One aim of the physical sciences has been to give an exact picture of the material world. One achievement of physics in the twentieth century has been to prove that the aim is unattainable. . . . There is no absolute knowledge. And those who claim it, whether they are scientists or dogmatists, open the door to tragedy. All information is imperfect. We have to treat it with humility. That is the human condition; and that is what quantum physics says. I mean that literally. J. Bronowski, The Ascent of Man See also “Tolerance” and “Sin” J. Bronowski, The Ascent of Man
There are two parts to the human dilemma. One is the belief that the end justifies the means. That push‑button philosophy, that deliberate deafness to suffering, has become the monster in the war machine. The other is the betrayal of the human spirit: the assertion of dogma that closes the mind, and turns the nation, a civilization, into a regiment of ghosts ‑ obedient ghosts, or tortured ghosts. [Of the example of Auschwitz:] This is where people were turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance. It was done by dogma. It was done by ignorance. When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods [absolute knowledge]. Science is a very human form of knowledge. We are always at the brink of the known, we always feel forward for what is to be hoped. Every judgment in science stands on the edge of error, and is personal. Science is a tribute to what we can know although we are fallible. In the end the words were said by Oliver Cromwell: “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.” I owe it as a scientist to my friend Leo Syetard, I owe it as a human being to the many members of my family who died at Auschwitz, to stand here by the pond as a survivor and a witness. We have to cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge and power. We have to close the distance between the push‑button order and the human act. We have to touch people. Any truth‑claim is the result of human interpretation of experience subject to the possibility of error that is an inescapable aspect of our finitude. J. Wesley Robb, The Reverent Skeptic
Bertrand Russell, My Philosophical Development, notes that his original philosophical interest was two‑fold: 1) could philosophy provide a defense for religious belief, however vague; and 2) desire to believe that something could be known, in pure mathematics if nothing else. In regard to religion, he came first to disbelieve free will, then immortality, and finally God. “As regards the foundations of mathematics, I got nowhere.” It is an odd fact that subjective certainty is inversely proportional to objective certainty. . . . It is a practice of theologians to laugh at science because it changes. . . . Men who speak in this way have not grasped the great idea of successive approximations. Bertrand Russell’s Best, edited by Robert E. Egner
For my part, I should regard an unchanging system of philosophical doctrines as proof of intellectual stagnation. Bertrand Russell’s Best, edited by Robert E. Egner
David Tracy, Blessed Rage for Order quotes Bernard Lonergan: “Be attentive, be intelligent, be rational, be responsible, develop and, if necessary, change.”
Where there is no anticipation, change has to wait upon chance, and peters out amid neglect. Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas
Bergson was rebelling against the fixities and rigidities which both logicians and materialists had ascribed to reality. . . . If change was real, novelty was real; if novelty was real, freedom was real. The immediate was flux and the changing was ultimate. He held that change means growth, growth means creation, creation means freedom. And if freedom was ultimately real, what a liberation that spelled for the soul of man, no longer bound by the fixities of space, of logic and of habit! The real facts of evolution were to be found, not in a mechanical elimination of the unfit, but in the creative surge of life, in an elan vital. Foreword to Creative Evolution
Choice, or what might seem to be chance, is the means through which life is realized. The problem is not to blame or explain but to handle the life that arises. . . . The best advice is to take it all as if it have been of your own intention ‑ with that, you evoke the participation of your own will. Man, in the biblical and post‑biblical view, is given the choice between his “good and evil drives.” Deuteronomy 30:19: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; choose life, that you and your descendants may live.” Eric Fromm, You Shall Be As Gods
. . . The first author of any part of the New Testament was Paul . . . We . . . become aware that Paul seems far more prone to proclaim Christ than he is to explain Christ, though he does begin the explanatory process. (2 Cor 5:19; Rom. 8:39; Rom. 6:23; 1 Cor. 1:23, 24). . . . If one asserts that “God was in this Christ,” as Paul does, then the question inevitably arises as to how the holy and distant God happened to be present in that finite and particular life. Spong, Why Christianity Must Change or Die, pp. 73, 74.
