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'


2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for January 2015
General Intention:
That those from diverse religious traditions and all people of good will may work together for peace.
Missionary Intention: That in this year dedicated to consecrated life, religious men and women may rediscover the joy of following Christ and strive to serve the poor with zeal.



Comments


More Living Faith

Play with your children, Pope Francis commands fathers Watch

Image of

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

While some of his comments have provoked controversy, Pope Francis in a private audience this week said something that very few people would argue with. The Pope commanded that all fathers take time to play with their children - and not be so absorbed with work ... continue reading


Archbishop reprimands Catholic lawmaker, says no true Catholic can dissent from church teaching on abortion Watch

Image of Archbishop Cordileone said in a written statement, that

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, in a press conference on January 22 at the Capitol, was asked twice whether an unborn child 20 weeks into pregnancy is a human being. Pelosi finally replied that a woman has "the right" to abort her child. Archbishop ... continue reading


Religious persecution uniting Christians worldwide in 'Ecumenism of blood,' Pope Francis says Watch

Image of

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

"In this moment of prayer for unity, I would also like to remember our martyrs, the martyrs of today," Pope Francis said as he was speaking to members of a number of Christian Churches. Gathered in the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls this past weekend, ... continue reading


Andrew M. Greenwell: Jesus is the Heart and the Marvel of the Gospel Watch

Image of Since the incarnation of the Word, the

By Andrew M. Greenwell

If pursued, and pursued rightly (that is, without moral or intellectual prejudice), metaphysics leads us to a threshold, a threshold we might call the limina fidei, the threshold of faith.  Reason takes us to a place where we know God--that He is.  But ... continue reading


Who Are My Mother and Brothers? We are the Family of Jesus Watch

Image of

By Deacon Keith Fournier

Through our Baptism, we are invited into the very family of God. When we choose to respond to grace and live in obedience to the will and the Word of God; we enter into an eternal relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We actually become a part of ... continue reading


St Francis DeSales Challenges Us to Live a Life of True Devotion Watch

Image of Today in our Liturgical calendar in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, we remember St Francis DeSales (1567-1610). The Saints are all given as examples to emulate. They are our companions on the journey, men and women like us who responded to God's invitation to become like Jesus. They pray for us because we are joined with them in the eternal communion of love. They also put legs on the Gospel, showing us what holiness looks like.

By Deacon Keith Fournier

I say that devotion must be practiced in different ways by the nobleman and by the working man, by the servant and by the prince, by the widow, by the unmarried girl and by the married woman. But even this distinction is not sufficient; for the practice of ... continue reading


Hey Main Stream Media - Do Your Job! Media Bias on March for Life Watch

Image of The hundreds of thousands who gatherred in Washington, DC were virtually ignored by the mainstream media because they gave a voice to children in the womb intentionally killed by procured abortion

By Catherine Contreras

What do you get when over 500,000 people attend the March for Life in Washington DC? Yup. A biased main stream media barely covering it, again. OAKLAND, CA (Catholic Online) - On the 42nd Anniversary of Roe v Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in ... continue reading


Arlington Diocesan teachers provide English Language Learners with special support Watch

Image of Fourth-grade students work on personalized language arts activities at St. Thomas More Cathedral School in Arlington. (Christine Stoddard, The Arlington Catholic Herald)

By Christine Stoddard, The Arlington Catholic Herald

Step into Sarah Conrad's pre-kindergarten classroom at St. Thomas More Cathedral School in Arlington and you'll see the usual suspects: tiny furniture, storybooks, brightly colored posters and educational toys. But you'll also notice that laminated labels abound. ... continue reading


'Self righteousness is not going to change peoples' attitudes and save babies,' Cardinal says Watch

Image of Cardinal Sean O'Malley says that the abortion issue in the United States is a call for those of all faiths to action.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

In delivering his homily at the March for Life vigil in Washington D.C., Cardinal Sean O'Malley said that indifference is the "greatest enemy" of the pro-life movement, adding that "to change people's hearts we must love them." Speaking at the Basilica of the ... continue reading


Eighth Annual Stand Up 4 Life Rally|Walk in Oakland, California! Watch

Image of Walk for Life in California

By Catherine Contreras

"If Black lives matter, they have to matter in the womb first. Because if Black lives don't matter in the womb, they don't matter anywhere else. So join us and help us speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves." - Walter B. Hoye II, Founder and President of ... 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, Hebrews 10:11-18
11 Every priest stands at his duties every day, ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 110:1, 2, 3, 4
1 [Of David Psalm] Yahweh declared to my Lord, 'Take ... Read More

Gospel, Mark 4:1-20
1 Again he began to teach them by the lakeside, but ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for January 28th, 2015 Image

St. Thomas Aquinas
January 28: St. Thomas Aquinas, priest and doctor of the Church, patron of ... 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