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  • : The blog of Frank Beswick. It deals with my interests in religious, philosophical spiritual matters and horticulture/self-reliance
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December 18 2011 1 18 /12 /December /2011 15:01

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One queston that is seriously discussed by scholars is how the man Jesus came to be seen as divine. He was a prophet, as the Muslims think, but what is it that made him be seen as more than a prophet, but as the incarnation of the Son of God. I suggest that one overlooked factor in this process has been that Jesus was a source and occasion of religious experience. The basic religious experience is a sense of presence, as Beardsmore calls it, or of presence/power, in Buber's terminology. The presence that he possessed, I suggest, was disclosed not all the time, but in certain key moments and in encounter with him.Those who engaged with Jesus would, I believe, have sensed that there was something more about him.

 

How is this claim to be backed up? tTere are hints in Scripture that suggest that this might be the case. At the heart of it is Jesus' voice had impact on those whom he healed. In Mark chapter 2 we find the case of paralysed man. It seems likely that this man was suffering from hysterical paralysis generated by guilt. This condition is often caused by stress, and if he felt guilty then he might well have suffered psychosomatic consequences. Jesus not only knew the origin of the condition, but declared that the man's sins were forgiven. The voice of Jesus seemed to penetrate deep into the man's psyche and release the psychological chains. Similarly in the cure of Jairus' daughter, the girl, who was not dead but only  sleeping, had appeared clinically dead. Jesus' voice seemed to penetrate into the heart of her mind and effect the transformation.

 

After the disciples whom he met on the road to Emmaus [Luke 24] realized who he was they declared "Did not our hearts burn within us when he explained the Scripture." They seem to have regarded this ability to religiously inspire people was a characteristic of Jesus. He seemed to be a source of charismatic inspiration that gave an intense spiritual joy to those who listened to him

 

One important element in this suggestion is the transfiguration, Mark 9,2-20. Jesus was with three disciples on a  mountain when he they saw him transfigured by a brilliant light. This is a classic quasi-sensory experience, and a non-physical light seems to be very common in religious experiences. Interestingly, it seemed to emanate from Jesus, making him the source of light. There were other characteristics of this experience, the presence of Moses and Elijah and the cloud, which was always seen as a sign of divine presence. The voice of God designating Jesus as his Son is also very significant. The totality of the occasion marks Jesus as someone above the normal and of peculiar holiness and favour with God.

 

John's Gospel, which is not always totally historical when facts are concerned, hints that believers saw Jesus' glory, and this is common throughout the text. The glory of God is the Shekinah, God's presence, so the hint is that Jesus is the means by which God's glorious preence was known to humans. This is not the glory of the blazing theophany on Sinai, with thunder and lightning, but of the gentle breeze in the Elijah story, in which God is not present in the earthquake or the wind and fire, but in a quiet whispering breeze.[1 Kings 19,9-14.]

 

The religious experience that was Jesus carried on in the early church through the coming of the spirit, and believers sensed that in the shared eucharistic meal the Lord's presence was still there.It is this ongoing sense of presence power and the charismatic inspiration that Jesus brought that drove Christians to the realization of his unique status and has driven Christian theology forward from that time onwards

 

 

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December 7 2011 4 07 /12 /December /2011 09:16

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According to secular epistemology religious experience should not happen. We are supposed to experience only the phytsical world through the five senses. This creates a problem, as there are people who claim to experience realities beyond the physical world. Here a thinker comes to a fork in the road: does he say that as his theory does not allow for such realities, the experience is not genuine; or does he accept that there are realities and modes of experience that are not covered by his theory, and expand the theory to cope with them. The former places theory first, the latter experience first. Those who take the first path are akin to the people who looked at the moon through Galileo's telescope and declared that the mountains there must be cracks on the lens, so desperate were they to retain their theory.

 

Religious experiecne has a number of characteristics. However, the root of it seems to be a sense of presence. Beardsmore writing in A Sense of Presence [published by the Religious Experience Research Unit at Manchester College, Oxford] argues that this sense of being in the presence of a holy being is the root of all genuine religious experience. Buber, a Jewish thinker, writing in I and Thou, argued that this experience is a sense of presence/power. It might be experienced as either power or presence or both. For many people the sense of presence is an ennobling and stimulating experience, which deeply enhances their lives.

