Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Taking things to their limit.

Today's news has hit hard, the attack on the school in Pakistan has really cut me up.  Pakistan is a country I have an uncommon affection for and I know too many Pakistanis for this not to hurt.  But my grief is not primarily a personal grief, it is a grief born of watching Islam tear itself apart, and the all too frequent tragic consequences of this rupture.

Now what is the correct response to this for Catholics?  I do know that painting Islam as the enemy, or indulging in some ghastly smug "I told you so, they are a heretical sect and heresies burn themselves out eventually", is quite simply wrong.  Each and every soul on this planet was made by God, each and every soul on this planet has a guardian angel.  Each and every soul on this planet is hardwired to recognise real love and each and every soul is free to receive or reject that love. Christians: we should know them by their love.  That is it.  That is our response.  And we have to take our love to the limit, basically because it isn't our love but the love of God manifest in us... somehow that is what we have to do.

The intellect is stronger than the heart and I do wonder if deep down there may be an intellectual solution to this tragedy.  My personal view (and I'd be interested if anyone out there who actually has a degree in Philosophy and isn't simply some second rate easily bored Physics teacher agrees with me) is that Islam has developed a parasitic "heresy" of its own and this is the source of the problem.

The heresy in question is what I will call "neo-Occasionalism".  Occasionalism is a philosophy developed mainly by Al-Ghazali (1058-1111) out of Oriental Atomism which refutes Aristotle's idea that there are efficient causes to anything.  An example of an efficient cause is a sculptor being the efficient cause of a sculpture.  Aristotle has three other "causes": material, formal and final.  (Go google them if you are interested).  Al-Ghazali argued that there are no efficient causes, basically because God does everything, the efficient cause is merely an illusion. Occasionalism was largely taken up by Sunnis and the influential Wahaabi movement. And I hereby wish to state that I am not attacking Occasionalism, but I am attacking what it has morphed into.

It sort of boils down to God being in every atom and God doing everything.  If taken to its limit, it seems to make God suffer from OCD.  And this is what I think has happened in "neo-Occasionalism", you get a system where God is doing everything.  But remove God from this philosophy for a moment (and simply consider a world where nothing is random and everything is pre-ordained) and you discredit most of Physics.  All systems of things have "degrees of freedom", laws governing things they can and can't do.  As as example, think of a volcano, it can chuck out pyroclasts as is pleases provided they interact with the local gravitational field according to physical law.  Nothing arranges the pyroclasts, they are simply spewed out.  But a volcano isn't free to spew out liquorice allsorts any more than a blackbird is free to sing like Justin Bieber.  Things operate within degrees of freedom, but not beyond that and neither are they straightjacketed into a particular rigid single behaviour. Physics can't predict every outcome, it can only assess possible outcomes.  The universe is not clockwork.

And this logic applies to humans too.  We operate under certain laws and suffer the consequences of not heeding to those laws AND we have free- will.  That is our God given "degree of freedom".  The freedom to choose our actions.  The freedom to do stupid things and the freedom to sin.  God cannot make us sin.  And here is the crux my argument. Sin really is one thing that ONLY has an effective cause.  The effective cause of the sin is the sinner.  Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.  The devil did not make you sin, YOU can resist the devil by God's grace.  You are responsible for your own sin.

BUT remove the efficient cause and you basically remove sin.  The tragic consequences of this unthinking "neo-Occasionalism" are the IS, the Boko Haram rapists and slaverymongers and people who think it is OK to blow up schoolchildren.  To them, God's doing everything.  And there is sweet nothing in the writings of the Koran that legitimises any of this cowardice and stupidity.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

the violent bear it away....

There was a small female pheasant left over from last week's shoot, neither the beaters or the shooters wanted it.  So it has been hanging in my shed for a week and today was the day when I came to skin and gut the bird for my Sunday lunch.  As feathers fly everywhere, I did this outside, watched from a distance by a lazy red kite.  I felt like shouting at it, "go kill something yourself, you lazy bird, this is my dinner and you are not having it".

