Today's Wisdom

Those who do not pass from the experience of the cross to the truth of the resurrection condemn themselves to despair! For we cannot encounter God without first crucifying our narrow notions of a god who reflects only our own understanding of omnipotence and power
Pope Francis

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Debate of Christianity and Materialism

Why do Christians need to be concerned about materialism? The answer may lie in this excerpt published November 24, 2014 by CNS about the Ebola's panic spiritual roots:

As I was preparing this text, I realized that Sunday November 23, 2014, the Roman Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the universe. On this day, which is also the celebration of Jesus the King Melkite Catholic Church in Toronto, the Biblical Gospel reading recounts Jesus words in the Last Judgment (Matt 24: 31-46). This Gospel has been traditionally the most powerful of all of Christ's pronouncements. In his homily on the same day Biblical readings, Fr. Henri Boulad, S.J. who helps children and families in Egypt, illuminates the picture of Christ the King, not a king of slaves as humanity has seen until today, but a king who looks after his people. Jesus brings us from our doubts and uncertainty into his heart, goes after the lost child, rescues the scattered sheep, does not send another to find it, but he himself rushes to bring the lost sheep. The Good Shepherd is the real king. The elect on the Day of the Last Judgment are those who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed strangers, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, and visited prisoners because the good that they did to the little ones are, in Jesus eyes, done to him. Henri Boulad, in his amazing style, said "God is not interested in slaves to give him glory. He is interested in hearts that love. Christ said he is king, not when he was gloriously elevated by the crowds but when he was in great pain experiencing the wounds and insults inflicted upon him because he dared to say the truth" (John 18: 37) (The homily can be watched in French here). The question today is whether people materially comfortable at home do give to the needy facing untold uncertainty in the Middle East, Christian families who are persecuted whose men are killed and whose women  are violated, raped, and sold by terrorists such as ISIS and Boko Haram. One way to donate a bit from our comfort can be found in this website: Food for Syria here. Another is to help Jerusalem students get better education here.

Another deep  reflection was given by Fr. Georges Farah at Jesus the King parish in September 2008: The gospel of the Crucified shows the forces that stood against Christ on his way to save them: the high priests, the people, and Pilate. The crowds were singing to Jesus a week earlier and now they turned against him. The high priests thought they were not doing anything wrong. Their duty was to keep the Law and to make sure that no revolution will take place when they are occupied by a staunch enemy: the Roman empire. They thought it is better for one man to die than the whole nation to perish. Pilate was a foreign governor who had no interest in religious Jewish quarrels. His dialogue with Christ before ordering his crucifixion sheds light on us today as much as it did then. He questioned Christ at length, prompted by his wife’s request to release him. But Christ remained silent! He then asked him “So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice." Pilate said to him, sarcastically, "What is truth?" as if saying to him: You have nothing. You are going to be killed for saying things. Be wise. Forget about truth-Just worry about your life and survival here.  I can release you and you can go to Rome. Live your life there as a free man…
Pilate could have said that to any other person but the answer of Christ is the same. The Truth is a big thing in Christ’s way of thought and life. He must defend the Truth to the end. He is not politically correct. And he cares for everyone even when everyone is against him. “Behold the Man” Pilate tells the Jews when he surrenders Christ to them. Christ is said to have been  crucified on the place called Golgotha i.e. The Skull, the skull of Adam- the skull of humanity. His blood went into the skull of humanity and he went to Hades so that he could save by his death the dead humanity. Christ’s Cross is tied to his Resurrection. No life without death. Now look at Pilate and think of us: Do what you want – Just be silent in matters of truth. Is not this how we think today? Do not we crucify Christ everyday?

If we look again in Apocalypse, written near the end of the first century, we find seven warnings to seven churches. The warning to the church in Laodicea is particularly relevant to Christians today.
"And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: `The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God's creation. "`I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich, and white garments to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'" (Revelation 3: 14-22).

Laodicea is a city about 80 miles east of Ephesus in Asia Minor, a wealthy commercial center that exported fine woolen garments and was famous for its eye salves. So rich was it that it was rebuilt without external aid after the earthquake of 61 AD hit it.

