Thursday, April 16, 2015

Was There Death Before The Fall?

The Fall of Man by Jacob Jordaens
painted in the 17th century

The notion that physical death did not exist in the universe before the fall of man, may not have originated with Protestantism, but today it is promoted primarily by Evangelical Protestantism. This presents some very big problems for theology, Biblical interpretation, science, and reason. That Catholic Church, for the most part, has rejected this way of interpreting the Fall of Man.

When I was an Evangelical, I was taught that prior to the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden, there was no physical death in the world. The law of entropy did not exist, and everything was in a perfect static state. The common Evangelical teaching today is that death entered the universe through mankind's rejection of God's command, and this in turn set the whole universe into a rapidly decaying state of entropy. The only problem with that idea is that it is unbiblical, illogical, and denies all scientific evidence.

Thomas Aquinas stated it clearly centuries before Charles Darwin ever wrote his 'Origin of Species', physical death existed before the fall...
In the opinion of some, those animals which now are fierce and kill others, would, in that state, have been tame, not only in regard to man, but also in regard to other animals. But this is quite unreasonable. For the nature of animals was not changed by man's sin, as if those whose nature now it is to devour the flesh of others, would then have lived on herbs, as the lion and falcon. Nor does Bede's gloss on Genesis 1:30, say that trees and herbs were given as food to all animals and birds, but to some. Thus there would have been a natural antipathy between some animals. They would not, however, on this account have been excepted from the mastership of man: as neither at present are they for that reason excepted from the mastership of God, Whose Providence has ordained all this. Of this Providence man would have been the executor, as appears even now in regard to domestic animals, since fowls are given by men as food to the trained falcon.
-- Thomas Aquinas Article I, Objection 2, Summa Theologica
In other words, way back in the 13th century, some 600 years before Charles Darwin, the greatest Christian philosopher of all time stated that death existed in the world even before the fall of man. We see hints of this in the Bible...
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’
-- Genesis 2:15-17
Now let's do a close examination of this Biblical passage. First, the Lord God tells the man (Adam) that he may 'eat of every tree.' STOP! What did he just say? He said 'eat of every tree.' What does eating involve? It involves chewing, swallowing and digesting, but more than anything else, it involves the cellular death of that thing which is being eaten. For example; if a man is to eat an apple, the apple must first be plucked from the tree. That cuts off the sap circulation to the apple, which means that it is now beginning to die. Now suppose the man changes his mind, drops the apple and walks away. That apple will slowly decay, as the cells within the apple are deprived of sap for nutrients. The cellular structure of the apple will die, and the apple itself will rot. So simply plucking the apple from the tree insures its death. However, the Scripture goes on. It specifically says the man may eat the apple, which accelerates the death process of the apple. Now the cells that make up the apple no longer need to wait for decay to set in. Rather, they will immediately be broken down, first by the gnashing of the man's teeth, and next by the acid within his stomach. By the time the nutrients of the apple are absorbed by the man's gut, the cellular structure of that apple is totally dead. Not a single cell remains alive. So here we are at the beginning of the Bible. The fall of man has not happened yet. Indeed, the woman hasn't even been created yet. Yet what we have here in the command to eat is a clear reference to death. Yes, death did exist! It was in the world before the fall of man, and man relied upon it in order to eat and gain nutrition. Now let's look at the rest of the passage. In the next breath, God tells the man not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge, because if he does, he will die! STOP! What did God just say? He told the man he would die if he did something. So tell me, how can the word 'die' have any meaning if man was introduced into a world where death did not exist? Surely, if God warned the man that he would 'die' then the man must have known what that meant. That would mean he had seen death. He was acquainted with it. So right from the earliest passages of the Bible, it becomes apparent that death did indeed exist before the fall of man, and probably before the creation of man entirely. If death existed for cells, then it existed for complex organisms too (such as animals), as those of us in the medical field know, real biological death does not actually occur for complex organisms, until the cellular structure of those organisms dies. For example; a man does not really die until about five to ten minutes after his heart stops beating. This is how long it takes for the cells in the brain to suffocate once deprived of oxygen enriched blood from the heart and lungs. Death, in reality, is a cellular thing. Complex organisms (such as mammals for example) just announce that it happened by ceasing to move and assuming room temperature.

Plants and animals die. It is natural and proper for them to do so. They are natural organisms that serve a specific and limited function in this world. They have not the gift of reason, nor do they have immortal souls. Their lives are extinguished upon death, and their souls recycled in some way, which is natural to this world. Their entire existence is subject to the cycles of this universe, and all of their historical existence parishes with the death of planet earth, and finally the consummation of this universe.

Contrary to the Evangelical claim that death did not exist until the fall of man, it would appear that physical death has always existed in this universe, and is indeed part of God's creation. We see hints of this in the Book of Genesis. Man, however, is a different story...
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.
-- Romans 5:12
Here we see that man (mankind) was the one affected by the fall in the garden, not the animals, nor plants, nor earth, nor the stars, nor the universe, just man and man alone. Death spread to 'all men'. It doesn't say 'all things' as if to include animals, plants and all of creation. You see, man was not meant to be subject to death, but rather to be 'assumed' like Mary, Enoch, and Elijah upon reaching a terminal age, when the physical body had run the course of its natural life. The figure of the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden symbolises this. Thus the penalty for eating from the Tree of Knowledge was to be barred from the Tree of Life...
Then the Lord God said, ‘See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever’— therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.
-- Genesis 3:22-24
Original sin in the fall robbed us of the immortal destiny for our bodies, thus subjecting man's body to the same kind of death the plants and animals suffer. It is natural for them, but not natural for us. Their souls and bodies are recycled. Our bodies can be recycled, but our souls cannot be, nor would we want them to be, because they are immortal. The key to understanding the mystery of physical death is simply to understand the nature of this universe. It is temporary. The whole thing -- all of it -- the stars, galaxies, everything, it is meant to be temporary. We (our souls), however, are not meant to be temporary, but our bodies have become just that -- temporary. Man is a hybrid creature. We have physical bodes like animals, so we can interact with this universe in a physical way. Yet we have spiritual souls that are immortal, like the angels. We are not angels. We are different creatures all together because we a hybrid beings -- both physical and spiritual. So we must have both a soul and a body to be complete. Yet now, thanks to the fall and original sin, the death which was common only to plants and animals has now spread to us. Our souls cannot go through eternity without a body. This is unnatural for us and leaves us incomplete. The horror of death is that the soul goes on, without a body, and that is a completely unnatural state for a human being. Angels are spiritual creatures, not humans. Unlike angels, we need our bodies to be complete. Animals have mortal bodies with mortal souls. Men (and by that I mean mankind) have bodies that have become mortal and yet we retain immortal souls. It was never meant to be this way. This is a dichotomy that puts us in a paradox which only the resurrection solves. That however, is a subject for a different essay. This one deals with the subject of death before the fall -- before original sin.

It's an extremely important thing for Christians to understand. It's an important piece of our theology that is often neglected, and because of this we have some Evangelicals who go about telling the world that death did not exist before the fall, and then we have certain atheists who make a hobby tearing down the futility of that argument, triumphantly conquering an aspect of Christian theology that never really existed outside of the Evangelical world. Proper understanding the origins of death in Christian teaching also helps us deal with scientific matters, such as evolution and dinosaurs. Once those are tackled, we can begin to apply it to our understanding of the universe and the remote possibility of plant and animal life on other planets. It all comes down to a proper reading of the first chapters of Genesis. For the Catechism teaches us...
The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.
-- Catechism of the Catholic Church 390
The Catechism teaches us that the Bible uses figurative language in these chapters, to explain primordial events that are true in essence, but have through the centuries lost their historical narrative. Adam and Eve were real people, to be sure. They were our first parents, and what they did was a real rebellion against God. The garden, trees and serpent may be figurative. They convey the nature of how the rebellion happened, but it is unlikely that these were literal events. Serpents in ancient history were representative of Pagan religions, so there may be some kind of connection there. Most directly however, the serpent represents the devil (Satan). The serpent's temptation of Eve is particularly symbolic of Pagan religions. The serpent lied and told Eve she would not die if she ate the forbidden fruit, but that she would become like a god, 'knowing good from evil' (Genesis 3:4-5). In other words, the devil tempted the woman (and the man together with her) to act like gods, and decide for themselves what is good and what is evil, meaning they would create their own morality. The Hebrew word for 'god' is synonymous with 'judge'. To judge for yourself what is right and wrong, without consulting the Creator, is to play god. This gives us tremendous insight into what the real cause of original sin might have been. The trees of Life and Knowledge may also have some kind of symbolism in Semitic folklore as well. The events of Genesis 3 need not be literal. We know what happened. Satan, the fallen angel, tempted the woman (Eve) to sin against God, and the man (Adam) failed as a leader and went along with it. The result was rebellion against God. The penalty was physical death for the body, and even worse, separation of the soul from God. One thing is certain though, physical death (for plants and animals) already existed before all of this. There is nothing in Scripture that says it didn't, and in fact, quite the opposite is true. The Scriptures seem to suggest death had been present in the world all along, because this world is temporary, and it was always intended to be.

