For those antithesits out there who would assert that Naziism was a religious movement or a movement of religion, a thought from an esteemed scholar of religion.
“In speaking of the Christian world, we use two different terms: ‘Christianity,’ meaning the religion in the strictest sense, a system of belief and worship and some ecclesiastical organization; and we use a different word, ‘Christendom,’ meaning the whole civilization, which grew up under the aegis of that religion, which is in many ways shaped by that religion, but which nevertheless contains elements that are not part of that religion, or may even be hostile or contrary to that religion.
Let me illustrate that with a simple example. No one could seriously assert that Hitler and the Nazis came out of Christianity, but no one could seriously deny that that they came out of Christendom.”
— Bernard Lewis
Aristotle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
One of the historic challenges to the Abrahamic faiths has been the rise of the Epicurian schools of rational thought. Judaism came to an intellectional accommodation with rationalism over time, a process that was completed and formalized through the brilliance of the Rambam. My understanding – possibly faulty – is that Thomas Aquinas attempted to do the same thing with Christianity and the greeks.
In my studies I have come across several claims that Aristotle underwent a deathbed conversion to Judaism. As near as I can tell (admittedely based on desktop research), the story is apocryphal. I have yet to find any conclusive evidence either way.
The claim stretches credulity both because of an apparent lack of evidence and because it appears to address the secret hopes of every Jew (including this one) that even the most ardent advocates of rational thought have discovered in its precepts a hole, a fault, that leaves too many questions unanswered. Like the Man on the Grassy Knoll theory of JFK’s assassination, the story’s support of our worldview makes it too tempting to believe. At moments like this, the precepts of our faith demand we step back and put our brains rather than our hearts to work.
Is there any historical basis? Would it matter if there was? The veracity of Torah and the worth of a life lived according to its precepts do not rest on the whims of an aged Greek philosopher. It should be enough for a thinking Jew to follow his own inquiry and reach his or her own conclusions. The need for us to tell ourselves stories of eleventh-hour conversions of skeptics only hints at unaddressed self-doubts.
An interesting article in the BBC Magazine today talks about the matter of the growing number of Chinese who are turning to faith. The story echoes many points I have made here, so it is worth quoting at length.
What must unsettle the authorities most is the reason why so many are turning to the churches.
I heard people talking again and again of a “spiritual crisis” in China – a phrase that has even been used by the Premier Wen Jiao Bao. The old have seen the old certainties of Marxism-Leninism transmute into the most visceral capitalist society on earth.
For the young, in the stampede to get rich, trust in institutions, between individuals, between the generations, is breaking down.
As one of China’s most eminent philosophers of religion – Professor He Guanghu, at Renmin University in Beijing put it to me: “The worship of Mammon… has become many people’s life purpose.
“I think it is very natural that many other people will not be satisfied… will seek some meaning for their lives so that when Christianity falls into their lives, they will seize it very tightly.”
via BBC News – Christians in China: Is the country in spiritual crisis?.
I cannot disagree. What it means, though, is that the Party is going to have to come to an accommodation with religion in the same way it did with capital.
What the story tactfully avoided was telltale stories about the slow disintegration of ethics and morality in China. While those would have been illustrative and entertaining, such apocrypha merely serve to remind us that ethical rot and moral decline are not limited to a single society, but are, indeed, pervasive.
Image via Wikipedia
It demands no great mind of science to deconstruct faith. It requires no saint to enumerate the shortcomings of science.
The truly brilliant will find in Faith a questing of a kind different from – but no less legitimate than – the Method.
And the truly Holy will see in science a new way to know the hand of G-d.
The great minds and the great souls will forge a path of tolerance, of mutual respect, of unity, for tey will apprehend a truth, a shared quest, and the complementarity of their journeys of discovery.
China hands even the most grizzled conservative an opportunity to contemplate our growing need to be better custodians of the planet. Along those lines, Worldchanging did an interesting interview with Jonathan Watts, author of the recent bestseller When a Billion Chinese Jump. Naturally, the topic of sustainability came up, and Watts’ comments are interesting, especially toward the end.
JW: Looking for a solution to the predicament we are in, of living unsustainably, the importance of values comes up again and again. The focus in China is mainly on science and technology, on hardware – on things that if you drop them will hurt your toe. The importance of values hasn’t really kicked in, but it’s absolutely essential. Where do you get these values? Clearly western values haven’t stopped the west from screwing up the environment. So, it’s worth looking to China’s philosophical and cultural roots.
Which got me thinking (being that I live in China but I am from a country that is still skittish about making any major commitments to the environment), perhaps it is time for non-Chinese to look into our philosophical, cultural, and religious roots for answers to why we might need to change our behavior toward the planet.
Those of you who know me understand I am nobody’s idea of a tree-hugger. But there is so much sound and fury around climate – often pitting the eco-zealots against the self-interested – that I am starting to think that it is time to go back to a more fundamental source for some perspective in the debate.
A few places I am looking for ideas and guidance: