An Introduction to the Old Testament for Deacons and Prison Inmates:

What follows are themes/topics which will be presented as parts of an introduction to the Old Testament.

The participants to these presentations and associated dialogues will consist of two distinct groups.  The first is a group of women, mostly Roman Catholic, who live at the Federal Medical Center (Camp) in Lexington, Kentucky.  This Old Testament introduction/survey will continue indefinitely.  These hour long sessions will be held live (face to face) at the FMC.  The structure will consist of a topical presentation, followed by dialogue regarding content of the presentation, followed by biblical readings related to the theme/topic of the presentation, followed by dialogue in regard to the biblical passages.  The content of the themes and topics will be taken from Reading the Old Testament:  An Introduction, Second Edition by Lawrence Boadt, C.S.P and edited by Richard Clifford, S.J. and Daniel Harrington, S.J. and from various other sources encountered and used by the presenter over his thirty five years of teaching theology and philosophy.

The second group consists of a group of diaconal aspirants, a spouse, and one or two diocesan officials of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pueblo, Colorado.  These sessions will be held online, bringing together on its electronic web classroom, groups in Grand Junction, Colorado and Pueblo, Colorado and Lexington, Kentucky.  There will be eight three hour sessions held between September of 2018 and May of 2019. During each of the eight sessions, two participants are assigned portions of the book Reading the Old Testament by Lawrence Boadt, C.S.P. and edited by Richard Clifford, S.J. and Daniel Harrington, S.J..  During the first hour of the three hour online session, one participant gives a twenty minute summary of the material assigned.  This is followed by the same participant facilitating a twenty minute dialogue of the same assigned material.  The dialogue facilitator prepares ahead of time, twice as many questions as he thinks could be used in a twenty minute dialogue  During the second hour, a second participant performs a similar summation and facilitated dialogue covering his assigned chapters.  Other group participants are asked to read the same assigned portions prior to each session.  Further, it is suggested all participants read, prior to each session, the Bible passages listed at the beginning of the assigned chapters of Reading the Old Testament.  The third and final hour of each session is used to present special themes/topics related to the Old Testament. The content of the themes and topics will be taken from Reading the Old Testament:  An Introduction, Second Edition by Lawrence Boadt, C.S.P and edited by Richard Clifford, S.J. and Daniel Harrington, S.J. and from various other sources encountered and used by the presenter over his thirty five years of teaching theology and philosophy.

 

A Shared and Common Humanity?

Recently we experienced a power outage due to severe storms.  For twenty four hours, no electrical power was provided to our home.  This was the third such power outage we have experienced since moving here a quarter century ago.  Fifteen years earlier, following a severe ice storm, the power outage lasted a week.

Many normal activities were curtailed or impossible during these outages.  Though, in one sense we had more discretionary time, on the other hand, our time and bodily energy were used in dealing with the consequences of the outages.  The generator needed constant maintenance and refueling.  Electric heaters needed to be monitored regularly.  (In the case of the most recent outage, sump pumps required regular monitoring and food required refrigeration provided by generator power.)  Various other electrical appliances needed to be hooked onto and then taken off the generator.  We prepared ourselves to hook up a water steam-purifier or obtain means for purifying water chemically should city water be cut off.  Meals and bathing required changes.  Sleep was often disrupted by the needs to arise and tend to the generator and the appliances required to keep the house warm and dry.  When the roads had been cleared of ice and branches so as to allow travel, we then had to deal with the lack of supplies in stores and with the reality of the inflation of the costs of basic necessities such as gasoline to run the generator.

By the end of the week long ice-storm outage, we were all exhausted.  Though the more recent day long outage was less demanding, fifteen years of age and memories of the week long outage caused us to feel a similar exhaustion.  In part, these experiences of exhaustion were caused by our lack of knowledge and “softness” which had come from a life of not having to deal with providing for such necessities.

Soon after this more recent outage, at my parish I participated in a group study of a book which advocated a focus on Jesus’ humanity and encouraged that the study participants emulate the humanity of Jesus and follow the suggestions found in His words and by His behaviors and experiences.

