Montreal, Friday 13th, 1998
I didn't plan to review 'Fides et Ratio', Pope John Paul II's 13th encyclical, on Friday the thirteenth, but then I didnt' plan to review 'Fides et Ratio' at all until I got a copy of it in the mail, along with a Primo cookbook, from my mother whose note on the top of it said; "Perhaps you can translate this for us. Ha Ha. Good for the soul!"
Her 'ha ha' obviously referred to the fact that it was nineteen newspaper pages long, and one only had to glance at a paragraph or two to see that getting across those nineteen pages was going to be comparable to crossing the Libyan desert in a Stanley Steamer during ghibli season.
The editor's note suggests that "The 35,000 word document concerning modern thought and truth was aimed primarily at experts in philosophy and theology." There was also an introductory commentary by a Cardinal Ratzinger who said that the encyclical may be the 'summa' of the Pope's pontificate, and that; "... the Pope's return to the value of rational thought, integrated with absolute values, stood in contrast to the modern "flight toward easy irrationalism," which he said was symptomized by interest in New Age ideas, astrology, the occult, and unidentified flying objects (sic)."
I don't know what made me do it, but I did it, .... I read the whole thing. Now I feel compelled to at least share my impressions. After all, I may be one of the few amongst friends, relatives and associates who has 'made the passage'.
Since religious views, or views of religious views often seem to be overprinted by where the 'viewer' is 'coming from', I'll specify my 'vantage point' up front so as not to keep the reader guessing. This is not to say that there is intentional bias in this review, but simply that everyone references their interpretation of things to their own experience and philosophy.
So here goes, for those who might be interested. .... Hello? .....
I grew up in a catholic family and went to church every Sunday until I was about sixteen or so, was never really captured by the ideas philosophically, and started to slack off my church attendance at about 16 and soon stopped going (i had been going out of feelings of 'solidarity' rather than personal interest). After I left home at age 19, while I no longer had any interest in church, I continued to join family or relatives for special occasions like baptisms, marriages, funerals and the odd midnight mass at Christmas.
The church to me, was never a 'thing', as it is represented in the Papal encycical, but seemed more like a collection of doctrines and rituals which were orchestrated by some very large organizational webs. Even the priests seemed to me to project the Church's views in very different, individualistic ways. For example, during my early teens I was an 'altar boy' and 'served' under several different priests during my 'tenure'. More than one of them was Irish, and one I particularly remember had a huge temper, which I often awakened, involuntarily, due to my proclivity for bursting out into fits of snorting laughter during the church rituals, as when we were candle-holding acolytes doing the stations of the cross and one of the other boys farted, or when a puppy got into the church and started jumping up on and licking the priest as he knelt in a bowed down position at a solemn moment in the proceedings. One day, as soon as we walked back into the vestry and out of the sight of the congregation, he belted me rather violently across the side of my face with his big open hand.
A lady who was sitting at the extreme front and side of the congregation and had seen it happen an instant before he fully closed the door behind him, came up to me later, extremely sympathetic and concerned, ... sympathetic that I had to be the object of a violent act which seemed to her much more terrible coming as it did from the hand of a priest, and concerned that it might put me off the church for life. I told her that I did not see anything unusual in what had happened, that I knew that I was being a pest and that his Irish temper had got the best of him; ..... child behaves like child is wont to behave, ....adult reacts, no big deal. He wasn't a bad sort, and certainly no clone of the Reverend Ian Paisley. So that was how I felt and still feel.
Later, another priest came who I greatly admired and still admire (he died very young some twenty years ago). When I say I still admire him, what I mean is that he gave me something to 'model' after which really 'rang bells' with my natural ontogenetic self, and added something beyond the role models provided by parents, uncles and aunts etc. To him, church (and I purposely do not say 'the Church') was about spirituality, and he was thankful that there had been an organization to take him in and allow him to develop his own spirituality through reading and reflecting and ritual. He was never doctrinaire and would smile at the questions I posed involving perceived inconsistencies in the teachings, and sometimes even launch into his good natured yuk yuk yuk laugh. It was quite obvious to me that what he was all about was spirituality, soul, harmony, and would quite naturally have fit into the clothe of a holy man in the protestant, jewish, islamic, taoist or whatever religious realms, had a different stroke of the butterfly's wings placed him on one of those other trajectories. To him, 'soul' was in a primacy over doctrine, and this co-resonated with my own natural intuition.
