Unpacking the Rhineland Mystics

Stairs

Books on spirituality and “self help” line the shelves of bookstores, stories on the same topics call at people from the magazine racks.  The millions of readers of these books and articles seem to end up fluttering from one theory, one cure, even one culture, to the next like moths off to the next bright light.   Many seem to get some peace of mind from the busyness of the chase but, given all the activity, the background anxiety must never go away.  Perhaps because they are looking in all the wrong places.

Much of this, of course, is that recent generations have been trained to have almost no attention span, but another important component is the simple fact that spirituality without religion is an empty vessel.  It is a bright, festively wrapped box with a large bow and nothing inside.

So they flutter on.

Deep down, though, the whole culture sometimes seems to be begging for connection to its soul, a way to understand its spiritual side.  It wants meaning from its own culture, a connection to its own past.  The modern culture teaches, through scientism, to disconnect from prior beliefs, and through modernism, to aspire to a future which promises the most glittering, colorful and exciting line of empty boxes, stretching toward the horizon as far as the eye can see.

Meanwhile, the Church, with over two millenia of experience of providing meaning, is trying in frustration to evangelize that culture. Despite the questions of one side, and the rich history of answers on the other, the chasm between the culture and the Church seems to be ever widening, and altogether perplexing.

At this moment there is hope that a new pope will be able to bring these sides together. He seems to have a connection to the people, a charisma, an ability to inspire.  But has the culture given him its attention because he is the next big thing, and already hinted that they will flutter away from when the next bright light appears?

If this Pope does not bring the precise style of change that people’s personal politics desire, then they will certainly press on to the next sensation that appears in the spotlight, as if they are not running all the while from themselves.

But within the great traditions of this very culture are the truths that can nourish and sustain.  The frenzied desperation of believing in self alone offers no peace, and each individual, should they consider it, knows this in their heart.  While they keep following from one bright light to the next, they all, deep in their souls, want to stop the chase, embrace peace and stay in the light.

But how?

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Assumptions

Let me see if I can follow.

Everything we can see was created in a Big Bang explosion with no cause of its own.  The resulting universe operates under intelligible laws we can determine over time, which came from nowhere.  Our species evolved from animals with no first moment of creation.  We ourselves are born randomly and without purpose despite every ounce of our being telling us that we are more than that.  We live in a lively and beautiful world, filled with wonders, but are meant to consider ourselves separate and, in the end, alone.  We feel a thousand things a day—love, community, admiration, sadness, joy–but none are measurable so they are not important.  Despite every civilization from the dawn of time trying to pursue truth, there is no such thing because we can’t prove it in a lab or classroom.  And, to be modern and enlightened, we must believe in precisely nothing.

Alternatively, we could turn to our great traditions and live in faith.  We could step back from the assumptions the world forces upon us and take a look at the bigger picture for ourselves.  We could bow to science in respect and thanks without ageeing that it is the only path to truth. It is difficult to say which of the two views is more enlightened, but it is quite clear which makes more sense.

Unraveling Saint Buddha

Cross of St. Thomas the Apostle.
Cross of St. Thomas the Apostle

History and tradition are filled with twists and turns, highs and lows, glories and embarrassments.   Sometimes, though, sorting through it all is the path to truth.

When the apostles were sent into the world to convert it, many went beyond the boundaries of the Roman Empire. See generally, The Founding of Christendom, by Carroll. One of these was St. Thomas, who famously had to touch Jesus’ wounds to declare him “My Lord My God” thus fully realizing who He was. See John 20:28.

Thomas went to India. See here. While he was not successful in converting India to Christianity, there is evidence that he went, and evidence of ancient Christian areas in India. He is said to have come to Taxila in Western Punjab (currently in Pakistan) and evangelized. His efforts to convert the region may have been largely wiped out in later years by Kushan attacks, perhaps around 120 A.D.. See Carroll.

Still, stories persist through history of Christianity in India, a Christianity spread by Thomas, in the centuries after Christ. Indeed, there have even been stories of saints.

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On Confirmation

It turns out there is always hope.

The country seems to be in quite a mess. It appears to be headed for impossible, socialist-style spending with a leader who thinks that’s his birthright and a people who know and just don’t care. The executive branch is attacking the First, Second and Fourteenth Amendments and if people’s paychecks weren’t being cut most folks would be just fine. The culture is not just leaving Christ behind, but seems to have him fading away in the rear-view mirror as it travels quickly who knows where. Ego rules, humility is forgotten, and as a direct result everyone is unhappy and they don’t even know why.

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On Picking Your New Year’s Heresy

With the New Year upon us, it’s decision time. What should you do with your New Year? What traits should you work on? What do you want to accomplish? What have you missed out on? In this time of reflection, perhaps you should dust off your heresies and see if they need any care or maintenance. It is, after all, a practice much older than you might think.

Growing up in ancient Greece an aspiring student was expected to look at all of the world’s philosophies and carefully choose one of their own. It was a process of examination and a rite of passage. It was a time of reflection and deliberation ending in the choosing of a worldview and then claiming it as yours—in their words, it was a process of hairesis.

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On Socialism

Socialism is defined by Dictionary.com as “a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.”  Put into more practical terms, it means that the government owns or runs industry and services that it need not own or run because of a belief that it can best provide for the welfare of the people.

Everyone can certainly agree that the federal government must be in charge of some matters. Indeed in the United States that is exactly the purpose of the Constitution—it expressly specifies the powers and responsibilities of government, then in its Tenth Amendment the Constitution vests all remaining powers in the people and the States.  See here.

The question is how much the federal government should do when it has a power. For example, it is the federal government’s right and responsibility to regulate “commerce between the States” and “provide for the common Defense.”  See Article I, here.  Thus, while there were no airplanes flying over the founder’s heads as they ratified the Constitution, clearly Congress has a responsibility to pass necessary safety and commerce-related laws regarding air travel. Many countries, however, have national airlines where the passenger airlines in the United States are private. Does the federal government have the power to take over this section of the economy? Possibly.  Should it?  No.  To do so would clearly be a move from free enterprise and capitalism toward socialism, by any definition. And despite the roller-coaster nature of the airline industry as a business, this can be run by private enterprise.  And so it should.

Traditionally, of course, Europe is more socialist. Not only in fact but in name. In America to call something socialist has distinctly negative implications, while in Europe political parties take on the name socialist prominently and without shame. Quite apart from the connotation (how a word is thought of in a culture), it is sometimes important to take the denotation (the dictionary definition) and apply it. And thus the question: Is America slowly but steadily moving from capitalism toward socialism?  A Newsweek cover piece suggested we have been, and implied that it is not such a bad thing.  See here.  Looking back, the article was right in its first point, but remains profoundly wrong in its second.

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On Relativism

Whether a moral, ethical or philosophical statement can be absolutely true is the central issue of our time. We live in a culture bombarded by messages from television, books, radio, magazines and more. The discoveries of archeology and technology in the last 100 years have placed the entire past and a vision of the future at our doorsteps.

We each have at our fingertips an opportunity Aristotle or Voltaire would practically have given their lives for: We can wade into an almost endless supply of facts and piece together what is true or not true about life, death, the world, the soul and the progressive income tax.

Where science ends, we can rely upon the greatest philosophers and thinkers humanity has ever known to see over the edge. We can climb onto their shoulders and peer out further towards the truth.

The only thing holding us back is a malignant theory of our own invention: The idea that there is no truth to find. As the world has grown smaller and the perspectives of all the cultures have come into focus, some among us have decided that because there are so many belief systems, all of them must be equal.

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