Friday, July 31, 2009

You can't make something from nothing!

This blog entry is actually prompted by a brief discussion I had with a workmate at drinks after work today. She's a science teacher, and you know me: a religious education (theology) teacher. I've got nothing against science, in fact I'm a big fan of it and I'll often use science in my classes to supplement concepts of faith, God, and this general sense of wonder and awe that human beings have of the world.

Science offers - by means of human reason(ing), plus the examination of physical evidence, plus philosophy - a way for us to discover how things came to be, e.g. how the universe came in to existence, how the human body works, etc. I think we can agree, however, that science can't explain all and so we all tote around our scientific theories. Theists will turn to God for answers when science leaves the proverbial skin bare.

In light of this discussion with my workmate, I decided to dust-off note entry I made on Facebook a while back (March 1, 2009) when a student of mine asked me how the universe was created...

* * * * *

During the week a student of mine asked me to explain how God could have created the universe, which for me was easy enough given my background in theology and years of study in the area, but the catch was that I had to explain it scientifically! Science is not my area of expertise, but not wanting to disappoint my student, I promised him that I would have an answer for him the next time I saw him. This student was gracious enough to allow me to spend the interim building a case and then present an argument at our next meeting.

I dusted-off my Year 11 Physics text book (I knew it would come in handy one day) and stumbled-upon Isaac Newton's laws of motion. From there, I was able to construct a concise argument:

First law
There exists a set of inertial reference frames relative to which all particles with no net force acting on them will move without change in their velocity. This law is often simplified as "A body persists its state of rest or of uniform motion unless acted upon by an external unbalanced force." Newton's first law is often referred to as the law of inertia.

Second law
Observed from an inertial reference frame, the net force on a particle of constant mass is proportional to the time rate of change of its linear momentum: F = d(mv)/dt. This law is often stated as, "Force equals mass times acceleration (F = ma)": the net force on an object is equal to the mass of the object multiplied by its acceleration.

Third law
Whenever a particle A exerts a force on another particle B, B simultaneously exerts a force on A with the same magnitude in the opposite direction. The strong form of the law further postulates that these two forces act along the same line. This law is often simplified into the sentence, "To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction."

In layman's terms...

Nothing can be moved unless something else is moving upon it, i.e. applying a force to it. If we refer to the "big bang", was this a genuine chance event spawning forth all that we now know to naturally exist? It would seem as though fate was rolling lucky sevens at that fateful moment consider all that it set in place for us. It's an interesting theory, but for it to work properly, you first need the ingredients to make such a reaction, and the ingredients need to behave in a certain way in order for the reaction to manifest and dove-tail further reactions. If this were an equation, it would look like this:

Ingredients manifested + correct composition of ingredients + precise impact of ingredients to achieve desired or "chance" effect = creation/universe set in perpetual motion

If I decide to bake a cake, we all know that we need the basic ingredients to do so: milk, flour, eggs, sugar, butter, etc. While I can lay-out all the ingredients on a table in front of me, it's not a cake yet. There is potential cake, but the outcome, of course, depends on the composition of the ingredients, the mixing, the oven, the heat, the baking, etc. Before all this occurs, there needs to be a will (a desire or drive) to bake a cake. In other words: a thought, idea, purpose or reason, this is the initial force that sets things in motion. Without this initial will or drive, the ingredients exist unto themselves; they do not make a cake. Let's not forget also, that there is a method (a step-by-step process) to baking a cake. Throwing the ingredients together nonsensically will not result in a cake, not even if I repeated the process a few hundred times. I might create something edible by doing things this way, and I could call it a cake, but we all know what a cake should look and taste like; I'd just be kidding myself!

Ask yourself this: considering the precision of our planet to others, our distance from the sun (if we were closer, the atmosphere would be too warm to sustain life; if we were further away, the atmosphere would be too cool to sustain life), the distance of our moon and our sun to us creating the perfect and stable gravitational pull, the compostion of elements in the air that we breathe, etc., all this for all manner of life to be sustained and work in a natural symbiosis, could this have possibly been made by "accident"? Or do you think it may have been planned or designed this way?

If your answer is "Yes" to the first question, then you should throw a deck of cards in to the air and see if they fall on the floor to create a house (heck, I'll give you 20 bucks if you can make a teepee this way). The likelihood of that happening is the same as all that we see around us being made and existing by mere "chance". It would be a like a tornado sweeping through a junk-yard and making the Sydney Opera house in its aftermath: it could happen, but chances of it are nonsensically remote!

If your answer is "Yes" to the latter, well, I think we know what made that all possible.

