Monday, June 14, 2010

Theological Musings

I added some new stuff. It's in blue.

These are some of the questions running through my head these days. To dare to even tackle one of them is bold indeed.

1. What is the future of St. Thomas?

2. Is there a valid distinction between philosophical and mythical theology in Catholicism?

3. The problem of the public Christian.

4. The meaning of the pornography addiction.

5. Is atheism possible?


1. What is the future of St. Thomas?

I mean, will the Summa continue to be (for it now is, finally, once again) the text book of Catholic Theology? The question is, can it actually do what its advocates say it can do? What do they say it can do? They say that it is the summa of theology. Sometimes they say that it is the sum of philosophy. Some act as if it were the sum of science. Now summa can have two meanings: that it is inclusive of all theology (so, sum-total), or that it is the finest sample of theology (so, summit). I would concur with the latter, but not with the former. This is not to say that it presence is not necessary to theology's advancement, or that it's presence can be dispensed with in any person's theological development. I accede to neither of those points.

Perhaps I can illustrate my position with examples from two matters is deals with over which I exercise some competence: 1) moral theology, 2) christology.

1) It would be hard to point to any better handbook on moral theology than the Secunda Pars - both the Prima and Secunda Secundae. It would be impossible for modern theologians to discuss modern issues such as stem cell research, end-of-life issues without appeal to the nomenclature and actual conclusion of St. Thomas. This is not to say that he said the final word on those issues. Indeed, it is not to say that he said anything about those issues. Yet he provides the necessary building blocks by which one may moralize in a Catholic manner. We should neither overstate nor understate Thomas' utility in these modern issues. There are some moral premises necessary for the correct consideration of these issues that cannot be derived from St. Thomas, such as matters touching on the question of the beginning of human life at conception. What is death? Is it brain death? This was not known or even asked by St. Thomas, therefore he could not have offered a useful opinion on the duty to sustain life by artificial means. Of course, essential for these matters, he does teach us about the values at stake and how to reason morally.

2) Christology. The Tertia Pars contains the most amazing treatise on Christ, ever. Christology has not advanced greatly beyond Thomas, but anthropology has, particularly on the question of consciousness. I think the general problem with Christology today is that modern theologians have to learn from Thomas, not teach him. Their definition of the 'normal' person is not his, and they are the poorer for it. Yet, let us think of the modern insights of psychology: the subconscious, etc. These are amazing insights, things of which St. Thomas knew nothing. In a way, St. Thomas must answer Freud.

My personal feeling about Thomas and philosophy is that more can advance from Thomas there than is the case with theology. Let's remember that theology is more certain than philosophy and science, since it is grounded in revelation, the later two only on reason and observation. I think we need only maintain the shallowest vestige of Thomistic metaphysics (i.e. that which is not simultaneously Augustinian). Perhaps I could expand on this at some future point.

2. Is there a valid distinction between philosophical and mythical theology in Catholicism?

In City of God, St. Augustine speaks a great deal about the pagan Roman's, Varro's, three-fold distinctions of theology into mythical, natural, and civil. Of course, Augustine employs this distinction in order to criticize paganism no matter the type. At first the distinction seem obtuse and superfluous. But there is something in it, something that I can't help but thinking is relevant to contemporary Catholicism. As you know by now, I'm a cultured despiser, to quote Schleiermacher. In other words, I look on certain aspects of the 'faith' as not of the Faith, or at least in sore need of explanation or re-conception. I'm kind of a rationalist. Not at all a deist, though. I have a Protestant heart and a Catholic mind. Likely I'm no different from any given orthodox theologian. But we are few and far between. It's hard to know for sure.

It comes down to this: is there an experience of Catholicism particular to a certain, uneducated, or less-educated, but equally devout, Catholic, and one particular to someone like me? That's a dangerous distinction, I grant. Is there a Catholicism of quasi-magical devotions, chain-like prayers, one that rejects learning as proud, science as hostile, and Biblical criticism as plain wrong, a Catholicism that is overly comfortable with the term 'necessary'? I don't mean the kind that is universally condemned in places like Haiti. It is much more widespread and closer to hand than that.

Doubtlessly, there is such a Catholicism, and I don't like it; I think it is at best harmless with pronounced elements of good, at worst, harmful. Oftentimes this 'Catholicism' is associated with places like Medjugorje. But I would offer that the critics of Medjugorje are often just as liable to the charge of spuriousness as are its supporters. In fact, a greater collection of these people I have called spurious, mythical Catholics are attached to Fatima than to Medjugorje. This is not to say that the revelations of Fatima are false (nor those of Medjugorje!) but rather that those most eager about it are more often the mythical among us.

