“no longer did immediate this-worldly success have to be decisive”

From “God’s Gamble: The Gravitational Power of Crucified Love” by Gil Bailie:

The Resurrection delivers men from the fear of death,” writes John Meyendorff, “and, therefore, also from the necessity of struggling for existence.” Such a struggle for existence is spiritually deadening precisely inasmuch as it inevitably becomes a struggle against others for preeminence, material advantage, power, or survival. To the extent that it has been sacramentally instantiated in the life of the believer, the Resurrection of Christ provides the wherewithal required to live responsibly and nobly. Thus it is that the Resurrection has opened up history in a way never before known.

As Raymund Schwager observed: Through the resurrection of Christ . . . it became possible . . . to see conflicts, persecutions, and defeats in a different way. No longer did immediate this-worldly success have to be decisive. History as the history of victors was, at least in principle, overcome. . . . Truth and immediate this-worldly success were separated.

Though the responsibility for proclaiming the truth and struggling for its triumph in this world is in no way diminished, the Resurrection relieves those on whom the Easter Sun has shone of the desperate project of trying to achieve in history what can be fulfilled only eschatologically—a fool’s errand that has turned the late-modern period into a crematoria like no other in history.

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Simon Jacobson on “honouring thy father and thy mother”

The commandment to “honour thy father and thy mother” is one that, one would like to hope, is usually relatively straightforward. Many of us (most of us?) can fairly easily point to evidence our parents are or were nurturing, supportive and loving … but one must always acknowledge those who cannot. Indeed, examples of not merely inadvertent but deliberate harm done by parents are not hard to come by in the headlines.

From the radio show of Rabbi Simon Jacobson:

When I was thinking about what to talk about this evening, a friend mentioned to me that he had a question that someone had asked him about how one honors parents who don’t seem to deserve honor. Then later in the day another friend asked me the same question, completely unrelated. So I guess that’s a sign that that’s the topic that should be addressed. I know it’s a very painful one, but at the same time a very relevant one to many people.

It made me think about the discussion we had last week with Mr. Dubner, about the issue of imperfect parents. Parents really do get a real bad rap, especially in our generation with everyone baring their souls in confessionals and the healing and recovery movement, but there’s a very good reason for it: parents definitely do shape their children.

At the same time, if you look into the Torah, for Jews particularly (yesterday was the Torah reading that included the Ten Commandments), the fifth of the Ten Commandments is “Honor Your Parents, i.e., honor your father and mother.” The Torah goes even further and promises that in the merit of doing that, you will have a long life. As a matter of fact, when the Ten Commandments are repeated a second time, in the final book (Deuteronomy), it even adds another element there: that you will not just have a long life, but you will also live in peace, and have a good life.

So tonight we’re going to address this issue of honoring parents. Every one of us has been a child, continues to be a child (hopefully our parents are alive), so it’s a very relevant topic and I welcome calls on all issues related to this topic (1-212-244-2050). I must say that many of us are very angry about this issue, so anger also relates to it because people have a lot of anger against their parents, against their childhood, the way they were hurt when they were still vulnerable and impressionable.

So what exactly are our obligations to our parents and what is this whole concept of honoring them anyway—particularly in a situation where on one end of the spectrum you don’t really feel that they deserve it, and on the other end there was even severe abuse; parents who have hurt their children in very profound ways. Issues that children have with parents who continue to haunt them, the scars that we pick up on different levels of abuse, whether it’s overt or subtle. How do we address that and what exactly is this fifth of the Ten Commandments of honoring parents?

I especially would like to hear from people who are very angry with their parents and also of course people who are very loving toward their parents. It will be interesting to hear from you the different dynamics in our relationship with our parents.

Last week I asked Mr. Dubner the following question, which we all have to ask ourselves: On the one hand, you look to your parents as your source of nurturing, a source of comfort, which even unhealthy parents definitely provide somewhat (I’m not talking about extreme cases of course) and at the same time, how do you separate the two feelings of love and hurt? The same parents who love you, have, on the other hand also hurt you?

For a child, even for an adult, it’s very confusing, and it becomes a very snowball type of combination of the good and the bad. As adults, we have the intelligence, the discretion to be able to distinguish.

