Saturday, 12 October 2013

A religious life

We all have limited time, and limited energy, and limited attention. The whole drift of modern technology is to reduce it further. Many dreamed it would free us for leisure – but we were not told it would dictate to us what our leisure would consist in: playing around on Facebook, posting images on Instagram or Pinterest, obsessively writing blog entries that no one will read, and catching up on viral videos. The trap is sprung, the rabbit caught, the lobster is in the basket. Every keystroke is recorded, and used to advertise another set of things we don't want or need.

How do we escape? What if there is no escape? Why do we assume there is always an escape? The answer is that unless we do, we will certainly never find it, or if we do, we won't recognize it for what it is.

There is perhaps an analogy here with what was happening in the days of the Roman Empire. The early Christians were drawn more and more into the lives of the City and losing their focus on the things of God, on the necessity of prayer and solitude. The reaction was an exodus, led by Antony and

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Reign of Quantity

Reign of Quantity refers to the title of a book by Rene Guenon, the Sufi convert from Catholicism. It was written in the 1940s, a book that played a seminal role for many people in the rediscovery of "metaphysical" thought outside the mainstream intellectual culture (just at a time when the logical positivists and analytic philosophers were destroying its last traces in Oxford). I have mentioned it several times, not for the trivial reason that it influenced me, but because there are insights in it that remain important, not least for educators. An article has recently appeared in Sacred Web journal by Patrick Laude looking back at Guenon's book.

One may bracket out the historical theory about repeating cycles (further developed by Robert Bolton in The Order of the Ages), or Guenon's tendency to confuse logic with ontology or Islam with Vedanta, while still retaining the thought that in today's world we are seeing a grand reversal or inversion that places Matter over Form, "quantity" over "quality" – amounting already in many places to the apparent disappearance of quality altogether.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Daring to imagine

Pilot of the Future
The imagination of the child is very powerful, and sometimes we can still recall the mystery with which it invested the pages of the comic books we devoured when young. There is an atmosphere, a richness, a whole universe associated with those now dulled and faded inks on cheap paper, as the fragrance of our childhood wafts from the page for a moment.

What did I see in them all those years ago? It is gone almost before I can ask the question. Yet it was something beautiful, uplifting, intriguing, amusing, enriching. Maybe even the artists and the writers don't have it any more, and maybe they – as adults – are trying to recapture it for themselves.

For me it was Dan Dare to begin with, the very "R.A.F." hero developed by Frank Hampson, who started life as a chaplain to the Interplanetary Patrol before being successfully relaunched as chief pilot of Earth's Space Fleet. Later I prowled the streets looking for American superhero comics, beginning with Batman and moving on to Marvel, where fantasy and humour were fully alive, thanks to the fun-loving personality of Stan Lee ("Nuff said"). I have

Friday, 4 October 2013

Knowing the Good

In an interview with Eugenio Scalfari, published in La Repubblica on 1 October 2013, Pope Francis was asked, “Your Holiness, is there is a single vision of the Good? And who decides what it is?” He replied, simply, “Each of us has a vision of good and of evil. We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is Good.” Scalfari pushes him: “The conscience is autonomous, you said, and everyone must obey his conscience. I think that's one of the most courageous steps taken by a Pope.” Francis responds, “And I repeat it here. Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them.”

The “subjectivity” of the Pope’s approach puzzled some, but what he said was perfectly in line with the rest of Catholic teaching. It did not aim to be a complete or systematic teaching on conscience, which can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church to which the Pope adheres. It was certainly not an “authoritative” statement, of the kind that emerge when a Pope is called to speak from the “chair of St Peter” to resolve some matter in dispute for the whole Church. It was a conversation, an interview, a friendly engagement. It was one of the things that Pope Francis does best.

In particular, it did not mention our responsibility to develop and educate this “vision” or “idea” of good and evil that we may have. We do not just pick it off the shelf, or let another (whether it be a parent or a teacher or a newspaper) determine it for us. The Church’s teaching on morality is part of that process of self-education – that is, assuming we give any credibility to the Church as an authority for us, then we will need to take her teaching into account as we work through the arguments and concerns in our own minds, rationally. (She is one factor, but an important one.)

The statement is right, and corresponds to what John Henry Newman wrote in his famous Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, in stating that we can only fight evil and follow the good according to our own best idea of what these are. Even if we are going to make mistakes, because we have not yet fully understood everything, we have to do the best we can in the given moment with what is available to us.

In a previous post (How We Know) I explored the way in which our minds know the world around us. This time I want to reflect on how we know Good and Evil, and discern between them. I take it that one lesson of the Genesis