To understand Jesus’ humanity, one must understand how human existence was experienced by human beings in the culture and location of the time of Jesus.  That is, to understand and usefully apply Jesus’ words and actions, one must be aware of His own experienced humanity.  It was this thought which struck me as I reflected on the difference between my experienced humanity during the power outage as compared to my experienced humanity during times of regular electrical power.

Jesus and the Prophets of Israel advocated care of the needy; the poor, ill, hungry, lonely, alien stranger, homeless, unemployed, ill-clothed, lacking medical care, and imprisoned.  Clearly, our lives in normal times of electrical service, required us to use our discretionary time and wealth to give aid often to those in need.  But during the power outages, the time we spent thinking about the needs of others beyond our immediate neighborhood, shrank to nothing.  Being reduced to a hand cranked radio, we had little news of the needs across town, much less to needs of others on the national and international scene.  Engagement in our regular services outside our home to others became impossible.  Our thoughts regarding the use of what resources we had on hand focused squarely on our own needs and those of our nearest neighbors.

This experience led me to consider what the suggestion of the Prophets of Israel and of Jesus to care for the needy meant to those of their time and in their own cultures.  How did ordinary people of their time, with their degree of exposure to the needs of others and with the realities of the resources and skills they possessed; how did these people understand and respond to the suggestions to care for the needy?

To understand and apply the words and actions of Jesus and of the Prophets of Israel, one must be deeply aware of the lived-life-humanity of the people of their times who were their intended audiences.  Such awareness begins with our awareness of the difference, perhaps great, between our own lived-life-humanity and the lived-life-humanity of the people of the time of Jesus and of the Prophets of Israel.  

And then, to apply the intended meaning of the words and actions of Jesus and of the Prophets of Israel, one must be aware of how humanity is experienced in our own time and how best to modify and apply these teachings, mediated through sacred scriptures, to the realities of one’s own lived-life and times.

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The Prophetic Mission Of The Laity

Lumen Gentium (Light of the Nations), Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Paragraph 31

“The…laity…These faithful are by baptism made one body with Christ and are constituted among the People of God; they are in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly functions of Christ; and they carry out for their own part the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church:  Paragraph 1268

“The baptized…share in the priesthood of Christ, in his prophetic and royal mission.”

 

Lumen Gentium:

The Latin words Lumen Gentium, mean “Light of the Nations”.  Lumen Gentium is a document of The Second Vatican Council, which was a meeting of all the Bishops and Pope of the Roman Catholic Church in the early A.D. 1960s.

This document is entitled Lumen Gentium because it is the practice of the Roman Catholic Church to take the first two or three words of the Latin language document itself and use that as its title.  The first words found in Lumen Gentium are Lumen Gentium cum sit Christus, meaning “Christ is the Light of Nations”. 

The phrase “Light of Nations” is found in a part of the prophetic Bible Book called Isaiah, written about 600 years before the birth of Jesus Christ.  These words refer to a coming Messiah/Christ who will deliver a gospel of Love, and empower his followers to spread that gospel among all people everywhere in all ages.  Christianity understands the words “Light of Nations” to refer to Jesus Christ.

The document Lumen Gentium says, all of us lay baptized persons share in the prophetic ministry/mission/function of Jesus.  Simply, you and I are to be prophets.

The official title of Lumen Gentium is the “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church”.  That word Dogmatic, when attached to a document of a Council of Bishops, means that the words of the document to which the word Dogmatic is attached; that those words are the most authoritative words the Church can state about that given topic.

In this case, the full and final authority of the Church states that all the baptized, which includes you and I, are to be prophets of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

Who Were the Prophets?

When Christians speak of prophets, they are referring to the prophets of Israel,  The Old and New Testaments of the Bible tell us that during the period between 1800 B.C. and A.D. 30 there were roughly fifty male and ten female prophets.

In the three hundred year period between 800 and 500 B.C., a group of prophets arose whose words were recorded in books which are found in the Bible.  These include the familiar Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Hosea, Micah; about 15 in all.

