Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

Evolution for the Catholic Student

Order 'Evolution for the Catholic Student' - Click on the image above

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

With the blessings of a teacher’s schedule, I have the opportunity to spend some extended time visiting family this Christmas, so the next post on this blog will not be until January 1.  May you have a very blessed end to your Advent and a Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Santa Controversy

The Santa Controversy
Above icon available from

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”  These famous words are part of a poetic response to a young girl’s innocent question.  To us they seem mere sentimentality, but I wonder if there is real wisdom there for parents dealing with the “Santa Controversy.”

What I refer to is the challenge many Catholic parents face regarding how to handle Santa during the Christmas season.  I’ve heard arguments on both sides of the debate recently.  On one side are people who say the traditions regarding Santa help open children to wonder at things that go beyond what they can see.  It is also a proper use of myth to direct children to ultimate Truths, when Santa is subordinated to and directed toward the birth of Jesus.

On the other side are those who would say that by going along with the popular culture’s version of Santa, we are lying to children.  If we tell them to believe in Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny, and later they learn that these things are not real, will that not undermine what we have taught them about God?  (Though I would say that if parents’ teachings about Santa can in any way be compared to their teachings about Christ, their spiritual life probably needs a bit of a jump start.)
I have heard many good points on both sides of the issue, and though I have a few thoughts to add to the discussion, I can not pretend to have any more of the answer to the dilemma than anyone else.

In our home, we do hang stockings for Santa, but we do not promote the culture’s understanding of him as a jolly fat man who lives in the North Pole with flying reindeer and a workforce of elves.  (Though given the exposure our children get from the prevailing culture, I know that they may hold some of those assumptions, but we have not taught them.)

We celebrate the feast day of St. Nicholas on December 6, and our children know that he was a fourth century bishop who was imprisoned for his faith, later released, and was known for his charity to the poor and to children, especially at Christmas.

We teach the historical truths about St. Nicholas, and emphasize his love for Our Lord and desire to serve Him and His people.  (There is a nice animated video we use: Nicholas: The Boy Who Became Santa.)  We do not emphasize Santa during the season beyond that, and we try to participate in activities that direct attention on the Nativity.

Why, then, do we hang the stockings, and why do we not directly dispel the parts of the customary tale that are not true?  Are we not participating in the deception of our children?

It’s true that I like the wonder our children display at seeing their stockings, which always include at least one major religious item in them.  Long after they stop believing those stockings are filled by a fat man in a red suit (unless I invest in some red pajamas), I suspect we will continue the tradition.

I intend to explain to my children that the gifts they receive from “Santa” are from him, as a representative of the Communion of Saints who celebrate with them the birth of the Lord.  St. Nicholas was a generous man, devoted to Christ, who loved Christmas.  It is in his honor that we have filled their stockings all these years as a reminder that the people of God, and the worship of God, are not confined to this world.

This is not the “right way” to handle the Santa Controversy, but it is our way.  I pray that it helps our children in their love of God.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.  He is alive, in the presence of God, and he gifts you this Christmas and always with his prayers, that one day he may celebrate Christmas with you, in Heaven.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Common Core vs. Classical Education

Common Core vs. Classical Education

As a teacher in a school that is adopting the Common Core standards, I was introduced to them rather early and with a decidedly positive bent.  I have also, in preparation for opening (God willing) a classical academy, been learning as much as I can about classical education, not having been educated according to that method myself as a child.

          I am not an expert on either Common Core or classical education, although I expect I could discuss them both with reasonable knowledge and intelligence.  There is plenty to say about them, but what I want to contrast in this article are certain key philosophies underlying both, at least as I understand them.

          Anyone who has been paying attention to the Common Core controversy has heard the complaint that, among other things, Common Core steers away from literary texts, and toward non-fiction, technical texts.  Another complaint has been the supposed lowered expectations for math in the higher grades.

          These things are products of a basic philosophy of education that the Common Core standards put into practice.  It sees education almost exclusively as a means for economic achievement.  The purpose of education, the philosophy says, is to create citizens with the ability to contribute to the economy and provide for themselves financially as adults.

