Merton on the need for a critique of religion.

If in practice the function of organized religion turns out to be nothing more than to justify and to canonize the routines of mass society; if organized religion abdicates its mission to disturb man in the depths of his conscience, and seeks instead simply to ‘make converts’ that will smilingly adjust to the status quo, then it deserves the most serious and uncompromising criticism. Such criticism is not a disloyalty. On the contrary, fidelity to truth and to God demands it.

Merton, Mystics and Zen Masters, p. 273

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God is dead! Uhh, which one?

Paul Ricoeur is my new found friend.

Everyone is familiar with the famous expression of the madman in The Gay Science: “God is dead.” But the true question is to know, first of all, which god is dead; then who has killed him (if it is true that this death is a murder); and finally what sort of authority belongs to the announcement of this death. These three questions qualify the atheism of Nietzsche and Freud as opposed to that of British empiricism or French positivism, whose methods are neither exegetical nor genealogical…

Which god is dead? We can now reply: the god of metaphysics and also the god of theology, insofar as theology rests on the metaphysics of the first cause, necessary being, and the prime mover, conceived as the source of values and as the absolute good. Let us say that it is the god of onto-theology, to use the expression that was coined by Heidegger, following Kant.

Ricouer, Religion, Atheism, and Faith, 445.

…everything still remains open after Nietzsche.

Ricoeur, Religion, Atheism, and Faith, 447.

Postmarks for Peace

'Pray for Peace'postmark

This has nothing to do with my research for my paper that I’m currently writing, but I just couldn’t get over how blatantly sharp and apropos Merton’s remarks are.

What is the use of postmarking our mail with exhortations to ‘pray for peace’ and then spending billions of dollars on atomic submarines, thermonuclear weapons, and ballistic missiles? This, I would think, would certainly be what the New Testament calls ‘mocking God’–and mocking Him far more effectively than the atheists do. The culminating horror of the joke is that we are piling up these weapons to protect ourselves against atheists who, quite frankly, believe there is no God and are convinced that one has to rely on bombs and missiles since nothing else offers many real security.

But consider the utterly fabulous amount of money, planning, energy, anxiety and care which go into the production of weapons which almost immediately become obsolete and have to be scrapped. contrast all this with the pitiful little gesture ‘pray for peace’ piously canceling our four-cent stamps….It does not even seem to enter our minds that there might be some incongruity in praying to the God of peace, the God Who told us to love one another as He had loved us, Who warned us that they who took the sword would perish by it, and at the same time planning to annihilate not thousands but millions of civilians and soldiers, men, women and children without discrimination, even with the almost infallible certainty of inviting the same annihilation for ourselves!

It may make sense for a sick man to pray for health and then take medicine, but I fail to see any sense at all in his praying for health and then drinking poison.

While he was writing during the Cold War, are his words any less relevant to our current situation today?

Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, 119-121

 

Excerpts from Ibn Abbad

4: Desolation

For the servant of God

Consolation is the place of danger

Where he may be deluded

(Accepting only what he sees,

Experiences, or knows)

But desolation is his home:

For in desolation he is seized by God

And entirely taken over into GOd,

In darkness, in emptiness,

In loss, in death of self.

Then the self is only shes. Not even ashes!

5: To Belong to God

To belong to God

Is to see in your existence

And in all that pertains to it

Something that is neither yours

Nor from yourself,

Something you have on loan;

To see your being in His Being,

Your subsistence in His Subsistence

Your strength in His Strength:

Thus you will recognize in yourself

His title to possession of you

As Lord,

And your own title as servant:

Which is Nothingness.

Meeting Aquinas along the Via Negativa – Pt 4

Question 13 in Aquinas’ Summa wrestles with the question of theological language. How do we use words, of human construction and origin, to speak about transcendent realities? Can we use words to speak of God? Can we name God? Do our words describe God’s essence? Does a word that is applied to a human or a thing mean the same when applied to God? What does the word ‘God’ even mean?

Article 1. Can we use any words to refer to God?

  • Aquinas quotes Pseudo-Dinoysius’ radical statement: “Of him there is no naming nor any opinion…” (Divine Names, 1)
  • Aquinas differentiates between two types of nouns: the concrete and the abstract. Both types of nouns cannot be adequately and properly used to speak about God.
    • Concrete nouns are said to be “inappropriate” because God is “altogether simple.” (1a, 13, 1)
      • While I don’t quite understand what Aquinas means by this, I did a little bit more reading elsewhere and a concrete noun is often used to refer to a physical object that is sensible. (At least this is the contemporary usage.)
    • Abstract nouns are equally problematic because they “[do] not signify a complete subsistent thing.” (1a, 13, 1)
      • Abstract nouns refer to ideas, not an actual existent reality. God is not just an idea. God is a “subsistent thing.” (Though he’s not a thing.)
  • Aquinas then talks about other grammatical considerations one should be aware of with theological language: “A noun signifies a thing as coming under some description, verbs and participles signify it as enduring in time, pronouns signify it as being pointed out or as in some relationship. None of these is appropriate to God…” But why? (1a, 13, 1)
    • Nouns are not appropriate because we don’t have a definition of what God is and any “accidental attributes” (that which we see God do?) are also not available to us.
    • God is also outside of time so verbs and participles break down in their use when applied to God.
    • Pronouns also are problematic because a pronoun requires some other descriptor (like a verb and noun) to be applied.
  • Thus, it seems as if God is so far beyond speech that we are left speechless.
  • But, what about Scripture’s statement that “The Lord is a great warrior, Almighty is his name.”
    • Aquinas quotes Aristole’s idea that words signify a thought and thoughts bear the “likeness of things.”
    • Thus, Aquinas writes that “how we refer to a thing depends on how we understand it.” (1a, 13, 1, Reply)
  • Aquinas refers back to his already decided upon beliefs that “we do not see the essence of God, we only know him from creatures…”
    • God is known as the source of all creatures who is beyond them.
    • “It is the knowledge we have of creatures that enables us to use words to refer to God, and so these words do not express the divine essence as it is in itself.” (1a, 13, 1, Reply)
    • Words are dim indicators of the essence of God and should (perhaps?) not be taken as literal statements of God’s essence.
  • Thomas concludes that “God is said to have no name, or to be beyond naming because his essence is beyond what we understand of him and the meaning of the names we use.” (1a, 13, 1, 1)
  • Moreover, we know God through creatures (analogy of being), and we use language that refers to creatures to refer to God, with the caveat that the words we use are limited and analogical.
  • God is a composite of the form and the subsistent (the abstract and the concrete). This means that we are able to use both concrete and abstract nouns to refer to God. “…though neither way of speaking measures up to his way of being, for in this life we do not know him as he is in himself.” (1a, 13, 1, 2)
  • Because we can use these nouns, we are also free to use verbs, participles, and pronouns because we are speaking of God as a definite form that is subsistent.
  • Verbs can be used because even though God is not bound by time, he contains time within himself.