Back in 2011 I featured this wonderful post from Fr. Barron. Just as good then as it is now.
Archive for March, 2013
Three important scenes of Our Lord’s life took place on mountains. On one, He preached the Beatitudes, the practice of which would bring a Cross from the world; on the second, He showed the glory that lay beyond the Cross; and on the third, He offered Himself in death as a prelude to His glory and that of all who would believe in His name.
The second incident took place within a few weeks, at most, of Calvary, when He took with Him to a high mountain Peter, James, and John — Peter the Rock; James destined to be the first Apostle-martyr; and John the visionary of the future glory of the Apocalypse. These three were present when He raised from the dead the daughter of Jairus. All three needed to learn the lesson of the Cross and to rectify their false conceptions of the Messiahs. Peter had vehemently protested against the Cross, while James and John had been throne-seekers. All three would later on sleep in the Garden of Gethsemane during His agony. To believe in His Calvary, they must see the glory that shone beyond the scandal of the Cross.
On the mountaintop, after praying, He became transfigured before them as the glory of His Divinity flashed through the threads of His earthly raiment. It was not so much a light that was shining from without as the beauty of the Godhead that shone from within. It was not the full manifestation of Divinity which no man of earth could see; nor was His body glorified, for He had not risen from the dead, but it possessed a quality of glory. His crib, His carpenter trade, His bearing opprobrium from enemies were a humiliation; fittingly there should also be epiphanies of glory, as the angels’ song at His birth and the voice of the Father during the baptism.
Now as He nears Calvary, a new glory surrounds Him. The voice again invests Him in the robes of the priesthood, to offer sacrifice. The glory that shone around Him as the Temple of God was not something with which He was outwardly invested, but rather a natural expression of the inherent loveliness of “Him who came down from heaven.” The wonder was not this momentary radiance around Him; it was rather that at all other times it was repressed.
As Moses, after communing with God, put a veil over his face to hide it from the people of Israel, so Christ had veiled His glory in humanity. But for this brief moment, He turned it aside so that men might see it; the outgoing of these rays was the transitory proclamation to every human eye of the Son of Righteousness. As the Cross came nearer, His glory became greater. So it may be that the coming of the anti-Christ or the final crucifixion of the good will be preceded by an extraordinary glory of Christ in His members.
In man, the body is a kind of a cage of the soul. In Christ, the Body was the Temple of Divinity. In the Garden of Eden, we know that man and woman were naked but not ashamed. This is because the glory of the soul before sin shone through the body and became a kind of a raiment. Here too in the Transfiguration the Divinity shone through humanity. This was probably mud more natural than for Christ to be seen in any other pose namely, without that glory. It took restraint to hide the Divinity that was in Him.
And even as He prayed, the fashion of His face
Was altered, and His garments
Became white and dazzling;
And two men appeared conversing with Him,
Moses and Elias, seen now in glory;
And they spoke of the Death
which He was to achieve at Jerusalem.
Luke 9:30, 31
The Old Testament was coming to meet the New. Moses the publisher of the Law, Elias the chief of the Prophets — both of them were seen shining in the Light of Christ Himself Who, as the Son of God, gave the Law and sent the Prophets. The subject of conversation of Moses, Elias and Christ was not what He had taught, but His sacrificial death; it was His duty as Mediator which fulfilled the Law, the Prophets and the Eternal Decrees. Their work done, they pointed to Him to see the Redemption accomplished.
Thus did He keep before Him the goal of being “numbered with the transgressors,” as Isaias had foretold. Even in this moment of glory, the Cross is the theme of the discourse with the celestial visitors. But it was death conquered, sin atoned and the grave despoiled. The light of glory which enveloped the scene was joy like the “Now let me die,” which Jacob said on seeing Joseph, or like the Nunc Dimittis which Simeon uttered on seeing the Divine Babe. Aeschylus, in his Agamemnon, describes a soldier returning to his native land after the Trojan War and in his joy saying that he was willing to die. Shakespeare puts the same joyful words on the lips of Othello after the perils of voyage:
If it were now to die
‘Twere now to be most happy;
for, I fear,
My soul hath her content so absolute
That not another comfort like to this
Succeeds in unknown fate.
But in the case of Our Lord, it was as St. Paul said, “Having joy set before Him, He endured the Cross.”
What the Apostles noticed as particularly beautiful and glorified were His face and His garments — the face which later would be splattered with blood flowing from a crown of thorns; and the garments, which would be a robe of scorn with which sneering Herod would dress Him. The gossamer of light which now surrounded Him would be exchanged for nakedness when He would be stripped on a hill.
While the Apostles were standing at what seemed to be the very vestibule of heaven, a cloud formed, overshadowing them:
And now, there was a voice which said
To them out of the cloud,
This is My beloved Son,
In whom I am well pleased;
To Him, then, listen.
When God sets up a cloud it is a manifest sign that there are bonds which man dare not break. At His baptism, the heavens were opened; now at the Transfiguration they opened again to install Him in His office as Mediator, and to distinguish Him from Moses and the Prophets. It was heaven itself that was sending Him on His mission, not the perverse will of men. At the baptism, the voice from heaven was for Jesus Himself, on the Hill of the Transfiguration it was for the disciples.
The shouts of “Crucify” would be too much for their ears if they did not know that it behooved the Son to suffer. It was not Moses not Elias they were to hear, but Him who apparently would die like other teacher, but was more than a prophet. The voice was testified to the unbroken and undivided union of Father and Son; it recall also the words of Moses that in due time God would raise up from Israel One like Himself Whom they should hear.
The Apostles, awakening at the brilliance of what they had seen, found their spokesman, as almost always, in Peter.
And just as these were parting from Him,
Peter said to Jesus, Master
It is well that we should be here;
Let us make three booths in this place,
One for Thee, and one for Moses,
And one for Elias.
But he spoke at random.
Luke 9: 33, 34
A week before, Peter was trying to find a way to glory without the Cross. Now he thought the Transfiguration a good short cut to salvation by having a Mount of the Beatitudes or a Mount the Transfiguration without the Mount of Calvary. It was Peter’s second attempt to dissuade Our Lord from going to Jerusalem be crucified.
Before Calvary he was the spokesman for all the who would enter into glory without purchasing it by self-denial and sacrifice. Peter in his impetuosity here felt that the glory which God brought down from the heavens, and of which the angels sang at Bethlehem, could be tabernacled among men without a war against sin. Peter forgot that as the dove rested his foot only after the deluge, so true peace comes only after the Crucifixion.
Like a child, Peter tried to capitalize and make permanent this transient glory. To the Savior, it was an anticipation of what was reflected from the other side of the Cross; to Peter, it was a manifestation of an earthly Messianic glory that ought to housed. The Lord Who called Peter “Satan” because he would have a crown without a Cross now ignored his non-crucial humanism, for He knew that “he spoke at random.” But after the Resurrection, Peter would know. Then he would recall the scene, saying:
We had been eye-witnesses of His exaltation.
Such honor, such glory was bestowed on Him
By God the Father, that a voice came to Him
Out of the splendor which dazzles human eyes;
This, it said, is My beloved Son,
In Whom I am well pleased; to Him, then, listen.
We, his companions on the holy mountain,
Heard that Voice coming from heaven, and now
The word of the prophets gives us more
Confidence than ever. It is with good reason
That you are paying so much attention to that Word;
It will go on shining, like a lamp in
Some darkened room, until the dawn breaks,
And the day star rises in your hearts.
2 Peter 1:16-20
Advocates of same-sex marriages can’t back up claims about positive long-term effects. This article is based on an amicus curiae brief in support of the petitioners in Hollingsworth v. Perry, filed on behalf of Leon R. Kass (University of Chicago), Harvey C. Mansfield (Harvard University), and the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy.It appeared in yesterday’s WSJ.
George Mason University professor Nelson Lund has written widely in the field of constitutional law, including articles on constitutional interpretation, federalism, separation of powers, the Second Amendment, the Commerce Clause, the Speech or Debate Clause, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Uniformity Clause. In addition, he has published articles in the fields of employment discrimination and civil rights, the legal regulation of medical ethics, and the application of economic analysis to legal institutions and legal ethics.
Professor Lund graduated from St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, after which he received an M.A. in philosophy from the Catholic University of America and a Ph.D. in political science from Harvard University. He left the faculty of the University of Chicago to attend its law school, where he served as executive editor of the University of Chicago Law Review and chapter chairman of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies.
