I realize now that while making my visits to the Blessed Sacrament and rediscovering scripture in the authentic light of the Church’s teaching, my designated spiritual leader, protector, and guide for this March to the Kingdom, Joan of Arc, inspired me to break camp at the gates of the Church with my happy troupe of saintly companions and move forward through the mystical and astonishing land inside her walls.
This driving force and St. Joan’s leadership, given to me as a grace from Jesus Christ and designated for me from all eternity, gave me the motivation to break out of my lifelong spiritual inertia and leap toward the first mighty footprints of those saints and Fathers of the Church who went before me.
Keep in mind that we are lost on our own; we must follow the footsteps of the Fathers and our saintly friends to find our way. The Protestant mind will tell you that you need nothing but the Bible and an individualized personal relationship with Jesus; they will not allow heavenly family or friends to journey with you. Theirs is a truncated way, diminished by their refusal to accept the full revelation of Christ through his Church. The modern skeptical secular mind will tell you that you merely need material science to lead you. Theirs is a small way, diminished by the intellectual darkness of their misguided first philosophies. Conversely, the truly safe way that consumes and mystically edifies both of these alternatives is the two-thousand-year old way of the Apostolic Fathers and saints on the Path of the Dogmatic Creed of Roman Catholicism with the Church’s authority as the voice of Jesus Christ on earth.
Earlier I suggested that the first few chapters of the book of Genesis were of the upmost importance to us in our world today. I would like to continue that discussion as I introduce the new world view that will animate us for the rest of our journey.
I am convinced that most of the firestorms of religious ridicule, mockery, and blasphemy in modern culture derive from a complete misunderstanding of these important chapters which God gave us for direction in a dark and lost world. I am equally convinced that most Christians engage in a misguided defense of these writings.
Few arguments in the modern world better define the catastrophic cultural, philosophical, and theological conflicts between the secular world and the believing Christian world than those over the subject of creation. Here we have what the materialists consider to be a beachhead in their war to destroy religion and impose atheism as the dominant cultural philosophy. They truly believe that scientific discovery makes a sham of the story of creation and relentlessly mock religion as being finally undone.
The secular atheist points to the scientifically determined age of the universe and insists that this directly contradicts the biblical statement that God made the earth in six days. The secular relies on scientific knowledge in the material realm without any serious attempt at philosophical reasoning which is, by definition, non-material and beyond their realm of inquiry. In their narrow view, material science trumps scripture. Regarding a strict, literal, scientific scriptural interpretation of Genesis 1, it indeed has.
It appears to them, then, that religion lost a major, if not the major, beachhead in the battle. Once the Biblical story of creation goes, the concept of original sin is not far behind. It is only a matter of time before the rest falls, most notably the value of Christ dying on the cross; for, no sin, no need to be saved from it. You can see the battlefield map of the atheists with the lines drawn straight to Christ on the cross.
This view of theirs is akin to the English capturing northern France in the Hundred Years War, leaving the rest of France demoralized and hopelessly awaiting the inevitable fall of the entire country. Similarly, the atheist in our cultural war assumes that the believers are on the brink.
Continuing this analogy, we see at last how Eastern New Age, though spiritual in nature, cooperates with un-spiritual atheism to steamroll over Christian culture. Just as the French House of Burgundy aligned itself with the English in the Hundred Years War in an attempt to conquer France and destroy the authentic claims of the House of Valois to the crown, New Age aligns itself with atheism in the war against Christ by providing a seductive spiritual sounding alternative to the creation story and original sin, thus cooperating to destroy the authentic claims of the Church’s scriptures and the need for a saving Christ. No more sin, no more need for Jesus, at least not the real one who died on the cross and rose from the dead. Eastern New Age will give us alternatives that speak superficially of things spiritual, but this spirituality is nothing more than a minion of the atheists, just as the Burgundians were French but nevertheless aligned with the enemies of France. In sum, both spiritual New Age and non-spiritual atheism cooperate to achieve one goal, which is to eliminate the Christ who saves us from sin and damnation.
