Tag Archives: philosophy

The evangelical force hiding in plain sight

For decades, Catholics have been working to evangelize neighbors and the broader culture. Unfortunately, we have limited what evangelization means to a very narrow skill set, namely, apologetics. Shortly after publishing my book, Nudging Conversions: Bringing Those You Love Back to the Church, I spoke with a friend about her lukewarm husband. “If only I could find the right argument,” she said to me. So many of us tend to think this way – that evangelization is merely an argument to be won. This was my thinking for years and a motivation behind my doctorate in philosophy. I was rudely awakened by the realization that we truly live in a post-logical, post-rational culture, and even the most perfectly argued points will often miss their intended mark.

Shifting gears, I’ve spent years trying to get to what really works. More than anything, evangelization boils down to relationships. Successful business owners know this, and business book after business book points to the fact that it isn’t intelligence that makes success, but good people edified by good relationships.

As a result of the emphasis of apologetics over relationships, as Catholics, we have overlooked a most promising source of evangelization: women. Women have an incredible capacity to form relationships and to share their faith. Historically, the Church is dotted with Margarets, Theresas, Catherines, Monicas, and Bridgets, who have passed their faith on to their families and neighbors. Moreover, women are the very soil of every civilization. We have to ask how we have been cultivating them.

As I explore in my book, The Anti-Mary Exposed, our culture has embraced decadence largely because of the overwhelming influence magazines, daytime television, Hollywood, and pop music have had upon all women. We don’t notice it because it seems normal, but the corruption of our culture wasn’t because women were reading Marx and Margaret Sanger, but because they were reading Cosmo and Vogue while listening to Madonna and Beyoncé. These are the kinds of sources that have led to our post-logical culture.

By contrast, there are organizations for Catholic women, but they pale in comparison to the tsunami of secular information that paints the pro-choice woman as stylish, smart, and happy, while Catholic women are frequently depicted as out-of-touch, poorly educated, and door-matty. Far too many have bought into this narrative.

Truly supporting and cultivating healthy Catholic women needs to become a priority, with the reminder that simply by living and sharing the faith, WE are evangelizing. We need to go on the offense instead of always feeling like we are merely defending the faith. We need to know that our homes, our families, our warmth, and compassion are gifts to the culture and that they are beautiful, compelling, and vitally important. How much easier it is to share the faith when we realize it isn’t something to be hidden or ashamed of, but an incredible gift to be shared.

This was the approach I took with my co-authors, Noelle Mering and Legate Megan Schrieber, in our book, Theology of Home. Women love the visual, coupled with engaging content, as evidenced by the still-robust print magazine industry. Historically, there has been no greater patron of the arts than the Church. Additionally, years of philosophy and theology ensure that we can answer the questions of why and not just how to live and love. We would love to see more projects like this proliferate to truly give women alternatives beyond the checkout stand.

Catholic women can do the important and rich work of evangelizing; we just need to be reminded that it isn’t what we think it is, and we aren’t who they say we are.

CARRIE GRESS has a doctorate in philosophy from The Catholic University of America. She is the author of seven books, including her most recent, The Anti-Mary Exposed and Theology of Home. Carrie is also the editor of the online women’s magazine, TheologyofHome.com. Expecting her fifth child, Carrie and her family live in Virginia.

Philosophy and the Catholic faith

Edward Furton writes that the Church has a deep and profound appreciation of philosophy . . .

Edward J. Furton

Edward J. Furton

The Catholic Church has always had high regard for the disciplines of philosophy and theology. Every Catholic college in the country has professors of these two subjects, sometimes in very significant numbers. This is a mark of respect for the intellectual tradition of the West.

Although it’s perhaps obvious why there should be an emphasis on theology, the importance of philosophy is sometimes neglected. The great philosophers of the past — especially those of the ancient world — have profoundly influenced Church teaching. St. Aurelius Augustine, for example, was strongly influenced by Plato’s philosophy. Similarly, St. Thomas Aquinas was deeply indebted to Aristotle’s thought.

Why this openness to philosophy? Primarily because we hold that faith is added to reason. Faith is neither a substitute for reason nor a contradiction to reason. God created the world, so it’s not surprising that evidence of what He expects of us should be present there. The Catholic Church thus defends the moral outlook known as “natural law philosophy.”

In this understanding of ethics, nature exists as a teleological system that moves under the governance of the Divine Providence. The word “teleological” derives from “telos” and “logos,” two Greek words which combine to mean “the study of purposes.” Catholic philosophy, in its most representative form, sees nature as a realm of purposeful motion in which all things are drawn to the good by the mind of God.

The purposes of nature show themselves in the activities of everything that exists. The spider spins a web for the sake of catching the fly. In doing so, it fulfills its own purposeful activities, which in fact involve highly complex behavior.

Even nonliving things have purposes. Were it not for gravity, the planets would not have been drawn together to form habitable worlds. Without planets, life would not have appeared. If life had not appeared, there would have been no animals — including rational animals like you and me — and therefore no arts, sciences, culture or religion.

Nature is purposeful. This is immediately obvious to any reflective mind. Certain truths of our faith can only be known through revelation, but the common moral code that God has made known to us in nature is given equally to everyone. The Ten Commandments is the essential summary of the natural law as it applies to human society, but Moses should not have had to bring those famous tablets down from the mountain. We all know these already.

Natural law morality is metaphorically described as “written on the heart,” but in fact it is known by the mind. If nature moves under the governance of the Supreme Being, then the goods toward which we are drawn are the natural aims of human action. The love of the opposite sex, for example, is a good towards which men and women are naturally attracted. From this desire there derives the objective truth that men and women are suited for marriage.

The goods of nature are purposes that move us to action. We are free to choose from among a wide range of goods, but we are not free to determine whether or not these things are goods. I may choose not eat broccoli or cauliflower, but I cannot choose to give up eating altogether. Food is a natural good of human beings. To starve myself would be to violate a fundamental law of nature.

Under the teleological conception, morality is objective. What is right and wrong can be deduced from reflection on the purposes that God has made evident to reason in nature. The laws of nature are evident to reason and therefore universally binding on all human beings — Catholic and non-Catholic alike.

Perhaps there is no better example of the respect that the Church has shown philosophy than the First Vatican Council’s affirmation that every Catholic must hold de fidei (the highest standard of fidelity to the faith) that God’s existence is evident to reason. The Council affirmed that the human mind can know, independently of scripture, that there is a Divine Being. Think about that for a moment. We must hold that God’s existence is evident through reflection on nature. This doesn’t mean that every individual Catholic must find this type of philosophical argument persuasive, but only that all Catholics must affirm that this type of knowledge is possible. Behind the metaphysical idea of nature as a teleological system there lies the philosophical conviction that God governs the world as the Divine Providence.

So when someone says that Christianity is about making a leap of faith, remember the role of philosophy within Catholicism. Catholics don’t leap while floating in space without any means of support, but do so only after planting our feet on the firm ground of reason.

EDWARD J. FURTON, PH.D., is the director of publications for the National Catholic Bioethics Center.

Building a legacy to stand the test of time

Paul Voss contends that words matter. The word “legacy” has multiple meanings — and not all are positive. The word derives from the same word as “Legatus,” so those striving to be ambassadors for Christ should take note of Voss’ insights. On the professional level, more and more companies are focusing on legacy issues . . .

Paul J. Voss

Socrates once famously stated that “all knowledge begins with a definition of terms.” This insight captures an essential characteristic of philosophy and the branch of philosophy called ethics. Without proper discrimination between and among contested terms, intellectual confusion (a roadblock to truth and philosophical clarity) will always result.

Consider, for example, the word legacy. As you can tell from the inset definition, legacy carries a rather impressive pedigree — dating back to the 15th century. The current English word derives from the Latin word legatus, meaning an ambassador or emissary (as readers of this magazine clearly understand). In fact, Legatus challenges its members to become ambassadors for Christ by living public, professional and personal lives of virtue and fidelity. In doing so, Legates actually pay tribute to this rich etymological history.

The word legacy — used exclusively as a noun for nearly 500 years — expands the original meaning and now signifies a “gift” or “bequest” transmitted from one person (or one generation) to another. Used as a noun in this fashion, legacy carries a wholly positive meaning and represents an act of love, charity and care. Creating and preserving a legacy thus becomes the work of a lifetime, as it cannot be forged quickly and it certainly cannot be purchased. The great effort people put into “legacy building” testifies to its enormous importance.

On the professional level, more and more companies are focusing on legacy issues and how to create something of value that can survive through challenging economic times and rapid technological innovation. Businesses of all types see the wisdom in creating a product, service and culture that stands as a legacy for others to nurture and grow. In this sense, any attempt at building — a family, a business, or a community — seeks to establish, at some level, a legacy.

On the personal level, awareness of legacy issues obviously plays a crucial role in the formation of family and faith. Families often create legacies of love, fidelity, faith and service unconsciously, built upon the small acts of daily life, including morning rituals, meals, vacations, prayer, births, religious ceremonies and a host of other activities. The Catholic faith and its rich history and tradition provide ample opportunities for legacy building within families.

However, the word legacy also has a secondary meaning of a much more recent carnation. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (the finest dictionary in the English-speaking world), since 1990, legacy can also be used as an adjective. When used in this sense, legacy loses all of the positive connotations it once held. When legacy modifies a noun, it contains a much more insidious meaning, referring to an old or outdated system of little or no value.

We see this sense of legacy in the world of technology — when we confront the “legacy software” or “legacy hardware systems” that no longer have any use or apparent application. When we stumble across this collection of “legacy data,” we erase, discard, ignore or hide it. As an adjective, legacies become expendable, harmful, embarrassing and even unsightly.

So, as we build our legacies, we need to stop and ask a couple of simple questions: Is the legacy you are striving to create a noun or an adjective? How will others view this attempt? Will they see it as a living, dynamic and vital enterprise — and hence a noun worthy of preservation, celebration and emulation? Or will they view the legacy as an adjective and part of an outdated system that no longer has a purchase on our intellects and imaginations. We can easily move these rhetorical questions from the world of business to the world of faith and family life.

Take marriage, for example. Nearly every study undertaken in the recent decades arrives at the same conclusion: Fewer and fewer people are getting married, and of those who do choose marriage, fewer and fewer see it as having a permanent value. The “legacy” component of marriage is rapidly changing from a noun to an adjective. In other words, more people see marriage as a contract between two people rather than a covenant made with God and each other. If those of us who take marriage seriously cannot make a viable case for the value of marriage — for the creation of a legacy — the younger generations will continue to see it as an outdated or unnecessary formality and the unfortunate shift from noun to adjective will continue to gain strength.

Paul J. Voss, PH.D., is president of Ethikos, a professional organization offering ethics training, and an associate professor of literature at Georgia State University.