Thursday 23 September 2010

Vanity of vanities

Why was Ecclesiastes included in the Bible, with its rather depressing outlook on life? Perhaps because the experience of emptiness and meaninglessness is never far from most people. If it is far and strange, it is perhaps because we are filling our lives with something - or else allowing our lives to be filled with God. If it is God, fine. If not, then the question - raised by Ecclesiastes - what are you filling your life with? Power, money, work, fame, pleasure... Things legitimate and not.

Emptiness, vanity, meaningless: the nihilistic experience. Postmodernism's recognition of this aspect of our lives, in contrast to the triumphalism of reason and the autonomous technocratic subject in modernity.

Jesus communicator

This morning's gospel: Jesus coming to the notice of Herod. Amazing communicator he must have been. "And news about his travelled quickly around the length and breadth of Judaea and the surrounding countryside." "And people were amazed by him." Herod. The Roman authorities and Pilate. The Jewish authorities, naturally.

Thursday 16 September 2010

The reciprocity of loving, again

Milbank’s position is “rejection of ethics as unilateral gift and sacrifice, in favor of ethics as gift-exchange and openness to divine grace”. [John Milbank, “The Midwinter Sacrifice,” The Blackwell Companion to Postmodern Theology, ed. Graham Ward. (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001) 122.] Unmistakable echoes with Jose Luis Plascencia's retreat at GC26: desiring the response as part of true loving. "Strive to make yourselves loved."

Interestingly, Milbank carries this argument in another direction: the question of the truly ethical. Sartre saying that atheists are the true heroes, because they do good without hope of reward. Milbank questions this. He questions a Christian ethics conceived as essentially other-regarding and, in consequence, sacrificial. Such an ethics, he says, can be readily secularized, as Jan Patocka argued: because omission of the hope of resurrection will make it even more other-regarding. Thus Patocka and Derrida more ambiguously in his wake, offer us a ‘heretical’ Christianity, which is really a demythologized one, more Christian than Christianity. In this perfected Christianity, the Lucan injunction not to invite those who can invite you back in return is no longer to be contaminated by the Lucan promise of eschatological reward. If this is true, then it would seem that Christianity’s true destiny is to be demythologized and secularized. [111.]

Milbank's view: Christianity sticks with and even augments the goal of happiness; it abandons the goal of self-possession, and, along with it, the cognate themes of self-achievement, self-control, and above all self-government. The ethical is only imaginable as a mutual and unending gift-exchange, conceived in Christianity as absolute faith in the arrival of the divine gift, which is grace. [111.]

He goes on to point out that the sustaining of such an exchange requires a notion of resurrection and faith in the notion of participation in resurrection. The first element, gift-exchange, is figured either as feast or marriage, and is therefore appropriately combined with the second, resurrection, in terms of images of the heavenly banquet or eschatological marriage of God and humanity. [121.]

Caputo on Star Wars

John Caputo has a brilliant take on Star Wars: the series, he says is a re- (not de- ) mythologization of the religious sense of life. “It simply sheds its pre-Copernican tropes and the classic metaphysical dualism in order to assume a new imaginative form.” A tour de force! [On Religion (London and New York: Routledge, 2001) 78-90.]

Agape and eros

Jose Luis Plascencia's integration of agape and eros, and his insistence on love as love for this particular person, is echoed here by Balthasar and Loughlin in the context of Radical Orthodoxy:
"Following Balthasar, Gerard Loughlin's essay on 'erotics' rightly eschews as unbiblical any duality of agape and eros; without the latter, how can love be for this specific person and so be love at all? And how can love unite, to others and to God?" (John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock, and Graham Ward. “Introduction. Suspending the Material: The Turn of Radical Orthodoxy,” Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology, ed. John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock, and Graham Ward [London and New York: Routledge, 1999] 12)

Friday 10 September 2010

Einstein goes to tea

Phil narrated a story that Lonergan liked to tell. It seems that Einstein was invited to tea by a lady who, in the course of the visit, said to the great man: Prof. Einstein, I am terribly interested in your Theory of Relativity, but I know nothing of mathematics, and I am just turned off by equations. Could you explain your theory to me? Einstein, it seems, said: Lady, I cannot explain Relativity over a cup of tea.