 

Writing religious expereicne  off as hallucination is not good enough. David Hay, a  psychologist of religion writing in Religious Experiecne, correlates religious experience positively with mental health, as those who claim it tend to score higher on mental health ratings than non-experiencers.It is also noteworty that hallucinations are quite grotesque and individual, whereas religious expereicnes have a shared form outlined here and are never grotesque. The proponents of halluicnation are exercising the ignoble art of explaining away the embarrassing experiecnes that don't fit in with their theories

 

Religious experience has various forms beyond a sense of presence. There are what is known as quasi-sensory phenomena. These are visions of varous kinds, auditory and olfactory phenomena. The churches often take these carefully, as they can be problematic. True visons are quite rare, but there are people who claim to have experienced bright non-physical light in association with religious experience. If you look at the picture above you see the Transfiguration of Jesus when the apostles saw him radiating light. This seems to be an example of this kind of experience. It is associated with a sense of presence and there is also a sense of extreme goodness involved. We can draw parallels with the near death experience, where light and personal presence seem to be strong characteristics of the experience. Auditory phenomena are known. Rolle, the fourteenth century Engish mystic, experienced the divine presence as incredibly beautiful music. Occasionally scents are experienced, but these are rare.

 

Mystical experiences are known. these are high level experiences in which the subject feels merged with the One. However, not all mysical experiences are religious, as it is possible to have a non-religious sense of merging with the all. Many people have doubts about mystical experiences. However, William James argued that the reliable ones met the following characterstics: transient [they [pass quickly]  unitive [the subject feels merged with the ultimate reality] inefffable [cannot be fully expressed in words] and noetic[ they have the feel that accompanies all experiences of the Real.

 

Supporters of religious experience accept that there are false experiences, but they argue that the key to distinguishing true and false is their personal benefits. As God is good, any contact with God is beneficial. Just as we feel enhanced by the presence of a good person and diminished by the presence of a bad one, so in God's presence we must blossom and grow. One with a bad feel or which leads a person to evil is not to be accepted as genuine. It is wise to take advice if there are any problem experiences.

 

Those studying religious experiences should avoid these twin faults: there is the Scylla of rejecting in a biased way, trying to explain away what does not fit into one's world-view and which challenges one to change; there is the Charybdis of uncritical acceptance, which can seriously mislead. An open and critical mind is essential. What is the case is that many people are deeply moved and have their lives enhanced by these experiences. William James, who adopted the pragmatic theory of truth, which argues that truth always produces good results, saw this fact as being in favour of religious experience. However, the pragmatic theory is controversial and not universally accepted, though there is certainly something in it.

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December 4 2011 1 04 /12 /December /2011 21:16

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The Christian monastic garden is an attempt to provide a space which is both sacred and useful. It must be sacred so as to be conducive to prayer, but it is to be useful because human needs must be served. The design arose in the first millenium at the monastery of St Gall in Swirtzerland, but it derives from the monastic spirit. St Gall was established by Irish monks led by St Columbanus, but it was taken over by the Benedictine rule, which became the monastic norm for Western Christianity.

 

At the centre was a cloister garth, which we can see in the picture above. This was a large square or rectangular garden surrounded by cloisters on all four sides. Cloisters are covered walkways where monks can walk abd meditate, or where they can sit and read overlooking a pleasant view. The cloister garth was a lawn, but this was not always the modern lawn. Mediaeval lawns often allowed the grass to be longer than modern lawns and sometimes there were bulbs planted in the ground so that they would be studded with flowers.At times there was statuary present.

 

There was also a paradise garden. This was at the head of the abbey church and would be filled with beautiful flowers. The aim was to recreate the garden of Eden, and it was a place which was intended to stimulate the spirit to appreciate the glories of God as revealed in nature and therefore lead the viewers to prayer. The paradise sometimes doubled as the sacristan's garden, though the bigger monasteries had a dedicated sacristan's garden. The sacristan was the official responsible for the upkeep of the church and the arrangement of services. It was his job to grow the flowers which were picked for the altar. Catholic services use colour coded vestments, for example red for martyrs' feast days and white for other saints, so the flowers would be grown and chosen accordingly. The sacristan would have to ensure a year long supply of flowers.

 

Many of us have all seen Cadfae on television or read the stories of this fictional monk-healer. There used to be a herbal garden in all monasteries growing medicinal herbs for the healer. These herbal gardens have long since died out as modern medicine has taken over. However, they were a major part of the life of the mediaveal monastery, even up to the nineteenth century. Some monasteries used a dedicated brewers' garden, where the herbs used in brewing were grown.  These were not just hops, as ale was flavoured with a variety of flavourants, such as alecost, meadowsweet  and mugwort. It may surpise many people that monks drank ale, but Catholicism has never been a teetotal faith. It merely opposes drunkenness and dependence on alcohol, though there have been teetotal Catholics.

 

The productive gardens were the heart of the monastery. Here the monastic gardener grew the vegetables for the monastery throughout the whole year, vital at a time when food supplies could not easily be imported and when people needed to provide food security for themselves. Bees were an important part of these walled gardens, and they were kept in little recesses in the monastery gadren walls. The monks used beeswax for the candles used in services. Even today Catholc ism sues beeswax candles in religious ceremonies. The chief gardener was known as the gardinarius or the hortulan, but in the middle ages there was  special assistant called a mustardarius, whose job was to provide the mustard plants that the monks felt that they needed.It seems that mustard was considered a must-have by monks.The productive garden often had a nursery section known as the impgarth, an imp being  a term for a small person or creature.

