QUESTIONS IN VOLUME 3
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1. Does not scientific opinion tend to be agnostic, and to regard the existence of a Supreme Being as incapable of verification?
Some scientists who are proficient in certain limited experimental spheres may profess to be agnostics. But when they do so they are not speaking in virtue of any scientific knowledge they possess. They have gone outside the field in which they are proficient into a field in which they are not proficient. Often they have given so much attention to their own little field of inquiry that they have paid no attention to the rational explanation of the universe as a whole. They study the thing caused, but do not reflect upon the ultimate cause of all reality. And knowing little of the subject, they foolishly think nothing is to he known, forgetting their own limitations. Some do this. Not all. And thousands of great scientists have not been agnostic. They have devoted some thought to the subject instead of uttering hasty opinions. Thus Lord Kelvin said that science positively confirms creative power. Marconi recently spoke as follows: "It is a mistake to think that science and faith cannot exist together. There is too much atheism today. There are too many people just drifting along without any aim or ideal or belief. Faith in the Supreme Being whose rule we must obey can alone give us the courage and strength to face the great mystery of life." One cannot go through an endless stream of quotations. No one, of course, believes that the existence of the Supreme Being is capable of verification by methods proper to experimental science. But His existence is capable of verification by reason; and science does not tend to the denial of this in properly instructed and well-balanced minds.
2. People argue from the order prevailing in the universe to the existence of an intelligent God.
They do; and rightly so.
3. How do we know that it is not in the nature of things themselves to act in an orderly way, according to a plan?
We know that it is not in the nature of created things of themselves to act in an orderly way according to a plan, for if they are working towards the fulfillment of a plan, there is a constant adaption of means to an end, which supposes an intelligence which has both formulated the plan, and perceived the fitting relationship between given means and the given end to be attained. Now blind matter is not endowed with intelligence. Nor can mere chance produce order. Scatter indiscriminately over the ground thousands of letters written on slips of paper, they will never by mere chance fall together in such a way as to make, say, an oration of Cicero. Now the only intelligent beings in the world are men. But prior to the advent of men to this world, order prevailed. It can be accounted for only by an extra-mundane Intelligence. As surely as it needs intelligence to understand the order prevailing in the universe, it needed intelligence to produce it. Employing all the resources of his intelligence, a genius may devote the whole of his life to a study of the orderly arrangement of crystals. Will he ascribe the whole of the universe to an intelligence so much less than his own that he calls it a blind force? The moment one speaks of the laws of the universe, he speaks of a legislator. And all legislation supposes intelligence, even though human legislation indicates often enough how badly employed human intelligence can be. If it be in the very nature of certain things to tend in an orderly way towards the realization of a plan, that tendency was implanted in their nature by the Supreme Intelligence responsible for the plan; and that Supreme Intelligence is God.
4. Did not humanity originally begin with polytheism, and gradually evolve towards monotheism?
No. Humanity began with monotheism, and multitudes degenerated into polytheism. At first sight the most primitive traditions found in the Vedic books seem polytheistic; but a deeper scrutiny shows an individual Deity, and indicates that the plurality of gods is really a plurality of effects or created manifestations. This ancient tradition was a survival of the primitive convictions of our first parents. But even as the Jews were always prone to fall into polytheism despite the special protection of God, so the Gentile nations degenerated in their religious notions, and the idea of a plurality of gods became quite common among the rank and file of peoples. The great Greek philosophers, Aristotle and Plato, though in general practice conforming to popular notions, discerned, however, by reason that polytheism was absurd, and theoretically maintained that there could be but one Deity. They saw that polytheism was an error, and that error supposes a truth of which it is the corruption. They both allude to ancient traditions confirming their views. Philologically, also, no plural terms existed prior to singular terms precisely because multitude is subsequent to unity; and the notion of a plurality of gods presupposed a notion of the one God.
5. You do not believe that the universe can be explained in terms of the material only.
Most certainly I do not. The mere materialist offers explanations which do not even deserve a place in the catalog of errors. They are too puerile. Of visible things materialism gives explanations one would expect from a prattling baby or from a lunatic. Of invisible things and spiritual things it gives no explanation at all. It constructs bodies with smaller bodies, like a child playing with a set of blocks, and it gets quite out of breath by the time it gets to things of the mind. It contradicts itself by speaking of laws of matter, for a law is a decree formulated by reason, and reason is not material. Materialists are inconsequent people who prove God every time they speak in order to deny Him. For at the back of every denial of God there is the idea of God. No man can believe in truth, or appreciate goodness, or seek happiness, without tending towards the Author of these things. Yet each of these ideas leads to God. Materialism is not rational; and its only real appeal lies in the fact that it makes the universe the magnificent plaything of man's pride, and gives him a free field for his passions.
6. Is it not reasonable to suppose a purely physical cause of which we as yet know nothing?
I must ask you what you mean by a "purely physical" cause. God is a physical, though not a material Being. If you intend a material cause, I say that the supposition is not reasonable; for the material cannot produce the spiritual. Thought itself is in the spiritual order, and so is the soul which produces thought. You would scorn the idea that a telegraph pole spontaneously began to produce peaches. Yet the proportion between a telegraph pole and peaches is much less than that between matter and spirit.Again, if we as yet know nothing of the cause of all things, why is it reasonable to suppose that cause to be "purely physical"-whatever you mean by that- yet not reasonable to suppose it to be the Personal God we Christians accept? As a matter of fact, I maintain that a Personal God is the only reasonable explanation.
7. Because we do not yet know of such a purely physical cause, is that in itself sufficient reason to assert a Divine Cause?
Apparently, by "purely physical" cause you mean some blind force. Now I admit that because, we do not know of such a purely physical cause we would not be justified in asserting a Divine Cause. But what if, instead of merely "not" knowing of a purely physical cause which could produce this universe, we "know'' that no such blind force could do so? And we do know that. The order and obvious design so evident in the universe insist that the Cause be intelligent and personal. And the very supremacy of that Cause supposes Divinity, or a Cause which is itself not an effect, but uncaused, and above all created limitations. Divinity is but a term reserved for an uncreated Being outside and above the created order, and rejoicing in limitless perfections.
8. Despite all your arguments, I refuse to believe in a God we can't understand.
That is unreasonable. In any case, you can understand that there is a God, even though you cannot fully understand the nature of God. God must surpass the capacity of the human mind or He would not be God at all. You must not confuse mystery with absurdity. Tell me that blind matter produced the universe, and I admit the absurdity. But mystery is the very opposite of absurdity. The absurd is false, contradictory, incoherent. But mystery is a truth whose immensity surpasses us. When we speak of God, what we say is true as far as it goes. But human ideas will never go far enough to express God completely. We must express God as best we can, though we shall never fully succeed in expressing God as He is. And I, for one, would not believe in God unless He did surpass my own limited concepts.
9. Since God is infinite, and the finite human mind cannot conceive the infinite, God must be thoroughly incomprehensible to us.
God is not thoroughly incomprehensible to us. We can attain to a certain degree of knowledge concerning Him, even though we cannot form an adequate concept of Him. The finite human mind can conceive the fact that there is a Being not finite as are the things that Being has made. It can affirm perfections of God, denying the imperfections associated with limited creatures, and attributing the purified perfections to Him in an altogether higher and nobler order of being. Any perfections affirmed of God must be with the proviso that God transcends created nature and that we intend them as they must be in an order above that of nature. In other words, we intend them as they are in the supernatural order and as known to God Himself. Even as an animal can know that a human being has certain knowledge, without comprehending the precise quality of that knowledge, so human beings can know that God possesses certain perfections without fully comprehending their precise quality as they are in God.
10. I have heard God spoken of as Elohim, Jehovah, Yahweh, Eternal Father, the Infinite King, Divine Providence, and in many other ways. Is any one of these names capable of defining God completely?