          Therefore, Shakespeare and trigonometry, for most people, are superfluous.  “Why does a truck driver need to know Shakespeare?” I’ve heard it said.  College is the time to specialize.  Those interested in literature will explore it then.  Those who pursue a career with higher level mathematics can master trigonometry; the rest of us need not be bothered with it.

          To be fair, these opinions are not universal among educators, even those promoting the Common Core.  And many districts may choose to go beyond the standards.  Certainly Catholic dioceses will have more freedom to decide how to implement the standards, if they do.

          The philosophy, however, is in stark contrast to that exemplified by classical education.  To a classical educator, education is about much more than economic achievement; it is about human formation.  He believes that there is a certain education that is fitting for all people, necessary for responsible citizenship, and worthy of a child of God.

          The liberal arts, as taught in classical education, should create well-rounded students. A comprehensive education is necessary for all students, regardless of their future profession.  A classical educator would answer the question, “Why does a truck driver need to know Shakespeare?” with, “It may not benefit truck driving to know Shakespeare, but it benefits human persons.” 

          A career is what we do.  But everyone deserves the opportunity to be an educated person.  This is the philosophy behind classical education.  (The addition of Catholicism to classical education completes the program.)

          This is not to say that modern “Common Core” educators are not interested in their students being truly educated people.  But the system in which they are operating, in my opinion, does not encourage it.  Parents have many things to consider when it comes to the education of their children, and the philosophy behind that education is one of the fundamentals.  All parents would do well to learn about the Common Core, inquire as to how their district or their diocese will be implementing it, and prayerfully consider supporting a return to the classical approach to education.


Note:  Though I do not support the Common Core standards, I recognize that Catholic dioceses, with more freedom than public schools, may use what they find profitable from the standards, discard what they find objectionable, and supplement with other beneficial materials.  This post is meant as a reflection, perhaps even a challenge to parents and educators alike, but not as a criticism of any diocese or school district.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Link - Advent Marian Feasts

Link – Advent Marian Feasts

This week, the second week of Advent, we celebrate both the feast of the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe.  At the link below, Archbishop Raymond Burke gives a reflection on this special time.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Three Comings of Christ

The Three Comings of Christ

We often speak of three “Comings of Christ” into this world: His coming in history; His coming in mystery; and His coming in majesty.  This holy season of Advent is about all three.

Most obviously it is about Christ’s coming in history.  This refers to the historical fact that 2,000 years ago a Baby was born in Bethlehem, and that Baby was God.  (Actually, His coming really occurred nine months earlier at the Annunciation.)  During this season it is good to meditate on the fact that the world had been waiting for many thousands of years, since the fall of Adam and Eve, for the promised Redeemer.  During this three-to-four weeks of Advent, it is important to reflect on the importance of that event.

God became Man.  Why?  There are many reasons, but primarily, to die.  Archbishop Fulton Sheen said, “Every man in history, save one, was born to live.  One was born to die.”  Jesus Christ, the God-Man, was born so that He could die for the sake of our salvation, and build an eternal covenant, opening the gates of Heaven for all eternity to all who would choose to enter.

He became so weak that He depended on His own creatures even to eat.  He was vulnerable to their wrath and scorn.  And He was first made known to all but a few on that first blessed Christmas.

It is no coincidence that the readings for the first week of Advent focus on the end of the world.  Advent should also remind us of Christ’s Second Coming, His coming in majesty.  Christ will come again.  We know that.  And when He does, it will not be hidden, as a vulnerable infant in a stable in some no-name town.  He will come riding the clouds with His angels, to separate the sheep from the goats (Mt. 25: 31-46).  John the Baptist hints at this in the Gospel for the second week of Advent.

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Lord, we should also reflect on His Second Coming.  We should be getting ready.  That is one key to the Christian life to begin with – always being ready for Christ.  It should come as no surprise that while the world considers Advent the shopping season, the Church considers it a penitential season.

Finally, this Advent should lead us to deeper contemplation of Christ’s coming in mystery, specifically in the Eucharist.  Jesus told His Apostles, “I will be with you always, even to the consummation of the world” (Mt. 28:20).  This promise has been most beautifully kept in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.  In the Eucharist, Jesus Christ has been with us, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in every age, from the time of the Apostles to the present day, and He will continue to be, until the end of time.

