Discovering the intellectual basis of the Faith

Former heavyweight kickboxing champion Scott Sullivan has taught many students in his Houston martial-arts studio the secrets of self-defense, but nearly three years ago, he took a new direction in his career, becoming a Catholic philosopher and launching Classical Theist Productions (www.scottmsullivan.com). The company offers courses in logic, classical philosophy, historical evidence of the Christian faith, Catholic theology and more. His most popular release to date is “Christ 101,” which establishes the truth of Christianity based on reason and historical evidence. The semesterlong course was three years in the making, taught mostly by Sullivan with assistance from prominent Catholic educators such as Scott Hahn and Peter Kreeft.

Sullivan is a home-schooling father of eight and attends an Anglican ordinariate rite parish in Houston. Sullivan holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of St. Thomas in Houston.

Our Sunday Visitor: You are a convert to the Catholic faith?

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Sullivan

Scott Sullivan: Yes. I’m originally from Indiana, where I was raised in a loving Christian home. I was serious about my faith — I was “born again” — but in high school I fell away from it. I didn’t think Christianity was true but instead Santa Claus for grown-ups. I became agnostic. I wasn’t sure about the existence of God or that he had revealed himself through the person of Jesus Christ.

I was a professional kickboxer in college, and as there wasn’t much money in it, I worked evenings as a bouncer at a bar. One night, sitting there in the bar, I wrote up all my intellectual objections to Christianity. I thought it was a pretty good list at the time, but I later found out that all these objections had been raised and refuted long before I made them.

After graduating college I was still intellectually seeking the truth, and one day, I found myself in a Barnes & Noble bookstore in the religion section. I happened upon the “Handbook of Christian Apologetics” (Intervaristy Press, $22) by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli. It changed my life. I was introduced to arguments for the existence of God, the divinity of Jesus and the reliability of the New Testament.

Up to that point I did not know the historical arguments for Christianity. I didn’t have any good reasons to think Christianity was true. No one had told me. So I got into philosophy myself, became Catholic and made it my mission to share what I’d learned with others.

OSV: Surveys show that young people today are walking away from Christianity to embrace other belief systems or atheism/agnosticism and secularism. Why do you think this is true?

Sullivan: We don’t have to guess; we have surveys that show the reasons. They think Christianity is irreconcilable with reason and science as taught in high schools and universities. They don’t have the intellectual formation to understand why Christianity is true, so [they] end up believing science is true and faith a fairy tale. Some say that no one ever came to Christianity because of [an] argument, but it happens all the time. It happened with me.

Challenges in Reaching Young People
In 2016, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University looked at reasons young people leave the Faith. Here’s a sample of their findings:

When we evangelize, we certainly have to be kind and loving, but that alone is not sufficient. We have [to] give people reasons to convert, especially the well-educated, who tend to be movers and shakers in society. We don’t have a monopoly on being kind and loving, but we do have a monopoly on the truth.

So I believe that a huge part of why kids are leaving the faith is intellectual, and we should respond accordingly. Sixty to 90 percent of Christians lose their faith in college. We have to train them early on, before what they believe comes under assault.

OSV: Growing numbers of young people are also rejecting Catholic sexual morality.

Sullivan: Atheism has a certain appeal. If God doesn’t exist, then you can do whatever you want. You can engage all your passions, and you don’t have to practice restraint. Our fallen human nature likes that.

OSV: If a young person you meet says he does not believe in God, how might you respond to him?

Sullivan: There are several good arguments I can offer him from classical philosophy, such as the first-cause argument. It goes like this: We can observe in the world that things are caused by other things, but that process cannot go on forever. If it did, it would be an infinite regress [a sequence of reasoning that can never come to an end], but we can demonstrate that such an infinite regress is impossible. The process would have to stop at a first cause. And the second part of that argument shows us that the first cause must be one, immaterial and personal. We can also reason the existence of God by studying the design, order and complexity in nature.

Or, we can consider moral obligation; we all know we should do good and avoid evil, hence there must be a moral lawgiver. There are other approaches we could take as well.

OSV: What would you say to those who say the Bible can’t be proven?

Sullivan: I believe our first focus must be on the New Testament and the person of Jesus Christ. Through philosophy we know that God exists; he is the first cause. Jesus claims to be God. The evidence demonstrates that he is who he claims to be. Therefore, Christianity is true. Once we’ve established that, we can move on to solve difficulties people have with other parts of the Bible.

OSV: What are some of the offerings of your Classical Theist apostolate?

Sullivan: We have courses on logic, atheism and proving God exists, defending the reliability of the Bible, the divinity of Jesus, exploring theological questions, hell and damnation and many others. I’m currently finishing up a course on Catholic sexual morality. I try to address topics relevant to our time. On our website we have both free materials and products for purchase, including our best seller, “Christ 101.” This fall, I’ll be launching an online school, the Aquinas School of Theology and Philosophy, which will include the study of logic and philosophy.

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Our material is geared to students ages 13 and up, although kids even younger may benefit from it. On the other end of the spectrum, I have a 95-year-old man who is taking one of my logic courses.

OSV: What successes have you observed?

Sullivan: I’ve seen quite a lot. I had previously operated a martial arts gym full-time and did this on the side. Now, I’m doing Classical Theist full-time. Helping Catholics see the rationality behind a belief in God and faith has really become my passion.

Jim Graves writes from California.