Einstein on a Personal God

Einstein on a Personal God

On 22 March 1954 a self-made man sent Einstein in Princeton a long
handwritten letter-four closely packed pages in English. The correspondent
despaired that there were so few people like Einstein who had the courage
to speak out, and he wondered if it would not be best to return the world
to the animals. Saying "I presume you would like to know who I am,"
he went on to tell in detail how he had come from Italy to the United States
at the age of nine, arriving in bitter cold weather, as a result of which
his sisters died while he barely survived; how after six months of schooling
he went to work at age ten; how at age seventeen he went to Evening School;
and so on, so that now he had a regular job as an experimental machinist,
had a spare-time business of his own, and had some patents to his credit.
He declared himself an atheist. He said that real education came from reading
books. He cited an article about Einstein’s religious beliefs and expressed
doubts as to the article’s accuracy. He was irreverent about various aspects
of formal religion, speaking about the millions of people who prayed to
God in many languages, and remarking that God must have an enormous clerical
staff to keep track of all their sins. And he ended with a long discussion
of the social and political systems of Italy and the United States that
it would take too long to describe here. He also enclosed a check for Einstein
to give to charity.

On 24 March 1954 Einstein answered in English as follows:

I get hundreds and hundreds of letters but seldom one so interesting
as yours. I believe that your opinions about our society are quite reasonable.

It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions,
a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal
God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something
is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration
for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.

I have no possibility to bring the money you sent me to the appropriate
receiver. I return it therefore in recognition of your good heart and intention.
Your letter shows me also that wisdom is not a product of schooling but
of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.

There is in the Einstein Archives a letter dated 5 August 1927 from
a banker in Colorado to Einstein in Berlin. Since it begins "Several
months ago I wrote you as follows," one may assume that Einstein had
not yet answered. The banker remarked that most scientists and the like
had given up the idea of God as a bearded, benevolent father figure surrounded
by angels, although many sincere people worship and revere such a God.
The question of God had arisen in the course of a discussion in a literary
group, and some of the members decided to ask eminent men to send their
views in a form that would be suitable for publication. He added that some
twenty-four Nobel Prize winners had already responded, and he hoped that
Einstein would too. On the letter, Einstein wrote the following in German.
It may or may not have been sent:

I cannot conceive of a personal God who would directly influence the
actions of individuals, or would directly sit in judgment on creatures
of his own creation. I cannot do this in spite of the fact that mechanistic
causality has, to a certain extent, been placed in doubt by modern science.

My religiosity consists in a humble admiration of the infinitely superior
spirit that reveals itself in the little that we, with our weak and transitory
understanding, can comprehend of reality. Morality is of the highest importance-but
for us, not for God.

A Chicago Rabbi, preparing a lecture on "The Religious Implications
of the Theory of Relativity," wrote to Einstein in Princeton on zo
December 1939 to ask some questions on the topic. Einstein replied as follows:

I do not believe that the basic ideas of the theory of relativity can
lay claim to a relationship with the religious sphere that is different
from that of scientific knowledge in general. I see this connection in
the fact that profound interrelationships in the objective world can Ije
comprehended through simple logical concepts. To be sure, in the theory
of relativity this is the case in particularly full measure.

The religious feeling engendered by experiencing the logical comprehensibility
of profound interrelations is of a somewhat different sort from the feeling
that one usually calls religious. It is more a feeling of awe at the scheme
that is manifested in the material universe. It does not lead us to take
the step of fashioning a god-like being in our own image-a personage who
makes demands of us and who takes an interest in us as individuals. There
is in this neither a will nor a goal, nor a must, but only sheer being.
For this reason, people of our type see in morality a purely human matter,
albeit the most important in the human sphere.

General Blog Religion & Philosophy

African Religions- The Bantu

WHERE MAN CAME FROM, AND HOW DEATH CAME

No one seems to know
when the South African Bantu first came into the country now occupied
by them. It is certain that the Bushmen, and in some places the
Hottentots, were there before them. One proof of this is found in the
names of places, and especially of rivers, which in the Cape Province
often contain clicks (the Iqora, called by Europeans Bushman’s River;
the Inxuba, which is the Fish river; and many others); while in Natal
and Zululand most of the river-names have a decided Bantu sound-Umgeni,
Tugela, and so on. The Bantu came from the north-east, and reached the
Kei river about the end of the seventeenth century, when they first
came in contact with the Dutch colonists. But they must have been in
Natal and the regions to the north-east long before that, for in 1498,
when Vasco da Gama’s fleet touched somewhere near the mouth of the
Limpopo, one of his crew, Martin Affonso, found he could understand the
talk of the natives, because it was very much like what he had picked
up on the West Coast, probably in Angola or on the Congo. It is also
known that the Makaranga, who are still living in Southern Rhodesia,
were there in 1505, when the Portuguese first heard of them, and they
must have settled there long before, as they had something like an
organized kingdom, under a paramount chief, whom the Portuguese called
Monomotapa.

Zulu Clan Tradition

These Makaranga are by some thought to be the ancestors of the
Amalala, the first of the Bantu to take up their abode in the countries
we know as Natal and Zululand. One of their tribes has a quaint story
of the way in which their first ancestor brought his family to their
new home. This was Malandela, son of Gumede, who came into the
Umhlatuze valley, Father Bryant thinks, about 1670. It is said that
when they had marched, day after day, for many weary miles, and the old
man found his strength failing, he made his wives and children get into
an isilulu-" one of the huge globular baskets still used for
storing grain."[1] He then, with one last effort, launched the basket
on its way with one mighty kick, and fell back dead. It rolled on "over
hill and dale, river and forest, till at last it stopped and steadied;
and when those within ventured to look out they found themselves in
this country where we now live," so some of their descendants, "who are
still nicknamed ‘those belonging to the basket,’" told Miss Colenso.[2]
But Father Bryant, who has made very careful inquiries into Zulu
traditions, has unkindly spoilt this story. He says that the real
meaning of "those belonging to the basket" is that Malandela’s family,
when driven by famine from their old homes, brought with them these
grain-baskets, which were then a novelty to the people among whom they
settled.

However that may be, Malandela was the father of Ntombela, the
father of Zulu, and so the ancestor of the great Zulu kings. Solomon,
son of Dinuzulu, who has recently died, was the twelfth in descent from
him. The graves of these kings, from Malandela to Senzangakona, father
of Tshaka, are pointed out near Babanango, in the valley of the White
Imfolozi river. Dinuzulu too is buried near them, but his father lies
in the Inkandhla forest, in Zululand, and his grandfather, Mpande, at
Nodwengu.

Tribal Migrations

Zulus and Xosas alike trace their descent from a tribe called Nguni
(Abenguni, a name still preserved by the Angoni of Nyasaland), who,
after coming from the north, as well as the Basuto, Bechuana, and
Hereros, settled somewhere in the Upper Limpopo valley. Father Bryant
thinks that they must have made a long circuit to the west,

[1. Alas, the degenerate izilulu (plural) of the present day are not more than three or four feet across!