I would choose to loathe rather than to worship a deity who required the sacrifice of his son. Spong, Why Christianity Must Change or Die, p. 95. . . . A savior who restores us to our prefallen status is therefore pre-Darwinian superstition an post-Darwinian nonsense. P. 99.
If one does not hear the sighs of the han of the minjung, one cannot hear the voice of Christ knocking on our doors. Suh Nam‑Dong, Minjung Theology
Man is summoned to share in God’s suffering in the world. . . . [It is not being religious that makes a Christian, but participating in the sufferings of God in the secular world . . . ; participating in the powerlessness of God in the secular world. ‑ Bonhoeffer. ‘
To be in Christ means to share in the world. Good, therefore, is not an abstraction but a process, movement, constantly accepting the world and people and taking part in their life; and so ethics is helping people ‘to share in life’, it is the Christlike in the midst of the human. . . . Christ leads, not beyond, but right into the reality of everyday life. Christian life is no end in itself, but puts one in a position to live as a man before God, not to become a superman, but to exist ‘for other men.’ Bonhoeffer p. 624 The Shame and the Sacrifice
Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behavior. The Christian is called to sympathy and action, not in the first place by his own sufferings, but by the sufferings of his brethren, for whose sake Christ suffered. Bonhoeffer, p. 625 The Shame and the Sacrifice
Christianity, history The history of Christianity has . . . been written by white, western, bourgeois hands. Gustavo Gutierrez
Christianity, and modern world
Teilhard de Chardin was critical of Christianity’s relation to the modern world:
1. lack of receptiveness to modern humanism; inability to assimilate contemporary values
2. persistence of manicheanism, Jansenism and dualism in doctrinal teaching and piety
3. defective concept of charity
4. incomplete, if not obsolete, concept of God
5. predominance in conception of the incarnation of juridical and moralistic concepts over concrete and physical concepts
6. incorrect interpretation of original sin, mystery of the cross, of resignation to suffering, and of renunciation and detachment
7. unrealistic attitude towards the world and lack of any real contact with it
8. view of salvation solely from perspective of the individual
9. static concept of the universe
Emily Rideau, The Thought of Teilhard de Chardin
Teilhard is convinced Christianity is the only salvation of the world in history, provided it rediscover its mystery, modify the terms it uses, and renew youthful contact with and in its action on the world. Rideau says of that, “A human world is absurd, unreal and inacceptable, if it does not, in its essence, involve a victory over death; time makes no sense if it does not emerge into eternity.” Emily Rideau, The Thought of Teilhard de Chardin
Christianity in the last century and at present is often untrue to itself. It has lost the essential element of willingness to love, and of reaching communion with God through that willingness. Schweitzer quoted in Best of Playboy Interviews, Dec. 1963
When Playboy asked if Christianity’s unfaithfulness meant the ideals are now worthless, Schweitzer responded, “An ideal which has true merit cannot be worthless or out‑of‑date. Time has no impact on the true ideal. But it can become obscured, and that is often what has happened. Mankind today is technically brilliant but often spiritually empty because the habit of fundamental thought has been abandoned. . . . Men must discover for themselves, in their own minds, the truth of existence. . . . They must struggle against that spirit of the age which tries to submerge independent thought under a blanket. This struggle is supremely important.
Best of Playboy Interviews, Dec. 1963
Commitment to Principle
John Wesley to Ebenezer Blackwell, May 16, 1753:
I have often observed with a sensible pleasure your strong desires to be not almost only but altogether a Christian. And what should hinder it? What is it that prevents those good desires from being brought to good effect? Is it the carrying of a right principle too far? I mean, a desire to please all men for their good? Or is it a kind of shame? the being ashamed not of sin but of holiness . . . ? The giving way on one point naturally leads us to give way in another and another till we give up all. O sir, let us beware of this! But this can only be by pressing on. Otherwise we must go back.
[Is it possible to be too committed to principle? What do we do when commitment to principle impinges upon practical considerations of security, income, a home, comfort? I have come to the conclusion that one cannot be too committed to right principle. An inclusive principle that apprehends God and God’s activity in the world is dynamic and balanced already: it cannot be carried too far. It is the fear of commitment to such principle, as Wesley says here, that is destructive. RW 3‑28‑92 based upon notes from Summer, 1991]
A concept can never adequately express the experience it refers to. It points to it, but it is not it. The concept and the symbol have the great advantage that they permit people to communicate their experiences; they have the tremendous disadvantage that they lend themselves easily to an alienated use.
