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As Madrid prepared for the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day in August 2011, many people, including 120 priests, were raising objections to the Pope’s visit. Rev. Federico Lombardi, a spokesman at the Vatican, said at a briefing at Rome that the protests were not very surprising. Dismissing the objections, he said, “It’s part of life in a democratic country.”  I contend that there is a certain arrogance in this statement. Would the spokesman use the same statement regarding protests against apartheid, for example?  Oh, well, what can you expect; there are always protests. To be sure, the frequency of protest does indeed rarify the impact of any particular protest. Surely, however, the gravity of the causes differs. Exterminating the Jews, for example, should not be treated as of similar importance as saving some bird species, yet both causes could be expected to eventuate in protests.

In the case of the Pope’s visit to Madrid for the youth festival, priests who work with the poor objected to the “lavish $72 million celebration.” That some of this sum would be paid with tax dollars even as Spain was in an austerity program affecting the poor had more than some people shaking their heads at the priorities of the Vatican and Spain. It was not as though the Pope had not visited the state. In fact, Esther Lopez Barcelo, a youth coordinate for a political party, observed, “They still can’t tell us how much the pope’s visit cost two years ago. Every time he comes here, the figures become opaque.” Cost-containment is obviously not a priority at the Vatican.

To be sure, having more than a million visitors in Madrid could be expected to benefit both local business and the government’s coffers, though it is doubtful that the spending by the youth would match the increased municipal expenses such as trash removal. In short, Spain—one of the PIGS in the E.U. in terms of the debt crisis—was in no position to host a church’s youth day. The Pope’s home region of Bavaria in Germany would have been a better pick, considering the state of the German economy.

For the Catholic Church, the Vatican’s dismissiveness of the protest signed by 120 of its own priests plus others rings of the sort of heartlessness in ignoring someone. It is the sort of heartlessness in someone who has no qualms about enjoying himself even as he knows that some people nearby are suffering. There is a fakeness to such a smile that involves willful blocking of something that is not convenient.

In a broader context, the Vatican’s indifference regarding objections to its lavish spending was amid a trend since 1979 away from social justice and human rights and toward a hypertrophy in abortion and stem-cell protests. I wonder, by the way, whether “It’s all part of life in a democratic country” could also be used by pro-choice groups to dismiss pro-life rallies? Furthermore, I wonder if the Vatican would object to that use of its statement?  Would the Vatican be willing to contend that using a human stem-cell in research is more objectionable than diverting religious and public funds from the poor in a time of need?

On the Church’s “own turf,” one could point to Jesus’ use of the five loafs and two fishes to feed the multitudes. Furthermore, one could recount the saying attributed to Jesus about the rich man getting into the kingdom of heaven being like a camel getting through the eye of a needle. Surely, profligate spending for a festival as the poor are suffering from austerity-program cut-backs is hard to square with Jesus’s teachings. Higher human love (caritas), and especially selfless divine love (agape), manifest justly in terms of universal benevolence (benevolentia universalis). Leibniz, for example, based this justness of this obligation on the fact that we all share in being—God is perfect Being. Augustine based the justness on caritas applying even to one’s enemies (as opposed to merely one’s friends—Cicero’s amicitia).

Similarly, John Rawls points to the unfairness involved in knowing beforehand where one is situated in benefiting from the benevolence. Under a veil of ignorance concerning one’s station, it is only fair to see to it that the least fortunate position benefits. Practically speaking, one never knows if one will someday occupy such a position. For a person (or organization) to ignore the poor while using funds that those people who are barely surviving badly need (from the state)—particularly when one knows one’s station (i.e., as not poor)—is to add selfishness and a hardened heart to the unfairness. This is not exactly a station of the Cross. Rather, it pertains to the lofty, who are justly brought low, rather than to the lowly, who are to be exalted.

