The Irrefutable Road

I know this is a very spooky topic. my telos is to help you reconsider where you stand in relation to it.

It is an intersection that we all will go through no matter who we are. St Augustine, foreseeing the sacking of Rome, struck the perfect note when he said that the only thing we can be certain about is death. Whether the uncertainty of the time stimulated him to think that way, it is evident we are no permanent wanderers in this passing world. St Augustine so urges us to be always ready if we long for our true fatherland. Especially when tragedy strikes, the wavering capacity of life appears so palpable; none of us knows when death will trample us with its hoof and end our journey. None of the victims (May God have mercy on their souls) in the Colorado shooting expected their lives to take such a sudden turn. On the following week, thirteen people’s lives were smashed on a car accident in Texas. The Sikh Community in Wisconsin could never foresee such a tragedy on a Sunday morning. We are anything because we have the breath of life; taking it away, we are reduced to dust; the master of life can be so callous about how quickly he calls us forward. So what is the right attitude to maintain in the face of such wavering certainty? What is the right mindset to have when we know death can be so cruel and abrupt?

 Socrates saw in death a way to put an end to the annoying disease called life. Interestingly and rightly so, he did not encourage suicide because he believed that we are the gods’ property and so we have no right to destroy what does not belong to us. His last words before he rendered his last breath were—we owe a cock to Aesculapius (the Crito). Aesculapius is believed to be the god of healing and wellness, so the cock is to be offered in thanksgiving for healing Socrates from the disease of being in the body, which hampered him from encountering true knowledge. For him, as he argued in the Apology, death is a good thing and nothing we should fear. “To fear death is like thinking oneself wise when he actually is not” (Apology 40c). As Socrates saw it, “death is either to be non-existent, or it is a trip to another place where all souls go”. If the former is true, then it would be like a “dreamless night from which one never awakes” (Apology 40d, e). If the latter is true, then he would gladly go there for there are quite a few great thinkers he would like to meet (Apology 41a). Finally, he would have knowledge of the really real (things in themselves). The body would no longer be a hindrance to knowing the really real as it is (Phaedo 72e-77a). What do we see here? Socrates deals with death by believing that death does not end our journey here. Death here, as he saw it, is the end of the first phase of the journey; it’s an end that opens to a new beginning.

A new beginning is what Christianity claims as well, but it is a beginning that may open to true happiness depending on the kind of life we live here. If Socrates did not weigh in the possibility of [dying completely], Christianity does. Christians know that there is death and death [beware of the language here]. One is what Kierkegaard calls “The Sickness unto Death”— to knowingly refuse to conform oneself to the image of humanity revealed by God in the person of Christ. So death in this case means choosing hell. The other is to close our eyes here and open them in the Happy Jerusalem. When most people are talking about death, they mean it in the first sense. It’s kind of hard since it involves being separated from our loved ones; however they know they will have a better one after the separation. They don’t speak of it as if they have no hope and future.  

Christians acknowledge the power of death [in the first sense] over their lives here on earth. At the same time, Christianity recognizes that there is something or someone more potent than death. Without that something or someone, we would indeed succumb to the fear of death and would/should have every right to do so, but it is not so. So, we can repeat with St Paul: death where is your sting and your victory? Love, I want to say, is bigger than death; it conquers it, soothes its sting, calms its biting power, and reduces it to nothing. Christ is stronger than death. His sacrifice of love on the cross annihilates all death’s arrogance. So after the breath of life is taken away, we continue to live. If we follow Christ and his church, if we love God and neighbor, death is not the end. If we try our best, we have hope that we will inherit a much better life than what we know here.

How does that help us thwart our fear of death? Well, if we want to be happy, if we want to live where all our dreams become true at once, if we want to gaze upon the face of the Trinity for eternity, then we should welcome the prospect of death. We should absolutely fear death if it means not enjoying the “New Zion”; however, if we have tried our best to live the gospel, we should not be so tense when death is in the horizon. If we live the good life; if we truly try with our mind heart and soul to do God’s will, we should not be afraid of death. Though death seems a punishment in the eyes of those who are not in Christ, we Christians know our citizenship is in Heaven, and so death is one of the steps that we need to go through before we can reach our true country. We need to stay in the race, and not give up for our prize is greater than all the hardships we are enduring here. That’s where we draw our strength as Christians. Who am I kidding!? I know my and your natural inclination is to hold on to what we have. No dead has ever come back to tell us how it is over there. So I am well aware that I am not advocating an easy task. My hope is that you become less afraid over what we cannot control. My hope is that we understand what death means to you who call yourself Christians. As people of faith, we believe in Jesus, we rely on what He tells about the kingdom of God. We bet everything on it. We know if we win, we gain it all; if we lose, well we lose nothing.


