Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Root Cause of the Climate Change

I will not get into the controversy over whether there is actually a global change in climate going on caused by human activity. I think it is likely to be true, but if it's not, there are certainly plenty of other things we are doing to adversely affect our environment, and these also spring from the same root. I will begin by saying I believe the root cause of these environmental problems is greed. I think that greed for more comfort, convenience, and profit works against attempts towards moderation of energy consumption and pollution.

Since greed has been a human problem throughout history, this raises the question of why are we having environmental problems now rather than earlier. There are two reasons which are related to each other. The first is that our technology has enabled a larger population, and greater ability to consume energy and produce pollution. However, the other reason has to do with my previous post about René Descartes.

One of the characteristics of a modern mindset, which is found in Descartes' Discourse on Method is the desire to be "masters and possessors of nature." We want to master nature so that we can have comfortable, trouble-free lives, with good health for many years. This has become so much a part of our thinking that for most people that they don't even think about it. So, if you couple this modern philosophy that we should be masters and possessors of nature for the sake of our own comfort and health with the enduring problem of human greed, it is no wonder that nature suffers as a result.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

For these millennials, faith trumps relativism

Why would these young people belong to, much less celebrate, such a backward, oppressive institution as the Roman Catholic Church? And why do they seem to find Pope Benedict, 84, not just endearing but also inspiring?

via Column: For these millennials, faith trumps relativism -

Modernism says to forget the ignorant ideas of past generations, and always move forward. Modernism promises "progress"; things will just get better and better. These young people are not buying it. They recognize there is value in their heritage.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The advantages of pessimism

We may derive some benefit from the availability of hot baths and computer chips, but our lives are no less subject to accident, frustrated ambition, heartbreak, jealousy, anxiety or death than were those of our medieval forebears. But at least our ancestors had the advantage of living in a religious era which never made the mistake of promising its population that happiness could ever make a permanent home for itself on this earth.

via BBC News - A Point of View: The advantages of pessimism.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Father of Modernity

Portrait of René Descartes
Although there are many people who have contributed to our modern way of thinking, if I were to choose one person who caused the radical shift of thinking that led to modernity, I would choose René Descartes (31 March 1596 – 11 February 1650). He certainly saw himself as creating a new way of thinking that he hoped would change the world.

According to his Discourse on Method, although he attended "one of the most renowned schools of Europe," he was "confounded by so many doubts and errors" that he was frustrated in his desire to "acquire a clear and assured knowledge of everything that is useful in life" (5). The one subject he admired from his schooling was mathematics, "because of the certainty and the evidence of its reasonings," but he was surprised that it had not been put to more practical use (8). He was most disappointed with philosophy, "seeing that it has been cultivated for many centuries by the most excellent minds that have ever lived and that, nevertheless, there still is nothing in it about which there is not some dispute, and consequently nothing that is not doubtful ... I deemed everything that was merely probable to be well-nigh false" (9). In other words, even though great minds have studied philosophy over the centuries, they don't come up with solid conclusions that can be known with certainty. To Descartes, anything that can't be proved as certain might as well be taken as false.

Descartes goes on to attempt to build a system of thought that has the certainty of mathematics, but can be applied to solving the problems of life, which he believed the great philosophical minds of the past had failed to do. He did this by systematically discarding every bit of knowledge of which he could not be certain. As he went through this process of doubting, he realized that he could be certain at least that he was doubting, which led to his famous statement, "I think, therefore I am." He realized that his experience of thinking established the fact of his own existence, and he used this fact as the first principle of his philosophy (32). However, his knowledge of his own existence is only as himself as a thinking thing distinct from his physical existence, and this leads him to make a distinction between "intelligent nature" and "corporeal nature" (36), which has come to be known as Cartesian Dualism.

By making this separation, Descartes was able separate concerns of the mind and the soul from concerns of the body, allowing him to treat the body as a machine. Descartes wanted to take the principles of mechanics that allowed a building to be constructed, and apply them to the physical world, and the human body (36).

