Friday, August 19, 2016

Because God is Real

Mild Spoilers Ahead

Sixteen Questions, One Answer

This is the second book I've read by the delightful author Peter Kreeft, who also wrote The Philosophy of Tolkien.  This is the ultimate apologetics book that all Catholics should read.  It was a very quick read, but completely packed with important information.

There are sixteen questions, most of which have ten sub-questions as outlined below:
  • Introduction
  1. Why are questions good?
    1. Which questions are we talking about?
    2. What makes a question important?
    3. Why are questions precious?
    4. Should we question our faith?
    5. There are sixteen questions in this book, and each of them contains ten other questions.  That's 16 x 10 = 160 questions.  Isn't that too many?
    6. What if I'm not an intellectual?  What if I'm not "into" ideas?  Not everybody likes questions as much as philosophers and college professors, you know.
    7. When you speak of questions and answers, do you mean to assume that there's objective truth out there, the same for everybody and that if you disagree with that truth, your opinion is not just different but wrong?  Do you mean to say that religion is like science that way?  That what's true for you also must be true for me, because religion is about what is simply and absolutely true, whether we like it or not?  Are you saying that God is just as objectively real as a rock, even though you can't see Him and even though you can't prove Him by the scientific method?
    8. How can there be one and only one true answer to all sixteen of theses questions?
    9. What do you mean by "real" when you say God is real?
    10. What do you mean by "God"?
  2. Why do I exist?
    1. What is that question doing here, in this book?  "Why do I exist?" --what a strange question!  Not the kind of thing I expected to find in a catechism textbook about the Catholic religion.  It sounds very abstract and vague and speculative.
    2. Why is my existence in question?
    3. How can we know the true answer to this question about the meaning of our life?  What must we know, to know who we are?
    4. When we ask why we exist, what do we seek?
    5. What do we mean when we say that God is our origin?
    6. What do we mean when we say God is our end or destiny?  That sounds very vague and airy and abstract.  Can you make it more concrete and down-to-earth and easier to understand?
    7. How can God fill our hearts?  When we say our destiny is union with God, what does that mean?  How can we be united with God?
    8. So the meaning of life be a saint?
    9. Why doesn't everybody believe that this is our purpose and destiny?
    10. We Christians believe this.  Many people don't.  Can we give them any reason to believe our religion's answer to the question "Why do I exist"?
  3. Why is faith reasonable?
    1. What is "faith" and what is "reason"?
    2. What are the different ways of knowing?  How do we know anything at all?
    3. How do we know God?
    4. If we know God best by the heart, why do we need to prove God's existence with the reason?
    5. What is the very best way of knowing God?
    6. Do faith and reason ever contradict each other?
    7. But you can't prove everything in the Catholic religion, can you?
    8. How do unbelievers try to disprove the basics of Christianity?
    9. But doesn't science contradict religion?
    10. Doesn't evolution disprove creationism?
  4. How can you prove God is real?
    1. The First-Cause Argument
    2. The Argument from Design
    3. The Argument from the Human Brain
    4. The Argument from Desire
    5. The Moral Argument
    6. The Argument from Miracles
    7. The Argument from the Jews
    8. The Argument from the Saints
    9. The Argument from Jesus
    10. Pascal's Wager
  5. Why believe the Bible?
    1. Isn't the whole Christian religion based on some old stories in old books that are myths that modern science has debunked?  How do we know what Jesus really said?  How do w know he performed miracles?  How do we know He rose from the dead?  How do we know He founded a Church?  How do we know Jesus even existed?  Only because we assume that the Bible is true,  But the existence of Jesus is only an idea, an opinion, a belief.  It may be true or it maybe false, but it's only an opinion, not a fact.  And it's also an old idea or opinion, a pre-scientific idea.
    2. But wasn't the Bible written in an old, pre-scientific style, the style of myth?
    3. But the Bible was written by primitive people who didn't know modern science.  How can we trust it?
    4. But the Bible is only a book, after all, not a historical fact.
    5. But the Bible writers were writing to people who were ignorant of the facts of history.  They were gullible: they could believe anything.
    6. The Bible is only words.  Does God speak in words?  Aren't feelings more important?
    7. How could God write the Bible?  He's a spirit.  Men wrote the Bible.  You can see their human personalities in their writing.
    8. Who knows how to interpret the Bible, anyway? Everybody interprets it in his own way.  You get out of it whatever you put into it.
    9. Haven't there been mistakes in translation?  ow do we know the Bible we have today is the same book the authors originally wrote?
    10. What is the proper use of the Bible?  Who are the ones who use it best?  Hasn't the Bible been terribly misused and abused throughout history?
  6. Why is Jesus different?
    1. The different religions of the world were founded by different people: Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, Confucius, Lao Tzu.  How is Jesus different from the others?  Also, the teachings of all the religions of the world agree about many things.  Is there anything totally and radically different in the teachings of Christianity?  Is there anything that all Christians believe but no one else believes?
    2. What makes this belief different from those of other religions?
    3. It seems ridiculous to believe that literally.  How can a man be God?  How can God be a man?  God is the Creator of the universe; man is only a creature within the universe.  God is immortal; man is mortal. (God cannot die; man can die.)  God has no beginning; man has a beginning.  (God is not born; God has no mother.  Man is born; every man has a mother.)  God is a pure spirit; man has a physical body.  (God is invisible; man is visible.)  So it seems like a logical contradiction for Jesus to be both God and man at the same time.
