Literary: August 2008 Archives

from No One Sees God
Michael Novak

It is a category mistake to hold that God "foresees" future events. In fact, and here the conception is philosophical, not base on Christian data: God dwells in a simultaneous present. Past, present, and future are all present to Him in one vision. He sees the whole world of Time and all of this creation in one instant. He wills it all into being, and sustains it in being. Since by contast we are in time, we must speak of past, present, and future. God is not bound by that constraint.

Why, then, did Jesus instruct us to pray to our Father for our humblest needs, as well as for grand and seemingly impossible things? If to Him everything is present instantaneously, isn't the deal already done? Yet in that one same instant, God's eternal vision sees our prayers as part of the texture of events that unfolds itself in time. For us, all events are sequential. For Him, all is simultaneous. He wills the whole all-at-once. He understands it all, and He wills it all. He sees it as good, and He loves it. Our prayers, therefore, may enter into the outcome in a way unknown to us, but known to Him. In one simultaneous act He knows the (to us) later outcome, even as He knows our (to us) prior prayers.

Hence, the unknown extent of the efficacy of prayer. As we do not know in any case the disposition or destination of any soul, it would seem that prayers for all lost souls (such as those that we utter in the Fatima prayer) work to reduce the population of Hell to some extent. Is it reduced, as I hope, to zero? I cannot say. But I can pray "Lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of thy mercy," and because prayer contributes to the economy of salvation, I can trust that God will place that credit where it is most needed, and where, to human sensibilities it is probably least deserved. A frightening thought, perhaps an aggravating thought. And what is more it casts some mysterious light on Paul's obscure reference to "Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?" (1 Cor 15:29). If our prayers can reach God and help to save souls, certainly they can be applied as God allows and we do not know or understand.

But, you know, I'm out of my depth here, and way beyond my understanding. It is part of the hope that I have that when I pray, "lead all souls to heaven," the prayer really means something. As much as I do not relish sharing heaven with Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Pol Pot, and others, I can neither relish the fact that they would suffer eternally. Will they be saved? I cannot say--let me say that the weight of the evidence in human eyes strongly suggests otherwise. And so, I rely upon God's mercy.

(On another note: for an interesting insight into "Baptism for the Dead" see here.)

Bookmark and Share

Perhaps a Farewell to NYC

| | Comments (2)

After this, I don't know that I'll post any more about my recent trip--you never can tell. But I found this interesting.

Up early one morning and I took a walk and sat by the river near the docking pier for the Water Taxis--one company from Jersey City, one company from NYC. And this is what I saw painted on the external bulknead of one of the NYC Waterway boats:

"Look boats of mercy embark from our heart at the oddest knock"--Kay Ryan

And here, you can see a photograph of it.

I don't know who Kay Ryan is, but I really loved the thought.

And here a review that makes me think I must find more Kay Ryan.

Bookmark and Share

from No One Sees God
Michael Novak

And so, when a Christian reader comes across Professor Dawkins's argument that God cannot exist, because all complex and more intelligent things come only at the end of the evolutionary process, not at the beginning, the Christian's first reflex may be to burst out laughing--but as an attentive student, he is also obliged to observe that, yes, from the viewpoint of evolutionary biology, that must in fact be so. The argument may be intellectually or philosophically satisfying, yet when its practical implications are compared with those of the Christian viewpoint, evolutionary biology may not be attractive as a guide to life. If one wants to be an evolutionary biologist, however, one must learn to confine oneself within the disciplines imposed by that field.

From a Roman Catholic point of view, at least, there is no difficulty in accepting all the findings of evolutionary biology, understood to be an empirical science--that is to say, not as a philosophy of existence, a metaphysics, a full vision of human life. It is easier for Christianity to absorb many, many findings of the contemporary world--from science to technology, politics, economics, and art--than for those whose viewpoint is confined to the contemporary era to absorb Christianity. That is just one reason that we may expect the latter to outlive the former.

It is obvious that Dawkins, at laast, is quite aware of the conventional limitations of the scientific atheist's point of view. He writes that "a quasi-mystical response to nature and the universe is common among scientists and rationalists. It has no connection with supernatural belief." A few pages of his book, in almost every section, are given over to showing how an atheistic point of view can satisfy what have hitherto been taken to be religious longings. Atheism, too, he shows, has its consolations, its sources of inspiration, its awareness of beauty, its sense of wonder. For such satisfactions, there is no need to turn to religion. Dawkins does good work in restoring human subjectivity, emotion, longing, and an awed response to beauty to the life of scientific atheism. For Dawkins, scientific atheism is humanistic, a significant step forward from the sterile logical positivism of two or three generations ago.

Let's leave aside for the moment the question of whether Dawkins actually argues for progressive complexity--I haven't read the book, but knowing what I do about evolutionary thinking, I tend to doubt that. It is a oversimplification of the complexity of thought and theory surrounding evolutionary biology.

What is gratifying to me is the support given from a non-scientific quarter for the need to separate the philosophical components of evolutionary biology from the empirical components. At this point Novak does not go into detail, and I don't recall any more detailed discussions in the matter; however, the assumption of randomness implicit in much of evolutionary biology is simply that--an assumption that has neither rigor nor demonstrable scientific validity.

What is also very nice is the idea that rational, thinking Christianity, as opposed to a too-literal cleaving to the exact words of Scripture, is better able to encompass all of the works of the human mind, than a philosophy that is based on rational empiricism. This should be obvious for anyone with an iota of intellectual integrity. Christianity, and Catholic thought in particular, is inclusive--it is the living demonstration of the words of Jesus, "Who is not against me is for me." (I know, the opposite is said as well, however, Catholicism, tends to embrace this view of the world--at least today.)

Novak accords Dawkins's disturbing diatribe with a great deal more respect that it probably deserves as argument, and in doing so, pulls from the morass something that can help us all in our faith lives.

Bookmark and Share

from Venetia
Georgette Heyer

[Damarel speaking] "Because you don't understand, my darling. If the gods would annihilate but space and time---but they won't, Venetia, they won't."

"Pope," she said calmly. "And make two lovers happy. Aubrey's favourite amongst English poets, but not mine. I see no reason why two lovers should not be happy without any meddling with space and time."

And in this, Venetia, as is so common in such book, is coolly correct. If it takes the annihilation of space and time to make things right, then we should take that as a subtle hint that perhaps they were not meant to be this way.

Bookmark and Share



About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Literary category from August 2008.

Literary: July 2008 is the previous archive.

Literary: September 2008 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

My Blogroll