So, to summarize my views of 'the Catholic Church', I do not see it (or anything else for that matter) as an absolute 'thing' ('ding an sich') but in the same terms I see every'thing' else in life, including people, as possessing a 'garden-geometry' which can contain both flowers and weeds at the same time, ... a weave of diverse forms which could never be reduced to the simplistic abstract notion of a 'good' or 'bad' 'thing'. Clearly, my thoughts were already yin/yang and 'evolution' oriented, as were the manifest behaviors of this priest. In this, on later reflection, he was like the Catholic monks, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and Thomas Merton, known by their public sharing of non-compliant philosophies, .... and probably many others in the Catholic Church who put 'soul' or 'spirituality' before doctrine but feel no need to make explicit statements of the fact.
The 'spirituality-over-doctrine' philosophy makes much sense to me, since doctrine represents generalization which must be made by human beings, and human beings are hampered in this by the fact that our understanding of nature and the world around us, which philosophy derives from, is in a continual state of flux (as is the world around us). Johannes Kepler put it well, in my mind, when he pointed out how often 'the good doctors' of the Church had been wrong in the historical record. Kepler was a Lutheran, but his view of the divine was Heraclitean or Neo-Platonist and he subscribed to the notion of Proclus, e.g.; " What is therefore Nature? God is Nature, and Nature is God: understand it thus: out of God there arises something next to him. Nature is therefore a certain invisible fire, by which Zoroaster taught that all things were begotten, to whom Heraclitus the Ephesian seems to give consent."
And Kepler, in his own writings, which emphasized the ever-evolving harmonic ordering in the world, an ordering which was Janus-faced and had both a 'harmonic' and a 'structural' aspect, .... similarly said; "Why waste words? Geometry existed before the Creation, is co-eternal with the mind of God, 'is God himself' (what exists in God that is not God himself?); geometry provided God with a model for Creation and was implanted into man, together with God's own likeness --- and not merely conveyed to his mind through the eyes."
What Kepler was saying is that God's creation was not delivered as a static ensemble of 'things' which we interpret with our eyes (though we 'know' in our intuitive minds that all things are transient and evolving), but that the Creation was a living evolving dynamic whose hidden harmonic ordering systems were an intrinsic 'part of the deal'. God was the evolutionary harmonic flow of nature and the evolutionary harmonic flow of nature was God.
The philosophy that the Divine is inherent not in 'absolute truths', as stressed in 'Fides et Ratio', but in the evolutionary dynamic, gives one a very different view of 'good', 'bad' and 'judgement'. This is clear in the words of Heraclitus;
"The wise is one thing, to be acquainted with true judgement, how all things are steered through all. One thing, the only truly wise, does not and does consent to be called by the name of Zeus." "Upon those that step into the same rivers different and different waters flow . . . They scatter and . . . gather . . . come together and flow away . . . approach and depart."
Clearly, the Heraclitean notions of what is wise and preferred and how to 'judge' or discriminate between them, transcend the linear notions of 'good' and 'bad' and the blunt judgements based on Aristotelian exclusionary 'true' OR 'false' logic. What is wise and preferred in the philosophy of Heraclitus (and the world's aboriginals, Taoists etc.) is what is in a natural harmony with the whole, and 'true judgement' lies in being able to 'tune-in' to the subtle harmonic ordering principles in nature, by which 'all things are steered through all'.
As Kepler made clear in his master work "Harmonies of the World", and as Heraclitus had maintained in his Zen koan-like statements, the essence of the world was not 'things' but evolving, harmonic flow, and true judgement concerned the 'harmonies' of the part with the whole rather than with 'absolute truths' which were instantaneously established; .... i.e. for Kepler and Heraclitus, the 'divine' resided in the ever-changing 'Logos' of Heraclitus and not in the static 'Logos' of the absolute 'Word', which was a corruption of meaning coming from the euclidian 'thing and void' philosophies of Parmenides and Aristotle.
