Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Fr. Barron and Ex Nihilo Creation

I just watched a clip on Word On Fire with Fr. Robert Barron. Fr. Barron is an affable, intelligent Catholic priest who follows his vocation perhaps to a fault, and all to convince the world (or maybe just himself) that science cannot prove, nor should it ever try to prove, that God does not exist. The problem, as Barron sees it, is that science cannot find God because God is not a scientific being. Science can only illuminate for us  the what, while the "why" is reserved as the playground of Philosophy and Religion.

There are definable differences, obviously, between science, philosophy, and religion. Science is the means by which we try to know and understand what our universe, and our reality, actually is. Philosophy and Religion, on the other hand, are attempts to understand what it all means. In other words, philosophy and religion interpret what science discovers. The difference between philosophy and religion, however, is that the former tries to arrive at that meaning by proving prior interpretations wrong, while the latter often tries to do so by proving prior interpretations right. Each tries to find the "truth," but by moving in opposite directions.

 To use another analogy, think of the family. Both philosophers and theologians can be thought of as families who pass down and inherit from their fathers and mothers the DNA of their ideas and arguments. But philosophy is more ravenous and religion more reserved.  Philosophy will eat it's young after sharpening its teeth on the bones of its elders, while religion teaches its young to respect and protect its elders. Indeed, philosophy is a cannibal while religion is a vegetarian. Philosophy is liberal while religion is conservative. Or, to use a Biblical reference, Philosophy is Cain and Religion is Able. 

   Fr. Barron mentions the Greek phrase, "ex nihilo nihil fit: which means " from nothing comes nothing." This is an expression first argued by Parmenides. The Roman poet Lucretius also used a similar term in his work De Rerum Natura (On The Nature of Things). "This term is associated with ancient Greek cosmology," and was not just "as presented... in the opus of Homer and Hesiod, but also in virtually every philosophical system - there is no time interval in which a world didn't exist, since it couldn’t be created "ex nihilo" in the first place."

 While Parmenides accepted this idea as true, Lucretius rejected it as false. Many Christians rely on this argument as the backbone of their reasoning for faith in the existence of God.  Today, however, there are cosmologists,  physicists, and even Christian theologians who actually agree more with Lucretius than Parmenides.


Here's the first problem, as I see it, with the Ex Nihilio Creation Arguments that Fr. Barron seems to ignore or miss altogether: If the idea that "nothing comes from nothing" is an absolute law that somehow proves, or at least suggests, that God created everything, then where did God come from? If God was eternally there, than He is an example of something that did not come from something else.  In fact, whatever God "was" was there  just as eternally as God himself. And if whatever "was" God was there just as eternally as God was there, how can we tell the difference between the presence of the god-like-stuff" that was not God and God? Another way to put it is, how do we get from the idea that "something" created the universe to the idea that that "something" must necessarily have been God?

If we argue that God is the exception to the rule of Ex Nihilio nihil fit, then we are admitting there are exceptions to the rule without proof that God is the only exception. On the other hand, if we are admitting that God, rather then creating everything from nothing, instead created it from Himself, than we are admitting that "God" can not be "changeless" and "immutable."  What we don't have, however, is an explanation for why Fr. Barron is willing to accept a religious explanation that contradicts the rule he defends, but rejects numerous scientific explanations that defend the rule he willingly contradicts.  And if there is at least one exception, as Fr. Barron is willing to accept, where is the proof that there cannot be a million others?   


  In addition to the theological arguments against an Ex Nihilio Creation, there are some scientific explanations that propose that "everything" did not in fact come from "nothing" as Fr. Barron suggests.  One explanation is the Zero energy universe and another is called "quantum fluctuation."

 The Zero- Energy Universe  is "a widely supported hypothesis in modern physics ... which states that the total amount of energy in the universe is exactly zero." This is the only kind of universe that could come from "nothing," argues this hypothesis. "Such a universe would have to be flat in shape, a state which does not contradict current observations that the Universe is flat with a 0.5% margin of error." 

