Wednesday, December 29, 2010

At Christmas with an eye toward Easter

At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of a baby, born, as everybody, do die. But, differently from everybody else, with him going toward death was thoroughly a gift of love.

Some time ago, in a class where I was teaching, I asked this question: is it possible to love without dying? Useless to say that my students were rather baffled. Why, if I die, how can I ever love? was the question stamped in all their eyes, that someone also tried to voice.

No, I stated, it's not possible. And I so explained myself:

Let's think about it, what do we really know about death? Or, for that matter, about birth. Should I say nothing? We actually don't remember our birth, so we have no direct experience and knowledge of what it is to be born. On the other side, we can't in any way imagine our death. However hard we try, "I" am always there imagining someone like "me" dead.

This disqualifies all those who think themselves rational by stating that after death there isn't anything. How do they know? I ask. But this is not the point I wanted to make.

The point is that death is like what mathematicians call an unknown. And though, we know that death is there in our future. This means that death is the future as unknown.

Ok, that is the point of your observation about birth and death. So what?

Think about it: any time we meet somebody new, we actually don't know what there is in store for us. How much more when we enter into a love relationship, dealing with persons in whom we came to see our good, with the hope that the same would be with them toward us. We can't know it, if we don't declare ourselves, but we can't be sure of what the answer would be. We have to face the unknown. Our life is at stake, and we might be afraid.

Now, back to that baby who was born to make of his life a gift of love. The witness of the Church, in an uninterrupted tradition of love, is that because of it the life he gave was not hold from him, but he received it back in its fullness.

With the Christmas celebrations, therefore, already eyeing toward Easter, we are told: don't be afraid to love. Life is stronger than death.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Slaughtering Christians

At the Angelus, the Pope expressed his sorrow for the persecution of Christians throughout the world.

One of the Italian TV news granted some space to his speech, giving for example as evidence the slaughtering of 30 something Christians in Nigeria, reported as the nth incident of an intertribal conflict, the same that few years ago brought to the killing of 400 Christians.

This way the importance of the religious factor was belittled, not to say made irrelevant: it would be an epiphenomenon of the ethnic factor.

I ask, though, to the author of that report: if the religious factor is of no real import, why is it that over again the killing is done by Muslims tribesmen and not vice versa by Christian ones; or that it isn't at least a fifty-fifty?

I could have addressed the same question to the many sympathizers amidst the Western intelligentsia for the Muslim cause: why do they avoid taking into account such simple facts?


Monday, December 20, 2010

A second Advent thought

It's time to ask ourselves: what is Christmas?

The answer is easy: Noel, i.e. a birthday.

Whose birthday? Well, the answer to this is a bit more complex: one man's and everybody's.

I'll try to explain what I mean.

What do we do at birthdays? Here it is easy again: we throw a party and bring gifts to the person whose birth day it is. Why? To say that we are glad that he or she was born. With the birth, we celebrate the joy it brought into our lives. No matter how much we care for that person, that remains ideally the truth.

Is that all? I could be asked. At Christmas we exchange gifts: does that mean that we don't do anything more than to celebrate each other's birth?

No, we do more, for the very fact that we do it in that same day, in spite of the fact that it isn't our birthday.

Many people today might think that it is just a convention, tied to old beliefs of our society that they don't hold anymore, and don't care to know about.

It's a pity. Because if they did, they could learn something about human nature that they prefer to ignore: i.e., that conventions have a reason.

If we bring gifts to each other, it is because we have been graced with gifts before. That's why not all birthdays are equal. Think of what is in a large family the birthday of a grandparent. I remember my mother's and my mother in law's eightieth birthday: it was a great family celebration – like saying: thank to you we are all here, alive and loving each other.

In the life of a state some personage's birthday might be remembered and celebrated even after his death: just think of Washington birthday.

So, if we all exchange gifts in that same day we still call noel, even though it isn't actually our birthday, it is because we celebrate, by doing it, the very capacity of finding joy in each other's existence. And we celebrate with it, whether we acknowledge it or not, the birth of someone, the one to whom we owe this capacity, for which we give therefore thanks.

He is born anew anytime that we love our neighbors, engendering in each other the joy of life.

Now is the time of his coming, to sing, at Christmas, the new born king.


Wednesday, December 08, 2010

A little Advent thought

When I want to talk about politics, I am pulled to talk about science. When I talk about science, I am pulled to talk about politics.

And, one way or another I always end by talking about theology.

Let's see why.

I was rather elated by the results of November 2 elections.

Of course, I could be said, you are a damn hothead conservative, with no understanding of the progressive agenda. In one word, you are democratophobic.

