Christian Platonism

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A Trip to Aalst

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This weekend I took a day trip to the city of Aalst, Belgium — just a few miles west of Brussels.

I took the trip because someone suggested there was a dance festival in Aalst that day.  But when I arrived no festival was to be seen; so instead I headed on to the town center to explore.

Almost immediately I was struck by general ‘personality’ of the town. The people there seemed like the most hard-working and unpretentious I’ve seen anywhere; it’s hard not to like people like that!

The sight of an impressive church tower above the rooftops caught my eye and I headed that direction, soon finding the impressive church of St. Martin. American’s who haven’t traveled in Europe can’t imagine how many of these churches there are in Europe. It’s amazing. Aalst has a population of a little over 75,000. But the church is magnificent, filled with absolutely beautiful works of art. I wonder if anyone even knows how many of these “little” churches there are throughout Europe, each one worth visiting and inspiring in its own way.

Yes, visit the great cathedrals, too. But something about these smaller churches reveals more about the soul and heritage of the European people: generations of devout people, working, suffering great hardships by our standards, hoping, and moved by an inner conviction that somewhere things are, can, or will be better and more beautiful than in this ‘vale of tears.’

Near the church is a statue of Dirk Martens, a man renowned for having brought the first printing press to the region. A sad detail of his life is that all four of his children died before he did. Such was the way of life then.

Yet such people as this in olden times, despite their hardships, produced this remarkably beautiful and enduring church. It is their gift, their legacy to us.

A Church as the Image of the Soul

A writing project of mine, much delayed, is an essay “On the Magnificence of the Human Soul.” While other tasks compete with this for completion, let me use this opportinity to at least sketch the basic idea.

We are taught — and I think most people seem to accept implicitly — that we are made “in the image and likeness of God.” Few, however, really understand the full implications of that statement. For while we are not equal to God, to merely carry His image is something too wonderful for words. Now an image is generally considered to be inferior to its original. But here the original is Perfection itself. To be even a very limited image of Infinite Perfection and Infinite Goodness is — one can see by mathematics alone — very great indeed.

Simply put, to accept that we are made in “God’s image and likeness” is to admit a far greater view of human nature than people ordinarily acknowledge. The great mystics seem unanimous on this point: if we understood the true greatness of the human soul we might never cease rejoicing!

My aim with said essay is partly to produce something like a logical proof to demonstrate the magnificence of the human soul. Here let me supply just one piece of the entire argument.

It is supposed that the reader knows what it is to be awed by a beatiful work of art: to be struck, inspired,  or reminded of the transcendant nature of Beauty by art. This is an experience which most cultured people share.

One may well praise artists for having the ability to produce such works. But praise too is due the viewer — for were our soul not innately beautiful, it would not resonate to the work of art.

Art cannot produce in us an aesthetic, emotional, or religious response that is not already latent within our nature. We have the innate capacity to recognize, appreciate, and respond to beautiful art. It is not something acquired or learned. It is intrinsic to us.

Moreover we have the latent ability to respond not just to works of art we *do* see, or *have* seen — but to any possible work that could ever be produced. Tomorrow, next week, or next year you will see some wonderful new work of art — and you will have a deep, immediate, aesthetic reaction to that. This can, and perhaps willl, happen over and over again for you. One-thousand or ten-thousand artists could produce as many great works of art, and each would produce in you a unique aesthetic experience. Each would reveal to you some new facet of who you are — who you *already* are.

This is a very Platonic notion. Plato repeatedly emphasizes the nature of anamnesisan-amnesis or un-forgetting. His view is that, at some point, perhaps just prior to birth, our soul experiences something like the Goodness of God in all its glory. Or perhaps we accurately perceive the goodness of our own soul, which is the image of God. But either at birth or some time thereafter, we forget this all — it becomes unconscious. From that reservoir of latent knowledge our dreams are fed. But little by little, for the dedicated seeker, remembrance of one’s true nature comes back — one insight at a time.

Anyway, this is enough to explain the general nature of the “argument” I’m working on. If it is correct, my guess is that perhaps some people will see where I’m trying to take it.

Meanwhile, why not keep this idea in mind next time you visit a museum or a church like this. What is the art saying about the people who made and preserved the art? What is it saying about your soul? And what is it saying about God’s providential designs in history that people in one age are able to supply such a gift for those in another?

Written by John Uebersax

July 27, 2008 at 6:49 pm

Helping Europe’s Young People

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One nice thing with living in Brussels the chance to meet interesting people.

