God has given us a tremendous gift of being, since we are created in His image and likeness. There is something unique about us that we have the capacity for God in our hearts, that we have the capacity to “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).
What is it that sets us apart from the rest of creation to give us this capacity? We have the ability to assent to faith through reason. However, in our latest chat below, we are confronted with the fact that animals, such as chimps, have mental abilities, and we wonder if perhaps they too have the capacity for God’s saving grace.
So, what is faith? What is reason? What is love? Are these unique to humans? And how about aspirations to colonize outer space? And what about the new movement called transhumanism, as discussed in Cardinal Sarah’s latest book?
All these topics are confronted in this latest chat installment. Come explore with us and find out for yourself.
If you would like to chat with Catholics like yourself, why not check out our Living Jesus Chat Room of the Visitation Sisters. Join us at 7:30 p.m. ET each Sunday! We read a passage of St. Francis de Sales and then gather great insights and sharing!
Gorillas and Self-Awareness
Lydia: JP II wrote an encyclical on Faith and Reason.
Caroline: We are the only creature created in the image and likeness of God.
Lydia: We were told the ability to reason is part of being made in the image of God. Only God, humans, and angels can reason.
Sherry: Beloved, Caroline. You were soooooo much on my mind last week. How are you feeling, being newly consecrated? That is so wonderful!
Caroline: Hi Sherry! I think I am still floating a couple feet off the ground.
Sherry: I can imagine that, Caroline. Sorry. I kind of crashed the first question, I think.
Caroline: Lydia, I know you are right. I’ve seen too much research, though, showing gorillas do have self-awareness and are aware of their own mortality. We just didn’t know until we figured out they could learn ASL.
Lydia: I do not think they can reason.
Sherry: I think they can communicate and definitely have a level of self-awareness, but reasoning is also putting your existence in the context of God’s realm, and that is definitely not doable for animals.
Caroline: I don’t know. They have so many of the markers for it.
Sherry: And they do not connect reason with beauty, for example, like it said in the readings.
Lydia: Reason alone does not make us human, because babies cannot reason, and children have to reach the age of reason, and people in vegetative states cannot reason. However, it is just given to humans and angels.
Caroline: I don’t know–they paint, creating their own art.
Sherry: I also think so. It is part of the Human soul – an animal soul cannot reason in order to “become” – only in reacting to inner or outer impulses.
Lydia: Reason is the ability to use logic. Animals do not use logic.
Sherry: Well, Lydia, now I am losing you a little bit here…cause animals can definitely use logic for problem solving.
Caroline: I’m not trying to be a pest. I’ve just seen enough to make me wonder.
Lydia: It is not logic, it is learning that they use.
Sherry: Hmm…disagree here.
Lydia: Logic is a very defined set of rules. Read philosophy books on logic.
Sherry: OK…if you say so…I don’t mind. The reason we are talking here – is not logic anyways.
Lydia: It is definitely logic. Logic is the tool of reasoning.
Sherry: I think that St. Francis talks more about “existential reasoning” – not logical reasoning.
Are Animals Self-Aware?
Question: One mental capacity that sets humans apart from animals is the ability to be self-aware. What exactly does this mean?
Lydia: It is what is used to find truth based upon known premises that are true.
Caroline: That you have a sense of self and self-will.
Rebecca: Sometimes I wonder whether chimps should not be baptized.
Sherry: Rebecca, why would you think that?
Lydia: Chimps can’t tell right from wrong.
Caroline: Again, not so sure they can’t.
Lydia: Their brains do not have executive functioning.
Caroline: They have been observed doing many things we thought only humans do. Not trying to say you’re wrong but saying there’s maybe more here.
Visitation Sister: Self-awareness is a delicate thing as we cannot judge another’s self-awareness unless brain scans, etc. Can tell us something.
Rebecca: Caroline, I've seen smart animals solve unfamiliar problems faster than I can when I am tired!
Caroline: I haven’t. And, yes, Sr. Susan, this is unknowable.
Lydia: If chimps could tell right from wrong, they would need salvation and God never said there was an animal messiah.
Visitation Sister: Machines can too, but they have no soul.
Sherry: Redemption is applied to the whole creation.
Lydia: The purpose of logic and philosophy is to find truth. If you are Catholic, you know the truth is what God says and knows. A machine using logic does not seek truth from God. Humans do.
Ines: Jumping in here… i’ve been talking about the issue of “animal souls” with my students lately. Animals act according to instinct and training. They have some capacity for learning, but no “reason” in the sense of self-awareness, free will, or moral/ethical decision making. Some can certainly function at a higher level than others, but they do not have a human soul.
Lydia: Our purpose is to seek God and be with Him. Our reason allows us to find Him. Machines and animals cannot do that.
Ines: I was just going to write something like that, Lydia. Yes.
Lydia: Our logic has a right end.
Sherry: Yes, Lydia, that is the basics.
Sherry: God is Love.
Lydia: Way truth life.
Rebecca: St. Thomas Aquinas says animals have animal souls.
Sherry: Yes, Rebecca, that’s what I was also taught.
Lydia: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” If you have ever seen an animal die, you see that something leaves them. Of course, it is not a human soul, but it is an actual thing that leaves.
Sherry: Lydia, can you explain your quote of John 14:6.
Lydia: Sherry…I quoted it to show that truth=God. Jesus said He is the truth.
Sherry: Oh, I see.
Do You Know How to Be Humble?
Question: Why should knowledge cause us to be more modest and humble? And why can it so easily lead to pride?
Caroline: Because we can get caught in the trap of knowledge for knowledge’s sake.
Visitation Sister: True knowledge should lead us to be in awe of God and not of ourselves, as we are only learning what He created.
Sherry: Yes, Sister. Yes. That’s what I meant – when I said that reason is linked with beauty and awe.
Caroline: We can only know a small fraction of what there is to know. And there is always someone who knows more than us in any given area.
Sherry: True knowledge brings us on our knees – and births new levels of humility in us.
Rebecca: Maybe, Sister, that is why children are said to have true knowledge or wisdom. Even very simple things fill a child with awe!
Sherry: That is a very interesting thought, Rebecca. All the knowledge that really has changed my life profoundly, God has revealed to me, not that my studies were not meaningful or good. But the things God revealed to my heart have changed my life, my relationship with God, and with others.
Lydia: When I was little, I used to wonder if God adds new things to the universe as we discover them or if they were always there. I mean something like when we discover atoms, does He then add subatomic particles or were they there before. I think now God made everything together because He knows everything and already had it all planned out instantaneously.
Sherry: That’s a cute thought, Lydia. And as for your second comment, I also think that He is all-knowing.
Caroline: At the Gathering, after Adoration, one of the children broke away from her mother and ran up near the altar and threw herself prostrate.
Sherry: WOW, Caroline! That must have been so very touching to watch that child.
Caroline: It was truly sweet.
Rebecca: Caroline, you have been in my thoughts and prayers especially as you were making your profession.
Caroline: Thank you, Rebecca, it was amazing!
Rebecca: I wonder what the child was thinking, experiencing, responding to.
Sherry: Yes, Rebecca, it might have been one of those very, very special moments a person remembers forever (speaking about the child).
Caroline: Very clearly God. The deacon had just reposed the Eucharist, and she went running after Him. Most were smiling, others were preparing for the next section of the praise and worship time.
Sherry: Caroline, that makes me tear up when I read that the child ran to the Blessed Sacrament.
Rebecca: In my parish in Munich, a child was given an unconsecrated host, He said, “No! I want the Body of Christ! And grabbed a consecrated host and ate it. First Holy Communion at age 3!
Sherry: Oh my – what a discernment. Who would give the child an unconsecrated host? The priest?
Caroline: Made a beeline. Thinking back, I did go up with the adults, but I only knelt as that is so hard to do. Don’t know how I’d get up from prostrate. I’ve been running after Him for a while.
Love is Reasonable, Not Emotional
Question: How might reason and love be related?
Lydia: Read the life of the Blessed Mother revealed to Blessed Anne Emerich, Mary’s family was very Holy and was praying and making sacrifices for generations.
Lydia: I suspect that right reason leading to truth and God would lead you to love.
Sherry: From the readings…reason goes hand in hand with admiration and the heart: When one is surprised by the beauty of something, we desire to know it better; and when we love it, we enter into a more accurate and deeper knowledge.
Rebecca: Sherry, I think it was his mother who had set aside that host for him when they had a home Mass. Young Rory was listening carefully.
Sherry: Thanks, Rebecca, for giving the context.