But as children, that distinction isn’t that obvious and that’s a big quandary, because if you got from your parents healthy nurturing, and on the other hand they may have given you certain values that you really can’t embrace, or values that you see real faults in (you know, “the lies my father told me”), it’s the first time you realize that your parents aren’t perfect.

This is a serious issue. I’d like to begin by giving some perspective here, namely, the anatomy of what exactly the commandment “honor your parent” means.

Now, the real question that’s asked in Jewish thought, in Jewish philosophy, is a more fundamental one. Judaism does not believe in any intermediaries. In other words, we have a direct relationship with G-d. There are no partnerships, no intermediaries, no hired guns; each of us prays to G-d. G-d gave us a soul and empowered us with the ability to overcome our challenges in life. We have a mission. As I very often say on this show (Toward a Meaningful Life), “meaningful life” implies a direct mission that we have, a meaning and purpose in our lives. And that is a direct relationship with G-d.

So the question is asked, “Where is there any room for honoring anyone besides G-d?” It’s true, parents may have provided for us. Of course, if they were healthy they gave us nurturing. Many parents are selfless in their love and in their dedication to their children. But honoring your parents seems in some way to imply that parents have some type of partnership with G-d…but we should be honoring G-d alone who gives us life.

The Talmud does say that there are three partners in the birth of a child: the mother, father and G-d. The parents provide, so to speak, the stuff of which the body is made. G-d provides the soul. That’s why you can have a relationship between a man and a woman, a potential father and mother, husband and wife, and it doesn’t bear a child. So G-d is the third partner — the Creator of life.

So seemingly, birth should be honoring G-d, not the parents. We don’t recognize any form of “partnership” with G-d in creation. And one of the fascinating answers to this is that when we honor our parents, even healthy parents, we’re not honoring our parents, we’re honoring G-d who gave us life through our parents.

So, in essence, it’s really a recognition of G-d. For instance, there is a distinct law in Judaism that if parents tell a child to do something that transgresses G-d’s law, meaning the ethical laws of how we behave with each or other or any type of Divine law, any law that G-d dictates, the child does not have to comply with that request of the parents, even though there’s a commandment to honor your parents. But the commandment to honor your parents does not supercede the commandment of G-d because you honor your parents not because they have power or because they think they’re important, or because they provided for us, you honor them because G-d gave life to us through them.

And that’s a major distinction. That’s why if one has to choose between following a parent’s request and following G-d’s law, we defer to G-d. Honoring your parents is not an end in itself: there’s a meaning there, a significance, a spirit behind it — it is a means to honor G-d.

Now the interesting distinction that I’d like to make as well is that the commandment says, “honor your parents”; it doesn’t say “love your parents.” The Torah doesn’t tell us to love our parents. That means the commandment doesn’t include that. Honor can include that, but that’s an optional thing. There is a commandment to love G-d. There is a commandment to love your fellow. Why isn’t there a commandment to love our parents? Because they don’t always deserve our love. But if we dishonor the life that G-d gave us through our parents, then it’s not that we’re dishonoring our parents, we’re dishonoring ourselves, we’re dishonoring our own personal life.

“salvation would be easier for the clever and leisured than for the dull and busy”

From “Confessions of a Convert”. R H Benson:

 

It had been put to me by my Superior that I was surely incurring the guilt of pride in venturing to set up my opinion against the views of men, such as Dr. Pusey or Mr. Keble—men infinitely my superiors in goodness, learning, and experience. They had been into all these questions far more profoundly than I could ever hope to go, and had come to the conclusion that the claims of Rome were unjustified, and that the Church of England was, at any rate, a part of Christ’s Church. And then I suddenly realized clearly what I had only suspected before; namely, that if the Church of Christ was, as I believed it to be, God’s way of salvation, it was impossible that the finding of it should be a matter of shrewdness or scholarship; otherwise salvation would be easier for the clever and leisured than for the dull and busy. As for the holiness of men like Dr. Pusey—after all, “Christ came into this world to save sinners.””

I cannot describe the relief that this thought gave to me. I saw now that my intellectual difficulties were not the real heart of the matter, and that I had no right to be discouraged because I knew myself to be immeasurably the inferior of others who had decided against the cause that was beginning to show itself to me as true. Humility and singleness of motive, I saw now, were far more important than patristic learning.