The job of the prophets was to deliver God’s messages to God’s people. These prophetic messages were inerrant.  The word inerrant means “without error”.  Without error, these messages could direct the people to a life of faith lived in God.  These messages were not always factually correct. For example, sometimes these prophecies included predictions of future events which did not come about. //  In this regard I am reminded of the scene in the movie Matrix where the prophetess gives the man named Neo a message which does not seem to be factually correct.  After Neo leaves the presence of the prophet, a man named Morpheus says to Neo that the job of the prophet is “To say exactly what you needed to hear.”  By comparison, sometimes we tell children things which are not factually correct, but which they need to hear; such as Santa Claus and George Washington’s “I cannot tell a lie”.

 

What  Did the Prophets Say?

The content of the prophetic messages were usually quite similar.  Their contents and the purposes of those prophetic messages were:

  1. ONE:  God is one.  God’s name is Yahweh.
  2. MESSIAH: A messiah, a savior will come to us who will establish a kingdom of God on earth which will remove all evil, injustice, illness, harm.
  3. EVERYONE: The messiah and salvation are for all people.
  4. REPENT/REFORM: We must avoid unfaithfulness, the worship of false values, the misplaced need for approval of other human beings, our exploitation and our avoidance of the poor and needy.
  5. CARE: We are to help the poor and needy.

The care of the poor and needy, as a community and national emphasis and obligation, is an idea initiated by the prophets of Israel.  Other individual persons, throughout history have spoke of caring for the needy.  But it is the prophets of Israel whom, with a unified voice, make this a central aspect of religion, social involvement, and politics.

 

Prophecy Ends With Jesus.

The messages given to the prophets by God, which the prophets delivered to God’s people, were intended to prepare us for the full and final revelation of God.

Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ/the Messiah, is the full and final revelation of God.  By His words and actions and experiences, Jesus delivers to us everything we need and can know about God.  Prophecy, in the sense of revealing new things about God, ends with Jesus.

The message of Jesus, the prophetic statement of Jesus was:

  1. God is both a God of justice and mercy to and for everyone.  His way is kindness.  He loves us like a parent loves a child.
  2. The Kingdom of God has begun.  God redeems the world and saves it from evils.  This is accomplished by the Paschal Mystery; that is, by the life and passion and death and resurrection and ascension of Jesus.
  3. We are right with God; that is, we are saved or redeemed or justified, if we accept God’s free gift of salvation.
  4. We are able to love God and we are called to love God.
  5. We are able to love and are called to love other persons.  Specifically;
    1. We are to love those we consider enemies.  Love accomplishes what violence can never accomplish.
    2. We are to care for the needs of the poor.

 

Prophecy after Jesus: The Prophetic Mission of the Baptized.

However, just because something is “fully revealed”, does not mean it is “fully understood”.

Prophecy continues after Jesus, in the sense, not that prophets after Jesus reveal new things about God and God’s will for us; but that prophets after Jesus help others understand what is already fully revealed in and by Jesus.

This is where you and I come in.  Our prophetic mission is to our children, our spouses, our families, our friends, our neighborhoods, our communities, and our work-places.  We are empowered to help others understand the life-style to which Jesus calls us, and to realize the fulfilling life Jesus makes possible for us.  We are called to deliver this message, by word and/or action and/or witness.

The revelation we are called to deliver no longer changes.  The content is fixed.  However, the places and times and locations and situations and conditions into which the prophetic revelations are to be delivered; these change.  The diversity of these conditions and situations requires that contemporary language and expressions and metaphors be used to communicate this fixed  revelation.

Specifically, our prophetic words and actions are to remind people of the messages Jesus already delivered.

  • God loves us, without qualification.  It is a free gift with no strings attached.  All we need do is accept it.
  • Accepting this gift leads us to understand and appreciate God.
  • Further, we will act lovingly toward all other persons.
  • Specifically, we will become aware of the material, spiritual, emotional, social, and political needs of the poor. We help them with acts of charity.  We help them by acts of social justice; by becoming involved in social and political activities which benefit the poor and needy.   We confront those who misuse power.

We have been assigned the prophetic mission of sharing the Gospel of Love.  God has given us this prophetic mission.  Our magisterium has affirmed that we have this right and duty to witness to the Gospel of Love.

