Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Are you wiser than a 17th Century Catholic peasant?




As promised, I want to pause before my final interview with Dr. Kevin Vost and dust off a post that has been sitting around in my drafts folder for exactly one year, which touches upon some of what Dr. Vost said in Part II.

I've used the term "liberal elite" to describe the condescending attitude of certain folks towards those whom they perceive to be less enlightened than themselves. I have even jokingly referred to myself and other faithful Catholics as "the peasants" when encountering such condescension. I enjoy the irony. But the more I talk with secularists, the less funny it's become. The left actually does see a "peasant quality" to being a devout Catholic, even an educated 21st Century Catholic.

When Stacy's blog was swarmed by atheists protesting one of her posts, I spent a lot of time commenting there. At one point, I asked if any of the atheists wanted to address the difference between the modern American goal of "happiness" (i.e., pleasure-seeking) vs. the goals of "honor, dignity, truth-seeking, and virtue" of the past. A thoughtful atheist named Matt respectfully took me on, along with one or two anonymous atheists, and here are excerpted parts of our exchange (the rest can be found here; just beware that much in that thread is offensive):


Matt: [T]he common people of 17th-century and earlier Europe weren't trying to be happy. They were largely brought up to believe that life was going to be really terrible. And it often was; peasants did not really have a lot going for them. All they had, when what little food they could raise was taxed by both the state and the Church, when they saw their lords living in comparative luxury while they struggled to survive, was the constant reassurance that if they tried to live up to a set of rules (which emphasized obedience and subservience, by the way) that were spoken by priests, things might get better after they died.


Leila: [I]t almost sounds like you are saying here that the "common people" of pre-Enlightenment days were dummies. Is that really what you are saying? You are much more intelligent than they, with more understanding and common sense? It sound rather elitist, frankly. Perhaps they weren't as dumb as you give them credit?


Anonymous atheist:


Of course we're more intelligent then [sic] they were.

This is what you [Leila] sound like:

“You gosh darn elitist atheists thinking you're so much better than people who burned witches at the stake and couldn't read! Maybe you could learn a thing or two from them!”


Matt: I don't consider myself to be better than the people of pre-Enlightenment times, nor more endowed with common sense. But understanding? Yes, I think I have that in greater measure, simply because I have had the great fortune to have access to far more information. If all you know is what has been told to you by people who have a strong interest in keeping you subservient to them, its not your fault if that's what you believe; you haven't been exposed to a wider world. That we were able to rise above that, that the great minds of the Enlightenment existed, shows that people of intelligence, courage, and reason were there. I'm not so different from a peasant in the 1600s, save that I was taught to question everything, and given the chance to learn that they never had.


Leila: Matt, wisdom and knowledge are two VERY different things. I think those Catholic peasants were a lot wiser than most of us moderns.

Matt, you said: "I'm not so different from a peasant in the 1600s, save that I was taught to question everything, and given the chance to learn that they never had."

I believe the same things, theologically and morally, that those "unenlightened" peasants did. Do you think I am unquestioning and unthinking? Do you know my background, or that of any devout Catholic today? How can we hold the same faith as they did, but yet be in modern America? What must you think of us. ;)


Anonymous atheist (may or not be the same atheist as above):

Leila said: "I think those Catholic peasants were a lot wiser than most of us moderns. "

HOW? In what way?




Note the use of all caps in response to my statement. Anonymous atheist cannot fathom that a Catholic peasant way back when could have more wisdom than he does. And although Matt gives a polite nod to the idea that those peasants could have common sense or be decent folks, they could never hope to rise to an enlightened level of thought or action (such as we have today?), due to the shackles imposed by the Catholic Church.

And yet when I look at where we are today, I question how much wisdom and understanding we moderns possess that previous generations did not:

Does the average modern American commit to living a life of honor and sacrifice above pleasure-seeking and comfort? I honestly don't think so.

Does the culture encourage living up to our inherent human dignity and not degrading ourselves or objectifying others? Again, I'd have to say 'no'.

Do students understand that the point of education -- heck, the very purpose of having a mind -- is to seek truth? Frankly, people seem baffled by the concept. I had one friendly and intelligent atheist admit to me: "I have to be honest and say that the idea of 'truth' isn't something I've thought about too much in my life." She is not alone!

And as far moderns having a desire and goal of living virtuously, we've already discussed the fact that virtue has been completely replaced in our culture by "values" -- which is a different concept altogether.



Bottom line, it just would never occur to me to think that I am wiser or have more understanding than simple folks living in the distant past. Do I have more information and data and scientific knowledge at my disposal than they did? Of course. But wisdom and human understanding are not about accumulating facts. I can imagine that if some 17th, or 10th, or 1st Century Catholic peasants time-traveled to my house, I would shut my laptop, sit at their feet, and soak up their wisdom, knowing that they may well have better insight into what it means to be human than I, and they may be more integrated into the True, the Good, and the Beautiful than the rest of us sitting here surrounded by all our technology.

Human nature does not change or "evolve", and wisdom is timeless and accessible to both ancient peasant and modern king. One of the first steps to wisdom is humility, a virtue which seems in short supply today.










52 comments:

  1. Wonderful post, Leila! It's crazy how arrogant we can become in this culture when information is at our finger tips. It's easy to think we are wiser than the people of the past, but I agree that if someone from an earlier century were to come visit me they would have a lot to teach me and I would do well to listen to them. I hope one day we can return to a virtue-centered society that champions wisdom and truth over pleasure and comfort.

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  2. Does the culture encourage living up to our inherent human dignity and not degrading ourselves or objectifying others? Again, I'd have to say 'no'.

    I agree completely, especially when I think of the article I read last night about a grandmother in Maine who gave birth to her grandson.

    She'd volunteered to be the surrogate for her daughter who was advised against pregnancy because of a heart condition, and had volunteered to be implanted with an embryo conceived from her daughter's egg and son-in-law's sperm. Most of us here see the horror in that, an awful lack of dignity. Almost everyone posting said how beautiful it was, and many women said they'd do the same for their daughters (or gay brother, in one case) in a heartbeat. In fact, one woman said that she has already given joy to so many families by having been an egg donor. Another poster or two said, effectively, "Who cares about how they're conceived?" Uh, perhaps the child will?

    Thank God there were a few who realized this sort of thing as the abomination that it is, and of course, those individuals were called "narrow-minded" and such. Babies are nothing more than a commodity now. How little wisdom and dignity there is anymore in life issues. All of our other problems stem from that.

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  3. returningtorome, well said! And GFNY, oh my gosh. I have no words when I read stuff like that. Babies as commodities is exactly right. Not to mention all kinds of lines being crossed here, that are not good for families/adults. The piece called "eggsploitation" is quite eye-opening, and even some hard core feminists have decried the business of egg donation.

    Here's something relevant to this post that Mary just posted on another thread. If you have the stomach for it, here are some of our nation's best and brightest (Ivy League) and how low they have degraded themselves, with no end in sight, and no regrets (the author chalks it up to "necessary" for women's advancement [?????]). Does anyone think for a moment that these people have wisdom?

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/09/boys-on-the-side/309062/2/?single_page=true

    Morally "evolved"? I'm thinking no….

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  4. commit to living a life of honor and sacrifice above pleasure-seeking and comfort?

    Leila
    Is this what you think Catholics, in general, do? Or what "real" Catholics do?

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  5. Johanne, yes. Catholics who practice virtue and live by the moral law do seek to live a life of honor and self-sacrifice. Yes. In fact, sacrifice is sort of the name of the game, since sacrificing for others is actually the biggest characteristic of love itself.

    Why do you ask? Is it because Catholics still sin? I would agree that we do. Or, is it because Catholics still have fun? Because having fun (yes, we have LOTS of fun and many laughs!!), is not the same as living for pleasure-seeking. One can live a virtuous life and still have a heck of a lot of fun.

    But I will let you follow-up and clarify. Thanks!

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  6. Johanne, what are your thoughts on the premise of my post in general?

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  7. Johanne, the definition of a saint, in the Catholic Church, is essentially a person who lives a life of heroic virtue -- i.e., a person who strives for a life of honor and sacrifice above pleasure-seeking and comfort. They are our role models.

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  8. GFNY,
    I actually make a distinction between family members acting as surrogates for other family members. This is entirely different than renting a womb of a stranger or buying someone else's eggs and sperm. I know the Catholic Church bans both, but there is a huge difference.

    I actually don't think most kids would be too bothered by being born of their grandmother, but I do think many kids would be sad to know they were the product of egg donation or sperm donation. Their parent essentially "sold" them.

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  9. What bothered me the most about the Atlantic article, was that it seemed to conclude that women loved casual sex as much as men. That this was the truth, and that women were somehow better off because of it.

    Does anyone here actually think that is true across the board? I just don't see that. All the women I knew were looking for relationships. Sure we all had our moments of feeling hormonal and wanting to get cozy with the cutest guy in the room, but most people secretly hoped to be cared about by that guy, or they regretted actions the next day. Maybe some of the women I knew dated a lot of guys, but it was at least a form of serial monogamy.

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  10. Mary, I disagree. There is an almost incestuous quality of what goes on with these grandmother/sister/aunt implantations. Imagine, some of the women who could not conceive had their own husband's sperm combined with the sister/surrogate's eggs, etc. To put it another way with grandmothers: My husband's child has no place in my mother's womb. No part of that should be happening.

    And bottom line, every child has the right to be born from the marital embrace, to their mother and father. Any purposeful deviation from this is selfish and sinful, no matter how good the intentions and no matter how much the adults "want" a child.

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    1. *some of the women who could not conceive had their own husband's sperm combined with their own sister's eggs.

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  11. Mary, it's been said that men use love to get sex, and women use sex to get love. Some truth to that. Even CS cannot fully explain why her college friends said the "only downside" to the hook-up culture is the "constant sobbing". Why are they sobbing? I assure you, the men are not sobbing, just using.

    Okay, off to lunch duty at school!

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  12. Leila
    Not sure exactly which premises you mean. In terms of wisdom, I don't know why people in the middle ages would have more wisdom than we do. I guess I see wisdom as a basic human quality that is not tied to any particular time period.

    I asked the question about Catholicism because it seems that you see Catholics as being above any other group of people--as though no one but a Catholic could live a life of honor and put sacrifice above pleasure-seeking. In fact I think you are more guilty of (to quote you) "the condescending attitude of certain folks towards those whom they perceive to be less enlightened than themselves. than the folks you call liberal elites.

    I don't think Catholics are exceptional at all in this regard. And I don't look at the Catholics around me and see them as more virtuous. Not necessarily less so. You set Catholics apart as being so exceptional and I see no evidence of that. But I do see extraordinary self-righteousness in Catholics, and especially in your blog. Not the worst sin, but from the outside looking in, I see no special quality of virtue amongst Catholics.

    Also--virtue (or "sila") is the cornerstone upon which the entire Buddhist path is built. Probably other religions/disciplines as well. Catholics are not alone in the desire to cultivate virtue and not alone in falling short of it.

    About the Atlantic article: I know a good many women in college and only one of them would fit the description of the women described in the article. I don't think the hook-up culture is so prevalent everywhere, but it is certainly on the rise. And I think it's harmful to women, who always carry more risk from the encounters than men do.

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  13. Sadly, Johanne is no doubt correct when she says she doesn't see Catholics around her living more virtuously. Catholics are not living their faith as they should these days. I don't say this about ALL Catholics, just most Catholics. We should be living differently but we aren't. I'm trying to do better, but I will say I was a "bad Catholic" for the vast majority of my life.

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  14. Leila
    Not sure exactly which premises you mean. In terms of wisdom, I don't know why people in the middle ages would have more wisdom than we do. I guess I see wisdom as a basic human quality that is not tied to any particular time period.


    Agreed. That's why my post said: " ...wisdom is timeless and accessible to both ancient peasant and modern king." I like when we can agree.

    I asked the question about Catholicism because it seems that you see Catholics as being above any other group of people--as though no one but a Catholic could live a life of honor and put sacrifice above pleasure-seeking. In fact I think you are more guilty of (to quote you) "the condescending attitude of certain folks towards those whom they perceive to be less enlightened than themselves. than the folks you call liberal elites.

    Wow, then I have definitely been giving the wrong impression. Do I hold that the Catholic Church holds the fullness of Truth? Yes. Do I believe she possesses the most direct means to holiness? Definitely. (And, is she for all people and all times? Yes. Catholic means "universal".) But, did I ever say that no one but Catholics could live a life of honor and self-sacrifice? Never. As in not ever. Never. And I never would because it's not something I think, nor is it anything the Church believes.

    I don't think Catholics are exceptional at all in this regard.

    For exceptional Catholics, I would point you to the lives of the saints.

    And I don't look at the Catholics around me and see them as more virtuous. Not necessarily less so.

    I'm not surprised. Very few American Catholics live their Faith or even know it. Do you interact with any Catholics who are obedient to Church teaching (not embarrassed by them or dissenting), and who frequent the sacraments and strive to live a life of holiness above all else? I know several, and they are the most magnetic people. Very humble, very loving. They are out there. There are saints who walk among us. Now, granted, I know Catholics who make a very good show of being obedient and holy, and yet live a double life on the side, or are just nasty people. That is why it is so important that we not judge the souls of others. We just cannot know anyone's heart. Only God reads hearts.

    You set Catholics apart as being so exceptional and I see no evidence of that.

    No, I never said Catholics were exceptional. I said thatCatholicism is exceptional. And well, yes, the saints are/were exceptional.


    To be continued….

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  15. But I do see extraordinary self-righteousness in Catholics, and especially in your blog. Not the worst sin, but from the outside looking in, I see no special quality of virtue amongst Catholics.

    I think this post spoke to what you are talking about (although if you could give me specific example of the "extraordinary self-righteousness" of Catholics on this blog, it would help me understand):

    http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2011/07/truth-exclusive-catholics-arrogant.html

    I hope you'll take that into consideration. I can only speak for myself, and I think I have before: I am nothing special. I am a horrid sinner (and one who knows better, so I am more culpable) who gets to confession every few weeks, laying out all my sins as best I can (I am sure I forget or blur a lot of them…). I am as wretched a soul as anyone (I really don't talk much about my past, but no I was not living a virtuous life), save for the grace of God alone. I have said countless times in my life that it is very possible that the people who oppose the Church right now might later attain a greater height in Heaven than I will. Not only possible, but probable.

