Purpose and Beliefs
Click here for Story of Mark's religious journey.
New Articles and Videos:
*See my YouTube channel with numerous videos defending Christian faith. Channel name: mcneiltheology or Mark McNeil.
*Jesus: God and Man
*Sports and Theology
* East or West? Reflections on Choosing Christianity over Eastern Mysticism
With my wife on a recent trip to San Antonio:
Sea of Galilee, Taken on my 2009 trip to Israel.
The internet makes available a vast range of material on virtually every conceivable subject. Much of this material is obviously harmful but much is also quite useful.
My interest in creating a website is severalfold. First, in teaching students and lecturing in various settings, I sometimes refer to articles I've written and offer to make these available to my audiences. Having a website featuring such articles makes directing interested friends and listeners much easier and convenient.
Second, the internet is an effective tool in making ideas available to a larger audience given that more people are making use of this medium than the more traditional methods of printed materials and classroom instruction.
Third, on a more philosophical level, I think we are the sort of beings that deeply desire to reach beyond ourselves to share with others those things we value most deeply. My intention is that this site will be used for that purpose.
Who am I?
It is silly to try and summarize my life in a few words on a webpage. As with you, my life is a seemingly endless web of experiences (both good and bad), triumphs and failures, relationships, hopes, dreams, and influences. No brief description can possibly capture all of this and therefore anything I say will give an incomplete picture. Instead of offering a complete autobiography, then, my brief comments below will focus on the more "formal" aspects of my life that might cause a suspicious or curious reader to pay some attention to what I have to say.
I am a Catholic Christian who teaches theology to high school and college students and is frequently engaged in lecturing at parish events (as well as occasional conferences, lecture series, etc.). (Please see the link on the left side of the "Purpose" section above to read more about my religious journey that led me from a non-Trinitarian form of Pentecostalism to the Roman Catholic Church.)
Academically, I have a background in scripture, theology and philosophy. After finishing a theology degree from Texas Bible College (United Pentecostal Church) in 1990, I completed BA and MA degrees in Biblical Studies from Luther Rice Seminary (Lithonia, Georgia). When I completed my first master's degree, I was a licensed minister in the Assemblies of God. My studies, life experience, and convictions led me to Roman Catholicism during the mid-1990's. My formal studies during these years were at the University of St. Thomas (Houston, TX) School of Theology at St. Mary's Seminary (Master of Arts in Theological Studies, 1994-1996), and at the Center for Thomistic Studies at the University of St. Thomas (Master of Arts in Philosophy, course work 1997-1999, thesis approved 2004).
Although my original intention in the late '90's was to earn a PhD in philosophy and teach college students, these plans changed when I began teaching theology to high school students and found the experience deeply rewarding (Strake Jesuit College Preparatory, 2000-Present). I continued doing some coursework towards a PhD but these efforts were eventually redirected towards more frequent teaching and lecturing. Around 2003 I began teaching part-time at the University of St. Thomas in addition to my full-time teaching at Strake Jesuit College Preparatory. I also teach frequently and lecture in parishes, occasionally for conferences and other interested groups.
During my years in Protestantism and continuing into my Catholic experience, I have long had a deep interest in Christian apologetics. By "apologetics" I mean the defense of the Christian world-view in response to various contemporary (and historical) challenges to it. This is the common thread between the various degree programs in my educational background but, perhaps more importantly, it is the driving force behind my interest in a wide range of different topics. I have long been convinced that the Christian world-view makes the best sense out of this world in which we find ourselves and that it is true. The more I study and reflect the more I am convinced that this conviction is a sound one.
This website is dedicated to sharing insights and reflections on a wide range of topics but all with the motivating goal of showing that human knowledge and experience all find their ultimate meaning and fulfillment in the definitive moment of all history: the Christ-event. By the "Christ-event" I refer to the life of Jesus but with special emphasis on his life as the supreme source of God's self-revelation in human history.
What Do I Believe?
Here are the most important foundational convictions that guide my thinking and provide an orientation and framework for my life, both speculatively (intellectually) and practically (morally):
1. The existence of an eternal, uncaused, self-existent "source", "ground", or "cause" of everything we experience is implied in all of human experience. Whether we look within our mind/hearts, or to the world grasped through our senses, God (the word we use to refer to the source of all dependent/contingent things) is evident. Failure to see that God exists results from a variety of causes, some of them trivial and others very serious. As I see it, more recent atheism is largely based on a reductionistic approach to the world that refuses to consider the full range of our experience and what it reveals about what kind of creatures we are and what this reveals about God. In all its forms, atheism and agnosticism are symptoms of a very sad but real lack of reflection and hope. In every act of "self-awareness" there is an implied difference between ourselves and the world about us. Our experience of the world helps us in self-discovery but, in the process, we discover that the world we experience never completely allows us to know ourselves. We are therefore a mystery encountering a mysteriously finite and dependent world searching for fulfillment and self-understanding but incapable of finding it without opening ourselves to a transcendent "ground" of all things: God. This same analysis may be made with respect to our longing for relational fulfillment.