To refuse to take part in the exaltation of the lowly by ignoring the obligation of redistributive justice, particularly as arrives at a festival as the star of the show, reflects on one’s underlying attitude toward the teachings attributed to Jesus (or Gandhi, for that matter) as well as the ethical principle of basic fairness. It is, in short, to practice hypocrisy, if one represents a Church in the name of a simple carpenter who may well have gone from meal to meal.

See Suzanne Daley, “Catholic Clergy Protest Pope’s Visit, and Its Price Tag,” New York Times, August 16, 2011.

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While it might seem easy, discerning saints from sinners can be rather difficult. Hence, we are urged not to judge, lest we, too, be judged. This lesson landed on me when I found my opinion on a seemingly-saintly elderly woman change dramatically.

The elderly Philipino woman whom I met seemed at first to be very pious, having an explicit desire to gain the attribute of holiness. The simplicity of her faith appealed to me. Yet when I made reference to one of her priests being–to put it nicely–more of an administrator than a pastor, she replied that her priest “was Jesus.” I replied that the priests are in the line of the Apostles, rather than instantiating Jesus. I cited apostolic succession, and she relented. Not content to be corrected, she asserted that the Bible is sufficient as a source of historical evidence. I replied that a faith narrative is neither written with the intention of recording historical facts nor of the genre of historical writings that is taken as proffering historical evidence. The woman disagreed, insisting that a faith narrative can be considered as a source of historical facts. I asked her whether she knows or believes the so-called facts. She readily replied that she knows them. “Well,” I observed, “then it would seem that you have no use for faith then.” My unexpected comment stopped her in her tracks. “What do you mean?” she asked. “We have faith in things we don’t know–things we are not certain of, such as whether we will be alive tomorrow,” I replied. “It doesn’t make sense to have faith in something we know because there is not uncertainty about it. So if the Bible gives you facts that you know, that tells me that it is not a matter of faith.” Taken back, she repeated that she knew that the Bible proves that certain historical events took place. “And you can’t be wrong about that?” I asked. “Yes, I can’t be wrong about it.” As if giving the conclusion of a syllogism, I remarked, “Then that means that not only is faith unnecessary for you, but it is based on arrogance–that of presuming that you cannot be wrong.” My pronouncement stunned her into speechlessness. She stood staring at the ground as if unable to move. There was no anger or resentment–just a wall that was blocking her view and not letting her pass.

If Jesus is a door, then a believer opens the door and walks through; one does not keep holding on to a front door once one has entered a house. The elderly woman was stuck holding on to a doornob as if it were attached to a wall. For myself, I was simply stunned that religion could so distort cognition so much and involve denial to the extent that a human being readily admits to not being able to be wrong about something that most of us would say involves belief rather than knowledge. It is as if the domain furtherest from certain knowledge were somehow the most capable of proffering evidence about which a person could not be wrong.

Perhaps this exchange reflects the saying, “Where God builds a church, Satan builds a chapel.” My question is: In preaching against arrogance, was I in the church or chapel?

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While I was editing some writing at a coffee shop a few days ago, one of the employees asked me what I was writing.  I replied that I was writing on Augustine.  He was very interested.  Well, last night his pastor stopped by to give him something.  Introductions were made and before I knew it the pastor and I were discussing religion.  He is an evangelical Christian and I view religious faith as an inherently personal matter.  I told the pastor that public utterances (and collective displays) seem to me to be at the surface, and therefore distorted manifestions of what is really much deeper (i.e., the soul’s relationship to God).  I told him that I thought there is much to much certainty regarding what people think they know about God (as evinced by stating the creeds as if they refer to known facts).  I even said I thought it rather presumptuous what people tend to assume they know about God (and then try to impose on others).  Well, as you might expect, this didn’t stop him from doing just that.  The manipulation (and self-absorption) was palpable.  I was astonished that even after I had made my statements he went ahead undaunted.   I felt disrespected (and ignored…or disregarded).  It was all about getting me to come to his church.  All about him.  Of course it was for God, of whom the pastor knows very well.   All I could do was let him speak; I had already decided that would be the last substantive discussion I would have with him.  I was left with a sense of the sheer presumptuousness and how blind the guy was to it…even as he presumed to know God with so much certainty.  Ironic to say the least.

