Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Faith - trust

I was meditating other posts, while I found this objection by Andrea to my last one, that deserves a general answer of explanation:

The "faith" between disciple and teacher has nothing to do with religious faith. It should be called trust instead. The teacher gives the disciples the means to learn and walk by themselves, and this requires that the disciples trust the teacher initially. It is like that in any discipline, this is how we (and other animals ) learn. The scientific method is a framework to select ideas, once you learn it, by initially trusting that it works, you are free to apply it to any idea. The fact that the framework is, itself, and idea which survived a relatively long selection, to become the most trusted approach to formulate theories that describe (or better that model) reality, validates the initial trust, taking away the need to have "faith in the system". It might not be the definitive way to look at reality, better methods may show up in the future, if so, they will be evaluated accordingly and accepted, but so far the scientific method is unsurpassed.
Is the Pope trying to prove that the scientific method is a gift of a "teacher-God"? I hope not because that is a dangerous path to follow…
Paradoxically, applying the same logic I wouldn't be able to prove that atheism isn't.
Religion is an idea, reason a way to select ideas, science is a framework produced by reason, therefore comparing faith and reason is like comparing apples and wheels.


No, dear Andrea, I don't agree with you, on several regards.

First: the "faith" between disciple and teacher has everything to do with religious faith. I pray you to revert from English to Latin. English is a mixture of Latin (taken from the French of the Norman invaders of the 11th century) and of Anglo-Saxon, so it allows the use in different context of words that in the original had more or less the same meaning: such are faith, from fides, and trust.

Fides translates the New Testament Greek pistis. It is a word that might mean simply persuasion of the truth of something, in a sense close to the English belief, which would equate then what you call "religious faith" with any other such persuasion, unless we could specify what religious means. In the New Testament (where by the way the word religion doesn't exist, because it is again a Latin word taken by Roman pre-Christian use) such a specification is given by the use of the word to mean the fact of being persuaded by someone, whom, if you like, we trust as teacher.

Now, who is a teacher? Or better, what does a teacher do? I saw what you said, which I'd like to rephrase by saying that he is someone who teaches us something by enabling us to understand what it means. But there is more: he is one who, by so doing, introduces us to a world, or, vice versa, opens a world for us. So, for example, a Shakespearean teacher opens for us Shakespeare's world; a math teacher opens for us the world of mathematics; and so on with whatever example you like.

A religious teacher, I'd say, is someone who opens for us not a world, but the world. Having just said this, it came to my mind the fact that actually our parents do the same for us, so I try to specify better: a religious teacher is someone who in the course of our human and intellectual growth introduces us to the ultimate understanding of things (speaking in a bit more technical theological language, I could say that he introduces us to the eschata, the "last things"). All such teachers refer back, in Christianity, to Jesus Christ, the teacher par excellence, who introduces us to God, i.e. to the divine life of which he himself shares.

You can see here how faith-trust comes everywhere into play. In the original use, the Latin word stressed more than the Greek one the trust aspect: it meant the credit enjoyed by someone with someone else, so that one is made confident enough to participate in the world of the other. And notice then how the ordinary meaning of the word shades into a theological one.

Should I keep on going? I would recall first of all that for Christians Christ is the logos incarnate. Now, in Greek logos means at the same time "word" and "reason". It is not meant however reason conceived primarily in the modern fashion as a subjective faculty, but the reasons ("ratios" or proportions) that make of things a world, a cosmos, an ordinate whole, which the word discloses. By way of faith in Christ, therefore, men were given access to that understanding of the world which eventually developed into modern science.

This is what the Pope doesn't tire of reminding us since his Regensburg address.

What I myself humbly added in the previous post is that the science of science, which we call epistemology, cannot overlook, if it really wants to be scientific in the account it gives of the exercise of human understanding, of embracing in it also the faith-trust that ties disciple and teacher. Overlooking this, makes every discourse on scientific method a deception.

