Sunday, July 19, 2009

On delays, morality, and other ponderables...

Okay, this time I truly do have a few excuses for waiting so long to update this blog (yet again):

1) The following events happened, in order:
a) phone service went out for 1.5 days
b) computer #1 (of 2) crashed (still picking up the pieces)
c) computer #2 (of 2) crashed (through my own bone-headedness--it's not fixed)
d) 3 day silent retreat with the Cistercians (excellent, and badly needed!)
e) currently immersed in a "Calculus refresher course" online (long story)

2) I'm trying to be better at helping my wife around the house, and not putting things off until she gets disgusted enough to do it for me. (For moral relativists out there: this is a *bad* thing to do, and I've since repented... though it took a Cistercian monk to kick me in the back-end [graciously and charitably] and get me to repent of it! Lesson: you don't have to be perfect to be a Christian; you just have to refuse to be stupid enough to persist in a sin when it's conclusively pointed out to you.) As such, my oft-neglected blog has been bumped even further down the priority list. :) Them's the breaks.

3) As a general rule, I'm just naturally bad at updating my blog on a regular basis.

Now, that confession time is out of the way... back to the (long-delayed) topic at hand: discerning good from evil. How, exactly, is that done reliably and correctly? How can we separate true "good" or "evil" from our mere opinions, feelings, sentiments, or other such will-o-wisps? I can feel horrid about going in to get a tooth drilled, though I know it's a good thing to do; and someone else can feel quite fine about using someone else as a sexual "object", though that's gravely evil. (Other examples abound.) So an objective standard is rather important. How does one find it? When faced with a choice to do [x] or not to do [x], how is one to decide the moral gradient of that choice (and to discern which of the two choices, if any, are in harmony with "goodness")?

There are several candidates for the "discernment assistant" job:

1) If your feelings are correctly calibrated to reality, they're one of the fastest and most energetic ways to discern good from evil; but again, that requires a correct calibration of those feelings, and that sort of calibration is hard to acquire... especially in this day and age, where we're conditioned (by advertisements and other social pressures) to calibrate our feelings toward the gratification of our bodily and emotional passions.

2) If you belong to an organization whose laws are unanimous in their derivation from reality (i.e. the objective moral law), then following and studying such laws is a good way to discern whether particular cases are good or evil; but that would also require that the laws' "derivation from truth" is verifiable--which can be a challenge, even if you find a candidate for an "all-good laws" group.

3) If you're under the authority of someone whose character is unimpeachable (and itself calibrated to the objective moral law), then you can follow the directions of that person--but this has the same caveat as does #2 (i.e. how do you know that your spiritual guide's character is unimpeachable?).

You may notice that all of the above (three) candidates share the same weakness: they all beg the question of, "How can we know that this 'guide' is a true and sure guide toward goodness?" Feelings can be askew, corrupt laws can be enacted, and vicious people can ascend to positions of [ersatz] moral authority. How can we diagnose such "diseases" in our potential leaders?

The answer, though wearying to many (especially nowadays), is one I've mentioned many times: our first resort must be right (or "sane") reason. We know the following:

  • No true thing will contain a true contradiction within itself.

  • No real thing will be completely vacuous and useless (i.e. a tautology, like "x = x").

Beyond this, there are several good "rules of thumb" which, though not infallible, can be used as good day-to-day guides:

1) If a moral principle is self-defeating by its very nature, it cannot be good.

Example: "Sex without producing children is more desirable than sex that produces children." (a.k.a. the "contraceptive mentality") This idea, if allowed to progress without bound, will tend to destroy the very population which seeks to enact it--"I'll have sex without having kids; let the *other* people have the kids, and pay the bills, change the diapers, etc.". Any tendency toward pervasive selfishness must necessarily be corrosive to any civilization (which must have laws restricting the selfishness of its members, in order to survive).

2) If a moral principle is designed to work only under artificial restrictions (e.g. only a privileged few are exempt from it), it cannot be good.

Example: "Let the government manage the details of all families, and make the decisions about how many children to have, how they are to be schooled, what religions are good to adopt, etc." Perhaps modern times have forgotten Huxley's "Brave New World", but it's obvious (to anyone with sense) that the ones doing the managing will get to choose the rules of management... and the question of "How/where did the managers get their formation, and from where/whom did they claim to get the god-like authority by which they micromanage the lives of countless people who are no less human than they?" really get lost in the shuffle. Appeals to expediency (e.g. "Well, *somebody* has to run their lives, because they're doing things we find abhorrent!") are horribly ill-suited as a defense, since nothing could stop such an oligarchy from ruling the people on the basis of their personal tastes (e.g. "we need to euthanize the handicapped, since I find them troublesome to behold!", "we need to mandate abortion for poverty-stricken families, since I find the idea of low-income children repugnant", etc.), rather than by right principles.

N.B. If someone raises a defense of, "But we can be sure that the ruling class will abide by their own rules, too!", I will reply with:

a) "Oh really? And how would you enforce that, save but through the agreement of the ruling class?" What if the ruling class decides that it's in 'the country's best interests' for the "privileged caste" to be free of the "restraints of the common folk"? Look to the former Soviet Union, to China, to North Korea, to Cuba, and to any totalitarian regime which claimed to "bring about equality and prosperity to all, by governmental fiat", if you'd like real-life results of that idea.

b) the very idea (of the "ruling class") being bound by its own governance is self-contradictory; if you try to imagine "a ruling class making rules--quite apart from its own opinions and preferences--to govern itself", I think you'll find that you're imagining nothing at all. It's a bit like asking someone to choose to disobey every choice they themselves make; in disobeying, they're also obeying!

3) If a moral principle does not acknowledge that the individual person is of greater value than any organization, governmental structure, or civil institution, then it cannot be good.

My father is very fond of deriding the oft-repeated saying, "Our [county, town, city, etc.] and our people have paid enough; let the state [of Illinois, etc.] and the federal governments pay their fair share!" He usually replies with something like: "Let the state pay its share? Are you talking about some other state? Because if you're talking about our state, then you're talking about US! The "state" doesn't have one thin dime; the *people* of the state have all the money!" This is just one problem with the "promote the state over the individual" idea; since the only possible reason to promote the "state" is in ORDER to promote the welfare of the individuals WITHIN that state, yes? What other abstract "state" could possibly benefit? Will the hills of Missouri smile with appreciation with each tax increase? Will the sands of Nevada shed a tear of gratitude with each revenue increase? Perhaps the map-border of Massachusetts will re-sculpt itself into a grin when its governor signs another tax increase into law? Come, now. Strip away all the titles and the artificial structures, and you have people, under the God Who created them... and that's it.

Given the above, perhaps you can see how many of the principles advanced by our current regim... ahm... "administration"... cannot be good. Mandatory taxpayer support of abortion (in D.C. and/or elsewhere), a legal system which can mandate the deaths (by dehydration, so as to allow cover for the executioners who can disingenuously say, "We didn't kill her! No bullets or knives or injections here, thank you! We just 'let her die', you see!") of the disabled when they're judged to be too burdensome, and other person-denigrating policies and actions are immoral at their core, and the only right choice is to flee from them with all speed.

As for personal discernments about right and wrong--well--next time, I think. :) (Browse the earlier articles on "cooperation in evil", for tid-bits about it, if you're anxious until then.)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Discerning Good from Evil, Part I

This is actually a "spinoff" from a discussion which I'm having with a commenter on Paul's Masterful Blog; see here for the original comment thread. For now, enjoy... and I'll set my brain a-stirring for the next installment, especially re: practical discernment of good and evil in our world.

If I understand Oliver's question/objection at all, it seems to involve this:

"In all this talk about [x] being good because God willed it, or that God willed [x] because it was good, or that God's will of [x] and the goodness of [x] flow from the Divine Nature of God, which is Goodness itself: what, exactly, IS goodness? We've talked about it and about its origins, but what is it? What does it look like, and how can we use it to identify the good from the evil?"