 

First Conversation, “The Practice of the Presence of God”, Brother Lawrence

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More on this book.

The first time I saw Brother Lawrence was upon the third of August, in the year 1666. He told me God had done him a great favour in his conversion at the age of eighteen. That winter, he saw a tree stripped of its leaves and that within a little time the leaves would be renewed, and soon the flowers and fruit would appear again. Brother Lawrence received such an impression of the providence of God from this image, that his soul never forgot. This vision set him loose from the world so perfectly, and kindled in him such a love for God, that he could not tell whether it had increased at all in the forty years since.

Previously Brother Lawrence had been footman to Mr. Fieubert, the treasurer. While working for Mr. Fieubert, Brother Lawrence considered himself a great awkward fellow who broke everything. So Brother Lawrence desired to be received into a monastery, thinking that there he would be made to suffer for his awkwardness and the faults he should commit.

He concluded he should sacrifice his life to God, along with its pleasures. But God disappointed this wish to give up pleasure, for Brother Lawrence soon found nothing but satisfaction in this state. According to Brother Lawrence, we should establish ourselves in a sense of God’s Presence by continually speaking with Him. It was a shameful thing to quit His conversation, and to think of trifles and fooleries. Instead, we should feed and nourish our souls with high notions of God, which yield us great joy.

We ought to quicken and enliven our faith. It is sad that we have so little faith. Instead of taking faith for the rule of conduct, we amuse ourselves with trivial devotions which change daily. The way of faith is the spirit of the Church, and it is sufficient to bring us to a high degree of perfection. We ought to give ourselves up to God, with regard both to things temporal and spiritual. We ought to seek our satisfaction only in the fulfilling of His will, whether He leads us by suffering or by peace, for these are no different to a soul truly following Him.

We must be faithful in times of dryness or insensibility or irksomenesses in prayer, by which God tries our love of Him. Then is the time for us to make good acts of our trust in Him, whereby often a single one alone would promote our spiritual advancement.

As for the miseries and sins heard of in the world, Brother Lawrence was so far from being surprised at them, that on the contrary, he wondered why there were not more, considering the darkness sinners were capable of. For his part, he prayed for them. And knowing that God could remedy the sins committed when He pleased, he gave himself no further trouble.

To arrive at the abandon that God requires, we should watch attentively over all the passions which mingle in spiritual things. God will give light concerning those passions to those who truly desire to serve Him.

Brother Lawrence welcomed me saying that if it was my sincere intention to serve God, I might come to visit with him as often as I pleased, without any fear of troubling him. But if not, I ought to visit him no more.

from Riven Press edition, translated Ryan Moore and Josh Jeter.

The Immanent Self: Epigenetics, Modern Liberalism and Spinoza

I have just discovered Shea K Robison’s Nexus of Epigenetics blog, which is full of fascinating and thought-provoking material on epigenetics. It is especially full of good things on the philosophical context, content and implications of epigenetics. This post on epigenetics and the view of the self conceived by modern Western liberal (broadly-defined) thought:

I propose that the emerging science of epigenetics invokes an openness and an interconnectedness which are at odds with the ontological commitments of conventional Western politics and ethics. As I discuss in more detail elsewhere, the scientific assumptions of genetics mirror these basic ontological commitments of conventional Western politics and ethics. In this way, the scientific challenges presented by epigenetics actually mirror even more fundamental political and ethical challenges via their implications for the modern liberal concept of self.

The self as an atomistic and autonomous individual is the organizing principle of contemporary modern liberal society, as the locus of action and the focus of accountability in politics, in economics, in law, etc. However, even though this concept of the autonomous self seems self-evident and natural to us today, it is actually the contingent product of centuries of cultural and intellectual history which developed along a very specific trajectory.

In other words, different cultures, and even the same cultures at different times, have held different conceptions of what is a person, and therefore what are the appropriately ethical behaviors for this ‘person’ so defined. This cross-cultural and intra-cultural variability is one indicator that conceptions of personhood or selfhood are not ontologically objective (i.e., mind-independent) facts, but are rather the contingent products of specific historical and social processes.

