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The Argument from Johnny Cash

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Johnny Cash

Recently, for my Mom’s 60th birthday, I put together a tribute video complete with creased photographs, old music, and clips of my brothers recounting a favorite memory of her—mostly revolving around her cooking or buying the four of us food.

As part of the tribute, I asked my Dad to summarize their forty years of marriage together in a minute-long clip—a Herculean task that he met with such calmness and profundity that I knew instantly it would be the grand finale. I also knew this important clip needed an equally important song in the background. But which one?

I finally decided on Johnny Cash’s cover of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” from American IV, the last album released before his death in 2003—just four months after his wife June Carter’s death.

When we debuted the video, I fully expected there to not be a dry eye in the room—and sure enough, there wasn’t.

But what I didn’t expect was that every time I returned to the song, I felt that same ineffable emotion welling up inside of me. For a man who prides himself on a certain flinty philosophical temperament, this song had become a rare piece of emotional kryptonite. By the second verse—sometimes even before the first word—I was tearing up. Even trying (and failing) to explain why it moved me so much primed the waterworks.

Throughout his career, Cash cranked out some truly powerful songs about murder, prison, and despair, the kind of songs that made him so beloved among both believers and non-believers. (One of my favorite scenes in Walk the Line shows a record company executive chastising Cash: “Your fans are gospel folk, Johnny. They're Christians, and they don't wanna hear you singing to a bunch of murderers and rapists, tryin' to cheer 'em up.” The man in black responds without missing a beat: “Then they ain't Christians.”) And with Rick Rubin at the boards, standing at death’s door, his voice never sounded so wise, clear, and urgent. I never walked away from a track like “Hurt” (a cover of Nine Inch Nails) unscathed.

But this song was something else entirely—it was devastating.

My wife asked me if I thought about my parents’ marriage when I heard the song, and I admitted that I did. But I confessed that I also thought about seeing her for the first time in English class in college; about finally meeting our first baby face to face any day now; about the 70-year old Cash singing to the love of his life love June Carter just months before they both passed on; about my 90-year-old grandma visiting her catatonic husband day in and day out for over a decade in the nursing home. I thought about all of these at once, but not really any of them.

I realized that it wasn’t any one particular example of love that came to mind, but agape love itself—a love that was bigger than any one person’s love for something or someone, yet still animating each and every of its instantiations. Cash’s words and voice were so devoid of pretense, so filled with self-giving; this song was bigger than me and my thoughts, bigger than that man and his music. It was beautiful.

There is a kind of supra-rational argument to be made for God through this kind of musical experience. I would use Peter Kreeft’s same formulation for the argument from Aesthetic Experience to articulate the argument from Johnny Cash:

a)    There is the music of Johnny Cash.
b)    Therefore, there must be a God.

Here at Strange Notions we’ve seen many compelling arguments for God’s existence: arguments from first cause, cosmology, morality, contemporary physics, even evolutionary history. Seen in this context, the argument from beauty seems to lose quite a bit of its power. After all, it’s not a formal argument, and more of an appeal to personal experience. But isn’t personal experience just that—personal? How could anyone formulate an objective proof based on a poetic “deepity” experienced subjectively?

In the end, I agree that this “argument" should only be seen in light of other, more objective intellectual arguments for God’s existence—after all, we have reason, and should exercise our reason fully—but neither should it be dismissed as inadmissible evidence. Given that we are all persons living in and coping with the world, a life-changing experience is not exactly data we can turn our nose up at when it comes to the most important of questions. In fact, for many lives, it is often the case that a personal experience seems to tip the scales of belief and unbelief.

It’s worth nothing that part of Christian apologist and philosopher William Lane Craig’s debate routine is to follow up formal arguments for God’s existence with an informal argument from personal experience.

“This isn’t really an argument for God’s existence; rather it’s the claim that you can know God exists wholly apart from arguments, by personally experiencing him...In the experiential context of seeing and feeling and hearing things, I naturally form the belief that there are certain physical objects which I am sensing. Thus, my basic beliefs are not arbitrary, but appropriately grounded in experience. There may be no way to prove such beliefs, and yet it’s perfectly rational to hold them. Such beliefs are thus not merely basic, but properly basic. In the same way, belief in God is for those who seek Him a properly basic belief grounded in their experience of God.”

The atheist might instantly retort: one man’s Bach is another man’s din; one man’s beauty is another man’s bedlam; and one man’s personal experience of God is another man’s delusion!

But then, the argument isn’t about aesthetics and the objectivity of taste but the universality of beauty in human life, a phenomenon which atheist Christopher Hitchens described as well as anyone:

“The sense that there's something beyond the material—or, if not beyond it, not entirely consistent materially with it, is I think a very important matter. What you could call the numinous, or the transcendent, or at its best I suppose the ecstatic...We know what we mean by it when we think about certain kinds of music perhaps; certainly the relationship, or the coincidence but sometimes very powerful, between music and love...”

In the end, the argument from Johnny Cash is not about this one song about love—it could be any song, about anything. It could be a painting, a person, a place, or even a childhood memory like the one described by C.S. Lewis in Surprised by Joy: “Once in those early days my brother brought into the nursery the lid of a biscuit tin which he had covered with moss and garnished with twigs and flowers so as to make it a garden or a toy forest. This was the first beauty I ever knew...As long as I live my imagination of Paradise will retain something of my brother’s toy garden.”

Beauty, wherever it appears to you, is yours for the taking—and it tends to speak for itself. It opens us to paradise like a flower opens to the sun. Some of us say that this glimpse of heaven is false; that just as “love” is nothing more than a chemical cocktail concocted by the brain, the “mystical” experience of beauty—regardless of how overwhelming and significant it may seem from any particular subject’s vantage point—is reducible to electrochemical signals in that brain. We stand stalwart, refusing to give an inch to the immaterial, and we protest too much. These towering waves of beauty continually assail us throughout our lives, seizing and saturating our cool objectification and pointing beyond themselves and our sight.

Because beauty, others say, is a way...
(Image credit: New York Times)

Matthew Becklo

Written by

Matthew Becklo is a husband and father-to-be, amateur philosopher, and cultural commentator at Aleteia and Word on Fire. His writing has been featured in First Things, The Dish, and Real Clear Religion.

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  • stevegbrown

    I know that the 2 ideas I am about to propose have an analogous connection rather than an univocal one (recall: Scaglieri's point on astheticism regarding Mozart's moral immaturity).
    Experiencing a friend's or a beloved's good vicariously:
    When you love another and you learn of their good fortune it can seem to be experienced as if you were in possession of it. It transcends merely being "happy for them".
    Beholding something (alone or with someone) that is truly beautiful, one becomes aware of a certain beauty behind things.

    • stevegbrown

      Sorry forgot to mention the Scaglieri point was from the movie Amadeus.

