Faith And Doubt Amid Tragedies

With recent tragic events in our world, it is more necessary than ever for a theologian to answer the question of the compatibility of a world that holds evil and the existence of an omnipotent and all-loving God.  These events force the obscure and abstract study and thoughts of theology to encounter reality with an intensity that the latter seems to render the former trivial.  Evil in our world seems to have shattered the ontological conception of theology, viz. the science of the Divine, because of the all the doubts, fears, and emotional stress that we undergo as a result of these tragic events.  Yet, it is here that I maintain there is another definition of theology proposed by St. Anselm in the 2nd century—faith seeking understanding—that is quite apropos and helpful.

In a film called Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero, a man was asked what went through his mind as the events of September 11th was taking place and he responded:

It was like- it’s weird, but it felt like our great- I mean, it was a great moment of separation. You know, there was nothing I could do. There was nothing I could do. My mother was in that, and there was absolutely nothing I could do.

Here is where our humanity sees its own limitations.  The realization of helplessness and of vulnerability brings us back to realizing that God is God and we are not.  All of our ambition to think that we can do anything and conquer anything will crumble in the presence of things that are out of our control.

When we are unable to make sense of these tragic events, we begin to either hang on to hope and our faith in God strengthens or we lose hope and reject God’s very own existence.  Continuing with the Faith and Doubt, Reverend Joseph Griesediek’s statement about his faith can be used, in my opinion, to best sum up the opinions of many of us in these times of tragedy:

After September 11th, the face of God was a blank slate for me. God couldn’t be counted on in the way I thought God could be counted on. That’s what I felt as I stood on Ground Zero. God seemed absent. And it was frightening because the attributes that I had depended upon had all been stripped away. And I was left with nothing but that thing we call faith. But faith in what? I wasn’t so sure.

This is not the usual way people come to intelligibly understand the nature of evil since it involves an abstraction and an attempt to reconcile God with it.  While it may seem absurd to assert, I believe this is theology at its most profound and uninhibited moment for it is here that hope must hang every piece of itself onto God.  The question of and the demand for justice which so many ask after tragedies is not so different than C.S. Lewis’ personal inquiry prior to his conversion.  Yet what is so profoundly interesting is that for Lewis it was a question which led to conversion, while for many of us it is a question that separates us from God, leading even to the rejection of His existence.

Moreover, the attempt to see good in tragedies seems to be fruitless for many of us since the degree of evil seems too great.  This fruitlessness is neither illogical nor incoherent since it attempts to understand these tragic events with human reason.  Yet, as it seems to me, faith in the Good demands a certain trust in mystery and this is simply the point made by Rabbi Brad Hirschfield from Faith and Doubt:

If God’s ways are mysterious, live with the mystery. It’s upsetting. It’s scary. It’s painful. It’s deep. And it’s interesting. No plan. That’s what mystery is. It’s all of those things.

While we are real people in a real narrative, we must not fool ourselves into thinking that everything we know is everything that is to be known, or that human reason is sufficient to answer all the mysteries of the universe.  We must humbly accept that we know very little and we know even less about the mysteries of God.  But this does not mean that we cannot question that which involves us at the most fundamental level—life and death—for it is because of these questions that theology exists at all.  Yet, this does not mean that theology is aimed at exhausting the answers to these questions, it is simply a means to glimpse at the totality of existence.  In the end, we must either see the world with the eyes of faith or doubt.  If we see the world with faith, we must be patient, hang on to hope, and recognize that there are mysteries beyond our own knowing.  If we see the world with doubt, we remain as ignorant as those seeing the world with faith, but we differ with them insofar as we are hopeless people whose thirst for clarity for mysterious events will never be quenched.

Life of Pi: Beauty over Truth?

Retrievals

Life of Pi has long since made it triumphant march through the theatres, so if you have not seen it, your only decision at this point is whether it is worth a rental. It is.

Beautifully filmed and well-acted, it is one of those rare movies capable of capturing the interest of everyone in the room, ranging from my two-year old son to his grandmother (about whose age I will not venture to speculate). And, what is even more rare: there is no objectionable material in the movie. Nothing, that is, except for its philosophical elevation of beauty over truth. There is plenty to object to in that, though it may not be immediately obvious why you should do so. I’ll say a word on that at the end.

