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A-Rod and Augustine: Steroids and the Invasion of God

A-Rod

I’ve been a baseball fan since I was six years old, when my father took my brother and me to a Detroit Tigers game in the summer of 1966. I’ll never forget the beauty of the intensely, almost garishly, green field and the crisp white uniforms of the home-team players under the bright lights that night. I started with tee-ball when I was seven and moved through many years of little-league and Babe-Ruth league, becoming in time a pretty good hitter and shortstop.

When I was nine, in 1969, I moved with my family to Chicago and became (God help me) a Cubs fan and learned very quickly what it was like to move from giddy hope to blackest despair. And I’ve always been an admirer of the great players that I’ve been privileged to see: Roberto Clemente, Ernie Banks, Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken, Ryne Sandberg, Pete Rose, Greg Maddux, and many others.

In the summer of 1999, I was in Seattle, attending the first Mass of a student I had taught at Mundelein Seminary in Chicago. Knowing my love for baseball, he had arranged to take me to a Mariner’s game, and the player I was most looking forward to seeing was Alex Rodriguez, A-Rod. He didn’t disappoint. That night, he got, as I remember, three hits, but what has stayed in my mind was actually a strikeout, for as he swung at the third strike, he exhibited one of the most beautiful, balanced, and elegant swings I had ever seen.

I’ve been thinking of that night a good deal as the revelations about Rodriguez’s steroid use have come forth. By his own admission, the great A-Rod has joined the sad ranks of Ken Caminiti, Rafael Palmiero, John Rocker, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens, and of course Barry Bonds.

Now there are any number of rather obvious moral observations that one can make concerning this scandal. One could say that these players have undermined the integrity of the game, that they have damaged their own bodies, that they have set a terrible example to young players, that they have lied under oath or pathetically ducked the question (“I’m not here to talk about the past”), that they have egregiously cheated on their fellow competitors, etc. And these observations would be absolutely valid.

But when I look at the two most prominent players in this scandal—A-Rod and Barry Bonds—something else strikes me with particular power. These two figures began using steroids—Bonds in 1998 and Rodriguez in 2001—when they were at the top of their games, when they were generally regarded as the best players in baseball. By 1998, Bonds was already a three time MVP winner, and by 2001, A-Rod had been awarded the biggest contract in the history of professional sports. They both had sterling records, both were guaranteed a place in the Hall of Fame, both had more money than they could spend in ten lifetimes, both could out-hit, out-run, and out-play practically any player in the game. If they had been minor leaguers, desperately trying to break into the majors, or .250 hitters hoping for that extra boost that would keep them competitive for a few more years, we might understand.

But why would these gods of baseball, these men who were, without artificial help, dominating their respective leagues, turn to steroids? It has been suggested that Bonds was jealous of the national frenzy around the McGwire-Sosa homerun race in 1998 and that Rodriguez felt the pressure of living up to the expectations generated by his unprecedented contract. Fair enough. But I think that things go deeper than that.

St. Augustine, one of Catholicism's greatest philosophers, spoke of “concupiscent desire,” by which he meant a perversion of the will. We have, Augustine said, been wired for God (“Lord, you have made us for yourself”), and therefore, nothing in this world will ever be able finally to satisfy us (“our hearts are restless until they rest in thee”). When we hook our infinite desire for God onto something less than God—pleasure, money, power, success, honor, victory—we fall into a perverted and ultimately self-destructive pattern. When money isn’t enough (and it never is), we convince ourselves we need more and more of it; when honor isn’t enough (and it never is), we seek honor desperately, obsessively; when athletic success isn’t enough (and it never is), we will go to any extreme to assure more and more of it.

This awful and frustrating rhythm, which Augustine called “concupiscent,” we would call today “addictive.” Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez were not addicted to steroids per se; they were addicted to success, and we know this because they were at the pinnacle of success and still didn’t think it was enough.

One of the most liberating and salutary things that we can know is that we are not meant to be perfectly happy in this life. When we convince ourselves otherwise, we, necessarily, fall into one or more forms of addiction. Bonds and Rodriguez still felt, at the height of their success, a nagging sense of incompleteness. That was not an invitation to take desperate measures; it was the invasion of grace.
 
 
Originally posted at Word on Fire. Used with author's permission.
(Image credit: Boston Herald)

Fr. Robert Barron

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Fr. Robert Barron is an acclaimed author, speaker, and theologian. He’s America’s first podcasting priest and one of the world’s most innovative teachers of Catholicism. His global, non-profit media ministry called Word On Fire reaches millions of people by utilizing emerging technologies to draw people into or back to the Faith. Fr. Barron is also the creator and host of CATHOLICISM, a groundbreaking, 10-part documentary series and study program about the Catholic Faith. He is the author of several books including Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master (Crossroad, 2008); The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path (Orbis, 2002); and Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith (Image, 2011). Find more of his writing and videos at WordOnFire.org.