    • Loreen Lee

      Help! i searched Scaglieri's point on astheticism: movie Mozart, etc. and could find nothing. Could you please explain the connection between this and your description which follows. Thanks.

      • David Nickol

        If you searched for Scaglieri, note that the correct name of the composer in Amadeus is Antonio Salieri.

        • stevegbrown

          Thanks, David. I was thinking off the top of my head. Sorry about that.

      • stevegbrown

        Hello Loreen Lee, Sorry for being obtuse. Salieri's thought was "Why would God choose an obscene child to be his instrument"
        (How could a moral retard such as Mozart produce such beautiful music).

        • Loreen Lee

          Thanks for your attempt to 'help'. Read up on Salieri and find that this whole thing is very complicated. Will leave this unanswered - but:

          Quote: Beholding something (alone or with someone) that is truly beautiful, one becomes aware of a certain beauty behind things.

          I have never experienced a 'beauty behind things'. But I'm OK with that as I never attempted to perceive any beauty or morality in Mozart!!! grin grin.

        • Elson

          Why would God choose an obscene child to be his instrument (How could a moral retard such as Mozart produce such beautiful music).

          Could you please explain what you mean by "obscene child and "moral retard"?

          • stevegbrown

            It is from a scene in Amadeus: (at around 4:40)
            The ideas that Salieri expressed were
            Mozart was such an incredible musical genius. He produced works of such beauty.
            Mozart was such a repulsive egocentric person
            Why would God allow such a person to have such wonderful gifts?
            (you have to buy into these ideas for it to make sense).

          • Loreen Lee

            Well, I'm not buying into it completely. It's true I have heard before that Mozart was a bit of a womanizer, but I found there was some humor and 'creativity' in his 'egoistic' dramas. By the standards of the times, I cannot 'judge', however, although I do understand from experience that the judgments people make of others often reflect their own 'eccentricities (I am having trouble with my audio however, and could not 'hear' all the dialogue.) (A little jealousy here, perhaps.).

          • stevegbrown

            Understood. It was a movie. I was merely presenting the idea expressed in the movie. I had a room mate music major once who also claimed that the Salieri rivalry with Mozart was fictional and Mozart's womanizing was conjecture.

          • Loreen Lee

            Oh! the 'realities' of fiction! grin grin.

          • I love that film. Very pertinent to the discussion as well. Thanks Steve for your insights!

  • Loreen Lee

    Thank you for this. After the last post on humor, it is a fitting conclusion to rest with beauty. May I discuss the philosophic points first.

    Although Kant is considered to be 'outside' the scope of Catholic doctrine because he is thought to have reduced religion to a form of naturalism, I would suggest that even if this were true, his trilogy could be regarded as a needed therapy for the age. His third critique, The Power of Judgment deals with beauty, the sublime and teleology. And in his analysis, these elements form the basis of an aesthetic proof of God's existence. Within the subjective, (not objective, because when it comes to taste he holds, we believe 'as if' the beauty we behold would also be acknowledged universally. His categorical imperative is also based, it should be noted on an 'as if'. But an explanation would require an extension of this post, so please accept this as is.) sense of beauty is found the 'order' which is the basis of judgment, and the consequent belief that there is purpose not only in ourselves but in nature. In the contemplation of the sublime we are met with 'evidence' that there is a power greater than ourselves, and yet we are able to 'contain' that vision of 'God' within our minds. This too in preparation for the teleological proof. Within aesthetics therefore is found the basis for 'proof' of God's existence.

    I am especially grateful that you relate this aesthetic experience to our capacity for love, specifically agape. Can we regard this dimension of human experience as 'evidence' in the scientific context of that term? Within this context, I happened to run into a young 'vagrant' on the patio outside the coffee shop this morning. He asked for a hug, and I responded. I then offered him a cigarette and he asked if we could sit and talk. He ended up telling me his life story: that he was raised on an Indian reserve for some time, that his mother had been a Buddhist nun, that he had constantly been taught, through people holding him and screaming at him, that he was good. Finally he said. "I know two things. I am neither good or bad, and some day I am going to die." To respond to what seemed to be a sudden despair I found the words to say: "I have been reminded once that dying is perhaps the only act that we can do for ourselves; the only act that nobody can do for us." He immediately started whooping, and yelling so fiercely and loudly that I could not calm him down. "Yes. Yes." he kept saying, as though he had somehow gained an authority over his life. After he calmed down, another friend came outside with her coffee, and said that she wasn't going to stay because she didn't want to be part of the 'noise'. What can I say. Beauty is in the 'eye of the beholder'. I don't believe it is necessary to find a scientific explanation for any of these aesthetic experiences. I do believe that they constitute our 'inner life' experience, and with the help of Kant I have identified them with the third person of the Trinity. We live these experiences day to day, moment to moment. Their interpretation is I believe one of free choice. As we die in each passing moment, through our ability of perceive beauty we can also be reborn within that same moment..

    Please remember Johnny Cash's : Some people say a man is made out of mud. A poor man is made out of muscle and blood. - You probably know the rest. I understand he stole the original lines from genesis!!!! Thank you.

    • Thanks for your thoughts Loren Lee - you always leave very thoughtful (and very Kantian) comments, and I always enjoy reading them!

  • Elson

    The Argument from Johnny Cash

    The Argument for what? SN has to be more clear with the titles of their articles instead of being so slippery. but since this is SN, the title leaves us to assume that something from Cash's music or life is tantamount to credible evidence for the existence of an entity referred to as "god". I did read the article....more from curiosity than anything else. If it had been titled as Cash's appeal to sentimentality is evidence of "god" I may have forgone the "pleasure" of reading the thing since emotion and sentimentality are once again rearing their heads as evidence of the elusive entity known as "god". I will withhold my comments on the article for now. This critique about the title of the article is in no way meant as a downer on any person's subjective emotional experience while listening to music or watching the sun set or listening to bird's chirping at sunrise. Some of us.... though....experiencing similar uplifting emotions, are simply not wired to attribute our sentimental tears and awe to a "creator" or "god". I indicated to L.L. that I would be trying to follow the middle way......and this is what I am attempting to do.


    • Loreen Lee

      Thanks for remembering me, Elson. I believe there was an attempt at humor/satire in the choice of the title. He assumes that we are all familiar with the 'proofs and arguments' for the existence of God, which would be synonymous with his use of 'Argument'. I have already made the point that there is no accounting for taste; that with respect even to beauty, this is a very 'subjective' experience. (This perspective is of course in opposition to the belief put forward in the article that such experiences are objective).

      Perhaps I can also assert that the relation of beauty to love, which I believe is essential to his argument, refers to the love of agape: a Greek conception of love adopted by the early Christians which relate love to the will, rather than sentimentality or emotion. But I'm with you, that it is very difficult to distinguish these in real life experience. My favorite philosopher outlines the position, however, that our appreciation of beauty is just one step in the process of developing a 'good will'.

