Secular rationality and religious belief

The central question at issue, then, is this: where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found? The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation.

According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles. This “corrective” role of religion vis-à-vis reason is not always welcomed, though, partly because distorted forms of religion, such as sectarianism and fundamentalism, can be seen to create serious social problems themselves. And in their turn, these distortions of religion arise when insufficient attention is given to the purifying and structuring role of reason within religion. It is a two-way process.

From: Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI, London, Westminster Hall, 17 September 2010

How one becomes a human being, a Christian

by D. Bonhoeffer

Later on I discovered, and am still discovering to this day, that one only learns to have faith by living in the full this-worldliness of life.

If one has completely renounced making something of oneself – whether it be a saint or a converted sinner or a church leader (a so-called priestly figure!), a just or an unjust person, a sick or a healthy person – then one throws oneself completely into the arms of God, and this is what I call this-worldliness: living fully in the midst of life's tasks, questions, successes or failures, experiences, and perplexities – then one takes seriously no longer one's own sufferings but rather the suffering of God in the world. Then one stays awake with Christ in Gethsemane. And I think this is faith; this is “metanoia”; this is how one becomes a human being, a Christian (see Jer 45!). How should one become arrogant over successes or shaken by one’s failures when one shares in God’s suffering in the life of this world?

July 21, 1944, the day after the failed assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler
From: Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1953). Letters and Papers from Prison

No Saturday without Sunday and vice versa

by G. Steiner

There is one particular day in Western history about which neither historical record nor myth nor Scipture make report. It is a Saturday. And it has become the longest of days.

We know of that Good Friday which Christianity holds to have been that of the Cross. But the non-Christian, the atheist, knows of it as well. This is to say that he knows of the injustice, of the interminable suffering, of the waste, of the brute enigma of ending, which so largely make up not only the historical dimension of the human condition, but the everyday fabric of our personal lives. We know, ineluctably, of the pain, of the failure of love, of the solitude which are our history and private fate. We know also about Sunday.

To the Christian, that day signifies an intimation, both assured and precarious, both evident and beyond comprehension, of resurrection, of a justice and a love that have conquered death. If we are non-Christians or non-believers, we know of that Sunday in precisely analogous terms. We conceive of it as the day of liberation from inhumanity and servitude. We look to resolutions, be they therapeutic or political, be they social or messianic. The lineaments of that Sunday carry the name of hope (there is no word less deconstructible).

But ours is the long day's journey of the Saturday. Between suffering, aloneless, unutterable waste on the one hand and the dream of liberation, of rebirth on the other. In the face of the torture of a child, of the death of love which is Friday, even the greatest art and poetry are almost helpless. In the Utopia of the Sunday, the aesthetic will, presumably, no longer have logic or necessity. The apprehensions and figurations in the play of metaphysical imaging, in the poem and the music, which tell of pain and of hope, of the flesh which is said to taste of ash and of the spirit which is said to have the savour of fire, are always Sabbatarian. They have risen out of an immensity of waiting which is that of man. Without them, how could we be patient?

From: Steiner, George (jewish author, philosopher and cultural critic) (1989). Real Presences. Is there anything in what we say?

Benedikt XVI., born on a Holy Saturday is celebrating his 90th birthday on a Easter Sunday this year.

The judgment of others

by E. Cardenal

All dictators become crazy after some time, because if you are not in control by means of the judgement of others, you don't know what to rely on.

When everyone around you is lying, you cannot see truth anymore. That is why they are becoming more and more eccentric.

From: Ernesto Cardenal (1998). Vida perdida


by I. B. Singer

“It never happened in the world that a people were exiled from their country and afterwards did not assimilate. As a rule, when people are exiled or even if they just emigrate, after a generation or two they become assimilated in their new environment. Millions and millions of Germans emigrated to this country; they all became ‘real’ Americans.

But the Jewish people have been in exile for two thousands years; they have lived in hundreds of countries, spoken many languages and still kept their old language, Hebrew. They kept their Aramaic, later their Jiddish; they kept their books; they did not forsake their faith; and after two thousand years they are going back to Israel. This is such a special case in human history that if it hadn't happened, no one would believe it possible.”

Isaac B. Singer & Richard Burgin (1980). Conversations with Isaac Bashevis Singer

A foundation of life

by W. Wenders

​I do not have the slightest problem with the Ten Commandments, quite the contrary however: I find it to be extremely astonishing, almost inapprehensible, how relevant and lively they still are. In order not to resent them too much, we may consider the following:

Translations from ancient Hebrew indicate that the tense of the verbs should not be solely understood as “You shall not” but also can be interpreted as a future tense, namely as “You will not ...”. And, already, these Ten Commandments appear in a very different light.