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  • Blake Helgoth

    " isn’t worth anything, it just gives you security, but Jesus gives you trust and hope." - from a WYD pilgrim that walked across S. American to attend with very little money.The same could be said of worldly success and fame. Our hearts are restless, oh Lord...

    • Catholic4life

      Late I have Loved Thee!!

  • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

    Perhaps if we didn't overvalue and nearly worship professional athletes so much, people like A-Rod ($28 million a year) would not be so desperate to stay on top. I just saw a feature story about how poorly paid musicians are—graduates from top schools like Julliard, for example—if they can find paying jobs at all. But of course baseball teams are much more important to our culture than symphony orchestras (or well paid teachers). It seems like many universities practically exist for their athletic programs.

    • stanz2reason

      The marketplace is a bitch. It's less to do with the Yankees (or whoever) paying ARod 'X' and a barowner paying a struggling musician 'Y', and more to do with the general financial support the public offers for both in terms of tickets & merchandise or bottles of beer for each. Yes, the Yankees were idiots for offering him nearly double what any other team was offering. But under an (perhaps naive) assumption on their part that he's hit 800+ homeruns, the silly contract would have paid for itself for the additional revenue generated. Also, having a good player helps your chances to get to and be successful in the postseason, also a big source of revenue. On the other hand, there are tens of thousands (perhaps millions) of people who are skilled musicians and artists looking for an opportunity to play and a chance as fame, fortune & creative control of their work. Hell, minor league baseball players have more in common with starving artists than they do with ARod. It's sort of absurd and seems to be a misplacement of priorities, but that's the way it is.

      • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

        I really do not begrudge top athletes or big movie stars their "obscene" salaries. If a movie will be a big box office hit starring Brad Pitt that would have been a major flop with an unknown actor giving an equally fine performance, then it would be foolish not to pay top dollar for Brad Pitt. But if a city values its sports teams highly and its cultural institutions not at all, it is a shame to see the cultural institutions go down the drain, and something is wrong.

  • 42Oolon

    I don't see that we were meant for anything in particular, and absent an all powerful-universe-creator, I would not expect perfect happiness.

    If an all-loving all-powerful being exists, I would expect it to be able to achieve perfect happiness and don't see why or how we should take this lack of perfect happiness as liberating or positive.

    Father Baron promotes in this seemingly innocuous article what I find quite sick in Christianity. This idea that we, in this life are somehow flawed, wretched, sinners who must praise a wrathful angry overlord and beg his forgiveness for being the way he created us. That might make sense in the imaginary world of Christianity, but to those of us outside it, it is a terrible way to see the world.

    • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

      "Father Baron promotes in this seemingly innocuous article what I find quite sick in Christianity. This idea that we, in this life are somehow flawed, wretched, sinners who must praise a wrathful angry overlord and beg his forgiveness for being the way he created us."

      Please show me where in this article Fr. Barron says that. Otherwise, this is an unfair straw man.

      • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

        Well, there's this:

        St. Augustine, one of Catholicism's greatest philosophers, spoke of “concupiscent desire,” by which he meant a perversion of the will.

        St. Augustine says we're all perverts! :-)

        The Catechism says

        2515 Etymologically, "concupiscence" can refer to any intense form of human desire. Christian theology has given it a particular meaning: the movement of the sensitive appetite contrary to the operation of the human reason. The apostle St. Paul identifies it with the rebellion of the "flesh" against the "spirit." Concupiscence stems from the disobedience of the first sin. It unsettles man's moral faculties and, without being in itself an offense, inclines man to commit sins.

        2516 Because man is a composite being, spirit and body, there already exists a certain tension in him; a certain struggle of tendencies between "spirit" and "flesh" develops. But in fact this struggle belongs to the heritage of sin. It is a consequence of sin and at the same time a confirmation of it. It is part of the daily experience of the spiritual battle . . . .

        2517 The heart is the seat of moral personality: "Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication. . . . " The struggle against carnal covetousness entails purifying the heart and practicing temperance . . .

        2520 Baptism confers on its recipient the grace of purification from all sins. But the baptized must continue to struggle against concupiscence of the flesh and disordered desires. With God's grace he will prevail . . . .

        Even redeemed and baptized Christians have the deck stacked against them. And then, of course, there is also the belief that the devil is roaming the earth tricking and tempting people.

        The damage allegedly done by Original Sin really seems irreparable. Even after the Redemption by Jesus and baptism, human beings are still very much damaged goods.

        • ziad

          " human beings are still very much damaged goods."