The problem is not that there are so few ways to go about this, but that there are so many! Here's only one of them:

A. A supremely perfect God exists.

Summary (and this leaves out *scores* of details! Ask about them individually, if you must...):

1) No object can be its own cause.
2) Causation implies change, and vice versa.
3) Any uncaused object is necessarily eternal.
4) Any uncaused cause is equivalent to existence per se.
5) Any uncaused cause must be unlimited and unique.
6) Our universe contains examples of changeable, non-eternal objects.
7) Ergo, an uncaused cause is required, as per #3-5.

B. Theism, by its recognition of this necessity (described in (A)), is the most reasonable paradigm by which the world and its dynamics can be explained. Since the "uncaused cause" conclusion is in harmony with theism, and not with atheism (which denies the uncaused cause) and agnosticism (which denies the knowability of the uncaused cause), it is reasonable to adopt a theistic paradigm until more compelling evidence/reasoning suggests otherwise.

C. Christianity is the most self-consistent paradigm which is also in harmony with theism and with the facts available to us in the natural world; thus, it is reasonable to assume Christianity as our paradigm until more compelling evidence/reasoning suggests otherwise.

D. Catholicism is the most self-consistent paradigm which is also in harmony with Christianity and with the facts available to us both in the natural world and within the contents of Divine Revelation (see (E), below); thus, it is reasonable to assume Catholicism as our paradigm until more compelling evidence/reasoning suggests otherwise.

E. Catholicism has confirmed that various facts have been communicated by God to us (i.e. Divine Revelation, or "The Sacred Deposit of Faith")--among which are guidelines for discerning the good from the evil.

F. Catholicism has confirmed that our human nature, though wounded by Original Sin, is still capable of recognizing truth (a.k.a. "the good") through the use of human reason, and of "tasting" truth through the use of human instincts and emotions--though these faculties (especially the latter) are clouded and fallible. Thus, it is possible (to a limited extent) to have an awareness of that which is good (or evil), even without explicit help from Divine Revelation.

G. Given all of the above, the most reliable way to discern the good from the evil is through examination of (and implementation of guiding principles given by) the Divine Revelation entrusted to man through Christ's Church; personal "awareness" might well be useful, but the fallen nature of man has rendered it weakened and less than strongly reliable.

I'm well aware of the fact that this schema leaves "grey areas" of morality; but given our fallen human condition, there's little hope of reprieve from that, this side of eternity. But you did ask.

So... go to it. Tear it apart at your leisure. :) My feelings won't be hurt by thorough examination (or even complete demolition) of my presented schema; just be logical about it, and do be polite, please. Life is too short to debate those who insist on being irritable and obnoxious.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

God's Way of Saying: "Slow Down!"

Yeah, I know... I'm not exactly a speed demon in updating this blog, anyway... but I really do have an excuse, this time. I seem to be laid flat with a case of tonsillitis, of all things! I'll try to be back up, coherent, and restored to my verbose self ASAP! For now, bedrest, I think...

Monday, June 1, 2009

Easter Technically Ended Yesterday, Y'know...

I'm the beneficiary of a whopping technicality.

In my last post (before Lent began), I mentioned that I might post at--or right after--Easter; well... since Easter is 50 days long, and it ends at Pentecost, I'm not very late, at least! :)

Anyway... I wish it were a more uplifting time to start writing again. Dr. George Tiller, a notorious abortionist, was shot and killed by a severely misguided person who thought that a series of bullets would win this particular battle which Satan is waging against our innocent children. Many sincere, devout Christians find themselves torn: between rejoicing at the idea that Dr. Tiller won't kill anymore children, and cringing at the evil means by which that end was achieved.

Here's my take on what we should remember, and what we should do at this time:

1) Pray for the soul of Dr. George Tiller, that he may escape eternal damnation.

One note, on that point: don't listen to what your "heart" says--our hearts are deceitful and confused (see Jeremiah 17:9), and they're not likely to lead us to God's righteousness, in this instance. Love is a choice--an act of the will--and this is one of the occasions where your will needs to grab the reins of your heart and hold them so tightly that your heart can't run wild like it wants to do! Choose to pray. Don't worry about not "feeling" like it; don't even worry about feeling like you'd rather die than pray for him; do it anyway, and let your "foolish heart" whimper itself into docility.

2) Our justifiable anger at the murderous deaths of hundreds of children at Dr. Tiller's hands is all too likely to cloud our minds and poison our hearts into thinking that George Tiller is the real enemy "who deserved everything he got." With all my being, I urge you: THAT IS NOT SO. I deserved far worse than Dr. Tiller received, today. So do you. So did he. Praise be to God, we're not dealing with a God Who gives us what we deserve; we're able to come to the Divine Mercy and beg, like the paupers we are, for mercy and salvation that we don't deserve, and that we could never earn. Pray for Dr. Tiller. Prove that you're a child of your Father (cf. Matthew 5:45). Praying for an enemy--even so wretched a man as Dr. Tiller--will be a jewel in your eternal crown that, if your soul is saved at the end, no one can ever take away. When you see the look of joy in Jesus' face as He says, "Well done. I know how hard it was to pray for him. You have made Me so happy, by that!", do you honestly think that the anger you feel now will be even a ghost of a memory? For the joy that's before us, can we push past the shame, and past our own selfish feelings?

3) The best thing you can do for the cause of Christ is to purify yourself. Put your own house in order, so that you don't start fighting on behalf of the Adversary, despite your best intentions. No one can defeat the devil by using the devil's own weapons; they always turn on their wielders, in the end.

4) Step up your prayers, fasting (within reason, without harming yourself or your ability to do what God calls you to do), and sacrifices. Seriously: what excuse can you possible offer for refusing to sacrifice that TV show, or that candy bar, or that reluctance to be friendly to the grumpy person in the cubicle next to you? This is a war which will not ultimately be won with earthly weapons (no, not even laws and political struggles--necessary though those might sometimes be); it will be won by Grace. Remember Who's in control, always. It isn't you, and it isn't me, and it isn't any member deceived into embracing the culture of death. It's God, and God alone; our only job is to be faithful, and to do whatever tasks He gives us--no matter how unimpressive, non-glorious or insignificant those tasks might seem. God doesn't call you to be impressive; He calls you to be faithful.

5) Take a lesson from driving lessons: if you keep your eyes on something, you'll tend to steer toward it. The same is true for the spiritual life: if you keep your eyes fixated on the culture of death, you'll start to steer yourself into it, and into its darkness. Keep your eyes on the Father, on the Son, and on the Holy Spirit. Keep your eyes on the light; God will show you what you need to know about everything else, if only you heed His voice and obey. Don't let all of your time be consumed with debating the ins-and-outs of this-or-that horror; once the facts are reasonably known, stop researching, drop to your knees, and pray. A good warrior knows when to watch the battleground, and when to act.

God protect you in your efforts.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Time to Blog, and a Time to Be Still

This may be something of an ironic post, given that I've only managed to update this poor blog every 7-10 days(!), but: at least for now, I think God is calling me to put this blog "to sleep" for a bit, during Lent... not only to give me some much-needed time to get other things done, but to spend extra time with my beloved wife (who's had far too little time with/from me, recently) and to take some "quieter time" (yeah, I know... aside from high school math teaching and RCIA teaching?!?) to grow in my own spiritual journey. God willing, I'll have quite a bit to share when the blessed feast of Easter comes; it might be one last post, or it might be the beginning of a whole new vista (no reference to Microsoft meant!). We'll see; all things in God's time.

Thank you all, you who've read so many posts which varied wildly in verbosity and relevance! Never fear, I won't drop off the scene entirely; I'll still haunt Paul's Masterful Blog and some of my other usual places, and I may even contribute a post or two, over there (especially if Paul needs another blog-sitter... though this time, I'm raiding the refrigerator! ;) ). Again, we'll see.

May God bless and keep you, in the holy season of Lent, and always; may you grow nearer to Him, every day (whether you want it or not!).

