Bread of Life

BREAD OF LIFE
 this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. (john 6: 50)
The miracle of God’s physical presence to us at every Mass is the truest testament to Christ’s love for us and His desire for each of us to have a personal relationship with Him. Jesus Christ celebrated the first Mass with His disciples at the Last Supper, the night before He died. He commanded His disciples, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). The celebration of the Mass then became the main form of worship in the early Church, as a reenactment of the Last Supper, as Christ had commanded. Each and every Mass since commemorates Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross through the Holy Eucharist. Because the Mass “re-presents” (makes present) the sacrifice on Calvary, Catholics all around the world join together to be made present in Christ’s timeless sacrifice for our sins. There is something fascinating about continuing to celebrate the same Mass—instituted by Christ and practiced by the early Church—with the whole community of Catholics around the world…and in heaven.

THE REAL PRESENCE

Why does the Catholic Church believe Christ is really present in the Eucharist?
The Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence is the belief that Jesus Christ is literally, not symbolically, present in the Holy Eucharist—body, blood, soul and divinity. Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist because Jesus tells us this is true in the Bible:

“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh." The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ So Jesus said to them,

"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” - John 6:48-56
Furthermore, the early Church Fathers either imply or directly state that the bread and wine offered in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is really the body and blood of Jesus Christ. In other words, the doctrine of the Real Presence that Catholics believe today was believed by the earliest Christians 2,000 years ago!

This miracle of God’s physical presence to us at every Mass is the truest testament to Christ’s love for us and His desire for each of us to have a personal relationship with Him.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

ATHEISM AND MEANING

Religious belief has traditionally provided human beings with a reason to think that their individual lives have a purpose, and that the existence of humanity as such has a purpose. Atheism, on the contrary, has generally taught that both individual human beings and (eventually) humanity as a whole have no purpose in the universe, and that they will be definitively annihilated in the course of time (human beings after their short spans of life, humanity - at latest - when the earth finally becomes uninhabitable). In the light of this prima facie deeply depressing prospect, the question of life's meaning or purpose within atheism has posed a peculiarly difficult challenge to atheists since the origins of modern atheism in the seventeenth century.

Religious believers have traditionally not been slow to point out that atheism must lead to despair, since it deprives humans of the hope that injustices in this life will be corrected in the next, and frustrates what would appear to be their natural desire to live forever. It also frustrates humans' hope that reality is fundamentally good rather than bad or indifferent with respect to them, and deprives them of any genuine motivation to act in the world.

To these objections atheists have firstly generally responded (quite reasonably) that even if all this were true, these unfortunate consequences would not disprove atheism. However, atheists have differed significantly on the further question of whether it is actually true that these consequences would indeed follow as alleged by their religious objectors.

Some atheists have taken a relatively upbeat attitude to the consequences for meaning and purpose of atheist beliefs. The eighteenth century atheist La Mettrie, for example, proposed that the fear of death arose only from the religious belief in afterlife punishments, and claimed that thoroughly discrediting this idea would free human beings of an exaggerated anxiety about death.[1] Many atheists have also appealed to the (ultimately Epicurean) argument that death has no significance for human beings, since by definition they cannot be there to experience it. D'Holbach, for example, stressed that for these reasons death should not be a cause for anxiety.[2]

There are numerous contemporary defenders of this position. The philosophical atheist Michael Martin, for example, may also be said to share this relative optimism. Martin points out that human beings find individual projects intrinsically meaningful regardless of whether their lives as a whole are meaningful (which the atheist must admit they are not).

Similarly evidence that the sum total of human achievement will be annihilated in the heat death of the universe, as is supposed to be highly probable on current physical predictions, does not make present human cultural achievements meaningless for us now. For so long as we are here they are meaningful. Martin appeals to the fact that there are happy and fulfilled atheists as evidence for this.

Adopting a detached 'God's eye' view on things from where the sum of human activity can be seen to be meaningless is just one perspective humans can take up towards things, but humans are not obliged to adopt this perspective rather than the ordinary (meaningful) one, and they therefore need not become despondent.[3]

However, it is probably fair to say that it has generally been admitted among the majority of thinking atheists that the fear of annihilation could not be so easily set aside. Claude-Adrien Helvetius (1715-1771) and Denis Diderot (1713-84) admitted that the consequences of a consistent atheism were depressing, and they sought comfort in ersatz forms of survival, such as species survival. Diderot, for example, affirmed that the individual perishes, but the species has no end.[4]

One might include Marxist 'scientific atheism', Social Darwinism and reformist secular humanism of a Dawkinsian sort as forms of atheism that attempt to address the problem of meaninglessness by promoting faith in an ersatz form of survival. That is, in the two former cases, species survival and its progressive perfection, albeit to be achieved in quite different ways. In the latter case, the progressive improvement of the human condition would be achieved through the weakening of the influence of religion.