    If I come off as arrogant on this blog, I apologize. It's not my intention. I think you would find me a lot of fun in person, and you'd feel comfortable around me. Maybe it's hard to see the real person on a blog. But, if the idea that there is One Truth, or a universal moral law, comes off as arrogant, then I can't help it. I can't, as a Catholic, say that "we all have our own truth; it's okay to do your own thing" and then pretend like that is true. Because it's not true. Yes, Catholicism is different that way. It may be something you greatly dislike about Catholicism, but to many a weary soul, the Truth (and assurance that it can be found and can be known) is like water to a dying man in the desert.

    Also--virtue (or "sila") is the cornerstone upon which the entire Buddhist path is built. Probably other religions/disciplines as well. Catholics are not alone in the desire to cultivate virtue and not alone in falling short of it.

    Absolutely agreed!! Virtue is something we can all apprehend through the natural law! Without doubt, virtue is important to the orthodox of all major world religions. I am not sure it's important to secular humanists and atheists. Do you think it is important to them? And if so, can you define "virtue"?

    About the Atlantic article: I know a good many women in college and only one of them would fit the description of the women described in the article. I don't think the hook-up culture is so prevalent everywhere, but it is certainly on the rise. And I think it's harmful to women, who always carry more risk from the encounters than men do.

    I am glad we agree that there is great harm in the hook-up culture. What do you propose to stop it? Most liberals would say "condoms", as that seems to be the thing that would "protect" a woman against pregnancy and disease. But I'm pretty sure these Ivy Leaguers and others already know how to use a condom. What now? See, I think it goes much, much deeper than keeping the body safe or unpregnant.

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  16. But I do see extraordinary self-righteousness in Catholics, and especially in your blog. Not the worst sin, but from the outside looking in, I see no special quality of virtue amongst Catholics.

    One more thought. I don't know if one can really "see" virtue through a blog. If you went to some of these ladies' homes, saw how they lived their lives, saw how they treated folks (outside of a debate forum, although I still think everyone on this blog is pretty darned polite through some difficult exchanges!), you might have a better idea of who people are. A blog debate does not say much about how one lives out virtue, although it can tell us if one believes in the virtues and thinks them a good thing. But the proof is in the life, not the blog debate.

    Has anyone sinned against you on this blog?

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  17. Hi Leila. Thanks for your responses. First of all, I want to respond to something you asked on another thread when you inquired why I, an atheist/secularist, don't give my wisdom/guidance to CS. I'm not an atheist and don't consider myself a secularist; and I don't think it would be helpful to give "guidance" that isn't asked for--don't know if I have guidance to give--just my own thoughts.

    Perhaps "see" was the wrong word--maybe "hear" would have been better. I have no knowledge of how anyone behaves outside of their entries on this blog and don't assume that I know how any of you live your lives. But I think how one communicates on a blog is part of the measure of one's overall values (or virtue, or whatever). I only mention it because of your comments about "Liberal elites" thinking they know more than others. I certainly am not free of righteousness--but there's something a little hard to take when someone accuses others of condescension in a very condescending way. I can't give you any examples out of hand except I do remember a post where people were discussing "christian love" that I found very hard to take.

    I have no doubt whatsoever that I would be comfortable around you. And visa versa.

    The concept of "sin" doesn't mean anything to me, so I don't know if anyone has sinned against me. There is one person who has been consistently rude to me and has and misconstrued and accused, etc. so many times that I no longer engage her. But, as a Buddhist would say, that is her karma and really none of my business except to wish her well.

    Also, you are not accountable to me for anything--it's your blog and I'm a guest--I'm just sharing my own opinions.

    Some of the kindest, most trustworthy people I know are atheists. And some of the scummiest ones are religious. (the other way around is also true) I know virtue (how is that different than having values and trying to live by them???) is important to many atheists.

    For myself, I define virtue as keeping the precepts of Buddhism. At least that's the start.

    Re: hook-up culture: I think it goes much deeper than protecting from disease and pregnancy--but it is essential that women are protected from those things. I don't know what to do about it. I think it's one of the symptoms of the instant gratification of the digital age and I have no idea how to "fix" the culture. I can only start with myself, and that is quite a project!

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  18. Johanne, if you click the link I provided, you will see the distinction between the virtues and "values".

    Chastity is one of the virtues, as is obedience, and I don't see a whole lot of the new atheists or secular humanists tout those virtues.

    "Not the worst sin, but from the outside looking in, I see no special quality of virtue amongst Catholics." You used the word "sin" here, so I thought you did have a reference for it. There is no belief in "sin" in your book? Maybe "wrongdoing" would work? For us, sin is ultimately about offending God, but definitely would also include sinning against others. I can't imagine not acknowledging my own sins. Sin, is everywhere, like air.

    As for CS, it's the mother in me. I have a daughter her age. Same age group as Michelle and Zach, too. I've told them all (and they understand) that I feel maternal toward them. I don't want to see them crash and burn. I wish more adults would guide and warn younger folks. It's actually a good thing. I wish you would tell her, as someone who is a "progressive", that the path she defends is really no good. Not for her, not for women, not for anyone. Not for society, either.

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  19. Johanne: (you may already have been answered, but here's my 2 cents)

    Catholics themselves might not *be* more virtuous, but that doesn't mean that *Catholicism* doesn't hold to higher standards of virtue than most of the rest of the world (generally speaking here).

    I also think that "condescending" is not what Leila aims for. If you read her blog looking for a condescending attitude, you will see it, because you want to see it. This is in part because the internet does not allow for tone of voice, and so what is simply questioning in a genuine attempt to understand why non-catholics support what they support can be seen as 'condescending'. I'll be the first to admit that I can get very condescending during debates, especially during combox debates, and so I don't often 'go there' anymore. What can I say, I'm not perfect.

    "sila"/virute may be what the "entire Buddhist path is built, but I'm sure their parameters for "virtue" are different, certainly more spiritual.

    Certainly, people other than Catholics live lives of virtue and goodness, Catholicism does not dispute that. It also does not dispute that it's damn hard to do so! Please try to remember that Catholicism holds to three things: Beauty, Goodness and Truth. And it accepts all of them, wherever they may be found. That would be why the idea of the soul did not originate in Catholicisim, but is accepted by it.

    If I've mis-said anything, sorry!

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  20. Emily, welcome! And thank you for that great comment!

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  21. Two words: The Classics. I was just having a similar conversation to this the other night, when drinking wine with some of my more "theological" friends! :) We were talking, well...theology...and history, and one friend, who is 20 years older than the other friend and I, said, "My nieces and nephews are your age, and we NEVER have conversations like this." I asked her what they all talk about, and she said, "Oh, the arts and literature." I responded, "And I bet they think they're super smart and enlightened, don't they?" She said (sarcastically), "Oh, they're effin' brilliant!"

    This got us into a discussion about wisdom vs. luxury. Theology and history (and politics, in the Classical sense) give us wisdom, whereas arts and literature are luxuries. My younger friend brought up this quote by John Adams:

    "I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine."

    Ding!!! The more modern "enlightends" have no concept of Classical enlightenment - true wisdom. And quite frankly, a very sad statement about our education system.

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  22. The problem is you and they have different definitions of wisdom.

    If Atheists were correct and God was nothing more than a human imaginary fabrication, it would not be a stretch to suggest that modern man possesses more wisdom, on average, than a medieval peasant, for the reasons Matt suggests in the article.

    However, if we presume that the truth is in fact not only does God exist, but that the Church does have supreme moral authority through Jesus Christ, then it could be just as easily argued that the medieval peasant is possessed of greater wisdom, because all that "extra" knowledge and understanding that modern man possesses actually gets in the way of acceptance and acting upon the core, important truths.

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  23. Nicole, wow, what a great quote! I have never seen that!

    Nicholas, yes, I agree! I do want to clarify that I used "Catholic" peasant because of course the atheists love to denounce Catholicism as a throwback to the peasant times, as having "dark ages" thought. But like I said, "wisdom" transcends even the religious lines. Aristotle and Socrates and Seneca were very wise. And no doubt why many simple folks today (and in the past), whether Catholic or not, are wiser than their "enlightened" atheist critics.

    When I think "wisdom", I think of understanding human nature, above all. Wisdom recognizes the folly of others' thinking… even if that thinking is considered lofty by all the "best and brightest". For example, to go back to Peter Singer (who is the most respected and revered bioethicist of our day) -- any wise peasant (Catholic or not) would look up on his "lofty" thoughts and call them folly, by name. No higher education needed to see it. The peasant also could see axiomatically that men and women are different (I'm sooo temped to put a "duh!!!!" in here), and mothers and fathers are both distinct and important in the life of a child, where the secular modern is eerily blinded to the obvious.

    When I read some of the quotes from Seneca and the other ancient philosophers in Dr. Vost's book, or when I read the lives and writings of the saints (including the uneducated, simple saints), I am floored. They have more wisdom and understanding of human nature and are more relevant to my life today than any how-to book or self-help book by a modern secular "expert", who oftentimes has it all backwards and upside down.

    I absolutely agree with you here, which could apply to Catholics and non-Catholics alike:

    ... all that "extra" knowledge and understanding that modern man possesses actually gets in the way of acceptance and acting upon the core, important truths.

