Doctrine, Obedience and Pastor Vanderklay

Paul Vanderklay is a minister in the Christian Reformed Church of North America who started a YouTube channel after being swept by the Jordan Peterson phenomenon. Several thousand people have been attracted to his deeply thoughtful analyses, his Dutch charm and Santaclausian laughter. Besides those qualities, he is very open minded, yet very solidly grounded in orthodox christianity. And he doesn’t mind exploring his theological presuppositions. Like Francis Chan, he has started to contemplate that there was a lot of theology, a lot of Church history—sixteen centuries of history, in fact—before the Protestant Reformation.  

He loves C.S. Lewis. I love C.S. Lewis. I love Paul. I hope and pray that his exploration will bring him closer and eventually back to his One Catholic and Apostolic Church. We surely need people like him back at home, but I understand all the difficulties that taking such a momentous step entails. Take your time, Paul! But come back home someday!

In this conversation, Paul Vanderklay engages with unitarian Sam in speculations on why would the Church find it necessary to come up with the very complicated and so-difficult-to-understand (I guess that’s why they call it “mystery”) doctrine of the Holy Trinity. I always thought that it was the other way around. I still do. I don’t think that the main drive of the Church for developing a doctrine, like the doctrine of the Trinity, is to achieve a certain goal. Rather, doctrines are “shoved down our throats” by Jesus himself, to then leave it to us to figure them out. And we do the best we can, aware that it’s never going to be the way it really is, but just as we see them “like through a dark glass,” even after Pentecost. 

We didn’t come up with the Trinity. I bet we would have never gotten into such a quandary if it wasn’t because Jesus kept talking about and to this Father guy over and over, and then about this other one with the weird Greek name that He promises to send once he leaves, because for some reason they don’t seem to want to be in this world together. 

They say He’s merciful, and I’m sure He is, but He didn’t have a whole lot of patience with requests like “show us the Father!”  and such. And I think that maybe it’s because He was in a hurry to deliver all the pieces, and somehow relied on this Paraclete guy to explain how they all fit together in this bewildering puzzle. And the puzzle pieces come in riddles that we must first figure out, so we can see the shape—which alone might take centuries—and look for a place where they can fit—which might take some more centuries (thanks to God for the Church Fathers that did a lot of that for us!). “My body is true food, and my blood is true drink”…. “What God has brought together let no man put asunder”… “I am in the Father and the Father is in me”…. And later, “I am going to the Father”…. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And on pile the riddles…

Anyway, Jesus did promise extra help and followed through few days after disappearing in the clouds (it was “after hours extra help”), on Pentecost day, when the mighty wind came rushing in and stoking tongs of fire over the twelve (yes, I counted them: Matthias was already there) and Mary. Just as promised. (That’s one good thing about Jesus, you know? He does follow through). But  to whom did He promise this extra help? Here comes the breaking point, because despite protests by the proponents of individual interpretation rights (sola Scriptura), Jesus didn’t promise the Holy Spirit in this sense, individually to each one of His followers—He promised it to His Church as a whole, in the head of the twelve Apostles. We can’t escape the fact that Jesus, other than on the sand, didn’t write a single word. But He did found a Church, just one, over the rock of Peter. And gave authority to that Church to give us Scripture and to interpret it. 

Francis Chan says it really well:“guys like me, we go in our rooms, study the scripture all week for our sermons, and come up with our own ideas, and become enamored with them…In the meantime thousands and thousands of other guys do the same in their rooms… How is it then a surprise that we have more than 30 thousand Christian denominations?”

I feel for unitarian Sam. He doesn’t seem to be the kind of person who is so enamored with his own idea that he finds it too hard to let go of it. As far as I can surmise, he does want to hold what is true, he does honestly want to believe what God wants him to believe, for maybe somewhere in his heart he knows that He has to follow Jesus without fully understanding how or where (like everybody else). And I feel for Paul… Because I think that he wants to tell him he is wrong, that God is One in three Persons, that all three Persons are God, that Jesus is the Son. That Jesus is divine! But he has no authority to tell him what to believe. Doesn’t unitarian Sam have the God given right to interpret the Bible on his own?

Jesus had an idea too, and He presented it to the Father while sweating blood in the Garden —”let this cup pass from me”—, because He doesn’t understand why He has to drink that cup (talk about mysteries!) and yet, He surrenders His will (and his idea) to the Father. And picks up the cross. This is the model He’s showing us: “obediens usque ad mortem, mortem autem crucis” (obedient to death, and death on a cross!). That’s what I felt like shouting at Sam: “Let’s do the same. Let’s obey! And then pick up that cross, and crucify our ideas when they aren’t the Father’s ideas. Adam’s disobedience in the old Garden cut us away from the life giving love of the Trinity; Jesus’ perfect obedience in the new garden reestablished that life giving connection. Now we get a second chance at love, and love is shown in obedience to His commands (John 14:15). 

“Faith alone!” Yes! Faith alone. Luther was not so far wrong. As long as we understand faith properly, he was totally right. Because faith is not just intellectual assent. Like Paul Vanderklay says, “a Christian is somebody who trusts Christ more than they trust themselves.” That is faith. And what follows trust? Obedience. 

How would we know of Abraham’s faith if it is not through this absolute trust that brings him to the brink of sacrificing his own son. Why? Because God told him so (how in a thousand universes did he know that it was God’s voice? Thank goodness he was still listening till the very last second, as he raised the sacrificial knife, right?). That is faith. Absolute trust that God knows more and better and God loves us more and better than we can ever dream. Thus, absolute obedience. It would be stupid to disobey He who never fails and always loves. We say that Israel is the chosen people, but the truth is that God did not choose the people of Israel. Israel was unfaithful many times. But Abraham was faithful because he obeyed. That’s why God chose him to be the father of His people, the father of “a great nation”.

