Thursday, 28 February 2013


The ninth conversation continues from where the eighth left off - Amo ergo sum - I love, therefore I am, the deepest definition of God, according to Fr. Tischner. "When you experience something like falling in love, or when a child is born to you, you feel that you truly exist." [As an aside, is this something that a Catholic priest can speak of from experience?] "St Augustine considered that in loving, man is similar to the Holy Trinity: when one loves, one really is."

God is good, God is love... But what happened to God at Auschwitz, asks Jacek Żakowski. Indeed. How does one square the existence of God in the face of mass extermination of human beings by other human beings? Individual human tragedies are somehow more explicable theologically than a the industrial-scale murder of millions. Why? That the survivors can learn? At the expense of so many innocent, good, lives? The holocaust, which happened right here, within the span on one human lifetime, is said by Fr. Tischner to have contributed to the rise of atheism, "the philosophy - or even the theology - of the death of God. We were told that God has died, and that only the game remained."

I must say, for me personally, the reality of the Holocaust is a very real reason to lose faith in a religious God - one that promises rewards and threatens punishment for one's behaviour in this life. What possible behaviour could justify the horrors of the ghetto and extermination camp? Fr. Tischner said in an earlier chapter, that as one approaches the end of one's life and says "and it was good" - can you imagine a Jewish woman, humiliated and starved in the Warsaw Ghetto, being forced into a gas chamber at Treblinka, suddenly aware of the fact that she was about to die in an unspeakably hideous way, saying to God 'and it was good'? Neither the Jewish God of the Old Testament nor the Christian God of the New Testament can bring comfort here.

Fr. Tischner says that before asking why is evil necessary to a loving God, we need to ask what is evil. And here, the answer lies in Revelation. "For revelation disperses the darkness. For revelation to exist, there must be evil, darkness, ignorance, delusion and lies... As revelation brings goodness, there must be evil, why, if there are no mountains without valleys. 'Forgive them, for they know not what they do.' Why did they kill? Because they did not know. So [God] must reveal [Himself] unto them, so that they would know."

Żakowski asks whether Man is born evil; an error, coded into us by Creation, which can be the source (or 'a source') of evil.  Here the lack of definite and indefinite article in Polish is a hindrance to understanding - "błąd, ktory może być źródłem zła" can mean "error that can be the source of evil" or equally "error that can be a source of evil". BIG difference. Yet none in Polish, at least not than I can gauge from context.

The remedies for this error, replies Fr. Tischner, are revelation and salvation. Revelation as the road to salvation; revelation as that which disperses darkness. "Revelation repairs a fault in our mind, in our reasoning. It repairs a fault residing in our minds - the deification of the rational. Revelation repairs this fault by subjecting the mind to the entirely irrational divine law of love."

"There is a text in the new catechism, which says [and here I copy-and-paste from the English version online available here] 'It pleased God, in his goodness and wisdom, to reveal himself and to make known the mystery of his will. His will was that men should have access to the Father, through Christ, the Word made flesh, in the Holy Spirit, and thus become sharers in the divine nature'. What is this revelation? And I would ask - are there any truths in our human life to which we only have access via revelation? Because to this truth - that here stands the world - we have access through sight, through touch; something's going on around us - we know, because we hear sounds, murmurs... But are there also truths which we can only reach because someone has revealed them to us?" "Such as what we think about one another? What we feel for one another?"

"These are the fundamental truths from the human drama: love, hate. There are very many signs of love. Someone brought flowers, someone waited in the frost..."

"You know them by their deeds." Fr. Tischner replies - "From deeds alone, you never have certainty. There comes a moment, when the word must be uttered. "Well, say it" - in other words 'reveal yourself'. We can also use for the word 'revelation' the word 'confidence' [as in 'a secret, something held in confidence]. God confides. Both Testaments are the story of beautiful divine confidences."

"Couldn't the omnipotent, good God simply - and more easily - have placed into our genetic code His entire revelation, so we would carry it within us, as an animal's self-preservation instinct, like trees, which know which way to grow? So that we would know instinctive know which way to grow?" asks Żakowski. "You are thinking about salvation for humans without minds? Maybe on that basis there's salvation for trees, plants, animals," replies Fr. Tischner.

"But is not this God, who commands people to undergo a trial before receiving salvation, and makes us so weak as to give us only a slight chance of doing so, is this really your good Lord God - or is it rather a great, cruel, divine gamester? asks Żakowski.

Fr. Tischner replies: "God confides. This is because God has a heart, and that heart he passes on to someone else. You will only confide in someone if you have a heart..." [Here I'll add that humans often confide in other humans as a result in over-indulgence in alcohol] "The heart is at the basis of reason, the basis of will [an important word for me - MD]. Between God and Man there is some understanding of hearts. Pascal says that 'the mind has its reasons and the heart has its reasons that the mind does not know.' Salvation through the mind is filling up the heart with some discovered truth. Accepting God's confidences amidst all the evil of this world and filling one's heart with God's confidences.

"Such is the drama of God and Man that we have revelation and then salvation. Salvation without revelation would mean saving man without his heart, saving only his mind," says Fr. Tischner.

"Would you not prefer to receive a blank cheque for your salvation?" asks Żakowski.

"If I did, I'd not be who I am. I'll answer you - would you want to be a weeping willow? This is the whole problem," replies Fr. Tischner. "I have the conviction that is summed up in the words 'And it was good'. Revelation as confidences shared between two hearts give me the feeling that it was good, despite the awful evil of the world. The existence of evil in the world is an immense challenge, and immense provocation. It is a great provocation to God's heart, God, who confides, and in confiding - delegates."

Well, I don't know. I can see where Fr. Tischner is coming from, but I'm not totally convinced. Revelation? Yes, I do hear that unbidden Word that comforts, that offers answers, that guides. Is it a path to Salvation? Don't know. I feel it makes me a better person; dialogue - also.

We are just over a third of the way through, I have much more to read before I can offer my personal view on these Most crucial of questions for our life. However, I am glad I'm taking this trouble at this time of year to exercise the spiritual side of me too.

This time last year:
Strong late-winter sunshine

This time three years ago:

This time four years ago:
The Economist was wrong about Poland

This time five years ago:
End of the line

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