Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Michael Terheyden

8/20/2012 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude - Catholic Catechism

I have watched these ideas spread throughout our culture and mutate into many of the poisonous ideas and issues that are suffocating our society. I remember these as the main ideas that undermined what my parents and the Church had taught me as a child.As a result, I believe it is worth our time to reflect upon them. However, my reflection is not a complete statement on any of these ideas. It merely reflects certain aspects about them that left a strong impression on me. I hope it will help you on your faith journey.

Plato and Aristotle

Plato and Aristotle

Highlights

By Michael Terheyden

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

8/20/2012 (2 years ago)

Published in Living Faith

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


KNOXVILLE, TN (Catholic Online) - In my last article, I discussed how the beauty and goodness I experienced through some of my secular studies enriched me, opened me up to the possibility of life beyond myself, and prepared me for the gift of faith on an adult level. I also mentioned that I was exposed to some ideas in my studies and culture that were not positive. Yet this experience, while different from the first, also helped me in my search for truth and in my faith journey.  

In one respect, I attribute my earlier experience of beauty and goodness to the patterns and relationships (order, coherence, unity, truth) and meaning and purpose that I saw in a work of art or in a mathematical or scientific description of nature or in the struggle for freedom and justice throughout history or in the depth, wisdom and clarity I sometimes found in philosophy. But these are partial explanations at best. The Catholic Church explains this experience on another level altogether.

In paragraph 13, verse 5 of the Book of Wisdom in the Bible, we read that the greatness and beauty of created things comes from a corresponding perception of their Creator. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), "Each creature possesses its own particular goodness and perfection. . . . 'By the very nature of creation, material being is endowed with its own stability, truth, and excellence, its own order and laws'. . ." (339).

But only human beings, with their unique powers of intellect and will, are said to be created in the image of God. We can freely choose good or evil. Thus, we shape our life and meet our destiny by our choices. The Church says, "Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude" (1731).

But, as I said, I was also exposed to some ideas that were not positive. In this article, I will explore some of the ideas from philosophy that had a negative impact on me. In the next article I will focus more on culture. Although there are others, the ideas I will refer to in this article are as follows: materialism, idealism, subjectivism, relativism, skepticism, and nihilism.

One of the first things I noticed about these ideas is that they lacked the order, coherence, unity, beauty, truth, and goodness that I experienced in my other studies. These ideas did not open me up to life beyond myself. Rather, they tended to close me up within myself. They were like a wall that blotted out anything other than myself, my needs, wants, and impulses. It felt like the difference between spring and winter.

I have watched these ideas spread throughout our culture and mutate into many of the poisonous ideas and issues that are suffocating our society. I also remember these as the main ideas that undermined what my parents and the Church had taught me as a child. As a result, I believe it is worth our time to reflect upon them. However, my reflection is not a complete statement on any of these ideas. It merely reflects certain aspects about them that left a strong impression on me. I hope it will help you on your faith journey.

Two ideas which make dramatic and opposite claims about the nature of reality are materialism and idealism. Materialism, claims that all reality is comprised of physical matter and that there is nothing more. Conversely, idealism describes reality as the mental construct of our minds or as ideas. Materialism leaves no room for the existence of spiritual reality or God, while idealism seems to make us all into false gods.

These claims about the nature of reality also suggest some of the ways we may come to know reality. For instance, when we claim to know something about a physical object, do we know the objective thing in itself, or just our idea or subjective experience of it? Oftentimes, materialists seem to absolutize objectivity, while idealists seem to absolutize subjectivity. To me, knowledge contains elements of both. Thus, I imagine reality is best understood as a composite of both matter and mind (God's mind not mine or yours).

The theory of subjectivism emphasizes the knower, feelings and experience over external facts. It claims that moral standards are based on one's conscience; therefore, the moral standards of religion or society are not valid. Like idealism, it offers us a world without objective truth or objective moral standards. However, subjectivism does not describe our lived experience. If moral truth is subjective, then people should have nothing to argue about, yet they are always arguing about right and wrong.

Relativism is a theory which claims that there is no objective standard to determine truth; therefore, truth varies. Yet, this theory makes an objective truth claim. To put it another way, it makes an absolute or universal claim that 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.

-----

---


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


2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for October 2014
Peace:
That the Lord may grant peace to those parts of the world most battered by war and violence.
World Mission Day: That World Mission Day may rekindle in every believer zeal for carrying the Gospel into all the world.



