Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Faith

Soren Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling, in a way, redefines faith. In a normal sense, faith would be a spiritual assent to a fact or conviction.  However, Kierkegaard's notion is a very radical call to much more than a mere spiritual assent.  It is a radical surrender.
Infinite resignation is the last stage before faith, so anyone who has not made this movement does not have faith, for only in infinite resignation does an individual become conscious of his eternal validity, and only then can one speak of grasping existence by virtue of faith (p. 46).
But this rides on the notion of the Infinite as distinct from me.  There is someone other than me, outside of me, to whom I surrender.  This demarcation is not an issue for Schleiermacher who would consider the world, and God as an organic being (organic monism). Though I've not really got my head around all the implications of going along with that notion of Schleiermacher, I find most of his writings (at least those in the initial chapters of On Religion) quite open and very much 'Catholic' - certainly not popular protestant thought. 

Another point regarding the 'infinite resignation' that Kierkegaard speaks of as pre-requisite for faith, is with regard to the identity of the one submitting.  The difficulty in making this resignation is that one has given up his or her will for ever.  What else is left of the identity of the individual to sustain his being as distinct from the one to whom he or she has submitted his or her will.  For me, faith is not a once-and-for-all act done sometime ago; it is an ongoing-commitment that I make, as me.  Even my perpetual profession as a religious brother, is an act of commitment that I made verbally in 2005, but something that I live consciously every moment of my life. 

Last of all, Kierkegaard's faith, sounds more like an achievement than a grace.  I strongly feel that grace does not work in vacuum, and that there is a great element of giftedness, but it certainly is not pure achievement on my part.  

Understanding UK and history

I've been in the UK for almost three years now and only this week did I come to know that the United Kingdom, Great Britain and England are not interchangeable.  Each is a distinctly separate term, geographically and much more politically as well.

While United Kingdom comprises of four countries, but is regarded as one country.  These four are England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.  However, Great Britain comprises of only three countries: England, Wales and Scotland.  So the UK is actually the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Norther Ireland.  England is a separate country by itself - perhaps the only one who'd be rightly titled 'British'.  The other two parts of Great Britain would certainly not be too happy if you'd call them 'British'!  The video below is a good and detailed description of what's behind the name and combination...
While the geographical composition and demarcation is complicated enough, the political connections (or colonial vestiges) are far more messy.   I liked best what the commentator describes as the opinion of the English about their counterparts in Great Britain and vice-versa!  ... "rural-yokels who spend too much time with their sheep" and "...slave-driving colonial masters..."

The Akedah

Before delving into the whole 'philosophy' of the Akedah (the binding of Isaac), I thought it would be a good exercise to ask myself what was the purpose of including that incident in the Bible. 

Among the many reasons that my mind could come up with, the one that was a bit weird but different was the following.  The test of Abraham's faith was not to prove God's righteousness or graciousness.  The demand to sacrifice his only son, was for Abraham a test for himself and others.  God actually has very little to do in this whole scenario.  This is the only sensible way of interpreting not just the whole episode but also responding to why the 'test' at all.  It was basically for others to know Abraham better.  That's it, and nothing more. 

The simple analogy that I can think of is the corresponding exams and tests we have in schools and colleges.  The one who does the evaluation is hardly known or remembered.  What counts is the score.  The recorded score is the one by which everyone comes to know of the academic 'qualifications' of the student; but they only serve as an introduction, not a conclusive explanation.  When one applies for a job, the certificates and marks are considered because they are a way of assessing the candidate.  However, once on the job, the marks barely matter; what one actually does is the criterion.  So one might have a very high mark, but if the person is unable to really work, he or she may soon find himself or herself, looking for a new job! 

The akedah is therefore for me a mere introduction of Abraham to someone who would not know him.  But once you know Abraham, from the various other aspects and experiences, the initial introduction hardly matters.  

Ismail or Isaac?

Began reading Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling, some time ago.  But prior to that was quite surprised when a colleague informed me that while Christians believe what is written in the Bible about the event where Abraham is ready to sacrifice his son Isaac, Muslims believe it was actually Ismail who was about to be sacrificed.  

In all these years it never occurred to me that it could be Ismail and not Isaac.  Especially given all those years as a child when we witnessed all our Muslim neighbours celebrate Bakrid.  They'd send us too a portion of the meat.  All those years, I was aware of them celebrating the sacrificial event of Abraham, but what I never thought that it would be involving Ismail; not Isaac.  Though the willingness of Abraham lies at the centre of the celebration or commemoration, it does not make a huge difference whether it is Ismail or Isaac.  However, the event also stresses Abraham's acceptance of God's command of sacrificing his only son!  I'm told the Jewish have a slightly different take on this episode. 

Monday, 4 February 2019

Wolf as the shepherd

The other day Fr Pavol was mentioning of a particular diocese somewhere in central Europe which had its new bishop.  His surname was 'Wolf'.  The initial humour around  the diocese was the question: "Can Wolf be the shepherd?"

Amusing when it is only the play of words and names.  However, as I had a good laugh at this whole narration, it took me a while to also remember that perhaps not all places there is a real shepherd leading the flock.  The name may not be 'wolf' but much of everything else certainly is! In such circumstances the harm done not just to the people directly involved, but to whole community and that too for the lengthy duration - not only of the tenure of the bishopric or pastoral service but in the years to follow too.  How difficult it would be for the next person, however good and noble he may be, to recover lost confidence and trust - leave alone work for the advancement of the diocese or parish. 

Great is the harm done by people who appear and promise to do good, but with ulterior motives; much more than those who appear and openly threaten to harm.  In the case of the latter, one is at least aware that they are there to harm.  
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