we are not surprised that God should at times work miracles. He is not bound by the secondary laws He Himself appointed as the normal causes of events in this universe.
86. I am afraid I could never believe in miracles. They are much too strange for me.
We are naturally inclined to be astonished by the unusual, but we are not justified in denying the truth of an event merely because it is unusual. '"The government of the whole universe is a much more wonderful thing than the multiplication of five loaves of bread," says St. Augustine, "but men are not astonished by the former because they are used to it, whilst they are astonished by the latter because it is rare." Granted an omnipotent God, it is absurd to say that miracles cannot happen. Belief in a miracle depends entirely upon the available evidence as to whether it did happen. As a matter of fact, miracles seem strange only to minds which make no allowance for God. He who lives in the presence of God is not surprised to see God act. It is as easy for God to restore life to a dead man as to preserve the life of a living man.
87. Miracles seem so arbitrary, and so destructive of scientific certainty.
The God who arbitrarily created all tilings, and who arbitrarily established the ordinary laws of nature, is not bound to restrict Himself to those ordinary laws. He may arbitrarily intervene and act independently of ordinary natural laws should He wish. Nor are miracles destructive of scientific certainty. After all, no scientist can be certain of what you yourself will choose to do tomorrow. And if that does not destroy scientific certainty, why should it be destroyed by uncertainty as to what God will do? Scientific certainty can be had concerning natural facts. When a supernatural fact occurs, science can testify to the historical occurrence of the event, and then declare that the nature of the event is not within the boundaries of ordinary science. Thus, of a sudden and miraculous cure, science can say, "That person had a broken leg five minutes ago, and now he has not a broken leg. Negatively I can say that no merely natural power can account for the phenomenon." And there natural science stops.
88. Would your faith be greatly disturbed if the miracles recorded in the Bible never really happened at all?
It would not only be disturbed. It would be shattered. If any man could prove that the miracles recorded in the Bible did not happen, or that miracles could not happen, I would abandon Christanity altogether. But to disprove miracles you must prove one of three things: You must prove either that there is no God, and that God cannot operate independently of the laws of nature He Himself established or that the Bible is a lying forgery and not authentic history. No man can prove any of these things.
89. Since people do not believe in miracles today, why should they believe in miracles that happened 2000 years ago?
Some people believe that miracles happen in our own day; others do not. I certainly believe that they can happen; and am prepared to believe that any given event is a miracle provided satisfactory evidence can be produced that it did occur, and that it surpasses the capability of any natural law.Yet even if miracles did not happen in our own times, that would not be proof that they did not happen 2000 years ago. Events of 2000 years ago must be judged on the evidence of what happened then; not on the evidence of what does not happen now. In other words, the historical evidence for past miracles must be examined on its own merits. It would not be disproved by any absence of miracles now. Otherwise you could prove that women never wore hoop skirts by the fact that the modern woman does not happen to do so.
90. If miracles have ceased to take place, why have they ceased?
Miracles have not ceased to occur. There arc three classes of miracles: intellectual, moral, and physical. Prophecy is an intellectual miracle, for it is the prediction with certainty of future events, often dependent upon human liberty. God alone can know with certainty what a given human being will do, say in ten years' time; or what future generations of men will deride to do. A moral miracle is one which does not surpass the inherent capacity of created powers, but which does surpass the ordinary laws regulating them. Thus the unity of some 400 millions of people in the Catholic Faith--people of different nationalities and varying degrees of intelligence; people who probably disagree on almost every other matter, is a moral miracle. God alone can be responsible for their allegiance to the Catholic Church. Physical miracles are sudden external and astonishing events beyond all created powers--an obvious work of God quite outside God's ordinary providence; such as the sudden cure of a broken leg or the instant restoration to perfect health of one suffering from consumption or cancer in an advanced stage. Miracles of all three classes have occurred right through the ages from the time of Christ until our own days. An exhaustive study of the records at Lourdes, or of the lives of the Saints in every century, or of the Archives of the Congregation of Rites, where the most scientific evidence of modern miracles is collected, would convince you of this.
91. You regard the Gospel authors as historians?
I insist on the historical value of the Gospels.
92. Critics maintain that the Gospels are not historical in the proper sense of the word.
Similar comments can be found in quite orthodox and excellent Catholic works. For example, in his book, "Christ and the Critics," Felder says that the Evangelists certainly intended to write history, and were subjectively qualified to report correctly the words and deeds of Jesus. But he adds that they had not "a high, scientific education, nor critical precision. But these they did not need. It was not a matter of solving deep problems, or of extracting the truth from old bundles of documents and examining it critically. They merely had to write down perfectly concrete deeds which had been enacted for the most part in public, and were of the utmost simplicity. They were not compiling an account of past centuries; nor did they even pay attention to the chronological sequence of events or the requirements of scientific arrangement. For this reason the Gospels are not historical works in the strictest sense of the term. But, although the Evangelists were not historians in the sense of Thucydides, the father of critical historical composition, they did write down the facts of the Gospel in accordance with the truth."
