A new TCG Minute reflection by Ed.
We have established that humanity, over and above the emus, has an innate sense of the spiritual realm, and this is demonstrated by the persistence of religion in human life, among other things. Against the naturalist, we see the impossibility that human life could have been purely physical, because of the ease with which humans engage in abstractions.
In other words, a single kiss from my daughter is the kiss of death for Naturalism. Requiescat in pace.
This frees us to advance: What do we know about the spiritual realm, anyway? What can we know?
Our difficulty is that the physical realm seems so…well, obvious, immediate.* When we want to say something about the physical realm – the sun is shining, the tree is blooming – these things are generally provable by observation. Humans broadly agree about the facts right in front of them, in this sense – we don’t argue with the weatherman about whether it’s raining, nor the traffic reporter, for that matter, who sees down the road and looks upon other roads.
The spiritual realm is not verifiable in the same way. It is not engaged with by means of the physical senses…though, it can be indirectly verified that way. Let us return to that another time.
For now, the grievance of the naturalist is more important than his arguments: If beliefs aren’t scientifically verifiable, then anyone can believe anything they like! How can this rise to the level of knowledge?
That’s true. That’s a good point.
One argument, which we have alluded to already, is that humans have a spiritual sense. It “looks” upon the world and detects certain abstractions, like good and evil, beauty, even truth. The philosopher Alvin Plantinga says we have a “sense of the divine” which justifies our belief in God.
For another argument, we derive from Plato the world of “forms,” which are abstract and ideal molds from which the physical instances are derived. Is there an ideal form of a chair? I don’t know, but there is something remarkable about the ability to make a chair without explicit instructions, as though the idea exists as a universally accessible concrete entity.
Let’s take a third. That is, the natural order appears to be governed by laws, which laws have no physical properties. These laws are often expressed by mathematics, which is the highest point of agreement between the naturalist and the supernaturalist – math works, is practically the most reliable form of knowing that there is.
Whereas the naturalist may agree that mathematics is the language of the Universe, the supernaturalist goes further and says that information does not simply occur, but is articulated by someone or something. Math is preceded by Logos, which gives the Universe structure and predictability and knowability.
And so, we can have knowledge of the spiritual realm by direct experience of it (the spiritual sense), by abstraction from the physical structures to a spiritual ideal, and by observing that the physical realm operates according to non-physical laws, which laws must have their own reality.
Any of these, arguably, is more reliable that the physical world itself as a deliverer of truth. You will find people who claim to have seen the spirit world in a vision or a near death experience. You will find others who hold to the Platonic view of the world. And still others construct reality on a foundation of abstractions – arguably, all of modern science, for a start – and build a monument of knowledge thereupon.
*Who stops to wonder – is this by design?
A basic biological creature – an emu, perhaps – only deals in the physical. Life is all hatching and growing and foraging and mating and running and dying. Often it’s not quite that good.
By the naturalist’s account, this ought to be everything for humanity, and we may as well enjoy it while it lasts.
It would be everything, except for that pesky “brain virus” that clings to religion, that continues to believe old fairy tales against all experience and evidence…or so they would have you believe.
I don’t notice the godless being all that critical about paganism. They will tell you this is because the pagans do not trouble them, but they are ignorant of history and human nature besides.
It is more a case of making allies with a common enemy. If modern religion disappeared, Paganism would immediately gain from it. We know this by looking back before Christianity emerged, and noting that human nature has not changed.
But Paganism is the bellwether of Naturalism’s demise – its miscarriage, really. If Naturalism could not dam up religion from the earliest days, it never had a chance.*
Why is this significant? The question is the answer.
That is, significance is the first handhold out of the physical realm. If physical objects can be imbued with meaning beyond their physical utility, then we are also engaging in a realm beyond physical activity.
Think of a flower, for instance. It has physical utility, a place in the natural order.
Now think of giving a flower. One is not offering the flower in order to pollinate another flower, or for ingestion, or for composting or anything else. Instead, the giver and the receiver both perceive an abstract (roughly, a spiritual) significance to the flower and the act of giving the flower.
This is what the naturalist could not prevent from happening, never could prevent from happening.
*The usual line is that humanity has sufficiently advanced, or will inevitably advance, such that religion will be seen for the fraud it is. They believe we will see Christianity like we now see Roman paganism.
As a matter of fact, the sword has another edge – if the Stoics and the Enlightenment could not free the world from the grip of religion, it is doubtful that anything else could. Rather, one religion comes to dominate another at any given point in time.
What one must immediately see is that the spiritual and the physical are completely different. And we have always seen this.
They are parallel lines, running together but never crossing. If we were mere physical creatures – like the lower animals – a “spiritual realm” would never occur to us. Even among men, we are dismayed at those who are singularly focused on the physical – a woman obsessed with her looks, a man with his riches.
Just so, the spiritually obsessed are often mocked, detached as they are from the most basic and necessary elements of living on a physical planet. The ditz, the new age believer – we instinctively understand that they enjoy a disposition supported by those who daily reckon with the elemental – dirt and steel and sweat and disappointment.
But the spiritual is more real, the foundation of the physical. God spoke the Universe into existence, and not the other way around.
So, why not detach from the physical? Why not all be esoterics?
Surely you’ve thought of that. And what came of it?
You’re here, reading today – surely you’ve thought of forsaking the world completely, praying all night, perhaps, as Jesus did, or else fostering such piety that you might levitate while in an ecstatic vision of the Almighty. Are you familiar with the Stigmata?
And you did not wonder, at least for a moment, what that would be like?
That, my friend, is exactly what forsaking the physical looks like. It looks like holes through your hands and blood and water flowing from your side. It is a coronation with thorns, because they are no better or worse than gold.
“My kingdom is not of this world.” No joke, that.
My friends, it is dreadfully painful to forsake the world, because you just are a physical being. Your very being responds to the environment, to the stimuli impressed upon you. There is the objective quality about it, that if you are shot through the heart, you will suffer and die, no matter what you believe or how you live.
Yet, some do forsake the world. Not absolutely, but – shall we say? – in spirit.
Now, how are we to resolve this paradox? We exist as physical and spiritual beings, and while the spiritual is more fundamental, we can be destroyed by physical means. The two do not intersect, and yet we cannot ignore either of them.
How do parallel lines cross and remain parallel?
They do so, if you view them from a third angle, another dimension.
Adam and Ed discuss Anointing of the Sick.
“The condition of human nature … is such that it has to be led by things corporeal and sensible to things spiritual and intelligible.” – St. Thomas Aquinas
As always, St. Thomas has not only arrived where we want to go centuries in advance, but he has done so with precision and the poet’s flourish.
Still, every generation must grapple with the world as they find it.
The contemporary search for proof of God’s existence often runs through the sciences, namely physics, though the atheists fancy that biology can do their work for them. Neither is necessary to show that God exists, nor can either possibly show that He doesn’t exist.
Rather, what grew out of that search, for me, were the ready analogies that physics offers for spiritual phenomena. I learned, for example, that the very laws of physics break down as one approaches the first instant of creation, the Big Bang. Seeing the Universe issuing forth from the command of God, I found it remarkable that there was nothing but the spiritual realm, when all of the sudden laws, mathematics, particles, energy, space and time came “screaming” into existence. The abstract realities – laws, mathematics – reached terminal velocity, like a satellite re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, and the resulting fire and fury resulted in forces, space, time, and matter, immediately and inexorably falling into order.
That analogy is not exactly what I mean, but a bridge to it.
That spiritual realm persists – it has to – even while our physical world lives and grows, fights and loves, and decays and dies into the matter that forms new life. And how do we know the spiritual realm exists? The first analogy…
It would be odd for any creature to have a sense which senses falsely. Biologically speaking, this would be extra baggage, more body to protect and feed. There are even instances of fish which had sight, when a group of them came to be effectively trapped in a a cave for many years. In order to save energy, they evolved the loss of their eyes.
In other words, there was first light, and so the eyes developed and were useful. Then there was no light, and the eyes were not useful, and soon they atrophied away.
Now when many billions of people around the planet claim experience or evidence of the spiritual realm, are they like fish with eyes and no light? Why haven’t we evolved the loss of this spiritual sense?
What if, instead, the organ (the soul) survives because there is something that it detects, which proves useful for living in a physical reality?
There is much here; we will explore it.
Ed and Adam continue their series on the Sacraments by talking about Reconciliation.
Adam and Ed reflect on Ash Wednesday in this new Two Catholic Guys Minute.
Adam and Ed discuss the third Sacrament of Initiation, Confirmation.
The Sacrament series continues as Adam and Ed explore the source and summit of Christian life, the Eucharist.