I’d like to share a meditation I had recently.  This is no supernatural vision, simply a meditation.  I was praying the third Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, the Nativity, and in my imagination I approached the manger.  Mary was sitting there holding the Infant Jesus, and she handed Him to me.  I stood caressing the tender, precious, fragile God of the universe for a few moments and reached out to hand Him back to Our Lady.  She kept still, however, and said, “Take Him with you.”  At that the Infant transfigured into the Eucharist and took rest, shining brightly in my heart.

It was a very profitable meditation and reminded me that the wonder we have over the Baby in the manger should be present at every Eucharist.  He has come to stay.  Eucharistic Adoration would be a very appropriate preparation for Christmas this Advent.

So as we plunge ahead with our shopping, cooking and decorating this season, let us not forget what it is truly about.  And may we help others to remember as well.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Link - The Immaculate Conception

Link – The Immaculate Conception

Due to the Second Sunday of Advent falling on December 8 this year, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is being celebrated today, December 9.  At the following link, Tim Staples gives some profitable reflections on the dogma and, as is his style, plenty of apologetics.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

What is a Jesse Tree?

What is a Jesse Tree?
Image from

As mentioned earlier this week, people all over are buying, erecting and decorating Christmas trees.  But many Christians are also creating Jesse trees for Advent.  What is a Jesse tree?  Why is it so appropriate for Advent?

“Jesse” refers to the father of King David, a key figure in the human genealogy of Jesus.  For each day of Advent, people add one ornament to their Jesse tree, with a symbol that represents a key figure or event in the Old Testament.

The Jesse tree is an appropriate Advent activity because the season consists of approximately four weeks of waiting to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  The Jesse tree reminds us that God’s people had been waiting for thousands of years for the birth of the Savior.  During that time, though, they were not ignored.  God worked through the history of His people to prepare them for their Messiah.

As each ornament is added to the Jesse tree, there is a corresponding Scripture reading from the Old Testament and usually a meditation highlighting how the Old Testament event or person was a preparation or prefiguration of Christ.

The Jesse tree is a great tradition to help children and adults alike see how God has worked in the history of Israel, and recognize the continuity of the Old Testament with the New.  We can’t really understand the depth and meaning of the Old Testament without relating it to the revelation given to us through the Incarnation of Christ.

There are numerous variations of the Jesse tree.  The link below gives one example of ornaments and related Scripture.  A simple Internet search can produce other ideas and accompanying meditations.  Catholic stores or companies often have Jesse tree kits for purchase as well.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Link - The Advent Wreath

Link - The Advent Wreath

Yesterday I posted an article about the history of the Christmas tree.  At the link below, Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur explores the history and meaning of the Advent wreath.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

St. Boniface and the Christmas Tree

       St. Boniface and the Christmas Tree

          Millions of people have begun flocking to stores to buy their Christmas trees.  It's a nice tradition of the holiday season, but many have stripped it of its religious significance and many more have no idea where the tradition came from.

          I've known people who refuse to have a Christmas tree because they claim it is a pagan tradition.  While it is true that paganism does play some part in the history of the Christmas tree, it is a thoroughly Christian custom.

          We can trace the Christmas tree to St. Boniface in the eighth century.  Boniface was an English Benedictine missionary sent to evangelize the pagan tribes of Germany.

          The pagans of southern Germany used trees in their worship and in a famous, historically documented story Boniface used this to bring about their conversion.  At the time of Christmas in the year AD 723, Boniface saw that a young man was to be sacrificed under Odin's oak.  Boniface responded by taking an axe to the sacred tree. Not only was Boniface not struck dead, legend has it that at his first blow, a miraculous wind blew the tree over.  The people recognized the power of the true God and mass conversions began.

          Boniface took the customs of the local people surrounding tress and “baptized” them.  It was customary for people to bring trees into their homes around the time of the winter solstice, so Boniface decided this custom could be transformed into one that honored the true God.

          At Christmas, the people brought in evergreen trees, symbolizing peace and life, and pointing toward Heaven, and decorated them to honor the birth of the Lord.

          The rest, as they say, is history.  The tradition spread to England and eventually to the United States and the Christian West.  So this year as we trim our trees, may they point our eyes Heavenward, and may we use these beautiful gifts of nature to be offerings to the true God, the Baby born among nature's beasts in a stable so many years ago.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Out of Town

Out of Town

I will be visiting family the better part of next week, so the next article on this blog will be posted Monday, Dec. 2.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Christ the King

Christ the King

Image from

This Sunday, the last Sunday of the liturgical year, is the feast of Christ the King.  This feast was established in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, in his encyclical Quas Primas, in response to a rising secularism that denied Christ’s authority in this world.

The feast of Christ the King reminds us that Jesus is not just Lord of Heaven, but of earth as well.  The king of this world is not the government, or the United Nations, or the popular culture; it is Jesus Christ.

With secularism in our time taking the false notion of “the separation of Church and state” to ridiculous conclusions, it is a good time for us to meditate on just Whose world this is, and where true authority comes from.

This Sunday’s feast is also a reminder that Christ must be the King of our hearts.  Does He rule in our hearts?  In our lives?  Is He the end toward which we strive?  Do we allow Him to guide our thoughts, our words, and our actions?  And do we submit ourselves to His authority, which He has left us in His Church?

As we approach Advent, when we will be preparing to welcome Christ anew by celebrating His coming in history, these are essential questions to ponder.  And hopefully our meditations surrounding the feast of Christ the King can help us to make changes in our own lives if need be.  Once we, His people, unashamedly allow Christ to be the King of our hearts and submit ourselves to His loving authority, we can lead our culture down the same path. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Link - Navigating 'Francispoloza'

Link – Navigating ‘Francispoloza’

Since his election, many people have been trying to paint Pope Francis in different ways.  Often, they try to paint him in their own image.  Liberal media outlets have taken numerous comments out of context to try and convince people that the teachings of the Church are about to radically change.  However, to most people paying attention, I think the pope has made clear that is not about to happen.  (People of Faith knew that all along.)

Pope Francis has demonstrated a genuine humility, a deeply pastoral heart, and an authentic love for Christ and His Church.  As Catholics, we may be on the receiving end of many questions about this shepherd of ours, who has so captivated the world and also so confused it.  The link below gives an interesting perspective on how to respond to such questions.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Challenge of Funerals

The Challenge of Funerals

Catholic pastors face many difficult challenges.  I suspect that often, weddings and funerals are two of the big ones.  I wrote on the importance of good marriage preparation recently.  Like weddings, funerals are important Catholic services, with very specific religious purposes.  And like weddings, our culture has totally secularized them.  Unlike weddings, which are usually planned over a period of months when people are in happy, excited moods, funerals are often planned in only a couple of days by people suffering through emotional turbulence.  I imagine that presents a very unique pastoral challenge.

I have been to numerous beautiful, spiritual Catholic funerals.  But we all know that our culture sees funerals as very different events than the Church does.  What happens when a non-practicing child, for example, has to plan a funeral for a deeply religious parent?  The parent deserves a proper Catholic funeral, but the child is not as interested.  And because of the deep pain the child is suffering through, it is not the most opportune time for catechesis.

So what is a funeral?  We often hear funerals described as, “A celebration of the life of…”  It is certainly important and praiseworthy to celebrate the lives of our deceased loved ones, but that is not what a funeral is for.  Neither is it primarily a tool to help grieving family and friends cope, though that too is essential, and is certainly an important role of the Church.  A funeral is not a pseudo-canonization ceremony, dedicated to extolling the virtues of the departed and contemplating on the effect he is now having on Heaven.

A funeral is a commending of a soul to God.  The focus is the deceased, and the focus should be on prayer for the deceased.  It usually takes place in the context of a Mass, so worship of God is central.  And it is an opportunity for the Church, the family of God, to commend a brother or sister into the Hands of the Lord with prayer, and if that person be in Purgatory, to offer sacrifice for the sake of his or her purification.

It is a very beautiful thing.  And for those who understand it, it provides deep spiritual healing for grieving family and friends, not to mention spiritual benefits to the deceased.  It can even be considered, in some ways, “a celebration of the life of,” since there is no better celebration than the perfect worship of God, offered for the soul of our beloved.

The Church sees funerals so differently than our culture does because the Church sees death so differently than our culture does.  “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones” (Psalm 116:15).  It is a sign of beauty, love, and eternal hope.  We have so much more to offer than does our culture, but when someone who does not understand is planning a funeral, it can pose a difficult pastoral challenge.

Understandably, the community wants to be sensitive and supportive, but also to give the deceased the dignified, prayerful, proper funeral that he deserves.

The time to start teaching people these things is not the three emotional days during which a funeral is being planned.  It is now.  It is always.  We must be sure that people understand the beautiful spiritual treasures the Church wishes to dispense, so that when the time comes, they are received with joy.  It also may lead to the essential practice of continued Masses being offered for our beloved dead.  They should not be forgotten at the altar when the funeral Mass is over.

Another difficult issue is the proper burial of one’s earthly remains.  It is critical that we make known our belief in the resurrection of the body.  We say we believe in it during every Creed.  When we die, our soul goes to God for particular judgment.  A soul, being purely spiritual, can not be killed.

Our bodies, of course, are buried.  But, at the end of time, when Christ returns, our bodies will rise, and our soul and body will be reunited for all eternity.  The saved will receive glorified bodies, but they will be their bodies.  As such, the treatment of earthly remains is very important.  It has been throughout all of Christian and Jewish history.

Generally a body is to be buried on sacred ground.  A body can be cremated, provided it is not meant to display a lack of faith in the resurrection of the body (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2301).  But the ashes should be buried or placed in a mausoleum.  Again, our bodies should await their resurrection with a dignified burial on sacred ground, whenever possible.

This, too, provides a difficult pastoral challenge.  Many people want the ashes of their loved ones kept in their homes or scattered at some place they found special during life.  Again, this is such an emotional issue and such an emotional time, pastorally, priests want to be sensitive and supportive.  But the fact is, the deceased (and God) deserve to have the remains properly buried.

I remember the struggle a friend of mine had at the death of her brother.  His wife wanted his ashes dumped into the ocean because he enjoyed being out there on his boat.  My friend gently requested a proper Christian burial and even offered to pay for it.

Not only was this offer rejected, my friend suffered great scorn from her sister-in-law and even her family, who found the request to be selfish.  But there was nothing selfish about it.  She did not wish it for her own sake, but for her brother.  She felt, out of love for him, that he at least deserved that she make the offer, even though she found it very uncomfortable.  It was profoundly unselfish.  Many of us have found ourselves in similar situations.  It is at these times we need to pray for both courage and prudence.

But we also need to pray for greater catechesis on these issues all the time.  May the beauty of the Church’s teachings, received from God Himself, be known and celebrated.  During this time at the end of the year, when our readings focus on the end times, it should remind us that even those not alive to see those days, will face their own end at some point.  Perhaps it is a good time for us as individuals, and as a Church, to prepare.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Kicking the Can

Kicking the Can

Mr. Obama’s “solution” to the problem of millions of Americans losing their health insurance despite his assurances, is to allow people to keep their plans for one year, and to allow companies the option of reinstating plans that they have recently cancelled due to his mandates for that year.

This is unacceptable, however.  There was nothing in his famous promise that said, “If you like your current plan, you can keep it for one year.”  Democrats and Republicans are both pushing him for a better, permanent solution that honors the words of his original promise, and we need to demand such a solution.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Force Obama's Hand

Force Obama's Hand

“Under my plan, if you like your current health insurance, you can keep it.”  These words were spoken by Barack Obama when he was selling Obamacare to the American people, and they are not true. 

Since Obamacare began taking effect, millions of Americans have received cancellation notices from their health insurance companies.  Usually this is because the plans that people have, and like, do not conform to Obamacare mandates.

People are rightly very angry.  Obama is getting pressure from Republicans and Democrats to do something about it.  And we have been assured by his spokesman Jay Carney that he will.  One thing he will not do, however, is simply let people keep their current plans, even if they want to, if those plans don’t comply with his mandates.