I've done this many times before, I do think it is important that if I eat meat, I should know how to prepare it from its original state.  It is not a weekly thing, Wessex is not without a decent butcher or two, but worth doing for many reasons...... but I'm no ace with the knife.

It was as I was ripping the wings from the carcass that a thought came to me that I'd like to share with you.  It concerns that mysterious and multilayered saying of Our Lord's regarding St John the Baptist.

And from the days if John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence and the violent bear it away.  Matt 11:12

There I was dislocating the exquisite, precision engineering and soft, sublime, beauty of a pheasant's wing from its body, and it didn't feel great.  I was doing violence to God's creation.  But yet, there was no sin in it.  No act of cruelty had taken place, the bird had been well shot and downed instantly, not maimed by an overenthusiastic badly trained hunting dog.  God gives us stewardship over His creation, we are entitled to kill, butcher and eat what He provides. 

The violence in the act was violence devoid of sinful intent.  It was the violence of a mortal being who wanted food and had a legitimate right to that food.

How much more beautiful and perfect is heaven than that pheasant's wing?  How violent, ugly, grasping, needy and selfish are even the best of our prayers that we storm heaven with, compared with the music and prayers of angels and saints.  We are rough, violent, arrogant and needy in all that we do, yet the angels and saints make no complaint and bring our petitions before God.

How dreadful, uncouth and unholy are even the most reverently said Masses compared to the eternal liturgy of heaven?  Yet our pathetic representation and offerings are taken heavenward by God's angels and He permits His Son to become truly present in the Bread and Wine at the command of His unworthy priest.

We are doing violence to the perfection of Heaven, and God desires that we do.  He has come to us, He dwells with us, He loves us in all our pathetic, clumsy, irreverent, stinking humanity.

He gave me the astonishing beauty of a dead pheasant for me to fill my belly with, and there was simply no need for it to be so beautiful, (unless He wanted me to contemplate heaven).... and therein lies a great mystery.

Chardin- Still-life with pheasant

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Holy Theologians, Batman!

For the first time in his pontificate, I have really taken offence at something the Bishop of Rome has uttered.  You can read it here : http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2014/12/06/the-church-needs-more-female-theologians-says-pope-francis/

Normally, I find his style very petrine: loving, passionate and foolhardy.  One just knows his heart is in the right place, but like Peter he can be totally irritating, but that is my problem not his, he is the Rock, and that is that, and I accept his rockiness, that is part of my faith.

However, hmmmm, I'm exceedingly uncomfortable when he says we need more female theologians.   My uneasiness stems from my asking: just what is a theologian?

Isn't a theologian one who studies the Divine?  Isn't that all of us who claim to be Christians?  Don't we all embark on a journey to study the Divine.  Theology is a practical science and one we should all be very much involved in undertaking.  Is the Holy Father saying we need more female Christians?  Surely not!

I have a horrid feeling the Holy Father is referring to those who are professional theologians, those who make their living out of its study (and not necessarily its practice).  We need more theologians like the mice in my kitchen need a trap.  Lord preserve us from professional Catholics, Lord preserve us from professional theologians, irrespective of their genital apparatus.

Being a theologian is not one of the manifestations of the Spirit that St Paul talks about in 1 Cor 12.  The Spirit can give the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, the grace of healing ,the working of miracles, prophecy, the discerning of spirits, tongues and interpretation of speeches.  It is these things that we need, and the Holy Spirit can only work in those who seek the Lord with humility and purity of heart.  I can not reconcile this with a life in academia studying "theology".

We should be living theology not studying it.  There is such danger in seeing the Church as being made up of two things, a body of professionals and those who ought to be grateful for the work those professionals do.  I've heard better theology from a 5 year old child than from many a professional theologian.

Strawberry on the cake, pah!