But why? We may ask… To me the reason is clear: the Fall came through disobedience; therefore, the redemption should come through obedience. Hence Abraham on Mount Moriah; hence Jesus in Gethsemane; hence a hierarchical Church with the authority to transmit the will of God. Jesus wasn’t naive. For some reason he had to leave. And he knew that the only way to preserve even the possibility for redemptive obedience was to leave behind a hierarchical structure, and a last resource in case of insurmountable disagreement… Hence Peter, the rock upon which the Church is built. 

Obedience is crucial for a follower of Christ. Obedience born of a faith that is nothing but trust in the love of the Father constantly inviting us to love Him back, thus entering back into that life giving relationship of love. Remember: “whoever loves me, follows my commands,” says Jesus the Christ.

And how do we know His commands unless He leaves a “spokesperson” with us, a spokesperson to whom He grants authority? The Holy Spirit will teach us! But not each one of us. Wouldn’t Jesus know that without an interpretive living reference His Church would break up into many thousand denominations? Jesus didn’t leave us a riddle ridden Bible for each one to interpret it on their own. He left us His Church, that comes alive on Pentecost day when the Spirit descends over the twelve, thus confirming them in the authority to forgive sins (John 20:23) and to celebrate the breaking of the bread. And a specific promise to Peter, a promise of a special assistance from the Holy Spirit, to bind and loose, and to feed and tend the Good Shepherd’s sheep. A special triple charge of a responsibility that echoes his triple negation, as if forewarning us not to expect his successors to be free of moral shortcomings.

We may hate and mistrust hierarchy for its failings, but we need it, so we can imitate our master in Gethsemane. Disobedience cut us away from the tree of life; obedience allows us back. We need obedience. That’s what true faith really means. 

And without authority, there’s not even the possibility for obedience. 

Why marriage

Human marriage is not just a symbol of the union between Christ and the Church. Human marriage is the prototype, a reflection if you will, of the One True Marriage that brings together in one the Divinity and the fallen humanity. That is the reason why God created man male and female.

First, He created a whole kind of beings that reproduce by the union of two incomplete specimens, and then, very deliberately (as attested by Genesis narration) created man out of this kind of beings, and then woman out of man. And all this with very clear instructions about the reason why they were made individually incomplete, yet entitled to the full extent of human dignity, so they may not compromise their individuality by the union that completes them.

All religions (most of them, anyway) understand that the deepest and ultimate meaning and purpose of human life is union with the divinity. Only Christianity understands that such a union can be accomplished without the superior entity assimilating and canceling the individuality of the inferior one. In Christian mysticism, the goal is a union of love between persons, not the dissolution of personality as a drop in an ocean of divinity.

In Christianity, this union without dissolution of the inferior being is made possible by the Incarnation of the divinity that can in turn engage in a marital union with humanity, a union that creates a new perfect entity without its parts losing their individuality. Mind that this is not because Christians are smarter and holier, but because they were entrusted by God with this revelation; which actually means that Christians are less smart and less saintly, for it’s known (to us Christians anyway) that God chooses the weak to confound the strong, so that His power may shine through.

And I’m kind of glad that it should be that way, as the responsibility for guarding and transmitting to the world this revelation (at what we suck, by the way) will be less imputable to the weak and dumb. 😊

Presupositional God

(Work in progress. Feel free to comment, ask questions or make suggestions. I truly welcome them and find them very helpful. The mindmy mind, anywayalways benefits from intellectual stimuli and feedback, questions and opposition are powerful motivators against writer’s blocks and lack of ideas).

I have been attracted of late, and quite surprised by the super abundance of debates between new atheists and Christian apologists, both seasoned and aspiring, that can be found on the internet. The YouTube algorithms have not been helpful in the fight against this my newly acquired obsession.

Anyway…

It has occurred to me that in many of these debates the debaters end up talking at cross purposes, very easily losing sight of what their original point was. The atheist very soon forgets that he doesn’t believe in the existence of God, and the apologist forgets that it’s impossible to define or comprehend God. The famous five ways of Saint Thomas Aquinas are mistaken as convincing proofs of God’s existence that atheists ought to necessarily accept should they use their reason, when the truth is that Saint Thomas didn’t write them to convince or convert atheists. All the saint intended was to demonstrate that the belief in God is not irrational, or against reason, and I think that he far exceeded his own expectations! Indeed, I believe the five ways not only provide ample argumentation in favor of the rationality of belief, but also in favor of belief being more rational than disbelief!

Two kinds of people do not realize the limits of the human mind: those who don’t use it enough and those who have lost it

The Catholic faith requires one to use the rational faculties to the maximum possible extent. Once we reach the edge of reason, we are faced with a choice, as a diver who walks up to the edge of the diving board: to jump, or not to jump. There might not be enough reasoning to go on in order to either jump or arrest the process, freezing it in a constant vacillation at the edge of the board.

What needs to be decided is whether taking the proverbial “leap of faith” makes more rational sense than being frozen in everlasting skepticism. And I will contend that making the choice to open oneself to the possibility of believing is the more natural step, the one that continues the process of reasoning, as the diver that jumps after reaching the end of the diving board is the one that continues the process of diving. Inertia alone makes it more natural to jump than to turn around. The train of reason compels us to take the leap. The leap of faith is beyond reason, but not against reason. Not taking it requires stopping the train of reason. Doubting might well be within reason, but that doesn’t mean that it cannot be against it.