Congress, however, is trying to force the issue.  A bill called the Keep Your Health Plan Act is being voted on Friday in the House, which will allow people to do what Mr. Obama promised they would be able to do.  Former President Bill Clinton has endorsed such a plan and Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein is co-sponsoring a Senate version of the bill.

It is imperative that we pressure our representatives to pass this bill, and by a large margin.  If nothing else, we should force Obama to stand up before an angry public and veto a bill that simply seeks to make him keep a promise he repeatedly and forcefully made.

Hopefully the bill will garner enough support to override a veto.  The American people deserve it, and Mr. Obama needs to be taught a lesson about the value of a promise.

Note:  Although I believe these cancellations are a violation of Mr. Obama’s promise, at least as most people interpret it, in fairness I should state his position that grandfathers in plans in existence when the law was passed in 2010.  Any plans that have been created or changed from that time until now, as the law takes effect, from his perspective, can be cancelled without violating his promise.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Catholic Roots of Thanksgiving

The Catholic Roots of Thanksgiving

Image from

In just a couple of weeks we will be celebrating Thanksgiving.  Most people know the history of the holiday, from the first Thanksgiving celebration with the Pilgrims and American Indians, to its official proclamation as a national holiday by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863.

But many people don’t know that our modern holiday of Thanksgiving actually has roots firmly planted in Catholic history.  Besides Veterans Day, November 11 is also the feast day of St. Martin of Tours.  Martin was a fourth century pagan soldier who once saw a poor beggar freezing in the cold.  He cut his own heavy cloak (meant to keep himself warm) in half and gave half to the beggar.  That night he had a vision of Christ Himself wearing the cloak.  Martin left the army, converted his family, and moved to Gaul to live a monastic life, where he was eventually made the bishop of Tours.

In medieval Europe it was customary to celebrate St. Martin’s feast day by having a Thanksgiving feast, thanking God for the harvest.  This custom survived in Protestant communities even after the time of the Reformation, and was one the Pilgrims brought with them to the New World.

So it is not surprising that they chose to offer thanks with their Native American friends that first Thanksgiving with a feast similar to that which they held back home.

There have been a few minor changes, of course, the most obvious of which is the date.  Also, the Thanksgiving feast celebrated on Martinmas featured goose as the customary main dish.  The Pilgrims did in fact celebrate that first Thanksgiving with goose, along with some of the abundant wild turkey they had hunted.  In America, of course, the turkey has wrestled control of the holiday away from the goose (not that many geese are likely to complain).

So as we prepare for Thanksgiving this year, it is nice to remember that it truly is a Catholic holiday, and perhaps we can ask the prayers of St. Martin, without whom we may never have had this annual over-stuffed, football-frenzied day of grace.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Happy Veterans Day

Happy Veterans Day

      Thank you for your service.  May God guide and protect you.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Book Review - 'Answering Atheism'

Book Review – Answering Atheism

Trent Horn has been studying the phenomenon of atheism for years.  In his new book, Answering Atheism, published by Catholic Answers Press, he makes a clear and charitable response.

The book is broken into three parts.  The first clarifies the terms and positions in the debate.  He also analyzes its tone in recent years, and promises that his work will not sink to the level of insults and name-calling.  In reading the rest of the book, one finds that he keeps his word.

The second part of the book analyzes and critiques the arguments for atheism.  Often we find that in talking to atheists, they will debate our positions for theism and see atheism as a default position.  It is as if atheism is the starting point and as long as there is any conceivable answer to our points (reasonable or not), then atheism must be assumed.

But of course this position is unreasonable.  An atheist should be able to give clear reasons for being an atheist.  Horn looks at the most common reasons in this section of the book, most notably the ideas that the concept of God is a logical contradiction, and that the existence of God is incompatible with the existence of suffering and evil.  Horn very thoroughly and fairly presents the atheist arguments, and very charitably and completely shows them to be false.

The third and longest part of the book includes the reasons to believe in God (theism).  Horn is not specifically an apologist for Christianity in this work, although there are a few points at which he shows that the Christian conception of God makes the most sense out of reality.