      Maybe you can help me at some time, to get a better grip on how this might relate to the 'middle way'. The only 'middle way' I am familiar with is that of Aristotle's virtue ethics. I'm not familiar with the Eastern traditions on the subject. Thanks.

      • Elson

        >blockquote>I'm not familiar with the Eastern traditions on the subject. Thanks.

        Somehow Loreen I don't believe that you are unfamiliar with Eastern traditions? Your request for help at getting a better "grip on the middle way" seems to me a bit condescending.

        . You who are so familiar with everything "spiritual" and "esoteric" relating to such. Why are you seemingly being deliberately obtuse on the point of the "middle way". You know very well what I am referring to. I am not trying to be offensive Loreen, just honest.

        However I will say this.

        "The Middle Way should not be confused with passivity or a kind of middle-of-the-road compromise.

        I still think of you as a special sharp Lady Loreen.

        Please continue in the same vein!....you are needed here to be one willing to step between "sweaty pugilists".

        • Loreen Lee

          I accept the criticism as true. Must learn to always 'see' myself. Thanks.

    • Loreen Lee

      Hi Elson. I just remembered that I could google The Middle Way. Back to Buddhism. So I guess it's OK that I can see both the existence and the non-existence of God. Namaste.

  • Ben Posin

    How handy that he carried both sides of the conversation. Saves a lot of time.

  • The following may not be easy for many theists to understand, but it is the case. I was not raised in a religious environment, and I have had mysterious ineffable joyous experiences of the kind that I believe are being described here. But I have never associated these with a deity or any supernatural element. In fact the association feels ridiculous to me. It just feels like slapping on a label of God to perfectly natural experiences.

    Argument as formed is, I think acknowledged, extremely weak. In think it is helpful to look at the implied premises to draw out why it is weak:
    P1: humans have wonderful ineffable experiences (e.g. Matthew's experience listening to Cash)
    P2: such experiences would be impossible without a god existing
    C: god must exist

    The weakness comes from p2 which I don't accept and is in no way intuitive to me. I think if no gods exist, we would only find this connection to be intuitive in people who were raised with everything beautiful and love itself being virtually synonymous with God. If such a God existed, we very well might expect it to be intuitive that things like beauty and love to be associated with deity. But for me it honestly isn't.

    I know this wasn't raised as a strong or conclusive argument for god, and other stronger arguments were alluded to. I disagree that these arguments are any stronger.

    • Thanks for the comment, Brian. I don't think you accurately outlined Matthew's article. A better P1 would be, "humans have wonderful transcendent experiences." It's not the ineffability that strikes Matthew, but the sense that it comes from somewhere beyond this world.

      • In that case disagree, I've never had an experience like that.

        • Loreen Lee

          I posted an outline of the experience I witnessed this morning just for that reason: that what was an 'ah ha' moment for my young friend, was easily discounted by a person who only experienced his response to my casual statement, as noise. Interestingly, he also asked me during our conversation what I thought of God. I responded that I considered myself an atheistic-Catholic, a title which, after Paul Rimmer's thorough discussion of atheist, makes more sense, at least to me. He said OK. Give me your reasons why you think there is a God and why you don't. Well I wasn't going to get into Aristotle or Johnny Cash so I said: "Well, from my own experience, I can posit a greater intelligence than my own, but when it comes to other people, (lack of communion here?) there are so many variations on the subject, that I would have to give you this as a reason why I could put forward the argument that God does not exist.. He thought a moment, and in all seriousness to what I thought was an ironic statement, he nodded his head and said that he agreed with me. You never know where a conversation is going to go!!!!

          • Elson

            I consider myself an atheistic-Catholic.

            What exactly does that mean Loreen?....as opposed to for instance ...."Catholic Atheist"?.....or Christian Atheist? If one is Agnostic....or Atheist....then one should just say so. Really...just curious. If we are going to label ourselves and we all have the right to do so, then some sort of definition may be in order, especially if participating on this site. It is ok to be a Catholic who is struggling with the "faith"....if that is where you are at?....or to be an Agnostic, or Atheist who is struggling with the concept of "God"...that is OK too.

          • Loreen Lee

            Yeah! That was the first label I gave myself, because I was raised a Catholic and have never been excommunicated, so formally I'm a Catholic for life. Then I thought of calling myself a naturalist-believer, after the philosopher Habermas, who wrote book Between Naturalism and Religion. Then Paul Rimmer posted his blog on various distinctions within atheism, and I experimented with these labels trying to figure out where I would put Nietzsche. I have also labelled myself an agnostic, in deference to the scientific definition of knowledge and knowing being confined to science. I would like to give up on labels completely. Psychologically, for instance I would have trouble determining the appropriateness of labels from Schizophrenia to PTS, and if there is no stigma at least attached to the religious labels, they do confine you within a 'box'.
            Thanks for directing me back to Buddhism. It's like when you read a book again after being put to rest for a decade or so. Same with my venture back to Catholicism, but the purpose there is an 'overcoming' as well as learning experience.
            So if you're looking for labels, my name is Loreen. I'm pretty used to that one! grin grin.

          • Loreen Lee

            P.S. Occasionally I feel like I haven't got a 'self'. So the 'labels' are a means to try an 'identify' 'me', and maybe try to figure out 'where I "belong".

    • Robert Caponi

      As indicated in the article, it's not an "argument" that bears a syllogistic formulation, you can either take it or leave it, as it is neither objectively valid nor invalid (the theist argument that there is too much joy and beauty in the world for there not to be a God is in fact the obverse of the atheist argument that there is too much suffering and ugliness in the world for there to be a God— you're free to take or leave either one as it accords with your own experience, and reason alone will not lead you towards nor away from either.)

      • David Nickol

        the theist argument that there is too much joy and beauty in the world for there not to be a God is in fact the obverse of the atheist argument that there is too much suffering and ugliness in the world for there to be a God

        I disagree. The argument that evil in the world leads to the conclusion that an all-good, all-powerful God does not exist seems to me a refutation of Christian theology. A good argument about evil in the world being an argument against God's existence doesn't depend on the amount of evil in the world. One child suffering needlessly is an argument against the existence of God, and it is a logical argument, not an argument based on feelings. An all-good, all-powerful God would not create a world in which only one child suffered needlessly, even if the rest of the people were deliriously happy. Of course, Christians have made many arguments as to why no suffering is needless and/or directly attributable to God.

      • It is an argument in the logical sense. It is a valid argument. It s extremely weak because it is unsound in my view. I have taken it, and criticized it. No one yet has disputed my criticism.

  • David Nickol

    This "argument" has a certain persuasive power, although I personally would not have chosen Johnny Cash.

    But of course it takes a certain category of personal experience and associates it with God when there are many, many other categories of personal experience with which one might do the same. What about depression? What about horror? What about boredom, dread, or anxiety? What about the feeling you get when you see films about the Holocaust such as The Sorrow and the Pity or Night and Fog?

