Michael Terheyden on 'Why I am Catholic: Philosophy and Ideas Matter'
truth is relative. This is nonsense. We are probably most familiar with moral relativism, and we can easily see that it contradicts our lived experience: Almost every single person who ever lived would prefer a Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta over Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist German Workers' Party, commonly known as Nazis. Why, if moral truth is relative?
Skepticism also makes serious claims about the nature of truth. It tells us that we cannot know absolute or universal truths. Some skeptics claim that all of our knowledge is unreliable. How they know these things is a mystery to me. But, in one respect, it seems they make a legitimate point just the same. They remind us that reason is limited. However, when they go beyond that one point, they lose me. I believe the problem centers around our expectation of reason.
When reason comes up short, as it sometimes does, the skeptics' response is to doubt our ability to reason and to acquire true knowledge. I disagree with this response. As I understand it, our ability to reason is limited because it is finite, but this does not mean that we cannot acquire true knowledge. We can, but we have to be willing to go beyond ourselves and use our reason the way it was intended to be used. I hope to discuss this important point in more detail in a future article.
The final idea I will mention is nihilism. Full fledged nihilism denies the existence of knowledge and values. It seems to me that nihilism has embraced the worst elements in Western philosophy and radicalized them. Blessed John Paul II warns us about nihilism in his encyclical, Faith and Reason. He refers to nihilism as the denial of all foundations and the negation of all objective truth, the philosophy of nothingness, where there is only sensation and experience and everything is fleeting and provisional. Not surprisingly, he sees nihilism denying us of our humanity and our dignity and making it possible to erase the likeness of God from our countenance.
Despite these serious kinds of problems, the Catholic Church has not given up hope on philosophical inquiry. The Church highly values philosophy. She tells us that faith and reason are not opposed to each other. "Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth" (CCC 159).
Blessed John Paul II writes the following in Faith and Reason: Truth is found "not by turning in on oneself but by opening oneself to apprehend that truth even at levels which transcend the person" (39). He also says that in order to defend human dignity and proclaim the Gospel message, the most urgent task in our day and age is ". . . to lead people to discover both their capacity to know the truth and their yearning for the ultimate and definitive meaning of life" (124). And he urges ". . . philosophers to explore more comprehensively the dimensions of the true, the good and the beautiful . . ." (125).
However, when I ran into problems associated with materialism, idealism, subjectivism, relativism, skepticism, and nihilism, I almost did give up hope on philosophy. At first, it seemed to me that these problems were like a blast of arctic air, freezing the very ground which philosophers and theologians had plowed for centuries. I felt like nothing could grow in this harsh environment, including me. But what seemed so negative at first had a silver lining, and I was able to grow from this experience.
For example, my experience studying philosophy showed me that I shared some important and fundamental similarities with the Catholic Church. Even while I did not appreciate the Church's wisdom or accept her authority at that time in my life, it turned out that the lens through which I viewed beauty, goodness and truth enabled me to see some important things with eyes similar to the eyes of the Church.
In addition, becoming familiar with these philosophical ideas, helped me recognize them as they spread throughout our culture and mutated. Thus, I was able to avoid many of the pitfalls that I surely would have fallen into otherwise. So when I finally embraced Catholicism, it was not in an academic vacuum. It was not some intellectual insight, but many small decisions I made (no doubt with the help of baptismal graces) while living in an increasingly secular culture that enabled me to finally come to terms with Catholicism as an adult and embrace the faith of my youth.
Michael Terheyden was born into a Catholic family, but that is not why he is a Catholic. He is a Catholic because he believes that truth is real, that it is beautiful and good, and that the fullness of truth is in the Catholic Church. However, he knows that God's grace operating throughout his life is the main reason he is a Catholic. He is greatly blessed to share his faith and his life with his beautiful wife, Dorothy. They have four grown children and three grandchildren.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Catholic, Church, Christianity, Faith, Religion, Secularism, Philosophy, Michael Terheyden
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