2 Josiah Gumede, who came to England in 1919 to petition the
Imperial Government for justice to the Zulus, claims to be a descendant
of this family.]

crossing the Zambezi near its source, or even going round its
head-waters, as it would have been impassable to them "by any eastern
or even central crossing."[1] Be that as it may, while some of the
Nguni remained in the Limpopo valley part of the tribe set off about
the year 1300 to the eastward, and these, again, two hundred years
later, broke up into two sections, one of which continued its southward
march, and ultimately gave rise to the Xosa and Tembu tribes. Zulu and
Xosa may now be considered as dialects of the same language: they do
not differ much more, if at all, than Lowland Scots and standard
English, and originally, of course, they were one.

As centuries progressed, old words and forms fell out here and new
came in there, each section developing its speech along different
lines, till to-day Ntungwa and Xosa are separated by a quite
considerable extent of dialectical difference in speech. The Xosa
language, it may be noted, has preserved for us the old-time term ebu Nguni (Nguniland-there whence they came) as signifying " in the West." [2]

The differences in vocabulary are considerable, just as we find that
in different English counties the same things are not always called by
the same names; the grammar is almost identical; but the Xosa
intonation, rather than the pronunciation of individual sounds, is
decidedly strange to an ear accustomed to Zulu. This being so, it is
only to be expected that both sections of the South-eastern Bantu
should have many tales and legends in common, and I shall not always
try to distinguish between them.

The Reed and the Reed-bed

The Bantu, as a rule, do not try to account for the origin of the
human race as a whole, or, rather, their legends seem to assume that
the particular tribe in question is the human race; though, as we have
seen, there are some who con-

[1. Yet we know that Zwangendaba’s host crossed in 1835 near Zumbo in the height of the dry season, when the river was very low.

2 Bryant, Olden Times, p. 9.]

descend to recognize the Bushmen. They also frequently fail
to distinguish between a non-human creator and the first human
ancestor, which has led to a good deal of discussion as to the real
meaning of the Zulu Unkulunkulu, who ‘broke off’ mankind from Uhlanga. Uhlanga
means a reed, and there seems no reason to doubt that this at first was
intended quite literally, for, as one native told Dr Callaway, " it was
said that two people came out of a reed. There came out a man and a
woman." Some have refused to believe that this was really meant, and
take Callaway’s view that uhlanga is a metaphorical expression
for "a source of being." It certainly has come to be used in this
sense, but I should be inclined to look on this as a later development
and the reed as the original idea. The Baronga of Delagoa Bay[1] told
M. Junod that "one man and one woman suddenly came out from a reed,
which exploded, and there they were!" Some native authorities say that
the first pair came out of a reed-bed (umhlanga), but one is
inclined to think that the cruder version is the more primitive, and is
reminded of the Hereros and their Omumborombonga tree.

The Chameleon

Most) if not all, of the Bantu have the legend of the
chameleon-everywhere much the same, though differing in some not
unimportant details-explaining how death came into the world, or,
rather, how it was not prevented from coming. I will give it first as
it was told to Dr Callaway by Fulatela Sitole, and afterwards mention
some of the variations.

It is said he (Unkulunkulu) sent a chameleon; he said to it, "Go, chameleon (lunwaba),
go and say, ‘Let not men die!’" The chameleon set out; it went slowly,
it loitered in the way; and as it went it ate of the fruit of a bush
which is called

[1. The Baronga are a branch of
the great Thonga nation (Amatonga). Father Bryant says that "the
relationship between the Nguni (Zulu-Xosa), Sutu (Basuto), and Thonga
Bantu families may be likened to that existing in Europe between the
English, Germans, and Scandinavians of the Nordic race."]

Ubukwebezane. At length Uhkulunkulu sent a lizard [intulo,
the blue-headed gecko] after the chameleon, when it had already set out
for some time. The lizard went; it ran and made great haste, for
Unkulunkulu had said, "Lizard, when you have arrived say, ‘Let men
die!’" So the lizard went, and said, "I tell you, it is said, ‘Let men
die!’" The lizard came back again to Unkulunkulu before the chameleon
had reached his destination, the chameleon, which was sent first-which
was sent and told to go and say, "Let not men die!" At length it
arrived and shouted, saying, "It is said, ‘Let not men die!’" But men
answered, "Oh, we have accepted the word of the lizard; it has told us
the word, ‘It is said "Let men die!’" We cannot hear your word. Through
the word of the lizard men will die." [1]

Here no reason is given for Unkulunkulu’s sending the second
messenger. I do not think any genuine native version suggests that he
changed his mind on account of men’s wickedness. Where this is said one
suspects it to be a moralizing afterthought, due perhaps to European
influence.

The Luyi Legend

Some other versions assume that the creator had not made up his
mind, and decided to let the issue depend on which messenger arrived
first. The Luyi tribe of the Zambezi call the creator Nyambe, and give
him a wife, Nasilele.[2] She wanted men to die for ever, but Nyambe
wished them to live again. Nyambe had a dog of whom he was very fond.
The dog died, and Nyambe wished to restore him to life, but Nasilele
objected. " He is a thief, and I do not like him." Some time after this
Nasilele’s mother died. (Nyambe and his wife are stated to have been
the first human couple; but the student of mythology must learn not to
be surprised at contradictions of this sort.) She asked Nyambe to
revive her mother, but he refused, because she had wanted his dog to
stay dead. Some versions add that he gave in after a time, and set to
work,

[1. Callaway, Amazulu, p. 3.

2. Told in full by Jacottet, "Textes Louyi," No. XLV.]

but when the process was nearly complete Nasilele ruined
everything by her curiosity. Then came the question whether mankind in
general should die for ever or live again, and they agreed to settle it
by sending the chameleon andnot the lizard, but the hare, who, as might
be expected, arrived first.

Elsewhere the lizard overhears the message, and, out of mere
spiteful mischief, hastens to get in first with the (alleged)
counter-order. It is not surprising that both these creatures should be
held unlucky. No unsophisticated African will touch a chameleon if he
can help it, or likes to see a European handling one; while for an
intulo to enter a Zulu hut is the worst of evil omens. In some parts,
indeed, the herd-boys, whenever they find a chameleon, will poison it
by squirting tobacco-juice or sprinkling snuff into its open mouth.

The chameleon is the creature usually associated with this legend
among Bantu-speaking peoples; the Hottentots, in a similar story, make
the messenger the hare, who is sent out by the Moon to tell people, "As
I die and, dying, live, so shall ye die and, dying, live." In some
versions he reverses the message out of forgetfulness or stupidity; in
one he does it wilfully, having taken the place of the insect who was
to have carried the message.’ It is to be noticed that the idea
throughout is not that man should be exempt from death, but that he
should return to life after it.