The reason we, the lay-baptized, have been chosen and are sent to do this, to be prophets in the world, is because we possess competencies.  We are familiar with and expert in the common world, the work-a-day world.  We are ones best suited to witness the Gospel of Love, to our spouses, our children, family members, members of our social and political communities, in our workplaces among our co-workers, and those with no or little familiarity with the baptized faith community.

We, the unordained lay baptized are assigned these tasks, because many of the ordained priests and deacons and bishops often lack our specific competencies, in the areas of raising children, living with and empowering a spouse, acting as a common equal in the workplace and political gatherings and social situations.  Further, the duties of the ordained are to the Church, the faith community of the people of God.  This demands a great deal of their time and energy, which they are not then able to use in a prophetic ministry in the familial, common, work-a-day, secular world.  Compared to the lay baptized, they have less contact with people who don’t go to Church and who don’t have a Church.

 

Preparing for Our Prophetic Involvements:

  1. [Continuing Education] We can only give what we have.  We can only share what we know.  We must choose to engage in ongoing adult education in our Christian faith.  Regular reading of the Bible and Christian literature is helpful.  Having a spiritual mentor or director is helpful.
  2. [Prayer and Meditation]  When we sense we are being called to engage in prophetic ministry with and to others, we ask God for guidance.  We ask God to help us know what we can do and what we should not do.We pray for courage.  We pray for the knowledge of the appropriate words to say, manners to witness, actions to take. In meditation, we listen to God’s responses.  
  3. [Consideration for the audience]  We need to be familiar with the lived-life realities of our intended audience, so that we can choose the right time to say things and the right words to use.
  4. [Experience, Strength, Hope] When it is clear we are to reach out to others in a prophetic manner, it is best that we focus on sharing our own experience, strength, and hope.  [Descriptive rather than prescriptive focus.]
  5. [Advice]  Though there are times to tell others what we think they should do, we tend to avoid giving advice unless we are asked to do or empowered by some authority to do so.  We tend to avoid using the words should/must/ought.  
  6. [True, Necessary, Kind] And when we feel we should teach/provide insight/give advice, we ask ourselves first; “Is what I am about to say:  Is it true?  Is it necessary for me to say it?  Is it kind?”
  7. [Moderation] Jesus and his followers regularly rested from his ministry. Jesus spoke of the harm one might do by reacting to and attempting to correct every evil s/he saw or imagined.  A healthy amount of spiritual activity usually is accompanied by joy, light-heartedness, appreciation, laughter.  If these are absent; its probably time to step back from prophetic activity and rest.

An Introduction to Philosophy for Deacons: Issue #13

(The following are the written notes/texts of four, three hour, online session presentations given in the months of February through May in A.D. 2018.  A similar set of presentations was given to a previous group some years earlier.  The group consisted of diaconal aspirants, spouses, and diocesan officials of the Diocese of Pueblo in Colorado, United States.  The fifteen articles found here will include thirteen specific philosophical issues, covered in those four online sessions.)

Let us now turn to Issue #13:  Essence and the Rejection of Essence

A distinguishing feature of moderate realism is the belief that things are real and that each thing has its own essence, its own nature.

With modernity, beginning around A.D. 1250, we see a growing disbelief in, and disregard for the reality of essences or natures.

A distinguishing feature of modern science, in contrast to the open ended considerations of philosophy, is the strict limit science places on what it considers.

Modern science limits itself to causality, the relationship of cause and effect, the belief that all that can be known about things are their external causes.  By contrast, the natural philosophy of classical science and the belief of Roman Catholic philosophy, is that the essences of things are made up of four internal causes referred to as material, formal, efficient, and final.  This doctrine of moderate realism and natural philosophy is called causation.

Being only interested in external causes, modern science has no interest in discussing the essences or natures of things.  And, in fact, when you talk with real scientists who have no bones to pick with religion and philosophy, you will notice they almost never use the words essence and nature.

A second rejection of essences or natures involves the social and political and philosophical attitude referred to as historicism.

Historicism is quite prevalent in how most people think and talk today.  Historicism states that things don’t really have essences or natures.  The truth which one can discern regarding the things with which one interacts is not found by discovering the internal causes which make up their essence or nature.  Rather, historicism asserts that any truth, if we can call it truth; any truth which can be known about any given thing can only be known when the story, the history, of that thing is fully played out and known.