No one of the great most celebrated scientists – the like of Galilei, Newton, Einstein – ever arrived at their discoveries by following the procedures the so called scientific method prescribes. If he had followed them – observes Paul Feyerabend in his well known Against Method – Galilei would have never become "galileian", but he would have staid "Aristotelian". It doesn't exist any scientific method, as a peculiar way of selecting ideas: unless we mean by it the ordinary exercise of human understanding, that makes any man whatsoever test his ideas in reality.

One last thing. "Religion is an idea", you say. No, religion is a reality: the reality discovered by putting one's limited ideas to the test of the challenge represented by a true teacher. No less than Thomas Aquinas thought therefore that we can have a science of religion, and that such is theology.

I know the objection: he didn't mean by science the same thing as we do today. The trouble is that what we mean by science today is not quite clear. The same epistemologists who lay stress on method to decide what is science, cannot reach an agreement on it. So in the name of science we abdicate science.



Friday, September 24, 2010

A reminder of hope

Benedict XVI reminded us of the necessary connection of faith and reason.

Joseph Ratzinger is today Pope because appointed by his fellow cardinals – should I add by inspiration of the Holy Spirit? – to defend the cause of Christian religion, as the coming together of faith and reason.

This joining of the two is for him – and for every true Christian – the sign of the truth of Christianity.

Their being so joined, though, doesn't make only the true religion, but also true science.

If you have doubts about it, please check with an interesting figure of scientist, epistemologist and social thinker died in 1976, the kind of which we wish we had more: Michael Polanyi.

He was a scientist (in the "hard sciences": physics and chemistry) who knew how to reflect on what he did, reaching conclusions different from the ones spread by philosophers fond of science, who spend their lives extolling it without ever engaging in it.

Science, he remarked, always develops out of a "tacit dimension", a prereflexive capacity of observation and understanding that guides the scientist in his research – like the language we speak without thinking about it, because we only pay attention to the things to say. It's a capacity unconceivable outside of the personal relationship between a disciple and a teacher: call it the faith prompted in the one by other, by which he is led to the use of his own reason.

Such is science, and I cannot deny that we have aplenty. Leaving out of recognition, though, the tacit dimension and the faith that goes with it, science turns against itself.

We are thus left with very little true science, capable of bringing people to agree in a common understanding of things. And with little true religion. Society turns then against itself in a creeping civil war. Like the one opposing the self-declared intellectual elite surrounding POTUS and the Tea Parties.

And yet, Benedict stays there as a reminder of hope.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

In the name of a champion of freedom

In absence of the LD I do a bit of his informing job.

Benedict XVI ironically reminded the Brits of the value of their constitutional tradition by recalling one who in the course of it died as martyr of a higher cause: San Thomas More.

Here is the text:

Mr Speaker,

Thank you for your words of welcome on behalf of this distinguished gathering. As I address you, I am conscious of the privilege afforded me to speak to the British people and their representatives in Westminster Hall, a building of unique significance in the civil and political history of the people of these islands. Allow me also to express my esteem for the Parliament which has existed on this site for centuries and which has had such a profound influence on the development of participative government among the nations, especially in the Commonwealth and the English-speaking world at large. Your common law tradition serves as the basis of legal systems in many parts of the world, and your particular vision of the respective rights and duties of the state and the individual, and of the separation of powers, remains an inspiration to many across the globe.

As I speak to you in this historic setting, I think of the countless men and women down the centuries who have played their part in the momentous events that have taken place within these walls and have shaped the lives of many generations of Britons, and others besides. In particular, I recall the figure of Saint Thomas More, the great English scholar and statesman, who is admired by believers and non-believers alike for the integrity with which he followed his conscience, even at the cost of displeasing the sovereign whose "good servant" he was, because he chose to serve God first. The dilemma which faced More in those difficult times, the perennial question of the relationship between what is owed to Caesar and what is owed to God, allows me the opportunity to reflect with you briefly on the proper place of religious belief within the political process.

