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“”The root of most atheism is not argument but attitude, not intellection but feeling, not the love of truth but the fear of truth.
Peter Kreeft (pronounced /kreɪft/, not, as common sense would suggest, /krift/) (1937–) is a Catholic philosopher and apologist, most famous for his sizable bibliography and most infamous for generally being a dickhead to anyone who isn't Christian.
Life and career
Kreeft was born into a Calvinist family, attending college at Fordham University. While at Fordham, Kreeft was assigned to investigate the Catholic claim that the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus. During his research, he found that there were many similarities with the early church, and he converted to Catholicism as a result.. Unlike most Catholics, and most likely as a result of his Protestant upbringing, Kreeft stresses unity between Catholicism and Protestantism. After leaving Fordham, Kreeft became a philosophy professor at Boston College, a private Jesuit college in Massachusetts, and The King's College, a non-denominational Christian college in New York City. Astute readers may have noticed that these two colleges are not the same college. Though there is a logical explanation, it is much funnier to imagine Peter Kreeft frantically driving between Massachusetts and NYC in the time between his classes at both colleges.
As mentioned before, Kreeft's bibliography is truly massive, encompassing over 80 books written between 1979 and 2019, averaging 2 books per year. Given his prolific nature, he may yet have a few more books to inflict upon the world. Though Kreeft has been known to write for other Christian publishing houses from time to time, his main outlet seems to be Ignatius Press, a Catholic publisher. Not surprising, really.
Socrates Meets/Father of Philosophy series
Kreeft's most extensive series of books goes by two names. While the official title is the Father of Philosophy series, the title of each book in the series begins with "Socrates Meets". In this series, Socrates debates modern philosophers, primarily attempting to grill them for their perceived wrongdoings. Kreeft is quite the fan of Socratic dialogues[note 1], featuring them heavily in works such as The Unaborted Socrates (1983), The Best Things in Life (1984), and Refutation of Moral Relativism (1999), among others. Throughout the series, Socrates (played by Peter Kreeft) rubs shoulders with such philosophers (played by Peter Kreeft) as:
- Machiavelli (2003)
- Marx (2003)
- Descartes (2007)
- Kant (2009)
- Jesus (1987/2002)
However, not all is well in Socrates-land. In a review of Socrates Meets Descartes, Hal G.P. Colebatch notes that "having bought [the book] with high hopes … I found it fundamentally disappointing for a reason which I have found previously in conservative Christian thought," the book being "a bad-tempered attack on rationality, science, modernity and all varieties of the Enlightenment." True fans of the series are desperately hoping for a return to form of Socrates pestering other philosophers without condemning all of modern society.
Summa of the Summa
Perhaps the most helpful of Kreeft's books is Summa of The Summa (1990), a much-needed summary of Thomas Aquinas' behemoth Summa Theologica. Summa of the Summa pares the Summa down to passages that would be most important or most often encountered in Catholic studies with Kreeft providing explanations and footnotes. Ignatius Press, being so kind as to toot Kreeft's horn so he doesn't have to, calls it "the most intelligent, clear, and useful access to Saint Thomas in print." As if that wasn't enough, Kreeft also wrote A Shorter Summa (1993), a summary of Summa of the Summa, a summary of Summa Theologica. In this book, Kreeft boils down Summa Theologica to only its most essential points, being explicitly for classroom use. Yo dawg, I heard you like summaries.
While Kreeft is praised by his publisher as "one of the most respected and prolific Christian authors of our time", others do not seem to share that opinion. In a review for Kreeft's Between Heaven and Hell (1982), in which John F. Kennedy, C.S. Lewis, and Aldous Huxley meet in Purgatory and have a series of Socratic discussions on the Christian faith, Max H. James writes for Christian Literature that despite Kreeft's "admiration of Plato and C.S. Lewis[note 2], [he] cannot in the least write like either of them;" James also took particular issue with Kreeft's "lack of distinction between religious statements … and empirical statements." Perhaps the strangest of all, though, is that Kreeft wrote JFK as a one-dimensional idiot, his only contribution to the plot being "babbl[ing] like a moron". In fairness to Kreeft, a serious head injury can cause those kinds of complications.
