Proof of God’s existence

I’m not personally convinced but it is an interesting argument.

Courtesy of St. Thomas Aquinas:

I answer that it can be proved in five ways that God exists.

The first and plainest is the method that proceeds from the point of view of motion. It is certain and in accord with experience, that things on earth undergo change. Now, everything that is moved is moved by something; nothing, indeed, is changed, except it is changed to something which it is in potentiality. Moreover, anything moves in accordance with something actually existing; change itself, is nothing else than to bring forth something from potentiality into actuality. Now, nothing can be brought from potentiality to actual existence except through something actually existing: thus heat in action, as fire, makes fire-wood, which is hot in potentiality, to be hot actually, and through this process, changes itself. The same thing cannot at the same time be actually and potentially the same thing, but only in regard to different things. What is actually hot cannot be at the same time potentially hot, but it is possible for it at the same time to be potentially cold. It is impossible, then, that anything should be both mover and the thing moved, in regard to the same thing and in the same way, or that it should move itself. Everything, therefore, is moved by something else. If, then, that by which it is moved, is also moved, this must be moved by something still different, and this, again, by something else. But this process cannot go on to infinity because there would not be any first mover, nor, because of this fact, anything else in motion, as the succeeding things would not move except because of what is moved by the first mover, just as a stick is not moved except through what is moved from the hand. Therefore it is necessary to go back to some first mover, which is itself moved by nothing—and this all men know as God.

The second proof is from the nature of the efficient cause. We find in our experience that there is a chain of causes: nor is it found possible for anything to be the efficient cause of itself, since it would have to exist before itself, which is impossible. Nor in the case of efficient causes can the chain go back indefinitely, because in all chains of efficient causes, the first is the cause of the middle, and these of the last, whether they be one or many. If the cause is removed, the effect is removed. Hence if there is not a first cause, there will not be a last, nor a middle. But if the chain were to go back infinitely, there would be no first cause, and thus no ultimate effect, nor middle causes, which is admittedly false. Hence we must presuppose some first efficient cause—which all call God.

The third proof is taken from the natures of the merely possible and necessary. We find that certain things either may or may not exist, since they are found to come into being and be destroyed, and in consequence potentially, either existent or non-existent. But it is impossible for all things that are of this character to exist eternally, because what may not exist, at length will not. If, then, all things were merely possible (mere accidents), eventually nothing among things would exist. If this is true, even now there would be nothing, because what does not exist, does not take its beginning except through something that does exist. If then nothing existed, it would be impossible for anything to begin, and there would now be nothing existing, which is admittedly false. Hence not all things are mere accidents, but there must be one necessarily existing being. Now every necessary thing either has a cause of its necessary existence, or has not. In the case of necessary things that have a cause for their necessary existence, the chain of causes cannot go back infinitely, just as not in the case of efficient causes, as proved. Hence there must be presupposed something necessarily existing through its own nature, not having a cause elsewhere but being itself the cause of the necessary existence of other things—which all call God.

The fourth proof arises from the degrees that are found in things. For there is found a greater and a less degree of goodness, truth, nobility, and the like. But more or less are terms spoken of various things as they approach in diverse ways toward something that is the greatest, just as in the case of hotter (more hot) which approaches nearer the greatest heat. There exists therefore something that is the truest, and best, and most noble, and in consequence, the greatest being. For what are the greatest truths are the greatest beings, as is said in the Metaphysics Bk. II. 2. What moreover is the greatest in its way, in another way is the cause of all things of its own kind (or genus); thus fire, which is the greatest heat, is the cause of all heat, as is said in the same book (cf. Plato and Aristotle). Therefore there exists something that is the cause of the existence of all things and of the goodness and of every perfection whatsoever—and this we call God.

The fifth proof arises from the ordering of things for we see that some things which lack reason, such as natural bodies, are operated in accordance with a plan. It appears from this that they are operated always or the more frequently in this same way the closer they follow what is the Highest; whence it is clear that they do not arrive at the result by chance but because of a purpose. The things, moreover, that do not have intelligence do not tend toward a result unless directed by some one knowing and intelligent; just as an arrow is sent by an archer. Therefore there is something intelligent by which all natural things are arranged in accordance with a plan—and this we call God.

In response to the first objection, then, I reply what Augustine says; that since God is entirely good, He would permit evil to exist in His works only if He were so good and omnipotent that He might bring forth good even from the evil. It therefore pertains to the infinite goodness of God that he permits evil to exist and from this brings forth good.

My reply to the second objection is that since nature is ordered in accordance with some defined purpose by the direction of some superior agent, those things that spring from nature must be dependent upon God, just as upon a first cause. Likewise, what springs from a proposition must be traceable to some higher cause which is not the human reason or will, because this is changeable and defective and everything changeable and liable to non-existence is dependent upon some unchangeable first principle that is necessarily self-existent as has been shown.

