Get to know Dr. Christopher Kaczor, the St. Thomas Aquinas Fellow for the Renewal of Catholic Intellectual Life at the Word on Fire Institute. Dr. Kaczor hosts the new course Adam, Eve, and Us, launching on May 1, 2023. In our chat, Dr. Kaczor gives some background on his education, faith, hobbies, and what we can expect from his new course.
Please tell us a little about your educational background.
I began to be interested in philosophy at Boston College, where I read Aristotle and Augustine for the first time. I read Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Augustine’s Confessions. Aristotle impressed me by his distinction between friends of pleasure, friends of utility, and friends of virtue. When I read Aristotle, I realized I had friends of utility and friends of pleasure but no friends of virtue. He helped me gain insight into the reality of my life. When I read Augustine, I was struck by his honesty, by his searching, and by his faith, which did not contradict his reason.
Also at Boston College, I had many great professors and was even lucky enough to have Dr. Peter Kreeft as a teacher. His course “Thinking About Religion” had an enormous impact on me. He began the semester in a way that still sticks in my memory: “Either God exists, or God doesn’t exist.” Kreeft paused and looked around the room inviting questions, of which there were none. “If God exists, either there is only one God or there is more than one God.” Again, he waited. But the logic was unassailable. “If there is only one God, is Jesus truly God as Christians say or is Jesus not God as Jews and Muslims say? If Jesus really is God, did Jesus found and does Jesus guide the Catholic Church or not?” These questions evaporated the religious fog I had been wandering in for the first twenty years of my life. Yes, either there really is an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving Creator of the universe, or there is no such thing in reality. Now, whether or not we can know how to answer this question is another matter, but it was important for me to have that clarity about the metaphysical possibilities. It remains so. In living, we must choose among alternatives. We can choose to live as if Jesus is God incarnate or choose to live as if he is not. What is it to choose to live as if Jesus is God incarnate? I just finished reading Kreeft’s fantastic four-volume series Socrates’ Children on the history of philosophy—so he’s still my teacher!
After that, I went to the University of Notre Dame, where I studied with Ralph McInerny and Alasdair MacIntyre. I’ve been a professor of philosophy for 25 years at Loyola Marymount, but I’ve also been at Princeton, The Catholic University of America, and Loyola New Orleans. I love teaching, and I learn a lot from my students who continually stimulate my thinking.
How does faith inform your work?
I think that faith and reason are distinct and yet work together. As Pope St. John Paul II wrote, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.” In my work as a philosopher, I use reason alone to try to gain greater insights into fundamental questions. As a person of faith, I’m confident that what God reveals as true through revelation is never contradicted by what we know through reason.
What is your new Institute course about?
This course is about how to read the first eleven chapters of Genesis. Some people hold the view that one must choose between science and religion. Why is this? There are several core issues that drive this claim, but perhaps the most central concerns are about the book of Genesis. First, Genesis claims that God created the world in seven days, but science indicates that the universe, including the earth, developed over billions of years. Second, Genesis talks about the first man, Adam, being created directly by God. But science indicates that all life—including human life—evolved over millions of years. In this course, I address these worries about the compatibility of Genesis and science as well as to draw out the perennial wisdom for human living.
What’s the main idea you hope people will take away from the course?
I hope people come to see that the book of Genesis is not trying to do contemporary science, but that Genesis is doing something else that is important. The story of Genesis is one of the oldest stories in human history. Its power and longevity is a great clue that it has enduring value. A story of only local interest will quickly be no longer told. But the longer a story is told the more it must appeal to generation after generation after generation. Genesis is such a story. The story of Adam and Eve is a story that represents universal human experience. In my course, I dig into how the first stories of the Bible can illuminate our human experience.
What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies?
My main hobby is jiu jitsu, which is a great workout and also fun socially. After doing judo for four or five years, a friend introduced me to jiu jitsu. The place I train is run by Royce Gracie, the first UFC champion and Hall of Famer. He mostly travels around the world, but I’ve gotten to train with him personally on a number of occasions. I like jiu jitsu because it is physically challenging, helps keep me in shape, and there is always a lot to learn. Also, the people I train with are great folks.
I also play the piano very badly, but it is a good diversion. I like to learn songs I’ve heard in Church, especially Advent and Christmas songs. My neighbor must think I’m crazy because I’ll play “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” in July.
Dr. Kaczor’s new course, Adam, Eve, and Us, launches in the Word on Fire Institute on May 1, 2023, with lesson 1, “Seven Days.” If you aren’t yet a member of the Word on Fire Institute, you can learn more and join here.