Help Me Explain this To My Atheist Sister!

Hello everyone! I just joined Catholic Answers and I’m very excited to learn more about my Catholic faith!

I’m a senior in a Canadian Catholic High School, and I’ve been a Christian since I was baptised as a child. :slight_smile: My sister was baptised in infancy, too. Both my parents are Roman Catholics and my sister and I have always attended Catholic schools.

My sister is a freshman in the same school. I have noticed over the past couple months that she seems to be increasingly questioning and doubtful about her faith. It was only last week when I decided to ask her about it, and a passionate argument ensued. She revealed to me that she has been thinking about becoming an atheist! :eek:

But to get to my point, all of the arguments seemed to end in a draw, and the whole thing seemed to be going around in circles. :shrug:

Today, however, she mentioned two arguments that I did not have an answer to.

  1. She asked me if we were all created by God and in His Image. I said of course! It was one of the first things we were taught in Religion class. Then she asked me If that’s true, why did God create people born with disorders and abnormalities? I was stunned and had no idea how to reply!

  2. She said if God didn’t want us to sin, then He wouldn’t have made people have “instincts” to be lustful and greedy. I tried to explain to her that these were not “instincts”, but the works of the Devil. She said she did not believe in the Devil so that argument was invalid to her, and that “instincts” were very real and not just someone’s imagination.

Are there any Bible verses or Vatican teachings that can help clear this up? And are instincts real and not the work of the Devil? I told my sister I would answer her questions tomorrow after I did some research.

Thank you so much! (And sorry if it was a little lengthly!) :o

God Bless

P.S. Do you have any tips that can get my sister to reconsider her old Catholic beliefs? And should I really be concerned about this, or is it just a rebellious stage she’s going through? Thanks again! :smiley:

Hmmm… The question is whether your sister is interested in the truth. If she doesn’t have a love for the truth and a desire to find it, it won’t matter if you clearly explain it to her. I think that is the first thing to determine. I have a little sister too who chose to drift away from the faith, but these are usually moral issues people have, which motivate them to choose the comforting belief of atheism (or some liberal form of Christianity); I think doctrinal issues are usually superficial and just an excuse.

It has been a couple of years since I’ve been to these forums, but I glad I decided to return tonight. I might have some satisfactory answers for your sister.

Both of these questions have the same answer. The answer lies in the nature of original sin. Since our first parents carried the entire human nature within them, it was corrupted when they committed original sin. This had far more drastic consequences than what is often believed. Our bodies and souls are inextricably bound. As such, both were corrupted at the fall as well as the entire created order. Diseases, abnormalities, disordered desires, and disordered instincts all flow from this corruption. God does not positively create anyone with these defects. Rather, they result from the fact that we live in a fallen world. Even the disorders of the soul are not his doing. When the soul is joined the the body at conception, the effects of original sin affect the soul’s functions just as the body’s. The bottom line is that we just can’t say for certain what God’s true intentions are for allowing these disorders and defects, just as we cannot say for certain why He allows suffering and evil in general. The closest He ever comes to answering us is in the Book of Job, and even then it is not a full answer. God’s fullest answer may well be in the fact that He became one of us and partook in our sufferings. It is also unfortunate that your sister does not believe in Satan. He is the ultimate cause of all evil, and it is quite probable that his direct influence plays a great part in the fallen state of this world. To disbelieve in him is merely playing right into his hands.

This is a very difficult topic for some people (the problem of disorders, and more broadly, the problem of suffering). I only hope that, with God’s grace, I have provided a satisfactory answer. I apologize if it is a bit long and wordy.

As to what you can do about your sister, that depends on what kind of person she is. Does she respond well to logic and philosophy? If so, I’d recommend reading St. Thomas Aquinas. More contemporary authors would include Dr. Peter Kreeft and Dr. Edward Feser, at least they work for me. Find out what your sister responds to and make full use of it. Above all, pray. We can attempt to persuade anyone as much as we like, but only through the grace of the Holy Spirit can hearts and minds be opened to the truth.