I have begun to wonder about the lop-sided treatment of these 'types' by the bishops (I would never add, the pope). By this I mean that the Church seems quicker to condemn error against piety than it is to condemn errors of piety. But error is error. In my opinion, to take an absurd example, it is just as bad to make the recitation of the St. Michael Prayer necessary for salvation as it is to deny the existence of St. Michael. But I rarely hear of condemnations of the former kind. To speak less absurdly, it is just as bad to insist that recitation of the rosary is necessary for salvation as it is to deny its utility all together. But how often have I read the former in 'approved' books? Why has no one been disciplined over the denial of the possibility of evolution's truth? It is not because the Church thinks it more than likely false...

Anyway, I think the Church has a duty to reel in and redirect certain excesses of enthusiasm. There is only one Catholicism. To make several churches out of the one, a la Varro,  is wrong-headed.

Ironically, I received an email today stated that I must make a wish and then say this prayer of St. Therese, and then pass it on to ten other people. I did none of those things.

3. The problem of the public Christian.

This is something I have been thinking about for quite some time. It comes to me more often now that I keep this blog, although being a theologian makes is particularly piquant as well - not to mention a parent!

What are we suppose to be, perfect?! I'm not. I'm a lowly dude, who, if you met him on the street would either think, man, that guy needs some style lessons, or would think, did some body just walk by me? Do I have a duty to set a good example? Do I have a duty to set a great example? I think yes to the former, no to the latter. What is scandal? To some it is to advocate NFP. To some to wear jog pants to the grocery store. To some to watch zombie movies. To some... and the list goes on. Yes, there are objective moral evils, and we'll never all agree on all of those. Abortion, sure, contraception, likely, short skirts, maybe, boxing maybe... (BTW, I think boxing and casinos are intrinsically evil.)

Do I have a duty to hide all my flaws, all the flaws of my family? Do I have a duty to conceal everything about my personal life out of fear of scandal? I am thinking about one of my friend's blogs. I don't think she wants hers all that public, so I won't mention it's name. She's a wife of one of my colleagues at OLSWA and she is so bloody honest and good at showing her humanity that frankly she edifies me by her real-ness. I want to be real like her. I think truth is more important than good-exampling. And yet, I confess that I put on my Sunday-best for all of you here at Theology of Dad. I never lie here. But things are put in a way.

So, the public Christian. Is it possible? I'm not asking is it possible for a Christian to be elected to public office (the answer to that question is no). But to do even what I do - is that immoral? Is Fr. Groeschel ever tempted to say to an audience member, "That was the stupidest question I ever hear!" I doubt it, he's a saint. Now, if he were tempted it's not a lie not to say it. It would only be a lie to say, "That was a great question." Being polite is never disingenuous.

Okay, so what about someone like me. Is it inauthentic not to confess all my sins and shortcomings to one and all? I have to laugh at the whole golfer-what's-his-name thing, oh yeah, Tiger Woods. Why did he apologize to me for being unfaithful to his wife? I never met the man, and I don't even care whether he drew stick-figures of me hanging from a gallows. I don't care whether Brittany Spears drove without her baby in a car seat. If the police care, that's their business. But I don't expect her to apologize to me. I suppose it's meaningful for the pope to apologize to victims of clerical abuse. I guess it helps in the healing process. But he doesn't morally speaking owe it to them. He didn't do it! I didn't do it either. Nor have I ever failed to stop it when I have heard about it occurring (never heard about it occurring). I don't want to apologise to or be inplicated in an apology to sexual abuse victims, aboriginals or slaves. I never abused or permitted the abuse of children, never mistreated an aboriginal, never owned a slave.

I have, however, hurt a million other people. And I have apologized, I think, to most of them, or have, at least, prayed for those to whom I couldn't. I guess my point is this: the public Christian is just the same as the private Christian. He only has a moral duty to those with whom he comes in direct contact, and he doesn't owe them everything, everything that a celebrity is thought to owe his fans. So, if you find out that Billy Graham stole a begel when he was 17, let him apologize to the store clerk, make restitution and be done with it.

The central problem here is that of humility vs. good example. Yes, everyone will quote something that is wise but whose repitition leads to annoyance: from St. Francis, I think it is: preach the Gospel, use words if necessary. Okay, the importance of a good example, but is it so important that it outweighs the duty to truth and humility? I don't think so. Surf the net and look for the poster-boys and -girls of even good Catholic causes: how many are beautiful, well-groomed, how many normal, even less than average beauty? This is a problem for me, not because as a less than average beauty I am finding it hard to get work, but because it is a sales-pitch and that is problematic. Remember that same Francis of Asissi? He would have stunk, looked bad, and would never have tried to win with appearances. Too often it's about baiting the hook, when are we ever going to be what we are suppose to be? I think we err on the side of appearance rather than substance.