After law school, he held positions at the United States Department of Justice in the Office of the Solicitor General and the Office of Legal Counsel. He also served as a law clerk to the Honorable Patrick E. Higginbotham of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and to the Honorable Sandra Day O’Connor of the United States Supreme Court. Following his clerkship with Justice O’Connor, Professor Lund served in the White House as associate counsel to the president from 1989 to 1992.
Since joining the faculty at George Mason, Professor Lund has taught Constitutional Law, Legislation, Federal Election Law, Employment Discrimination, State and Local Government, and seminars on the Second Amendment and on a variety of topics in Jurisprudence.
The Supreme Court is hearing two cases this week that represent a challenge to one of the oldest and most fundamental institutions of our civilization. In Hollingsworth v. Perry and United States v. Windsor, the court is being asked to rule that constitutional equal protection requires the government to open marriage to same-sex couples.
The claimed right to same-sex marriage is not in the Constitution or in the court’s precedents, so the court must decide whether to impose a new law making marriage into a new and different institution. The justices are unlikely to take so momentous a step unless they are persuaded that granting this new right to same-sex couples will not harm children or ultimately undermine the health of our society.
A significant number of organizations representing social and behavioral scientists have filed briefs promising the court that there is nothing to worry about. These assurances have no scientific foundation. Same-sex marriage is brand new, and child rearing by same-sex couples remains rare. Even if both phenomena were far more common, large amounts of data collected over decades would be required before any responsible researcher could make meaningful scientific estimates of the long-term effects of redefining marriage.
The conclusions in the research literature typically amount at best to claims that a particular study found “no evidence” of bad effects from child rearing by same-sex couples. One could just as easily say that there is no reliable evidence that such child-rearing practices are beneficial or harmless. And that is the conclusion that should be relevant to the court.
Social-science advocacy organizations, however, have promoted the myth that a lack of evidence, so far, of bad effects implies the nonexistence of such effects. This myth is based on conjecture or faith, not science.
Nor is the leap of faith from “no evidence” to “don’t worry” an accident. The late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, himself a distinguished social scientist at Harvard, once observed: “Social science is rarely dispassionate, and social scientists are frequently caught up in the politics which their work necessarily involves . . . [T]he pronounced ‘liberal’ orientation of sociology, psychology, political science, and similar fields is well established.”
This orientation has been on rich display in the research on same-sex parenting, which is scientific primarily in the sense that it is typically conducted by people with postgraduate degrees. There are no scientifically reliable studies at all, nor could there be, given the available data. Yet the Supreme Court has been solemnly assured by many scientific organizations, such as the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, that the overwhelming weight of evidence indicates that same-sex couples are every bit the equal of opposite-sex parents in every relevant respect. The number of studies may be overwhelming but the evidence assuredly is not.
The prominent National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study, for instance, relied on a sample recruited entirely at lesbian events, in women’s bookstores and through lesbian newspapers. Other studies relied on samples as small as 18 or 33 or 44 cases. The effect of parenting by male homosexual couples remains in the realm of anecdotes. Most research has relied on reports by parents about their children’s well-being while the children were still under the care of those parents. Even a social scientist should be able to recognize that parents’ evaluations of their own success as parents might be a little skewed.
In 2012, sociologist Loren Marks conducted a detailed re-analysis of 59 studies of parenting by gays and lesbians that were cited by the American Psychological Association in a 2005 publication. Mr. Marks, who teaches at Louisiana State University, concluded that the association drew inferences that were not empirically warranted.
There has been only one study using a large randomized sample, objective measures of well-being, and reports of grown children rather than their parents. This research, by Mark Regnerus, a sociologist at the University of Texas Austin, found that children raised in a household where a parent was involved in a same-sex romantic relationship were at a significant disadvantage with respect to a number of indicators of well being—such as depression, educational attainment and criminal behavior—compared with children of intact biological families.
One might expect this work at least to raise a caution flag, but it has been vociferously attacked on methodological grounds by the same organizations that tout the value of politically congenial research that suffers from more severe methodological shortcomings. This is what one expects from activists, not scientists.
As everyone knows, some states have begun to experiment with legalizing same-sex marriage, and public opinion seems to be shifting in favor of the change. Perhaps this will work out well, and the overwhelming majority of states that have been more cautious will eventually catch up. But experiments are never guaranteed to succeed, and one advantage of democracy is that it allows failed experiments to be abandoned.
If the Supreme Court constitutionalizes a right to same-sex marriage, however, there will be no going back. The court cannot possibly know that it is safe to take this irrevocable step.
One of America’s leading purveyors of Catholic Spirituality, the representative icon of a certain NY Yankee shortstop, vents his fears for the week of momentous Supreme Court decisions.
In recent years the “equality of marriage” movement appears to be hurtling towards a final denouement which many of us fear is the sweeping ukase of the Supreme Court declaration in Hollingsworth v. Perry that “will review Proposition 8, a 2008 California referendum that overturned that state’s supreme court ruling creating a right for gays and lesbians to have their relationships legally identified as marriage. The claim is that the one man, one woman definition violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection. That is also among the claims in U.S. v. Windsor, which challenges the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the 1996 law that uses the traditional definition for federal law and says one state’s definition cannot bind another’s.”
The net effect of those two decisions will support the notion that laws based on sexual orientation lack any “rational basis.” And that the only motivation for such laws is prejudice against gays – Don’t accept gay marriage? Oh you must be homophobic. Hence through overturning Prop 8 and striking down DOMA the Supreme Court will designate homosexuals as a legally protected group like minorities or women and apply to Proposition 8 the highest levels of constitutional protection, called strict or heightened scrutiny. You have to be shitting me.
Now as a Catholic and someone who believes that sin is a real and present danger in our society(read the two previous posts by Benedict XVI to understand what sin is) I believe that homosexuality or same-sex attraction, while not in of itself a sin unlike same-sex acts, sets up a dynamic within the soul that the church has labeled a “moral disorder” — something that increases the likelihood of the human to waver in its propensities and desires and lead it eventually towards an expression of one’s sexual desires that will find itself fundamentally out of harmony with God’s will, such as same-sex acts.
In the face of this — and one can think here also of another curse of modern life, masturbation using online pornographic images — the Church urges that those beset with such disorders seek training in the virtues. From The Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care:
“To acquire a virtue — to become temperate, brave, just, prudent or chaste — we must repeatedly perform acts that embody that virtue, acts that we accomplish with the help of the Holy Spirit and with the guidance and encouragement of our teachers in virtue. In our society, chastity is a particular virtue that requires special effort. All people, whether married or single, are always called to chaste living by the Church. Chaste living overcomes disordered human desires such as lust and results in the expression of one’s sexual desires in harmony with God’s will.”
The Church exists to tell those who seek divine forgiveness that everything is OK, you’re going to be all right. God loves you and if you practice chastity someday you will find true love and for a man that is the love of a good Catholic woman. She will drive you crazy, yes – but that’s what complementarity gets you, it’s no walk in the park and while I understand guys who want to setup housekeeping together and never argue over which way the silverware gets put into the dishwasher and not deal with how celebrities date each other, spending your life with a same-sex partner is a cop-out. Where’s the challenge in that? As a marriage it is NOT the same. You guys don’t have to put up with women. So don’t even talk to me about equality. You’ve never really suffered until you’ve put up with a woman in marriage.
The phenomenon of homosexuality poses challenges that can only be met with the help of a clear understanding of the place of sexuality within God’s plan for humanity. In the beginning, God created human beings in his own image, meaning that the complementary sexuality of man and woman is a gift from God and ought to be respected as such. “Human sexuality is thus a good, part of that created gift which God saw as being ‘very good,’ when he created the human person in his image and likeness, and ‘male and female he created them’ (Genesis 1:27).”
The complementarity of man and woman as male and female is inherent within God’s creative design. Precisely because man and woman are different, yet complementary, they can come together in a union that is open to the possibility of new life. Jesus taught that “from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother [and be joined to his wife], and the two shall become one flesh’” (Mark 10:6-8).
The purpose of sexual desire is to draw man and woman together in the bond of marriage, a bond that is directed toward two inseparable ends: the expression of marital love and the procreation and education of children. “The spouses’ union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life.”
This is the order of nature, an order whose source is ultimately the wisdom of God. To the extent that man and woman cooperate with the divine plan by acting in accord with the order of nature, they not only bring to fulfillment their own individual human natures but also accomplish the will of God.
Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, quoted in Homosexuality and Love’s Duty
Your welcome to your choice free to exercise your disobedience and I will never inflict my choice on you but when it comes to raising kids, you need one of each, a man and a woman for that to succeed. The sociological data is overwhelming; kids need a dad and a mom, and don’t tell me otherwise. The modern heterosexual record at successful marriage is grim at best, don’t get me wrong, but don’t use that as an excuse to justify your little Timmy Has Two Daddies housekeeping experiments. Happy you are happy and great that Timmy is doing well but no government aid because this is different from what is described by Father Neuhaus.
So to maintain your sexual desires in harmony with God’s will, you need to practice the virtues. The rest of us have to practice training in the virtues (whether we know it or not, it comes as part of living life) and resist our temptations to sin and control our out-of-whack disorders but our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters have mounted a powerful lobby that seeks to get a pass on their disorders and sins by tossing out this canard of “equality” that now seeks to use the Supreme Court to exercise the equal protection clause to create a new category of people who need extra legal defenses. Sort of an I’m OK You’re OK cultural move when Catholics know I’m Not OK, I”m a Sinner and So Are You. When you wake up you can join us.
Holy shit! It’s a brilliant political move. For some reason serial lechers like myself have never banded together to get our rights defined and defended. Maybe I should rebrand my site as Paying Attention to the Broads. We need to fall in line behind the child molesters, excuse me, I mean, those who now defend the rights of man-boy love that we keep badgering with our distorted sense of good and evil. “Keep Molesting Alive!” I can see the picket signs now, “Our Jails Are Filled With Innocents!”
Excuse me, but homosexuals are not disenfranchised like blacks in the mid-20th century, despite the protestations and chatter of the homosexualists in our midst. When blacks sidled up to lunch counters and demanded equal protection to gain access to the same hamburgers and cokes as everyone else in the 1960s, they didn’t ask for extra cheese or lettuce and tomato with theirs – they just wanted what was on the menu, the hamburger remained the hamburger. And theirs was a problem because they were black and out of slavery. They still suffer from that. So they got a pass and bless them for it.
The Homosexualists demand that the definition of marriage itself with all its attendant benefits that arise from the very nature of the complementarity that exists between men and women (and which are totally absent, by definition, in their same sex unions) – these petulant self-promoting homsexualists demand that meaning of marriage itself be changed and demand that vanilla ice cream now come with nuts and cherries while still bearing the name “vanilla ice cream.”
Bullshit sez I, That ain’t Vanilla. A modern replay of the emperor has no clothes. That ain’t marriage, that’s a woman with a German Shepherd. Call it a civil union, get all your rights or whatever and call off this “equality” crap. It really is a joke, without any redeeming social value or cultural grace.
I refuse to create a separate class of human beings beyond the two that God created. I’d like to tell you to go fuck yourselves but suspect you’re already doing that. Can’t you find some peace with who you are without bothering the rest of us? Brokeback Mountain to you, a filthy crater to Benedict XVI. I’d rather follow him to the top of the mountain. Some of Jesus’ finest moments came on mountain tops and I place my bets with the Vicar of Christ.
Well maybe the Pope and I are about to get our comeuppance. Perhaps the Supreme Court-mandated marriages that the Homosexualists envision will at long last tell millions of Americans that their deep moral convictions concerning marriage are “artifacts of invidious bigotry,” absent any “rational thought.” Rather than seek a state by state vote on the matter, we will now get a federal definition of marriage, a ukase that will expand marriage to include man on man, uncle with nephew, woman on woman, two sister whatever marriages; thereby legislating cultural change rather than going state by state to confer the benefits of marriage on whomever. And we will shutter our Roman Catholic Churches when we fail to perform the sacrament. We’ll go back to meeting secretly in our homes and build escape tunnels for our radical priests. Those were the days.
Put it to a vote, sez I. No, sez the Homosexualist, let’s ram it down your miserable homophobic throats by a court diktat like Roe v. Wade in 1972. Well that’s what we need: instead of finding a rough consensus inside the political mainstream using state by state ballot measures, let’s create another abortion fiasco, that all-or-nothing combat that still rages forty years later. More all out culture wars, less resolution of differences. Hooray.
No wonder people are watching that zombie epic The Walking Dead. Zombies are all over the news these days: Prominent politicians informed their sons now regard themselves as “gay,” suddenly experience a change of heart, and support Gay Marriage. Perhaps they started a vegetarian diet as well. I don’t get the rationale or reason myself. And they don’t give any, come to think of it. Married men and women are happier and more stable so should married men and men and married women and women. Is that it?
Really? Have you ever thought that they are happier and more stable because they are men and women and the combination in marriage is something you’re not and never will be? They are special; they have families with their own kids (they procreate, duh) or maybe they adopt. The government defines what they do as marriage and grants them special privileges, tax breaks, etc. They may suck at what they do and make a general mess of it but we wish them well and they deserve the consideration. And they get my blessing. You assholes don’t and never will.
If I were doing something 3% and out of the mainstream I wouldn’t demand that others treat me like I were part of the 97%. But that’s just me, I guess. Be happy and more stable because you’re allowed to do what 97% of the other are doing, you can add nuts and cherries to your vanilla ice cream, call it vanilla and no one bothers you. If someone drags your ass behind a pickup truck one night, well we have laws against that and they will be punished – homosexual asses are no different from the rest of us asses. You’re already equal, you nitwits. Getting others to change the definition of vanilla ice cream to include your idiot concoction doesn’t improve anything and God only knows the unseen repercussions that may follow – somebody may start adding nuts and cherries to cream cheese.
And you are our gay brothers and if some Chinaman or Islamic Republic guy comes in and starts dragging your asses we will go to war to protect you because you are American gay asses, your one of ours. Let them do what they please. 70,000 dead in Syria and we don’t give a fuck. Not that I agree with Obama on anything but you want to add nuts and cherries and call it vanilla, go straight ahead. I’m not going to play for your softball team or shop at your ice-cream store but I get it. God bless you. Jerry Seinfeld expressed the same sentiments as I recall.
Karl Rove muses that perhaps a big-tent Republican party should embrace a gay rights platform. That’s right Karl, let’s drain the swamp. We’ll deal with the alligators in your pup tent later.
In the Genesis story that we are considering, still a further characteristic of sin is described. Sin is not spoken of in general as an abstract possibility but as a deed, as the sin of a particular person, Adam, who stands at the origin of humankind and with whom the history of sin begins. The account tells us that sin begets sin, and that therefore all the sins of history are interlinked. Theology refers to this state of affairs by the certainly misleading and imprecise term “original sin.” What does this mean?
Nothing seems to us today to be stranger or, indeed, more absurd than to insist upon original sin, since, according to our way of thinking, guilt can only be something very personal, and since God does not run a concentration camp, in which one’s relatives are imprisoned, because he is a liberating God of love, who calls each one by name. What does original sin mean, then, when we interpret it correctly?
Finding an answer to this requires nothing less than trying to understand the human person better. It must once again be stressed that no human being is closed in upon himself or herself and that no one can live of or for himself or herself alone. We receive our life not only at the moment of birth but every day from without — from others who are not ourselves but who nonetheless somehow pertain to us. Human beings have their selves not only in themselves but also outside of themselves: they live in those whom they love and in those who love them and to whom they are “present.”
Human beings are relational, and they possess their lives — themselves — only by way of relationship. I alone am not myself, but only in and with you am I myself. To be truly a human being means to be related in love, to be of and for. But sin means the damaging or the destruction of relationality. Sin is a rejection of relationality because it wants to make the human being a god. Sin is loss of relationship, disturbance of relationship, and therefore it is not restricted to the individual. When I destroy a relationship, then this event — sin — touches the other person involved in the relationship. Consequently sin is always an offense that touches others, that alters the world and damages it.
To the extent that this is true, when the network of human relationships is damaged from the very beginning, then every human being enters into a world that is marked by relational damage. At the very moment that a person begins human existence, which is a good, he or she is confronted by a sin-damaged world. Each of us enters into a situation in which relationality has been hurt. Consequently each person is, from the very start, damaged in relationships and does not engage in them as he or she ought. Sin pursues the human being, and he or she capitulates to it.
But from this it is also clear that human beings alone cannot save themselves. Their innate error is precisely that they want to do this by themselves. We can only be saved – that is, be free and true – when we stop wanting to be God and when we renounce the madness of autonomy and self-sufficiency. We can only be saved – that is, become ourselves – when we engage in the proper relationship.
But our interpersonal relationships occur in the context of our utter creatureliness, and it is there that the damage lies. Since the relationship with creation has been damaged, only the Creator himself can be our savior. We can be saved only when he from whom we have cut ourselves off takes the initiative with us and stretches out his hand to us. Only being loved is being saved, and only God’s love can purify damaged human love and radically reestablish the network of relationships that have suffered from alienation.