No one word can define the whole of the significance of God. Our concepts or thoughts are derived from created things; and there can be as many diverse thoughts in our minds as there are varying perfections in created things. The infinite plentitude of God's perfection is too great to be comprehended in any single human concept, and our small intelligence has to speak of God in partial and inadequate concepts. Thus even in the one concept of the Pope we have many implied and different aspects. The same person is Bishop of Rome, Head of the Church, Chief Shepherd, Supreme Teacher, Holy Father, etc. If I allude to him under one of these titles, all the rest is implied. And whether I speak of God as Eternal Father, or King, or Divine Providence, or Jehovah, or under any other accepted term, I successfully call attention to the Being I intend; and all that that Being implies in Himself is included, even though I neither express nor fully grasp it.
11. You constantly allude to God as if God were a person. Can God be truly a personal Being?
God is truly personal. We know that the being and vitality of man is conscious and personal, and that by life, consciousness, and personality, man is higher than inanimate things. Therefore God, infinitely higher than man in the scale of perfection, is living, conscious, and personal.
12. Is the term person capable of being used to define an infinite entity?
It is capable of being applied to an infinite entity, though its significance from our point of view falls short of the reality as it is in God. For example, a stone is a being and a man is a being. The word "being" is equally true of each, though one who knew only stones would not know of its full implication in man. So, too, man is personal, and God is personal. Person is true of each. But we, who have experimental knowledge only of human persons, do not know its full implication in God. Yet, though there is not absolute identity of concept, there is a true analogy of concept; and in revealing that He is personal, God has conveyed the real truth to us in a way adapted to our lesser capacity.
13. When you call God "Father" do you not imply that there is sex in God, and that He is masculine?
No. The word "Father" is used of God, not to imply that He is of the masculine gender, a quality proper to material bodies, but merely to denote our production by God; and this, not as by some blind mechanical force, but by an intelligent and loving Principle of Being. The word '"Father" is the nearest human expression suitable for the proportionate truth to be declared. As directly drawn from human beings, of course, the word implies procreation by mutual cooperation between the sexes, and that supposes masculine and feminine. But when applied to God abstraction is made from the mode or process of production, and the sense is restricted to the fact of our production by God, and to the parental dispositions of God towards us. We thus express in our human way a characteristic which is really in God, though not precisely as it is in man. God is truly a Father to us.
14. If God's providence rules all things, is it not an insult to Him to put lightning conductors on Churches?
No. It would be an insult and a sin of presumption to expect God to do immediately those things which we ourselves are capable of doing with such powers as He has bestowed upon us. He does not give us our natural intelligence for nothing, but expects us to use it. We are expected always to do all that we are capable of doing, and then we ask God to supply for our incapacity in things beyond our ability.
15. Face the dilemma. God could either prevent evils or not. If He can but will not, He is not good; if He cannot, He is not all powerful.
That dilemma is invalid. If a dilemma is to be valid, the disjunction must be complete, exhausting all possibilities. There must be no room for the reply, "Datur tertium"-there is a third possibility. Your dilemma fails, if evil and pain and suffering be useful. What if the evils we see in this world are the necessary condition of a higher good? What if, still more, they be indispensable to the progress of man and the realization of his destiny-if some day they are to be compensated by an eternity of happiness? In any case, for a dilemma to be valid, the inference from each alternative in itself must be certain and indisputable. Neither of your alternatives is even reasonable.
16. Do you say that even God cannot prevent these evils?
Absolutely speaking, God could annihilate the whole of creation, and then, of course, there would be no problem of evils in the universe. But granted that God wants this type of world, then pain and suffering are a necessary condition; and it was certainly better to permit them than not to create a universe in which it was possible for them to occur.As it is, your very terms involve a contradiction. In practice, the assertion that if God cannot remove all pain He is not all powerful means, where physical pain is concerned, that if God cannot have sensitive beings without their being sensitive, He is not all powerful! For, granted the power of sensation, our sensations will be pleasant and unpleasant even with the variations of the weather! Where moral evil is concerned, your assertion means, "If God cannot have free and morally responsible beings who are not really free and morally responsible, He is not all powerful." For granted freedom of will, moral evil is a necessary possibility.
17. Since you cannot appeal to sin, free will, and a future life in the case of animals, why do they have to suffer pain?
I would have to be God to give you a completely satisfactory answer to that question. To a certain extent, therefore, the problem must be left amongst the thousand and one mysteries which defy human solution. However, I can suggest certain points which may help to some understanding of the problem.Firstly, it is better to be a vegetable than a mineral. A vegetable at least has life and growth, and is admittedly a more perfect thing than a stone.Secondly, it is better to be a dog than a dandelion. The dog is not only living; it has sensitive life, and is able to enjoy many pleasant sensations denied to dandelions. But the price of additional sensitive perfection is pain. If a being is endowed with the power of sensation, it will endure sensations both pleasant and painful. And as even God could not create a sensitive being which would have no sensations, He must have seen that the pleasant ones would compensate for the painful ones. If you concentrate on the capacity for pain, and forget the capacity for pleasure, you might think it better not to have created such beings, and that life is not worth living for them. But no animal feels that. If a cat eats a mouse, the very protests of the mouse show how it likes being alive. You yourself would pity the mouse for being deprived of its life rather than the cat for the misery of being fed and compelled to live longer.
18. But there are individual cases where the compensations seem entirely inadequate.
There are, and they necessarily baffle us. But even so, we must beware of reading human attributes into the merely animal world, interpreting the sufferings of animals in terms of our own experiences. It would be a grave error to think that animals suffer in the way we do: for they lack our power of reflex thought. Then, too, we must not endow them with personal moral rights which they do not possess.
19. That doesn't alter the fact that animals suffer.
Iagree. We cannot do more than appeal to the greater good. And it is a question of the general good as opposed to the individual good. The sum-total of pleasure in the animal world more than compensates for the sum-total of unavoidable pain. There is also the good of man to be considered. There is no violation of reason in the thought that God should permit physical pain, which does not involve moral evil, in order to procure the good of a higher order. Granted that God wished to create just such a universe as this, the unpleasant sensations of sensitive beings are absolutely necessary for the universal good. If all physical pain were eliminated, inferior beings would no longer be the means of existence to superior beings.Many beautiful fauna would never exist. Also, if animals did not live on animals, they would multiply beyond all proportion, and then earth would be littered with rotting carcasses. The general good presupposes such physical evils in such a world as this.
20. It seems to me that you folk who believe in God are the most forebearing folk in the world,
I suppose you feel that if you believed in God you would tell Him what to do. But only one who does not believe in God can think like that. Did you believe in God you would realize that He is not subject to you, but that you are subject to Him. He is not answerable to us for His conduct. We are answerable to Him for ours. Meantime, it is because we believe in God that we have a solution for the troubles of this life which makes them bearable, however serious they may seem. Dissatisfaction is proper to those who do not believe in God. Their rejection of God does not diminish their trials. It merely deprives them of the consolation which good Christians experience in the midst of them.
21. You should not seek your God's forgiveness; He should seek yours.
Such a remark illustrates a great truth. As men cease to believe in and esteem God, they begin to believe in and esteem themselves. They lose the sense of sin, and become more and more unconscious of their moral failings. Thus, it is quite common for unbelievers to assert that they do not believe in religion, and at once to catalog their own virtues. Almost instinctively they add. "I don't pray, but I'm as good as those who do. I live a good clean life, owe no man anything, help my fellow men, etc." Conscious of their rectitude they feel that they deserve only the best; and naturally they resent misfortune. They smart under suffering and trial with a sense of injured innocence. And they cry out that, if there be a God, He is greatly to be blamed. Conscious only of their own virtue, they do not dream that they need any forgiveness. But believing their sufferings undeserved, they talk of God begging their pardon.On the other hand, the more one believes in and esteems God, the less he believes in and esteems himself. Any good that is in him he attributes to God; and he is keenly conscious of his own shortcomings as being his own work. Aware of his sins, he is not astonished that suffering and trial should be his lot. Instead of thinking that he deserves only the best, he knows that he deserves only the worst. He therefore asks God to forgive him his sins: and is grateful to God for treating him so much more gently than justice would demand.
22. Where you define pain as something negative, millions of tortured creatures give the strongest evidence that it is something decidedly positive.
The fact that creatures positively experience pain does not alter the fact that evil as such is not a positive entity owing its creation to God.