4. The meaning of the pornography addiction.

This one is interesting. And no, I don't owe my readers an account of my life with or without pornography! (see #3 above). I just read a really interesting article in the latest issue of First Things on pornography addiction. There's not much that I can add to it, other than to ask, what is it about people that makes them addicted to certain things? Some people, it stands to reason, could never get addicted to pornography (most of them being women!), some people to alcohol, some to gambling, cocaine, etc. I could imagine myself being addicted to all of them (and probably to alcohol least of all!). Sure, certain lifestyles, upbringing, etc., contribute to the likelihood of these addictions forming. But why does one person develop full-scale alcoholism in the dorm while his roommate and best friend does not? One person flirts with drugs and gambling and gets addicted, another does not. Now, sex-addiction or pornography addiction are specific pathologies attached to specific physiologies and sets of circumstances. What causes it? Lack of maternal love? Lack of paternal love? Lack of spousal love? All these, none of these? Why does one turn to the Internet, another to strip clubs, another to prostitutes another to the neighbour's wife? Is there something specific about the person that decides this, or are all of these basically interchangeable? Why does one person cope with life's struggles with adultery, another with hookers, another with alcohol? Can one be addicted to more than one thing at a time? No answers here. If anyone has read of something on this, please direct me to it.

So many men have this addiction. Is it the unspoken thing, even in Catholic circles - or should I say just in Catholic circles? The damage it does is truly sad, damage to marriages, to men, etc. Should we speak about it? In a serious manner, I suppose. I once heard a man say "I am addicted to pornography." And he was attending one of those 12-step groups to deal with it. I admired him, but do I look at him any differently than I do recovering alcoholics? I remember the first time I say a sex-addicts group poster. I can't remember where it was, but would I look at them than I would at the guys meeting down the street every Friday night for AA? I look with deep admiration on those guys. Perhaps I am afraid of how easily I could end up a sex-addict, whereas I'm not really afraid of alcoholism? We are accustomed to viewing obese people as victims of some sort - and rightly so. Why not sex-addicts / pornography addicts?

5. Is atheism possible?

A funny question. A funny way to end this post. By is it possible I mean can the world go on if there were only atheists left? My gut-feeling is no. I think pragmatism can only go so far. I think that if the world were populated with atheists, it would quickly decline to a pre-civilized state. Think about it. There was a real good editorial in the 'Barry's Bay This Week' on the writer's experience - I think in Toronto - listening to some teenagers on the public transit. I don't believe this author is a man of God. His ultimate question is why are things like this? Does he fail to see, or is he leading us to see, that we made things this way when we turned our backs on God. Get your clubs, boys. It's caveman time!

I read a fascinating article in a recent issue of MacLean's magazine (for American readers: the Canadian Newsweek.) It was likely a few issues ago since I was reading it in the local car mechanic's. The article stated that religious people in Canada give about three-times more to charity and are way more generous with their time than atheists. Suck on that one for a while, Dawson et alia!

This post is really long. I'll edit soon.


  1. Hello. I am Andrew. I am responding to one of your points, "the causes of sex addiction". I also am pointing you to a book,

    OPEN TO BLISS by Omid Mankoo

    his blog:

    Now, to simply answer the questoin which you asked about why is a person addicted to various phenomenon, why someone gets addicted to this and not the other, according to the book it is dependent on attraction. the whole thing is very neatly described in the book. it describes why attraction occures.

    I used to be addicted to porn until I came across this book and applied its solutions to my life.

    It showed me for the frist time in my life that there are mind manipulations used in porn. I learned how my mind works, and the reason these manipulations are so powerful, and how to free my mind from them by progressive and practical means. So slowly I came out from under their influence, and now I simply cannot be seduced. Yes porn is terrible for marriage, because they lie to us. The book's information is so powerful insightful straight forward and practical that I recommend that every church religious institution or actually everyone who is an adult should learn it. I mean, showing the tricks which artificially capture the mind's attention is very important. without this information reaching the public, people are really left helpless.

  2. I once heard a man who works with pornography addiction refer to addicts as the new lepers - no one wants to touch them with a ten-foot pole. And, if you dfo work with them, it is assumed that you must be a recovering addict yourself. Also, the orthodox protestants really have an edge on Catholics in services to these addicts. There is little to offer addicts other than confession and a few priests who sepcialise in such counselling; most effective counselling services and programs are offered in Protestant circles. Thank God that there is something out there to help. Also, a friend of ours from our NET days, Matt Fradd, is a recovering addict who runs a website that specialises in helping and directing addicts toward freedom. I imagine if you google him, his website wil come up. He and his wife were recently interviewed on the Irish equivalent of the Morning Show about pornography addiction - hard to imagine such an interview over here.

  3. With regards to point no.3, The problem of the public Christian, you wrote: "I'm not asking is it possible for a Christian to be elected to public office (the answer to that question is no)."

    What do you mean by that?

  4. Thanks for the two awesome comments re. pornography addiction.

    Andrew, I'll definitely check that book out.

    Elena, you are absolutely right about the new lepers part. I think we would all be helping out the Body of Christ if we name it for what it is, identify it's evil effects, and strive to help those suffering from it. To name the problem is not to make it okay - I wonder if that's what people are afraid of?

    Michael! I think your question requires a full post. Let me think for a bit.