But many atheists - particularly those most preoccupied with the consequences of atheistic belief for individuals as opposed to societies - regarded appeals to such survival substitutes as ultimately a form of self- deception, and sought other solutions to the problem. √Čtienne de Senancour (1770-1846), for example, regarded the only solution to the problem of mortality in healing humans from the 'illness' of wishing for immortality. According to Senancour, one can only suppress this fear by applying all one's energy to the present life.[5]

De Sade took this idea of immersion in the immediacy of present life a step further. Dismissing the wish for immortality as a contemptible urge, he advocated complete absorption in sensuality, the repeated pleasure of sex, inflicting suffering and even death, as a means of extinguishing the fear of mortality through forgetfulness in the fullness of the senses.[6]

Nietzsche, like De Sade, also suggests a fundamental affirmation of the natural urges (the 'will to power') against Christian 'slave' morality as the proper response to the question of meaning. Nietzsche's affirmation of power and its exercise by the (by our standards) amoral superman creates meaning where it is not previously given. Similarly, existentialists such as Sartre in the twentieth century affirm that human beings find themselves in a meaningless ('absurd') world and need to create meaning and purpose in their lives in absolute freedom, since there is no pre-existent meaning or purpose to life.

Still more depressingly, perhaps, other atheists sought to extinguish the fear of annihilation by stressing the generally miserable nature of human existence and thus encouraging detachment from life and even hopeful anticipation of death as a long awaited rest from the burden of living.
Nicolas de Chamfort (1741-1794), for example, described life as an illness, for which death was the 'medication'. According to this particular eighteenth century atheist, life was a prolonged agony from which death could liberate those unfortunate enough to have been born. Chamford himself acted on his beliefs by finally committing suicide.[7] Nor was Chamford a lone voice: in other respects optimistic atheists such as Diderot, Charles Pinot Duclos (1704-72) and Helvetius also in certain moments stressed the virtues of contemplating the relative wretchedness of existence in order to lessen the fear of annihilation.[8]

In the despairing individualist atheism of Schopenhauer, Stirner and von Hartmann this strategy is taken a step further. Schopenhauer unequivocally describes the wretched nature of human existence and places his hope in the will to annihilation. It would have been better if human beings had never been born, but given that they have come into existence suicide remains a legitimate (or perhaps even desirable) option. In Hartmann's Philosophy of the Unconscious (1869) his profoundly dispiriting atheistic philosophy finishes with a call for the collective suicide of humanity. In his The Self-Destruction of Chrisitanity and the Religion of the Future (1874), Hartman predicts that humanity will come to a collective realisation of the futility of their atheistic fate, and choose to bring about their collective annihilation.[9] As Minois notes, in certain respects these forms of atheism can be regarded as the most complete atheisms, since they allow for no God replacements: nation, race, progress, democracy, etc. Existence is looked in the face and is judged futile.[10]

In the twentieth century the celebrated British atheist Bertrand Russell would also draw something like these depressing conclusions, as does the contemporary atheistic writer John Gray in his influential (and disturbing) Straw Dogs (2002).[11] Up until the present the New Atheists have not engaged at any length with these issues, although it is to be expected that a fuller discussion concerning meaning and purpose will eventually be forthcoming as the controversies develop.

References
Gray, John. Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals. London: Granta Books, 2002.
Martin, Michael. Atheism : A Philosophical Justification. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990.
Minois, Georges. Histoire de L'atheisme. La Fleche: Fayard, 1998.

Bibliography

Footnotes

[1]↑Georges Minois, Histoire de L'atheisme (La Fleche: Fayard, 1998), 371.
[2]↑ Ibid., 369.
[3]↑ See Michael Martin, Atheism : A Philosophical Justification (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990), 13-23.
[4]↑ Cited in Minois, Histoire, 363.
[5]↑ Ibid., 364.
[6]↑ Ibid., 365.
[7]↑ Ibid., 369.
[8]↑ Ibid., 370.
[9]↑ Ibid., 508.
[10]↑ Ibid.
[11]↑ John Gray, Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals (London: Granta Books, 2002).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

GOSPEL:

Each year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover,

and when he was twelve years old,

they went up according to festival custom.

After they had completed its days, as they were returning,

the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem,

but his parents did not know it.

Thinking that he was in the caravan,

they journeyed for a day

and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances,

but not finding him,

they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.

After three days they found him in the temple,

sitting in the midst of the teachers,

listening to them and asking them questions,

and all who heard him were astounded

at his understanding and his answers.

When his parents saw him,

they were astonished,

and his mother said to him,

“Son, why have you done this to us?

Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”


And he said to them,

“Why were you looking for me?

Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”


But they did not understand what he said to them.

He went down with them and came to Nazareth,

and was obedient to them;

and his mother kept all these things in her heart. (Luke 2:41-51)