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Spiritual Warfare, Part III: Choosing Your Weapons

(Okay, so it looks as if I'm destined to update this poor blog about once every week; so be it! Sorry for the delay!)

This topic can be rather touchy... so I apologize in advance if I ruffle some feathers; take it as my insight, based on what I know of the subject (which may legitimately be debated), and see what you think.

So far, we've discussed two key steps in spiritual warfare: get your own house in order (i.e. grow in holiness, and detach yourself from sin), and establish reliable supply lines (i.e. access as many channels of God's grace as you can, by means of prayer, fasting, spiritual reading, etc.). The next one is, if possible, more critical--since a bad choice in this regard can not only destroy the good done in the first two steps, but it can lead you to do immeasurable damage to *our* side of the war:


Let me be very clear about what this means.

Satan uses weapons that are evil in some way--either intrinsically evil weapons (i.e. evil by their very nature), or else neutral or (even) good weapons put to a perverse task (I'll give examples, below). Those who choose to fight Satan (which includes all Christians, and all who wish to avoid eternal damnation!) cannot do so. Here are a few examples:

1) Violence is any action (or possibly omission of a required act) which causes damage to something or someone else; and it is only allowed under very strict circumstances (e.g. defense of self or others, etc.) which resemble those by which war may justly be waged, and the conditions by which an evil (in general) may be tolerated (see my post about double-effect). We can't, for example, fight abortion by taking a high-powered rifle and blowing the head off of an abortionist--since willing the death of a person (even a murderer) is always evil. We can chain ourselves to the door of the abortion mill; we can trespass in order to give the next Terri Schiavo a drink of water. But we cannot choose evil, no matter what the potential "payoff".

2) Hatred is a free choice to will evil on another; and hatred is NEVER morally permissible against another human being. In fact, the only permissible "target" for hatred is evil/sin itself (and perhaps the fallen angels--though that's dangerous ground). If we pick up hatred as a weapon against an enemy (save for evil itself), it will eventually turn on us.

3) Denigration is the practice of exposing an enemy to such criticism and/or ridicule as to degrade his reputation and worth in the eyes of others. While direct (and even severe) criticism--and even sharp irony--can possibly be used against an *argument*, they are not properly used against other persons.

I don't mean to say that we won't slip up, on occasion--lose our tempers when sorely provoked (internet trolls are sometimes rather good at such provocation!), and such--but that can't be the norm, and we can't settle for that, and we really do need to turn away from such things as soon as possible.

I also don't mean to say that ironic or strident criticism of an opponent's argument--or even an opponent's present character--is always wrong; even Christ seemed to use it, as a rhetorical device to shake his opponents out of their complacency (cf. virtually all of Matthew, Chapter 23). But I do mean to say that such tools are specialized, and are not easily used properly; we who are sinners can so easily confuse the sinner for the sin (or for the state of the sinner's soul)... especially if their sin resembles the sin that most attracts and tempts us! Christ Our Lord could use those specialized weapons with perfect accuracy; we are usually not nearly so skilled... and it is only through true charity--selfless love for our enemy, and a soul-deep desire to see them freed from the bondage of error and sin--that God can empower us to use such weapons on the occasions where they are truly necessary.

God bless us as we seek to fight by His side!

[Updated note: sorry about the temporary lack of formatting; I'm working through a bug with Firefox that doesn't like Blogger's editor, for some reason...]

Friday, February 6, 2009

Spiritual Warfare, Part II: Supply Lines

(*sputter* You'd think I'd have at least a few extra minutes to update this poor blog, every week! I'll try to feed it a bit more often...)

Anyway... when last we talked, we spoke of the highest priority of Spiritual Warfare: namely, getting your own spiritual house in order, so as to remove any "footholds" that the enemy (i.e. Satan and the other fallen angels, as per Ephesians 6) might have in your soul. This time, we address the second priority:


In physical warfare, a military unit can't long survive without a supply of the basic necessities for life (food, water, medical supplies, etc.), and a supply of adequate weaponry and the "power" to use them (e.g. bullets, gasoline, gunpowder, various high-tech parts, etc.). These have direct analogues in the spiritual realm... but a few definitions are needed, in order to make sense of them:

  • Grace: "free gift" from our merciful God, given for our benefit
  • Actual Grace: grace designed to help with specific good "actions" we perform
  • Sanctifying Grace: the very life of God, poured into our souls, which "sanctifies" us (i.e. makes us "holy") and changes us (slowly or quickly) to conform to the Spirit of Christ. Baptism opens this "pipeline" of grace (cf. 1 Peter 3:21), venial sin clogs it, and mortal sin shuts it down completely (cf. 1 John 5:15-17)
...and now, for the concrete instructions.

In spiritual warfare, you cannot possibly win on your own strength; "human vs. fallen angel" is a losing set-up for the human, every time. The fallen angels have depraved natures, to be sure, but their natural abilities outstrip yours and mine to an almost ridiculous extent. (If you doubt, consider matching yourself up against a creature who hates God and hates you with an untiring, laser-like focus, who never needs to eat or sleep or rest, who has no bodily chemistry to distract its focus while it plans to destroy you, whose movements are completely unlimited by space and time, and who likely knows your weaknesses--through careful, sleepless observation over many years--better than you know them yourself. Not promising.) As such, you need a source of strength greater than your own, and greater than that of the fallen angels. That source is God, Himself, Who has already described (in His written and unwritten Word) how much He wants to give us that strength.

If my suspicions are correct (and if you, while reading this, are anything like me), I may need to offer a reminder, here: the battles of the spiritual realm do not look much like physical battles, at all, and though the principles used in both battle types are similar, they most certainly don't operate by the same specific rules! Here's the reminder:

Why did God make us? Why are we here? What's our purpose?

The classic answer still gets the point across most clearly: God created us to know Him, to Love Him, to serve Him, and to be forever happy with Him in Heaven. In short: our "job" on earth is to get to Heaven, and to take as many other people with us as possible! That's what spiritual warfare looks like... and every other concern is secondary to that, at best. "But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you." (Luke 12:31)

Now, back to the list:

How do we fulfill this step, and establish our "supply lines" of grace (i.e. life and strength from God)? Aside from Baptism (which is a prerequisite for all the rest), here are only a few of the many ways:
  • Pray! ASK for that grace! "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father from heaven give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him? (Luke 11:13)"

  • Get others to pray for you! The holier these "others" are, the better... but I strongly suggest consecrated religious (ministers, nuns, priests, monks, etc.--and can someone remind me to write a post about the prayers of the Saints in Heaven for us, someday?), children (their prayers are often far more pure and undiluted than ours!), and--in a class by themselves, no joke--praying grandmothers!

  • Get close to the sources of grace! The Sacraments are the seven most powerful (most especially Confession, by which strangled or broken "pipelines" of grace are reconnected and cleaned out; Holy Communion, by which Christ comes to dwell in us--Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity; and Confirmation, by which we receive the full equipment of a warrior), but get close to any source of grace that you can find. Immerse yourself in solid Christian spiritual reading (or music, or audio books, or whatever). Practice saying "no" to sin, even when the sin seems "minor and easy to hide or excuse". Fast (from unnecessary food, from certain "treats", from TV, etc.), and offer that sacrifice to God. Give alms (i.e. give of your substance to those who are more in need than you), whether it be monetary, donation of your talents (e.g. Habitat for Humanity, mission trips, etc.), or giving your time (to an elderly neighbour who has no visitors, to a homeless shelter or crisis pregnancy center, to a pro-life cause, etc.).

The list goes on, but you get the idea. Anything which gets us further away from sin and closer to God is a source of grace. Anything we can do to train and discipline ourselves toward protecting (with our physical lives, if necessary!) our access to those "sources of grace" will keep our supply of grace steady and secure. Anything we can do to train ourselves to avoid "near occasions of sin" (see earlier post) will keep those "supply lines" from being seriously threatened.

