Saturday, 16 February 2013

Looking for The Answer

"Everybody's lookin' for answers" was a refrain in the Coen Brothers' 2000 movie O Brother Where Art Thou. We hear that there's only book that's got the answers, "from Genesee down to Revelations", according to Bible wholesaler Big Dan Teague.

The catechism states that faith is the answer given to man by God, who reveals Himself to bring light and sense to life. So Fr. Józef Tischner notes that if the answer is given to man by God - there must be a question - framed in the language of he who questions. Fr. Tischner says that too often, we frame the question in a cosmological language, seeking God in the Universe - rather than within the drama of human life. "We ask of our creator, of a reason, of a purpose". And we seek to locate that creator within an earthly frame - heaven above us, hell below. Fr. Tischner tells Jacek Żakowski that both Heaven and Hell lie between us and our fellow man. "We seek God as a participant in our personal drama," says Fr. Tischner, "people can be emissaries of heaven or of hell - this," he says, "is fundamental."

Fr. Tischner moves on the question of 'dialogue' in the catechism - the notion that God speaks to us. Dialogue occasioned by hearing the word of another. A word that may come from another person, or from one's own conscience.

"Adam, where art Thou?" asked God of the first man, who had just eaten fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Topographically, God knew. Just as when we, capax dei, capable of God, hear God's question - "where are you?" the question refers not to being lost in a forest or unknown town, but within the drama of life. A metaphysical and strong question. People, says Fr. Tischner, who do not have the awareness that they are lost, do not hear the question. And, he confirms, God is in that question.

Well here I have a question. If I seek, does that necessarily mean I'm lost? Personally, I don't think so. It is a lifelong quest for understanding that I would not place within an ontological framework of  perdition and redemption.

And when Fr. Tischner states that 'we are not part of the cosmos', I would disagree strongly. We are billion year-old carbon, even though we are sentient billion year-old carbon. Fr. Tischner refers again to Adam, hiding from God, because he knew everything. The creation myth of Adam, present in the three Abrahamic religions, carries with it a strong message: Man has fallen because he sought to acquire knowledge. The desire for knowledge, given to Adam by a satanic serpent, is the cause of man's fall from grace and banishment from a stress-free existence in the Garden of Eden. Fr. Tischner continues: "When you hear the question 'where are you', you must see that question through the eyes of the questioner". Placing one's self into the position of the other person allows for a meaningful dialogue. "And this, according to the Greeks, is how thinking is born. The main function of thinking is to change points of view, and this way we arrive at many common conclusions". He quotes Heidegger: "Asking questions is divine thought".

So a contradiction here to the message from the story of Adam: "He, who is curious, who seeks a further truth, immerses himself in mystery, as though in water, and opens his eyes, and sees what is happening there - not because he doubts, but because he is curious what else he can see there, what else constitutes truth. Sometimes it seems that this is missing in people today. And even within religion."

Question what you are told? This is indeed remarkable coming from a Catholic priest. Certainly, something quite at odds with the teaching within cults (see this Economist review of recent books about what goes on within Scientology). Fr. Tischner is being very open towards free-thinkers - dangerously so, the Radio Maryja wing of the Catholic Church in Poland would argue.

Żakowski asks: "to be moved to ask of God 'where are you', must you be chosen, touched by God? No, replies Fr. Tischner. "You must be touched by freedom! Not the experience of your own freedom, but experiencing freedom in others." "God is free and demands freedom," interjects Żakowski. "God teaches me freedom when God chooses me," replies Fr. Tischner, saying that here is a fundamental difference between the old and new catechism. "God teaches freedom, and when  we pray 'thy will be done' we are saying 'thy freedom be done', my freedom, on the measure, on the pattern, of God's freedom. These are new horizons opening up to us."

Fr. Tischner explores the relationship between faith and trust and intelligence - 'fides quaerens intellectum' in the words of St Augustine - faith (or more precisely, trust) seeks understanding. "Only when there is faith/trust does understanding come. The mind awakes, when one trusts."

Żakowski asks whether that trust should not be earned. Fr. Tischner replies that without trust, human dialogue bogs down in mutual suspicion, then attempts at finding ways to better one's adversary, and then violence. If we trust one another, we can talk, we can solve problems, we can try to understand.

To where should we look for answers? "To a faith that understands," says Fr. Tischner, concluding the second discussion.

I'm left with the feeling that this is all well and good, appealing to me - but from the point of view of a religion trying to draw a theological line in the sand - it's all a bit wishy-washy. Still, there are 23 more discussions to come - before Easter Sunday, 23 more opportunities to reconcile this apparent dissonance.

This time last year:
Fresh powder in Warsaw's parks

This time three years ago:
Another Lent starts

This time five years ago:
Okęcie dusk

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