Simply put, this means: If you acknowledge me as your God and Creator, people, then you will honor me. You will not lie. You will not murder … etc. Easy as that. And absolutely clear. People who bow to their Creator and feel lovingly observed by Him, do actually not need commandments but will recognize the consequences of this relationship. 

I do not see in these the rules of a game upon which God shows us his red card if we do not follow them, but rather his promise to assist us if we acknowledge him as our Creator and Lord. 

Those who consider this an outmoded concept in the age of internet, genetic manipulation and globalization, have probably never in the slightest contemplated to trust in God and therefore only trust themselves or the inventions of humankind which, in my opinion, is pretty much the same thing. 

Those who seek the world, will only find the world. Those who seek God, WILL find Him. Basically, the Ten Commandments do not state anything different: The lives of those who seek God will follow the track that has been defined here tenfold. Even 3500 years later, these Ten Commandments – ‘offerings’ as I am tempted to call them – form a fundamental rule for community life and a foundation for a life that you can lead in good conscience before God and before yourself. 

From: Stern, issue no. 52, (2001), article by Wim Wenders after September 11, 2001. Wenders wanted to become a priest, then surgeon, and finally painter. In the end, his love for the movies won and he became a film director. 

What is necessary

by A. Delp SJ

The accomplishment of the saint: rendering exceptional homage to God, corresponds in fact with the real order of things. Nowadays, a combination of both qualities is desired, indeed necessary: actual religiosity and actual, factual handling of secular matters.

In insisting on these, I condemn ‘purely religious’ endeavors as sterile today, because they do not confront humans in the depths of their needs, but merely skim the surface, although they speak of vital concerns.

Translated from: Alfred Delp SJ, Gesammelte Schriften Band 4 (1982): Aus dem Gefängnis

When the angel calls

On November 1st, actress Anne Bennent quoted in the literature museum in Vienna a prolonged passage from “The Greater Hope” by Ilse Aichinger:

“Tomorrow becomes today. ... Today becomes yesterday... don't you permit it. Catch hold of today! Make sure that you stay! ... Now in the hour of death. ... Pain always brings a benefit. ... Come and give Him (God) your sins, because you have nothing else. ... We're all on the way to the holy land! – Where is the holy land? – It's everywhere that shepherds watch their sheep and leave everything when the angel summons them.”

The young writer wrote this just after the war had ended in Vienna. In the 2007 edition, Ilse Aichinger concludes her “Speech to the youth” with the appeal to continue the pursuit of the “patient, but never soporific search”: “Always await this joy but never let this hope be corrupted.” On November 11th, Ilse Aichinger passed away in Vienna. dio

Very serious

by S. Kierkegaard

„One must become a Christian as a child, it must be commenced in childhood“; that is, the parents want to be exempt from becoming Christians, but then want to have a mask, and therefore this: to bring their children up to be true Christians.

The relation of the parents to the children comes to resemble the relation of the pastors to their congregations. The pastors are not exactly desirous of becoming Christians themselves either – but their congregations, they are to become true Christians. The hoax is always to get rid of the earnestness (of becoming a Christian oneself) and to introduce instead the profound earnestness (!) of wanting to make others Christians.  „Christendom,“ from generation to generation, is a society of non-Christians; and the formula for the way this happens is this: the individual himself is unwilling to be a Christian, but takes it upon himself to beget children, who are to become Christians; and these children in turn conduct themselves in the same way. God sits in heaven – made to look like a fool.

From: Kierkegaard, Søren (1855). The Moment

The barn allegory

by V. E. Frankl

How does the average person see ‘time’?

He only sees the stubble field of mortality – but he doesn't see the full barns of the past. He'd like the time to freeze so that everything stops fading; however, that way he is similar to a man hoping for the mower and threshing machines to stand still and to work at the very same place instead of working while moving; because when the machine keeps moving on the field, he shudderingly sees the enlarging stubble part while ignoring the increasing amount of grain inside the machine.

That way, the only thing humans tend to notice with past things is their absence; they do not see the granaries they have been brought into. They say: it's gone because it is evanescent – however, they should say, it's gone; after meeting time ‘one time’, they are immortalised 'for ever’.

From: Frankl, Victor E. (1964). Foundations and Applications of Logotherapy