One last piece of advice, from one who's fallen in battle more times than he'd like to admit: threats to your supply lines will almost never be flamboyant and obvious. Threats to your state of grace will almost always start gradually, by subtle compromises--especially when you're feeling angry, tired, depressed, or some other "emotional low". If you're in a state of grace, the devil (almost always disguised as something subtle and innocuous) will offer *amazingly* good-looking "payoffs" for what seems to be a trivially small sin. One tiny lie might protect your good reputation and career from damage. One small bit of gossip might secure the affection and devotion of a new and advantageous acquaintance. One tiny prayer neglected (which you'd previously promised/resolved to pray) might feel *so-ooo* good when you're feeling sleepy and ready for an earlier nap. Don't be caught spiritually "napping".

"Be sober and watch: because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8)"

God love you all, and protect you as you resolve to fight for Him.

P.S. As a reminder: the holy season of Lent is coming up (3 weeks from this past Wednesday), which has proved to be one of the best possible times for "spiritual training"... and which offers extraordinary graces for spiritual warriors which aren't as accessible at other times. You might consider starting a new and serious "personal spiritual boot camp" during that blessed time.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Spiritual Warfare: Lesson #1

I'd hoped to have more time before now to post this (especially since my more somber-sounding posts were making newcomers wonder if I was falling into despair, re: the ascendancy of the President of Death--nothing could be further from the truth... never fear!), but it's better late than never!

I don't claim to be a spiritual master; but since I've issued a , it's only fair that I should give some guidance as to what spiritual warfare actually means, drawn from what experience (such as it is) I do have with such combat. But, like most things, the explanation needs to start by explaining what it's not--by stripping away some of the most common misunderstandings.

Spiritual warfare, in short, is participating in Christ's already-won battle against sin and death, to the extent that we can; as St. Paul describes in Ephesians 6, our warfare is with the Devil and his fellow fallen angels--not with flesh and blood (i.e. other humans). But here's an immediate problem: the battle really doesn't resemble the "Hollywood-esque" ideas that are popular in our culture. Whenever many believers think of "spiritual warfare", they think of possessions, of one-on-one combat with demons, and perhaps numerous ideas about "rebuking demons in the Name of the Lord Jesus". With all due respect to other faith-traditions: the spiritual warfare to which we (of the laity) are called does not involve us taking the "satanic bull by the horns" by direct defiance, attempts to command the fallen angels (whether "by the Name of Jesus" or by any other means), etc. (Take it from someone who grew up mostly on a farm: taking a real bull by the horns is a good way to get yourself--and those around you--hurt, maimed or killed!)

Real spiritual battle is almost always quite a bit less dramatic, less visually impressive, and more mundane than most people realize... but it's no less dangerous, for all that. In fact, if you ask any true veteran of war, he or she will tell you that some of the most dangerous times of war are usually far away from the "glamour" of the front lines: they're more often found in death by roadside bombs, death by a stray bullet or shrapnel while you're taking a brief walk to another building, and so on. They'll also be in a good position to tell you that some of the most important wartime jobs (strategically, etc.) are some of the least visible, least impressive, least "dramatic" jobs. Just so, with this; don't let any nonsense about the alleged "dramatic romance" of spiritual warfare deceive you. Spiritual warfare is not "fun" or "exciting" or any other such nonsense; it's gritty, usually less than dramatic, and sometimes quite tedious--though it's good and necessary work, and God calls us all to fight in it, in one way or another. It's just important to know how not to go about such battles. In the same way that a soldier in hiding does no favours for his side by leaping boldly from his hiding place and shooting in all directions, we do our side (of this war) no good at all if we play the fool, for the sake of being "caught up in the drama" (or through some misguided idea of our own authority).

This has more dimensions than I can describe at one sitting (I'll probably need many entries, over some period of time, to describe what I can), but here's spiritual warfare lesson #1:


What does this mean? It means the very same thing that it meant when we thought we weren't in a spiritual battle: get rid of the sin in your life, and dislodge the enemy's foothold in your soul! Here are a few specifics:

1) Develop an absolute hatred for sin, and recognize sin for what it is. Sin is a rejection of the Only One Who loves us perfectly; sin is a violation of the very purpose of our existence (to know God, to love Him, to serve Him, and to be forever happy with Him in Heaven); and sin is the only weapon capable of wounding and/or killing us eternally. And here's the rub: only we can train that weapon on ourselves, and pull the trigger! The devil (and his fellow fallen angels) can offer us the gun, and he/they can try to talk us into using it, but no one can sin, save by a free choice.

2) Identify the things that lead you into sin, and--to the extent that it's at all possible--avoid them like the plague. In Catholic teaching, this is called "avoiding all near occasions of sin"--and we promise to do this, every time we go to sacramental Confession; so not only is it a wise thing to do, but we're also bound by our word to do it!

3) Study the virtues--the good habits which increase our personal holiness (i.e. God's life in us), and then practice them for all you're worth! Of *course* it'll be hard, especially at first (what heavy training *isn't* hard?), but the payoff is incalculable; by getting stronger in the virtues, we're more and more able to fight off temptations to indulge in their opposite vices.

That's more than enough for now. Frankly, that's more than enough to keep most of us busy for a lifetime, right there! Don't lose heart; go one step at a time, but be painfully honest with yourself. Here's a brief checklist:
  • Do I read or watch anything that makes me more inclined to sin (internally and/or externally)?
  • Are there places I go, or things I do, which lead me to sin?
  • Are there people whom I know tend to lead me to sin?

If the answer to any of those is "yes", you have some spiritual housecleaning to do (which is spiritual warfare--don't think otherwise!), and you may have some painful choices to face.

More later; God bless your efforts... and whatever you do, pray without ceasing (I Thessalonians 5:17)! We can't do these things--mundane or dramatic--on our own strength! Pray for protection, and get holy friends to pray for you... especially if you're just starting to work on any of the above!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Guidelines for Comments

I almost feel honoured: as of this post, I've had two whole trolls, in my blog's short life! :)

Seriously, though: if you're curious about what standards I use to accept comments (vs. deleting them--and I do indeed use the delete button, at need!), here they are:

1) Don't use any obscene language. I'd rather not have the *polite* readers' eyes and minds soiled by it; and this rule is absolute.

2) To quote Fr. Z, "think before posting", and "practice self-editing". Yes, it's a subjective judgment-call, but if I judge your comment to be not only mean-spirited, but knee-jerk and thoughtless, don't expect its life expectancy to be very long. Mean-spirited but intelligent posts will probably survive, though their composers can expect a scolding for their ill manners (and warnings that their further comments might suffer deletion if they prove incapable of self-editing).

3) If you *request* that a comment of yours be deleted, I'll usually be happy to do that for you (though Blogger usually lets you do that yourself).

4) Please don't log in as "anonymous", if you can help it; when you comment, you can pick a pseudonym (fake name) for yourself by clicking the radio button next to the choice "Name/URL" (right above "anonymous"); type your chosen name in the "Name" space which appears, and--if you like--type the URL of your webpage, etc., in the URL space (though that's completely optional). Having dozens of "anonymous" posters, all arguing with one another, gets pretty confusing.

Summary: don't be a troll. Life is too short to be one, or to put up with one.

As you were... :)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

This Present Darkness

It begins.

Brothers and sisters in the womb, forgive us. Darkness has ascended the throne, and your lives are now offered to the spirit of the age. Pray for us.

"For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens." (Ephesians 6:12)

Warriors of Christ, take up your arms.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Prayers for Our Beloved Dead

It's high-time I make good on a promise I made, some time ago. When I talked about grief (and the difference between the world's grief and the grief of one who has Faith), I promised to write a bit about praying for our loved ones (and others) who have preceded us in death. I'm keenly aware that there are Christians of many traditions, who read this blog (as well as a sprinkling of other faiths, and even those of no faith)... and I'll try not to tread harshly on anyone's sensibilities. But at very least, walk with me as I explore this idea, and see what you think...