Comments


More Living Faith

Abolish death penalty and life imprisonment, Pope Francis declares Watch

Image of The Vatican recently eliminated life imprisonment from its own penal code, Pope Francis noted.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Calling for the abolition of the death penalty as well as life imprisonment, Pope Francis soundly denounced what he called a "penal populism." The world's prescribed cure for crime - punishment, should never overtake the pursuit for social justice, he says. LOS ... continue reading


Making a Difference - Newly beatified pope championed justice and peace

Image of Pope Paul VI addresses the UN during his 1965 appeal for peace.

By Tony Magliano

With numerous armed conflicts raging in various parts of the world, and the Vietnam War worsening, Pope Paul VI on Oct. 4, 1965 proclaimed before the U.N. General Assembly: "No more war, war never again. It is peace, peace which must guide the destinies of peoples and ... continue reading


'War does not begin in the battlefield. Wars begin in the heart,' Pope Francis says Watch

Image of

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Speaking at his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis addressed the topic of war. With the majority of the world engaged in some sort of battle, and it's up to the individual to realize that major conflicts begin with little things. LOS ... continue reading


Finding the Path to Peace Through Forgiveness Watch

Image of For he (Jesus) is our peace, he made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his Flesh, abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims, that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile both with God, in one Body, through the cross, putting that enmity to death by it. He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father- St Paul

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

In 1999 I was a part of Project Reconciliation led by a true peacemaker, paralyzed police officer Detective Steven McDonald. This trip was a part of Steven McDonald's mission of preaching peace through forgiveness. It had the goal of helping to heal the wounds ... continue reading


The Parable of the Rich Man: Becoming Rich in What Matters To God

Image of

By Deacon Frederick K. Bartels

What leads to permanent and lasting happiness? As Jesus points out, becoming "rich in what matters to God" is the key. When we place God first, and love our neighbor as another self, we soon begin to experience a perceptible, lasting happiness that is not of this ... continue reading


Pope Paul VI closer to sainthood with beatification by Pope Francis Watch

Image of Pope Paul VI cleaned house, abolishing the pontifical court and simplifying the Curia, the Vatican's administrative arm. Pope Francis is continuing his predecessor's effort to reform to this day.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Pope Francis cleared the process for sainthood for Pope Paul VI after his beatification over the weekend. Pope Paul VI led the Catholic Church through internal reform during a tumultuous time of social and political change before his death in 1978. LOS ANGELES, ... continue reading


We Need Courageous Bishops: Ignatius of Antioch is a Model Watch

Image of Ignatius of Antioch - I know what is to my advantage. At last I am becoming his disciple. May nothing entice me till I happily make my way to Jesus Christ! Fire, cross, struggles with wild beasts, wrenching of bones, mangling of limbs-let them come to me, provided only I make my way to Jesus Christ. I would rather die and come to Jesus Christ than be king over the entire earth. Him I seek who died for us; him I love who rose again because of us.

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

We need Bishops like Ignatius in this new missionary age of the Church. There is a literal assault on marriage and the family in much of the West. Yet, what the Church has to offer on the truth about marriage and the family paves the path to a future of true ... continue reading


Need a chapel? Pope Francis to rent Sistine Chapel for charity Watch

Image of Pope Francis is renting out the Sistine Chapel for charity.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Pope Francis is renting out the Sistine Chapel for charity. The decision marks the first time that the chapel has ever been rented out for charity. It will be used for a private concert hosted by Porsche. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Vatican has announced ... continue reading


On World Food Day, a reminder of Pope Francis' mission for the Church Watch

Image of It's time to ensure that everybody has enough.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Today is World Food Day and we are all called to do what we can to feed others. This year's World Food Day falls during Pope Francis' 'Week of Action' where all Catholics are called to pray and act to feed the world's hungry. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Today, ... continue reading


Pope Francis: The only thing that counts for Jesus is 'faith working through love' Watch

Image of Pope Francis related former Jesuit leader Father Arrupe's lesson in humility in his recent talk.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Pope Francis reiterated in his morning homily that faith is not about appearances and superficially following Church laws. The Pontiff said that God wants to see a faith that inspires action and is "working in charity" and making sacrifices for others. LOS ... 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, Ephesians 4:7-16
7 On each one of us God's favour has been bestowed in ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5
1 [Song of Ascents Of David] I rejoiced that they ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 13:1-9
1 It was just about this time that some people ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for October 25th, 2014 Image

St. Daria
October 25: There is very little known about them. Chrysanthus was an ... 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