In the words of George Wilhelm Frederic Hegel, whose writings, according to Hannah Arendt, are nothing but a philosophy of history; according to Hegel, “the owl of Minerva spreads her wings only with the falling of dusk”.

The owl of Minerva in Greek mythology was the symbol of knowledge and wisdom.  Dusk represents the end of the story; the history, of some thing one considers.  Only when the story of that thing is ended, can we really know what that thing is about.  Only then does the owl of wisdom spread its wings.

We live in an age in which people have real doubts about whether or not things have actual essences, which are valuable to know.  The people to which we preach have real doubts about whether or not we can actually know things as they are in themselves.

One important manifestation of this modern doubt in the existence of essences, and doubt in our ability to known things as they are in themselves, involves issues related to human rights; the natural rights possessed by persons.

In Roman Catholic social science, the word rights refers to those things which persons need to attain those goals which are uniquely human.  In order to become free, to be creative, to be happy, to attain eternal life; persons must have certain things; things such as food, shelter, education, health care, freedom, family.  Persons’ rights to these things are called natural.  These rights are called natural because they are related to those goals which are part of human nature.

We can only know what the goals of human nature are, if we can discern and display what human nature is; the essence of human kind.  If there is confusion about what human nature is, or if there is doubt that we can identify essences; it necessarily follows that we cannot identify the natural rights of persons.  

In order to correctly identify the natural rights of persons, we must first clearly understand human nature.  In order to understand human nature, we must be certain that things in general, and persons in particular, have essences or natures which can be discerned and displayed.

An Introduction to Philosophy for Deacons: Issue #12

(The following are the written notes/texts of four, three hour, online session presentations given in the months of February through May in A.D. 2018.  A similar set of presentations was given to a previous group some years earlier.  The group consisted of diaconal aspirants, spouses, and diocesan officials of the Diocese of Pueblo in Colorado, United States.  The fifteen articles found here will include thirteen specific philosophical issues, covered in those four online sessions.)

Let us now turn to Issue #12, The Ego-Centric Predicament

When we see an apple, when we smell the scent of apple blossoms, when we hear music; it is true, that that of which we are aware are images of these things within our minds.  Our awareness is of these mental image constructs.  These images in our minds are due in part to electrical and chemical impulses in and through the sense organs, and within the brain.

Rene Descartes provided us the philosophical language to state and understand this truth.

Descartes also pointed out that such mental-images could be mistakes or illusory.  His examples were mirages and dream images.  Today, we know that near indistinguishable mental images can be formed by means of brain injury, brain damage, hallucinogenic drug use, interaction with advanced algorithmic based software systems.

We have become use to the real possibility that all the mental images of which we are aware exist only in our minds.  Movies regularly invite us to consider the possibility that not only is synthetic experience preferable to real experience; they invite us to consider that all experience is actually, only neuro-electrico-chemical synthetic experience.

Monsignor Robert Sokolowski of The School of Philosophy of The Catholic University of America refers to this in the following manner, “Consciousness is taken to be like a bubble or enclosed cabinet; the mind comes in a box.  Impressions and concepts occur in this enclosed space, in this circle of ideas and experiences, and our awareness is directed toward them, not directly toward the things “outside”…we are not in any direct contact with them…we are caught in an ego-centric predicament.  It seems unquestionable that everything cognitional must happen “inside the head,”  and that all we could possibly be in touch with are our own brain states.  I once heard a famous brain scientist say, almost tearfully, that after so many years of studying the brain, he still could not explain how “that avocado-colored organ inside our skulls” could get beyond itself and reach out into the world.  I would venture to say that almost everyone who has gone to college and taken some courses in physiology, neurology, or psychology would have the same difficulty.”

If all individual awarenesses are of various brain states, we then do not sense a world outside our own brain states.  We no longer have a world in common.  Sokolowski continues, “If we do not have a world in common, then we do not enter into a life of reason, evidence, and truth.  Each of us turns to our own private world…we do our own thing….the truth makes no demands on us.   We know this relativism cannot be the final story…but philosophically and culturally we find it difficult to ratify our naive acceptance of a common world and our ability to discover and communicate what it is.”

