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Forty Reasons I am a Catholic

  • PETER KREEFT

My title explains itself. But it is misleading...


Introduction

fortySince I have ADD and get bored very easily, I believe books should be short. Since introductions are almost always boring, I also believe introductions should be short.

My title explains itself.  But it is misleading: there are more than forty reasons.  In fact, there are at least ten to the eighty-second power, which (I am told) is the number of atoms in the universe.  And that's just in ordinary matter, which makes up only 4.9 percent of the universe, the rest being dark matter (26.8 percent) and dark energy (68.3 percent).

Each of my reasons is an independent point, so I have not organized this book by a succession of chapters or headings.  Most readers remember only a few "big ideas" or separate points after reading a book anyway.  I've never heard anyone say, "Oh, that was a good continuous-process-of-logically-ordered-argumentation" or "Oh, that was a good multiple-headed-and-subheaded-outline," but I've often heard people say, "Oh, that was a good point

"Why are you a Catholic?" is a good question.

The Catholic Faith is not the default position anymore anywhere in the world, as it was in Christendom during the Middle Ages, and perhaps it was never supposed to be.

A good question deserves a good answer.  Here are forty of mine. 

Chapter 1
I am a Catholic .....
because I believe that Catholicism is true

I am Catholic because I believe that Catholicism is true.  It seems obvious to me that to believe that something is true is the first and only honest reason for anybody ever to believe anything.

If that is not obvious to you, if that is not your very first reason for believing whatever you believe, then I think you are not being totally honest with yourself.

Do you disagree with that?  Does that seem too tough-minded?  Let's test it with a thought experiment.

Imagine you are God at the Last Judgment, and you have to decide the eternal fates of two people.  One is a dishonest Christian, and the other is an honest atheist.  Let's not even consider Hell; let's assume both can get to Heaven, but one needs more Purgatorial correction and preparation than the other.

Which person would you see as needing the more serious Purgatory?  Or, if you cannot even imagine a Purgatory, which person would you see as meriting the higher place in Heaven, or able to endure more of Heaven's truth?

One of them said that he believed Catholic Christianity even though he didn't think it was true, or perhaps didn't even care whether it was true, but embraced it for some other reason: either because his friends believed it, or because it made him feel good, or because it was advantageous for his earthly life in some other way.  Let's give him the benefit of the doubt and ascribe to him the two best and most important motives in the world other than truth—namely morality and happiness.  Let's say he embraced Catholicism not because it was true but because it made him happy or because it made him more moral.  What do you think a perfect God would say to that?

I think He would say that happiness without truth is not true happiness and therefore is not truly happiness at all; and that morality without truth is not true morality and therefore is not truly morality at all.  Therefore, he needs and deserves a more basic correction than the honest atheist.  And I think you would have to agree.

If you still disagree, try another thought experiment.  Turn back the clock and remember yourself at the age of three on December 24.  You probably believed in Santa Claus, and this belief probably made you significantly more moral, or at least you behaved more morally.  You were also happier because of this belief.  Now you no longer believe in Santa Claus.  Why not?  For one reason only: because you are honest and therefore do not want to believe what is not true, even if that belief gives you other benefits that are very significant, such as moral goodness and happiness (which are certainly two of the greatest of all goods).

I appeal, therefore, to your tough-minded honesty, which you have just proved you have by your reaction to my two thought experiments.

Honesty treats truth as a nonnegotiable absolute.

Honesty treats truth as a nonnegotiable absolute.

If you are not a Catholic, please do not become one unless and until you honestly believe that Catholicism is true.  If you are a Catholic for any other reason than Catholicism's truth—if you believe that Catholicism is untrue, or probably untrue, but you are a Catholic anyway; or if you simply do not even care about whether it is true—then please question your motives and your honesty, and then question your religion.  And if this honesty causes you to leave the Church, please do.  Thomas Aquinas says that remaining in the Church even though you believe it is false is a mortal sin, a sin of hypocrisy, a sin against the absolute of honesty, a sin so serious that it is sufficient matter for eternal damnation if not repented of.  On the other hand, if you leave the Church, you are making a mistake, but if it is an honest mistake; and if your motive is the search for truth, God will bless you and your quest by rewarding your search and bringing you back to the truth.  ("Seek and you will find" [Matt. 7:7].)

