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Catholic vs Protestant Cultures. Is Pardon the Right Thing? Yes, it is

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Waldensian valleys in Piedmont, Italy. Click for credits and larger picture

Religion and culture

There are people raised in a Catholic or Protestant milieu who say: “I am an atheist, I am an agnostic, religion has no effect on me.”

I think it to be incorrect mostly. Religion is only a part of a culture but it is usually at the centre of it and it affects so many behaviours that it is difficult to escape its influence – no matter our religion or non religion -, unless we have the great power of the entirely detached sage, which is seldom the case.

Take my father. He was an atheist to the extent he died without any repentance. His family had been Waldensian (or Vaudois,) an evangelical movement close to Genevan Protestantism. Such a decent man, my father, though strict in a way hard to be found in Italy outside certain Western Alpine valleys (see map above.)

But most of all, my father could not forgive.

When I became a moderate, non violent communist – only 2 years it lasted, I was so young! – a portion of my father’s heart totally ruled me out. Those were ‘the years of lead‘ in this country. I don’t know exactly what happened, but I had to face the consequences of my act. My brother-in-law possibly. He knew all the military big shots. So when my military service days arrived I was sent to a sort of re-education military camp where they tried to break me, and almost succeeded.

For this and other reasons – such as a sunny good-natured Roman Catholic mother to whom redemption was always possible – I always had problems to accept any irrevocable condemnation.

The death penalty, for example, I consider it an unjustifiable act of barbarism, although, what a cruel irony, I’m a ruthless bastard in some corners of my soul because of this extra layer of Roman rogueness my father would have found less repugnant had he understood it was just a camouflage for something closer to him, ie related to the severe – and mostly but alas not totally extraneous to me – mountain culture he came from.

Large pitch-black eyes in the sun light

Italian grapes. Click for credits and a larger picture

I don’t want to think about this. My ancestral heritage is only partly from the austere West Alps. I want to think of where I’ve always lived.

Such a sea, such a sun – my Greek mentor now helping me to day dream – with young women vintaging in the fields, vine leaves at their temples, “their faces tightly wrapped in white wimples to keep them from being burned by the sun. They raise their heads when a person passes, and you glimpse nothing but two large pitch-black eyes flickering in the sunlight and filled with visions of men.”[Kazantzakis]

I’m bathed in the Roman country light. My life has been rich though hard and a bit tormented (which added some depth in my not so humble opinion.)

I take the responsibility for all my sins, for the good and for the evil, like every one should. Let me quote Dante albeit his verses are a bit disproportionate here (“horrible my iniquities had been” …).

Orribil furon li peccati miei;
ma la bontà infinita ha sì gran braccia,
che prende ciò che si rivolge a lei.

Horrible my iniquities had been,
But Infinite Goodness hath such ample arms
That it receives whatever turns to it.

[Dante's Manfred von Hohenstaufen, the king of Sicily son of Frederick II, Commedia II, 3,121-123; Longfellow's translation.]

By the way, what the hell happened to the Protestants? It seems to me they focused more on those early parts of the Old Testament when the Jews were not much civilized yet and worshipped a merciless, unforgiving God.

For, if ye forgive not…

I was yesterday reading Matthew (6,14-15) in the most beautiful language ever to me.

14 Ἐὰν γὰρ ἀφῆτε (for if you forgive) τοῖς ἀνθρώποις (men) τὰ παραπτώματα (the sins) αὐτῶν (of theirs,) ἀφήσει (will forgive) καὶ ὑμῖν (also to you) ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν (the father of yours) ὁ οὐράνιος (heavenly)·

15 ἐὰν δὲ μὴ ἀφῆτε (but if you forgive not) τοῖς ἀνθρώποις (men) τὰ παραπτώματα (the sins) αὐτῶν (of theirs), οὐδὲ ὁ πατὴρ (neither the father) ὑμῶν (of yours) ἀφήσει (will forgive) τὰ παραπτώματα (the sins) ὑμῶν (of yours.)