23. Do you believe literally in God as Creator of all things, visible and invisible?
Yes. But remember that things, whether visible or invisible, are things insofar as they have positive being. Now try to follow carefully this treatment of the subject.Evil, as such, whether physical or moral, is not a positive entity, but is a privation of due perfection. God has created every positive entity, but He does not directly produce those privations of perfection which are called evils.Take the physical evil of a decayed tooth. God is the cause of all the positive being involved. That part of the tooth which is not yet decayed, but which is still good, owes its existence to God. The existent nerves owe their being to God, and are good nerves. Their perfectly good registrations letting us know that the tooth is out of order are due to God's causality. But the real evil is the absence of healthy tooth and of right order in the nerves. Even the germs which consumed the tooth are quite good germs so far as their being goes. Even the process of consuming the tooth was excellent as a process.But the evil element is reduced to absence of order and absence of healthy tooth; and absences of perfection are not caused by any positive action of God. God permits them, if you wish, insofar as He does not choose to prevent corrosive processes, or to produce good tooth as fast as it is eaten away.In all this I do not deny that pain is a positive experience. Owing to the absence of healthy tooth, there is quite a positive vibration of the exposed nerve giving positively painful registrations. But the positive action is a good activity; the evil is merely lack of due order. And whilst God is the Creator of all positive entity, He is not the Creator of a lack of what should be there.The same principle applies to moral evil. The will, and the action by which I choose are good in themselves. The evil is the lack of moral rectitude-again an absence of something which should normally be there. And God does not cause the absence of what should be present.Why He permits the nonexistence or the privation of due order in created things is another question. We are dealing with the causality of God. God is not the cause of evil as such.
24. How can you admit that evil is positively experienced by us, yet deny its very existence?
I do not admit that we positively experience evil. We positively experience good registrations telling us that perfection is wanting. The registrations are positive, but they tell us of an absence of perfection. Positive entities alone really exist -good thus far-which lack the full measure of goodness which they ought to have. The evil is the privation or limitation of entity, not an entity itself.
25. Why did not God create a different type of world, and not this one?
That question is not yours to ask. God would not be God if He had to depend on the future approval of your judgment before He dared to act. If you reply, "Then I don't believe there is a God," you violate reason. And you will find the universe a much greater problem without God than any I have to face. If you say, "God does exist, but He is not good, or not entirely good," you contradict yourself, for once you introduce any limitation of perfection in God, then He is no longer God at all. The only reasonable position is to say, "God is a fact. Suffering is a fact. I do not fully comprehend why God should have permitted suffering, nor how He adjusts compensations which seem to me to be required if justice is to prevail. But that I do not fully comprehend these things does not surprise me, since there are thousands of lesser problems than this which I have failed to solve. Therefore, I can only conclude that, if I do not understand things, I do not understand them. But I am not going to deny what is certain, and maintain that my finite intelligence ought to be able to comprehend everything-a comprehension the possibility of which experience absolutely denies."
26. These difficulties have caused thousands of men to abandon religion.
Their own dispositions have caused men to abandon religion. Some men have made this problem the excuse even as other men have advanced other excuses. But any man who would neglect those religious and moral obligations which he can clearly understand merely because he cannot understand mysteries which he cannot be expected to understand is as foolish, and more so, than a man who would rather sit in darkness than switch on the electric light on the score that he doesn't understand just what electricity is!
27. Don't you think that the idea of immortality is due merely to the desire to live on?
I know that it is not due merely to that. Men without any desire to live on have the conviction. At the same time normal people do desire to live on, and by such an irrepressible tendency that we must admit it to be a clear indication of immortality. I do not say that everything a person wants to be true is necessarily true. But here we have, not a transitory wish, not a momentary craving, but a natural tendency implanted in our very nature and always with us. Aristotle said long ago that "nature does nothing in vain." The eye demands light; and there is light. Our very constitution demands air; and there is air. And it is part of our very nature to look forward to immortality. All men experience this urge at times. They have not to persuade themselves that they will live on. They have to try to persuade themselves that they will not. Or else they just forget it. However, in addition to this argument from purposive tendencies there are other reasons of equal and greater weight. The very nature of thought shows the soul to be immaterial, and not subject to the laws of disintegration and destruction which govern all material things. We must consider, also, the facts of the moral law and the necessity of ultimate justice. All these arguments, taken together, are quite satisfactory to reason. If people say that they are not satisfied by such considerations, it is because they unreasonably expect too much. We cannot expect to prove the immortality of the soul as we can prove that lead is heavy by testing it on a pair of scales. But there are different orders of being with different orders of proof. Who would be so unreasonable as to deny the existence of humility because it can't be bought by the pound? All the reasonable proof of the immortality of the soul man can rightly demand is available.
28. Would you please amplify the evidence that the human soul is immortal.
Reason tells us that the soul is a spirit, not composed of parts like material things, and unable to disintegrate and go to pieces like material things. All corruption is disintegration of parts. But the soul has no parts. It is not a composite thing. It is a simple spiritual substance; and it must, of its very nature, continue when the body perishes. Again, all men as naturally judge that the soul is immortal as they are conscious that they exist. They do not have to persuade themselves that it is true, but that it is false. Man's intelligence, if not warped, seeks the truth for which it is built. It cannot rest contented with a lie. Left to itself it spontaneously judges immortality to be a truth; and this universal judgment cannot be doubted without casting suspicion on all our faculties. Furthermore. God has established a moral law written on the conscience of men. He knows and loves the moral order He has established. And He is infinitely just. It is certain that right conduct cannot be ultimately the worse for a good man; evil conduct cannot ultimately be for the good of an evil man. Things will be leveled up somewhere. Yet certainly they are not leveled up in this life. Public laws and human justice cannot cover interior wickedness. Honors are often conferred on the unworthy. An evil man has less remorse of conscience over a serious crime than a good man over a small fault. Since things are not rectified in this life, they will be in the next, and the responsible element of man will have to be there. It is not the body, which we have seen die and which will rise only on the last day; it is the soul. From the viewpoint of fact, God has revealed that man's soul is immortal; and Christ raised at least three people to life from the dead, recalling their souls to their bodies, besides rising Himself in the Resurrection after His death on the Cross.
29. I know that it's nice to believe that the soul is immortal when you feel sure of eternal happiness. But, if you look out of yourself, and think of the millions lost, it is not a very nice thought.
If immortality is a fact, it does not matter whether it is nice or not to think it. Our likes and dislikes cannot alter the fact. If it is true, it is each man's plain duty to save his soul; for if he loses that, all is indeed lost. So Christ put the question, "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, if he suffer the loss of his soul?" Meantime, there is no need to think of the millions lost. To all men God gives sufficient grace for their salvation. Only those are lost who sin despite the known will of God, and die without repentance.
30. Cicero said that when he read a book proving the soul immortal, he believed it; but when he read a book against it, he did not believe it.
Such a stray remark on occasional states of mind proves nothing. No one maintains that the conviction of immortality is one which may never momentarily become obscured. A man reading arguments against a given doctrine, and not immediately perceiving the answer to them, may arrive at vague doubts, and speak hesitatingly. But even with Cicero, nature reasserted itself, and in the end he said it must be so. However, what this individual or that has thought or said avails nothing against the general judgment of mankind.
31. All my own inclinations are to believe it. But desirability does not make it true.
I have already given you reasons independent of man's natural inclinations. But even your inclinations here are a reliable indication. I admit that we do not find sufficient justification for believing a doctrine merely because it is a pleasant concept. But if you find yourself endowed by nature with deep-seated inclinations tending necessarily towards it, things are very different. This does not count for nothing. If all our thoughts go one way, if we have needs, desires, aims, and aspirations, all of which demand an object, and imply by their own very existence that that object does exist also, then that object must exist. Could anyone conceive that God would form that most delicate organ of hearing, the ear, so wonderfully adapted to every kind of vibration, yet endow no objects with the power of causing sound? The whole tendency of the ear would be to hear, yet it would never do so because its complementary object would be wanting. Every natural tendency implies and has an object. More, if nothing in this life really and completely satisfies the soul, and if there be a message professing to be from God, teaching us that of which we already have the presentiment, and to provide the means to attain the destiny of happiness we crave, surely it is deserving of our attention. And whilst I am at it, let me suggest to you that it is the Catholic religion above all others in this world that is most deserving of your attention.
