Sunday, September 6, 2015

Interstellar and Religious Dialogue

Just got back from vacation in Ireland. I saw Interstellar in the plane. I know I am way late to these things because I don't see all the latest movies. Still I thought is was pretty thought provoking. I fount a review in Christianity Today that picked up on some of those themes. Still I thought the stuff I read still missed a lot. I don't see the fact that movies tackle the same questions as religion as being that interesting. Of course these do. These are the deepest questions of human existence. Nobody denies that. So artists as well as scholars are going to address them. What I find interesting is that the artists give answers that have the same problems that bother skeptics so much about Christianity. Atheists sometimes claim that they could design a better word that the Christian God designed for us. Obvious they don't give details. Yet when even gifted SciFi writers try and imagine another world it runs into the same questions. I will explain after the break but there will be spoilers there.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015


Saw the movie Boyhood. I know it is old but I can't be bothered to see the latest movies. The movie was very good in that it draws you in and makes you care about the characters. It is not good in what they do with it once they have your interest. There is a searching and a longing for something truly meaningful in life. None of the characters actually finds anything. That is kind of the point they are trying to make but it is quite an unsatisfying point.

One thing that did capture my They came dangerously close to making some points just by accident. One episode had me thinking. Mason has sex with his girlfriend, Mindy, and ends up regretting it. He thinks sex is a big deal to her. That she only agrees to it because she has strong feelings for him. Then she sleeps with another guy without knowing him very long. She has no remorse about it. It just blows his mind. What he thought was a deep sexual connection with a fascinating woman turned out to be a very cheap and confusing encounter with someone he didn't know that well after all.

The question becomes how to avoid this kind of thing in the future. His father tells him you can't avoid it. You just get drunk and move on. Typical of the advice kids get in this movie. Yet what if he serious wanted to avoid it? What if he wanted to make sure his partner was not being casual about sex? The thing is it seemed like Mason and Mindy were both virgins. The movie does not explicitly say so but you get the idea they are going slow because neither is that comfortable with sex.

The point is that just asking if your prospective partner is a virgin is not enough. What you really need to know is what their philosophy of sex is going to be in the future. After the inhibitions wear off what are you going to want to do? How can anyone possible know that? If your sexual morality depends on how you feel about something today then you can't. But what if it doesn't? If your morality comes from God and you can't change it just because some college jock swept you off your feet then you can know that.

Remember it was not so much about what she did but about how she viewed her actions. Casual sex was now fine and therefore all her sex became casual. It was not a matter of making a mistake but a matter of changing the meaning of sex. Making sex mean what we want it to mean sounds appealing at first but it creates a confusing world where our most intimate relationships can be redefined at any time. Mason knew intuitively that he didn't want that. Yet he didn't know how to avoid it. It is something just not available outside of Christian communities.

Mason knew this because his mother has made a mess of her love life. She went from one bad relationship to the next looking for financial security for her children but sacrificing every other type of security. She does have a moment of wisdom late in the movie. She talks about being celibate and in the next breath she turns around and talks about being a whore. She realizes she has really been giving sex and getting money. She had a lot of relationships with men who were good providers but not good husbands or fathers. She wonders if that was a mistake. If she just remained celibate she would have been poor but she would have more self-respect. Maybe that would have been better for her children.

Mason always wanted his mom and dad to get back together. So the movie has an unspoken undertone that divorce is bad. So you married a jerk. So he yells too much and drinks too much. The next guy is unlikely to be much better for you and very unlikely to be better for you kids. People mature. Give it a chance. The Catholic idea that she could kick him out but neither part should pursue another romance would have worked well. They may or may not have gotten back together. They certainly would have been spared a lot of heartache.

It is the strange thing about Catholicism. You can't avoid it. This movie seems like it is trying to be nihilistic. Yet it is fairly easy to pick out some Catholic themes. I know people will say I am imagining them but I don't think so. Some of the most ridiculed ideas in Catholicism get argued for quite strongly. Strongly mostly because you know they are not preaching this. If a Catholic made a movie with such themes you would just say they are imagining these characters having these feelings and saying these things. Yet when a secular person comes out with it you feel like it confirms Catholicism fits with the truth about humanity. 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Corpus Christi

Today is the feast of Corpus Christi. That is the body of Christ. It is when we remember the great gift of Himself Jesus gives us in the Eucharist. What I was reflecting on today is the craziness of it. Discussing the idea that maybe someone made up the resurrection of Jesus. Maybe they made up the idea that Jesus is God. Maybe they made up all the miracles. It is a bit much. Could early Christians really believe so much based on no real data in an environment of persecution. If you read them it is harder to believe. The Apostolic fathers had the mindset of staunch conservatives. They fought heresies and searched instead for a deeper understanding of what came from the apostles and the old testament.