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Voltaire’s Candide–2003

                                                                                                      Candide’s Travels to the New World

 

 

Voltaire’s view of America as expressed in Candide is a pessimistic one, but also one that shows a lot of potential.  The Americas are corrupted at this point by the European powers and their exploitative nature.  Despite this fact, America is shown as a place where there is great opportunity for both good and evil acts.  The descriptions of the various European inhabitants of America are derisive and show how a greedy and self righteous person could profit greatly from exploiting the land and the people who live on it.  The story of what happened to Candide in El Dorado is a comment not only on what the Americas were like before colonialism but what could be accomplished by a society regulated by enlightened thought.  Voltaire’s utopia is not a place that could exist but is the idea that great things could be done with America both for the inhabitants and new settlers if the right approach were made.  El Dorado could also be seen as an endorsement of the merchant system but is actually support for a simple egalitarian system. The other view Voltaire presents on the Americas is concerned with religion and the impact of the Jesuits in particular.  The Jesuits are seen in a terrible light throughout the book and their presence in the Americas is no exception.  He also tries to express the natives might have felt with the scene where the natives are clearly very excited to eat a Jesuit.(Voltaire p.74)  It is clear that the Catholics have done very well in America with regards to conversion and control, something Voltaire is extremely critical of.

            The first person we encounter in Buenos Aires is the pompous Dom Fernando d’Ibarra y Figueora etc. and seems to be an apt representative of the ruling class in the Americas.  His noble distain is even more pronounced than his European counterparts mainly due to his having so many names and is a jab at the nobles who inflate importance by the attachment of titles.  Although the lord is quite a buffoon, he seems to wield some power and is even described by the old woman as the “greatest lord in South America”.(Voltaire p. 66)  This view is the first glimpse of the Americas for Candide and the characteristics of the rulers is consistent with Voltaire’s view of Europeans in power.  This shows the kind of opportunity that any European of noble descent can have in America and the results are not looked upon favorably by Voltaire.

            An important theme in Candide is the general wisdom and loyalty of Cacambo because this is a common position of a “quarter-breed” in the Americas.  In other words, the kinds of opportunities presented to someone of even partial native heritage are very different than those presented to Europeans.  The natives are shown in greater detail later, but with the exception of the people of El Dorado, they are naïve and exploited.

            The power and authority wielded by the Jesuits is massive in America and show the kind of society than can be created by people motivated by conversion and control.  The padres are mocked throughout the book but only in America do they have temporal authority to match their religious authority.  Cacambo’s initial description of the priests in his native lands is somewhat contradictory because while praising them, he acknowledges that “the Padres have everything, the people nothing”. (Voltaire p. 68)  The praise for the catholic missionaries could be construed as extremely sarcastic, however, and their hypocrisy is exposed as well.  Cacambo comments that the priests kill people but send them to heaven so as not to feel bad about it.  The Jesuits take full advantage of every opportunity and their success is great, though a kind of success that Voltaire does not admire.  Voltaire expands on this distain by emphasizing the differences between the social standing of the priesthood and the standing of the native peoples. For example Candide is served from gold vessels while the natives eat “corn out of wooden bowls”. (Voltaire p. 69)  Catholicism is certainly very important and successful both in conversion and power maintained by war, but given Voltaire’s opinion of the Catholics, he is highly critical of those taking advantage of an opportunity to spread their religion.

            As Candide and his valet escape into the American wilderness, they encounter a land that is pure and seemingly untouched by civilized hands, a clean slate to be written on for good or ill.  The natives have some strange customs but are not ill willed unless they encounter a Jesuit.  Voltaire goes even further when Candide remarks that the situation among the natives is the “pure state of nature”. The largest problem these native have is simply that they are a “people who have not been educated”. (Voltaire p. 73)  Since the natives have already been exposed to education by the Jesuits, it follows that the kind of education Voltaire is referring to is an enlightened one.  The priests have had an opportunity to educate and convert these natives but given the response, “lets eat Jesuit”, it is clear that a different kind of instruction is necessary.  It is not directly implied that Voltaire thought the revelations of the enlightenment would be suited to the minds of Native Americans, but the idea of an uneducated people would be very appealing to someone trying to spread their philosophy.  This is also supported by the fact that both Voltaire and the natives are not on the best terms with the Catholic Church.

            The journey to El Dorado is a testament to the diversity of the American landscape and the city itself is an exaggerated version of Voltaire’s utopian vision. What we first encounter in El Dorado is the capitalist utopia because everything is catered to facilitate trade.  There is no mention of what the currency in El Dorado might be, but free food and lodging to help trade and gold being as common as flies would make any merchant salivate.  Points are also made to support the idea of corruption by Europe when the king states that the Incas who tried to fight the Spanish all died and that El Dorado was a city “safe from the greed of European nations”. (Voltaire p. 79)  The Native Americans are clearly in different states of development but worse off than they were before the Europeans came to make money and converts.