2. The person, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the course of human history is the culmination and fuflillment of the progressive unfolding of the plan of God for human history. In Jesus, God has embodied in a single person the meaning of our existence. The primary goal of theology and the study of the Bible is to explore and discover the riches of divine truth expressed in Christ. Central among the truths revealed through Christ is that God is an eternal communion of love: the Trinity. Since we are created in the "image and likeness" of God and God is eternal, self-giving love, we are only able to understand the roots of our longing for unending love and union in encountering and discovering the Triune God. In our own experience of interpersonal human love there is a faint reflection of the nature of God himself.
3. The Bible faithfully and truthfully directs us to the truth that God wished for us to know (and that we need to know). The Bible progressively unfolds God's plan of salvation and insight into human nature and history. Correctly understood, the Bible never errs in leading us to truth. The Catholic Church, despite the flaws of its members, faithfully passes along the proper context in which to read and understand the Bible and is therefore indispensable in our spiritual journey. Even those Christian beyond the visible context of Catholicism find guidance in impicitly borrowing from the historical convictions of the Church (e.g., the extent of the biblical canon, the orthodox creeds).
4. Faith is best understood as a "hypothesis of meaning" (Luigi Guissani). Since it pertains to the greatest, supreme questions, Christian faith is a proposal or answer to our deepest longings and hopes. Since there is no greater vantage-point from which to "test" the claims of our religious faith, we can only "test" them from within the life of faith. We may "know" Christan faith is true to the degree that we enter it (in all the dimensions of human life) and find it corresponds to and fulfills our whole nature. The "saints" or holy persons who have fully lived the faith are the greatest witnesses to its truth.
5. There is no real contradiction between the insights of human reason and those of Christian faith. Contradictions between, let's say, science and scripture are only misperceptions based on an inadequate or flawed understanding of one or the other. It is a duty of at least some in the Christian community to offer responses to the challenges of all other disciplines beyond theology when they criticize our faith. More positively, it is our duty to work towards a true integration of faith and reason since such should contribute to a more wholistic and meaningful life both of the mind and spirit.
6. What we believe affects the way we live. Ideas are important. An individual may be able to live a "moral" life while undermining those same moral convictions in their belief-system (or lack of belief-system). This cannot be sustained historically, however. Loss of a basis for moral convictions on a fundamental level will impoverish a culture's moral well-being. Despite our differences as human beings, we share a common nature for which there is an objective "good", goal and purpose; ultimately union with God in heavenly happiness.
7. Christian faith, despite its necessary critique of culture and errors of thought, is fundamentally hopeful. God is in the process of doing something of ultimate and supreme importance in this world and our lives contribute, within the context of divine providence, in some way to that purpose. As a creature I am incapable of discerning the exact way in which every event or even great collections of events contribute to this overall good purpose and therefore find my duty is to trust in God. The resurrection of Jesus is a divinely-given insight into the ultimate goal of human history (i.e., life prevails over death, hope over despair). As we await the final unveiling of God's plan, we find ourselves with a limited but significant power of freedom in which we may share in "co-creating" God's world. I am not able to change all that happens around me but I am able to change my response to what happens to me. I am responsible for doing what I can to move this world towards God's fulfilled purpose ("kingdom of God") knowing, however, that the final fulfillment of history will come through a decisive "grand finale" accomplished by God himself.
8. It is our duty to critique false or misleading ideas but it is not our place to judge the souls of other persons. I respect the search for truth in Christians and non-Christians alike, whether or not they share the same creed I profess. Respecting the longing for truth as well as the deeply ingrained systems of belief that others hold does not mean we cannot engage in serious conversation, disagreement, dialog, and exchange of insights. I find great liberty and comfort in knowing that God is the ultimate judge of the human soul and therefore we may intellectually "judge" a truth-claim but may not presume to judge the condition of another's soul in relationship to the supreme Judge of the heart. I find it profoundly difficult to perfectly judge my own motives and therefore it is wrong and self-deceptive for me to assume I understand or may stand in judgement of another's. Further, I think it is disrespectful to our religion and others to ignore, disregard, or explain away our real differences of understanding. We should be able to respect others as persons seeking truth and express this respect in carefully using our minds together.
9. Christian faith is a great treasure. As such, I want all to share that treasure. This should not be interpreted as "triumphalism" or arrogance. I respect truth wherever it may be found but believe God's revelation of himself in Christ should be offered sincerely and humbly to all.
10. The ultimate goal of Christianity is that we are fully united in love with God. Reaching this goal begins in this life as we grow in Christian virtues, awareness of God's presence in creation and redemption, responsiveness to God's presence, prayer, and love of neighbor.