Having introduced the Christian community in Laodicea near the end of the first century, let us briefly comment on the above message. The word 'the Amen' is a divine title found in Isaiah 65: 16 applied here to Christ who is also the beginning of creation or through whom creation is made (Cf. John 1:3). But the crux of the message is the contrast between a wealthy and blind church that says she needs nothing and her need to be clothed by Christ. Christ knows her works that she is neither cold nor hot and warns her that her commitment to faith and to helping the needy in faith is so low that she has become nauseating to him. This is the major obstacle to our lives in the Spirit. Materialism is globally widespread that the Church herself has grown childless in many places. The denial of the European Union of Europe's Christian roots is the result of atheist materialism which results in lives lived without hope of eternal joy. When nominally Christian young people feel that their lives are meaningless, they embrace other ideologies and religions. It is the reason that radical Islam is spreading in Europe and the reason why ISIS, as violent as it is, attracts them.

But it is strange that so many difficulties are put in the way of Christ the King even though the West recognizes today the human dignity of every person.  The contemporary scholar and Professor (now emeritus) of civilization at Stanford University René Girard spoke about the Last Judgment in an interview with him here. Watch it again to better understand the relationship of Christianity, violence, and Islam. But more than ever, according to Girard, the contemporary world is very much apocalyptic. An example he gave in the interview is the hurricane that destroys much life not caused by nature alone but by Man and nature combined. The fact that humanity is being conquered by advances in technology (talk about robots!) which could overpower the human rational thought not far from today is the result of materialism. This is the challenge of materialism. It is with this fear that we live today. If this sounds too complex, the reader may wish to read my lecture titled "Apocalypse Now" given in July 2009. We are now used to be consumers. We love to spend much time on entertainment and only little on learning.

In his 2007 encyclopedic book "A Secular Age", Charles Taylor critiques the secular influence that the liberal Western world has experienced since the 18th century revolutions and the Enlightenment. The Canadian Professor (now emeritus) of political science and philosophy at McGill University has become an icon in the debate over human values in societies that embrace human development yet ignore Christianity that has inspired human dignity. Charles Taylor makes the distinction between degrees of secularity in countries in terms of how much the public space has been emptied of God. In Europe, God is hardly recognized in the public space or institutions. In the United States, however, the secular state does not forbid worship of God. Although religion is separate from state. all religions are freely practiced by their followers in pubic institutions (except those that violate the freedom of religions as found in the American Constitution). A third category is found in states where religion is an influential identifier of the state such as Islamic countries and primitive societies in Africa and Asia.  It seems that the misuse of freedom in the West leads to slavery to the more politically -correct.
The author discusses our story as it seems to lie in the increasing interest in nature for its own sake, not simply as a manifestation of God. Atheism starts with doubts and evolves in the rejection of religion in the public sphere of social and institutional gatherings. But more on that later...

In the global societies we live in, it is understandable that kids and young adults may be hooked to materialistic attachments as is obvious in peer pressure.  Lack of proper education contributes to ignorance and immoral behaviour. There are many ways for the serious persons to educate themselves and their families. I had written on the power of education here. Ignorance and shallow knowledge make it easier for unscientific ideologies to penetrate the minds of people. The Gurus of Hindu mythology have been popular with the simplistic minds of many North Americans. Only check libraries that contain books written by the "New Age" guru Deepak Chopra. In 2008, I documented a video on how science discovered evidence for God presented in a summit that included the radical atheist Antony Flew here. Flew acknowledged his conversion to theism at the end of the summit. We watched the video and should get more people to watch it. In 2013, I wrote a brief article on quantum physics where we find evidence for the Trinity in the cosmos. The reader may wish to read it here.

Materialists are not content with their gains. In order to influence consumers into buying their own products rather than others, some businesses have already contracted neuromarketing scientists who research and analyze the brain's sensory centers in response to data that influence decision making.  I have listened to Thomas Zoega Ramsoy and Per Moller, both Associate Professors in marketing and neuroscience at the University of Copenhagen. A shoe store that sells expensive leather shoes may add a tiny small amount of smell-producing leather in the store only to get the visitor to smell it and think that the shoes are high-quality shoes.This marketing technique raises the probability of buying the shoes from the store.

As yet, the explorations in neuroscience are constrained to material stuff in the brain. Over the past 3 decades, philosophy of mind has become a field of research. In 2009, Oxford University published "Did my neurons make me do it? Philosophical and Neurobiological Perspectives on Moral Responsibility and Free Will" written by two leading scholars: Nancey Murphy and Warren S. Brown. Although the book contains certain errors, the authors nevertheless debunk Determinism of atheist philosophers such as Daniel Dennett based on evolutionary scientific findings.  The deterministic universe of Newton has already been discarded since the advent and explorations of quantum physics. It can only get more complex. One example the authors give is the behavioral pattern of the Sphex ichneumoneous, a type of wasp, that illustrates how it builds a burrow for the purpose of egg laying. The wasp stings a cricket in such a way as to paralyze it but not kill it. She drags the cricket inside the burrow, lays her eggs and closes the burrow. The same wasp goes back to inspect the cricket, now paralyzed, and see if it moved to bring it inside for the wasp grubs coming out of the hatched eggs in time. Although it is genetically predetermined, the behavioral pattern of moving the cricket closer several times and changing the strategy suggests goal-directedness. What is missing is memory which is obviously found in humans.