Kreeft's modus operandi
For a closer look at how exactly Kreeft operates in his writings, Kreeft's Christianity for Modern Pagans (1993), from which the opening quote is sourced, will be analyzed. The express purpose of the book is to repackage the writings of Blaise Pascal (of Pascal's Wager fame) into a convincing argument to convert practicing pagans (and, by extension, atheists, for reasons to become plain soon) to Christianity. In the first chapter, Kreeft stresses the importance of his message:
Someone may object that it is just as dishonest to make us want Christianity to be true as it is to make us want it to be false. Why not cultivate neutrality instead? Because neutrality is impossible once you are addressed with a claim as total, as intimate, as life-changing and as sin-threatening as Christianity. Christianity is not a hypothesis, it is a proposal of marriage.
In the second chapter, however, Kreeft starts taking wild swings at pagans — y'know, the people he's supposed to be convincing. The following quote, both bigoted towards pagans and women, is what is referred to as a "double whammy" in the bigot community. Also of note is Kreeft's language concerning "undermining the modern world from within", which has, according to him, "returned to paganism – or rather, to something much worse,":
Especially today the Christian apologist needs to be a spy and work in the catacombs. It was not so in the Christian world of the Middle Ages. But our world has returned to paganism — or rather, to something much worse, for a divorcée is not a virgin. We need to return to the catacombs and undermine the modern world from within. We must do the same spy work in the world as the world is now doing in the Church: planting secret agents inside … smuggl[ing] Christianity back into Christendom (that is, our nominally Christian but really post-Christian society).
Kreeft seems to believe that, in a country with a majority Christian population, Christianity is actively being undermined by those evil, evil worldly people. In the third chapter, Kreeft drives this home with multiple digs at atheists:
[T]his is the comparison between ancient and modern man. Ecclesiastes, like modern man, has everything and yet has nothing because it is only “vanity”. Job, like ancient man, has nothing but has everything because he has God. … The major obstacle to faith for modern man is the secular utopian idea that he can find wisdom and happiness without God.
Kreeft, alongside his love of philosophers and sweet, sweet baby-feeding action, is also a lover of logical fallacies. In this passage, again from the third chapter, Kreeft dodges the question of the existence of pagan deities by cooking up some homestyle ad hominem delicately spiced with appeal to ridicule for all the hungry babies out there:
[I]f you don’t know the true God, you must sooner or later find some false god to worship. To be human is to worship. The alternative to theism is not atheism but idolatry. … Man is vile enough to bow down to beasts and even worship them. What could be more mad, monstrous and miserable than God’s image bowing down to snakes? It is the King’s kid bowing to his pet reptile instead of to his Father.
For a palate cleanser, Kreeft goes on a tangent condemning wildlife preservation to serve up a flavorful nugget of anti-abortion rhetoric: "[W]anted whales have more right to life than unwanted babies." By the fifth chapter, the wanted baby's palate is ready for the next portion of the meal, so Kreeft concocts a thoroughly unfilling strawman of paganism devoid of any evidence or justification, taking the time to also decry modern society (that sounds familiar):
[W]e are metaphysically very good and morally very bad. Modern paganism says exactly the opposite: it tells us to despise our souls but love our selves, our “rights” and demands and desires and passions. Its euphemism for passion is “freedom”. That is, it identifies freedom with what is really enslavement. … We are metaphysically very good because we are created in the image of the absolutely good God. But we are morally very bad because we have despised our Creator. Modern paganism says we are not metaphysically very good at all, because we are merely trousered apes; and not morally very bad at all because there is no divine law to judge us as very bad. There is only man-made societal law, that is, our own pagan society’s expectations, and these are quite low, negotiable and revisable. “Here, kid. Take a condom. We know you’re incapable of free choice and self-control. We expect you to play Russian roulette with AIDS, so we’re giving you a gun with twelve chambers instead of six.”
Astute readers will notice that Kreeft doesn't appear to know what he's talking about on the subject of non-Abrahamic religions. In the twelfth chapter, Kreeft and Pascal claim that no other religion or philosophy acknowledges that an imperfect existence is innate and derivative of sin. Kreeft, however, just had to bungle the entire claim by mentioning and misrepresenting Buddhism. Though he acknowledges concepts such as Samsara, the Cycle of Rebirth, and Nirvana, Oneness (and not the band, thankfully), he criticizes Buddhism for lacking a concept of agapē, selfless love. Kreeft conveniently passes over the very first Brahma-Vihara, maitrī, directly synonymous with agapē.