Legends current in Uganda

The Bantu must have brought this legend with them when they came
from the north, for it is also known to the people of Uganda, as well
as to others in between. But the Baganda have another story telling how
Death came-Death, who, in this tale, is thought of as a person, and
called Walumbe. This one belongs to the Bahima (or Batusi) cowherds,
who came in from the north with their long-horned cattle, and made
themselves chiefs in Uganda and Unyoro

[1. Bleek, Reynard the Fox in South in South Africa, pp. 69-73; Schulte, Namaland und Kalahari, p. 448.]

and Ankole.[1] But it is the peasants, the original Bantu
living in the country before the Bahima came, who have the chameleon
story. The tale of Kintu, the first man, who married the daughter of
Heaven (Gulu), has been told so often that it need not be repeated
here. It may be read in Dr Roscoe’s The Baganda, and in a charming little book by Mrs Baskerville, The King of the Snakes.
There, too, can be found the story of Mpobe, the hunter, who wandered
into the presence of Death, but was allowed to depart with a warning
never to speak of what he had seen. He was able to resist all
persuasion to do so, till at last his mother overcame his reluctance,
and Death immediately came to claim him.

Such personifications of Death do not seem to be very common in
Bantu mythology; but the Basumbwa of North-western Unyamwezi, in a
somewhat similar legend, call him Lirufu, and one occasionally hears of
a "chief of the ghosts," who may be identical with him.

Kalunga of the Ambundu

The Ambundu of Angola speak of Kalunga, a word which may mean either
Death, the King of the Netherworld (usually called, why I do not know,
Kalunga-ngombe, "Kalunga of the cattle"), or the sea. This is not
strange when one remembers that, though living, many of them, on the
coast, they are a seagoing people, and to the sense of dread and
mystery with which the ocean would naturally affect them would be added
the memory of the thousands carried away on slave-ships, never to
return. The Ndonga and Kwanyama, to the south of Angola, use this name
for their High God, whom the Hereros too call Njambi Karunga.

Some Mbundu stories give us a glimpse of Kalunga and his kingdom. Here are two of them.[2]

[1. They are no longer a separate people in Uganda
itself, as they are in Ankole and Ruanda, since even their kings and
great chiefs married women of the country.

2 Chatelain, Folk-tales of Angola, pp. 223 and 249.]

The first is called "King Kitamba kia Shiba." Kitamba was a
chief who lived at Kasanji. He lost his head-wife, Queen Muhongo, and
mourned for her many days. Not only did he mourn himself, but he
insisted on his people sharing his grief. "My village, too, no man
shall do anything therein. The young people shall not shout; the women
shall not pound; no one shall speak in the village." His headmen
remonstrated with him, but Kitamba was obdurate, and declared that he
would neither speak nor eat nor allow anyone else to do so till his
queen was restored to him. The headmen consulted together, and called
in a ‘doctor’ (kimbanda). Having received his fee (first a gun,
and then a cow) and heard their statement of the case, he said, "All
right," and set off to gather herbs. These he pounded in a
‘medicine-mortar,’ and, having prepared some sort of decoction, ordered
the king and all the people to wash themselves with it. He next
directed some men to "dig a grave in my guest-hut at the fireplace,"
which they did, and he entered it with his little boy, giving two last
instructions to his wife: to leave off her girdle (i.e., to
dress negligently, as if in mourning) and to pour water every day on
the fireplace. Then the men filled in the grave. The doctor saw a road
open before him; he walked along it with his boy till he came to a
village, where he found Queen Muhongo sitting, sewing a basket, She saw
him approaching, and asked, "Whence comest thou? " He answered, in the
usual form demanded by native politeness, "Thou thyself, I have sought
thee. Since thou art dead King Kitamba will not eat, will not drink,
will not speak. In the village they pound not; they speak not; he says,
‘If I shall talk, if I eat, go ye and fetch my head-wife.’ That is what
brought me here. I have spoken." [1]

The queen then pointed out a man seated a little way off, and asked
the doctor who he was. As he could not say, she told him, "He is Lord
Kalunga-ngombe; he is always consuming us, us all." Directing his
attention to another man", who was chained, she asked if he knew him,
and he

[1. Chatelain’s literal translation of his speech.]

answered, "He looks like King Kitamba, whom I left where I
came from." It was indeed Kitamba, and the queen further informed the
messenger that her husband had not many years to live,[1] and also that
"Here in Kalunga never comes one here to return again. She gave him the
armlet which had been buried with her, to show to Kitamba as a proof
that he had really visited the abode of the dead, but enjoined on him
not to tell the king that he had seen him there. And he must not eat
anything. in Kalunga; otherwise he would never be permitted to return
to earth.

One is reminded of Persephone and the pomegranate seed, but the idea
is one which frequently recurs in Bantu legends of the Underworld,
there is no reason to suppose that it was borrowed, directly or
indirectly, from the Greeks. It seems quite natural to think that the
food of the dead would be fatal to the living.

Meanwhile the doctor’s wife had kept pouring water on the grave. One
day she saw the earth beginning to crack; the cracks opened wider, and,
finally, her husband’s head appeared. He gradually made his way out,
and pulled his small-son up after him. The child fainted when he came
out into the sunlight, but his father washed him with some
‘herb-medicine,’ and soon brought him to.

Next day the doctor went to the headmen, presented his report, was
repaid with two slaves,[3] and returned to his home. The headmen told
Kitamba what he had said, and produced the token. The only comment he
is recorded to have made, on looking at the armlet, is "Truth, it is
the same." We do not hear whether he countermanded the official
mourning, but it is to be presumed he did so, for he made no further
difficulty about eating or drinking. Then, after a few years, he died,
and the story concludes, "They wailed the funeral; they scattered."

[1. This seems to be shown by the appearance of his wraith in the Underworld, but the point is not further explained.

2. Kalunga therefore denotes the place, as well as its ruler.

3. Chatelain’s informants in the eighteen-eighties treat this sort of thing quite as a matter of course.]

How Ngunza defied Death

The other story is about two brothers. Ngunza Kilundu was away from
home when a dream warned- him that his younger brother Maka was dead.
On his return he asked his mother, "What death was it that killed
Maka?" She could only say that it was Lord Kalunga-ngombe who had
killed him. "Then," said Ngunza, "I will go out and fight
Kalunga-ngombe." He went at once to a blacksmith and ordered a strong
iron trap. When it was ready he took it out into the bush and set it,
hiding near by with his gun. Soon he heard a cry, as of some creature
in distress, and, listening, made out words of human speech: "I am
dying, dying." It was Kalunga-ngombe who was caught in the trap, and
Ngunza took his gun and prepared to shoot. The voice cried out, "Do not
shoot me! Come to free me! Ngunza asked, "Who are you, that I should
set you free?" The answer came: "I am Kalunga-ngombe." "Oh, you are
Kalunga-ngombe, who killed my younger brother Maka!" Kalunga-ngombe
understood the threat which was left unspoken, and went on to explain
himself. "You accuse me of killing people. I do not do it wantonly, or
for my own satisfaction; people are brought to me by their fellow-men,
or through their own fault. You shall see this for yourself. Go away
now and wait four days: on the fifth you may go and fetch your brother
in my country."