 A "zero-energy universe" is a universe in which the amount of positive energy in the form of matter is exactly canceled out by the negative energy in the form of gravity." The Free Lunch Interpretation of a zero-energy universe says the negative gravitational energy that contracts is balanced with the positive energy that expands. The idea is that these two energies are constant and opposite, and thus "inflate" a flat universe. Such a view has been considered to be consistent with astronomical observations.

Additionally, there is also what is called a "quantum fluctuation." In this idea, "A gravitational field has negative energy. Matter has positive energy. The two values cancel out provided the universe is completely flat. In that case the universe has zero energy and can theoretically last forever"

Lastly, there are some Cosmological arguments suggested by "physicists Paul Steinhardt (Princeton University) and Neil Turok (Cambridge University) that offer an alternative to ex nihilo creation. Their proposal stems from the ancient idea that space and time have always existed in some form. Using developments in string theory, Steinhardt and Turok suggest the Big Bang of our universe was a bridge to a pre-existing universe, and speculate that creation undergoes an eternal succession of universes, with possibly trillions of years of evolution in each. Gravity and the transition from Big Crunch to Big Bang characterize an everlasting succession of universes.
These ideas do not prove there is no God, nor do they prove that everything did or did not come from nothing. They only show that there is more than one way of looking at the question of "where did everything come from?" and that we can answer that question without necessarily having to jump to the conclusion that God did it His cosmological conservatory. 
All of these ideas, as well as the ones that follow, can be found here:( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ex_nihilo)
And as always, I encourage the reader to look deeper, and dig further, into what they believe and why.  


In addition to the scientific arguments above, there is also opposition within modern Christian theology.

Thomas Jay Oord (born 1965), a Christian philosopher and theologian, argues that Christians should abandon the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. Oord points to the work of biblical scholars, such as Jon D. Levenson, who point out that the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo does not appear in Genesis. Oord speculates that God created our particular universe billions of years ago from primordial chaos. This chaos did not predate God, however, for God would have created the chaotic elements as well. Oord suggests that God can create all things without creating from absolute nothingness.
Oord offers nine objections to creatio ex nihilo:
1.    Theoretical problem: One cannot conceive absolute nothingness. (Indeed, Fr. Barron simply assumes two things when he uses the word "nothing".
1.    That everyone knows, and agrees, on exactly what "nothing" means
2.    And that "nothing" means exactly the same thing in our existence of time and space, as it would in every other possible existence, even those without time and space.
2.    Biblical problem: Scripture – in Genesis, 2 Peter, and elsewhere – suggests creation from something (water, deep, chaos, etc.), not creation from absolutely nothing.
3.    Historical problem: The Gnostics Basilides and Valentinus first proposed creatio ex nihilo on the basis of assuming the inherently evil nature of creation, and in the belief that God does not act in history. Early Christian theologians adopted the idea to affirm the kind of absolute divine power that many Christians now reject.
4.    Empirical problem: We have no evidence that our universe originally came into being from absolutely nothing.
5.    Creation-at-an-instant problem: We have no evidence in the history of the universe after the big bang that entities can emerge instantaneously from absolute nothingness.As the earliest philosophers noted, out of nothing comes nothing (ex nihilo, nihil fit).
6.    Solitary power problem: Creatio ex nihilo assumes that a powerful God once acted alone. But power, as a social concept, only becomes meaningful in relation to others.
7.    Errant revelation problem: The God with the capacity to create something from absolutely nothing would apparently have the power to guarantee an unambiguous and inerrant message of salvation But an unambiguously clear and inerrant divine revelation does not exist.
8.    Problem of Evil: If God once had the power to create from absolutely nothing, God essentially retains that power. But a God of love with this capacity appears culpable for failing to prevent genuine evil.
9.    Empire Problem: The kind of divine power implied in creatio ex nihilo supports a theology of empire, based upon unilateral force and control of others.
In addition to these nine objections by Oord, there are other contentions from Jehovah's Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and Process theologians.