Horn delves into the recent advances in physics that prove the universe (space-time) had a beginning, before which there was nothing.  And, of course, something can not come from nothing.  He looks at the improbable fine-tuning of our universe that makes it capable of supporting life.  Finally, he puts forth the moral arguments for the existence of God and takes a look at personal experience.

In the spirit of Thomas Aquinas, Horn gives voice to every possible objection to his arguments.  Much of the book, in fact, is spent answering these challenges.  The result is that when the reader is finished, it is very likely he will have any points of disagreement left untreated.

My criticisms of this book are few.  The first was touched on earlier this week in my article about evolutionism.  The only other thing to watch out for is that because Horn goes through so many difficulties people might have with his arguments, at times the main point can get lost in the technicalities.

This technique, I’m sure, is very helpful to the skeptical reader and he does well by leaving some of the more far-fetched objections to the appendices, allowing the main text to flow more smoothly.

Overall, Answering Atheism is a worthy book to add to one’s library.  It is intellectual but not difficult to read.  It can also serve as a powerful reference tool when challenged by an atheistic argument whose answer is not readily on the tip of the tongue. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Link - Journey to Manhood

Link - Journey to Manhood

     At the following link is the incredible story of Walt Heyer, whose struggles with gender identity led him to live for years as "Laura."  Calling his decision to live as a woman "the biggest mistake of his life," Walt courageously shares his story to help other people struggling like he did.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Christian Evolutionism in Apologetics

Christian Evolutionism in Apologetics

At the outset, I must acknowledge that the Theory of Evolution (macro-evolution as envisioned by Charles Darwin) does nothing to disprove the existence of God.  Most would argue that it does not disprove Christianity.  The Catholic Church, in fact, has said that Catholics have the freedom to believe in it, provided they acknowledge God as the Creator, the direct creation of our souls by God, and certain truths about our first parents (among the other principles of the Faith).

          Given all that, I was unsure about whether to even write this post.  And it is understandable why many apologists don’t bother touching on evolution.  Trent Horn, in his book Answering Atheism, recounts a debate between theists and atheists on a college campus at which he noticed that the atheist literature was exclusively about evolution.

          Given that evolutionism essentially misses the point, and is frequently used to advance straw man arguments, isn’t discussing it playing into our opponents’ hands?  Most of the time, it probably is.

          However, there is one pet peeve of mine (of which Mr. Horn is guilty despite the quality of his book) that I do think is a mistake.  That is the uncritical acceptance of evolution within arguments for theism.  Modern apologists apply the highest standards of scientific rigor to our arguments supporting the existence of God.  We want no stone left unturned in order to display beyond any doubt where the evidence leads.

          When it comes to evolution, however, there are often no critical standards applied at all.  Again, I understand the reasoning.  It does us no good to get bogged down over theories that are essentially irrelevant to our purposes.  And given the success atheist professors have had turning young people away from faith using evolutionism, it would seem that taking the sword out of our enemy’s hand would be quite wise.

          My only concern is this: by setting such a standard (or really a lack of standards), we are giving uncritical credibility to a belief system that hasn’t earned it.

          This is why, despite the theological differences I may have with him, I appreciate the recent documentary by Ray Comfort, Evolution vs. God.  In it, he asks professors at top universities for one piece of observable evidence for Darwinian macro-evolution, and he gets none.  There are a few examples of micro-evolution, such as certain fish, or Darwin’s finches.  Horn gives the impressive example of bacteria that have developed the ability to metabolize harsh acids.  (It is important to note that though this ability was designed over 50,000 generations of bacteria by the intelligence of scientist Richard Lenski, the bacteria never began to become anything other than bacteria.)

          All of these examples show adaptability, and impressive foresight in creation.  These are forms of micro-evolution and are certainly not Earth shattering.  The many breeds of dog, for example, are thought by virtually all creationists to have come from a few on Noah’s ark.  And we have heard of antibiotic-resistant bacteria for years.

          But in none of these examples did the birds, fish or bacteria become something else entirely (what are often called different “kinds”).  When the professors were asked to confirm that none of these creatures actually gave rise to any other type of creature, they responded, “Well, of course not,” even though that is exactly what Darwinian evolution would suggest.