Yet after all that I think what maybe the least plausible thing for them to make up is the teaching on the Eucharist. Saying Jesus is God is a stretch, a big stretch. Saying Jesus told them to eat His body and drink His blood is beyond a stretch. Jews didn't even eat meat until all the blood was drained. They would never drink an animal's blood. Yet the early Christians are supposed to have made this up? It is just impossible. Yet the teaching of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist goes right back to the beginning and without controversy. John relates the words of Jesus in John 6 acknowledging how radical they are yet not backing down from them at all. His disciple, St Ignatius of Antioch, uses these words as an argument against Gnosticism. That is that the body of Jesus must have been physical because it is physically present to us in the Eucharist. It is an interesting argument because it would make zero sense if anyone believed in a symbolic Eucharist.

Then we have St Paul. He accepted the teaching of the apostles without any explanations. Jesus said, “This is my body.” So you had better come to the table contemplating that fully. A lot of the teachings of Jesus are explained further by St Paul in the light of the crucifixion and resurrection. It is quite significant that for this he just relates what Jesus said and did.

So if you are a skeptic and think Jesus was just a man then how does this story come into being? It kind of raises the bar on the liar-lunatic-lord argument. That is whoever sold the early church on this idea had to have been crazy. It is just a hard thing to believe. If it isn't true then there is no benefit at all to believing it. You can see why the resurrection might be popular to believe. You can see why the divinity of Jesus might be implausible but might also have some upside in being attractive to some. The eating and drinking of Jesus' body and blood? Who is going to be attracted by that. The Romans would not be. One of the few really strong moral prohibitions they had was against cannibalism. Yet Christians just asked to be accused of cannibalism by teaching this doctrine and, in fact, many Romans did make that claim. Where is the benefit?

So there are many teachings that came from Jesus that the non-Christian has to find a source for. The New Testament changed human society in so many ways. Where did the wisdom and power come from? Much of what flowed from that secular people agree with. The dignity of the human person. Love as a central virtue. The importance of forgiveness. Yet whoever brought us these ideas also brought us many ideas about God, about miracles and about resurrection. That is strange enough but the Eucharist is so much stranger. They tend not to want to believe Jesus taught anything that would make them label him crazy. Yet his followers arrive at such a strange place. How does that happen? 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Peter's Miracle

I was listening to a homily at my son's graduation mass. It frustrated me because I saw the potential for such a good homily from this gospel. We got a series of nice wishes that could have easily come from a secular person. So I did something I probably should not do. I started to compose a better homily in my head. Still, having lost some of my blogging momentum, I thought I would try and share of those thoughts here. The gospel was Luke 5:1-11:

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
What we see here is Peter having an encounter with Jesus. Peter is a fisherman. He has fished all night. Yet he has not caught any fish. This is a symbol of emptiness. Peter's is working hard and things are not working out. He has done nothing wrong. Yet the blessings are not coming.

This happens to people. Sometimes they are even doing quite well materially. Yet they feel they are empty. They work very hard and feel like they are getting nowhere. Often it is because they have not found their vocation. We need to know we are created by God with a purpose in mind. If we are doing something other than what we were created for it is never going to be quite satisfying.

So what do we do? We go to Jesus. Peter does that. He calls Jesus “Master.” He lets Jesus use his boat. He is comfortable with Jesus to a point. We can be like that. We come to a graduation mass. We are comfortable with Catholicism to a point.

Then Jesus tells Peter to “put out into the deep water.” St John Paul reflected on this and saw Jesus inviting us to go deeper with Him. To go beyond the shallow religious observance and let Jesus into the deeper thinking of your life. When you ask: Who am I? What kind of career should I pursue? What kind of marriage and family life do I want? What kind of person do I want to be? When you go out into those kind of deep waters then take Jesus with you. Let Him be your master even there.