Nor are such objections limited to Christians. The Vedanta schools of Hinduism reject the concept of creation ex nihilo for several reasons as well. For example:
1.    both types of revelatory texts (śruti and smti) designate matter as eternal although completely dependent on God—the Absolute Truth (param satyam)
2.    believers then have to attribute all the evil ingrained in material life to God, making Him partial and arbitrary, which does not logically accord with His nature
The Bhagavad Gita (BG) states the eternality of matter and its transformability clearly and succinctly: "Material nature and the living entities should be understood to be beginning-less. Their transformations and the modes of matter are products of material nature
So it is not just atheists and scientists that disagree with Fr. Barron. Even in Fr. Barron's home turf of religion there is disagreement with, and arguments against, the idea of Ex Nihilo, Nihil fit. 


Although these arguments do not necessarily prove who is right or wrong regarding this idea, it does prove that Fr. Barron is breaking his own rule. That is, for Fr. Barron, it is not that "from nothing comes nothing," but that "from nothing" comes his own idea of God. The "nothing" that Barron says can produce "nothing" has in fact produced an idea, and that idea then fills the "nothingness" with a reflection of itself. Fr. Barron, like countless others, then gazes upon that idea until he falls in love with it, never realizing it was merely his own reflection. In this way, the Theist becomes like Narcissus, and simply falls in love with his own beauty. 

In the end, I can only guess at, and give meaning to, the reality around me, which is all that anyone can do. Fr. Barron is not wrong when he does the same thing, but he over simplifies an idea in order to reach his preferred conclusion. The ideas Barron touches upon, however, are far more complicated, interesting, and unsettled, than he leads his audience to believe. As such, the only defense we have against deceptions of every kind and degree is not to believe what others believe simply because it is easier to do so, but ultimately to think for ourselves regardless of the difficultly that entails.  And for anyone who took the time to read this, I certainly hope you will continue to do just that.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

How can anyone defend James Holmes?

"How can anyone defend that guy?" I was asked today while watching the news about the Colorado theater shooter, James Holmes. "It's obvious he's guilty," they continued, "and defending him is like defending pure evil." The question was not directed at defending what Holmes did in the theater, which by any standard is indefensible, but toward defense attorneys who defend "obviously" guilty people in a courtroom. Since starting law school a few years ago I often encounter this question, buzzing around like a fly that can't quite decide where or if to land. It's a good question to think about. How can a person defend someone they know is guilty of a horrible crime? And why would they want to?

 This time, that question seemed to drop like a pale into a well.  And today, if for no other reason than to justify my school loans, I felt the need to try to reel up some kind of an answer. Why, I wondered, did John Adams defend captain Preston and those British soldiers after the Boston Massacre? Why did anyone defend Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, or Timothy McVeigh? Or, perhaps a better question to ask is why anyone bothered to defend Mary Surratt or the West Memphis 3?   

Wondering who could defend a person guilty of a horrible crime raises a related question: do only the innocent or potentially innocent deserve to be defended?  If so, are we not simply suspending a persons Constitutional rights at the exact moment they may need those rights the most? Such a practice not only discriminates in the application of Constitutional rights, it also runs afoul of the idea that people should always be "presumed innocent until proven guilty." To invert that legal axiom is to make our Constitutional protections only as assured as a persons guilt is certain in the eyes of a mob. The result would whined the legal clock back to the days of the Salem Witch Trials, where the only evidence a person could offer to prove their innocence came in the form of their own lifeless corpse.

Such Draconian standards require that a defense attorney place him or herself between the guilty and the guillotine. One reason for doing so is because the "guilty" are not always as guilty as they may first appear. And even if they are, the rules regarding the prosecutory process need to be protected by someone other than those seeking to behead the accused. When Mary Surratt was convicted and sentenced to be hanged, for example, it was unclear to what extent she was involved in the conspiracy to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln assassination scholar Thomas Reed Turner described her conviction as "the most controversial...at that time and since." Likewise, the convictions of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelly - otherwise known as the West Memphis 3 - is a prime example of how, in the name of justice, a system bent on revenge can sometimes trample over facts, evidence, and procedure, just to appease an outraged community by putting sacrificial heads on the chopping block.

