Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Michael Terheyden

7/16/2012 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

'Secular studies' led me to the Maker of the universe

I began my search for truth and the meaning of life by taking classes in the humanities, the physical sciences and the social sciences. Although I did not find the answers I was searching for, I did not walk away from these studies empty handed. I did not realize it at the time, but my secular studies prepared me to receive faith on an adult level.

The golden section is also known as the golden proportion, golden ratio, divine proportion, divine ratio, etc.

The golden section is also known as the golden proportion, golden ratio, divine proportion, divine ratio, etc.

Highlights

By Michael Terheyden

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

7/16/2012 (2 years ago)

Published in Living Faith

Keywords: Faith, Catholic, Church, Christianity, Religion, Secularism, Michael Terheyden


KNOXVILLE, TN (Catholic Online) - My adult journey toward Catholicism began with my search for truth and the meaning of life. As I explained in the introduction to this series, when I began my journey, I was surrounded by secularism.  The word "secularism" has two completely different meanings for me. The first has to do with secular studies or knowledge. The other concerns the ideology of secularism. Both meanings played a significant role in my decision to be Catholic.

In this second article of the series, I will reflect on some of my experiences when I undertook secular studies. I began my journey by taking classes in the humanities, the physical sciences and the social sciences. Although I did not find the answers I was searching for, I did not walk away from these studies empty handed. I did not realize it at the time, but my secular studies prepared me to receive faith on an adult level. However, different studies prepared me in different ways.

Take art, for example. Around the same time that people developed a greater interest in the human condition and the secular affairs of this world, Renaissance artists developed a new way to portray the natural world. I am thinking of perspective drawing. This technique enabled artists to represent spatial distances and three dimensions on a two dimensional surface.

Perspective drawing is not only more interesting, dramatic and beautiful for me to look at, I believe, it transforms art, from merely expressing ideas and giving them some permanence, into a whole new way of exploring the physical universe. When I look at Leonardo Da Vinci's notebooks, among other things, I see a man learning and thinking about the structure of matter and space and using this knowledge to understand how things actually work.

While I have never produced a masterpiece, I have experienced this myself and you can too. I was once drawing the connection between a column and a beam in a building. As I was trying to make the drawing look right, I had a flash of insight about matter and its relation to space and gravity. In that same instant, I saw how to correctly line up the column and the beam.

Perspective drawing has not only given me a way to understand certain things about the physical universe, it has given me much more. When I view masterful works of art, especially detailed drawings, they have the power to transport me beyond myself, to open me up to all that is good and beautiful. And the experience makes me richer.

But it is not just art, other secular subjects have also given me much. For instance, it seems to me that mathematics is the language of nature. I have read about mathematicians who say that they see beauty in certain proofs and equations. As for me, I experience this beauty in certain geometric structures.

I find the golden section or the number phi (1.618) fascinating and beautiful. It is a simple proportion that can be used to construct rectangles, spirals, and other geometric shapes. The golden section can be found in many objects in nature: a nautilus seashell, a flower, a human face, a strand of DNA, a galaxy, the path a moth takes when it flies toward a light. It also has many applications in art, architecture and music. Some people believe it has mystical meaning, but that seems too speculative to me.

If math is the language of nature, then science must be its blueprint. I imagine the periodic table found in chemistry classrooms like a blueprint for nature. It contains such a dense amount of abbreviated information on the elements (the basic building blocks of nature) arranged in such a precise logical order that it amazes me to look at it. The quantum mechanical model of an atom also seems like a blueprint, except the energy levels and orbitals of the electrons sometimes remind me of cascading water and the fluid nature of the atom. 

I am also amazed by all the detail, precise order, and perfectly timed events associated with embryonic cell development: fertilization, activation and cleavage of a fertilized egg, formation of tissue layers, and organ development. Of course, many times something goes wrong, but it seems like a miracle to me that it has ever gone right.