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  24. .. all that "extra" knowledge and understanding that modern man possesses actually gets in the way of acceptance and acting upon the core, important truths.

    Actually, I might change my mind and disagree with you just a bit, or at least put a caveat: All the "extra" knowledge (if you are talking science and discoveries) should not get in the way of the core truths. Only if we are so full of hubris that we deny God because we think we have moved past Him would get in the way of the core truths. One can be a very lettered, brilliant man (Fr. Tad comes to mind) and still be wise. It's when pride overtakes us, and humility is lost, that we have serious problems.

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  25. Nicholas, one can be an atheist and still honestly seek truth. Wisdom, then and now (it hasn't changed), is the act of seeking truth. The problem is when atheists abandon that search and instead redefine "wisdom" as the luxuries mentioned above. It's like they stop at the study of luxuries like art and literature (because, I mean, it seems cool!) instead of pushing forward to seek that fundamental natural law.

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  26. What Nicole said!! :)

    Philosophy ="Love of wisdom"

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  27. Nicole - I disagree at least from a quibbler's position.

    Clearly the POV of the Catholic is that God exists, and the Church is his will made manifest. Therefore an Atheist seeking Truth is effectively an Oxymoron.

    It is difficult to acknowledge that the seeking of truth is "honest" when the literal truth has already been ruled out :-p

    The Atheist truth-seeker's POV is that having sought answers, he or she has come up with the truth that God does not exist.

    A better argument can be made for Agnostic truth-seekers, who are at least in theory open to the idea of revelation.

    But as per my first post in the thread, ANY discussion of "wisdom" between Catholics and Atheists is hampered by contradictory definitions of "wisdom." To a Catholic, wisdom is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. To an atheist the dictionary definition of wisdom is:

    1. The quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment; the quality of being wise.

    2. The soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of such experience, knowledge, and good judgment.

    Which are essentially wholly subjective and not particularly useful distinctions. That dictionary definition (the top one returned by Google) means what exactly? It reads to me like Wisdom is simply the same as saying Hindsight is 20/20 - once we see whether an action was right or wrong in retrospect, we judge the correct choices as "wise?"

    Given that kind of definition of wisdom, and if you stipulate that God isn't real, or if real, at least unknowable, then of course modern man has more wisdom than Catholic medieval peasants.

    But that really isn't the point of the question.

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  28. I can't give you any examples out of hand except I do remember a post where people were discussing "christian love" that I found very hard to take.

    Johanne, how would you define or characterize love, and how does it different from what you saw discussed?

    Also, I am not an expert on Buddhism as you know, but it does not ascribe to a deity, correct? But you do believe in God (I think you've said) or at least the possibility of a god. Buddhism doesn't have an opinion on that, right? Meaning, you can be a Buddhist and believe in God, or you don't have to?

    Thanks!

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  29. Nicholas, I have to disagree. Many atheists have continued to seek truth and have stumbled right onto God. Jesus promised: Seek and ye shall find. There are atheists who are seekers. Not of God, but of Truth. There are so many, many examples of atheists finding God that I don't know how you can say what you did?

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  30. I agree with you, Nicholas, on the fact that the modern atheist's definition of wisdom is subjective. Totally agree. But my point is that wisdom IS, barring redefinition, the act of seeking truth - even natural law, which Leila talks about all the time, and which even atheists can understand if they're willing to.

    Dictionary.com defines wisdom: the quality or state of being wise; knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action; sagacity, discernment, or insight.

    "...true or right..." Which implies an objective truth.

    Agreed, however, that modern atheists would not agree! :) But that doesn't change the objectiveness of it!

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  31. It reads to me like Wisdom is simply the same as saying Hindsight is 20/20 - once we see whether an action was right or wrong in retrospect, we judge the correct choices as "wise?"

    Wisdom goes much deeper than "actions".

    If you are trying to make the point that atheists would say that Catholic peasants cannot be wise because they did not have the proper information, or were misinformed, then I think you are right that we don't have the same definitions of wisdom. Wisdom has never meant simply "information". It has never meant "doing smart things" that we can see only in hindsight. So, if that is what atheists think of as wisdom, then the word has become greatly impoverished. They, again, are missing depth and transcendence, having truncated the human experience yet again. If that's the case, then, again, they are very impoverished in their thinking; their severance from the depth of meaning of the word (and all things of the past) is more evidence of that.

    Very sad, very limited, very disconnected, very shallow.

    I would encourage any serious atheist thinker to use the word "wisdom" as it has been known through the ages.

    I actually like what wiki has to say:

    Wisdom is a deep understanding and realization of people, things, events or situations, resulting in the ability to apply perceptions, judgements and actions in keeping with this understanding. It often requires control of one's emotional reactions (the "passions") so that universal principles, reason and knowledge prevail to determine one's actions. Wisdom is also the comprehension of what is true coupled with optimum judgment as to action.

