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Moral Behaviour Vs. Religious People

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In the London Review of Books, reader Anthony Buckley (“God and Human Behaviour”, Letters, LRB, 30 June 2011) wonders what “would constitute evidence” for or against the statement that “religious people…are more likely to behave in virtuous ways than non-religious people“.

That is an interesting question. And it can be easily answered in Christianity. The Gospel of Luke (chapter 5, verses 30-32) says:

“But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples,saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

It seems logical to conclude that, according to the Messiah Himself, “people who have [Christian] religious convictions” will be “on the whole morally worse than people who lack them“.

Written by omnologos

2012/Jan/26 at 12:10:14

Posted in Christianity, Religion

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The Mind That Is Catholic

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A truly extraordinary interview to Jesuit Father James Schall on the Vatican’s Zenit, about his book “The Mind That Is Catholic: Philosophical and Political Essays“, that “explores the habits of being that allow one to use the tools of faith and reason to explore all things seen and unseen“.

Somehow, there’s lots of me in that interview. A few extracts follow:

ZENIT: What does it mean to have a mind that is Catholic? What are its key elements?
Father Schall: The mind that is Catholic is open to all sources of information, including what comes from Revelation […] It is characteristic of the Catholic mind to insist that all that is knowable is available and considered by us in our reflections on reality.

[…] We think, in the end, that what is peculiar in Catholicism is not opposed to reason but rather constitutes a completion of it. It was Aristotle who warned us that the reason we do not accept the truth even when it is presented to us is because we do not really want to know it. Knowing it would force us to change our ways. If we do not want to change our ways, we will invent a “theory” whereby we can live without the truth. The “primary” source of the Catholic mind is reality itself, including the reality of revelation.

[…] Why do these and many other thinkers “embody a mind that is Catholic?” I think it is because they take everything into account. What is peculiar to Catholicism, I have always thought, is its refusal to leave anything out. In my short book, “The Regensburg Lecture,” I was constantly astonished at the enormous range of the mind of the present Holy Father. There is simply no mind in any university or public office that can match his. He is a humble man, in fact. It is embarrassing to the world, and often to Catholic “intellectuals,” to find that its most intelligent mind is on the Chair of Peter. I have always considered this papal intellectual profundity to be God’s little joke to the modern mind.

[…] Catholicism knows that all sorts and sources of knowledge flow into its mind, one of which — the primary one that makes it unique — is revelation. But it is a revelation, in its own terms, addressed to active reason. That too is the mind that is Catholic.

Written by omnologos

2009/Oct/05 at 21:19:52

Posted in Catholicism, Christianity, Philosophy, Universe

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What Makes A Roman Catholic?

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I have enough experience in debating with non-Catholics to be surprised not at all when people start dictating what makes and doesn’t make a Roman Catholic. Most of the time, especially avowed atheists state their illusion that a Roman Catholic is a person that follows the precepts of the Catholic Church, and agrees with anything and everything the Pope says.

Simply, the above is not true.

There is nobody, not even an Archbishop or a Pope, that can declare who is, and who is not a Roman Catholic. The RC Church is not a cultural association, or a political party. There is no membership card, no entry exam, and no expulsion procedure. At most, one can find oneself at one or the other degree of “excommunication”, that by itself is a confirmation that one is of course a Roman Catholic.

Simply, a Roman Catholic is whoever (sincerely…) believes to be a Roman Catholic. And the RC Church is the community of people who (sincerely…) believe to be Roman Catholics.

Of course it could be argued who is and who isn’t a good Roman Catholic. The Pope and most Cardinals will agree on that definition, but at the same time one or more among the Faithful may have a different view on the same topic.  But at the end of the day, the struggle towards being a good person is just that: a struggle. We’re no angels.

Written by omnologos

2009/Mar/09 at 23:06:48

Posted in Catholicism, Christianity

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For Christmas, A Little Respect

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Merry Christmas to everybody.

With the full notion that there’s still a lot to do before Christmas becomes Christian enough to be Christmas…

A little respect by Abubakar N. Kasim Monday, December 22, 2008

If Santa Claus were ever to pay me a visit and grant me a wish, I would reply with one word: respect.

I would wish that society at large would show some respect toward me and my faith.

I am judged negatively whenever someone of my faith is accused of committing a crime.

I am viewed as an enemy within, a home-grown fanatic whom everyone should guard against.

