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.

Ottawa Citizen - - City -

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

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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.

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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...

HARPER COLLINS

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.’

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