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A rabbi, a minister and a sheik are at a baseball game, one of them cries “foul”,…

So is there a punch-line or have I struck out?  (I would never ask such a question or be so punny with the comments feature on, so I’ll just assume you find my sense of humor emetic and move on to the more serious business of trying to make a point)

The NYT does a better job: “It sounds like the start of a joke: a rabbi, a minister and a Muslim sheik walk into a restaurant.  But there they were, Rabbi Ted Falcon, the Rev. Don Mackenzie and Sheik Jamal Rahman, walking into an Indian restaurant, and afterward a Presbyterian church.”  Here is their family photo:

Rather than reducing their conversations to the lowest common politically-correct denominator, “the three say they became close not by avoiding or glossing over their conflicts, but by running straight at them.”  I find this to be rather important.  But they do not charge headlong into the others’ religions; rather, they balance self-criticism with honest feedback on what they don’t like about the others.  I have found this mixture to be useful in discussing politics with people from other countries–my self-criticism often times being surprising to my interlocators.   But whereas in politics criticizing one’s own country or leaders can almost be a pasttime, at least in the US, it is generally taboo for a religionist to criticize anything in his or her own faith. 
There seems to be, moreover, an assumption that for a religion to be viable, it must be accepted without erasure or amendment.  Eviscerating a passage in a scripture is particularly verboten, and even traditions can reach the status of being a given.   In my opinion, this rigidity is not justified by the process by which scripture (and tradition) are begun or formed because human beings are involved in it.  I suspect that with time a given scripture or tradition come to be treated as “a given” whereas it was not so treated when it was formed.   The distance of time, in other words, is transformative–and not necessarily for the good.   Lincoln, for example, is today a mythic figure who freed the slaves.  But the truth is, he exempted the five slave states that remained in the Union (MI, KY, WV, MD, and DE), and he considered exiling the freed slaves.  What Lincoln has become–and without justification we presume this was how he was then–is far different than what he was.  In Christianity, this same dynamic might be involved in the “From Jesus to Christ” idea (as well as that of the historical Jesus as distinct from what he is taken to be today).   In any case, a certain “hardening of the arteries” seems to be part of the aging process of a religion.   As a given religion becomes increasingly artificial, it becomes more of a dead letter rather than a living spirit…and thus eventually dies. 
From this perspective, I am particularly impressed with our three amigos.  First, they declare what they most value as the core teachings of their tradition. At one gathering,  minister said “unconditional love.” The sheik said “compassion.” And the rabbi said “oneness.”  They also give honest feedback on what they don’t like about the others’ religions, but then, they do something almost unheard of.  The NYT suggests as much in reporting, “the room then grew quiet.”   Each stood and recited what he regarded as the “untruths” in his own faith. The minister said that one “untruth” for him was that “Christianity is the only way to God.” The rabbi said for him it was the notion of Jews as “the chosen people.” And the sheik said for him it was the “sword verses” in the Koran, like “kill the unbeliever.”  The instinct in line with how we tend to understand religion is to immediately hedge.  For example, the sheik immediately added, “It is a verse taken out of context,” and he pointed out that the previous verse says that God has no love for aggressors. “But we have to acknowledge that ‘kill the unbelievers’ is an awkward verse,’ ” the sheik said as the crowd laughed. “Some verses are literal, some are metaphorical, but the Koran doesn’t say which is which.”  Well,the verse isn’t just awkward.  One could argue it ought to be expunged from the Islamic scripture.   The problem is, we tend to assume this would render the entire scripture somehow null and void.  It either hangs together or falls together. 
Well, I beg your pardon to differ.  At the very least, because human beings are involved in at least the copying, it is possible, even likely, that errors are made, which do not render an entire work null and void.   The problem is, given that interpretation involves the subjective assessment of whether a given passage is literal, symbolic, figurative or metaphorical, deciding on whether a given passage should be extracted does not have the certainty as in “2+2=5 is incorrect and thus should be erased.”  There is a “what if we are wrong?” element in “messing” with a scripture.   We tend to focus on the human element that would be involved in editing a scripture while ignoring the fact that human beings were involved in the writing of it.  This asymetry points to a basic flaw in religion as it is typically understood and practiced by mankind.  That is to say, we could improve religion itself.  It can be advanced, as can technology or political systems.  
To be alive, of spirit, a religious text (and tradition) must be able to breath.  Of course, removing mistakes or cultural artifacts that are no longer fitting (e.g., slavery) does involve the risk of making a mistake, but the chance of making one is mitigated, or worth the risk, where it is pretty clear that a given passage is problematic or wrong.  If nothing else, the practice of a religion, which typically involves compassion or love, involves removing the source of pain to another.  This alone justifies removing passages deemed offensive by others.  However, even here, one must discern a legimate beef from over-sensitivity.   In any case, self-criticism (without caveat) and compassion ought to override the current view of what being a scripture means.  Ironically, by admitting the human element in religion, we can make our religions more closely approximate the divine, and the more we treat our own handiwork as divine the further we fall from our ideal. It is our choice–not a given. 

