Mr. Shaun McAfee, O.P. is the author of Reform Yourself! and other books, is the founder and editor of EpicPew.com, and contributes to many online Catholic resources. He holds a Masters in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. Shaun has made his temporary profession as a Lay Dominican and temporarily lives in Italy.
There’s a maximum security prison in the Midwest that holds some of the country’s most brutal criminals. I once overheard a conversation between two men sentenced for life.
Chauncey: You gonna eat your ice cream?
Dante: No. You know I sell my ice cream.
Chauncey: What about your burger?
Dante: Of course I eat my burger. Man, what’s wrong with you?
Chauncey: Just being polite. Because when you’re done eating, I’m gonna kill you.
Dante: You’re crazy! You’ve been doing drugs again.
Chauncey: You know I don’t do drugs. I sell drugs, remember?
Dante: Yeah, well, you haven’t sold me drugs, and I don’t owe you money. And I never said nothing to nobody about killing in here.
Chauncey: You said killing doesn’t matter.
Dante: I never said that!
Chauncey: Sure you did, man. I’ve been hearing you say it out on the yard, like forever. You tell everyone there’s no God, and you call us fools for going to church.
Dante: Yeah, but that’s got nothing to do with killing. I never said nothing about killing. I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Chauncey: You want me to explain before I kill you?
Dante: You’d better come up with something, because I’m about ready to take this tray and smack you.
Chauncey: You know I go to this class about church stuff every week?
Dante: I heard.
Chauncey: Last week the teacher talked to us about good and evil.
Chauncey: He told us if there’s no God, then good and evil is whatever you say it is.
Dante: I’ve been telling you that all along, but you don’t listen.
Chauncey: Well, I was feeling bad about all the killing I did out there. But now, I’m like, maybe Dante’s right? If there’s no God, I can do what I want again. And what I want is to kill you, because killing doesn’t matter, right? You see what I’m saying?
Dante: Killing me matters to me!
Chauncey: You know I’m just messing with you. This teacher in my class, he called it a “hypothetical.” He said, first thing you gotta do is get people’s attention.
Dante: You got my attention.
Chauncey: I doubt it, man. I’d really have to go off on you to get your attention.
Dante: Look, man, what do you want?
Chauncey: Nothing. I don’t want a thing. Just think about what I said — if there’s no God, there’s no good or evil. It’s just what you say . . . what I say. And that makes no sense because we’ve already lived that way, and look where we ended up.
Dante: Man, that’s old news. Get some new material.
Chauncey: Maybe. Maybe before you start calling us fools for us going to church, think a minute about me killing you, because killing means nothing, right? You think that makes sense? Because when you say there’s no God, that’s what you’re really saying. Just act crazy. It doesn’t matter.
Dante: I’ll think about it. Now stop messing with me.
GUARD: Chow time’s over. Let’s clear it out.
St. Thomas Aquinas, actually, made the same argument. In his cinque viae (“five ways”), the fourth argument for the existence of God is by observing “gradation” in the world. He writes:
Among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble and the like. But ‘more’ and ‘less’ are predicated of different things, according as they resemble in their different ways something which is the maximum . . . so that there is something which is truest, something best, something noblest and, consequently, something which is uttermost being.
Morality exists—we known this. And it exists not as a relativistic idea, as Dante learned, but as an objective item. Therefore, since there can be a measure of morality, the ultimate perfection of the gradation of morality must exist. That perfection is God. Hence, God exists.
(By the way, this story was made up. Thanks, Chauncey!)