Review of Mary Grace, The Communion of Saints: Talking to God and Grandma (Phoenix: Tau Publishing, 2013)

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Communion of Saints

Communion of Saints (Photo credit: Lawrence OP)

I had looked forward to reading this book since I am interested in the interface between faith and parapsychology. Since the doctrine of the communion of saints is the only major Catholic teaching that could be used to justify communication with the dead, I was interested in reading what Ms. Grace had to say.  For the reader’s information, I am a member of the Anglican Catholic Church, a conservative continuing Anglican church.

Unfortunately, the book was disappointing. If it had focused exclusively on the issue of the communion of saints and communication with the dead, it would have not only been shorter, but it would have been a stronger book. Ms. Grace used the book as a means to push her various theological agendas that are not in accord with Roman Catholic teachings. She affirms that all people are part of the communion of saints, which, contrary to what she states, has never been the teaching of Holy Scripture nor of the Church Fathers. It is possible that all people might be part of the communion of saints eventually, as von Balthasar notes, but it is also possible that some people obstinately reject God. To be a saint is to be set aside–Grace is quite correct is stating that the New Testament teaching is that all Christians are saints. The church also affirms this teaching, but it also affirms the belief that some Christians have sacrificed so much for God and their fellow human beings that the church as a whole can affirm that they are currently enjoying the Beatific Vision. That is not an elitist view, but it sets examples for us to follow. Nor does it deny that even the saints sinned–we are all sinners, despite Ms. Grace’s disclaimer in the book.

Ms. Grace supports a revision of the church’s holding that homosexual activity is sinful (the church has never said that the orientation itself is sinful). She also supports the ordination of women to Holy Orders. These are not matters for her to decide, and given that these involve essential moral and doctrinal teachings of the church, they will not change. The majority of the world’s Roman Catholics support both these doctrines–liberal American and European Roman Catholics do not have the right to publicly dissent from church teaching. Heresy is cruel since it can lead a person to rebel against God. It is out of love that the church sets boundaries to legitimate belief, and while theological speculation is allowed, open and public disagreement with the teaching of the church is (and should be) condemned.

Relating to her view of the afterlife, she holds that the Christian vision is for a non-physical existence. While I Corinthians 15 can be interpreted that way, it would be highly unusual for Paul, given his Jewish background, to de-materialize or de-physicalize the resurrection. Paul uses terms like “flesh” and “physical” to refer to the sinful, fallen part of nature. His affirmation of the renewal of all of nature in Romans 8 is not consistent with a total spiritualized resurrection. When Paul uses the term “spiritual body” in I Corinthians 15, he means “a body under the total control of its spirit.” He does not mean a non-physical, a non-material, or a non-physical body. Ms. Grace selectively quotes from the Christian tradition and ignores the statement in the Apostle’s Creed, “Credo in resurrectionem carnis“–“I believe in the resurrection of the flesh.” Even Ms. Grace’s mother appeared to her in material form, in the form of a warm, solid, physical body. Glorified flesh is still flesh. While there may be a non-embodied intermediate state between death and resurrection, full human identity requires a body–I would refer the reader to the works of Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Gilbert Ryle, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty on the necessity of a body for full human identity. The soul is the “form of the body” (forma corporis), as Aquinas puts it–the body is for this soul and the soul for this body. A Platonic or Cartesian soul has no place in Christian theology.

Now as far as communication with the dead, the Catholic Church has traditionally been open to scientific study of phenomena such as electronic voice phenomena, apparitions, and other putative means of contact with the dead. It does accept the traditional strictures against mediums. That may well be a belief that the church would consider revising, but only after much study and much more scientific evidence comes in. Bishop Pike‘s statement that the Hebrew Bible’s condemnation of mediumship was only a power play by the Jewish priesthood is historically inaccurate. The problem was that mediumship was closely associated with Canaanite pagan practices. Issues concerning mediumship today include whether (1) mediumship can be decoupled from paganism and New Age pantheism, (2) whether mediums can avoid spiritual pride, and (3) whether the medium has the gift of discernment to distinguish between genuine communications from the dead and communications from demonic entities.

My own view is that if a loved one who has died comes to comfort the living (after death communication or ADC) that is almost certainly legitimate. The use of meditation to contact the dead is a matter for the church to decide–if practiced carefully and in line with other teachings of the church, this might be acceptable. The church rightly takes its time on such matters. As for mediums–if they are mediums out of love for others and wish to comfort them in their grief by putting them in contact with their loved ones, there is a possibility that the church might eventually change its mind on mediumship. However, that is unlikely given the great potential for abuse concerning a realm about which we know so little. My hope is that theologians would at least discuss these issues. Mary Grace’s book, while well-meaning, will likely drive those who are theologically orthodox away from discussing mediumship given developments in parapsychology–and this would be an unfortunate result indeed.