Our culture expects shortcuts to understanding, forgetting that Kepler took 10 years of messing about with the data to arrive at his laws, and that Lonergan took 14 years of messing about with the data to arrive at his economic theories.

You know when you have a really serious concept when you can remember the weeks and the months it took you to come to it, and when you can easily spend ten hours talking about it, said Phil.

But most of the time we are simply educated out of our minds. As when a teacher comes in and says to the class, what is the definition of a circle? And then proceeds to write the definition on the board: A circle is a locus of co-planar points equidistant from a fixed point. What has the class got? Simply a more complicated name in place of a simple name.

Wednesday 8 September 2010

"Our Lady is present here among you..."

For most Salesians the phrase that gives the title to this blog entry will be a familiar quotation from their founder, Don Bosco. Don Bosco said this when, in his old age, he was visiting the Salesian Sisters at ... was it Nizza Monferrato? He said he could see Our Lady walking about in the house. His secretary tried to interpret him: Don Bosco says it is as if Our Lady were present among you. But the old man insisted: She is walking about among you, I can see her.

Yesterday I was startled when Phil McShane said something along the same lines to the Second Year BPh: the molecular vibrations of the heart of Our Lady are present here in this room where we are sitting, he said. Physicists are convinced that the vibrations from 13 million years ago are still present, and they can even measure their temperature (several hundred degrees below zero!). Waves criss-cross the globe and make it possible for people to communicate on cell phones in a way that might have seemed like magic to our ancestors. Our Lady, the most perfect human being if you don't take Jesus into account, loved perfectly; and the vibrations of that heart are still around.

Wonderfully interesting. The physicality of the Incarnation. Like when I recalled that, years ago as a student at my first Lonergan Workshop in 1991, Phil saw me saying the Morning Prayer; and Phil himself was reading from Insight early in the morning. But they are both part of the same thing, he said to me yesterday... Praise of God in different ways!

Charlotte Tansey RIP, homily by Michael Czerny, SJ

I just received news from Therese Mason that Charlotte Tansey passed away a few days ago. I make free to publish here Fr Michael Czerny's homily at the funeral, forwarded to me by Therese.

As Fr Czerny makes clear, Charlotte was a founding director of the Thomas More Institute, and in that capacity associated for a long time with Bernard Lonergan in all sorts of marvellous ways. I think I met her briefly at a Lonergan Workshop, perhaps it was last year. This year she wasn't there. Now she has gone into the divine Embrace... Thank you, Charlotte, for the gift of your life.

SEVEN LAST WORDS

Charlotte Hunter Tansey was a founding director of the Thomas More Institute (TMI) sixty-five years ago (1945). Fr Eric O’Connor, S.J., was its President and Dean of Studies until his death just before Christmas 1980. Charlotte was then President and Director of Studies for eighteen years until her retirement in 1998.

I begin with a confession: standing before you is a long-time friend of Charlotte Tansey. Soon after I was ordained, 37 years ago, we met at TMI. She has been a fine colleague, a staunch supporter and challenger, an elder sister. Without being together much, we have lived much together. And I never left TMI without an armful of well-chosen new paperbacks.

This sermon is to honour Charlotte and celebrate her life among us as fellow-learners, friends and especially family – her sisters Barbara and Carol, many nephews and nieces and godchildren and in-laws. The sermon is entitled Seven Last Words. The seven last words of Christ on the Cross somehow synthesize his few intense years of going “about doing good and healing” (Acts 10:38). But these seven are at the same time the first words (prolegomena) of his risen Life, and of ours. Similarly, I want to evoke seven words which for me sum up Charlotte’s long full life, point her to new life face-to-face with God, and serve as a kind of heritage for us.

1. The first word, Learner, already evoked, can be translated as curiosity at the centre of one’s life. From the very beginning of my involvement with TMI and my friendship with Charlotte, I have been in awe of the planning which took place with great and stressful creativity every summer. “The process for planning and offering different courses each year came from a wish to focus on some immediately significant concerns just under the consciousness of people, not what they would ask for, but what they would recognize as wanted when provoked by a little cluster of preoccupations. The great effort was for the creation and annual re-creation each summer of the whole endeavour.” The purpose, she said, was “to create a context in which persons can report and converse from the depth of life experience.” It is then “a rare triumph” for each one to pay “attention to one’s own fullest wish to understand and appreciate” (Cathleen Going).
Appropriately, therefore, Charlotte´s own life-long struggle was to remain, herself, a learner rather than succumb to the easier (also more lucrative and prestigious) temptation of being a professor or, after her retirement, the suicidal temptation of shutting herself into her own certainties.

