Three Questions Everyone Should Ask Themselves | Peter Kreeft | The Introduction to Because God Is Real: Sixteen Questions, One Answer
What is this book good for? What is it about?
This book is worthless unless it helps you answer three questions about yourself:
1. Who am I?1. All our lives, we keep discovering who we are. None of us comes to the end of that road in this life. None of us completely knows who we are, once we stop fooling ourselves.
You are a one-and-only individual that nobody could ever replace. Nobody who ever lived in the past was exactly like you, and no one who will ever live in the future will be exactly like you. You have a special job to do in this world that no one else can ever do. Each day of your life, you find out a little more about what that job is.
But you also share the same human nature with all other human beings. Your task on earth is to be you, the one and only you; but it is also to be a human being, and that task is the same for all of us. You take different courses in school, but we all take a course called Life. Life's greatest tragedy is to pass all your courses but flunk Life.
No one but you and God knows what your individual job in life is. But the Catholic Church knows a lot about what your task is as a human being, because the Church is simply the mail carrier for the Gospel, or "good news", of Jesus Christ, who gave the human race the final, ultimate answer to the question of what we are doing here, why we exist, what is the meaning of life. This book is about that answer.
2. Who you are depends on where you came from. If you came from Mars, you are a Martian. If you came merely from apes, then you are merely an ape. And if God created you in His own image, then you are the King's kid, not King Kong's kid.
3. Your origin and your nature are the key to your destiny, your purpose in life. If you are only dust, then your destiny is only dust—"to dust you shall return"—for you are only a body, not an immortal soul. At the opposite extreme, if you are a god or goddess, born in Heaven and somehow lost on earth, then your destiny is to escape the earth and the mortal body and return home, like EX You don't belong here. The Christian answer is neither of these. You belong here because God created you and put you here, but you are a soul as well as a body, and your destiny is to grow in perfection of both body and soul, both here and in Heaven after death.
Our modern secular culture tells you the first answer: you are dust, you are a clever ape. Some New Age type religions tell you the second answer, that you are not an animal but an angel, a pure spirit. Christianity tells you a third answer. Which answer you believe makes a difference to everything in your life, because it's a different "you".
This book is for three groups of readers. It's for Catholic Confirmation classes, for other catechism or religious education classes, and for those who simply choose to read the book for themselves.
It is also for all ages after Confirmation as well as before. Confirmation should be the beginning of an ever-maturing religious education, not the end. The Christian faith is not kid stuff.
This book is for both teenagers and adults. The most basic principle of writing a book for children of any age is this: If adults can't enjoy and use your book, don't write it. Don't ever patronize, pander, or pat the little kiddies on the head. Don't talk down to them—level with them.
I'm old. I'm not going to pretend I'm "into" the current culture. Anyway, ten or twenty years from now, the current "in" culture will be just as "out of it", just as outdated, as the culture that was "in" when I was a kid.
So I decided to write an adult book that kids could understand too, instead of a kids' book. Your parents should read it as well as you.
Most textbooks are dull as dishwater, in any subject, even religion. Students who have to read them aren't usually very interested in what they say; they just try to remember enough to please their teacher or pass their test. They memorize what's in the book instead of understanding it.
I think that's a ridiculous waste, of energy. For one thing, memorizing anything takes ten times more time than understanding it. For another thing, memorizing is always duller than understanding. That's true if the thing to be understood is something dull. And it's even more true when the thing to be understood is something exciting, like a murder mystery.
Well, the Church's Gospel, or "good news", is as exciting as a murder mystery. For at its heart there is a murder: the murder of God two thousand years ago in Jerusalem. And this God is the greatest of mysteries: who He is and why He put us here and why He came here and what His plans are for us. And all the rest of the story stems from that. The story is literally a matter of life or death—eternal life or death. If a book about that story isn't interesting, then that has to be the fault of the book, not the fault of the story.
A book is like a letter from one author to many readers. The many readers differ in sex, age, race, beliefs, education, and interests. But the readers do not differ in one thing: humanity. Human nature is the same in men and women, in adults and children, in different races, in different cultures. So I write this to all of you as one human being to another. It doesn't matter that I'm an old white male Dutch college professor and surfer and that you may be a young black female Jamaican high school student and dancer. We're both human; we're both in the same boat. We're different animals, but we're both on Noah's ark.
One other thing: I write not for groups or classes of people but for individuals. When you read this book, please don't think, "I'm only one out of a thousand people reading this book, so I have only one one-thousandth of the responsibility for understanding it and thinking about it." Think instead: "I have 100 percent of the responsibility. This is a private conversation. This book is a letter from the author to me alone." That's not a lie or a "let's pretend." That's the truth. Because you are alone now, reading this, just as I am alone now, writing it.
Actually, I have to correct that. 'We're never alone, because God is real. There's three of us here, not two. And that's the central point of this whole book.
Most of the old catechisms from before the 1960s had a question-and-answer format. For instance, the famous old Baltimore Catechism started this way:
1. Who made you?God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him forever in the next.
That format was clear, sharp, short, and simple. And there's nothing wrong with that. You can put deep and profound stuff into short and simple sentences. The two questions above are an example of that. Nearly all American Catholics before the sixties learned the Baltimore Catechism, and most of them still remember those first two questions, because they are both simple and profound.
Another good thing about the old format was that it was a dialogue, questions and answers, rather than a straight lecture. If you're like me, you get bored with most lectures, and the question-and-answer session after a lecture is always more interesting than the lecture.
But there were two things wrong with the old format. First, students were often expected to memorize it instead of to understand it. And second, it was too simple and pat. It often failed to communicate the sense of depth, greatness, wonder, and mystery that is an essential dimension of anything real. The Catholic faith is not a set of neat little man-made ideas; it is the Gospel, the "good news " the amazing news about what God has done in our world and is doing in our lives.
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Peter Kreeft, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at Boston College who has written over forty books, including C.S. Lewis for the Third Millennium, Fundamentals of the Faith, Catholic Christianity, Back to Virtue, Three Approaches to Abortion, and The Philosophy of Tolkien.
His most recent Ignatius Press books include Socrates Meets Descartes, You Can Understand the Bible, The God Who Loves You, and Because God Is Real: Sixteen Questions, One Answer.
A complete list of Ignatius Press books by Kreeft can be viewed on his IgnatiusInsight.com author page.)
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