Mysticism and Christianity

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Teresa of Ávila, Ulm, Germany

Teresa of Ávila, Ulm, Germany (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Contrary to a common stereotype, mystical thought has always played a role in the development of Christian thought, just as it has in other religious traditions. While eschewing Gnosticism, Neoplatonist pagans such as Plotinus were used by Christian writers, and the Pseudo-Dionysius’ writings could be called mystical works from a Christian perspective. The Eastern Orthodox Church has emphasized contemplation, and this trend became dominant during the late states of the Eastern Roman Empire just before Constantinople was taken by the Turks in 1453. In the Western Church, St. John of the Cross, St Julian of Norwich, and St. Theresa of Avila were only a few of the great mystics. The Church has taken care regarding mysticism, not in order to make life difficult for the mystics, but to make sure that the teachings of the mystics were in line with Christian teaching. St. Theresa of Avila gladly submitted to that rule and did not begrudge it–anyone with doubts should read her writings. There were a few exceptions, but this was not due to the authors’ mysticism. The problem was the teachings of certain mystics seemed to conflict with the teachings of Christianity. I am not sure if Scotus Erigena was a mystic, but he was clearly a pantheist, and while not formally condemned, his position was stronger than the alleged panentheism of Meister Eckhart–Erigena clearly identified God with the universe in his dynamic pantheistic system. Meister Eckhart, on the other hand, believed, as far as I can follow his thought, that the was a good Thomist–if every contingent thing that exists is radically dependent on God, then without God all contingent things are literally no-things. Thus God is all in all. Eckhart’s teachings could be a form of panentheism, and one could even interpret them in terms of classical theism. In my judgment, Eckhart’s heresy trial was based on a misunderstanding of his teachings.Mystics tend to emphasize the untiy of all things in the One, and sometimes they seem to subsume creation into God so that God is the only reality and contingent things are unreal. R. C. Zaehner has argued that Christian mysticism always kept the God-world distinction in the background while Eastern mysticism did not. That is a widely disputed point; many writers would claim there is a strong cross-religious and cross-cultural commonality to religious experience. Huston Smith has argued that within a religious tradition that approves their use, psychedelic drugs may be a way to reach the transcendent. From a very different perspective, Stanislav Grof has argued that high doses of LSD can put some persons in contact with transcendent reality. Even the majority of mystics who do not use drugs use fasting, chants, and other methods to focus the mind. However, as William James notes in his Varieties of Religious Experience, there is a passivity to mystical experience–ultimately it is a gift of grace. James is also correct in noting the ineffable quality of mystical experiences. It is not that mystics cannot communicate anything about their experience–otherwise, why would they write books about mysticism–but that language does a poor job in communicating the experience. In December 1273, St. Thomas Aquinas told his secretary that he had a mystical experience of God of such power that everything he had written before was “straw.” He died shortly afterward in March 1274.

Mystics also have a sense, as James noted, of certainty that the experience they had was real. The experience itself does not last long; James is probably not far off the mark when he states that most experiences last less than half an hour. These special gifts of grace are the height of the contemplative (Mary-type) life as opposed to the more practical Martha-type life. The church requires both.

Christian mystics should always keep in mind the fact of the incarnation (as did St. Theresa of Avila). Matter is good and redeemed by God through Christ. Any mystical experience that denies the goodness of matter is heretical from a Christian perspective. What mystical experience tells Christians, among other things, is how small we human beings are in comparison with God. Even the Beatific Vision will not result in anything close to a complete knowledge of God. It is good for humans, who have a tendency toward pride and arrogance, to realize their smallness, their nothingness, in the face of Existence Itself.

Duns Scotus, God’s Ability to Keep Forms in Existence, and Animal Immortality

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John Duns Scotus (c. 1266 – November 8, 1308) ...

John Duns Scotus (c. 1266 – November 8, 1308) was a theologian and philosopher. Some think that during his tenure at Oxford, the notion of what differentiates theology from philosophy and science began in earnest. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is well-known that John Duns Scotus (1265-1308) had a more voluntarist bent in his philosophy than did St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-74). Scotus, writing in light of the Condemnation of 1277, in which the Bishop of Paris declared a number of Aristotelian propositions to be heretical, was careful to stay in line with current church teaching. Now the two great medieval thinkers would agree that God can do anything logically possible that is consistent with His nature. Aquinas, however, included all ten commandments under the natural law, while Duns Scotus held that the commandments dealing with human conduct were consistent with the natural law, but could be overridden by God given particular circumstances. Another issue to which Scotus devotes attention is whether God could maintain plant or animal souls (forms) in existence in the same way that the human soul is naturally immortal. (Unlike Aquinas, who believes in absolute proof of the immortality of the human soul, Scotus suggests that although probable arguments can be given to justify the soul’s immortality, conclusive arguments are lacking. Scotus, unlike Aquinas, emphasizes the freedom of God to maintain plant and animal souls in everlasting existence if He so chooses. Now Aquinas says that when a plant or animal dies, the soul is corrupted with the body, since plant and animal souls depend on a functioning body for their existence. Scotus accepts that position, but also emphasizes, as usual, God’s freedom.