    • Loreen Lee

      Some of these experiences might be considered as examples of the sublime in the philosophy of Kant. Even in the philosophy of Rudolf Otto in his book 'The Idea of the Holy', a transcendent experience is related not only to 'awe' inspiring experiences of great beauty, but as well to those of horror. The reality that the human response to such experience contains within it a certain capacity for detachment is central to the thesis. This would explain for instance why we do not remove ourselves from the theater in the midst of the horror movie, but presents a problematic when difficult experiences in life can produce difficult psychological effects, for example such 'mental illness?' as PTSD.

      Experiences of transcendence can readily be related to abstract categories. Indeed it is this capacity for sapient knowledge/understanding which Kant following Aristotle identifies with the definition of the human as homo sapien.

      I grant the atheist argument a point however, in that the argument from Johnny Cash needs to acknowledge the fact that the monotheistic religions are only one of many alternative interpretations (such as Hinduism and Buddhism) .which attempt to give an account of what constitutes inner (aesthetic) experience..

    • Steve Law

      For my part it was horror and despair that led me to God (although I am unaffiliated - not a catholic or regular churchgoer). I'd seen friends who had self-destructed and thrown their lives away or succumbed to wild passions and base instincts causing great harm to those around them, and I was deeply troubled by meaninglessness and human evil and the sometimes unavoidable but seemingly wholly unbearable suffering of the innocent - especially when deliberately imposed upon them by the selfish and sadistic. The problem wasn't intellectual - it made perfect sense that in a random contingent universe bad shit happened - but emotional, or perhaps spiritual. The only thing, it seemd to me, that could stand against such horrors was God: that somehow and somewhere there was an answer to such suffering and that eventually all would be made good and well.
      This by itself didn't convince me that there was a God, but it made me explore the possibility, and after much reading and pondering and hovering around awkwardly in church doorways I had some mild spiritual experiences (whatever that means) that seemed to be an answer: a sense of a being of eternal patience and of sadness and joy all blended together into a infinite, timeless glory. And of the paramount importance and meaning of taking a stand and doing the right thing. (Not that I'm out there at the cutting edge saving the sick and wounded, but I have people around me in my family and community and I try to do my bit).

      So not an answer that I can put easily put into words but satisfying and surprising and strangely durable. My point being that all the bad stuff can lead to God too.

      • Loreen Lee

        We can "know" 'God' in both His presence, and his absence.

      • David Nickol

        The question I was trying to raise was—to put it very simply—if we look at the good things and conclude there must be a God, why don't we look at the bad things and assume there must also be an anti-God? If, as Christopher Hitchens says, we have a sense that there is something "beyond the material," why would that sense lead to the conclusion that there is one all-good, all-powerful God?

        • Loreen Lee

          Sympathy with the Devil: Rolling Stones.

    • This "argument" has a certain persuasive power, although I personally would not have chosen Johnny Cash.

      Who/what would you have chosen?

      • David Nickol

        Maybe the ocean.

  • GCBill

    When I read 20 Arguments For God's Existence, I couldn't help but think "Seriously?" in response to the Argument from Aesthetic Experience. With regard to this argument, Kreeft said, "You either see this one or you don't." In my judgment, his version of the argument offers no reason to think that the conclusion follows from the single premise. The only thing I "saw" was a non-sequitur.

    This article does a better job in fleshing out the logical sequence, and in doing so avoids looking silly, but I'm still not convinced it's a good argument. I'm told that I "protest too much" for not thinking that such a powerful emotional response can have a material basis - but why not? Material substances are capable of producing profound experiences within humans, as evidenced by the use of psychoactive drugs both in conjunction with and separately from religious ritual, and by electrical stimulation of the temporoparietal junction. In light of such phenomena, I think the association between profound emotional experience and nonmaterialism is less supported than intuition suggests.

    Also, I just have to throw this out there: I'm not entirely against the idea of "basic beliefs," but I think belief in the Christian God is a really poor candidate for basic-beliefhood. Unambiguously basic beliefs, like our belief in other minds, appear across all cultures without exception. Belief in the Christian God, or even in any monotheistic God, only arises within certain cultural contexts. The necessity of those contexts for the production of God-belief speaks strongly against the notion that God-belief is basic. After all, if it were, why wouldn't we see it everywhere like we do with belief in other minds?

    • Tim Dacey

      I too do not necessarily endorse reformed epistemology's notion of a "properly basic belief", or at least with regards to Christian beliefs. I know Plantinga leaves open the possibility that belief in, for example, the Trinity could be 'Basic' in some sense but I think this is wrong. However, I don't think (though I'd need to review the literature) Plantinga, Alston, Wolterstorff, etc. are really arguing that *specific* Christian beliefs are properly basic. If that were the case, then they'd have a whole lot of explaining to do about God's grace and revelation (i.e., why do we need grace or revelation if Christian belief is properly basic?). I think what they are arguing is that certain *Theistic* beliefs are properly basic (e.g., omnipotence).

      That being said, I have grown fond of another foundationalist view known as phenomenal conservatism. If you're unfamiliar with it, here is a rough sketch.

      PC: If it seems to S that p, then, in the absence of defeaters, S is justified (to some degree) to belief that p.

      I'd be interested in what you think and furthermore, if you think that one can have non-inferential knowledge(?)

  • Michael Murray

    I thought Catholic marriages were for life ? Instead you want to take Cash singing about his adulterous relationship as proof of God's existence ?

    On July 18, 1951, while in Air Force training, Cash met 17-year-old Vivian Liberto at a roller skating rink in her native San Antonio. They dated for three weeks, until Cash was deployed to Germany for a three-year tour. During that time, the couple exchanged hundreds of pages of love letters.[29] On August 7, 1954, one month after his discharge, they were married at St. Ann's Roman Catholic Church in San Antonio. The ceremony was performed by her uncle, Father Vincent Liberto. They had four daughters: Rosanne, Kathy, Cindy and Tara. Liberto stated that Cash's drug and alcohol abuse as well as constant touring, affairs with other women, and his close relationship with June Carter led her to file for divorce in 1966.[citation needed]

    • David Nickol

      None of that means that the emotions felt and expressed by Johnny Cash for June Carter were not real.

      • Michael Murray

        Of course not. Just an interesting contrast between Catholic aesthetics and Catholic ethics. Perhaps just as hell is no longer the ring of fire I was taught about as a kid adultery is no longer a big deal either.

        • stevegbrown

          Adultery is still a big deal. I think it's more about the soul's thirst for beauty and not just beautiful things but the beauty behind the beauty.
          Evelyn Waugh a Catholic writer wrote Brideshead Revisited and Graham Greene (also a Catholic) wrote The End of the Affair. One novel treat the taudry and the other, the unfaithful spouse yet both show the workings of grace on the individual.