Kepler, meanwhile, was a Lutheran, but like the priest I had known, for him, 'soul' or 'geometry' or 'whole-and-part' harmony took precedence over rigid doctrine. Meanwhile, remaining a Lutheran was not exactly an easy row to hoe for Kepler, as Lutherans were, in his era, being persecuted by the Catholic Church. Arthur Koestler describes the situation in these excerpts from 'The Sleepwalkers';
"That year in Gratz --- the last of the century (1599) --- was indeed not easy to endure. The young Archduke Ferdinand of Hapsburg (later Emperor Ferdinand II) was determined to cleanse the Austrian provinces of the Lutheran heresy. In the summer of 1598, Kepler's school was closed down, and in September all Lutheran preachers and schoolmasters were ordered to leave the Province within eight days or forfeit their lives. Only one among them received permission to return, and that was Kepler. His exile, the first, lasted less than a month.
The reasons why an exception was made with him are rather interesting. He himself says that the Archduke was 'pleased with my discoveries' and that this was the reason for his favour at his court; besides, as a mathematicus he occupied a 'neutral position' which set him apart from the other teachers. But it was not as simple as that, Kepler had a powerful ally behind the scenes; the Jesuit order."
So here have a scenario wherein Kepler's co-resonance with his catholic friends based on their common view of natural sciences, seemed to take precedence over church doctrine, and again the Jesuit order's scientific conflict over the issue of 'evolution' versus 'stasis' emerges, as it did in the early part of this century with Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (Jesuit) and Thomas Merton (Trappist), both of whom publically supported the notion of 'evolution' and by implication the yin/yang metamorphosing flow which is inherent in evolution, and both of whom suffered for it, with the latter dying in mysterious circumstances in Bangkok, and the former being relieved of his clerical status.
Kepler meanwhile, did not see his religion in terms of fixed doctrine, as is apparent as we pick up on Koestler's narrative;;
"... Kepler himself disagreed with certain points of Lutheran doctrine, which made his Catholic friends hope --- though in vain --- that he might become a convert. He was repelled by the clerics of both warring churches who, from their pulpits, screamed at each other like fishwives --- or like his parents and kin in old Sebaldus' house. His attitude was the same as the gentle Bishop Giese's; 'I refuse the battle'; and he also did a certain amount of fence-straddling. Yet he refused to change sides, even when he was excommunicated by his own Church, as we shall hear; and when he suspected that Herwart was counting on his conversion, Kepler wrote to him;
"I am a Christian, the Lutheran creed was taught to me by my parents. I took it unto myself with repeated searchings of its foundations, with daily questionings, and I hold fast to it. Hypocrisy I have never learnt. I am in earnest about Faith and I do not play with it."
Like the catholic priest I knew, Kepler thought of his 'faith' in terms beyond the doctrinal. In fact while he refused to leave his Lutheran religion, his differences with Lutheran doctrine got him excommunicated. Apparently, the Lutheran Church, just as the Catholic Church did, saw ratiocinated doctrine as taking precedence over an individual's intuitive philosophy and spirituality, and this same issue emerges once again within the Pope's 'Fides et Ratio' encyclical.
In terms of the Church's historical record of correctness on 'absolute truths', in a statement which probably had his Jesuit friends chuckling under their breath, Kepler said;
"So much for the authority of Holy Scripture. Now as regards the opinions of the saints about these matters of nature, I answer in one word, that in theology the weight of Authority, but in philosophy the weight of Reason alone is valid. Therefore a saint was Lanctantius, who denied the earth's rotundity; a saint was Augustine, who admitted the rotundity, but denied that antipodes exist. Sacred is the Holy Office of our day, which admits the smallness of the earth but denies its motion: but to me more sacred than all these is Truth, when I, with all respect for the doctors of the Church, demonstrate from philosophy that the earth is round, circumhabited by antipodes, of a most insignificant smallness, and a swift wanderer among the stars."
Kepler was, by this statement, declaring himself to be an empiricist with a belief in the superiority of individual 'Reason' over the 'ratiocinative intellection' (the 'Ratio' or 'rationalism' referred to in the Pope's encyclical) used to justify Church Authority, and further believed that the system of sun and planets was a 'harmony' and 'structure' archetype which gave insight into the workings of human Reason, a point with makes powerful intuitive sense and which I have written several essays on. So when Kepler referred to 'the weight of Reason', he was referring to the 'two-and-the-one' combination of 'intuitive intellection' and 'ratiocinative intellection' working together in a very specific, complementary manner, as he describes in 'Harmonice Mundi'. What 'Fides et Ratio' does not include is the 'Deus Absconditus' or the property of nature wherein the observer 'co-resonates' with the observed (aka 'Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle').