First, I'd offer the idea that all of us, when we suffer grief at the death of a loved one (or even hear about the tragic death of someone we don't know), part of the pain comes from the idea that we feel helpless; after all, what can you do for someone who's died already? We can comfort those who're left behind (and that's very good, and necessary!), but that's only part of our experience. It's a parallel to our reaction to pain: not only does it hurt us by its "active" effects on us, but it hurts when it's apparently pointless, or without meaning. (I'd direct anyone wondering about the possible meaning behind suffering to Colossians 1:24, and pray hard over it, for some time. Maybe, later, I'll need to write about the idea of redemptive suffering... if anyone's interested?) If day-to-day suffering, in general, has been given purpose and meaning by God, is it such a stretch that such meaning--such purpose which transcends earthly things--might encompass death itself?

Christians (by that, I mean those who can pray/say the Apostles' Creed without lying) believe in the Communion of Saints--which, for 2000 years, has referred to the fact that all who are united in Christ, through God's Grace and through Faith, are connected one to another by bonds that only damnation can break; distance, time, and even earthly death shall not separate us from one another in Christ Jesus (cf. Romans 8:35-39, Luke 20:38, etc.).

For those who accept the 73-book canon of Scripture, look at II Macabees 12:36-46, with special attention to verse 46:

"It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins."

If you accept this as Scripture, then the matter is settled. If not, then may I tease your mind with what a friend of mine calls the "Eternity Loophole"? Here's how it goes:

If you've slogged through my interminable attempt at a proof of God's existence, you may remember the description of how God is eternal--not just "living lots of years", but eternal: that is, completely outside of (and independent of) time (and space). Try to wrap your brain around that idea, for a moment; God doesn't "wait" for anything. Whereas we need to wait for the year 2010, He's already there, eternally present to it, and embracing the whole of it. And whereas we can only remember last year (or read about someone else's memories, committed to paper or computer or what-have-you), God is there, eternally present to it, and embracing the whole of it. I could say, with only some inaccuracy, that God is "watching" the Crucifixion of Christ as we speak, and as we speak, He's listening to the prayers of (and strengthening with His grace) faithful Jews and Christians who are walking into the Auschwitz gas chambers in 1943. He's also there, as we speak, at our own deathbed (or wherever we're to die), holding us, on whatever future day that might be. God waits for nothing; He's already there. God remembers nothing; He's already there.

So: is it possible for us to pray for those who have died, and have it do any good for them? Well... any Christian who believes in the Communion of Saints (or even in the Mercy of God at all, for that matter!) believes that our prayers for other living people are beneficial; if you ask me to pray for you (and Scripture has examples too numerous to count of people asking others for prayer), and I pray for God to heal/help/strengthen/etc. you, we believe that God always responds proactively to every such prayer. He may respond in ways that we don't expect (e.g. if we're asking for something which would ultimately harm us, or which would ultimately interfere with a good that God plans for us), but He never fails to intervene in such cases.

Now, think of prayers for someone who has died. They died in the past, so it can seem (to us) as though it's as impossible to pray for them and have it help them as it would be to write a letter to them and have them read it! And that's true... for all of us who live inside of time. But do you remember that God is eternally and actively present to all times, no matter how remote in the past or future? God is with that person, right now, as they're being conceived, as they're being born, as they're first learning to walk, and at the moment their soul is leaving their body in death. Even if you're of the view that "only the physically living can benefit from our prayers"--what are we to make of praying to God, Who's eternally present to that person as they're living and breathing, right now (in whatever "past" time that might be)? If God can bless those among the (to us) "presently" living for whom we pray, God can bless those among the (to us) "previously" living for whom we pray... since God is there with them, as they live, move, and have their being.

There is no barrier, whatsoever, which could possibly keep our prayers and their benefits from our beloved dead. None.

If you've never done this before, it can be anything from awkward to agonizing; if you've never before believed that your prayers could benefit those whom you love, and who've died (no matter what the circumstances--even death while rebelling from God, or even suicide), even imagining the attempt can bring a flood of spiritual grief and agony that can knock you emotionally blind... especially if someone you love died in grievous circumstances (e.g. not right with God, or by suicide, etc.), and if you'd felt it necessary to block the episode from your mind, just to keep your sanity and emotional stability. But please believe me: this is true.

Pray for them. Offer sacrifices to God (e.g. fasting, almsgiving to the poor, etc.) on their behalf, and ask Him to unite your sacrifices (which have no eternal worth by themselves) to Christ's ultimate sacrifice on Calvary (which has infinite worth, and which can enrich our offerings with incredible grace and merit, as St. Paul promises us in Colossians 1:24). Pray with gratitude, especially that God is Who He Is--Who is not limited by what limits us--and Who loves our beloved dead far more than we ever could.

More on this later, if anyone wishes. But pray about this... and when you're ready, try it. God bless your attempts; I'll be praying for you!

The Patron anti-saint

As I was in the middle of typing my last blog entry, my wife (who's reading "Preparing Yourself for Mass", by Fr. Romano Guardini--good author!) shared a theological observation with me. (Yes, I'm not the only one. She does it too--quite often, in fact... and usually with far less rambling than I use! I'd encourage her to start a blog, if I didn't think it would take the last bits of her spare time, push her beyond her last scrap of endurance, and put her in an asylum for the duration of her natural life. But I ramble...)

She mentioned the story in John 6, where many of Jesus' disciples abandoned Him, because they simply couldn't believe His teaching about the Eucharist (cf. John 6:22-72)... but mentioned something that hadn't struck her until now: remember when, after the mass abandonment, Jesus turned to the twelve and asked, "Do you also wish to leave? (John 6:68)" St. Peter spoke for all of them, in saying "no", but did you notice? Judas Iscariot, the one who would betray Jesus, didn't leave! But the twist comes with Jesus' reply to St. Peter: "Have I not chosen you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil", speaking of Judas. The traitor didn't leave when the unbelievers left. Did that make him a believer?

Let's look at that for a moment. Now, this isn't conclusive--I'm just following my nose, here (with help from Fr. Guardini!), but think about this:

- After St. Peter says, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life, and we have come to believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God!", Jesus follows up with the "Have I not chosen you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil! Doesn't this suggest, at least somewhat, that Judas didn't believe? Nothing iron-clad, true... but suggestive.

- Earlier, St. John writes (describing Jesus speaking at the moment when the disciples were about to abandon Him en masse), "'The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some among you who do not believe.' For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was who should betray Him." (John 6:64-65) Again, nothing provable in a court of law... but again, see the close association with disbelief and betrayal?

- St. John, in his first letter, writes: "[...]many antichrists have arisen [...] They have gone forth from us, but they were not of us. For if they had been of us, they would surely have continued with us;" (I John 2:18-19) This suggests that, among others, Judas was not "of them" in the sense of being true followers of Christ (i.e. those who believed).

- plain common sense suggests that, if Judas had truly believed Jesus to be the Messiah of God, and the Son of God, he would never have betrayed Him.

So... we have Judas, who (at least according to strong evidence) doesn't believe. That begs a question:

Why didn't he leave?

I wish I could answer that question with certainty; I can't. But I can tell you one thing: we have modern evidence of the same, with every Faux Catholic who walks the earth. They don't believe, but they still don't leave (for many possible reasons, I'm sure). Some seek to remake the Church in their own image. Others truly wish to destroy the Church from within. Others sense the power and authority of the Church of Christ, but want to take (or manipulate) that power for themselves. Still others are too weak, complacent, and comfortable to leave, or even to face their lack of faith. (I was of that number, I'm ashamed to say.)

It would certainly fit. Consider the sense of betrayal felt by the Church as Faux Catholics sacrifice unborn children to Moloch (with the updated name of "Planned Parenthood") for the sake of personal thrills and promised material gain; doesn't it mirror the betrayal felt by Christ as Judas sold Him for thirty pieces of silver? Judas wasn't honest; he didn't leave (or convert). Faux Catholics aren't honest, either; they don't leave (or convert). It looks as if the patron anti-saint of Faux Catholics is none other than Judas Iscariot.

