All posts filed under: Articles

Ah, to Live in a Cosmos Again!

Anaxagoras takes the stage early in Aristotle’s Metaphysics as that sober man among drunks who rightly claims that reason is the cause behind all of nature and its beauty.[1] This same Anaxagoras, we are told, “answered a man . . . asking why one should choose rather to be born than not by saying ‘for the sake of viewing the heavens and the whole order of the universe.’”[2] Reason is needed to cause the beauty of the whole; only mind can make the world a cosmos. Mind is also needed to recognize that we live in a cosmos, as Seth Benardete remarks: “We see heaven and earth, but we do not see their unity, which we call cosmos. ‘Cosmos’ puts a label on an insight about the structure of the whole that is simply not available to sight.”[3] This label, “cosmos,” is rooted in the Greek verb kosmein, meaning both “to arrange” and “to order, rule” as well as “to adorn” (as in “cosmetics”). The aggregate of all that exists is a cosmos because of …

An Academic Program for Exploring the Divine Healing Touch in Medicine

The greatest challenge facing the academic health center community is to restore the marriage between humanistic concerns and scientific and technical excellence in health care delivery practices. —R.J. Bulger, The Journal of the American Medical Association, 2000 I came across this quote from Bulger in his article “The Quest for a Therapeutic Organization” while teaching an undergraduate seminar at the University of Michigan, where I am currently a faculty member in the School of Medicine. Bulger’s words so moved me that his declaration has since become my professional mission statement. Bulger’s choice of words like “restore” and “marriage” invokes a sense of something sacred which has been broken. “Humanistic concerns” bring to mind a sense of the divine’s presence in mankind, which has been long forgotten. The undergraduate seminar I taught was called “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made: Themes of Medicine in the Old and New Testament.” The title of the course was taken from Psalm 139 where David expresses awe for his maker, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my …

Guidelines for Any Appropriate Response to the Catholic Abuse Crisis

A Memory and a Hope: The Feast of the Assumption, August 15, 2018. I went to the 5:30 pm Mass at our parish. It was just this day that the Pennsylvania Grand Jury investigation was made public. I felt overcome by a tide of sadness, a very deep sadness in which I could not seem to touch bottom. It was as though all the beautiful things in the world that I had cherished had been tarnished and blasted with corruption and swept away by chaos, scandal, and embarrassment. At the very same time I had the most vivid impression of the beauty of the Feast we were celebrating, here towards summer’s end, contemplating Mary as the Eschatological Icon of the Church. This is as intimate and hopeful and ennobling Truth as any there are. I felt an equal tide of gratitude welling up within me just as deep and maybe even deeper than the sadness I was feeling. This was instead a tide of gratitude for the Church who, for all these centuries, had faithfully …

Georges Bataille: The Dark Soul of the Night

Unnatural Theology Georges Bataille’s life was an uninterrupted search for the divine. In his wanderings and writings he consistently wrote of the necessity of scientific knowledge, critical reason, and theoretical evaluations. He did this, however, in order to firmly delineate the horizon beyond which these epistemological approaches prove insufficient, misleading, and even poisonous. His scientific search led him to a religious atheism and systematic account of non-knowledge. In his posthumously published Theory of Religion he talked of “the sticky temptation of poetry” that he thought caused illegitimate anthropomorphic descriptions even in the exact sciences. Bataille associated clarity and consciousness with rigorous scientific analysis, and he attempted to apply the tools of analysis to the phenomena of religion. At the same time, he had a desire to give an account of what precedes and comes after the clarity of self-consciousness and scientific rationality. In his slim, fiercely naturalistic exploration of religious thought and practice he hoped to play midwife to a new joining of clear consciousness and the ecstasy previously associated with forms of religious mysticism. …

Frankenstein’s Scientific Chaoskampf

Jason Josephson-Storm convincingly argues in his recent book The Myth of Disenchantment, that contrary to the popular narrative of us living in secular age in which the common imagination has no room for anything spiritual, magical, or mythological we still very much live in an enchanted age.[1] We never became disenchanted because the so-called disenchanters, the founders of the modern sciences, were themselves caught up in the esotericism and occultism common in Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In short, magicians never went away they just put on lab coats. Of course the forgoing summary is crude and there is much more nuance to Josephson-Storm’s argument. However, the aim of the following is not to provide an analysis of his thesis. Instead, I would like to take this idea of Josephson-Storm’s that modernity, specifically modern science, is still rooted in myth and get at the founding myth of modern science’s progeny and master: modern technology. In so doing, I hope to call into question for both the lay person and the pastor the technophilia—the …

How Can Modern Science Purify Christianity from Error and Superstition?