Now while the 'doctors of the church', both in those days and presently, as is evident in the Papal encyclical 'Fides et Ratio', feel that it is possible to extract a 'universal knowledge of the good' in an absolute sense, and to use this knowledge, in the form of doctrine, to permit instantaneous judgements as to what is 'good' and what is 'evil'. This instantaneous navigation by 'good'/'bad' choice and decision is a Parmenidian - Aristotelian view which perceives reality in terms of 'fixed absolute truths', and clashes fundamentally with the Keplerian-Heraclitean view which perceives reality in terms of 'ever-changing flow' where the 'absolute' resides in the essential 'harmony' which is the hidden ordering and 'whole-and-part' unifying principle in the flow.
While the view expressed by the Pope in 'Fides et Ratio' conforms to the Parmenidian notion and the making of instantaneous 'judgements' based on perceived 'good' and 'evil' draws from the notions of euclidian space and linear time, the view expressed by Kepler conforms to the Heraclitean view which, instead of judging a person or act according to their specific properties, statements or behaviors, judges them according to their overall whole-and-part' space-time 'geometry' and how they interface with the world around them in an overall sense; i.e. "The wise is one thing, to be acquainted with true judgement, how all things are steered through all." In other words, for the Pope, a [positive space] 'snaphot' of the specifics of the 'ding an sich' will suffice to make a judgement, while for Kepler, one needs to observe the ongoing [positive and negative space] space-time 'dance' of the 'thing' in the context of its surroundings [its containing space] to experience true judgement.
Kepler's courage in maintaining his Heraclitean perspective is all the more remarkable considering that in 1600, when Kepler was already publishing his [then heretical] Copernican and Heraclitean ideas, Giordano Bruno, after eight years of incarceration in the Vatican, was burned at the stake in the Campo dei Fiori near the Vatican for a broad array of heresies including; his belief in Copernican astronomy; his belief in the immanence of God in nature; his rejection of all fixed value systems and his advocation of the relativity of ethics; his belief that no object, relation, or event could be absolutely good or absolutely evil, and similarly that no thought or action could be absolutely right or absolutely wrong; his belief that there are no real separations (only logical distinctions) within the harmony and unity of dynamic nature; his claim that the universe was continuous and had no beginning and will have no end in either space or
time, and that there is life (including intelligent beings) on countless other worlds.
Bruno, whose philosophical strengths have been recognized by later and current day philosopher-historians, didn't much care for the principle of 'the universal knowledge of the good' either, as it was clear that such generalizations were necessarily subject to the vagaries of human personality and ego coupled with the politics of the cultural establishments, and Bruno had this to say;
"It is proof of a base and low mind for one to wish to think with the masses or majority, merely because the majority is the majority. Truth does not change because it is, or is not, believed by a majority of the people"
It is said the Bruno had such a strong presence about him that Church officials were more fearful of him than he of they, and he went to his death courageously, choosing not to recant on his beliefs, though that may have been able to save his life.
Galileo's first published support for Copernican astronomy, in a vague form in 'Letter on Sunspots' in 1613, thirteen years after Bruno's burning and eighteen years after Kepler's open advocacy of it in 'Mysterium Cosmographicum' published in 1596 when Kepler was twenty-five. Galileo's inquisitorial interrogation was not, however, until 1633, three years after Kepler's death, when the experts of the Inquisition found that Galileo's support for Copernican astronomy had progressed beyond 'vague', and that "Galileo had not only discussed the Copernican view as a hypothesis, but that he had taught, defended and held it, and that he had called those who did not share it, 'mental pygmies', 'dumb idiots', and 'hardly deserving to be called human beings.' [Koestler]
In modern times, the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, although not nearly as provocative as Bruno, Kepler and Galileo, possessed a similar depth of intuitive spirit which also took him afoul of Church doctrine; i.e. he had a personal interest in philosophically reconciling Buddhist belief with his own Catholic faith. Merton also wanted to reform monastic life and through his writings, he had become a powerful force. This following account, which borrows from his final journal entries, gives some indication of how his spirituality was taking him beyond Church doctrine;
"During his  trip to Asia he had a profound experience which he described in his journal. It happened in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) less that a week before his death and describes a powerful insight. He was visiting a Buddhist shrine at Polonnaruwa where there are huge statues of the Buddha. Merton, barefooted, approached the Buddhas through the wet grass:
Then the smile of the extraordinary faces. The great smiles. Huge and yet subtle. Filled with every possibility, questioning nothing, knowing everything, rejecting nothing ...
