Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, September 18

Way back on the 23rd of July, nearly two months ago, there was an article in the Austin Statesman titled “Science shows us that God didn’t make humans; rather, human made gods.” The article was by J. Anderson Thomson (a psychiatrist at the U. of Virginia) and Clare Aukofer (a medical writer) [see].

In an oversimplified nutshell, their argument is that religious experience is hardwired into the physiological make up of the human animal. These religious abilities derived over eons because they provided a survival advantage and so were favored by evolution. Therefore the experience of religious phenomenon, or more simply religious experience, does not require any divine intervention to account for them.

My response to that is, of course not! The Thomistic philosophers many years ago taught that human beings are in-spirited animals. We are not pure spirits like angels, but we do have souls.  Since we are animals, the only way we can know anything is through our senses. If we cannot touch, taste, smell, hear or feel it, it cannot be real to us. We do not have any direct, infused knowledge. (By the way, this is why Sacraments are so important!) So for any Thomist, of course we have hardwired in our brains and in our DNA a capacity for religious experience. There is no other way we could ever experience it. The capacity for this experience must have a physical basis or we would never be able to connect with it. But the presence of the mere capacity to experience religious phenomenon does not explain the origin of the actual experience. The experience may have an actual, real, outside cause.

Of course evolution (which is the way God creates) favors these capacities as survival mechanisms, because belief is good for us and promotes our well being. It would be more of a challenge for faith if faith was not good for the human person and did not promote human survival and well-being.

Often (it seems to me) those who question belief in God set up a false idea of God, some big guy out there who is supposed to be calling the shots and causing things to happen. Then they attack this straw god. But god is not a proper name. Whatever you think of when you hear the word “God” is not God.  Rather God is the absolute mystery that grounds and supports all that exists. To quote Fr. Michael Himes,
God is not one being among many beings, not even the supreme one. 
St. Thomas Aquinas taught that God is the power of being, being itself (esse),
but not a being (ens), supreme or otherwise.
Thomas made “God” more like a verb than a noun.” 
(© 1995 Paulist Press, Michael J. Himes,  “Doing the Truth in Love,”  page 18)

For Christians, of course, this absolute mystery is revealed to us in the life, death and resurrection (i.e. the experience we have of His continuing presence and power) of Jesus of Nazareth. He called this absolute mystery “Abba.” St. John the Evangelist called the absolute mystery “Love."

Fortunately, we will never have God figured out. God will always remain mystery, which is a good thing. For Karl Rahner, SJ, the fact that we will never have God totally figured out is a good thing. In fact he stated that “the incomprehensibility of God is the blessedness of man.” That means for all eternity we will go deeper and deeper into the mystery of God, and never exhaust, never come to the end, of learning more about God. We will forever be surprised and delighted by new and fuller insights into the absolute mystery we call Father.

God bless!

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