 

 

Other minor gardens included the abbot's garden, only found in the larger monasteries, where the abbot, an important figure in mediaeval times who might have received important visitors, entertained dignitaries. This would be mainly flowers. The guest house garden was a small garden that was for the entertainment of guests, again focusing mainly on flowers. Monastic gardens were an important part of the tradition of this country until Henry the Eighth's  vast act of vandalism and theft destroyed the monasteries and depived England of so much beauty and culture. It is worth remembering the contribution that these  monasteries made to our national life, and when we see their ruins we might think of the gardens that once flourished there and the sacred music that once floated over their grounds.

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December 4 2011 1 04 /12 /December /2011 13:30

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God, Chance and Necessity is the title of an excellent book by Keith Ward that deals with the cosmological argument for the existence of God. The cosmological argument is the idea that the existence of God can be justified by asking how the universe came about and positing God as its source. It has two main aspects: firstly, the idea that the universe had a beginning in time and so cannot have made itself; and secondly that the universe is composed of dependent [contingent] beings and so must rely on a necessary, non-contingent being for its sustained existence. Russell argued that we should accept the universe as a brute fact and not inquire as to how it came about or what went before, but this satisfied no one, so questions have continued to be asked on this matter.

 

Aquinas took the view that the cosmological argument proved the existence of God, but this is incorrect. No statement about anything outside the known universe can be proved to the level that it is certain and therefore constitutes knowledge. However, it is also erroneous to say that we can make no statements about what is beyond and before the universe. We can make tentative suggestions that have the status of inferences, attempts to go beyond the data to an explanation.Some modern atheist scientists attempt to infer beyond the data by positing a multiverse, an infinite series of unverses, which they think enables them to do without God.

 

There are three possible hypotheses for the origins of the universe: God, chance and necessity. Let us start with the claim that the universe arose by chance. . How would we know that this was so? We would have to examine the state of affairs befiore the universe began.But this is impossible, as we have no scientific method to deal with it and no research apparatus takes us so far. Furthermore, we can only understand chance as the random movement of particles, but there were no particles before the universe came to be, and hence it is meaningless to talk of chance. In truth, chance is just a way of saying that you have not got a clue how things came to be.It is not a satisfactory explanation.

 

Necessity was postulated by Atkins, who Ward tells us says that the universe arose out a random fluctuation in quantum co-ordinates. However, Ward accuses him of the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, as he is making a reality out of numbers, which do not exist on their own. Russell pointed out in The Problems of Philosophy that numbers do not exist, but as universals they subsist in reality. The co-ordinates would have to exist to randomly fluctuate, which presupposes that there was something before the universe.This merely puts back the problem and solves nothing.

 

The multiverse suffers the same difficulty. This has become popular with atheists as it manages to stave off God. It is the idea that there is an endless number of universes and series of universes. Our universe has a parent, which had a parent and so on. This could be correct, and it certainly squares with Hindu views on God, but where is the evidence for this? We can make mathematical postulations, but they need substantiating by emprical research, which has so far shown us no other universes.

 

God comes next. Ward thinks that God is the best hypothesis, as it ties in with the anthropic principle. This is the observation that the universe seems fine-tuned for intelligent life. Had the value of certain key constants been slighly different intelligent life could not have occurred. The possibility that this happened by chance is remote, so God seems a good explanation. However, there are objections. Proponents of the multiverse argue that in an endless series of universes the right constants were bound to happen, though there is no evidence that such an endless series of universes has existed. Furthermore, a more cogent argument is that if the constants had been incorrect for life we would not have been here to observe them. However, this objection does not explain the fact that they are so fiinely tuned.

 

The objection " who made God" was solved by Aquinas who pointed out that if there is a series of contingent beings there has to be a necessary being, one whose existence does not depend on anything else for these beings to depend on, and so those who still raise this argument need not detain us until they can show that they can answer Aquinas' point. Aquinas argues  "This we call God." This is a cogent arument. but there are two caveats. Firstly, we cannot infer to any specific deity on the basis of this argument. It might be the Judaeo-Christian God or it might be Vishnu, or another deity entirely. The second caveat has been solved by no -one "Why is there anything at all." At best we can make inferences and opt for the one that makes sense.

 

Cardinal Newman argued that we have an illative sense. We gather together al the arguments and make a truth judgment. None is compelling in iotself, but together they lead us to a well-grounded belief.

 

 

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December 1 2011 5 01 /12 /December /2011 11:57

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There are three broad positions that a thinker can take:  atheism, the rejection of belief in God, theism [or its near relatives pantheism and deism, both of which accept belief in a  deity of a kind] and agnosticism, which is rejection of a formal conclusion on the issue. Theism is belief in a God who acts in the world; deism accepts a deity who created the world but does not act in it; and pantheism thinks that God is the world. They can all be lumped under the general heading a belief in a deity.

