God for Atheists

February 28, 2011

Atheism of late has gotten a bad name thanks to its rather callow contemporary adherents—Dawkins, Hitchens, et al.  But history has produced a few brilliant atheists as well—like my favorite, Nietzsche—and the Church’s best theologians have long taken atheism seriously.

The insightful British Thomist, Herbert McCabe, OP, distinguishes between two different types of atheists in his excellent collection of essays God Matters.  McCabe points out that some atheists reject what they take to be a peculiar religious conception of God:  God as a sort of really big, really powerful guy, a “Top Person,” to use McCabe’s phrase.  In rejecting such a (mis)conception of God, McCabe says, Thomas Aquinas is an atheist too.

But there’s another type of atheism, one exemplified by Bertrand Russell, which amounts to the refusal to ask a particular type of question.  Contrary to the picture atheists often try to paint of themselves as bold questioners and champions of truth, such an atheism amounts to a sort of intellectual suicide.  It is this type of atheism that Thomas’ much celebrated and much maligned “five ways” are meant to counter.

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A new index of forbidden ideas?

February 22, 2011

The satirical documentary is not a genre known to be friendly to religious faith.  See, for example, my posts on Bill Maher’s Religulous (here and here).  Michael Moore pioneered this type of documentary—NOVA meets Saturday Night Live—with Roger & Me in 1989.  The genre relies heavily on ironic juxtapositions and gotcha moments.

While I have nothing against a little satire, the style and technique of such documentaries limit how deeply they can engage an issue.  These limitations apply to Ben Stein’s Expelled:  No Intelligence Allowed (2008), though Stein’s perspective is antithetical to Maher’s:  it’s secular orthodoxy he’s skewering.

The point of departure for the documentary is the dismissal of several faculty members from various universities across the country (George Mason, SUNY Stony Brook, Baylor, and Iowa State, as well as the Smithsonian Institute).  These professors were allegedly too sympathetic to “intelligent design”.  The film doesn’t do much to help us judge the merits of intelligent design theories, but Stein’s point is not so much about the validity of the theory itself as it is about academic freedom.

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An Invitation Extended: The 2011 Ignatian Spirituality Conference

February 20, 2011

Friends and readers,


The Whosoever Desires community has recently received an invitation – being passed on by yours truly – to attend the 2011 Ignatian Spirituality Conference.  Conference coordinators Mary Haggerty and Sean Agniel wrote to us with the following invitation:

“I think it’s probably safe to say that attendees to this conference in years past may have outscored your average reader in years.  However, for 2011 we have built a program mindful of Gen X and Y.  The conference would be a richer event with your readers in attendance. Of course, we’d love to welcome you to St. Louis July 21-24, 2011.”

Given the summertime formation schedules of young Jesuits (and surely you can all attest to the fact that we need more formation…) it’s going to be very difficult for any of we bloggers to attend.  We’ll see what the future holds.  Regardless of our attendance, though, there will time during the conference for small groups on various Ignatian topics, and we thought it would be wonderful if one of those groups could serve as an excuse for gathering the Whosoever community in person.  So, below I’m copying the conference theme and putting links to the conference flyer and website.  If any readers are motivated to attend – even more to take on the leadership role of being a point person for gathering our community – just say the word (maybe in the comment section below?) and a conversation can be begun.  Could be exciting!

The Conference website can be found at: http://slu.edu/x37857.xml, and the flyer is here: 2011 Ignatian Spirituality Conference

Conference Theme:

The Spirituality Conference focuses on the Fourth Week of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. The first talk: “From Death to Life: Bridging the Third and Fourth Weeks” will treat the natural disconnect between the Third Week of Jesus’ passion and death and the Fourth Week of his resurrection.

While the Fourth Week of the Exercises draws us deeper into relationship with the risen Christ, the cross remains. The second keynote talk of the conference, “LaStorta’s Risen Christ: Carrying the Cross in Life’s Ordinariness,” focuses on finding God in all things. Ignatian spirituality does not focus on suffering, pain, the cross, dark nights. Rather, we seek to follow Christ in all things, even as our following brings us to the cross. If we are to love God in all things we face the challenge of loving the cross in all things.

The gift of the Fourth Week is the invitation into a new relationship with Jesus. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we must learn to recognize Jesus in new ways. Their hearts were on fire as they recognized him in the breaking of the bread. This is a good description of Ignatian consolation. The third talk, “Were Not Our Hearts Burning?” We are Sent underscores the rhythm of the Ignatian way of proceeding: we are called, formed, sent out, called back, reformed and sent out again.”



