Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Images of God

The second part of the book is entitled Naprzeciw człowiekowi after the title of the second chapter of the catechism, in English - God comes to meet Man. Which shows just how difficult literary and indeed religious translation can be.

Fr. Tischner kicks off with a discussion of the concept of the Absolute. To him - and to Jacek Żakowski - God is the Absolute. But can there be an atheist Absolute? Indeed there can. It is Reason; Intellect. It stands within René Descartes' dictum Cogito, ergo sum.

And, as Fr. Tischner points out, the Enlightenment brought with it deism, the notion that God brought the universe into being, then stood back and let the world get on with it. But first, a quote from the new catechism, published 400 years after the Tridentine version - in the light of 400 years of scientific discoveries: "Through an utterly free decision, God has revealed Himself and given Himself to man. This he does by revealing the mystery, His plan of loving goodness, formed from all eternity in Christ, for the benefit of all men. God has fully revealed this plan by sending us His beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit."

"These words are about a God, who is an Absolute," says Fr. Tischner. [I note in the margin that whereas the Holy Trinity has appeared several times in the book, the Holy Spirit makes its (his?) first appearance.] And God, as an Absolute, is free. God - as being free - is a contrast to the Tridentine image - God as omniscient, omnipotent, just and good. But, says Fr. Tischner replying to Żakowski's question as to the atheist Absolute, the notion of God as Reason and Intellect is also deeply rooted; he traces it back to ancient Greece and on to the Enlightenment; God being worshipped on account of His intellect.

But a free God is one that is uses his Reason. As God wills himself to act with Reason, then God will not make the world do handstands - water will not flow up hill nor dead leaves float back onto trees. God acts with Reason - and Man can act with Reason - so a dialogue may ensue. God cannot  expect unreasonable things of Man. "Such as?" asks Żakowski. "The extraordinary. God demands only ordinary, kind, living," replies Fr. Tischner. "God does not need miracles," he adds.

God created the world with sufficient reason not to have to intervene in its workings? asks Żakowski. This concept is known as Deism, an interpretation of an intelligent world. What happens, asks Fr. Tischner, when Man wishes to imitate a God of Reason? He cites Anglo-Saxon Puritanism as stemming from such an image of God - sensible, reasonable, orderly. With high, but common-sensical ethical demands. "Have a family and live respectably. Early to bed, early to rise, makes you healthy, wealthy and wise. What Johnny didn't learn, John doesn't know." In today's world, Reason need not have a Godly character - it can be an absolute in a world deprived of God.

Żakowski asks whether you can believe that God does not exist, yet continue to respect rational rules. "Yes, and Man does not question them, because they come to be an Absolute," replies Fr. Tischner. "And the evil that exists in the contemporary world becomes something incomprehensible, irrational, absurd - conflicting with common sense." [Rather, as I noted in the margin, the Work of Satan. Here an aside - I've noticed in my many chats on these subjects that Poles who vote PiS are far more likely to believe in the physical existence of Satan in this world than those who vote for other parties.]

And now we get philosophical. "When you say to God, that He has to be above all rational, then you are imposing on Him limiting consequences in action; you are taking away from His omnipotence. Because you are forbidding him to make water flow uphill," says Żakowski. "But true freedom is always reasoning. If God were to eschew Reason, one would say, "God's gone mad," and of course a mad man is not a free being," replies Fr. Tischner.

"What, then, of the Biblical miracles? Water into wine, curing people? This flies in the face of such logic," argues Żakowski. "The faith of Deists or Puritans requires no miracles. It is a faith than can get by without miracles; indeed miracles disturb it," replies Fr. Tischner. "Because they discover God in the logic of the world, and not in miracles?" "Because it suggests that God does not need to improve himself."

"In the orthodoxy of the Catholic Church, the one miracle that we are commanded to believe is that the prophesy of the Old Testament was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The Church believes in the Gospel and in the miracles carried out by Christ. No other miracle is not the subject of faith." [Which includes Fatima, Lourdes, etc - my note.]

"This healthy, rational, common sense sits deep within the Church and is a great religious value, it carries the simplest values of our everyday life: reliability, conscientiousness, punctuality, honesty."

"But the Cartesian Absolute, the Cartesian God is above all a God of Power. The freedom of such a God is Power. I am free if I can do something. If I can't, I'm not free," says Fr. Tischner "And such a God no longer needs to be consistent, wise, subordinated to the rules of all creation?" asks Żakowski. "In the world of such a God, there is room for miracles, mountains without valleys. An omnipotent God that can create the physics of this world - and change them whensoever He chooses. The light of the sun can bring darkness, snow can be hot." Such then is a Cartesian God [I think he's rambled off the point here - sure a Deist God would not engage in such frippery solely to demonstrate His power... but now we move forward to the real point - the nature of an atheist Absolute.

"Man, create the rules and play your life by those rules. Politics, a battle for power, democracy, the state, economics, money, entertainment, and the satisfaction that stems from it," says Fr. Tischner. Żakowski adds: "I can change this world. Change becomes a value in its own right... Man wants to prove that he can destroy his world and re-shape it anew.

And finally Fr. Tischner moves on to the Absolute contained in the new catechism, neither a Deist, atheist or Cartesian one - but a God that comes to meet Man, and says: "I love, therefore I am - Amo, ergo sum." "Has this catechism rejected the other ways of seeing the Absolute?" asks Żakowski? "We'll see," replies Fr. Tischner.

Well - some serious philosophy there. "If you accept 'A', then 'B' follows on to be true". That kind of thinking. All too heavy-duty for me. A God that works miracles? God works miracles all the time; only we can't see them or can't be bothered to look for them. My own view of God is different, but I do like the Amo, ergo sum concept - and we'll be taking a closer look at that in the next conversation.

I'm nearly one third of the way through Lent and nearly one third of the way through the book. Both to be continued until Easter Sunday.

After two weeks of Lent: no weakening on coffee, alcohol or meat; 50 sit-ups twice a day, 22 press-ups, not missed a single morning or evening session in 14 days.

This time last year:
City-centre living, Warsaw-style

This time two years ago:
Communist plaque on Zygmunt's Column

This time five years ago:
Three weeks into Lent

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