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The Church and Secularism - part 4


Can I get practical about the prescription? I'll give you nine pieces of practical advice for saving your soul and Western Civilization.



All right, enough of the diagnosis.  Prognosis.  Third step.  We've looked at the bad news, now let's look at the good news.  We're pretty reluctant to look at the bad news.  We like happy talk.  We like good news.  And that's bad when you're sick.  "Everything's going to be all right."  No it isn't.  You lie.

Lewis says, at the beginning of The Problem of Pain, that when Christianity came into the world, it seemed too good to be true.  Everybody knew the bad news:  of course there's sin.  But they were sceptical about the good news.  How could God be that good?  Today it's just the opposite.  Everybody believes the good news.  But nobody believes the bad news.  So we have to first preach the diagnosis before we can preach the cure, which means we're going to have the reputation of being negative and judgmental and nasty and pessimists and all that sort of thing.  Well, sorry.  If you're dying, somebody has to tell you you're dying before you get better.

Prognosis is not optimism, not pessimism.  Optimism says, "Everything's going to be all right."  Pessimism says, "Everything's hopeless."  None of the prophets are optimists, and none of them are pessimists.  They all believe in hope.  It can get worse, it can get better — it's up to you.  There's no such thing as a prophet of doom, because the prophet of doom does not believe in free will.  The prophet of doom says, "You're on a waterslide, and there's sharks at the bottom, and there's no way out."  An optimist says, "You're in heaven; all you have to do is to smile."  A prophet says, "You're on a waterslide, and there are sharks at the bottom, but there's a way out."  So the prognosis is hope, but if and only if you take the prescription.  If you have this operation you can be cured.  If you do these exercises you'll get healthy.  If you change your diet you won't have these headaches.  If not, not.


All right.  There were three basic ingredients to my diagnosis, corresponding to the true, the good, and the beautiful, so there should be three dimensions to my prescription.  Yes.  First, the dimension of the truth, and the object of the mind.  The mind has to be healed.  The mind may not be the single most important thing in us but it's the first thing.  If you don't see anything you can't will anything, fall in love with anything, act on anything.  Once the lights go out, you're hopeless, which is why Satan's primary trick is:  dim the lights.  Well, our modern thinkers have cooperated with that and our scepticism about truth and goodness and beauty have dimmed the lights.  And all you need to do to refute them is not to be a great philosopher; just be a commonsensical, sane human being.  Be like a little boy in the Hans Christian Anderson fairy-tale "The Emperor's New Clothes."  Dare to say the obvious:  the emperor is naked. 

Scepticism:  the stupidest philosophy in history.  What does it mean?  Well, ultimately it means there is no being.  Oh, really?  Is that true?  There is no is-ness?  It is that there is no is-ness?  Well, I mean, if there's no truth.  Oh, is it true that there's no truth?  No, I mean we can't know it.  Oh, do you know we can't know it?  Well, we can know it with probability, but not with certainty.  Oh, is it certain that you can't be certain?  Well, maybe so, but it's just subjective; it's not objective.  Oh, is that an objective truth?  Whichever way you twist and turn, it's a very simple self-contradiction.  And the gospel that there is no moral law, that there is no objective and absolute moral law, that they make it up themselves, why would anybody say that?  Why would you be missionaries to this new liberating philosophy of amoralism?  Don't you think it's good?  If you don't think it's good, why are you giving it to me?  Is it good to teach us there's no goodness?  Is it bad to teach there is such a thing as badness?  That's self-contradictory too. 

Romeo is not passionate about Juliet until he meets her, and you don't get passionate about God until you meet him.

And you look at much of the modern artistic establishment, especially the ones that are supported by a government, and they're terrified of beauty and in love with ugliness.  Well, is ugliness beautiful?  Is beauty ugly?  That's self-contradictory too.  So, heal the mind by common sense.  The greatest book anybody ever wrote about the greatest mind that ever lived is G. K. Chesterton's St. Thomas Aquinas:  The Dumb Ox.  And the main point of that book is that Thomas Aquinas is the most commonsensical philosopher that ever lived.  Popes have repeatedly repeated that.

Second area:  the will.  What would be the restoration of the moral will?  Would it be willpower?  Would it be finding the little button that you could push that would give you an extra oomph or something?  No.  No.  The will has to fall in love with truth.  You have to see God to be passionately in love with him.  The will can't start itself.  It depends upon the real presence of God.  Romeo is not passionate about Juliet until he meets her, and you don't get passionate about God until you meet him.  But when you do, well there's a spiritual gravity there.  When you open yourself to that gravity you're sucked in, and you go really fast.  And that spiritual gravity is holiness; it's what God is.  It's charity, which is the essence of sanctity.  And that's winning; that wins the world. 

It won the world once.  Why do you think tough, worldly, pragmatic Romans converted to Christianity?  Did it make them more rich and powerful?  Did it make rational sense?  No.  Well, they saw saints.  What do these people have?  They're either crazy or they've discovered the secret of life.  Why do they dare to do what we don't even dare to do?  Why do they risk their lives for each other?  Why do they go into the mouths of lions singing hymns and forgiving their enemies?  Well, that will — that healing of the will presupposes the healing of the minds, seeing God.  But it also results in the healing of emotions. 