          Christianity would be terrible if its teachings stopped there (saying that all are wretched). The good news is that God did not leave us and gave us sacraments to be better and cleanse us. With God's grace, we can be restored to the original state we once were (In God's image)

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            With God's grace, we can be restored to the original state we once were (In God's image)

            Is this true? It is my understanding that nothing repairs the damage to human nature allegedly cause by Original Sin. Certainly baptism doesn't. Here's a quote from C. S. Lewis about the greatest saints calling themselves miserable sinners:

            Perhaps you have imagined that this humility in the saints is a pious illusion at which God smiles. This is a most dangerous error. It is theoretically dangerous, because it makes you identify a virtue (i.e., a perfection) with an illusion (i.e., an imperfection), which is nonsense. It is practically dangerous because it encourages a man to mistake his first insight into his own corruption for the first beginnings of a halo round his own silly head. No, depend upon it; when the saints say that they—even they—are vile, they are recording a truth with scientific accuracy.

            As I understand it, there is nothing that can restore a human being to the original, unfallen state of Adam and Eve. Of course, even in that "perfect" state, they sinned without hesitation, so I am not sure how perfect perfection was.

          • ziad

            As I said, we are still sinners. My point was is that God will accept us regardless of that. A saint is a sinner who keeps trying. Being a saint does not mean they stopped sinning, but rather admit to their sin, ask forgiveness, work on their flaws and have a strong relationship with God

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Isn't it the case that theoretically, no one ever has to commit a sin, but in actual practice, aside from Mary and Jesus, there has never been anyone who didn't sin? Something is wrong with that picture.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            "Isn't it the case that theoretically, no one ever has to commit a sin, but in actual practice, aside from Mary and Jesus, there has never been anyone who didn't sin?"

            I'm not sure what you mean by "no one ever has to commit a sin." If you mean nobody is *forced* to commit sin, then you'd be correct. Sin requires an act of the will, and if you do not consent to a sinful act then you do not sin.

            "Something is wrong with that picture."

            I don't see anything wrong with that picture. It makes sense to me that God-made-man would be sinless, as would be his mother. Jesus Christ is the only person to ever live who created his own mother. If you could create your own mother, wouldn't you create her without the stain of sin?

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            If you could create your own mother, wouldn't you create her without the stain of sin?

            Here is probably not the right place to ask the question—If God could exempt one person from Original Sin, why couldn't he exempt everyone?

            My point about what is wrong with the picture is not that Jesus and Mary were without sin. It is that, as I understand it, God will always grant the grace necessary to avoid sin, and yet apparently with two exceptions, everyone has sinned anyway. (Or everyone capable of sinning has sinned. Infants and the severely developmentally disabled don't sin, presumably.) Even Adam and Eve, who originally did not suffer the effects of Original Sin, sinned without apparently giving it more than a moment's thought.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            "My point about what is wrong with the picture is not that Jesus and Mary were without sin. It is that, as I understand it, God will always grant the grace necessary to avoid sin, and yet apparently with two exceptions, everyone has sinned anyway. (Or everyone capable of sinning has sinned. Infants and the severely developmentally disabled don't sin, presumably.) Even Adam and Eve, who originally did not suffer the effects of Original Sin, sinned without apparently giving it more than a moment's thought."

            I think we might be nearing the source of your confusion. Correct me if I'm wrong, but do you believe the Catholic Church teaches that the ability to sin stems solely from Original Sin?

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            . . . . do you believe the Catholic Church teaches that the ability to sin stems solely from Original Sin?

            No. If that were the case, Adam and Eve (or the first humans they represent) would not have been able to sin. And the Church teaches that they did. But the Church teaches that baptism, although it "erases original sin and turns a man back towards God," does not undo the damage to human nature, leaving it "weakened and inclined to evil." So while sin was clearly possible before human nature was damaged, the damage done to human nature basically guarantees that all humans with the capacity to sin will indeed sin.

            (I see some possible holes in that, but that is what I was taught.)

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            No, I think you've got it mostly right and I commend you for it. But now that we have the correct picture, what do you see wrong? (Per your earlier statement, "Something is wrong with that picture.")

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            But now that we have the correct picture, what do you see wrong? (Per your earlier statement, "Something is wrong with that picture.")

            I have a question for you, first. Is it authentic Catholic teaching that everyone who has ever lived, except Jesus and Mary, was a sinner—i.e., committed at least one sin? Obviously people who die before the age of reason cannot have committed sins. But my understanding is that Catholicism teaches that there is no one, aside from Mary and Jesus, who does not or has not sinned. A second question, perhaps impossible to answer, is this—If Mary had not been conceived without Original Sin, would she still have never committed a sin in her life? Does it make it significantly easier to be a non-sinner absent the effects of Original Sin?

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            "Is this true? It is my understanding that nothing repairs the damage to human nature allegedly cause by Original Sin."

            You're mistaken. Baptism watches man of the stain of original sin, though he's left with its effects. Yet even those effects will be healed after death.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            You're mistaken. Baptism watches man of the stain of original sin, though he's left with its effects.

            If Baptism doesn't undo the effects of Original Sin, then "nothing repairs the damage to human nature allegedly cause by Original Sin." The Catechism says, "Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ's grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle." That is how I understood the issue, so I don't believe I was mistaken.

            Yet even those effects will be healed after death.

            But it is at the moment of death that a person's eternal fate is allegedly sealed. The "spiritual battle" has to be fought by every human person with a human nature "weakened and inclined to evil."

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            "But it is at the moment of death that a person's eternal fate is allegedly sealed. The "spiritual battle" has to be fought by every human person with a human nature "weakened and inclined to evil."

            That's true. Where you're wrong is when you said, "nothing repairs the damage to human nature allegedly cause by Original Sin." As I've explained, Jesus Christ repairs the damage due to Original Sin, but that healing is completed only after death. Therefore, you were wrong to say "nothing" repairs the damage.

        • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

          "St. Augustine says we're all perverts! :-)"

          I hesitate to dignify this with a response. It's clear Augustine (and Fr. Barron) are referring to the philosophical meaning of "pervert" which is to change the inherent purpose or function of something--to use it inappropriately.

          "The damage allegedly done by Original Sin really seems irreparable. Even after the Redemption by Jesus and baptism, human beings are still very much damaged goods."

          It seems you're deeply confused here about Christian theology. The fundamental, most basic Christian claim is that while man *was* irreparable by his own strength, Jesus Christ has redeemed him: man was repaired.

          I'll agree that human begins are still very much damaged goods if by that you mean we're not yet what we were created to be. We still battle concupiscence in all its forms--clouded minds, weakened wills, and disordered appetites. But the Good News of the Gospel is that Christ has ultimately liberated us from these perversions and has shown us the path toward perfection. The goal of the Christian life, which is only finally accomplished after death and purification, is deification.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            I hesitate to dignify this with a response. It's clear Augustine (and Fr. Barron) are referring to the philosophical meaning of "pervert" which is to change the inherent purpose or function of something--to use
            it inappropriately.

            First, the :-) indicates I was being somewhat facetious. However, in all seriousness, all the various concepts such as sexual perversion, "perverted faculty," and "perversion of the will," "disordered," and so on, all have basically the same meaning. For a number of reasons, calling a person a pervert is out of fashion and also considered an insult, but it is just a crude way of saying "a person with an inclination that is objectively disordered," whether that inclination is to masturbation, homosexuality, or anything other than sex within heterosexual marriage (in the Catholic view). Perverted basically means disordered in the sense of ordered to the wrong end.

            It seems you're deeply confused here about Christian theology. The fundamental, most basic Christian claim is that while man *was* irreparable by his own strength, Jesus Christ has redeemed him: man was repaired.

            I don't believe I am confused at all. Catholicism teaches that Jesus by his death redeemed all human beings, but as you note:

            I'll agree that human begins are still very much damaged goods if by that you mean we're not yet what we were created to be.

            Baptism restores sanctifying grace, but it does not undo the damage to human nature allegedly caused by Original Sin. That is what I meant (and said).

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The word "pervert" need to be rehabilitated. As you point out, it simply means disordered or turned away from its proper end.

            Another is prudence, which sounds like a dried-up old hag but is actually the virtue of virtues.

      • 42Oolon

        "One of the most liberating and salutary things that we can know is that we are not meant to be perfectly happy in this life."

        In other words, it is a good thing, one of the best things, that we were meant not to be perfectly happy. I see this as saying God intended the world to have sin or suffering in it.

        • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

          "In other words, it is a good thing, one of the best things, that we were meant not to be perfectly happy. I see this as saying God intended the world to have sin or suffering in it."

          You've taken the quote out of context. When placed in the context of the rest of the article, and its emphasis on concupiscence, it's clear Fr. Barron is saying that while God originally intended (and still desires) perfect happiness for man, *in our fallen world* we cannot attain it this side of death.

          I'll also add that this is also a far-cry from your original accusation that Fr. Barron's main idea is that "we, in this life are somehow flawed, wretched, sinners who must praise a wrathful angry overlord and beg his forgiveness for being the way he created us."

          Since you have been unable to show us where he says this, I was hoping you would admit this misrepresentation and retract it in the name of fruitful dialogue.

          • 42Oolon

            When Fr Baron says "we are not meant to be perfectly happy in this life", his use of the word "meant" implies to me that there was intention in the design of this state of affairs. Who's intention? You say:

            "God originally intended (and still desires) perfect happiness for man" so God always intended us to be perfectly happy. I would say that humans too always desire perfect happiness. So who meant for us not to be perfectly happy?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I agree that "humans too always desire perfect happiness." I think *God* means for us not to be perfectly happy in this life.

            The reason is that nothing *in this life* is capable of giving us perfect happiness. The desire for perfect happiness in this life and the impossibility of perfect happiness in this life combine to create in us a kind of internal GPS pointing us to God, the only actual source of perfect happiness.

