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Posts Tagged ‘Peter Kreeft’

This is from one of my favorite contemporary writers/speakers, Dr. Peter Kreeft.  It’s less than five minutes in length, and well worth your time 🙂

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Noah2014Poster

Note: If you are interested in reading part one, click here

In his great book — which I have referenced before, and which I highly encourage people to read — “Love is Stronger Than Death,” Peter Kreeft makes the following observation about modern man’s scientific/technological dream:

The (immortality) Pill will be the fulfillment of one of our deepest and darkest dreams, the Oedipus complex.  Now we will be able to kill our father (God), and marry our mother (earth).  For without death, and with an earthly technological paradise (. . .) (w)e can now return with our phallic power of technology into our birth canal.”

Neither I nor Kreeft are suggesting that modern technology is bad.  But our technological pride and idolatry of “progress” has led to a certain rape of nature.

Original Sin

What we tend to forget, however, is that this is merely one manifestation of a phenomenon that has been going on since the beginning of human history.  When the first human beings defied God and thus fell from grace, they brought a curse upon the earth.

The harmony in which (our first parents) had found themselves, thanks to original justice, is now destroyed: the control of the soul’s spiritual faculties over the body is shattered; the union of man and woman becomes subject to tensions, their relations henceforth marked by lust and domination. Harmony with creation is broken: visible creation has become alien and hostile to man. Because of man, creation is now subject “to its bondage to decay”.  (CCC 400 — bold added)

The Bible is very clear that humankind has dominion over the earth.  But this is not, was never, and never will be a dominion of selfish use.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way:

Animals (. . .) plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity. Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives. Man’s dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.

Animals are God’s creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals.

God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image.

(CCC 2415-2417 — bold added)

Ray WinstoneDarren Aronofsky, co-writer/director of “Noah,” gives us a key example of the opposite impulse — the one given rise to by the Fall of Adam and Eve — in Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone).  At one point, we see him grabbing a live animal and biting off its head; he defends his action by saying that God put mankind at the top of creation, and therefore all other creatures on this earth serve man.

The implication is that as masters, we can do whatever we want with the rest of creation, no matter the cost to it.

Noah_Steward

But again, this is not the Divine directive.  The true nature of man’s dominion over the earth is more clearly reflected in the lives of Noah (Russell Crowe) and his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly).  Their family takes on the role of stewards, or caretakers, of God’s creation.  They use only what they need, and they devote themselves to tending the earth and its creatures as they would the Garden of Eden.

Why am I talking about all of this?  Believe it or not, it’s not because today is Earth Day.  The timing of this post is fitting, but purely coincidental (at least as far as my intentions go; I can’t say that God did not, in His providence, have something to do with it).  Many Christians took issue with “Noah,” labeling it vegan propaganda and a mistreatment of God’s Word by imposing modern environmentalist ideas onto it.

I hope, however, that I have demonstrated the film’s portrayal of concern for creation to be, in fact, perfectly Biblical and authentically Christian.

If not…

Jrrt_lotr_cover_design …take a look at J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings”…

Chronicles of Narnia…or at C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia.”

Tolkien and Lewis were both deeply Christian and very much immersed in the Biblical worldview.  They saw the connection we have been exploring very clearly, and it comes across powerfully in their work.

Let’s end with a bottom line that goes back to the Kreeft quote: Sin is about making ourselves God; when we make ourselves God, we become selfish and domineering; when we become selfish and domineering, our fellow human beings and the world entrusted to our care suffer.

I do have a little bit more to say about this subject in relation to the movie “Noah.”  But in the interest of a certain kind of “stewardship” over my readers’ eyes and patience, I’ll wait ’till next time.

All “Noah” images other than film poster obtained through a Google image search; remaining images from Wikipedia

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Pope_Francis_in_March_2013

Much has been made of a comment Pope Francis made a couple weeks ago in a homily — I think you probably know what I’m talking about.

The Holy Father made two points:

1. All human beings are called to do good; and

2. Christ has redeemed not just Catholics, but all people — even atheists.

Many have taken this to mean that everyone basically gets a free pass to heaven.  But a little clarification is needed.

Really, there is nothing newsworthy here.  The Pope was, in fact, merely reaffirming Church teaching on God’s universal salvific will and the fact that the Body of Christ extends beyond it’s visible boundaries (which is to say, the Catholic Church).