For more, pls see:  http://twitter.com/deligentia

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/24/us/24amigos.html?_r=1

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Hanna Rosin has written a piece called, “Did Christianity cause the crisis?” in The Atlantic (vol. 304, issue 5, pp. 38-48).  She describes the current prosperity gospel, which, it seems, contributed to the sub-prime mortgage collapse and ensuing financial crisis.  Unhinged from their economic realities, many evangelical Christians who had hitherto only been able to rent decided to go for huge houses because “nothing is impossible with God,” and “God makes the true believers wealthy.”  These Christians could cite 2 John 2: “I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health.”  Unlike the Christian emphasis on virtues such as self-discipline and industriousness that characterized the evangelical titans of the Gilded Age such as John D. Rockefeller, the modern evangelical relies on grace as a kind of spiritual luck applying to risky financial activities.  Little attention was paid to the predatory mortgage-lending industry, which would make contributions to the megachurches for each congregant who signed up for a sub-prime.  Hence pastors preached the believer’s right to the good life as if Jesus had been a friend of money (ignoring what he did to the money-changers).   In any case, the irrational exuberance of the housing bubble may have had in it a component of irrationalism from religion–people taking leave of their senses (and their responsibilities) and being utterly blind to it under the subterfuge of a divine sanction. 

Stepping back to grasp the phenomenon from the perspective of the religion, it strikes me that the too close a friendship between Christianity and the good life eviscerates the distance between the faith and the world.  In other words, the Kingdom of God penetrates the world rather than acts as a check or alternative.  No longer are the last first and the first, last.  No longer is there an eye of the needle for the camel–rather, the doors are wide open.  And no longer must the rich man walk away from his treasure to follow Jesus.   God and mammon effectively fuse,  adding power to self-centeredness by clothing it in gilded robes.   This is particularly evident in the preachers–the scandals alone, such as that of Jim and Tami, attest that something has been amiss.   In other words, there is something downright odd about a minister or pastor living in luxury: Christianity become too convenient for its own good. 

Stepping back even further: Is it inevitable that a religion goes through a life-cycle of sorts during which it becomes decreasingly distinct and increasingly feckless vis a vis the world?   If so, are we witnessing perhaps the final centuries of Christianity?