This country's Parliamentary tradition owes much to the national instinct for moderation, to the desire to achieve a genuine balance between the legitimate claims of government and the rights of those subject to it. While decisive steps have been taken at several points in your history to place limits on the exercise of power, the nation's political institutions have been able to evolve with a remarkable degree of stability. In the process, Britain has emerged as a pluralist democracy which places great value on freedom of speech, freedom of political affiliation and respect for the rule of law, with a strong sense of the individual's rights and duties, and of the equality of all citizens before the law. While couched in different language, Catholic social teaching has much in common with this approach, in its overriding concern to safeguard the unique dignity of every human person, created in the image and likeness of God, and in its emphasis on the duty of civil authority to foster the common good.

And yet the fundamental questions at stake in Thomas More's trial continue to present themselves in ever-changing terms as new social conditions emerge. Each generation, as it seeks to advance the common good, must ask anew: what are the requirements that governments may reasonably impose upon citizens, and how far do they extend? By appeal to what authority can moral dilemmas be resolved? These questions take us directly to the ethical foundations of civil discourse. If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident - herein lies the real challenge for democracy.

The inadequacy of pragmatic, short-term solutions to complex social and ethical problems has been illustrated all too clearly by the recent global financial crisis. There is widespread agreement that the lack of a solid ethical foundation for economic activity has contributed to the grave difficulties now being experienced by millions of people throughout the world. Just as "every economic decision has a moral consequence" (Caritas in Veritate, 37), so too in the political field, the ethical dimension of policy has far-reaching consequences that no government can afford to ignore. A positive illustration of this is found in one of the British Parliament's particularly notable achievements – the abolition of the slave trade. The campaign that led to this landmark legislation was built upon firm ethical principles, rooted in the natural law, and it has made a contribution to civilization of which this nation may be justly proud.

The central question at issue, then, is this: where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found? The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation. According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles. This "corrective" role of religion vis-à-vis reason is not always welcomed, though, partly because distorted forms of religion, such as sectarianism and fundamentalism, can be seen to create serious social problems themselves. And in their turn, these distortions of religion arise when insufficient attention is given to the purifying and structuring role of reason within religion. It is a two-way process. Without the corrective supplied by religion, though, reason too can fall prey to distortions, as when it is manipulated by ideology, or applied in a partial way that fails to take full account of the dignity of the human person. Such misuse of reason, after all, was what gave rise to the slave trade in the first place and to many other social evils, not least the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century. This is why I would suggest that the world of reason and the world of faith – the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief – need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilization.

Religion, in other words, is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversation. In this light, I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalization of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance. There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere. There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none. And there are those who argue – paradoxically with the intention of eliminating discrimination – that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience. These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square. I would invite all of you, therefore, within your respective spheres of influence, to seek ways of promoting and encouraging dialogue between faith and reason at every level of national life.

Your readiness to do so is already implied in the unprecedented invitation extended to me today. And it finds expression in the fields of concern in which your Government has been engaged with the Holy See. In the area of peace, there have been exchanges regarding the elaboration of an international arms trade treaty; regarding human rights, the Holy See and the United Kingdom have welcomed the spread of democracy, especially in the last sixty-five years; in the field of development, there has been collaboration on debt relief, fair trade and financing for development, particularly through the International Finance Facility, the International Immunization Bond, and the Advanced Market Commitment. The Holy See also looks forward to exploring with the United Kingdom new ways to promote environmental responsibility, to the benefit of all.

I also note that the present Government has committed the United Kingdom to devoting 0.7% of national income to development aid by 2013. In recent years it has been encouraging to witness the positive signs of a worldwide growth in solidarity towards the poor. But to turn this solidarity into effective action calls for fresh thinking that will improve life conditions in many important areas, such as food production, clean water, job creation, education, support to families, especially migrants, and basic healthcare. Where human lives are concerned, time is always short: yet the world has witnessed the vast resources that governments can draw upon to rescue financial institutions deemed "too big to fail". Surely the integral human development of the world's peoples is no less important: here is an enterprise, worthy of the world's attention, that is truly "too big to fail".

