Philosophy

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

The Sins of Our Fathers

I believe that we are responsible for crimes and sins committed by those who went before us, and also for those done on our behalf by those in authority.

I know this is contrary to our modern ideas of justice, rooted in an individualistic worldview. But that worldview is incomplete.

I am not merely myself, I am also a member of various societies: my family, my school or workplace, my town, my country, and the Church. And each of these societies has a life of its own, living and acting as one, and so, is capable of both obeying and disobeying God. And as far as I remain a member of these societies, I participate in both its merit and guilt.

society

This doesn’t mean that I take on all of the guilt of every individual in society. But I do bear the guilt of society acting as a whole, and every association I belong to, even if I wasn’t even alive when its crimes were committed.

What am I to do? How can I be saved from these sins? How can we be saved from them? I must simply repent. Then in me, my society will be repenting, and being brought to repentance member by member. We must repent, do penance, and pray for the salvation of our families, communities, nations and Church, just as we must for ourselves.

I especially think of our national sins, of wars, colonialism, slavery, exploitation, abortion, etc., and of the sins committed by leaders in the Church, especially in the sex abuse scandal. And I believe that actually, this will be crucial to re-evangelising our society.

Thank you for reading, and God bless you!

 

P.S. I think it would be especially good in this regard, if on the anniversary of national crimes and sins, we took it as a day of fasting and penance, especially those crimes we are persevering in. For example, the 27th of October and 27th of April for the UK’s abortion act (royal assent and commencement, respectively), and the 20th of March for Iraq war. It would be great if the national bishops conferences could promote this too.

P.P.S. I watched a documentary a while ago about the descendants of prominent Nazis, titled ‘Hitler’s Children’, I think. It showed how they were haunted, even decades later, by the guilt of their parents’ and grandparents’ crimes, with many doing penance by working to prevent such atrocities ever being repeated, and one woman moving to the desert and having herself sterilised. It seems to me, that communal and hereditary guilt is a simple psychological fact, that it would be foolish to deny or dismiss.

 

God bless you!

What should government be?

[This post got stuck as a draft and now isn’t very timely. Oh well, better late than never!]

As we approach the general election on the 8th May, I thought it would be good to think a bit about politics. So, let’s start at the very beginning…

Where is authority ultimately from?

Authority comes from truth. Equivalently, we can say that authority comes from God, the author of all creation. We should listen to the truth and to those who instruct us according to the truth, simply because what’s in accordance with the truth is in accordance with our true being. As the (virulent atheist) anarchist, Mikhail Bakunin said,

Does it follow that I reject all authority? Perish the thought. In the matter of boots, I defer to the authority of the boot-maker.

This requires humility, because we have to recognise that sometimes, the truth, including the truth of ourselves, is not in accordance with our own wills and desires. At times like this, our desires, if not submitted to truth and reason, actually enslave us, denying us our true dignity and glory.

Today, this is probably not such a common concept of authority. We live in a world that is “post-God” and “post-truth”, believing that these tend towards oppression. Instead, the world believes in desire and force. What’s important is that I claim my “rights”, over against yours. Authority is then just a word for more established power.

Where does government come from?

My guess is, that government more or less grew out of natural structures of authority. At the lowest level, a father is naturally and historically the head of his family, as the one primarily responsible for its defense and provision, and therefore most aware of how to make the best decisions for it. In society at a larger level, say an extended family or a village, a father figure will emerge too; one who is strong, wise, and provides for the people. At each larger level, “father” figures may emerge, as and when groups become more integrated, and need someone to give them unity and provide for the common good.

Of course, right from the lowest level, and right from the beginning, violence ruins this lovely human family. There are bad fathers, bad chieftains, and bad kings, and then there are usurpers, often friends and relatives, who take power for themselves with the best or worst of motives, so that “authority” is rarely held by those who deserve it.

Plato believed that the ideal government was that of the Philosopher Ruler, but that this would degenerate into a timarchy (military/honour based rule, e.g. Sparta, or feudal [Samurai] Japan), which would degenerate into oligarchy (wealth based rule- think of the USA), which then degenerates into democracy (people/pleasure based rule- think of ancient Athens, or Norway, Iceland, or Sweden), which finally degenerates into  tyranny (the rule of absolute violence, and unrestrained desire). I think he was onto something. It is essentially the process of men and societies diverging from the highest good, Goodness Itself, to lesser, more divided goods, going through honour to wealth to selfish happiness to unrestrained desire.

What should government be?

The government’s duty is to serve the common good in accordance with the truth (it is impossible in discord with truth). Therefore, it should be honest; should seek the truth on every matter, with open, humble ears; it should respect the freedom of lower levels of government and society, which are generally better placed to look after their own common good; it should be firm in justice, but double so with itself; it should serve all, and respect all; it should be both strong and gentle; both reserved and courageous; it should be genuinely humble, never glorifying itself, but placing itself beneath others; it should be self-sacrificing and unprofitable; and undoubtedly much more. To simplify, a good government, and the people who compose it, should have all the qualities of a good father.