Mary Surratt was the first woman ever to be executed by the United States in July of 1865. The West Memphis 3, mere teenagers when convicted for the murder of three young boys in 1994, spent 18 years in prison for a crime they didn't commit. Defending Surratt and the West Memphis 3, in hindsight of course, are easier choices to defending James Holmes. While the former are examples of people being accused of horrible crimes, the latter actually admitted to doing it. So, once again, we are left with the question: how can anyone defend Holmes in good conscience, and why would they want to?

There may be as many answers to this question as there are lawyers to ask. One answer, for example, is simply the potential for fame and fortune. As ignoble an answer as this may be, the fact remains that a big crime often serves as a powerful vehicle for obscure defense attorneys to make a name for themselves. Examples include Robert Shapiro and Johnnie Cochran of O.J. Simpson fame, and Jose Baez from the Casey Anthony trial. In a free market system of justice, crime really can pay, especially for the defense attorney.

Another reason is that sometimes a particular defense attorney may really believe their client is innocent, despite overwhelming appearances to the contrary. Or, as in the case of Mary Surratt, a defense attorney may choose to defend someone they know or suspect is guilty simply to check the powers of justice that, if unchecked, might indiscriminately consume both the innocent and the guilty alike, and with equal ferocity.

Checking this indiscriminate lust for justice is often the only compass available to a defense attorney when defending someone they know is guilty. Lady Justice is blind, after all, and her scales are too often unbalanced by the political climate, passions inflamed by media myth making, a rabid desire for revenge, or any number of other variables that have little to do with finding truth or determining guilt.  The defense attorneys role therefore is, in part, to ensure that the crime for which a person is accused is not repeated in the courtroom out of a misplaced sense of revenge masquerading as justice.

So how can anyone defend James Holmes? By understanding that an unwillingness to defend the guilty diminishes our ability to protect the innocent by eroding the distinction between the guilty and the accused. That erosion lead to the unjust execution of Marry Surratt and the conviction the West Memphis 3. In fact, in it's worst forms, it has the potential to become even more dangerous to a society than the criminals themselves.  Lynchings in the South, the horrors of the Inquisition, Stalin's purges, and the Killing Fields of Cambodia, were all exacerbated by the belief that being accused was practically the same thing as being guilty.  Defending James Holmes, therefore, helps to protect society as a whole from the horrors that have ravaged the innocent throughout history, even if those protections must be forged one guilty suspect at a time.


Monday, July 23, 2012

Lies, Clerical Celibacy and Child Sexual Abuse

  Below is my response to Jamie Glazov's 2007 article "Forced Clerical Celibacy Violates Central Christian Tenet"  to show how Glazov deliberately misrepresented the work of Michael Rose to serve his own ends. Glazov's article can be found here:

May 15, 2007

I just finished reading "Forced Clerical Celibacy Violates Central Christian Tenet" by Jamie Glazov (FrontPageMagazine.com | May 30, 2002) in which Mr. Glazov so distorts the ideas of Michael Rose and clerical celibacy that one wonders if by calling himself a Catholic Mr. Glazov intends to call himself a cannibal.  

 In his article, Glazov uses  the book Goodbye, Good Men: How Catholic Seminaries Turned Away Two Generations of Vocations from the Priesthood by Michael Rose, to support his claim that clerical celibacy fosters “abnormal sexual behavior.”  In so doing, Glazov completely misrepresents what Rose argues in this book. Goodbye, Good Men never once suggests that celibacy fosters “abnormal sexual behavior.”  Instead it argues the opposite by demonstrating that sexual abuse within the church is the direct result of the lack of celibacy in the clergy, not because of it. For Rose, celibacy is  not the cancer that causes sexual abuse, but the cure. Yet Glazov portrays Rose as his ally in his campaign to end clerical celibacy, when in fact the two could not be more diametrically opposite. Rose wants to fortify the very thing Glazov seeks to destroy.