You and your sister are in my prayers
God Bless!

This physical soma (body) is not the direct image of God, who is spirit. Therefore, disabilities as such do not affect someone’s being the image of God, which shows in our mind, or soul. They are the result of a physical world that, because of the effects of original sin, has become subject to entropy.

We are designed not to be spirits, but to be embodied. This allows us to experience being alive (life is the union of psyche and body), but has the drawback of subjecting us to the effects of entropy in our life.

In eternal life, we will be given a pneumatikon soma, spiritual body, that overcomes the limitations of our natural human life.

ICXC NIKA.

  1. Here’s one argument. People with disabilities live meaningful lives of struggle and despite their disabilities carry on courageously. They have the capacity to live incredible virtuous lives. They also create virtue in us, too. When there are people who need the constant care of their parents for the rest of their lives, the parents are given the opportunity to rise to the occasion and express faith, hope, and love. Sometimes those who are able to produce the least will produce the most virtue in others if not in themselves.

When my grandpa was dying, he lay on his bed having gone blind, unable to wipe himself, he couldn’t eat, and he lived in near constant pain. He had every reason to feel sorry for himself. I saw him crying and I asked him if he was okay. Of course he wasn’t okay but do you know what he said? He told me that he felt so sorry for having to leave my grandma. He loved that woman so much that him leaving her superseded all other worldly sorrows. His love was more phenomenal having been in the situation that he was in.

  1. They come from the devil, this is true. But the devil is a fallen angel, too. Angels are good, fallen angels are not. Greed and lust are perversions of good things. The bible suggests you store away food in good times so that you have food in times of famine – this is good. Processing mortgages for people who cannot pay them thus leading to the near collapse of the entire American economy is greed. Sexual desire for your spouse will lead to a stronger relationship and babies – this is good. A married man spending an hour sexual fantasizing about his co-worker is lust. Having a hot dog and a beer or two at a baseball game is okay. Having seven hot dogs and nine beers at the game is gluttony. See where I’m going with this?

These are just a few arguments. There are many many more. Encourage your sister to not make rash decisions. Encourage her to have opinions and questions. Have her read the scripture about Thomas the disciple having doubts and being invited to touch the wounds of Christ. Sometimes through our doubt we come into closer contact with Christ. You might even try to question her flirtation with atheism. Ask her how something can come from nothing? Ask her if there is not a God, is there ever anything such as right or wrong? Ask her why the greatest tyrants in history were, by-and-large, atheists? People as their own gods make life a living hell eventually. There may be a decent civilized atheist but there is never a decent civilization of atheists.

  1. Atheism is ancient, hundreds or years before Christ, and it comes in and out of vogue. Right now the philosophy is in vogue but it won’t always be. There are exceptional arguments against it. I left atheism, certainly your sister can be saved from it. I suggest the “Apologetics Handbook” by Peter Kreeft. The arguments are fairly simple and give an assortment of decent arguments against the more popular objections to the faith. Most of all, PRAY. Take care and God bless.

Your sister is absolutely correct in this. Even if ‘the devil’ exists, that doesn’t remove the problem.
If people were created perfect, there is no possible way for them to do anything wrong. And the same holds for angels, if they were created perfect, then none of them could have ‘fallen’ to become a devil.
It’s really simple: if men fell, it’s because God wanted men to fall.
The biggest contradiction in the Bible is one one of its first pages, where God ‘saw it was good’. That means, either that God did not see very clearly, because the next hundreds of pages in the very smae Bible are about everything that went wrong despite ‘everything being good’ or it means that everything is still good and that all evil and imperfection is just an illusion.
If the first is correct, all Christian denominations are simply wrong in claiming God is perfect and if the second is correct, Christianity may be correct in claiming God is perfect, but it would be completely irrelevant.