    And Aristotle, per wiki: Aristotle, in his Metaphysics, defined wisdom as the understanding of causes, i.e. knowing why things are a certain way, which is deeper than merely knowing that things are a certain way.

    (Interestingly, the ancients often held chastity in close proximity to wisdom!)

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  32. Leila - I would argue that in the cases you describe, it is not that Atheists stumble into God, but rather that Truth finds them.

    Saul did not convert to Christianity after some philosophical debate with colleagues; the Truth came up and slapped him in the face :-p

    Yes, you are basically correct, but I am just pointing out that the fundamental worldview is inherently different. But I would posit this: Can you have "wisdom" without the intervention of the Holy Spirit? If the Catholic answer is "no" - which I am guessing it is (perhaps incorrectly) based on the premise that as one of the 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit... then it would seem to inherently religious.

    Sure, we can just agree to use Aristotle's definition... But is that the Catholic definition?

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  33. LOL, Nicholas, I hope we can agree that Saul's conversion to Christ was extraordinary and not the norm!

    For purposes of this discussion, yes, let's use Aristotle. After all, he was a pagan, not a Catholic, so maybe he would be acceptable to atheists who are truly interested in the discussion.

    As for whether or not wisdom is accessible to the non-religious… well, all good (no matter if it's done by a non-religious person or not) is from God. There is nothing good that is not from God. Maybe you'd be interested in the discussion of actual grace vs. sanctifying grace, here:

    http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2011/02/answers-to-doctrinal-quiz-show-amazing.html

    If someone irreligious has the grace of having wisdom, it's from God; all good comes from God. It does not imply, however, that that person is holy or will go to Heaven.

    If you really want to dive into a deeper discussion of the definition of Wisdom from a Catholic perspective, here is an interesting discussion I found. The third guy from the top, Sons of Thunder, seems to go pretty deep with it:

    http://forums.catholic-convert.com/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=137009

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  34. Sad that so much discussion, as soon as you mention the word Catholic, has to degenerate into talk about sex. However, relative to your original post, I think a point you neglected relative to the intelligence of the middle ages (and ancients) was the fact that they were taught to think in school. Philosophy and theology were topics always taught. People learned to think and reason, and without all the distractions (and apps) we now have to keep us busy every second, they took the time to think. They didn't seek 20-word or less answers to complex questions; they could reasonably think on and discuss them.

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  35. @DNBA--but peasants didn't go to school.

    @Emily--Thanks for your comments. I certainly don't look for condescension. And it sounds like I wasn't clear before: when I said I see righteousness on the blog, I was generalizing about the comments, not just Leila's posts. On the whole I find Leila to be profoundly gracious, which is one of the reasons I keep hanging around. :-)

    @Leila: I can't imagine not acknowledging my own sins. Sin, is everywhere, like air. I agree with this. The twelve step community would say "character defects" rather than sin--we all have our own language but I think we mean the same thing. And acknowledgment of our own short-comings is critical to a spiritual life.

    One more question regarding the exceptionalism of Catholicism--How can one define Catholicism as "exceptional" if Catholics themselves are not exceptional? How can one be separated from the other? Does the axiom "the proof is in the pudding" (if I may use such a prosaic phrase) not apply here? Why not? I'm really asking. This is one of the things that really confuses me.

    I chose my own spiritual path largely by observing which group of practitioners possessed the qualities I wanted to cultivate in myself. If a teaching does not manifest in its followers then how can a person venerate the teaching? I guess that comes down to believing the teachings came directly from God, right?

    Do you interact with any Catholics who are obedient to Church teaching (not embarrassed by them or dissenting), and who frequent the sacraments and strive to live a life of holiness above all else?
    I believe I've met some priests who would fit this description--wonderful people. I've had a couple of very close friends become serious Catholics and, as far as I can see, they lost their ability to think critically, to reason, to be flexible, to see the big picture, as well as much of their compassion.

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  36. One more question regarding the exceptionalism of Catholicism--How can one define Catholicism as "exceptional" if Catholics themselves are not exceptional?

    I beg to differ. http://www.catholic.org/saints/

    However, it's important to remember that the Church is a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints.

    I've had a couple of very close friends become serious Catholics and, as far as I can see, they lost their ability to think critically, to reason, to be flexible, to see the big picture, as well as much of their compassion.

    Can you give some examples? Why do you think they stopped thinking critically? What makes you think they lost their compassion?

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  37. JoAnna answered as I would have and asked the questions at the end that I would have asked. I am interested, Johanne, to have you elaborate.

    Also, though there are millions upon millions of saints in Heaven known only to God (and the other saints and angels at this moment), there are over 10,000 named saints in the history of the Church. Those souls are most definitely the "proof in the pudding". They are the Christian life well-lived. Their stories and lives are astounding, inspiring, transcendent, pure, beautiful. And many of them started out as the worst of sinners. You can't go wrong if you start to read the lives of the saints.