Where Glazov believes the “unrealistic expectation” of celibacy ultimately leads to child molestation, Rose argues attempts to abolish clerical celibacy for ‘being too orthodox’ have opened the doors to a subculture that is responsible for such crimes. The sexual abuse in the church, for Rose, is the direct result of this subculture, not clerical celibacy. Rose, in fact, believes the solution to what ails the Church is not to relax the rules of celibacy but to strengthen them. He demonstrates, for example, how the seminaries with the most vocations are not less orthodox but more. “Orthodoxy begets vocations” Rose says, while “dissent kills vocations.”  For Rose, this includes dissent over clerical celibacy. Yet Glazov misleads his readers to believe otherwise.  

It is only by some witchcraft of words that Mr. Glazov disingenuously suggests Good Bye, Good Men proves a vow is a virus that can change Dr. Jesuit into Mr. Hyde. This book suggests no such thing. What Rose does describe in his book, however, is how pedophiles covertly infiltrated the church when the requisite piety for the priesthood was relaxed in the pursuit of a greater 'diversity' of ecclesiastical views. The pursuit of that diversity created a paradigm shift that reduced ‘supplicants’ who sought the stewardship of Christ to merely ‘applicants’ looking to join a fraternal order. Thus, for Rose, pedophiles were not forged in a kiln of clerical celibacy but entered surreptitiously through the door of ‘diversity.’

To suggest that normal men become abnormal pedophiles by virtue of a voluntary vow  is to suggest that piousness grows into perversion whenever it tries to be chaste, and that any attempt at self control not only leads to no control at all, but to the creation of a host of unnatural desires a person never had before. I should have used this kind of reasoning when my mother denied me cookies before bedtime.

This attempt by Glazov to scapegoat celibacy as the source of  abuse in the Church is even more insulting if one considers the total lack of evidence to support his claim. As Professor Phillip Jenkins of Penn State University points out in his book “Pedophiles and Priests,” for example, child sexual abuse is statistically higher among Protestant clergy who are not celibate than it is among Catholic clergy who are. Likewise, the Christian Science Monitor reported in 2002 on the results of national surveys by Christian Ministry Resources. The conclusion: “Despite headlines focusing on the priest-pedophile problem in the Roman Catholic Church, most American churches being hit with child sexual-abuse allegations are Protestant, and most of the alleged abusers are not clergy or staff, but church volunteers.”

 Such examples illuminate what Glazov has failed to notice; the vast majority of child sexual abuse is not committed by celibate clergy. Instead, such abuse is far more likely to be committed by family members or even teachers. And the mishandling of such abuses on the part of the Church is only surpassed by similar mishandling on the part of the State. Charol Shakeshaft of Hofstra University, for example, studied 225 cases of educator sexual abuse in New York City in 1994 and found that “All of the accused admitted sexual abuse of a student, but none of the abusers were reported to the authorities, and only 1 percent lost their license to teach.  Only 35 percent suffered negative consequences of any kind, and 39 percent chose to leave their school district, most with positive recommendations.  Some were even given an early retirement package.”

 Glazov, it seems, is grinding his ax on the wrong issue, and he’s not alone. As stated in the 2004 report “Sexual Abuse in Social Context,” by the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights: “Too often, assumptions have been made that this problem is worse in the Catholic clergy than in other sectors of society.  But a number of studies have shown that family members are the most likely to sexually molest a child.”  Additionally, “the incidence of the sexual abuse of a minor is slightly higher among the Protestant clergy than among the Catholic clergy, and … it is significantly higher among public school teachers than among ministers and priests.”