The Response of the New Testament
Thus the Old Testament account of the beginnings of humankind points, questioningly and hopefully, beyond itself to the One in whom God endured our refusal to accept our limitations and who entered into those limitations in order to restore us to ourselves. The New Testament response to the account of the Fall is most briefly and most urgently summarized in the pre-Pauline hymn that Paul incorporated into the second chapter of his Letter to the Philippians. The church has therefore correctly placed this text at the very center of the Easter Triduum, the holiest time of the church year:
Have this in mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee would bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:5-11; cf Isaiah 45:23
We cannot consider this extraordinarily rich and profound text in detail. We want to limit ourselves here to its connection with the story of the Fall, even though it seems to have a somewhat different version in mind than the one that is related in Genesis 3 (cf, e.g., Job 15:7-8).7 Jesus Christ goes Adam’s route, but in reverse. In contrast to Adam he is really “like God.” But this being like God, this similarity to God, is being a Son, and hence it is totally relational.”I do nothing on my own authority” (John 8:28). Therefore the One who is truly like God does not hold graspingly to his autonomy, to the limitlessness of his ability and his willing. He does the contrary: he becomes completely dependent, he becomes a slave. Because he does not go the route of power but that of love, he can descend into the depths of Adam’s lie, into the depths of death, and there raise up truth and life.
Thus Christ is the new Adam, with whom humankind begins anew. The Son, who is by nature relationship and relatedness, reestablishes relationships. His arms, spread out on the cross, are an open invitation to relationship, which is continually offered to us. The cross, the place of his obedience, is the true tree of life. Christ is the antitype of the serpent, as is indicated in John 3:14. From this tree there comes not the word of temptation but that of redeeming love, the word of obedience, which an obedient God himself used, thus offering us his obedience as a context for freedom. The cross is the tree of life, now become approachable. By his passion Christ, as it were, removed the fiery sword, passed through the fire, and erected the cross as the true pole of the earth, by which it is itself once more set aright.
Therefore the Eucharist, as the presence of the cross, is the abiding tree of life, which is ever in our midst and ever invites us to take the fruit of true life. This means that the Eucharist can never be merely a kind of community builder. To receive it, to eat of the tree of life, thus means to receive the crucified Lord and consequently to accept the parameters of his life, his obedience, his “yes,” the standard of our creatureliness. It means to accept the love of God, which is our truth – that dependence on God which is no more an imposition from without than is the Son’s sonship. It is precisely this dependence that is freedom, because it is truth and love.
May this Lent help us to free ourselves from our refusals and our doubt concerning God’s covenant, from our rejection of our limitations and from the lie of our autonomy. May it direct us to the tree of life, which is our standard and our hope. May we be touched by the words of Jesus in their entirety: “The kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 135).
Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, `You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, `You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.”
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate.
Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
But the Lord God called to the man, and he said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”
The man said, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” …And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, `You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” …
Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.
Genesis 3:1-12, 17-19, 23-24
On the Subject of Sin
After the end of the bishops’ synod that was devoted to the subject of the family, we were discussing in a small themes for the next synod, and Jesus’ words group possible at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel came to mind. These words summarize Jesus whole message: “The time is ” fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
One of the bishops reflected on these words and said that he had the impression that we had long ago actually halved Jesus’ message as it is thus summarized. We speak a great deal — and like to speak — about evangelization and the good news in such a way as to make Christianity attractive to people. But hardly anyone, according to this bishop, dares nowadays to proclaim the prophetic message: Repent!
Hardly anyone dares to make to our age this elementary evangelical appeal, with which the Lord wants to induce us to acknowledge our sinfulness, to do penance, and to become other than what we are. Our confrere added that Christian preaching today sounded to him like the recording of a symphony that was missing the initial bars of music, so that the whole symphony was incomplete and its development incomprehensible.
With this he touched a weak point of our present-day spiritual situation.
Sin has become almost everywhere today one of those subjects that are not spoken about. Religious education of whatever kind does its best to evade it. Theater and films use the word ironically or in order to entertain. Sociology and psychology attempt to unmask it as an illusion or a complex. Even the law is trying to get by more and more without the concept of guilt. It prefers to make use of sociological language, which turns the concept of good and evil into statistics and in its place distinguishes between normative and non-normative behavior.
Implicit here is the possibility that the statistical proportions will themselves change; what is presently non-normative could one day become the rule; indeed, perhaps one should even strive to make the non-normative normal. In such an atmosphere of quantification, the whole idea of the moral has accordingly been generally abandoned. This is a logical development if there is no standard for human beings to use as a model – something not discovered by us but coming from the inner goodness of creation.
With this we have arrived at the real heart of the matter. People today know of no standard; to be sure, they do not want to know of any because they see standards as threats to their freedom. Here one is made to think of some words of the French Jew Simone Weil, who said that “we experience good only by doing it…. When we do evil we do not know it, because evil flies from the light.” [Gravity and Grace, trans. E. Craufurd (London, 1952), Josef Pieper, Pieper calls attention to some words of Goethe in Dichtung and Wahrheit, where he says that we can "not see a mistake until we are free of it."] People recognize the good only when they themselves do it. They recognize the evil only when they do not do it.
Thus sin has become a suppressed subject, but everywhere we can see that, although it is suppressed, it has nonetheless remained real. What is remarkable to me is the aggressiveness, always on the verge of pouncing, which we experience openly in our society — the lurking readiness to demean the other person, to hold others guilty whenever misfortune occurs to them, to accuse society, and to want to change the world by violence.
It seems to me that all of this can be understood only as an expression of the suppressed reality of guilt, which people do not want to admit. But since it is still there, they have to attack it and destroy it. As long as the situation remains thus — that is, as long as people suppress the truth but do not succeed in doing away with it, and as long as they are suffering from this suppressed truth — it will be one of the tasks of the Holy Spirit to “convince the world of sin” (John 16:8).
It is not a question here of making people’s lives unpleasant and of fettering them with restrictions and negations but rather simply of leading them to the truth and thus healing them. Human beings can be healthy only when they are true and when they stop suppressing and destroying the truth.
The third chapter of the Book of Genesis, on which this meditation is based, is of a piece with this task of the Holy Holy Spirit, which he pursues throughout history. He convinces the world and us of sin – not to humiliate us but to make us true and healthy, so “save” us.
Limitations and Freedom of the. Human Being
This text proclaims its truth, which surpasses our understanding, by way of two great images in particular — that of the garden, to which the image of the tree belongs, and that of the serpent. The garden is an image of the world, which to humankind is not a wilderness, a danger, or a threat, but a home, which shelters, nourishes, and sustains.
It is an expression for a world that bears the imprint of the Spirit, for a world that came into existence in accordance with the will of the Creator. Thus two movements are interacting here. One is that of human beings who do not exploit the world and do not want to detach it from the Creator’s governance and make it their own property; rather they recognize it as God’s gift and build it up in keeping with what it was created for. Conversely, we see that the world, which was created to be at one with its Lord, is not a threat but a gift and a sign of the saving and unifying goodness of God.
The second movement involves the image of the serpent, which is taken from the Eastern fertility cults. These fertility religions were severe temptations for Israel for centuries, tempting it to abandon the covenant and to enter into the religious milieu of the time. Through the fertility cults the serpent speaks to the human being: Do not cling to this distant God, who has nothing to offer you. Do not cling to this covenant, which is so alien to you and which imposes so many restrictions on you. Plunge into the current of life, into its delirium and its ecstasy, and thus you will be able to partake of the reality of life and of its immortality. At the moment when the paradise narrative took its final literary form there was a great danger that Israel would succumb to the many seductive elements of these religions and that the God of die promise and of creation, who seemed so far off, would disappear and be forgotten.
Against its historical background, as we know, for example, from events in the life of the prophet Elijah, we can understand this text much better. “The woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6). In that religious setting the serpent was a symbol of that wisdom which rules the world and of the fertility through which human beings plunge into the divine current of life and for a few moments experience themselves fused with its divine power. Thus the serpent also serves as a symbol of the attraction that these religions exerted over Israel in contrast to the mystery of the God of the covenant.
It is with Israel’s temptation in mind that Holy Scripture portrays Adam’s temptation and, in general, the nature of temptation and sin in every age. Temptation does not begin with the denial of God and with a fall into outright atheism. The serpent does not deny God; it starts out rather with an apparently completely reasonable request for information, which in reality, however, contains an insinuation that provokes the human being and that lures him or her from trust to mistrust: “Did God say, `You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1).
