We can elevate Catholicism over all other religions and ways-of-life by definitively answering six First Questions.
Here are the three First Questions for which every person should have only one Answer each. The questions are easy to remember, and the answers are multiple-choice. But the answers are difficult, because they must be one’s life.
1) Reality: What one most true, significant, and authentic entity(ies) do humans encounter in existing?
2) Purpose: What one function impels the universe, God, and/or humans within Reality to the most good and beautiful?
3) Perspective: What one point-of-view provides the knowledge about the true Reality and the most good Purpose?
Only one indisputable Answer to each.
G.K. Chesterton wrote in his book Heretics (1905) (page 98) that the “modern world is filled with men who hold dogmas so strongly that they do not even know that they are dogmas.”1 Let us define dogma or religion as the set of Answers to the above Questions for which you’re willing to lose your life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness to retain. So the answers must not be theory. They are life itself.
In short, your religion and way of life are your Answers to these. Religion is not merely an organization of people, or the mode of worship you choose to participate in on Sundays. Religion defines what gives you joy, appeases your sufferings, and motivates nearly all your activities.
If someone doesn’t have one Answer, which is a state everyone goes through, they are a “none,” still searching, or lukewarm. Nearly everyone goes through these stages. One cannot claim to truly live a religion and answer ambiguously or overlap with other religions. These Questions, however, allow us to know the dividing lines, and the fact that dividing lines exist.
This column delves into the underlying philosophical foundations that categorize the world’s religions and ways-of-life. These three First Questions, when answered honestly and knowledgably and unambiguously, determine which major religion you fit in.
In addition, clear Answers show how Christianity distinguishes itself from all the other dogmas and religions of the world. We believe Catholic Christianity is not just the privileged dogma or religion, but the one fundamentally different from all the rest, and the only salvific one.
Deriving the Key First Questions
The first set of three First Questions comes from the philosopher Walter Watson's book The Architectonics of Meaning (1985)2. Watson uses “archic analysis” to pinpoint these almost mutually exclusive definitions of dogmas, from philosophy to literature, to art and science. His analysis results in combinations of Answers constituting the distinct dogmas, including the major religions.
Watson defined four archic Variables, the Questions. Each of them had four distinct Values, or Answers within them. He evaluated dozens of texts, authors, works, and systems, from thousands of years of history, fitting them into one of the resulting 256 combinations. But by focusing on today’s major religions and ways-of-life, we can eliminate many of these combinations in the comparisons.
Question 1: Reality: What one most true, significant, and authentic entity(ies) do humans encounter in existing?
Reality describes a religion’s key subject matter – that which is most true, most significant, and most authentic. Below we identify the three mutually exclusive Answers.
- Existential – The reality is that which is nearest and most evident to our senses and emotions.
- Substrative – The reality is the layers or entities below the appearances, such as atoms or an unseen impersonal force.
- Noumenal – The reality is the separate ideal or perfect or eternal behind the senses, emotions, and appearances, and the unseen substrates.
- Essential – The reality can be some combination of the above three, because they cannot be separated from each other.
So this first of three First Questions provides four Answers each. Watson assigns the Answers to each major way of life and religion today.
- Existential – Modernism (including Hedonism, Existentialism)
- Modernism focuses on the key reality of what we perceive and feel.
- In The Great Heresies (1938), Hilaire Belloc identifies Modernism as the greatest struggle the Church will ever face. As a heresy, it differs from the other heresies, which this column will address in future weeks, because it retains little similarity with the Church. It also seeks to destroy the Church fully, “all – not a portion – of its philosophy.” Belloc warns, “It is concerned with the destruction of the Catholic Church." 3
- Existential – Buddhism
- In Buddhism, the key reality is expressed as a series of “dharmas,” or moments.
- Substrative – Marxism
- Marxism emerges as a religion late in human history, and certainly is closely tied to Modernism. The difference is the primary reality is not the individual, but the underlying historical class conditions man created.
