Archive for December, 2009

The pope in his homily at the 2009 midnight (actually 10pm) mass quoted Origen (early Xn theologian) who wrote that pagans (who worship stone images of God…which would include Hindus today) can only have hearts of stone (meaning they cannot love…even each other).  Specifically, according to Ratzinger, “Origen, taking up one of John the Baptist’s sayings, saw the essence of paganism expressed in the symbol of stones: paganism is a lack of feeling, it means a heart of stone that is incapable of loving and perceiving God’s love. Origen says of the pagans: “Lacking feeling and reason, they are transformed into stones and wood” (in Lk 22:9).”  So a Hindu believer cannot feel love or use reason.  Being as though lifeless matter, such humans are in effect not human, or sub-human.  This is the implication from Ratzinger’s quote of Origen.  At the very least, one must wonder how insulting good-meaning Hindus (and people of other religions where the deities are in images other than that of Jesus, the “true image of God” according to Ratzinger) can possibly be reconciled with subscribing to a religion wherein God is love and that love is in neighbor-love universalized

Ratzinger continues in his homily,  “The God of whom no image may be made – because any image would only diminish, or rather distort him – this God has himself become visible in the One who is his true image.”   Is this not a contradiction?  If no image can be made, then none–even one believed to be correspond to the divine essence–could be made or seen by humans without distortion.  Otherwise, the statement would read, “the God of whom only one image can be made.”   Any image is distorting because God as the source of existence transcends any image within the limits of human cognition and perception.  Also, even if there were a true image, it would be presumptuous to assume that human beings can know which, if any, is the true image.  Even revelation must go through human hands in being written down.  Furthermore, the presumption that one’s particular image of God is THE true image involves a conflict of interest.   In other words, it is convenient for Joe Ratzinger that his image of God is THE true image of God.  At the very least, Joe Ratzinger’s claim ought to be doubted because it is self-serving. 

C’est vraiment incroyable.  Certainement, un mauvais homme qui croit que il est bon.  …Ratzinger, je veux dire.  Bien sur (ou naturalement), les journalists ont dit rien de ca plus tard.  Hindus ne pouvent pas aimer ou penser.  Sprechen das ist schlecter als  “they can’t be saved” because “being saved” is a Christian artifact.  Ratzinger’s homily represents Christianity on steroids.  …or an 82 year old man on steroids.  No wonder some (other) crazy person jumped on him during the procession.  To be sure, that was crazy too, but after he got up, it is telling that his eyes were shifty.   In watching him, I got the sense that he is not a very trusting person.  It is difficult to judge, but I would not be surprised were he a spiteful rather than a spiritual man.  I view his decision to quote Origen as just as crazy, and him comments on God’s image as convenient at the very least.  …yet in spite of his comments, the legitimacy is presumed to go with him so no one questions it, at least publically.  The Roman emperor, I submit, is not wearing any clothes.  Yet unlike the baby in the manger, he is all decked out.  It is time, in other words, to see through the glittering robe to uncover the man behind the curtain.

Source: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/homilies/2009/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20091224_christmas_en.html

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The Vatican said at the end of December, 2009, that moving Pope Pius XII  closer to sainthood is not a hostile act against Jews, even though the wartime pontiff has been criticized for not speaking out enough against the Holocaust.  According to the NYT, the Vatican “sought to quell the outrage sparked among many Jewish groups after Benedict signed a decree on Pius’s virtues.”

Had the Roman Catholic Church clergy in Europe known about the Nazi atrocities–not only against the Jews, but the 20 million Russian civilians killed in their villages–it is an interesting question whether “taking up your cross” would have meant risking death in preaching out against the murder.  Being a silent “witness” of God’s presence would probably not cut it, under those circumstances.  Would prayer be a viable alternative to action, were a priest aware that a girl was being raped down the street in an alley?  I submit that it would not. 

However interesting the religious-ethical question of the clergy’s responsibility is, I want to point to another ethical issue that is involved in the sainthood of so many clerics…by other clerics.   There seems something odd, if not nepharious, about a church organization recognizing its own as saints.  It can be likened to a sort of spiritual masterbation.   At the very least, it evinces an institutional conflict of interest…a pope pushing the canonization of two popes from his century (at least one of whom he knew well).   “Make me pope and I’ll make you a saint” may be a bit too much of a stretch, but it is possible that such a deal was struck.  Joe Ratzinger was not, after all, an outsider to the hierarchy under John Paul II.   Indeed, look at the names they pick for themselves.  Joe Ratzinger decided that he would be called Blessed (Benedict).  Pope Pius had decided that he would be called pious.   Besides being hardly humble (Jesus didn’t tell people to call him Pious or Blessed), selecting one’s own name in such terms can be viewed as involving a personal conflict of interest.  