I'd add this: Judas could have repented. He could have gone back, begged forgiveness, and been received back... to the point where we could have had a "St. Judas Iscariot" in the Church martyrology. (It happened with the murderer known as Saul of Tarsus, after all.) Likewise: Faux Catholics can come back. Or, if they refuse to repent, they can embrace honesty, and leave the Church (which is often a large step toward ultimate repentance and reception as a *true* Catholic!). The only thing they can't do, without remaining a Faux Catholic, is remain in the Church while still falling under the condemnation of Christ: "There are some among you who do not believe."

The truth will set you free... but you must embrace it, first.

A Spade Is, In Fact, A Spade

(In atonement for neglecting this poor, starving blog for so long, I thought I'd feed it a 3-course meal; sit back, and let the rhetoric fly! :) )

I need to start this post with two confessions.

First: not only am I a sinful man, but I find it extremely hard to live up to the exhortations that I offer to everyone else. I can spend an entire evening teaching catechumens about the glories of redemptive suffering, and then I can mope for the entire following day because of my physical ailments. I can teach about the moral imperative of charity (and rejecting all ill-will toward our neighbour), and then sulk interminably over an offense that someone gave me. Oh, to be sure: I very rarely let these sins out of my head and into the external world (where others might see them)--and I sometimes even congratulate myself on my self-restraint in that regard--but, lest anyone think that I'm capable of "preaching from an ivory tower", I assure my readers that my feet are composed of the poorest quality of clay. I need that clear, lest people think that the fingers I wag at others are not equally wagged at myself. I assure you, they are.

Second: for all my talk of "faith, hope and love are choices, not feelings!", I was an enthusiastic proponent of "feelings-faith" (and basically making emotions the dominant guiding force in one's life) as recently as 7 years ago. When I condemn that error now, I do not do so as one who has no experience with such; in fact, the past 7 years have largely been a repudiation of that same philosophy which I embraced (and defended strenuously) for the majority of my life. (All right, all right: for the incurably nosey: I'm 40 years old, as of a week ago; okay? :) Now that *that's* out of the way...)

Why do I now fight so strenuously against this "emotion-driven" approach to life? Three reasons, primarily:

1) Rational: I've since examined the "emotion-driven" view of faith, and I've found it to be not only flawed, but completely unworkable (and--quite frankly--utterly insane).

2) Practical: it doesn't work. Or rather, it works to bring evil and ruin, all too successfully; what it does not do is bring about any substantial or lasting good.

3) Personal: with apologies for being vague, suffice it to say that the "emotion-driven" approach to faith leaves one open to horrors about which no sane person would even care to dream. I was lucky, and I survived... and I learned that the fight against "squishy, feelings-based faith" is not simply a matter of taste, or merely a fastidious distinction of systematic theology, or even a "good and laudable idea"; it's a matter of life and death. (Again: I hate to tantalize with a story that I won't tell... but to Little eye, my respected "sparring partner" on Jen's Wonderful Blog, I can say that--if it's any comfort--you're not the only one with stories which, if told to the general public, would cause many others to doubt your sanity!)

As the President-Elect of Death prepares to mount his new throne, won for him in large part by Faux Catholics (and Faux Christians, and squishy-thinking emotion-worshippers of all flavours) in two days, I'm tempted to stand in amazement at the sheer lack of all awareness of the darkness threatening to engulf us. Does that sound extreme? Hyperbolic? "Fanatical Apocalyptic Right-Wing?" (That last one was in honour of--and virtually quoted from--the hundreds of hard-working trolls out there, who work tirelessly to mock and neutralize truth in orthodox Christian blogs throughout the world.) Not only have the pagans of our land voted for the foremost champion of death of our time and country, but feelings-worshipping Catholics (and other self-proclaimed Christians) pushed him over the top... by quite a margin. The man:

- who's promised to re-legalize partial-birth abortion,

- who's promised to mandate all health organizations to provide "abortion services" to whomever asks for them,

- who's promised to throw wide the floodgates of taxpayer funding for abortions of all kinds--at home, overseas, and even after being born, (no reason why poor women should be denied the "right" to have their baby, born-alive after a botched abortion, strangled or left to die on a shelf; it shouldn't be an exclusive privilege of the wealthy, after all!),

- who's promised to throw open the taxpayer coffers in support of Embryonic Stem-Cell Research (what Paul, at his masterful blog, fittingly calls "recreational cloning/killing").

Need I go on? (Don't answer that, please.) Death is coming to our country's highest elected office in a way never before seen, and a majority of Catholics rejoice. I know of few other sentences which contain the very essence of heartbreak, as does that. May God have mercy on us.

So... in addition to a lament for the evil that's coming upon us (and which has already settled on the hearts of misled and/or morally corrupt members of our land--including at least a plurality of Catholics and other Christians), why do I mention this? I mention this because of three things:

1) Even in the midst of this ugly and perverse time: this battle--bloody, grotesque, and inhuman as it is--has already been won. Christ Jesus, Lord of All, has won. Don't despair. Grieve, certainly... but don't despair. Be faithful until the bitter end. If you grieve, know that faithful members of the Communion of Saints are grieving with you... and, God willing, you'll see them--face-to-face--rejoicing with you in the Kingdom, when all will be made new.

2) I offer this as another wake-up call to those who are "Faux Catholics/Christians", but who are sensitive enough to harbor twinges of doubt and unease at the agenda of the new "secular pseudo-messiah" who's ascending the "throne" of the presidency... and to those who are honest enough to be willing to re-examine the dynamics which brought them to their heterodoxy in the first place. (I was one of your number, for over 20 years of my adult life; I do not condemn you, but I also urge you to question where you are... and, God willing, to move out of it!)

3) I believe that Edmund Burke was correct when he said that the only thing necessary for evil to be victorious is for the good to do nothing. I don't claim to be "good" in any absolute sense... but I certainly claim to follow the good, found within the Lord of Perfect Goodness, Himself: Jesus Christ; and I don't want any non-Christian who's ignorant of the Gospel to accept the "Obama-led culture of death", simply because it seems to be the only game in town, and no one has said anything to the contrary.

Two days until the war takes a new and bitter turn. Pray, followers of Christ. Pray, and mean it. Rearrange your lives for it. Pray, fast, offer mortifications. I suspect this type of demon can only be driven out by prayer and fasting (cf. Mark 9:28). Get on it, warriors for Christ!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

And Now, For Something Completely Boring...

Well, maybe not... but only if you're into dry, mind-bending metaphysical stuff!

On many occasions (usually in debates with atheists), I've been in the position of trying to demonstrate the existence of God, independent of Scripture, Sacred Tradition, Church Teaching, emotion, or personal experience. It's something of a chore (despite the fact that something about proofs appeals to the "inner geek" in me!), but I've assembled--or rather, cobbled together--my own meager attempt at such a proof. I don't pretend that it's airtight, or even very good; in fact, I ask all readers to do their best to tear it down, find flaws, discover fallacies, expose gaping holes, and the like! (Then I'll rebuild it accordingly, and I don't have to pay an editor! :) )

If you read past this point, all legal disclaimers regarding your mental health are in full force!

Notice: the following is for entertainment purposes only. The author assumes no extraordinary liability toward the reader for mental injury or facial injuries due to boredom-induced collapse into computer keyboards, nor can the author be held accountable for any program of hair-replacement therapy necessitated by the frustrated removal of the original follicles by the reader. Besides, the author doesn't have any money to pay a lawsuit; so there.

The Necessary Existence of God?

Definition A: By "cause", this argument will mean "ontological cause", or "that which is responsible for bringing an object into existence," or "that which bestows existence to another object." (It's true that Aristotle, Aquinas, etc., suggested many types of causes; I'll be abstracting from and/or conflating them, in general. Time will tell if such a move is well-advised.)

Definition B: By "object", this argument will mean anything which in any way holds ontological existence.