What then, is the alternative view here? How can true religion be saved? It seems that, indeed, the enemy captured the great beachhead. To answer this, we must put things in their proper order by distinguishing between reason and material science; for, they substantively are not the same. Reason is non-material and requires logical conclusions drawn from true premises, or first philosophies. Science is much narrower and seeks to know only the true nature of the material world. Science is necessary but not sufficient on its own to determine what truly is reasonable. We must honor scientific knowledge while properly subjugating that knowledge to true reason, thereby edifying scientific achievement and consummating it with God’s point of view.
Refer back to the story of the great king Gilgamesh in the Forward to this book. Imagine, again, a world with “no religion too” in reference to the late singer and songwriter John Lennon mentioned in that same Forward. Continue to imagine now the mythologies about our beginnings that developed in humanity’s early years. Like the king, people everywhere, though without formal religion or modern religious dogmas, developed concepts explaining how they came into existence and for what reason. There was every kind of superstition and frightening legend. God inspired the writers of sacred scripture in part to counter those myths and misconceived stories. In this manner, God revealed to all generations the truth about creation, our place in it, and the purpose of it all. Amid all the myths, God told us what we should believe that we might have authentic premises on which to build truly reasonable intellectual schemes. In addition to the spiritual and religious, truly reasonable intellectual thought requires the insights from the first few chapters of Genesis.
Most modern materialists mock the bible, particularly the first few chapters of Genesis, as being “myth.” They are quite unaware that God actually gave us the biblical story of creation in order to refute ancient myths and to establish us in authentic premises that bring us true reason. (Ratzinger, A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall 1995) Where would I get such a strange notion in light of the supposed scientific evidence to the contrary? Let us go back to the analogy.
My analogy for the modern war between the materialists and the Bible is that one mentioned above whereby the former captures a strong beachhead, a piece of land that represents a bulkhead from which they will now continue to drive more deeply into enemy territory to destroy the land of religion. They plant their flag of darkness. They are prepared to take over the land.
The trouble for them is that they captured the wrong beachhead. The firm ground they conquered is not at all as strategically important as they imagine. Their premise is that the sheer weakness of the religious foe’s scientific argument assures victory. Perhaps the bible served its purpose centuries ago, but we must now make room for the new truth, that is, scientific truth.
The issue for the materialists here is that they do not understand the proper hierarchy of intellectual understanding. They do not understand that there are non-material truths outside and above the empirical, material world required to be truly reasonable. They do not realize that their material-only science is necessary but not sufficient on its own. This intellectual darkness obscures their way. They took Greenland when they thought they stormed the beaches of Normandy.
To this point, Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, gave a series of four very important homilies in 1981 at the Liebfrauenkirche in Munich that represented, as he calls it, a “creation catechesis” for adults. Reading through these homilies was a very important part in my journey with the great St. Joan of Arc to a new world view. In these homilies, he outlines the intellectual and doctrinal framework which sits outside and above materialism.
He begins early in the first homily with a very thought-provoking proposition that sheds light on the core irritations of the modern dialogue:
“The new historical thinking wanted to read every text in itself, in its bare literalness. Its interest lay only in the exact explanation of particulars, but meanwhile it forgot the Bible as a whole. In a word, it no longer read the texts forward but backward – that is, with a view not to Christ but to the probable origins of those texts. People were no longer concerned with understanding what a text said or what a thing was from the aspect of its fulfillment, but from that of its beginning, its source. As a result from this isolation from the whole and of this literal-mindedness with respect to particulars, which contradicts the entire inner nature of the Bible but which was now considered to be the truly scientific approach, there arose that conflict between the natural sciences and theology which has been, up to our day, a burden for the faith. This did not have to be the case, because faith was, from its very beginnings, greater, broader, and deeper. Even today, faith in creation is not unreal; even today it is reasonable; even from the perspective of the data of the natural sciences it is the “better hypothesis”, offering a fuller and better explanation than any of the other theories. Faith is reasonable. The reasonableness of creation drives from God’s Reason, and there is no other really convincing explanation.” (Ratzinger, A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall 1995)
Discovering these hidden homilies, I sensed that our future Pope carefully guided the flock in Munich to a different outpost, a solid rock unknown by the secularists and atheists in this discussion of faith and reason. Through the scriptures, God gave us an understanding of the authentic premises, or first philosophies, from which to frame our search for meaning. He gave us the foundation for proper reasoning. He did not give us astrophysical scientific theories. What the pure secular view saw as the beaches of Normandy, the critical beachhead on the battle field, turned out to be something else. The atheists missed the target.