 The truth of the matter is clerical celibacy does not cause child sexual abuse, and neither Michael Rose nor his book, Good Bye, Good Men in any way suggest that it does. Instead, if Mr. Glazov were not so busy gelding the work of Mr. Rose to his own ends, he would notice that much of the very sewage he wishes to remove from the priesthood has actually spilled over into the Church from the society in which it swims. And according to Rose, Glazov's attempts to remove it by abolishing clerical celibacy is like trying to drain the French Quarter in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina by knocking down a few more levees.

(Charol Shakeshaft and Audrey Cohan, In loco parentis: Sexual abuse of students in schools, (What administrators should know).  Report to the U.S. Department of Education, Field Initiated Grants.)

 (Mark Clayton, “Sex Abuse Spans Spectrum of Churches,” Christian Science Monitor, April 5, 2002, p. 1.)
 (Philip Jenkins, Pedophiles and Priests (New York: Oxford University Press), pp. 50 and 81.)

Change and a Godless Universe

The "argument from change" for the existence of God is an argument put forward by theists for whom "faith" in God is evidently not enough. It is an argument, in other words, less concerned with converting the fallen than with comforting the faithful. Ultimately, it is an argument that worships a God born from a trinity of assumptions in the shape of a Russian matryoshka doll. Those assumptions can be thought of as the Son, the Father, and the Holy Ghost.

    The first assumption is "the Holy Ghost," for it is built on the idea that the law of “cause and effect” is necessarily a finite and linear process. In other words, it assumes “cause and effect” has an origin instead of a genealogy. The second assumption is "the Son," because, as a derivative of the first assumption, it assumes that any “cause and effect” model necessarily requires a belief in a “first cause" to kick start the universe. Finally, the last assumption is that any “first cause” must necessarily emanate from some Father figure described as the “unchanging causer.

The argument from change, however, only raises more questions than it answers. For example, is there really such a law as “the law of cause and effect?”  The Scottish philosopher David Hume didn’t think so. Hume argued there was no such thing as “the law of cause and effect” but only, what he called, a “constant conjunction” of things that give the appearance of "cause and effect" that can never be proven.

 Additionally, does the law of “cause and effect” really lead us to the inescapable conclusion that there was a first cause?   Not necessarily. Hume argued we can never know there is, or was, such a thing as a First Cause. Indeed, arguing for the necessary existence of a "first cause" is the same thing as arguing for the necessary existence of God. In short, this argument proves the existence of God by assuming the universe is an act of a God. This assumed "act" of God, however, poses an inherent contradiction for theists. How can something altogether new be "caused" by something that is truly unchanging?

The first assumption of this argument is why the argument itself so easily comes crashing down. Once the first assumption falls, in other words, the second two fall with it. That first assumption is that existence, through a process of “cause and effect,” necessarily has an origin instead of a genealogy.  Something with an origin has a beginning while a genealogy denotes an every evolving process.  An example would be something like “the origin or my car is a factory in Detroit.” A genealogy, on the other hand would be the evolution of language.  If the universe is the result of a genealogical process, then it would be potentially without an “origin.” What those who employ this argument fail to address, however, is why we must assume existence flows from a starting point, or “origin,” instead of a genealogy, where existence is simply an eternally evolving process.  If it is the latter, than there would be no “kick start” to the universe, and no kick starter required.      

Yet, even if we accept that existence of an origin, from which all “change” flows, and all of the other necessary assumptions this argument proposes, such an argument is still hard to swallow. If we assume there was a “first cause,” for example, how can we further know if it was the result of an “unchanging causer” or an infinite number of “changing causers?” Indeed, perhaps the “first cause” was not the result of an “unchanged causer” but the other way around.

Ultimately, this argument suggests that, since things “exist,” something must have created them. Thus, the real miracle of this argument is how it effortlessly turns our ignorance into answers. In other words, by discovering that we do not know what the universe “is” exactly, or where it came from, or how, we somehow know exactly what the universe is, where it came from, and how - God! Thus, the fact that we cannot explain something miraculously leads us to an ability to explain everything.