        • cminca

          It isn't just Catholics.
          David Green can evidently be appalled by the thought of paying for his employee's insurance (which then may pay for contraception) while at the same time importing container loads of merchandise from China--a stridently anti-religious society which has, in the past, forced contraception and abortions.
          I'd say that is an "interesting contrast".

      • Michael Murray

        I guess I also wonder how far you can get from the profundity of the emotion alone. Don't they have to spring from an ethical act ? What if his love for June Carter was a temptation by Satan ? What if he was singing about his gay lover ? Would the profundity of the emotion still be proofs of God ?

        • stevegbrown

          You raise an interesting point. Thomas Aquinas treats a similar point in the question how can a morally deficient individual create something beautiful? The answer is "yes they can" because of the object in question. In the case of moral the object is one's own will, or internal object. In the case of crafting some beautiful object or creative piece, the object is external and the object is not one's own will. Nor is the development of the skill involved dealing with the individual's interior life, so to speak.

          • Michael Murray

            But surely in this case the object is a song about leaving his wife and four daughters for another woman. How can a song about a sinful action point to God just because it is aesthetically pleasing. If he couldn't manage to live with his wife he should have remained celibate. That's the advice given by the Church to homosexuals who have sexual desires. If he sang of his celibate and unfulfilled love for June Carter that would be a little more profound.

          • stevegbrown

            Hey, I totally agree with you there. Could have used a better example. Perhaps the writer was unaware of Cash's personal story.

          • Loreen Lee

            Gee! First Mozart. Then Johnny Cash!

  • Danny Getchell

    Not what I expected!

    I thought the argument for God from Johnny Cash was gonna be:

    "I fell into a burning ring of fire......"

    • Michael Murray

      I wondered if Boy named Sue was really a theological discussion on the problem of evil. Cash meet's his Father and complains about all the suffering he caused him ? His Father explains why the suffering makes him strong and they struggle -- metaphorically of course.

      • stevegbrown

        So then, what does the can o' wup a** represent?

  • Robert Caponi

    As informal a "proof" of God as it is, the thrust of the argument from beauty is still often misunderstood. It is not the mere fact that beautiful things exist that provides evidence for God (Dawkins helpfully informs us, "God didn't write the Heiliger Dankgesang, Beethoven did!"— Gee, you don't say, Dr. Dick?) It is not even the experience of beauty that provides such evidence, it is the fact we have such a capacity for experiencing beauty that provides the evidence. It is an argument from apparent design, I suppose, softened at the edges by the fact that nobody can say for sure how the lines are drawn.

    "Why can't the beautiful just be beautiful?" the atheist asks, in keeping with their love affair with the brute fact, "We can appreciate the beauty and wonder of the world without having to postulate God as its Creator." But of course, given the materialist worldview, beauty and wonder are not things with exoteric existence beyond ourselves, they are simply subjective ways of experiencing an indifferent world that might just as well be ugly and boring. Not only does materialism fail to provide an ontological basis for the existence of beauty, I don't think think it can even provide a satisfactory emotional basis for the experience of beauty.

    If beauty has no real existence beyond ourselves, we can't have the experience of the beautiful without ultimately having our eyes cast back on ourselves, as the inheritors of some strange evolutionary quirk that allows us to have this experience. The transcendent, sublime experience curdles into self-objectification. When we view a beautiful painting, or listen to a beautiful piece of music, or take a walk in the woods at dawn, we are only manipulating our own evolutionary triggers; the aesthetic experience becomes an act of onanism, an act of "getting ourselves off".

    With God as both designer of the world, and ground of moral and aesthetic value, and with man as he-who-was-created-in-the-image of He-who-creates, however, the experience and creation of beauty are salvaged from this onanism. Beauty has real existence beyond ourselves, and the experience of beauty becomes significant in the truest sense of the word. We can look at the beautiful with both eyes cast forward, and recieve it with open arms. It is a gift that can be fully recieved, because it is a gift that has been fully given.

    • stevegbrown

      I think C.S.Lewis made the excellent point that often times in beholding beauty the individual may get a sense of feeling homesick, or intense longing.
      That kind of beauty is a manifestation of the immaterial.
      Another great writer Dietrich Von Hilldebrand also wrote about this.

      • I stumbled into Alice von Hildebrand last year in a CVS parking lot in New Rochelle, NY where she lives. She was half as tall as me and twice as sharp!

      • Max Driffill

        Emotions are not really a very good tools to investigate reality. Having a strong emotional response toward a stimuli implies a lot more about your psychology than it does (often) reality. Certainly your feelings of homesickness fail to imply anything about "the immaterial." Beauty can indeed inspire longing but there are plenty of mundane, earthbound explanations for this. Beauty also inspires envy, and resentment. It can inspire admiration. Utilizing flowery language and concentrating on only the positive spin, limits the analysis. Indeed it makes the examination of beauty slightly shallow.

    • Susan

      "Why can't the beautiful just be beautiful?" the atheist asks, in keeping with their love affair with the brute fact

      (Respectfully) says the theist who postulates a specific unevidenced deity as a brute fact. What do you think this sound like to non-catholics all the way to atheists?

      If beauty has no real existence beyond ourselves, we can't have the experience of the beautiful without ultimately having our eyes cast back on ourselves

      How does that follow?

      as the inheritors of some strange evolutionary quirk that allows us to have this experience.

      Let me rephrase that without the editorial framing.

      as an eye blink in the history of the universe, part of a continuum on this tiny little planet that developed enough material brain to look back and have some understanding that we are part of it, IF we pay attention.

      No. It's not all about us. Beauty is in our brains and when we see it, it doesn't mean Yahwehjesus. Quite the opposite for me.

      Life is beautiful and terrible and strange. So are we.

      You can't just squeeze Yahwehjesus in there. What you consider divine revelation is just human assertions invoking special pleading. MOST people on this planet don't connect beauty or the stomach dropping awe many of us invariably feel with Yahwehjesus.

      Our feelings of beauty do not equal Yahwehjesus. Yours, maybe. Not mine.

      You can't just push emotional buttons and say it's evidence for your choice of deity.

    • Michael Murray

      When we view a beautiful painting, or listen to a beautiful piece of music, or take a walk in the woods at dawn, we are only manipulating our own evolutionary triggers; the aesthetic experience becomes an act of onanism, an act of "getting ourselves off".

      Well I guess I can't speak for all atheists but when I'm in an art gallery or walking in the woods bush I try to keep my hands out of my pants. Not that I actually have anything against masturbation I just think there is a time and place.

    • Robert - Thank you for comment! I couldn't agree more. Steve mentioned CS Lewis in reply; your comment also made me think of Lewis, but in particular "The Abolition of Man." He begins that book with a quote from another book, an anecdote about two tourists describing a waterfall as "sublime":

      When the man said "This is sublime," he appeared to be making a remark about the waterfall... Actually... he was not making a remark about the waterfall, but a remark about his own feelings. What he was saying was really I have feelings associated in my mind with the word “Sublime”, or shortly, I have sublime feelings.

