M. Robinson on Christianity

It was Coleridge who said Christianity is a life, not a doctrine, words to that effect. I’m not saying never doubt or question. The Lord gave you a mind so that you would make honest use of it. I’m saying you must be sure that the doubts and questions are your own, not, so to speak, the mustache and walking stick that happen to be the fashion at any particular moment.

Marilynne Robinson (2004), Gilead

M. Robinson on Science and Religion

When you read ancient literature, it tends to have a mythic creation at the beginning of it. And then it proceeds through the various dramas of the passions and the aversions and the attractions and all the rest of it, or in the case of the Bible it tends towards history. But the thing that’s interesting, is that the fundamental intuition that ancient literatures share—that there was a beginning—is extraordinary. Because it wasn’t until Edwin Hubble that modern science accepted a beginning.

And so—it’s sort of odd—but the things that are apparently least scientific, in fact, anticipate what is probably the major datum of contemporary science. This is all very strange. To think that someone in antiquity understood the world as beginning in time, and that Einstein didn’t until Edwin Hubble: It’s remarkable! It’s one of those things were you just have to stand back and marvel. […]

I’m not impressed by the quality of the conversation on either side of that controversy. There’s better religious thought, and there’s better scientific thought, and they don’t engage.

There are people who, for one reason or another, have a bad experience with religion. They drop out at the age of 12—this seems to be characteristic of most of religion’s major critics. And then they spend the rest of their lives attacking a 12-year-old’s conception of religion. Part of the responsibility certainly does lie with religion, because the people who claim it often don’t do it any justice at all.

On the other hand, there’s an idea of science which is not serious. A notion of science which presents itself as all-knowing, all rationalizing, when in fact the best science has always engaged with mystery. With the possibility of error. And the whole complexity of how human beings can know what they know, and so on.

Science is very alert to error, excited by it, pleased by it! If someone can reverse some important position that science has taken, a thrill passes through the scientific community. That tends not to be the way that it’s represented. So I think there’s something tacky, and sort of below the dignity of both sides, in the controversy that’s going on now.

Marilynne Robinson, interviewed by “The Nation”, March 23rd 2015

Marilynne Robinson on Love

“Love is holy because it is like grace – the worthiness of its object is never really what matters. (…) There is no justice in love, no proportion in it, and there need not be, because in any specific instance it is only a glimpse or parable of an embracing, incomprehensible reality. It makes no sense at all because it is the eternal breaking in on the temporal. So how could it subordinate itself to cause or consequence?”

Marilynne Robinson (2004), Gilead.

Havel on Hope

The kind of hope I often think about (especially in hopeless situations like prison or the sewer) is, I believe, a state of mind, not a state of the world. Either we have hope within us or we don’t. Hope is not a prognostication — it’s an orientation of the spirit , an orientation of the heart. It transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. . . . I feel that its deepest roots are in the transcendental, just as the roots of human responsibility are, though of course I can’t – unlike Christians, for instance — say anything about the transcendental … Each of us must find real, fundamental hope within himself. You can’t delegate that to anyone else.

Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. The more unpromising the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper that hope is. Hope is not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. In short, I think that the deepest and most important form of hope, the only one that can keep us above water and urge us to good works, and the only true source of the breathtaking dimension of the human spirit and its efforts, is something we get, as it were, from ‘elsewhere.’ It is also this hope, above all, that gives us the strength to live and continually to try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now. the face of this absurdity, life is too precious a thing to permit its devaluation by living pointlessly, emptily, without meaning, without love, and, finally, without hope

Vaclav Havel (1991), Disturbing the Peace pages: 181-182


GKC on Courage

“There is not really any courage at all in attacking hoary or antiquated things, any more than in offering to fight one’s grandmother. The really courageous man is he who defies tyrannies young as the morning and superstitions fresh as the first flowers. The only true free-thinker is he whose intellect is as much free from the future as from the past.”

G.K.Chesterton what’s wrong with the world

Charles Dickens on Fog

LONDON. Michaelmas Term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snow-flakes — gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another’s umbrellas in a general infection of ill-temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if the day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ’prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon, and hanging in the misty clouds.

Gas looming through the fog in divers places in the streets, much as the sun may, from the spongey fields, be seen to loom by husbandman and ploughboy. Most of the shops lighted two hours before their time — as the gas seems to know, for it has a haggard and unwilling look.

The raw afternoon is rawest, and the dense fog is densest, and the muddy streets are muddiest near that leaden-headed old obstruction, appropriate ornament for the threshold of a leaden-headed old corporation, Temple Bar. And hard by Temple Bar, in Lincoln’s Inn Hall, at the very heart of the fog, sits the Lord High Chancellor in his High Court of Chancery.

Charles Dickens (1853) Bleak House

Joseph Ratzinger on Truth

In his futuristic novel Brave New World, the British author Aldous Huxley had predicted in 1932 that falsification would be the decisive element of modernity. In a false reality with its false truth—or the absence of truth altogether—nothing, in the final analysis, is important any more. There is no truth, there is no standpoint. Today, in fact, truth is regarded as far too subjective a concept for us to find therein a universally valid standard. The distinction between genuine and fake seems to have been abolished. Everything is to some extent negotiable. Is that the relativism against which you were warning so urgently?

It is obvious that the concept of truth has become suspect. Of course it is correct that it has been much abused. Intolerance and cruelty have occurred in the name of truth. To that extent people are afraid when someone says, “This is the truth”, or even “I have the truth.” We never have it; at best it has us. No one will dispute that one must be careful and cautious in claiming the truth. But simply to dismiss it as unattainable is really destructive.

A large proportion of contemporary philosophies, in fact, consist of saying that man is not capable of truth. But viewed in that way, man would not be capable of ethical values, either. Then he would have no standards. Then he would only have to consider how he arranged things reasonably for himself, and then at any rate the opinion of the majority would be the only criterion that counted. History, however, has sufficiently demonstrated how destructive majorities can be, for instance, in systems such as Nazism and Marxism, all of which also stood against truth in particular.

We are building a dictatorship of relativism”, you declared in your homily at the opening of the conclave [in 2005], “that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate standard consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”

That is why we must have the courage to dare to say: Yes, man must seek the truth; he is capable of truth. It goes without saying that truth requires criteria for verification and falsification. It must always be accompanied by tolerance, also. But then truth also points out to us those constant values which have made mankind great. That is why the humility to recognize the truth and to accept it as a standard has to be relearned and practiced again.

The truth comes to rule, not through violence, but rather through its own power (…).

Joseph Ratzinger – Benedict XVI (2010),  Ligh of The World. A Conversation With Peter Seewald