Essentially, my argument here is that we do not recognize institutional or personal conflicts of interest (though we do have a nose for the latter when it involves money!), and that consequently we don’t go far enough in critiquing organizations and the people who run them.  Instead, we get sidetracked into heated polemical debates, such as in whether the pope during WWII knew about the Nazi crimes and yet did nothing to stop them.   We need to take a hint from stories like the Da Vinci Code…we are not going far enough as investigators; paradoxically, some of the answers are left undiscovered right under our noses. 

Source: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/34571154/ns/world_news-world_faith/

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I am writing this post on the Winter Solstice of 2009 (December 21st).   Technically, I suppose, that means that last week was still autumn in the Northern Hemisphere. So yesterday was still Autumn in Quebec, Alaska, and New York.  The huge snow storm that travelled up the east coast a few days before the solstice was thus dubbed by the NYT as “Winter Arrives Early.”     One line is particularly strange: “On its way out the door, autumn gave the New York region a mighty foretaste of winter.”  Odd that mid December in NYC would be referred to as rightfully autumn.  Even if “autumn” is used to refer to the earth’s tilt relative to the sun from the equinox to the winter solstice, such usage represents a misuse of language, especially if it is used in this way outside of scientific circles.  Indeed, “autumn” is mostly used in quite another meaning…one that does not include highs in the mid 30s and snow.  That is clearly winter.  

What I am getting at here is the oddity that is behind sticking to a technical usage that is so obviously ill-fitting.   Prime facie, winter does not arrive early when it snows in New England in mid December.   This might be the case in thirty years if global warming takes hold, but for now the statement evinces a rather strange form of journalism.  At the very least, it implies that we should communicate as dictionaries even where it doesn’t make sense.   Rather than resisting playing fast and loose with language, I would argue that it does just the opposite because it involves using terms against their central meaning.  

What might the mentality be that so proffers such an obviously misfit even in technical terms?  I believe the technical term should be changed because the term’s normal usage is at odds with it (at least where winter weather is significant).   Is a person using a technical term in common usage even though the technical meaning doesn’t apply trying to be cute?  Or an insistence on the technical meanings of terms even when they don’t fit?  If so, there is presumption in it.  I don’t view an ill-fitting technical meaning as trumping ordinary usages in ordinary discourse such as a newspaper.   In any case, snow in mid December in the Northeast is not “winter arrives early.”  

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/20/us/20snow.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=central%20park%20snow&st=cse ; http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/20/plenty-of-snow-but-hard-to-get-anywhere/?scp=1&sq=central%20park%20snow&st=cse

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In a curious use of phraseology, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi described the next stage in the canonization process of John Paul II:  “Now comes the examination of a miracle, which is the proof of the divine interceding power of John Paul II on behalf of God.”  Proof.  This is what caught my eye in reading the quote.  Someone prays for the intercession of JPII, and gets well, but is positive correlation proof?   I pray for an end to the rain during a rain-shower and it suddenly stops raining.  Proof?  David Hume argues that we really don’t understand the links in a cause/effect.  We don’t even have to go to Hume to make the point that positive correlation is not causation.   Were a religionist to reply that religious proof is of a different sort than that which is ordinarily used, I would say that religionists should find another word.   Otherwise, I would be justified in taking liberties too, such as calling a veggie burger a hamberger.  Too bad if vegitarians miss out on the burgers because I took liberties with the terms.   Of course, my overall point is that the canonization process of the Roman Catholic Church is fundamentally flawed.  Because positive correlation is easier to reach than is causation, the gates are indeed open quite wide for whomever the Church officials wish to make a saint.  When they consider one of themselves, we can add a personal and institutional conflict of interest to the problematic nature of their “proof.”  Perhaps November 1st should be called “Friends Day” rather than “All Saints Day.”  Essentially, the canonization process is a way for clergy to recognize their friends (and themselves).  Such convenience is hardly of the humility of self-emptying agape as evinced on the Cross.

Source: http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/europe/12/19/pope.john.paul.sainthood/index.html

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In Enchiridion (ch. 31, sec. 117), Augustine avers that “he who does not love believes in vain, even though the objects of his belief be true.”   For example, one can believe in the immortality of the soul, and this belief may correspond with there being such a thing as an afterlife, but unless one loves one’s neighbors–including one’s enemies–having the belief comes to naught in terms of going to heaven. 