Ngunza did as he was told, and went to Kalunga. It is not said how
he got there-probably by some such means as the doctor in the other
story. There he was received by Kalunga-ngombe, who invited him to take
his place beside him. The new arrivals began to come in. Kalunga-ngombe
asked the first man, "What killed you?" The man answered that on earth
he had been very rich; his neighbours were envious and bewitched him,
so that he died.[1] The next to arrive was a woman, who admitted that
‘vanity’ had been the cause of her death-that is, she had been

[1. A more likely occurrence-and one that has been
known to take place-would have been that an accusation of witchcraft
was trumped up, which led to his execution.]

greedy of finery and admiration, had coquetted with men, and
had in the end been killed by a jealous husband. So it went on: one
after another came with more or less the same story, and at last
Kalunga-Ngombe said, "You see how it is-I do not kill people; they are
brought to me for one cause or another. It is very unfair to blame me.
Now you may go to Milunga " and fetch your brother Maka."

Ngunza went as directed, and was overjoyed at finding Maka just as
he had left him at their home, and, apparently, leading much the same
sort of life as he had on earth. They greeted each other warmly, and
then Ngunza said, "Now let us be off, for I have come to fetch you
home." But, to his surprise, Maka did not want to go. "I won’t go back;
I am much better off here than I ever was while I lived. If I come with
you, shall I have as good a time?" Ngunza did not know how to answer
this, and, very unwillingly, had to leave his brother where he was. He
turned away sadly, and went to take leave of Kalunga, who gave him, as
a parting present, the seeds of all the useful plants now cultivated in
Angola, and ended by saying, "In eight I days I shall come to visit you
at your home."

This part of the story grows very puzzling, as no reason is given
for the visit, and it would almost seem, from what follows, as if some
condition had been imposed which Ngunza did not keep.[2] Kalunga came
to Ngunza’s home on the eighth day, and found that he had fled eastward
that is, inland. He pursued him from place to place, and finally came
up with him. Ngunza asked why Kalunga should have followed him, adding,
"You cannot kill me, for I have done you no wrong. You have been
insisting that you do not kill anyone-that people are brought to you
through some fault of theirs." Kalunga, for all answer, threw his
hatchet at Ngunza, and Ngunza "turned into a kituta spirit." This is not further explained, but we

[1. It is not clear what this place was. Chatelain could not even make out the word in the original manuscript.

2 Chatelain seems to have had some difficulty in getting a connected
narrative out of the "poorly written notes" left by a native helper who
died.]

find elsewhere that a kituta (or kianda) is "a
spirit or demon . . . who rules over the water and is fond of great
trees and of hill-tops." Such river-spirits figure in several other
stories from Angola.

In the story from Uganda already referred to Mpobe had to die
because he had, in spite of the warning received, spoken about his
visit to the kingdom of the dead. Something of the sort may have been
said in the correct version of the Mbundu story. Then, again, Ngunza is
not said to have been killed, but to have become a kituta-one
does not see why. In the ordinary course of things, one gathers, those
who depart this life go on living for an indefinite time in Kalunga;
but after that they die again, and this time cease, to exist. We shall
have to consider this point more fully, when speaking of the ancestral
spirits.

It seems quite clear from all these legends that the African does
not, when he thinks about the matter at all, look upon death as an
essential fact in nature. It appears to be accepted that, but for some
unforeseen accident, or perhaps some piece of carelessness or wilful
disobedience, people need never have died at all. To the same set of
ideas belongs the prevalent belief that any death whose cause is not
understood (and the number of such deaths is now steadily decreasing)
must be due to witchcraft. Kalunga, if we are to think of him as the
High God, is exceptional for living underground. Leza, Mulungu, Iruwa,
and so on, if they have a local habitation at all, are placed in the
sky. As seen by Alice Werner

General Blog Religion & Philosophy

Religious Pluralism

Religious Pluralism

Religious pluralists point out that nearly all religious texts are a combination of an assortment of human observations documented, for example, as historical narratives, poetry, and morality plays. Accordingly, a distinction exists between what may be claimed as literal in a religious text and what may be metaphorical. The text, therefore, is open to interpretation. In this light, no religion is able to comprehensively capture and communicate all truth.Although all religions attempt to capture reality, their attempts occur within particular cultural and historical contexts that affect the writer’s viewpoint.

Adherents of religious pluralism, in this sense, hold that their faith is “true”. That is, their religion is the most complete and accurate revelation of the divine available, yet they also accept that other religions teach many truths about the nature of God and man, and which establish a significant amount of common ground.

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General Blog Religion & Philosophy

Hinduism and New Ageism

Hinduism and New Ageism

Hinduism is a set of beliefs and traditions which have evolved over a vast period of time. There is no central organization like a Church to control its movements or progress. The word Hindu is derived from the river Sindhu, or Indus, primarily a geographical term that referred to India or to a region of India (near the Sindhu). Hinduism entered the English language in the early 19th century to describe the beliefs and practices of those residents of India who practice the ancient believes of India and did not practice Islam or Christianity.

A common manner of describing Hinduism among its adherents is as a way of life, as “Dharma.” It defies dogma and thus seeks to instead align the human body, mind, and soul in harmony with nature.

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General Blog Religion & Philosophy

Buddhism

Buddhism

Many hold the view that Buddhism is a philosophy, but the Buddha did not preach mere philosophical or intellectual theories. The Dhamma (Buddha’s teachings) deals with reality and truths which Buddhists believe that they can verify by personal experience. Unlike a philosophy, this shows a path that leads to the elimination of all forms of suffering and release from conditioned existence. One can discuss endlessly whether Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy; – It is a way of life. In fact, some of the ancient teachings are very much in keeping with modern scientific thought, therefore some even call it a ‘Science of Life’.

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General Blog Religion & Philosophy

Religious Pluralism

Religious Pluralism

Religious pluralists point out that nearly all religious texts are a combination of an assortment of human observations documented, for example, as historical narratives, poetry, and morality plays. Accordingly, a distinction exists between what may be claimed as literal in a religious text and what may be metaphorical. The text, therefore, is open to interpretation. In this light, no religion is able to comprehensively capture and communicate all truth.Although all religions attempt to capture reality, their attempts occur within particular cultural and historical contexts that affect the writer’s viewpoint.

Adherents of religious pluralism, in this sense, hold that their faith is “true”. That is, their religion is the most complete and accurate revelation of the divine available, yet they also accept that other religions teach many truths about the nature of God and man, and which establish a significant amount of common ground.

