January 25, 2008


Caption: Anyone for a leap of faith?

The theme at Goat Rope lately has been some non-sectarian reflections on the nature of faith, with special attention to the ideas of the late great theologian Paul Tillich. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier entries.

One of the all time classics of the philosophy of religion and the nature of religious experience is Rudolph Otto's 1917 book The Idea of the Holy. I wrote about it a while back here.

According to Otto, people of all times and places have had experiences of the strange, the awesome, the weird and the Totally Other. He called these experiences the mysterium fascinans et tremendum, meaning both fascinating and terrifying, as in something that really rocks the world of those who experience it. This is the source of the idea of the holy.

Tillich says of such experiences that

They can be found in all religions because they are the way in which man always encounters the representations of his ultimate concern...The human heart seeks the infinite because that is where the finite wants to rest. In the infinite it seeks its own fulfillment. This is the reason for the ecstatic attraction and fascination of everything in which ultimacy is manifest.

People are attracted to the infinite, but also often experience their great distance from it as a kind of judgement of any human attempts to reach it:

The feeling of being consumed in the presence of the divine is a profound expression of man's relation to the holy. It is implied in every genuine act of faith, in every state of ultimate concern.

According to Tillich, in many religions, people experience the sacred in two ways, as ontological faith and as moral faith.

Ontological faith can be described as the holiness of what is, the experience of the holy as present. It doesn't really matter by what means the holy is experience as present--it could be nature, a sacred ritual, image or music, etc. It is "the state of being grasped by the holy through a special medium."

Moral faith can be described as the holiness of what ought to be. This can take many forms as well, but in general the holy is experienced as issuing laws or moral precepts and commandments. One of its greatest forms is that experienced by the Hebrew prophets who experienced God as demanding righteousness and justice.

Either form by itself can lead to extremes. Moral faith taken to excess leads to legalism or fanaticism. Ontological faith alone can lead to isolation and self-absorption. Tillich argues for the unity of both types. A vital, living faith is one that integrates the mystical with the rational and ethical...which is easier said than done.

A final word on Tillich's view of faith. He was anything but dogmatic, but he believed that the great truth of Christianity, however expressed in terms of myths and symbols, was that the gap between the human and the ultimate that we cannot overcome has been overcome for us from the other side.

He taught that faith in the Ground of Being, which some people call God--always accompanied by doubt--can enable us to affirm ourselves in the face of everything that threatens to negate us and allow us to accept ourselves even though we are unacceptable because we have been accepted by something greater than ourselves.

STIMULATE THIS. Here's a good item on the state of the economy, the growing economic divides, and approaches to a stimulus by Nomi Prins of Demos. And, as of yesterday, it looks like the US House leadership made a deal with/caved in to President Bush on a stimulus package that leaves out an expansion of unemployment benefits and food stamps and fiscal relief to the states.

The American Friends Service Committee and allies are urging people to call senators and congressional representatives and urge them to include these in the mix. Here's a toll free number: 1-800-965-4298.

WHO'S COUNTING? Yesterday's post mentioned a study that showed Bush administration officials made many misleading statements leading up to the war in Iraq. Official count: at least 935.

THIS WILL SURPRISE NO WOMEN. A British researcher suggests that men are not as smart as they think they are.

FATHER OF THE NEOCONS? Here's an interesting article from Harper's about Leo Strauss, considered to be the a founder of the neo-conservative movement which has brought us so much...whatever.

WV COURT TO REHEAR MASSEY CASE. The court voted 5-0 to reconsider a case that previously favored Massey Energy. This was due to the discovery that Chief Justice Spike Maynard spent time with Massey CEO Don Blankenship on vacation in Monaco after the court agreed to hear the case.

WORKER FREEDOM BILL INTRODUCED. A bill that would prohibit employers, with appropriate exemptions, from requiring workers to attend meetings in which management discusses its views politics, religion and unions has been introduced in the WV Senate.


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