The Nexus of Epigenetics

MeBlog

by Shea Robison (@EpigeneticsGuy)

(The following is a summary of a talk presented at the Center for East Asian and Comparative Philosophy on January 11, 2016. Copies of the full-length (draft) paper and the accompanying PowerPoint presentation are available here)

Per the guiding model of my project:

Epigenetic Model 2.0

I propose that the emerging science of epigenetics invokes an openness and an interconnectedness which are at odds with the ontological commitments of conventional Western politics and ethics. As I discuss in more detail elsewhere, the scientific assumptions of genetics mirror these basic ontological commitments of conventional Western politics and ethics. In this way, the scientific challenges presented by epigenetics actually mirror even more fundamental political and ethical challenges via their implications for the modern liberal concept of self.

The self as an atomistic and autonomous individual is the organizing principle of contemporary modern liberal society, as the locus of action…

View original post 2,772 more words

From “Quest for God in the Work of Borges”, Annette U. Flynn

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I recently started this book by UCD Lecturer Annette U Flynn. Her biography is worth noting and outlines a winding if not forking path into academia:

 

I grew up in the mountains of the Schwäbische Alb in Southern Germany. After my initial studies at the University of Tübingen, and with the help of the DAAD, I was assigned to Morayshire, on the Northern Scotland coast, to try my hand at teaching pupils at a secondary school. It also led me to adult education in Aberlour, in the Speyside Valley, where I taught Spanish to the workers of the local whisky distilleries. This was the beginning of a long standing love affair with my host country which lasted until 2002, when I came to Ireland to take up my post at UCD.

In Scotland, I worked as a legal translator, and soon started on a new degree course at the University of Edinburgh, joint majoring in Spanish and Italian with Portuguese. This was followed by an MSc (the Scottish equivalent of the Irish MA), and the PhD. I was extremely fortunate to be supervised in my postgraduate studies by Edwin Williamson, who now is at the University of Oxford.

I taught at the universities of Edinburgh and Stirling, and also had the privilege of working for the German publishing House Klett as a lexicographer.

In 2003 I got married and now live in County Wicklow with my husband Dave, who is a painter and writer.

One of my loves is the Argentine tango, which I think is one of the most complete and exciting art forms. It is profound, unpredictable and inexhaustible, very much like Borges.

I look forward to reading and absorbing the whole book which deals with one of my favourite writers from a perspective oft-ignored. As is the way of forking paths, it has introduced me to the philosophy of Hans Vaihinger of “as-if”… and I fear that the footnotes and references of Annette U Flynn’s book may lead me down paths that distract from actually reading it!

Here is an extract:

 

 

The abiding themes of time and identity, which Borges explores, and which he battles with throughout all of his creative life, are an expression of his desire to find a release from these problematic concepts. The quest for the divine in his stories, the unfulfilled spiritual quest of his characters, is not accidental. It is also a metaphor which points to a need to heal a fragile sense of personal self. This is evidenced in one of his very early essays of 1923, ‘La nadería de la personalidad’, where he recounts a personal experience of parting from a friend for good. Borges is prompted, he tells us, by a deep, emotional desire to reveal his soul, his innermost self, to his friend. But this gives way to a vehement, intellectual denial of that very essence of the self. This violent shift from yearning to intellectual denial points to a sense of self which is, in its essence, wounded. This oscillation between affirmation and denial is to be played out again and again. His captivating and intellectually stimulating texts also reveal a lesser known aspect: his struggle to attain a faith reality as expressed in the anguished search for spiritual plenitude. His texts and his characters do speak, openly in some cases, obliquely in others, of a search, a yearning, if not always explicitly for faith itself or God, then for a spiritual experience of some kind or another. The consequences of this difficult search are the emergence of a fragile sense of self, fragmented and caught in a stricture between affirmation and denial. Borges’ fragile sense of self has implications for his notion of time, and vice versa. Both are linked to his spiritual searching.”

Scientific enquiry in the early Middle Ages: “Medieval Visions of Modern Science” in Belfast

A Queens University Belfast study on medieval knowledge of astronomy touches on a recurrent theme here: the false myth of the Dark Ages:

The idea for this study came about from the strong desire to challenge the common assumption and perceived lack of scientific enquiry in the early Middle Ages, or commonly referred to as ‘Dark Ages’. This was the spark that ignited the intellectual collaboration between a medievalist and an astronomer.

An exhibition “Medieval Visions of Modern Science” informed by this research is currently running in the Ulster Museum.