At this point you’re perhaps thinking this is literally paternalistic government. But the issue of paternalism would actually be an issue in a father too. The problem is the same in both overbearing parents and overbearing governments: both children and peoples need freedom in order to flourish, including the freedom to make mistakes.

Is this realistic?

If we could have a government of saints, absolutely! But saints are hard to come be, and generally wouldn’t want such a position. They know too well, how violence and sin thrive in power, and they don’t seek power, or its prestige and rewards. Their humility keeps them from seeking any position except the least. And the struggle for power, is a struggle, and they do not desire struggle and strife, but love and unity.

Still, it’s good to have ideals to reach for. If you’re in government, be like a good father and you’ll do well. For the rest of us, this can shape our engagement with politics, and perhaps we’ll see a conversion of our government.

palace_of_westminster2c_london_-_feb_2007

 

Finally

‘You know that among the pagans their so-called rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all. For the Son of Man Himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.’
[Mk 10:42-45]

Whenever I read this passage, it makes me wonder if a Christian should be in politics at all. I don’t suppose Christian virtue would go very far. After all, the kingdoms of the world belong to satan, and are given to his worshippers [Lk 4:6]. I guess we must engage according to the gospel, and abandon any struggle for domination.

 

Please, share your thoughts! God bless you!

Quotes, quotes, quotes!

‘Justice renders to each one what is his, and claims not another’s property; it disregards its own profit in order to preserve the common equity.’
St. Ambrose of Milan, (339–397), Doctor of the Church

‘If love ruled on Earth, there would be no need for laws.’
Aristotle

‘Love is delight in what is good; the proper object of love is the good. To love is to wish good to someone.’
St. Thomas Aquinas

‘Remember that every government service, every offer of government-financed security, is paid for in the loss of personal freedom. Whenever a voice is raised telling you to let the government do it, analyze very carefully to see whether the suggested service is worth the personal freedom which you must forgo in return for such service.’
Ronald Reagan

‘The weak are always anxious for justice and equality. The strong pay no heed to either.’
Aristotle

‘Forsake all and you shall find all. Renounce desire and you will find peace.’
Thomas À Kempis

‘Mine are the heavens and mine is the earth. Mine are the nations, the just are mine, and mine the sinners. The angels are mine, and the Mother of God, and all things are mine; and God himself is mine and for me, because Christ is mine and all for me. What do you ask, then, and seek, my soul? Yours is all of this, and all is for you. Do not engage yourself in anything less or pay heed to the crumbs that fall from your Father’s table. Go forth and exult in your Glory! Hide yourself in it and rejoice, and you will obtain the supplications of your heart.’
St. John of the Cross

‘It is incomprehensible that God should exist, and it is incomprehensible that he should not exist.’
Blaise Pascal

Peace is not the absence of violence, but the process of justice.
Aram I, (b. 1947) Catolicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church, 2001

‘I repeat: to know how to say the Our Father, and to know how to put it into practice, this is the perfection of the Christian life.’
Pope John XXIII

‘What does it take to become a saint? Will it.’
St Thomas Aquinas

[these have been added to the quotes pages]

God bless you!

Life, choice, and freedom

Here are some thoughts, looking at two ways of understanding freedom, and so viewing the world. The two ways are life and choice (do you see where I’m going here?).

The freedom of life, is when the thing in question, be it a seed, a goat, a mother or an unborn child, is given the space and opportunity to go out of itself, growing, giving itself away, revealing the secret of its nature. To be free, is to be youwith all that that entails; to live out your gifts, talents, hopes, dreams, strengths, and weakness too. To not be free, is to have not-you imposed upon you, whether by violence or deception.

Freedom of choice on the other hand, considers matters as external to an individual you which is an abstract notion of an arbitrary will. It looks at all things as essentially separate from you, and with no inherently correct choice. Freedom, then, is to have as many options as possible, or equivalently, to have as much subject to your own arbitrary dominion as possible. To not be free is to have fewer choices. (Note that freedom here is always finite, with the constraints of nature an obstacle to your freedom.)

Freedom of life views the world around us as wonderful and bursting with life, each part valuable and dignified in and of itself, in intimate relationship with ourselves, and deserving of our care and respect. It sees it as our freedom to coexist joyfully with all others, sharing freedom as we ourselves are free. My freedom complements yours and yours complements mine.

Freedom of choice views the world around me, including my own body and being, as an obstacle to be conquered by my will, with no value besides what I myself assign to it at each moment. Everything and everyone is fundamentally cut off from me, and their freedom of choice naturally competes with my own. Everything is objectified.

image

Where eyes of life see a great jungle, with a cacophony that’s a symphony that’s a theophany, eyes of choice see a menu, with various prices and deals for various products for consumption.

Paradoxically, this “freedom of life” makes demands on us. But each of these demands, is not coming from outside of us, but from the truth itself, the truth of our reality within each situation. The demand comes from our deepest depths, and not from outside. In each situation, the demand is always to live as fully as possible, to be what and who you truly are within that situation. From time to time, this means heroism and sacrifice: that is life.

And as a far greater contradiction, the “freedom of choice” that tries to demand so much from the world, always ultimately enslaves me, because it makes my desires of the world, and so I am made subject to the world. In considering a matter as a mere choice, I am putting its options up for sale. Perhaps not to people, but at least to circumstances. And in the end, what am I selling but myself?