    4. But even if it is possible for God to do this, why do Christians believe he actually did it?  Is there any proof that it happened?  Is there any reason for believing it?  Is there any evidence for it?  How do you know it's true?  It's just a subjective belief in your mind; there is no objective data, or facts, or evidence, are there?
    5. Okay, so Jesus claimed to be God.  But just claiming it doesn't prove it.  It's still not a fact that Jesus is God; the only fact is that he claimed to be God.  But his really being God isn't a fact, it's only a faith.
    6. Maybe the so-called data are all fiction.  Maybe Jesus didn't lie, but the Gospels lie.  Maybe Jesus never even claimed to be God, as the Gospels say He did.  Maybe the story in the Gospels is just a man-made myth, a piece of fantasy.  Maybe the miracle stories and the story of the Resurrection are science fiction.
    7. Maybe Jesus never even existed.  Who knows what really happened way back then?  Anything is possible.
    8. It still doesn't make sense to believe that (a) Jesus is God, and (b) Jesus' Father is God, but (c) Jesus is not the same person as His Father.  There's a logical contradiction there.  And all three of these ideas are part of Christianity and are taught in the New Testament.
    9. But even if the doctrine of the Trinity isn't a logical contradiction, it's not relevant to my life if I'm not a theologian.  It's like Einstein's theory of relativity, it's not relevant to my life if I'm not a scientist.
    10. But all this still seems far away in Heaven, in eternity.  What's the connecting link between God in eternity and my life here on earth Monday morning in my room?
  7. Why be a Catholic?
    1. If I had been brought up as a Hindu, I would have been a Hindu.  If I had been brought up as a Muslim, I would have been a Muslim.  So the only reason I'm Catholic is because I've been brought up as a Catholic.
    2. It seems so narrow-minded to believe that the Catholic religion is the one true religion.  Doesn't every person believe that his religion is the true one?
    3. If Christ is the only Savior, does that mean Christians are the only ones who are saved?  That we won't find any Muslims or Buddhists in Heaven?
    4. Why be a Christian then?  Why believe Christianity if non-Christians can be saved too?
    5. How can there be so much truth and goodness and beauty in other religions if they were not founded by Christ, as Christianity was?
    6. People are different.  Why should there be only one true religion?  There are many roads to God, many paths up the same mountain.
    7. But we shouldn't be judgmental.
    8. But there are other forms of Christianity too.  Why be a Catholic?  What does the Catholic Church have that no Protestant church has?  Isn't it true that there are many very good and holy people in Protestant churches, and many wicked people in the Catholic Church?
    9. So what do Catholics have that other Christians don't have?
    10. Can you summarize the reasons for being a Catholic?
  8. Why go to Church?
    1. Not many people are "turned off" by the idea of God.  But many are "turned off" by the Church.  Most people are not "turned of" by the idea of a church.  Why is that?
    2. What work does the Church do?  Why does she have to exist?  It doesn't seem as practical and necessary as a hospital, or an ark in a flood.
    3. Why do I have to go to Church every Sunday?  It doesn't turn me on.
    4. Can't you be saved without going to Church?
    5. Why do we need the Church's sacraments?
    6. My church is in my heart.  I need no externals, no crutches.  Organized religion is a crutch.
    7. The Church is just an authority figure, like a bossy teacher.  That's what the Church is really all about: power.
    8. The Church is hung up on the past and tradition.  She looks back at a man who died two thousand years ago.  She should be looking at the real world of the present.
    9. I just don't get anything out of it when I go to Church.  What should I do?
    10. That's private devotion, not public liturgy.  Okay, then religion should be private, and inward, and invisible, and purely spiritual, not pubic, external, visible, and material.
  9. Why be moral?
    1. The word "morality" is not a word that turns most people on.  Why should it?
    2. Morality does not turn most people on because morality is a set of rules, and rules restrict our freedom.
    3. So morality comes from God.  That sounds like "I'm God, and I'm the boss, so you have to do what I tell you."  So moral goodness is really based on power.  It's good only because the boss says so.
    4. How does God come into this, then, if morality is just the rules for being human and happy?  do the rules come from human nature of from God?
    5. But morality is still a set of rules, laws.  The Ten Commandments are not "suggestions" or "values" or "ideals".  God didn't give Moses the "ten good ideas".
    6. How does being good make you happy?  Good-goody people who always obey the rules aren't happy.  They're unintelligent and unimaginative and repressed.
    7. Why be good at all?  Why not be evil?  Why not be a stupid, spoiled little brat?  Why not be a snob?  Why not be a selfish pig?  What's so good about being good?
    8. Okay, so love is the heart of morality.  So in the words of the old song, "Love is all you need."  The rest of morality is a set of rules that restrict love.
    9. So how do you bridge the gap between law and love?
    10. Why is Catholic morality unchanging and absolute and universal?  Why doesn't it change with the times, and with different situations, and with different groups of people?  Why is it so rigid?
  10. Why is sex so confusing?
    1. Isn't the Church pretty unrealistic about sex?
    2. But the Church's teaching is all about the ideal, not the real; about what sex is supposed to be, not what it is.  If you want to start with reality, you must start with the brute facts.  Sex is simply a fact of life, like hair and thirst and death.
    3. All right, then, so ex is about love.  But the Church says sex is about babies, that sex is for procreation.
    4. So how does that make sex sacred?  Pig sex makes baby pigs too, but that doesn't make pig sex sacred.
    5. What does that mean, that we are created "in the image of God"?
    6. But sex doesn't always make new people.  It doesn't have to.  You can be sure it doesn't by using birth control.  So sex isn't always holy.