END.

------------------------------------------------

Shane Schaetzel is a published author and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'FullyChristian.Com -- The random musings of a Catholic in the Ozarks.'

BOOKS BY THIS AUTHOR...
Catholicism for Protestants

Please share this story. Social media links provided below for your convenience... 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Red Planet = Dead Planet


Mars, as pictured by the Hubble Space Telescope
Courtesy of NASA
We've known it for years, but NASA is now beginning the learn the reasons why. (Warning! Geek Alert. I'm getting my geek on here.) Mars is dead, and it's dead for some very good reasons. Yes, there is water there. Apparently NASA is finding out that water is abundant throughout the solar system, and probably the universe. But water alone is not good enough to support life. Temperatures on Mars are cold - damn cold! -- and that's a big part of the problem. The atmosphere is thin too, and that's another part. However, the real problem Mars has, which is causing a lot of these other problems, is the lack of a magnetic field. You see, Earth has a magnetic force field that completely surrounds it. It is believed that this force field is caused not only by the rotation of our planet's inner core, but also the orbit of the moon, which acts as a gravitational stirring spoon on Earth's subsurface magma. These two things working together keep Earth's magnetic field youthful and strong. This is what blocks out both cosmic and solar radiation, giving us a wonderful spectacle of northern and southern lights. However, that magnetic force field does a lot for us. It prevents cosmic and solar radiation from killing us. Furthermore, it prevents our atmosphere from being degraded and evaporating into space. This helps to keep our temperatures within reason, and all of this together makes Earth a very hospital planet for life. Mars, so it would appear, has a lot of things going for it, except for that magnetic force field, and without it, the planet goes dead. Not even microbes can survive there, because if the extreme temperatures don't kill them, the cosmic and solar radiation most certainly will.

So, that being said, is there any chance of terraforming Mars (making Mars more like Earth)? The short answer is NO. In order to make Mars a habitable world, we would have to give it a magnetic force field, and there is no technology that can do that for an entire planet. The red planet is a dead planet, and it will stay dead, indefinitely. NASA is now looking for signs of life elsewhere, namely on Jupiter and Saturn's moons. This however, is a long shot, and even more unlikely than life on Mars. Many scientists have resigned themselves to the fact that aside from Earth, there is no possibility of life within our solar system, which is why the search has shifted in recent years to exoplanets (planets around other stars). NASA has even gone so far as to predict they will find signs of life on these exoplanets within 20 years. This is a bold prediction, and an unwarranted one. Even if they develop instruments sensitive enough to determine if water exists on such worlds, that doesn't mean life exists there. Water exists on Mars, and the moon, but there is no life. I think such predictions are designed to garner funding. I don't think it's wrong to look, but I do think it's futile to get our hopes up. Could there be life out there somewhere? Sure! Why not? Is it intelligent life like us? Probably not. If there is life in this universe, outside of Earth, I'm sure it's filled with plants and animals. People however, well, that's an entirely different matter.

Putting all religious explanations aside, just for a moment, lets look at what science alone has told us so far, just so we can begin to appreciate our uniqueness in the universe.

According to scientific theory, the Earth has been around for billions of years, and during that time, life has existed here for almost as long. However, in each epoch of Earth's history, it has existed in different forms. In a previous epoch, such as during the age of the dinosaurs for example, the Earth was radically different than it is today. It is theorised that Earth's atmosphere was much thicker, and the climate was much warmer. That all changed with a massive asteroid impact, which killed off the dinosaurs, shed a portion of the Earth's atmosphere, and made room for the rise of mammals. It is within that age of mammals that mankind arose. Okay, regardless if you believe any of this stuff or not, think about what science is telling us here. It's saying that the evolution of human beings took place under very specific and unique conditions. In order for similar intelligent life to exist elsewhere, one would expect similar conditions have taken place. One would have to see the rise of reptiles, followed by massive extinction, then the rise of dinosaurs, followed by massive extinction, and then finally the rise of mammals. Why mammals you say? Because looking at life on Earth. mammals are the only type of animals that have the capacity to develop higher brain function. Reptiles and birds (including dinosaurs) are limited in their brain capacity. Mammals are smart critters, much smarter than reptiles and birds, in that they have a higher brain function. If you're looking for animals that can think and reason, like human beings, you're going to need mammals. Yet, mammals developed on Earth under very specific conditions, according to science, that required the massive extinction of other types of animals first. Do you see what I'm getting at here? Science is telling us, and has been telling us for decades, that intelligent life is extremely rare, even here on Earth. Could it exist elsewhere in the universe? I suppose anything is possible, but in all likelihood, if life exists anywhere else at all, it is most likely plant and animal life. The odds of there being intelligent life like us, are extremely unlikely.