This overview of recent cooperation between the United Kingdom and the Holy See illustrates well how much progress has been made, in the years that have passed since the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations, in promoting throughout the world the many core values that we share. I hope and pray that this relationship will continue to bear fruit, and that it will be mirrored in a growing acceptance of the need for dialogue and respect at every level of society between the world of reason and the world of faith. I am convinced that, within this country too, there are many areas in which the Church and the public authorities can work together for the good of citizens, in harmony with this Parliament's historic practice of invoking the Spirit's guidance upon those who seek to improve the conditions of all mankind. For such cooperation to be possible, religious bodies – including institutions linked to the Catholic Church – need to be free to act in accordance with their own principles and specific convictions based upon the faith and the official teaching of the Church. In this way, such basic rights as religious freedom, freedom of conscience and freedom of association are guaranteed. The angels looking down on us from the magnificent ceiling of this ancient Hall remind us of the long tradition from which British Parliamentary democracy has evolved. They remind us that God is constantly watching over us to guide and protect us. And they summon us to acknowledge the vital contribution that religious belief has made and can continue to make to the life of the nation.

Mr Speaker, I thank you once again for this opportunity briefly to address this distinguished audience. Let me assure you and the Lord Speaker of my continued good wishes and prayers for you and for the fruitful work of both Houses of this ancient Parliament. Thank you and God bless you all!

A new gracious woman

The LD has been absent from this page, not because engaged by his job to follow the trip of the Pope in Great Britain, but for a greater reason:

his wife just had a baby girl.

What a joy!

I would have liked to enlarge on this, by spending a few words to see what it is that makes for joy in birth. Hard task!

Perhaps I can summarize it thus: the renewal of life experimented as grace, that makes us wanting to laugh, as Abraham did when the angel announced to him the conception of Isaac.

Add to this that we are speaking of the entrance in the world of a little woman: what more gracious than that!?


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Expendable lives

Ok, we are not at war with Islam, but it just happens that Islam is at war with us.

Not from now, but since fourteen centuries. Here again it would suffice some knowledge of history. First half of the Byzantine empire was lost to the conquering onslaught of the Arabs; centuries later the remaining part of the empire collapsed under the Turkish pressure; still in the eighteenth century the Turks were besieging Vienna. Do I need to continue?

Does this authorize us to want to burn the Qur'an. Well, no. Why to provoke in vain? But that is not the question. What I ask is whether we can criticize the Qur'an. Here is at stake one of the basic tenets of our civilization. And I am afraid that the answer come close to a blunt no!

Burning the Qur'an would be a drastic show of criticism. But even milder signs of it arise angry masses in the Muslim world. Think of what happened after the Pope's Regensburg address.

Spontaneous uprisings? Allow me to doubt it strongly. I don't think that the average Pakistani or Indian Muslim attacking Christian churches follow the western press, or television or internet. But there is a planned war run by way of the media, to provoke terror and psychological subjugation. So Europe to a large extent, and to a lesser extent the USA, already live in a state of semi dhimmitude, because of the fear to speak out.

The trouble is that while here we are concerned with not rubbing Muslims the wrong way (if we don't want to endanger our or other Christians' lives), Christian lives are considered expendable in large parts of the Muslim world. Any non Muslim life is considered expendable.

Ok, this is the best I can do for now.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Cardinal blunders

A few facts everybody should know about the history of the Church.

There are two basic dogmas of Christianity, meaning teachings to be accepted if one wants to belong to the Church.

The first one was proclaimed in the year 325 in Nicaea, where was held the first ecumenical council. It declares that God is one substance in three persons.

The second one was proclaimed in the council held in Calcedonia more than hundred years later, in 451. It declares that Christ is utterly human and utterly divine, one person with a double nature.

I could be legitimately asked what do they mean. Especially the first in fact is hard to understand. But it is not to expound about them that I recalled the two dogmas. I could even try do to it, but it would take some room. I keep satisfied therefore with suggesting to have a look at Ratzinger's Introduction to Christianity, or, more simply, to read the first part of Benedict XVI' encyclical Deus caritas est. There one could discover the basic import the teaching of the Church has on our understanding of man.

