Posts

The Meaning of Life

Image
the unicorn  Is it useless to ask for the meaning of life? Or is it arrogant to pretend that one can try to answer that? For many, "The Meaning of Life" suggests hardly more than the Monty Python film in 1983. On the whole, the answers given to the meaning of life are specimens of bird-brained commonsense: "the meaning of life is life itself", "live, laugh, love", "don't worry, be happy".  There are occasions when the search for meaning of life becomes urgent, as when one loses a close friend or a family member, ends up in a divorce, or has serious health issues. In that case it is of no use philosophizing about the perennial question of the meaning of life: "Look, many religions and philosophies have pondered about it, and, ultimately, there is no answer. Go on with your life and try to make the best of it." In an existential situation (as a Tillich or a Kierkegaard would call it) there has to be an answer, or if there is none, it

St Augustine's pear theft

Image
 In the second book of his Confessions , St Augustine recounts a boyhood incident: he and his fellows did steal some pears from the neighbourhood. A modern reader probably sneers at the moral pangs Augustine describes in the following chapters. Really, how does one feel guilty on such an occasion? He and other lads wanted to taste some pears from some other's garden. Augustine admits that he was not deeply fond of the pears themselves but rather liked the idea of doing something forbidden: "I joyed in the theft and sin itself." Clearly, it was a heedless act: some teenagers took fruits and threw them away, after hardly tasting them. It happens. Does it yet qualify for an object of serious remorse? Some regard this episode as a proof of the absurdity of Christian ethics, concerned on the minute naughty thoughts. There are true problems in the world, real viciousness takes place, other than folly of the adolescent.  On the other hand, St Augustine's thoughts on human be

Hamann's "Aesthetica in nuce"

Image
 I feel frightened to enter into discussion on Johann Georg Hamann (1730-88). He is an intriguing figure of the German enlightment and 18th century literature, whom many contemporaries (presumably those who were positively disposed towards him) regarded as an obscure thinker. The less positively disposed thought he has completely lost it. Those who need a magisterial introduction to his theological thinking should consult Oswald Bayer's superb "A Contemporary in dissent" (Eerdmans 2012). I admit that I lack the thoroughness and perspicuity of Bayer's study. Nevertheless, the very boldness of Hamann's writings, his disregard of rules of grammar and philosophy, his appetite for the lowly and contradictory, urge me to read and comment his famous essay "Aesthetica in nuce" (aesthetics in a nutshell). Hamann's texts are a jungle of diverse styles and literary genres where  "exuberant demonstrations of learning" (to employ words of Kenneth Haynes

"Pietà" by Rainer Maria Rilke

Image
Jesus' sexuality is a difficult issue for Christians. I still remember when I was a young theology student in the late 1980's, at the time of Martin Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ . Outside the movie theater there were pious believers giving tracts that told that the movie was wrong. What was particularly abhorrent for conservative Christians was the episode where Jesus married Mary Magdalene and raised a family. In the movie it was just a dream of the Christ at the cross, a vision of the life of an ordinary man he could have had. Scorsese, or Nikos Kazantzakis, whose novel the movie was based on, did not claim it to be true. Nevertheless, the very idea of Jesus having sex - or even thinking about it - was enough to raise righteous indignation.  This moral indignation did not appear as theologically wise for the young student. According to the Scripture, Christ was tempted in every way as we are. Does it include sexual temptations? Not necessarily, respond some major

The sense of logic

Image
St Anne. Photo Anu Hätinen  The universe does not have to make sense to us. It is not ultimately necessary that we can understand the logic of being. Moreover, being does not ultimately need to have a logic whatsoever. Yet that is what we experience: we encounter the world as something that has a logic, as a series of incidents that make sense, almost without exception. When that is not the case, we shout: "This does not make sense!" And we feel distressed. We stubbornly expect that being makes sense. Obviously, this conviction is right. Our life does not work without a meaning. My words here, these letters on the screen, are designed to convey a meaning. They are written with the intention to be intelligible, not arbitrarily (like this: sodkhg wkreesi lasit). If the reader should find my point flawed, the criterion for that would be the reason, rationality that we both appeal to.  No one truly believes in the mere chance. On the contrary, it is amazing that the origin of the

More good than true

Image
"You are not to bear false witness against your neighbor." What is this? Answer: We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light. (Luther: The Small Catechism) To speak well of our neighbors, that is the point of the seventh commandment (or the eighth, according to the Orthodox or Reformed reading). There are several aspects of interest here. To begin with, a good reputation is something invaluable for a person. To lose face has always been a disaster, but never has it been such a threat as in the internet era. To ruin someone's reputation has never been as simple to do as it is today. Once suspicion is leveled (about, say, sexual harassment or economic dishonesty) no explanations will suffice to clear one's honor. Even when the allegation is proved to be entirely

Contemplation: Aesthetic and Religious

Image
"Contemplation is the free, more penetrating gaze of a mind, suspended with wonder concerning manifestations of wisdom" ( contemplatio est libera mentis perspicacia in sapientiae spectacula cum admiratione suspensa ) - Richard of St. Victor, Benjamin major, chapter 4.  At the crossroads of art and religion there is contemplation. Basically the verb contemplor means "to view attentively, to survey, to consider." Contemplation is the Latin equivalent of the Greek theoria , that, according to Plato, means the vision of the essential beauty. The essence of beauty surpasses all beautiful objects and actions, and is the source of them all. ( Banquet 211b-e ). Contemplation is not scrutinizing rationality, but rather immediate understanding.  In terms of art and aesthetics, contemplation may be described as a disinterested enjoyment of an artwork. That means that one does not appreciate a work of art because of its price or fame, but simply because it overwhelms oneself an