If we do not have a world-in-common, if we are unable to discover and display realities outside of ourselves, we then begin to avoid dialogue.  Dialogue is the use of speech to display truths.

Beginning in the mid A.D. 1800s, a growing realization of the ego-centric predicament and a response to the ego-centric predicament arose.  This response to the ego-centric predicament is now known as phenomenology.  The founder associated with phenomenology is an Edmund Husserl.

Because the ego-centric predicament had many moral, social, and political ramifications, phenomenology was adopted by many Christians, many Roman Catholics, and persons who became Roman Catholics.  I wish to mention only three.

Edmund Husserl was a teacher of Edith Stein.  Edith Stein earned her Ph.D. summa cum laude under the direction of Husserl in A.D. 1913.  Stein was born a Jew,  Later, she also became a Roman Catholic, being baptized in A.D. 1922.  In A.D. 1933, Edith Stein entered a religious order and became known as Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.  In A.D. 1942 she was executed at Auschwitz because she was a Jew.  In A.D. 1987 she was beatified and in A.D. 1988 was canonized a Saint by Pope John Paul II.

Pope John Paul II, also a canonized saint, as the Polish priest Karol Woytyla, earned a Ph.D. in philosophy with an emphasis on phenomenology.

Robert Sokolowski, a professor of philosophy at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., has the sobriquet of “the other Polish phenomenologist” in reference to the Polish phenomenologist Woytyla.

Phenomenology invites us to “get back to the thing itself”.  Regardless of what we are considering, a thing such as gravity, or the person in our pastoral care who is suffering emotionally, or an event such as opioid addiction; phenomenology invites us to “get back to the thing itself”.  Phenomenology invites us to discover and display in dialogue the essences of things.

Phenomenology refers to “getting back to the thing itself” as eidetic imaging.  This eidetic imaging causes phenomenologists to realize that awareness ia always awareness of something; consciousness is always consciousness of something.

Essences and natures are always the ultimate route and source of all mental impressions.  The discovery and display of the essences of things, persons, and events is what truth is.  Dialogue is the means by which truth is displayed.

An Introduction to Philosophy for Deacons: Issue #11

(The following are the written notes/texts of four, three hour, online session presentations given in the months of February through May in A.D. 2018.  A similar set of presentations was given to a previous group some years earlier.  The group consisted of diaconal aspirants, spouses, and diocesan officials of the Diocese of Pueblo in Colorado, United States.  The fifteen articles found here will include thirteen specific philosophical issues, covered in those four online sessions.)

Let us now turn our attention to Issue #11:  Material Reductionism

Roman Catholicism, in its theology and philosophy, states that the human person is an indivisible unity of body and soul.

In his Discourse of Method, Rene Descartes articulates the idea that the human person is composed of a res cogitans (the thinking thing) and a res extensa (a body thing).  He states that the res cogitans (the thinking thing) resides within the res extensa (a body thing).  He states that the res cogitans is the spiritual component of the human person, is the place where the person is found, and is the place where thinking is located.

Further, in his Discourse on Method, Descartes gives birth to the concept and practice of medical technology.  He states that the best way to deal with the illness and physical needs of the human person is to understand that the human body is a machine and should be treated as a machine.  We would say today, that Descartes gives birth to the idea that the human body is a carbon based machine in contrast to those machines/tools which are composed of silicon (e.g. eyeglasses, computer components) or of metal (shovels, tractors).

Modernity, modern western culture, largely embraces the Cartesian ideas that the human person is a spirit in a body, a ghost in the machine; and that our physical needs are best met by treating the human person as an electro-chemical machine.  This idea of the person as a ghost-in-the-machine is called Cartesian dualism.

Material reductionism is a result of the modern adoption of the ideas of the ghost-in-the-machine and of the human body as an electro-chemical machine.

Material reductionism is the attitude that the ideas and images in our minds can be accounted for by chemical and electrical modifications within our physical brains.    We know that, to a degree, this is true.  We know that the actual apple at which I am looking; that the light by which we see that apple is changed into optical electrical impulses and chemical impulses in the material brain which contribute to creating an image of the apple in our minds.