The lesson of science, real science, is that life itself is rare. Of the three most likely habitable planets in our solar system (Venus, Earth and Mars), only one (Earth) actually supports life. Even that is by a fluke, because of our unusually large moon that acts as a gravitational stirring spoon on our planet's magma core, keeping the planet's magnetic force field young and healthy for billions of years. Neither Venus nor Mars have these conditions, so their magnetic fields are virtually non-existent. This makes the development of life (all life) impossible on these worlds. The solar and cosmic radiation would kill the first cell before it even developed. Meanwhile on earth, where our robust magnetic force field keeps most harmful radiation away from the surface, life has developed abundantly. Yet the history of life here on Earth confirms that we (human beings) are unique, even for this planet. The rise of mammals was not a natural event. It was coaxed by specific conditions, that brought about the development of higher brain function to evade dinosaur predators. Then the dinosaurs were wiped out, along with a percentage of the earth's atmosphere, clearing the way for another food chain wherein mammals could rise to the top. This could not happen if the atmosphere had remained thick, which would have given reptiles and dinosaurs an advantage again. In order for mammals to rise, the earth had to have thinner air and a cooler climate. That's exactly what happened, and after the rise of mammals, came the appearance of man. None of this is natural folks. Even when we go by the witness of cold, hard, scientific theory, what we see is that our species is a unique brand, brought about by very unique and specific conditions.  Animal and plant life, on other words, is not too far fetched. Theoretically, all you need are the right temperatures and a good, strong, magnetic field. That is rare, even in our solar system, but it is remotely possible under the right conditions. However, coming up with an animal that has higher brain function, such as the ability to reason, is an extremely rare event, that even this planet has only seen once in its four and a half billion year history. Science itself is telling us that intelligent life is an extremely rare thing, if not totally unique to Earth alone. Popular culture, fuelled by science fiction, wants to believe that intelligent life is abundant in the universe. Space agencies play on this popular mythology for funding, promising to find signs of life elsewhere, if only governments will just cough up a few billion more dollars. As I said, there is nothing wrong with looking. What is unreasonable however, is getting our hopes up for a discovery that is extremely unlikely to ever happen.

END.

------------------------------------------------

Shane Schaetzel is a published author and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'FullyChristian.Com -- The random musings of a Catholic in the Ozarks.'

BOOKS BY THIS AUTHOR...
Catholicism for Protestants

Please share this story. Social media links provided below for your convenience... 

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Why Religious Tax Exemption Helps Politicians More Than Churches

King Louis VIII bows in submission to the Archbishop of Reims at his coronation, circa 1223 AD.
Painted in the 1450s, kept in the National Library of France

Lately there has been an awful lot of talk about religion and politics, and by that I mean, not in a good way. A lot of this centres around same-sex 'marriage' and religious liberty. In the midst of all this ruckus I hear left-wing voices shout 'end religious tax exemption!' Some have even gotten so bold as to put conditions on it, by saying if churches won't support same-sex 'marriage' they should have their tax exemption removed. In the face of such threats and ultimatums, I have to laugh. Mainly because if these people actually got what they wanted, it would be the end of them, politically speaking. Their political momentum would come to a grinding halt. When they decry religious tax exemption, what they are unwittingly advocating is the victory of religion over politics. Be careful what you wish for.

The irony to this is that such cries are meant to be a threat. When they're made, those who make them hope to silence their religious opposition. The idea is that fear of losing tax exempt status will result in religious institutions cowering into silence about whatever social issue is causing the ruckus in the first place. Why do they think this? Because it's worked in the past, and actually, it's worked fairly well. Most of the time, when Christians (for example) are confronted with the argument that tax exemption should be revoked for their churches, they back down, and in that very cowering we see the power the religious tax exemption holds over churches and religious people.