             Most of the ideals the people of El Dorado live by are very much in tune with the ideals of the enlightenment.  It could be interpreted that the kingdom of El Dorado is a constitutional monarchy but the word consent could also mean that the king is just honoring the pact between monarch and the subjects, a reciprocal relationship supported by the enlightenment.  This is supported by the fact that Voltaire was a supporter of “enlightened absolutism” (Gordan p.7) as supposed to democracy.  The government of El Dorado is an example, albeit exaggerated for effect, of a society that is free of the conventional European oppression and is ruled according to principles that Voltaire agreed with.  This enlightened society is the only place in the world where everyone is happy all the time, and this is reflective of what could be done if enlightened thinkers took the opportunity the new world presented.  It is really the religion of El Dorado that most impresses Candide and is also the most significantly enlightened.  The idea that everyone is a priest and religion is actually participated in by all is an idea in stark contrast to the religious institutions found in the rest of the book.  This is most clearly seen in the astonished question by Candide, “you have no monks who lecture, debate, govern, conspire, and burn people who don’t believe in them?”, the king replying, “we would be crazy if we did”( Voltaire p. 79).  In this way the possibility of a society free from religious tyranny and hypocrisy is created.

            Throughout the book, we see the role of Europeans in America as exploitative while it is also shown that there are also great possibilities to do good in the new world.  Europeans used the opportunity presented to them by an uncivilized world to increase their own wealth and sense of self righteousness at the expense of the people living there as well as slaves brought for work.  Fortunately for America, there are still parts of the new world that are not corrupted by Europeans and could become influenced by revolutionary thought.  Voltaire presents the new world as a place where opportunities for advancement in most things are possible but up until this point has only been used with selfish motives.