 

Let us dispense with one error, that atheism is not a belief. It is an error trawled up by several people who assert that if a child has never heard of God, he is an atheist, but he has no idea of God to reject, therefore atheism cannot be a belief. Therefore he has no specific belief in arheism. This is correct, but it is the not the case with most atheists, who have heard of God and reject him. So even if there is an atheist child who has not heard of God, other atheists, having heard of God,  make the assertion that there is no God, therefore their atheism differs from that of the merely ignorant person/child. As they make an assertion, their atheism is as much a belief as the claim that there is no God is a belief.

 

There is an ulterior motive behind the claim that atheism is not a belief. It is to allow the atheists to distance themselves from the conflicts about belief and claim that they rise above them. It is not a position that is tenable. Atheism is part of the conflict about beliefs, as it is a belief, or rather a cluster of beliefs centred on the idea that there is no deity.

 

Belief is distinguished from knowledge in that knowledge can only be held with certainty, whereas belief is incapable of being so. Knowledge has to be proven beyond all doubt, whereas belief requires mere justification. Humans have knowledge of very few things outside their immediate experience. The issue of whether or not there is a God is not an area where humans can have knowledge. At best, atheists, theists and agnostics can have only belief held with varying degrees of justification.

 

Why is this? God is beyond the visible, obvious world in which our senses work. Hence when we make any claim about God's existence or non-existence, or even express doubt, we are going beyond the senses and what we can securely know. This leads to one inescapable conclusion: philosophically no one can go beyond agnosticism. The person who asserts "I have not enough evidence for belief in God" cannot be defeated in argument. Either side might gather their arguments to persuade the agnostic, but he/she can simply assert that he remains unconvinced because neither set of arguments is compelling for him/her. The agnostic can point out that both atheism and theism make inferences, a process of going beyond the sensory data to hypothesise a conclusion that explains it, but that those who rely purely on the data derived from the senses cannot come to a conclusion about God's existence

 

This is not to say that there are no arguments in favour of each case. Both atheists and theists can marshall arguments in their favour, but they do not coerce assent. They remain justifications of an uncertain case. Agnostics can comprehend both cases, yet opt for neither, demanding more evidence.

 

So if there is any philosophical position which is "in possession" it is agnosticism. Yet both atheists and theists insist on going beyond the data to make inferences about God's existence. How can they justfy  their cases. The scholastic idea that God's existence can be proved has not proved to be sustainable, so the best that Christian philosophy can do is come up with a justification for belief, which is quite cogent. However, the most secure religious case is to admit that God lies beyond a gap which human understanding cannot cross, but that God has crossed the gap by disclosing himself to humans through revelation and religious experience. Humans cannot reach up to God, but God can reach down to humans. Many religious people believe that he works through messengers, such as prophets. So a theist can accept that the philosophical case for God is not proven, but can rely on the claim that God has disclosed himsef to humans in a  way that overrides the limitations of philosophy.

 

But what can an atheist say. To make their case with certainty atheists have to imply or assert that they know all the beings that there are in this world, all worlds and outside all worlds, and that none of them matches the description of any god or any conceivable god. To do this they must have inspected all worlds throughly. I doubt whather the most dedicated atheist will claim to have been in a  postion to have done this. So the case for atheism cannot be phiosophically sustained, though it is not disproven. Of the three possible cases, atheism is not philosophically the strongest, but the weakest. This is not to say that belief in God is proven. It is not, but disproving God is a very difficult task indeed. Religious believers though need to ensure that they rely  not purely on philosophical arguments, which are not good enough, but on the content of religious experience and revelation, on which their strongest case lies.

 

 

 

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November 26 2011 7 26 /11 /November /2011 09:28

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In the eleventh century Gregory the Great, a mediaeval pope, preached a sermon containing major mistakes which still persist today. He first of all declared that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, and then he managed to confuse four separate woman and rolled them all into one with Mary's name.

 

The first woman is obviously Mary herself. The gospels declare that she had seven devils cast out of her and was part of Jesus' entourage. There is no mention of prostitution, though she must have been a woman with serious mental and spoiritual problems. We do know that she was part of the band of disciples and funded Jesus from her own resources, indicating that she was well off. The next woman is the unnamed woman who was a sinner in Luke 7. She burst into a dinner party and began weeping over Jesus' feet, crying out her emotional problems. The gospels say that she had a bad name in the town, but had clearly taken to Jesus' teaching and repented. Jesus just let her cry it out and defended her against her critics. She is not to be identified with Mary Magdalene. Thirdly there is the woman taken in adultery in John 8, whom Jesus protedced from stoning. No name is given to this woman. She cannot be identified with Mary, as Jesus told her to go away and sin no more, while Mary was part of his entourage.