  Arguing that an “unchanged causer” caused the “first cause,” however, simply shifts the focus of inquiry from “what caused everything” to “what caused the thing that caused everything?’ As Bertrand Russell observed, “the question of “who made me” cannot be answered since it immediately suggests the further question of “who made God?” In this way, the answer to the first question is made incredibly easy by making the answer to the second question completely unverifiable. It simply offers a potential “who” as the answer for the “what, how, when, where, and why” of it all. In other words, the God of this argument comes from melting its inquiry into the golden calf of its answer, and then asking everyone to worship it and stop asking questions. 

 Lastly, this argument seems to overlook the fact that if the "law of cause and effect" is indeed true, it serves more as evidence against, rather than for, the existence of God.  Here's why...

The law of cause and effect establishes that every "cause" is an "effect" of some cause that preceded it. Thus, this law suggests either a closed system where "cause and effect” run together in an infinite loop, or an open system where "cause and effect" run infinitely without beginning or end. In the latter sense, it is the law, and not God, that is infinite. Either system of "cause and effect" operates by the law without the need for, or any indication of, an external "cause and effect" creator. The "law" of cause and effect is not proof of a "law maker.,"

 Since every effect flows from some cause and every cause flows from some previous effect, God is an idea that violates the law of cause and effect. How?  Because God is “uncaused”, He is therefore a cause that is not also an effect. Therefore, God operates at least partially outside of the law of cause and effect. More specifically, God operates within the rule by being a cause that has an effect, but is outside the rule by being a cause that is not an effect.  Such a God, therefore, is an orphan to the rule.

 Paradoxically, this means that a God that is allegedly “all things” is not however both a cause and an effect.  And the law of cause and effect proves the existence of God only as much as the existence of God disproves the law of cause and effect. Hence, the validity of the latter invalidates the likeliness of the former. Like buckets tied to opposite ends of a rope in a well, where one goes up the other goes down.

[1] Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not A Christian, pg 6.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Why Do People Die?

Is the sin of Adam greater than the salvation of Christ? I didn't used to think so, but today I'm not so sure. If Christ died for our sins, than why do people die?

Adam and Eve, according to one interpretation of the Bible story of Genesis, were supposedly immortal. Then they ate a bad apple and spoiled the whole apple cart of humanity forever. Our mortality is therefore the result of humanity's original parents trick-or-treating at the Devil's tree house, and suffering the mortal cavity that comes from eating forbidden fruit. The stain of 'original sin' is thus our human birthright and proof of how destructive a sweet tooth can really be. Christ, however, came to undo our sinful sugar addictions by dying for all the sweetest of sins everywhere. At least, that's what I thought.

This lead me to wonder if man's power to sin was somehow greater than God's power to forgive. All the Christians I asked replied, "of course not." They argued that "man, who is finite, cannot possibly sin to a greater degree than God, who is infinite, can forgive." Yet, if God can forgive all sins, and He can forgive them all completely, then why do people die? Didn't Christ undo the sin of Adam and Eve? Or did Christ merely "forgive" the sin while God forever begrudged the sinner?  And isn't forgiving someone without commuting their death sentence the same as pardoning a criminal but executing him anyway?

According to many believers, our mortality comes from the genetic moral defect Catholics call "the stain of original sin." Yet if God could have removed that stain of sin but choose not to, is He not as much to blame for our sinful proclivities as, say, the devil is for provoking us? Clearly, God could have allowed people to be born without the stain of original sin. In fact, He apparently did just that with Jesus and His mother Mary.

 While many people often confuse the "Feast of the Immaculate Conception" with "The Annunciation," the former is the conception of Mary by her parents via natural procreative means, without the stain of original sin - hence "immaculate" - while the latter is the conception of Jesus by Mary and the Holy Spirit via super natural means. As a Catholic, I was taught that neither Mary nor Jesus were born with the stain of original sin. And just look how they turned out?