We cannot address here the harm that materialism is doing but hope that greed will give way to love and charity. We will have to come back to the Christian Spiritual Exercises proposed by St. Ignatius Loyola. It is essential that Christians and their leaders become more Christ-like. If we believe that the life-giver Holy Spirit of God guides the Church, we have hope and pray that we too will find our joy in God.

For further readings Cf. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy particularly its entries in Philosophy of History.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Why Christianity Will Not Die

Do ISIS extremists scare Christians?

On Friday November 14, 2014, Jesus the King Church hosted another video-event on the growth of the Church in the world from the early Biblical testimonies of the Apostles. The video featured the lives and struggles of St. Peter and St. Paul in a lively documentary recorded in old cities they preached in. It was narrated by Fr. Robert Barron in the extremely popular Series "Catholicism."

On Pentecost Peter spoke about the risen Christ to thousands gathered from many nations for the feast. When they heard him, Luke writes, "they were cut to the heart" (Acts 2: 37) and three thousand were baptized in one day!

Another great Christian witness is an ordinary man who, in his conversion, sought to find God in all things...
Ignatius Loyola was brought up in Spain. The founder of the order of the Society of Jesus in the 16th century was not born a monk. He was born to a Basque noble family, a man of pride ascending the ladder of fame in Spain, then manifested in the military honour and power of knights, and the dating of nice girls until he was seriously wounded in the battle of Pamplona in 1521. In Ignatius of Loyola we see again the power of the transformation God uses in us -weak humans - so that we can become one day united to him in Christ. God who is the eternal Mystery is also the approachable father who calls everyday his servants to become closer to his eternal Son.
While being hospitalized, Ignatius read De Vita Christi written by the influential theologian Ludolph of Saxony and there he contemplated in a vision the "discernment of spirits." From the hospital emerged the conversion to Christ when Ignatius experienced the joy of being with Christ and likewise the experience devoid of joy when he projected his glory without Christ. True joy is a fruit of the Spirit as written in the New Testament. And here Ignatius discerns the true joy which will carry him, with some friends, to Jerusalem and then to Rome. The Jesuits or Society of Jesus, approved by Pope Paul III in 1540, were active in the Counter Reformation preaching. They carried the missionary work to China in the Far East, to the Middle East, and the New World. Ignatius of Loyola was beatified and then canonized in 1622. In his active life as a disciple of Christ, Ignatius educated many followers in the Exercises. The Jesuits have been at the forefront of Catholic education. Not an easy task in an increasingly secular environment, they continue to teach and found universities and schools in the entire world. Among them you will recognize such giants as the twentieth/21st centuries Henri de Lubac, Karl Rahner, John Courtney Murray, and Avery Dulles with their suffix S.J. or sj which means Society of Jesus.

And finally we move to today...

Let us only review the great testimony by Christian children who were killed recently by extremists before the eyes of their horrified parents in Iraq and Syria.Those kids could not betray their faith in the face of death. Or let us count the Christian girls raped by Boko Haram and other terrorists in Nigeria and beyond. In spite of human weakness, heroism is manifested everyday by ordinary persons who clothe the naked, and feed the hungry. What Mother Teresa sought is now being done on a larger scale. Heaven celebrates the little ones.

Is it possible that Christianity dies? Not really. The scores of missionaries come today from Asia and Africa. They are here to stay and move when needed and where needed. In America alone, in spite of evil, the academia and media dedicate new channels for Catholics because they know their global reach and their religious roots. In Europe, Catholic schools are filled with Muslim students.Their parents insist on giving them the good education found in Catholic schools and universities. It is quite possible that the new evangelization will be carried out by Muslims converted to Christianity. In a recent homily Fr. Henri Boulad, S.J. cites an Egyptian Muslim, Nahed Mahmoud Metwalli, who converted to Christianity and wrote a number of books: "Ma rencontre avec le Christ" and "Islam encounters Christ."

Today's Quote

"Behold I make all things new." (Revelation 21:5)


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