 

We have a real and inherent obligation to every creature, from algae to giant redwoods, from the crawling ant to the leaping antelope, from the beggar to the prisoner, from the newly conceived zygote to the terminally ill, and to ourselves too. And we are asked to fulfil this obligation insofar as each one is our neighbour, that is, as each is within our reach. It is the obligation to live and to give life, or equivalently, to love.

God bless you

God is a camera and the Saints are models

In every photo, there is an invisible presence. You cannot point to it within the photo, yet every portion of the photo bears witness to it. The picture does not contain the camera, but without the camera, there is no photo. It is always there and never seen.

To make a good photo, the whole scene must be arranged with the camera in mind. Every position, every arrangement, every pose, must be chosen with regard to the camera, so that the camera can bring out the best of everything before it.

Sometimes, the models look straight at the camera, entirely there to be captured. Sometimes, they don’t look directly at the camera, so they can be photographed as doing something else; but still, to make a good photo, the camera must still be in mind, with every aspect directed to the camera’s service.

Likewise in our lives, we must live with regard to God, who gives us being and is ever present, if we are to live well. Sometimes, we must look directly towards Him, offering direct worship, and being there entirely for Him. And sometimes, we must keep our eyes on whatever we are currently doing, but remain mindful of God, and orient our every action to His service and His pleasure. Whatever we are doing, we must do for the glory of God. That is the rule of the Saints.

st-therese

St Therese of Liseux, posing for a photo

God bless you

Me and the ladybug

Yesterday, as I walked to campus, a ladybug flew straight towards me, and landed gently on my finger. I wouldn’t have even felt it if I hadn’t seen it. I decided to let it stay, and move my hands to give it more places to go. Sometimes it took up my offer, and sometimes it stayed still or turned around. Eventually, it took out its wings, geared up and left me to continue my walk in peace.

In that brief moment, we were not competitors, colleagues, or obstacles to each other. We were not threats or opportunities for gain. We were just two living things together, two simple creatures on a short journey, enjoying each other’s existence. We were playmates. We were equals. We served no greater good, but existed for our own sake. The goodness that we were was more than enough.

By our existence, by our play, we were giving glory to our common creator. Because we served nothing, not even ourselves, we served God.

God bless you!

None of it is yours to keep

Have you noticed how for any TV or film series, the people who will most hate some part of it are almost always among the biggest fans of the series? It’s the people who have watched Doctor Who for years that will be most negative about the new Doctor, it’s the people who grew up on the Original Trilogy that will hate the prequels, and it’s the people who most love the 80s originals that most detest the unnecessary remakes. Why?

Because after a while, we begin to feel that something is owed to us. We know and like the previous Doctor. We knew what he was like and we loved him. We set up expectations, and then demands upon the future. The series must conform to my will. That’s not to say we want it predictable… just, unpredictable in the usual ways…

This sense of ownership, that the producers owe us, ruins the whole thing. Our expectations set us up for disappointments, and our imaginary debts set us up for outrage. And have you observed, how the angry superfans hold out a long time, before they let it go and get on with their lives? The torment can go on for years.

But the truth is, the world doesn’t owe us anything. It’s all a gift. If it’s not what we thought we wanted, it may be better, and if not, there is no injustice in that.

We want control over our lives, because we’re afraid. We’re afraid that the world will turn on us. Our experiences confirm, that all things are subject to decay and death, and so all will abandon us. So, we imagine that the things we are given are somehow under our power, that they are meant to meet our expectations, that they are subject to our demands. But this delusion doesn’t liberate us; rather, it only causes us to suffer.

So we ditch the delusion; but what do we do about decay and death and the world abandoning us? We accept this fear, but we meet it with hope. Hope that the next Doctor will be even better. Hope that the next episode will be good. Hope that those who truly live in the face of death will rise again, overcoming the futility of life.

Hope is not expectations, or demands, or imaginary debts, or mindless optimism. It is entrusting your future to God’s generous love.

In the face of a dying world, we look to Jesus, who says he is, “the Resurrection and the Life”, and we follow him to the cross. We cannot hold on to anything in this world; we do not truly possess even our own lives; we must relinquish our illusory and oppressive control, and live in constant gratitude, love, freedom and hope.

God bless you

True Beauty

Some people say we’re too obsessed with beauty, but actually the problem is just the opposite. We’re obsessed with “beauty standards”. But in all its forms, there’s never anything standard about beauty. Beauty is alive. Beauty is impenetrable. Beauty touches the newness of eternity itself. Standards are dull and dead. To see a standard is to miss the beauty.

We too often view reality as composed of static objects and lifeless facts, but in truth, nothing is static and nothing is lifeless. Even stillness is dynamic, because being itself is the supreme gift. Beauty is not in this or that, but in and beneath each and every thing, in their communion with and beyond each and every other.

We must abandon the idea of imposing standards from the outside, and instead bring out the true beauty already in all things, especially those that have been damaged.

Our world isn’t obsessed with beauty, it’s blind to it.

Peace and love