      We see in short order that, regarding ontological support to the lived experience of beauty, this line of thinking seems to be a non-starter. It is, as you aptly put it, an onanistic domination of the object by the conscious subject, the beholder's emptying of the beautiful of any beauty-in-itself to further inflate his or her beauty-for-itself (to borrow existential terms). It's the very subjectivism that phenomenology ("to the things themselves!" Husserl proclaimed) tries to disentangle us from. (Incidentally, the filmmaker making some of the most beautiful films today - Terrence Malick - also studied and taught phenomenology. But I digress!)

      It's really striking that Lewis begins a heavy book about the end of man with this short little anecdote, the almost imperceptible transference of beauty from a waterfall itself back upon the person observing the waterfall. Who cares? But this example really underscores the pitfalls of the modern mentality, precisely because beauty - as the beautiful - is so precious to each and every one of us. To quote a recent Apple ad (which snags it from Dead Poets Society): "Poetry, beauty, romance, love – these are what we stay alive for..."

      • Robert Caponi

        Thanks, Matthew. Reading over my comment after I posted it, I was afraid my meaning wasn't clear, but you understood it perfectly.

        Your article concerns beauty as found in the artistic expressions of humans, but it applies just as much- or perhaps even moreso- to the beauty of the natural world, the appreciation of which gains so much more depth if apprehended as expression rather than happenstance. What I have seen no Christian apologist take note of is the fairly recent, apparent attempt of new atheists to co-opt the beauty of the natural world as an asset to their cause.

        Now of course, everything else I've said notwithstanding, the atheist has every right to appreciate the beauty of the natural world as a theist, but it seems intuitively obvious to me that if this beauty were to compel a person's beliefs in one direction or the other, it would be *towards* a belief in a benign Creator rather than away from it. Atheists seem to have decided differently, and you'll see it in IFLS-type facebook graphics which use Hubble images (which are for atheist "inspirational graphics" what crepuscular rays are for Christian inspiration graphics) and 3-D projections of the expansion of the Universe to advance the notion that Science >>>>> God (Of course, I don't need to unpack all the unexamined assumptions here.) I'm mystified as to why anyone would think it should make me believe in God *less*.

  • God is beyond human experience. We know God exists by our experience of things, none of which is God. The claim by Williiam Lane Craig, "you can know God exists wholly apart from arguments, by personally experiencing him" is false. Even 1 John 20 says so, "whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen."

    • stevegbrown

      Both Craig and John (and the Church states it) imply that any sincere enquiry into the truth is always accompanied by grace. Pure nature doesn't exist.

    • The claim by Williiam Lane Craig, "you can know God exists wholly apart from arguments, by personally experiencing him" is false.

      By that line of reasoning, Saul's falling from his horse on the road to Damascus and subsequent blindness must've been an epileptic fit - and his entire conversion built on sensory disturbances - because he couldn't have come to know God by a personal experience!

      I know that was not your point - and I think your overall point is correct - but I think we risk overemphasizing God's transcendence to the detriment of his imminence (and vice versa). The key to resolving an oscillation between the two is a sacramental view of nature, the recognition that in and through created things we can come to know the Creator (which you say in your comment). As Steve points out, "pure nature" doesn't exist; grace and nature interpenetrate.

      But if your point was that God is not reducible to the natural order, and that we can't fully know or see God in this lifetime, of course I agree.

      • I think we all agree
        that to know God through personal experience is not to know God by personally experiencing
        him. The latter is only possible in the Beatific Vision, which no one but
        Jesus, experienced in this life. Also, I believe very few of us have visions. The
        observation by Pascal in Pensées
        789, quoted in “Fides et Ratio”, clearly expresses our typical situation, “Just as
        Jesus Christ went unrecognized among men, so does his truth appear without
        external difference among common modes of thought. So too does the Eucharist
        remain among common bread.” Yet, Pascal had to have grace to assent to this.

  • Danny Getchell

    If Johnny Cash is an argument for God ..... then, certainly, dubstep is an argument for blind, meaningless nihilism.

    • GCBill

      Damn, now I actually feel the weight of the aesthetic argument.

      Might just be the bass, though.

  • Michael Murray

    If we are thinking about the movie this is my favourite scene


    Does anyone know if that really happened like that ?

    • Susan

      If we are thinking about the movie this is my favourite scene

      Thank you, Michael. Very nice scene.

      Does anyone know if that really happened like that?

      I doubt it but I don't know. Looks like storytelling.

      If you can connect people to the story, the story becomes more true than "really happened:".

      Hollywood knows that. Works almost every time. They didn't pull it out of their navels.

      People commit to stories if they resonate. It doesn't mean they really happened.

      I hope one of us can look into it tomorrow. Good question.

    • I love this scene. In the States we have a radio station "K-Love" that by and large plays corny, predictable songs about how awesome, mighty, and great God is. Of course, none of the songs sound very awesome, mighty, or great - and if that's a preview of heaven, it leaves a lot to be desired! The truth of the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection is that God enters into the darkest corners of our disorder and despair to be with us and ultimately to pull us out. Late Johnny Cash wouldn't work on K-Love. His covers of Soundgarden, Beck, Dylan, Cohen, even Nine Inch Nails were "something real," the kind of songs that "truly save people."

  • Loreen Lee

    I posted this a little while ago as an edit to another long philosophical 'dissertation'. I must be heading in a 'new direction'. I've obviously become 'confused'.

    Edit: Whoops! I'm confusing Cash with Tennessee Ernie Ford.
    Actually I am finding a lot of contradictions in my thinking today. I
    don't usually tell stories like my unusual experience with that young
    'vagabond' I met this morning. I was even confused about the relation
    of his personal experience to the reaction of my friend to his 'noise'.
    For some reason that meeting had quite an 'impact' on me. He was an
    exceptionally intuitive, intelligent young man. How could he have come
    to the conclusion that he was neither good nor bad? His talk about
    Indian spirituality. All very interesting. I'm thinking that through
    the dialogues here that I'm going in the direction of attempting to be
    more 'scientific' rather than philosophical about 'spiritual' issues.
    (i.e. examination of individual experiences rather than 'rational'!!!

  • Max Driffill

    Why can't the author just say, "man, that Johnny Cash picked and occasionally wrote music that was touching and beautiful." That would not be putting any cart before any horse.