I won’t belabour the point by pointing to noted Christians in history who have treated their neighbors with less than love.  The four popes of the crusades, for example, didn’t exactly love the eastern Christians in Constantinople and the Muslims in Jersualem.   When the crusading army entered Jersualem, it killed virtually all of the locals (whereas when the Muslems took back the city, they did not).    Unfortunately, when someone is charged with hypocrisy, he or she may lapse into rationalizations.   In general terms, a Christian might argue that tough love involves looking out for the other’s best interest even when the other objects.  Like the parent who takes the child for  a vacination, the Christian might view himself as actng to save the other’s soul over the objections of the other.  Burning witches, for example, could be said to purify their souls.   Love for the witch would be evinced in the concern for her immortal soul–freeing it from the cupidity of a sordid earthly existence. 

Such a rationale is problematic for a variety of reasons.  First, it involves a degree of presumption that goes beyond what being human can justify.  The Puritans of Salem who burnt witches can’t know for sure that burning them would purify their souls.  Moreover, acting on the basis of what one thinks is in the interest of another person’s immortal soul presumes that that one knows that interest.  Second, such actions as harm the person in this life cannot point to any precedents in Jesus’ example.  Indeed, acting to harm another is antipodal to Jesus’ example of compassion as consistent with the person’s well-being in this life.   Third, it is too tempting for human nature to throw a stone for any of us to be able to distinguish acting in the interest of another’s immortal soul from acting in anger or resentment. 

So the rationale doesn’t work.  It doesn’t matter if what you believe corresponds to something in reality; if you judge others on the basis of your belief and presume to override their contrary beliefs–imposing harm on them rather than having compassion and doing as they ask–your belief doesn’t matter.  If you pester another person to get them to be saved, you will lose your own salvation.  Having your believe in Jesus will be like confederate currency when you try to pay your way into heaven; you will be turned away.   Of course, whether there is such a gate, much less an afterlife, is a matter beyond my kin, so I use the example only to make a point.  Believing in Jesus can be your final obstruction to a salvific religious experience if you are not compassionate rather than judgemental.  

The parent/child “I know better than you what you need” rationale is extremely dangerous.  The problem here is that it can apply, though I would argue only within the realm of this world.  If someone unknowingly is about to fall off a cliff because they want to drive drunk in California, another person should stop him even above his objections.  The ends-justify-the-means rationale is problematic where the well-being is presumed to pertain to the other person’s after-life at the expense of one’s life here.  The problem is the nature of the belief in what is necessary for salvation.  But even if it were possible for a human being to know what is necessary for it, not acting in compassion in terms of this life effectively nullifies your having the belief even if your belief is true.  

Presumption is puffed up, whereas humility is amenable to compassion, which is neighbor love being realized in practice.   As Paul writes, love is greater than faith and hope (I Cor. 13:13).  The end of God’s precepts is love because God is love (Rom. 13:10; 1 John 4:16).   Consider the distance between burning someone and lying down one’s  life for him or her(see John 15:13).  

It is interesting how the very people who insist that Jesus’ resurrection must be taken literally are apt to view John 15:13) as somehow metaphorical or figurative…as though satisfied by or standing for any small sacrifice.  Speaking directly to such people: you desire for such convenience undoes all of the importance you place in holding your belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that salvation requires a personal relationship with Jesus.  Yet in your presumption you conveniently blow off this possibility. 

How far the insiders are from what they claim to adore…and how close those they label as  outsiders!  This is a major theme in Mark, where the strangers “get it” while the disciples continually miss the point.  The last are in fact first, and the first are far behind–looking down on the rest of us.  I don’t view myself as in either party, but somewhere in the middle, shaking my head in utter contempt for the puffed up self-proclaimed Christians who show but little love for others.  Meanwhile, I see the outsiders “getting it” but not knowing it, and I want to wink at them so they might take their rightful places and see the hubris in the front row–those whose feet are typically washed on Holy Thursday by the so-called servants of Christ (i.e., insiders washing insides, a form of incest).   How can such clean feet have such bad smell?  The clean are dirty, and the dirty clean. Now here is the point–have compassion on both, not just for the dirty!  It is the clean, rather than the dirty, who are most naturally constituted to be the enemy.  While it may be tempting to burn the clean to put them out of their misery, such behavior cannot be rationalized, at least by the teachings and example of Jesus.  So it is not enough to love the dirty; one must love not only where it is not convenient–one must go on to love one’s enemies…or one’s Christian belief makes no difference even if it is true.  

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