Erich Fromm, You Shall Be as Gods
J. Bronowski, The Ascent of Man, makes an analogy of the relativity of knowledge to a portrait by Topolski: “These pictures do not so much fix the face as explore it; . . . each line that is added strengthens the picture, but never makes it final.
See also the introduction to Suchocki, God, Christ, Church
Concepts, alienation of concepts
There is a simultaneously permanence and change in any living being, likewise in any concept reflecting the experience of a living man. However, that concepts have their own lives, and that they grow can be understood only if the concepts are not separated from the experience to which they give expression. Once this happens ‑ and this process of alienation of concepts is the rule rather than the exception ‑ the ideas expressing an experience has been transformed into an ideology that usurps the place of the underlying reality within the living human being.
Confession is not a peasant sinner groveling before the king, begging for forgiveness in order to escape punishment. . . . Confession is my being confronting the Ground of all Being, and forgiveness is my moving beyond limits into something more real, more whole, more life giving than I can now contemplate. Spong, Why Christianity Must Change or Die, p. 197.
Theoretically, then, evrything living might be conscious. In principle, consciousness is coextensive with life.
Bergson (Compare Teilhard’s matter aware of itself)
As life grows richer in its scope, its heritage and its memories, the field of choice widens, and at last the variety of possible responses generates consciousness, which is the rehearsal of response.
‑Durant on Bergson
Consciousness seems proportionate to the living being’s power of choice.
Means there be in the which a contemplative prentice should be occupied, the which be these ‑ Lesson, Meditation, and Orison: or else to thine understanding theybe called ‑ Reading, Thinking, and Praying.
– Annonymous, from The Cloud of Unknowing, 14th century
Like all human beings, I am a person who is full of contradictions.
– Albert Schweitzer
Gandhi is reported to be unconcerned with being consistent with prior statements he made, but concerned only with responding to the present with the principles he believed in: “Do I contradict myself,” he would ask, “Consistency is a hobgoblin.” [this latter is a paraphrase of a saying I heard, “Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds?”] 4‑6‑92
Creeds are at once the outcome of speculation and efforts to curb speculation. . . . Wherever there is a creed, there is a heretic round the corner or in his grave.
Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas
Our task is neither to literalize nor to worship the words of yesterday’s theological consensus. It is, rather, to return to the experience that created these creedal words in the first place and then to seek to incorporate that experience in the words that we today can use, without compromising its truth or our integrity as citizens of this century. Spong, Why Christianity Must Change or Die, p. 20.
Creed, personal creed
Erich Fromm, Beyond the Chains of Illusion, sets out his “beliefs”:
I believe that there are two ways of arriving at the choice of the good. The first is that of duty and obedience to moral commands. . . . The other way is to develop a taste for and a sense of well‑being in doing what is good and right. . . .
I believe that to recognize the truth is not primarily a matter of intelligence, but a matter of character. . . .
I believe in freedom, in man’s right to be himself, to assert himself. . . .
I believe that one of the most disastrous mistakes in individual and social life consists in being caught in stereotyped alternatives of thinking. . . .
quoted by Philomena Agudo, Affirming the Human and the Holy
To endure the cross is not a tragedy; it is the suffering which is the fruit of an exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ. . . . It is not suffering per se, but suffering‑and‑rejection, and not rejection for any cause or convictionof our own, but rejection for the sake of Christ. If our Christianity has ceased tobe serious about discipleship, if we have watered down the gospel into emotinal uplift which makes no costly demands and which fails to distinguish between natural and Christian existence, then we cannot help regarding the cross as an ordinary everyday calamity, as one of the trials and tribulations of life. We have then forgotten that the cross means rejection and shame as well as suffering. . . . The cross means sharing the suffering of Christ to the last and to the fullest. . . . The cross is there, right from the beginning, he has only got to pick it up; there is no need for him to go out and look for a cross for himself, no need for him deliberately to run after suffering.
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