- Today, Marxism is often morphed into an underlying racial- or gender-based victimhood at the hands of long-dead historical oppressors.
- Substrative – Deism
- Deism supplies an impersonal God as the creator of the primary reality.
- Substrative – Taoism
- Lao Tzu taught about an inherent layer of reality underneath the illusion of perception.
- Noumenal – Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Gnosticism
- An eternal, perfect, and infinite supernatural entity exists – indispensable, yet separate from, the visible world.
- For Christians, this is of course the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
- Noumenal – Hinduism
- Hinduism’s many gods “show through” to human experience.
- Essential - Confucianism
- Confucians want to expose natural goods tied closely to the individual, not merely permanent ideals. According to Watson, “Confucius sought real and not merely apparent virtues, and virtues that would be real in individuals, not apart from them.”
- This is in fact, close to a Christian answer. Aquinas used this same manner, via Aristotle, to connect the physical body to the ethereal soul. But before that, next week we will see that their Answer to Question 2 will clearly separate Confucians from Christians.)
Thus, the Noumenal unequivocal Answer helps define Judaism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, and Gnosticism, and distinguish them from other religions. The differences between the Abrahamic / Judeo-Christianity religions require more Questions, to be covered in subsequent Weeks.
Follow-up Question: As a Christian, do you live, think, choose, feel, and act as if an eternal, perfect, all-powerful, all-knowing Creator, Judge, Redeemer, and Teacher is the most real entity you should encounter?
In Weeks 2 and 3, we’ll explore Watson’s other two First Questions and elevate the Abrahamic religions. Weeks 4, 5, and 6 will use three more Questions to make the difficult distinctions between the Abrahamic religions, including Catholic vs. Protestant doctrine.
To synopsize the Christian Answers to the three Questions, the Holy Spirit revealed these Answers to St. John the Evangelist, written in his first paragraphs of his Gospel. Its distinguishing Truth inspired nearly all priests to recite this at the end of billions of Masses from the 1100s until the 1960s. (Special thanks to the Anne Barnhardt podcast team, Episode 165 (29:45 – 39:30), for bringing this holy passage to the forefront to make this point.) Here are the passages that crystalize the Noumenal Reality.4
 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The same was in the beginning with God.
 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us
To further reveal our Noumenal reality, Scripture and Tradition guide us, as follows:
The Holy Bible 4
 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth. For the Father also seeketh such to adore him.  God is a spirit; and they that adore him, must adore him in spirit and in truth.
 Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.
 Because that which is known of God is manifest in them. For God hath manifested it unto them.  For the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; his eternal power also, and divinity: so that they are inexcusable.
 For the fruit of the light is in all goodness, and justice, and truth;  Proving what is well pleasing to God.
1 Timothy 6
 Who only hath immortality, and inhabiteth light inaccessible, whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and empire everlasting. Amen.
 God said to Moses: I AM WHO AM. He said: Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel: HE WHO IS, hath sent me to you.
 Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.
The Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566) 5
The Creed, Article I: The Unity of Nature in God
From what is said it must also be confessed that there is but one God, not many gods. For we attribute to God supreme goodness and infinite perfection, and it is impossible that what is supreme and most perfect could be common to many. If a being lack anything that constitutes supreme perfection, it is therefore imperfect and cannot have the nature of God.
The Creed, Article I: The Doctrine of The Trinity
In the one Substance of the Divinity the Father is the First Person, who with His Only-begotten Son, and the Holy Ghost, is one God and one Lord, not in the singularity of one Person, but in the trinity of one Substance. These Three Persons, since it would be impiety to assert that they are unlike or unequal in anything, are understood to be distinct only in their respective properties. For the Father is unbegotten, the Son begotten of the Father, and the Holy Ghost proceeds from both. Thus we acknowledge the Essence and the Substance of the Three Persons to be the same in such wise that we believe that in confessing the true and eternal God we are piously and religiously to adore distinction in the Persons, unity in the Essence, and equality in the Trinity.