You see, so long as the tax exemption status exists, for religious institutions in America, politicians and political hacks hold this power over them. However, if it actually is removed, everything changes. As soon as it's gone, all bets are off. Religious institutions will no longer be compelled to restrain themselves on any political issue, party or candidate. Religious leaders will be able to speak freely on all of them, without fear of losing anything, because you see, they've already lost their tax exempt status. So they have nothing left to lose. Removing the tax exempt status would effectively make religion the most powerful political influence in the United States. Churches would be free to endorse particular candidates for elections by name, and particular parties for voting blocks. In fact, it goes further than that. Not only could they endorse certain candidates and parties, but they could also condemn them too. I'm not just talking about the typical negative campaigning one sees on television these days. I'm talking about the hell, fire, and brimstone preached from pulpits all over the country, in which pastors warn their congregations of national perdition, and the loss of salvation, if they vote for certain candidates. No longer fearing any loss of tax-exempt revenue, and subject to no election laws (because they won't need to spend a dime on advertisements), they'll have a captive audience in their pews every Sunday, and they'll drive the fear of God right into their voting habits. There won't be a darn thing anybody can do about it, because you see, it's all just 'freedom of religion' and historically (as well as legally) speaking, the ONE AND ONLY THING that has so far kept religion out of politics, is that little 501(c)(3) status on their annual tax forms. If you think religion is too involved in the political process now, go ahead and revoke that religious tax exemption. You haven't seen anything yet!

Then of course there is that little tool churches have, which up to this point has been kept relatively quiet, but you can bet it will be trumpeted from the rooftops just as soon as religious tax exemption is revoked. It's that little thing called 'excommunication'. Some churches call it 'disfellowship' but whatever the name, the result it the same. It is a penalty that religions use for members who refuse to repent of sin, after being repeatedly warned, and thus bring scandal upon the church due to their obstinate refusal. It is a punishment reserved only for the most egregious offenders of religion. Would it surprise you to know that many of America's federal politicians have received such a sentence, or something equivalent, from their various religious affiliations? Yes, that's right. Many of America's federal politicians, along with a good number of state and city politicians as well, actually cannot legally receive holy communion in their own churches, because they've either been formally or informally excommunicated. I bet you didn't know that. But do you know why you didn't know that? The reason why you probably didn't know that is because most churches keep it private, or at least very low key. The politician is notified, usually by a phone call or private letter, that he/she has been excommunicated, and this matter is just kept between the politician and his/her religious organisation. It's done this way primarily for two reasons. First, churches usually don't want to publicly humiliate those who have been excommunicated. This is primarily because the goal of excommunication is to shock the person being excommunicated into repentance, thus ending the scandal, so they can be received back into the church with open arms. Second, when it comes to politicians, there is another reason. It has to do with that little 501(c)(3) status again. You see, informing everyone in a church that some particular politician has been excommunicated, could possibly be misinterpreted as electioneering or campaigning for his opponent, especially if this has been done during or near an election cycle. So once again, churches keep it quiet. However, if you get rid of the tax exempt status for churches, all of this will end. Churches will be free to openly declare which politicians have been excommunicated, even during an election cycle, depending on the level of scandal they are bringing upon a church, and the prerogative of the religious leader in charge. Again, nobody will be able to do anything about it, because it is after all just freedom of religion. It's covered under the 1st Amendment in the Bill of Rights, and now that there is no longer a tax exemption for religious institutions, its open season on political parties and politicians. So you see, the biggest beneficiaries of the 501(c)(3) religious tax exempt status are not really churches. They are rather politicians and political parties, because you see, allowing churches to keep that status, in exchange for their silence on candidates and parties, helps certain candidates and parties remain politically viable.

I find the whole thing both ironic and amusing really. While revoking tax exemption for a particular denomination, or all religions in general, would cause a temporary mess, churches would recover. If you think tax exemption is the only thing keeping people going to church, well, you're in for a surprise. I for one would continue giving money to my Church, regardless of its tax exempt status, and I think most religious people feel the same way. The only thing it would accomplish is to make us angry at the government for no longer letting us write off that money. I wouldn't be angry at my Church, my priest, or my God. I would be angry at the government, and especially the politicians responsible for this. I suspect most religious people would feel the same. So I say to all of my politically left-leaning friends, if you're really serious about revoking tax exempt status for my church (or any church), than go ahead and bring it. You'll cause a little trouble for us in the short-term, but in the long-term you'll be putting yourselves out of business. Like I said, if you think religion is too involved in government now, go ahead and revoke tax exemption for churches. You haven't seen anything yet.

END.

------------------------------------------------

Shane Schaetzel is a published author and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'FullyChristian.Com -- The random musings of a Catholic in the Ozarks.'

BOOKS BY THIS AUTHOR...
Catholicism for Protestants

Please share this story. Social media links provided below for your convenience...