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General Blog Religion & Philosophy

Hinduism and New Ageism

Hinduism and New Ageism

Hinduism is a set of beliefs and traditions which have evolved over a vast period of time. There is no central organization like a Church to control its movements or progress. The word Hindu is derived from the river Sindhu, or Indus, primarily a geographical term that referred to India or to a region of India (near the Sindhu). Hinduism entered the English language in the early 19th century to describe the beliefs and practices of those residents of India who practice the ancient believes of India and did not practice Islam or Christianity.

A common manner of describing Hinduism among its adherents is as a way of life, as “Dharma.” It defies dogma and thus seeks to instead align the human body, mind, and soul in harmony with nature.

Read Article

General Blog Religion & Philosophy

Buddhism

Buddhism

Many hold the view that Buddhism is a philosophy, but the Buddha did not preach mere philosophical or intellectual theories. The Dhamma (Buddha’s teachings) deals with reality and truths which Buddhists believe that they can verify by personal experience. Unlike a philosophy, this shows a path that leads to the elimination of all forms of suffering and release from conditioned existence. One can discuss endlessly whether Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy; – It is a way of life. In fact, some of the ancient teachings are very much in keeping with modern scientific thought, therefore some even call it a ‘Science of Life’.

Read Article

General Blog Religion & Philosophy

The Seven Steps of Bible Study- LUMKO Method

Steps 1-4 help us to "persevere" with God, to "Iisten" to participate in the biblical action, "to surrender ourselves to God".

Step 5 brings us together as brothers and sisters because we risk sharing our experience with God with one another. This is not the most important step, but it gives great joy to all those who want to build and experience a deeply human community in God.

In step 6 we confront our life with the Word of God. It is often the case that in this atmosphere of prayer, individuals discuss problems which they wish to resolve as a group.

In step 7 all are invited to share in spontaneous prayer.

FIRST STEP: We invite the Lord

Once the group settles down, the facilitator asks someone to volunteer "to invite the Lord". The belief in the living presence of the Risen Christ in our midst is the presupposition and basis of our meditation.

We want to meet the Word who became flesh and dwells among us. We remember Jesus´ promise: "Where two or three are gathered in my name, I shall be there with them." (Mt 18,20).

SECOND STEP: We read the text

The facilitator announces the chosen text. First the book, then the chapter. He/she waits until everyone has found the chapter and only then does be announce the verse.

When everyone has found the passage, the facilitator invites someone to volunteer to read the text. A moment of silence follows.

THIRD STEP: We dwell on the text

The facilitator continues: "We dwell on the text. Which words strike you in a special way?"

In doing so, almost the entire text is listened to again. The participants spontaneously read aloud the word or words that have impressed them. Whole verses are not read, only short phrases or individual words.

The participants are encouraged to repeat those words silently to themselves three or four times. It is extremely important that a moment of silence be kept after each person has spoken, allowing the message to "soak in". As a result of this step, "simple" words often take on new meaning.

FOURTH STEP: We are quiet

After spending time on the individual word, the entire passage is read again slowly. Then the facilitator announces a time of silence, giving the exact length of time, for example, three minutes.

We advise the people to spend this time in silence before God. "We are open to God." "We allow ourselves to be loved by him." "We let God look at us."

A helpful practice during this silence is to repeat a specific word.

Meditation: Simply to be open to God, to wait for him, to be with him, "in fact he is not far from any of us" (Acts 17,27).

FIFTH STEP: We share what we have heard in our hearts

After the time of quiet, the facilitator announces the next step: "We share with each other what we have heard in our hearts."

We do this to share with one another our faith experience and to help each other to grow in the faith. The entire Sacred Scripture is nothing less than a God experience which the People of Israel and Jesus "share" with us.

It is somewhat strange that we can talk to friends about almost every aspect of our life yet when it comes to sharing with others our experience with God, we become shy. In this Bible meditation method, however, anyone can learn "to risk" this sharing in a very natural and unpressured way.

SIXTH STEP: We search together

The facilitator announces: "We search together."

Now the time has come for the participants to examine their lives in the light of the Gospel. At this stage, a basic community might discuss everyday problems as:

Someone needs help in the neighborhood…
Children need instruction in the faith…
Who will lead the the Word next Sunday, since the Pastor will not be there?…
How can we settle a discord that has arisen?…
What can we do about getting the street lamp repaired?…

None of these problems need to have a direct connection to the Bible passage which had been read and shared. However, they emerge and can be resolved because of the mutual confidence that now exists in an atmosphere of the presence of God. Things look different when God is allowed to be present.

SEVENTH STEP: We pray together

The facilitator now invites everyone to pray.

The words of Scripture, the various experiences of God´s Word, the daily problems – these all become fuel for prayer. Some find this form of sharing in prayer the easiest way to communicate with others.

The participants are encouraged to incorporate in their personal prayer whatever has been of special importance to them during the meditation.

Only at the end is a formal prayer known to everyone recited

 

General Blog Religion & Philosophy

Is the Anglican Social Doctrine Inadequate for Church of Ceylon to look Toward Karl Marx?

 

Views I sent to the Anglican Church Sri Lanka in October 2007

Annual Council sessions were held at the Anglican Cathedral on Saturday 20 th October, 2007.

Around 37 voted against the resolution while 47 abstained. Thus it is an  indicator that a majority of those present were not in favor of such changes being implemented at this stage without deeper reflection.

A  reporter said that "Winds of change have blown into the Church of Ceylon, better known as the Anglican Church, as the leaders of the traditionally conservative Christian denomination passed a seemingly revolutionary resolution that could shake the foundations of one of the oldest churches of the country".

Similarly, Anglican church worldwide is facing many problems at present. Today's news from overseas says:

The President of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa(CAPA), Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, says that Anglican crises hinge on leadership, doctrine –    in which the failure of the instruments of the Communion to exercise discipline had called into question the viability of the Anglican Communion as a united Christian body under a common foundation of faith, as is supposed by the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. Due to this breakdown of discipline, we are not sure that we can in good conscience continue to spend our time, our money and our prayers on behalf of a body that proclaims two Gospels: the Gospel of Christ and the Gospel of Sexuality," he added.

It is my view that at a juncture such as this we need to exercise greater caution and have a finer grasp of deeper theoretical underpinnings before such resolutions are passed. The reporter expressed surprise that the resolution which was loaded with complicated wordings, was passed with surprisingly less resistance and justified the necessity for this fundamental "paradigm shift" as a necessity for the church "in the context of the present post-modern political, social, economic and cultural reality in Sri Lanka".

What disturbed me more was a statement of Fr. Selvan who proposed the motion mentioned during his speech, a synthesis between the teachings of Jesus and Karl Marx .

Even though it did not elaborate, it further said that The Bishop of Colombo made a few telling observations in support of the resolution before it went into voting while only one priest spoke against the resolution and tried unsuccessfully to bring an amendment to the clause on "paradigm shift" calling it to be changed rather into "Return to the teachings of Jesus".