And, in the second most beautiful language to me:

Si enim dimiseritis hominibus peccata eorum, dimittet et vobis Pater vester caelestis; si autem non dimiseritis hominibus, nec Pater vester dimittet peccata vestra.

And, in the language of this blog, also extremely beautiful:

For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

PS. Bragging about language knowledge, I know. Need to be pardoned for that :-(

Buddhism, Science and the Dalai Lama

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We talked in the previous post of a decline of the Roman Empire type of situation here in the West. Omitting economical and political aspects this time, we rather concentrated on some cultural aspects of today’s Western (America + Europe) decline which resemble a bit what was happening in the minds of the inhabitants of the Ancient Roman empire: new sects and religions gaining ground, void, ethical confusion etc. with, at the end, a winning new religion, Christianity, conquering the population’s hearts (with a little help from the Emperors) and soon becoming the official religion of the Empire.

(Needless to say, it is only for the sake of analysis that people usually separate economical, political, social and cultural phenomena. Actually they are tightly interrelated and belong to the same sphere: Man)

Let’s now zoom in on one of the non Western religions that are gaining ground, Buddhism. We will consider some of the reasons why this belief, compared with the Abrahamic religions, could be more endowed to confront with modern science, which might further favour its penetration (at the top of the page, a Buddhist temple at Fréjus, France; above, the current Dalai Lama).

In some books the current 14th Dalai Lama reveals his position on science and on the relationship between scientific rationality and religious irrationality. “If scientific analysis conclusively showed that certain beliefs of Buddhism are false – argues the Dalai Lama – it would be necessary to accept those scientific discoveries and abandon those beliefs.” Wow, what a big difference, we should be honest to admit, vis-à-vis the presumptions of infallibility asserted by our Catholic religion …

Buddhism seems better equipped in its approach to science since, as the Dalai Lama says, “it grants maximum authority to experience, secondly to reason and only lastly to scriptures” while the Religions of the revealed Books (the Abrahamic religions) seem to consider these elements in a reversed order.

Additionally the encounter between Science and Buddhism seems also favoured by a fundamental disposition common to both: they do not believe in God or even in a soul, since Buddhism prefers to concentrate, among other things, on conscience. Buddhism and science “share a fundamental reluctance to postulate a transcendent Being as origin of all things.” Basically it is the denial of any metaphysics.

A Rescue Guide in Times of Crisis

In general I believe this simple thing: science provides a lot of answers but still voids are left (what is the meaning of life? How do we choose between right and wrong? Are there any absolute values? etc.) that might progressively be filled up, although so far they are not, thus leaving those who rely on science only with questions unanswered and inner tranquillity precarious. Humanities are able in fact to make up for further answers (philosophy) and for reconciling our soul through beauty (art).

(The problem is complex and it is discussed in the debate regarding the two cultures – the sciences and the humanities – and regarding the so-called third culture)

As far as we are concerned, in fact, novels, poems, music, paintings, philosophy, all humanistic culture, in conclusion, can somehow fill these voids. And religion? Of course religion can fill these voids too, but, although we have a lot of respect for those who have a faith, we are not religious (agnostic, not atheist), our position being that of the Roman philosopher and poet Lucretius. So we are not disposed to easily believe in revealed things or tales – hope we do not hurt anyone’s feelings – which were satisfying for men living thousands of years ago but, frankly, not as much for today’s man.

Buddhism, being a philosophy and religion without a God seems more modern (even though some aspects of Mahayana Buddhism, for example, consider the Buddha as a God). Buddhism does not force us to believe in dreams in order to find a ubi consistam, namely a guide, a point of reference.

The truth is we are not even Buddhist. We have no parachute. But we like it this way.

References

Official Dalai Lama Web Site.

The Universe in a Single Atom
The Convergence of Science and Spirituality – by H.H. the Dalai Lama, Morgan Road Books, New York, 2005.

Mind Science
- An East – West Dialogue – by H.H. the Dalai Lama with Herbert Benson, Robert A. Thurman, Howard E. Gardner, Daniel Goleman, Wisdom Publications, USA, 1991.

See also www.mindandlife.org for reports on various confrontations between the Dalai Lama and various scientists.

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