Catholic Truth Society Postal Course #1: What is Religion?, by Father Herbert C Fincham

woodcut of creation by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld c.1855Perhaps the greatest obstacle to conversion is indifference to all religion. The average unbeliever just cannot see any reason for religion. He asks, wnat use is it? What shall I gain from it? He vaguely imagines that religion is some kind of mumbo-jumbo of prayer meetings, mothers’ unions and Sunday schools! Of what it is all about or why it exists, he has little or no idea. At the best he looks upon religion as a kind of soothing syrup for the pusillanimous and simple minded who like something to cling to and are not strong enough to boast that they are masters of their own fate. Or, maybe, some think it a kind of hobby or spare-time activity like a social club, masonry or odd-fellowship. At the worst it is condemned as the “opium of the people” imposed from above on the downtrodden millions to keep them in their places, subservient and intimidated.

Religion Is Getting Right With God

Such false notions of the most important aspect of all human activity may perhaps amaze or amuse those who know what Christ has called “the pearl of great price” and “the one thing necessary”, yet how few can define religion accurately and say in a few words what it really is. For religion in practice is so enormously complicated, while being in essence so very simple, that it is easy to confuse its innumerable activities with the reality itself. In a word, religion is the effort to get ourselves right with God. More accurately it is the correct relationship between the creature and the Creator. A religious man is a man who knows that he is a creature and that he, in consequence, owes something to his Creator. The paying of this something is the activity which we call religion.

What Does Reason Tell Us About God?

Were it not for the fact that mankind is very prone to err and to sin, we would doubtless be able to discover for ourselves exactly what we owe to our Creator and how to render it to Him. Very many efforts have been made to discover this, hence we have had innumerable religions in the history of the world. They cannot all be true, but this does not mean that there is no truth in any of them. Unaided reason can discover quite a lot. It can discover that there must have been a Creator and Designer of creation, whence otherwise come the marvellous and intricate laws which govern our world, whence the harmony and order which we call the Law of Nature? Scientists are frequently discovering these laws but they do not make them. The laws were there before scientists discovered them and have been there since the beginning of creation. Who made them and who operates them? To answer that they just happened or evolved in nature is nothing more or less than to attribute them to chance, unless you allow the existence of some Power greater than and independent of nature. Could chance produce a human eye, so perfectly fitted for its purpose, or any of the millions of nature’s wonders and laws? To say so is as mad as to assert that a heap of stones and sticks would turn of itself into Canterbury Cathedral if only you leave it there long enough! We know that a great building must have an architect and builders and could not possibly just happen, how much more, then, must this be the case with the unspeakably greater construction of our world and the whole universe?

There Must Be An Almighty Creator

By right thinking in this way and with other even more cogent proofs, mankind, by and large, has discovered the existence of the Creator, and, having discovered this much, the wise man would naturally ask himself, why did the Creator create me or anything else? If we think back to the beginning of creation when the Creator, to speak in human terms, was determining to create there can obviously be only one answer to our question, for only the Creator existed. God must create all things for Himself, there is no other possible or adequate answer. This is confirmed by thinking a little more about what creation is. It is making something out of nothing, giving existence to non-existence and not merely changing the mode or manner of existing. If we make things we must have materials out of which to make them, we cannot give existence but only make those materials exist in a new mode or manner. Thus I might shape wood into a table or mix ingredients into a pudding but I cannot give existence to a table or a pudding out of nothing. To do this requires much greater power than mine or any creature’s; it requires infinite power, for it bridges infinity.

God Is Always Creating

God alone is almighty, for unless an Almighty Creator had existed always there can be no adequate explanation of how nothingness brought forth existence. Hence God’s act of creating is not to be compared merely to my act of making, but rather to my act of making plus my materials. The importance of this discovery is that now we see that God must always be creating me (and everything else) , for to take away His act of creating is like taking away the wood from the table or the ingredients from the pudding. It is much more than just ceasing to shape or mix, it is ceasing to give existence, so that the creature could no longer exist.

God Is Creating Me Now

At this very moment God is creating me and that is the only reason why I exist. The realization of this truth is the foundation of religion, for in this case my right relationship with God must be one of dependence that acknowledges that I exist for God. This acknowledgement we call Divine worship.

God Creates Us Body And Soul

Not only is God giving me existence. He gives me a certain kind of existence, a nature differing from other natures. God keeps all the different natures in existence for Himself, to give Him glory according to their kind. All those natures that cannot know and love God, give God glory simply by existing because they show forth God’s creative power, but I, and all mankind and angels, can know and choose and therefore must use these great powers for God’s glory.

The Human Soul Cannot Be Mere Matter

We cannot see the source of these great powers; how, then, can we know that we have a soul? In much the same way as we know when a wire is electrified, by its power-outpiit. We cannot see the electricity but we can see its power-effect. The ” power-output ” of the human soul is quite beyond and in a different category to the effects produced by any material substances or forces. The few penny-worth of common chemicals that make up the human body are quite inadequate and incapable of producing such results, for a material cause can only produce a material effect, whereas thought and free-choice are quite definitely and certainly not material effects. The human mind collects data from material things through the bodily senses and the brain stores and correlates these impressions. Though the mind depends on the body in this way as its instrument, and could not function if this instrument were defective or useless, it does not leave it at that, just producing the result like adding-machines, electronic-brains (however ingenious), or filing-machines (however complicated), or pudding mixers (however labour-saving). The mind sums up all its facts and fuses them into one idea, which has no semblance whatever to a material substance. From the data of just men we form the idea of ” Justice from honest actions we draw the idea of “Honesty”; from true facts we know there is “Truth”.

