Monday, 18 February 2013

All I know, is that which I know not

We come to the fourth conversation between Fr. Tischner and Jacek Żakowski. We return to Abraham in the desert, so that Fr. Tischner can explain what the new catechism means by 'negative theology' - knowing what we know God is not. He asks Żakowski to read from St Thomas of Aquinas: "Speaking of God, we cannot define, who He is, but only who He is not, and what place is taken by other entities in relation to Him".

Abraham, we will remember, heard God tell him, that if he really loves Him, he will sacrifice his son unto Him. And now - did God really tell Abraham to kill his son? Or did Abraham think that's what God said? Abraham in the wilderness experienced (so the Bible tells us) being chosen by God - being spoken to by God. He hears God speaking - but - says Fr. Tischner - misinterprets God's words. "Sacrifice your son!" That's what Abraham heard. But what God said - we don't know.

The result - a will do commit a great moral wrong to prove his love for God. There is an unspoken allusion here (five years before 9/11) about the temptation to indulge in religious fundamentalism - to set a higher value on religion than on human morality. The result - totalitarianism. When father informs on son, brother informs on brother. In the name of a greater good, you create a "good evil", says Żakowski. Fr. Tischner quotes Kierkegaard, that in the name of religion, one suspends morality.

This, says Fr. Tischner, is a very human drama. Justifying the greatest evil with the greatest good. Żakowski asks him whether there's an answer to this, other than scepticism. Fr. Tischner refers him to the new catechism, to the concept of negative theology. "Speaking of God, we cannot define who He is, only who He is not. Which means we can never be certain of what God is saying to us."

NOW we get to an interesting point. I DO believe in prayer, in the concept of a dialogue between myself in the silence of my soul, receiving a reply to my questions that I do consider to be from beyond my consciousness, from a higher - indeed - the highest - authority. A voice invariably kind, and wise, and optimistic and positive. Never aggressive, never judgemental. But...

"Can you never be certain, what God said to you?" asks Żakowski. Fr. Tischner replies: "You have to be very critical towards it. You have experience that there's something being said, so you are not lost; but what is being said goes through many filters of all your feelings, emotions, experiences, limitations, associations, reminiscences - through the filter of the entire mechanism of your human perception."

What then, can we do, to ascertain what God is really trying to say to us? Are we truly capax Dei? Żakowski says that when the voice of God tells us to sacrifice our son, kill a neighbour, or hit someone on the head, we should heed St. Thomas of Aquinas and bear in mind that we can never really be certain of what God has told us. Fr. Tischner says that in such cases, you should consult the advice of your brothers and sisters in faith. "Is it possible that this what God has told me?" asks Żakowski. And, continues Fr. Tischner, "through the faith of others you will hear the words of Christ, who will tell you to put your sword in its sheath. Which means when you want to bear witness, go yourself unto that altar, do not send your son or your neighbour, who may believe differently.

Because, we cannot really know what God is saying to us, the catechism says "we think that this is good," "we think this is the truth", where the old Tridentine catechism said "this is good", "this is the truth," says Fr. Tischner.

And now we get to my favourite metaphor in the book so far. Quoting the mystic St John of the Cross, Fr. Tischner says that the spiritual journey is like walking up a mountain; you should never stop on the journey to admire the landscape, thinking that to be an absolute, because every step further up the mountain gives you an enhanced view. The path to Absolute Good is never-ending; God bids us to keep climbing ever higher and higher. "What you see, what you can see, what you will see, depends on how high you have climbed", says Fr. Tischner.

The sense of what Abraham experienced is straightforward; the God of Abraham is not a jealous God. God takes away the delusion of truth, but through that brings us nearer to truth.

This time four years ago:
It's not rich countries that build roads, its roads that build rich countries

This time last year:
Snow that was doomed to melt

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