Even if we assume the big bang theory to be factual, it would take a great deal of planning, measuring, weighing, counting, etc., to make sure that all the conditions for the creation of the universe in its perpetual motion, and for earth and its capacity to sustain the most complex to the most basic lifeforms to take place. Even if one of the ingredients for life was miscalculated, or its impact/motion on another ingredient for life, things as we know them would not exist; they would exist differently, and might I add quite dramatically too.

There is logic and order to the world and the universe, and this simply could not have happened by chance. For billions of people around the world and throughout history, the author of this logic, order, precision, and our delicate existence in the vastness of space and the universe, is God.

So what did my student make of all this? He simply nodded his head and said "thank you".

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A bolt from the blue

In early May this year, I made the mistake (why it was a mistake you'll understand in a moment) of joining an online "Christian" discussion group (I have since forgiven them, so I hold no grudge against them) so I could join fellow Christians in developing an understanding of the faith and to bond with other Christians in fellowship. Anyway, when my Catholicism was knowledge to all, I fell victim to verbal abuse, fallacious claims, veiled remarks, irate argumentation, and a general prejudice and vehement disdain for the faith I followed. Many of that online "community" even went as far as to suggest that I wasn't Christian at all and was indeed part of a global cult. I'm sure you'd understand or be aware of some of the arguments they would have made: same old, same old, blah, blah, blah.

There was one kid in particular that made a stronger effort than others to try and "convert" me. He would have been no older than 16/17, quite intelligent, just a bit immature and perhaps a tad over-zealous.

Anyway, I left the discussion group quite disgusted and with a bitter taste left in my mouth, but as I eluded to earlier, since then I have forgiven them and moved on to better things.

So today I'm at work and I decide to check my Hotmail after coming back from teaching my morning classes (I teach high school religious education/theology). Low and behold, I find the following email in my inbox (names, user handles and email addresses have been painted over to protect identities):

(If you're having trouble seeing the image, follow this link: http://img166.imageshack.us/img166/866/robtrueone.jpg)

Now, I've written back to him basically to asking him, "Are you serious?" not because I don't trust him; mainly because it almost sounds too good to be true, and I certainly don't want to claim any credit for converting him especially when all I did back then was stick up for my faith.

I'm playing it by ear; it's great news if it's true, but I'm still somewhat cautious. Matthew 7:15 does warn us: "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves."

So in conclusion, I'm elated and overjoyed, but at the same time cautious mainly due to what I experienced with this individual before.

It's all in God's hands; please pray for this young man anyway!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Open letter to an "anti-Marian"...

Back in May, I had the honour of attending a seminar delivered by a man by the name of Johnny Lee Clary (JLC). JLC, an ex "Imperial Wizard" of the US branch of the Ku-Klux-Klan, has quite a story to tell himself, and that night he spoke about cults, sects, and how our children and teenagers are vulnerable to their pulls.

I have to admit that I had some apprehensions in attending the evening knowing that JLC, while now being a devout Christian, was not a Catholic. I put my apprehension down to making the mistake of joining an online "Christian" discussion group (I will not name them; I feel no need to as I have forgiven them), and when my Catholicism was knowledge to all, I fell victim to verbal abuse, fallacious claims, veiled remarks, irate argumentation, and a general prejudice and vehement disdain for the faith I followed. Many of that online "community" even went as far as to suggest that I wasn't Christian at all and was indeed part of a global cult. So with this experience going in to JLC's seminar, I was somewhat worried. I have to admit that I had my guard up for a good part of that evening!

Fortunately, JLC's presentation - as well as being very informative, genuine, personal, and inspiring - spoke positively about Catholicism when I approached him later in the evening to thank him for coming out (JLC spends a lot of time in Australia as a preacher and educator). JLC obviously knows his church history very well, and this is key in confronting questions of Catholic Christianity. I felt inspired by God to give JLC my rosary beads, which he accepted graciously. I did have to give JLC a crash course in how to pray the rosary (and I from time to time send him the occassional Youtube instructional video or website), but it was at this point that JLC's taxi driver (let's call him "Thomas" for all intensive purposes) for the evening began to question the Catholic devotion to Mary, the mother of Christ ("Our Lady" as we affectionately call her).

Thomas was not a person that thought so positively of Catholicism; he claimed that he just wanted to know why Catholics have a devotion to Mary, but judging by the kind of looks he was giving me and the tone in his voice, he was asking me to justify, testify... to defend and secure a reasonable case! I did my best to explain - referring to scripture and to catechesis - but he wasn't having a bar of it and persisted with his own argument (which was reasonable, but he was quite misinformed and harboured a lot of misconceptions of Catholicism). At that point, I couldn't simply "agree to disagree" without providing him with some solid evidence, so he agreed to give me his email address so I could send him some information/further reading. I did suggest to Thomas that he take the issue to prayer (with Christ) to open himself to understanding of the concept, but this was promptly rejected. I was quite shocked that a fellow Christian would reject the invitation to prayer; it seemed that he was fearful of what the response would be!