What follows is a personal miracle. Something that amazed Peter but someone who is not a fisherman would think, So what? This can happen to you. When you let God into you personal place of failure and give Him control He can work miracles that will amaze you and only you. He shows not only His power but also a willingness to tailor that power to precisely your frustrations.

This touches Peter deeply. He knows that Jesus is much more that just his master or rabbi. He is Lord. That is a word used in the Greek scriptures to refer to God. He gets it. I am not dealing with someone who has some interesting ideas about God and life and whatnot. I am in the presence of the divine.

Yet he reacts in a way we might find somewhat strange. He asks Jesus to leave. Why? Because Peter has something darker than his failures. He has his sin. Like the song says:
When you feel my heat
Look into my eyes
It’s where my demons hide
It’s where my demons hide
Don’t get too close
It’s dark inside
It’s where my demons hide
It’s where my demons hide
Peter would relate to a song like that. He has things about which he is quite rightly ashamed. He was hiding them from Jesus. They were just to embarrassing to face. Now he knows he cannot do that. You can't come close to God and keep any secrets. So he tells Jesus to go.

What comes next is a relief for Peter but also for every one of us. Jesus tells him not to be afraid. That He has great plans for Peter. It is a relief for all of us because we all have those demons hidden somewhere. It means we can come to God as sinners and not be afraid. It means we can still become what God intended us to become despite having made some mistakes. Even if we have some things we do over and over that are not very nice and perhaps downright despicable we don't have to be afraid of God. We can be honest and we will be loved.

What is more, that does not put us at the back of the line in terms of God. You need to understand that we are all sinners. Jesus used Peter powerfully despite the fact that he messed up quite a few more times. The powerful thing is he knows he is a sinner. He knows he needs forgiveness and Jesus is willing to give it. That is the first step to being a great saint.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Slow Victory

One thing modern minds have trouble with is the fact that it takes God so long to bring about the transformation of the human heart. We see the Old Testament where God uses much more brutal tactics to force his way into human society. Humans were much more violent back then and needed God to use violence before they would take him seriously. He did so in way He really does not today. People don't understand. Why could God not just work the way He does today? 

It takes time. Sin closes off grace. The more serious the sin the more explicit God's intervention needs to be. As we slowly learn to cooperate with God's grace we receive more and more graces in more gentle ways. Yet it goes very slow. They say the church sees history in centuries while we see it in years. 

Yet even in our lives we see the same dynamic. We grow in grace but it happens slowly. Every step is a struggle. It can take years before we make a breakthrough. Again we wonder why it takes so long. If God is almighty then can't He move a little quicker?

This is especially true at lent. We make the same fasts and pray the same prayers year after year. Are we making progress? You really have to look back 10 years before anything becomes obvious. Even when we see that we wonder why we have grown in some area and not in others. 

The answer is we need to appreciate just how far we need to go. How big a gap there is between where we were and where God is leading us. If we just changed in an instant we would never get it. We don't really understand the nature of sin until we fight against it and lose. We really don't get how big a deal salvation is. That we are not just made truly good but that such goodness is so far out of our reach. That we don't just need a little help from God. We need to become more and more dependent on Him. We need to invite Him into places we could not imagine when we started our journey.

The other dimension to this is freedom. God can't just ask us to choose heaven or hell. That would not make any sense. Like in the movie the Matrix. There was a choice given to the main character but he didn't really understand that choice because at that point he was still mostly ignorant of what was involved. God does not give us choices like that even if it sometimes feels like it. The choices are between taking the next step down the road to heave or the next step down the road to hell. It is a choice we can understand. We can feel the pull towards good and the pull towards evil. We have the real possibility of going either direction. 

How long does it take before the allure of evil stops being attractive to us? Some sins lose their attraction but there is always something deeper. Every step seems so slow. When you try and explain it to a non-Christian it becomes hard. It is not logical. We trust God so far and then we are afraid to take the next step. Why is it so hard? It is very personal ground we are talking about. It takes time for us to get comfortable with the intimacy. 

