Newman & Moses on Belief

Our forefathers teach that God has revealed Himself to humankind

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Atheism Faith

I had recently finished reading Father Ian Ker’s biography of Cardinal John Henry Newman (who was beatified in 2010 and canonized in 2019) when a review in the Wall Street Journal of a book on the existence and nature of God by a professor of law at Yale caught my eye (“What’s a Heaven For?” March 22, 2022). The book is After Disbelief: On Disenchantment, Disappointment, Eternity, and Joy (2022). The author is Anthony T. Kronman.

My first question was about the author. Why would anyone read something about theology written by a law professor? The book review was silent on this. Other sources shed light on the author’s background: Former Yale Law Dean Kronman holds a doctorate in the humanities with a dissertation on Max Weber, and he regularly teaches undergraduates in literature, philosophy, history, and politics. I also learned that he wrote an earlier book on his same idiosyncratic theology that the deity and the world are the same, an 1,100-page (not a typo!) tome entitled Confessions of a Born-Again Pagan (2016)

The WSJ review, by Andrew Stark, starts with: “Is belief in God tenable after Darwin and Einstein? No, say atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. Science, without any need to refer to a superior intelligence, can account for both the creation of the universe and the origin of our species. Not so fast, believers like Richard Swinburne and Alvin Plantinga retort. Both the cosmos and human beings are far too complex to have been fashioned by anything other than a supreme being…” Let me identify two more believers in support of the last argument: John Lennox and Father Thomas Dubay, S.M. (1921-2010), who wrote The Evidential Power of Beauty: Science and Theology Meet (1999).

Kronman purports to find a middle way, that satisfies him and all his issues, his wanderings, and his wonderings between, on the one hand, the God of the Bible with Whom each of us can have a personal relationship, the God of love and judgment, the God Who delights in us (Ps. 18:19; Ps. 37:23; Ps. 149:4; Zeph. 3:17; Prov. 8:30-31) and, on the other hand, some sort of divinity which emerges as human beings explore more and more science, the natural world, the universe, medicine, biology, chemistry, and astrophysics. Kronman’s beliefs are like those of former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev: “I believe in the cosmos. All of us are linked to the cosmos. Look at the sun. If there is no sun, then we cannot exist. So nature is my god” (from an interview by Fred Matser, http://www.maaber.org/issue_october03/deep_ecology1e.htm).

Let’s stop here and cut this short. One of my theology professors told me that a graduate student of his was having trouble accepting one of the Marian dogmas. After much discussion, the professor said, “Just accept it, rejoice, and move on.” I want to be just as direct to Dean Kronman and his readers: Accept God’s revelation, rejoice, and move on. Speaking this truth is a great charity. Benedict XIV wrote in his encyclical Caritatis in Veritate (Charity in Truth, 2009): “To defend the truth, to articulate it with humility and conviction, and to bear witness to it in life are therefore exacting and indispensable forms of charity” (para. 1). 

With respect to the truth of God’s existence and revelation, I invoke St. John Henry Newman and Moses. From an early age, St. John Henry Newman believed in “Revealed Religion,” namely, there is a God and He reveals Himself to human beings. Newman wrote:

No Religion has yet been a Religion of physics or philosophy.

[Religion] has ever been synonymous with Revelation.

It never has been a deduction from what we know:

it has ever been an assertion of what we are to believe.

It has never lived in a conclusion;

it has ever been a message, or a history [as in salvation history], or a vision. (Ker, p. 212)   

Father Ker continues, quoting Newman: “As for science, however wonderful nature may be, ‘wonder is not religion, or we should be worshiping our railroads’” (p. 212). Newman asserted that there was never a time, in “century after century,” when the bishops

forgot that they had a message to deliver to the world,–not the task merely of administering spiritual consolation, or of making the sick-bed easy, or of training up good members of society…–but specially and directly, a definite message to high and low, from the world’s Maker, whether men would hear or whether they would forbear. (Ker, p. 687)

The nature of the Gospel, Newman wrote, “is no mere philosophy thrown upon the world at large, no mere quality of mind and thought, no mere beautiful and deep sentiment or subjective opinion, but a definite message from above, guarded and preserved in a visible polity [that is, the Church]” (Ker, p. 687).

As for Moses, I refer you to a reading from the Book of Deuteronomy, proclaimed in Cycle C of the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time:

Moses said to the people:

“If only you would heed the voice of the LORD, your God,
and keep His commandments and statutes that are written in this book of the law, when you return to the LORD, your God, with all your heart and all your soul.

“For this command [to heed God’s voice and keep His commandments] that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky, that you should say, ‘Who will go up in the sky to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’ Nor is it across the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’

“No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.”

To Dean Kronman and readers of his books, I say, “The voice of the Lord, Your God, is already in your mouths and your hearts. Heed His voice.”

 

James M. Thunder has left the practice of law but continues to write. He has published widely, including a Narthex series on lay holiness. He and his wife Ann are currently writing on the relationship between Father Karol Wojtyla (the future Pope) and lay people.

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