Your argument is based on the non sequitur “if good, then perfect.” People were created good, not perfect. IOW, your whole argument is based on a false premise. Everything is still good, in a sense; but it does not follow that all evil and imperfection is just an illusion, but rather that all evil is an imperfection of the good.

A non-sequitur? So ‘good’ isn’t perfect? Why not? If God says, ‘It’s good’, does he mean, “Well, it is more or less OK?” If God says ‘It’s good’, then God is satified with the result.I should think. And how can a perfect being be satified ith anything less than perfect?
So, God created a good world, and, surpries, surprise, all of a sudden this good wold started to show imperfections, which God had to ‘repair’ by sending Himself in the shape of a poor carpenter, to Earth and suffer a little bit before giong back to His cosy home. But some of the poepl appaerntly were not yet repaired enough, so, instead of joining the cosy home of God, they are sent to a less pleasant place for the incredinble sin of not being perfect.

But then who is responsible for the imperfection? Is a rusty nail responsible for being rusty?

Try to think about it this way: a ‘good’ baseball game is one that isn’t perfect, but one that is exciting. The excitement comes from the struggles against a challenging opponent. Mistakes are made, strategies succeed or fail, it may be physically exausting. Your team might even lose in the end; but it was a ‘good game’.

I don’t intend this poor metaphor to be a perfect explaination of the Nature of Man, and God’s creative purpose. I just want to say that we humans thrive on conflict; if we knew the outcome of a perfect, textbook game, it wouldn’t be worth playing.

What is the purpose of existance? Why aren’t we perfected by God in thought, word, and deed? Well, the game certainly would be over as soon as it began…

Regarding the OP:
Sometimes our faith-journey causes us to search through ‘empty rooms’ before we find what we are looking for. This is not a waist of time nor is it something to be alarmed about. We learn through experience…especially bad ones. I think if your sister has been taught well as a child, she will be quietly influenced throughout her journey and eventually be guided back to her faith. Isn’t that what the Holy Spirit does for each of us?

Glennonite

I think He actually just means it’s good! Why go beyond that?

[Also, to clarify: to say that something is *good is a metaphysical statement that implies that it does possess some perfection, but not that it is perfect in its kind, that it is indefectibly perfect, or that it possesses the fullness of perfection.]

If God says ‘It’s good’, then God is satified with the result.I should think. And how can a perfect being be satified ith anything less than perfect?

I think that’s just the nature of love. Love, even perfect love, doesn’t presuppose perfection in the one loved.

So, God created a good world, and, surpries, surprise, all of a sudden this good wold started to show imperfections, which God had to ‘repair’ by sending Himself in the shape of a poor carpenter, to Earth and suffer a little bit before giong back to His cosy home. But some of the poepl appaerntly were not yet repaired enough, so, instead of joining the cosy home of God, they are sent to a less pleasant place for the incredinble sin of not being perfect.

With due respect, that seems like a pretty sloppy account of our faith, one which does not seem like an honest and respectful attempt to understand. Can you clarify your position in this regard?

But then who is responsible for the imperfection? Is a rusty nail responsible for being rusty?

‘Responsible’ in what sense? This is not a univocal term, so I’m not sure what you’re asking.

This argument actually fails in four ways. You commit serious metaphysical errors here.

  1. First, there can only really be one truly perfect entity metaphysically speaking. If there were more than one, there must be some way to distinguish between them. There is just no substantial logical way to do this.
  2. Add the fact that we are contingent beings, so we are necessarily imperfect. The very fact that we get our existence from somewhere outside ourselves, necessitates our imperfection.
  3. Since we have free will, the option to do evil is always open if sufficient temptations are present. The angels have free will as well, so their fall was just as possible. Free will and the possibility of doing evil are logically interconnected.
  4. Lastly, as has been mentioned, good does not equal perfect. We can rightly be called good because we exist and existence itself is good. Actually that is what God is…existence or being itself.

