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Happiness Part 6: Questions and Answers


I thank you for sitting through a long lecture, which was your Purgatory; now you get to the Heaven of asking questions. [laughter & applause]


Peter Kreeft:  I didn't say anything terribly clever, creative, original, or scholarly. I'm a hobbit; hobbits like to say things they know over and over again. I am sure you know all this; but nevertheless you will have questions about it.


Peter Kreeft:  If you do not have any questions, I will have to tell you my favourite anecdote from Lives of the Great Philosophers where Aristotle once lectured to his university students and there were no questions afterwards. And he says, "My lecture, if you will remember, was on levels of intelligence in the universe: according to my philosophy there are three. There are gods, mortals, and beasts. The way to distinguish mortals from both gods and beasts is that mortals alone ask questions, for beasts know too little and gods too much. Thus, if you have no questions, shall I congratulate you upon having risen to the status of gods; or shall I insult you upon having sunk to the level of beasts?" There were questions. Any mortals among us? Thank you.

Questioner:  Unrelated. Can we expect more articles from you in the National Catholic Register in the future?

Peter Kreeft:  Um, I don't know. I've lost contact with them. But if they want some more maybe I'll turn out some more.

Questioner:  You used to be a regular.

Peter Kreeft:  Yeah. I collected some scattered articles in a book called Fundamentals of the Faith which turned out to be very popular, and that surprised me because the articles were not meant to be complete, they were just scattered, but apparently such a book is sorely needed. So I spent a couple years writing a more complete one called Catholic Christianity, A Commentary on the New Catechism, which I hope will be used in parishes and CCD programs.

Questioner:  Is that in print now?

Peter Kreeft:  Yep, Ignatius Press. It's also obtainable free from the Knights of Columbus.

Questioner:  Robert George in Princeton has his counterpart Peter Singer. Do you have any kind of Peter Singers in your life and if so do they espouse any kind of philosophy or answer to the question that Freud raised, which is "Why are people still discontented at a time when contentment is the object of living"?

Peter Kreeft:  No, I just teach at a Jesuit school.


Peter Kreeft:  I guess I can't improve on that answer. Any other questions? Yes.

Questioner:  What does Jesus mean when he said that "blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth"? You didn't explain about the second part, but you explained about the meek.

Peter Kreeft:  I think he meant two things. I think the blessings attached to each beatitude begin in this life and are perfected in the next. The way in which the saints inherit the new earth, which, according to scripture, will be given to us, is not known to us. I think there is good reason for that. I think if we knew some of the things that awaited us in the next earth it would pollute our desires and inflame our curiosity, expecting for instance a lot of magic. But the way in which the meek inherit the earth even in this life, was known I think even by the great pagan mystic Lao Tzu, in the Tao Te Ching. He was very happy through his being meek and through not opposing and not conquering nature, but letting it conquer him. When we want to conquer something and succeed, we're a little happy for a little while but when we let something bigger than us conquer us, whether it's a truth that we discover in our thinking or reading or research, or whether it's a good that we allow to flow through our lives and improve the world through our agency, or whether it's a beauty which we simply discover and contemplate and are happy in the presence of, we know that something bigger than our soul has entered it and conquered it and we're very happy. That's why, twice in my life, I have had something a little bit like a mystical experience. Once was the first time I ever heard Beethoven's 9th Symphony. I thought, "I have ceased to be a human being, I am now the music itself, I will never get back into my body." The second was when I was bodysurfing in a hurricane, and I was convinced that I had become the ocean, and the ocean cannot drown in the ocean, therefore I cannot drown in the ocean. They were both, you might say, fearful experiences but both very wonderful because something larger than you comes in to live in your house. But if you're not meek, you don't open the door.

Questioner:  What is the beginning of the next life? Is it the point that the soul leaves [unclear]?

Peter Kreeft:  Baptism. When the new life enters our souls. It used to be the moment of creation. God created Adam and Eve in a state of at least preternatural if not supernatural happiness. They lost that. It has to be restored. We are born into this world deprived of it, that's what original sin means. So Christ plants the seed only when faith and baptism, which are always connected in scripture, come together. And then it keeps growing, and in the next life it's transplanted into a heavenly pod.

Questioner:  I beg to differ.

Peter Kreeft:  Okay.

Questioner:  The next question is a simple one. [Unclear] even after death?

Peter Kreeft:  It begins now.

Questioner:  It begins at the point, really, of the presence — of Christ entering the person, the person is aware of God's presence in a way. And you know it's really sad, like in the New Testament, there's only two people that really seem to grasp this. John and Paul. Most of the other people, a lot of them had the presence seed, but they didn't know the distinction because they knew Christ.

Peter Kreeft:  Well, you can be pregnant without knowing it and you can be in the presence of someone without acknowledging it, although it's incomplete — wouldn't you agree?

Questioner:  Yes.

Peter Kreeft:  So this has been the Church's rationale for infant baptism. Although the infant doesn't know what's going on, the faith of the Church and the faith of the parents so counts for the infant that real presence can happen at baptism.

Questioner:  I think that's a seed, it's the potential for growth, there's the opening of the door, much later and what those nuns — they're in their habits. Bonhoeffer in prison is in heaven. Heaven is on earth. The Our Father said so.

Peter Kreeft:  If it doesn't begin here it's not going to be perfected there. I agree.

Questioner:  But it's so sad so few people — and I think even the beatitudes are really speaking of the entire extreme yearning that is necessary for seeking [unclear]?

Peter Kreeft:  This has always been, it seems to me, as a convert from Protestantism, the genius of Catholic theology. Connect together justification and sanctification. Connect together faith and the life of the works of love. It's one thing. It comes in one end and out the other, so to speak. Comes in through faith and out through the life of love. It's the same life. And it has to begin here.

Questioner:  You mentioned Taoism in terms of [unclear] started working against the grain going with the flow of these [unclear] issues that you've mentioned and the ocean. In Hinduism and Buddhism as I understand it, inner peace is attained by detachment and a relinquishing of desire as well as imposition of one's will or desire upon anyone else. Our greatest Christian and Catholic mystics write about these same notions. How do you reconcile this need of the human soul, to be able to attain this inner peace accompanied with joy and yet try to change the world for Christ?

Peter Kreeft:  That's a problem only from the outside. As soon as Christ enters into you, that's going to change the world. The question is something like the following: You're in a dark room. You want to read the newspaper. You don't know how to turn the light on. Somebody tells you where the light switch is. Do you have two problems or one? Problem number one, turning the light switch on. Problem number two, reading the newspaper. No. The first problem is all you need to solve. So as soon as Christ enters a life, it becomes active. After Mary sat at the feet of Christ, she probably did the works of Martha much more effectively than Martha ever did. But Christ begins with first things first. He does heart surgery, and then the new heart pumps the new blood into all the capillaries and they become healthy. Because faith is one, works are many. So we start with the one.

Questioner:  So then it's not so much an imposition of our will on others as much as [unclear] love and acceptance.

Peter Kreeft:  No. It's His will. It's His will. This is why I love Muslim mystics. They're wonderfully simple. They lack all sorts of things but they got the foundation very clear. Islam: perfect submission. Once that happens, Allah, God, is a fire and he lights up everything. So it's really only one thing you need. Christ himself says that: there's only one thing necessary — because that one thing is not inactive; it's not something static; it's not something like a principle, unreal; it's the force that banged out the Big Bang with no effort. That's as active as it could be. So ultimately there's no disconnect between contemplation and action. Yes?

Questioner:  This is not a terribly deep question but I wanted to know if you could explain — there's a lot of examples in our culture of justice. But I don't see very many examples in our culture of mercy. I'm wondering if you could help illustrate it.

Peter Kreeft:  Well, I first of all have to admit that to translate Christ's words, especially about justice and mercy, into social, political, and public terms, is much harder than to practice them in one's individual life, in that there has to be something of a double standard. You can't expect a society to be a saint, but you can expect an individual to be a saint. So I don't think the law should mandate being a saint. It may mandate being a Good Samaritan, but there's a minimum and a maximum. But on the other hand, I think you do see examples of that. The thing that springs to mind immediately is the Marshall Plan. Once we had defeated Germany, what did we do? We raised her up off her knees instead of stomping on her. So, if we go into Iraq, and I hope we don't have to, I hope it will be with the minimum of surgery and the maximum of nursing care.

Questioner:  Probably not a question [unclear]. But how do you reconcile — or talk a little bit about the idea of happiness coming from doing for others, as opposed to, as it is opposed to living within?

Peter Kreeft:  I don't think there's any argument that will convince someone who doesn't understand it except: Try it, you'll see. It works. What puzzles me is, all of us have done two experiments in our lives. We've tried selfishness and we've tried charity, and we've always gotten the same results. Selfishness hasn't made us happy, and charity has. Why do we keep doing the failed experiment over and over again? We're nuts. But I think you need to do a little more than appeal to the person's own experience. When were you the happiest? Wasn't it when you forgot yourself the most? I think we all know that. Not from reason, but from experience.