 

Finally there is the woman who poured ointment over Jesus' feet in anticipaton of his death. As this took place at Behtany, where Jesus was wont to stay, it is likely to be Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus. L:azarus was a high status Jew, as we can see from the fact that when he "died" Jews came to visit from Jerusalem. In John's Gospel the term Jew denoted members of the Judaean establishment, probably priests. Thus Mary was an upper class lady. She seems to have been a sensitive and spiritual kind of character, as she was keenly interested in Jesus' teaching and enjoyed a close relationship with him, as we see in John 11. She and her sister Martha seem to have been unwed, unusual for a woman of that time, so they may have been widows or temple virgins, set aside for singing in the temple. We cannot know.

 

However, Mary Magdalene was certainly close to Jesus. There are indications that she enjoyed physical affection, with him, but not that they were married. After the resurrection she made as if to cling to him, indicating that she was used to closeness, but Jesus indicated that he could no longer be known in this way. she was the first witness to the resurrection and because she informed the apostles of it, she is known as the apostle to the apostles.

 

Mary is significant, not because she married Jesus, a claim which is a mediaeval myth to legimitise the Merovingian dynasty in France, but because she was a woman apostle. All bishops claim to be successors to the apostles. The criterion for apostleship after Jesus. resurrection was having been a winess to the resurrection by meeting the risen Lord. Mary was the first witness, so she provides good ground for saying that Jesus did not choose only male apostles. Yes, in the early sense of apostle being one of the original twelve, he only chose males, but in the later sense he chose a female, so Mary is grounds for stating that the churches should have woman priest. 

 

Mary fades from history after the gospels. She was part of the community that received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, but after that there is nothing. This is not puzzling. We do not know the names of most of the hundred and twenty early disciples of Jesus, and none of them sought fame or a place in history books. Mary would have lived out her life as part of the community, enjoying the companty of Jesus' disciples and revering the memory and living presence of the one who was so close to her, waiting for their reunion after death

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November 24 2011 5 24 /11 /November /2011 09:13

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Faith is a word oft-used but little and frequently misdefined. Some are content with the jocular schoolboy definition that faith is believing what you would not believe unless you were told to do so. This, however, is not a definition in any theological or philosophical system, so let us discount it. We can also discount the old term "blind faith." The term blind faith arose in the nineteenth century when the fideists, a minority Catholic group, reacted against the claims of German rationalism that reason could reveal all truths. To preserve the truth that reason cannot reveal all truths, a discovery made by Kant, they took up the concept that faith was hostile to reason. This was a serious mistake and was not part of the Catholic theological tradition. Faith was seen, in their view, as opposed to the light of reason. Fideism was a minority view long since dead in Christian thought, but militant atheists have seen fit to preseve its memory for polemical purposes.

 

Another understanding of faith came from Kierkegaard, who is wrongly classed with the fideists. He also opposed the Germanic, Hegelian cult of rationalism, rightly pointing with Kant out that pure reason has its limits. He spoke of faith as a leap in the dark. It is this term that has seen him classed with the Fideists, but he is misunderstood. The leap in the dark was a rejection of what Hegelian rationalism called the light of reason, but the leap was in response to the Word of God calling from beyond the reach of human philosophical systems through the Scriptures. It is not an arbitrary act. Kierkegaard was working on a very Lutheran definition of faith as trust. Luther had thought that faith contained a strong element of trust. In this he differed from Catholicism, which saw faith as essentially compatible with reason. In fact, the hostility between faith and reason is a very Protestant matter, and it was never part of mainstream Catholicism.

 

The Catholic position has mainly been that faith and reason are compatible. It is a view strongly supported by the present pope. Aquinas believed that faith was a certainty that certain propositions are correct. This certainty was granted by God. This seems a weak definition, but it must be seen in the contect of Aqunias belief that faith and reason are ultimately compatible. "As light does not oppose  light, so truth does not oppose truth." he says in Contra Gentiles.Catholicism has always seen theology and philosophy as compatible, both pointing the same way by different methods.

 

Faith is far better seen as enlightenment. It is useful to see faith as the product of religious experience, the sense of presence that many feel in their more thoughtful moments. They are aware that there is "a presence that disturbs me with the joy, of elevated thoughts, of sense sublime, " [Wordswortth, Lines Written Above Tintern Abbey.]  This is what Martin Buber, the Jewish philosopher, calls the presence/power [a point that you can follow in his book I and Thou. ] This presence/power,   in Buber's view, addresses all humankind with gentle force. Certain charismatic individuals are the locus of this presence power, Jesus, for instance. Holy places might make us susceptible to its influence, just as great literature and music might.

 

We respond to this presence/power in love and trust. But we have to conceptualise it. It is here that we see the link with theology. Religious systems are the product of reflection on the faith experience. these conceptual systems are suyperstructures upon faith,. they are sueful in enabling us to handle it, but they cannot replace the genuine faith experience of the nearness of the presence/power of the divine. They might even get in the way of the life of faith, if they are ill-thought out or raise questions that they cannot answer. Faith, seen as enlighenment needs theology to provide it with a conceptual form, but theology needs the faith experience to give it life. Without this basic sense of presence theology is just a system of ideas.