If you cheered during the 1996 movieEmma when Mr. Knightly declared that he did not care for surprises because “

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Half A Moon

The day has gone
And night came soon
But I only found
Half of a moon

Sounds from the deep
Echo the sad tune
As I stand and stare
At half of a moon

Your voice I hear
A lullaby croon
Like we once embraced
Under this half of a moon

I was once young and restless
No more than a goon
But I grew in your embrace
Under that half of a moon

But once you departed
I turned to a loon
Day after day looking
At a half of a moon

So why did you go
Early that one June?
Leaving behind
This half of a moon

The chair has been kicked
And breath runs out soon
Forever I’ll remember you
And this half of a moon…

A Thought On A Song

I have been listening to some old music lately, especially music that was popular when I was in my late teens and early twenties.  Today, I stumbled across A Public Affair by Jessicia Simpson, a hit and a song I really enjoyed when I was about 22.

This reflection is for A Public Affair specifically, but it seems to apply to most popular songs of today.

For the youth of America, the good life is portrayed as one filled with wealth and sexual gratification.  We need to look no further than the recent music to find evidence for this observation.  And as Peter Kreeft once observed, music is the backdoor to the soul for it escapes the scrutiny of reason.  Thus, more and more our youths are beginning to search for an unrealistic materially and sexually-filled life thinking that it is what the good life looks like; they begin to think that a good life is a life marked with pure freedom to do as they wish.  A Public Affair accomplishes this task with its catchy tune and shallow lyrics sung by a talented Jessica Simpson.

The first few lines of ‘A Public Affair’ read, “There go the street lights. The night’s officially on.  I got the green light, to do, whatever I want.  I’m gonna stand outside the box, and put the rules on hold.”  Immediately, the listener is proposed two ways to see the good life: pure self-autonomy and self-satisfaction.  Therefore, for a person who is searching for happiness there is only one person to please and no one else: himself.  If we can do whatever we want and put the rules on hold, then we essentially have no need to consider the emotional, mental, or physical healthcare of others.  But it is precisely when we begin to care for only ourselves, the song suggests, that we begin to live a good and happy life.

The song also seems to suggest that to be happy we must be able to do whatever we want since the path to happiness lies in pure freedom.  This is a conclusion reached by the lyrics, “do what you wanna do…tonight the world does not exist.”  This conclusion, of course, is to be understood in conjunction with the other lyrics that call for pure self-autonomy and self-satisfaction.  In short, because we should only look after ourselves and our own welfare, it is therefore permissible that we should ignore anything that is of the world that restricts us from a “good time.”  Thus, we are told not to let the restrictions of the world force themselves upon us as we are called to put all rules “on hold,” and to imagine that the “world does not exist.”  This leads to an understanding of true happiness and the good life as ideas that result from ignoring all moral restrictions, leaving only the only moral axiom to be: Do that which feels good for me.

It seems that A Public Affair buys into the tenets of moral relativism.  Moral relativism isn’t new to Americans, though.   The good life, according to relativism, is different from person to person and it is achieved through happiness, which also differs from person to person.  Therefore we should pursue happiness in whatever way we can, even if it means leaving others hurt or harmed.  This idea is quite appealing insofar as it holds the one searching for happiness, the self, as the center of which all other things revolve.  As such, we have achieved the good life if we have somehow satisfied ourselves by being happy.  Accordingly, finding happiness is about recognizing the here and the now; the “opportunity, that you don’t wanna miss”: Do it now because it will feel good!  Relativism’s contribution as the viewing lens of life in America is rather astounding, and because of this, songs like A Public Affair hold a popular place in the hearts of the youths of America.

A closer consideration and examination of the song and of its proposal of happiness would probably suggest that it has failed at its reduction of happiness.  The questions become: What is true happiness and what is the good life?  I shall attempt this answer in a future post.

To His Maddie

Image
If only you can speak or mime
there would not be this wasting of time.
Your lips would utter demands so sweet,
and they, merrily, my ears would meet.
You could ask me for milk to drink,
or to be changed when you made a stink
You could demand that silent sleep,
or for those toys to come in heaps.
Your innocent joys you would express
in voice so fair and words impress.
And I, for my part, would enjoy
your company without much coy.