Looking at these figures I was suddenly, almost forcibly, jerked clean out of the habitual, half-tied vision of things, and an inner clearness, clarity, as if exploding from the rocks themselves, became evident and obvious ... The thing about all this is that there is no puzzle, no problem, and really no "mystery." All problems are resolved and everything is clear, simply because what matters is clear... everything is emptiness and everything is compassion. I don't know when in my life I have ever had such a sense of beauty and spiritual validity running together in one aesthetic illumination... I know and have seen what I was obscurely looking for. I don't know what else remains but I have now seen and have pierced through the surface and have got beyond the shadow and the disguise."
One can easily recognize in Merton's statement, the powerful melding of his spirituality as an individual with the eastern and aboriginal concept of the 'yin', 'the void which needs to be filled' (i.e. what matters), 'the wind which was always there', and how it would be impossible for a man like Merton, to stop himself at the boundary where the doctrinal committee on 'the universal knowledge of good' told him he must stop. His spirituality, like Kepler's and like the priest in my youth, transcended rationality or 'Ratio' and was fuelled by intuition.
.... "Merton's trail of darkness, laughter, emptiness, compassion and illumination ended on December 10, 1968, in Thailand, when he was evidently electrocuted by a faulty electric fan. A short time earlier he had concluded his talk to monastic women and men by saying that during the afternoon break between sessions he was "going to disappear." That afternoon his body was discovered. "
There is much passion induced by both the philosophies of 'absolute truths' as in 'Fides et Ratio' (Pope John Paul II) with its advocacy of snapshot judgements as to what is 'good' or 'evil'' and by the philosophy of 'harmonic truths' as in 'Harmonice Mundi' (Kepler). While the former would have a person rationally and causally navigate life on the basis of committee-established doctrines on 'good' and 'evil', the latter would have one trust one's intuitive ability to 'tune in' to the whole-and-part harmonies of nature and to be guided by those as one's sails are filled by the yin-winds of 'what matters' (purpose), subordinating the generalized ratiocinative rules of culture and religion to a supportive role; i.e. to Wittgensteinian 'ladders' which can help bring a person towards a view of the overall harmonic 'truths', but which can never constitute them since they are innately woven into the evolutionary dynamics of space-time..
Without the notion of a constantly self-renewing evolution, Creation as specified in terms of fixed and absolute things, leads one to the idea of progressive decay and degeneration and remedial or 'redemptive' imperative as implied in the scriptures;
"For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves..." (Rom. 8:19f). "
It is as if nature itself is on the way down unless God intervenes to 'redeem it'. This view is implicitly woven into 'Fides et Ratio' and it differs radically from the views of Kepler, Teilhard de Chardin and Merton, where God is seen as immanent in Nature, ... where God is the harmonic ordering in Nature, as the aboriginal peoples and buddhists believe.
The Pope speaks directly to the Creation issue in 'Fides et Ratio';
"The Second Vatican Council, for its part, offers a rich and fruitful teaching concerning philosophy. I cannot fail to note especially in the context of this encyclical letter that one chapter of the constitution Gaudium et Spes amounts to a virtual compendium of the biblical anthropology from which philosophy too can draw inspiration. The chapter deals with the value of the human person created in the image of God, explains the dignity and superiority of the human being over the rest of creation, and declares the transcendent capacity of human reason."
Clearly, there is no natural way to reconcile the unique status of man, in this Vatican Council statement, with the notion of 'evolution'. Nor is there a natural way to reconcile the unique status of man with the non-unique status of man's earth, suggesting that instead of the Holy Office of the Vatican being the source of 'absolute truths', absolute truth is what comes to each of us in our intuitive, spiritual embrace of 'God's immanence in nature', as it did to Johannes Kepler, .... "Sacred is the Holy Office of our day, which admits the smallness of the earth but denies its motion: but to me more sacred than all these is Truth, when I, with all respect for the doctors of the Church, demonstrate from philosophy that the earth is round, circumhabited by antipodes, of a most insignificant smallness, and a swift wanderer among the stars.