But here’s what we have to keep in mind: Christ, for His part, has redeemed all humanity of all times and all places.  But salvation is a two-way street.  Our salvation required the initiative of Almighty God Himself, “who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

But, as Peter Kreeft says in his great book “Catholic Christianity,” God seduces us, but He never rapes us.

No one can be forced into heaven.  Heaven is an eternal relationship with God and with the assembly of the blessed, and one which must be entered into freely.  God has freely and gratuitously redeemed us, and now we must freely and generously respond with our lives and hearts.

Here is the official Church teaching on the subject:

Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.

…they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.*

But even those atheists (and others) of goodwill who obtain salvation are, just like the rest of us, saved by Christ, not by their own merits.  When they turn toward the good as they know it, they are turning toward Christ, though they may not realize it.  For Christ is the Source of all that is good, true, and beautiful.

Hope that helps clear things up a bit.

* From “Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church” (italics mine), quoted in reverse order — full text here: http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html

Photo from Wikipedia

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Imagine your five-year-old daughter is facing a malignant brain tumor diagnosis.

Peter Kreeft and his wife had that experience about 35-40 years ago.  Kreeft chronicles the experience in “A Close Encounter With the Angel of Death.”

Here is what he had to say about his wife’s display of motherhood during the ordeal:

The next image impressed on my memory is her mother camped out on the floor of her hospital room, not leaving her daughter’s side day or night for weeks, patiently (she is not a patient person) enduring all her grouchiness, fussiness, and cussedness because it might be her last.  Every word, every grouch is infinitely precious.  Not because it is good but because it is hers.

(…)

The mother lion guards her injured cub.  She will not relax her vigil until all is well, though the whole world may sneer and call her unreasonable and overprotective.  That is a judgment on the world, not on her.  For she is enacting a mystery, a ritual that is larger and older than the world.  Not only in her own name does she act, but also as representative for something transcendental, a mystery the human race has always felt and known until these times of uprootedness: Motherhood with a capital M (…) Her vocation speaks with authority — an absolute, and imperative, a divine revelation.”*

Mother

All human beings are made in the image of God, Who is love itself.  Therefore, all human beings are free agents who, paradoxically, find their true fulfillment only in the sincere gift of themselves to another.  All human beings are called to that kind of love.

But parents live out that love in a special way.

By the total gift of each to the other, a married man and woman are able to generate new life; together, as parents, they make a sincere gift of themselves to their children to see that they are brought up well, that they are well formed as healthy and unique persons, and that they have good lives.  Mothers and fathers are both called to this singular form of love.

But mothers live out even that love in a special way.

PregnantWoman

For the first nine months of a child’s existence, he is basically one with his mother.  From the very beginning, she gives him her very body as his first “home.”

Having ushered this new life from the world of the womb into the vastly bigger world outside of the womb, the mother continues to be the child’s base of security as s/he explores his/her world, thus giving him/her the firm support s/he needs in order to develop confidence, to explore, to learn, to grow, to mature, to form relationships, and to discover his/her unique identity.

Therefore, as mother, a woman rightly enjoys a unique and unequaled closeness to, unconditional love for, and investment in the well-being, safety, and happiness of her children.

JohannesPaul2-portraitIn his apostolic letter “Mulieris Dignitatem,” Blessed John Paul II even went so far as to say that “in many ways, (a husband) has to learn his own ‘fatherhood’ from the mother” (emphases his).

He also said this:

Motherhood involves a special communion with the mystery of life, as it develops in the woman’s womb.  The mother is filled with wonder at this mystery of life, and “understands” with unique intuition what is happening inside her.  (…) This unique contact with the new human being developing within her gives rise to an attitude towards human beings — not only towards her own child, but for every human being — which profoundly marks the woman’s personality.  It is commonly thought that women are more capable than men of paying attention to another person, and that motherhood develops this predisposition even more. (emphases his)

Through the vocation of motherhood, women realize in the almost-definitive manner the way in which women reflect the Image of God.  Women — especially mothers — represent for us the heart of God — the closeness of God to His People, the tenderness of the Divine love, God’s constant presence to and concern for His creation.

Nursing_baby

If there are any women reading this right now, let me say this: Even if you are not a biological mother, you are not a jot less of a mother for it.