    7. Does that mean that all birth control is wrong?
    8. You say sex is for babies.  But it is also for pleasure.  Sexual pleasure is as natural to sex as babies are.  To suppress its natural pleasure is as unnatural as suppressing its natural fertility.
    9. Why do the rules of sexual morality have to be so complex?
    10. Why does sexual morality have to be so negative?  "Don't do this, don't do that."
  11. Why do we have families?
    1. Why does the Church connect sex with families?
    2. Is the origin of marriage a choice, or is it love?
    3. That all sounds very nice, but that's not what marriage is today.  It's a mess.  The Church tells us what marriage is ideally, but the real is not the same as the ideal.
    4. Why did God invent families?
    5. Why do families exist?  What is the purpose of the family?
    6. How are private families connected to the larger public society?
    7. What is the relation between the family and the state?
    8. How is this all connected with sex?
    9. Is that why the Catholic Church does not recognize divorce?
    10. How can there be divorced Catholics if the Catholic Church does not recognize divorce?
  12. Why are there virtues and vices?
    1. The meaning of virtue and vice
    2. The importance of virtues and vices
    3. The relation between morality and religion
    4. The relation between moral virtue and salvation
    5. The four cardinal virtues and their opposites
    6. The three theological virtues and their opposites
    7. The eight beatitudes and the seven deadly sins
    8. Virtue and society
    9. Virtue and happiness
    10. Proof of the connection between virtue and happiness
  13. Why pray?
    1. Praying doesn't turn me on.  Why do it?
    2. How do we do it?  How do we pray?
    3. What difference does prayer make?
    4. What is the purpose of prayer?
    5. What is the purpose of supplication or petition?
    6. Why did God tell us to pray?  He knows what we need.  If He loves us, why doesn't He just give us the things that He knows we need?  Why does He sometimes wait until we pray for them before He gives them to us?
    7. If we don't always get what we pray for, does that mean that some prayers are not answered?
    8. Is it all right to pray for material things?  Is it all right to pray in emergencies?  Isn't prayer supposed to be just for "spiritual" things?
    9. How often should we pray?
    10. What should we say when we pray?
  14. Why aren't we happy?
    1. The title of this chapter sounds different from all the others.  It doesn't sound like it's about religion.  Why is it here in a book about the Catholic religion?
    2. Happiness is just a feeling, and different people feel differently about different things, so different things make different people happy.  "Different strokes for different folks."  For some people, happiness is a warm puppy; for other people, it is extreme sports.  How can there be one road map for everybody?
    3. Why can't money make you happy?
    4. Why can't fame and glory make you happy?  Everyone wants them.  They make you more Godlike.
    5. Why can't power make you happy?  Now that's Godlike.  "Almighty God--" power is almost His middle name.  And what's worse than losing power, losing control?  It's like being a slave.
    6. Happiness is being loved, then: being respected, being accepted, being honored.
    7. Why can't a strong, healthy, beautiful body make you happy?  That's not in somebody else's mind--that's in you.
    8. Why can't enjoyment and pleasure make you happy?  That's in you, not in other people, and it's in the soul, not just the body, and we seek it as an end, not just as means.  So it's like happiness all three ways of those ways.
    9. Then maybe nothing in the world can make us happy.  Maybe the whole world can't make us wholly happy.
    10. What can make me happy?
  15. Why is there evil?
    1. Why is that problem in this book?
    2. What is the Church's answer to evil?
    3. What is the solution to the problem of evil in thought?
    4. What is evil?
    5. So where did physical evils come from?  Did God make them?  Did he make rattlesnakes and hurricanes?  Did He make diseases and death?
    6. Is that why sin is so bad?  Because it brought suffering into the world?
    7. Isn't it terribly negative, dark, and pessimistic, to take evil so seriously?  Isn't the Church hung up on the negative, on no-nos?  Doesn't this make us unhappy and guilty and take away our smiles?  Isn't Christianity supposed to be the "Gospel" or the "good news" that God loves us?
    8. How does evil fit into the "good news"?
    9. Who is Jesus in this story?
    10. If Jesus is the hero who solves the problem of evil, then what must we do to solve the problem of evil?
  16. Why must we die?
    1. Isn't the question of death, and life after death, impractical for young people?  Isn't it escapism to think about life after death?  Doesn't it take away your attention and care for this world?
    2. How do we know there is life after death at all?  Maybe it's just a myth.  There's no proof of it.  Nobody ever came back to tell us about it.
    3. What is the Last Judgement?  When we die, will we meet God as just Judge or as loving Savior?
    4. Many people believe in reincarnation.  They believe their souls will come back to earth in other bodies.  Is that possible?
    5. Are we really supposed to believe in a literal Heaven, with golden streets and fluffly white clouds and angels playing harps?
    6. What will be in Heaven?  Beer?  Baseball?  Catbirds?  Cats?
    7. Is there really a Hell?  Isn't that belief primitive, crude, and cruel?  Isn't it just a popluar myth?
    8. Is Puragorty a little bit of Hell?
    9. What difference does this all make to life here and now?  How does this Catholic map of the future change to the present?  What difference does eternity make to Monday morning?
    10. How does Jesus fit into all this?
  • Conclusion
I found this book to be written in a very easy to read and down to earth manner.  It is aimed at teens and adults, especially to be used in a Catechism class, so it's great that it is written in such a mild style.  It does, however, really pack a punch.  While the writing may be light, the substance is truly there.  Peter Kreeft walks the fine line between "fluffy" and "over-dramatic" perfectly keeping a great balance of reality and truth throughout the book.