2. Adult. Elders among us will remember – younger ones will be surprised to discover – the context in which Charlotte became an adult and in which the TMI was born. “We lay people, mainly in our twenties, came together in 1944 with a common yearning to join the civilization by ‘getting to know’ more profoundly. Our appetite was a response to a decadent Thomism, to insufficient exposure to several sciences, and to a great deal of dogmatism.” As Catholics they longed for a wise Mother Church, not a smothering one who kept her own childish and cut off from the world. Such yearning and striving culminated in the 1960s with Vatican II in the Church and the Quiet Revolution in Québec.
The struggle for maturity is not new. In our first reading, Thérèse Mason described: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.” Childishness consists in parroting concepts and fashionable clichés rather than rejoicing in ideas that meet real questions. But for an intelligent young woman in Church and society at that time to “put an end to childish ways” and become an intelligent adult, was not easy. It too takes a lifetime. Twenty years ago, Charlotte said about herself: "I don't mind someone knowing more than I do, if I can speak too."
Listen now to a mature French Canadian priest who testifies, “Charlotte gave me very good advice when I was an undergraduate student 25 years ago, advice that freed me to trust my thoughts and feelings.” Free to trust – that is adulthood!

3. The third “last word” may startle you, it is so unfashionable: Virgin. Virginity is a state of life which Charlotte chose in order to dedicate herself to the first two, Adult and Learner. In this regard, she spoke about the early community of TMI: “We were predominantly celibate. This made us more flexible about the time we worked. Our home responsibilities did not catch up with us for years, until relatives aged and their health declined.” So God somehow consecrated Charlotte for the work of liberating his people from mental slavery.
In 1973, three of us newly-ordained Jesuits became involved at TMI in the planning of the Jesuit Congress, whose chairman was Fr O’Connor. Grateful for our work, he invited Charlotte, Cathleen Going and the three of us to a Spanish restaurant. While studying the menu for a while, Eric’s attention was caught by the paella. “You had it before,” commented Charlotte. Looking relieved, Eric asked back, “And please do you remember, did I like it?” She reassured him that he had and thus freed him of the burden of choosing; he ordered it and enjoyed it again. To which one of the young Jesuit companions commented, “That’s as close to marriage as we are allowed to get" and the vignette remains a lifelong beacon for our vowed chastity. To be alone for others is great sacrifice and can be of divine fruitfulness.

4. So, fourthly, Community. In today’s Gospel, two disciples puzzled sadly over “all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, and asked them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along looking sad?” Later, to celebrate and indeed complete their learning, they sat down together at table for the breaking of the bread. For Charlotte, discussion + dinner = community, a circle of learners become friends and fellow guests at table. In her Psalm 22, “I can know community with many strangers, and have been accepted to speak and to listen” and to dine.
But community is no easy formula either, and with her retirement 12 years ago, it got put to a terrible test and practically wrecked. Listen to her disappointment penned in a poem around 1999 as she laments: “... jolts to lives completed, reluctant celebrations, broken intimacies, faith surprised.
I had thought insight conceived mercy, then action,
that they surged like twins from the womb of time,
but Caesarean it is, if at all.
The word is frozen in the heart.
Petals curl inward without light.”
So if the first three words – Learner, Adult, Virgin – generate community, community is neither automatic nor static. When crucified, it can rise again only with the Divine gift of forgiveness. For Charlotte finally to accept this grace, to forgive others, meant for her to grow more pure, more mature, more open than even she had ever dreamt possible. And so it was.

5. The fifth word is Courage. What is courage? St Augustine tells us that Hope has two beautiful daughters: their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see to it that they not remain the way they are.
Charlotte’s primordial anger was directed against the impoverishing disorder in people’s minds and hearts, whether bad habits acquired from poor teachers or laziness or self-interest. And her courage stopped at nothing in the campaign to rattle loose those apparent certainties which block further learning or – as Bernard Lonergan, S.J., her greatest mentor, would say – block self-appropriation and self-transcendence. Personally I am very grateful, even if I sometimes felt more the victim of her courage than its beneficiary.
In the Eucharist after the Our Father, we shall greet one another with the traditional “peace of Christ!” According to Charlotte, Christian peace remains prone to misunderstanding as sheep-like complacency and passivity. So today, when we greet one another, let us add courage and wish one another “Peace and courage of Christ!” which includes Charlotte’s.

6. The sixth word is Knowledge. Charlotte can borrow the words of St Paul to report from the depths of her life experience: “For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part, but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end... For now we see in a mirror, darkly, as in a riddle, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
At the Jewish General two Thursday evenings ago (19 August), in company with Moira Carley and Brian McDonough, we heard Charlotte declare: “I have always wondered what the latter moments of life would be like,” and now she was discovering how her whole life, in its diminishment and suffering, in its unfinished learning and still growing knowledge, had become a total prayer. Moira was singing, “Take, Lord, receive all I have and possess - my memory, understanding, my entire will - you have given all to me, now I return it - dispose of it entirely according to your will.” So to discover oneself and realize that “I am a knower” can be true, if you struggle as Charlotte did, and evolves at every stage.
Charlotte prays in her Psalm 22: “He who is unknowable wishes to be known. / He is my teacher, and what I shall want / may be caught up in mystery beyond my horizon.” All the years until the end, God “beckons towards life and wonder beyond measure” and now these are the new beginning.

7. The last “last word” is Love, obviously, is it not? Charlotte loved very very deeply, through all and in all and above all a great lover, but not romantically! She railed against surface culture, and sentimentality she could not bear. But she desperately wanted people to love right, which they absolutely could not do if they were not attentive, intelligent, reasonable and responsible. Now “give me only your love and your grace, that’s enough for me - your love and your grace are enough for me. I want a funeral Eucharist,” she told Moira, “I want all the trimmings” – including, I hope, this sermon!

On that Thursday evening ten days ago, Charlotte was more alert and seeing better than she had in a very long time. She was in a lot of pain, constant she said and all over. Most moving for me was her declaration that she had been waiting for me and, with our encounter, I wished her to feel liberated and free to let go and pass over.

After the seventh and final word of Love, let me quote the Hmmm she kept saying: Hmmm, I hear you. Hmmm, I am considering what you say. Hmmm, I accept everything, my heart is burning within me, and even now there is still more. Amen. Amen. Amen.

Michael Czerny, S.J.
Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace
St Gabriel’s, Pointe St Charles, 30 August 2010

Sunday 5 September 2010

A new part of the Summa Theologiae

Here is the Summa Theologiae Part IV, Q. 1, a. 1, written on the occasion of Teachers' Day, by Thomas William Aquinas D'Souza:

Question one

First Article

WHETHER ANYONE ON EARTH CAN BE CALLED A TEACHER?

Thus we proceed to the first article:

Objection 1: It seems that no one on earth can be called a teacher. Now the definition of a teacher holds that he/she is a knowledgeable person. But the ultimate knowledge is God, for He is Omniscient. Therefore no one on earth can be called a teacher.

Objection 2: Further no one on earth can be called a teacher. For Jesus himself says “Do not call anyone on earth your teacher for you have only one teacher.”

On the Contrary: The Sloka goes thus, “Gurur Brahma, Gurur Vishnu, Gurur Devo Maheshwaraha, Guru sakshaat Parabrahma tasmai sri guruve namaha.”

I answer that, it is evident that God is the source of all knowledge since He is All-Knowing. But God shares His knowledge with the rational creatures though not in its essence. A being receives the knowledge not essentially but by participation in the Divine Knowledge. Now, a being participates according to the mode of its existence. Just as anything on fire is not fire itself but fire by participation, we find on earth some people who are more attuned to the Divine Knowledge and participate in it in a deeper manner. Such people are held to be teachers. Therefore someone on earth can be called a teacher.