The Winnable Fight

It is a sad fact that we are living in a world that’s becoming increasingly less religious. While lawmakers are directly passing laws challenging religious freedom, many people are publicly expressing their disagreement with religious teachings/doctrines. (Check out the latest survey on abortion, gay marriage, contraception… you will understand how controversial the church’s position is on these issues among people who called themselves religious). The interesting phenomenon is that those same individuals maintain that though they don’t see eye to eye with their church, they are still active members of the Church as if being a member of the Church does not mean following her teachings. Does that not simply confirm what St Paul had said: a time will come when people will not endure sound teaching… they will accumulate teachers that suits their own likings and will turn away from listening to the truth (2 Tim 3: 3-4). I believe what is at the foundation of this rejection of religious teachings is simply a lack of understanding of the Nature of God and the role of the Church in society. Hence, the dire need for a New Evangelization is manifest.

When we tell these people about God as the indwelling principle beauty, truth, and goodness, when we speak of a great spiritual force pervading all things, a common mind of which we are all parts, a pool of generalized spirituality to which we can all flow, they all tilt their ears to listen. They feel right at home. When we present God as loving, peaceful, forgiving, defender of the weak, they all feel drawn to Him. But the temperature quickly drops as soon as we mention God as One who has a purpose and a plan for each individual. They all turn away when we introduce that same God as concrete, prohibiting God with a determinate character who chastises those He loves. C. S. Lewis classified these kinds of people as Pantheists.  Allow me to scrutinize the credentials of pantheism.

C. S. Lewis noticed that pantheism is a natural inclination of the mind when it is left with no direction. It is the permanent ordinary level the mind sinks into under the influence of superstition. It becomes in that way a religion on its own. Of course, when great thinkers’ thoughts like Aristotle’s Four Causes, Plato’s method of thinking are rejected, what else could be expected? That’s when the church comes in; the leaders of the church, when making moral decision are not defending their personal interest; they are under the influence of the Holy Spirit inspiring them about what to decide. Two thousand years they have been doing that. That’s why they are still standing despite the many hardships she endured under the hands of government leaders. Had they been defending their baseless interest and not under the guidance of the Paraclete, no longer would they be a light for those in darkness, a voice for the voiceless, truth for those living in lies. “Those members of the Church” must recognize that truth before they start disagreeing with the Church. It is not about being insightful; it is not about using logic to come to lofty conclusion (though logic is very helpful); it is about having a peek into the Truth. Had they not, they would have been just like these people who use their reason to come up with hurtful conclusions. So are those members wrong then for making those conclusions? Yes because we tell them the truth; they reject it for their own selfish reason. Rejection of the truth is a sin; ignorance is not.

It is important to know that pantheism is not a false concept; however, it is even more important to acknowledge that it is not completely true. Christianity, for instance, agrees with it on many of the ways it understands God and man, but they disagree on where they go from there. Their conclusions are most of time incompatible.

They agree that God is present everywhere. Pantheists then conclude that He is concealed in all things and therefore a universal medium rather than a concrete thing. Christians conclude that God is present at every point of space and time, and locally present in none. This fatal conception also pushes pantheists to conclude that God must be equally present in both evil and good.  Both agree that we all depend on God and intimately related to Him. Christians defines that relation in term of Creator and created, whereas pantheists say that we are parts of Him, and contained in Him. They both see God as super-personal, but they understand that word differently. For the Christians, it means that God has a positive structure which we could never have guessed in advance, any more than knowledge of squares would have enabled us to guess at a cube. Christians so maintains that God is three persons while remaining one God just as a cube contains six squares while remaining a cube. Though Pantheists use super-personal to describe God, they treat Him as sub-personal.