The first thing is not the denial of God but rather doubt about his covenant, about the community of faith, prayer, the commandments — all of which are the context for living God’s covenant. There is indeed a great deal of enlightenment when one doubts the covenant, experiences mistrust, demands freedom, and renounces obedience to the covenant as a straitjacket that prevents one from enjoying the real promises of life. It is so easy to convince people that this covenant is not a gift but rather an expression of envy of humankind and that it is robbing human beings of their freedom and of the most precious things of life.
With this doubt people are well on their way to building their own worlds. In other words, it is then that they make the decision not to accept the limitations of their existence; it is then that they decide not to be bound by the limitations imposed by good and evil, or by morality in general, but quite simply to free themselves by ignoring them.
This doubt about the covenant and the accompanying invitation to human beings to free themselves from their limitations has appeared in various forms throughout history and also shapes the present-day scene. [The following considerations are based on the careful reflections on the concept of sin developed in Pieper, Begriff 27-47.] I mention here only two variations — the aesthetic and the technical. Let us treat the aesthetic variation first. It begins with the question: What may art do? The answer seems perfectly clear: It may do anything that it “artistically” can. It needs only one rule — itself, artistic ability.
And only one error can be made with respect to it — artistic error, artistic incompetence. From this it follows that there are no such things as good and bad art works but only well-written or poorly written books, only well-produced or poorly produced films, and so on. The good and the moral no longer count, it seems, but only what one can do. Art is a matter of competence, so it is said; anything else is a violation.
That is enlightening! But it means, if one is to be consistent, that there is an area where human beings can ignore their limitations: when they create art, then they may do what they can do; then they have no limitations. And that means in turn that the measure of human beings is what they can do and not what they are, not what is good or bad. What they can do they may do.
The significance of this is far more evident today with respect to the second variation, the technical. But it is only another version of the same way of thinking and of the same reality, because the Greek word techne stands for the English word “art,” and the same idea of “being able” is implied here. Hence the same question pertains: What may technology do?
For a long time the answer was perfectly clear: It may do what it can do. The only error that it knows is that of incompetence. Robert Oppenheimer relates that, when the atomic bomb became a possibility, nuclear physicists were fascinated by “the technically sweet.” The technically possible, the desire to do and the actual doing of what it was possible to do, was like a magnet to which they were involuntarily attracted.
Rudolf Hoss, the last commandant of Auschwitz, declared in his diary that the concentration camp was a remarkable technical achievement. If one took into account the pertinent transportation schedules, the capacity of the crematories, and their burning power, seeing how all of these worked together so smoothly, this was clearly a fascinating and well-coordinated program, and it justified itself.
One could continue at length with similar examples. All the productions of horrible things, whose multiplication we look on nowadays with incomprehension and ultimately with helplessness, have their common basis here. But in the consequences of this principle we should finally recognize today that it is a trick of Satan, who wants to destroy human beings and the world.
We should see that human beings can never retreat into the realm of what they are capable of. In everything that they do, they constitute themselves. Therefore they themselves, and creation with its good and evil, are always present as their standard, and when they reject this standard they deceive themselves. They do not free themselves, but place themselves in opposition to the truth. And that means that they are destroying themselves and the world.
This, then, is the first and most important thing that appears in the story of Adam, and it has to do with the nature of human guilt and thus with our entire existence. The order of the covenant — the nearness of the God of the covenant, the limitations imposed by good and evil, the inner standard of the human person, creatureliness: all of this is placed in doubt.
Here we can at once say that at the very heart of sin lies human beings’ denial of their creatureliness, inasmuch as they refuse to accept the standard and the limitations that are implicit in it. They do not want to be creatures, do not want to be subject to a standard, do not want to be dependent. They consider their dependence on God’s creative love to be an imposition from without.
But that is what slavery is and from slavery one must free oneself. Thus human beings themselves want to be God. When they try this, everything is thrown topsy-turvy. The relationship of human beings to themselves is altered, as well as their relationships to others. The other is a hindrance, a rival, a threat to the person who wants to be God. The relationship with the other becomes one of mutual recrimination and struggle, as is masterfully shown in Genesis 3:8-13, which presents God’s conversation with Adam and Eve.
Finally, the relationship to the world is altered in such a way as to become one of destruction and exploitation. Human beings who consider dependence on the highest love as slavery and who try to deny the truth about themselves, which is their creatureliness, do not free themselves; they destroy truth and love. They do not make themselves gods, which in fact they cannot do, but rather caricatures, pseudo-gods, slaves of their own abilities, which then drag them down.
So it is clear now that sin is, in its essence, a renunciation of the truth. Now we can also understand the mysterious meaning of the words: “When you eat of it [that is, when you deny your limitations, when you deny your finitude], then you will die” (cf. Genesis 3:3). This means that human beings who deny the limitations imposed on them by good and evil, which are the inner standard of creation, deny the truth.
They are living in untruth and in unreality. Their lives are mere appearance; they stand under the sway of death. We who are surrounded by a world of untruths, of un-life, know how strong this sway of death is, which even negates life itself and makes it a kind of death.
Tolkien’s classical Christian theology avoids two opposite errors, two oversimplifications. One is a Rousseauian optimism: the denial, or ignoring, of evil’s reality and power, and consequently a kind of spiritual pacifism, the denial of spiritual warfare. The other would be the Manichean error, the idea that evil has the same kind of reality as goodness, equally powerful and equally substantial — in fact, that evil is, in the last analysis, a second God, or an equal, dark “side” of God, as Shiva the Destroyer is forever equal to Vishnu till Preserver.
For half a century our culture has been as embarrassed by words like “sin” “wickedness”, and “evil” as a teenager is embarrassed at being seen with his parents in a mall.
Some of our Deep Thinkers think that evil is only a temporary evolutionary stage, a hangover from ancient barbarisms of race, class, or gender that we will grow out of we grow out of diapers. We are still waiting for the toilet training to take place.
Others say that evil is just ignorance, and therefore curable by education. After a century of universal education, we are still waiting for the cure to take. A study of which Nazis were most willing to kill Jews in Hitler’s death camps revealed that this evil was indeed related to education, but not in the way expected: the more educated they were, the more willing they were.
Some say that evil against others is only the acting out of a lack of positive self-esteem. So Hitler did not esteem himself enough.
Most of our culture actually admires F.D.R.’s famous nonsense that “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.” It sounds somehow healthy and even pious.
And then we saw the events of 9/11. In the chorus of voices that filled our media for the next few months, one was conspicuously silent from the babble: psychobabble. Where had all the gurus gone?
Tolkien’s Christian theology told him that since the good God is the only creator of all beings, therefore all beings are ontologically good. But that theology also told him that God had given man free will and man had fallen into sin, which corrupts goodness and therefore corrupts beings (since being is the place where goodness can be found). Finally, his theology also told him that a man may, through evil choices, go to Hell, where he is hopelessly and forever evil.
The first of these three doctrines — ontological goodness — grounds Tolkien’s “optimistic” cosmology; the other two — man’s sinfulness and the reality of Hell — ground his “pessimistic” psychology. Both are shocks to secular philosophies: How can mud, mosquitoes, and even hemorrhoids be good, and how can we be so bad?
Yet, though he takes evil very seriously, Tolkien is not a pessimist, even about human nature. In fact, it is his moral optimism, his faith and hope in divine grace and in the triumph of good over evil, that deeply offends the modern secular critic. These critics label the heroes of The Lord of the Rings as simplistically moral, yet the antiheroes of most modern novels are much more simplistically immoral or amoral. It is the critics who are one-sided; Tolkien sees both the good and the evil sides better and deeper than they do. He is like a giant with both arms outstretched, one into the heights and the other into the depths. He scandalizes some small, simplistic souls by his glimpses of Heaven and others by his glimpses of Hell.
Think of the first time you saw the spectacular images of September 11th. Now, remember not the images outside but the feeling inside. It was a sudden change from a peacetime consciousness to a wartime consciousness. It was a lot like the change from sleeping consciousness to waking consciousness, which your alarm clock triggers in you each morning. It was a sudden light, a sudden enlightenment. The world you woke up to was not brought into being by your waking up; it was always there. But you were not always there. You were dreaming. God sent prophets to wake you up, like alarm clocks.
That vision of life as a spiritual warfare between good and evil is the vision of life presupposed in every great story. For any great story must take both good and evil very serious in order to generate great drama; and the fundamental theme of every great story is always this spiritual warfare between some particular good and some particular evil. The conflict between good and evil is the source of all conflict within each characters. The source of all external conflict between characters is the internal conflict between good and evil within each character.