As the Sloka above said, one is called a teacher in as much as one is also able to direct the student towards God. Sant Kabir Das says that it is the Guru (teacher) who shows God to the student. Now all the teachers through the participation are blessed with the grace to lead their pupils to the Supreme Knowledge i.e. God. This is a sufficient reply to objection one.

Reply 1: God’s knowledge is infinite and that of his creature’s finite, the gap was bridged by the second person of the Trinity who as a mediator brought the knowledge of God to earth and made available to the creatures. He passed on God’s Knowledge to the Apostles. Thus one is also a teacher in as much as one shares in the teaching ministry of Christ, the teacher of teachers. Since all our professors here share in this sacred ministry of imparting God’s Knowledge primarily they are called teachers.

Friday 3 September 2010

A tricolour pillowcase

Peter Gonsalves is with us these days, researching the impact of Gandhi's khadi movement from a caste angle: Gandhi wanted everyone to engage in hand-weaving cloth, including Dalits; but not all were happy to wear cloth made by Dalits. Another aspect of the subversive impact of Gandhi's khadi movement.

In the bargain I remembered something I had heard from my mum. My mother's family used to live in Gujarat. Her father served first as band master in the police band of the erstwhile princely state of Chhotaudepur, and then later in the police band at Godhra. I remember my mother - or was it my grandmother - telling me about their family's involvement in the Freedom struggle. Somebody had given them a tricolour woven in khadi. Poor as they were, they made a pillowcase out of it. When grandfather retired and the family began moving back to Goa, they had to hide the tricolour pillowcase very carefully, for fear of violence from Freedom activists. That was my family's involvement in the Freedom struggle. Not very glorious - but it does give a window into how the struggle impacted an ordinary family: the struggle for survival seems to have taken the upper hand. Or perhaps they simply had not been evangelized by Gandhi.

I don't remember having ever found the offensive pillowcase. Perhaps the khadi just did not last.

Raimundo Panikkar dead

Francis D'Sa SJ sent a note to Nelson Falcao that Raimundo Panikkar passed away a couple of days go (26 August, to be precise). "Our guruji is dead," D'Sa wrote. The funeral is, I think, on 4 September 2010, which is tomorrow.

He was 91.

Certainly one of the great pioneers in the movement known as 'inculturation' in the Indian church, but probably overflowing that tag. World-renowned 'Indian' scholar, if we might put it that way - but once again he overflows that tag.

The Diari de Catalan calls him "El Buda Catalan" - The Buddha of Catalonia (a region of Spain).

The Periodista Digital speaks of his journey from Opus Dei to interreligious dialogue.

I remember how thrilled I was reading his Myth, Faith and Hermeneutics, and then The Intra-religious Dialogue while in theology (Dominic Veliath had just returned with his doctorate on Panikkar). Some of those writings are brilliant: his reading of the Sunahsepa story (sunah sepa - tail of the dog; we still say sunem for dog in Konkani); his take on infallibility; his insights into diaogue (how even those who believe all religions are equal can be manifesting a form of triumphalism or better-than-thou attitude; and how it might be truly more humble to say, yes, this is what I believe, and I don't know how to reconcile it with the possibility and the probability that you too are right).

Panikkar helped me to begin entering to my own inherited faith: "If you would get out of your religion, you must either sink to the depths or rise to the heights." In other words, only the mystic has the right and the competence to pass a judgment on his religion. He was pointing out the necessity of the hermeneutic of love / trust / recovery before the hermeneutic of suspicion. It was one of my turning points. I lay my little tribute to this man: he is part of the knot that I am in the web of relationships. One day I hope for a flowing together of  Panikkar and what I have learnt from Lonergan.

I was always thrilled about the fact that Panikkar was one of those who made the journey to the mouth of the Ganga in the company of Swami Abhishiktananda. Perhaps because I was myself overcome with that desire to trek to Gangotri. Or perhaps that kind of desire is an obscure symbol of the drive that drives me: to return to the source of things.

May this great man rest in peace.

Thursday 2 September 2010

Gift and covenant

The idea of exchange-gift, reciprocity as characteristic of loving - echoes the idea of covenant. Milbank says so explicitly.