          • 42Oolon

            So, God created a system by which depriving humans of perfect happiness would drive us towards him. He meant for us not to be happy in this world. Celebrating such an idea is abhorrent to me, considering the terrible suffering and pain god knew we would endure in our less than perfect state.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            How do you go from *the impossibility of perfect happiness* to *not to be happy* or *no happiness*!? Then you go from *no happiness* to the extreme of *terrible suffering and pain.*

            Are YOU experiencing terrible suffering and pain now? I doubt it. But I bet you are experiencing various forms of desire.

            Consider food. We experience hunger, a kind of suffering, and eat, not only satisfying hunger but receiving delight. And soon we are hungry again. Is *that* abhorrent to you that you are designed this way, maybe by God?

            What about sexual desire, sexual experience, and sexual satisfaction, followed again by sexual desire? Is that dynamic abhorrent to you?

            Consider the thirst for truth. We have a desire for truth. That is a kind of suffering which drives us. But every time we find truth we experience delight. Yet the thirst for deeper truth remains, spurring us on. Is that abhorrent to you?

            We are creatures designed for happiness, always acting for happiness, always seeking happiness, yet never finding *perfect* happiness. If God has made us this way, why is this abhorrent, if he intends to give us perfect happiness in the end?

          • Linda

            I agree. And we are not denied happiness in this life, just *perfect* happiness. We experience happiness and delight in many things in this world. However, at least in my experience, the material things bring far less happiness, and less long-lasting delight. I am most content when I focus on other people and not myself, and when I am less concerned with the *things* of the world.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., has build a little intellectual industry around his four levels of happiness:

            http://www.spitzercenter.org/html/archive/our-approach/the-four-levels-defined.php

          • Linda

            Interesting. I like those levels! Thanks for the link. It's funny to see a priest so business like. :)

          • 42Oolon

            If what you describe were the world God created, I would agree with you. If we lived in a world in which there was hunger that was more or less quickly satiated, same for sexual desires and other desires for thrills and experiences like companionship, security. This would be a world in which we were not perfectly happy but we never really suffered much. But the world we live in, the one God chose to create, is one in which our desires lead us to often "fall into a perverted and ultimately self-destructive pattern". There is seemingly meaningless hunger and destruction from natural and human disasters. A loving God would have created a world like the one you describe in which we still have free will, good and bad, desires, challenges and fulfillment, some pain and suffering but without the desperately terrible senseless destruction of children with cancer, earthquakes and tidal waves that senselessly savage millions every year. Why create a world in which some people, including priests are born gay. They are only attracted to the same sex. It is not their fault (as the pope recently suggested). But they, unlike those of us who are heterosexual, can never fulfill that desire. At all. Or they risk the destruction of a relationship with God. This is certainly a situation where they are meant to be "not perfectly happy". As God could certainly just designed us in such a way that no one ever desired to be gay. There would be plenty of room in such a world in which we could sin and reject God or chose Him and Catholicism. All that would be different would be the lack of this whole gay issue. But that was not His plan. I find it abhorrent to suggest that this state of affairs was intended and that we should praise that intention.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Tell me, if you were God, would you really create an interim world like in the Berenstain Bears over The Lord of the Rings? Or Polyanna over Great Expectations? I think those examples describe your world compared to the actual world.

            Anyway, you and I are not actually qualified to define how God should have made the universe, because we are too ignorant. It is like demanding a say in the laws of physics.

          • frsmccarthy

            With all due respect to Kevin, I would disagree with him when he says that it is God who intended that we not find perfect happiness in this life, though I understand where he is coming from. God intended our happiness in the beginning, and He intended our happiness by showing the world His face in the person of Jesus Christ. God intends our perfect happiness, and went to great lengths to achieve that for us. He did not "mean" for us to be unhappy. So who did?

            I think nobody intended it. If anyone is to blame, it would be humanity itself. Often times we do things with the intention of gaining happiness, but end up disappointed. For example, a person might spend many hours in the sun for sport, tanning, or whatever. Their intention is to be happy, or find happiness. If, as a result, they get some kind of skin cancer, it isn't because they intended it, but I would certainly not say that, if they didn't mean for it to happen, then God must have meant for it to happen. Original Sin is another prime example: the attempt to create one's own happiness apart from God must have been appealing at first, but by the time Adam and Eve realized that there is no happiness without God, it was a little too late.

            When Father Barron uses the word "meant," I don't think he's referring to anyone's intention. Rather, I think he's using it to suggest that unhappiness and discord is the inevitable result of so many people trying to find perfect happiness apart from God (much like Adam and Eve themselves tried to do). In the same sense, if I saw kids playing with fire, and one of them burns his hand, I might say, "That was meant to happen." In saying that, I'm not suggesting intention, but rather that getting burnt is the inevitable result of repeatedly playing with fire.