The resolution also called the members of the church to "work towards a life style of the poor" which some speakers criticized as "impractical" before it was passed .

What Fr. Selvan must remember is that Marxism left  a sad heritage of economic and ecological destruction. Capitalism,   has failed to bridge the distance between rich and poor and is giving rise to a worrying degradation of personal dignity through drugs, alcohol and deceptive illusions of happiness.

Both capitalism and Marxism promised to point out the path for the creation of just structures, and they declared that these, once established, would function by themselves and this ideological promise has proven false. 

Even though we must  reaffirm the church's preference for the poor, we must not lose sight of the fact that social change begins with the transformation of the individual believer.

My mind goes back to the words of Paul VI in his "Profession of Faith" "We profess our faith that the Kingdom of God, begun here below in the Church of Christ, is not of this world, whose form is passing away, and that its own growth cannot be confused with the progress of civilization, of science, and of human technology, but that it consists in knowing ever more deeply the unfathomable riches of Christ, to hope ever more strongly in things eternal, to respond ever more ardently to the love of God, to spread ever more widely grace and holiness among men. But it is this very same love which makes the Church constantly concerned for the true temporal good of mankind as well. Never ceasing to recall to her children that they have no lasting dwelling here on earth, she urges them also to contribute, each according to his own vocation and means, to the welfare of their earthly city, to promote justice, peace and brotherhood among men, to lavish their assistance on their brothers, especially on the poor and the most dispirited. The intense concern of the Church, the bride of Christ, for the needs of mankind, their joys and their hopes, their pains and their struggles, is nothing other than the great desire to be present to them in order to enlighten them with the light of Christ, and join them all to Him, their only Savior . It can never mean that the Church is conforming to the things of this world, nor that she is lessening the earnestness with which she awaits her Lord and the eternal Kingdom."

Analyzing the issues further , H.H The Pope Benedict XV1, then writing as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger responded:

The warning of Paul VI remains fully valid today: Marxism as it is actually lived out poses many distinct aspects and questions for Christians to reflect upon and act on. However, it would be "illusory and dangerous to ignore the intimate bond which radically unites them, and to accept elements of the Marxist analysis without recognizing its connections with the ideology, or to enter into the practice of class-struggle and of its Marxist interpretation while failing to see the kind of totalitarian society to which this process slowly leads."

The acute need for radical reforms of the structures which conceal poverty and which are themselves forms of violence, should not let us lose sight of the fact that the source of injustice is in the hearts of men. Therefore it is only by making an appeal to the moral potential of the person and to the constant need for interior conversion, that social change will be brought about which will be truly in the service of man. For it will only be in the measure that they collaborate freely in these necessary changes through their own initiative and in solidarity, that people, awakened to a sense of their responsibility, will grow in humanity.

The class struggle as a road toward a classless society is a myth which slows reform and aggravates poverty and injustice. Those who allow themselves to be caught up in fascination with this myth should reflect on the bitter examples history has to offer about where it leads. They would then understand that we are not talking here about abandoning an effective means of struggle on behalf of the poor for an ideal which has no practical effects. On the contrary, we are talking about freeing oneself from a delusion in order to base oneself squarely on the Gospel and its power of realization.

One of the conditions for necessary theological correction is giving proper value to the social meaning of the Church. This teaching is by no means closed. It is, on the contrary, open to all the new questions which are so numerous today. In this perspective, the contribution of theologians and other thinkers in all parts of the world to the reflection of the Church is indispensable today.

Impatience and a desire for results has led certain Christians, despairing of every other method, to turn to what they call "Marxist analysis. " . Their reasoning is this: an intolerable and explosive situation requires effective action which cannot be put off. Effective action presupposes a scientific analysis of the structural causes of poverty. Marxism now provides us with the means to make such an analysis, they say.

It is true that Marxist thought ever since its origins, and even more so lately, has become divided and has given birth to various currents which diverge significantly from each other. To the extent that they remain fully Marxist, these currents continue to be based on certain fundamental tenets which are not compatible with the Christian conception of humanity and society. In this context, certain formulas are not neutral, but keep the meaning they had in the original Marxist doctrine. This is the case with the "class-struggle." This expression remains pregnant with the interpretation that Marx gave it, so it cannot be taken as the equivalent of "severe social conflict", in an empirical sense. Those who use similar formulas, while claiming to keep only certain elements of the Marxist analysis and yet to reject the analysis taken as a whole, maintain at the very least a serious confusion in the minds of their readers.

Let us recall the fact that atheism and the denial of the human person, his liberty and rights, are at the core of the Marxist theory. This theory, then, contains errors which directly threaten the truths of the faith regarding the eternal destiny of individual persons. Moreover, to attempt to integrate into theology an analysis whose criterion of interpretation depends on this atheistic conception is to involve oneself in terrible contradictions. What is more, this misunderstanding of the spiritual nature of the person leads to a total subordination of the person to the collectivity, and thus to the denial of the principles of a social and political life which is in keeping with human dignity.

When modes of interpretation are applied to the economic, social, and political reality of today, which are themselves borrowed from Marxist thought, they can give the initial impression of a certain plausibility, to the degree that the present-day situation in certain countries is similar to what Marx described and interpreted in the middle of the last century. On the basis of these similarities, certain simplifications are made which, abstracting from specific essential factors, prevent any really rigorous examination of the causes of poverty and prolong the confusion.

In its positive meaning the Church of the poor signifies the preference given to the poor, without exclusion, whatever the form of their poverty, because they are preferred by God. The expression also refers to the Church of our time, as communion and institution and on the part of her members, becoming more fully conscious of the requirement of evangelical poverty.

But the "theologies of liberation", which reserve credit for restoring to a place of honor the great texts of the prophets and of the Gospel in defense of the poor, go on to a disastrous confusion between the poor of the Scripture and the proletariat of Marx. In this way they pervert the Christian meaning of the poor, and they transform the fight for the rights of the poor into a class fight within the ideological perspective of the class struggle . For them the Church of the poor signifies the Church of the class which has become aware of the requirements of the revolutionary struggle as a step toward liberation and which celebrates this liberation in its liturgy .

A further remark regarding the expression, Church of the People, will not be out of place here. From the pastoral point of view, this expression might mean the favored recipients of evangelization to whom, because of their condition, the Church extends her pastoral love first of all. One might also refer to the Church as people of God, that is, people of the New Covenant established in Christ.

 But the "theologies of liberation" mean by Church of the People a Church of the class, a Church of the oppressed people whom it is necessary to "conscientize" in the light of the organized struggle for freedom. For some, the people, thus understood, even become the object of faith.

Building on such a conception of the Church of the People, a critique of the very structures of the Church is developed. It is not simply the case of fraternal correction of pastors of the Church whose behavior does not reflect the evangelical spirit of service and is linked to old-fashioned signs of authority which scandalize the poor. It has to do with a challenge to the sacramental and hierarchical structure of the Church, which was willed by the Lord Himself.