Well, I confess that I don't particularly like to days democrats. As so many other people. But do democrats ever stop asking why? See these interesting lines by a well known "conservative" author and commentator:

"I grew up in a Democratic household. The talk at the family dinner table in the early sixties, to the degree it touched on politics, concerned the minimum wage, 40-hour work week, overtime pay, civil rights, disability insurance, or bond money for school construction and teacher training. In other words, it was a sort of "level the playing field" to ensure equality of opportunity.

I don't recall discussions about the evils of American foreign policy, racial quotas, drug legalization, open borders and amnesty, the need for gay marriage, or abortion on demand. I do remember the national spokesmen whom we were supposed to admire — Pat Brown, Harry Truman, Hubert Humphrey — did not look or act like John Edwards or John Kerry.

Now one can argue that the seeds of the present Democratic desire for an imposed equality of result, embraced by a Howard Dean or Nancy Pelosi [not to speak, I add, of present POTUS], is but the logical evolution from the old Democratic square deal."

I say, definitely, no: there is no following from those old democrats to the new ones.


Because in the early sixties there was still a shared understanding of man's nature.

If this meaning of the word were known to my reader, I'd say that they all shared a "liberal" view of man, in the continental sense of the word, that, in stressing the primacy of the individual person, is of Christian origin.

Afterwards the current Anglo-American understanding of "liberalism", already strongly denounced by the blessed John Henry Newman during the Nineteenth Century, won the way: people are not for it individual persons, but just individuals of the homo sapiens sapiens species. It follows that whatever they otherwise think of themselves – we call it culture and religion – is nothing more than opinion, so that only the state can keep in check their individual or group egoisms.

Here we are at: opinion is opposed to science.

Assumed that we know what science is.

I was involved during the month of October, in a long spawn dialogue with another blogger, ended because at a certain point I dropped my arms in despair.

He claimed to be speaking for pure science, by making a primary appeal to biology and scientific method. I made the same claim, and my primary appeal went to mathematics and Einsteinian physics. By his way science leads to stark atheism, by my way it leads to see the world as an epiphany of God's glory.

So, who is right? Let's recognize it: what is science is a matter of opinion, not distinguishable therefore from culture and religion.

I know that people working in disciplines like biology as well as their sympathizers, holding a very definite opinion about what science is, will never grant it.

Neither do I think that opinion and science are the same thing, but, by qualifying as opinion the meaning of the word science, I ask to recognize that it is open to discussion.

Which leads me back to politics: i.e., to raise the question of what motivates people to hold the opinions they hold.

To clear things out, I have my good doubts that it could be our genes. In this case, given the difference of opinions concerning science, it should be proved the existence of a gene whose presence or absence would make us bend one way or another. But, should it be provable and proved the existence of such a genetic difference, it wouldn't prove anything, because it would remain to be argued why it is one bent or the other that deserves to be qualified as scientific. Neither it would work an appeal to evolution, to explain how we have become what we are by selecting certain ideas and rejecting others, because it doesn't overcome the fact that in this dispute nobody will accept to view himself, with the ideas he holds, as having been selected out rather than selected in. So we would be back to the starting point.

I look for it then in the cultural bias people show in connection with their sense of societal belonging. This means that I prefer to look at what people do, recurring in the evidence of all times and places, rather than letting some self declared scientist, with his naïve ideas about the ordinary life of men, instruct me about them.

We need a science of science, or, if you prefer, a political science. Conservatives might be naïve in the view they hold, but so are liberals, with all their apparent sophistication. I side with the first because their naïvité is richer than that of the others, whose sophistication consists in not allowing them to look at what people really do: their being always engaged in communication, for all kind of purposes, not last that of stating how things really are, so to instruct each other what to do about it

Science is the name for a claim, made for what one thinks to know. To grant this should enable us to dispute on the concept of science: otherwise there is no science but only the opposing claims, with each party convinced to be in the right while pitying the insipience of the other.

Old Aristotle indicated in the fourth century BC how to find the way out of such sterile opposition: like that, today, between conservatives, whose claim is in knowing the truth, and liberals, who thing there is no truth to be known.

To the skeptic – said Aristotle – I can't reply anything, as long as he remains in silence. But, if he just speaks, I can pin him down, finding him in contradiction with himself. Not so much because he says things that can't be true at once, but because what he says runs against what he does by saying it. Like in this classical example:

"The Cretan Epimenides said: all Cretans are liars." Question: true or false? If you say true, then it is false, if you say false, then it is true.

This means that the criterion for discussing claims is the logical consistency between what one says and what he does in the very act of saying it.

Of course, the skeptic has to speak. Unfortunately there are many ways of not speaking: not only by remaining silent, but also by the use made of language. The one made by today intellos strangely resembles such a contradictory speaking: more a sort of subtle violence on the listener than saying anything.

Funny business is logic, when it is applied to human affairs, like people talking to each other. But then it points to the way out of the dilemma: the truth to which I claim must be such, as in mathematics, to transcend you and me.

It must be theological.

Take all this as a little Advent thought.