Below is the email I sent to both Thomas and JLC. I decided to send the email to both men so I could be held accountable to any misconceptions of my own (if I had any), and just so - in the event of a reply - it didn't turn into a sledging match. Feel free to comment on it and visit the links provided, but I feel that I made a good case for Marian devotion and did my utmost to as well explain why Catholics ask Mary to pray for our own intentions. It might be worth mentioning that to this day, since sending the email (dated May 13, 2009), I have not yet received reply.
* * * * *

Good evening Thomas and Johnny,

First of all I would like to thank you both for the discussion we had this evening. I walked away from the evening further convicted and affirmed in my own beliefs and practices, and inspired, Johnny, by what you had spoken about. I had the unfortunate experience earlier in the day of dealing with a student of mine that had made a comment about a particular ethnic group; an ethnic group that I myself had ancestry in. I rebuked this student's words/behaviour lovingly, and thankfully he is now aware of the ramifications making such comments could have. So again: thank you, Johnny, for making yourself available to speak to us as a group this evening. I have certainly walked-away knowing a lot more and with my eyes opened wider to the heart-felt desires of our kids to feel genuinely loved and accepted.

Thomas, I couldn't help but get the feeling that your questions about the Catholic devotion to Mary (Mother of Christ) and why we ask her to pray for us, were more interrogative than inquisitively-based. There is a difference. I acknowledge that we have been taught differently and you may disagree based-upon what is said in scripture, or your own perceived understanding of it. I have to admit that I was quite shocked when you quickly rejected the suggestion/encouragement in offering a prayer to Jesus Christ in seeking an understanding of why your brothers (sic.) in Christ offer their prayers through Mary the Mother of Jesus Christ. I would ask that if you felt completely justified in what you have read and understood through the inspired Word of God, then what do you have to lose in offering a simple prayer to Jesus, asking a harmless question of him? Do we not offer our prayers to the Lord in times of doubt and when we seek a greater understanding of why things are? If your original intention was to truly understand more of Catholic practices, then why the vehement rejection of the suggestion, which I offered out of a love inspired by Christ, to make a prayer to help allow yourself to understand?

I'll ask for both your pardons at this point because from here there'll be a great wall of text and links, and I felt quite strongly in presenting it to you both because it is in learning and understanding that we come to a peaceful acceptance. John, you yourself said tonight that hatred stems from fear, and fear stems from the unknown; what we don't understand. Thomas, I'm not for a moment implying that you hate what we Catholics practice (I can see that you do disagree with it, however), but as I promised (and I am a man of my word), I will provide for you scriptural reference(s) that show that Marian intercession (offering prayers through Mary, Mother of Christ) is acceptable.

First of all, this is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states on Marian Mediatrix (Mary as intercessor):

"Mary's function as mother of men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power. But the Blessed Virgin's salutary influence on men . . . flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on his mediation, depends entirely on it, and draws all its power from it." "No creature could ever be counted along with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer; but just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by his ministers and the faithful, and as the one goodness of God is radiated in different ways among his creatures, so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source." CCC 970

And on the role of Mary as Spiritual Mother of all Christians...

"Thus the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross. There she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, joining herself with his sacrifice in her mother's heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this victim, born of her: to be given, by the same Christ Jesus dying on the cross, as a mother to his disciple, with these words: "Woman, behold your son" John 19:26-27." - CCC 964

So now that that's cleared-up, here come the links. I will caution you: some of these links come from websites that may be quite zealous in nature, so I would ask that you dismiss any passive-aggressive conjecture. Also, I would encourage you to read everything because, Thomas, you yourself expressed a desire to "understand" why this is something Catholics do. I'm not asking you to agree with it, and by doing so I am not encouraging debate; you'd probably guess by now it's not something I will concede loss of argument to, so I'm sure we can "agree to disagree".

Would Christ Deny the Intercession of his own Mother? http://home.inreach.com/bstanley/queen.htm
Why Pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary? http://home.inreach.com/bstanley/marypr.htm
Veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary http://home.inreach.com/bstanley/ven.htm
Do Catholics 'Worship' the Blessed Virgin Mary? http://home.inreach.com/bstanley/worship.htm
The Early Christians Speak on Mary http://www.catholicapologetics.info/apologetics/general/ChristiansMry.htm
Common Sense Mariology Mary in the New Testament http://www.catholicapologetics.info/apologetics/general/mariology.htm
Marian Mediatrix (Mary as Intercessor) http://www.ourladyweb.com/mary-defended.html#6
Biblical Evidence For Invocation of Angels For Intercessory Purposes http://www.chnetwork.org/forum/mary-and-the-saints/biblical-evidence-for-invocation-of-angels-for-intercessory-purposes/