93. Are not the Gospels entirely set in a theological context to serve theological purposes?
It would be a gross exaggeration to say that. A remarkable feature of the Gospels is their adherence to a bare delineation of facts. Even where we should expect them to make capital out of what they write, they don't. Miraculous events are given without any expressions of astonishment or triumph. Ill-treatment of their Master is recorded without a word of indignation. If the writers were bent on supporting a thesis, having little regard for historical truth, they would have been fools to invent "hard sayings" which could only alienate people; to record that Christ's own relatives thought Him mad; that He was weak enough to pray that the cup of suffering might pass from Him; to paint a picture of a humiliated, mocked, and crucified criminal whom they wanted men to worship; and to insist that His own people rejected Him. If His own rejected Him, why on earth should others accept Him? No. They record what happened as if their only interest were that of observers and narrators. I admit that the idea of theological purpose is not without application to the Fourth Gospel. But that does not hinder the truth of the facts given.
94. The Old Testament penetration of the Gospels is not usually recognized.
All Scripture scholars have recognized the Old Testament penetration of the Gospels. That would naturally be there in books written by Jews educated by the reading and study of the Old Testament, and dealing with One who came to fulfill the religion of the Old Testament. But this has no bearing on the historical value of the Gospels. It is your approach to this question which is at fault. Liberal criticism, in its search for the historical Jesus, does not begin with history and thus try to build up the real Christ. It begins with its own modern views about Christ, and because these do not fit in with the historical records, it does not reach the conclusion that its own views are unhistorical--it argues that the really historical accounts of Christ must be legendary. Critics who do proceed historically recognize more and more the sterling value of the Gospels. Only insofar as they depart from the strictly historical method of research does the legendary theory gain in importance. It is a violation of science to destroy a purely historic question in favor of a philosophic principle. And even were their philosophy not false, the procedure of modern liberal critics would be unscientific. Liberal criticism is guilty of the very error it wants to shift off on to the Gospels. It wants to tamper with history in order to adjust it to a modern agnostic outlook.
95. Critics are unable to say with any confidence who wrote the various books.
That is too sweeping a statement, and already uncritical itself. For, whilst some critics feel that they are unable to do so, other critics are most confident in ascribing the works to very definite authors. Those who profess to be doubtful are themselves to blame for their doubts. For they give too much prominence to purely internal considerations, neglecting outside factors drawn from independent patristic and early ecclesiastical writers. At any rate, it is quite misleading to ascribe any opinion to "the critics" as though there were no diversity of opinion amongst men versed in Biblical criticism.
96. How can the Bible be worthy of credence when it quotes books that are missing, such as the Book of the Wars of the Lord, Book of Jashur, the Acts of Solomon, the Book of Gad the Seer, etc.?
If certain inspired books were missing, that would not be proof that such books as have remained are not inspired and trustworthy. But, secondly, the books you mention were most probably not inspired books at all. The sacred authors could be inspired to quote non-inspired books known to the people of their lime, in support of the facts they narrated. If the quoted books have perished, so that we cannot consult them as those could do who were recommended to do so, that does not give us the right to reject the authority of the Old Testament books handed on to us. In fact, we find force in the confidence of a writer who did not hesitate to refer the readers of his own time to outside sources which were then available.
97. Are the Christian Fathers Irenaeus, Chrysostom, Clement of Alexandria, and Theodoret correct when they say that all the Books were burned in the Babylonian captivity?
This opinion which occurs in some of the writings of the Fathers is not correct. They relied upon a passage in the Fourth Book of Esdras, XIV., 18-47. But this book is an apocryphal book written in the First Century A.D. by an unknown Palestinian Jew, five centuries after the time of Esdras. This author gives no authority save his own personal and subjective visions. In the Books of the Old Testament written near the actual time of the real Esdras, or well before the time of Christ, no mention is made of the destruction of the Books by fire. In II Machabees 11, 13, we are told that Nehemias, a contemporary of Esdras, made a collection of the Sacred Books, but we are told nothing about a fire. Neither Josephus nor the Talmud make any mention of it.
98. I wish to suggest that the Books of the Old Testament came into existence for the first time when reputedly found in the Temple.
I realize that; but the references you give fail completely to support your assumption.
99. Is it not implied in II Kings XXII., 8; and Chronicles, 2nd Book, XXXIV., 14, that the Jews did not know of the existence of the Books of Moses prior to 628 B.C.?
Most certainly not. Hilkiah, the high priest, immediately recognized the definite Book of the Law, as known in previous times. The king himself did not doubt for a moment that these were the ancient Books which "our fathers" should have heard and obeyed. The people did not for a moment believe that these were new Books, of whose previous existence they had known nothing.
100. Was Irenaeus correct when he said that the Books of the Old Testament were fabricated seventy years after the Babylonian captivity by Esdras?
I deny that Irenaeus ever said that. In his Adversus Haereses, Bk. III., c. 21, he says that Esdras collected the words of preceding prophets, and restored to the people the Mosaic law in its original order, just as it was given by Moses. There is no hint of '"fabrication" in this classic passage.
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