For example recently I met and spoke with someone who worked for a Non-governmental organization (NGO) that advises the EU government on policies that benefit young people (children and young adults). The conversation was most informative and uplifting, even to a degree one might even call ‘angelic’.

This has me thinking: what are the needs of Europe’s young people? This certainly falls in the domain of cultural psychology — the aim of this weblog.

This problem has concerned me for several years. For example, while living in Spain, the plight of youth there seemed evident: there is, among them, a lack of ambition, hope, and vision. Students ask, “why study hard, why work, when there will be no job or secure future anyway?”

The Population Problem

One main issue affecting the young people of Europe we could alternatively call the “population problem”, the “immigration problem” or the “economy problem” — for they are all related.

Let’s begin with a section of text found in the Call for Papers of the European Sociological Association for the upcoming conference,
Youth and Youth Sociology in Europe
.

Europe is an ageing continent, which urgently needs immigrants to maintain or to establish basic structures of welfare society. The need for increased immigration has coincided with growing concerns regarding internal security and the coherence of European societies. The EU as the major political and economical actor in Europe is trying at the same time to attract well-educated immigrants and to reduce the inflow of poorly educated immigrants. Managing diversity is, therefore, one of the most pressing challenges for all European societies. Targeted multiculturalism has been the main management strategy of diversity in Europe. This strategy has lead to different and consequently unequal treatment of minorities and caused an increase in tension between different ethnic, cultural and religious groups.

This brief passage reveals quite a bit. First, it clearly states the problem that Europeans are not replenishing themselves — the European birth rate is low and declining.

That is a problem by itself. And, especially, one must consider that this is much more than an economic statistic. One must consider the human dimension as well. People are not, as cynics might suppose, neglecting to start families because they are selfish. They are suffering economically and lack the stability and security that one usually associates with the decision to marry and start a family.

So it is not a matter of, as one writer put it, “Europeans having lost the will to reproduce.” It has nothing to do with personal motivation and everything to do with the economy. When people used to a high standard of living are reduced to borderline poverty, and can barely manage to buy food, no wonder they aren’t thinking about getting married!

The quote above also notes that, in response to declining birth rates, and in order to maintain its “welfare society”, Europe has resorted to attracting immigrants.

Again, this dry fact masks the deeper humanistic dimensions of the problem. Let’s not mince words. What’s happening is this: the European model is that of a “welfare state”, with high taxes, a lot of social programs (and, consequently, a huge amount of government waste). In practical terms, citizens work for the government, instead of the other way around as in the US. The incentive (i.e., “bribe”) everyone has to play along is that some day they will get a nice pension. But who will pay the pensions of people now 40-50 years old if there are too few children? Answer: immigrants.

There you have it. Never mind questions like “how many immigrants are good for European culture as a whole?” That issue — cultural integrity — has little effective weight on the policy decisions. One reason is that, whereas governments are (sometimes) good at making economic decisions, they are not very good at making decisions about “intangibles” — and the integrity of European culture is such an intangible. Yet it is precisely the intangibles of life that are most important: love, joy, peace, happiness, friendship, hope, soul, and so on.

The last time I checked, most people agreed that money can’t buy happiness. Yet European governments are willing to sacrifice the things which traditionally have brought happiness — family, cultural cohesion, tradition, connection with the past, vision of the future — for the sake of funding pensions via massive immigration.

Incidentally, I don’t see even the slightest hint in the quote above that the European Sociological Association or its members recognize the main humanistic dimension of the problem — that young people are personally bfinding it difficult to have families. That the solution is immigration and everyone had better get used to it seems taken entirely for granted. As usual, the academic community can be counted on for extreme myopia and “political correctness.”

There are, however, alternatives. Note that even if it solves the purely financial issue, drawing in immigrants (besides creating new problems) won’t solve the original problem — that Europeans are finding it difficult to have families! That ought to be seen as the main issue; the financial issue is only secondary. If it came down to it, older people should be willing to make a few sacrifices in return for the satisfaction of seeing their own children have children of their own!

With these considerations in mind, here are three concrete suggestions aimed at helping Europe’s young people.

1. Affordable housing

Real estate prices are sky-high throughout western Europe. No wonder young people aren’t having families when they can’t afford homes. Developers don’t routinely consider young families in choosing projects. There’s more profit made in building a 500.000 euro home than something for 80.000 euro. You can’t blame builders for that — it’s a simple matter of profit-margins and the economics of building a house. But governments can help by providing tax advantages to builders who supply affordable housing. They can also help by developing regional plans that include sufficient affordable housing.