For more, pls see:  http://twitter.com/deligentia

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I’m reading an article on MSBNC on the Rev. Moon of the Unification Church.  He is set to marry off and bless 40,000 in a “massive global ceremony.”   The following paragraph caught my eye:

“Moon, a self-proclaimed messiah who says he was 15 when Jesus Christ called upon him to carry out his unfinished work, has courted controversy and criticism since founding the Unification Church in Seoul in 1954.”

Such a claim is so fantastic and original that one might conclude that the line between religion and sanity has been breached here.  However, how do we know?  Furthermore, for all we know, the miracles and angels surrounding ancient revelations of a messiah were ex post facto accretions.  What if Jesus was like Moon, claiming “I am the Messiah” to a skeptical world?  Is Moon today like Jesus was in his time, and if so, how will the Unification Church view him in 60, 400, or 2000 years?  We don’t get to go back and see what was really going on in Jesus’ day, so we don’t know how much of what we think we know about him really happened.  Scholars tell us that the Gospel writers were not oriented to writing history; they had other purposes.  Yet we presume historical veracity in their works.   What if we are seeing how a new religious figure is “born”?…like using the Hubble telescope to see how the universe looked just after it began.  In other words, what if the “beginnings” is more mundane than we think?  It is possible

Source: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/33296507/ns/world_news-asiapacific/

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I have been reading Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God. It is possible that Jesus rose from the dead and has since been a person or manifestation of God in the form of a resurrected body.  That no one alive can say he or she has seen Jesus empirically means that it is very unlikely that any of us can know how much of what is said to have happened really happened.  I suppose it is the likelihood that none of us can know for sure that bothers me in the theological debates because some assert the literal or historical dimension.  We were all to agree on the meaning and let history be history and not religion, I think religion would not be so grievous.

I do not believe in the Passion Story literally as in historically the case, although I do believe that what the myth stands for. That is, that compassionate self-emptying is vindicated on account of its inherent strength and value even though it seems weak by the world’s standards.  We seem to have lost the mythic meaning of the passion story, only to concentrate on its historicity and empirical “factness.”   The evangelical Christian would rightly point out to me that I could be wrong on the resurrection being a historical fact.  Neither of us can know the answer.  Faith is by definition in the absence of knowledge (otherwise there would be no need for faith on the matter).   For all I know, Jesus could have been knocking down the books to get my attention.   Compassionate self-emptying would suggest or require that I remember my own limitations and that the “other” could be right…and to treat him or her in such terms.  Too often, I think we presume that our opinions are truth, and that those who disagree with us are not only wrong, but erroneous.  This is a ghost difficult to shake off, but ultimately necessary for constructive religious dialogue in line with the love taught by the world’s religions.   If we could all just remember that we are all in the same boat as human beings in terms of knowing things in themselves we might get along a lot better and enjoy life more.

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This morning, I read the introduction of Karen Armstrong’s A Case for God.  I had seen her on a talk show last night.  Her basic argument is that the modern advocates or apologists of the dominant faiths in the West (e.g., Judaism, Christianity and Islam) suffer from an “unskillful” practice.   She claims that the scientific tenor of Western society since the 1600s has transformed the approaches to religion to stress cognition (i.e., belief) and rationality in way that renders religious narrative, or myth, as reduceable to a factual and historical basis.  For example, did the historical Jesus really walk around after he had been crucified?  Was he really a poor carpenter?  Was Mary a virgin physiologically?  The historical German method of interpreting the Bible led the way in this line of hermaneutics, but the twentieth-century fundamentalism (e.g., evangelicalism) was not far behind with its literalness.  

