Category Archives: Philosophical Theology

Love for the Transcendent??

Love for the Transcendent

It is difficult to understand what could bring a person to say “I love God.” What, then, could possibly bring someone to say “I love the Transcendent?”

As a little boy walking home from Nativity grade school in St. Paul, Minnesota, I once wondered how classmates -usually well-behaved little girls- could tell the nun teaching the class that they loved God. When I return to St. Paul, I frequently pass the intersection -Juliet and Prior- where I had that experience, when about seven or eight, of wondering how people could say that they loved God. My experience returns to me. What were they thinking? Would they feel sad if something bad happened to God? It was so troubling that I kept it in mind as one of the many things I would have to figure out for myself as life went on. I would be embarrassed ever to ask anyone “Why do you say that you love God?”

Finally, now, in my mid-eighties, I have figured out what I could mean by saying that I love God. Even with the mature, and correct, notion of love as willing the good of the other, I could not understand how I could will good for God who needs nothing. The answer, which should have been obvious to me for a long time, struck me this week after Epiphany when we have been reading the first letter of John. On Thursday we read in John 1:4 “For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments.”

The good for God is what God wills. God wills the good of His human creatures. So, aiming at the good for humans is aiming at God’s good. God has willed that the human goods be attained by humans ordering their lives in accordance with rules for attaining these human goods. These rules are the moral rules and can be considered His commandments. So, by willing to obey the moral rules we will God’s good. That is loving God!

Consequently, a Divine Command theory of morality is not interpreting God as a moral tyrant who leaves no room for human freedom. On the contrary, a Divine Command moral theory is an explication of what it means to freely love God. For we are free to will to disobey His commands. But we are also free to will to obey His commands which is to love Him.

What does this have to do with the Transcendent? In my efforts to characterize the Transcendent as the moral authority, I am working towards explicating how we can speaking meaningfully of loving God even when “God” is understood in the most austere philosophical terms.

Religiosity and the Transcendent

We talk of God, the Transcendent ,in both philosophy and religion, in speculation and in prayer. What is the best way?

Repetition of my philosophic recipe for constructing concepts of properties to project upon the Transcendent is useful for the following comparison of philosophic and religious ways of talking of the Transcendent.

1. Argue, or merely claim, that an immanent feature exists independently of anything else in what is immanent.
2. Argue, or merely claim, that this independent feature exists contingently.
3. From these two conclude that the existence of this immanent feature is directly dependent on the Transcendent.
4. Under the assumption “ if the existence of X depends directly upon Y, then we can characterize Y as having something analogous to the properties of X”, we modify descriptions of properties of the immanent feature to characterize the Transcendent.

Here I merely claim that the immanent feature of human religiosity meets the conditions for being directly dependent for its existence on the Transcendent. I use an elementary “World Religions Course” four Cs sketch of human religiosity. People seeking the meaning of life with a sense of the holy form Churches, formulate Creeds and Codes while having Cults or set of ritual practices. My elementary “World Religions” sketch of religiosity leaves so much undone because I want to move immediately to the relation between philosophic attempts to characterize the Transcendent and religious attempts to characterize the Transcendent.

Characterizing the Transcendent is an essential property of human religiosity. It is an essential property of religiosity, in the sense that at least the “seed” of a Creed is every religion. I think that it was the anthropologist, Evans Pritchard, who claimed that primitive religions are danced; not believed. But I think what is permissible and impermissible in the dancing -Cultic practice- would reveal some thoughts about the “whatever” which is holy.

From the philosophic perspective we say that religiosity is directly dependent upon the Transcendent. So, from the philosophic perspective we try to develop descriptions of properties applicable to the Transcendent from descriptions of properties of human religiosity. For instance, we may try to describe the holiness of the Transcendent from a modification of the human sense of holiness.

At first glance, philosophy’s role of developing characterizations of the Transcendent from religious ways of characterizing the Transcendent seems to put philosophy in a superior position with respect to characterizing the Transcendent.

