What Are We Being Distracted From? This is the great question of our age, because we know we are being distracted. We can break down that question into six parts, six First Questions.
(This is a reprise of an earlier post explaining the very First Question, and its Answers, on Reality.)
This initial set of three First Questions comes from the philosopher Walter Watson's book The Architectonics of Meaning (1985)1. Watson uses “archic analysis” to pinpoint these almost mutually exclusive definitions of today’s religions and ways-of-life, in philosophy and literature, and even art and science. Using Four Questions and Four Answers within each, his analysis results in 256 distinct combinations. Here we start to isolate today’s religions and draw their dividing lines.
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.
Here are Watson’s four 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, that which is 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 these four Answers. Watson assigns the Answers to each major way of life and religion today.
Modernism (including Hedonism, Existentialism)
- Modernism and its many variants focus on the key reality of what we perceive and feel.
- Watson writes, “For Marx it is the conditions of material production which are decisive in determining man’s consciousness.”
- Marxism emerged 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.
- As Watson states, “The Buddhist theory of reality as composed of momentary dharmas is another example of existential signification… the sage Nagasena compares it to the succession of flames of a single fire… Liberation from suffering comes through the realization of the emptiness of dharmas.”
- In The Great Heresies (1938)2, Hilaire Belloc writes of Buddhism, “the philosophy which calls the individual an illusion, bids us get off the desire for immortality and look forward to being merged in the impersonal life of the universe.”
- Deism supplies an impersonal “watchmaker,” God, as the creator of the primary reality that is undergirded by a strict, scientifically determined order.
- Lao Tzu taught about an inherent layer of reality underneath the illusion of perception. Watson quotes Lao Tzu: “Tao is hidden and nameless. Yet it is Tao alone that skillfully provides for all and brings them to perfection.”
Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, 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.
- Regarding Islam, Watson notes, “The promises and warnings of the Koran also refer to an unseen reality.”
- Hinduism’s many gods “show through” to human experience.
- In the next post, we will see that the Hindus’ Answer to Question 2 will clearly separate them from Christians.
- 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 dabbled in this similarly, via Aristotle, to connect the physical body to the ethereal soul. In the next post, we will see that the Confucians’ Answer to Question 2 will clearly separate them from Christians.
Thus, the Noumenal unequivocal Answer helps define Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, Islam, and Gnosticism, distinguishing them from other world religions and ways-of-life.
Identifying the differences between these Abrahamic / Judeo-Christianity religions require more Questions, to be covered in subsequent posts.
Modernism’s Existential reality is by far the most seminal threat to the Christian focus on the Noumenal reality. It was only made possible by a doctrine from the 14th century: nominalism. Joseph Settanni3 identifies it as “the explicit denial of there being any universals,” and “no universal essences altogether.” With nominalism, he notes, the order of the universe becomes “flexible and adaptable to the variable and various (read: Protestant) belief needs or values of diverse kinds or types of Christians.”
In his 2011 book, Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry4, Hans Boersma notes that the influence of 1300s thinker William of Ockham started the nominalist process. He uses his “razor” to start everyone thinking they could jettison the Noumenal world altogether. In addition, Boersma writes, “although nominalism continued to allow Christians to believe in the triune God, who was both Creator and Redeemer, it no longer allowed for the radical Christological unity of the medieval tapestry.”
Also, “The nominalist impact on Lutheranism and Calvinism came to the fore particularly in the tendency to interpret the divine-human relationship in external or nominal – rather than participatory or real – terms.” The notion of faith alone developed, and allowed Christians to make a nominal – in name only – declaration of faith. The goal was to replace the notion of the Holy Spirit participating in changing a person, as St. Gregory of Nyssa related: “You have become fair because you have come near to my light, and by this closeness to me you have attached his participation in beauty.” Indeed, the entire doctrine of the beatific vision is changed in the nominalist concept. Boersma: “To see God ‘face-to-face’ (1 Cor 13:12) is only desirable if the heavenly reality of God is the ultimate ‘object’ of human desire. Heaven and earth are opposed once we buy into a nominalist ontology that foregoes earthly participation in heavenly realities.”
The result was Modernism. Settanni quotes St. Pius V, who wrote in an encyclical that Modernism is “the synthesis of all heresies.” Belloc identifies Modernism as the greatest struggle the Church will ever face. As a heresy, it differs from the other heresies because it retains little similarity to the Church. It 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."
This is why the Question on Reality is first among the six.
For example, do you believe in the human soul? If the soul exists beyond matter, does that soul live forever? Can that soul ascend to heaven, a wholly different reality from this material world? Can that soul descend to hell, to the care of the devil? If so, what should we focus on as we travel through this material world?
More focus: 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, now, and after the material world ends?
In the next two posts, we’ll explore Watson’s other two First Questions, which link back to the Purpose of the soul and the Perspective that soul should take to know. It will distinguish but elevate the Abrahamic religions. Subsequent posts will use three additional Questions to make the difficult distinctions between those 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 the 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.5
 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
We end here with further Scripture and Tradition that reveal and elevate Noumenal reality…
The Holy Bible 5
 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) 6
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) 7
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 8
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. Walter Watson, The Architectonics of Meaning, 1985, University of Chicago Press
2. Hilaire Belloc, The Great Heresies, 1938, Cavalier Books.
3. Joseph Andrew Settanni, “Catholicism v. Nominalism: Denunciation of Vatican Council II,” July 27, 2012, [Online] Available from: https://nominalismdenounced.blogspot.com/
4. Hans Boersma, Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry, 2011, Eerdsman.
5. The Holy Bible, Douay-Rheims Version, 2009, Saint Benedict Press [Original 1582-1609]
6. The Catechism of the Council of Trent, (J.A McHugh, O.P., and C.J. Callan, Trans.), 1923, Middletown, DE [Original 1566]
7. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1995, Doubleday
8. 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]