In contrast to the dominant modern rendering of religion in terms of cognitive belief affirmations of fact and historical literalness, Armstrong claims that religion is about practice.  Such praxis, she  maintains, is geared to compassionate (i.e., feeling with) humility.  Although she claims that all religions aim at this practical goal, it is so close to Jesus’ teachings and example that she might be projecting a Christianity-based understanding onto religion itself.   Also, in practically reducing religion to practice, she may be reacting against another extreme (the cognitive-literal approach).  In other words, her rendering could be viewed as partial rather than synopic.   For instance, she claims that the metaphysical claims in a religion should be read as that the ethical practices have meaning.   In my view, she comes very close to reducing religion to ethics, which is something liberal Protestantism has been criticized for doing.   Take, for example, “God is love.”   I interpret this as teaching that love is the source or basis of existence.  Even though our acts of love (and feelings!…which Armstrong also discounts relative to conduct) involve “God is love” being actualized, there is also the sense irrespective of one’s conduct that existence itself is love.  I take the transcendent wisdom of the latter to be just as important as conduct in religious terms.  

I take religion to be a multifaceted phenomenon that does not reduce to practice or creedal belief.  Even though Armstrong may come up short in this respect, she makes an excellent point that the modern understanding of religion is presumptuous (e.g., assuming we know more about God than we are entitled as finite beings to be able to know) and ahistoric.   On the latter, she means that we have not sufficiently studied ancient and medieval interpretations that would place our modern cognitive and literal approach in relief as rather narrow and, indeed, out of sorts with the nature of religion.   That is to say, if faith is not primarily about cognition or empirical knowledge of past events or persons (e.g., Moses, Jesus or Mohammad), then the dominant modern approach is “unskillful” or misplaced.  It is ironic that moderns who may be so far off would presume to know so much about God, citing revelation.   Of course, even perfect revelation would have to make its way through our own limited and imperfect eyes or ears, and neuropathways/rationality.   Especially where a religion is reduced to its cognitive factfulness and empirical truth, our own limitations become quite salient.  

I must admit I have been astounded (and frustrated) at the presumptuousness evinced by finite human beings who assume that the perfection of revelation runs perfectly through them as if they were innert permeable membranes rather than filters.  In actuality, if the revelation was written without cognitive affirmation or literalness being assumed throughout, a “believer” who reads scripture in such terms could be distorting it without realizing it because of ignorance of the writers’ perspective.   Of course, jthe fact that someone had to write down the revelation makes it difficult to maintain that the revelation itself is perfect.  That someone taking himself to be a believer would not only assume that he has the truth but also seek to actively impose it on another human being with different beliefs is a rather emetic phenomenon.  It is a package built on stilts…yet presumes it can run!   That one human being would say to another, “No, your faith is wrong…Here’s mine…it is true” reminds me of self-idolatry (i.e., taking oneself to be God, or reducing God to a projection of oneself). 

 Observing the modern context of presumptuousness even as religion is understood and portrayed so differently than it has been understood historically, I wonder if the problems discussed by Armstrong are remeable.    Can arrogance and presumption designed to bypass human critique by being based on God’s revelation be rectified by humans?  It seems to me that the tools brought to bear on this problem would simply be dismissed–which is part and parcel of arrogant presumption.   It could be that the only efficacious correction possible would have to come from within the “unskilled” themselves.  This would involve a person recognizing and coming to terms with his or her own presumption as presumption.   It may be far more likely that an approach to religion in line with the nature of religion will have to wait for a new epoch–perhaps one less enamored with rationality and empirical truth (i.e., “Just the facts”).  

The attempts in the twentieth century to reduce religion to terms extrinsic to the nature of the phenomenon may be a symption of a broader societal decadence (which includes arrogant presumption, ironically).   If I am correct in my thesis here, the old saying “You can’t fight ignorance” would be relevant.  When confronted with an arrogant and ignorant person, I suppose all we can do is remember our own limitations and try to be compassionate.   The nexus of arrogance and ignorance issuing in presumptuous claims may simply be the front gard of a suffering and insecure person.   Reducing him or her to the shock wherein his or her faith turns against itself and freezes up may be deserved, but it would hardly be compassionate.