But philosophy’s role is not superior and may even be dependent upon religiosity in characterizing the Transcendent. Religiosity leads philosophers to their attempts to characterize the Transcendent. It is leading me. When I work seriously at the first two steps of my recipe I may find that I cannot separate philosophy from religiosity. Creeds and codes (morality) lead to reflection, speculation, critical thinking and theology. Purely secular philosophy might be basically the intellectual tools for theology and moral theory. The independent immanent reality directly dependent upon the Transcendent for its existence might be human religiosity with human philosophic thinking as only a part. It is an open question as to whether a development of a way of thinking is superior in all ways to that from which it developed

Philosophers are in no position to say that philosophic characterizations of the Transcendent are better than non-philosophical religious characterization. We philosophers have reached the conclusion that the Transcendent is utterly unknowable by philosophical thinking. We philosophers establish skepticism about what we can discover by our philosophizing. For all that we know via philosophy, we may be acquiring truths about the Transcendental via non-philosophical religious thought, sentiment and prayer.

I should emphasize that when I refer to religious ways of thinking and feeling about the Transcendent, I am not writing as some secular philosopher imagining what some benighted religious people still believe. I reflect primarily on myself. I am a practicing Catholic. Weekly I publicly and sincerely profess the Nicene Creed. I believe in the Real Presence in the Eucharist. I find a great similarity in my philosophic thoughts about what I am here labelling “the Transcendent” and my religious thoughts about God Indeed it is hard to separate them. In both cases, I say words with various thoughts and images. Sometimes I think these thoughts and images are really stupid. On occasion I think they give insight and inspiration. But always, be it philosophy or prayer, I think that the thoughts and images are never correct; they do not give the truth. What we can rely upon are the words.

If you and I try to determine whether or not we hold the same belief, we do not try to decide whether we share the varying thoughts and feelings running through our minds. We discuss a variety of claims and facts until we can agree upon using the same words to express our beliefs. In actuality, the hammering out of an agreeable formulation of a creed occur amongst many people over a long period of time. It then becomes an item in a collective consciousness in human intelligence as would a poem or song. Through the ages many people find those words apt for professing what they belief

Analogical Predication of God vs. Characterization of the Transcendent

It is helpful to compare my project of constructing a representation of the Transcendent as a Divine moral authority with the problem in philosophical theology for whose solution theories of analogical predication are developed. The problems are related but not the same.

A standard issue in philosophical theology arises from using the same terms to describe human beings and God. Theoretically, God is totally unlike any of His creatures. For instance, what is meant by saying that God is merciful if God is nothing at all like a merciful human judge?
There is a dilemma facing those who hold the same terms can be applied to God and creatures.

If terms applied to God and creatures are used univocally, then God is misrepresented by representing God as like His creatures.

If terms applied to God and creatures are used equivocally, then God is misrepresented by using language ambiguously.

Terms applied to God and creatures are used univocally or equivocally.

So, applying the same terms to God and creatures, misrepresents God.

Theories of analogical predication are offered to confront the dilemma by ”going between the horns of the dilemma” that terms are used univocally or equivocally. Theories show that there is a middle type of application of terms based on some type of similarity of, or analogy, between, that to which the terms are applied.

In religious practice this middle ground has been recognized implicitly. For centuries people have felt that their use of the same terms to talk of God and creatures made sense and was important although they would, I think, admit that what the terms designated were not the same in God and creatures.

The theories provide theoretical justification for this common practice. The theories go into human intelligence, collective consciousness, the archives or whatever one wants to call the repository of justifications. From that source, theories of analogical predication can be accessed by those who want to justify religious use of terms.

What am I doing when trying to show how terms can be applied to the Transcendent when by definition the Transcendent transcends any accurate application of terms?

My ultimate goal is a conceptual model of what it would be like for there to be a God who would sacrifice Himself to redeem humanity for its immorality. Crucial parts of this construction are construction of a model of morality based on authoritative commands and then construction of a model of this moral authority being God. I think that I have sketched a fairly complete outline of an authoritative morality. I want people to think that my model could represent the way things actually are. So I use the highly non-controversial notion of God, viz., the totally transcendent.

Consequently, I face the problem of pleading a case that from the bare metaphysical term “on whom everything depends for existence but which depends on nothing” we can provide “good enough” specifications of terms such as “omniscience” to say that this Transcendent is a God who is a moral authority.

I have to leave it to readers to judge whether I specify what is good enough.

Let me note also that I am addressing a problem which arises in 21st century arguments between some atheists and theists. The theists contend that atheists misunderstand theistic belief. The atheists allegedly are dismissing the existence of God as some super being amongst other beings. The theists claim that they are talking about something transcending all beings – what I have called the Transcendent. But most often theists are also religious as am I. In their religious practice they talk in a way suggesting that God is a super being. Theists should reconcile that discrepancy between their philosophical talk of God and their religious talk of God.

The Transcendent, Omniscience and Transparency

Transparency is one of the most significant features of a moral authority. The moral authority is aware of any thought, word or deed of moral significance. See Core Concepts of Authoritarian Morality.

If we start with a traditional notion of God as an omniscient being, transparency is a corollary of divine omniscience. However, we are starting with the notion of God as total Transcendence about which we can form no adequate representations. We need the faith which seeks understanding. We need faith that we are able to form inadequate but approximate representations of Transcendence as provider of sufficient conditions for basic features of what we can represent such as motion, causality and intelligence. In other words, we need faith that we can attain some understanding of Transcendence by developing notions of what Transcendence has as sufficient conditions for basic features of immanence, i.e., what we can represent.

This is philosophical theology; not pure philosophy. Atheists who concede that arguments about the existence of God are not about the presence or absence of some “super being” in what we can represent – the immanent, can accept via arguments in pure philosophy the existential dependence of the immanent on transcendence. Their atheism consists of lack of faith that transcendence has any significance for human life: thought of transcendence is the same as thought of nothing which is the same as not thinking anything. See Proof of Transcendence for a discussion of the issue between “sophisticated” theists and atheists.

In future posts, I need to explore the sources of faith. Undoubtedly, faith is stimulated and formed by traditional religions. Also faith is suppressed in some because of traditional religions. I leave open, though, the prospect of some necessary conditions for faith in Transcendence.

Hereafter, I reveal my faith that we have an approximate notion of referring to Transcendence by writing “the Transcendent” instead of “Transcendence.” After all, having items on which we focus attention in the way we call “referring” is perhaps the most pervasive feature of the immanent. We use the definite article “the” in referring thought. So, Transcendence has sufficient conditions for there to be objects of referential thought. I dare to take these sufficient conditions for the existence of objects of reference as warranting thinking of Transcendence as analogous to an object of reference. Conceptually, this is very significant. It is objectifying Transcendence.

To establish something analogous to transparency to the Transcendent of our morality, I need to show that the sufficient conditions in the transcendent for intelligence are enough like omniscience to warrant claiming that any morally relevant thought word or deed is known by the Transcendent.

Are the sufficient conditions in the Transcendent at all similar to that for which they suffice? In the case of motion, the transcendent sufficient condition is unmoving. In the case of causality, the transcendent sufficient condition for causality, is uncaused. Thinking of it as uncaused differentiates it from any cause we can represent. Objects we represent as passively beginning an action by being a goal are not represented as being totally out of the cause and effect processes.

We need to use a metaphysical concept of sufficient condition for what it means for conditions of the Transcendent to be sufficient for basic features of the immanent. This is the concept of a sustaining cause or sustaining condition. To say that the Transcendent is a sustaining condition for an X which we can represent is to say that the Transcendent is necessary and sufficient condition for the existence of X.

I set aside the philosophic obligation to elaborate on this notion of sustaining condition. Yes, it does seem to treat “existence” as a predicate which can be applied to the description of a possibility depending upon whether or not the possibility is actual or merely still only possible.

