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Dr. Peter Kreeft's conversion to Catholicism - Q & A


And now I invite your questions.

Question:   I was wondering if you could speak just, like, an overview of the Calvinist view of predestination?

Dr. Kreeft:  Calvin was a rationalist.  He had a very rational mind, and his theology follows in perfect logical order, and he didn't have much of a sensibility for paradox as his favorite theologian Augustine did.  So he didn't see how predestination and free will could possibly both be true.  So he picked predestination.  But they are both true.  The Church teaches they're both true; they're both in the Bible.

If students ask how can they both be true, my favorite analogy is the author.  How come we're creative; how come we make stories?  Because we're made in the image of the creator.  We're God's story, and then we make other stories.  Alright; let's say Shakespeare is writing a play.  Let's say he's writing Hamlet (probably the greatest play ever written).  If I wrote Hamlet, Hamlet would sound like a Boston philosophy professor.  But Hamlet doesn't sound like an Elizabethan dramatist because Shakespeare is so creative, he gives Hamlet free will to be himself.  And Hamlet's not a robot.  Hamlet's real, although he's only fictional.  Now, is there predestination in Hamlet?  Of course; Shakespeare is in control of every syllable.  Does Hamlet really have free will, or is he just a robot?  Oh, he really has free will.

Well, we're God's Hamlet.  So we're predestined to have free will.  If that still doesn't make sense, you know you have to believe both of them, because every story ever told — every story anybody has ever told — has those two ingredients in it.  If there's no predestination, it's not a story; it's a mess.  If there's no free will, it's boring; it's a scientific formula.  So we know they're both true.  So Calvin just didn't have that ability to embrace the two halves of the paradox.

Question:   I think my question is a little off-topic, but timely.  I'll ask it in two different ways, and let you pick the way you want to answer it.  As a Catholic philosopher, how would you counsel a Catholic as they discern their upcoming votes in November.  Or put another way, what would you say are the most important issues or issue that we're facing in that election.

Dr. Kreeft:   Well, first of all, Catholicism is not a political philosophy or a political party, so there are very strong indirect answers to that question, but no simple direct answers ("If you're a Catholic you must vote for this party"); we don't idolize parties, and the charism of infallibility is not given either to the donkey or the elephant — they both stumble a lot.  So as a Catholic I always have problems with both parties.

The question is what are the most important issues.  And the most important issues are certainly matters of life and death, above all abortion, which is the American version of the Holocaust, although it's very polite.  And then the nature of marriage and of the family, and of not only policies that will help families, but a belief in the sanctity of families and of marriage, and clarity about that.

People classify almost everything as liberal or conservative, and that won't work, because those are political categories, and the Catholic tradition is neither officially politically liberal or officially politically conservative.  I remember thinking as a philosopher that there is some confusion in either my head or in the heads of everyone else, because typical conservatives are very moral about individual issues like sex and marriage and the family and life and abortion and so on, but tend to be kind of pragmatic when it turns to social issues like, oh, immigration or the poor or capital punishment or war (they tend to be hawks).  And the Democrats are the opposite; they tend to be very idealistic about these social issues, and very relativistic about individual issues.  I said, well, wait a minute.  Either life is sacred or it isn't, and if it's sacred, it's sacred everywhere.  It's sacred in the ghetto and on the battlefield and in the abortion clinic and in the gerontology ward.  And if it's not sacred, then it's dispensable everywhere.  So why this selective morality?

So my first answer is, you're not going to get perfection in either party.  And the second answer is, what are the most important issues?  And the issues where I tend to be a little skeptical about typically Republican answers are issues of prudential judgment, issues like what economic policies are going to help or hurt ordinary people the most — well, we don't know for sure.  I don't know whether trickle-down economics works.  It did with Reagan, it didn't with Bush.  I don't know; I'm confused.

