Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Many of the Church's teachings don't require faith, only reason and honesty

A Conversation with Peter Kreeft

Many students consider themselves to be Catholics, but state that they have trouble reconciling the Church's teachings with their own "personal beliefs." What would you say to such a student?

Many of the Church's teachings don't require faith, only reason and honesty. For instance, the value of reason and honesty itself. I'd start by appealing to that. Use your reason. Think. And be fanatically honest with yourself. Don't play games with yourself. Lying to others is bad enough, but lying to yourself is like putting out your own eyes.

So if your "personal beliefs" are just your feelings, ask yourself why Hitler wasn't as good as you are, because he lived according to his "personal beliefs" and feelings too.

If, on the other hand, your "personal beliefs" are the result of your honest and rational search for truth, and you honestly believe you have good objective reasons for disbelieving some of the essential teachings of the Church, then you must follow your conscience and become a Protestant or a Muslim or a Buddhist or an agnostic or something else.

If your personal beliefs contradict the Church's definition of the Catholic faith, then you are not a Catholic, any more than I am a Buddhist if I believe in egotism and war, or a Marxist if I believe in the stock market.

That's not a personal insult, just a rational label. Honesty demands "truth in labeling."

What sort of changes have you noticed in your students over the years?

Everybody asks me that. The major answer is: nothing major at all. The human mind and heart doesn't change much. The media thrive on change, so they hype every little change.

Really, the two clearest changes I can think of are both little:

first, there aren't many sixties style hippies who think they can change the world and bring in the Age of Aquarius any more, they're too busy preparing for law school or med school;

and second, their English skills and knowledge of history have deteriorated and their math and computer skills have increased. The elves are leaving Middle-earth and we are approaching The Matrix.

If you had to point to the biggest obstacle in society today facing Orthodox Christianity, what would it be?

Our own sins. They always have social consequences. We construct society, for good or ill, far more than it constructs us. It has no free will; we do. It is merely what we make; we are not merely what it makes.

By "orthodox Christianity" I assume you mean the whole nine yards, the whole treatment.. That begins with faith, and truth, and teachings, but it ends with the works of love, with being saints. Only saints can save the world. And only our own sins can stop us from being saints.

There has been a lot of talk among students around campus lately about dissatisfaction with the current "hook-up" culture, in which students have replaced dating with what is described as random, no-strings-attached, inebriated sexual liaisons on weekends. What are your thoughts on this, and on how this can be overcome?

I believe in fear. When the ship is falling apart and sinking, it is better to feel fear than peace and self-esteem.

Perhaps a reading of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah might refresh our memories. At some point, a culture or an individual gets so bad that if they don't stop themselves, God does. No one knows where that point is until it's too late. And that's true for any evil: pride, hypocrisy, selfishness, injustice -- or "random, no-strings-attached, inebriated sexual liaisons," as you so charmingly put it.

I believe in fear. When the ship is falling apart and sinking, it is better to feel fear than peace and self-esteem. There was once an old book that people used to read, back in the Dark Ages. It was the book that taught us all about love and peace and hope and other upbeat stuff. That book also identified "the beginning of wisdom." It was fear: the fear of the Lord. I know psychologists sneer at that today, but I'd rather sneer at psychologists who sneer at God's psychology, than sneer at God's psychology.

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