The immensity and wonderment of it all forces me to pause and give thanksgiving and praise. But to who or what--myself, the state, the science that unveiled these hidden wonders, some impersonal force, a personal being? I knew that was the right question back in my school days; however, I was not ready to answer it. I wanted greater certainty. So I continued with my studies.

History also prepared me to receive faith. Perhaps what influenced me most was learning about the struggle for freedom. I learned that most people throughout history have lived under authoritarian rulers and that this was the cause of much human suffering. In the West, I saw the struggle for freedom emerge under the form of democracy. I first recall its appearance in ancient Greece.

What we would consider a limited democracy arose in Athens, Greece over a 200-year period; however, war with Persia followed by war between Athens and Sparta left Greece in a weakened state. Seeing an opportunity, the Macedonians capitalized on this weakness, gained control of Greece, and united it under the authoritarian rule of Alexander the Great.

Rome also had a flirtation with democracy. But after a time, Rome's leaders became overly self-serving and cooperation between them broke down. This led to civil wars. Although Rome remained too strong to be conquered by outsiders, it became too weak and divided for democratic rule. Consequently, Rome fell into the hands of  a dictator. 

It took over a thousand years before democracy began to surface again. In the 1100's, King Henry II took steps to objectify England's legal system. In 1215 the nobles successfully pressed King John into signing the Magna Carta. It limited the King's power and subjected him to the law. Although it originally benefited the nobility, it was later extended to all Englishmen. A Great Council was also established. It later evolved into Parliament. Yet, it took many steps and some civil wars before the formal establishment of England's Bill of Rights in 1689.
 
Further democratic reforms followed along with some setbacks, but by this time England had become a model for the rest of the world. Yet, the desire for freedom remained a difficult and ongoing struggle for most people. The American revolution testifies to this fact, as does France's bitter revolution and many others. And the struggle goes on today, as oppressed peoples around the world continue to struggle for their freedom, and as free nations struggle to maintain their freedom.

To a certain extent, reading history gave me a birds eye view of the life of many individuals and nations. This view left a deep and lasting impact on me. I saw the horror of war and oppression, that good and evil are real, and that human relationships are objectively ordered according to our nature. I saw nations rise and fall depending on their relationship with truth and virtue. I saw good ideas bring prosperity, and I saw bad ideas cause great suffering. Seeing these things taught me the value of freedom, and that it is worth fighting and dying for.

All of these subjects gave me partial answers to my questions. However, this was not good enough. I needed to conduct my search for truth and the meaning of life within a broader context. And I found this in philosophy. Philosophy used the fragments of truth found in other subjects and attempted to unify them through the use of rigorous reasoning. I learned that the branch of philosophy called metaphysics was concerned with searching for truth and the meaning of life.

That sounded like just the thing I needed. Philosophy brought me closer to what I had been searching for. It took me deeper and farther than I had ever been. But in the end, philosophy could only dance around the answers I was searching for. However, learning to dance, taught me the strengths and weaknesses of reason and gave me an abiding love for ideas. 

So by the time I completed my secular studies, I still did not have my answers, but I did have other things. I was filled with wonder. Just about everything fascinated me. I also remained hopeful that the answers were out there somewhere. Although I did not realize it at the time, my experiences had enriched me and opened me up to the possibility of life beyond myself; thus, preparing me to receive the gift of faith on an adult level at a future place and time.

Of course, not all the ideas I was exposed to were positive. Some were confusing and rather dark. In addition, like all of us, I have had to struggle with the secular ideology that has achieved dominance in Western civilization. But I will save these discussions for my next article.
 
-----

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.

-----

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


Copywriter 2015 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for March 2015
Universal:
Scientists: That those involved in scientific research may serve the well-being of the whole human person.
Evangelization: Contribution of women: That the unique contribution of women to the life of the Church may be recognized always.