Definition C: By "eternal", this argument will mean that which is completely independent of time.

Definition D: By "intrinsic [essential] existence", this argument will describe that which exists by necessity, and by its very nature; that which is causeless.

Definition E: By "extrinsic [essential] existence", this argument will describe that which is dependent upon an ontological cause for its existence; that which does not exist by necessity.


Assumptions (assumed to be self-evident):

Lemma #1: An object must exist in order to act.

Lemma #2: An object cannot use or extend that which it does not possess (corollary to Lemma #1).


Proposition #1: No object can be its own cause.

Proof: There are only two possibilities for any object, re: causation: an object is either caused, or uncaused.

a) If an object is uncaused, then Prop. #1 is trivially true.

b) If an object is caused, then its cause must (by Lemma #1) have existed in order to enact that causation. It is therefore manifestly true that a non-existent object cannot act to bring itself (or anything else) into existence.

Proposition #2: Causation is necessarily bound to the definition of "change."

Proof: Any change is an event by which an object either loses or gains characteristics--by which an object (in one or more ways) moves from potentiality to actuality, or from actuality to potentiality. (It will be necessary, before finishing the proof, to discuss the mode of continued existence of any given object.) Since "cause" (as per definition #1) denotes an event by which an object gains ontological existence, the definition of "change" is thus satisfied. (Discussions of change regarding "loss" will be described below.)

An object's existence can be conceived as being either (a) intrinsic, by its very nature (i.e. uncaused); or (b) extrinsic (i.e. caused and maintained). It might be argued that an object could, hypothetically, be "caused, but independent (i.e. not maintained)" in the sense that it required an "initial cause", but needs no "maintenance" of that acquired existence; such a suggestion stems from a misunderstanding of--among other things--the nature of time, in that an object's existence at any given moment subsequent to its causation is dependent on its existence in prior moments (up to that moment of causation--which is then dependent on the extrinsic cause), just as surely as the existence of a 100m object is dependent upon the existence of, say, the first 99m. Such a suggestion, therefore, cannot be maintained.

Objection #1: Cannot an object have discontinuous existence? Cannot an object exist for a burst of moments, blink out of existence, and then re-appear, for an indefinite number of repetitions?

Reply #1: Even if that were possible, it would merely push the case back to smaller intervals; the very same propositions would hold for each small "segment" of existence, and each "annihilation" would require its own cause, as would any subsequent "recreation". If an object has intrinsic existence, then (by definition) it will never cease; if an object has extrinsic existence, then it is dependent on an extrinsic cause for that existence. No object can "cycle" between existence and nonexistence by its intrinsic nature--if for no other reason than the fact that any object which ceases to exist (a) is shown to have non-intrinsic existence, and (b) would be helpless to enact its own "recreation" (cf. Lemma #1).

There are only two ways by which characteristics can be lost: by active negation (i.e. an event, force, etc., which actively cancels an existing characteristic), or by privation (i.e. by having the "maintaining source" discontinue its maintenance). Both cases require an extrinsic cause.

Similarly, there is only one way by which attributes can be gained: by extrinsic cause (since an object cannot bestow upon itself that which it does not itself possess, as per Lemma #2).

As such, any change must necessarily require a cause or causes (since change, by definition, requires the gain and/or loss of attributes--and both require extrinsic causes). Conversely, any cause (so-called) would necessitate the existence of change--at least insofar as the object being "caused" is concerned (which changes in state from potential to actual--from nonexistence to existence).

Objection #2: "There seem to be many types of change which do not require gain or loss; what is gained or lost, for example, by an object moving from position A to position B?"

Reply #2: Such an object would lose its characteristic of occupying position A (to say nothing of a possible loss of being at relative rest), and it would gain the characteristic of occupying position B (to say nothing of having gained--albeit briefly--the positions of all intermediate locations, and having lost the state of potentiality inherent in *not* moving). No change can possibly occur without gain or loss. (It should be noted that the subjective ideas of "degradation" and "improvement" have nothing especially to do with the strict definitions of "gain" (moving from potential to actual) or "loss" (moving from actual to potential); it is not the purpose of this specific proposition to explore advancement toward, or retreat from, any sort of perfection.)

Proposition #3: Given any example of change(s), one must consequently posit one or more causes.

Proof: see Proposition #2. I assert that the visible universe does, in fact, offer many such examples of change (which consequently require causes), and that such a fact is self-evident.

Proposition #4: That which has intrinsic existence in its essence must be changeless in its essence.

Proof: from Proposition #3, any change would necessitate a cause; and that which has intrinsic existence is, by definition, causeless (cf. Proposition #2); therefore, that which has intrinsic existence cannot admit of change. Or, to put the matter differently: if the statement "that which admits of change(s) must thereby require a cause" is true (which it is, by Proposition #3), then the contrapositive of that statement is also necessarily true: "that which does not require a cause (i.e. has intrinsic existence) does not admit of change"--which is the thesis statement of Proposition #4.

Proposition #4a: Every “chain” of extrinsically caused objects must have an uncaused cause (i.e. a cause with intrinsic existence) as its ultimate source; a hypothetical “infinite regression of extrinsic causes” would be empty of content (i.e. would not exist at all).

Proof: By definition, an extrinsically caused (i.e. contingent) object does not possess existence by its nature (as would an object with intrinsic existence); it must "borrow" (i.e. "depend/subsist on") existence from its antecedent cause (see Proposition #2). If the ontological antecedent of a contingent object is itself contingent, then it must in turn "borrow" existence from its own antecedent, and so on, in turn; but if there were a hypothetical infinite string of consecutive "ontological causes", none of which possessed ontological existence in and of itself (but which was dependent on its ontological antecedent), then the total ontological content of that string would be "... + 0 + 0 + 0 + ...", without reaching a term of actual value (i.e. the total content would be "0").

Illustrations for this idea abound, but here's a popular one: picture a string of people going to see a movie, and passing the ticket booth; and picture each successive person, when asked to pay for a ticket, point to the person in back, saying: "He'll pay for me!" If the string of movie-goers were infinite, the ticket-taker would never get paid.

Objection #3: "Cannot an object exist intrinsically in its essence, but extrinsically in its accidents and/or attendant attributes? In other words, cannot an object with intrinsic existence somehow contain accidental attributes which are extrinsic, and therefore subject to change?"

Reply #3: That question is not germane to the issue at hand; the only objection which could have weight against proposition #4 would be an instance where an object with intrinsic ESSENTIAL existence was subject to change in that essence. It is enough to say that, if there were (hypothetically) attendant accidents to an object with intrinsic essential existence, they would themselves require causes to the extent that they existed extrinsically, and certainly to the extent that they exhibited change.

Proposition #5: That which has intrinsic essential existence must necessarily be eternal in its essence.

Proof: Change, by its very nature, necessitates time, and vice-versa. Time is a dimension of space which has meaning (and even existence) only when some manner of change exists; functionally, time is a measure of change, and it cannot operate on that in which there is no change in which progress could be measured. Since that which has intrinsic existence is changeless by definition, it must necessarily be immune to time, and therefore eternal (by definition).

Proposition #6: Any uncaused cause must be eternal and unchanging in its essence; its essential existence must be utterly beyond space/time.

Proof: see Propositions #4 and 5. Note that the pseudo-converse of this proposition (i.e. "that which is in eternity must have intrinsic essential existence") is not necessarily true (and is known, by Divine Revelation, to be false: e.g. angels).

Objection #4: "These arguments depend entirely on the idea that objects are strictly simple ones--that each object is the result of only one cause. This cannot be maintained, since any composite object will necessarily have component parts which need causes--possibly from many different venues (e.g. color, shape, etc.)."

Reply #4: The above propositions are most easily applied to simple objects; that is true. However, composite objects are--by definition--reducible to simple parts, which themselves would be described by these propositions. Consider, also, that even a composite object *can* have a single ontological cause (though it need not), which would be covered under these scenarios.