            Returning to the question, then, I say that God does mean for us to be perfectly happy, and that we are able to have a foretaste of perfect happiness in this life. I realize it might sound like I'm contradicting Fr. Barron a bit here, but, in context, I don't think Fr. Barron is trying to disprove the possibility of perfect happiness in this life as much as He is trying to assert that perfect happiness comes from God, who transcends this life. To the extent that we are not perfectly happy in this life, it is because unhappiness is the "inevitable result" of the false promises of secular humanism that rule the day, wherein happiness comes from ourselves or material things as opposed to God, combined with the greed and hedonism that are so common in so many places - even in the Church at times, unfortunately. For that reason, Fr. Barron rightly quotes St. Thomas: "Our hearts are restless until they rest in you."

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            I think it is a bit futile to talk about Adam and Eve to people who question Christianity and/or all religion. Even the Catechism says the story is in "figurative language." The story of Adam and Eve in Genesis is fascinating and could be discussed endlessly. But speaking of Adam and Eve as if they were two real people who ate forbidden fruit is not going to be meaningful even to a great many believing Christians, let alone those who doubt or disbelieve.

          • frsmccarthy

            Granted, and the historicity of Adam and Eve is besides the point. Please don't write off the point I'm trying to make simply because I used biblical figures to illustrate that point. The question that was asked directly pertains to "what the Church teaches," and I answered that question within the Christian framework. Regardless of what I mean by "Adam and Eve," my point still stands.

    • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

      I agree that an atheist is no more likely to believe he or she can attain perfect happiness in "this life" (which for an atheist is just "life") than a believer, and perhaps less likely. Atheists do not hang on to hopes of supernatural help to attain the impossible.

    • ziad

      "f an all-loving all-powerful being exists, I would expect it to be able to achieve perfect happiness and don't see why or how we should take this lack of perfect happiness as liberating or positive."

      I think what father meant is not that knowing that perfect happiness does not exist is liberating, but rather that "this life" does not have perfect happiness. The implication is that the next is where the fullness of happiness lies. Knowing that "this life" is not where to look for perfect happiness would liberate us because we wouldn't start looking for it in things of this life, hence we won't be addicted to anything from here like wealth, fame, love, etc.

    • http://www.DeaconHarbey.com/ Dcn Harbey Santiago

      "...This idea that we, in this life are somehow
      flawed, wretched, sinners who must praise a wrathful angry overlord and
      beg his forgiveness for being the way he created us"

      That is a rather Reformed/Calvinistic theological view. Catholics are not Calvinists, in fact our theologies are almost at opposite ends of the spectrum.

      "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
      DHS

    • HigherCalling

      "Certain new theologians dispute Original Sin, which is the only part of Christian theology that can really be proved." --GKC

      All inquiry must begin with a fact. Christian inquiry begins with the most obvious fact staring us in the face: the fact of sin. The Christian story starts from that premise, the premise of positive evil. The materialist premise, having denied the sin, starts from something far less evident and thus moves on to far less satisfying ways of explaining the human condition and far less practical ways of solving the normal human desire to be cleansed.

      But you've reached, it seems, the same conclusion that many great thinkers and saints have through history. In matters of explaining human existence, it ultimately comes down to two choices: Catholicism or Atheism -- no other religious option works but Catholicism, and since there is no philosophical middle ground between God and Godlessness, the only remaining option is Atheism. Chesterton called it the choice between the Catholic Creed or Eastern pessimism; Newman called it the choice between Catholicism or suicide; others have called it the choice between Catholicism or despair. Ultimately there is only one obstacle standing in the way of the honest atheist, and that is the Catholic Church. Until an atheist can say he has fully confronted that obstacle with intellectual honesty and philosophical integrity, he will never see the wonder, joy and sensibility of the "imaginary" Christian message (as if imagination breeds insanity, which it doesn't, and reason can't, which it can). But if his choice is to deny the premise of Original Sin, he will have no choice but to murder God, which is to murder truth, beauty, goodness, and love in their fullness, which is a dangerous way to see the world .

    • Randy Gritter

      Father Baron promotes in this seemingly innocuous article what I find
      quite sick in Christianity. This idea that we, in this life are somehow
      flawed, wretched, sinners
      I actually think that gets to the heart of an important difference between Catholics and atheists in this discussion. Catholics believe in sin. That is that we are all serious sinners. Most secular people and almost all atheists reject that. They think we are pretty good. The difference is not what we see of human behavior but rather the standard we set. Catholics use the standard of supernatural love that we are called to. It is described in 1 Cor 13 and demonstrated by Jesus on the cross. Atheists tend to set the bar much lower. Don't rape or kill anyone. Don't lie. Don't judge. Not sure what else. Anyway, atheism does not have high expectations for the human person. They see us as an animal that has learned a few things. You use sex for cheap thrills rather than as a call to love? So what? That is what animals will do. Anyway, if you don't get the reality of sin then you are not going to understand why God responds with the punishment of death. Then you are not going to understand why Jesus' death was needed. You are not going to understand why we need to repent. The whole faith is going to be unintelligible.