Alas as nature would have it:
your mouth, no words shall come from it.
Your big brown eyes, so innocent, deny blame
that they can’t even your wants name.
So as you sit there and cry in yearn for naught,
I can do nothing but guess what cause distraught.
We stare at each other, you and I,
as you express your need and I
stand still in a bewildered state
to wonder why it’s me that you hate.
But suddenly my heart informed my head to know
that you’re only a baby, and I love you so!

Sometimes

Sometimes the days could be sunny,
yet life still seems so cold.
The self yearns for another
to love and to hold

Sometimes the days could be frigid,
and still, life is full of warmth.
The self has found another
to embrace in its arms

Sometimes the days could be rainy,
alas life is still dry and dead.
The self, held captive by loneliness;
love, from it, has fled

Sometimes the nights could be scary,
yet life is filled with dreams.
The self has been loved,
and loved so much, it seems.

Freedom and Imprisonment

I recall a conversation I had once with a friend who joked that entering into marriage is the akin to freely imprisoning oneself.  To this, I retorted that it doesn’t seem to be imprisonment, but structured freedom, a true kind of freedom.

A recent piece on First Things raises some serious concerns about how we actually look at freedom.  Keeping our options alive by not entering into marriage is one of the bigger misunderstandings we make, not only about the nature of marriage itself, but of true freedom.

We think that freedom means the ability to do everything that we want to do, and it does.  But we also think that true freedom must be actualized by doing everything that we can do, and it does not.  Freedom is the pure potential to do everything that is in our power to do, but true freedom resides only in the choices we make that draw us closer to Goodness and Truth.

The exercise of our own will is what makes us free creatures, but its exercise for the good allows us to become truly free.  There is no accident in Christ’s Divine wisdom that, “you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.”  These words remind us of two kinds of enslavements: to Satan and to God.  Vicious acts enslave us to Satan and virtuous acts enslave us to God.

The problem is that, for most of us, vicious acts seem like true freedom because they allow for us to satiate our bodily passions as they present themselves.  In other words, when we want sex, we simply go to a bar and pick up someone; when we want to have an extramarital affair, we simply have to find someone who is willing to do this as well (and there are plenty of options cf. Ashley Madison); when we want to euthanize ourselves, we simply have to find a willing doctor or facility; when we want to abort our children, we simply have to find some reasons why they would be inconvenient; when we want to kill, we simply have to do so in the name of justice; and we do all of this because we believe that to truly be free, we must be able to carry out whatever whimsical feeling we have at whatever moment of our lives.  Little do we realize that these are the very acts that enslave us to sin.  We are like the nine kings of men from the Lord of the Ring who wield our power thinking that we are the most powerful, not realizing that we are still enslaved to the One Ring.  We enslave ourselves convinced that we are truly free.

True freedom then, is when we act in a way that allows for ourselves to grow into our whole humanity.  In other words, true freedom is making choices that build our moral characters.  Having been married for a bit over a year and a father for a few months now, I would say that marriage and fatherhood provided me with a structured freedom that I find more freeing than ever.  I falter in my roles as I struggle with temptations (like wanting to go out and so forth), but I find that when I choose to exercise my will in a way that benefits my wife and child that I grow as a husband and a father, and in this growth I realize that I’m not at all “tied down”; instead, I’m so much more free.  True freedom is therefore only achieved when we choose to act in a way that builds ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities.  But true freedom also means that all these will enslave us to God’s will, and this enslavement is anything but restriction on our freedom.  Here, there is no better thought than Bl. John Paul II’s on the matter:

True freedom is not advanced in the permissive society, which confuses freedom with license to do anything whatever and which in the name of freedom proclaims a kind of general amorality. It is a caricature of freedom to claim that people are free to organize their lives with no reference to moral values, and to say that society does not have to ensure the protection and advancement of ethical values. Such an attitude is destructive of freedom and peace. There are many examples of this mistaken idea of freedom, such as the elimination of human life by legalized or generally accepted abortion.

Let me in conclusion address more especially those who are united with me in belief in Christ. Man cannot be genuinely free or foster true freedom unless he recognizes and lives the transcendence of his being over the world and his relationship with God; for freedom is always the freedom of man made in the image of his Creator. The Christian finds in the Gospel support for this conviction and a deeper understanding of it. Christ, the Redeemer of man, makes us free.

Let me conclude with this song that describes how I feel about my freedom: