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Either Everlasting Truth or the Nothing

by Fr. Jonathan Atchley

If there is a spirituality that needs development in the Church today, it is a devotion to God based on the six days of creation. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, 'let there be light, and there was light.'”

The Bible is replete with pearls of wisdom, exploding on each age and reader like the theoretical Big Bang sent countless condensed energetic particles every which way possible. Here in the first line of God’s recorded self-revelation, Scriptures gives meaning and purpose to our lives: with God there is light, truth, beauty and goodness, majesty and power, love and mercy. Without God, there is formless chaos, an enveloping emptiness which amounts to non-existence, literally nothing. Everything, in the end, comes down to this choice: God, or nothing.

Recall the children’s book also made into a movie series, about a young student who stumbles on a book about a fantasy land threatened by the all-consuming Nothing. As he finds out, Fantasia is real, and it needs him to save it! Like all good fantasy, our own ongoing story of creation and redemption is true and needs the reader to help complete it. Participation is crucial to salvation.

So why a devotion based on the creation account? Because our world is awash with chaos. We are overwhelmed (or better, underwhelmed) with theories of humanism, the philosophical outlook or attitude that reality makes no sense without the contributing elements man brings. Humanism means, according to the father of modernday pragmatism, William James, that “it is impossible to strip the human element out from even our most abstract theorizing.” Which makes some sense, because our relation to the world in part constitutes what reality is for us, though only in part. The error of humanism is that one can know only what is experientially accessible to us. And there’s the rub: “experience” becomes limited to empiricism, and whatever is transcendent cannot be known. Truth, like revelation, can be held subjectively, insofar as it is limited to humanistic and pragmatic principles.

Please bear with me because this is an important distinction not commonly recognized these days. Belief is too often reduced to a perception of reality, and the objective truth on which it is based has little or no meaning for mankind. This error, which one finds all too often in Pope Francis' words and writings, is echoed and embraced by James:

“The mere fact of appearing as an object at all is not enough to constitute reality. That may be metaphysical reality, reality for God; but what we need is practical reality, reality for ourselves; and, to have that, an object must not only appear, but it must appear both interesting and important.” (William James, the Psychology of Belief, pg. 352.)

For pragmatists and humanists and relativists and others who malign and misinterpret and misinform and misconstrue Catholic teaching, reality suits our needs and stimulates our interest. Which means that what is real is only that which we can relate to practically and emotionally. (I am quoting from my published Masters thesis here, “The Speculative Nature of Belief in God: An Epistemologically Realistic Account of Religious Faith Drawn from Aquinas, Kant, and James,” 1983.)

Don’t get lost in the lingo! This stuff is so important, because without a realist approach to faith and life, truth becomes whitewashed to preference, and God is set aside for whatever currently enters and entertains man at the moment. Yesterday, the editor of Catholic World Report published an article [1] noting common but serious mistakes that can be made about the faith: that the Trinity is a fascinating but abstract concept, a “theological artifact that is interesting to examine on occasion but which doesn’t affect how we think, speak, and live.” A second mistake is for one who studies the Trinity to throw up their hands in surrender: “Well, it doesn’t make any sense. I don’t see what it has to do with me and my life!” But God is love, and that makes love real, and hope for lasting love more than a passing interest on which society may give up hope.

I love what Mr. Olson goes on to say with his following three conclusions: 1) “The primary concern of Christianity is not the church or man, but God” (quote from an early homily of Joseph Ratzinger). 2) “We worship a living God who acts, who breathes, who exhales his very Self” (French Poet, Paul Claudel). 3) “Above all guard for me this great deposit of faith for which I live and fight, which I want to take with me as a companion, and which makes me bear all evils and despise all pleasures: I mean the profession of faith in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (St. Gregory of Nazianzus, quoted in the CCC, #256).

So, what was that about a need for spirituality based on the Genesis account of Creation? Mine is only a suggestion; I leave it up to others more gifted to follow through: Lord, let there be light, your truth for all nations! Come Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of your faithful! “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt. 5:26)!


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