As for me, I believe that Catholicism is true, and that is why I am a Catholic.

Chapter 2
I am a Catholic .....
because it's the best of five choices 

There are many religions in the world.  Why did I choose to be a Catholic?  Here are the steps in my reasoning.

My first choice was between religion and no religion.  Religion means a "yoke" or a "binding-back relationship."  Religion is a relationship with God.  (God here is taken in the broadest sense as at least some higher power, something greater than us.)  So, an atheist is one who believes that there is no God at all, and therefore there ought to be no religion at all.

The arguments against atheism are well known.  The two that are mentioned in the Bible are

  1. The evidence in nature: Who made it?  Did the "Big Bang" just happen for no reason or cause?  And why is it so intelligently designed?
  2. The absoluteness of conscience: Why is it always morally wrong to disobey your conscience deliberately?Where did it get that absolute authority if it didn't come from God but only from chance, genetics, evolution, society, or your parents, none of which are infallible?)

The two basic reasons I'm not an atheist are not my mother and father, but my conscience and my universe.

My next choice was between one God and many gods.  Polytheism is not a live option today.  It's almost totally dead.  I've never met a polytheist.  In fact, in one sense, polytheism never existed, because behind all the many gods of polytheism we almost always find one supreme God.  Something or Somebody must be Number One.  There can't be two absolutely absolute absolutes.

fortycoverMy next choice was between the God of the Bible, who personally created the universe, and the god of pantheism (the god of Upanishadic Hinduism, or the cosmic "Buddha mind," or the Tao, or "the Force" of "Star Wars"), which is not a superhuman person with a moral will but just a nameless mind or force or ideal.  One reason for preferring biblical theism to pantheism is that the pantheist's God is everything, and therefore is evil as well as good.  I cannot love or worship or guide my life by a god who has a "dark side," who is half evil or indifferent to good and evil.  Another reason for theism over pantheism is that only the God of the Bible (of Judaism and Christianity and Islam) unites what have always been the two deepest instincts in the human heart—namely, the religious instinct and the moral instinct.

We are morally responsible to this God.

My next choice, once this God is accepted, is whether to accept or reject Jesus' claim to be divine, to be the Son of this God.  That is the essence of Christian theology, as distinct from Jewish or Islamic.

I cannot get around the "Lord, liar, or lunatic" argument.  If Jesus is not divine, then He was the maddest madman or the most blasphemous egomaniac who ever lived; not the best of men but the worst.  "I'm divine; worship me; trust me with your soul's eternal salvation.  I am perfect.  It was I who designed your universe and your soul."  Has anyone in history ever told a bigger lie than that?

If Jesus is not divine, then He was the maddest madman or the most blasphemous egomaniac who ever lived; not the best of men but the worst. 

If that's who He really was (either liar or lunatic), then who invented the Jesus of the Gospels, who is the polar opposite of both a liar and a lunatic: honest, altruistic, passionate, wise, practical, creative, saintly, and fascinating?  That last adjective is the most telling one because it is impossible to imitate successfully.  Once you get to know them, lunatics are never really fascinating, and neither, once they become familiar, are lying egomaniacs.  Even if Jesus is totally fictional, He is the most fascinating and compelling literary figure in human history.  Who invented Him?  If He is fictional, who invented that new genre of realistic fantasy twenty centuries before Tolkien?  A bunch of peasant Galilean fishermen?