2. Better access to higher education

It is almost heartbreaking to see the difficulties young people go through today to get a higher education. Sadly, it is more difficult to get a university education today than it was a generation ago. That is unjust, shameful, and absurd. Europe (and the US) should set a priority on supplying a free university education for every serious and suitably motivated student.

3. Lower income taxes

Now we come to the crux of the matter — the central problem. As noted, the European immigration problem has resulted from the need to support the high-tax, welfare state economies.

Yet, ironically, this very economic system has produced the low birth rates. It should come as no surprise that the reason people are delaying or not having families is because they are too poor. They are too poor because (1) they pay too much of their salary in taxes, and (2) there are too few jobs.

The latter, however, is also a direct consequence of the welfare state model. With high taxes, businesses keep fewer profits, giving people less incentive to start new businesses. Fewer businesses, less jobs.

Questioning the Welfare State Model

The question Europe must ask itself is why the United States has a stronger, more productive, and more resilient economy, and an equal or greater standard of living, without relying on Welfare State economics?

Some respond that the US system lacks a fair “social security net” for the disadvantaged. But is this true, or merely an assumption? In fact, retirees do well in the US, relying upon their national social security payments after age 65 and their Medicare health insurance.

What about health insurance? We hear “American lack universal health coverage.” Yes, this is a problem, but it is exaggerated. First, only 16% of Americans lack health insurance. (I am one of them, in fact.) But second, because health care is reasonably priced, and because Americans, unlike Europeans, keep most of their income instead of having it taxed away, one can simply see a doctor and pay cash. That’s what physicians prefer. The paperwork associated with health insurance claims is costly and a nuisance for all parties concerned. If we simply paid “cash for service” for most routine medical costs, everyone would benefit. A sensible US national health plan would be two-tiered: national insurance for catastrophic illness and hospitalization; but, say, to get a prescription for an antibiotic you’d pay out of pocket (but only about $50).

So the argument that, “the US lacks universal health insurance” is over-rated. I don’t know if anyone’s done the economics, but my guess is that if the US added basic universal health insurance for all citizens, Americans would still end up paying much less income tax than Europeans.

The bottom line is that the welfare state is a dinosaur. It doesn’t work. It robs people of the incentive to work and to produce. The very fact that western European countries are trying to prop things up with massive immigration demonstrates this.

We should look with hopeful anticipation at the experiments of former eastern-bloc European countries like Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, which have adopted low flat income taxes. Hopefully, if the liberals in those countries give the systems time to work, it will stimulate their economies.

If only we could get countries like Spain or Germany to follow suit!

Written by John Uebersax

July 13, 2008 at 8:18 pm

Christian Satyagraha

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What is Satyagraha?:  Satyagraha and Christianity

Mohandas Gandhi called his philosophy of social change by peaceful means satyagraha. The word is derived from the Indian words satya (truth) and graha (from the same Indo-European root word from which comes our ‘grasp’, ‘grab’, and ‘grip’).

Satyagraha is more than a philosophical system; it is a metaphysical force. Thus it would be more correct to call Gandhi a discoverer of satyagraha than its inventor. We should be willing to extend and refine our understanding of it, and to adapt Gandhi’s principles to modern issues and circumstances.

Consider satyagraha the subject of a cumulative science — something we collectively experiment with and gradually improve our ability to use.

* * *

Gandhi said many times that he developed his ideas about satyagraha in large part from New Testament teachings. Yet he also, when asked what he thought of Christians, replied: “I don’t know; I have yet to meet a real Christian.” Together, these remarks remind Christians that (1) they may, potentially, learn more about what satyagraha is and how to use it by looking more to their own Christian scripture and traditions than to the writings of Gandhi, and (2) they should try harder to use the spiritual tools of their tradition to promote change in the world.

As evidenced by Gandhi’s life and writings, there is a link between satyagraha and suffering. The link is not spelled out; there is no definite metaphysical theory that explains the connection. We must rather infer it from various specific actions and indirect comments of Gandhi, along with other data.

There are clearly psychological mechanisms by which ones suffering may change the opinion of others. For example, oppressors may be moved by compassion to change oppressive policies and practices; or oppressors may become convinced of the others’ sincerity and good will by their acceptance of suffering.