"The transcendent capacity of human reason", if one reads the full encyclical, is in no way intended to include intuitive intellection, or the 'Deus Absconditus', ... "the god hidden in matter, the divine Nous (intuition) that came down to Physis (matter) and was lost in her embrace". The 'human reason' in 'Fides et Ratio' refers solely to 'rationality' or 'ratiocinative intellection', since intuition is seen to lead one away from those philosophies embraced in 'Fides et Ratio' towards such outlaw philosophies as 'the theory of relativity' where everything is relative and nothing absolute, a theory which essentially equates to the philosophies of Heraclitus and Kepler and Einstein, that everything is in a state of flux and there is no absolute and fixed 'ground' or 'fixed states' to stand upon. Einstein, while a religious man like Kepler, in no way entertained the idea, embraced so strongly by Pope Paul II, that the intuition of the individual should be subordinated to 'Fides et Ratio' (faith and rationality), and says this very clearly in his essay on curved space (non-euclidian space), which underlies the theory of relativity;
"First of all, an observation of epistemological nature. A geometrical-physical theory as such is incapable of being directly pictured, being merely a system of concepts. But these concepts serve the purpose of bringing a multiplicity of real or imaginary sensory experiences into connection in the mind. To 'visualise' a theory, or bring it home to one's mind, therefore means to give a representation to that abundance of experiences for which the theory supplies the schematic arrangement."
This is not the same 'rationality' which is being regarded as 'transcendent' in the Vatican Council statement; .... what Einstein is speaking about is that part of our human intellection which is 'intuitive' and beyond 'ratiocinating'. Whereas 'Ratio' is the material, tangible, causal view, the intuitive makes use of both 'real' and 'imaginary' experience and does not allow itself to be impeded by 'rules' or 'absolute truths' in any way, .... it instead recognizes the power of the individual mind to make sense out of our reality without the intermediation of rules, .... the intuitive is intellection which, if it uses rules, uses them simply as 'wittgensteinian' ladders to get to a view of the geometric-physical 'truth' which transcends the limits of rational constructs.
The correctness of this type of intuitive truth is determined through the experiencing of it, rather than the rational 'judgement' of its correctness. The story of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin speaks to this process just as the stories of Bruno, Kepler, Galileo, Merton, the priest I admired in my teens, and many others have done. These are stories of individual's coming to their own personal awareness of spirituality in terms of flow and evolution, and doing so in a way which transcends any mechanical matrix of judgements based upon doctrine and 'the universal knowledge of good (and evil)'. It is a story where the rules and the judgements on 'good' and 'evil', rather than being deified, are stood upon as ladders to help one find one's own personal spirituality using intuitive intellection as, for example, described by Einstein above. And as Wittgenstein says, on the subject of absolutist propositions or doctrinal rules in general;
"My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them --- as steps -- to climb up beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.) He must transcend these propositions and then he will see the world aright. ... What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence."
The imagery which emerges from such philosophical reconciling is one of fundamental conflict between views where doctrine is supreme and absolute as in 'Fides et Ratio' and views where doctrine is a nonsensical ladder which can help the individual arrive at a more powerful and intuitive understanding.
With these thoughts in mind, we can review a similar accounting , by H. James Birx a theologian and visiting scholar at Harvard, of how Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881 - 1955), a Jesuit Priest and respected paleontologist, got into hot water with the Church over his scientifically respected work on evolution, an issue which is central to the 'Fides et Ratio' encyclical;
"The Jesuit priest was committed to science, evolution and optimism despite his bold speculations and mystical orientation. He was, in some respects, a freethinker as religious humanist: a visionary and futurist who foresaw the collective consciousness of our global species increasing in terms of information and technology. It is to Teilhard's lasting credit that he introduced into modern theology the fact of organic evolution at a time when this theory of nature was rejected by many who saw it as a threat to their entrenched beliefs and traditional values. Unfortunately, in trying to reconcile the irreconcilable, Teilhard pleased no intellectual community. Even today, although wisely not opposed to the fact of evolution, the Church offers no comprehensive and detailed explication for both the origin of life and the appearance of humankind in terms of a neo-Darwinian interpretation of planetary history or neo-Teilhardian vision of this universe.
