When actor and director Mel Gibson was asked some years ago about certain difficulties he had when making his film The Passion of the Christ, he registered a countenance of unease and said (I’m paraphrasing), “Something doesn’t want this to happen.”
Being just a couple of seconds of his interview, it was perhaps hardly noticed by many. But it might have made the ears of people of faith, particularly Christians, perk up. And they would have known precisely to what he was alluding.
Of course, any talk of spirits not confined to the local liquor store is now often considered the stuff of children and crackpots. Yet is such scoffing logical?
Some may now think the next question tackled would be: which is that mental landfill, the religious or secular universe of ideas? In this article, however, I will deal with a little picture, not the big one. We are going to examine angels and demons, whose existence, of course, I cannot prove or disprove (although I certainly have always believed them, as when I was a wee lad already, my mother told me in no uncertain terms that I was a little devil). Yet there is something I can prove: scoffing at talk of their existence is illogical within the context of what, even today, is most people’s world view.
A majority Americans will say they believe in God and also that we humans have souls. Of course, to believe the former but not the latter would be to contend that God created soulless sentient beings, organic robots who — or, I should say, which — are just some pounds of chemicals and water. For, without souls, that is all we would be. This conception of man’s nature is, by the way, a corollary of atheism and is the expressed belief of people such as physicist Stephen Hawking.
But while most will reflexively say we have souls, they do not consider what a soul actually is. It is called the spiritual part of us because it is in fact a spirit, a ghost. All these terms are synonyms.
Now, a corollary of belief in God and His creation is that the spirit preceded the flesh (viewing matters through our “handy illusion,” as Einstein put it, called time); after all, God is a spirit and He came “first.”
So now let us lend perspective to the belief in angels. It states that before the spirit we call God created man, who is spirit and flesh, He created a race of beings who are only spirit. And like us they have intellect and free will, which is why they could choose evil and some rejected God. We, of course, call these fallen angels “demons.”
Thus, within the context of most people’s world view, belief in angels is anything but fanciful — it is a piece that fits seamlessly into the foundational Western faith puzzle. After all, what is fantastic about the idea that God’s first order of Creation was to create beings who, like Him, were pure spirit? In other words, you may question theists’ universe of ideas, as atheists do. It is illogical, however, to accept their basic tenet of God’s existence but then say that a belief in lesser spirits is preposterous.
This brings us to the next order of Creation. It is also true that a belief in angels can very much influence our conception of man. As James Collins wrote in The Thomistic Philosophy of the Angels:
The unity of the source of all being and the analogical similarity of all things guarantee that a knowledge of each grade will shed some further light upon what is below and what is above it in the hierarchy of reality. For the better understanding of God and the creative process, we can turn to that order of being which provides the most intimate created similitude of the first intelligent and free Agent.
But where we once studied angels to better understand God (and also that below them in the hierarchy of reality: man), now we do something different. As David Keck points out in Angels and Angelology in the Middle Ages:
Of all God’s creatures, human beings are nearest to the angels, and angelology thus promises to illuminate anthropology. In the modern world, the impulse to learn about human nature from closely related beings has shifted subjects from seraphim to simians. Whereas modern scientists study the origins of the apes to uncover clues about humanity, medieval theologians investigated angels.
Of course, what else would materialistic modern man study? The Manicheans believed there should be a victory of the spiritual over the material, but today’s fashionable heresy proposes a victory of the material over the spiritual — by declaring the spiritual a no-show. As a consequence, whereas we once looked up to glean insight into our nature, we now look down. We do not believe in Heaven and aspire higher, but only in the material world and use as role models the only other kinds of creatures found within it: the lower. For example, today it is not uncommon to hear, as a famous primatologist (whose name is not important) has reported, “The Bonobo apes have sex frequently — even with members of the same sex — and this may be their secret to avoiding conflict.” Of course, the implication is that we humans just need to dispense with our Puritanism and unshackle our inner simian. Why, we do not need God or the law to act “morally,” as the aforementioned primatologist has also said; just take our cues from nature.
Putting aside the fact that “morality,” properly understood, is incomprehensible within a universe of atheism (for who is to say what is right then? All is reduced to preference), those who animalize man present animal nature quite selectively. They will say that chimpanzees may comfort distressed neighbors, but chimps will also kill other chimps for sport. And I have yet to hear, as in the Planet of the Apes, a repetitive chant of “Ape killed ape!” as the hairy miscreants are held to account. It is also never proposed that since most apes — and, in fact, the majority of higher life forms — are male-dominated, that man should be patriarchal.
We can also note that, as the last 50 years have attested, there is not much correlation between increasing libertinism and atheism and decreasing violence and strife. And this was entirely predictable. We used to say about the best of men, “He is an angel”; now we say about man, “He is a talking ape.” So is it any wonder he has started to act like one?
One purpose man’s heroes always served was to give him examples of virtue to which to aspire. Those heroes evolved as time progressed from mythical characters such as Odysseus and Jason — who, though brave, had human frailties — to idealized real ones such as George Washington, who could not tell a lie. And thus does the Catholic Church declare saints, who exemplify ultimate virtue, winning battles not over terrible sinners, but over sin itself. And what do moderns give us? The Bonobo ape. Or, worse still, pop-culture icons.
Whatever our beliefs about the spirit world, there is no question that man is better when he looks up to the ethereal than down to the terrestrial. For the more we kill our heroes and angels, dismissing them as fantasies of the past, the more we birth demons in the present.
© 2012 Selwyn Duke — All Rights Reserved