Further reading:
http://www.amazon.com/Refuting-Attack-Mary-Doctrine-Doctrine/dp/1888992085/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1242223546&sr=8-1

http://www.amazon.com/Biblical-Defense-Catholicism-Dave-Armstrong/dp/1928832954/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1242223562&sr=8-1

http://www.amazon.com/Catholic-Answer-Book-Mary/dp/0879733470/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1242223671&sr=1-1

Thomas, I hope this information will help with your understanding of this Catholic practice. It is something I personally hold very dear and the relationship Catholics have with Mary, Mother of Christ, is a unique blessed relationship. Mary is also known as the "first disciple" because it was she who knew before Christ chose the twelve, of his divinity and Messianic role. It is through Mary, by the power of the Holy Spirit, that Christ entred the world; it was through Mary that others first learned of Christ's divinity and where first Christ's disciples first put their faith in him (the wedding at Cana, John 2:1-11); and it is through Mary that many may come to know Jesus Christ, the Living Word. As implied earlier: Mary does not interfere or diminish the mediation between Christ and the Heavenly Father; Mary is not used as a "replacement" by Catholics for Christians to come to know and develop a relationship with Jesus Christ and the Heavenly Father, but those who desire may come to Christ through his mother. No Catholic is ever "forced" to pray to Mary in order for her to intercede on our behalf, but we do acknowledge the power of intercessory prayer, of which all prayers are heard and answered by Jesus Christ and the Heavenly Father.

Peace be with you both.

A brother in Christ,


Stephen Spiteri

Sunday, July 26, 2009

I'm a fan of Paul Kelly. No, it's probably not the same Paul Kelly you're thinking of...

I remember I was on a "Jesus camp" sort of thing back in 2006 when I was first introduced to Paul Kelly. Initially I thought the guy that played guitar and sang 'To Her Door', 'Dumb Things', and covered 'It Started With a Kiss' had converted to Catholicism and was going to be giving a Christian-themed concert at the camp site, down in Bunbury. Needless to say my expectations of this Paul Kelly fella were quite lofty!

The Paul Kelly I was introduced to did NOT play the guitar, did NOT sing, and wasn't even born in Australia! Nope; the Paul Kelly I met was approximately 5'5", married with a kid or two, was kind of weedy and spoke with a very thick Scottish accent. I could only emulate in my mind what 'Dumb Things' would have sounded like through the voice of THIS Paul Kelly ("Doomb Thengs" perhaps?).

Anyway, ill-fated pre-conceptions aside, I was pleasantly impressed with this Paul Kelly. He was in Bunbury, like I was, to deliver a series of seminars at this camp. I was giving a lecture series about the hidden messages and influences in music and he gave a crash course in Catholic apologetics. It was at the first of these lectures Paul handed out these "guides" (I guess you'd call them) to Catholicism, entitled 'Why Not Catholicism?'

'Why Not Catholicism?' is a document I still use in my teaching as a teacher of Religious Education at a private Catholic college, and a document I still read in my own development of the full understanding of the Catholic faith and Christianity in general.

Paul Kelly is a teacher of Religious Education himself, and from time to time I see him at the Catholic Education Office here in Perth on professional development or at one of those riveting consensus meetings at the Curriculum Council. He's a man that I have a lot of respect for and admire a great deal. He's actually an inspiring factor in me desiring to continue my development as a defender of the faith and Catholic apologist.

Why am I telling you this? Well, because I'd like to share Paul Kelly's 'Why Not Catholicism?' with you as a "first cab off the ranks" point of reference in furthering your own understanding of Catholicism and Christianity in general. I hope you get as much out of it as I continue to do so three years since first feasting my eyes on it.

http://www.scta.org.au/catholicanswers/cath_whynot.htm (<-- Go there)

Peace and God bless,


-Stephen

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Complete and Utter Change in Direction... and With it, an Apology!

Hey folks,

Of late I've been re-thinking my vision for this story, and things have happened recently (nothing serious, so there's nothing to be worried about) that have made me discern whether I really and genuinely feel called to work on a piece of fiction.

It's with some regret that I put The Spirit Magnus novel project on hold indefinitely.

My energies will be focused on a project of different sorts, and after having putting thought and discernment into this, it is without doubt what I'm supposed to be doing with my time.

So, my apologies to those who have been following the [stunted] progress on the novel, but I truly feel that it is other work I should be doing, namely in the area of apologetics, catechesis and theological education. This blogsite will no longer be associated the novel or works of fiction. The blog site will remain, but with the afore mentioned approach. You will see changes on the blog taking place instantly.

Thank you to those that have been following. Your support has been deeply appreciated. :-)

Take care,


-Stephen