It is precisely at this point, at the edge of reason, when atheism, or even a certain kind of agnosticism, start to slide down from the top of the rational higher ground. An atheist position can only be held by somebody who didn’t make it to the outermost boundaries of reason, whether out of lack of sufficient exertion or lack of sufficient humility to recognize one’s own intellectual limitations. If you don’t yet see the limits of human reason, just keep using it, keep stretching it. If you didn’t make it to the end of the diving board, keep walking.

But once you have used it enough—once you’ve reached the inevitable edge—and have the requisite humility to admit your limitations, the rational weight of implacable logic should prevent you from denying the existence of a supernatural world. (I’m fine using preternatural, or even reality beyond reason in case some squeamish readers feel uncomfortable with the word “supernatural.”)

Why is this so? Well, you cannot both admit that reason is limited while at the same time denying there is something that exists beyond the boundaries of reason.

Not even an agnostic position can be rationally held. Agnosticism means not knowing and, once you admit that reason has limits, you cannot say that you don’t know if there’s something beyond the limits of reason, for if there’s nothing beyond reason you are denying your previous assumption. If there’s nothing beyond the reach of reason, it follows that reason comprehends the whole of reality and therefore reason is unlimited, infinite. Remaining agnostic would be tantamount to saying that reason is limited and unlimited at the same time and in the same sense. Remaining agnostic would be tantamount to losing the nexus with a reality signed and bound by the principle of non contradiction, tantamount to losing the mind.

At this point, faith in the existence of the supernatural becomes an imperative of logical reason. Denial is irrational.

“There’s no God,” said the fool in his heart. (Psalm 14:1)

At this point, agnosticism, claiming not to know, remains a viable rational option only if it relates to the nature, not the existence—the “what,” but not the “is”—of what lies beyond all reason. You cannot say “I do not know if there is something beyond reason,” but only “I do not know what is that that we find beyond reason.” Because, having admitted the limits of reason, the moment you say “I don’t know if there is….” you will be implicitly contradicting your previous admission.

The “God of the gaps” fallacy

From Nietzsche to our days, particularly in atheistic circles, the use of the idea of the “God of the gaps” has come to be more of an abuse, to the point of becoming commonplace. According to this idea, religions are accused with the charge of using the concept of God as a stop-gap to fill in whatever gaps are left within the expanse of human knowledge. As science and human knowledge expands filling in all those gaps, God becomes progressively and irrevocably superfluous.

This is a rather silly idea, for two reasons. First of all, it does not seem that human knowledge advances leaving gaps behind, but always pushing the frontiers, always building upon previous knowledge, for the most part taken for granted. Any trained scientist, or anybody with common sense for that matter, knows that trying to advance in the knowledge of reality leaving gaps behind makes for a very unsteady progress. And the farther it goes, like a bridge without support, the unsteadier it gets.

Secondly, the charge might arguably be applied, if at all, to more ancient religions, of the mythological polytheisms or animist sorts, but hardly to the Abrahamic religions. If the God of the Abrahamic religions in general and of Christianity in particular has ever been truly used as an ad hoc explanation for whatever science could not explain at any given stage of its development, it was only at the popular level, where theology meets superstition. Whoever wants to affirm the opposite must be ready to find that they are indicting and condemning themselves for the charge of willful ignorance about the theological depths that can be found in the three Abrahamic religions.

Rather than filling gaps, the Abrahamic God points to the context in which the object of human knowledge and human knowledge itself exists and develops. The existence of the universe, human beings included, is merely an extension (or participation) of the divine being, and its ever expanding knowledge, a mere reflection of the mind of the Divinity (or Logos).

It has to be said, though, that the atheist and the agnostic, faced with the limits of human reason (therefore of human knowledge), still have a choice in order to remain rational: deny those limits. And they actually do, to be sure, placing an unfounded faith on human reason far greater than the faith any theist places on the existence of God. Why so? It is not difficult to see that, if human knowledge is ever growing, ever pushing its own frontiers, those frontiers do grow larger as well.

And the history of the development of science has attested to this truism once and again over the centuries. Whether we go down to the microscope or up to the telescope, all we manage to find out is that the more we know, the more we realize how little the scope of our previous knowledge was, though we deemed it great; and how much greater than we thought it is the scope of the unknown. Like some apologist said, it takes a lot more faith to believe in the infinitude of human knowledge than to believe in the Incarnation of the eternal God that creates and sustains the whole universe, in the womb of a hebrew virgin.

For the most part, intelligent people of all times have recognized the limitations of scientific knowledge. It is only after the Darwinian revolution that the seed of unbounded optimism in the capacity of human reason started to germinate, only to find out, with the latest advances in genetics, how little Darwin knew about the cell he had under his microscope.

The myth of rational skepticism

Look, we mustn’t kid ourselves: our rational power is fairly limited and we all take leaps of faith along the way. In order to know reality, we use our minds to process the information we capture from the outside world with our senses. So, right off the bat, we are making untested assumptions, which is another way of saying that we put our faith in certain unprovable premises, leaps of faith about certain preconditions that we need to accept before going on our rational trip towards the knowledge of Truth, our final destination. They are like items that we check before going on a trip, because we assume that they will be necessary to reach our destination:

  • Leap of faith 1: we believe there’s actually an outside world and there’s objective truth in it, and that truth can be known.
  • Leap of faith 2: we believe our senses are capable of capturing more or less reliable information from the outside world.
  • Leap of faith 3: we believe our brains are a tool adequate enough to understand and process the information thus acquired
  • Leap of faith 4: we believe the outside world actually contains intelligible information about the objective truth susceptible to be processed by our minds in order to make sense of it and draw relationships and conclusions.
  • Leap of faith 5: we believe we exist as a personal self, with a unique identity throughout time and space, who is in control, and free to make decisions about how to use our sensorial and mental faculties.

