Philosophy

“The love of wisdom.” To do with applying truths together using logic, to find further truths.

On self love

Since charity is a kind of friendship, as stated above (II-II:23:1), we may consider charity from two standpoints: first, under the general notion of friendship, and in this way we must hold that, properly speaking, a man is not a friend to himself, but something more than a friend, since friendship implies union, for Dionysius says (Div. Nom. iv) that “love is a unitive force,” whereas a man is one with himself which is more than being united to another. Hence, just as unity is the principle of union, so the love with which a man loves himself is the form and root of friendship. For if we have friendship with others it is because we do unto them as we do unto ourselves, hence we read in Ethic. ix, 4,8, that “the origin of friendly relations with others lies in our relations to ourselves.”

St Thomas Aquinas, ST II:II q25 a4

I love this passage from the Summa. It’s so deep and affirming, and places proper love of oneself in such a high regard.

“Love is a unitive force.” A lot of Catholics like to always define love as “willing the good of the other”, which is a great definition in its own place, but seems to be used too often to suck the beauty and joy out of love. No, love is a force, a force that unites, the force that takes two and makes them one. This is also implies that our love of God is necessarily directed towards our divinization (or “theosis” as the Greeks call it).

In a sense, “self love” is an inappropriate term, because love is a unitive force between two people. But a man is “one with himself” which is something more than unity or friendship, more than love as we generally use the word. It’s something more, not less.

To love yourself is to be one with yourself, and it’s only from this unity that love of others is possible at all. This is the principle, the form, and the root of all other friendships. We can be united to others only insofar as we are one with ourselves. This is a truth that’s confirmed in all my experience: the best and most reliable friends are those who love themselves best, knowing their own worth and goodness.

This idea of self love as oneness leads to an interesting link between self love and integrity, which is also a matter of being one, whole, integrated. If you love yourself, you won’t deceive or betray yourself. You’ll be true to your own values.

So, how do you actually love yourself?

Some people really struggle with this. I think it’s something most of us are ignorant of in our society, and if anything it’s even worse among Christians, since we place so much importance on sacrifice and dying to self and our own unworthiness of salvation. But God made us good, and it is good to love what is good. God loves us, and it is good to love what God loves. And it is good to love those who are closest to us, such as our friends and family, and no one (besides God) is closer to a man than himself. Accepting this is a good start.

Then, treat yourself like you would treat a good friend in your situation, or like a good friend would treat you. Or as Jordan Peterson puts it in ’12 Rules for Life’, “Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping” (rule 2). It takes a little time and imagination, but after a while it grows more and more habitual to be good to yourself. It’s not merely indulging yourself, and it’s not just putting in the work to improve. It’s caring for your good as a whole being. You need exercise and sustenance and rest and recreation [what a beautiful word].

As noted above, integrity is critical to self love. You have to recognise your values and live according to them. You have to be honest with yourself and with others, because we can only be one with ourselves to the extent that we hold to the truth of who and what we are.

Going to confession is a good exercise in this honesty and integrity, as is doing penance, because it means facing up to ourselves including our failures, and then working to make things right. It might sound paradoxical to say penance is an expression of self love, but there it is.

Another important part of self love is surrounding yourself with love. Make the effort to stay in touch with family and friends, and to make new ones too. Frequent the sacraments. Read scripture and good books. Make time to pray. Watch wholesome TV (‘Queer Eye’ springs to mind). Spend time in nature (it’s strange to say, but there’s a lot of love in nature).

(image links to a good article on Aquinas’s advice for dealing with sadness)

That’s all I’ve got for now! God bless!

How to be happy – some tips

  1. Live well. It sounds obvious right? But it’s worth saying as a starting point, that happiness will follow from living well.
  2. Live consciously. This ties into my first point, because you need to figure out what it means in practice to live well, and because you need to become conscious of where you aren’t living well so that you can correct it. Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living. Don’t live on autopilot.
  3. Move forwards. That is, make your life better each day. Put in work each day to grow, to learn, to deepen your relationships, to help a friend, to make your life a little easier, whatever. Just keep moving forwards making things better. These things add up, and they have meaning.
  4. Face your problems. This goes back to point 2 and 3. Identify your problems and their roots as much as you can, and find ways to proactively address them bit by bit. Don’t ignore a problem or put off facing it, because it won’t go away.
  5. Love yourself. Self love provides a certain unity to your own soul, which is the basis for all love and friendship with others, according to St Thomas Aquinas.
  6. Trust entirely in Providence. Everything that happens is part of God’s will, and is therefore good. We ought to accept all things, good and bad, that come to us as being directly from God’s hand and give Him thanks for all of it. Especially for suffering, because it means God is bringing us some great blessing that will more than make up for the suffering.
  7. Life is a gift: be grateful and enjoy it. The worst ingratitude is to receive a gift and not enjoy it. Gratitude is arguably the centre of our faith. The word “Eucharist” means thanksgiving, and it’s our great sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Father, offering up all of our lives and the whole cosmos in union with Jesus, in joyful thanksgiving.