What is significant about Scotus’ view has to do with the question of any child who has suffered the loss of an animal companion: “Will my (dog, cat, ferret, rabbit, hamster, etc.) go to heaven? For Aquinas, the answer is a definite “no.” Neither plants nor non-human animals will live in Heaven, but only human beings among embodied creatures. The four elements–earth, air, fire, and water will remain, though in a perfected fashion. When this world comes to an end, so do all the animals.

This is an uncomfortable position for the Thomist to hold, especially given the cosmic eschatological statements of Romans 8 which seem to imply that all of creation will be redeemed. It also ignores the great love between people and their companion animals, a love that is a good for the universe, a love that surely does not die forever with the animal’s death. Given the mistreatment of animals by human beings, it would be fair for animals to share in the eschaton.

If God wanted to keep a dog soul in existence (or a cat soul, a ferret soul, and so forth), according to Scotus He could do so. This does not imply that God would do so, but given the nature of God as love, it is difficult to believe that He would not raise those animals that are precious to human beings–and given God’s plenitude, why would he not raise other animals to whom individuality has worth?  A soul is a form, an informational pattern that acts to organize matter in a particular way. Even if it is not normally ontologically separate from a particular body, according to Scotus, God could miraculously maintain a dog or cat soul in existence up to an infinite future. Then at the resurrection, God would create a new body and allow that animal soul to inform that new piece of matter, perfect the composite, and by His grace grant eternal life to that animal. Scotus’ emphasis on the freedom of God gives more hope to the believer that animal resurrection may take place. That is my hope and prayer.

Universal Terms and Reality

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The problem of universals is one of the oldest problems in philosophy. From Plato and Aristotle to Boethus, Abelard, and the other medievals to the modern and contemporary periods philosophers have discussed whether universal words such as “man,” “dog,” “oak tree” or “water” exist in themselves, are mere labels for objects we group together for our convenience, or do not refer to things, but to objective similarities between things. Extreme realism, such as held by Plato, holds that universal terms such as “dog” refer to the Form “Dog” that exists in a spaceless, timeless world separate from the empirical world, and which is known by reason, not by sense experience. The opposite view, extreme nominalism, associated with Foucault and Derrida (although whether this is their actual position can be debated) holds that “dog” refers to what any society labels particular animals they wish to group together as “dogs.” There is no essence of dogness, no set of necessary and sufficient conditions for dogness to which the term “dog” refers. Finally, moderate realism (the position of Abelard (perhaps–I think so), St. Thomas Aquinas, and the Blessed Duns Scotus, asserts that universal terms refer to objective similarities between natural kinds of the same type, to a set of, say, necessary and sufficient conditions that make a dog a “dog.” The trend since William of Occam has been toward conceptualism, such as Occam’s notion of universals as labels that refer to similarities between entities that have some basis in extramental reality. He sounds like a moderate realist; some interpreters call him a “realistic conceptualist.” In his own day he was interpreted as a nominalist, and whatever his position may have been, philosophers after Occam gravitated toward nominalism. This trend accelerated the split between faith and reason that ended the Medieval synthesis. The end stage of this process is found in Nietzsche’s work, which supported nominalism in the sense that all meanings are culturally constructed and do not have an objective basis in extramental reality. Contemporary English Departments at many universities, especially in the United States, tend toward a radical nominalism and linguistic constructivism in which universal words refer to whatever fits a particular society’s interest. Even though I agree with the notion that meaning is flexible, since I accept the medieval four-fold model of meaning in Biblical interpretation, there remain limits to the scope of meanings that a word can have. Meaning occurs in context, and a particular context may both increase the number of possible meanings of a term, but it can also lower or eliminate the possibilities of other meanings. “I am going to the bank” makes sense if the person saying that also adds “to go fishing.” If he says, “I am going to the bank to withdraw money,” that eliminates the the other meaning of “bank” as “bank of a river.” Natural kind terms clearly refer to entities that are objectively similar. Sure, a beagle does not look like a Rottweiler, but they are both carnivores, they both bark, they can interbreed, and they have similar genetic codes and similar causal powers. There is no need to posit the existence of “Dogness” in any transcendent world independently of actual dogs. “Dogness” might exist in individual dogs in the sense that it refers to the set of necessary and jointly sufficient conditions to make a dog fall under the universal term “Dog” (or another term, such as Canis, used in another language. Thus my own sympathies are with Aristotle’s and Aquinas’ moderate realism: universal terms refer to objective similarities between things that are necessary and jointly sufficient for an entity to be the kind of thing it is. Universal terms may also hint at universal ideas or patterns in the mind of God through which He created the universe and the things in it. This view, dating back to Augustine, was picked up by the Medieval philosphers such as Aquinas, and did not fade until William of Occam denied it in the fourteenth century. Moderate realism evades the problem of arbitrariness found in postmodernism as well as the over-transcendence of Plato’s world of the Forms. I am hopeful that it will be adopted by philosophers outside the Thomist school, since as Richard Weaver pointed out in his fine book, Ideas Have Consequences, nominalism helped lead to the idea that nature, including human nature, is infinitely malleable by human ingenuity. Realism, whether ultra or moderate, helps to form a stable society in which human nature and nonhuman nature are both respected. Moderate realism avoids the problems of Plato’s doctrine of participation by placing the entity to which a universal term refers “in” the individual substance. Now substance, I believe, following Fr. Norris Clarke, is “substance-as-relation,” so that the intellectual content of the object observed would “seek” (metaphorically speaking) to communicate itself as far as possible–and the observer would strive to communicate was much as possible. Through such joining of information the mind becomes “intentionally one” with the object perceived, and thereby knows it, not exhaustively–but the actual information he receives is accurate to a degree. If this is the way communication between being and mind takes place, there is no need for transcendent Forms, but there is a need for “forms” with a small “f” to guarantee stable behavior patterns among natural kinds.

Does Thomism Really Avoid the Lockean Epistemological Gap between Idea and Thing?

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Portrait of John Locke, by Sir Godfrey Kneller...

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John Locke thought of himself as a realist (not in the Medieval sense of accepting the reality of universals, but in the modern sense of believing in a mind-independent world). Yet it seems that his philosophy leaves no room for any knowledge of that alleged world, as Berkeley and Hume pointed out. Locke believed that all knowledge comes by means of sense experience (thus he is an empiricist, as opposed to being a rationalist such as Descartes–it is ironic that in his hierarchical classification of knowledge Locke lists intuitive knowledge as first, demonstrative knowledge as second, and sensory knowledge as the lowest form of knowledge, barely to be called knowledge). Locke believes that knowledge arises by means of ideas in the mind. Whether these ideas are images or something else remains a subject of debate among Lockean scholars. In any case, Locke believes that that a quality is the power to produce an idea in the mind. Primary qualities are actually in the thing-in-itself, and our ideas of primary qualities are isomorphic with the actual structure of the physical substance we perceive. Primary qualities are measurable, and include size, shape, and mass. Secondary qualities are not in the thing itself; our ideas of secondary qualities are not isomorphic with the actual structure of the material substance. However, the primary qualities interact with human sensory organs and with the human brain to produce ideas of particular colors, odors, sounds, and tastes. Thus, secondary qualities have a partial basis in the thing-in-itself despite the lack of isomorphism between idea and thing.

The classic problem with this view is that Locke claims that we are only aware of our own ideas. We do not have any direct access to the material substance, to the thing-in-itself. In fact, substance is just that which underlies the qualities, a “something-I-know-not-what.” But if we lack access to the thing-in-itself, there is no way to compare our ideas to the actual object allegedly causing those ideas to determine which qualities are primary and which ones are secondary. Access to knowledge of extramental reality seems impossible, and a trip down the phenomenalist brick road of Berkeley, Hume, and the sense data theorists of the early twentieth century. Such an idealistic journey is not what Locke wanted to make. Idealism has serious difficulties; the source of the ideas (our own minds? the mind of God) remains a mystery, and the orderly nature of the phenomena we experience is left unexplained unless a person takes the Berkeleian route of positing God to explain natural laws. Direct realism is another option; the label of “naive realism” is a pejorative and is a blatant attempt to beg the question regarding the truth or falsity of direct realism. As for the straw men critics of direct realism try to knock down, no direct realist has denied the possibility of illusion. It is Berkeley and Hume’s phenomenalism that cannot distinguish between illusion and reality except by taking Hume’s route of more vivid ideas (which he calls impressions) being the most “real.”

Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas were both direct realists. Aquinas accepted the idea that knowledge comes through the “phantasm,” or sensory image, from which the mind extracts the intelligible content from a material substance. Thomists today often say that the difference from Locke’s view is that Locke believed we have access to ideas, not the thing in itself–it is the ideas that we know. In contrast, Aquinas believes that it is through the phantasm that a person gains some knowledge, albeit limited, of the thing-in-itself. But does this really avoid Locke’s problem or does it evade it by a kind of word game?

