Jul 23, 2009

Dear John....

Your comments struck me hard because it is clear that you saw great atrocities to civilian populations during your three tours of duty in Vietnam. The intellectual problem is why an all-merciful God would allow such terrible pain and suffering. If God exists, why does he permit unmasked, unmistakable evil?

John, I see how you love Mike and make sacrifices for him to be able to get outside and play too. Because you are clearly a loving individual, I’m going to try to answer some of your objections to God and Christianity, although please remember that I am not a trained theologian.

The problem of pain is especially evident when soldiers observe (and even cause) the injury and death of non-combatants, including young children.
  • Wartime atrocities are a reminder that all men have serious defects in their moral lives. All need release and forgiveness from evils caused by sins.
  • Virtues and vices are revealed by pain, but differently in particular individuals. One witness to extreme cruelty drinks to forget what he has seen, another resolves to revenge the enemy with other atrocities, another prays for God to remove him from this terrible war before he becomes insane, another condemns God (rather than men) for allowing these depravities to happen, yet another acts to heal the pain and suffering by helping to “pick up the pieces” of ruined lives, etc.
Pain and suffering is allowed by God because He created men in the “image and likeness of God”—He gifted men with free will. Men can choose to be cruel, prideful, and selfish—or compassionate, selfless, and courageous.

God whispers in our pleasures, but He SHOUTS when we know pain. Pain is God’s megaphone to shatter our illusions of self sufficiency and innocence. Thus, tribulation is a necessary element in God’s redemption of fallen mankind.

This earth is the stage for the greatest drama ever written, where great and small souls are tested and Jesus Christ is the ultimate hero. Pain is part of these earthly trials, when we are temporarily on the battlefield. Pain keeps us from resting in this world.

Military recruits are subjected to painful situations during training, showing that pain is not necessarily an evil. The corresponding Christian doctrine is that we are “made perfect through suffering.” [Hebrews 2:10] Even the Greek philosophers stated that the “life of wisdom is the practice of death,” implying that wisdom comes only with necessary suffering.

How then do we solve the apparent contradiction of God’s mercy versus His justice. The finality of death solves this problem—“Mercy in this life; justice in the next.” The pains associated with death have a particular merit, both for the suffering individual and for ourselves because then we can choose to imitate our Savior in His death.

Jesus Christ Himself suffered a very painful death, but with a glorious purpose. Moreover, He taught us to love our enemies so that cruelty would never take place. Yet amazingly, He continues to love us even when WE are cruel and even His enemies.

Compare death to birth, with a baby in the womb whom God wishes to be born. The baby responds—“I’m not ready, I like it here inside where my mother keeps me warm and well-fed.” Regardless, the baby and his mother undergo the painful process of birth. The child opens his eyes to see a new world, just as we will see in heaven if we die in God’s friendship.

Pain and suffering are excellent reminders of Satan and Hell which existence has the full support of Scripture and our Lord’s own words. Thus, pain plants the flag of truth of our own mortality and last end within the rebel fortress of our souls.

With prayers for you (and special thanks to C.S. Lewis, 1898-1963)

P.S. Several months ago I prepared a PowerPoint presentation on the many proofs of God’s existence and showed it to eight grandchildren. The arguments show that cosmology, ontology, and the universe itself are, well, if not incontrovertible proof of God's handiwork, at least much more probable if there is a God than if there is not:

1. Aristotle’s cosmological proof of God
2. St. Anselm’s ontological argument
3. Design of universe
4. Beauty [St. Augustine]
5. Five reasons of St. Thomas Aquinas (motion-First Mover, efficient-first cause, possibility and necessity, contingency-dependency, gradation of being, design)
6. Complexity of DNA [impossible to imagine as chance occurrence, even over billions of years]
7. Information theory
8. Existence of objective morality among all humans (e.g., to kill a friend is evil)
9. Unique values of over 20 fundamental constants of physics and chemistry that are exactly what are absolutely required to allow our universe to exist
10. Laws of quantum physics which show that the universe was designed for an intelligent observer (strong anthropic principle)
—“In the early 1990s, a creeping realization swept through the theoretical physics community that the probability for the universe to even exist was vanishingly small. Indeed, the only "theory" around that seemed able to explain the universe's existence was Intelligent Design. This was not something physicists and cosmologists liked to talk about.” —Analog Magazine of Fact and Fiction, July/August 2008

Jul 21, 2009

China and Catholicism

A most recent and comprehensive article on the growing influence of Catholicism in China, China's Catholic Moment,was published in July 2009 by First Things magazine. I concluded some time ago that China is a developing Roman empire that will eventually rule the world and survive for at least several hundred years.

My previous posts on China have discussed the hopeful and yet often frustrating news that comes from China:
China and "Trajan's Rescript"
China Catholics
China's Increasing Christians
China Embracing Confucian Values?
Saint Martina of China
China--Hope and Frustration
China--Optimism Superceded by Pessimism
The "Guide" of Religions in China
Pope Benedict XVI and Chinese Premier Hu Jintao
Clearly the Vatican believes China's growing influence in the world is going to affect Christianity on a world-wide basis for centuries to come. The First Things article by Francesco Sisci presents the following important observations:
  • At the end of World War II, with a nationalist government supportive of Christian missions, barely two percent of Chinese were Christians. The World Christian Database now counts 111 million Chinese Christians, while an internal survey conducted in 2007 by China’s government puts the number substantially higher: 130 million, nearly 10 percent of the total population.

  • ...this exponential growth of Christianity in China would not have been possible without the forbearance and tacit encouragement of the regime. In recent years, the Chinese government has shifted from persecution of Christians to subtle—and sometimes even open—encouragement of Christianity.

  • ...it is not an exaggeration to say we are near a Constantinian moment for the Chinese Empire, as the government looks to Christianity—particularly Catholicism—for an instrument of social cohesion.

  • Since the discrediting of Maoism twenty years earlier, China had been living with no cohesive set of values.... The successive assault by modern Western ideas and communist ideology erased the old imperial ideology, and the collapse of the communist model left China with a spiritual vacuum.

  • In a now famous essay, one of the youngest important party officials, Pan Yue, argued that religion might well be the opiate of the masses but that the Communist party needs just such an opiate to keep power as it changes from a revolutionary to a ruling party. The party, he argued, needs to learn how to use religion to enhance social stability and to avert rebellions and revolutions.

  • Thus, religion can play an important role in realizing the “harmonious society” that is the new political goal of the party.

  • The leadership views Christianity in a fundamentally different way from how it sees the religions rooted in traditional China. Christianity is inherently open to the modern world and a scientific outlook. Just as China imported science and Western methods of industrial organization, so it could import what Beijing understood to be the spiritual counterpart of Western science. In the view of the party, the naturalization of Christianity in China is not essentially different from the importation of socialist ideology two generations earlier. Christianity, like socialism, can be translated into Chinese characters.
If you find China and its policies toward Christianity critical to the world's future, please read the entire article by Sisci, including the 20+ comments. For a more balanced view of China and Catholicism, Cardinal Zen of Hong Kong reviews The Church in China, Two Years after the Pope's Letter.