Ines: Using our reason helps us to see the true, the good, the beautiful, and upon knowing these, we love their source, who is God alone.
Visitation Sister: Love is reasonable and to be reasonable is a way of loving.
Caroline: Love is patient, love is kind….
Rebecca: Sorry, Sherry, no. But I will search for it tonight.
Faith is Reasonable, Too
Question: How important is it to know the relationship between faith and reason in our world today? Consider Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical, Fides et Ratio of 1998, in which he opens with, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth….”.
Sherry: If you have access to FORMED, there is the program THE SEARCH, and one of the episodes deals quite well with that. It shows how much the Catholic Church has been involved in scientific breakthroughs. I find it sad that people always think that reason and faith oppose each other.
Rebecca: Yes, sad and untrue.
Lydia: Reason uses logic to find truth. It can be used to find any old truth, but with Faith we use it to find God.
Caroline: Modern culture tries to divorce faith and reason, but you can’t.
Visitation Sister: And people don’t know what faith is, they think it is fantasy.
Lydia: Faith is a gift from God.
Rebecca: But reason alone cannot “find” Faith. Faith is a gift of God.
Bethany: Faith comes from Jesus, teaching the way, leading us to eternal life.
Caroline: Yes, reason must let God in.
Lydia: Faith is used along with reason. It directs reason to find God. Non-Catholic philosophers do not use philosophy the way Catholics do.
Cardinal Sarah on Transhumanism
Visitation Sister: I think it is very important to know the relationship of faith and reason in the world today especially with all this talk of transhumanism.
Sherry: Transhumanism? What is that?
Sherry: Do you mean transgender?
Visitation Sister: No, transhumanism. I learned of it from Cardinal Sarah’s book, and now I see it a lot. “Transhumanism” is a blanket term given to the school of thought that refuses to accept traditional human limitations such as death, disease and other biological frailties. Transhumans are typically interested in a variety of futurist topics, including space migration, mind uploading and cryonic suspension.
Sherry: Oh. I see what you mean.
Lydia: Which of his books, Mother.
Visitation Sister: The last one, except for the most recent, can’t think of the title yet, I will look. The Day is Now Far Spent, that’s the book.
Lydia: Thank you.
Caroline: Somewhere I read that people are having surgeries to make themselves look like leopards, etc.
Sherry: Poor mislead souls.
Ines: Transhumanism is a very dangerous path of thinking.
Caroline: Lots of self-hatred there.
Faith is a Gift Received, Not Earned
Lydia: God must have a plan for misguided people if Faith is a gift. He must have a way of saving them. If Faith is a gift that was not bestowed upon them, then He must have another way to give it to them later.
Ines: My students and I have also been dealing with this topic of faith and reason. Faith enlivens reason which informs faith. I’m misquoting though. Something like that. I’m tired lol.
Lydia: God is not unfair.
Sherry: I handle it like those who are trained to detect counterfeit money. They are never trained on all the different sorts of counterfeit money, but they are trained to study the REAL money so well that they can immediately detect the false one. I love to focus on the teachings of the Church and hope it makes me strong to resist everything that comes my way.
Sherry: No, Lydia, God is definitely not unfair. But we have a free will, and being misled, which is an active strategy of the enemy, causes people to say NO to God and his gifts.
Lydia: Sherry that is like taking credit for your Faith. You cannot take credit for obtaining a gift. God gives Faith.
Visitation Sister: Cardinal Sarah’s new book is Catechism for the Spiritual Life.
Caroline: The gift is received, and also used.
Sherry: Lydia, in a way it can be both. I was graced with Faith, and I received it.
Sherry: Lol. Caroline, same mind.
Lydia: Not everyone has the same level of Faith from God. Some get more than others…it is not something they did. To those who are given more, more is expected.
Visitation Sister: I have to go now to give out meds. See you in 2 weeks. Sr Jennifer makes vows Sunday, so please pray for her. We will keep you all in prayer at that Mass. Lots of grace!
Caroline: It’s like a present you receive. Do you open the box and use it gratefully, or do you let it molder on a shelf somewhere.
Did you enjoy reading this chat? If you would like to chat with Catholics like yourself, why not check out our Living Jesus Chat Room of the Visitation Sisters? Join us at 7:30 p.m. ET each Sunday! We read a passage of St. Francis de Sales and then gather great insights and sharing.