And even if you are not a mother at all, you share in this dignified vocation.  Reflecting on my experience in the world, I marvel at how women tend to be the least afraid to work with the vulnerable, the most ready to reach out to those in need, the most generous in the giving of their time and talents, and the most likely to work in professions that bring them close to the members of our society that are, for various reasons, most in need.

My concluding remark may sound corny or clichéd, but I don’t care: Let us celebrate our mothers.  We could live a thousand thousand years, and in the end I still don’t think we’d quite fathom how much they truly mean to us … as individuals and as members of the human family.

Happy Mother’s Day, and God bless you to all of the mothers out there.

* For Kreeft’s full personal account, click here: http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/close-encounter.htm

Images obtained from Wikipedia

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tree

Yeah, it’s a little late in the day.  Earth Day will be over by the time many readers get to this.  Sorry to be so late…but life does tend to get busy, as you undoubtedly know.

I want to start with a quick reflection on biodegradable urns, which seem to have become popular of late.  My understanding is that these allow the ashes of the deceased to be mixed with seeds and planted in the ground so that, basically, our loved ones’ graves are marked with trees instead of headstones.

The rationale goes something like this: “If you become a tree, at least you’re giving back to the earth.  What good is your body if it’s just rotting in a casket?”

Can we say this perspective is understandable?  Sure.  But I would like to present another perspective for consideration.

We have all dealt with the death of loved ones at some time or other.  As we mourn their passing, we remember them as unique individuals, of the times we enjoyed with them, etc.  When you think about it, don’t your loved ones mean more to you, even in death, than material to be used as fertilizer?

tombstone

It is good for us to bury our dead.  It fulfills an emotional need that humans have to know that they can always come to a certain spot and say, “George (hypothetical name) is here.”  Whether we visit George’s tombstone every year on his birthday, bring flowers to lay on his grave, etc., we bear witness to a vitally important element of the human experience: When our fellow human beings die, our relationship with them goes on.  It changes, but it somehow abides.

Okay…I know this all probably sounds very anti-environmental, catering to human neediness rather than promoting good stewardship of our planet.  But this is not the case at all…and that’s precisely where I intend to bring my faith into this discussion.

We human beings are both physical and spiritual creatures.  So we can ask, “What is it our connection with the material world?”

The answer: Our bodies.

Resurrection

Christian belief in the Resurrection could hardly be any more affirmative of the body’s dignity and importance.  Jesus Christ, as true God and true man, rose bodily (see my post “Jesus’ Resurrected Body — What’s the Difference?” for more on this: https://intothedance.wordpress.com/2013/04/06/jesus-resurrected-body-whats-the-difference/) after having undergone death and burial.

As Christians, we bury our dead in the earth in coffins because this is our way of following Christ, Who endured bodily death before rising again.  This is a witness to the expectancy of our own resurrection, which will come at the end of time.

It is true that we will be raised to a whole new life — in fact, a whole new kind of life.  We are born into the natural world, but we are destined for the supernatural.

But does this mean that the material world doesn’t matter, or that we should neglect it?  Emphatically not.  Anyone who knows, for example, of our recent Pope Benedict XVI’s many addresses on the Christian responsibility to exercise good stewardship over creation will see this for the falsehood that it is.

Here is what the Catechism has to say about it:

The seventh commandment enjoins respect for the integrity of creation. Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity. Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives. Man’s dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation. (CCC 2415) (italics mine)

But the way to do this is not by allowing ourselves to be absorbed into the earth, thus in some sense forfeiting our humanity.  Rather, we must exercise the stewardship that God entrusted to Adam in Eden with a view to the coming of “a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1).

That said, I should return to my comment about humanity being made for something higher than this world.  This does not mean that we are destined to forever leave the earth behind.  Rather, the world we currently know becomes — to borrow an analogy that Peter Kreeft uses in his great book “Love is Stronger Than Death” — as the womb becomes for us after we are born.  It is still a part of our world, but it is just that — a part of something much, much bigger.