32. Is it pride of intellect that makes one agnostic on this subject, or just inability to have any firm conviction?
No man is unable to have a firm conviction of a future life. And I do not think agnosticism on this point is due to pride of intellect. There would certainly be no grounds for such pride. The agnostic who says that he does not know whether death ends all or not is one who is simply unintelligent, or who refuses to think about the subject at all, or who pretends not to have a conviction which he really does possess, but which he constantly tries to repress for reasons best known to himself.
33. Have you ever seen the other world?
Apart from the indications of reason in favor of immortality, One who has seen the future life of millions who have already gone from this world, and who knows what awaits us, has given us all the information we need. God Himself has stepped in, and speaking by the prophets, and by His own Son, has told us of the future for which we must prepare. And Christ had only one word for the man who does not prepare-fool! To the rich man who had neglected all thought of life after death He said, "Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee." Take my advice, and think out this matter more carefully.
34. Belief in immortality is most harmful. It diverts men's attention from the good they can do in this life.
It does just the opposite. It inspires still greater works of devotedness and charity in the cause of humanity for the love of God. And the doctrine is in the best interests of man. All mankind lifts its voice with mine. Generation after generation has agreed. In fact, it is part of man's very nature. The conviction of a future life is so deeply ingrained that it could not be based on a lie. It is as true an instinct as that of a baby which carries everything to its mouth, knowing that thus it will be nourished, though it can explain nothing about the processes of nutrition. Destroy man's conviction of immortality, and he degenerates, even as the fish taken out of the sea will perish, or the tree torn up by the roots will die. Most of those who deny immortality are interested in denying it. Nor are they very convinced themselves of their position against immortality. They have no proofs whatever. They deny, because they don't want to prepare for it.
35. Why do you Christians want a future life?
Why do you want to know that? You will say, "Well, it is natural for a man to desire knowledge." So I say that it is natural for man to desire further life beyond the few years earthly existence can offer.
36. I am perfectly happy in this world, and will be quite content if death ends all.
No man is either perfectly happy or perfectly miserable in this life. Life is a succession of days alternating between joy and suffering. There are enough miseries in this life to prevent perfect happiness, yet enough happiness to compel us to look beyond this world for the complete fulfillment of lawful hopes. If death did end all, of course, you would be neither contented nor discontented. You would be nonexistent. And it is absurd to say that you are perfectly happy, and to give that as a reason for being content even now with the prospect of death ending all. If you said that you were perfectly miserable and that you longed for death to end everything, you would speak more intelligently, even though that, too, would be an exaggeration.
37. So you deny that I am perfectly happy?
Yes. You will never come to a stage when all your desires are quite satisfied whilst you are still in this life. If you were perfectly happy, and in want of nothing more, why did you bother writing in order to secure a further knowledge you did not possess? One who has all he wants seeks nothing more.
38. It is enough for a man if the good he does lives after him.
You are impelled to say that by the very desire of immortality. It is the effort to conquer time. Why should you want anything of you to live on? And if you want the lesser thing to live on, why not yourself? You are more important than what you do.
39. Would it not be better for men if death did end all?
To that I must say, firstly, that our conjectures as to what might or might not be better cannot alter the fact that man's soul will live on whether he likes it or not. Yet, secondly, the prospect of facing a future life is not fearful save to those who have reason to be afraid. The wicked have reason to tremble; the good to rejoice. Virtue should have a corresponding place in eternity And if virtue, so also vice. As a matter of fact, all that is good in civilization has been built up by those who believe in an eternal destiny. And civilization tends to go to pieces when belief in immortality is destroyed. We need belief in eternal life in order to believe in the seriousness of this life.
40. The question is ever arising as to whether man appeared suddenly on the earth by a special creative act of God, or whether he evolved.
The evolution of man's body would not be opposed to any defined doctrine of the Church, though it is far from being a proven fact, and the probabilities are against it. But man as a reasoning, thinking spiritual being certainly did not evolve. His possession of intelligence introduces a new fact into the universe, for, intelligence differs entirely from material conditions and development. It is a spiritual power, and must come from the realm of spiritual being. We maintain, therefore, that the soul, to which intelligence belongs, is a special creation by God in each case simultaneously with its infusion into the material embryo as soon as that embryo is fit to receive it; and that is at the moment of conception.
41. If descent from animals is proved, would it mean that God only added the faculty of reason to the brute soul in order to make it human?
Firstly, I do not believe that the descent of man from brute animals will ever be proved.Secondly, even if it were proved, it would not mean that God had merely to endow an animal with the faculty of reason. God would have to create a human soul endowed with reason and will, and infuse that soul to supplant the existent brute soul or life-principle in the animal body selected to be the body of the first man. Personally, I do not for a moment believe that any existent animal body was chosen by God to be the recipient of the first created human soul. Such an animal body would be so unfitted for the reception of an intelligent soul that the immediate formation of a human body seems far more likely than the miraculous alteration of an existent animal body.
42. Would Eve also have attained to a certain degree of physical perfection, and then have been endowed with reason in the same way as Adam?
No. As I have said, it is not a question of superadding reason to some animal soul. That could not be done, because the animal soul is material, whilst reason is immaterial. No life-principle entirely conditioned by matter could be endowed with a spiritual faculty. For the first woman, as for the first man, God would have to create a special human soul endowed with the spiritual faculties of reason and will. This would be the case even did men prove the bodily derivation of human beings from beasts. But that is a merely speculative supposition never likely to be proved.
43. Since animals already have sensitive life in common with man, why could not God merely add reason and will?
Because reason and will are purely spiritual powers, and can belong only to a spiritual nature. Now the brute soul is not spiritual of its very nature, and it could not be the subject of purely spiritual powers. The brute soul is essentially limited to the vital functions of a material organism, and cannot transcend material conditions. But whilst the brute soul is essentially unfitted for higher spiritual operations, the human and spiritual soul endowed with reason and will can, when united with a body similar to that of animals, direct all the lower functions of which animals are capable. But we cannot argue that because a superior principle is capable of lower operations, an inferior principle is capable of higher operations. Nor can we say that the inferior principle could be endowed with higher powers, when those higher powers belong to a completely different order of being. The essentially spiritual powers of reason and will require an essentially spiritual nature-and the brute soul is nonspiritual.
44. I do not see why the soul could not evolve. If gasoline is sufficiently heated it bursts into flame. Could not matter be rarefied by some natural process until it merged into spirit?
No. Rarefaction may turn a solid into a vapor, but a vapor is not spiritual. By condensation a vaporized solid can be solidified once more; but a soul cannot be thus treated. Your analogy of the gasoline does not meet the case, for both flame and gasoline are in the same material order. But thought and matter are opposed to each other. The object of bodily sight may be a material thing; but the object of thought is an idea of the thing. Ideas are spiritualized abstractions outside the realm of matter. Two and two potatoes make four potatoes. You can put them into a pan and fry them. But you cannot put the truth that two and two make four into a pan and cook it. The idea of that truth is not conditioned by space or time; and it is universal, not individual. In what place, at what time, or what individual material beings could evolve into the truth that two and two make four?
45. Thought seems only a higher form of animal sensation, for ideas are only generalized images.
Thought is more than a higher form of animal sensation. Animal sensations may give images, but images are not ideas. An image of some object may be thrown on the retina of the eye, and a man may be able to picture that image to himself later on in his "imagination." But every such image is of some particular measurable thing. Nor could a multitude of images of a multitude of different things add up into one idea of all these things. By sensation a man secures a foundation for thought, but sense images are not thought. Reflection shows that ideas are in a different order altogether, and we rightly implore men to go by reason, and not by mere imagination. This is more clearly seen when we leave ideas of concrete things and proceed to ideas of mathematical relations, or even to ideas of ideas in reflex thought. Ideas are not material things.Now, a being is characterized by its powers; its powers by their activities; and those activities by their object. Since ideas are not material, the act of thinking by which those ideas are produced is not material; and the power of intelligence which enables us to think is not material. Therefore, the soul which possesses that intelligence is not material. All these things are in the same order, and that order is not material. God must have intervened in creation with a new and spiritual element when He made the soul of man.
