Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving Intellectual Hand Grenades

I had a wonderful time yesterday at my brother's home for the family Thanksgiving.  For one, a number of my work colleagues and some Posse scholars came over to celebrate with the Hucks.  I think everyone had a great time and I am always so proud of my family and how welcoming everyone is to strangers who may be far away from their own families and who may otherwise be spending Thanksgiving day without a traditional Thanksgiving experience.

But, towards the end of the afternoon, I was involved in an interfamilial theological and philosophical debate with my nieces and nephews.  Whereas in the past, my debate competitors were my siblings and cousins and parents and aunts/uncles, this time my debate competitors were the youthful high schoolers of the next generation.  All four of them attend Catholic high schools and are very much committed enmeshed in the basic theological concepts that they are taught -- in a somewhat orthodox and unquestioning manner, if you ask me.

In any event, I decided to stir the pot a little bit and so I brought up the subject of God's nature as an "all-powerful" and "all-knowing" being.  My arguments, which I've given lots of thought to over the years and which I've discussed on this very blog at times, center around the notions of the radical powerlessness of God and the limits to God's knowledge.  It threw these young minds for a bit of a loop, though I was impressed with how thoughtful and critically engaged they were with the topic.  None of them agreed with me, which is fine, but I think I did rattle some cognitive processes.  What I think the Catholic Church needs more of is critical thought and what it needs less of is blind acceptance to "revealed truth" and the very human authority behind such revelations.  I'm all for a little heterodoxy in the midst of a uncritically examined and powerful orthodoxy.  So, let's see where these open gates in the minds of these young thinkers now lead them to.  My hope is not that this examination process leads people away from their convictions, but rather strengthens and deepens them through the full exercise of the critical thinking capacity that God has given to us.

Hope you had a thoughtful Thanksgiving, too!


Eric said...

I have the hardest time with theological discussions, even in my own head. There is just so little we can objectively know about God. That doesn't make him any less important but it makes arguing about his nature seem like a waste of time. He could have the power to end suffering and right wrongs (or what our puny 5 senses perceive to be wrongs) but chooses not to for his own reasons. It is equally likely that what we perceive to be suffering and wrongness are actually something else from his perspective. It is equally likely that, as you state, for some reason he is powerless to stop those things. There just isn't any way for us to know those answers for sure from within the confines of our mortal coils.

I am always reminded of these words I read in Cicero's "On The Nature Of The Gods":

If you should ask me what God is, or what his character and
nature are, I should follow the example of Simonides, who, when Hiero the tyrant proposed the same question to him, desired a day to
consider of it. When he required his answer the next day, Simonides
begged two days more; and as he kept constantly desiring double the
number which he had required before instead of giving his answer,
Hiero, with surprise, asked him his meaning in doing so: "Because,"
says he, "the longer I meditate on it, the more obscure it appears to

Huck said...

All good points, Eric. But all I can do is put the noggin to use in at least trying to make sense of God. And my brain leads me to think as I do about God. It's not enough for me to just shrug my shoulders and chalk it all up to an inexplicable mystery. I've got to try to make sense of it. Anyone who believes in God and doesn't try to make sense of God is not much of a believer, if you ask me.

I basically conceded your point in the discussion and told everyone that if our debate boiled down to the notion of God as an inexplicable mystery, there was no point in continuing the discussion. Once that card is played, there's nothing anyone can say to reason against it.

Eric said...

"Anyone who believes in God and doesn't try to make sense of God is not much of a believer, if you ask me."

But one of the most frustrating and potentially dangerous things I see believers do all the time is to attempt to make sense of God by starting with baseless assumptions about his nature.

I'll admit to being in the middle of a sort of decade-long vapor lock when it comes to ascertaining a full understanding of my spiritual beliefs (one where prayer, meditation, and reading have all been unable to move things forward), but the truth of the matter is that any step forward from where I currently stand requires making assumptions that I feel unqualified to make. Having once been an atheist and once been an agnostic, I now have a strong faith in the existence of God, but not much faith in my ability to interpret his intentions... and when I question others who claim to have that ability, their answers are just never very convincing.

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