"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Tuesday 1 February 2011

Posted: 31 Jan 2011 05:54 AM PST

January 31, 2011

Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Department for External Church Relations, celebrated on 30 January 2011 the Divine Liturgy at the Church of Our Lady the Sign to All the Afflicted-in-Bolshaya-Ordynka in Moscow.

After the liturgy he addressed himself to the congregation with the following archpastoral homily:

“Dear Brothers and Sisters, today we heard during the Gospel’s Reading the story of how the Lord Jesus Christ healed a blind man who was sitting at roadside, asking for salvation and healing. The Lord said to him, "Go, your faith has healed you" (Mk. 10:51-52).

“These words of our Saviour point to the direct relationship between spiritual vision and faith, between spiritual blindness and lack of faith. Unbelief is spiritual blindness that obturates God and the reality of the spiritual world. A non-believer is incapable of seeing the spiritual reality behind the phenomena of the visible world, which is present and co-exists with the material world. Spiritual blindness is the inability of man to see the hand of God in his life. A spiritually blind one ascribes all the good things in one’s life to oneself and thinks that if one succeeded in anything it happened thanks to one’s own talents, abilities and resources or through a coincidence. And when a temptation or trial or sorrow or suffering comes, such a person loses heart and falls into despair because this experience does not fit in his idea of happiness, success and prosperous life. Such a person does not see the causes of either positive or negative developments taking place in his life. It seems to him that all this is a chance, a good or bad luck.

“A spiritually blind man normally does not see his shortcomings. It seems to him that everything is all right in his life, that he always acts as appropriate, and if some problems arise in his relations with others, these others themselves are to blame because they underestimated, misunderstood something or did something wrong. He is certain: ‘I did everything in the right way, but all those around me did it wrong’.

“A spiritually sighted person, to whom the Lord has opened his eyes, sees the hand of God in everything, understanding that life is not a coincidence and that the Lord guides him like a mother fond of her children on the way to the Heavenly Kingdom. Such a person understands that if difficulties and problems arise in his relations with others, he has to ask himself: did I do it in the right way? Perhaps I have overlooked something or did or said something wrong? A spiritually sighted person is aware that the cause of many of his troubles and sufferings lies in himself.

“But if he scores a success, he first of all thanks God because he knows: He is the One from Whom all good things come. And even if a person himself achieves much through his own efforts, isn’t it the Lord Who has given him talents, health and strength to do it?

“This is the difference between the spiritual blind and spiritually sighted. Such people live next to us, in the same world, and move in the same circle. They can sit in the same office, live in the same flat, but they look at things quite differently. One of them is sighted while the other is blind; one believes, while the other does not. One, seeing a miracle, says, ‘It is a miracle of God which has happened so that my faith may be stronger’, whereas the other, witnessing a miracle, is sure that ‘It is a coincidence, there is no miracle’.

“The Lord has opened for us, believers, our spiritual eyes so that we may contemplate His beauty, be guided in our actions by His divine commandments and help those whose spiritual sight is still closed to see His presence in their life and to feel the hand of God in various life circumstances. We should in the first place show by our own example that God exists, that He is not somewhere far but here, among us, that God is not indifferent to our life but participates in it, helping us in every good task, preventing many troubles and sorrows and guiding us on the way to the Heavenly Kingdom.

“May the Lord give us all to be spiritually sighted, not to fall into spiritual blindness and remember that if the Lord has opened our eyes we should be especially attentive to ourselves, to each other and to our neighbours. If there is a spiritual blind person next to us, we should remember that we cannot heal him as the Lord did – with a wave of His hand, but we should help such a person to gradually heal himself from spiritual blindness. May God give that as many as possible people around us may see the presence of God and turn from non-believers to believers, that the Lord may make the Church grow and bring more and more new people to the faith, that people may turn from spiritually blind into sighted. Amen”.
Posted: 31 Jan 2011 05:40 AM PST

Christianity's founding ideals are anti-elitist – so should we be surprised if its followers are less educated than average?

Nick Spencer
January 31, 2011

In The God Delusion Richard Dawkins makes great play of the fact that so few "elite" scientists apparently believe in God. A more recent US study, by sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund, surveying 1,700 scientists and speaking to 275 of them, found that "nearly 50% of elite scientists [in the US] are religious in the traditional sense and over 20% … though eschewing religion, still see themselves as spiritual".