None of these are rationally or empirically testable conclusions. They are presuppositions, absolutely necessary presuppositions that cannot be rationally proven with absolute certainty by dint of however many concatenated syllogisms. But we have to put our faith in them nevertheless. We cannot afford to be skeptical about them, otherwise all our rational endeavors couldn’t even get off the ground. In order to rationally prove that you will need a plane ticket you first need to believe it, so you may get to the airport and test your assumption: it’s a presupposition that, once believed, and not before, may become a rational conclusion. It is likewise with God: it is a presupposition that we must believe in, and once, and only once we’ve made the act of faith, God may become a rational conclusion. It might not immediately look much like the God of the religions we know of, but rather a first conclusion that there has to be something else beyond time and space, beyond the comprehension of our rational but limited minds. Even the common intuition that human reason has limits requires the existence of something beyond its limits.

But our leaps of faith don’t end there; they’re just getting started. We believe our parents, we believe our teachers, we believe the books that our teachers tell us to read… And there isn’t anything irrational in all that faith. Indeed, these examples refer to the many situations when having faith is the more reasonable stance. I myself have no way to verify the theory of evolution. I cannot even prove that the earth is round! But I find it a lot more rational to place my faith in those scientists that tell me that evolution happens and that the earth is round. Reacting with skepticism in such cases would understandably be regarded as irrational behavior, better suited to a crackpot conspiracy theorist than a sensible person in the search for truth.

Some of us may like to flaunt our skepticism, but the truth is, our minds find it very natural to believe. Minds are made for believing. The truly rational mind is always open to faith, because it knows that the starting point of its journey was an act of faith. Doubting should have never been considered as a fundamental, primordial and natural step, because the natural attitude of the mind is one of faith. It is unfortunate that Descartes’ methodical doubt was to have such a powerful influence in modern and even postmodern philosophy. In the aftermath of the Copernican revolution, having witnessed a paradigm shift of seismic proportions, when centuries of Ptolemaic convictions had to be unceremoniously thrown out the window, the French philosopher was not in the right frame of mind to set out on a quest for knowledge. Assailed by the surrounding skepticism of the time, he thought that the way to truth should start with an extreme methodical doubt (method that, of course, and somewhat paradoxically, should not be doubted), so extreme that not even the minimum self awareness of his own existence could be taken for granted. He must have sighed a sigh of relief when he realized that to be doubting and thinking he had first to exist. His “cogito ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am) would turn out to be just the first tremor of the major earthquake his writings would cause in the history of western philosophy.

But a sane mind would instinctively know that we don’t exist because we think. The sane mind of the common man has always and will always know that we think because we exist.

In our postmodern world, Descartes ideas are alive and well. Many philosophers after him were all too quick to believe his faulty premise, and ever too slow to question his even more faulty conclusion. The typical postmodern skeptic, dazzled by the possibilities that a philosophy that puts mind before reality offers to the human ego, doesn’t stop to think that basing knowledge on doubt is self defeating, for if it all must be doubted, there’s no justification for sparing doubt itself as the only way to knowledge. The skeptic mind doubts everything, except its own skepticism. And if you make one exception to the rule without a cogent explanation, then who is to say where the exceptions must end?

Knowledge can only start with an act of faith, even if it is delusional faith in skepticism itself. Can we prove with absolute certainty that skepticism is the only valid way to truth? What sort of irresistible syllogism must we come up with to accomplish such a task? Is absolute certainty about anything even possible?

Can we prove with absolute certainty that we exist? The question doesn’t even occur to sane common people. But we must decidedly answer it with an emphatic…. “I don’t care.” And we might add, for good measure, our personal act of faith in the one creed of the common sense: “I believe that I exist, and I don’t need a syllogism to prove it. I just do!” Descartes doubted his own existence, but we must believe that we exist, and staunchly so, if we want to remain within the circle of sanity. Ultimately, unrestrained doubt will lead us to insanity and desperation. Only faith can lead us to reason and hope. And sanity.

The temptation to set the human mind before reality is strong, no doubt. It is the original and everlasting temptation to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, resonating in every human ear down the ages. Because, when we decide what is real, we can also decide what’s good and what’s evil.

Reality must be the measure of the mind; not the other way around. When we try to have the mind be the measure and arbiter of what is real, all we get is a mind unhinged from reality: the very definition of insanity.

To be sure, skepticism does have a role to play in the path to knowledge. We may encounter good reasons to suspect the reliability of the basic epistemological axioms (for example, our senses or mental faculties might be afflicted by some sort of impairment). And, of course, we must responsibly evaluate every new source of authoritative information, or new more reliable information may give us good reasons to doubt and, eventually, stop trusting old ones.

See, the natural tendency of human nature is the reverse of the skeptic’s attitude. The skeptic is always demanding reasons to believe, whereas the common man only doubts when faced with reasons to doubt.

There is something very unwise and reckless, not to mention exceedingly arrogant, about the attitude of the aspiring intellectual that despises the common beliefs of the common man. It’s the first and sure step that takes one down the tragic path of total loss of common sense. We may not feel inclined to make all the changes in our lives that following those beliefs would entail, but the least we can do is to treat them with the utmost respect. Because throughout the world, along millennia of human history, the overwhelming majority of people have believed in the existence of the divine, the belief in God should be the default position, and it should always be the atheist one that must explain the reasons for his doubt. Either that or be ready to explain how on earth has he (or she) become illuminated by the light of genius, whilst billions of human beings that populated the earth since the dawn of time have remained in the dark for so long.

Original sin and divine omnipotence

God’s omnipotence is often brought up by atheists who are understandably befuddlded by His apparent indifference in view of all the evil, suffering and injustice in the world. “He is either not good,” they say, “or He’s not omnipotent.”

God is unique and radically foreign to absolutely anything else. ‘Foreign’ might not be the right word and has to be coupled with the notion of transcendence. We as individual persons are alien (other) to each other, but not completely, for we share the same humanity (the same human nature). We are even more ‘other’ (alien) to non human animals. With other humans we share the same human nature (which includes the animal nature), but with animals, we only share the animal nature. And we share only biological nature with plants and only physical nature with inanimate objects. Well, God is the other to the universe. It is not that He is one of the others: whatever is not the universe, that’s what God is. The scholastics coined the Latin expression totaliter aliter to try to express this absolute otherness of God. In other words, what I’m trying to say is that whatever words we use for realities within the universe are utterly insufficient to manifest the transcendent, and can only analogically be used in reference to God.

For instance, the way we use the word power as including “possibility,” becomes tricky-—misleading even—when we apply it to a being that is all “actuality” and zero “potentiality.” Ironically, the usual praise, “he has lots of potential,” would become a censure when referring to God. God can’t have the power to acquire any perfection whatsoever, because He is, by definition, the sum of all perfections, not in a potential degree but fully actualized from eternity.

Neither has God the power to do anything that contradicts His being, that is the Supreme Being, in whom there’s no limitation, not even the (de)limitation of an essence (or nature) that would allow for naming Him, defining Him and, eventually have other beings share in that nature, like we human persons share in the human nature.

Nor has God the power to go back in His words and deeds: His words and deeds are eternal and therefore undoable. We can rest in peace knowing that His offer of love will stand forever. There’s nothing that we, or anybody or anything can do for Him to give up loving us. He will not change His mind. He cannot. If He did, He would not be eternal. And if He is not eternal, He is not God.

So, I hope it’s clear enough by now that the word “omnipotence” does not mean the same when applied to God; that there are many things that God cannot do. Just to name a few: He cannot lie to himself (or to us), he cannot stop being God, and He cannot contradict Himself. In brief, God’s omnipotence does obviously not include the possibility of doing anything that would contradict any of His other attributes. It would just not make any logical sense to say that God is not omnipotent because He cannot stop being omnipotent!

Another thing we have to keep in mind when contemplating the mystery of the original sin, and of sin in general, is precisely that it’s a mystery, a mystery of iniquity (misterium iniquitatis). That’s another thing God cannot do: He can’t reveal all mysteries. Or, said it in a different way, God without mystery would not be really God, unless we’re willing to accept the irrational contradiction of an infinite being contained (comprehended) within the boundaries of a finite mind.

Imagine Albert Einstein trying to explain the theory of relativity to a three year old. Now, multiply the distance between Einstein’s and the three year old’s intelligences by several billion, and still you wouldn’t get an accurate assessment of the distance between God’s mind and the minds of all the most intelligent people in history combined. Because we cannot compare the distance between two finite minds with the distance between a finite and an infinite mind.

Before you ask why didn’t God create us with infinite minds, think about the logical contradiction implicit in positing two infinite of anything. An infinite mind has to, by necessity, be contained in an infinite being. An infinite being is a being without limits. Can we own a property without limits in the state of Texas if somebody else already owns a limitless property in the state of Texas? So, the mere idea of two infinite of any thing is a logical nonsense. Besides, infinite would imply not only spatial infinitude but also a temporal infinitude. In other words, an infinite being calls for an eternal being, a being without beginning and without end. I suppose any explanation on the impossibility for an eternal being to create another eternal being should be otiose.

Furthermore, essence, as to mean what something is, is a limiting concept: the moment you say what something is, you will also be inescapably saying what that ‘something’ is not. Strictly speaking then, there cannot be an infinite essence. Only a being that is just that, pure being, can be infinite, because essence is what sets the limits of being.

This is a crucial concept to grasp in order to understand why the Hebrews were (and still are) so adamant about not using the word God as a name for the divinity. Because you name something when you need to refer to its essence, when you need to pin down its “whatness“, to say what something is. But, as we saw, when you say what something is you are also saying what something is not. Moses wants to know the name of God. He wants to pin down God; but he will only get an enigmatic, “I am who is.” In other words, God just is. Pure being, altogether devoid of an essence to tell Him what He is not.

We mustn’t fall in the easy trap of thinking in panteistic terms, though. Indeed, I think that this way of looking at the issue leaves very much out of the question the immanence of God in the universe. God is altogether transcendent to the universe, but not completely foreign or dettached. In fact, God is in all things by essence and by presence, without being anyone of them or all of them at once.

And last, but not least, keep in mind that even though we are all created by God, Adam and Eve’s act of creation is of a different kind. When God created Adam and Eve, His creation act, besides being out of nothing, was twofold: he created both the individual human and its human nature. When He creates us, he only creates the individual; the human nature we inherit from our parents, who inherited from theirs, and so on, until reaching the first human couple.

I think the right question would be why did Adam and Eve have the “power” to affect human nature. The answer to this question (if it can be called answer at all), I haven’t found it, but I have a theory. I’m not certain this is orthodox catholic doctrine, but it (kind of) makes sense to me. I believe they had that power because they possessed human nature in its totality. We share in a human nature with billions of other individuals, so our personal sins cannot affect it, unless we coordinate with the rest of humankind to commit the same sin. When Adam and Eve sinned, humankind sinned.

And one more thing: don’t let yourself be fooled by the apparent simplicity of the allegorical nature of the Genesis tale. First of all, the magnitud of a sin can’t be judged independently from the circumstances of the sinner, in this case, somebody without the inclination of the nature that we must nowadays overcome, and many other preternatural gifts that we don’t possess.