Kreeft cites an interesting passage from C.S. Lewis’ book “Miracles” in the fourth chapter of his book.  I’d like to close with that:

… Come out, look back, and then you will see … this astonishing cataract of bears, babies, and bananas: this immoderate deluge of atoms, orchids, oranges, cancers, canaries, fleas, gases, tornadoes and toads. … Offer her neither worship nor contempt.  Meet her and know her.  If we are immortal, and if she is doomed (as the scientists tell us) to run down and die, we shall miss this half-shy and half-flamboyant creature, this ogress, this hoyden, this incorrigible fairy, this dumb witch.  But the theologians tell us that she, like ourselves, is to be redeemed.  The “vanity” to which she was subjected was her disease, not her essence.  She will be cured, but cured in character: not tamed (Heaven forbid) nor sterilized.  We shall still be able to recognize our old enemy, friend, playfellow and foster-mother, so perfected as to be not less, but more, herself.  And that will be a merry meeting.

All images from Wikipedia

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Happy Valentine’s Day, all!

Now that we are thinking about love and romance, I thought I’d share some reflections on sex from one of my favorite figures in the world of Catholic apologetics — Dr. Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College.

Please be aware that the relevant section is from 3:25 to 5:04 (making it less than a minute and a half).

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To recap the main point of part one: Nature shows us the reality of death, and the wolves in Joe Carnahan’s “The Grey” represent this aspect of nature.

Where does this come from?  And how does it fit into the Christian meta-narrative?

The answer, from a Christian perspective, is the Fall.

We all know the story.  Adam and Eve were told not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and they did it anyway.  Here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say about this:

The harmony in which (our first parents) had found themselves, thanks to original justice, is now destroyed: the control of the soul’s spiritual faculties over the body is shattered; the union of man and woman becomes subject to tensions, their relations henceforth marked by lust and domination. Harmony with creation is broken: visible creation has become alien and hostile to man. Because of man, creation is now subject “to its bondage to decay”. Finally, the consequence explicitly foretold for this disobedience will come true: man will “return to the ground” (CCC 400 — bold added)

C.S. Lewis drew on this Christian insight when he sent his beloved Pevensie children back to Narnia in “Prince Caspian,” the second book in his Chronicles of Narnia.

If you have read this book or its predecessor, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” (or seen the films), you will remember that when the children had left Narnia, it was a place where: 1) animals spoke; and 2) they and human beings enjoyed each other’s friendship.

Now, the throne of Narnia is occupied by a usurper who does not rule according to the will of Aslan (the Christ-figure of Narnia), and many of the animals are wild, mute, brutish, and hostile.

“Cursed is the ground because of you!  In toil you shall eat its yield all the days of your life.  Thorns and thistles shall it bear for you…” (Genesis 3:17-18, The New American Bible)

Human beings have sinned.  The animals, the trees, and the rest of nature have not.  But when we turned away from God, we dragged the whole of creation down the road to destruction with us.

From that perspective, we can see the hostilities of nature as a sort of “judgment” or “accusation.”  Creation, while also tending to our needs and showering us with beauty, will not let us forget that we have turned away from our loving Creator.

This leads me to draw once again from the writings of Dr. Peter Kreeft, whose magnificent book “Love is Stronger Than Death” I would recommend to anyone.  A basic assertion he makes is that from the standpoint of human reason, we only have hope if death is our fault.

Here is the explanation:

It means that our ultimate hope is not in ourselves, our innocence … To blame ourselves (as the story of Adam does in Genesis) is to clear reality, being, truth, the cosmos … (and) God.  We may yet be reconciled to reality … If reality were out of touch, there would be no hope … all hope of meaning would be gone (Kreeft 16, italics and first parentheses his)

So as depressing as the guilt-death relationship may seem, it dispels the fear we have of a meaningless universe in which all men are simply stuck on an obstacle-laden collision course with death.

And though we find hostility and, in a certain sense, the “taunts” of death in nature, we can find hope and meaning even in these.  I would argue that we can find in them the “sparring partner” that Dr. Kreeft speaks of in his book and to which I referred in my November 26 post, “Why ‘Into the Dance’?”

As I was typing this part of my reflection on “The Grey,” I realized that it is too long for one post.  I tried to avoid this, but as I said, this is a complex subject.  Therefore, I will have mercy on my readers and turn this into a four-part post (as opposed to the three-part post I had originally intended), with “The Grey” comprising three posts.  But the final part of my review of “The Grey” is ready, and will be up tomorrow.

Both photos of “The Grey” from http://www.guardian.co.uk; picture of “Adam and Eve” by Albrecht Dürer from http://www.metmuseum.org; picture of “Prince Caspian” from http://www.e-reading.org.ua (all obtained through a Google image search)

Reference

Kreeft, Peter.  Love is Stronger Than Death.  San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992.

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