It is always a mistake to conceive God as one of many. God is a particular Thing. In fact, He is the Real Thing or the Really Real (Torchia). He is the opaque center of all existences, the thing that simply and entirely is, the fountain of Facthood (C. S. Lewis), the unmoved mover (Aristotle), the thing that which nothing greater can be thought of (St Anselm). That’s exactly what pantheists fail to understand; they halfway understand Him, but sadly they refuse to embrace the portrayal of those who have had a glimpse into the depth. They rely on what their reason tells them while reason herself urges us not to rely solely on her. She knows her limits; she knows she cannot deal with mystery, with the transcendent.

The reality is that the pantheists’ conception of God does nothing, demands nothing, and expects nothing. He is like a book on a shell. He will not pursue you. There is no need to be faithful to Him; whereas, the Christians’ God is a loving God who will pursue us until He gets us. He wants nothing but the best out of us. He prunes us when we stop producing fruits. He rewards us when we produce 30, 60 or 100 barrels of grain. He cares. He looks for us when we go astray and celebrates when He finds us. That’s the God people who are not in sync with the Church fail to conceive; that’s why there is a need for a better, and a more aggressive evangelization. An evangelization centered on the way this people think while teaching them the truth of God. One that does not act as if it has no clue about the thought processes of the society we live in. One that understands what people go through daily in order to bring a humane solution while adhering to the truth of God. We need all kinds of people—men as well as women, doctors, teachers, journalists, artists, Hollywood Superstar, lawyers, as well lawmakers, and people from all background and places. We need all kind of modes to get the truth out—the internet (especially the social networks) as well as cable TV.  We need to present a friendlier image of who we really are. Most non Christians think that we have nothing to offer them or to talk to them about; our religion is so rich, there is no one we cannot inspire. We need to only understand where they are on their journey so we can meet them there.

To All Philologists’ Attention— We Are All Philologist in Some Way

C. S. Lewis, in his imaginative, dreamy and insightful day, said that he observed an encounter in space between a Ghost and a Spirit that used to mutually share opinions while on earth. The spirit expresses the hope that the ghost has now realized that he was incorrect and so changed his views. The main question they explore and the one I want to linger on is whether people should be penalized for their honest opinions. When, for instance, scientists or philosophers observe nature and draw conclusions that end up opposing the truth, should they get punished on the judgment day for that? In other words, is there sin of the intellect?

The ghost maintains that his opinions were not simply honest; they were heroic as well for he asserted them fearlessly (as if asserting them fearlessly makes them honest). When the doctrine of the Resurrection ceased to commend itself to the faculties which God had given him or it (the ghost), he openly rejected it. To this, the spirit replies that their opinions were not honestly come by to them (while on earth). They simply were exposed to a certain ideas that were modern and popular. That catalyzed them to express those opinions. In college, they wrote many famous essays that won them great reputation, but when faced with the question whether there is in fact an abiding principle guiding all natural events, they did not even consider its possibility, and so they give up their faith without any resistance.

The spirit reminisced that they allowed themselves to drift, accepting every half-conscious solicitation from their desires, so they reach a point where they could no longer believed the Faith.

The spirit then offers him to repent and believe. He invites it to the land of answers where it shall see the face of God, and where its thirst will be quenched. The ghost retorts that there is no final answer. “The free wind of inquiry must always continue to blow through the mind”, he says.  The ghost is not even aware of a drink capable of satiating the intellect’s inquiry. Finally, the spirit asks him if he still desires happiness. It replies that happiness lies in the path of duty. So it cannot go with him for there is a new theological society that he can be of some use to.

My honest opinion about this question is: if one does not know the truth and so he/she expresses his/her opinion on an issue where he/she ends up being wrong, of course he should not(will not) be punished accordingly. In this case, it would not be a sin, but an error for according to St Augustine, though every error is in itself an evil, not every error is a sin. Error produces unconsciously is not a sin; if it is a sin, it is not punishable. However, I believe if one consciously ignores the truth for his intellectual insight so as to land to prestigious jobs, or for the sake of popularity, by all means he will have to respond for the debacle he has caused. It seems to me that while both the Ghost and the Spirit had traveled the same road, the Spirit followed genuinely, not knowing that the truth. The Ghost, on the other hand, refuses to admit that he is wrong and does not want to be exposed to the truth. No wonder he is a ghost not a saint.

Would you like to share your opinion about this topic? Please hit comment. Thank you.