Sin is always something terrible, probably absurd from a divine standpoint, and in the case of the first human couple even more so considering that they lived in a state of infinite bliss. It wasn’t the reaction of somebody overwhelmed by their own weaknesses against the seeming arbitrariness of an incomprehensible ruler. Theirs was an unjustified act of rebellion, of disobedience against somebody whom they perfectly well knew only deserved their eternal gratitude.

Many centuries later, the “obedience to the point of death, and death on a cross” of another man that would replace Adam and Eve in their primacy, was needed to undo, to cancel out the first disobedience. The contemplation alone of all the suffering of that Man that was also God, in a sacrifice that would have the infinite power to erase an infinite offense and an infinite number of other offenses, should serve as a clue to the gravity of that original sin, that incomprehensible “misterium iniquitatis.

And as for them not knowing good from evil, that’s in my understanding an error of interpretation. I believe they knew perfectly well the evil they were doing; their faculties were definitely clearer than ours, which are clouded precisely by the wound inflicted by them on our human nature. The devil’s temptation was not to understand from a human perspective, but to understand as God understands. The temptation was to understand in the same way of a God whose knowledge alone had not only creative power, but also the power to make things good. It was a temptation to usurp the place of their own Creator and Supreme ruler. And it’s, by the way, the greatest temptation of modern man, to become autonomous from God, to be to himself his only ruler, to claim the power to decide what is good and what is evil.

Ruminations on sex

The human body is endowed with many organs organized in systems designed to accomplish a function needed to sustain the life of the individual. As such, all these organs and systems are self-contained and self-sufficient in the sense that they don’t need from any other individual’s organs to accomplish their goals, except for one.

There’s one, and only one system that is incomplete, and it needs for more than one individual in order to achieve its purpose: the reproductive system. Then again, reproduction is not a function needed to sustain the life of the individual: its sole purpose is to sustain the survival of the species, to ensure the perpetuation of the human race. There is an act, and only one act, that makes this system complete: the sexual union of man and woman, by virtue of which the reproduction of human life is brought about.

I am convinced that if we think long and hard about this truism we will be amazed at the consequences that may follow from it.

The first one is that the individual is not complete in the fullness of his or her realization as a member of the human species.  When in the apex of the story Jerry McGuire (a.k.a. Tom Cruise) tells xx (a.k.a. Renee Zwellfenger) the famous phrase “you complete me,” he is not merely expressing a romantic feeling felt by all lovers, but a very definite biological reality. In the full sexual intercourse of a man with a woman, their reproductive organs work together as one system.  They are biologically speaking one system, “one flesh” in the words of Genesis.

In order to understand more clearly the consequences of this undeniable reality, it might be helpful to compare two different basic functions of the human body: nutrition and reproduction. Nutrition is needed for the survival of the individual. The system charged with satisfying this vital need is contained within the individual, and we call it digestive system”.  Reproduction is not needed for the survival of the individual, but for the survival of the species. The individual contains only part of the reproductive organs within its boundaries. The reproductive system is incomplete, and it can only be completed by the reproductive organs found in another individual of the opposite sex.

It helps me to think that homosexual marriage means that there is no real difference between the sexual acts with my wife and the anal/oral homosexual intercourse. Take away from Sex the complementary nature of the sexual organs of man and woman, complementarity that has the unmistakable quality of making one flesh out of two bodies, uniting the individual not only to his/her spouse, but in a certain way to the whole human race, as this union is designed to fulfill a need that is not the individual’s need, but the need for reproduction of the species, therefore the need of society as a whole. It really does degrade the truly marital sexual intercourse to compare it with any other kind of sexual intercourse.

Looking just at the bare facts, biological facts, leaving aside all intention and feelings, it cannot be denied that the sexual intercourse between man and woman as such, is ordained to procreation.  As a human activity, independently from the purpose of the individuals, its end is procreation.  I think it’s funny how defensive some people get when confronted with this reality, as if they were being accused of something, and put up defenses such as “then every time I have sex but don’t want to have kids I’m thwarting the nature of the act itself,” or “then people who are knowingly sterile cannot possibly have real sexual intercourse.” Of course, those allegations are ridiculous.  The intention of the acting individual cannot change the nature and purpose of the activity considered in general.  Eating is another such human activity, and as such, it is ordained to nutrition. It really matters not in the least whether my purpose is to nourish my body or just enjoy the flavor of a banana split.  My sybaritic intentions when I eat a banana split don’t have the power to cancel the nature of the human activity of eating. Likewise, my lustful intentions of having sex just for the fun of it don’t have the power to cancel the nature of the sexual act.

 

Now, as for the knowingly sterile (heterosexual) couple, what is said about intention still applies: they cannot possibly intend to procreate through sexual intercourse, but their lack of intention does not change the nature of the sexual intercourse between man and woman, which still is, and always will be, human procreation.  Sterility is just a malfunction, tantamount to a malfunctioning digestive system that does not digest certain foods.  You cannot possibly say with a straight face that the fact that some people’s digestive tract will not tolerate a certain food makes it impossible to conclude that nutrition cannot be the purpose of the act of eating.  The exception does not invalidate the rule; it just reaffirms its existence.

 

So, there is a nature, a purpose of the action of having sex (between man and woman), and that purpose is procreation.  The question is quite simple, but it has become complex with the advent and evolution of contraceptives. Contraception makes it possible to thwart nature and prevent the act of procreation from being procreative, just as it could be possible to eat just for the flavor and preempt nutrition; in fact, there are plenty of foods with zero nutritional value. And yet, anybody can see how foolish it would be to conclude that nutrition is not the main purpose of eating.  Likewise, just because it is possible to cancel out reproduction from the sexual act does not sensibly allow one to question the thesis that the main purpose of sex is reproduction.