46. Since man is a material being, he should share the fate of material beings.
You are thinking of man's body only. Equally I could say that, since man's soul is a spirit, he should share the immortal destiny of spiritual beings. Man is a mysterious being, blending the two spheres of matter and spirit. But, in his present state, he is an unstable composite tending to that dissolution of the union between body and soul which we call death. Whilst the body, however, dies, the soul does not. It lives on. It is of higher value than the merely material, and does not depend upon the body for its existence. Rather, the body depends upon the soul, which surpasses all material conditions and survives them. God Himself does not destroy that which carries within itself no principle of destruction. In other words, He does not create souls essentially fitted to live on forever, only to annihilate them. That would be quite opposed to His infinite wisdom.
47. Is transmigration of souls, and our return in animal forms impossible?
Yes. The human soul is essentially an intellectual being, and the nature God has given to man demands a proportionately constructed bodily counterpart. An intellectual soul united with a body incapable of cooperating in thought processes, as, for example, a human soul inhabiting a dog, would be a metaphysically repugnant monstrosity, and a direct contradiction of Divine Wisdom. Moreover, God has revealed that it is appointed unto man once to die, and after that the judgment. We do not come back as animals and die again. Also the judgment of each soul concerns its final destiny, and does not allow of another temporary and earthly existence. So our returning in animal forms is outside the realm of both possibility and fact.
48. Speaking of animals, do you deny that animal souls exist?
No. It is impossible to doubt the existence of animal souls. The only point open to discussion is as to whether animal souls survive after the death of their bodies.
49. What is the attitude of the Catholic Church towards the question of their survival?
Catholic philosophers reject belief in the immortality of animal souls, chiefly on the score of their nonspiritual operations. A study of animal psychology reveals nothing that transcends the sensitive and material order, and there can be no reasonable doubt but that death terminates the existence of animals both as regards body and soul. Revelation gives no indication that animals will have a future life; in fact, the general trend of God's revelation seems to exclude it.
50. Each animal seems to have its own distinctive personality.
Personality supposes intelligence, and a moral responsibility following upon free will, which no one would attribute to mere animals. Each animal may have distinctive characteristics; but we are not justified in attributing personality to them in the strict sense of the word.
51. Does not the Catholic Church defend the rights of dumb beasts?
When you speak of dumb beasts you admit that they are on a lower plane than human beings. Not being persons, they have not personal rights. Still, the Church teaches that cruelty to animals is sinful. Now sin means the violation of rights. But whose rights are being violated by wanton cruelty to animals? Certainly not the rights of animals themselves. Wanton cruelty is a sin because no man has a right to brutalize his own humanity. Man has an obligation to develop what is best in his own nature, and not to indulge in vicious tendencies. And by wanton cruelty he sins against this obligation. Again, God has the right that His creatures should be used in accordance with His will, and that means reasonably and kindly. Cruelty, therefore, is a sin against God's rights. But that cruelty is a sin does not imply that there are any moral rights vested in animals themselves. It is a violation of rights belonging to God Himself, and of the responsibility vested in the dignity of our own rational nature.
52. If animals are not immortal, God's treatment of them is unjust.
That is not true. All justice is in the moral order, and supposes the violation of rights possessed by morally responsible subjects. Animals do not possess reason, and cannot refer their actions to moral standards which they know to be imposed upon them by their Creator. And if animals have no personal rights to be violated, there can be no question of injustice towards them.
53. Think of noble animal traits often exceeding those of men.
The good instincts of animals, for which they are not morally responsible, may be preferable to the vices of men as such. But the very moral degradation of a man who chooses vice rather than virtue indicates a nobler type of being than any mere animal which is incapable of truly moral conduct.
54. If we deserve to survive, don't animals by their virtues deserve the same?
Strictly speaking, we cannot attribute virtues to animals. They may have good habits, but virtue and merit suppose moral freedom, and the deliberate choice of things which are not a matter of physical necessity.
55. Are there no compensations for animal sufferings?
Only rights imply compensation and animals as such have no rights.
56. Many people abandon religion because the interests of animals are not made a special part of its teaching.
The interests of animals can never be a special part of reasonable religion. It is a religious duty to God and to man's own dignity to practice restraint and kindness in the use of animals. But that will result from the really important duty of worshipping and loving God, and attending to the salvation and sanctification of our own souls by the practice of Christian virtue.There is a great danger of excess in this matter. As Christian ideals fade, human beings forget their own dignity, reduce themselves to the animal level, and grow hard towards one another. And by a strange kind of distortion, the human sympathies which they cannot suppress entirely tend to go out to the animal world. Many women marry, refuse to have children, and lavish their starved instincts upon pet animals as a substitute. So we have beauty parlors for pet dogs, where ladies can take their little Pomeranians to have them "bathed, shampooed, groomed and manicured" at a price which would provide a week's food for a starving child. I do not suggest that you would approve of such extremes, but you echo ideas which have led to them. Meantime, if people will not practice religion to attend to the interests of their own souls, it will be quite useless for them to do so in order to attend to the interests of animals. You may think me hard, but I cannot win sympathy for religion by sympathizing with ideas utterly opposed to it by their extravagance. We must love God, and let our love for God extend to all His creatures reasonably and proportionately. It is a distortion to love animals, and then be prepared to love God provided we can let our love of animals extend to Him also! It is essential that we have a correct knowledge of the order of things established by God, that we obtain a genuine notion of religion and of its duties, and that we fulfill those duties. Sentiment cannot be exalted to the dominant element in religion.
57. How would you answer the assertion that what has to be, has to be?
By granting it. If a thing has to be, it has to be. But I deny that everything has to be.
58. If a man riding a bicycle is run down by a car and killed accidentally, did that have to be?
If such a thing happens, then it happens. And it could not "happen" yet "not happen" simultaneously. At the same time, granted that it does happen, it does not happen by any absolute necessity. The man need not have chosen to go for a ride on that particular day. The car driver was under no compulsion to be on the road at the time. So we cannot say that the accident was foreordained by God and inevitable. There was no determining force outside and independent of those two men compelling them to come into collision, with fatal consequences for the rider of the bicycle.
59. Is the hour of one's death appointed by God at the moment of one's birth?
No; for a man is physically free even where his own life is concerned. Keep in mind this principle. Although God's providence extends to all things from a universal or general point of view, that same providence has willed that within the universe there should be a vast series of secondary causes affecting each other immediately. Now amongst these secondary causes is man, a free agent. The moment of a suicide's death is obviously not determined by God, for God forbids suicide; and if the suicide had obeyed God's law he would have lived longer. The same thing is true of murder, where a man's life is terminated by the rebellion of another man's will against the will of God.
60. If my future actions are preknown by God, they must have been predetermined, and free will is impossible.
That is not true. God does know what you will do in the future. Yet when you do it, it will be by your own free choice. Your difficulty arises from the fact that you are speaking of God as if He were conditioned by time exactly as we ourselves. He is not. We are space-time creatures, and God is outside all space-time limitations. Actions which, from our standpoint, must seem to be preknown, are not really preknown to God. For "preknown'" supposes successive knowledge, and succession supposes time. God, in reality, simply "knows" in an ever-present eternity. We are quite unable to comprehend the relationship between an eternal intelligence and successive events conditioned by time. The only experience we have is of the time-sequence. I know that talk of God as being outside time is like talking color to a man born blind. But that can't be helped. We have to talk of these things. But we must realize our limitations, and know that we cannot even state the problem except in terms which are incapable of expressing it adequately.
61. Your appeal to mystery does not answer my denial of free will.
When a problem involves the mutual relationship of two agents, only one of which is adequately within the reach of our understanding, mystery is inevitable. And categorical denials based on inadequate knowledge are themselves unreasonable.
