Sunday, March 30, 2014

Faith, rationalism, and morality.

In today’s church sermon, the pastor was talking about how the Jews were blinded to the ministry of Jesus because of their excessive rationalism. The pastor gave the example of how the Pharisees were blindly opposed to the fact that Jesus was the Messiah when he performed healing miracles on the Sabbath because for the Pharisees, their erroneous interpretation of the law proscribe against healing on the Sabbath. The end message of the pastor is that faith in Christ is a gift from God.

Were the Phariseees opposed to Jesus because he healed on the Sabbath? At least one counterperspective that I have heard from a Jewish guy, if I can remember correctly, is that the Pharisees were not so much opposed to Jesus healing on the Sabbath because there are provisions in Jewish law that necessity is a vitiation against the strict prohibition of the Sabbath, and healing on the Sabbath may fall under such an exception. They were more adamant against Jesus pronouncing his authority to change the law to allow himself to heal on the Sabbath, which for them is a complete no-no, because the law was meant to be an eternal and immutable covenant between them and God.

As for regard to the main point of the pastor regarding faith and rationalism, I can concur that there is an element of faith when it comes to religion, and that for most of the time, what helps one to keep to the faith is to have faith. But I am not too keen on the notion that faith supersedes rationalism. I can actually understand and sympathise with the rationalism of atheist, and why they find Christianity unfulfilling. In part, they are my own sentiments about the Christian religion, and there are quite many aspects of the Christian religion that don’t make sense to me. But for now, I feel that it is safer and better to be a Christian than not to be one. But I allow for myself to have the freedom to be independent on how I see certain Christian doctrines, and be skeptical about them, especially those which may come off as being abusive to the average Christian adherent. And I also allow for myself to evaluate certain issues from a non-religious viewpoint to give me a more comprehensive perspective on them. And indeed, I sometimes find that a paradigm of understanding that excludes God from the matrix seems to explain observations more straightforwardly than if I should assume that God exists.

I am besettled with the question– Does an individual require religion in order to be good? My short answer is yes. Morality seems to me to be simply matters which are affirmed by individuals according to their different conception of what morality is. That is not to say that objective morality does not exist, only that there is no absolute way of apprehending objectivity. The most that individuals can do is to approximate objectivity using their subjective cognitive and sense faculties. But morality is unlike the science or math where objectivity based solely on facts exists. It is something that is partially based on facts, as in we can deem that causing harm to others is immoral because of the harm that is existent in reality, but ultimately, any act of deeming one thing or another immoral is subjective to an individual. And there are some issues which are not so clear-cut, especially when it pertains to matters of sexual relations. It is an activity that is largely consensual in nature, and which exhibits no apparent harm amongst its participants. It is precisely that sort of issue that is strewn across the cleavage of conservative and liberal moral ideologies. I am not sure how one can persuade the other without convincing the other of accepting his or her premise that God either exists or not exists, and affirms a certain value towards sexual purity or not.

Here’s my rambling for the day. I know I haven’t been blogging a lot, because I haven’t been feeling well from the tension headaches. But it has been getting better, with help from medication of Prozac, and I am hoping that this would all go away someday soon.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The way of nature, and the way of grace

The title of this blog post is taken from the main theme featured in the 2011 movie “The Tree of Life”. In the introductory scene, the mother, Mrs O’Brien narrates in somber tone that there are two ways through life – “the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow.” To elaborate, the notion that life is nature is a recognition that the world can be a harsh reality. Conversely, the notion that life is grace holds on to the belief that one should strife to make the world a more humane place, that there is value in the qualities like compassion and mercy.

The film gives a short depiction of the lives of a suburban American middle-class family, in particular, this two boys who transition from their birth to their early youth. It depicts the profoundness of the genesis of human life, the relative innocence and joy of childhood, as well as the horrors and sadness that life brings along with it. The warm and secure environment of a nurturing family is contrasted with the sickness, violence, and poverty that the boys witness as they followed their mother to the grocery. Later, there was a scene where the family was at a swimming pool, and where the boys witnessed another kid’s death from drowning.

The mother, Mrs’ O Brien is gentle and nurturing, presenting the world to her children as a place of wonder. The Dad, Mr O’Brien, is strict and authoritarian, and easily loses his temper as he struggles to reconcile his love for his sons with wanting to prepare them for a world he sees as corrupt and exploitative. There is a part in the movie in which the Dad was fetching the children home right after church, and he was giving them a lesson about life. He was telling them about a man he knows who got rich from humble beginnings, and who now thinks a whole world of himself, while there are people who still lived in poverty and die from hunger. He quips that the world is runned by trickery, and that one cannot be too good in order to succeed.

So which is the truth about the world? My belief is that the world can be a harsh place, where there can be suffering, and people can be mean and selfish. However, there is a place for the gentler virtues like compassion and mercy, and it is good that people strive to be as humane as possible, to cultivate a world where individuals are accorded dignity and respect, and to try to meet the needs of their fellow human beings.

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