Further, we know that people taking hallucinogenic substances or who suffer from brain injuries or diseases, see (feel, smell, taste, hear) things which are only present in the mind.  For example, a victim of war related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and alcoholism may begin to see snakes which aren’t real.

If the snakes I see are nothing more than some neuro-electrical-chemical activity in the brain, then it becomes possible to assume that other things, such as love, can also be just a neuro-chemical-electrical activity in the brain.

As persons resign themselves to a material reductionist possibility; they become more materialistic, consumptive, self-serving, utilitarian, hedonist.

Sometimes material reductionism will adopt a mental-gymnastics to develop reasons to suggest that the human machine can generate values and virtues which transcend the human machine; which are more than neuro-electrical-chemical states.  Such attempts fail due to being, ultimately, self-contradictory.

A final necessary consequence of the idea that human values and virtues are the products of neuro-electrical-chemical activity, is the belief that non-human entities can also have similar neuro-electrical-chemical values and virtues; non-human animals, human-animal chimeras, advanced algorithmic machines.

Because it is true that the images in our minds of things outside ourselves are, in part the result of optical and cerebral electrical-chemical activity and because synthetic experiences can be created which are indistinguishable from actual experiences; because of these, many persons have lingering doubts about the reality and value of actual human values and virtues.  These doubts coincide with preferences for synthetic experience.  Examples include:

  • phubbing (phone-snubbing) excessive cell phone use in social situations
  • addiction to totally immersive electronic video-gaming
  • doubt of dialogue’s value due to the growing inability to distinguish whether the conversation I am having is with a person or an algorithmic software program.

An Introduction to Philosophy for Deacons

(The following are the written notes/texts of four, three hour, online session presentations given in the months of February through May in A.D. 2018.  A similar set of presentations was given to a previous group some years earlier.  The group consisted of diaconal aspirants, spouses, and diocesan officials of the Diocese of Pueblo in Colorado, United States.  The fifteen articles found here will include thirteen specific philosophical issues, covered in those four online sessions.)

We have now covered ten philosophical issues.  The choice of the content of these issues were

  • first, to provide you a sweeping survey of the 2,500 years of western philosophy, and
  • second, to provide you some exposure to those philosophical ideas which have been impactful upon or related to Roman Catholic Christianity.

Now we turn to contemporary western philosophy.  Here we are interested in three particular and important issues which have social and political ramifications for the world today.  These three issues are called material reductionism, the egocentric predicament, and the rejection of essence.

Contemporary Roman Catholic philosophy has taken notice of these three developments, seeks to understand them, and seeks to provide guidance in how to address and deal with them.  Specifically, it seeks to provide awareness of these issues for and to provide guidance on how to address these issues, to and for those who will be pastoral ministers, catechists, and homilists.

Deviating slightly from the outline I gave you originally, I will now treat these three contemporary developments as separate issues.  Issue #11 will be Material Reductionism.  Issue #12 will be The Ego-Centric Predicament.  Issue #13 will be The Rejection of Essence.

An Introduction to Philosophy for Deacons: Issue #10

(The following are the written notes/texts of four, three hour, online session presentations given in the months of February through May in A.D. 2018.  A similar set of presentations was given to a previous group some years earlier.  The group consisted of diaconal aspirants, spouses, and diocesan officials of the Diocese of Pueblo in Colorado, United States.  The fifteen articles found here will include thirteen specific philosophical issues, covered in those four online sessions.)

 

Let us now turn attention to the tenth issue: the rediscovery of Aristotelian Realism and Ethics

 

Aristotle:

The Medieval Period, the Middle Ages (c. A.D. 500 to 1200) ends with the rediscovery of Aristotle’s realism.

Due to Augustine’s appropriation of Platonic idealism, Christianity takes a neo-Platonic turn, developing social and political structures which emphasize an immaterial spirituality; things such as God and angels and heaven and prayer.

One manifestation of this neo-Platonic turn is the development of the monastic movement; which represents the choices of many to remove themselves from the work-a-day world to a world which is closer to heaven and God.

However, the occupants of the monasteries are still very much human and need to fill their time.  In addition to food production and prayer, many are involved in the discovery, repair, copying, and preservation of extant texts.