In the last part of his Discourse on Method, Descartes goes into detail about what he thinks can be accomplished with this new thinking.
For these notions made me see that it is possible to arrive at knowledge that would be very useful in life and that, in place of that speculative philosophy taught in the schools, it is possible to find a practical philosophy, by means which, knowing the force and the actions of fire, water, air, the stars, the heavens, and all the other bodies that surround us ... and thus render ourselves, as it were, masters and possessors of nature. This is desirable not only for the invention of an infinity of devices that would enable one to enjoy trouble-free the fruits of the earth and all the goods found there, but also principally for the maintenance of health, which unquestionably is the first good and the foundation of all the other goods of this life... (62)

Decartes wants us to be able to understand nature in order to control it, invent useful devices, and to improve our health and quality of life, and he thinks a mathematical and mechanical approach is the best way to accomplish this. Even though Descartes still believes in God and the human soul, his dualistic approach allows him to separate issues concerning them from issues concerning the physical world. By contrast, in the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, which was dominant before Descartes, the physical and the spiritual are seen as tightly integrated, and all human activity, including the study of the natural world, is directed to the goal of salvation and growth in the knowledge of God. Descartes made a substantial break from Aquinas, and is much more aligned with today's modern thought.

In summary, here is a list of important aspects of modern thought which are found in Descartes' Discourse on Method.

  1. A new, practical philosophy (science) must be developed that is a break from the philosophy of the past.

  2. It must only deal with that which can be known with certainty.

  3. The physical world, including the human body, is understood in a mechanical way, in isolation from the mind or spirit.

  4. The purpose of this knowledge is for us to become masters and possessors of nature in order to improve our health and quality of life.

I will come back to these points repeatedly in future posts as I look at the problems we wrestle with today.



In 2002, after becoming convicted about the Papacy being God's plan for the unity of his Church, but also believing that God had put me in Sherman with the Charismatic Episcopal Church (CEC) for a reason, I rededicated myself to working with the CEC. I focused on the good things we had in the CEC, which we believed was the best of the Catholic and Protestant traditions.

However, in 2004 I was growing more and more uneasy and uncertain about my role in the CEC. The path I thought I was on to become a priest seemed to be going nowhere, and I felt like something had to give soon. The CEC's international convocation, which occurred every 4 years, was coming up that summer in the Philippines, and my hope was that at the convocation I would somehow receive a clearer idea of what I should be doing in the CEC. With high expectations, I made the sacrifices it would take to get to Manila.

The first couple of days in Manila were filled with events of welcome from our Filipino hosts. This was a wonderful time of introduction to a beautiful and generous people that I will never forget. As the convocation proper commenced, I encountered difficulties as I experienced signs of conflict within the CEC. Still, I endeavored to not be distracted by these problems, and tried to seek some direction for my life. However, I came to the end of the convocation with no clearer idea of what I should be doing than when I started.


A few months later, something happened that definitely got things moving. The department I worked in at Nortel was eliminated, and after 11 years of working there, I was laid off. The layoff was not a big surprise considering the state of things at Nortel, but it was still a shock. Even so, I welcomed it as an opportunity for change. I soon found other work, but the opportunity for telecommuting from Sherman was gone, so we started planning for a move back closer to Dallas. The good news was that by leaving the cathedral in Sherman, which had 3 priests and 3 deacons in residence, I would be moving into a situation where my own ordination was more likely. The two possibilities that I discussed with my bishop were starting a new parish, or helping out at an existing one. We decided to move to the Denton area and help with a small existing parish there.

Things went well in Denton for a while, and plans were put in place for my ordination to the Diaconate. However, in October of 2005, a conflict arose in the Denton parish that caused me to wonder if we could continue with that parish. As I began to think about what we would do about a church home, it suddenly came to me clear and strong that now was the time for us to become Catholic. I came to believe it would be much better for us to leave the CEC before I received ordination because ordination would involve vows of obedience that I would not want to break by leaving. At that point I knew I could not in good conscience be ordained in the CEC, and that it would be better for me to be a layman in the Catholic Church.