 

 

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November 17 2011 5 17 /11 /November /2011 09:44

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In the nineteenth century a Russian traveller, Nicholas Rohrich, was talking to a Buddhist abbot in Nepal. He mentioned that Christians did not know what Jesus was doing for the first thirty years of his life. The abbot said that he was in india and Nepal and produced a document detailing the story of Jesus' travels in that land, where he is known by the Muslim name Issa. Rohrich translated the contoversial document. Initially it met with some disapproval, and Swami Abidananda set off to discredit it. However, when he translated the document he found that it said what the Buddhists said that it did.

 

The story goes that the young Jesus was keen to avoid an arranged marriage and set off with Jewish merchants to India. This is possible, as trade between the Roman empire and india was common. Brahmins recognised his spiritual standing and trained him in Indian healing techniques. However, he challenged idolatry, a key tenet of Hinduism, and even more dangerous, the caste system, resulting in a plot to kill him. Advised by friends he fled to Nepal and Tibet, where he settled with Buddhists, becoming an expert on Buddhist scriptures and deeply loved by the local people. There are legends of Issa in the region, but their provenance is uncertain. One group still honours Issa's memory, and they recall that he taught them to oppose the caste system. At twenty nine he returned to Israel, where the story is that he was put to death by Pontius Pilate.

 

The manuscript seems to have no connection with the gospels. Its theology is vague and not tlike any Christan theology known so far. It begins by saying that the great Saint Issa was the soul of the world who detached itself from the One to show men how to live. This is like the logos doctrine in John's Gospel to some degree, but not closely.

 

The text shows no detailed knowledge of the gospel text. There are no parables or known sayings, and the only two sayings are long and detailed. One is in defence of women, and another is against those who look down on manual workers. Both are in character for Jesus. The text presents him as the new Moses. This is a well-known Christian theme, but the Moses story, which it gives att he beginning, is long and detailed, containing information from the legends of Prince Moses, which were circulating round the East for centuries. The legends show that the writer had an oral knowledge of Moses, but not a textual knowledge of the Bible. The text also speaks of Jesus' parents, which shows that the writer knew not that Joseph was not on the scene when  Jesus was an adult. This indicates that the manuscript dd not come from any known Christian source. The text shows no blame for the chief priests but puts the blame entirely on Pilate, who is said to have spied on Jesus. Pilate's spying is likely to be true, and might explain why Pilate saw Jesus  as not being a threat.

 

Whether the story contains any truth is not known. Certainly it is the case that stories of great people circulate. It is also known that there were Nestorian Christians in the Nepal and Tibet region for centuries up to the Middle Ages. However, we would expect Nestorians to know the Scriptures better than the Himis writer did, and the theology in the manuscript is not Nestorian, which does not use any language remniscent of Himis. So the status of the text is open to question. That the Muslim name Issa is given is an indication that the text might be late rather than early.

 

It is important to say that the legend that the legend that Jesus revived in the tomb and visisted India after his death is totally different from this one, which has him visiting in his early life. The idea that someone could survive crucifixion and stabbing with a lance and walk off is ludicrous. It is a legend that developed to support the claims of the Ahmadi sect, that arose in the fourteenth century, that Jesus was their inspiration and has no credibility.  Whether Jesus ever visited India remains unknown, but this manuscript gives us an idea about what might have happened during the hidden years. Jesus wasa strong character, and like all strong characters would have lived a life that differed from the ordinary. He might have visited India, but does this manuscript tell the true story.

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October 20 2011 5 20 /10 /October /2011 14:42

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The statue depicted above shows us Aristotle, one of the great founders of ethics. Aristotle was one of those who gave us ethical theory. But in doing this he was putting into theoretica form the moral sense that humans have always had, even if they had not the theoretical, philosophical basis in which to express it.  There are different ethical theories, which I wil outline. I outline the basic theories here, but there are theories within theories, which would take too long to explain.

 

The basis of ethics

 

Ethics deals not with what is, but with what ought to be. Humans have a basic moral sense, a sense that is expressed in the worlds "should" or "ought." This is very different from the world "is." What is, might not be what ought to be. Injustice is a fact, but it ought not happen.

 

Divine command ethics:

 

This is one of the oldest ethical theories. It is the one that is at the basis of the Ten Commandments. The basic theory is that God knows what is best for you and society, and he is in authority, so you ought to do as he says. Emmanuel Kant criticised this theory of ethics, claiming that it is not as rational as other ethical theories, such as his own [more later.] Kant believed that simply obeying God was no better than obeying a ruler, and simple obedience does not guarantee that you are obeying the right rules. Objectors might argue that as God is supremely good and wise, and that he wills the best for humans, so obeying God's teaching is the right way to be. This position rests upon religious faith, and it does raise the issue of whether you are obeying the right book of rules, e.g the Bible, the Koran, etc.

