Sunday, March 30, 2014

Believing Impossible Things: Not Required

Faith is many things: a grace; a human act; and understanding. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 153-159)

Faith can be simple as 'love God, love your neighbor,' or complex as Benedict XVI's "Faith, Reason and the University:" but faith is not believing things that can't be true.

The White Queen's Advice

"Alice laughed. 'There's no use trying,' she said: 'one CAN'T believe impossible things.'

" 'I daresay you haven't had much practice,' said the Queen. 'When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. There goes the shawl again!' "
("Through the Looking-Glass," Charles Dodgson/Lewis Carroll, via Project Gutenberg)
I've run into a few folks who seem convinced that their faith depends on believing impossible things: and more who say religion relies on unreasoning belief. (December 18, 2011)

Hard, Yes; Impossible, No

I'll grant that my faith isn't limited to what I can understand: or do. Happily, what's impossible for me isn't impossible for God.
"17 Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.

"Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.'

"18 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and said, 'Who then can be saved?'

"Jesus looked at them and said, 'For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.' "
(Matthew 19:23-26)
That doesn't mean that everyone who's wealthier than I am is damned to eternal torment. Wealth is an obstacle to entering God's kingdom, but "for God all things are possible."

Some Saints have been poor as the proverbial church mouse, some were anything but poor, and I've been over this before.
The impossibility of buying or working my way into Heaven doesn't bother me. Not when I know that there's hope.

When Jesus stopped being dead, the gate opened for all of us. It's not a 'get out of Hell free' card, though. There's still work to do, and that's another topic. (Genesis 3:15; John 6:40; Romans 2:5-8; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1681, 2785)

Nietzsche, Truth, and the Happy Times Gospel

I can't make Tobit's claim, that I "have walked all the days of my life on the paths of truth and righteousness." I think truth is important, though.

(From William Blake, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission)
(Job's Tormentors, illustration by William Blake.)

I see a serious disconnect between what Jesus said and how some Christians live: but recognized it as business as usual in a fallen world. Like it says in Job 5:6-7: where you've got people, you've got trouble. That's a paraphrase, obviously.

Maybe an overdose of platitudes and pietism encouraged Friedric Nietzsche to see faith as the opposite of truth:
"This is where the ways of human beings diverge: if what you want is happiness and peace of soul, then believe; if you want to be a disciple of truth, then search."
(Friedrich Nietzsche; in a letter to his sister, Elisabeth Nietzsche (June 11, 1865) (From p. 42, "The Oxford Handbook of Nietzsche;" Ken Gemes, John Richardson; Oxford University Press, (2013) via Google Books)
We still have folks ringing the changes on a happy times gospel approach to faith. I think that makes about as much sense as the oh woe, all ye faithful dirge that equates gloominess with Godliness.

There's nothing wrong with emotions, by the way: they're part of being human. But we're supposed to control our emotions with reason, not the other way around. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1731, 1762-1770)

We're also expected to acknowledge the wisdom of God's truth: even if that means a spot of unpleasantness now and then. (John 14:6; Catechism, 149, 214-216, 2465-2503)

"Knowledge of the Truth"

(From James Tissot, via Brooklyn Museum/Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(James Tissot's "The Exhortation to the Apostles.")

My Lord said, about as bluntly as possible, 'I'm God.' Any lunatic or charlatan could do that, of course. What set Jesus of Nazareth apart happened after the Son of God was executed, and that's yet another topic. (March 11, 2012)

Getting back to why truth is important, particularly for folks who take Jesus seriously, here's a very short sampling from the New Testament:
"Jesus said to him, 'I am the way and the truth 5 and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

"If you know me, then you will also know my Father. 6 From now on you do know him and have seen him.' "
(John 14:6-7)

"1 First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone,

"for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.

"This is good and pleasing to God our savior,

"who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth."
(1 Timothy 2:1-4)
This interest in truth didn't start with the New testament, of course. Depending on which list you're reading from, one of the Ten Commandments is "you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor," or "you shall not bear dishonest witness against your neighbor. " (Exodus 20:16; Deuteronomy 5:20)

The Catechism's Part Three, Section Two, Chapter Two, discusses how living in truth ties in with loving our neighbor. (Catechism, 2464-2499)

My neighbors aren't just the folks living next to me, and that's yet again another topic. Topics. (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:36-40; Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-27; 1 John 4:20-21; Catechism, 1807, 1825, 1878-1889, 1928-1942, for starters)

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