62. What becomes of the "proof" of free will?
That stands. We know that it is a fact both by reason and revelation. And the positive evidence for free will deprives of all force those speculative difficulties which every reasonable person must expect to be present.
63. If free will obtains, it is impossible for God to know the future. He is not omniscient, and Biblical prophecies are mere superstitions.
Within the time sequence of history we have certain evidence that prophecies have been made, and that they were duly fulfilled hundreds of years later; and in such numbers and detail as to exclude any notion of mere chance. Not superstition, but reason, demands a connection between the subsequent events and what we have to term the previous knowledge of them. Meantime, men who know nothing of the conditions of eternity as related to the time in which we exist cannot reasonably declare it to be impossible for God to know the future.
64. No system of philosophy has successfully dealt with this question.
Sane philosophy admits the existence of free will. It successfully shows that there is not necessarily a contradiction where some people claim to find one, mistaking their inability to see a reconciliation for the impossibility of it. You must not ask philosophy to do what it cannot rightly be expected to do. If you regard as successful only that treatment of this question which enables a limited human mind to comprehend fully and completely how the eternal and Divine intelligence knows things which are future to space-time creatures, you are doomed to disappointment.
65. What is your official position on this subject?
That God's omniscience and man's free will are two facts known to be such, both by reason and revelation. The relationship between these two facts is necessarily a mystery; that is, the compatibility of the two facts is above reason, but not against reason. And the facts stand, despite the inability of man to solve to his full satisfaction the problem they present to the human mind.
66. Is not a man compelled to do what God knows that he will do?
No. It is a fallacy to think of knowledge of an event as the cause of that event. Thus, if I know that the sun is shining, the sun is not shining because I know it; I know it because the sun is shining. My knowledge of it does not make the sun shine. Nor does knowledge possessed even prior to the event cause the event to occur. An astronomer's knowledge that there will be an eclipse of the sun next week does not cause the eclipse. Knowledge as such is conditioned by the event: the event is not conditioned by the knowledge of it. But even that analogy cannot strictly apply to God's knowledge, for since He is outside time, there is nothing really future to His intelligence.
67. If God knows my future, it can only be because He has determined that future, and I am not free, if then God knows that I will end in hell, it's no use my trying to get to heaven.
The God who knows what your future will be, knows also that the future depends on your own choice. God has determined that your future will depend on your own conduct. His design is that "if" you try to serve Him, you will attain heaven, and that "if" you do not, you will lose your soul. Your future, therefore, has not been determined by God in any absolute sense. His very decision to endow you with free will, and commit your destiny to your own keeping excludes that. I appeal to your common sense. How do you let this problem affect you in other matters? If you were a farmer, would you say, "God knows whether I will have a crop or not. If He knows that I will have a crop, I will have it whatever I do. If He knows thatI will not have a crop,I will not have it, whatever I do. Therefore, I will do nothing. I will neither plough, nor sow seed." That is foolish, for if God knows that you are to have a crop, His knowledge includes the knowledge that you will take the means. You can apply the same thought to any other matter of ordinary experience. If God knows that you will catch a train, you will catch it; if He knows that you won't catch it, you won't. Therefore, what is the use of going to the station at all? Surely you see the absurdity! God has decreed that certain things will result from the use of certain means. Heaven will be the result of trying to serve God. Take the means, and you will attain the normal result of such means. To do anything else is to be guilty of a folly in the matter of eternal salvation of which you would not be guilty in any other matter.
68. All the same, if I am going to end in hell, I am going to end in hell.
It is a logical necessity that what you do choose to do, you choose to do. But it is not necessary that you make such a choice. You could go to hell only by committing grave sin. Now God forbids you to commit grave sin. He could not therefore compel you to commit it. Moreover, if you had to commit it, the choice to do so would not be voluntary, and, therefore, would not be sinful-and you could not go to hell at all, despite God's knowing that you would end there! The absurd is false.
69. If you believe in free will, you must hold that the will is conditioned by itself, and that means that it is not conditioned at all.
It is self-contradictory to say that a will is not conditioned at all which is conditioned by itself. To talk sense a man could begin by saying that a will cannot be conditioned by itself. Then he would have to prove that statement.
70. An act of the free will is, therefore, an uncaused act, which is impossible.
The will itself is the cause of its own elective activities, and its choice is self-caused. God Himself has given us the power of volitional activity. He does not compel us to use it in this direction or that. Determinists argue that it must be compelled in one direction or another, because in the material or physical universe they see necessary causes producing necessary effects. But it is begging of the question to suppose that there is no other kind of causality, and that the spiritual, intellectual, and moral order must conform rigidly to the material and physical order. These determinists are like children who have never attained to the use of reason, and who go only by what comes within the range of their senses. They confuse the uniformity of nature which is a peculiarity of the visible and tangible universe with the principle of causality. And I say that that is childish. In the material universe we see causes which are determined to produce given effects: and in the same circumstances the same causes will produce the same effects. But it is equally a fact of experience that intelligence and will transcend the conditions of mere matter, and that there is no absolute necessity why the law of causality must work in the same way both in the inner world of man's soul, and in the outer world of material things. Within man there is a power of self-adjustment not found elsewhere. Physical laws declare that friction will necessarily produce heat. They do not say that provocation will necessarily produce anger. For one man may choose to give way to his feelings of resentment; another man may choose not to do so. Let the determinists first prove that there is nothing in man transcending the conditions of mere matter, and then they can restrict their notion of causality to the uniformity of nature discernible in the merely material universe. But they cannot do that without ignoring obvious facts of human experience. And to ignore facts because they don't fit in with one's theories is to cease to be scientific.
71. If you believe in free will, training is just beside the point.
It is not. It is necessary precisely because human beings are endowed with free will. Irrational animals, determined by mere instinct, do not face the same problems as man at all. Magpies are not concerned with morally wrong choices made by their offspring. But human parents, concerned with the character-formation of their children, are obliged to train those children precisely because they retain freedom of will to choose virtue or vice. Children must be taught what virtue is, and must be trained to choose the morally good as opposed to the morally evil. They must be formed in mind, and will, and heart.
72. Another absurd conclusion to which believers in free will must inevitably come, is the idea that a man is free to believe whatever he likes.
I myself believe in free will, yet I deny absolutely that I must inevitably come to any absurd conclusion as a consequence of my conviction.
73. It is manifestly wrong that a man is free to believe whatever he likes.
Your trouble is a confusion of ideas. Before discussing a subject it is essential to get very clear ideas on that subject, and to know the precise sense of the terms you use. Otherwise, ambiguities and fallacies are bound to result. I know exactly what you have in mind. But you express yourself very badly. What you have in mind cannot be denied. But what you say can be denied. For example, if you drove a motor car at sixty miles an hour, you would know that that car could do sixty miles an hour. You would not be free to believe otherwise. But ifI took that same car out and drove it at eighty-five miles an hour, and came back and told you I had done so, you would be free to believe what you liked about it. You have only my word for it. You could choose to believe me. Or you could choose to doubt my accuracy of observation, or my veracity. Not having experimental knowledge for yourself, it would not be manifestly wrong and absurd for you to believe whatever you liked. You see you have used the word believe without any regard for the motives of belief or for the degrees of certainty in our knowledge.
74. No man can honestly believe that which his reason rejects as untrue.
It is certain that so long as he rejects a thing as untrue, he cannot believe it. But he can cease to reject as untrue what he at one time thought to be untrue on discovering that he has no real proof that it is untrue, either because his former judgment was based on inadequate knowledge, or because there was a fault in his process of reasoning.
75. For instance, I cannot believe that a man once lived three days inside a whale.
Taking your proposition as it stands, I must confess that I would have a good deal of difficulty in believing it myself. If, however, a man said to me, "The God Who created this universe arranged that a huge fish (not necessarily a whale) should swallow a man, and by His divine power God kept that man alive inside the fish," I would certainly agree that it was not impossible for an omnipotent God to do such a thing. I could believe it, though I would not believe it actually occurred without a convincing authority for doing so.