Among those texts preserved are the writings of Aristotle.  Christianity’s turn away from Aristotelian realism and toward Platonic idealism is the means by which Aristotle’s realism is saved for future generations.

 

Thomas Aquinas:

  • Rediscovers the writings of Aristotle
  • Thomas uses Aristotle’s methods and philosophical concepts to investigate theological matters.
  • The rediscovery of Aristotelian realism will lead to the birth of modern science.
  • Thomas uses Aristotelian social and political concepts to create new ideas and attitudes toward issues of political power, government, and law.
  • And very important is his use of Aristotle to expand upon ideas of Saint Augustine to formulate a Natural Law theory.

Natural Law theory

  • Consistent and compatible with a contingent view of human nature (down-to-earth)(feet on the ground).
  • Consistent and compatible with both the incarnation focus of Roman Catholicism and its faith based soteriological concepts.
  • There are four types of Law: eternal, natural, positive, and divine.
  • The manner in which Thomas discusses these indicates that he, Saint Thomas, fully believes that morality and politics must have human happiness as their focus and must always take into account the changing nature of human contingencies.
    • Eternal Law:  is the plan of God’s wisdom, found in the “mind” of God, by which God is involved in and directs all action and all motion of creation. 
    • Natural Law:  are fundamental inclinations placed by God in the minds of all persons.  Persons become aware of these good inclinations by means of reason directed by the Holy Spirit.  Natural Law is awareness of those aspects of eternal law which apply to human being and action.  Participation in and adherence to the natural law leads persons to their proper ends/goals.
    • Positive Law:  refers to the human ability to use reason to apply aspects of the natural law to social, political, and moral affairs.  (The word Positive is derived from the Latin word posit meaning “he puts/places”.  Sometimes Positive Law is called, somewhat inadequately, Human Law or Civil Law.)
    • Divine Law: refers to special announcements of revelation such as the 10 Commandments or Magisterial pronouncements which seek to fill holes present in positive law.
        • The need for Divine Law is exemplified in Jesus’ parable of the “Weeds Among the Wheat” (Matthew 13:24-30).  Along this line, Aquinas points out that if a lawgiver or law enforcer were too rigid, the application of law would do more harm than good.  Thomas points out that if every evil were legislated against, much harm would be done.  This is Thomas’ way of saying human nature is contingent, messy, broken, and that the lawgiver and law enforcer must make accommodations for those limitations.
  • Sensitivity to human nature as it actually is, will lead Aquinas to articulate (ST, I of II, Q19) his famous articulation of freedom of conscience; the right of the individual to follow his or her own well informed conscience, even when the dictates of that conscience are at odds with civil and/or ecclesial law.

 

Kant:

Five hundred years after Saint Thomas, Immanuel Kant will articulate ideas already percolating in western culture between the times of Aquinas and Kant.

Among these Kantian ideas is that morality should not be based upon nor accommodate the contingent, messy, incarnational, actual, down-to-earth, earthy ways of human nature.  Morality should be based on a priori synthetic propositions, which apply to all situations for all humans at all times.

Kant is a return to Platonism.  The un-earthly, non-human, ideal moral ideas of Kant bare a resemblance to the neo-Platonic Christianity of the Medieval/Middle Ages period, to the Platonism adopted by Augustine and to the idealism of Plato.

One manifestation of that Platonic adoption is that morality should be based on ideal concepts of law and morality.  Therefore, a Natural Law based morality, such as that of Aquinas, is to be rejected for two reasons (which we saw earlier):

  • Thomas Natural Law moral theory asks us to be realistic, down-to-earth, and to take into consideration the ever present aspects of human contingency.  Thomas’ morality is an incarnation reality.  Like Jesus, Thomas’ morality seeks to be fully immersed in the actual real human condition; not to have the human condition perfected as a condition for God to enter human history.  Kant rejects such a contingency based morality because such a morality can never be infallibly formalized.
  • Only ideal a priori synthetic ideas, like the algorithms governing an idealized right triangle, can obtain the necessary universality to be right in every instance.  To base morality on nature is to base morality on entities which, like the shapes of actual triangular forms, can never be universally uniform.