Then-Cardinal Ratzinger goes on to point out the cosmic significance of the “math” in the story of creation, and how this math is to the physical world what God is to us, that is, spiritual. God reveals to us not only that he created all matter, including the physical laws that govern it, he also reveals the very soul and mathematical rhythm of the material world.
“I would like to seize upon two elements here. The first is that the Biblical creation account is marked by numbers that reproduce not the mathematical structure of the universe but the inner design of its fabric, so to say, or rather the idea according to which it was constructed…the number that governs the whole is seven; in the scheme of seven days it permeates the whole in a way that cannot be overlooked. This is the number of a phase of the moon, and thus we are told throughout this account that the rhythm of our heavenly neighbor also sounds the rhythm of our human life. It becomes clear that we human beings are not bounded by the limits of our own little “I” but we are part of the rhythm of the universe, that we too, so to speak, assimilate the heavenly rhythm and movement in our own bodies, and, thus thanks to this interlinking, are fitted into the logic of the universe. In the Bible this thought goes still further. It lets us know that the rhythm of the heavenly bodies is, more profoundly, a way of expressing the rhythm of the heart and the rhythm of God’s love, which manifests itself there.” (Ratzinger, A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall 1995)
I then truly understood that perhaps God’s message in the creation story was one of critical importance in any age, including our own for sure. It also became clear that this message was one that transcended the current debate, not one that contradicted a particular scientific viewpoint or discovery. In other words, God told all generations, in a manner that required no specific level of scientific understanding, what was the purpose of creation and our existence. God’s message is universal both in a particular time and through all time. It truly is applicable to all people.
God created us; we have absolute freedom in and through the Creator God. He forbids only one thing, to decide on our own, apart from him, what is fundamentally right and what is wrong (the one forbidden tree in the garden). All of our problems stem from the fact that our first parents, and through them we too, willfully rebelled against that which is God’s alone (to decide what is right and what is wrong); we are impoverished as the result, having now forfeited our freedom to slavery in sin. However, God loved us still and promised a redeemer, a new Adam, through another woman, a new Eve. This revelation is not contrary to scientific discovery, rather it is the spiritual explanation, the spiritual “reason,” behind all that science discovers in the material realm. This is “super-science” in the way that God is “super-natural.” This also demonstrates how the reason of the Spirit of the Bible is hierarchically superior to the natural, scientific approach of Biblical exegesis while at the same time not descending to a pure, non-scientific fundamentalism as we discussed in the previous chapter.
Another idea struck me with great joy. God’s message in the first few chapters of Genesis not only is “super-science” (our meaning and purpose, the rhythm and inner mathematical beauty of that purpose, the problem definition, and the promised solution), but it now seemed absolutely brilliant in its form. How could anyone possibly convey such deep and intrinsically meaningful information in one short story that transcends all times and all levels of scientific achievement? How could God make sure that all people of all time understood the same message, one that did not depend on technological achievement which would thus disadvantage those in earlier times? How does one not only tell a universal story (horizontal in its ability to reach all cultures and corners of the globe) but also one that transcends time (vertical in its ability to communicate through all ages, despite the level of technological achievement)? The story of creation began to blossom before me with true supernatural drama and majesty. From that point on, the first few chapters of Genesis became a source of incredibly fulfilling contemplation.
The atheists and materialists, who believe that they have dealt a death blow to religion with their astounding proclamation that the world was not created in six natural days, ended up storming Greenland in an attempt to take over France. God did not create the world in six rotations of the earth relative to the sun; I will give them that point. I will cede Greenland. However, they miss the larger picture and deprive us of one of the most awe-inspiring stories in the Bible. It is the story of creation from the highest order of reason and intellect, which is God’s Reason and Intellect. It is the story that explains God’s point of view.
With the proper and authentic order of reasoning set before me, all else, my entire world view, began to change. The hierarchy of knowledge and reasoning must start with God. God has something to say. God has a point of view. We would benefit greatly by paying attention to it. By incorrectly making the material world of empiricism the highest order of reasoning, the atheist ends up in Greenland. By making God’s point of view the highest order and beginning point for reasoning, the rest of us end up safely in France.
With our new perspective and point of view now intact, let us set off to explore that beautiful land that sits through the gateway and over the mountain’s ridge.