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A God Shaped Hole?

In Uncategorized on May 14, 2015 at 3:35 pm

WhyI admit that I wince every time I hear this phrase, but there is something here to think about it.

Everybody asks big questions at some time or another. Questions like “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “Why is there suffering and death?” “Why bother?” Asking big questions is so common that it is often be considered a quality that is essential or structural to humanity.

Human beings ask a lot of questions and we are strongly compelled to answer them.   We cannot live without seeking answers. Seeking answers to questions asked of the material world is at the core of our sciences.   But we also ask questions beyond the material using human reason. Asking questions and compulsion to seek answers and meaning is foundational to being human.

Giussani says that if we have a hundred questions and answer ninety-nine of them, the one we can’t answer drives us crazy.  And the thing about the so called “big questions,” they are not answerable.  Hamlet quite correctly says, “There are more things, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophies.” As we seek answers to our questions, we come to the conclusion that we can’t answer all of our questions. This is a tough situation for us. On the one hand, we have an insatiable desire to understand and on the other hand we are limited to what we can know. The tension created by the disparity between our ideals and our actualities suggests the existence of a source of ultimate fulfillment.

C. S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity

Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

This from Blaise Pascal in Pensées VII

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.

According to Lewis and Pascal, the big questions, which seem to be foundational to human consciousness, affirm the existence of an Ultimate. We cannot answer the big questions, yet we crave and even expect an answer. This expectation suggests that there must be an Other from which we crave the affirmation of our existence that an answer would give. Giussani says that our inability to answer these questions leaves us sad, but to deny the possibility of an answer is to disconnect man from himself because the desire for answers is structural–foundational to being human. To deny the possibility of an answer is to declare everything meaningless–this leads to the opposite of sadness–despair. As Macbeth says, it would be as if life is “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

There must be an answer; and a human being cannot live without seeking that answer. Giussani says that a human being can’t live five minutes without affirming “the existence of a ‘something’ which deep down makes living those five minutes worthwhile” (57).

The disparity between our questions and our inability to answer them leaves us sad. Denying the possibility of an answer leads us to despair.


Humans are Amphibians

In Uncategorized on May 1, 2015 at 5:27 am

FrogHumans beings are, as C. S. Lewis says, amphibians, “half spirit and half animal. As spirits [we] belong to the eternal world, but as animals [we] inhabit time.”

Lewis suggests that human beings experience two realities–one linked to the physical world and the other to the spiritual. Luigi Giussani (The Religious Sense 40-44) distinguishes these two realities as well, describing the first as measurable and the second is immeasurable.

The material world has the qualities of height and depth and weight and temperature–these are all measurable. To measure is to compare the whole to one of its parts. A can of Coke can be broken down into millilitres, a human body into pounds and inches. Giussani points out that by their very nature material things are can be broken down into parts. This divisibility is closely related to mutability. All material things are subject to change. If a student puts the apple on my desk on the last day of school, I will find the gift greatly altered by the following September. This holds true even if the gift was a diamond, although the time would be considerably longer for the alterations to be noticed.

As human beings, we are aware of the measurable and the mutable–it is part of our identity. We are material, or animal as Lewis says.

But we are aware of something else that is just as essentially part of us as the material elements–an immutable element. Giussani identifies idea, judgment and decision as aspects of the human individual that are unchanging, indivisible and unmeasurable. He offers an example of each:

Idea: We have an idea in our head of something we call “goodness.” When I was a child, I thought my mother good. Even after all these years, I use the same criteria to determine that my mother is still good–this idea is unchanging.

Judgement: My declaration, “This is a piece of paper” will still be true in a billion years.

Decision: The act of deciding that I like a specific person establishes forever the definition of the relationship.

These things do not change on their own, like the diamond or the apple necessarily do. The ideas, judgments and decisions endure. The decision may be wrong, I may discover the person I liked had betrayed me and now I no longer like them, but this is a new decision. Both are indivisible and unchangeable in itself.

The point of all of this is to recognize that both the measurable and the immeasurable aspects are part of the experience of our “I”.  And we should not reduce our experience to one or the other of these two realities.

The important conclusion one can draw from all this is that the animal (body) and the spiritual (soul) are not reducible to each other.