After reading more of how contemporary Thomists deal with the epistemological gap, I must back away from my earlier position that Thomism does not avoid an epistemological gap between mind and thing. Contemporary Thomists believe that humans have evolved as part of their environment, not as creatures separate from their environment. Even thought knowledge is of “external” things, there is a communication of intelligible content from object to subject–agent causation is not limited to human agents. The phantasm contains the information that human beings extract to help them to live in the environment in which they are embedded, to the point that the person becomes “intentionally one” with the thing-in-itself. While Duns Scotus posited intuitive knowledge of an object as existing in addition to a rather traditional Aristotelian account of knowledge, I am not sure that such an intuitive knowledge is necessary for human beings to get by in the world. If such intuitive knowledge exists (perhaps in the form of psi), such knowledge could speed up our apprehension of a thing and determine whether or not it is dangerous. But if the mind is not considered a container, but as one way of an organism’s acting in the world, that seems to eliminate the Lockean gap between idea and thing. The phantasm becomes that “by which” a person apprehends some aspects of the being of a thing.

 

Legal Positivism and the Attempt to Remake Reality

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Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., circa 1930. Edited...

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Why did the United States Supreme Court reverse over 1500 years of legal tradition and create an almost unlimited right to abortion? Later judicial rulings extended the right through the third trimester of pregnancy if a doctor signed a statement to the effect that a woman’s physical and/or mental health is endangered. Even Western Europeans outside of the U. K. have been shocked by the breadth of U. S. abortion laws.

Why did a California court reverse thousands of years of tradition and support same-sex marriage (later the state legislature made a court ruling unnecessary)? Why did federal judges, who ruled like dictators over broad swaths of the South in the 1960s and 70s, force children to get up at 4 a.m. to go to schools many miles from their neighborhood to achieve “racial balance,” a social engineering scheme that has been a dismal failure?

The arrogance of judges who wish to remake reality in their own image is due, to a large extent, to legal positivism. This holds that law does not gain its legitimacy in being consistent with the natural law, but that laws are simply products of legislative or judicial action. St. Thomas Aquinas‘ eternal law, natural law, and positive law is whittled down to positive law alone. Legal positivism is consistent with the eighteenth century Enlightenment, or Age of Reason, in which Western Europe, and later the United States, believed that man could remake society according to his own reason and will. With the help of science, a new social order, “a new order of the ages” (novus ordo seclorem) would be created, a heaven on earth, would be created as man remakes nature in his own image. As Francis Bacon said in the seventeenth century, man will “hold nature to the rack,” pulling out its secrets, and by dominating nature, create technologies for the comfort of man. Ideologically this idea is opposed to the notion of a set natural law man should follow, either in science or in ethics. But exploiting nature is parasitic on a set order of nature, and thus science cannot fall into total positivism without destroying science. Ethics and law, however, were other matters as the nineteenth century’s machines ground on like clockwork. Man could exploit ethics and law for his own purposes, for reshaping society, and there is no set order of nature that applies to ethics and law. This view was enshrined in the work of U. S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (another contribution of New England cultural rot to the ruin of the United States). Holmes was influential in pushing a legal positivist framework that quickly became the dominant framework among U. S. judges–to the point that some liberals were claiming that Judge Clarence Thomas‘ acceptance of natural law disqualified him from serving on the Supreme Court. I wonder what the liberals would say about the noted scholar and judge, John Noonan, who accepts natural law and sits on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives.  Justice Holmes was consistent with his positivist framework and appealed to the abstraction of “social welfare” to justify his position. In Buck v. Bell, 274 US200, 1927, Justice Holmes, in his majority opinion concerning the case of a woman ordered to be sterilized for being “feeble minded,” says, “It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.” Holmes’ attempt to justify sterilization appeals to the public good–it is a utilitarian appeal–and utilitarianism only makes sense in a moral and legal world bereft of a concept of natural law. If law is just a positive act of legislatures and judges, then any kind of action by the state can be justified for “social welfare” or “for the public good.” Natural law offers a constraint on the tendency to remake society by getting rid of people that society finds uncomfortable.  But without the restraint of natural law, the state can justify any use of power against individuals or groups as long as it can be justified in terms of the “general welfare.” Note the terminology used by the U. S. Constitution, which is more of an Enlightenment Doctrine than some of its conservative advocates claim. Given the presuppositions of the Enlightenment that were not removed by the latent Christianity of the founding fathers of the United States (and the more active Christianity of others), the turn to legal positivism was a logical turn–but a turn that has led to a further breakdown of American society and the dismantling of the ethics and laws upon which Western Civilization has depended since the rise of Christianity.