But these psychological mechanisms, while important, are not the only consideration. What of silent, private suffering? What of sacrifices made that others never directly observe? It seems a near-universal practice in spiritual traditions that one person may assist another by voluntarily accepting suffering on their behalf. In Christianity, Christ himself accepted suffering for the salvation of others — for undeserving others, in fact, as St. Paul points out (Rom. 5:7-10). Christians, whose model is Christ, are expected to similarly accept sacrifice both to help alleviate the suffering of the oppressed, and to promote the moral advancement of others, including ones enemies and persecutors.

* * *

Satyagraha, as “truth force”, involves truth; people lose sight of that too easily. Social activism undertaken in a spirit of militant self-righteousness or indignation is not satyagraha. One must first align oneself with truth. That is no easy task.

It is especially ironic, then, that so many people engaged in activism choose to distance themselves from traditional religions. For example, young people today are quick to follow Gandhi’s beliefs about social change; he is taken as a credible, authoritative source in that matter. But people pay much less attention to his support of traditional religion and spirituality. If his example is authoritative in the one case, why not in the other? Should one admire his political actions, even to the point of calling him a mahatma, which means great-souled, yet ignore his obvious support of traditional religion? That makes little sense.

To apply satyagraha one must align oneself with the truth. This means one must first seek out the truth — which is God, or comes from God, or is in any case closely associated with God — and then overcome the personal obstacles that cause one to prefer self-will, egoism, or selfish ends to God’s will.

Thus, the person who wishes to follow the methods of satyagraha effectively should also be a religious person, in the traditional sense.

Today when a person says such things it is thought strange; yet this is completely consistent with Gandhi’s teachings.

* * *

Various rules and principles of satyagraha as outlined by Gandhi and Christianity:

Love your enemies

* harbor no anger towards your enemies
* suffer the anger of the opponent
* do not insult the opponent
* do not trivialize the beliefs or intelligence of opponents
* forgive as you wish to be forgiven; hate the sin but love the sinner
* opponents are God’s children, made in His image and likeness
* defend your opponent against insult or assault
* look for God’s face in the face of others

Truth

* set an example of truth-seeking
* educate yourself, expand your perspectives, question your assumptions
* be honest with yourself; habitually examine your conscience and scrutinize your motives
* God is Love. God is Truth. When you stop loving you depart from truth.

Mental transformation

* do not stereotype any ethnic or cultural group or any person
* understand the dynamic of projection: what you do not like in yourself, you project onto others
* a strong, irrational attitude towards others implies projection
* first see if faults ascribed to others apply to you
* external conflict mirrors internal conflict

Personal virtue

* do not be angry
* do not curse
* patience is the foundation of all other virtues
* concupiscence is the enemy of patience; practice temperance; moderate and control appetites

Religion

* have a living faith in God
* have faith in the inherent goodness of human nature and peoples’ ability to change
* pray
* read scripture
* prefer God’s guidance to the voice of false reasoning

* * *

It is very ironic and counterproductive that many advocates of peace today express themselves in negative, hostile, and aggressive terms. If, for example, you preach peace but hatefully ridicule George W. Bush, people will pay more attention to your actions than to your words. Moreover, acting in so plainly counterproductive a manner, you will have lost touch with truth and the truth-force.

Notes: On the unity of world religious culture

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I recently ran across the following quote from 20th-century Christian author, C. S. Lewis in his book, The Abolition of Man. These remarks preface an assemblage of quotes that relate to what Lewis termed Natural Law, which he more or less equated with ancient Chinese term, the Tao:

The idea of collecting independent testimonies presupposes that ‘civilizations’ have arisen in the world independently of one another; or even that humanity has had several independent emergences on this planet. The biology and anthropology involved in such an assumption are extremely doubtful. It is by no means certain that there has ever (in the sense required) been more than one civilization in all history.

This is a very important point to remember. Sometimes we act as if Christian culture and Muslim culture are two different things. In truth, they are not distinct. This might be true concerning some (but by no means all) of their religious doctrines, but it is most definitely not true of their religious cultures, broadly defined.

Take but one example. Christians prefer certain postures of prayer, and Muslims prefer others. In Hinduism and Buddhism still others are to be found. Are these postures efficacious only for a particular religion? Or are these postures collectively the proper spiritual heritage of all humankind? The latter seems far more plausible.

But if that is so, should we not study each others religious cultures, and freely borrow from one another. Do not mistake that for syncretism, the mistaken notion of producing a bland, watered down world religion which glosses over doctrinal differences. Our concern here is rather with practices, not doctrines. And the model is a more complex one. The suggestion is that the spiritual practices of our most ancient ancestors, say those of the ancient Mesopotamians, Egyptians, and Indians, are now found scattered throughout the modern religions of the world, each retaining a subset. We are then not seeking to produce a new religious culture, as much as to reclaim an old one.