Ecklund's study aims to correct the idea that scientists are overwhelmingly atheistic, although it refuses to shy away from the overwhelmingly atheistic feelings of some, such as physicist Arik who "proudly" told Ecklund that his children "have been thoroughly and successfully indoctrinated to believe as I do that belief in God is a form of mental weakness".

For all that it tries to correct the picture of widespread scientific atheism, however, the study can't escape the fact that, although elite scientists in the US are more religious/spiritual than they are generally thought to be, they are still rather less religious/spiritual than the population as a whole.

Should we read anything into this? One over-hasty conclusion, a good example of what Sir Sir Humphrey Appleby called "minister's logic", is that it hammers another nail into God's coffin. Thus: 1) Elite scientists know more about the way the world works than other people. 2) A disproportionate number of elite scientists don't believe in God. 3) Therefore God (probably) doesn't exist.

What is interesting about this argument is not so much the questionable inference, as the questionable first premise. Our conviction that scientists, elite or otherwise, are somehow better qualified to discern the nature of reality is dubious. Elite scientists undoubtedly know vastly more about their subject than other people. But to imagine that that makes them somehow better qualified to adjudicate on big-picture questions is like saying because I know my home town like the back of my hand, I am well-equipped to lecture on European geography.

Beyond the fray of who believes what and whether it means anything, there is a wider and perhaps more interesting question of whether we should expect any correlation at all between a/theism and intelligence. If all intelligent people clustered at one end of the a/theistic pole, that would be highly suggestive.

But they don't. John Carey observed in the introduction to his Faber Book of Science that "when a scientist of James Clerk Maxwell's eminence uses molecular structure as an argument for the existence of God, few will feel qualified to laugh", before going on to remark, "of course, atheistical scientists are plentiful too". In as far as there is a correlation between a/theism and intelligence, it is far subtler than that.

Odd as it may be to admit, there is some reason within the Christian tradition to think that Christian believers should, on average, be less intelligent, or at least less well-educated, than their opponents. Before atheists get too exited by this, it isn't an admission that Christians are naturally stupid, though no doubt some will choose to read it that way.

Rather it is the recognition that there is a long-standing theme within Christian thought that sees the Christian message as having a particular appeal to the underclass, not only those socially and politically alienated, but also those the intellectually and educationally excluded.

Christ often remarked with particular relish, and disappointment, on the inability of the educated elite of his time to get what he was about. There is a distinct anti-elitist strand in his teaching, which reaches a peculiar, parenthetical climax half way through Luke's gospel when the evangelist observes: "At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, 'I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children'." It was a theme that St Paul took up with enthusiasm: "God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise … the weak things of the world to shame the strong."

It was thus a fundamental tenet of Christianity that not only was the gospel for all, no matter how they were disenfranchised, but that it had a particular simplicity to it. It was this idea that led 17th-century radicals to assert, against their educated peers, that although learning was useful to lawyers and gentlemen, the pulpit was better suited to uneducated persons as they were more open to the Spirit's teaching. It was this idea that inspired early Chartists to seize upon the Bible as their justification. "What is [the Sermon on the Mount] but a manual of Chartism – a manual for Chartists?" asked the Northern Star rhetorically in 1842.

Nor was this simply a self-serving attitude, peddled by the ill-educated because they had most to gain from it. It was this idea that drove the exceptional linguist and Oxford scholar William Tyndale to risk and eventually lose his life so the ploughboy might read the Bible in his own language. It was this idea that inspired John Locke's doctrine of equality, which he justified not only by the creation stories of Genesis 1-3 but also by the accessibility of the gospel itself.

Christianity, he observed in The Reasonableness of Christianity, "is a religion suited to vulgar capacities". Both Christ and St Paul implied, sometimes none too subtly, that the philosophically sophisticated were "shut out from the simplicity of the gospel; to make way for those poor, ignorant, [and] illiterate". Given the long track record of this idea – that the gospel was simple because it had to appeal to the simple – it should not perhaps surprise us if the Christian community were indeed, en masse, a little less intelligent than the national average. Indeed, if Christianity is true to its founding ideals, that is precisely what we should expect. 

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