Gilson and Maritain: Still Worth Reading

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Jacques Maritain

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Aside from the Thomistic community and scholars of medieval philosophy, the names of Etienne Gilson (1884-1978) and Jacques Maritain (1882-1973; his photo is the one posted) may not be familiar to contemporary philosophers. Perhaps their names were mentioned in graduate school a few times, or perhaps students encountered them when studying for comprehensive exams. Yet despite a philosophical climate in the United States largely divided along analytic/Continental lines, Gilson and Maritain are well worth reading even if they are out of current philosophical fashion.

Gilson was one of the great historians of medieval philosophy; his History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages and his classic book on Aquinas’ philosophy, The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, are well worth reading today. Readers will not only find writing of beautiful clarity, something missing from so much philosophy, both analytic and Continental, today, but also an excellent survey of both medieval philosophy as a whole and of Aquinas’ philosophy in particular. Gilson’s greatest contribution to general philosophy is probably his book on epistemology, The Unity of Philosophical Experience, which, in attacking Transcendental Thomism, presents a strong case for direct realism. He also wrote books on St. Bonaventure, John Duns Scotus, aesthetics, and the relationship between Abelard and Heloise. Whether or not a person accepts his arguments, reading Gilson’s writings is a pleasure, something to be done over a cup of Earl Gray on a rainy day. His arguments may not be in symbolic form, but they are careful, thorough, and beautiful—I know of no other word that is fitting. If truth and beauty are Transcendentals that ultimately have the same extension in God, this may bode well for the soundness of Gilson’s arguments. Gilson also has a book, From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again, that is relevant to contemporary debates over whether there is teleology in the evolutionary process.

Maritain is less clear, but he is a deep thinker who will reward the patience of the reader. His classic work on epistemology is The Degrees of Knowledge, a book that argues for different epistemological approaches to science, philosophy, art, and revealed religion. Although I disagree with his (and Gilson’s) sharp separation between metaphysics and the physical and social sciences (both were, ironically, close to positivism in their philosophy of science), the idea that different disciplines require different ways of knowing preserves the ability of science, metaphysics, art, and religion to present different aspects of the truth about reality.

Maritain’s work on metaphysics focuses on the “intuition of being,” the sense of utter contingency when we realize that we are held out of nothingness as if by a thread. This intuition of our radical contingency and of the radical contingency of all things is the beginning of the road toward the noncontingent, necessary being, God.

Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry is the finest book on aesthetics I have ever read. Maritain’s connection of Aquinas’ notion of “connaturality,” a “knowledge by love” (person-person, person-animal, person-plant, person-thing) with the artist’s intuition of the fullness of reality is profound. It is similar to Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “inscape” and “instress” as well as with Martin Buber’s “I-Thou” relationship. Maritain was also more open than Gilson to abstraction in art.

Maritain’s ethics and political philosophy were based on natural law theory, which puts it in tension with both classical liberalism and social democratic liberalism in contemporary American. Some forms of classical liberalism would accept “natural rights”—how close that idea is to “natural law” is widely disputed among political philosophers. Maritain used natural law to defend the inherent dignity and worth of the individual (rather than use rationality alone, as Kant did). He helped draft the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Good philosophy is never out of date. Although the works of Gilson and Maritain are older works, philosophers should be open to reading them. Better yet, they should read and study them—both philosophers leave much food for thought.

“Cosmic Memory” and the Mind of God

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Harvard University image of Whitehead, circa 1924

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There has been a great deal of talk about “cosmic memory,” “Akashic Records,” and so forth among both mainstream parapsychologists and New Agers. This is an old idea that was revived not only by Theosophists, but also by philosophers such as William James, and there are some affinities with Jung’s “collective unconscious.” Ervin Laszlo has written a great deal on “Akashic memory,” as Edgar Mitchell and Stanley Krippner accept some version of cosmic memory placed in the framework of contemporary physics.

Such views remind me of Alfred North Whitehead‘s notion of “objective immortality.” For Whitehead, like contemporary advocates of cosmic memory, every event in nature is interconnected. As events constantly flow into the past, they are recorded in the mind of God, where they are stored forever. Whitehead himself denies subjective immortality, the notion that individual humans, for example, will live forever. But he accepts the idea that God remembers every event, and in that sense everything is immortal. These memories enrich the life of God, and He can use them as He continually aids the world in enfolding toward greater enrichment of value. Thus, Whitehead accepts a theistic (specifically a panentheistic) view of cosmic memory as existing in the mind of God.

None of these positions would suit traditional Christianity–but there is a version of cosmic memory that can–that of St. Thomas Aquinas. For Aquinas, God eternally holds every object and event in His mind. Although that is not the same as something existing in re, in itself, in another sense existing in God’s mind is more real than existing in re. Now Aquinas believes in subjective immortality; that is, he believes that God will raise all humans from the dead, restoring their souls to new bodies that are in a real sense continuous with the old. While Aquinas’ version of the afterlife sounds boring (“the beatific vision of God,” in which the saved contemplate God forever), as the late Father Joseph Owens of The Medieval Institute of the University of Toronto has noted, such an afterlife need not be boring at all. If all events and all places, everything that has ever existed or happened, exist virtually in God’s mind, then a resurrected person could have an experience of walking through the fields of his childhood. This sounds like a George Berkeley-like view of Heaven, or perhaps H. H. Price’s image-world with God as a ground of stability. My one caveat would be that if I exist in such a world, I would want the animals I have loved to be really, not just virtually, present–with their conscious lives restored and intact. If all else is composed of images in the mind of God, what would be the practical difference between such a world and a material world? Does the substrate out of which solid material objects is made really make a difference? There would be still be, to use Christian terminology, a “New Heaven and a New Earth.” On this view, the Beatific Vision of God would mark the fulfillment of our materiality rather than its repudiation. And the full truth of cosmic memory would be fulfilled in the ultimate vision of God’s memory playing a role in the blessed life of the resurrected.

Animals Have Feelings: Against Neocartesianism

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If you step on a dog’s tail and it yelps, does it feel pain? Are some intellectuals so thickheaded that they cannot see the obvious? Yes and Yes.

People in both the ancient and medieval worlds believed that all living things had souls. St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), the greatest Christian thinker of the Middle Ages, accepted Aristotle’s view that plants have vegetative souls, animals have sensitive souls, and human beings have rational souls. Aquinas would have no problem admitting a dog feels pain when someone steps on its tail. He believed that animals have emotions that parallel human emotions, and although he did not discuss the issue directly, I have no doubt he would have said animals are consciously aware of themselves and the world, especially higher animals such as mammals.

Rene Descartes (1596-1650) believed that only human beings have souls and that only human beings are conscious and aware. For Descartes, animals are automatons, machine. So a dog yelping in what appears to be pain is no different than a mechanical toy with a sensor causing a yelping sound when someone steps on it. It is hard to believe that Descartes actually owned a dog!

A few years ago an article appeared in the scholarly journal Faith and Philosophy that defended God from the charge that He created a world with extreme animal pain–“nature red in tooth and claw,” as Tennyson put it. They referred to scientists who defend Neocartesianism, a contemporary view that animals either lack consciousness or their consciousness is so limited compared to us that they experience either no pain or very little. The same would follow for other feelings, emotions, and thoughts.

I must admit that my first reaction on reading the article was fury. These Evangelical Protestant scholars were so intent on getting God off the hook for animal pain that they were willing to deny the fact of animal pain, or at least minimize the amount of feeling a nonhuman animal could have. But in doing so, reality, like an angry dog, bites them in the face.

We share similar brains and nervous systems with animals, especially mammals. Just as an animal withdraws from painful stimuli, so do we. Just as animals cry out when in pain, so do we. Just as some animals become aggressive when in pain, so do some of us. My thoughts are if something looks like it’s in pain, acts like it’s in pain, and cries out like it’s in pain, that is sufficient evidence to say it feels pain. Neocartesian scientists and their defenders accept what C. D. Broad called “a silly philosophy,” that is, a philosophy that would send anyone outside of academia to an insane asylum. I suppose if Neocartesians are consistent, they would support the most violent research on animals; after all, if they are automatons or near-automatons, why not vivisect them–without anesthesia, too! But I doubt the Neocartesians would go this far. One never knows.

Of course we cannot enter an animal’s mind to know for sure what its thoughts and feelings are. But neither can we enter into another human being’s mind in that way. We have to rely on behavioral evidence to identify an animal’s emotions just as we do with human beings. Now humans also have language, but the fact that animals lack a language in the sense that humans have one does not imply that they are without thoughts and feelings.

In defending God from the charge that He created a world with excessive suffering, one should never ignore reality. That is intellectual cheating, and that is precisely the crime of which the Christians who wrote the article in Faith and Philosophy are guilty. Reality is what it is no matter how much humans try to deny it. Animals do feel, and without the strong rational sense that humans have in the way, they most likely feel emotions in a rawer and more intense fashion than human beings. Only a Neocartesian is intellectually obtuse enough to deny that.

Academia: A Diamond-Filled Cesspool

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Such a title may appear strange coming from an academic. I enjoy academic, and my undergraduate and graduate school training changed my life, I believe, for the better. Through my education, I learned how to critically think beyond my childhood Fundamentalism without giving up Christian orthodoxy. I learned the wonderful field of philosophy and experienced reading some of the greatest thinkers in the history of the world: Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Alfred North Whitehead, and many others. Sadly, if a young person were to talk to me about going to college or university, I would tell him, “Go, but remember that academia is a cesspool, and sometimes you have to dip your hands in s..t to gather up the diamonds.

