Philosophy is written in this grand book - the universe, which stands continually open before our gaze. But the book cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and to read the alphabet in which it is composed. It is written in the language of mathematics . . . Galilei, p 238.
Welcome to natural theology
The Roman Catholic Church
This site is the log of a trip from 'Catholicism' to 'natural religion'.
Theology was once considered the keystone of the sciences. Its position began to deteriorate with the scientific revolution that began about 500 years ago. New mathematical, empirical and critical methods both released and fed off the energy of industrialization. The resulting explosion of scientific knowledge and industrial power still engulfs us.
One of the few areas relatively untouched by industrialization is traditional religious and theological belief. The paradoxical result seems to have been a revival of the old theologies within advanced industrial communities.
I was brought up amidst Roman Catholic theology, and so it is my natural starting point. This theology embraces traditions many thousands of years old. It emphasizes the vast difference between the eternal life of God and our own lives. The Catholic God is omniscient, omnipotent, infinite, etc, and the Church tells us that we live in a world fatally flowed by original sin. This doctrine has very important social, political and economic consequences.
Catholic theology is the fiction at the heart of a huge corporation, the Roman Catholic Church (RCC), which has power over the minds and actions of more than a billion people worldwide. Over two thousand years, the RCC has developed and embellished a 'history of salvation' which giving itself a central role in 'God's plan'.
The Church gained its power using this history, and strategies ranging from war and occupation to promises of eternal salvation in return for earthly obedience. My religious environment led me to trust Catholic belief, and I set out to live it in a religious order, the Order of Preachers. I began to train for priesthood. I was convinced then that there is no salvation outside the Church.
Life in the Order opened my eyes to a whole new world of knowledge, which at first looked beautiful. Soon, however, it began to clash with science I had learned at school. This conflict made me look around and eventually come to questions like: why does God have to be so different? Why can't the World be God? Why do we need the Church?
Catholic theology has answers, of course. Answers built on a strong theoretical backbone that can be traced from the writings of Aristotle and Plato through Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas and Bernard Lonergan (and thousands of others) into the twentieth century. Aristotle, Plato, Augustine, Works by Thomas Aquinas - Wikipedia, Lonergan.
This theoretical tradition confirms the Christian belief that God is wholly other. I began to see, however, that everything depends on your model of God; and that any model (eg the Bible) is a human fiction which must be tested against reality before it can be trusted.
My questions struck at the heart of Catholic belief. The Roman Catholic Church is an authoritarian institution that claims the right to control human minds. It employs only true believers, so I was asked to leave the Order
Galileo opened our eyes to the 'book of nature'. This book assumed critical importance for theological modelling when Darwin's Origin of Species provided an explanation for our origins at least as plausible as the Book of Genesis. Darwin, Genesis
Let us assume that for all practical purposes, God and our Universe are one and the same, so that the book of nature is also the book of theology. That is to say, the Universe lives its own life and is not the product of some outside creator. What follows?
First, the radical revision of Catholic theology. Christianity is a mystery religion. There is no evidence for it, people must accept its claims on blind faith. On the other hand, if the Universe is divine theology can become a science in the modern sense of the word. Natural theology (think natural science) may consider every thought, feeling, action or event in the whole Universe as revelation from and of God. The data for natural theology are everything that happens, a vast treasury that outweighs countless ancient texts.
The Catholic Church (through its various agents) did a good job of inhibiting me, but I am slowly breaking free and letting my lust for life flow. This is unlikely to do too much damage in my aging condition, but I do feel a prophetic urge in me to propagate my theological idea now that it seems to me to be sound. An evidence based theology seems capable of yielding great benefits to peaceful human union and our collective power of survival by proving a firm foundation to our dealings with God (our Universe).
(revised 1 March 2013)