The Creed, Article I: "Of all Things Visible and Invisible"
Whatever exists in the universe, whatever we confess to have been created by God, either falls under the senses and is included in the word visible, or is an object of mental perception and intelligence and is expressed by the word invisible.
The Lord’s Prayer: Who Art in Heaven - Meaning of These Words
All who have a correct idea of God will grant that He is where and in all places. This is not to be taken in the sense that He is distributed into parts and that He occupies and governs one place with one part and another place with another part. God is a Spirit, and therefore utterly incapable of division into parts. Who will dare to assign to any particular place or circumscribe within any limits that God who says of Himself: Do I not fill heaven and earth? On the contrary, these words must be taken in this sense, that by His power and virtue He embraces heaven and earth and all things contained therein; but that He Himself is not contained in any place. God is present to all things, either creating them, or preserving them after He has created them; but He is confined to no place, is limited by no bounds, nor in any way hindered from being everywhere present by His substance and power, as is indicated by holy David in the words: If I ascend into heaven thou art there.
God, then, in order to lift up the minds of men to contemplate His infinite power and majesty, which are so preeminently visible in the work of the heavens, declares in Sacred Scripture that heaven is His dwelling-place. Yet at the same time He often affirms, what indeed is most true, that there is no part of the universe to which He is not present intimately by His nature and His power.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1995) 6
200 These are the words with which the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed begins. The confession of God's oneness, which has its roots in the divine revelation of the Old Covenant, is inseparable from the profession of God's existence and is equally fundamental. God is unique; there is only one God: "The Christian faith confesses that God is one in nature, substance and essence."
231 The God of our faith has revealed himself as HE WHO IS; and he has made himself known as "abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Ex 34:6). God's very being is Truth and Love.
285 Since the beginning the Christian faith has been challenged by responses to the question of origins that differ from its own. Ancient religions and cultures produced many myths concerning origins…
- Some admit that the world was made by God, but as by a watch-maker who, once he has made a watch, abandons it to itself (Deism).
- Finally, others reject any transcendent origin for the world, but see it as merely the interplay of matter that has always existed (Materialism).
St. Thomas Aquinas 7
The fourth way is taken from the gradation to be found in things. Among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble and the like. But "more" and "less" are predicated of different things, according as they resemble in their different ways something which is the maximum, as a thing is said to be hotter according as it more nearly resembles that which is hottest; so that there is something which is truest, something best, something noblest and, consequently, something which is uttermost being; for those things that are greatest in truth are greatest in being… Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus; as fire, which is the maximum heat, is the cause of all hot things. Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God. (Summa Theologica I, q.2, a.3)
I answer that, From all we have said, it is clear there can be no accident in God. First, because a subject is compared to its accidents as potentiality to actuality; for a subject is in some sense made actual by its accidents. But there can be no potentiality in God… Secondly, because God is His own existence; and… although every essence may have something superadded to it, this cannot apply to absolute being. (Summa Theologica I, q.3, a.6)
1. G.K. Chesterton, Heretics, 1905, Christian Classic Ethereal Library, [Online] Available from: http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books/GK%20Chesterton%20Heretics.pdf
2. Walter Watson, The Architectonics of Meaning, 1985, University of Chicago Press
3. Hilaire Belloc, The Great Heresies, 1938, Cavalier Books.
4. The Holy Bible, Douay-Rheims Version, 2009, Saint Benedict Press [Original published 1582-1609]
5. The Catechism of the Council of Trent, (J.A McHugh, O.P., and C.J. Callan, Trans.), 1923, Middletown, DE [Original 1566]
6. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1995, Doubleday
7. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica I, (Fathers of the English Dominican Province, Trans.), [Online] Available from: http://www.documenta-catholica.eu/d_1225-1274-%20Thomas%20Aquinas%20-%20Summa%20Theologiae%20-%20Prima%20Pars%20-%20EN.pdf [Original 1265-1274]