          But we have to imagine these small principles put into effect over millions of years.  Then these small changes, applied to single-cell organisms at the start, could give rise to the massive diversity we see around us today, right?  I would argue that they could not.  There are many good, scholarly works out there that explain exactly why they could not, and I could not do them justice.  They are not hard to find.
          My point is that there are scientific standards that the Theory of Evolution can not meet.  We are still free to believe in it, but no one should blindly accept it as truth.  And though it is not at the heart of apologetics and is probably most often best left on the shelf, I think we need to be careful about setting a bad example in that regard.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Mystery of Atheism

The Mystery of Atheism

I have worked with young people for many years in Catholic settings.  The biggest tragedy for me is when I hear that one of them has, somewhere down the line, decided that he or she is an atheist.  I have become very conscious of that and often try to subtly plant the answer to atheist arguments years before my students are ever likely to face them.  (Of course, the strongest argument against atheism is a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Regardless of the arguments presented, no one could convince me that my mother does not exist.  I personally know her.)

With atheism seemingly all the rage these days, it has had me wondering what causes people to embrace it.  There are many factors, and some could argue it is “in vogue,” as once eugenics, racism and disco have been.  But clearly there’s more to it than just that.  Atheism is a response to the most basic of human questions, and it is a tragic one.  What leads people there?

It seems to me there are three main categories of reasons people become atheists.  Bear in mind I am not a professional sociologist, theologian, or expert on this issue in any sense of the word.  However, perhaps there is something worthwhile in my musings.

The first category contains the intellectual atheist.  This person has intellectual arguments against the existence of God.  Very often he has come across some “science” that he feels disproves an important aspect of the Christian faith as he understands it.  Therefore, he believes, atheism is true.

This is, in my opinion, the easiest type of atheism to “cure,” because all it requires is education.  The evidence (scientific, historical, philosophical, etc.) all points clearly to the existence of God.  Very often this type of atheist has become a disciple of evolutionism.  Forgetting for a moment the weaknesses in the theory of evolution, the Church has allowed that it can be compatible with Christian faith, and it certainly does nothing to suggest simply that a transcendent Creator does not exist.

Of course, I think the purely intellectual atheist is very rare.  If someone’s lack of Faith is based solely on intellectual grounds, he’s much more likely to be an agnostic.  If he doesn’t think the evidences for the existence of God are impressive, he certainly can’t be impressed by the evidences for atheism, since there essentially are none.  The best atheism generally does is debate the motives of credibility for Faith; it rarely produces positive arguments for itself.

The second type of atheist is the emotional atheist.  I think this is actually the most common.  This is a person who has experienced an intense suffering, or is just very sensitive to the suffering of others, and can not reconcile that to the existence of an all-powerful and all-loving God.

There are certainly many answers to this objection, and much has been written about suffering from a Christian perspective (see On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering).  But I think the first thing we need to do is show this person compassion.  Can he or she see in us the Face of the God who not only suffers with us, but suffered for us?  If we can somehow bring Christ’s peace and love to these people, perhaps their hearts will open to the answers to their questions about suffering, and to a relationship with the One who can heal them.

Finally, there are those who are atheists for moral reasons.  Living in a culture that promotes anti-Christian values, many people find themselves attached to or habituated with behaviors that they know are inconsistent with belief in an all-holy God.  The response often is to build their belief system around their behaviors, rather than the other way around.  We have all been guilty of this to a point.  It’s called rationalization, and when taken to the extreme of atheism, can sometimes lead to very angry people, and the accusation that “people of Faith are all judgmental and hypocrites, so why would I want to be one of them anyway?”

Unfortunately I haven’t found the answers to all these problems.  Trent Horn has done his best to present them, though, in his new book Answering Atheism, which I intend to review next week.  My point in this article is that if we are close to someone who has identified him or herself as an atheist, the first thing we may need to do is find out what is at the root of that atheism, as our approach may vary depending on what it is.

Of course, one thing that shouldn’t vary is our witness of a Christian life that is authentic, loving and joyful.  It is hard for anyone to argue forever with that.

Note: If an atheist should stumble across this post who can not see himself as falling in any of the three categories I mentioned, please email me at, as I would be very interested.  Please note if you would prefer I not publish what you write.