But Tolkien is not a Manichee: this war is not between equally powerful powers. It is not even between equally real powers. It requires a little philosophical clarification to make this point clear.
Good and evil are not equally powerful, because they are not equally real – even though evil appears not only equal to good but even stronger than good (“I am Gandalf, the White, but Black is mightier still”). But appearance and reality do not coincide here, and in the end evil will always reveal its inevitable self-destruction (although often after a terrible price is paid: e.g., Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin) The self-destruction of evil is not just something to believe in and hope for, but to be certain of. It is metaphysically necessary, necessary because of the very kind of being evil has by its unchangeable essence. For evil can only be a parasite on good. It depends on a good host for it to pervert.
“Nothing is evil in the beginning” or by nature: Morgorth was one of the Ainur, Sauron was a Maia, Saruman was the head of Gandalf’s order of Wizards, the Orcs were Elves, the Ringwraiths were great Men, and Gollum was a Hobbit. And whenever a parasite succeeds in killing its host it also kills itself. So if evil succeeds, it fails; it commits suicide.
The philosophical argument for evil being a parasite on good is simple: evil can exist only in some being, and all being is ontologically good, good for something, desirable somehow. Evil is the perversion of some version, the unnatural twisting of some nature; and all nature is good.
The argument for all being being good, in turn, is simply that “good” means “desirable”, and everything real is desirable for something. Even the murderer’s shot must be a good shot; moral evil can happen only by using ontological goodness.
The theological argument for the same conclusion is that every being is either the good God or a creature of this good God Who, being totally good, cannot will or create anything evil (though He can allow it, for a greater good, as He allows human sin in order to preserve human free will).
Yet though evil is not as real as goodness, it is real, terribly real; and life is spiritual warfare — there are snakes in the grass. And they come not just from the next yard. They come not from earth but from Hell. “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers” (Ephesians 6:12). You do not need to commit the sin of allegory to see who the Black Riders are: “They come from Mordor,’ said Strider in a low voice. From Mordor, Barliman, if that means anything to you,” Strider’s laconic: “They are terrible!” is more suggestive than any detailed description could be.
More evils come from Mordor than we think. “All those arts and subtle devices for which he [Saruman] forsook his former wisdom, and which fondly he imagined were his own, came but from Mordor.” And so did the little local evils in the Shire that had to be “scoured”:
“This is worse than Mordorl” said Sam. “Much worse in a way. It comes home to you, as they say, because it is home, and you remember it before it was all ruined.”
“Yes, this is Mordor,” said Frodo. “Just one of its works”
Tolkien certainly believes in the goodness of goodness all the badness of badness. He is not a moral relativist. But that does not make him a legalist or a fundamentalist. A common but indefensible error of some critics is to see The Lord of the Rings as morally “simplistic”, as a “white versus black, good guys versus bad guys” story. This is so far from the truth as to be literally absurd. With the exception of Tom Bombadil, there is hardly a character in The Lord of the Rings who is no tempted by evil. The war is not just external, between the white chess pieces and the black, but within every single piece on the board, even while there is an external war going on between two sides that really but imperfectly represent the good (the Fellowship) and the evil (Mordor). Tolkien certainly would approve Solzhenitsyn’s famous remark about the line between Good and Evil not dividing nations or cultures or ideologies but running through the middle of every human heart.
Tolkien is not a psychological absolutist but a moral absolutist: no person is absolutely good or evil; but goodness and evil themselves are absolutely distinct. He believes that “there’s a little good in the worst of us and a little bad in the best of us”; but not that there’s a little good in evil and a little evil in good. He believes in human moral complexity but not in logical moral complexity. He believes in the law of non-contradiction, in the goodness of goodness and the badness of badness. If that is his offense in the eyes of the critics, that tells us little about Tolkien but much about the critics.
Indeed, moral doubleness or “relativism” in the concrete does not contradict, but presupposes, moral singleness or absolutism in the abstract. If good and evil are not objectively real and absolutely distinct essences in the abstract, then the judgment that a concrete character is partly good and partly evil becomes meaningless.
Tolkien’s moral absolutism contradicts the worldview of modern post-Christian moral relativism. But it also contradicts the pagan pre-Christian religious relativism. To see this, consider Tolkien’s primary pagan source, Norse mythology. Odin, their supreme god, is not morally good, like the God of the Bible. He is addicted to power, like Sauron. The Vikings would never have understood the philosophy that “power corrupts.”
In fact, all the pagan gods, Northern (Germanic) or Southern (Mediterranean) are, like us, partly good and partly evil. They are “divine”, or superior, not in goodness but only in power — in fact, in three powers: power over nature by a supernatural or “magical” technology, power over ignorance (cleverness, farsight and foresight), and power over death (immortality). (Exactly modernity’s superiority over the past! If that is all divinity means, we are now approaching divinity.) The Jewish and Christian claim that the one God is totally good and not evil was as much of a shock to the old paganism as it is to the new.
A Changed Person
In your pursuit of awareness, don’t make demands. It’s more like obeying the traffic rules. If you don’t observe traffic rules, you pay the penalty. Here in the United States you drive on the right side of the road; in England you drive on the left; in India you drive on the left. If you don’t, you pay the penalty; there is no room for hurt feelings or demands or expectations; you just abide by the traffic rules. You ask where compassion comes in, where guilt comes in in all this. You’ll know when you’re awake.
If you’re feeling guilty right now, how on earth can I explain it to you? How would you know what compassion is? You know, sometimes people want to imitate Christ, but when a monkey plays a saxophone, that doesn’t make him a musician. You can’t imitate Christ by imitating his external behavior. You’ve got to be Christ.
Then you’ll know exactly what to do in a particular situation, given your temperament, your character, and the character and temperament of the person you’re dealing with. No one has to tell you. But to do that, you must be what Christ was. An external imitation will get you nowhere.
If you think that compassion implies softness, there’s no way I can describe compassion to you, absolutely no way, because compassion can be very hard. Compassion can be very rude, compassion can jolt you, compassion can roll up its sleeves and operate on you. Compassion is all kinds of things. Compassion can be very soft, but there’s no way of knowing that. It’s only when you become love — in other words, when you have dropped your illusions and attachments — that you will “know.”
As you identify less and less with the “I,” you will be more at ease with everybody and with everything. Do you know why? Because you are no longer afraid of being hurt or not liked. You no longer desire to impress anyone. Can you imagine the relief when you don’t have to impress anybody anymore? Oh, what a relief. Happiness at last! You no longer feel the need or the compulsion to explain things anymore. It’s all right. What is there to be explained? And you don’t feel the need or compulsion to apologize anymore.
I’d much rather hear you say, “I’ve come awake,” than hear you say, “I’m sorry.” I’d much rather hear you say to me, “I’ve come awake since we last met; what I did to you won’t happen again,” than to hear you say, “I’m so sorry for what I did to you.” Why would anyone demand an apology? You have something to explore in that. Even when someone supposedly was mean to you, there is no room for apology. Nobody was mean to you. Somebody was mean to what he or she thought was you, but not to you.
Nobody ever rejects you; they’re only rejecting what they think you are. But that cuts both ways. Nobody ever accepts you either. Until people come awake, they are simply accepting or rejecting their image of you. They’ve fashioned an image of you, and they’re rejecting or accepting that. See how devastating it is to go deeply into that. It’s a bit too liberating.
But how easy it is to love people when you understand this. How easy it is to love everyone when you don’t identify with what they imagine you are or they are. It becomes easy to love them, to love everybody.
“I observe “me,” but I do not think about “me.” Because the thinking “me” does a lot of bad thinking, too. But when I watch “me,” I am constantly aware that this is a reflection. In reality, you don’t really think of “I” and “me.” You’re like a person driving the car; he doesn’t ever want to lose consciousness of the car. It’s all right to daydream, but not to lose consciousness of your surroundings. You must always be alert.
It’s like a mother sleeping; she doesn’t hear the planes roaring above the house, but she hears the slightest whimper of her baby. She’s alert, she’s awake in that sense. One cannot say anything about the awakened state; one can only talk about the sleeping state. One hints at the awakened state. One cannot say anything about happiness. Happiness cannot be defined. What can be defined is misery. Drop unhappiness and you will know. Love cannot be defined; unlove can. Drop unlove, drop fear, and you will know. We want to find out what the awakened person is like. But you’ll know only when you get there.