What damaged the integrity of academia was the radicalism of the 1960s. The history of such radicalism has been documented by David Horowitz and Robert Bork, so I will only give the broadest details. After the 1962 Port Huron Meeting, in which the Students for a Democratic Society were radicalized under the leadership of Tom Hayden, they began to work toward revolutionizing higher education. Influenced by the Frankfurt School, especially the thought of Herbert Marcuse, they desired to bring about a Marxist society by changing the culture, rather than by changing the government. After the student protests of the 1960s and the early 1970s, many of these radicals attended graduate school and got their Ph.D.s. They believed that race, class, and gender (what some have called “the unholy trinity”) determine one’s identity. The Humanities became dominated by such thought, especially English departments. At a conference on Southern literature at which I presented a paper, I believe that my paper (on Wendell Berry) was the only one that did not focus on race, class, and/or gender. A young lady presented a paper that espoused relativism based on the unholy trinity. In the question and answer session I pointed out the contradictions with any kind of relativism, and she readily admitted their existence. When I talked privately with her, I found her to be a traditionalist and a Christian. When I asked her why she presented a paper presenting views with which she did not agree, she said, “I must do what is necessary to get a job.”

To use another term found in discussions of academia, these “tenured radicals” gained control of many departments of English, History, and even Music—they were not as successful in philosophy departments. Once they gained control, they hired only clones of themselves. As a result, many students are exposed to a distorted view of English literature or American History. Instead of focusing on the classic core of literature, for example, Shakespeare is often not even required for an English degree. “Underrepresented writers” replace the great writers of the past. The reason Shakespeare and other writers are in the core curriculum is their ability to express universal meaning through the particularities of their literature. The purging of the classics affects libraries, as they rush to order books to gain the proper balance of “race, class, and gender” and discard classics.

Class discussion is poisoned. Female students are taught to focus on grievances, and men are often portrayed as evil, greedy, and lecherous—to the point that even consensual sexual intercourse between a man and a woman is portrayed as a man raping a woman. Racial differences are emphasized, and minority races are taught to focus on how the majority society has mistreated them. Traditional religion is mocked, especially traditional Christianity, which is portrayed as a tool of the ruling class to keep down women, minorities, and the poor. “Multiculturalism” and “diversity” are code words—they do not refer to teaching about other cultures such as India or China—they are code words for “black and Hispanic.” This kind of multiculturalism distorts the rich cultural diversity found in different black and Hispanic communities. It also promotes a naïve relativism that claims that no one culture is better than another. Such a view poisons moral discourse because if relativism is true, the Stalinist Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, and Pol Pot’s Cambodia could not be morally censured. If a student questions the radicalism of the professor, oftentimes the student’s grade will suffer.

How can a student find the diamonds within the cesspool of academia? First, he should, to the best of his ability, choose his teachers carefully. Choose teachers who are willing to hear both sides of an issue, no matter what the teacher’s political views might be. Avoid professors who are known to push their agenda and who punish students for politically incorrect speech. Speaking of which, many colleges and universities have adopted “speech codes” to control politically incorrect speech. Now if such speech referred to truly offensive and insulting speech against a group of people, I could at least understand why a speech code was adopted. But speech codes can be used to censure politically or religiously conservative talk. If a student is punished for breaking a speech code, for example, by defending the position that practicing homosexuality is morally wrong, that student should fight that conviction, in court if necessary. Students should be willing—and be strong enough—to speak up and defend their own positions.

A student can also take elective courses on the classics, such as an elective course on Shakespeare. A student might orient his term paper around a classic work of literature, philosophy, or around a major historical event. Many classics are now online, and some students might be interested in reading them in their spare time. I know of a few students who read classic texts and who do not buy into the radical left’s understanding of human history in terms of the unholy trinity. Of course math and science courses have not, for the most part, been politicized, at least in terms of a strong left-right split.

If anyone teaches a course in Classical Rhetoric, a student should take it. The skills taught in that course are seldom taught today—and they aid both in grammar and in logical reasoning. Taking logic is also something that would benefit students.

I make this next suggestion with some concern that today’s students may not have the discipline to handle classical languages, but students should learn at least Latin, and ideally Greek as well. This teaches not only English grammar, but discipline, and opens up the world of the classics in their original tongues to students.

It is possible to find gold nuggets in the cesspool of academia. The main task for parents is to be aware and do their own homework in finding a school that will encourage a person to think, that will not indoctrinate students, and which focuses on a classic core of literary and philosophical works.