The reciprocity of loving

Extremely interesting, as I have already said! Great echoes of Jose Luis Plascencia's stress on the reciprocity at the heart of loving. Milbank firmly rejects the idea of unilateral non-reciprocated gift as the only true gift espoused by Derrida and Marion. He even accuses both of remaining trapped into Cartesian myths of prior subjectivity. ["The Midwinter Sacrifice" 123-4.]

Milbank on the ethical

Milbank - extremely interesting. Just yesterday I was asking my class to ask themselves: Why do I do what is good? This morning I find Milbank questioning the 'recent consensus' regarding the ethical as primarily self-sacrifice for the other, on the grounds that such a notion leads to the paradoxical affirmation that true nobility and purity of religious self-sacrifice is only realized in a secular sphere - as, in fact, I was quoting Sartre as saying. This position is common, says Milbank, to Patocka, Derrida, and probably Levinas.

How does Milbank arrive at such a conclusion? In four steps.

First, The notion "that only an entirely sacrificial giving without any expectation of a counter-gift distinguishes the gift from a form of self-interested contract." [122.]

Second, the notion that death, far from being complicit with evil, is the necessary condition for the event of the ethical as such. this for two reasons: first, only our vulnerability, the possibility that we might die, allows us to make an appeal as needy people to our neighbour; and second, only the capacity of the ethical subject to respond to the needy person, if necessary with his own death, guarantees his deed as truly ethical, as truly disinterested gift.

Third, the notion that 'God' must be reduced to a shadowy hypostasized other lurking behind the human other; because any God who interfered to 'reward' the disinterested giver would undo the purity of this disinterest and the purity of the ethical realm.

And so, fourth, the paradoxical affirmation that the true nobility and purity of religious self-sacrifice is only realized in a secular sphere, that there alone a dying for the other achieves genuine sacred value. [122.]

All this from J. Milbank, “The Midwinter Sacrifice,” The Blackwell Compaion to Postmodern Theology, ed. Graham Ward (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001) 107-130. 


I am delighted to find most of Milbank's books in our library! Somebody has been working hard. 

Caputo on religion

Been reading Caputo's On Religion (2001). Amazing communication skills. Easily one of the best philosophers in this regard.

So Caputo makes a passionate case for (his) postmodern take on religion. Religion is not a knowing that, but a doing, a facere veritatem, a passionate loving. A question that he raises all through the book is: What do I love when I love my God? This, I think, is from Augustine who he respects tremendously; but by the end of the book he 'dares' to modify Augustine: How do I love when I love my God?

So: not whether God exists or not; not who is God; but: how do I love? What is the quality of my loving? God is love; or perhaps love is God. There is a fundamental undecidability here, which we must simply learn to accept and live with.

But there is, for Caputo, no such undecidability on the level of doing: here loving is decidedly different, even a criterion, as against what he calls the phallic orgasmic tragic heroism of a Nietzsche.

I love Caputo, I love the way he writes, and I confess I am tremendously inspired by what he has written. But: but: I ask myself some questions.

First, is it necessary really to jettison what he calls propositional truth, and what I might refer to as cognitive meaning, in favour of performative meaning? And: what might be the reasons for this?

Second, Caputo's bete noire is the Radical Christian Right, and, by extension, the Abrahamic religions as they have traditionally understood themselves. I think his kind of critique and position falls rather flat in an Indian context where his type of undecidability is quite the norm. I mean, people from Vivekananda on have been shouting themselves hoarse about all religions being equal; but, as the late lamented Panikkar (he died last week) acutely pointed out, Neo-Vedantins have a way of using the equality stick to beat everyone and to put themselves on a pedestal as knowing that everyone is equal. Anything can become arrogance - including Caputo's type of postmodern religion without religion. And, on the other hand, I think it is quite possible to believe in the very traditional sense, and yet participate in all the fragility of the human condition, and still be passionately loving! I hesitate strongly to accept Caputo's equation between believing and fundamentalist willingness to kill in the name of belief. Anil Dharker said long ago, there are good fundamentalists and bad fundamentalists, where fundamentalist is anyone who believes anything - almost Caputo! - but the good ones like Mother Teresa don't kill.

Third, Caputo's position smells very much like the old Liberalism or Modernism. Again, what is the difference between Schillebeeckx's option for praxis, for a political theology and a narrative theology?