    Beauty and insight in to the human condition aren't transcendent experiences except along the most boring of that word's definitions (exceptional, not ordinary). It isn't beyond human experience, it is human experience. When I look at a piece of art, or landscape I find beautiful, or another human, or a breathtaking bit of writing full of insight into the human condition (say The Iliad ) i'm not seeing an argument for gods in these things (that would be imagining evidence where there is none), I am simply being moved by very human psychological levers. All great art can be evidence for is that art sometimes moves humans for a variety of different reasons.
    Do I really need to invoke gods to justify why I am moved by Priam's plea for his son's body? Do gods help us when contemplating Mr. Parker's problems of paying rent, and managing the great responsibility that must (as his uncle told him) come with his great power? Do we need gods to understand why it might not be a good idea to take our guns town, or name a boy Sue? Must we resort to gods to explain why I am moved by the sight of lush ecologies? I think the answer is an obvious no. The evolution of a common human psychology is enough. Trying to demonstrate gods with art is asking too much of art, and cheapening it, in the process.

    • cminca

      You said it better than anyone could have said it! And, frankly, I'm surprised that your posting survives.

      • Max Driffill

        I can find nothing in what I wrote that might provoke the deletion hammer.

        • cminca

          I'm not sure that matters anymore......

      • Cminca - The moderators at SN only aim to delete posts that cross the line in terms of charity and fairness, not posts that they disagree with. I know there's been some confusion about that in the past - and we probably haven't been perfect in executing that principle - but that's the whole goal here: to make SN a uniquely friendly place for dialogue about the big questions on the internet. Max's comment was perfectly within bounds.

        • cminca

          I'm speaking from personal experience. Repeated personal experience. When my posts were completely "within bounds".

          I have requested, and I've seen other people request, reasons for our deleted posts. Brandon has never seen fit to respond. The same is true for people being banned from the site.

          I received your response because Disqus notified me of it. I'm made a decision not to bother with SN anymore. Brandon has clearly received his marching orders from Fr. Barron and is responding as a good "company man". Others can make their own decisions about SN--but I'm tired of wasting my time.

        • JB

          This is one of the biggest loads of bs ever uttered on this site. And that's no small feat.

    • GCBill

      Your interpretation of naturalistic beauty is incredibly similar to Robert Caponi's (above), yet you frame it so positively, whereas he thinks it's stiflingly self-objectifying. It's fascinating when two sincere people can agree perfectly on the logic of a position while disagreeing completely on its valence.

      (I'm emotionally inclined toward your positive interpretation, btw.)

    • David Nickol

      This makes a great deal of sense to me.

    • stevegbrown

      Very well put... however I disagree.
      It's not that we need "gods" so to speak, but that in experiencing beauty I realize a need that points to something way beyond, and the here and now is not enough.
      The heart has the tendancy to address beauty as a "YOU", who are you.
      Even the atheist Giacomo Leopardi expressed this in his poems, and he was passionalte about it. Read "Hymn of a Nomadic Shepherd in Asia". In it he acknowledges this need yet conveys a hint of sadness at not having found it.

      The evolution of human psychology is not enough because the human heart is, in fact, irriducible because its object is inexhaustible.

      • Max Driffill


        Let me respond to some of the problems I find in your formulation of beauty. Its possible that agreement will still be thin on the ground between us afterward, but hopefully you will better see where I am coming from and why I disagree, profoundly, with your ideas of beauty.

        Very well put... however I disagree.

        I guess I can't please everyone. ;)

        It's not that we need "gods" so to speak, but that in experiencing beauty I realize a need that points to something way beyond, and the here and now is not enough.

        Generally this opening is quite vague. The experience of beauty you say is "something way beyond." You think in implies that, "the here and now is not enough." It is important to note that your phrases don't generalize well. I have no idea what "way beyond" might mean, or how beauty might imply that here and now is not enough. I can grasp that you can be quite moved by a beautiful thing, but there is no clear line from a beautiful thing to your conclusions. There is also an idea embedded in your opening paragraph which hints that you think that beauty is one thing, and not a diverse set of ideas that we house under the convenient label beauty.

        Beauty isn't a single ineffable thing, the reasons why we call a thing beautiful can be apprehended. Quite apart from pointing away from the here and now, beauty seems to profoundly guide us to the here and now. It focuses us, very often on the object, person etc we find beautiful. We even know a bit more about why we find certain faces and landscapes and bodies more beautiful than others thanks to the clever work of psychologists. Many of these criteria of beauty, of people and of landscape are cross cultural and do more than hint at a shared psychology which has evolved to identify important land marks in a world governed by selective pressures.

        We use the word beauty though for more than just faces, paintings and landscapes. We use it for utterly, here and now events that have almost nothing to do with beauty when applied to bodies and landscapes. Beauty is a concept that can also be employed to express admiration for, efficiency, smoothness, ease of performance and practiced technique (this usage can be employed in an appreciation for all kinds of art).

        Here is a thing I find beautiful (See video).

        Muneta moves with practiced ease. His ashiwaza (foot sweep technique) is not only powerful, but it is also efficient, technical and smooth. I feel comfortable calling this throw beautiful. How could this be something "way beyond," or more than the "here and now?" Everything about the beauty of this instance of sublime ashiwaza is rooted in the here and now. My appreciation is rooted in very human understanding. I know how hard Muneta had to work to develop that throw. To many who don't know, they won't see the movement as beautiful. They will just see a big man heaving another big man down. Not all beauty is like that, but certainly a very large class of beauty isn't baffling to our conscious minds. It is an appreciation of skill, and technique.

        The heart has the tendancy to address beauty as a "YOU", who are you.

        This may be the case for you, but I am not sure it is the case for everyone else, and I am not sure why that should necessarily mean anything even if it were true. Humans assign agency to a well established fault. We think, or act as if we think, our computers will
        respond, cursing and begging when they don't process our apps as fast as we would like. There is also a problem of the word heart which implies some duality within human psychology that evidence just doesn't support. More about that in a bit. For now think on that judo clip. There is no "you" with that beauty. It is not baffling. It does not exist as some external other. The beauty focuses us on the fact that there is just Muneta, who has trained in Judo probably since he was a very young boy. Even baffling beauty is not a you, so much as a place or thing that moves a person to awe and wonder. Beauty can inspire contemplation, and wonder. That is no guarantee that the wonder and contemplation will lead to fruitful conclusions.

        The evolution of human psychology is not enough because the human heart is, in fact, irriducible because its object is inexhaustible.

        There is no such thing as a human heart that chooses things or identifies things. These choices and emotions are products of our brains, as such they are products of our psychology. And if they are products of our psychology they are part of a shared suite of human adaptations and mental sieves that are shared across cultures, owing to quite recent shared common ancestors. The kinds of things we find beautiful will be and are a product of complex pathways in the human brain, and produced by stimuli in the here and now.

        I have no idea what it means to say that human psychology is not enough because its object is inexhaustible. Perhaps you could unpack that.

    • Hey Max - Thanks for the great comment. And man, that Johnny cash picked and occasionally wrote music that was touching and beautiful!

      But now, about that word, "beautiful..."