We're big on emotions nowadays.  We want to heal the emotions.  Almost all our books on science are about psychology and all the books on psychology are pop psychology and all the books on pop psychology are about emotions.  How do you feel?  That's it.  We don't even say, "I think that" anymore, we say, "I feel that."  The only way to heal emotions is to ignore them.  What?  Emotions are terribly important!  Yeah, they are.  They are.  But if you focus on them, they go away, whether they're good or bad.  Let's say you're having a bad emotion:  lust, or anger, or resentment.  You're tempted to forget the fact that you're having this bad emotion and focus on the object of your lust or anger or resentment.  But turn around and look at yourself, and you'll say "What an idiot I am."  And it'll go away.  That's why the Church mandates confession.  On the other hand, if you're having a very good emotion, if you're in ecstatic joy, when you turn around and focus on that and say, "Good grief!  I am in ecstatic joy!  I am having a religious experience!  I must write a term paper about that," it'll go away.  So don't make your emotions go away when you're having good ones.  Forget them.  Remember them only when you're having bad ones.  Surf on them.  Surf on the good waves, not the bad waves.  Avoid wipe-outs.

Can I get practical about the prescription?  I mean, the good, the true, and the beautiful; that sounds very good, but it's kind of philosophical.  Can I get more and more practical?  Yeah, I'll give you maybe seven or eight or nine pieces of practical advice for saving your soul and Western Civilization — in that order, by the way, because Western Civilization won't be in heaven but you will, hopefully.

Use Christ's weapons. There are many of them.

Number one:  be a realist.  Know we're at war.  When you suddenly realize you're at war, your consciousness changes.  Everything changes.  You get a different perspective.  You stop complaining about the lumps in the oatmeal, or on the bed.  You're on a battlefield for goodness' sakes.  Oh, gee, I thought it was a nice meadow, and I thought those were butterflies, and I was going after them with a butterfly net.  No, those are live bullets.  Oops.

Second:  know who your enemies are.  We've got a battle manual called the Bible that tells us these things very clearly.  Spiritual warfare is on almost every page of the Bible.  And it's very clear who our enemies are, at least in the New Testament.  Our enemies are not flesh and blood but principalities and powers of wickedness and high places.  Our enemies are demons.  We have enemies.  Nobody can pray the Psalms without knowing we have enemies.  The word occurs hundreds of times.  It's one of the most, maybe even the most pervasive themes in the Psalms.  Spiritual warfare.  And unless Jesus is a liar or a fool, our enemies are Satan and his minions, which are formidable and real.  Don't underestimate him, but don't overestimate him either.  Those are the two ways to lose a war.  "Our enemy is nothing."  Well, they'll zap you.  You probably felt that about the Bruins last year.  Or "our enemies are everything."  They're going to win!  You just lay down your arms and give up.  Yep, know your enemies.

Third:  follow Winston Churchill's advice, in one of the most memorable lines in any commencement address in history.  During World War II he went to his alma mater — Eton, I think it was — and said, "Never, never, never, never, never, never, never give up."  There wasn't much else that he said.  He didn't need to say anything more.  Never, literally, never, because this is a war for eternity, not just for time.  It's a never war.

Fourth:  use Christ's weapons, not yours.  Christ's weapons are charity, not hate.  Hate never works.  Christ's weapons are truth, not propaganda.  Propaganda never works.  Use Christ's weapons.  There are many of them.  They're listed in the New Testament.  Ultimately, Christ's weapons are his own presence, and we have the most powerful thing in the world right here with us.  It looks like a little piece of bread and it goes into your body.  And that's more powerful than all the galaxies.  That's more powerful than nuclear bombs.  That's more powerful than the devil.

Fifth:  love sinners much more than you do.  And hate sin much more than you do, out of your love for sinners.  Remember that the Church is not a museum for saints; it's a hospital for sinners.  And there are people who are bleeding to death and we're going to help them.  And don't expect them to be grateful all the time.  Any social worker will tell you that.

Sixth:  be happy.  The fight is fixed.  You're guaranteed to win.  The gates of hell are not going to prevail against the Church so if the gates of hell won't do it the ACLU won't do it either.  Be happy.  But make noise.  Fight.  Bother people.  Don't be a sheep.  Sometimes I think — I don't want to insult you wonderful people, but — if you could only exchange, let's say, a million New Yorkers for a million Canadians, that would help both societies a lot.  Nose in your face.  A little more of that, please.

Point number eight:  at the same time that you should make noise, you should be silent.  Silent inside.  Patient.  Waiting for God.  He's not a train.  He doesn't run by your timetable.

And finally, know yourself.  This is old Socrates.  This is not something that requires a lot of faith.  Remember my southern Baptist preacher sermon:  I'm God, you're not.  God says that to us.  But we tend to say it to him.  That's what Job repented of.  And as a result, what did Job get?  God.  Heaven.  Why was Job totally satisfied before he got any of his stuff back, before he got his health back, before he got his family back, before he got his friends back, before God gave him any answer at all to the problem of evil and explained nothing?  Because Job got heaven.  What's heaven?  The presence of God.  Once you're there, that's it. 

That's why Thomas Aquinas was the greatest philosopher in history.  It was because he was silent enough to call his whole Summa straw, compared with the vision of God that he had, and he couldn't write any more words.  It's because he had the wisdom to confine his answer to three words, when God asked him the most important question in the world.  He was in the chapel, in the middle of the night, he'd finished the treatise on the Eucharist, and Brother Reginald, his confessor, swore under oath that he saw Thomas there in the middle of the night and heard a voice coming from the crucifix, which was the voice of Christ, and it said, "Thomas, my son, you have written well of me.  What will you have as your reward?"  And Thomas gave the absolutely perfect answer, "Only yourself, Lord."  The closer you get to that, the closer you'll get to becoming a saint, and that's the only way to save Western Civilization.




Peter Kreeft.  "The Church and Secularism - part 4." a talk given at Westminster Abbey, Mission B.C.  (January 28, 2012).

This article is reprinted with permission from Peter Kreeft.

Photo:  Kwan Choo, ARPS

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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