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  38. Speaking of the relative wisdom of 17th century peasants and the modern-day liberal elite, which group do you think would survive if someone turned the power off for 3 months?

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  39. I didn't read the other comments, but I feel like saying that people of the past weren't happy because they weren't wise and didn't have access to knowledge and money and things is like saying that people who live in poverty or third world countries or in a tiny village in Africa somewhere have no chance for happiness because they don't "expect" to be happy... I think that just sounds silly...

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  40. @Beresford which group survives is not related to the wiser group :-p Being wise and long lived are not necessarily related :-p

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  41. Liesl, yes, it is silly, you are right.

    Beresford: What Nicholas said.

    Are you an atheist, Beresford? I would guess that atheists sees length of life as the most important goal for a human being, but not so for most human beings.

    It sounds like you equate technological knowledge with wisdom, but that is not wisdom.

    Now, maybe I'm taking your comment all wrong now that I think about it: Actually, I think the peasants would survive longer, since the majority of humanity never had electrical power and managed to live just fine. With a power loss like you describe, I can see us moderns going nuts, not knowing what to do with ourselves perhaps pulling a Lord of the Flies, and yet the 17th century peasants would go on about their lives just fine. ;)

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  42. I've had a couple of very close friends become serious Catholics and, as far as I can see, they lost their ability to think critically, to reason, to be flexible, to see the big picture, as well as much of their compassion.

    Johanne, I'd still love the answer for JoAnna and me…. can you give examples of what you mean? And, what's the "big picture"?

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  43. I would go out on a limb and suggest that what Johanne is referring to is that her friends are not willing to compromise on certain issues.

    I think that as mainstream society has become more relativistic, think critically, reason, flexibility, compassion, and the big picture mean very different things.

    I was struck by this article today: http://www.inquisitr.com/315554/german-dad-wears-skirts-to-support-dress-wearing-son/

    Now, without any kind of judgment passing on cross-dressing, or anything like that, it struck me as kind of absurd that the writer of the article finds the actions of the father to be superlative examples of love and he is automatically "father of the year."

    The reason it strikes me as absurd is that if you remove the cross-dressing element and replace it with really anything else, I doubt it would get that reaction. Five year olds make all kinds of demands that you might have to say no to, no? What if the kid wanted to be naked? Or only wear Batman Footie Pajamas everywhere? Would that be indulged and lauded? Should the Dad wear Batman Pajamas to work because he son thinks it is cool?

    Because cross-dressing and anything related to sexuality has become so highly prioritized in the mainstream, this issue is being viewed in a way that is out of whack.

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  44. Nicholas, totally agreed! I couldn't have said it better.

    And this comment (which was under the article) sums up all that is wrong with the "progressive" live on thinking:

    This is what a parent should do. Just because we don't always agree with the choices our kids make, we always have to support them, and love them no matter what.

    We always have to support them? Always? Is this really what the left sees as "love"? Unconditional support of what anyone chooses to do?

    I just wonder what they think parents are for. If it's unconditional support of whatever they choose, I've been doing it all wrong.

    Again, I cry out from the depths: "WHERE HAVE ALL THE GROWN-UPS GONE??"

    Okay, off to guide, form and teach my kids (not support everything they do….)

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  45. Leila--Yes, my point was that the 17th century peasants would do just fine. They would know how to grow and harvest their food, to hunt and fish, how to build and keep their homes warm and lit at night, etc. They wouldn't panic in a shortage and would be prepared for the future, because that was how they had to live to survive in the 17th century.

    On the other hand, almost all of the liberal elite, except maybe a fortunate few who had the benefit of military or civil defense training (I suspect not many), would not have a clue how to survive on their own. Just look at the panic that ensues when we have a power outage for more than a few hours. And not just to pick on the fine folks of New Orleans, but it always stunned me that where the solution for many of them after Katrina was simply to pack a knapsack and walk a couple of miles out of the city, they just sat there day after day expecting modern technology to come save them and make everything better.

    So, who is really "wiser"? It comes down to how you define it, and if things got tough I'd rather throw my lot in with the 17th century peasants.

    When I was young I personally had the fortune (or misfortune) to go to a top-ranked national law school. While the folks there were brilliant intellectually and the "best and the brightest" by worldly standards, a lot of them completely lacked common sense and would not have known to come in out of the rain. Those are the folks that are now running the country, and you can see the results. So I've always been skeptical of "elites."

    (And no, I'm not an atheist, I'm an elder in a Presbyterian church, but I enjoy reading a number of Catholic websites, including yours, because of the perspective they offer on issues. I find myself agreeing much more often than not.)

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  46. Beresford, I'm pretty sure I love you! Please keep commenting. You are very welcome here, and I'd love to hear what else you have to say. :)

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