Am I implying, for example, that we shouldn’t make demands on our children? What I said was: “You don’t have a right to make any demands.” Sooner or later that child is going to have to get rid of you, in keeping with the injunction of the Lord. And you’re going to have no rights over him at all. In fact, he really isn’t your child and he never was. He belongs to life, not to you. No one belongs to you. What you’re talking about is a child’s education. If you want lunch, you better come in between twelve and one or you don’t get lunch. Period. That’s the way things are run here. You don’t come on time, you don’t get your lunch. You’re free, that true, but you must take the consequences.
When I talk about not having expectations of others, or not making demands on them, I mean expectations and demands for my well-being. The President of the United States obviously has to make demands on people. The traffic policeman obviously has to make demands on people. But these are demands on their behavior — traffic laws, good organization, the smooth running of society. They are not intended to make the President or traffic policeman feel good.
Arriving At Silence
Everyone asks me about what will happen when they finally arrive. Is this just curiosity? We’re always asking how would this fit into that system, or whether this would make sense in that context, or what it will feel like when we get there. Get started and you will know; it cannot be described. It is said widely in the East, “Those who know, do not say; those who say, do not know.” It cannot be said; only the opposite can be said. The guru cannot give you the truth. Truth cannot be put into words, into a formula. That isn’t the truth. That isn’t reality. Reality cannot be put into a formula. The guru can only point out your errors. When you drop your errors, you will know the truth.
And even then you cannot say. This is common teaching among the great Catholic mystics. The great Thomas Aquinas, toward the end of his life, wouldn’t write and wouldn’t talk; he had seen. I had thought he kept that famous silence of his for only a couple of months, but it went on for years. He realized he had made a fool of himself, and he said so explicitly.
It’s as if you had never tasted a green mango and you ask me, “What does it taste like?” I’d say to you, “Sour,” but in giving you a word, I’ve put you off the track. Try to understand that. Most people aren’t very wise; they seize upon the word — upon the words of scripture, for example — and they get it all wrong. “Sour,” I say, and you ask, “Sour like vinegar, sour like a lemon?” No, not sour like a lemon, but sour like a mango.
“But I never tasted one,” you say. Too bad! But you go ahead and write a doctoral thesis on it. You wouldn’t have if you had tasted it. You really wouldn’t. You’d have written a doctoral thesis on other things, but not on mangoes. And the day you finally taste a green mango, you say, “God, I made a fool of myself. I shouldn’t have written that thesis.” That’s exactly what Thomas Aquinas did.
A great German philosopher and theologian wrote a whole book specifically on the silence of St. Thomas. He simply went silent. Wouldn’t talk. In the prologue of his Summa Theologica, which was the summary of all his theology, he says, “About God, we cannot say what He is but rather what He is not. And so we cannot speak about how He is but rather how He is not.” And in his famous cornmentary on Boethius’ De Sancta Trinitate he says there are three ways of knowing God:
(1) In the creation,
(2) In God’s actions through history, and
(3) In the highest form of the knowledge of God — to know God tamquam ignotum (to know God as the unknown).
The highest form of talking about the Trinity is to know that one does not know. Now, this is not an Oriental Zen master speaking. This is a canonized saint of the Roman Catholic Church, the prince of theologians for centuries. To know God as unknown. In another place St. Thomas even says: as unknowable. Reality, God, divinity, truth, love are unknowable; that means they cannot be comprehended by the thinking mind. That would set at rest so many questions people have because we’re always living under the illusion that we know. We don’t. We cannot know.
What is scripture, then? It’s a hint, a clue, not a description. The fanaticism of one sincere believer who thinks he knows causes more evil than the united efforts of two hundred rogues. It’s terrifying to see what sincere believers will do because they think they know. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had a world where everybody said, “We don’t know”? One big barrier dropped. Wouldn’t that be marvelous?
A man born blind comes to me and asks, “What is this thing called green?” How does one describe the color green to someone who was born blind? One uses analogies. So I say, “The color green is something like soft music.” “Oh,” he says, “like soft music.” “Yes,” I say, “soothing and soft music.” So a second blind man comes to me and asks, “What is the color green?” I tell him it’s something like soft satin, very soft and soothing to the touch. So the next day I notice that the two blind men are bashing each other over the head with bottles. One is saying, “It’s soft like music”; the other is saying, “It’s soft like satin.” And on it goes.
Neither of them knows what they’re talking about, because if they did, they’d shut up. It’s as bad as that. It’s even worse, because one day, say, you give sight to this blind man, and he’s sitting there in the garden and he’s looking all around him, and you say to him, “Well, now you know what the color green is.” And he answers, “That’s true. I heard some of it this morning!”
The fact is that you’re surrounded by God and you don’t see God, because you “know” about God. The final barrier to the vision of God is your God concept. You miss God because you think you know. That’s the terrible thing about religion. That’s what the gospels were saying, that religious people “knew,” so they got rid of Jesus. The highest knowledge of God is to know God as unknowable.
There is far too much God talk; the world is sick of it. There is too little awareness, too little love, too little happiness, but let’s not use those words either. There’s too little dropping of illusions, dropping of errors, dropping of attachments and cruelty, too little awareness. That’s what the world is suffering from, not from a lack of religion.
Religion is supposed to be about a lack of awareness, of waking up. Look what we’ve degenerated into. Come to my country and see them killing one another over religion. You’ll find it everywhere. “The one who knows, does not say; the one who says, does not know.” All revelations, however divine, are never any more than a finger pointing to the moon. As we say in the East, “When the sage points to the moon, all the idiot sees is the finger.”
Jean Guiton, a very pious and orthodox French writer, adds a terrifying comment: “We often use the finger to gouge eyes out.” Isn’t that terrible? Awareness, awareness, awareness! In awareness is healing; in awareness is truth; in awareness is salvation; in awareness is spirituality; in awareness is growth; in awareness is love; in awareness is awakening. Awareness.
I need to talk about words and concepts because I must explain to you why it is, when we look at a tree, we really don’t see. We think we do, but we don’t. When we look at a person, we really don’t see that person, we only think we do. What we’re seeing is something that we fixed in our mind. We get an impression and we hold on to that impression, and we keep looking at a person through that impression. And we do this with almost everything.
If you understand that, you will understand the loveliness and beauty of being aware of everything around you. Because reality is there; “God,” whatever that is, is there. It’s all there. The poor little fish in the ocean says, “Excuse me, I’m looking for the ocean. Can you tell me where I can find it?” Pathetic, isn’t it? If we would just open our eyes and see, then we would understand.
The scriptures are always hinting of that, but you’ll never understand a word of what the scriptures are saying until you wake up. Sleeping people read the scriptures and crucify the Messiah on the basis of them. You’ve got to wake up to make sense out of the scriptures. When you do wake up, they make sense. So does reality. But you’ll never be able to put it into words.
You’d rather do something? But even there we’ve got to make sure that you’re not swinging into action simply to get rid of your negative feelings. Many people swing into action only to make things worse. They’re not coming from love, they’re coming from negative feelings. They’re coming from guilt, anger, hate; from a sense of injustice or whatever. You’ve got to make sure of your “being” before you swing into action. You have to make sure of who you are before you act.
Unfortunately, when sleeping people swing into action, they simply substitute one cruelty for another, one injustice for another. And so it goes. Meister Eckhart says, “It is not by your actions that you will be saved” (or awakened; call it by any word you want), “but by your being. It is not by what you do, but by what you are that you will be judged.” What good is it to you to feed the hungry, give the thirsty to drink, or visit prisoners in jail?
Remember that sentence from Paul: “If I give my body to be burned and all my goods to feed the poor and have not love . . .” It’s not your actions, it’s your being that counts. Then you might swing into action. You might or might not. You can’t decide that until you’re awake. Unfortunately, all the emphasis is concentrated on changing the world and very little emphasis is given to waking up. When you wake up, you will know what to do or what not to do. Some mystics are very strange, you know.
Like Jesus, who said something like “I wasn’t sent to those people; I limit myself to what I am supposed to do right now. Later, maybe.” Some mystics go silent. Mysteriously, some of them sing songs. Some of them are into service. We’re never sure. They’re a law unto themselves; they know exactly what is to be done. “Plunge into the heat of battle and keep your heart at the lotus feet of the Lord,” as I said to you earlier.
Imagine that you’re unwell and in a foul mood, and they’re taking you through some lovely countryside. The landscape is beautiful but you’re not in the mood to see anything. A few days later you pass the same place and you say, “Good heavens, where was I that I didn’t notice all of this?” Everything becomes beautiful when you change. Or you look at the trees and the mountains through windows that are wet with rain from a storm, and everything looks blurred and shapeless.