Fourth, did not Karl Barth also try to place God beyond categories of being and non-being? Caputo: the pre-moderns held religion to be real, the moderns held it to be un-real, but the post-moderns hold it to be beyond real and unreal, hyper-real. Caputo makes a strong case for religion against the modern idea that God and religion are dead. But his is a religion that equates to ethics, that is post-metaphysical, that is, perhaps, poetic in the Heideggerean sense, that plays in the gaps and the difference like Derrida. Much needed corrective to too much 'certainty' or thinking that we know in traditional religion. But... but? I quote here a very Caputish passage I wrote yesterday off the top of my head (my imagined audience being ACPI 2010):

As usual, Caputo plays on the gap between knowing something and understanding everything about that knowledge. He is right – and also wrong. There is a gap; but it is not where he has placed it. There is fragility in all knowledge, and in all religious knowledge, but I find it can be acknowledged without going to the neo-modernist lengths that Caputo and his ilk are ready to go. But it certainly makes good copy! But as de Marneffe used to say: novelty – and, I would add, excitement – is not the criterion of truth. But then, there again, that bad word, truth. It should be defined out of existence. Really. Truly. / So: I am sure I do not agree with all that you people hold. I am sure you will not even agree with my statement that I do not agree with what you hold, because, you will say, it is not quite right to say that we hold something. Whatever. But this much I want to say: I believe I do not agree with you; but I am not ready to kill you for that. I refuse to accept the label fundamentalist just because I hold something that is - somewhat – definite. Ultimately, I think a Caputish position bogs down in precisely the bog it wants to avoid: the night in which all cows are black. Caputo resists the levelling down of Nietzschean amor fati. I think we have to resist the levelling down of Caputish undecidability, while still accepting the fragility of all truth. So: down with Reason! But still we disagree.
Besides, there are other varieties of postmodernism and postmodern takes on religion. This morning I want to explore Radical Orthodoxy.

Saved through our weakness

The Panda Dragon Warrior was 'redeemed' through his weakness - food. Master Shifu realizes that the usual training methods are not going to work with this one; and he uses his weakness for food to train him. And it works astoundingly well.

I was wondering whether there is a general law of the spirit here: we are saved through our weakness - if we allow God to...

Perhaps it is also related to the martial arts principle of using the opponents strength against him.

Wednesday 1 September 2010

Gandhi's turning point

From A. Pushparajan, "Gandhi's Non-Violence: Significance for Christian Philosophizing", Violence and its Victims: A Challenge to Philosophizing in the Indian Context, ACPI Papers vol. 11, ed. Ivo Coelho, forthcoming:  