It makes me wish we read this in CCD instead of the Catechism text book we read!  The books we have are mostly fluffy and don't really delve into the questions that teens are really asking today.  

This book obviously covers a huge variety of questions, but the great thing is that since Peter Kreeft starts from the top, first proving that God exists, and then moves down the chain of questions, we as readers are already set up with the same basic understanding.  Once you acknowledge God's existence, his benevolence, his omnipotence, etc. everything else falls in place.

One of my favorite points that Professor Kreeft made was in his "Why is Jesus Different?" Chapter.  He says:
"There are only two possible explanations.  Either 
a. Jesus spoke the truth, or
b. Jesus did not speak the truth. 
In other words, either  
a. Jesus was, and is, God, as he claimed to be, or else
b. Jesus was not God, even though he claimed to be. 
Those are the only two possibilities.  So if we eliminate (b), we are left with (a).  If we prove (b) is false, then we prove that (a) is true...The always say he was a good man, a great man.  But what kind of a man is He if He is not God but claimed to be God?  He is a man who did not tell the truth about Himself.  That is not a good man, certainly not a great man.  There are only two reasons why anyone does not speak the truth: either he knows he is not speaking the truth, or he doesn't know he is not speaking the if Jesus isn't the Lord, then He's either the world's biggest liar or the world's biggest lunatic.  Why would anyone trust either the world's biggest liar or the world's biggest lunatic?...Can anyone read the Gospels and see Jesus as a liar or a lunatic?  Look at His wisdom, His goodness, His love, His power to attract people.  Even non-Christians say He was good and wise..."
If someone ever approaches me with questions about the faith or wants a recommendation for something to read, I will hand them this book in an instant.  It is a fantastic, pithy, and clear representation of the Catholic faith and definitely worth the time to read.  Highly, highly, recommended!

Have you read Because God is Real?  Did anything about it surprise you?
Are you going to read Because God is Real?  Which of the above questions is the most important to you?

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