It follows from the definition of the Transcendent that it is the sustaining condition for everything. In particular, the Transcendent is the sustaining condition for everything which is the case. In other words, the Transcendent is the sustaining condition for all conditions which would make a claim true. Also the Transcendent is the sustaining condition for all thoughts that such-and-such is the case. Putting together these propositions about the Transcendent, we can say that the Transcendent is the sustaining condition for all true thoughts. A thought being is true is also a fact. So, the Transcendent is the sustaining condition for all true thoughts as true.

I appreciate a demand for much, much more analysis. Still, I propose that the we attribute omniscience to the Transcendent because it is the sustaining condition for all true thoughts as true. The Transcendent holds in existence the truth of the thoughts of our most secret sins! Isn’t this transparency to the Transcendent?

Transcendent Intelligence

It would be intellectually entertaining to reconstruct most of the classical arguments for God’s existence in my framework of dependence on transcendence. I have established the existence of a transcendent which depends upon nothing but on which everything else depends for its existence. This transcendent has what is sufficient for the characteristics of everything else. But that does not guide us to any notion of what the transcendent is like. Religions require some notion of what the transcendent is like even if only inadequate notions. So, I try to hint at some notions of what the transcendent is like by looking at traditional theistic arguments as telling us how to develop notions of the transcendent by showing that it has what is sufficient for some very general features of reality such as motion, causality and now intelligence.

But I do not want to lose sight of my main goal of articulating a foundation for sexual morality. In particular, I want to justify a fundamental principal for male sexuality in a plausible Divine Command moral theory. I have already, in my opinion, articulated a plausible if not justifiable, authoritarian moral theory. The authoritarian moral theory is immanent because we can represent our moral thinking as coming from a moral authority. I hope to show that the immanent moral authority is dependent upon the transcendent, God, for its authority.

This is a metaphysical problem in philosophical theology. How can this immanent Command Moral theory be transformed into a transcendent Divine Command Moral theory? How can we go from “Morality requires” to “God requires?”

The first step is to link the transcendent with intelligence using the dependence on transcendence pattern with which the transcendent was linked with motion and causality. A moral commander would need something like intelligence just as motion needed unmoved moving. So to speak: morality cannot be mindless. Morality cannot be without something like intentionality. So, if morality comes from the transcendent, something sufficient for intentionality needs to be found in the transcendent,

The goal is to link intelligence to the transcendent. The first premise might well be accepted by everyone although for different reasons.

Premise 1:Human intelligence need not be.

The reason for accepting Premise 1 which I must reject can be stated as:

“Of course, human intelligence need not be because humans need not have evolved. Without human beings there would be no human intelligence. Human intelligence is a dependent reality. But it is not directly dependent upon the transcendent. To link human intelligence to the transcendent, human intelligence must be directly dependent upon the transcendent.”

Unfortunately, I do not have enough time left in my life to return to study of Descartes and Spinoza et al. to find a metaphysical system which has mentality as fundamental as the material. So, I offer a short and hopefully not bizarre argument for mentality being directly dependent upon the transcendent.

A. If human intelligence evolved, intelligence has always been a possibility.
B. Human intelligence evolved,
So, [C] Intelligence has always been a possibility.
Here I am talking of what is called de re possibility – possibility of what is said. De re possibility is contrasted with de dicto possibility – the logical consistency of the words used to characterize the possibility.

Next is the crucial premise requiring a thought experiment of the reader to verify it.

D. The possibility of intelligence need not be.
E. There is a sufficient reason for the possibility of intelligence.

The next premise also asks for a thought experiment of the reader to verify that reasons for a possibility are not representable.

Some support comes from proponents of an anthropic principle holding that certain fundamental physical constants had to have precise values for life, let alone, human intelligence to evolve. It seems that these fundamental constants did not need to have these values necessary for life. This suggests some transcendent guidance directing the universe towards intelligence. But the anthropic principle shows at most that physical possibility of human intelligence depends upon the transcendent.

The broadest type of possibility is that which is conceivable – thinkable. But the thinkable need not exist for thinking need not exist.

F. The sufficient reason for the possibility of intelligence is transcendent.

G. The transcendent sufficient reason for the possibility of intelligence is sufficient for the features of intelligence amongst which are intentionality, knowledge, moral thought.