                                   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works cited

Gordon, Danial ed. Candide by Voltaire. Bedford/ST. Martin’s. Boston, MA. 1999

Brazil and Religion

To what extent has Catholicism lost its traditional strength in Brazil and how does this change a native Brazilian’s perspective on world affairs, particularly in respect to religious world view?             Brazil, like many other latin American countries, has a an extremely intricate and complicated culture, due to a turbulent history of immigration and colonialism.  The native south Americans that lived in that area before interactions with Europeans have fused, forcibly in most cases, with the successive waves of oppressors, immigrants and missionaries.  The predominantly catholic missionaries that have been common and powerful in Brazil since Europe first heard of the land have had a lasting influence on the culture of the country as it evolved from a slave labor plantation to a relatively stable industrial nation. With influx of new immigrants in the twentieth century, however, the traditionally strong hold of the Roman Catholic Church has eroded and or has been assimilated into the traditionally non catholic cultures of the people.            Before examination the present role of the Roman Catholic Church in Brazil, it is important to first understand the historical roots of the culture, as this will give clues to the world view of Brazilians in general.  The land that would later become Brazil was first “discovered” by the Portuguese in 1500 and colonization began a mere fifty years afterwards.   After most of the interior of the area had been colonized enough so that no other European country could lay claim t o the land, Portugal began building sugar plantations and importing African slaves to Brazil (Rodrigues, 1967, xi). The influx of African slaves, paired with the native susceptibility to European disease and gunshots, radically changed the ethnic makeup of the inhabitants. This change also brought together many different faiths.            Since Brazil was under the control of European powers until 1889, when the people proclaimed a republic, Catholicism was the official religion of the country for about 300 years. During this period of 1500-1889, it is safe to say that conversion to Catholicism was not optional in most cases, particularly for slaves and Indians without a recognized system of worship. There was no real distinction between church and state and as a result a productive member of society would have to be catholic. The official hold of the Roman Catholic Church eclipsed with the proclamation of a republic and allowed for the open emergence of syncretic religious practices. Despite tolerance to different religions Catholicism remained the predominant and most influential religion. In addition, “…the predominance of Catholics among the immigrants of the 19th and 20th centuries contributed to the lasting predominance of that religion” (Brazil, 2006).       Despite the continuing predominance of Catholicism in Brazil, there are several other commonly practiced religions as well as forms of Catholicism that have among their roots ties to African and native South American traditions and rituals. For example, Brazil has the largest group of Japanese descendants outside of Japan and so Buddhism and Shintoism are significant religions in certain areas (Brazilian Embassy,1994 p.15).  What is most significant in regards to Catholicism and its impact on culture is the fact that Brazilian Catholicism is very different in practice to the kind practiced in Italy            The observation of Roman Catholic practices can be drawn along financial lines more than any other division.  Brazil has a high power distance aspect of culture and as such, the rich practice their faith differently than the poor, though both practices could be considered a form of Catholicism. Generally the upper class goes to church and participates mainly for social reasons.  An upper class person is also more likely to practice Roman Catholicism rather than a hybrid of African American traditions and catholic saints (Figueiredo, Jeanenne).  The lower class, particularly in small towns and rural areas, tend to take church practices and doctrines very seriously while also incorporating African and native Brazilian religious practices.            The extent to which Brazilians follows the priestly doctrines can also be looked at from a generational perspective. This is to say that the younger generations do not adhere to these doctrines as closely as their elders do.  This currently causes some problems as the elder generations strongly disapprove of the increasingly modern youth practices.  Pre-marital sex and birth control are hotly contested issues between generations (Figueiredo, Carmen).  This is a good example of how the Brazilian worldview is changing with respect to religion. While it is clear that the youth are still greatly influenced by their religious background, increased exposure to other cultures, specifically North American and European, have eroded some of the traditionally strong religious values.  This is also significant with respect to the representation of culture, as 62 percent of the population is under 29 years old (Brazilian Embassy, 1994 p.9).            One of the most interesting and significant reasons why the Catholic influence is receding is an increasingly open worship of religions thought to have been wiped out by catholic influences.  What actually happened to these native religions was that there were practiced in secret or incorporated enough catholic ideas to fool the colonialists and dictators.  African slaves and native Brazilians retained many of the practices and religions while simply changing the names of the old gods to a catholic equivalent (Durand, 2005 p.2).  Due to this historical secrecy, many of these religious groups require an intense initiation. Ironically, the initiations use methods similar to Catholics during a period of atonement such as fasting and meditation on hurtful acts (Figueiredo, Carmen).             Practices can often be traced back to a region of Africa or brazil itself, helping to further identify the cultural influences of these religions, the most well known being Candomble.  Candomble is the religion of the Yoruba slaves, descended from Africans abducted in the areas of Nigeria and Benin (Brazilian Embassy, 1994 p.15).  Capoeira, a widely practiced ritual dance also has its origins in secret religious practice.  Originally a style of combat used to resolve conflicts in the African region of Angola, the music and dance part of the ritual was a smokescreen for the slaves’ beliefs and internal conflicts (Figueiredo, Carmen).  The influence of these religions is widespread in Brazil and while most are a combination of native beliefs and catholic doctrine, the practitioners see them as native religions instead of Catholic derivatives.  This is important with respect to the Brazilian world view because it adds a unique cultural element to a country that is generally considered a devout patron of the Roman Catholic Church.          The number of Catholics in Brazil is declining from 90% of the population in 1980 to 83% in 1991 and 67% today (Winfield, 2005 p.1).  There are many reasons for this trend, the largest of which can not be measured or accurately interpreted; Globalization.  The upper class in Brazil often sends their children to study abroad and when these individuals return, they bring concepts common in some cultures but alien in theirs.  As the upper class is already in a position of influence, they are more willing and able to spread these non traditional values.           Despite this decline in numbers, the Catholic Church and its representatives still exert a strong influence over the people of Brazil.  All Catholic holidays are national holidays, most people go to church every Sunday and observe lent, take communion etc (Figueiredo, Jeanenne).  Church representatives still exert power over the political process, even if they have to go on a hunger strike to get people behind them(Brasilia, 2005 p.1).              The influence of the Roman Catholic Church is receding because of increased intercultural communication, the reemergence of native religions, and the general rejection of certain key doctrines such as premarital sex and birth control.  This is, however, analogous to spilling a drop out of a reservoir because the religion still has an overwhelming presence in the region.  Catholicism was omnipresent during the creation of what is now Brazil and can not be erased or even eroded to a large degree because it was a tremendously strong player in the formation of the region.  This idea is important because its helps us understand the culture as a catholic culture, the religion being infused with the country’s history and permeating every aspect of culture for hundreds of years.                                                                           Works CitedBrazilian Embassy (1994). Brazil in Brief. Washington, DC: Cultural Sector Brasilia (2005, October 7). Brazil Bishop ends hunger strike over river. Agence France Presse—English. Brazil. ( document.write(new Date().getFullYear()); 2006). Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved document.write(mm[new Date().getMonth()][1]); March  document.write(new Date().getDate()); 25, document.write(new Date().getFullYear()); 2006, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online  http://search.eb.com/eb/article-25085  Durand, Irmin (2005, October 21). Brazil still worships its African Gods. Agence France Presse—English. Figueiredo, Jeanine (22 yrs old). Interview. By Alex Churchill. March 25, 2006 Figueiredo, Carmen (mid forties). Interview. By Alex Churchill. March 25, 2006 Rodrigues, Jose Honorio (1967). The Brazilians. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press. Winfield, Nicole (2005, October 8). Brazilian cardinal wonders how long Brazil, Latin America will be catholic. Associated Press Worldstream.