      I think your and others' comments reveal very particular antecedent assumptions about the beautiful and how it might relate to God. In other comments I saw these phrases used in reference to beauty:

      "attribute...to a 'creator'"

      "associate these with a deity"

      "slapping on a label of God"

      In your comment you use similar language:

      Do I really need to invoke gods to justify___...Do gods help us when contemplating ___...Do we need gods to understand ___...Must we resort to gods to explain ____?

      What does this language imply? That beauty is a self-contained, natural experience to which an external, abstract concept - namely God - is affixed in order to render the experience justified, explained, understood, grounded, whatever.

      That doesn't align with the understanding of beauty I'm proposing - and maybe the key is to consider it first as a theoretical framework.

      What I see is that, paradoxically, the experience of beauty is more redolent of transcendence the more we let ourselves be overwhelmed witnesses to the "thing itself". Jean-Luc Marion's "Being Given" is a good tome to get lost in on this; but in short, the "saturated phenomenon" of beauty calls us out into the deep before we can frame it. It's not as if the God needs to be "attached" to or "associated with" the purity of beauty after the fact like some clunky artificial limb. In fact, it's not a move we can make at all. It's that beauty, in that moment of revealing itself, participates in something transcendent - which again, even Hitch had trouble denying - and that this something we can very naturally (though very hesitatingly) begin to think of as God.

      (By the way, I think the distance between this view of beauty/God and the view of beauty/God atheists are quick to dismiss has lot this has to do with a certain understanding of God as uber-transcendent deity wrought by the Reformation and Enlightenment, replacing a sacramental understanding of the cosmos which Catholics never stopped holding to, and which is starting to look more comely in light of new discoveries in physics and so on. The disconnect on aesthetics is also there in discussions about morality, where atheists consistently attack a "divine command theory" or morality which Catholics generally don't ascribe to.)

      Now that's the framework - the question is, should you buy it? It may sound coarse and even snobbish for Kreeft to say in his synopsis of the argument from beauty "you either see this one or you don't," but I think unfortunately that's sort of the shaky territory we're on here. I can't out-argue you on this, and I also don't pretend to "see" beautiful things more "accurately" than you do. Everyone experiences different things differently - and of course, you can reduce anything in the abstract if you're a committed reductionist. The question is, how honest a move is that under the gaze of beauty? I can only report what I've experienced in its throes - that it not only gets harder and harder to reduce the experience to material constituents, but it gets harder and harder to deny that God is involved. I share that not as an apologist but as a fellow human being!

      Now after getting through that long and winding monologue I think we deserve a beer. Is it 5 o'clock where you are?

      • Max Driffill

        If I was in the neighborhood, and not trying to make weight for a competition, I would be up (or is it down?) for a beer. You may have persuaded me better with your piece if you had made, "The Argument from Guinness."
        Good day.

  • David Nickol

    It seems to me this line of thought, based on all the available "evidence," would lead to some kind of dualistic view of existence where good and evil existed at best in equal measures, and at worst with evil predominating. Everyone dies, after all, and the evidence for that is overwhelmingly greater than the evidence for "life" after death. If you pay attention to the news, in addition to the stories of war, persecution, and crime, every once in a while you come across something so horrific or ghastly that it's "numinous" or "transcendent" in a way that is the flip side of the coin of the feelings produced by great beauty or great art. Human beings are occasionally perpetrators of great evil that it seems to go beyond what you would think human beings, even at their worst, would be capable of. (I have a few examples in mind, but I don't even want to write about them. They are things I wish I could forget I ever heard about.) Christians may try to explain this as the work of Satan, but of course a God who permits Satan to wield such power and influence in a world allegedly already redeemed by Jesus is a God whose tolerance of evil is difficult or impossible to explain.

    • Loreen Lee

      OK. I'm going to dare to put my 'atheism' on the line. And on a Catholic blog. After all this is the age of science, of psychology, psychiatry and neuro science. We are now very familiar with such terms as the reflective consciousness, etc. etc. As a response to experiences of numinous wonder, the sublime in Kant's power of judgment, (as I mentioned in a previous combox) the accompanying sense of detachment (whether in response to beauty/sublimity or horror) could be related to this 'dual' aspect of consiousness, could it not. To extend this thesis, could not the voices in our heads, be identified with gods, and other spiritual entities. In extreme cases the detachment could be severe enough to be classified as dissociation, and other psychological characteristics. As well, the imaginative faculties, identified in the 'free play of imagination' by Kant, could also be a factor in creating 'explanations' in response to these 'transcendental' episodes. We could even be 'possessed' by such 'demons' to the point where these become unconscious or subconscious agencies which dominate what could otherwise be recognized as 'normal' 'manifestations' of those unique sapient 'powers' that define us as 'homo sapiens'. Enough said. I don't want to be 'excommunicated'. Thank you.

    • Loreen Lee

      I'm attempting to remember the legal term whereby you exonerate yourself of responsibility. (My 'old age')

      My comments do not deny the efficacy of such concepts as 'exorcism' or 'made in the image of God'. I am merely attempting to put into use the discoveries about the polarities within language, as for instance in the philosophy of Derrida. Thank you.

    • Loreen Lee

      I have a 'part-time' job. I am a self-appointed secretary to my son who is a researcher in mental health at Johns Hopkins. Especially in the last ten years incredible developments have occurred in this area. I merely keep him posted on the alerts which spread this news within the media. I have no difficulty relating to the physical analysis of brain mechanisms.
      What is difficult is relating what I understand about these findings to my background within the respective languages of religion and philosophy. This reality of the barriers to understanding that exist because of different vocabularies, is I believe further compounded by the intricate complexity of 'consciousness and brain' themselves/itself. It reminds me of the dialogue we had here on Plato's paradox. (Can't spell name, - Euthro, or something). I hesitate in my comments to commit myself to one particular view, i.e. the scientific, not only because it is a fledgling study, but because I do not want to underestimate the potentials of consciousness or it's relation to the physical, (if indeed you are willing to accept such a distinction.)

    • Loreen Lee

      I should also like to note that I understand that
      meanings can change with respect to different concepts, and within
      distinct particular worldviews or philosophies. I have not been harsh
      for instance on the 'idea' of exorcism, because through my reading I am
      aware that many different approaches to 'mental illness' can bear
      results. Some of the practices of aboriginal peoples for instance could
      be considered similar to what I imagine would constitute the ritual of
      exorcism, and they can be very successful.. Talk therapy in today's psychiatric practice has proven in
      many cases to be more 'healing' than psychotic drugs. And of course the
      practice of a secularized Buddhist meditation is now a basic therapy.
      The exorcism would suggest to the patient perhaps a connection to
      dissociative elements in the brain, producing a consciousness of same
      which would be part of a healing process.
      With regard to the other
      concept, within polarities we can think of ourselves both as 'made in
      the image of God' interpreted as a realistic religious statement or as
      being affected by dominant images within the mind, or in contrast we may
      have a common perspective that the reverse is also true: that we
      'make' God/god in our 'image'.