Thoughts on suffering

Life is suffering.

Gautama Buddha

I believe that the large majority of suffering comes from the refusal to suffer. We refuse to face and properly suffer our own suffering, and we refuse to face and compassionate the suffering of others as well. But in this refusal, we just compound the suffering.

Suffering can be greatly alleviated, both within ourselves and in others, just by giving it some attention and kindness, and allowing it to be what it is. The suffering is trying to communicate that something is wrong, and it needs to be heard and acknowledged. When we compassionately hear out suffering, it will become quieter, because it trusts that its problems have been heard and are being attended to. We also gain some of the understanding needed to attend to problems.

But if we reject suffering, then we are heaping the pain of rejection onto the existing suffering. Whether it’s to our own or to another’s suffering, we are effectively saying, “no one cares about you” to the part of the person that is suffering. No one wants to hear that. It then makes the suffering try to look after itself, either by crying out all the more for attention, or by hiding itself away, becoming unconscious, placing walls around itself, refusing vulnerability and life itself. But the suffering is part of us: if the suffering is hiding, we are hiding; if the suffering is rejected, we are rejected.

We refuse to suffer because we are afraid that suffering will destroy us. And actually, it will.

If you allow it, suffering will break your heart. But hearts are made to be broken. A heart that won’t break is as worthless as a heart that won’t beat. This is how hearts are purified and trained in the ways of a higher love and a deeper joy.

Suffering is a cry for wholeness. When you suffer it properly, with attention and compassion, you bring that cry into yourself, you take on its lack of wholeness. You become the suffering. But in embracing it with attention and compassion, you also grant it something of the wholeness it was lacking, because now it is united with yourself; now it is loved and acknowledged; now it is not alone. Compassion is itself a unifying force, and brings a bit more wholeness to everything it touches.

God had one son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering.

St Augustine

It is compassion that brought Jesus to the cross. In His compassion, He united Himself to all of humanity: all of the suffering inflicted on us, and all of the suffering we inflict on others. He took it all into Himself. In this way, He offered all of creation to the Father, forgave our sins, and created a new, united, humanity in His broken body. His radical, ultimate compassion has granted the promise of wholeness to the world.

But we too must embrace the cross, if we wish to be saved. We have to embrace the way of compassion, daring to suffer and have our hearts broken. We must dare to be united to the entire suffering world.

“If we wish to be saved” from what? Hell, of course. But what is hell? I think that hell is the refusal to suffer.

At the judgment, we will each have to suffer all that we are due. What suffering are we due? We are due all the suffering of our fellow humans who we have failed to compassionate. And we are due even more for the suffering we cause. I believe that as long as we refuse this suffering, resisting and fighting against it, we will be stuck with it in its compounded, hellish form, but if we take on the suffering with compassion, we will have our hearts thoroughly broken, pass through the suffering and be purified, before entering into heaven. For as long as we resist suffering, it is hell, but once we accept it with compassion, it becomes purgatory, which is the way to heaven.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

(Matthew 5:2-10)

Time

Yesterday morning the clocks went forwards an hour. Which sounds very dull, admittedly. But when you break down what is really happening, there’s something much more interesting going on.

Imagine if you didn’t understand our modern concept of time. If you understood time in terms of the natural rhythms of life, sunrise and sunset, full moon and new moon, birth and death. What would British summertime even mean? (and while we’re at it, what would British mean?)

It would mean that we all simultaneously agree to wake up one hour earlier/closer to sunrise, and move our schedules forwards an hour too. Incredibly, we all make this change at once, waking an hour earlier every day, so that we can enjoy one hour more of sunlight. Millions of people, most confessing that they are “not morning people”, all doing what they need to do to wake an hour earlier every single day.

It is astonishing that we think of it as losing an hour’s sleep and not as simply waking earlier every day. It says something about our separation from nature. For us, time has become something artificial, something primarily about other people’s rhythms, not the natural world’s. It has become something we create and define, a rhythm we dictate rather than dance to. In this note, thank God for the Church’s liturgical calendar, with its lumpy organic character, giving a bit of rhythm to the life of the soul. Thank God we don’t have a sterile religion, without feasts and seasons and God given rhythm.