The partisan conception of truth, which can be seen in the revolutionary praxis of the class, corroborates this position. Theologians who do not share the theses of the "theology of liberation", the hierarchy, are thus discredited in advance as belonging to the class of the oppressors. Their theology is a theology of class. Arguments and teachings thus do not have to be examined in themselves since they are only reflections of class interests. Thus, the instruction of others is decreed to be, in principle, false.

The new hermeneutic inherent in the "theologies of liberation" leads to an essentially political re-reading of the Scriptures. Thus, a major importance is given to the Exodus event inasmuch as it is a liberation from political servitude. Likewise, a political reading of the "Magnificat" is proposed. The mistake here is not in bringing attention to a political dimension of the readings of Scripture, but in making of this one dimension the principal or exclusive component. This leads to a reductionist reading of the Bible.

Faith in the Incarnate Word, dead and risen for all men, and whom "God made Lord and Christ" is denied. In its place is substituted a figure of Jesus who is a kind of symbol who sums up in Himself the requirements of the struggle of the oppressed.

An exclusively political interpretation is thus given to the death of Christ. In this way, its value for salvation and the whole economy of redemption is denied.

 In a general way, this brings about what can be an inversion of symbols. Thus, instead of seeing, with St. Paul, a figure of baptism in the Exodus some end up making of it a symbol of the political liberation of the people.

Thus a great call goes out to all the Church: with boldness and courage, with far-sightedness and prudence, with zeal and strength of spirit, with a love for the poor which demands sacrifice, pastors will consider the response to this call a matter of the highest priority, as many already do.

The Catholic church provides a comprehensive set of guidelines in their " Compendium of Social Doctrine" : Section 12 says thus :

12. This document is proposed also to the brethren of other Churches and Ecclesial Communities, to the followers of other religions, as well as to all people of good will who are committed to serving the common good : may they receive it as the fruit of a universal human experience marked by countless signs of the presence of God's Spirit. It is a treasury of things old and new (cf. Mt 13:52), which the Church wishes to share, in thanksgiving to God, from whom comes "every good endowment and ever perfect gift" ( Jas 1:17). It is a sign of hope in the fact that religions and cultures today show openness to dialogue and sense the urgent need to join forces in promoting justice, fraternity, peace and the growth of the human person.

General Blog Religion & Philosophy

Spe Salvi Facti Sumus

Spe Salvi facti sumus……in hope we were saved: A great message during this Advent Season

Tue, 2007-12-11 03:44 -Asian Tribune

By Prof. Lakshman Madurasinghe

Pope Benedict’s latest encyclical is a timely reminder of the value of hope and a challenge to Christian Legal Theorists as well.

Pope Benedict who has distinguished himself as an accomplished Theologian of our era has displayed his erudition once again with a scholarly exposition on hope which will undoubtedly re-kindle the hope in his readers at a time when many people in the world are struggling without faith and hope.

It is also timely that he chose to release it during the season of advent when the coming of Jesus as the redeemer is heralded worldwide. Redemption being the central theme of this Encyclical, it deals with a subject not alien to the law and therefore no stranger to Catholic legal thought and theory. These inputs are invaluable for the Catholic legal theorist who must grapple with the question of how the law and legal systems can best serve the development and flourishing of the human person who is created in God’s image, Imago Dei, and revealed to us in the person of Christ.

In the encyclical about hope running into about 75 pages, Pope Benedict is not proposing a facile hope in heaven undoing injustices of life on earth. Indeed, this is where he brings in Dostoyevsky. The Pope asserts that “the last Judgment is not primarily an image of terror, but an image of hope”. A world without God is a world without hope, and “God is justice”. Only God can provide the justice that sustains hope in the better future­the eternal life­for one and all. “God is justice and creates justice. This is our consolation and our hope. And in his justice there is also grace. This we know by turning our gaze to the crucified and risen Christ. Both these things­justice and grace­must be seen in their correct inner relationship.”

With justice comes grace, yet “grace does not cancel out justice. It does not make wrong into right. It is not a sponge which wipes everything away, so that whatever someone has done on Earth ends up being of equal value. Dostoyevsky, for example, was right to protest against this kind of Heaven and this kind of grace in his novel “The Brothers Karamazov”. Evildoers, in the end, do not sit at table at the eternal banquet beside their victims without distinction, as though nothing had happened.”

Elaborating on the resurrection of the flesh he goes on to say in section 43 that there is justice. There is an ‘undoing’ of past suffering, reparation that sets things aright. For this reason, faith in the Last Judgment is first and foremost hope­the need for which was made abundantly clear in the upheavals of recent centuries. He is convinced that the question of justice constitutes the essential argument, or in any cases the strongest argument, in favor of faith in eternal life. The purely individual need for a fulfillment that is denied to us in this life, for an everlasting love that we await, is certainly an important motive for believing that man was made for eternity; He further explains that to protest against God in the name of justice is not helpful. A world without God is a world without hope (cf. Eph 2:12). Only God can create justice. And faith gives us the certainty that he does so”

Spe Salvi facti sumus…..In hope we were saved, says Saint Paul to the Romans, and likewise to us (Rom 8:24). According to the Christian faith, redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey.

The Pope’s fundamental point is about the goal of redemption for humanity and the corresponding responsibility of hope in the reaching this objective­an objective that relies on but does not depend ultimately on human institutions such as the law. He illustrates the right relation between God and human enterprise in this endeavor. And proceeding to justice requires hope and patience on behalf of the human family­as Benedict states, “The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open. The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life.”

Spe Salvi instructs readers that the Christian message is not only “informative” but also “performative, ” that is, “the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known – it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing,” Pope Benedict says. It is in receiving God through Jesus Christ that we receive hope. He illustrates this point narrating the life of the African slave, St. Josephine Bakhita. He uses the images of the downcast, the slave, and those on the margins of society to reinforce the theme of hope in the one who came to save us all so that we may be redeemed and live with Him forever.

The Holy Father takes note of the human alternatives that exist in this word to achieve one type of freedom that can liberate the marginalized­an endeavor with which the law has a great interest. But as he argues throughout the letter, the forms of liberation that rely solely on human resources are imperfect: “Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a ‘not yet’. The fact that this future exists changes the present; the present is touched by the future reality, and thus the things of the future spill over into those of the present and those of the present into those of the future.” For Benedict, there must be a renunciation of exclusive reliance on the things of this world to provide authentic relief to those who suffer in this world:

Engaging in a deeper analysis of Heb 11: 1 ” faith is the substance of things hoped for and evidence of things not seen” he uses the un- translated word used for substance- hypostasis- Faith is the hypostasis of things hoped for; the proof of things not seen”. He elaborates that the “substance”­there are already present in us the things that are hoped for: the whole, true life. And precisely because the thing itself is already present, this presence of what is to come also creates certainty: this “thing” which must come is not yet visible in the external world (it does not “appear”), but because of the fact that, as an initial and dynamic reality, we carry it within us, a certain perception of it has even now come into existence.