Indeed, if Mary and Christ are any indication of how virtuous humans can be when not born with the stain of original sin, just imagine if everyone were born that way. And if everyone had been born that way, then perhaps there would have been no one around who was willing to engage in the "sin" of crucifying Christ. In this way, the pains of Christ were exponentially increased by God allowing the stain of original sin to be inherited by all humanity in the first place. In other words, God made the bed that Christ was forced to lie in.  If more people had simply been born without the stain of original sin, then there is good reason to believe that less sin may have been committed in the world overall.  Less sin requires less forgiveness, which means the less suffering for Christ to endure. In theory, this means that Christ could have potentially redeemed all of humanity with little more than a slap on the wrist. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

On the Colorado Theatre Shootings

Friday, July 20th, 2012, was the day that changed the movie going experience forever. Just after midnight, in Aurora, Colorado, at the premiere of Batman: The Dark Knight Rises, James Holmes opened fire in a crowded theater killing at least 12 people and wounding many others.  Such sorrows, poured out in the shape of a gunman's bullets, now ricochet around in the hollowed lives of the victims and their families, in a resounding knell of why.

Why? Why do people do such things? Why Columbine? Why 9/11? Why do such things keep happening?

Why? The question is sometimes aimed less at understanding the event and more at reassuring ourselves. It offers the comfort of a prayer in the simplicity of a chant. It sutures a wound with its needle and thread. While it asks heaven for an answer, it opens hell with its question. It is the name that sorrows come by.

Ultimately, a million answers will be poured into the breach, and the flood of questions will be halted. Until next time. There's always a next time. But why?

 "Why" is the question that always follows such a tragedy. But the answers can often be worse than the tragedy that provoked the question in the first place. And everyone has answers. Indeed, the miracle of such horrors is how quickly they capitalize on sorrows to offer solutions. From the priest to the politician, to the meat cutter and the cab driver, everyone rushes to fill the square hole of that question with the round peg of their answer.

Glenn Beck, for example, opined after the Earthquake in Japan that "God was sending us a message." Beck never explained what the message was exactly, or how he knew it was a "message" at all, let alone how he knew it came from God. But no matter.  For Beck, it was clear that God was punishing Japan, it's just not clear for what. Maybe  Japan was like Jesus, a purely innocent sacrificial lamb offered up for the rest of us. Or maybe God was punishing them for watching Glen Beck (which would make more sense). Either way, Beck's comments are quite possibly the most asinine words ever to be uttered in the English language.

From the left, the answer will be to "remove all guns everywhere!" while from the right, the answer will be to "arm everyone everywhere!" For some it is proof the world has lost its way, and that we need God, prayer, and the ten commandments back in our schools. Others will blame the NRA, and decry this is the result of the ease with which people can buy guns in Colorado. Some will blame video games, violence in movies and on TV, atheism, commercialism, and practically everything else. An almost infinite number of reasons will be given to justify every and any political action desired.  Any political action desired will ultimately be designed to benefit the designers more than those it is allegedly designed to benefit. Such is the agriculture of politics that the tears of tragedy are channeled to irrigate and harvest political agendas.

But the question will remain, and it tolls for us. Why?

In 1966, Charles Whitman climbed to the top of a tower at the University of Texas and shot 48 people, and then himself. An autopsy later performed on Whitman revealed a tumor growing on on his amygdala, which is a part of the brain that plays a role in the display and modulation of aggression. Could Holmes be suffering from such a tumor? Such an answer is hardly comforting, and fails to fill our emotional need for revenge. After all, justice demands an eye for an eye, not an eye for a reason.

But maybe the real answer to the question of "why" is simple. In fact, maybe it's too simple. And because it is so simple, it will eventually be lost. Indeed, for many it's too simple to ever be found, because it is too simple to be satisfying. The pebble of its reason can never fill the ocean of its wonder.  Such answers are lost in the maelstrom of why and woe that follows such a tragedy. Yet that answer, like the conclusion of a poem by Edgar Allen Poe, may simply be James Holmes,  and nothing more.

Songs of the True Believer

The reason it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, is because the ...