Belief, Knowledge, Faith

Not long after 9/11, I was talking to an elderly Dominican priest. I was startled to discover that he thought the felling of the towers was an inside job by the CIA, of some such US authority.  The evidence for this was all over the web. Adherents to this particular theory are known as truthers, as in “the truth about 9/11,” much as believers in the theory that Barak Obama was not born in Hawaii, but in Kenya, are called birthers.  Each of these theories is supported by a slew of websites and internet forums constantly presenting and re-presenting the evidence for their contention, although truthers have the more vigorous and voluminous support. In fact, 9/11 conspiracies have the largest following since the various theories about the assassination of JFK seized the public imagination, and the term “grassy knoll” came to have a specific meaning in the vernacular of the US. There’s never been any shortage of theories on a bewildering range of topics, from the trivial to the socially disruptive.  With minimal effort, I can find a mass of evidence that Neil Armstrong did not land on the moon, but was in a TV studio in Houston, or that the Shoah was invented after the war. Continue reading “Belief, Knowledge, Faith”

Miracle or Magic? A homework exercise

 

What’s the difference between miracle and magic? Let’s first define them. The Macquarie Dictionary defines miracle as an effect in the physical world which surpasses all known human or natural powers and is therefore ascribed to supernatural agency. Magic is defined as the art of producing effects claimed to be beyond the natural human power and arrived at by means of supernatural agencies or through command of occult forces in nature. Occult is variously defined as 1. beyond the bounds of ordinary knowledge; mysterious. 2. not disclosed; secret; communicated only to the initiated. 3. (in early science) a. not apparent on mere inspection but discoverable by experimentation. b. of a nature not understood, as physical qualities. c. dealing with such qualities; experimental: occult science. 4. of the nature of, or relating to, certain reputed sciences, as magic, astrology, etc., involving the alleged knowledge or employment of secret or mysterious agencies.

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Close Encounters

 

Close Encounters of the Third Kind was released in 1977, and was a blockbuster success for Steven Spielberg. Here’s a thumbnail sketch of the plot.
A team of investigators find, intact in the Gobi Desert, a flight of Navy planes which disappeared in the 1940’s, and interview a witness to the re-appearance of the planes. This team will re-surface throughout the film, making similar startling discoveries, and conducting similar interviews. They provide an underpinning of respectable reality for the events we are about to witness.

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Blame Hume: About a Sermon

 

“As Charles Sanders Peirce notes (Peirce 1958: 293), the Humean in-principle argument has left an indelible impression on modern biblical scholarship. Humean considerations are expressly invoked in the work of the great German critic David Friedrich Strauss (1879: 199–200), transformed into one of the “presuppositions of critical history” in the work of the philosopher F. H. Bradley (1874/1935), rechristened as the “principle of analogy” in the writings of the theologian Ernst Troeltsch (1913), and endorsed, explicitly or implicitly, in many contemporary studies of the historical Jesus (Dawes 2001: 97–106) and the New Testament (Ehrman 2003: 228–30). Commitment to something like Hume’s position lies on one side of a deep conceptual fault line that runs through the discipline of biblical studies.”

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Sunday School

It was, mostly, in the hall of the Presbyterian church at the end of our block, diagonally across from the headmaster’s house on the corner of the primary school. There, while the parents, notably excepting ours, or, I should say, excepting our mother, worshipped, the children were instructed in the basic tenets of the faith and in the virtues, until the day they could join the adult congregation, to be exposed to the more risqué passages of the Bible and dark talk of temptations and sin which would run off the steep flanks of their incomprehension, along the erratic, parabolic gradient from innocence to experience that ran through the listeners, to collect on the eroded terrain of others’ experience in pools of remorse and baptismal grace. I say our mother, because it was as though our father spoke a foreign language with no correlates to “church” or “religion” and could not comprehend this Sunday morning activity, and so ignored it. At our mother’s insistence we went, and grumbled at going. There was, despite this, much that I enjoyed about it. There was much that, to my later surprise, I remembered. Continue reading “Sunday School”

The Kiwi’s pilgrimage

I’ve been thinking about the Kiwi I met on the way to Medjugorje, and mentioned in a previous posting. He’s had three incarnations in that post. In the first version, I mentioned meeting him on the ferry, and he did not appear again. I thought I was finished with the item, but I had an uneasy notion that it needed tidying up. The Kiwi was a loose end that I had to tuck away. So I went back, and took up the story of my unhappy co-tenancy with him at the boarding-house.

He wasn’t finished with me yet. The whole piece had an unfinished feel to it (and, in a compositional sense, it still does.) I made some small changes to the ending, and thought, “That will do.” This morning, on the train, he started to nag me again. Since the trip, my opinion of him had been dismissively low. But this morning, as I took out my notebook to write something completely unrelated, I noticed for the first time the places in which I had encountered him, and it dawned on me that he, too, had been on a pilgrimage.

To hold this faith, which after all was the point of my visits to Medjugorje and Jerusalem in the first place, is to acknowledge the active presence of God in the world. It is, among other things, to refute coincidence; to realise that one’s life is a narrative, as, consequently, are all of the lives with which one’s own story intersects, in whose narratives one writes some lines, while each, in turn, scribbles in your scrapbook.

I paid him little heed but that of embarrassment and avoidance, and even a few weeks ago, wrote dismissively of him. Yet he has returned to deliver his lesson. A touch more humility, a touch more charity, if you please. More wonder at the glories of your companions on the way. Here endeth, for the time being, the lesson. Deo gratias.

A visit to Medjugorje

In the autumn of 1996 I took a ferry from Ancona across the Adriatic to Split. There was a reasonable swell, into which we heaved through the night. I slept little in the “aircraft style” seats, keeping an eye on my knapsack, in which all of my travelling possessions, and a significant portion of my worldly possessions were packed. I was travelling with cabin luggage only, which kept the volume down, and made the airports mercifully easy to leave. By dawn we were sailing down the Dalmatian coast. We moved in behind the shelter of the string of elongated islands that parallel the coast, and came into Split. I’d met a Kiwi on the boat who suggested we get accommodation together in Medjugorje. I agreed, having become all to aware of the cost of single rooms. It was a bad mistake. Continue reading “A visit to Medjugorje”

Raise high the cross-beam, carpenter

It has been dressed quickly, but well. The wood is green, and has been kind to the adze. There is only a day’s work for it to do, scaffolding for an afternoon’s spectacle, and then sold to the wood-workers, who will let it dry. I’m to carry it to the site. One of the troops has lifted it. I wait for the weight on my shoulder. It’s a long climb through the streets to the gate, and then further, but in sight of the city still. My arm around it, I put my cheek to the beam. Smell the wood! Such memories. We start now.

Tell me why

I’ve started going to Mass again, although I am not in communion, and I don’t know that I will be able to take that step. I feel the pull of it again though, and I feel a great deal calmer than I have for some time. The pressure of existence, especially the pressure of time, is not now so unrelenting. The wreckage of the past is not now so intolerably present. These benefits are, for the moment, associated with being present at Mass. They are a mild form of the consolation of prayer. Continue reading “Tell me why”