We were just finishing a new house south of Denton, but we knew no Catholics in the area, or anything about the local parishes. We eventually found our way to the Church through the kind ministry of Fr. Allan Hawkins at St. Mary the Virgin parish in Arlington, and we were received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil in 2006. After a few months going the church in Arlington, we decided we needed a parish closer to home, so we became members at St. Ann parish in Coppell.

Catholic Blessings

I was expecting that becoming Catholic would be a huge sacrifice because I would be giving up the many advantages that I believed that the CEC offered over the Catholic Church. By joining a large parish like St. Ann, we did lose the intimacy of the small churches we were used to, and the preaching and liturgy were not always as good as what we were leaving, but we gained some important things that I was not expecting.

The first thing was the beauty of the Catholic faith in its wholeness, and the joy of submission to the authority of the Church. Although we in the CEC accepted much of the Catholic faith, there were still aspects that we distanced ourselves from. Some of these things, such as Marian devotion, were difficulties for me as we approached conversion, but I made the decision to accept the authority of the Church, and relinquish any perceived right to pick and choose what doctrines I would accept. I dove head-first into Catholic doctrine, and I was surprised by the beauty I found. Once I trusted the Church to be my teacher, everything started to fall into place and make sense doctrinally. Every difficulty did not disappear overnight, but Catholic doctrine is significantly more solid, reasonable, beautiful, and practical to me than was my understanding of Christian doctrine before my conversion. There is also a great relief in not having to bear the full responsibility of determining all truth for myself. This does not mean that as a Catholic I have switched off my brain and I blindly accept everything my priest tells me. The situation is not always so clear cut, and there is always a need for discernment. However, the Church gives me so many resources that it is like I have entered a doctrinal treasure chamber.

The second thing has been the transformative power of the sacraments. I am not qualified to debate the validity of CEC sacraments, although I will say that my opinion is that they are valid. I will also say that my subjective experience is that the transforming power of the sacraments in the lives of my wife and myself is greatly increased now that we're Catholic. I know that the effect of the sacraments is dependent on the disposition of the recipient, so my theory is that Toni and I are better disposed to receive the power of the sacraments now that we are in full communion with the Church. Also, I believe we benefit from more frequent reception of communion through the availability of daily Mass.

The third blessing of the Catholic Church has been its Catholicity, or universality. There is so much diversity in the Catholic Church. Protestant denominations and congregations tend to be collections of like-minded people. Although there are definite boundaries that determine whether something is Catholic or not, there is much room for diversity within those boundaries. Franciscans, Jesuits, Carmelites, Cistercians, and many other religious orders, traditions, and groups all have different approaches to the Catholic faith and practice, and they all have their influence on the Church. As Catholics, we benefit from all of them, and can choose an approach that fits each of our personalities. Even though some parishes are run by a religious order, and each parish has its own personality, there is still a great diversity in the makeup of a typical parish compared with the typical Protestant congregation. All of this has been very refreshing and a cause of growth for me.

The Road

At St. Ann's, I soon got involved in a men's ministry, which led to me giving a testimonial presentation about the way that God had used the Scriptures in my life. Several people who heard my presentation responded with encouragement for me to do more teaching. I decided, however, that as a brand new Catholic, I needed time in the Church, and deeper instruction, before setting myself up as a Catholic teacher. I decided to begin work on a Masters in Theology degree at University of Dallas. I'm on schedule to graduate May 2012, after which I hope to do more teaching in some capacity, and/or more writing.

As I look back on the long and winding road that has brought me to where I am today, I sometimes wonder why I couldn't have converted sooner. It seems like it could have saved a lot of trouble if I had, but I also know that what I am today is a product of all that has come before. I also value all of the people whom I have come to know along the way. Whatever God has for me in the future, I believe he will make use of everything he has given me in the past, and so I thank him for his guiding hand, and trust he will be with me until the end.