The next choice was about the claim of the Catholic Church to be the Church Christ founded and authorized.  This was harder for me, since I was brought up as a Protestant.  But the historical record of the Catholic Church's continuity in doctrine, in apostolic succession, and in her belief in the Eucharistic Real Presence for two thousand years is data too massive to ignore or explain away.  If I was going to be a Christian, I had to be where Christ Himself wanted me to be, in the thing He Himself created for me as my spiritual home and as the instrument of His teaching authority.  And the Bible itself tells us that that thing is not just the Bible but the Church.

So, the links in the chain are: (1) religion, not atheism; (2) monotheism, not polytheism; (3) theism, not pantheism; (4) Christianity, and therefore Trinitarianism, not Unitarianism; and (5) Catholicism, not Protestantism.  Or, (1) Higher Power, (2) One, (3) Creator, (4) Christ, (5) Church.

The three most important links in this chain are the last ones: that the material universe is God's creation, Christ is God's incarnation, and the Church is Christ's body.

All that is not yet quite a proof but is the map of a journey, which can also be the map of a proof, i.e., a justification of the journey, an obeying of the first pope's command to "be prepared to make a defense [of] the hope that is in you" (1 Pet. 3:15).  The details of that justification are in many good books of apologetics.

Chapter 3
I am a Catholic .....
because Jesus is really, truly, personally,
literally present in every consecrated host in the world

Jesus is available to me in His body and in His soul in every Mass, in my body and in my soul.  And I need Him.

There is a little red light burning perpetually in the sanctuary of every Catholic church in the world except from Good Friday until the Easter Vigil, between the time Jesus died on the Cross and the time He rose from the dead on Easter morning.  That light means that Jesus is really there, fully alive, and fully present; that there is a consecrated Host in the tabernacle.  It is like the light that the father of the prodigal son probably kept burning in the front window of his home every single night while his beloved son was gone, so that when his son came back, he could see that light and know that that was still his home and that he was welcome back and that his father was still waiting for him.

"God, I honestly don't know whether You exist, but I want to know the truth and live the truth, so if You do exist, please convince me that You do, in Your time and in Your way."

I am God's prodigal son, and I need to come home, and home is wherever Jesus is, and He is there.  That is why I have to go there: because I need to fall at His feet in repentance and adoration and unutterable joy.

Do you doubt that He is there?  If so, I have an experiment for you to do, not just think about doing.  This applies to you whether you are a non-Catholic or a Catholic who doubts the Real Presence.  (There are doubters in both camps.)  Just go into a Catholic church sometime when nobody else is around to see you, and kneel in the front pew or at the Communion rail, and pray, with all honesty: "God, is that You?  Are You really there?  If not, please don't let me believe that lie.  Don't let me be a Catholic.  Because I want to know and live the truth, whatever it is.  And if You are there, please draw me there.  Send Your Holy Spirit to inspire me to believe, so that I can be where You are.  Make me a Catholic.  For the very same reason: because I want to know and live the truth, whatever it is."

It's parallel to the prayer of the skeptical agnostic: "God, I honestly don't know whether You exist, but I want to know the truth and live the truth, so if You do exist, please convince me that You do, in Your time and in Your way."

Only three things could possibly be reasons for not praying either of those prayers.

One of them is absolute certainty that that religious idea is false and that those billions of saints, sages, mystics, and ordinary people like you were all really, really stupid for believing it.  That's arrogance.

The second reason is not caring whether this tremendous, life-changing claim is true.  That's indifference, not giving a damn about truth.

The third reason is the fear that it is true.  That's one step from conversion.

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Acknowledgement

kreeft Kreeft, Peter.  "Chapter 1,2, and 3." from  Forty Reasons I am a Catholic (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2018) 1-15.

Reprinted with permission of Sophia Institute Press.

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:  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, How to Be Holy: First Steps in Becoming a Saint, Fundamentals of the Faith,  The Philosophy of Jesus, 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 © 2018 Sophia Institute Press
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