H. The sufficient reason for a feature of an X must have something least analogous to the feature it suffices for in X. (This premise requires a lengthy defense.)

I. So, the transcendent has something analogous to intentionality, knowledge, moral thought etc.,.

I plan to use this last line – line I- as a justification for extending my authoritarian moral theory to a divine command moral theory.

Transcendence of a First Cause

This is the second in a series of posts in which I present traditional arguments for the existence of God as ways of approximating a representation of what is totally beyond representation.

The tactic is a follows. We start with the formula for speaking of that which totally transcends what we can represent. The formula runs: That on which everything we can represent depends for its existence but which depends upon nothing for its existence. We cannot represent the entirety of what we can represent; let alone the unrepresentable upon which it depends. (The kernel of truth in idealism is that we cannot represent representing without locating ourselves in what is represented. The representable is a “box” outside of which we cannot think representationally. )

So, we look for some pervasive representable feature in reality such as motion, causality and order. We call attention to the existential dependency of this representable feature. For instance, in the previous post, I asked for consensus on “motion need not be.” (This is a stage in the argument at which the reader has to reflect on what is talked about to assent or dissent.) We are now thinking of something representable in its dependency relation to the transcendent – something immanent in its dependency upon the transcendent. We extend our representing notion of sufficient reason to the thought of a pervasive feature in a dependence relation to the transcendent to construct an approximation to a representation of the transcendent.

Thus, the argument for an unmoved mover was basically an argument for a sufficient reason for motion. The general assumption is that the transcendent is a sufficient reason for the immanent. But that general assumption gives not even a hint of what the transcendent might be. Focusing on sufficient reasons for specific features of the immanent gives indications something the transcendent might be in order to be a sufficient reason for the specific feature in question. We do not construct representations of the transcendent itself. These are only representations of the transcendent in relation of existential dependency to the immanent.

To illustrate the above, consider a “first cause” argument.

Causality need not be.
There is a sufficient reason for causality.
The sufficient reason for causality cannot be caused.
So, there is an uncaused reason, which can be called a cause, for causality.

I think that it is misleading to say that everyone calls an uncaused cause God. Rather it should be said that everyone calls God, amongst other things, an uncaused cause. Why misleading? Forget about the fact that very, very few people even think about God in this way. It is misleading, in my program for linking the God in religious practice to God in philosophy, to suggest that God is an explanatory entity for pervasive features of the natural world. The notion of God is not invented to explain. Rather we have this inchoate notion of God -the transcendent. Thoughts of a sufficient reason for pervasive features of nature help us add some detail to this notion. We try to discover, albeit always inadequately, what and who God might be.

Transcendence of the Unmoved Mover

I do not cite references to classical proofs of the existence of God because I want to avoid all exegetical issues. If there is any merit in my series of arguments for the existence of God, that has been borrowed from some classical philosopher – most likely Aquinas. I am to blame for all that is folly.

In this argument, motion is to be understood as spatial movement.

Motion need not be. (This is a generalization based on reflection about any representable motion.)
What need not be is dependent for its existence.
So, motion is dependent for its existence.
That upon which motion depends for its existence is something which sets in motion or it is something which does not set in motion.
If it is something which does not set in motion, there would be no motion.
But there is motion.
So, that upon which motion depends for its existence sets in motion.
If that upon which motion depends for its existence sets in motion, then that upon which motion depends for its existence is a mover.
So, that upon which motion depends for its existence is a mover.
The mover upon which motion depends for its existence is in motion or it is not in motion.
If the mover upon which motion depends for its existence is in motion, then the mover upon which motion depends is not a mover upon which all motion depends. (Self-dependent is a figure of speech for denying dependence.)
So, the mover upon which motion depends for its existence is an unmoved mover.

The unmoved mover upon which motion depends for its existence is transcendent or immanent.
If the unmoved mover upon which motion depends for its existence is immanent it is representable.
An unmoved mover upon which all motion depends is not representable.

We cannot represent all motion as an entire whole outside of which there is its unmoved mover for this is thinking of something which transcends what we can represent about motion. We can say the words “unmoved mover upon which the entirety of motion depends. But we represent nothing with these words about what transcends our powers of representation. It is an exercise for readers to verify the claim that the entirety of motion cannot be represented. You have to imagine yourself outside space and time. But that imagination feat is impossible.

So, the unmoved mover upon which all motion depends for its existence is transcendent.

It is not implausible to add that this transcendent unmoved mover upon which all representable motion depends is that which is entirely independent but on which all which is representable depends. And thereby is God.

We have started to link the totally transcendent with the immanent. We have found that a very fundamental feature of the immanent, viz., motion, has its transcendent which is readily identified with the transcendent.

Bridging the Gap Between Transcendent and Immanent

My approach to this issue has been totally wrong. Since my previous post that there must be transcendence upon which all we can represent depends but which depends upon nothing, I have been trying to answer the following questions. The starting question is “How can the transcendent be relevant to religious belief?” This quickly became the misleading question “How can we say, let alone think, of that we cannot represent in any way?” My struggle to avoid contradictions seemed like working on a mathematical problem of introducing new elements to avoid contradiction. However, the contradiction stands. We cannot say anything about that which about which we can say nothing. We cannot bridge the gap between the transcendent and the immanent. When proposed as a conceptual problem of how we can represent that which transcends what we can represent ,Wittgenstein’s last line in his Tractatus is correct “Whereof we cannot speak, we should remain silent.”

Perhaps silence is satisfying for mystics. But religious life is far more than mysticism. Details of daily life, and especially, details of religious practice and thoughts of religious creeds and codes matter religiously.

So, I should not be posing a conceptual problem of how we can think of what we cannot think. Our thinking must be confined to the immanent.

Everything depends up the transcendent. The transcendent bridges the gap between the transcendent by virtue of the dependence of everything upon it. Whether there is anything immanent which manifests the transcendent in religiously significant ways depends upon the transcendent. We should be looking at the immanent to find out whether and how immanent features manifest transcendence in religiously significant ways.

I am not proposing anything new. I am only expressing my realization of what has been done by religious philosophers through the centuries with proofs for God’s existence and provision of evidence for religious beliefs and practice. They draw attention to immanent features – dependencies- which are best understood as manifesting best, but necessarily not, perfect characterization of the transcendent.

In my next post, I will sketch out how some traditional arguments for God’s existence can be appreciated from this perspective.

A Proof of The Existence of God in the Transcendent Ontology of Human Intelligence

Transcendental ontology contains the most fundamental philosophical questions. Arguments for the existence of God are in transcendent ontology. I hope that my way of approaching the main question of transcendent ontology is not so idiosyncratic that no one else understands what I am asking.

In this post I intend to offer a proof for the existence of God!

Let us say that the world, reality or what is accepted in immanent ontology is that which can be represented by human intelligence. This conforms to the Parmenidean principle that what can be is what can be thought. An implication of the previous post’s recognition of the inconsistencies and incoherence of human representations is that our representations are not the reality we represent.

Here is the most fundamental philosophical question?

Must there be something unrepresentable upon which what can be represented depends for its existence and features, but which depends upon nothing else ?

The answer cannot be “no.” To say “no” implies that there could be nothing to represent. But we cannot think of there being nothing to represent. For our effort to think of there being nothing to represent provides us with something to represent. The previous post warns us against confusing representations with realities represented. But that is not a warning that representations themselves are not realities to be represented.

From the perspective of negative theology whose basic principle tells us that we can only say what God is not, the above could be called a proof of the existence of God.

I submit that this proof of the existence of God totally beyond representation is valid.
It provides a very “thin” abstract philosophical notion of God . Far more is needed to draw significant implications for morality and religion.

Some opponents of the so-called “New Atheists”, such as Bishop Barron to whose “Word on Fire Institute” I belong, accuse the new atheists of assuming that believers represent God as an existing entity of immense powers and virtues. Believers reply that we believe God is transcendent beyond any representable entity , viz.beyond , what is in the immanent ontology of human intelligence. We believers have a point. But the point is only that serious discussion about theistic belief should not be about the existence of some unrepresentable foundation for all reality.