John Paul II once wrote to Fr. George Coyne, S.J., the former director of the Vatican Observatory, that “Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish.” Setting aside the fascinating fact that the Vatican has its very own observatory, whose Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT) is located on Mount Graham in southeastern Arizona, the statement itself issued by the former pontiff contains a potentially scandalizing assertion if given only a superficial reading. How could it be at all possible that science, especially a modern science in whose name the deposit of faith has been greatly assailed in recent history, can “purify religion,” particularly Christianity, “from error and superstition” without at the same time introducing a corruption of revelation and faith? Moreover, how can religion in general and Christianity in particular “purify science from idolatry and false absolutes” without forcing science to be at variance with its own particular method and …

If the Mother of the Maccabees Knew of Atoms

Social media shoves us all up in each other’s faces in unprecedented ways. Where national politics was once metered in through newspapers and the evening news, now people of all ages have access to global details of immeasurable variety. Through the internet, we can see what friends on other continents had for dinner. We have a finger incessantly on the pulse of global events, from terrorism to natural disasters to scandals in the Catholic Church we never wanted to admit happen. To whatever extent this data dump causes constant anxiety, and constant anxiety upsets brain chemical equilibrium, I have not quite figured out how this torrent of affairs will play out. When I manage to get my nose out of my screen and step away, however, I often think of the Jewish mother of the seven sons in Second Book of Maccabees. She looked upon a different world, but I feel a camaraderie with her. Her story goes back to about 168–166 years before the birth of Christ. Her people, the Maccabees, led a rebellion …

Reality Is Bigger Than the Human Mind

 In “God’s Omnipresence, God’s Body and Four Ideals of Science,” the masterful second chapter of Theology and the Scientific Imagination from the Middle Ages to the Seventeenth Century (1986), the late Jewish historian and philosopher of science, Amos Funkenstein, delivered a blow to the believing intellect in his narrative of the unhappy transformation of theological reflection during the Scientific Revolution: The medieval sense of God’s symbolic presence in his creation, and the sense of a universe replete with transcendent meanings and hints, had to recede if not to give way totally . . . God’s relation to the world had to be given a concrete physical meaning . . . [Most] believed that the subjects of theology and science alike can be absolutely de-metaphorized and de-symbolized.[1] It is impossible to overemphasize the difference between such an anti-poetic approach and previous Christian reflection, at least in the Catholic tradition. To speak about God without metaphor or symbol—in other words, to speak of him univocally rather than analogically—was to mistake creature for Creator and to fall into …

St. John of the Cross: The Depth, Height, and Edges of Silence

Overture on Silence There are many kinds of silence: the stony silence of hatred, the crimped silence of hurt, the directed silences of envy and contempt, the silence that is the pause between our chattering and nattering, the concentrated silence of an attempt to find oneself in the scattering of oneself across work and home, task and function, busyness and the distractions we pile on in our leisure, the silence that is the time of planning and plotting, the silence rutted by fantasy, the silence that is the relief of withdrawal from a worn day with even more worn words, the silence before one drifts off to sleep, the silence which marks our having been beaten down and become abject, and the silence that is the acceptance of one’s death now coming in from the wings. There is happily also the silence of waiting on a sign that we are loved, the silence from which a work of art emerges and returns, the blessed silence from which scripture comes and the silence with which it …

Science Is Not as Important as We Believe

The New Evangelization is not about measuring up to science and speaking to its disparate methods. Science matters. Right? If idle chatter on the internet is to be believed, then absolutely. Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s tweets are consistently in the news, and, even if not the force he once was, Richard Dawkins remains a household name. The latter continues to go around endlessly delivering lectures; the former has begun to spin himself as the voice of reason in a disordered age by appointing himself and the unofficial editor of President Trump’s proposed space force Benedict XVI, of course, called Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene “a classic example of science fiction.” Meanwhile, laughing at Neil DeGrasse Tyson is basically a parlor game in some circles. And yet, somehow, we are told that religion must speak to science. As the number of “nones” in the United States grows, we have been tasked with finding a way to convince them that the Catholicism does not stand in opposition to reasonable, scientific inquiry. There is no shortage of write-ups arguing that …