 

In order to discern the nature of human acts as acts (regardless of the intention of the subject), it can be helpful to engage in science fiction. Let’s suppose that aliens from outer space were to ever come down to our planet in order to study us, humans.  As members of a living species they know that any living being needs nutrition to subsist as individuals, and procreation to subsist as a species. To their question of “how do humans get nourishment?” they would easily reply: eating.  To their question of “how do humans reproduce?” they would as easily reply: having sex, and of course, they would probably notice that there are two kinds of humans that perfectly complement each other in the act of reproduction. Therefore, they will conclude that the purpose of eating is nutrition and the purpose of sex is reproduction.

 

They might be puzzled though, by the observation of individual humans having sex with members of the same kind of human, with other individuals that do not really complement each other in a reproductive way.  If they are smart enough—or they might just ask—they will likely arrive to the conclusion that many people seek sexual acts for purposes other than mere reproduction.  Of course, the pursuit of pleasure will be one; the showing of love and affection will be the other.  Yet, when they go back to their questionnaires to look up the question “how do humans get pleasure?” and “how do they express affection?”  they will find out that there are many ways to accomplish those two purposes.  They will conclude that having sex is just one way, among many others, to find pleasure and show love and affection. But there aren’t any other ways to reproduce, and so they will conclude that the nature of the sexual act is reproduction. Human beings engage in sexual acts in order to reproduce, and in so doing they might well be showing affection and feeling pleasure. We will call these purposes secondary effects of the nature of the sexual act.  Likewise, the pursuit of pleasure is a secondary goal, or effect, of the act of eating.

 

How do humans procreate?: through sexual intercourse between man and woman.  I will not delve into the speculation on what would be the nature, the purpose of sexual intercourse between man and man, woman and woman, or either of them with anything else other than an opposite sex member of the same species, but one thing is sure: it is NOT procreation.

 

Another way to discern the nature of a human act (that is, the essence of something considered as the center of operations) could be done by way of comparison with an artifact, a manmade thing.  You may believe or not believe that humans were created with a purpose, but it’s hard to refute that, as a general rule, humans create things with a purpose in mind. Let’s take, for example, a car.  I’m not going to enter any debate about the first inventor of the car, but common knowledge affirms that it was Karl Benz. Undeniably, Karl had a purpose in mind when he set out to come up with this great invention. Undeniably, this purpose was that his “car” be used as a means of transportation.  And that is the nature of the car: to be used as a means of transportation. There was originally very little more that could be done with a car, but with time, many different things were added that were oriented either to enhance the way this contraption accomplishes its end, or to enhance the experience of the person riding it, chiefly in terms of safety and comfort.

 

It really doesn’t matter however many features you add or take: the main purpose of a car will still be transportation, and therefore, it’s in the nature of a car to transport.  It doesn’t matter if you turn on the AC, radio on, blinker on, windshield wipers on, as long as it takes you somewhere will mean that the car is being used towards its nature.  But you can do things to it that go against its nature, and you do this every time you thwart or endanger the capacity for it to take you to different places.  Using the car as target for your bazooka shooting practice will certainly be a typical example of using the car against its nature.

 

The square circle

In Spanish there is a saying to somewhat express the quest for the absurd: trying to achieve “la cuadratura del círculo”, which could be translated as trying to square the circle.  This is how I perceive the debate about the marriage for homosexuals.

First of all, as I usually do, I will appeal to the good faith of my readers, as I always try my best to have good faith when confronting positions with which I do not agree. By this I mean saving the good intentions of the people that don’t think like me, believing that they are in good faith. In this case I will claim that I firmly believe that I am not prejudiced against homosexual people, and I do not in the least attempt to discriminate against them. Likewise, I will claim that I do not dismiss the arguments of those who oppose marriage between homosexuals just because I do not understand them. Even if I don’t, it doesn’t mean that I don’t believe they may have good solid and rational reasons to do so.

We cannot expect, nobody should expect to legislate morality. Therefore, we cannot expect the law to punish somebody for doing something that some consider immoral. Some people might one day decide that picking your nose is immoral and therefore people who pick their noses should be punished. On the other hand, I think it reasonable to expect the law to be sensible and not call square what really is a circle.

The issue at stake here is not whether homosexual couples can do in private whatever they choose to. The issue at stake here is whether there is such a thing as a constitutional right to get married regardless of any circumstances.

If homosexual couples can get married, why not heterosexuals of the same sex? Wouldn’t that be a discrimination against heterosexuals? And what about polygamous or polyandrous marriage? What if already married men want to get married to a second woman (or vice versa)? Then we should also interpret the Constitution as allowing polygamy and polyandry, so we don’t discriminate against people who wish to have many wives or many husbands.

Let me just mention a different example to top this “reductio ad absurdum”. There is such a thing as freedom of association, protected by our Constitution, and there are several different types of associations. Let us suppose that a group of friends, all cheating on their wives, decides to “come out”, and create an association for cheating husbands with such objectives as to provide emotional and other kinds of support to infidel spouses, and even to facilitate infidelity for those seeking to cheat on their spouses. Under our Constitution and under our laws infidelity is not punished, therefore, strictly speaking, this association should be a viable one, since it does not pursue a criminal end. But allowing this kind of association to gain legal recognition would somewhat convey the idea that the law protects, and even fosters infidelity.

 

Sometimes I do get the feeling that those seeking the legal recognition of  homosexual relationships by including them within the institution of marriage are actually seeking to encourage homosexual behavior.