Questioner:  But doesn't Christ ask us to live within too, though?

Peter Kreeft:  Well, he says — well, where, in particular?

Questioner:  Uh..

Peter Kreeft:  Occasionally, but I think not as much as we ordinarily think. I don't know for sure but I suspect that we look within a lot too much, especially when we want to be judges, and when we want to evaluate. When I look at myself with an evaluative mind, except for necessarily brief moments before confession, I say either, "What a nice boy am I" — I become a self-righteous Pharisee — or "What a terribly bad boy am I" — I become a guilt-ridden worm — or "I'm sort of in the middle" — and I become a dull, wishy-washy Charlie Brown. So I think the solution is to think about ourselves a lot less. The eye is meant to look outwards, not inwards. Occasionally, it needs a mirror — especially when there's something wrong with it. But I'm not one on a lot of self-analysis. I don't find that gets me very far. Maybe that's just a quirk of personality. I wouldn't want to dogmatize.

Questioner:  I'm getting lost a little bit. Could you define happiness again? [Unclear], is that right?

Peter Kreeft:  Some things are hard to define. I can't define it by genus and specific difference, I don't think. But what I mean by "happiness" is a state of life in which you are truly blessed, that is, that which is good for you, that which you are designed for, is present and you know that it is present and you feel it present. That would be complete happiness. The most important ingredient is the objective blessedness, and then secondarily, if it's complete, you also know it and feel it. I think our culture is after the second thing without the first, a kind of psychological masturbation without the real presence of the other.

Questioner:  In light of all you've said about the difference between worldly happiness and true blessedness, what do you have to say to the Psychological Institute? What's the purpose?

Peter Kreeft:  You know that better than I. You know whose work you're doing and who's helping you to do it. I came here to learn from you, not vice versa. Just keep doing what you're doing. I'm a cheerleader, not the manager.

Questioner:  In that same vein, you mentioned we would [unclear] insane asylum, or at least one could say that. And in the insane asylum, even if you know the beatitudes, it's a little hard to put them into action — or if you do, is anybody going to notice? Or are you going to even notice. And I would like to have your reflections on the issue of the status of our culture and the ability of those who live in it as well as those of us who do not to attain this kind of happiness you're talking about. When you have a wholesale loss of what Western Civilization gave to the culture and vice versa, and that is to say leisure — true leisure — in Pieper's sense Leisure the Basis of Culture, the loss of western monasticism as well as eastern monasticism, which gave it a kind of pause, a time out, from the madness of the insane asylum. Can you comment on that cultural aspect [unclear] happens?

Peter Kreeft:  I think there's four states you can be in, in relation to your culture. The best state would be in a good and happy culture: you're at peace and you deserve it and you enjoy it. The worst state would be: you have been defeated and there is no hope. There are two states between those two: going up, and going down. Going down from a peaceful, wise, happy, and successful culture into decline, and trying to hold the culture together, against this decline. That's a rather unhappy state. That's a state of fighting defensive wars against the barbarians outside the gates who are coming in. I think we're in none of those three positions. I think we're in a fourth position. I think we are now the barbarians outside the gates. I think the culture has declined to a point where, for all practical purposes, our public culture is pagan, is non-Christian. So being an adolescent who never grew up, I welcome the opportunity to be the bad guys, on the attack, the rebels. We're Ho Chi Minh. We're not South Vietnam. And we're going to win. We're moving up.

Questioner:  I just want to make a comment on that previous question about the Institute for the Psychological Sciences. A lot of us, I've found, are not free; bound by [unclear], compulsions, depression, anxiety. And the role of the Institute is to free the person to know God, to love God, to love others, but most importantly to [unclear] this fantastic God that makes the Big Bang with no effort [unclear]. That's the mission of the Institute: to free people to accept God. Thanks.

Peter Kreeft:  Touché.

Questioner:  I want to thank you for writing this book for [] and others. And I wonder if you would sign it for my friends?

Peter Kreeft:  Oh, sure. I'll sign a lot of books later. There's going to be a book signing. I never understood why people want signatures on books but, if that's what you like, fine. Blood, now that I'd understand. Give me a little bit of your blood, but ink? That's




Peter Kreeft. "Part 6: Questions and Answers." a talk on "Happiness" by Peter Kreeft given in various places at various times.

This article 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 © 2012 Peter Kreeft
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