      • Linda

        I would say Catholics have a higher standard than a lot of other Christians as well. I was talking to a Protestant friend once about Heaven and Hell and she said she wasn't worried about it because she doesn't really do anything wrong. I, on the other hand, am quite concerned as the "in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and what I have failed to do" bit of the Confiteor sets such a high bar I have a tendency to sin before I get out of bed in the morning. (Cursed the alarm clock, thought about breaking it)

      • 42Oolon

        Just a note that you are endowing too much on the group "atheist". Though, atheists may share many secularly moral values or standard these are not derived from atheism in any way.

        I would actually say that we have generally identical views of human worth and morality. I am an atheist but my moral framework is more aligned with humanism, which states that human life and dignity are the highest values, and the avoidance of human suffering and furtherance of human flourishing are paramount goals. I think we would generally agree on most moral questions. The main exceptions being equality, reproductive rights and blasphemy.

        Tarring us with the same brush and accusing all atheists of "using sex for cheap thrills and calling it love" could be considered offensive. I use sex for profound thrills and love, and making babies. I have had extensive pre-marital sex with several partners. I would not describe any of it has cheap, most of it as very thrilling, but always respectful consensual, intimate and joyous. The best being with a single partner with whom I am deeply in love.

        If I didn't like animals so much I might think you were being perjorative. I am an animal and so are you. Embrace it, it's great.

        What we don't do is tell children that they are violating the supreme law of God to want to masterbate, have homosexual relations, to simply get turned on and be horny. There is nothing wrong with these things as far as I can tell.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      "This idea that we, in this life are somehow flawed, wretched, sinners
      who must praise a wrathful angry overlord and beg his forgiveness for
      being the way he created us."

      This is a "perverted" view of Catholicism.

      "Flawed, wretched, sinners." Yes, but also redeemed Children of God possessing inherent dignity.

      "Must praise a wrathful angry overlord." Not exactly. Christ has reconciled God and men, so there is no wrath. "Must praise." Yeah, that's part of the virtue of religion, giving God his due. "Overlord"? No. Father.

      "Beg his forgivness." Yes, if you've sinned. Although we don't beg. We just admit our sins, say we are sorry, and we are forgiven.

      "We are the way he created us." Yes. He creates us in a fallen state. It's definitely an imperfect world right now.

  • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

    There's an interesting question that has little to do with the "spiritual" side of this issue, but is raised only rarely. Do steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs actually boost the performance of athletes such as baseball players? I can see how doping would give a boost to cyclists, but what would steroids or HGH do for a baseball player already in peak condition?

    • http://www.DeaconHarbey.com/ Dcn Harbey Santiago

      D.
      I believe steroids and HGH only increase your body mass, hence making you stronger, faster and giving you faster reaction times (While destroying your heart and adrenal system). I do not believe they increase you hand eye coordination or mental acuity. There are other substances which can enhance these temporarily. Classical Guitar players take beta-blockers to deal with "stage fright" as It prevents the shacking of hands which accompanies nervousness and many highly rated chess players use caffeinated drinks to get a mental boost while playing.

      "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
      DHS

  • coleary76

    It's McGwire, not Maguire.

  • Peter Piper

    I would expect that if the narrative in this article were accurate (humans seek power, money etc. in crazy ways because of a suppressed desire for God) then it would be backed up by experimental data in psychology. Do any of you know if there is any such data?

    • Kevin Aldrich

      How would you ever design such an experiment?

      • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

        Very good question. I might also add, "Read Augustine's "Confessions." The whole book chronicles his own experiment with desire."

        • Peter Piper

          As a story presented by a single person, this has no more force than an extended anecdote: that is, much less than a properly designed experiment.

      • Peter Piper

        Not being a trained experimental psychologist, I couldn't say. I guess that any experimental setup I suggest will be dumb. Now, if you can find a working experimental psychologist (not a Catholic, for preference) who is prepared to swear that the hypothesis in this article is untestable, that would also be interesting to me.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I would say the most fruitful way to explore the questions (1) is it true that nothing satisfies us? and (2) is the search for satisfaction really the search for God? would be through ethnographic or qualitative research, which is simply interviewing people about their experiences. That is pretty much what the Confessions of St. Augustine is about.

          Here is why I think a quantitative experiment would be impossible. You would have to start with a group of people and first give them unlimited beauty and ask if that satisfied them. If the answer was no, you'd next give them unlimited sex. If that didn't satisfy them, you'd have to give them unlimited fame, then wealth, then power, then whatever is left. How you would then bring God into it? Interview them after they died on if they are now satisfied.

          So, I'd say it is a philosophical issue not a scientific one.