Unlike the iconoclastic Renaissance philosopher Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), who argued for the eternity and infinity of this universe as well as the existence of both life elsewhere and other universes, Teilhard focused exclusively on the earth and gave special attention to our own species. Briefly, the Jesuit-scientist has given us a phenomenology of this planet, i.e., an analysis of those essential structures of evolution throughout earth history in terms of emerging consciousness and spiritual intentionality. In this respect, he was not in step with those modern thinkers who offer a truly cosmic perspective in which humankind is merely a fleeting event in this material universe. His mysticism reminds one of the cosmic visions of Joseph Ernest Renan (1823-1892) and Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936).
Surprisingly, on 23 October 1996, Pope John Paul II issued a statement to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in which he endorsed evolution as being "more than just a theory" and thereby biblical fundamentalism as so-called scientific creationism was dealt yet another blow to its vacuous claims about the origin of this universe and the appearance of life forms on planet earth. With bitter irony, it was the silenced Teilhard who had committed himself to the fact of evolution as well as the indisputable powers of science, reason and free inquiry. Both spiritualists and materialists can admire his bold evolutionism. "
In spite of the apparent moderation on Pope John Paul II's part with respect to the concept of evolution, he makes it very clear in his 'Fides et Ratio' encyclical, that 'absolute truths', drawn from 'the universal knowledge of good' must take precedence over 'intuition', a view which is innately 'fundamentalist', but which is moderated by the degree to which the interpreters of the 'fundamental truths' moderate their interpretation of 'good' and 'evil' and the degree to which Churchgoers pay heed to, or understand these interpretations and adhere to them
The Pope's following statements in 'Fides et Ratio';
"If something is true, then it must be true for all people and all times." and;
"Hypotheses may fascinate but they do not satisfy. Whether we admit it or not, there comes for everyone the moment when personal existence must be anchored to a truth recognized as final, a truth which confers a certitude no longer open to doubt."
... represent an alignment with Parmenidian philosophy and an excluding of Heraclitean views . Heraclitus would say that one can never step into the same river twice, and that the supreme truth is not a 'thing' or 'proposition' but the harmonic ordering in an ever-changing nature, which if one can tune into it profoundly, represents an embrace of the divine in rather different imagery than can be gleaned from these just-cited words from 'Fides et Ratio'. The imagery of a 'final certitude' is certainly reminiscent of modern reductionist science and the quest for the TOE, the 'theory of everything', the materialist meta-rule of all meta-rules, but it is imagery which is in radical opposition to that of being 'in the Tao', where one let's go of absolutes and 'becomes one' with the divine evolutionary order in nature.
Newton's views were very much like the views expressed in 'Fides et Ratio' and one cannot help connecting the sense of 'tragedy' and the need for 'redemption' which typically emanates from the absolutist view, which give a sense of a default where everything is going to hell unless remedial action can be taken. This is a view where 'good' and 'evil' are seen as battling peers, where there can only be 'winning' or 'losing'. Pantheist and Taoist views, as espoused by Heraclitus, Kepler, and implicitly by the priest I much admired, give a far more positive outlook, ... they give a 'magic mirror' outlook rather than a 'tragic mirror' outlook, where one needn't think in terms of instantaneous judgements as to the 'good' or 'bad' in things and having to 'remedy' or 'redeem' the bad; ... one can look into the 'magic mirror' and think, as Jean Houston 'Search for the Beloved' puts it, ... in terms of 'dying to the old story and being reborn to a new story', of becoming 'larger than our judgements'.
An old Taoist tale puts it as follows, and had I known this and been able to share it with the 'spirituality-over-doctrine' oriented priest I knew as a teenager, I'm sure he would have smiled and nodded his head and perhaps even erupted into his characteristic hearty yuk, yuk, yuk laugh, not only in appreciation of the apparent 'truth' in the tale's harmonies, but in appreciation of the process of honest, co-resonant sharing.