We should also recognise the power of reframing our ideas. If we were all told to move our lives to be an hour earlier, we’d say no. If we asked those who wake up at 7 to suddenly start waking up at 6 each morning, they’d say it’s asking too much. But if we reframe it as just changing the clocks and missing one hour of sleep, we can all do that and we hardly even mention it (except for me, it seems). We have made a significant change consistently across a large population, just by a small change to our thinking, a slight shift to our frame of reference.

God bless you!

What to do with the statues?

In the wake of black lives matter protests, there’s been a lot of attention given to many statues. What do we do with our lovely statues of less than lovely people?

Firstly, we should acknowledge that statues aren’t merely a historical record, and taking them down is anything but erasing history. It’s insane that people (including the PM) even try to make this argument. Adolf Hitler had a significant effect on our history, but we don’t give him a statue. We use statues to celebrate and immortalise those we hold up as heroes. They’re usually raised up for us to literally look up to.

With that out of the way, what do we do? I think we should obviously remove statues of bad people. People who we don’t want to celebrate any more. People like Bristol’s Edward Colston, merchant, philanthropist, slave trader and Tory MP.

What about, say, Winston Churchill? Churchill was a hero for the British war effort, but also a terrible racist, and arguably responsible for the deaths of millions of Indians. He was incredibly racist, even by the standards of his day (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racial_views_of_Winston_Churchill). Should we continue to uphold him as a hero?

I think we need to acknowledge that Churchill played two different roles in two different stories. In one he was the hero, and in the other he was the villain. Does one story discount the other? Not entirely, but they can’t be neatly separated either. Was he a hero? I think it’s ok to say, “yes, but…”. Was he a villain? It’s ok to say “yes, despite…”.

In this, I think that Churchill epitomises the ambiguity of the British empire itself. An empire that did do much good, but also much evil. It’s ok to say it was both. I think the empire was more bad than good, but it’s ok to acknowledge and celebrate the good, so long as we also recognise the evil.

So should we take Churchill’s statues down? Would we be throwing out the baby with the bathwater? I don’t know. We’d take them down if he was a pedophile, so maybe we should take them down for him being a horrific racist; it’s maybe just a question of how much it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Can we celebrate him despite his racism and if we can, is that a bad sign about us?

I don’t know. Maybe Churchill doesn’t make the cut, and maybe he does. Maybe we have to learn to accept the contradictions of history and of life, and not be too quick to resolve them. If we have the patience to hold them in tension, we can learn and we can grow. The crucial thing is for us to learn, and learn from, both stories. History is complicated and the world isn’t neatly separated into good people and evil people. We need to grasp this if we are to make any progress.

God bless you!

On gluttony

What is gluttony? According to its Catholic Encyclopedia entry, gluttony is ‘the excessive indulgence in food and drink. The moral deformity discernible in this vice lies in its defiance of the order postulated by reason, which prescribes necessity as the measure of indulgence in eating and drinking.’ It is also one of the seven deadly sins/cardinal vices, and yet it seems to be widely forgotten today.

‘Food is to be taken in so far as it supports our life, but not to the extent of enslaving us to the impulses of desire.’ (St John Cassian) Food was made to nourish us as its primary purpose, and to deny it this is to twist it out of its own nature, and into something that is both harmful and wasteful.

What’s more, gluttony subverts the created order in which the mind rules over the body, managing its needs and desires, and lets the body and its desires instead rule the mind. It attaches us to bodily/earthly realities, and so prevents us from rising to spiritual/celestial realities.

Gluttony also feeds the next cardinal vice, lust. This vice we hear about all the time. St John Cassian said, ‘No one whose stomach is full can fight mentally against the demon of unchastity.’ Indulgence spills out to indulgence. First the flesh demands its basic good and pleasure of food, and then it goes on to its higher good and pleasure of sex.

According to St Thomas, there are five ways to be gluttonous: too soon, too expensively, too much, too eagerly, too daintily. While growing obesity levels are visible and concerning, gluttony is much more than getting fat, and likely affects most people in the western world. Being excessively fussy is itself a form of gluttony.

So how should we oppose this vice? St John Cassian: ‘A clear rule for self-control handed down by the Fathers is this: stop eating while still hungry and do not continue until you are satisfied.‘ I’m not sure how hungry/unsatisfied this requires, but at least try to leave some room (and not just for dessert!).