 

Natural Law Ethics

 

This is a more sophisticated version of religious ethics very strongly held in Catholicism. It arose from the mediaeval synthesis of Catholic thought with Aristotelian philosophy developed by Aquinas and other Scholastic philosophers. For the scholastics every being has a nature that to some degree reflects a fragment of the glory of the creator, and it has a purpose that derives from this nature , which is to move towards God in a specific way. Every action should fulfil the purpose of your nature. The moral law is said to derive from this human nature that we possess. However, it is difficult to derive a comprehensive set of laws from human nature without religious revelation, but Natural law theorists are

happy to accept that this gives an important role to religion.

 

Deontological ethics

 

This derives from Emmanuel Kant in the eighteenth-nineteenth centuries. Kant believed that is we say you ought to be good to get a reward, you are not being truly ethical. This goes as far as  applying to those who say that  you ought to be good to go to heaven. He thought this a childish mode of ethical thinking. It is what he called a hypothetical imperative, "be good if...." He thought that what was truly ethical was a categorical imperative, a simple duty to be good whatever happens. For Kant the good rests on the good will. If you do right for the wrong reason you are not being ethical. He believed that there were certain basic duties that you had to perform whatever the circumstances. These include: respecting persons [the basis of ethics] not telling lies, not breaking promises, not committing murder, not stealing. So strict was  he in these duties that when asked what he would do if he were sheltering his friend from murderers, who come to the house asking if the friend is there, you must not lie. Critics see this as counter-productive.

 

Utilitarianism

 

This is an English theory developed originally by Bentham in the nineteenth century. Bentham believed that we should assess the moraility of every act by its consequences. so there are no absolute rules and there are no rights, which were nonsense on stilts. You should consider every being involved in the consequences of an act, even animals. Bentham's version is known as  Act Utilitarianism. The trouble is that the consequences of an act go on for ever, so in theory we can never fully assess its consequences. A more workable version came from John Stuart Mill, who produced Rule Utilitarianism. His picture is below. This is the idea that there are a number of rules that tend to produce good results, so we should follow those. Though he was an atheist, Mill respected the Ten Commandments, which the ever tolerant and open-minded Mill thought were a very effective set of rules. For Mill one key rule was the principle of liberty, that every perosn is entitlted to the maximum freedom compatible with equivalent freedom for others. If this rule were widely followed we would have a better world, but there have been criticisms of the workability of his theory at a political level. These criticisms mainly arise from left wing sources, for whom liberty is not highly prized.

 

Virtue Ethics.

 

in recent years there has been a resurgence of virtie ethics, with Anscombe and Foot at the forefront. This theory rests on the view that ethics is about making good persons, and it was originally expounded by Aristotle, who believed that if persons were educated to be virtuous they would act well of their own choice. This is completely in keeping with the religious ethics of the Sermon on the mount in Matthew chapter 5, where the Beatitudes describe the true Christian character, though not all virtue ethics are Christian. The limitation of virtue ethics is that it provides no  method for solving ethical dilemmas.

 

Situation ethics

 

Situation ethics has been an important issue in Christian thought in recent years, though there are modes of situation ethics that are not tied to Christianity. Popularised by Joseph Fletcher, it believes that love is the main principle and that only love is absolute, so you can break any rules if love demands that you do so, situation ethics provides some flexibility against the inflexibility of deontological ethics and natural law ethics, byt there are questions about how far love on its own is a rudderless principle that provides no real guidance about how to deal with dificulties and confllicts of values.

 

Reflection:

 

Does any ethical theory give all the answers? Perhaps we should draw on a range of etical theories and synthsise them to work out the best possible way of resolving our problems of how to act.

 

 

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October 20 2011 5 20 /10 /October /2011 10:34

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To understand Catholicism it is necessary to realise that it is not a purely private matter between  the individual and God. Catholicism is a community faith that lives by shared worship and attempts to express itself in the public world by creating a society according to God's lines. Catholicism therefore has a political expression. The Catholic Church has therefore developed a body of social teachings that prescribe how society ought to be run. These teachings are found mainly in encyclicals, letters from various popes to the whole church, and the teachings of church councils, such as Vatican Two. [Councils are numbered according to whether they were first,second, etc councils in that location.]

 

Encyclicals are named according to their first few words. So one of the main social encyclicals in Rerum Novarum [of new things] and another is Quadraegesimo Anno [in the fortieth year, after Rerum Novarum. A more recent one is the Church in the Modern World.

 

The sacredness of the person

 

Catholic thinking emphasises the dignity of every individual whatever their social class, physical condition and so on. It regards each person as being made in God's image and likeness and as having God-given destiny unique to his./herself. Every indvidual has a right to liberty to seek that destiny, which is why the church has always rejected slavery. Furthermore, the person is not to be reduced to a mere worker or consumer, as he or she has a humanity which transcends these limited social roles. The individual is always greater then the role that they occupy. All social systems must actively  work to respect the person, and any social systems that reduce people to roles are to be rejected. It is insufficient for a social and political system to say that it does nothing to prevent people from expressing their dignity, it must actively foster dignity.