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Awhile back, I got snagged into going to a bible study.  I contained myself…even participating in a way that impressed the members of the group.  I was really surprised, however, when the study leader said, “Now, this the the correct interpretation.”  Of course it was his interpretation.  To my reckoning, an interpretation cannot, by definition, be true.   It would be like saying “the sky looks beautiful today” was a fact.  The emphasis of the evening was on the raison d’etre of the Old Testament being to point to the coming of Jesus.   Substantively, the group leader gave the definition of Christ when defining Messiah (the Messiah is not the annointed one).  I realize that formal education is not–and should not–be a prereq for the ministry, but if a minister is going to define terms he is obliged to get them correct.   

 One of my concerns regarding born-again Christians is that they stress a cognitive belief in Jesus’ identity and a personal relationship with Jesus so much that they can come off as hypocrits in how they relate with other people.   That is, they stress belief and personal relationship with jesus so much that they might tend to drop the ball in being generous with other people.  Absent a promise of attending the Christian’s church service or allowing the Christian help with one’s decision to accept Jesus and build a relationship with Him, the born-again Christian might be rather indifferent to the person’s requests for help.  The mix of presumptuousness and not being helpful to others is what I’m getting at here.  That a person could be so presumptuous in terms of what one knows of religious truth and yet so utterly clueless on how selfish and miserly one is in relating with other people…that is, how someone could be so clueless and yet presume so much…is a mystery to me.

In going to the bible study (which I was pressured into), I didn’t think I would convince anyone to adopt my beliefs; rather, once in the study I tried to take on their perspective and help them in their own terms.   In fact, I raised a question that assumed their belief system and led to interesting discussion among the participants.  Although not intended as such, my question led all of us to a paradox wherein an apparent logical contradiction need not invalidate our understanding of the divine because the latter transcends human reason.  The two apparently opposed stances on the same question suggested by two group members could both be valid, and this paradox need not invalidate the underlying truth. 

Indeed, the presence of paradox in a religious matter demonstrates the absurdity of “the correct interpretation.”   We, as human beings, are inherently limited–hence so are our cognitions and perceptions.  In having faith, the emphasis can be on the glancing out beyond…rather than on the nature of “the object” that inherently transcends the limits of human cognition and perception.  

My critique of born-again Christianity is that it is oriented to the nature of “the object”..an inherently presumptuous enterprise given human nature.  Relative to the divine, we are all human beings and therefore in the same condition.  For some of us to presume that our truth is superior to those of others is mere artifice and pretension.  Such artificial distinctions that benefit ourselves are in actuality projections of our egos.  We are all human beings.  Fundamentally, we are in the same sandbox when it comes to playing with God’s sand.   Let us not take our our castles for divine edifices.  We have only to wait for the next wave to discover the actual substance of our truths.  

To presume so much for ourselves…and to be so little.  Such is perhaps the human condition.   Yet surely it is not set in stone tablets.   Presumption, being of our own making, seems without our limited ability to eradicate.  The problem is: it can be like a hard wall when efforts are made by others to make it transparent. If a person can come to see his or her presumptuous, I believe he or she will want to shed it like an old coat.  But attachment to “truth” can be like a straight-jacket and thus resist any external or internal efforts to loosen its grip.  That none of us have a monopoly on truth means that our efforts to reduce human presumptuous are inherently compromised.  How can a compromised tool cut through a stone wall?   Even as they don’t seem to me to be inevitable, both the wall and the dull drill can be said to be part of the human condition.  I do believe, however, that the problem of presumptuousness in humanity’s approach to religion (and in general) can be solved, though the solution eludes me.  Tu be sure, it is a tough nut to crack.

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On September 30th, I was watching the news of the tital wave in Samoa from an earthquake.  Someone took video footage that was played on the news.  On the footage, a guy is saying “please Lord Jesus Christ…give me strength to accept this…please Lord Jesus Christ…”  He was referring to the temporary river then going by his building.   The invocation of a lord something struck me as odd…and the implications as troubling.