Serious discussion about the rationality, clarity, morality and religious adequacy of religious belief begins with what people believe. What people actually believe is expressed as if what is believed is in the immanent ontology of human intelligence.

Consider the first sentence of the Nicene Creed which I profess every Sunday: “I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.” Unity is attributed to God. But unity and plurality are features of that which is representable. Agency is attributed to God but, again, agency is a feature of what is in immanent ontology.

In my next few posts, I plan to explore how philosophy is relevant to including theistic religious belief in belief about the representable even if “pure” philosophy tells us that nothing can be said or thought of God.

Some philosophical asides:

A quick way to dismiss the suggestion that there might be an infinite regress of such unrepresentable beings is to reply that infinite regresses are representable and representability has been ruled out for the transcendent.

Also note that this is not a proof of the existence of a necessary being. A being whose existence is necessary is too much like a being with some special feature, Beings with features are in immanent ontology. This argument establishes a de dicto necessity – necessity is the modality of what is proved. There is no proof of what is called de re necessity – necessity as a feature of some thing or entity.

Progressivism vs. Catholicism

Is progressivism* consistent with Catholicism? No! There are many inconsistencies; especially in moral theory. But here I focus on theology in order to show the necessity of the notion of moral harm for understanding redemptive suffering.

Moral harm is harm which ought to be for violation of a moral law. Catholicism holds holds that Christ suffered torture and crucifixion to fulfill the prescription for the moral harm required for human sinfulness. In paragraph 601 of The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Christ’s suffering is called “redemptive suffering” Progressivism rejects the notion of moral harm. Hence, progressivism rejects the notion of redemptive suffering.

Am I saying that someone who takes a progressive approach to morality cannot be a Catholic or Christian? No. I am writing about a moral theory I built up from a foundational idea that there ought to be no harm and intended it reflect popular progressive moral beliefs. I write of Catholicism as body of doctrines. I point out a contradiction between these two theories. Progressivism cannot be a consistent Catholicsm. Catholicism cannot be a consistent progressive morality.

People are not theories. What people think are at best bits and pieces of theories. People do not think, say or believe all the implications of what they say or believe. A Catholic who takes a progressive approach to moral issues need not ever think or say anything which contradicts fundamental Catholic teaching about redemptive suffering. A Catholic can say words such as “Jesus Christ is our saviour who died for our sins” without every trying to spell out what it means. He can regard them as holy words he is supposed to say or immediately accept it as all a mystery which we cannot even start to understand.

For all that I know, people can be both morally progressive and Catholic. Indeed such people may be very good Catholic. I do not hesitate to judge another person’s character. But I do not judge a person’s character on the basis of the logical consistency of theories I develop from bits and pieces of what they say. For instance, I think Joe Biden might be a good Catholic despite the fact that his moral progressivism on abortion and homosexuality place him in contradiction to Catholic teaching. He might well be too busy thinking about other issues to draw out implications inconsistent with progressive morality from Catholic doctrines on redemption. Biden is not a good example for other Catholics. But he may have an innocent childlike faith in the words and ceremonies of Catholicism which is pleasing to God.

However, there are some of us for whom trying to understand is crucial for letting words guide our lives. So, if I were to say that what Jesus Christ accomplished by his suffering and death did far more for humanity than anything such as discovering a vaccine for Covid-19, I need to have some concepts or ideas which I can use appreciate why I would say something like that. If I cannot even start to make sense of it, I won’t believe it. But I want to believe it to avoid the nihilism of progressivism. Here then is a situation in which there is my faith seeking understanding. Faith seeking understanding is theology.

My faith is holding fast to the words of Catholicism. My theologizing is the constant effort to think of why I would say those words.

The notion of moral harm is a key to gaining at least a part of understanding. Hence, I will be using moral harm in theology exercises to gain some understanding of the Paschal mystery.

*Perhaps, I should use “moral progressivism” to distinguish it from “progressivism” which is used to label a variety of political views which are successors of what used to be called liberal views.