Month: February 2013

The problem with the public school system

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Catholic and Protestant obscenity

It is worth pointing out that the mention of bodily function is likely to be more shocking in a Protestant than in a Catholic culture. It has often seemed to me that the offensive language of Protestantism is obscenity; the offensive language of Catholicism is profanity or blasphemy: one offends on a scale of unmentionable words for bodily function, the other on a scale of disrespect for the sacred. Dante places the Blasphemous in Hell as the worst of the Violent against God and His Works, but he has no category for punishing those who use four-letter words.

The difference is not, I think, national, but religious. Chaucer, as a man of Catholic England, took exactly Dante’s view in the matter of what was and what was not shocking language. In “The Pardoner’s Tale,” Chaucer sermonized with great feeling against the rioters for their profanity and blasphemy (for they way they rend Christ’s body with their oaths) but he is quite free himself with “obscenity.” Modern English readers tend to find nothing whatever startling in his profanity, but the schoolboys faithfully continue to underline the marvels of his Anglo-Saxon monosyllables and to make marginal notes on them.

John Ciardi, note on Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, The Inferno, Canto XXI (pp. 112-3)

Being polite to God

Ask this question: Does the salvation of the world truly depend on the letter that you are writing, the copper you are cleaning, the sentence full of wisdom that you are in the midst of pronouncing? Did the world not exist for millions of years before you said or did this or that? Will it not still live millions of years without your continuing to be a useful presence? So give it a chance now to enjoy your absence. Settle peacefully and say: ‘Whatever happens, I will not budge.’ Say to all those, visible and invisible, who come to disturb you: ‘I am very sorry; I am here, but not for you! …’ This is what we are always doing: suppose we are in conversation with someone and another person knocks on the door, you answer: ‘I am sorry, I am busy.’ If you are busy with God, you do not say: ‘I am sorry, go away.’ What logic, what common sense is there in this? It is not even a matter of contemplation, it is a matter of being polite!

Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, God and Man, p. 106

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Faith and certainty

Faith is very often understood by people as a defeat of intelligence. In other words, faith begins when I can no longer think creatively, when I let go of any attempt at rational understanding, and when I say ‘I believe’ because it is so absurd that it is the only way of facing the problem. This may be an act of credulity, it may be an act of cowardice, it may be a preliminary act, full of wisdom and intelligence, that teaches us not to draw conclusions or to come to conclusions before we have understood. But this is not faith as understood by the great men of all religions, and particularly the Christian faith. In the Epistle to the Hebrews in the eleventh chapter, faith is defined as ‘certainty of things unseen’. We usually lay the stress on ‘things unseen’ and forget the ‘certainty’ about them. So when we think of faith we usually think of the invisible and instead of certainty put against it an interrogation mark. Then to solve the problem, we accept in a childish way, in an unintelligent way very often, what we are told by others — usually our grandparents of three generations back, or whoever else we choose to believe for reasons that are not always reasonable. But if you try to see the way in which faith originates in those people who were the great men of faith, the heroes of faith, you can see that it always originates in an experience that makes the invisible certain, and which allows them, having discovered that the invisible is as real as the visible, to go further in searching the invisible by methods of their own.

Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, God and Man, p. 32