But clearly, when there's a direct attack on human life, when we're deliberately killing a million human babies every year in the womb, that's an issue that has to outrank everything.  And one of the two parties is officially pro-abortion, and the other is at least officially pro-life.  So this may shock you, but I think it's sort of an analogy to: if you were a German in the thirties, you thought, you know, Hitler has improved the economy a lot and unemployment is down, and he invented autobahns and Volkswagens and he's a good man, but of course there's this little thing about the Holocaust — but you can't be a one-issue voter.  Well, yes, you can, when human life is at stake.

Question:   You touched on John Paul II's theology of the body, and perhaps you could touch on maybe some good books about that; perhaps you've written on it as well.  I was at a pro-life rally, and I was sitting there with a thousand people or so — it was back a few years ago — and I thought, we're not going to change abortion in America unless we change our whole thinking about human sexuality, contraception, and the relationship between man and woman, which obviously John Paul II's theology of the body does.  Could you touch on that a little bit more, or suggest some readings that would be helpful to people?

Dr. Kreeft:   Well, there's a lot of good stuff about it.  A lot of really good books are being written about it, notably the books of Christopher West.  He's written some very simple ones and some very profound ones, some longer ones.  There's a good book by Steve Kellmeyer called Sex and the Sacred City.  I used that at Boston College in an ethics course.  And I used the same book in the same ethics course at the King's College, which is a Protestant evangelical college in New York City, where I also teach.  I explained to the Protestant students there that this was Catholic sexual ethics but it was important, just as they should know anything else, even though they are Protestants.  And I was surprised by two things: almost all the students at the King's College loved it, and they said the Catholic Church is right, even about contraception.  They said, I don't understand why Catholics have a problem with Humanae Vitae.  That's what the Protestants said.  At Boston College, the reaction was just the opposite.  Nobody bought it; they were either bored or offended.  So I don't know what's happening.  I told the Catholic students that they were more Protestant than the Protestants, and I told the Protestant students that they were more Catholic than the Catholics.  It at least confused them, and that's creative.

Jesus always does that. He doesn't just talk to a person's lips. He doesn't just talk to their brain. He talks to their heart. He talks to the person that didn't even know he existed, and if you can do that — there's no technique for doing that; you just have to want to do that — you can sometimes bring out things.

But I hope that you're not right in one thing that you said: that we can't end the abortion holocaust unless we first end the whole sexual revolution.  They're definitely connected, and they're like a foundation and a building, but it should be extremely obvious to everybody, and I think it is, deep down, that abortion is wrong.  Mother Teresa said if abortion is not wrong, nothing is wrong.  If a mother can murder her own baby, anybody can murder anybody.  That's supremely obvious.

Now, that the sexual revolution is a disaster, that homosexual marriage is a self-contradiction, that birth control is intrinsically unnatural and immoral — that's true too, but it's not as easy to see.  And I don't think we can expect people to see it as quickly or as easily as that abortion is wrong.  So I don't think we should hold off on abortion until the whole picture is in.  The picture is true, and it's wonderful, and John Paul II gives us the big picture that explains and justifies everything, including Humanae Vitae, wonderfully.  But people who don't accept the big picture were not pro-abortion until Roe v. Wade.  Turn back the clock fifty years.  Ask you grandparents about abortion.  Say, "Do you think that maybe fifty years from now, one out of three babies that is conceived in America will be killed?"  They'd be absolutely shocked.  They'd say, "You've got to be kidding!"

Now maybe I'm naïve, but I don't think the human heart is that fickle and that changeable by ideologies.  The mind is, which is why intellectuals can be crazy but farmers can't — they're in touch with their hearts.  Once, there were ten times more farmers than PhDs.  Now there's ten times more PhDs than farmers — we're in trouble. But the human heart was not designed at Harvard, or Hollywood; it was designed in heaven. So so-called pro-choice people, deep down, I think, feel at least a little guilt and unease about where they are. They suppress it, they may deny it, they may even honestly believe that there's not that doubt in them, but I think it's got to be there. And when you talk to them, you can talk to that hidden person inside. Jesus always does that. He doesn't just talk to a person's lips. He doesn't just talk to their brain. He talks to their heart. He talks to the person that didn't even know he existed, and if you can do that — there's no technique for doing that; you just have to want to do that — you can sometimes bring out things.