Guilt & Gratitude

February 14, 2011

One of the pleasures of my time at Loyola has been getting to know some particularly thoughtful undergraduates who are living their faith with enthusiasm in a culture that is, to say the least, not always supportive.  I had an interesting conversation with a few of these students two weeks ago, in which one of them expressed regret that she did not spend more time volunteering.  In fact she said, “I feel guilty for not doing more.”

Now the young woman in question is a model Christian—generous, open-minded, and joyful.  (She also makes excellent soup.)  She does so much for others that I’m often tempted to ask her where she has managed to find days with more than 24 hours.  So the word “guilt” coming from her surprised me.

The conversation got me thinking about two things—the role of guilt in Christian life and the various pressures young people feel to volunteer.

“Catholic guilt” is, of course, a familiar trope in literature and pop culture, even if, for those of my generation, the idea now seems somewhat quaint.  As our sense of sin has evaporated, so too our sense of guilt—or so, at least, I thought until my conversation of a few weeks ago. Read the rest of this entry »

America the Beast

February 11, 2011

Nate Wildermuth from Vox Nova:

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church has an interesting take on the Apocalypse: “382. When human authority goes beyond the limits willed by God, it makes itself a deity and demands absolute submission; it becomes the Beast of the Apocalypse, an image of the power of the imperial persecutor ‘drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the martyrs of Jesus’ (Rev 17:6). The Beast is served by the ‘false prophet’ (Rev 19:20), who, with beguiling signs, induces people to adore it.”

Is America a (rather than the) Beast of the Apocalypse? Has it gone beyond the authority willed by God and made itself a deity? Read the rest of this entry »

Moving forward with polygenism?

February 11, 2011

This past weekend, Jesuit High School in New Orleans hosted the St. Robert Bellarmine Convocation on faith and science for high school teachers of science and theology in the archdiocese of New Orleans.  It was a tremendous success with over 80 science and theology teachers attending.  In the morning there were two main presentations, and then in the afternoon breakout sessions. 

My breakout was on the question of Adam and Eve, human origins, and modern genetics.  Below is my powerpoint from the talk.  Feel free to have a look at it.  Basically, I go through Church documents from the 1909 Pontifical Biblical commision assertion that Genesis 1-11 had to be treated as history to the last mention of polygenism by Paul VI in 1966 that it is still not to be taught since it is “not proved.”  My basic claim was that polygenism is now essentially “proved,” and since the Church has no trouble at all reconciling science with faith, we need to begin teaching, not polygenism yet as a “doctrine,” but the full debate surrounding it, to our students.  Read the rest of this entry »

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jesuit story

February 7, 2011

I have long thought F. Scott Fitzgerald to be a very Catholic writer, though explicitly Catholic themes show up only rarely in his work.  There’s the urbane Monsignor Darcy in This Side of Paradise, for example, and a few scattered references in Tender is the Night, but mostly Fitzgerald’s Catholic sensibilities come through in his moral vision, in the interplay of truth and illusion we see, for example, in The Great Gatsby.

In a Fitzgerald biography, however, I’d once come upon a reference to an early (1920) short story called “Benediction,” and I took advantage of a Chicago snow day last week to track the story down.  I was not disappointed.

The story is a gem, written in the witty, dancing prose of the youthful Fitzgerald, and touching on many of his typical themes—the giddiness of coming of age, the wistful sadness of romance, even a hint at class sensitivities.  The story centers around Lois, a romantic and beautiful nineteen-year-old travelling to Baltimore to meet her lover, Howard; on her way to their rendezvous she stops to visit her only brother Keith, a seminarian she has not seen in seventeen years.

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Homily for the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

February 6, 2011


Preached to the 5pm Vigil Mass crowd at St. Paul’s in Cambridge.  Gospel text was Mt 5:13-17.

Two Sundays ago we watched a video here at St. Paul’s announcing the CatholicsComeHome campaign.  Despite this being a hopeful sign of the Church’s desire to evangelize, it also indirectly acknowledges a discouraging reality in our country: the second biggest denomination in the U.S. is lapsed Catholic.  Just this week the Boston Globe ran a story on the “parish reorganization” underway across the Archdiocese, an admitted response to diminishment on many fronts: clergy, laity, resources.  Reports like these tend be bring out fears: Perhaps the Church that we love really is a spent force.  Perhaps she is doomed to be ground between the gears of a more potent cultural machinery, to pale next to the luster of slicker marketing and sexier spokesmodels.

In such times, the temptation is discouragement.  But Christ will have none of that from his disciples. Read the rest of this entry »