Notice: I didn't say "on our religious understanding", but simply on our "understanding of man". If anyone didn't get it, this means that it isn't as if we had a religion, which could differ, side by side with an identical self-understanding.

Now, here it is the trouble that plagues us today: those two basic dogmas were explicitly rejected by Muhammad in the Qur'an.

They are not stated as such in other traditions, with no previous notion of Christianity. So Christianity, in its effort at catholicity, could tray to show how the truth of its teaching was already inchoative in them. But what to do when they are explicitly rejected?

I can't but marvel when I hear a cardinal of the Holy Catholic Church, the archbishop of Milan, express his concern about the right of Muslims to have a place of cult, therefore soliciting the public authorities to let them build a mosque. What kind of message does he give this way to his flock? A flock, by the way, in need of reinforcement, with church attendance dwindling. It is so perhaps also because of the contradictory message it is given: on one side the affirmation of the truth of the Church teaching, on the other the reduction of this teaching to a religion among other, that people have a right to practice.

If there is such a right, it belongs to the secular authorities to guarantee it, while defining the conditions for it. It is no concern of a cardinal, who otherwise can look, by defending it, to be granting the superiority of the State as creator of a public space in which also the Church finds her rights.

I marvel less when I hear POTUS state, to calm the waters agitated by the threat of reverend Jones to burn the Qur'an, that the enemy is not Islam, but Bin Laden (what about Achmadinejad and so many other Islamic tyrants?). He is speaking the language of diplomacy. For what concerns the truth of the statement, however, my comment would be, in scholastic style, sic et non. But about this to a next post.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Clayton from the Weight of Glory offers this:

The Angelus Awards - a student film festival sponsored and organized by a Catholic non-profit in the ehart of the entertainment industry: if Clayton says it's worth a gander, then it is!


Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Some obvious things

I hoped to find some further lines of meditation tying my staying on the beach with the bible studies I am doing at the moment. That's why I ended a previous post with a "possibly to be continued". But strength failed me. UPDATE: I FIXED THE LINK - LD

I wanted to tell you about the beach, the strange effect the resort where I go has on me, of a kind of gynaeceum, peopled mainly by half naked women with their children, where men were just admitted but didn't quite belong. Whether this has some larger meaning for the understanding of our society, I am not quite sure. For me, it was a reminder that, however we might mingle in all public places, so that women are now present in all the activities previously reserved to men, privately they are different from us.

Should I give you a biblical quote for this remainder, i.e. that when "God created man in his image", "male and female he created him"?

Why to inconvenience in this way the Bible for something so obvious? If not because we need to be reminded of the obvious, of what is so obvious that we don't even see it anymore?

In the meantime the LD overcame me with the burning issue of the mosque at Ground Zero, so drawing me back to the facts of the day. Away from the beach, but not from the Bible.

Are there other obvious things of which we should be reminded by reading the Bible? Plenty, but one in particular: that the Bible is not a "religious" book – at least not in the sense in which we have become accustomed to use the word religion: meaning that everybody has his own theological world view, and that doesn't impinge in the way we live in society as good citizens.

Actually the Bible deals precisely with this question: how to be "good citizens", i.e. a people capable of living in peace and justice under a Good Sovereign.

It speaks, in its own terms, of the kingdom of God, in which everybody finds in the end his own immortal life.

It's here that problems with Muslims arise: also the Quran speaks of the same thing. But it gives a very different image of what this requires. Different, and in many ways incompatible with the one indicated by the Bible.

An example: the Bible says "you shall not kill", without qualifications. The Quran apparently says the same thing. Only apparently though, because the interdiction of murder ends by being qualified and restricted just to the people who recognize the truth of the Quran itself, i.e. to other Muslims. All other people, in fact, being equally called to do it, are turned by their failure to recognize it into renegades, whose life is not worthy a dime, therefore to be killed or subjugated.

The LD asked whether Muslims can be good Americans. Well, I say yes, if they turn Christians. I don't mean with this that they should all convert, but that they should recognize the universal dignity of all men, therefore all equally to be respected in their life. Which, being contrary to the teaching of the Quran, would be already a kind of conversion.