          • Linda

            I wonder if you could at least establish a correlation between religious belief, satisfaction with life, and the amount of wealth, beauty, sex, etc, that a person has or thinks they have.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think you are right. That sounds like it could be done.

            For example, google "correlation between religious belief and satisfaction with life."

          • Peter Piper

            Although there is an established correlation between religious belief and life satisfaction, there are many hypotheses other than that in the article above which would also explain this correlation. This is well illustrated by googling the phrase you mentioned, since many of the hits present such alternative hypotheses. In fact, these other hypotheses fit the data better, explaining why this correlation does not depend much on the particular religion and why it is much stronger in the US than in northwest Europe.

          • Linda

            I tried the search and saw that the sense of community and friendships people have at their churches plays a significant role in life satisfaction. Is this the explanation you mean? I saw another study that was comparing religions and GDP and such, but it was too dense for me to understand so I wasn't sure what the conclusions are. I think that's the one that would be most helpful, though, as I would like to know if, comparing people of equal income or beauty or sexual activity, having more makes you happier. Or if religious belief affects your sense of satisfaction allowing for those things. I guess I'm picturing nuns and monks (Catholic, Buddhist) who give up everything yet always seem content.

          • Peter Piper

            I tried the search and saw that the sense of community and friendships people have at their churches plays a significant role in life satisfaction. Is this the explanation you mean?

            That is one of the many explanations I referred to. The first hit suggest the explanation that religious folk are less likely to suffer `death anxiety' because of the comforting narratives of religion. Some other proposed explanations can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_and_happiness

          • Linda

            Thanks, Peter! That was interesting. Denmark is such an interesting situation. I've read other articles that talk about the happiness level there, but they attributed it to the social systems. In which case causation is definitely a factor. If you create a society with little fear, do you end up less religious? Or was it the other way around to begin with?

          • Peter Piper

            Yes, Denmark is an interesting case. I think part of the reason for the happiness of Danes is the cultural homogeneity of Denmark, but I'm certainly not speaking as an expert. How well do you think the situation in Denmark matches with the claims made in the OP?

          • Linda

            One of the things I e heard about Denmark is that its tax code redistributes wealth to such an extent that a florist makes about what a doctor makes. As a consequence, people there actually do what they enjoy or are called to instead of trying to make money. The government has eliminated that false god. It also has a state religion (evangelical Christian, I think) so I suspect the non-religious dont bother fighting about separation of church and state, as there's no expectation of that. I wonder if that state-imposed Christianity (no participation required) wields enough influence on the laws to create the kind of society that makes people happy.

          • Peter Piper

            I agree that ethnographic research could be helpful here, but I don't see that it is the only option. You are right that the experimental protocol you suggest would be unworkable (and, as I said above, any protocol I propose would probably be equally silly) but I hope it is clear that this is far from the only experimental option. For example, suppose you were to find that nobody could be satisfied by large (but limited) amounts of power, sex, beauty etc. That would already count as experimental support. Again, if you can find a working experimental psychologist who will back you up on this then I will be more inclined to believe it.

            The confessions, sadly, does not come close to ethnographic research since it only relates to a single (extraordinary) individual and it was produced for a purpose other than research (namely: to excite men's minds and affections toward God). If you want evidence of similar weight to counterbalance the confessions, I can testify that my life is satisfactory even though I don't believe in God.

  • Ed

    I feel Father Barron's pain as a Cub's fan. I grew up in Rhode Island as a diehard Red Sox fan, beginning in 1967 when the Sox lost to the Cardinals in the World Series.
    The Red Sox finally ended their 86 year World Series drought with a victory in 2004, while the poor Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908. Father, I'm praying for a Red Sox and Cubs World Series before I die. Time is running out!

  • Loreen Lee

    One of the most liberating and salutary things that we can know is that
    we are not meant to be perfectly happy in this life. When we convince
    ourselves otherwise, we, necessarily, fall into one or more forms of
    addiction. Bonds and Rodriguez still felt, at the height of their
    success, a nagging sense of incompleteness. That was not an invitation
    to take desperate measures; it was the invasion of grace.

    I kept reading the comments, hoping for some comment or insight of what constituted or how a sense of incompleteness could be an 'invasion' of grace. Could such a 'feeling' also describe what Nietzsche had prophetically characterized as the coming of an age of 'nihilism'?

  • rentonrain

    I'm pretty sure there were classmates using steroids when I was in high school (mid 1980's), so when I read about a professional athlete who is a good way into their career just beginning to use them, it always surprises me. I think the students who used them in my school were trying to get that extra edge that would get them a scholarship to a college, to a ticket to pro sports. It is really no different than academic cheating in a way.
    It is unfortunate that steroids have become pervasive in all types of sports (possibly even golf). I hate to see someone get caught using them and have their whole life cast in the spotlight, but if we don't clamp down on this sports are ruined. I don't want to see an athletic competition that has been altered by drugs.