 

The common good

 

This is a key Catholic concept, though it is difficult to define precisely. It is basically the idea that society as whole should benefit form economic and social activity. So for Catholics the private pursuit of personal gain at the expense of others transgresses the common good. Ideally, all should benefit from economic and social activities performed by individuals. Implicit in the notion of the common good is the idea that we find our dignity in communion with others rather than as an isolated individual or a member of a closed and limited group. The common good extends beyond the boundaries of the nation state to the whole human community.

 

For Catholicism there is such a  thing as society, but it should not swallow up individuality. The state and society are not the same. For Catholics the state is one of the institutions in society, but not the only one

 

Option for the poor.

 

A key biblical theme found in prophets such as Amos and Isaiah is the care of the poor. This means that poverty in a society is an affront and therefore society should rectify it by making positive programmes to alleviate it. These may be performed by state or by charities. Catholicism values the state, but does not idolise it.

 

Rights and Responsibilities

 

Human rights are an important Catholic concept, although Catholicism opposes the present trend to invent rights as and when it is convenient to do so, There is a core of basic human rights, at the head of which is the right to life. This right is possessed by everyone, including the unborn foetus. No life may be taken without the gravest of reasons. War is allowed a last resort under strict conditions. Not only must society not disprespect life, it must actively respect it by life-friendly social programmes.

 

Yet along with rights comes responsibilities. Catholic social teaching rejects the situation in which individuals demand their rights but give nothing back. Rights and responsibilities are two sides of the same coin.

 

Subsidiarity.

 

This important concept has entered into European social thought. It is the principle that nothing should be enacted at a higher political level if it can be performed further down the scale. For example, the state should not take decisions out of the hands of individuals and families if they can be performed at the individual and family level. Central government should not usurp the rights of more local governments. Subsidiarity is  a means of protecting aganst the tyranny of the centre and the majority. Catholicism has always rejected tyranny, just as it rejects anarchy.

 

Catholicism accepts that there is activity proper to the state and activity proper to indivdiuals. Between them lies civil society, voluntary associaton in which individuals seek a goal consistent with the common good. These include trades unions, friendly societies, co-operatves and so on. All these meet the approval of Catholic social thought, though it insists that they act ethically

 

Economic justice

 

Catholic social thought relies on the principle of justice, which is the first virtue of social institutions. Without justice society is  hellish for some. The Catholic view of justice is that all social groups are entitled to rights. Thus it rejects the extreme captialist view that workers do not matter, in favour of the view that workers, employers and consumers have rights and responsibilities. Thus Catholicism believes in the principle of fair wages and rejects the idea that the market should be the sole determinant of prices and wages in all cases. However, it realizes that markets have an important role, but that they are not to be idolised.They may need political moderation.

 

Stewardship.

 

Genesis is often translated as be fruitful, multiply and be masters of the earth, but this is a bad translation. The better term is be stewards of the earth. This means that humans do not absolutely own the world's resources. They belong to God and are given for the beenfit of all. So no individual or group may monopolise or make special claims upon natural resources. All must have equal shares. Care for future generations is a moral obligation incumbent on everyone.

 

Resources

 

A key idea is that no individual is entitled to excessive wealth if another is suffering. Every individual is entitled to a share of the world's resources sufficient to meet their needs.

 

Participation

 

As far as possible every person is entitled to the dignity of work, as work enables them to express their sacred status as beings made in the image and likeness of God. Work should be a positive experience for all persons, and workers should operate in conditions befitting their human dignity. Everyone has their own talents, and so as far as possible all should be given an opportunity to express their talents. This means that education for all is a moral necessity. Economic systems that reliy on unemployment or the threat of it to force down wages and conditions are unacceptable to Catholicism.

 

Furthermore, all should be able to participate in the governance of society. This means that various forms of democracy are the preferred political systems,as democracy is the social system that best reflects the dignity of all persons.

 

The global dimension

 

Catholic social thinking does not like the idea that the world is divided into competing nations. While it sees the need for national boundaries based on geographical and cultural divisions as being necessary for the administration of the world, it realises that society extends beyond national boundaries.There is one global human community under God. so nationalism, whose moral horizon is limited to its own borders, is rejected by Catholic thinking. Nations should care for each other and repsect each other's rights and property. For this reason Catholic social teaching supportstransnational institutions, though it realises that they can have their faults and should not exercise overmuch power. Similarly, Catholicism rejects class war, as all classes belong to the one human community.

 

Sources

 

Encyclicals:

Rerum Novarum

Quadrigesimo Anno

In the hundredth yeat

The Church in the Modern World

 

Documents of Vatical Two

 

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