76. I may try for hours to convince myself that I believe this, but the simple fact still remains, I cannot believe it.
At one time men could not believe that a person in England could speak to another person in America. But we, who know of radio transmission, find no difficulty in believing it. For the factor rendering it possible is known to us, whereas it was unknown to them. They could not believe it so long as the factor of radio transmission was omitted from the proposition. Now, if you restrict your proposition to a man, a whale, and the man's living inside the whale for three days, omitting all reference to God's intervention, your difficulties do not surprise me. But will you say that God Himself could not cause such an event to happen? I am not asking you to believe that it did happen. I only suggest that, since God could do it, you could believe it if He did do it.
77. The only force which can possibly alter my beliefs is an appeal to my reason by way of demonstration, argument, evidence, etc.
There are other forces which could alter your beliefs, despite your assertion to the contrary. I knew a girl who believed absolutely in the rectitude of a man she loved, despite evidence to the contrary clear to all others who knew him. After two years her love faded, and her belief changed. A human being's beliefs are often dictated by psychological factors and this is because the human will is free, making possible the will to believe in those who desire to believe. And where the Christian religion is concerned, the will to believe involves no conflict with reason. Belief is, in fact, the reasonable choice.
78. Why are religious people always talking about doing the will of God?
Because by the teachings of their religion they know what is due to God, and by the virtue of religion they desire to render to Him the acknowledgment and obedience they owe to His laws. They know that they cannot be good people otherwise. After all, a thing is good if it does what it's for. If I construct a machine to tell me the time, it is a good machine insofar as it does as I will and intend. If it does not, it is no good. Now God made me. He made me, not for an idle freak, but for a definite purpose; andI am good insofar asI fulfill that purpose. In other words, insofar as I fulfill God's will and intentions.
79. Does it not occur to them that they have very little knowledge of what that will is?
That certainly does not apply in the case of Christians who are well instructed in their religion. Listen to these words from the Catholic catechism: "For what purpose did God make us? God made us to know, love, and serve Him here on earth, and to see and enjoy Him forever in heaven. What good shall I do that I may have life everlasting? If thou wilt enter into life-says Christ-keep the commandments. What commandments am I to keep?I am to keep the ten commandments of God. and the six commandments of the Church." And the catechism gives a clear explanation of the obligations imposed by those commandments; or, in other words, a clear explanation of the will of God. Finish reading this book, and by the time you have done so, you will have lost the notion that we have very little knowledge of what God's will is.
80. Religion involves the whole question of prayer, and for my part prayer is both unreasonable and useless.
Apart from the obtaining of benefits, by prayer we express our love of God, and our gratitude to Him, as also our sorrow and regret for such sins as we have committed against Him. But also prayer is a normal and intelligent means by which we obtain many blessings from God, together with His protection and consolation in difficulties. Prayer is neither unreasonable nor useless.
81. How can prayer be reasonable?
Reason itself dictates the necessity of prayer. Reason tells you that you are not the author of your own existence, that you owe your origin, as does the whole human race, to an outside Cause Who is more intelligent than the creatures of His own making. Every man also, who is not mentally deficient, knows that he himself is limited in a thousand ways, in size, in strength, in mind and will. Man is small, weak, ignorant, and inconstant. Enabled by reason to realize these imperfections, man is impelled by reason to appeal to, and rely upon his Maker for the help and protection necessary lest his defects should lead to disaster. Prayer to his Maker is as natural to man as the instinct of a child to turn to its parents for help. All creatures, of course, are subject to such limitations. But man alone is conscious of them, and, therefore, rational people alone are given to prayer. Brute animals do not pray. It is irrational not to pray.
82. If there be a God, it should not be necessary to tell Him of our needs.
We do not pray in order to inform God of our needs. We pray to fulfill a condition laid down by God for our own sakes. God demands of us the humility which acknowledges our dependence on Him, and the confidence which acknowledges Him as our Father. Even earthly parents, who know their children's wants, and intend to supply them, insist that they ask respectfully for what they need. It is in a child's own interest that it should be trained to behave properly.
83. Is it not more generous to give spontaneously than to wait to be asked? If God be supremely generous, it is an insult to Him to implore Him to give us anything.
It would not be more generous on God's part to give us all we need without waiting to be asked. God has, of course, given us very many things without any request from us. But it would not be more generous to do that always. It is more generous to secure our still greater good by making us ask. And even apart from our training in religious behavior, it is a great happiness and privilege to be allowed to converse with God concerning our own interests.
84. If God is unchangeable, can you hope to change Him by fervent appeals?
God is unchangeable. But prayer is itself part of God's unchangeable providence. He has decreed that many benefits will depend upon our praying for them. We shall get them if we ask for them; if we do not pray we shall not receive them. The change is not in God.
85. How can I pray when I cannot feel sure that anyone is listening to me?
How do you want to feel sure that God is listening to you? What type of evidence do you want? Do you want the certainty you have of the existence of a speaker when you hear his voice from your radio set? If so, you will want in vain. But man is not limited to his senses, as are mere animals. By reason he can attain to the knowledge of a truth not accessible to the senses. Take the truth of thought. Were a dog sitting near you, it would hear the sounds of a human voice as you hear them with your ears. But it certainly could not grasp the truth conveyed by those sounds. Your reason can rise to a perception of a reality which is above and beyond any powers of sense-perception. If you cannot feel sure of God's existence and knowledge merely because He is invisible and inaudible so far as your senses are concerned, you abdicate as a reasonable person, and descend to the lower level of irrational creatures. Your very expression, "I cannot feel sure," is unfortunate. For feelings belong to our sensitive natures, not to our rational natures. We don't believe things with our feelings. We believe them with our minds.
86. But supposing even my reason gives me no certain conviction?
Even then you could still pray. If you are not certain that God does hear you. you are not certain that He does not. But if you thought it only possible that He hears you, you could quite reasonably pray, even if you did so like the famous agnostic, "O God, if there be a God, save my soul, if I have one." But apart from your own mental state, there are many considerations which intensify the reasonable character of prayer for you. If, on a given day, there was to be a huge meeting in a city hall, and you came from the country to attend that meeting, but did not know where the hall was situated, you would quite reasonably adopt the same line of conduct adopted by the crowds of people all flocking in the one direction. So. too, despite your uncertainty, you see crowds of people who are not in the least uncertain, and who give themselves to prayer, convinced that their prayers are heard by Him to whom they pray. And not all these people are fools by any means. You will admit that Marconi was a very clever man, a genius at experimental science, and a great contributor to the possibility of the radio transmission we enjoy today. Yet he says of prayer, "I believe it would be a great tragedy if men were to lose their faith in prayer. Without the help of prayer I might perhaps have failed where I have succeeded. In allowing me to attain whatI have done, God has made of me merely an instrument of His own will, for the revelation of His own divine power." The very certainty of so many other intelligent men, and their conviction as to the efficacy of prayer, make it quite reasonable for you to adopt the practice also.
87. But if God knows that I will commit a sin, it's no use praying that I won't.
God's knowledge can be left out of your question, for that knowledge does not affect your conduct. If He knows that you are going to commit a sin, it is because you will choose to commit it. However, you may ask what is the use of prayer, if you will as a matter of fact fall into sin after all. In the first place, since you will not be compelled to commit that sin. there is at least less likelihood that you will do so with the help of special graces due to prayer than without them. But supposing that you do so? Even then the prayer was not useless. In itself it was a meritorious act of religion prior to the sin. Even granted the sin, you would probably have been far worse on the occasion than you would have been had you not prayed. And in virtue of the previous prayer God would give you the grace to repent more quickly and sincerely of your fault.
88. For centuries humanity has prayed to God for deliverance from floods, famines, plagues, and distress; but God has ever been silent.