I’d elaborate further, but this is not the place to discuss philosophy.

What a blessing you are in this situation. Pray for God’s guidance (I’m sure you already are). Here’s a book which may be especially helpful. It is available at other places than amazon:
amazon.com/Handbook-Christian-Apologetics-Peter-Kreeft/dp/0830817743
Handbook of Christian Apologetics by Peter Kreeft

God bless,
Mimi

Ok, but let me ask you one thing: why do you want to go to heaven, because it seems that, under your definition, there is not much ‘excitement’ going on there?

Because it apparently isn’t ‘good’. God thought it necessary to punish millions of people for something that went wrong when everything was good.

[Also, to clarify: to say that something is *good

is a metaphysical statement that implies that it does possess some perfection, but not that it is perfect in its kind, that it is indefectibly perfect, or that it possesses the fullness of perfection.]
So, ‘good’ means, ‘more or less OK’?

I think that’s just the nature of love. Love, even perfect love, doesn’t presuppose perfection in the one loved.

Perfect love means that you love someone even though he or she is not worth your love. So, God, being perfectly loving, loves everyone, whether ‘good’ or not;

With due respect, that seems like a pretty sloppy account of our faith, one which does not seem like an honest and respectful attempt to understand. Can you clarify your position in this regard?

Well, I do want to understand, and if it’s a sloppy account I am sure you can enlighten me.

‘Responsible’ in what sense? This is not a univocal term, so I’m not sure what you’re asking.

Responsible in the sense that someone has to account for what he or she does, did or will do, or, to put it more directly: so that anyone can be sent to hell for it.

Then God cannot say: this is good, when he has to send even one perosn to hell.

  1. Add the fact that we are contingent beings, so we are necessarily imperfect. The very fact that we get our existence from somewhere outside ourselves, necessitates our imperfection.

So, when God said ’ It is good’, He actually meant, 'It is as good as it gets, these poor creatures cannot be any better since they get their existence from somewhere outside themselves, but let’s to send some of them to hell anyway.

  1. Since we have free will, the option to do evil is always open if sufficient temptations are present. The angels have free will as well, so their fall was just as possible. Free will and the possibility of doing evil are logically interconnected.

No, they are not. God is said to have free will but ‘the option to do evil’ is not always open to Him. So, it is degfinitley not true that free will and the possibility to do evil are inerconnected. If evil is not possible, then free will does not entail we can do evil, just as free wil does not entail I can walk through walls.

  1. Lastly, as has been mentioned, good does not equal perfect. We can rightly be called good because we exist and existence itself is good. Actually that is what God is…existence or being itself.

OK, but then evil does not exist, because non existence is evil.

I’d elaborate further, but this is not the place to discuss philosophy.

Maybe it’s not , but what the OP is asking can only be answered using philosophy.

  1. God sends no person to hell. Hell is the state of separation from God, which people choose for themselves. If a person hates God, then He simply leaves them alone. Unfortunately, since God is the source of all joy, separation from Him leads to misery. Even the people in hell are good, because they exist. They are morally evil, but they are physically good.

  2. God cannot do nonsense. He cannot create another perfect being like Himself because that is logically impossible. Just adding the words “God can” to the beginning of nonsense does not stop it from being nonsense. When God called creation good, it is good inasmuch as it mirrors Him, in both being and morality. Also, God sends no one to hell. The ones in hell are there by choice.

  3. God knows the true nature of evil, and He won’t commit it by nature. Likewise, the Angels and Saints in heaven enjoy the full presence of God and have no desire to sin or to commit evil despite retaining their free will.

  4. Yes,** absolute** evil would be nonexistence, and therefore does not exist. All evil that does exist is privation, or the lack or corruption of some good. Evil has no positive content, it is just a metaphysical parasite that corrupts the very best things and turns them into the very worst things. You have a profound insight hidden in that side remark.