So the victory of the cross is slow just like the crucifixion was slow. God could be more efficient. He just wants us to see salvation in all it's gory detail. He ants us to feel it and He wants us to choose it knowing all that. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Advantages Of Being Catholic

I went to mass early Saturday morning. TMIY challenged me to go every day this week. I set the alarm but was up before it went off. I arrived at the church about 20 minutes early. I had a bit of fear in getting there. I used to do that more in my single days. I would arrive early for an event and often find the church doors locked. Sometimes just the leader were there trying to prepare. It was awkward. I wondered if I had done it again. 

The difference is now I am Catholic. I got there and were 6 or 8 people who had also arrived early and were praying. People do that in a Catholic church. Catholics believe there is something about the church building. Jesus is there is the blessed sacrament. If you go to church you come early and just spend time. I guess you forget that a bit when you have a big family and don't end up coming early for much. I guess I still knew that but somehow this morning I was fretting about the awkwardness of those protestant experiences so many years ago. It made me feel at home. 

It is just a small thing but it got me thinking. Frank Weathers calls his blog Why I Am Catholic. I can see why. For years after you convert you get little things that strike you about how wonderful the church is. It makes sense. Jesus' Church should be wonderful in a million amazing ways. Yet when it happens it still strikes us. There is another example of that here

Lent is a big time for that. There is just so much. Connecting with God through fasting and contemplating Jesus' passion. So powerful and yet we rarely did it as protestants. It is the sort of thing that only really makes a difference after a few years. It is the long term, slow burn transformation that Catholicism does well. Protestants are much better at the big life-changing moment. Catholics can learn a lot from them there. Yet so many of our sins go very deep and healing them is long and slow. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Lizard Brains

I was at a seminar about parenting children with Downs Syndrome. It was taught by a psychologist. Lots of great information. At one point she was talking about out brains. That we have one section of the brain that controls our fight/flight/freeze type response. It kicks in when we experience stress. She called that the lizard brain. Then there is the other part of the brain where we have reason and logic and language. Now the tendency modern people have is to think good brain/bad brain. Logic is good. Emotion is bad. Right?

She didn't go there. She encouraged us to learn how to connect the two parts of the brain to apply the wisdom of the left brain to the emotional issues of the right brain. I am sure there is nothing inherently wrong with the lizard brain. That is why I don't like the name much. Yet why do I know that? It is rooted in creation. God made us and would not give us such a powerful part of our brain if it did not serve some important function. 

Certainly many religious conversions come from the lizard brain. Atheists scoff at those. People making a decision to follow Jesus based on an emotional crisis. They would be much better off being purely rational. Would we really? I wonder what a purely rational humanity would look like. Emotions are indicators of a deeper reality. It is a reality that the modern mind looks down on but that is where we find the deepest truth about ourselves.

I know the lizard brain is good based on my faith. How can one know it based on logic and science? I don't see how. It appears that there is much time and energy wasted in dealing with people hurting each other's feelings. What is the payoff? We don't need the fight/flight/freeze thing nearly as much as we used to. Physically we are pretty safe. Could we not assess risk better using reason? 

When you don't start with the belief that creation is good but fallen then you can arrive at many different places. You can start to hate a part of yourself. If we are just products of evolution then there is no reason to think parts of us are just not helpful in today's society. We might have outgrown our emotions.

I think that is a big part of why people who are emotionally hurt often feel the need to talk to someone who has been hurt in the same way. They feel the question in society of why don't you just get over it? It is a question based in pure logic. Why should you let a bad childhood or a traumatic experience ruin your life? It is hard to explain that to someone looking for a rational answer. Sometimes it is hard for such people to explain it to themselves. 

That is unfortunate because to some extent or other we are all being influenced by deep emotional forces we don't completely understand. That is rooted in our blindness to the spiritual. Many of our deepest emotional needs mirror spiritual realities. We want authentic sexual intimacy because God is love and we want to be like God. We want good human fathers and mothers because we need to be children of God. We hate violence because we know we are meant to live in peace. If we see these lizard brain longings not as accidents of evolution but as desires for something more then we can love that side of us.

Psychology still gets that but does not admit it gets it from the Christian assumptions embedded in society. We see that being questioned more and more and science cannot arrive at the same conclusions. Science can only say what is and not what should be. So modern psychology has the tendency to assume what is for the majority of humans is what should be. That is they are losing their awareness of our fallen nature. Our hearts desire perfect parents and perfect lovers and perfect peace. In short our hearts desire God. The more psychology loses sight of that the less valuable it will be.