I am harassed at the boarding gate when I leave the country, as if I was going to an Al Qaeda convention.

I am also bullied by the customs and immigration officers when I come back home, as if I don’t belong here.

I am pulled aside for extra inspections, as if I was carrying instructions on making weapons of mass destruction.

I am told repeatedly to tell the real truth about what I am bringing with me that I have not declared.

When a crime occurs where a Muslim is the primary suspect, I am asked to issue a statement in the strongest possible terms against terrorism and to dissociate myself from the crime. Whatever language I use in my denunciation, I am told is not enough and I must do more.

On the day after the crime, the headline reads: “Moderate Muslims Fail To Speak Up,” even though I have spoken and have condemned the crime.

When I try to access my own money, the bank teller reminds me of the seriousness of money laundering.

A bank supervisor recently alleged that my signature did not match the signature they had in my file. I emptied my wallet and showed all my identifications, to no avail.

Although I have lived in Canada for more than a decade and have been working hard to pay taxes and make ends meet, I am still viewed as a foreigner who belongs somewhere else.

A colleague at the airport where I work asked me recently, “Why did you choose Canada, a Christian country, and did not go to your own people instead?”

Another coworker said the other day that she cannot tolerate seeing Muslim women covering up. “I feel the urge to remove the piece of rag by force,” she said. “Why in the world would she hide her beauty?” she added.

Another airline employee suggested that we should stop Muslim women from entering the country if they choose to wear the hijab.

I cried like a child when a friend said that the only way the world can solve the problem of terrorism is to nuke the Muslim world. Only then will the planet live in real peace, he said.

It is deeply troubling to see how Muslims are treated in society. While I was having dinner at work, my colleagues next to me were discussing the shooting death right after the Sept. 11 tragedy of a Sikh man in the United States who was thought to be a Muslim. One of the people involved in the conversation blamed the murderer for not doing his homework in making sure that the person he was targeting was a real Muslim. The people in the cafeteria did not find the statement troubling and they all laughed approvingly.

We are reminded – again and again – that freedom of expression has limits. But when the same freedom involves the dehumanization of Muslims, it has no limit.

I don’t think I am asking too much if I expect some respect from my fellow countrymen.

I might have some lunatics in my midst but who doesn’t? If Christians are not held responsible for the death and destruction their co-religionist George W. Bush caused in Iraq, why should I be held responsible for the acts of a few mad men who might create mayhem in the name of my faith?

Abubakar N. Kasim is a freelance writer based in Toronto, working as a customer service representative for a major airline.

Written by omnologos

2008/Dec/25 at 11:30:19

The Christian Roots of Marxism (and Secular Thought)

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It turns out, Pope Benedict was not so wrong after all.

Excerpts from “A Rescue of Religion” by John Gray, The New York Review of Books, Volume 55, Number 15 · October 9, 2008 – reviewing “Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?: 23 Questions from Great Philosophers” by Leszek Kolakowski, Basic Books:

It is part of Kolakowski’s achievement as the greatest living intellectual historian to have tracked the ways in which religion has shaped Western thought. His work is, in effect, a sustained argument for the irreducible presence of religion in intellectual life and in society. In Kolakowski’s view the secular movements of the last century, such as communism, […] deployed categories of thought, including a view of history as a narrative having a consummation or end-point, which are inheritances from Western monotheism. […] Religion was not in truth superseded, either in Marx’s thought or in the movements Marx inspired. Instead, the promise of salvation reemerged as a project of universal emancipation.

The renewal of religious categories of thinking in avowedly secular systems of ideas […] continued in the ideology of neoconservatism. The notion of the end of history […] derives from religious traditions of apocalyptic myth. […] Presupposing as they do a teleological view of history that cannot be stated in empirical terms, all such theories are religious narratives translated into secular language. […]

Religion has had a formative influence on our categories of thought, which it is the task of philosophy to examine. Excavating the archaeology of our concepts is a part of philosophical inquiry. For us, that inescapably involves tracing their debts to Judaism and Christianity. Any way of doing philosophy that neglects these traditions is unhistorical and impoverished.

There are some philosophers for whom the only place for religion in philosophical inquiry is that of a bogey, a specter of irrationality that must be exposed and expelled so that philosophy can be an entirely secular discipline. As Kolakowski has argued, however, a good deal of secular thought has been shaped by Western religion. Exorcising religion is harder than it seems.