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Long ago, an old man and his son lived together in a small village. They were considered rich by the other villagers because they had a horse. One night a violent storm came, and a lightening bolt struck the fence-post of the horse's enclosure, smashing the fence and frightening the horse, which ran off into the night.
The next morning, passing villagers observed the loss, and moaned, 'Oh, what a terrible thing has happened!' The old man simply replied, 'Maybe yes, maybe no.'
A month later, the horse suddenly returned, bringing with it many wild stallions and mares. Once the horses entered the repaired enclosure, the old man and his son closed the gate. Now when the villagers came by, they were very excited. 'Oh how rich you are,' they shouted, 'what a wonderful thing has happened!' The old man simply replied, 'Maybe yes, maybe no.'
Three months later, as the son was attempting to saddle a wild stallion, the horse kicked the young man, shattering one of his legs and leaving him crippled. When the villagers heard of this they cried with sorrow. 'Oh, what a terrible thing has happened!' And the old man simply replied, 'Maybe yes, maybe no.'
A year later, the emperor's men came to the village and forced all able-bodied young men to join the army. They went off to a war in which almost all of them were killed. The emperor's men did not take the son because he was a cripple and unfit to serve in their army. Though the villagers were mourning the loss of their sons, they said to the crippled man's father, 'How fortunate you are. Certainly this was a good thing.' And the old man simply replied, 'Maybe yes, maybe no.'
This story is said to go on forever, including the present day. It is the story of an unpredictable unfolding of evolutionary flow in which all absolutes are up for grabs. As in Goethe's 'Faust', not even Mephistopheles can be taken as absolutely 'evil' since without him, how could 'God's work' be done, --- without conflict and opposition, there can be no life, no dynamic, no evolution, and without evolution, there can be no mechanism for redemption even. The Parmenidian philosophy which underlays the absolutist notions in 'Fides et Ratio' is not consistent with nature, and is not intended to be, apparently, since nature is assumed in the scriptures, to be a lesser thing than man and a naturally degenerative entity which like man, will require a divine intervention if it is to be redeemed. However, if redemption is 'good' and it entails the excising of 'evil', then without evil, there could be no redemption and 'evil' must thus also be 'good'. This type of internal goedel's theorem type contradiction is characteristic of absolutist conceptual systems. They are abstract systems of the mind which do not reconcile with nature.
In summary, 'Fides et Ratio', is a Papal encyclical which stresses the transcendency of 'ratiocination' or 'rationalism', as calibrated by the good doctors of the Church who establish the associated reference standards and doctrines based on the 'universal knowledge of good',
At the beginning of his conclusion, the Pope says; "Once the idea of a universal truth about the good, knowable by human reason, is lost, inevitably the notion of conscience also changes. Conscience is no longer considered in its prime reality as an act of a person's intelligence, the function of which is to apply the universal knowledge of the good in a specific situation and thus to express a judgement about the right conduct to be chosen here and now."
Clearly, the 'medium is the message' in 'Fides et Ratio', as the Pope focuses on the 'positive space' entity of 'The Church' as a 'ding an sich' without providing a view of the 'container' in which it is immersed, ... i.e. without considering the surrounding environment or 'negative space', wherein it is clear, from the beliefs and behaviors of aboriginal traditionalists and those of eastern religions, that the absence of 'a universal truth about the good' serving as logical circuitry within a mechanically ratiocinative 'conscience' for outputting 'judgements about the right conduct to be chosen here and now' does not have to lead to unconscionable behavior.
The 'Fides et Ratio' philosophy advocated by the Pope and the Vatican Councils, from all appearances, in no way characterizes the implicit philosophical positions of all Catholics, nor does it characterize the belief systems of most Catholics I have known and know. In practice, the 'Fides et Ratio' philosophical stance seems to be eschewed by many, ... by priests even, whose implicit philosophical demeanors more closely resemble non-judgemental Tao-ist kinds of outlook. Since the latter 'intuitive way' is more in tune with natural relativistic process such as evolution, its increasing embrace, implicit or explicit, gives humankind the opportunity for rapprochement with 'mother' nature.
In fact, for those subscribing to non-absolute, non-judgemental outlooks, whether or not counting themselves as members of organized religions, the hope is that the natural, ever-changing harmonies we are intuitively reaching out to embrace will progressively characterize the individual and collective 'we' who are reaching out for them.
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