Arts and Culture

Belief and Action

Recently in a course I teach at St. John’s University, Jamaica, titled “The Problem of God,” which the students refer to as “The Problem of Lauder,” I was trying to point out the radical difference between believing in God, and believing that there is no God and thus thinking that reality is ultimately meaningless.

In trying to make clear that the two beliefs have enormously different implications for how a person might live his or her life, I was using a wonderful philosophy textbook by Father W. Norris Clarke, S.J., titled “The One and the Many: A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysics” (Notre Dame, Indiana: Notre Dame University, 2001, pp. 324).

Moving Toward God

Father Clarke analyzed the experience of human knowing and the experience of human loving and concluded that both are dynamic movements toward God. Father Clarke notes that no knowledge we obtain ever completely fulfills our desire to know. He writes the following:

“Reflecting on my conscious inner life of knowing and willing reveals that it is rooted in an unrestricted inner dynamism of my intellect toward the limitless horizon of all being as intelligible and of my will toward all being as good. This is revealed by the fact that every time I lay hold of some finite being as either true or good, my drive is at first temporarily satisfied, as I explore and enjoy it. But as soon as I discover the limits of the being – in either intelligibility or goodness – I spontaneously rebound beyond it to search for more. … This process of temporary satisfaction and rebounding desire is repeated over and over endlessly throughout my whole life here, surrounded by finite beings, all limited in some way in intelligibility and goodness. …

“It follows that only an unqualified infinity, or unlimited fullness of being and goodness could ever satisfy this innate drive, which defines my nature as spiritual intellect and will. Thus my very nature as a human person is to be an ineradicable implicit drive toward the Infinite, which I implicitly affirm and desire in all that I explicitly affirm and desire. As St. Thomas puts it with his usual terseness: ‘In knowing anything, I implicitly affirm God … In loving anything, I implicitly love God.” (pp. 226-227)

Dynamic Beings

Though I agree completely with Father Clarke, I realize that his statement, if it is to be understood, requires serious reflection. I believe that what Father Clarke is claiming is that we are magnetized by God. We have been created as dynamic beings who, in our knowing and loving, are moving toward God. The ultimate horizon against which we know anything, and the ultimate horizon against which all of our individual choices are made is God. It is not just Catholics who are created as dynamic beings, everyone is, even atheists.

If Father Clarke’s analysis of human knowing and loving is correct, then those of us who are formally involved with evangelization have to ask ourselves why so many Catholics have distanced themselves from the Church. My answer is that our culture does not encourage us to ask the ultimate questions, such as why are we here, what is the meaning of human life, where are we heading, what is the good life.

Distracted By Culture

In fact, our culture may distract us from asking these ultimate questions. Though I think that Catholicism has the best answers, many people are not even asking the questions. We are offering answers to people who no longer see the importance of the questions.

I tried to help the student in my class who thought that it did not matter whether a person believed reality was ultimately meaningful or meaningless to see that each belief has tremendous implications. If you take seriously that God loves you, your life will be completely different from someone who seriously embraces the belief that life is meaningless.

My suspicion is that those who claim that reality is ultimately meaningless don’t live as though they believe that. They live as though human life makes ultimate sense. When I recently mentioned this to someone she said that they try to live decent lives. I tried to point out that if life is ultimately meaningless, then there is no norm by which to judge what “decent” means. Indeed, there is no norm to make any moral judgments. If there were no God, we would be adrift in a meaningless world.

Those of us involved in a formal way with evangelization may have to help people see the relevance of reflection on what is ultimately important. If people ask important questions about their life, they may see in a new way the beauty of Catholicism.

Father Robert Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, and author of “Pope Francis’ Spirituality and Our Story” (Resurrection Press).

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