||[Apr. 8th, 2006|09:26 am]
"Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth." |
Sartre realized that God did not exist, and thus freed himself from submission to the idiotic moral code contrived by society. Neither good nor evil has any substance in the mind of the existentialist philosopher. Man is an accident—some quasi-intelligent monstrosities of nature, able to observe the universe, yet some are such imbeciles as to believe it has meaning. In asphyxiating God, Sartre offered freedom, not only to himself but to all humanity. But is freedom an accurate description of this state? If every man holds an equal share in the freedom granted by the revelation that purpose is a mere invention, what binding standard can direct our lives? Each man is left to defend himself and himself only. He is responsible for every action he takes, yet he will pay for the actions of others. And there is nothing he can do.
However, we Christians have the answer to this dilemma. Faith in God is a guarantee of objective universal truth. Life as we know it truly does have a purpose, not only an associated purpose for each individual but one for all. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength. This is the first commandment.” (Deuteronomy 6:5) To live under an objective standard, the only protection man has from Sartre’s hideous realization, is to live accordingly: in unconditional submission to that authority. Only through obedience to the will of God are we freed, but how does God makes His will known?
Some Christians today would answer that the Bible, God’s almighty Word, is our only source for infallible universal truth. “All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice, That the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.” (II Timothy 3:16-17) When asked a question about doctrine or morals today, a Christian may resort to a message they know from Scripture, claiming authority because he speaks indeed from God’s Word. However, an evolving society tends to complicate the question, evading the grasp of Biblical morality. Is contraception condemned by the Bible? One Christian will answer yes; another will answer a condemning no. However, a third person will say, “I see equivalent Biblical evidence to support either opinion.” A person may argue until out of breath, but the question remains: “Does the Bible support or condemn the use of contraception?” No matter how well debated, two contravening opinions can not both be true. Either contraception is a sin or it is not, but without an authoritative statement, we can not know. A sin is a sin whether we choose to believe or reject the idea, and lacking the ability to discern, many people are condemned by their own ignorance.
At this point we begin to fall back into the dilemma of subjectivism. Scripture undeniably must be interpreted, an actuality attested to by the fact that within Scripture itself there exists no explicit teaching of dogma. Many fundamental dogmas of the Christian faith—such as the doctrine of the Trinity, which has no explicit mention in Scripture—are defined by and accepted as an authoritative statement of interpretation. We arrive at many extra-biblical truths only by claiming that they follow logically from how we interpret what is stated in the Bible. So when a person says, “I believe in the teachings of the Bible” it must then be noted that this person is referring to a specific interpretation of the Bible based on private judgment. There is absolutely nothing wrong with believing Scripture to be an infallible standard of truth, but to isolate Scripture from an authoritative body which protects its inherent truth from fallacy promotes theological relativism within the Christian faith.
This is shown again and again throughout the history of the church. The heretics of the early centuries, having detached themselves from the teachings of the church, were known to quote from Scripture even more than the orthodox Christians. Unable to appeal to an authority, they could use only deceit through the perversion of the Scriptures to protect their doctrines. St. Vincent of Lerins, in his Commonitory writes:
"Do heretics also appeal to Scripture? They do indeed, and with a vengeance; for you may see them scamper through every single book of Holy Scripture… Whether among their own people, or among strangers, in private or in public, in speaking or in writing, at convivial meetings, or in the streets, hardly ever do they bring forward anything of their own which they do not endeavor to shelter under words of Scripture."
Vincent later to compares the use of unsubstantiated interpretations of Scripture to Satan’s temptation of Christ. “[Satan] has the answer ready, ‘For it is written;’ and forthwith he produces a thousand testimonies, a thousand examples, a thousand authorities from the Law, from the Psalms, from the apostles, from the Prophets” to deceive and destroy the faith of the believers. The church settled dispute not merely by an appeal to Scripture, for even the heretics, even Satan, has that. Rather, the disputes were settled by the church’s claim to having verifiable authority over the private judgment of the individuals. If not for that intrinsic authority, that God-granted supremacy, no dispute would have been settled; there would be as many “churches” as there are believers.
According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, the current number of Protestant denominations has exceeded 37,000, a frightening fact considering the command of St. Paul that there be no schisms. (I Corinthians 1:10) However, relativism inevitably leads to irreconcilable disputes, and without an earthly manifestation of God’s authority, even theism is unprotected from this fate. Relativism has cut us off from historic Christianity, and according to Philip Blosser, left us “reeling in the capricious and devastating winds of doctrine that have swept across the last five centuries.” Since no authority exists to objectively declare one right or wrong, our presuppositions assume that authority, leading us into incompatible factions.
If one finds himself disagreeing with his denomination, should he find another that agrees with him? Or should he submit to his church’s authority? He is left to face the question, “Which religious authorities are valid?” The appeal to Scripture no longer suffices as an authority at this point, since the very issue at hand is determining which theology is the Biblically sound. The Christian would at this point be forced into the tautological statement that “the only biblical authorities are those that are biblical”. Although the statement is true, it is unhelpful and, in fact, detrimental to the believer because he, having failed to recognize a pre-existing definitive authority, has now to choose only between two options: either to found his own denomination based on his interpretation, or to find another denomination that agrees with his interpretation. In either case, the believer has failed in his goal to keep Scripture as the highest authority because it has been subordinated to an external interpretation.
Apart from an auxiliary magisterial body to protect its inherent truth, the belief in a Scriptural authority is untenable. An overlooked, yet sufficiently conspicuous fact makes this obvious: Scripture has no inspired table of contents! Scripture simply is incapable of identifying itself as such, and aside from faith in a divinely guided administration to recognize specific writings as God’s infallible Word, how do we discern scripture from uninspired texts? If not for an infallible canon, the very foundation of our faith collapses, leaving us in no better a condition than the existentialist in defining purpose for our lives. We would be relying on an equally synthetic and chimerical authority to prescribe objective meaning.
However, this need not be the case. Through faith in God’s Holy anointed Church, the “pillar and ground of the truth,” the “Bride of Christ,” the divinely guided authority that Christ established on this earth, we may know, with certainty, that life has a purpose. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength. This is the first commandment.” (Deuteronomy 6:5) To love the Lord is to love His Church. “For where the Church is, there the Spirit of God is also; and where the Spirit of God is, there the Church is, and all grace. And the Spirit is truth.” The Lord Jesus Christ who says, “I am the …Truth,” (John 14:6) guaranteed His Spirit of truth to the His church to guide it into “all truth.” (John 16:13) To the leader of His church he gave the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven and with this, the authority to bind and loose as it shall be in heaven. (Matthew 16:19) The gates of hell shall never prevail against his eternally exalted Church. Glorify and praise God in obedience through the love of His blessed sacrament of truth and salvation: His divine court, the triumphant One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.