Richard Dawkins where art thou?

Written by omnologos

2008/Oct/24 at 19:18:17

On Abortion, A Perfectly Reasonable Christian Stance

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Personally I find the following statements bordering on the obvious. For some reason, many people think otherwise, in one sense or another…and unbelievably, abortion is still somehow an issue in US politics.

From the Methodist Church’s “Abortion and Contraception” web page:

  • abortion is always an evil
  • there will be circumstances where the termination of pregnancy may be the lesser of evils

And in particular:

  • the mother should be told clearly of the alternatives to termination
  • abortion should be avoided if at all possible by offering care to single mothers during pregnancy, and the adoption of their children if, at full term, the mother cannot offer a home
  • the result of the coming together of human sperm and ovum is obviously human
  • the right of the embryo to full respect […] increases throughout a pregnancy
  • it would be strongly preferable that, through advances in medical science and social welfare, all abortions should become unnecessary
  • late abortions should be very rare exceptions
  • if abortion were made a criminal offence again, there would be increased risks of ill-health and death as a result of botched ‘back-street’ abortions
  • to refuse to countenance abortion in any circumstances is to condemn some women and their babies to gross suffering and a cruel death in the name of an absolutism which nature itself does not observe

Written by omnologos

2008/Sep/28 at 22:11:21

Muslims vs the West: History Is Not As We Have Been Told

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History is never pure chronicles, rather always an interpretation. And so with double skepticism we should confront all “Arguments from History” that elicit hatred and separation: because they are likely to be unmasked as simplistic manipulations.

Excerpts from Peter Brown’s “The Voice of the Stones“, The New York Review of Books, Volume 55, Number 6 · April 17, 2008 – reviewing G.W. Bowersock’s new book “Mosaics as History: The Near East from Late Antiquity to Islam“, Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 146 pp., $22.95 (article on the web for subscribers only):

[…] The second-to-last chapter of Mosaics as History—entitled “Iconoclasms”—shows that [the] descendants [(Jews, Christians, and pagans in the Middle East] were still [commissioning figurative mosaics] after well over a century of Muslim rule. Only in the year 723 did the local Christians find themselves forced to remove some of the figures from the exuberant mosaics in their churches, at the bidding of the Umayyad Caliph Yazid II. They did so with care. As Bowersock shows, this first premonitory tremor of Muslim iconophobia was limited in its extent, and it was Christians themselves who undertook to respond to it.

Far from showing a Muslim fundamentalist state flexing its muscles against religious minorities, the decree of Yazid II arose from a surprising situation. Up to that time, Muslims had often worshiped in Christian churches. They did not like all that they saw there. Some found themselves increasingly disquieted by the exuberant animal and human life that they saw on the pavements. (Put briefly: to attempt to create living beings through art began to awake fears in them that were like those stirred up, in recent years, by experiments in cloning.)

But they did not descend upon the Christians from outside, to inflict random destruction on all Christian images. Rather, the Muslims who advised Yazid II seem to have acted like partners who had already been taken into a firm. They slowly bought out their colleagues and imposed their own policies, by tweaking the image that the company was supposed to project. Eventually (as we all know) the policy of avoiding images would win out. But it only did so (and only to a certain degree) in Muslim circles, and never among the large Christian populations of the Near East, many of whose images have survived (icons, frescoes, mosaics, and all) up to this day.

[…] Altogether, Mosaics as History offers little support to inert stereotypes. Here is no abrupt end of the ancient world, brought about by Arab invaders from the desert. Here are no Christians trembling under the shadow of an intolerant Muslim empire. It is not as we had been told. But then, we are seldom told as much as we should be told about the non-Western shores of the Mediterranean and even less about the complex strands that linked the world of late antiquity to that of early Islam. We need to listen to Bowersock:

Late antiquity and early Islam are full of challenges to old easy dichotomies, such as Orient oder Rom [East or Rome—with nothing in between], that have so long dominated historical interpretation.

[…] Only the sharp tang of scholarship like Bowersock’s, devoted to a seemingly distant past, can clean our eyes, a little, of the itch of modern pseudohistory, of modern stereotypes, and of modern hatreds, so that we can view the present, if not with comfort, then at least with clarity.

Written by omnologos

2008/Apr/09 at 21:29:18