Speaking of dessert, I won’t say anything against that, nor against enjoying life generally. But we do need to learn moderation, and eat with the end of nourishment in mind. Food should absolutely be enjoyed as a gift from God, but we have to watch not to abuse it.

God bless 🙏

Am I wasting my life?

(tl;dr: Yes, definitely)

The other day I had to delete a couple of games from my phone because I realised they were a) addictive b) taking too much of my time and c) not even very fun. So yes, I definitely tend towards wasting my time and therefore my life.

Then there’s the time I spend watching TV. Multiple hours each day in front of the box. That can’t be good. And then there’s all of the things I do and then regret.

I like to imagine that when we die, God shows us all of the stats for our earthly lives, like you can see on a video game. Things like jokes told, total time spent on mobile (excluding phone calls), friends made, friends lost, total time spent in prayer, total money donated to charity, biggest expense, total time helping others, total time laughing, total steps taken, total carbon footprint, time dominated by gluttony/lust/envy/greed/wrath/pride/sloth, total apples eaten, etc. etc., and with breakdowns for all the data over time. But I don’t think my stats would look very good.

I also like to imagine we get to see a highlights reel showing all of our best and worst moments. I’m not sure I’ll like watching my highlights reel either actually… Too much bad and not enough good.

I’m glad to say that we’re not judged on the basis of these stats or highlights, and don’t have to reach certain thresholds to enter heaven (although they maybe give a rough idea of purgatory time). But I don’t want to die and realise I wasted my life. Or even just a portion of my life.

Why did God make you? A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next. [From the Baltimore Catechism]

So what am I going to do about it?

  1. Delete any apps that waste my time
  2. Use the daily examen prayer to make sure I use my time/energy/life right each day
  3. Commit more time to prayer
  4. Watch less TV

God bless

Duty, authority and freedom

I was recently described as being lawful-good. If you’re unaware of alignment charts, it’s a way of summarising characters as the combination of two scales: lawful to chaotic, and good to evil. At first I felt offended by my new label, like I’d been called boring right to my face. I tried feebly to argue it, but quickly realised they were right (which just reaffirms my lawful-goodness).

And then, I discovered that I like it. I like authority and I like rules, and I find actual fun in establishing or amending both. I regularly come up with new rules and find new principles to live by. I like when things are well ordered and I dislike when they are disordered. I actually like seeing authority being exercised (when done well). I love the idea of duty, and of living by a strict code (like batman, or a samurai).

And yes, I’ll accept that I’m “good” as well. By which I mean, I largely believe that others’ good is generally my good. I believe that being good to others is the best path to happiness, and so I try to be good to others.

With this in mind, I have to ask myself, is duty and authority contrary to freedom? Am I less free than my chaotic friends? Does lawfulness and or goodness make me a slave?

No. In fact, the opposite is true: the fulfillment of duty and submission to authority is absolutely necessary to freedom – for the individual as well as for society.

Why? Because freedom is simply life according to truth. The truth of who and what I am, and the truth of my situation. And duty is the truth of who I am in relation to others, while authority is the truth of the relation of the whole to its parts.

While you can violently force people to live contrary to truth, deception is far and away the best way to enslave someone. You tell them you are their benefactor, or that their friends are their enemies, or that they are worthless, or that their suffering and work is actually for their own benefit etc. We are forced to live confined to an unreal world, denied the opportunity to be who we truly are, in the world as it truly is.

If we want liberation, for ourselves or for others, the first point must always be to expose the lie. Generally, it is some variation of that we are worthless, or powerless, or alone, and usually a combination of all three. When we realise that we are beloved children of God Himself, that all of Heaven is on our side, and all of creation is our brother and sister and mother, we are set free from these lies, and we enter into the freedom of the children of God.

To do our duty is to live the truth of not being alone. I serve you and you serve me, because we are united. We are something to each other; we mean something to each other. I am a son, a brother, a friend, an employee, a colleague, a citizen, a fellow human, a fellow creature, and much more. And to play these roles well, is no more than to be myself.

Similarly, to obey authority is to live the truth that we are part of something greater than ourselves, and that our own greatness lies in playing our part well. The part must submit itself to the whole in order to be realised. We humble ourselves for the unity and the good of the whole of which we are a part, like the individual instruments in an orchestra, each giving way to the others, such that the beauty of all together and of every one singly is magnified.

There will be times when those in authority must be opposed however, and on the same basis. When they oppose the unity and the good of the whole, they lose their real authority, and are left with an empty facade, ready to crumble. When they no longer serve harmony, those who seek harmony will no longer serve them.

God bless you!