The sheer act of asking an external agent to give one strength makes one a passive recepticle that is itself a state of weakness.  The asking outward, in other words, makes one weaker, making it more difficult, not less, to achieve the strength desired.  If the entity being summoned does not exist (or can not be known to exist), the added problem of appealing to an imaginary friend would also point to an underlying weakness.  Specifically, it seems rather pathological to me–like Jimmy Stewart in Harvey having  an imaginary friend that he talks to in spite of never hearing any voice from the other–no real evidence of the bunny’s existance.  …an imaginary rabbit.   …maybe this is why the easter bunny has has had such traction.  It is astounding to me how social legitimacy can make something seem real even though there is no evidence of its independent existence. 

That people would reduce themselves to passivity on the premise that an imaginary benefactor exists does not bode well for the human condition or the individuals themselves, particularly as they want to gain strength.  Their means, in other words, is inherently counterproductive to the end, and yet the subterfuge of religion can make an entire society blind to the underlying feckless nature of the illusion (and its participants).  

 For those who would retort: what if there really is a Lord Jesus Christ existing “out there” in a resurrected condition that transcends the bounds of our perception and cognition, I would counter that God as (an) intelligent being could not be expected to set us up to engage in anthropomorphic (i.e., self) idolatry.  God as  it is understood cannot be sin.  Nor do I think it in God’s nature to set us up to be passive and self-ashamed rather than instantiating what strength we are capable of.   Moreover, were there there such an entity as an eternal Son of God, it would be at best a cruel joke were “he” to have kept himself from presenting himself to all of us externally (i.e., as a real being)…an “internal voice” being possibly one’s own.  As Nietzsche wrote (and was stated at his funeral), “Save us from the redeemer!”  That is to say, save us from the illusion perpetrated by weakness under the guise of strength.  If such a dynamic is in the nature of truth, perhaps we need to re-conceptualize our notion or content of truth.  

Ironically, Jesus’ inner strength in the story of his death–in facing adversity in standing up (with arms out-stretched) for one’s principles is so utterly at odds with “Save us, or give us strength…”    The humility ascribed to the figure is so utterly at odds with the presumption of those who claim to follow him and tell the rest of us what we should believe–indeed, the presumption to call on such a being as they have invented for themselves.  A Catholic priest once said in his homily: “We have the truth; we know this.  We can therefore be thankful.”  Translated: “We have defined truth and feel no hindrance in imposing it on others. We can be thankful for what we have decided is truth and not have to consider that we could be wrong.”  Such a stance belies the substance of faith, which by definition goes beyond what is known. 

To presume knowledge of the truth and go on to impose it on others as if one’s own ability to know truth is somehow superior to other human beings are to take a matter of faith for that of knowledge…and thus to have little faith and much self-love.   Self-emptying, in other words, involves riding faith of presumed knowledge and therefore to be agnostic to the essence of things as they really are.  Faith is a transcending glance rather than an exposition on the nature of that which transcends the limits of our conception and perception.  As Joe Campbell once said, the conception one has of Christ is the final obstruction to the religious experience. 

Of course, my reflections here are those of a person limited cognitively and in perception.  That is to say, my argument is made by a human being, and therefore cannot be taken as truth.  Rather, it evinces a passion for transcending that which may be a misleading and weakening subterfuge.  The content of truth itself is beyond the grasp of even faith in human terms.  So a reader could justifiably fill his or her cup with my argument, then just as easily pour the quickly-stale liquid out and fill up again somewhere else.  I would like to think that there is some accumulation of progress in such a process, but this could just be human hubris too.  Perhaps the process itself is useful in human terms if ridding the world of arrogance and conceit is of any value here.  We, as humans, may be presuming much too much for ourselves, given how we are hard-wired, and yet in presuming we overlook (or presume away) the sheer possibility of it!  Ironically, perhaps in looking internally for strength we might downscale that which we presume to ask for.

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