You want to go right out there and change those trees, change those mountains. Wait a minute, let’s examine your window. When the storm ceases and the rain stops, and you look out the window, you say, “Well, how different everything looks.” We see people and things not as they are, but as we are. That is why when two people look at something or someone, you get two different reactions. We see things and people not as they are, but as we are.
Remember that sentence from scripture about everything turning into good for those who love God? [Romans 8:28] When you finally awake, you don’t try to make good things happen; they just happen. You understand suddenly that everything that happens to you is good. Think of some people you’re living with whom you want to change. You find them moody, inconsiderate, unreliable, treacherous, or whatever. But when you are different, they’ll be different. That’s an infallible and miraculous cure.
The day you are different, they will become different. And you will see them differently, too. Someone who seemed terrifying will now seem frightened. Someone who seemed rude will seem frightened. All of a sudden, no one has the power to hurt you anymore. No one has the power to put pressure on you. It’s something like this: You leave a book on the table and I pick it up and say, “You’re pressing this book on me. I have to pick it up or not pick it up.” People are so busy accusing everyone else, blaming everyone else, blaming life, blaming society, blaming their neighbor. You’ll never change that way; you’ll continue in your nightmare, you’ll never wake up.
Put this program into action, a thousand times:
(a) Identify the negative feelings in you;
(b) Understand that they are in you, not in the world, not in external reality;
(c) Do not see them as an essential part of “I”; these things come and go;
(d) Understand that when you change, everything changes.
Change As Greed
That still leaves us with a big question: Do I do anything to change myself?
I’ve got a big surprise for you, lots of good news! You don’t have to do anything. The more you do, the worse it gets. All you have to do is understand.
Think of somebody you are living with or working with whom you do not like, who causes negative feelings to arise in you. Let’s help you to understand what’s going on. The first thing you need to understand is that the negative feeling is inside you. You are responsible for the negative feeling, not the other person. Someone else in your place would be perfectly calm and at ease in the presence of this person; they wouldn’t be affected. You are. Now, understand another thing, that you’re making a demand. You have an expectation of this person. Can you get in touch with that?
Then say to this person, “I have no right to make any demands on you.” In saying that, you will drop your expectation. “I have no right to make any demands on you. Oh, I’ll protect myself from the consequences of your actions or your moods or whatever, but you can go right ahead and be what you choose to be. I have no right to make any demands on you.”
See what happens to you when you do this. If there’s a resistance to saying it, my, how much you’re going to discover about your “me.” Let the dictator in you come out, let the tyrant come out. You thought you were such a little lamb, didn’t you? But I’m a tyrant and you’re a tyrant. A little variation on “I’m an ass, you’re an ass.” I’m a dictator, you’re a dictator. I want to run your life for you; I want to tell you exactly how you’re expected to be and how you’re expected to behave, and you’d better behave as I have decided or I shall punish myself by having negative feelings. Remember what I told you, everybody’s a lunatic.
A woman told me her son had gotten an award at his high school. It was for excellence in sports and academics. She was happy for him, but was almost tempted to say to him, “Don’t glory in that award, because it’s setting you up for the time when you can’t perform as well.” She was in a dilemma: how to prevent his future disillusionment without bursting his bubble now.
Hopefully, he’ll learn as she herself grows in wisdom. It’s not a matter of anything she says to him. It’s something that eventually she will become. Then she will understand. Then she will know what to say and when to say it. That award was a result of competition, which can be cruel if it is built on hatred of oneself and of others. People get a good feeling on the basis of somebody getting a bad feeling; you win over somebody else. Isn’t that terrible? Taken for granted in a lunatic asylum!
There’s an American doctor who wrote about the effect of competition on his life. He went to medical school in Switzerland and there was a fairly large contingent of Americans at that school. He said some of the students went into shock when they realized that there were no grades, there were no awards, there was no dean’s list, no first or second in the class at the school. You either passed or you didn’t. He said, “Some of us just couldn’t take it. We became came almost paranoid. We thought there must be some kind of trick here.” So some of them went to another school. “
Those who survived suddenly discovered a strange thing they had never noticed at American universities: students, brilliant ones, helping others to pass, sharing notes. His son goes to medical school in the United States and he tells him that, in the lab, people often tamper with the microscope so that it’ll take the next student three or four minutes to readjust it. Competition. They have to succeed, they have to be perfect.
And he tells a lovely little story which he says is factual, but it could also serve as a beautiful parable. There was a little town in America where people gathered in the evening to make music. They had a saxophonist, a drummer, and a violinist, mostly old people. They got together for the company and for the sheer joy of making music, though they didn’t do it very well. So they were enjoying themselves, having a great time, until one day they decided to get a new conductor who had a lot of ambition and drive.
The new conductor told them, “Hey, folks, we have to have a concert; we have to prepare a concert for the town.” Then he gradually got rid of some people who didn’t play too well, hired a few professional musicians, got an orchestra into shape, and they all got their names in the newspapers. Wasn’t that wonderful? So they decided to move to the big city and play there. But some of the old people had tears in their eyes, they said, “It was so wonderful in the old days when we did things badly and enjoyed them.” So cruelty came into their lives, but nobody recognized it as cruelty. See how lunatic people have become!
Some of you ask me what I meant when I said, “You go ahead and be yourself, that’s all right, but I’ll protect my‑ self, I’ll be myself.” In other words, I won’t allow you to manipulate me. I’ll live my life; I’ll go my own way; I’ll keep myself free to think my thoughts, to follow my inclinations and tastes. And I’ll say no to you. If I feel I don’t want to be in your company, it won’t be because of any negative feelings you cause in me. Because you don’t anymore. You don’t have any more power over me. I simply might prefer other people’s company.
So when you say to me, “How about a movie tonight?” I’ll say, “Sorry, I want to go with someone else; I enjoy his company more than yours.” And that’s all right. To say no to people — that’s wonderful; that’s part of waking up. Part of waking up is that you live your life as you see fit. And understand: That is not selfish. The selfish thing is to demand that someone else live their life as You see fit. That’s selfish. It is not selfish to live your life as you see fit. The selfishness lies in demanding that someone else live their life to suit your tastes, or your pride, or your profit, or your pleasure. That is truly selfish.
So I’ll protect myself. I won’t feel obligated to be with you; I won’t feel obligated to say yes to you. If I find your company pleasant, then I’ll enjoy it without clinging to it. But I no longer avoid you because of any negative feelings you create in me. You don’t have that power anymore.
Awakening should be a surprise. When you don’t expect something to happen and it happens, you feel surprise. When Webster’s wife caught him kissing the maid, she told him she was very surprised. Now, Webster was a stickler for using words accurately (understandably, since he wrote a dictionary), so he answered her, “No, my dear, I am surprised. You are astonished!”
Some people make awakening a goal. They are determined to get there; they say, “I refuse to be happy until I’m awakened.” In that case, it’s better to be the way you are, simply to be aware of the way you are. Simple awareness is happiness compared with trying to react all the time. People react so quickly because they are not aware. You will come to understand that there are times when you will inevitably react, even in awareness. But as awareness grows, you react less and act more. It really doesn’t matter.
There’s a story of a disciple who told his guru that he was going to a far place to meditate and hopefully attain enlightenment. So he sent the guru a note every six months to report the progress he was making. The first report said, “Now I understand what it means to lose the self.” The guru tore up the note and threw it in the wastepaper basket. After six months he got another report, which said, “Now I have attained sensitivity to all beings.” He tore it up. Then a third report said, “Now I understand the secret of the one and the many.” It too was torn up.
And so it went on for years, until finally no reports came in. After a time the guru became curious and one day there was a traveler going to that far place. The guru said, “Why don’t you find out what happened to that fellow.” Finally, he got a note from his disciple. It :said, “What does it matter?” And when the guru read that, he said, “He made it! He made it! He finally got it! He got it!”
And there is the story about a soldier on the battlefield who would simply drop his rifle to the ground, pick up a scrap of paper lying there, and look at it. Then he would let it flutter from his hands to the ground. And then he’d move somewhere else and do the same thing. So others said, “This man is exposing himself to death. He needs help.” So they put him in the hospital and got the best psychiatrist to work on him. But it seemed to have no effect. He wandered around the wards picking up scraps of paper, looking at them idly, and letting them flutter to the ground. In the end they said, “We’ve got to discharge this man from the army.” So they call him in and give him a discharge certificate and he idly picks it up, looks at it, and shouts, “This is it? This is it.” He finally got it.
So begin to be aware of your present condition whatever that condition is. Stop being a dictator. Stop trying to push yourself somewhere. Then someday you will understand that simply by awareness you have already attained what you were pushing yourself toward.