Posts Tagged ‘love’

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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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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Replying both to Davidya and thegodguy under my post on God is Love, I raise the question, which is it?   “Love goes beyond existence” or  “Love has no “being” unless it has existence…”  

I am creating this post because the question is intermixed within others in the comments at the other post.   I suppose the underlying question is: Is God the source of existence or is God existence itself?  In other words, does God go beyond (or before) existence?  If so, how can that of God be said to exist?   This is admittedly a theological conversation, and I put it forward for those interested in participating in the sport. 

Existence and God.  Existence and Love.  These are the relationships to which this post and the ensuring conversation are geared.

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Deciphering “God is Love”

In loving God, is one loving an idea (or concept)?  Or is one loving a certain experience (i.e., love whose object is undefined)?   Or…and here is where it gets really interesting…is one having faith that love itself has a metaphysical quality–being of the nature of reality?  How can that which “is” be love itself?  Isn’t love inherently relational?  If reality or “that which is” is unitary, how can a relation be innate in it? 

I am resisting the anthropomorphism “God loves the world” here, treating this as an easy out.   I am also resisting the temptation to reduce “God is love” to referring to the relations within the Trinity.  I want to go beyond these easy answers–or answers we have made easy.  I suspect that “reality” is not so easy.

So, what is love, metaphysically speaking?  Is this question essentially asks, “what does it mean that existence itself is love?”, then we can go further to ask: What does it mean to say that the source, or basis, of that which exists is love?   If you already have a headache, here is another for extra credit: If love is the essence of that which creates all that exists, does this means that love goes beyond existence?  Love as the essence of the source, or Creator, not only means that love exists always, backwards and forward in time, but also that love transcends existence.  What does it mean to say that something is the source of existence?  What I am getting at here goes beyond “is not itself created.”

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