For instance, I know a Jewish mother, a classic Jewish mother, who was a radio talk-show host.  She was very pro-life.  And she had on her program a notorious abortionist from the Boston area named Bill Baird who was, you know, pure slime — he was not just wrong; he was wicked.  But she was such a sweet, friendly person that she had him on the show.  And she asked him softball questions and tried to get him tangled up, but he was very clever, and escaped very well.  Everybody knew she was pro-life, but he kind of liked her.  It was a two-hour show, and there was a ten-minute break between the two hours.  And they sat together for these ten minutes in the studio.  And she told me she just said, " Bill, I bet you went to Sunday School when you were a kid, right?"  "Yeahhh."  "Now I'm not a Christian, but I understand how Christians love Jesus.  I'll bet you loved Jesus, didn't you?"  "What's that got to do with anything?"  "I'll bet you don't do that anymore, do you?"  And she said, "He broke down weeping in front of me, and ran out of the studio, and I had the whole last hour to myself."  And she said, "Every Christmas after that, he sends me a Christmas card, even though I've never seen him again."  Sometimes you can speak to the child inside the hardened adult.  And sometimes you don't know when you're doing that.  But at least try.  So I'm optimistic.  You've got to be optimistic.  Even the statistics tell you to be optimistic.  At pro-life rallies, they're all young.  At pro-choice rallies, they're all old.

Question:   Good evening, Doctor Kreeft.  I'm a big fan.  In fact, my wife made me a t-shirt that says "Peter Kreeft Fan Club", but I thought it was too much to wear.

Dr. Kreeft:   Oh, dear.  You know Thomas Merton's dying words?  God can defend my from my enemies, but who will defend me from my fans?  You know how he died?  He was electrocuted by an electric fan.  Okay, bad pun.

Question:   My question is about having dialogue with academics — by that I mean people with PhDs.  I'm a scientist.  Roughly eighty to ninety percent of the people I work with have PhDs, and I find that they're absolutely sure that there can't be any absolute morals, and they tolerate everything, but are intolerant of intolerance, and they're dogmatically opposed to dogma.  And I even think they don't believe in the law of non-contradiction.  How does one have dialogue with those people?

Dr. Kreeft:   Well, we have a slogan in academia: That idea is so insane, only a PhD could possibly believe it.  It's because intellectuals are clever at hiding from the obvious.  They can spin brilliant spider webs of deception around their own minds to hide the obvious.  Here's an elephant in the living room.  How do you hide an elephant in the living room?  Well, if you're lucky enough to have a million mice, and they keep moving over the face of the elephant, you think there's just mice there, and not an elephant.  And intellectuals can do that, but ordinary people can't.  So if your question is what do you do for them, just love them and pray for them and talk to them, and every once in a while, it will be like the little boy and the emperor's new clothes: "The emperor's naked!" "There are absolutely no absolutes."  "Oh, absolutely?"  "Oh, wellâ¦" At least, don't expect them to suddenly repent and convert and apologize to you and say, "Thank you for enlightening me."  Hope that they might go home and worry a little bit.  Plant doubts.  That's a great position to be in: We're the bomb-throwers; we're the intellectual terrorists.  We're throwing grenades at their castle, instead of vice versa.

Question:   In all that you do as a philosopher and a teacher and an author, what would you say is the greatest joy of your work, and also, what is the biggest cross of what you do?

Dr. Kreeft:   The greatest joy of my work is when somebody comes and says, "Thank you for introducing me to Jesus."  The greatest cross, I guess, is as a teacher, to see how little I teach when I mark final exams.  "What — they didn't get that point?"  Which is why Harvard professors have others mark their exams for them — so they can still believe in the myth of their own infallibility.

There's not a single new idea in the "new atheists". They're warmed-over, second-rate, old-fashioned enlightenment stuff. But the media has packaged it. Everything is packaging. Probably the most powerful profession in the world is advertising.