He very rightly elaborates that to Luther, who was not particularly fond of the Letter to the Hebrews, the concept of “substance”, in the context of his view of faith, meant nothing. For this reason he understood the term hypostasis/substance not in the objective sense (of a reality present within us), but in the subjective sense, as an expression of an interior attitude, and so, naturally, he also had to understand the term argumentum as a disposition of the subject. Faith is not merely a personal reaching out towards things to come that are still totally absent: it gives us something. It gives us even now something of the reality we are waiting for, and this present reality constitutes for us a “proof” of the things that are still unseen. Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a “not yet”.

The fact that this future exists changes the present; the present is touched by the future reality, and thus the things of the future spill over into those of the present and those of the present into those of the future. This new freedom, the awareness of the new “substance” which we have been given, is revealed not only in martyrdom, in which people resist the overbearing power of ideology and its political organs and, by their death, renew the world. Above all, it is seen in the great acts of renunciation, from the monks of ancient times to Saint Francis of Assisi and those of our contemporaries who enter modern religious Institutes and movements and leave everything for love of Christ, so as to bring to men and women the faith and love of Christ, and to help those who are suffering in body and spirit. In their case, the new “substance” has proved to be a genuine “substance”; from the hope of these people who have been touched by Christ, hope has arisen for others who were living in darkness and without hope. In their case, it has been demonstrated that this new life truly possesses and is “substance” that calls forth life for others.

For this to make sense, the Pope acknowledges that redemption, and the human role in it (through hope in God) must understand what life, including eternal life, means. This is where the role of Jesus’s salvific mission must be taken into account for it means something to the existence of every person whose life begins in this world but will continue elsewhere.

Inspired by the writing of Henri de Lubac, the Pope distills the essence of human existence by identifying the individual and social nature of hope, faith, salvation, and redemption: “salvation has always been considered a ‘social’ reality.” For Benedict, sin­the product of human free will­destroys the unity of the human race by fragmenting the person and the society in which he or she lives. The Pope sees a remedy to this problem of fragmented liberty: it is redemption which reestablishes the unity in which individuals come together in a union that begins to take shape in the community of believers.

The Holy Father also notes the importance of Christian faith-hope in the modern age. In the encyclical letter, Pope Benedict analyzes the false utopian dreams of the modern age and points out the untold suffering they have caused human beings. From this point of view, redemption is no longer through faith in God’s saving action but from what human beings can achieve through the application of technical knowledge to all of society’s problems. A praxis-oriented science draws on an understanding of progress as the overcoming of all dependency to make room for a “kingdom” in which God is no longer at the center. It is not that faith is simply denied; rather it is displaced onto another level. Thus hope too… acquires a new form. Now it is called: faith in progress. For Bacon, it is clear that the recent spate of discoveries and inventions is just the beginning; through the interplay of science and praxis, totally new discoveries will follow, a totally new world will emerge, the kingdom of man.

It is this “kingdom of man” in which Benedict argues the purely political departs from the exercise of right reason that leads all to the eternal life and the Kingdom of God. He relies upon illustrations from the French Revolution and Marxist theory and praxis to make his point convincing. While promising “freedom,” both of these political events removed authentic freedom for reason.

What are critical to the success of the Holy Father’s proposition are two further realizations. The first is that right state of human affairs cannot be guaranteed by human-designed structures alone even while acknowledging their merits. Second, it is essential to understand the essence of human freedom: “the kingdom of good will never be definitively established in this world. Anyone who promises the better world that is guaranteed to last for ever is making a false promise; he is overlooking human freedom. Freedom must constantly be won over for the cause of good. Free assent to the good never exists simply by itself. If there were structures which could irrevocably guarantee a determined­good­state of the world, man’s freedom would be denied, and hence they would not be good structures at all.”

He cautions us that it is not “science” that redeems us; rather, it is love, specifically the love of God in Jesus Christ, the one who came to save us all. Moreover, this love is the source of all life­both now and in the future. This love characterizes a crucial relation in human beingness, relation with our Savior. But this love which takes us into the eternal life also has a role in the life of this world. As Benedict states: “[Christ] commits us to live for others, but only through communion with him does it become possible truly to be there for others, for the whole.”

Atheism may be “understandable” when mankind is confronted with evil and suffering, but the attempt to banish God, he wrote, “has led to the greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice,” whether through Marxist revolution or the science that produced the atomic bomb.

In section 5 he says… “It is not . . . the laws of matter, which ultimately govern the world and mankind, but a personal God governs the stars, that is, the universe; it is not the laws of matter and of evolution that have the final say, but reason, will, love­a Person. And if we know this Person and he knows us, then truly the inexorable power of material elements no longer has the last word; we are not slaves of the universe and of its laws, we are free. In ancient times, honest enquiring minds were aware of this. Heaven is not empty. Life is not a simple product of laws and the randomness of matter, but within everything and at the same time above everything, there is a personal will, there is a Spirit who in Jesus has revealed himself as Love”.

As he has often done in his writings, Benedict emphasizes his points in several passages by summing up the arguments against God as well as any doubter could. In section 31 speaking of the Kingdom, he explains “His Kingdom is not an imaginary hereafter, situated in a future that will never arrive; his Kingdom is present wherever he is loved and wherever his love reaches us. His love alone gives us the possibility of soberly persevering day by day, without ceasing to be spurred on by hope, in a world which by its very nature is imperfect. His love is at the same time our guarantee of the existence of what we only vaguely sense and which nevertheless, in our deepest self, we await: a life that is ‘truly’ life.

He wanted the Protestants to take note that we cannot­to use the classical expression­‘merit’ Heaven through our works. Heaven is always more than we could merit, just as being loved is never something ‘merited’, but always a gift “.

“But then the question arises: do we really want this ­ to live eternally?” he asked. “Perhaps many people reject the faith today simply because they do not find the prospect of eternal life attractive.”

He continued, “To continue living for ever ­ endlessly ­ appears more like a curse than a gift,” before describing a heaven that is not, as he put it, “monotonous and ultimately unbearable.”

“It would be like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time ­ the before and after ­ no longer exists,” he wrote. “We can only attempt to grasp the idea that such a moment is life in the full sense, a plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy.”

He urges people to continue to pray: “When no one listens to me any more, God still listens to me. When I can no longer talk to anyone or call upon anyone, I can always talk to God. When there is no longer anyone to help me deal with a need or expectation that goes beyond the human capacity for hope, he can help me. When I have been plunged into complete solitude …; if I pray I am never totally alone.

May these thoughts inspire you during Christmas and encourage you never to lose hope.

– Asian Tribune –

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