Objection #5: "Some attributes of composite objects simply can't be 'parsed' like that; how, for example, could we speak of a cause for an apple's shape, another cause for its redness, another for its rigidity, etc.? It's equivocal to say that 'the apple exists', when in fact its shape, color, rigidity, etc., all exist as well."

Reply #5: This may well be a shortcoming of my argument due to a neglect of the various types of causes; a formal cause, for example, could well differ from an accidental cause or a material cause, and so on. However, the same principle holds: every "caused" object (be that object a "physical object" as considered by common idiom, or a single attribute of any such object--which is an "object" in the sense of that which holds ontological existence, and has a cause which answers the question "WHY is that so?") must trace itself to an ultimately uncaused cause.

Proposition #7: Any uncaused cause will necessarily be identical with its very existence (i.e. its essence and existence must be equivalent).

Proof: First, consider three aspects of any object: (a) the object itself, (b) the object’s existence, and (c) the object’s reason for existence. When considering an uncaused cause, the reason for its existence is, by definition, contained within itself—i.e. it exists by its very nature. Thus, (b) = (c). It remains to be demonstrated that (a) = (c), which would consequently show that (a) = (b).

All objects have a "reason for existence" [hereafter: "reason"]; that reason would be either external (if the object is contingent) or internal (if the object is uncaused). Given that the reason for an uncaused cause is necessarily internal to it[self], this leaves three situational comparisons:

(#1) The object's reason exceeds the object.
(#2) The object exceeds its reason.
(#3) The object is identical to its reason.

Situation #1 would entail a contradiction of the definitions of "uncaused" and "internal", since a reason cannot be contained in (i.e. "internal to") its object if the reason exceeds that object.

Situation #2 would entail "parts" of the object which were distinct from the reason itself (i.e. which were not in the "province" of the reason); as such, those "remainder aspects" would be contingent on the (internal but distinct) reason, and would thereby "disqualify" themselves from "membership" in the utterly non-contingent, uncaused cause.

Therefore, #3 is the only situation which does not prove itself to be absurd. As such, (a) = (c), which necessitates that (a) = (b).

Objection #6: "Could it not be possible to speak of multiple "reasons" for an object's existence? For example, would it not be valid to suggest that a biological mother AND father would be reasons for a child's existence?

Reply #6: It is certainly possible to speak of multiple reasons for existence… provided that we are speaking of contingent objects (e.g. the child in question would have far more reasons for existence: proper temperature for survival, adequate food supply, etc.), but it's quite beside the point in this case. Even if a plurality of reasons within an uncaused cause were possible (and that will be shown to be untenable), the main issue of this idea is whether or not the reason(s) is (are) INTERNAL or EXTERNAL to the object itself; the very same scenarios (a,b, and c, from proposition #7) would apply; the only difference would be that any multiple reasons, as a collective whole, would be identical to the object itself.

Proposition #8: Any uncaused cause will necessarily be identical with existence itself.

Proof: By proposition #7, any uncaused cause is identical to its own existence. In addition, all contingent objects have existence which is not theirs by nature; despite temporal illusions to the contrary, no contingent object is "given" existence in any essential way, as if it were somehow given existence apart from its cause (ref: Proposition #2). A contingent object is no less contingent (i.e. dependent on its cause for existence) during any subsequent point in time than it is at its temporal beginning.

Since the sum-total of contingent existence (as reflected in the sum-total of existing contingent objects—we can call it “C”) is within (and "borrowed from") the uncaused cause (since no contingent object has existence in and of itself, but relies on the existence of its cause), and since the totality of existence (we can call this “T”) entails the union of contingent existence (“C”) and intrinsic existence (we can call this “I”); then that totality (“T”) of existence is identical to the uncaused cause itself (see Proposition #7).

Objection #7: Why can there not be several uncaused causes, which would entail SEVERAL sources of existence (rather than just one)? Wouldn't that undermine the equivalence of "uncaused cause" and "existence"?

Reply #7: This question anticipates Proposition #10; but again, it is beside this particular point. If, hypothetically, there were several uncaused causes, then it would still be necessarily true for the uncaused causes, as a collective, to be equivalent to existence as such, given the equivalence between an uncaused cause's reason and its existence, and given the utter lack of existence contained per se in the non-intrinsically-existing objects.

Proposition #9: Any uncaused cause (i.e. whose essential existence is intrinsic) must be unlimited in all respects.

Proof: Limitation, per se, is the extent to which something does not exist. For example: that which exists as a 4'-radius sphere does not exist beyond that radius; or, that which occupies 1 cubic foot of space in region X does not exist thusly at any point Y beyond the boundaries of that enclosed space; etc. That which exists in every way would necessarily be unlimited in every way; and that which was utterly unlimited would enjoy the fullness of existence.

Here is an alternate way to demonstrate the same idea: it is true that all "limited" objects must be caused, since any object which is limited cannot be identified with existence as such, and cannot contain its own reason for existence (as would be necessary with any uncaused object--see Props. #7,8). This establishes the conditional statement: "that which is limited, is caused." Given that this is a true statement, then its contrapositive must necessarily be true, which reads: "that which is uncaused, is unlimited."

Objection #8: What of the aspects of reality which do not seem to imply lack? You wouldn't say that a male was limited in his existence to the extent that he wasn't female, would you? If so, then which one out of a man and woman would be limited by not being the other gender? In short: what about the cases where two seemingly "existing" things are mutually exclusive?

Reply #8: Again, as per reply #2, it is not the purpose of this proposition to make affective or subjective judgments about any given object. It is certainly true that a male simply does not have the faculties of a female, and vice versa... but any criticism of that state of affairs remains a subjective one; the fact that a male lacks female attributes, etc., is still a fact. It does not mean to imply that a male is not functioning properly by failing, for example, to be female. It merely shows one of many evidences that prove the limitation and non-universality of any contingent object.

In the case of a square and a circle, for example, one might say that a square could be a perfect square--and a circle could be a perfect circle--without containing the attributes of one another. While this is true, it is quite beside the point; save to give further proof of the limitations and non-universality of both.

It might help to consider the following: any order of being which holds mutually exclusive possibilities must be limited, by definition. There is no question of any circle, no matter how large, being unlimited in all respects, for example; its "circleness" requires a center and constant radius, or else it ceases to be a circle altogether. Its very definition requires limitations.

Proposition #10: An uncaused cause cannot admit of plurality of nature (i.e. there cannot be more than one uncaused cause).

Proof: It is a truism in logic that any two objects which fail to differ in any way whatsoever are, in fact, the same object. If we can show that any two hypothetical "uncaused causes" do not differ in any way whatever (or if we can show directly that the two are identical), then that will suffice to show the uniqueness and singularity of the uncaused cause. (Note that this method can be extended to cover an arbitrary number of uncaused causes.)

Suppose (A) and (B) are uncaused causes. This implies that (A) is identical with existence (E) as such, and (B) is identical with existence (E) as such. It cannot be true that two objects which identify with existence, per se, admit of any differences whatever. Thus, since A = E and B = E, we conclude that A = B.


Conclusion: Here is the argument, thus far:

1) No object can be its own cause.
2) Causation implies change, and vice versa.
3) Any uncaused object is necessarily eternal.
4) Any uncaused cause is equivalent to existence per se.
5) Any uncaused cause must be unlimited and unique.
6) Our universe contains examples of changeable, non-eternal objects.
7) Ergo, an uncaused cause is required, as per #3-5.

Since it is self-evident that there exist both instances of change and limited (i.e. contingent) objects, there must necessarily exist a cause for these (i.e. to cause the change, and to be a source of existence for the contingent objects) which is itself uncaused, eternal, unlimited, unique, and identical to existence itself... and this we call God.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Blessed Christmastide, and To Be Continued...

Just to let you all know: I haven't forgotten you! (I'm at my mother-in-law's house, visiting for a few days, with erratic internet access.) I'll try to throw a few more mediocre musings into the arena, ASAP...

God bless your Christmastide, and your New Year!