Question:   I thank you again for coming.  I really enjoyed your talk.  My question is, tonight we've talked a lot about faith and reason and marriage and Adam and Eve.  What advice would you give to married couples?

Dr. Kreeft:   Well, I have nothing more to say than what the Church does.  There's a wonderful homily that's sometimes used.  It's a classic marriage homily.  And if you ask a parish priest, I'm sure he'll find it for you.  It ends with the wonderful sentence, "Marriage is a great vocation, and a glorious but difficult calling.  Only love can make it possible.  Only perfect love can make it a joy."  That little homily says everything.

Question:   I know you wrote a book called Ecumenical Jihad.  I read it years ago.  But how does Christianity dialogue with Islam?

Dr. Kreeft:   Well, you don't dialogue with Islam; you dialogue with Muslims.  And there are many different kinds of Muslims, as there are many different kinds of Protestants.  And most Muslims that you find in America are quite open-minded and fair and tolerant, and will dialogue with you.  Although in the Arab world there are fewer of those people.  I think you first of all turn to the Church for guidance.  Read what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about Islam.  First of all, they worship the God of the Jews, just as we do.  And they know the attributes of God, so they're not worshipping another god.  Secondly, because they don't know Christ, they don't know the intimacy with God and the relationship with God that we do, so we have something absolutely crucial that they don't have.  Thirdly, in all ecumenical dialogue, we must respect the other person, but we must above all respect the truth, and not compromise either our love of and respect for the person or our fidelity to the truth.  Those are the basic principles.

Question:   Dr. Kreeft, there's been a slew of books written recently by the "new atheists", and I'm curious why you would think it's kind of resonating right now — or if it's just something that's nothing new under the sun.

Dr. Kreeft:   It's not new.  There's not a single new idea in the "new atheists".  They're warmed-over, second-rate, old-fashioned enlightenment stuff.  But the media has packaged it.  Everything is packaging.  Probably the most powerful profession in the world is advertising.  It's the world's oldest profession, you know.  It was invented in the Garden of Eden by the Devil — See this apple?  You need this apple.  You can afford it.  Price: one soul.  So the media is packaging the "new atheists" as the four horsemen of the apocalypse.  But they're painful.  You want to read an atheist?  Read John Paul Sartre.  Read Friedrich Nietzsche.  Read even Ivan Karamazov, who's the most sympathetic atheist in all of human literature, created by one of the greatest Christian authors of all time, Dostoevsky.

Question:   Dr. Kreeft, we really want to thank you very much for coming to Saints Peter and Paul and speaking with us.  I think you're willing to sign some books and answer questions individually?

Dr. Kreeft:   Sure.  glad to.

Dr. Peter Kreeft's conversion to Catholicism - Part 1
Dr. Peter Kreeft's conversion to Catholicism - Part 2
Questions and Answers



Peter Kreeft. "Dr. Peter Kreeft's conversion to Catholicism - Q & A." a talk given at Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Naperville, IL (Dec 10, 2012).

This transcript is reprinted with permission from Peter Kreeft.

The Author

kreeft1kreeftPeter Kreeft, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at Boston College.  He is the author of many books (over forty and counting) including: Ask Peter Kreeft: The 100 Most Interesting Questions He's Ever Been AskedAncient PhilosophersMedieval PhilosophersModern PhilosophersContemporary Philosophers, Forty Reasons I Am a Catholic, Doors in the Walls of the World: Signs of Transcendence in the Human Story, Forty Reasons I Am a CatholicYou Can Understand the Bible, Fundamentals of the Faith, The Journey: A Spiritual Roadmap for Modern Pilgrims, Prayer: The Great Conversation: Straight Answers to Tough Questions About Prayer,  Love Is Stronger Than Death, Philosophy 101 by Socrates: An Introduction to Philosophy Via Plato's Apology, A Pocket Guide to the Meaning of Life, Prayer for Beginnersand Before I Go: Letters to Our Children About What Really Matters. Peter Kreeft in on the Advisory Board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2013 Peter Kreeft
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