Mohandas K. Gandhi was not a born genius. He was indeed a most ordinary man, physically weak and frail. As a student he was ‘mediocre.’ By nature he was timid and shy. In the beginning of his career, he was unsuccessful as a lawyer, and an escapist in many respects.[1] If such an ordinary person could turn out to be a warrior of social justice, spending the whole of his life in leading so many non-violent movements, it was mainly because of a turning point in his life.
The turning point was an incident in a train which led Gandhi to realize that he had a mission towards the victims of racial violence. Gandhi went to South Africa in 1893 on a yearlong contract to lend such services as translating vouchers into English and presenting them to the attorney and thus being helpful in the court case of certain Sheik Abdulla, a Gujarati merchant in South Africa. After landing in Durban, a port city, Gandhi was supposed to reach the place of his destination by train. He travelled first class the whole day long. At about 9.00 p.m. the train reached Pietermaritzburg and an Englishman entered the compartment. He expected Gandhi, as per convention, to vacate the compartment and go to the third class. Unaware of the local customs, Gandhi claimed his right to continue travelling in the compartment because he possessed a first class ticket. Disturbed by this grave ‘act of impoliteness,’ the white man brought in the railway officials and a police constable who simply took Gandhi by the hand and pushed him out of the train, throwing out his luggage. Gandhi was thus left all alone on the platform, in an unknown land, at an ungodly hour.
After a while the puzzled young man went to the waiting room and sat down. It was winter and already bitterly cold. A cold wind gushed into the room through a broken glass-pane. He had an overcoat, but it was in his luggage, and the station master had taken charge of it. Gandhi did not have courage to ask for it lest he be insulted again. He spent a sleepless night sitting alone in that room, brooding over what had happened to him. From this enforced meditation three questions cropped up again and again: Should he go back to India? Should he put up with insults? Or should he stay and fight? In the process, he was endowed with deeper insights into the social issues involved. The insult he got was not due to any fault of his own. Nor was it the result of a personal grudge or animosity of those white men against him; they did not even know who Mohandas was. It was simply an instance of systemic evil, social violence wrought by the people of the ruling class over the coolies. Further, the hardship that Gandhi was subjected to was only superficial, merely a symptom of the deep-rooted disease of colour prejudice. While the indentured labourers thought it discreet to put up with insults, Gandhi could not. It was against his self respect. He could not return to India as he had already come on a contract. So he deemed it his duty to try to root out the problem, if possible. The resolve set in so firmly that it was like “iron entering his soul.” He had turned into an altogether different man.
The shy and timid man became so bold that he went to the station master without any hesitation and insisted on his right to lodge a complaint against the Railway Board. He also managed to send a long telegram to Sheik Abdulla and another to the General Railway Manager, who in turn instructed the Station Master to arrange for Gandhi’s safe journey to his destination. Accordingly Gandhi could travel in the train without any problem. On reaching Charlestown in the following morning, he had to travel on a stage-coach up to Johannesburg. He was eligible to take the coach with the same ticket. But the problem for the coach-agent was how to accommodate a coloured man inside the coach with the white passengers. Finally the agent offered his own seat near the coachman’s seat, outside the coach-box, while he himself sat inside the coach. This was not the usual thing for him. Around 4 o’clock in the evening, he felt like a smoke and so wanted to sit in his usual seat. He came outside the box and asked Gandhi to vacate his seat and sit on the footboard. This was evidently an insult, too much for Gandhi to bear.
It was time to put his resolve into practice. So now, though in fear and trembling, Gandhi firmly said: “It was you who seated me here, though I should have been accommodated inside. I put up with the insult. Now that you want to sit outside and smoke, you would have me sit at your feet. I will not do so, but I am prepared to sit inside.” Even as Gandhi was struggling through these words, the man came down upon Gandhi, boxed his ears, seized him by the arm and tried to drag him down. Gandhi would not vacate the seat on his own. He clung to the brass rails of the coachbox, determined to keep his hold even at the risk of breaking his wrist bones. The man was swearing at Gandhi, dragging and belabouring him, while Gandhi remained calm. Meanwhile the other passengers, moved to pity, intervened and said that Gandhi was not to blame. They even pleaded for his being seated inside with them. At this the coach agent was somewhat crestfallen. He stopped beating Gandhi and left him alone, though swearing at him a little more.
This incident gave Gandhi a little insight into the method of fighting against injustice. One should never yield to injustice on one’s own. One should protest it firmly, but be ready to suffer patiently and willingly all the consequences of the protest. The aim of such a protest was to move the heart of the evil-doer to realize his mistake, moving at the same time the other innocent persons who would prevail upon the evil-doer to change. Fighting for justice need not necessarily mean dealing violently with the oppressor. On the contrary if the oppressed deals with the oppressor with love and sympathy, and yet remains strong in refusing to yield, he would be able to change the evil. Hence Gandhi initially gave the name ‘Passive Resistance’ to his method of non-violence.


[1] A. Pushparajan, “Universal Spirit and Indigenous Leader,” Vaiharai: The Dawn 3/1 (1998) 36-55.

Means and ends

Does the end justify the means? Or should both ends and means be good?

Gandhi was clear on this point: a good end does not justify bad means. Both ends and means must be good, otherwise the good that is achieved will itself be marred.

Gandhi refused to indulge, for the most part, in group bias. He also seems to have eschewed general bias, being willing to sacrifice short term goals for long term ones. Thus he eschewed the use of violence, believing that violence could never lead to true justice and peace.

Each one of us has to make up his / her mind on the point.

And for that it might be good to study the great figures of history. Which are the world historical figures who have contributed to the lasting good of humankind? Which ones instead were fighting merely for sectarian gains?

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