Rosaries, Crosses, Prayer Cards and more... by Catholic Shopping .com


Comments


More Living Faith

Apostle of California, Father Junipero Serra, to be canonized by Pope during U.S. visit Watch

Image of Professor Guzman Carriquiry, Secretary in charge of the Vice-Presidency of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America recently expressed his displeasure at the news of the California Senate's wish to replace the statue of Brother Junipero with that of a NASA astronaut.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Pope Francis is scheduled to personally preside over the canonization ceremony of Father Junipero Serra in Washington, D.C. on September 23 during his U.S. visit. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The ceremony will take place in the open space in front of the ... continue reading


'Faith must not be turned into power,' Pope Francis warns Watch

Image of

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Pope Francis, at mass in St. Martha's House, recalled that many people follow Jesus simply out of self-interest. This "spirit, which lies behind or beneath a varnish of Christianity leads people to live like pagans," he warned. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) ... continue reading


Oops! The Bible did not say that: 7 famous viral quotes people think came from the Bible Watch

Image of

By Talia Ramos (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Social media and the Internet has made it easier to share anything anywhere. Most of the time we spend in cyberspace, we see come across wonderful statements --- about life, love and other concerns. It assures us that we are not alone, we are going to beat every ... continue reading


The Experience of the Resurrected Christ: A Divine Dream Worth Dying For

Image of

By Deacon Frederick Bartels

The dream of God is a dream of unending, divine love. His only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, sacrificed his human life for this Dream: the redemption of humankind and the gift of eternal life and perfect happiness. Heaven is the divine dream that is not but a dream, it ... continue reading


Pope Francis 'considering' visit to Cuba Watch

Image of A nun waves a Vatican flag while attending Mass with St John Paul II in Havana in 1998.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Pope Francis is said to be considering a trip to Cuba this coming September. The papal visit would tie into his visit to the United States. The gesture could lead to improving relations both between Cuba and the U.S. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Vatican ... continue reading


Could Yoda be a Biblical character? Medieval manuscript features a painted figure resembling the Star Wars hero Watch

Image of

By Talia Ramos (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

In a 14th century book, a green-skinned character was painted, resembling Yoda. Just like the Star Wars icon, the painted character in the old religious documents is donning a white cloak and has spiky, long fingers and the pointed ears sticking out. Although there is ... continue reading


Pope Francis pokes holes in 'gender theory,' saying male, female roles are separate Watch

Image of The Bible, Pope Francis says, shows how

By CNA/EWTN News

Pope Francis has warned against gender theories which seek to eradicate differences between man and woman, saying they perpetuate the very problems they are trying to solve. (CNA/EWTN News) - "Experience teaches us: to know each other well and grow in harmony, ... continue reading


6 types of men Christian women should dismiss for marriage Watch

Image of

By Hannah Raissa Marfil (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Women, and men, should be wary of whom they shall live with for the rest of their lives. Marriage is not a temporary commitment, it lasts for a lifetime no matter how you will put it --- two people still shared the same vows to cherish one another through a sacred ... continue reading


Pope Francis to host major conference on climate change Watch

Image of

By Nikky Andres (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Pope Francis will host a major summit on April 28 entitled "Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity: The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Development." MUNTINLUPA, PHILIPPINES (Catholic Online) - The conference will feature famous American economist, ... continue reading


Can Catholics Practice Yoga and Transcendental Meditation?

Image of

By Deacon Ian VanHeusen

Among many Christians who are honestly seeking to deepen their prayer life, there is a genuine concern about erroneous forms of prayer. People should be careful to accept practices which diverge from the faith they have received, whether through the family or in a ... continue reading


All Living Faith News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Acts 7:51--8:1
51 'You stubborn people, with uncircumcised hearts ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 31:3-4, 6, 7, 8, 17, 21
3 You are my rock, my rampart; true to your name, ... Read More

Gospel, John 6:30-35
30 So they said, 'What sign will you yourself do, the ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for April 21st, 2015 Image

St. Anselm
April 21: St. Anselm Archbishop of Canterbury and Confessor APRIL 21,A.D. ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter