Boston College professor tackles God’s existence — and its proof
Peter Kreeft is in Ottawa over this weekend to deliver the annual Weston Lecture at Augustine College and other lectures. Throughout his talks will be the question, ‘ What difference does Jesus make?’ ROBERT SIBLEY reports.
Somebody is sure to ask: “ Does God exist, and how can you prove it?” Tonight, when philosopher Peter Kreeft delivers the annual Weston Lecture at Augustine College, the questioner — and the rest of the audience — will get an answer they won’t likely hear in the philosophy and sociology departments, much less the science laboratories, of the modern university.
Yes, Mr. Kreeft will say. And then, if past performances are any indication, he’ll provide an erudite, witty and user- friendly disquisition on the various arguments and proofs for the existence of a divine order. Perhaps he’ll even observe that we owe obedience to this order because it is both the source and end of all our meanings and purposes.
Words like “ obedience” and “ order” will probably shock the audience, particularly students, most of whom probably associate them with another unpopular word, “ authority.”
But then Mr. Kreeft’s speeches — he does about a dozen each year throughout North America — are made in the spirit of Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher who was famous for asking questions that prompted his listeners to examine their lives.
“ The philosophical depth that he brings to the moral debates that are central to our time is rare among our many culture critics and makes him wholly unafraid of the big topics,” says the news release announcing the lecture.
Indeed, you don’t get much bigger — or more potentially controversial — than the subject of tonight’s talk at St. Paul University Auditorium: “ The Purpose of Life in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.”
The lecture is the first of several Mr. Kreeft will give this weekend.
On Saturday, he is the keynote speaker at a one- day conference on “ The Purpose of Education,” during which he will give three talks: “ The idea of Christian Education,” “ Faith Seeking Understanding,” and “ Surviving University Education.”
The conference, sponsored by Augustine College and St. Timothy’s Classical Academy, is being held at the Ottawa Health Sciences Centre on Smyth Road.
Saturday evening, Mr. Kreeft will talk on “ The Passion, Death, and Resurrection of … the Church” Basilica.
On Sunday, he is scheduled to twice deliver a sermon titled “ A World without Easter” at the Wesleyan Church on Sunnyside Avenue during services that begin at 9 a. m.
Mr. Kreeft returns to St. Patrick’s Basilica on Sunday afternoon for a final lecture titled, appropriately enough, “ What Difference Does Jesus Make?”
Interestingly, it is a question that threads through Mr. Kreeft’s work as a whole, binding it together regardless of its eclectic wanderings.
After receiving his PhD from Fordham University in 1965, Mr. Kreeft joined the department of philosophy at Boston College, where he has taught for the past four decades. During his teaching career, he has taught subjects ranging from logic and epistemology to cosmology and metaphysics, from Greek and medieval philosophy to the modern thinkers, such as Heidegger and Teilhard de Chardin.
Most unusually, he has been willing to address topics that many academics prefer to avoid, including abortion as a philosophical problem, life after death, the existence of angels and the nature of heaven and hell.
This eclecticism is also evident in his 50 published books. Mr. Kreeft likes to challenge the intellectual shibboleths of our times, as a sampling of titles from the past couple of decades indicates: A Refutation of Moral Relativism; Everything
Patrick’s You Wanted to Know about Heaven … But were Afraid to Ask; Back to Virtue: Traditional Moral Wisdom for Modern Moral Confusion; The Unaborted Socrates: Socrates Debates Abortion and Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal’s Pensées. His most recent books are The Sea Within: Waves and the Meaning of All Things and Pocket Guide to the Meaning of Life.
The humour in some titles, as well as the provocation in others, is deliberate. Mr. Kreeft is no post- modern ironist. His work follows in the tradition of another defender of Christianity, C. S. Lewis: He is popular and profound, straightforward and serious. In fact, Mr. Kreeft says the English writer was a major inspiration. “ Lewis is the only author I ever have read whom I thought I could completely trust and completely understand.”
In his own biographical sketch, “ Hauled Aboard the Ark,” Mr. Kreeft describes a Calvinist upbringing in which he was taught to regard the Catholic Church with “ the utmost suspicion.”
His conversion to Catholicism was a slow process prepared by such things as a fondness for Gothic architecture, Gregorian chants, and illuminated manuscripts. He remembers visiting St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York as a 12- yearold and “ feeling like I was in heaven … and wondering why, if Catholics got everything else wrong, as I had been taught, they got beauty so right. How could falsehood and evil be so beautiful?”
Then, as a teenager, he read St. John of the Cross one summer.
“ I felt as if I had just come out of a small, comfortable cave, in which I had lived all my life, and found that there was an unsuspected world outside of incredible dimensions. Above all, the dimensions were those of holiness, goodness, purity of heart, obedience to the first and greatest commandment, willing God’s will.”
The “ central and deciding” factor in his conversion, he says, was “ the Church’s claim to be the one Church historically founded by Christ.”
Mr, Kreeft followed the inexorable logic of C. S. Lewis’s famous trilemma — either Jesus is a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord.
“ I thought, just as Jesus made a claim about His identity that forces us into one of only two camps — His enemies or His worshippers, those who call Him liar and those who call Him Lord — so the Catholic Church’s claim to be the one true Church, the Church Christ founded, forces us to say either that this is the most arrogant, blasphemous and wicked claim imaginable, if it is not true, or else that she is just what she claims to be …
“ I could never rest in a comfortable, respectable ecumenical halfway house of measured admiration from a distance. I had to shout either “ Crucify her!” or “ Hosanna!” If I could not love and believe her, honesty forced me to despise and fight her.”
Hosanna, it was. Mr. Kreeft converted in 1959, in his last year in high school, just before he attended Yale University. He prayed for God’s help, asking Him to “ decide for me, for I am good at thinking, but bad at acting, like Hamlet.” At that moment, he “ seemed to sense” the saints calling out to him.
This “ calling” may well be in evidence in Mr. Kreeft’s lectures this weekend. He has no time for those who want to reduce religion to a sociological comfort and faith to psychological pudding.
As he puts it, “ The minimalists, who reduce miracles to myths, dogmas to opinions, laws to values, and the Body of Christ to a psycho- social club, have always elicited wrath, pity, or boredom from me.”
Mr. Kreeft’s thought pivots on a singular point: Our calling as human being to will God’s will.
For more information www. augustinecollege. org.
Peter Kreeft converted from Calvinism to Catholicism during his last year of high school, after realizing the Catholic Church’s claim to be the one true Church forces a conclusion that it is either the most arrogant, blasphemous and wicked claim, if it...
Peter Kreeft says C. S. Lewis, above, is ‘ the only author I ever have read whom I thought I could completely trust and completely understand.’