Hello, this is Danny Cirotski. Ben suggested me to email you so you can post stuff on your blog or whatever. I haven't got to it because it's been a bit of a busy month for me. The new season of House M.D. started new Dan Brown book,new Richard Dawkins book, and new Pearl Jam album.
Danny, you're reading people who are either idiotic about religion (Brown) or intensely hostile to it (Dawkins). Since you're already (if I'm not totally mistaken) an atheist, don't you think you'd learn more, and grow in your faith (or non-faith) by understanding what 'the other side' has to say? I appreciate the e-mail, and I think it's great that you and Ben debate hot issues, but there are some really capable Catholic authors who address a lot of the issues that you may be wondering about. Atheists say, "the answers that theists provide about the universe are wrong." But to be able to make that statement, one would either have to show (a) that the idea of God is metaphysically impossible [a burden which even Dawkins acknowledges can't be done]; or (b) at least show that existing normative theories are wrong. (B) doesn't actually prove atheism, but it at least makes atheism a more likely contender by comparison. But to arrive even at (b), you have to know what theists are saying, rather than what atheists (Dawkins) and trashy fiction writers (Brown) are claiming that they say.
Spoiler alert: Brown's new book will claim that all religions are really the same, and all point to God, a notion which both atheists and Catholics think is completely off-base. You can create your own Dan Brown books here. And House is incredibly formulaic as well: Strange symptoms, misdiagnosis, improper treatment leading to new symptoms, correct diagnosis, and either proper treatment and/or one of the characters will realize something new about themselves, causing them to pause (either while walking or talking) while the music gets dramatic.
Anyway, I don't know if I'm supposed to lay out an argument for you or just ask
you simple questions that you can most likely assume what the entire
opposition's (me) standpoint is. Since it's late and I'm feeling like my usual
lazy self I think I'll do the latter and you can tell me if you want me to go
into greater detail.
Sounds good. In the future, feel free to approach it either way. My biggest interest is to try and present an intelligent and authentically Catholic answer to your question. You'll have to be the judge of how well I do.
I only have one question for you today that Ben and I discussed in the lunch
line last week if I'm not mistaken. It seems like some "sins" are things that
humans are naturally inclined to do.
If there wasn't an inclination to do something, there wouldn't be any need for a rule against it, or for a regulation of the activity. It's true that some inclinations come with us at birth, and some inclinations we develop through the course of our life, but all sin is based on the improper pursuit of an inclination.
My question is why does God create instinct, and then make rules in the opposition of this human nature. I hope you understand what I'm asking. I'd appreciate if you sent me your answer through email regardless if this ends up on your website. If you're anything like me though, you don't have to send it and I won't be upset. Thanks. God bless.
Danny Sean Cirotski
Danny, great question. The answer's a bit complex. Here's what I would say:
- The Divine plan is one of God loving us, and us loving God.
- Love requires a sufficiently free will. In fact, any good thing we do is good only because it was freely chosen. Here's what I mean: it's good to give money to the poor. But if a poor person robs you, we don't say, "well, that was good of you." There must be sufficient freedom to do otherwise for an action to have an ontological worth. So even the angels in Heaven were given a free will, so that their worship of God would be authentic. Some of them used this freedom to rebel, because they thought they were better than God - this the Fall of Satan and his demons.
- Evil is capable only through the misuse of God-given gifts, and is pursued only for ends which are perversions of the good themselves (many of these ends, are, in fact, good ones). Here's what I mean. We'd both agree that theft is wrong. But God, being good, gives us cleverness and ingenuity, as well as the ability to work. God also inspires in us the desire to take care of our families, to ensure that there's a roof over their heads, food on the table, and that the base levels of Maslow's hierarchy of needs are met. So far, all of these things are intrinsically good. But because we now have (a) cleverness, (b) a desire for material comforts for our families, and (c) free will, we have all of the ingredients to create theft.
- We know that theft is wrong, because we can demonstrably see the damage that it does. It's an injustice, in that one person used their gifts properly (by working), for a good end, while another person harms them (via theft) through an improper use of their gifts. A society in which theft was permissible would be a society which immediately collapsed. No one would work, because working would only make you a more likely target for theft, and no one wants to get robbed. Besides, if your choices for enrichment are to work hard or to steal from someone else, the only reason to choose the former is moral -- so if the moral prohibition against theft were gone, nearly everyone would choose theft. Such a system would favor the strong while harming the weak.
- So a system of rules is required to ensure that we don't harm ourselves or others. This system we call morality. Some of these rules we can figure out through the use of our God-given logic: we call these the natural law (don't be confused - not all of these are practiced by nature; in fact, certain animals steal constantly). Other rules are known (or known fully) only because God tells us them. I think that Catholics typically agree that we should legislate natural law (things like "don't steal"), but not divinely revealed law (things like "go to Mass on Sunday").
There was a solution to this problem, paradise. There, humanity was without insatiable want. If you wanted food, it was readily available in the form of fruits and veggies, so your acquisition of a necessity was possible without even harming animal life. Some Catholics think that Genesis 2 and 3 describe historical events, while others think that it's a parable which describes humanity's fall as a whole. I think the answer to that question is less important than making sure that you understand the message, and why it's told. In Genesis 2:16-17, God lays out the ground rules: you can eat of the fruit of any tree, but not the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. With the knowledge of good and evil comes accountability: when a baby pulls your hair, it's cute; when an adult does, there's going to be some sort of penalty for that behavior. Why? Because the adult has a knowledge of good and evil, and must act accordingly. Once knowledge of good and evil came, so came shame (Genesis 3:7), while before it, they were carefree and naked (just like very young children often are). Prior to that, the only sin was disobedience: God says, "do x," and you do something else, or vice versa (God says "don't do x," and you do it anyways). Again, these are the only morals placed upon toddlers. They share because mom and dad tell them to (and sometimes not even then), not because of some sense of Rawlsian justice. The Fall, then, was sinful not because Adam and Eve had an innate knowledge of good and evil, but because they disobeyed the Loving God who they realized (on same basic level) was their Provider and Authority.
Whether historical, allegorical, or both, we can see parallels of the Fall in our own lives. We begin as carefree kids whose only responsibility is to what we're told. As we grow up, we grow in our knowledge of good and evil, and we're capable of feeling shame for the first time. But the Fall tells us more than that: it also tells us that we're proud, that we think we know more than God, or that we can take care of ourselves, etc. And from this pride and this disobedience comes sin. Every sin is the result of disobedience. An action can't both be obedient to God and sinful. Since God is the origin of all that is Good, His will is inherently Good. Sin is any deviation from His expressed will.
Finally, you ask why God would make a rule against our human nature. But imagine if He didn't. Imagine if His only rule was "do whatever you naturally desire." Now consider that there are people out there who desire some pretty sick or cruel stuff, and ask yourself, "Would that world really be better than what we've got?"
P.S. This I would really enjoy if you would respond to. I just want you to tell
me what your position is on gay marriage since it's such an issue these days.
I'd also like to know just your whole stance on homosexuality in general. Thanks
Definitely. I'll get to this tomorrow, because this post will be way too long if I try and tackle everything. Great e-mail, Danny!