Along with plain omissions, Kreeft also has a habit of inventing new definitions when they suit him. In the eighth chapter, Kreeft redefines skepticism as disbelief in human reason, not knowledge:
Dogmatism and skepticism both make the same mistake: confusing reason essential (or reason de jure) with reason existential (or reason de facto). Dogmatism ascribes the same trustworthiness and power to reason de facto as to reason de jure, and skepticism ascribes the same untrustworthiness and impotence to reason de jure as to reason de facto.
Returning to the twelfth chapter, Kreeft claims that original sin is "the radically unpopular doctrine" that culminates in "the unenviable task of convincing us of this Bad News so that we will be open to the Good News,". Kreeft's third course is a false equivalency stuffed into a four-term fallacy:
Perhaps this is the origin of theological liberalism and modernism, with its eagerness to negotiate away all unpopular dogmas. … If life were 100 percent deception, we could not even know that fact, for we would know no true light by which to judge the deception. But all of life is infected with deception. The image of God, the Father of Truth, is universally infected with the germs of the Father of Lies. No one who sees this can ever believe in secular humanism again. We have established and developed out of concupiscence admirable rules of polity, ethics and justice, but at root, the evil root of man, this evil stuff of which we are made is only concealed; it is not pulled up. Even our systems of social justice are rooted in our Original Sin, the injustice in our nature.
As if he was dared to make an even more fallacious argument, Kreeft's final course is a rich, decadent, fallacy turducken. The following quote simultaneously demonstrates argument to the stone, appeal to ignorance, and argument from incredulity, with a garnish of special pleading to top things off. In essence, the statement would be absurd without the reasoning used; he doesn't know of any explanation, therefore there can't be another; and he cannot conceive of the situation being possible without the Christian God specifically; therefore it is impossible:
If there were no such thing as Original Sin, why else couldn’t we ever attain the goodness and justice and joy and peace that the majority of sane people always want and have always wanted? Original Sin is the only key that opens the mystery of history.
Of course, no book
blatantly ripping off creatively using Pascal's writings would be complete without a use of Pascal's Wager. Since Kreeft's use is not unique, it won't be covered in detail.
In the twenty-sixth chapter, in section VII, "The End of the Road, The Point of it All:" Kreeft finally gets to the damn point:
Pascal does not say that the traditional philosophical proofs of the existence of God are logically weak, just (a) psychologically weak, that is, not permanently convincing, and (b) spiritually weak, that is, not converting the heart from pride to humility. … Christ overcomes both weaknesses above, (a) He does not prove God, he is God. And (b) he converts hearts as well as minds. … Without Christ we are sinners without a Savior standing before the face of absolute holiness and infinite, uncompromisable justice. If we do not despair at this, we are proud fools. If we are not proud fools, we despair.
Ultimately, though, Kreeft's grand reveal only serves to fracture his claim of knowledge. Instead of one coherent claim that the Christian God is real, he has created two claims: one that God exists and one that Jesus is in some way divine, neither of which are mutually inclusive.
Christianity for Modern Pagans is Kreeft's sermon to the choir, in which he lovingly pats his Christian audience on the head only to turn around and spew fire at non-Christians, repeatedly poisoning the well and slinging ad hominem attacks and arguments from incredulity, going on tangents to make wholly unnecessary, often bigoted points. The book's supposed mission is to present convincing arguments for Christianity, but Kreeft can't seem to help himself when given an opportunity to attack its intended audience, therefore failing spectacularly. Quite frankly, it is astonishing that such tripe was ever published.
- Kreeft also seems to greatly admire Socrates and other philosophers, almost to a creepy level. In Christianity for Modern Pagans, Kreeft mentions one of Pascal's pensées only to then spend half a page gushing about Pascal's honesty and transparency. Throughout the chapter, Kreeft lapses into further praise of Pascal, at one point saying that Pascal "first opens your mind, then feeds it," comparing the process of Pascal's proofs to "[making] the baby hungry."
- Here we go again. Let's just hope that no one is feeding any babies.
- Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal’s Pensées Edited, Outlined & Explained; unfortunately, you have to be logged in to convert the file, so if you don't have an EPUB reader, you're kinda hosed if you want the true Peter Kreeft Experience™.
- Peter Kreeft - Exodus Books
- "Evangelicals and Catholics Together", First Things, 1994
- "Peter Kreeft On Books & Music", Spiritual Direction
- About Us - Ignatius Press
- "Unreasonable reasoning" - Quadrant
- Summa of the Summa - Ignatius Press
- A Shorter Summa - Ignatius Press
- Between Heaven and Hell, reviewed by Max H. James