St. Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle were abandoned by Descartes. This was a colossal blunder in the history of philosophy. I am reminded of Antony Flew, the atheist who famously became a theist (though not a Christian) rather late in his life after (as I understand it) finally reading Aristotle. This just goes to show you that people should not discount the Philosopher or his greatest exegete. 😃 This raises a point of some interest to me, in that modern philosophers have taken to chopping up Aristotle’s works amongst various students of his and other authors, whereas Aquinas successfully interprets them as cohesive, coherent works in the form that they have come down to us. Now either Aquinas was wrong about that (which, given his overall genius, seems unlikely) or he has given the world a work of unique brilliance: a coherent philosophy based upon fragments which (to my knowledge, which is admittedly limited) has never been refuted (which is not to say whether or not it might so much…but we may never know because moderns ignore him).
I abandoned Protestantism when I could not satisfactorily answer this question. I was neither discontent nor looking for “better answers” nor bedazzled by smells and bells; I was trying to be a thoroughly consistent Christian. I simply found that I could not do that and at the same time remain Protestant. Only later did I begin investigating the Catholic Church, when it became clear that I had no good reason to a priori ignore Catholic claims.
I abandoned the GOP twenty-four years ago when I decided that the party of Reagan was no longer the party of Reagan and was instead some other thing which would never accomplish what it promised. The poster child issue for this is of course the abolition of abortion. Never forget that during the Clinton administration the GOP gained control of both houses of Congress for the first time in decades, and they used this position to achieve zero gains in the battle for human life. Never forget that during George W. Bush’s administration they held the White House and (again) both houses of Congress and so lacked the bad excuse that any pro-life measures they might offer would be vetoed (we will grant President Bush the presumption that he was self-consciously opposed to abortion though his pro-torture administration does make that a bit of a shaky thing to do). No one ever went broke betting on the GOP’s lack of fortitude when it comes to pursuing a ban on abortion. Let us also remember that it was a GOP appointee who cast the deciding vote in the void “decision” of summer 2015. Social conservatives, the GOP has made it plain that there is no place for in their “big tent” for you. It is time to abandon them, even if it means starting a new party from scratch (the Democrat party is a dead thing).
It occurs to me that this is a rather negative post. So let’s have some things that I haven’t abandoned just to balance things out!
I embraced the philosophy of Aquinas and Aristotle when I first read it, starting about ten years ago. Aquinas is an extraordinarily clear and gifted writer. He cannot make intrinsically hard subjects easy, but he at least makes them possible. I strongly recommend his works if you have time and the inclination to read them. Above all, start with a good introduction to his philosophy (like this one) to help with the tough early sledding. Personally I recommend starting with the Summa Contra Gentiles (also available online here); in it Aquinas presents a reasoned defense of the Christian faith without relying upon appeals to the authority of the Bible (because his target audience was Muslim). It is shorter (compared to the mammoth Summa Theologiæ anyway); it is (in my opinion) more accessible; and it simultaneously offers an overview of what his philosophy and theology are like while assuming less on the part of the reader’s background. That’s not to say it is an easy book, but it is easier than the more famous Summa.
I embraced the Catholic Church, having become convinced of the truth of her claims for herself so far as I am able to grasp them, and by the grace of God exercising faith that what she teaches is the truth even when those teachings exceed my abilities. In the Church I have found satisfying answers to nagging questions and most importantly I have found Christ offered to me in her sacraments. My Christian life is much the richer for having become Catholic, and I thank the Lord for leading me to His Church.
I embraced the writings of the saints as wonderful guides to the Christian life. In particular I am fond of Story of a Soul and the writings of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila. The saints inspire readers to lives of holiness and true devotion to God.
When it comes to more mundane things, I embrace The Lord of the Rings (the greatest work of literature in the English language, in my opinion, and one of the greatest works of any art of all time too), Dickens (with Tolkien an author of sublimely beautiful English), Bradbury (Something Wicked This Way Comes is the best American novel I have read), CS Lewis (the Space Trilogy knocks my socks off), U2, Coldplay, The Cranberries, The Beatles, Ingrid Michaelson, Imelda May, Johnny Cash, Bach, Strauss, and many other musicians. I embrace The X-Files, LOST, and Doctor Who. I embrace The Lord of the Rings by Peter Jackson (although I am prone to occasionally forget this because it takes so long to watch the movies and consequently I do so only half as often as they deserve), Casablanca, Rear Window, North by Northwest, The Quiet Man, The Godfather, and a number of other films; almost anything by Tim Burton is on my list too.
Just as I was getting ready to publish this it occurred to me that another form abandonment is crucial for the Christian life: abandonment of self.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:37-39)
If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (Luke 9:23-24)
Why is this? We must deny ourselves to the extent that we have made something other than God the most important thing in our life; we must deny ourselves to the extent that we have exalted ourselves in despite of Him. Pride is the devil’s sin, and we must set aside our own pride in order to love and serve God rightly. So this abandonment is not just a positive thing; it is the most healthy thing that we can do.
So friends, in conclusion let me suggest to you that when one thing must be abandoned (and there are often good reasons for doing so) embrace something else and better in its place.