That’s a good question; believe me or not, but I haven’t really been thinking much about ‘gettin’ to heaven’. I want to do God’s will, which to me, seems to be about treating the world as well as I can. If walking in the path that God has for me means heaven in the end, cool.

I’m not looking for an exciting afterlife so much as an afterlife with God; but I am pretty sure that God’s Presence will be quite exhilarating…all the time. If time has any meaning in heaven.

BTW, while I was happy to respond to your question, I don’t know that I gave a definition of anything. I don’t understand what heaven has to do with what I said. I was trying to give you a way to get an idea of how something could be “good” but not perfect.

Let me know if I could explain my point better. Are you angry?

Glennonite

If your sister is a high school freshmen, then she’s not making an adult decision and there is a good chance this will pass. Even adult atheists rarely live out there life as atheists. Not that it should be taken lightly but the odds are very good that she’ll eventually return to the Church.:slight_smile:

All right. God sees lots of people in deep misery because they ‘chose’ to be seperated from Him and says ‘all is good’.

  1. God cannot do nonsense. He cannot create another perfect being like Himself because that is logically impossible. Just adding the words “God can” to the beginning of nonsense does not stop it from being nonsense. When God called creation good, it is good inasmuch as it mirrors Him, in both being and morality.

It mirrors Him in being and morality, but still everything runs astray. Must be something terribly wrong with the mirror. But apparently God still thinks it is a good mirror.

Also, God sends no one to hell. The ones in hell are there by choice.

It’s irrelevant and it’s false. A choice that is made without the necessary information is not a real choice.

  1. God knows the true nature of evil, and He won’t commit it by nature. Likewise, the Angels and Saints in heaven enjoy the full presence of God and have no desire to sin or to commit evil despite retaining their free will.

So God can create free-willed beings that have no desire to sin? I thought ‘God couldn’t do nonsense’?.

  1. Yes,** absolute** evil would be nonexistence, and therefore does not exist. All evil that does exist is privation, or the lack or corruption of some good. Evil has no positive content, it is just a metaphysical parasite that corrupts the very best things and turns them into the very worst things. You have a profound insight hidden in that side remark.

So if I build a garden shed and claim ‘it is good’ then it is good, although the slightets breeze will break it down like a house of cards because it lacks some nails and screws? A good shed does not have ‘privations’, if I build a shed that doesn’t have enough nails , then I am a lousy builder and if God creates beings that have privations, he is a lousy creator. How is that for a ‘profound insight’ ?

  1. You aren’t making the necessary distinction here. There is a difference between being evil by choice and being evil intrinsically. Anything that exists is good by the very nature of existing. Even the most vile, wicked creature in existence is still good because he exists. Nothing is absolutely evil in and of itself by nature.

  2. Everything is astray because of free will. So yes, creation is no longer a perfect mirror of God, This is not due to any defect in either the Creator or creation, but by the actions of free agents within creation.Free Will is not a defect.

You are the one who brought Hell up, so it is quite relevant. The fact of the matter is that it isn’t an choice without necessary information. It is a simple choice: choose God, who is absolute good, or against Him. God isn’t going to force those who do not accept Him to do so, that would be tyrannical. What is so hard to understand about this?

  1. That is not what I said. The only reason why people sin is because they perceive that some good will come from it. No one does evil for the sake of evil. Being in the full presence of God is being in the presence of true goodness. There is no motivation, no desire to sin. Free will is retained, so that it is still theoretically possible to sin, there is no reason to do so.

  2. You are wrong in saying that the shed would not have privations. Yes it would, even though they were caused by you. The privations in the universe were caused by creatures by use of their free will, which is not a defect.

In any case, it appears that the OP has been given plenty of satisfactory answers to her questions. So as to not turn this into a philosophy debate, I am not going to make any further responses to you in this thread. If you want to continue this discussion, please make a new topic in the philosophy forum. I would have no problem continuing this there.

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