God: a skeptic's guide in dialogue form (iii).

Protagonists: as before.

Day Three. At the restored Abbey of Monte Cassino, Italy.

Beda: Dear friends, I must thank you for agreeing to meet here, most momentous of places. 

Johannes: Its is indeed a history mottled with grief as well as glory.  How can we reconcile the two, the birthplace of quiet contemplation in Europe, with the desperate slaughters of more recent times?  Perhaps eighty thousand died here. How tragic, too, that the ancient Abbey of old was destroyed to no avail; only sick monks lay there, and they most certainly bore no arms.

Petrus: I think we all stand silently before such a scene.  No words can replace its own eloquence.

B: Yet recall its younger days, when the chants and silences of Benedict?s followers resounded through Europe: and that it was the first school of Aquinas, most rational of Christians.

P: Yes, he who tried in folly to prove the impossible: that God exists!  And who thought he could prove the immortal soul ? again, a nonsense we have at last outgrown.  Our modern studies of the mind have dismissed such fancy.

J: But, did not his adherence to the Philosopher of old temper this view?

B: It is true that Aquinas was no Cartesian.  For him, the soul was the form of the body; intimately connected in every way. 

J: But yet he thought we lived on after the body was laid in earth and corrupted?

B: This was his view.  But note his careful words: only insofar as our intellect and volition are not dependent on our body is the soul immortal.  Even in his view is the soul free from the body not complete: its reconciliation with the body is essential for its true operation.

P: You are a man of science, surely you must reject such views! 

B: The sciences have indeed taught us much.  Aquinas never knew the close connection we now do between mind and matter.  Yet surely part of what he is aiming at is true.   We know ourselves to be flesh and blood, knit together from the matter of the world: but yet, we look into the world from the outside: my thoughts are not atoms nor energies.  To pretend otherwise as the modern materialists do is to do violence to both.

P: Then such things have no place in science!

B: Perhaps on this point we can agree.  We will never capture the self in study of the world; it is experienced only as the window through which we peer into the world.  It has no content to view; rather it is where we view from.  Still, that does not allow us to abolish ourselves even so, even if we can say nothing more of ourselves. 

J: You speak obscurely indeed.

P: Natural philosophers have searched through the world diligently for the supernatural, and have never found it.   

B: Indeed, but what would they expect to find?  And yet, the self falls into such a category if anything does.  We intervene in the world without any causal mechanism, it seems.  Yet no-one doubts we do so.

J: Your words tend to mysticism - I cannot comprehend their meaning!

B: Suppose it true that we are pure creatures of flesh and blood, our minds arise from the complex workings of our mind.  Yet, to us, what difference does it make?  We still live, and see, and think, and wonder.  We can never see ourselves as some material thing.  Our soul is not some sort of other matter: it is merely ourself.  

J: So you mean that our soul is immune to the probings of science?

B: It is a point of view, not a thing.  We can only remain silent. 

P: Yet how could a point of view intervene in the world?  

B:   Not as a physical cause, of course: we do not push atoms around with our minds. 

J: But then, how...

B: ...it is our doom or glory to think so.  All the knowledge of the world will not alter our perception of ourself.  We cannot imagine otherwise, and thus must accept it as practical truth, even without the theory of science - something, I think, that will never come. And if we see ourselves as such, then why cannot we see God as such - He who orders the turning of the endless stars, yet also is outside all causes?  And thus, as we cannot abolish ourselves, we cannot do away with God either.  

P: I will say this much: that I agree with you to the extent that our thoughts and feelings are not illusory.  I am not one of those who would spirit them away, even if they emerge from the workings of the material world.  Yet, when we die, as those who littered the ground around us did, we are gone for all time, never to return.

B: Let us agree that our end comes when our bodies return to dust.  If we can have any hope, it must be of resurrection, not of living on.  Yet that was the hope of Aquinas and Benedict.  

P: But even if this could be so, why think so?  We have no reason to think so!

B: We cannot deduce it from study of the world.  All we can say is that that knowledge does not tell us to abandon hope either.  

J: This topic has been perplexing, and the day has been hot.  I would hear more of it, but not today.  

B: I am sorry not to be more clear.  This is a riddle that none can solve, only live in the light of.   


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