From statements of fact, truth or surmise, we draw, by reasoning, logical conclusions. We can think and argue; ponder and reason, even about our own natures and turn in upon ourselves by introspection. We apply abstract ideas to concrete cases and measure up their truth, justice and reasonableness. This power of reasoning has made man the only truly progressive creature on this earth. There is no evidence that the bees, the birds, the cats and dogs, or any other animals, have learnt anything more by experience than their instincts taught them five thousands years ago. Man alone has risen to noble conceptions of inspired thought, poetry, music, art and invention. To pretend that the human mind is nothing more than an enlarged and developed animal brain is to posit a cause utterly and ridiculously inadequate of such mighty, noble and spiritual effects.

We Can Choose

Moreover when we have perceived the truth or reasonableness of the conclusions we form in our mind, we know that we are still free to follow or reject them. A material machine must produce the same result from the same impulses every time. The electronic brain cannot choose at its own sweet will to give the wrong answer. The brute animal must follow its instincts. We know that we are not bound in the same way but are responsible for our actions by our freedom of choice. Indeed if this were not so the whole system of human Courts of Justice would become a farce and absurdity. Moreover love would have no real meaning beyond animal attraction, for true love is the choice we make with our free-wills. Only an immaterial, and, therefore, a spiritual soul can be an adequate source of thought and freedom. It is this spiritual soul that makes us like to God.. What is made of matter can of its very nature break up and corrupt, as we see in our everyday experience, but what is a spirit cannot of its nature break up because it has no different and separate parts. Hence the living material natures will die but the spiritual immaterial natures can never die, they are immortal, and made to God’s own image and likeness. It is because mankind as a whole has in some way been aware of this higher nature, that men have felt that it was not enough merely to exist to fulfil the purpose of their existence, which is the acknowledgement of their dependence on their Creator, but have realized the need to worship God.

By Reason We Must Know God

The fact that I can know things indicates that the first thing that I must do to acknowledge my dependence on God, is to use this faculty to know God. Clearly we may know about a person without knowing him, but it is not enough merely to know about God without in some way coming to know Him. It is this reaching out to know God by religious men and women that has led many to the higher and nobler peaks of religious experience. At this very moment God is giving existence to my nature, together with this great power of knowing, for no other possible reason save that I possess it for His glory. How can I use for God’s glory unless it be by knowing God?

By Free-Will We Must Love God

The same is true of the other great power of my soul, my power to choose, which is my free will. At this very moment God is giving n^e this great gift of freedom for His own glory. How can I use it for God’s glory save by choosing God? It is this act of choosing God before anything else that gives to God the greatest glory that the Creator can receive from creation, for it is essentially the act of love. I can truly say that God is keeping me, and indeed the whole of creation, in existence at this moment so that I may give Him glory by freely choosing Him. If I fail to do so I fail to fulfil the very reason of my existence as a free and intelligent creature and am fit only to give God glory, like any lump of matter, by mere existence.

God Creates Us To Know And Love Him

God, like all wise craftsmen, fits His instrument of the purpose for which He is creating it. As He creates me to know and love Him, I am so made that my only true and complete satisfaction, and, therefore, happiness, will be found in fulfilling this purpose for which I am fashioned by the all-wise Craftsman. If I refuse to fulfil the purpose for which God made me, then I can only suffer an eternity of useless and miserable frustration.

Fulfilling God’s Purpose Means Happiness

On the other hand, if I do use my great spiritual powers to know and love God, I shall find myself perfectly satisfied and happy because I am fulfilling the purpose for which I am fitted by my Creator. This would be man’s natural happiness were not our natures corrupted and darkened by sin, and had we not been raised by God to an even higher supernatural purpose. To fulfil the purpose of our existence we must be faced with the choice: for God or against God. Hence God will present mankind with this choice, not only for His own glory but also for our happiness, so that we may fulfil the purpose for which our nature is designed by its Creator. The choice “for God” is to love and serve Him, the choice “against God” is sin.

Because We Are Free God Permits Evil

This fact throws great light on the problem of sin and evil. God permits sin and all its accompanying evils so that His free creatures may be able to reach the perfection of happiness, for which He has fitted them, as well as rendering to Him the fulness of glory for which He creates them. As our choice is really free, it should not surprise us to find that some use it to choose away from God by sin. The existence of sin brings with it misery, suffering and death because it contradicts the purpose for which the Creator designed His spiritual creatures. There can be only one absolute evil, sin, and all evil must be attributed to sin and is permitted by God, though not willed by Him, as a result of sin.


MLA Citation

  • Father Herbert C Fincham. “How We Are Saved”. The Catholic Postal Course, 1951. CatholicSaints.Info. 12 April 2016. Web. 10 December 2016. <>