Sunday, August 12, 2007

Of faith, pragmatism, and the unfolding of the event

Living as if God exists and having faith, which is an event born of an encounter, are different. It is the difference between faith and pragmatism. I would certainly agree that it is better to live as if God exists than to live as if God does not exist. However, living as if God exists is certainly a case of starting from propositions (i.e., you choose to accept the proposition God exists), whereas faith is of an entirely different order. Pope Benedict addressed this very issue in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est. This love letter is not only sent to Christians, but also, as Sandro Magister observed, "to those far from the faith, to the 'secularists,' to those without faith". To these people, Magister continues, "Benedict XVI says: This is the true heart of the Christian faith. Understand this. With a God such as this, you may have the strength to live 'as if God exists,' even if you do not have the strength to believe" (A Clear and Coherent Direction in the Beginning of Pope Benedict’s Pontificate, says Vatican Expert). Certainly accepting this proposition can be the beginning of faith, but it is not yet faith, it is pragmatism. It is often a response to Dostoevsky's observation that if God does not exist everything is permissible.

The relationship of propositions to faith, to truth, is always interesting to explore because it goes to cognition and language. However, given the philosophical difficulty of that interrelation, it is best to just write that we never begin from nowhere or from nothing. The encounter always occurs where we're at and if where we're at is pragmatism, having accepted or assumed God's existence for whatever reason(s), this is the starting point. So, perhaps I was too dismissive in my previous post about starting with propositions.

As I also mentioned in yesterday's post, we automatically, if not immediately, seek make sense of our encounter, to deepen it, to appropriate it. Pope Benedict gives a beautiful description of such an encounter and the event, which is on-going, to which it gives birth: "We have come to believe in God's love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction" (DCE par. 1). Another danger not mentioned previously is that, too often, people just want to endlessly repeat their initial encounter instead of growing, instead of allowing the event to unfold, to be revealed in them and through them, because growth is unavoidably fraught with paradox and tension. It is difficult and requires persistence, or a persistent abiding. Again, as mentioned, in seeking to make sense of our encounter we soon discover others who have had like encounters. Just like snowflakes, these encounters may bear a remarkable degree of resemblance, but no two are the same. This seeking, which leads to community, constitutes the unfolding of the event to which our encounter gives birth. Hence, this event, while deeply personal and unique, leads us out of ourselves. Put simply, it draws us into relation and not just with God, but with others, too.

In a post over on Whispers entitled The Great "Et Et, my friend Rocco has posted a lovely exchange between the Holy Father and a young priest during Benedict's meeting with priests in Cadore during his vacation last month. In his response to the very insightful question posed by the priest, the Pontiff (which means bridge-builder) addresses some of these concerns when he said: "Catholicism, somewhat simplistically, has always been considered the religion of the great 'et et' ['both-and']: not of great forms of exclusivism but of synthesis. The exact meaning of 'Catholic' is 'synthesis'. I would therefore be against having to choose between either playing football or studying Sacred Scripture or Canon Law. Let us do both these things. It is great to do sports. I am not a great sportsman, yet I used to like going to the mountains when I was younger; now I only go on some very easy excursions, but I always find it very beautiful to walk here in this wonderful earth that the Lord has given to us. Therefore, we cannot always live in exalted meditation; perhaps a Saint on the last step of his earthly pilgrimage could reach this point, but we normally live with our feet on the ground and our eyes turned to Heaven."

Therefore, if you find yourself stuck in propositions, you might consider taking a walk in the mountains, or playing soccer with friends, instead of reading books, articles, and blog posts full of propositions, or instead of writing them! After all where did Elijah find God? So my friends, have a blessed Sunday! I intend to.

1 comment:

  1. "Et et" is something I've wondered about but never had the apt words to express. It is a direct response to Hindu's "neti neti" which means "not this, not that". It is arguable that the Hindu approach speaks of an ineffable transcendance but the Christian approach is informed by the Incarnation!


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