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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Dr. Stephen Hawking & Life After Death

I am increasingly amazed and impressed by Msgr. Charles Pope’s expertise and the range of his wisdom on the ADW Blog.  As someone who has long been intrigued by the complementarity of truth between science, philosophy and theology, I read with great interest his response to Dr. Stephen Hawking’s atheistic and mechanistic view of creation and reality.  Dr. Hawking is very much in the news because he has pontificated that there need be no God and no afterlife.  He suggests that religious believers are just poor people who are afraid of death.  It should be noted that there is no evidence that he has studied religion with any depth and neither is he a philosopher.  Dr. Hawking is a scientist.  His world is that of numbers and that which can be viewed in a telescope.  Msgr. Pope rightly suggests that he is no more qualified to speak on religious questions than the good priest would be to lecture on string theory.  Dr. Hawking has jumped to a conclusion without sufficient study and reflection.  Coincidentally, the great expert on black holes has suffered professional setbacks lately for espousing scientific opinions (within his field and about evaporating black holes and alternative dimensions) with little or no hard science to back up his claims.  He looks impressive in his chair and linked to a computer and voice synthesizer, but the researcher may be slipping more and more into science fiction and fantasy.  What I am trying to say is what Msgr. Pope says so much clearer than I could; Dr. Hawking is not infallible and has a personal opinion about religious faith that should not muster great weight or concern.  The media treats him much in the way they reported on the late Dr. Albert Einstein– with exaggeration and almost cultic worship.

Msgr. Pope notes that the famous scientist views his brain much as a computer and that when it stops functioning, that will be the end of him.  This is not so much a scientific view (as it cannot be proven) but a philosophical one.  Here too Dr. Hawking is outside his area of expertise.  I would also suggest that something of his fatalism is due to his personal condition.  He has remarked that he feels like a brain trapped in a useless and dying body.  Separatists identify the person with the mind and view it  (much like a computer) in opposition to the rest of the “robotic” body.  This is not a true Christian or Catholic perspective.  We regard the human person as a whole and the mind is not merely “thinking meat.” The Church speaks of human beings as spiritual-corporeal-composites.  The body breaks down but the soul has no parts and is immortal.  God has promised us restoration of the body and soul.  While it is true that some fear death, Christians also believe that love is stronger than death and place their confidence in a personal and corporate relationship with Christ.  The Church proclaims that Christ is risen and that he desires to share his life with us.  God has even planted a desire in us for happiness, reunion and life.  This yearning is neither accidental nor capricious.

Dr. Hawking has given a heroic witness of living and working through terrible adversity.  But his answer that people should live their full potential and forget about an afterlife is no real answer.  It is unfortunate that a man who has pursued truth would dismiss the genuine journey of others to find ultimate meaning.  If the good doctor had lived at an earlier time in history there would not have been the technology to keep him alive and to allow him to work or communicate.  Others in our own time have disabilities of both the mind and body.  If human life is only valued in terms of utility and there is no higher value then the recourse of people with his mindset would be a massive campaign of euthanasia and suicide.  Those suffering severe retardation and in coma could not actively engage in any effort for the good life or for any potential, earthly rational or otherwise.  Indeed, dissenters have argued to strip the title “human” from any entity that does not have a clearly rational potential.  Does the media really understand what kind of nightmare world that Dr. Hawking’s views would create?  Msgr. Pope sees these very same danger signs.  Such ideas were tested before by the likes of Margaret Sanger and Adolf Hitler; ironically they would result in a eugenics that would have cost Dr. Stephen Hawking his mortal existence.