You can't gulp down the whole of humanity like that. For centuries some men have cursed God; some have simply ignored God; and some have prayed to God. Humanity as a whole has not prayed to God for deliverance from evils. And amongst those who have prayed, many have done so in order to praise God, or to thank God, or to repair their sins against God, or to ask spiritual graces from Him. Prayer is not confined to the asking of temporal benefits only.But even if you restrict your question to prayer for temporal favors, thousands would rise in protest, and prove to you that prayers for temporal favors have been granted far more often than can be explained by mere coincidence. All that Christians claim as regards prayer for temporal favors is that such prayers are sometimes heard in the way we wish when God knows that the granting of our request will be really for our good. Prayer of petition is not the kind of penny-in-the-slot machine by which we obtain just what we specify as we would obtain a box of matches.
89. God allows war to continue, though people of all religious denominations pray to Him to stop it.
If the sufferings caused by war were entirely useless, it might be more difficult to answer that problem. But if men can benefit by such sufferings, a good God could certainly permit them; and if men deserved them, His justice cannot be blamed. Men do deserve such sufferings; and indeed mankind as a whole deserves more than it gets in the way of suffering. See the flood of iniquity in the world, and ask yourself whether men deserve that all things should flatter their desires. If people prayed that the war should stop, then the fact that the war moved some people to prayers they would not otherwise have said was already a good result. And prayer did produce remarkable results in various individuals during the war. If it did not make all combatants cease fighting at the various moments, various unbelievers thought the war ought to end, that fact does not imply that prayer was useless.
90. Will the prayers of one in a state of sin be heard by God?
Every sincere and earnest prayer, no matter by whom it is said, will be heard by God. Prayer is, in itself, an act of religion as well as a petition. Normally, as an act of religion, it is meritorious just as any other good work. But as a person in a state of serious sin cannot merit before God, in the sinner's case no merit attaches to his prayer. But, whilst no merit attaches to his prayer, it retains value as a petition. And the petition will certainly be granted if it be for the grace to be converted and to resist further sin. If the petition be for temporal favors, such as the recovery of bodily health, or for some other earthly advantage, the petition will be granted provided God sees that it will not prove a hindrance to the petitioner's spiritual welfare.
91. If prayer is necessary for conversion, how will one reform who finds it impossible to pray?
Prayer is never really impossible. I admit that one who has long neglected prayer will find little taste for it, and, therefore, will find it difficult. But, despite the difficulty, he should take up his prayers once more, if necessary with the help of a prayer book, trying to mean the prayers he recites. As a child learns to walk by walking, so we learn to pray by praying. Facility will come with practice. And as his prayers increase in earnestness, so will a man receive ever more abundant graces from God to help him in his struggles against ingrained habits. God will give light to intensify his convictions, and strength to fortify his weak and inconstant will. If, then, a man persists in doing his own best to fight down acquired bad habits, and perseveres in his efforts at prayer, he will certainly succeed in the end in the desire to reform his life.
92. Are not the mysteries taught by your religion simply mental opium?
Not in the least. They do not stifle thought. They are a provocation to thought, and have inspired the greatest minds. Unexplained themselves, they throw an immense amount of light on the problem of life's purpose and destiny, when added to what we already know by reason itself. Though we cannot sound their full depths, we find in them the explanation of most of our noblest experiences. They are the key to life; and as life itself is mysterious, so the key to it is mysterious. A key is as intricate as the lock, or it does not fit. It is only by combining the clear and the mysterious that we arrive at a proper understanding. We have an example of that in science itself. In spectroscopic analysis a ray of light is broken up into its various colors; but the spectrum reveals a series of dark lines which are most mysterious. Their explanation is found only by noting where they fall in relation to the colors which are clearly shown. Now, in his search for knowledge man finds that his own power of sight is limited to a very narrow band of wave lengths. He can see neither infrared nor ultraviolet rays. These would be absolute mysteries to him if he depended only on sight. But his intelligence has discovered them. Faith goes further, and by a knowledge secured from God's revelation, gets an inkling of the great mysterious reality of God Himself, who clarifies the puzzling lines and dark shadows by which the whole of our knowledge and life are crisscrossed from end to end. So we find that the mysterious and the clear give the true sense to life.
93. All mysteries yield sooner or later to reason. Science will know tomorrow what it does not know today.
Mysteries necessarily exist, and ever will exist. Even in the merely natural order, it is useless to say that what is a mystery now will not be a mystery in the future, as if all mysteries in nature will thus be eventually unraveled. Knowledge begins with mystery and ends in mystery. The further science pushes its conquests, the more mysteries it will discover, every advance revealing further mystery ahead. Transmission by radio was an unsuspected mystery to previous generations. It is an accomplished fact today, but it has led to a host of other mysteries.But these natural mysteries are not even on the same plane as supernatural mysteries. Were all natural mysteries eventually solved, supernatural mysteries would remain. Not all the scientific knowledge of the universe could manifest to us the infinitely mysterious inner life of God Himself. From the natural point of view God's intimate nature and vital activities are inaccessible to man. And any knowledge of His personal inner life given to us by revelation-a life completely transcending the natural order of created being-will be as mysterious to us as it is beyond our natural and experimental ideas. These revealed mysteries satisfy reason by surpassing reason, since reason itself tells us that a divine religion, introducing the Infinite, must contain elements exceeding every finite capacity.
94. Are we expected to believe things to be true without any evidence for them?
We are expected to believe what God has revealed, because God must know the truth, and because He could not deceive us. Where revealed mysteries are concerned, we accept them, not because they appeal to reason as evidently true in themselves, but because of God's authority. This supposes evidence, of course, that God has actually revealed the mysteries we thus accept. We believe what God says, but we must know that He said it. It will be necessary, therefore, to study the historical evidence for the fact of revelation.
95. Why are miracles fewest where people are most enlightened?
I deny your supposition.
96. I am a civil engineer, and my profession treats largely with cause and effect, and is based on mathematical accuracy.
I must ask you to keep in mind that proficiency in the knowledge of natural causes gives no special competency in matters not due to those causes.
97. I have never witnessed a miracle; nor has any other member of my profession whom I have asked witnessed one.
Because you have never personally witnessed a miracle, you cannot conclude that, therefore, miracles have never occurred. As regards your fellow professional men, had one of them declared that he had witnessed a miracle, would you have accepted his evidence? If so, why will you not accept the sworn evidence of equally accredited medical men? You may say that you do not know of any such evidence. But your not knowing of it does not prove it to be nonexistent. The evidence exists.
98. I once questioned a group of illiterate, dirty, drunken peons at La Paz, Bolivia, all of whom were Catholics.
If they were Catholics, it was in spite of, and not because of the conditions you describe. I am a Catholic, but I am neither illiterate, nor dirty, nor drunken; so those qualities are not necessarily associated with Catholicism. Also, on your own methods of testing evidence, since I have never seen a group of illiterate, dirty, drunken peons, you can scarcely expect me to accept your word for it that they do exist.
99. All declared that they had witnessed miracles.
Granted that you did ask them, and that they replied as you say, the fact that the witnesses you consulted were drunk renders their evidence worthless. It would be on a par with the evidence of a drunken man who swears that a given lamp post has duplicated itself. Even if they were not drunk, I would put their evidence down to a great deal of superstition-a superstition found, of course, not only amongst the illiterate. We are surrounded by superstitions even amongst the educated. There are the superstitions of the sceptic, of the spiritualist, of the Christian Scientist, of those who believe in the infallibility of novels and newspapers, of those who swear by astrology, of those who reject miracles without giving a single valid reason for doing so, of the man who thinks that witnesses who have not seen a thing afford reliable evidence that the thing does not exist. But, in the whole of this affair, the most striking thing is that you should seek evidence for miracles from such obviously unreliable sources. If a sensible man really wants evidence, he does not bother about taking that evidence until he has some reason to believe the source reliable. It is a reflection on your own intelligence that you did not bother inquiring in better quarters.
100. What kind of evidence do you call that?
As I have already remarked, I do not regard it as evidence at all. But when you contrast civil engineers with illiterate peons, remember this: If there are educated men who do not believe in miracles, there are educated men who do; the former lacking evidence; the latter possessing evidence.And if you wish to argue, "Drink-sodden men believe in miracles, therefore, miracles don't happen," I will be justified in retorting, "There are plenty of drink-sodden men who do not believe in miracles, therefore, miracles do happen." It's absurd argumentation, I know, but it is based on your own principles.
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