 

We have gone from the reasonable, just, and very desirable and commendable aim of eradicating prejudice and discrimination against the homosexual person, to accepting the possibility that their behavior is actually not something undesirable.  From there, we jumped to the conclusion that it is actually something good and therefore, should be legally recognized as such by the Law.  Now we get this impression that it is actually required that the Law promote homosexuality.  Next step is discriminating against those who think and teach that the homosexual behavior is actually not good.   We are actually starting to see this kind of discrimination in several places.   Paradoxically, this also involves discriminating against homosexual people who do not wish to “come out of the closet”, let alone discrimination (even hatred) against those who seek help to get rid of homosexual tendencies.  We have come full circle, and from that reasonable, just, desirable and commendable goal to eradicate discrimination, we are encouraging an unreasonable, unjust, undesirable and deplorable discrimination.

A side note on the “coming out” issue. I find it somewhat contradictory that people would encourage the “coming out” of the closet, while at the same time arguing that whatever happens in the intimacy of one’s bedroom is a private matter about which the law should have nothing to say. I totally agree with this argument: what happens in the intimacy, as long as it doesn’t compromise somebody’s rights, should be a private matter beyond the reach of the law. Being homosexual is, above all, a behavioral statement. It reveals a certain sexual behavior. As such, and as something that takes place (at least it should) in the intimacy of one’s bedroom, it should remain something private. Why then the insistence on making it public? Why clamor for the law to institutionalize the status of such behavior, making it equivalent to heterosexual married couples?

I know, some may say that, following this line of reasoning, the behavior of married heterosexual couples is likewise private and should remain so, right? Wrong! With negligible exceptions people get married to form a family. It’s inscribed in our nature, in our biological nature. There is a natural drive in the common woman and the common man to become parents. Maybe some people don’t feel this drive. I know that some people give up and repress this drive for different reasons. But, however many these people are, it doesn’t diminish one single ounce the weight of my previous statement: that people get married to have children and form a family. It’s one of the, if not the commonest of human experiences. It has been so since we have notice. It’s the obvious result of the natural instinct engraved deep inside our humanly being towards perpetuating our species.

 

Therefore, in its very nature or common sense definition, marriage involves the expectation of new human life, and comes loaded with a heavy sense of belonging, since it is through the insertion in a family that the individual becomes inserted into the larger community.  It is the reason why it has been said that the family is the basic cell of society.  And it is in this sense that marriage is a public matter.  Not because it matters what the spouses do in their intimacy, but because of the very likely and very public consequences of what they do in their intimacy.  These consequences are obviously not present in the case of homosexual couples.  Let’s then keep theirs and everybody’s privacies private.

 

It ultimately boils down to this simple and undeniable fact: marriage is the institution on which society places the expectation for new persons to come to life and become citizens.  I’ve honestly struggled to see it from a different angle.  But no matter how hard I try, I keep coming to this one solid reality.  Any other human realities, whether desirable or not, are a different thing.  If society decides that those realities should have a legal stature, then be it, but call it something else.  Do not try to force one reality within the boundaries of arguably the oldest institution on earth.  In a way, it’s a matter of calling things by their proper names.  Again a Spanish saying: “al pan, pan; y al vino, vino”  (call the bread, bread; and the wine, wine).

I’m not trying here to prove that homosexual behavior is bad and undesirable.  I am only trying to prove that there is no unjust discrimination in not allowing people of the same sex to get married.  There is not, as much as there is no unjust discrimination when the law prevents heterosexual people from having many spouses.

 

Nobody in their right minds would accuse the Red Sox of discrimination against polo lovers when it does not allow polo matches in Fenway Park.  Nobody is arguing here that polo is bad.  All I’m saying is that it would be bad to go the Fenway to see the Red Sox play baseball, only to find that a polo match is taking place instead.

 

Just from a legal standpoint, there is nothing wrong with a circle.  Just don’t invent a law to make it a square.

Letter to SCOTUS

Xavier Velasco-Suarez

21 Olde Lantern Road

Acton, MA 01720

April 30, 2015
John G. Roberts, Jr.
Chief Justice of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States
One First Street, NE
Washington, DC 20543

Dear John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Regarding the impending decision on homosexual marriage, I would beg you to please take into account three considerations.

The first consideration is that rights are individual. Couples come and go; individuals stay the same, therefore individuals alone can be considered subjects of law. States banning homosexual marriage do not discriminate against homosexual individuals, as they are allowed to marry a person from a different sex, like everybody else.
Second consideration: the institution of marriage precedes all other institutions, all religions, and all states.  Therefore, states, religions, and other institutions have no authority in deciding what marriage is. From this perspective, allowing homosexual marriage is as inconsequential as banning it.

Marriage is a private contract between two individuals, with the primary goal of engaging in sexual acts of the reproductive kind. That is what people have been getting married for since the dawn of time, and they still do it nowadays, everywhere, at least in the ninety nine percent of cases.

The only reason—if there is a reason at all—for the state to recognize and regulate this contract is because new individuals, new citizens, third parties, are likely to result from it. Elder people, infertile people, as long as they are of different sexes can potentially engage in acts of the reproductive kind, because their reproductive systems complement, rather complete, each other. This complementarity does not exist, not even potentially, for people of the same sex: they cannot engage in sexual acts of the reproductive kind, and therefore, the state should have nothing to say about it: their actions are of the strictly private kind of actions that should be out of the reach of the law altogether.*

And the third consideration is the question of religious freedom. Once the homosexual acts are enshrined within the marital institution, and thus deemed equal to the heterosexual acts, it will become very difficult—if not impossible—to defend the freedom to teach that homosexual acts are immoral, making all teachers of several religions liable to be prosecuted for discrimination.

Sincerely,

Xavier Velasco-Suarez

*For a more in depth consideration of this argument please read the work “Law, Morality, and ‘Sexual Orientation’” by John Finnis, professor of law at University College, Oxford and University of Notre Dame. It can be found at:


	

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