Thursday, January 24, 2008

No title.

People don't normally reveal the part of themselves which is capable of falling in love. In most of our relationships, including our close friendships, interactions remain on the level of 'polite society'. Affection, passion, vulnerability, cherishing, delight, and desire are carefully filtered out of life. Functionally, they have no great value; and professionally they are nothing but dangers.

A great invisible wall seems to separate everybody, from each other and from myself. It is a wall ostensibly known as decorum, but sometimes it feels more like an intense and irrational terror of interpersonal risks. The obligation to avoid scandal and embarrassment reigns supreme; the wish to build interpersonal connections into something beautiful has been locked in the dungeon. The absence of intimacy is a small price to pay for the gaurantee of security. Lonliness kills more slowly and less dramatically than betrayal.

I've often wondered about the deepest of human desires. In a melancholy mood, I am inclined to believe that nothing is more fundamental than the wish to return to a womb-like existence. At other times I have believed that it is the feeling of being welcomed and unconditionally valued. Perhaps even deeper than the latter is the desire to be understood; to experience another who is not a stranger to my thoughts and the movements of my heart. In a way, the feeling of being understood by another abolishes the last and most impenetrable stronghold of lonliness: my interiority.

But this is taboo. All too quickly, when intimacy threatens, levity comes and saves the day; superficiality turns on the light; irony reminds us of the banality and simplicity of our task-oriented lives. The wall is up again, and we are safely alone with our atomistic interiorities. It is the cold flourescent light of a cubicle-divided office.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

What is Religion?

I am now a week into the course on World Religions, although so far we have only done policies and procedures, and we have just begun to ask the question of "What is religion"?

I have not decided yet whether to spend one or two weeks on this subject.

The trouble is that I feel a pressing need to inoculate the students somewhat against certain traps of irreligious thought. Any survey of religions runs the risk of encouraging, by its very nature, a series of mental blocks against the possibility of taking any one tradition seriously.
  • Indifferentism - "It's all the same god anyway."
  • Agnosticism - "There's no way to prove any of this; what's the point in trying?"
  • Consumerism - "I pick and choose the beliefs that fit me."
  • Individualism - "I don't believe in organized religion."
A student in last semester's class once asked me if I was going to teach an "open minded" or a "closed minded" world religions course. It would behoove me to go into what that means.

Mercy and Creation, cont.

In my last post, I moved far afield of what I had sat down to write in the first place--I even needed to change the title of the post. But at least it serves as a prologue.

Mercy is part of the very essence of creation, especially material creation. This is true, I believe, in what I have already mentioned: in our embodied nature God has "spun off", so to speak, the principle of our continued mortal existence into the network of secondary causalities we call nature. It is true that we continue to exist only because God directly, perfectly, lovingly wills that we do so--the secondary causality of nature does not usurp, replace, or contradict the perfect will in God's primary causality. Yet God willed that our evil should not lead to final and complete dissolution, either in the case of the human race or for individuals.

Of course, the meaning of the body is radically more complex, beautiful, and God-glorifying than simply the buffer between our evil acts and the damnation which would otherwise be the direct consequence. But it does have that quality. It is a fore-ordained irony that the flesh which is the groundswell of our concupiscible passions and so often leads us to sin, is also always the very vehicle made available to our freedom to carry us back to God.

Of all of God's qualities--omnipotence, omnipresence, omnibenevolence, undivided, unextended, eternal, etc.--mercy is what most distinguishes the God of faith from the god of the philosophers. Mercy is the essence of religion, especially true religion. Everything that God does, even punishment, even (I believe) damnation, has as its first fact, this quality of mercy (I am convinced of a minority belief that oblivion cannot be preferable to damnation).