As I write this, the Muslim children are playing ball outside in the pool of Anspach fountain, drained for the winter, in St. Catherine’s place. Their teacher, leading the play, is a young Belgian woman, scarcely more than a girl herself. I do not speculate on the significance of this, except to vaguely consider that it has <i>some</i> meaning. It has happened; it is part of the Tao, and is worthy of comment on that basis alone, and for this reason: I planned originally to write something else — in fact, to quote a poem by the Sufi poet, Rumi, for the express purpose of participating in a mingling of cultures, and by that simple action, to further it. Here is the poem, chosen before the events outside my window began:

I used to be shy, you made me sing.
I used to abstain now I shout for more wine.
In somber dignity, I would sit on my mat and pray,
now children run through and make faces at me.

The children have not made faces at me, but they have enjoyed themselves playing as I wrote this.

Finally, here are two quotes cited by Lewis:

Men were brought into existence for the sake of men that they might do one another good.’ (Roman. Cicero. De Off. i. vii)

This is obvious enough, and needs little comment. Another is this:

‘Man is man’s delight.’ (Old Norse. Hávamál 47)

This simple statement speaks volumes. How many of modern misfortunes have come from our constant attempt to improve upon nature, and to seek something beyond what is already given to us. We imagine that one day in the future, when all problems have been solved, then humankind may have happiness. We seek to be rich, to have automobiles, and wide-screen televisions.

In truth, technology has already succeeded. We have beaten most of the diseases that afflict humankind. We are no longer at the mercy of the weather. We can feed everyone, if we simply try. Having conquered these enemies, who do we not enjoy the blessings that God has given us? Foremost among these is the gift of life itself. And second is the gift of others. God, in his kindness, has designed us so that little, if anything, on earth gives us more pleasure than to see the smile of another, to see the sparkle in their eyes. This is what truly makes us happy, and it is all free.

This blog entry is not as so rigidly organized as the others; consider it poetry, if you like, just writer’s notes.

Written by John Uebersax

February 18, 2008 at 5:07 pm

Countering Political Evil

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At the Watchblog Third Party Website, Joel S. Hirschhorn wrote an good article titled The Evolution of Evil. He identifies as an essential problem the current two-party system. To quote Joel:

Most corrupt and legally sanctioned forms of tyranny hide in plain sight as democracies with free elections….  Nothing conceals tyranny better than elections. Few Americans accept that their government has become a two-party plutocracy run by a rich and powerful ruling class. The steady erosion of the rule of law is masked by everyday consumer freedoms. Because people want to be happy and hopeful, we have an epidemic of denial, especially in the present presidential campaign. But to believe that any change-selling politician or shift in party control will overturn the ruling class is the epitome of self-delusion and false hope. In the end, such wishful thinking perpetuates plutocracy. Proof is that plutocracy has flourished despite repeated change agents, promises of reform and partisan shifts.

He also identifies three solutions aimed at achieving reform: (1) curbing discretionary spending as a form of civil disobedience — hit the enemy where it hurts: in the pocketbooks; (2) refusing to vote, and (3) grassroots political organization aimed at reform.

I agree in general with (3), completely disagree with (2), and largely disagree with (1).

My arguments for promoting change by voting for third-party and independent candidates are explained elsewhere, so there’s no need to repeat them here. Concerning consumer protest, I would rather see more intelligent discretionary spending than no spending at all. Spending is good for the economy. More importantly spending means you’re paying somebody else to work, which is an intrinsically good thing. People like to work. People need to work. Working gives people a sense of accomplishment and meaning. We’re designed to work. But it has to be the right kind of work. So spend money, but let it be on services and products that are good — for example, organic food and solar energy.

More basically, I suggest that we need to pay more attention to spiritual solutions. On the one hand, most people seem to accept that the human race is battling some kind of metaphysical evil; but on the other hand, we seem very reluctant to admit this publicly, or to try to use spiritual strategies to counter it. To avoid narrow sectarian religious views in public social discourse is understandable; but to avoid spirituality altogether seems near suicidal! Hence my comment to Joel’s article, which I also ‘reprint’ below

John Uebersax

Hi Joel, this is an excellent article. You truly see how the current two-party system is a tyranny masquerading as democracy! I’m going to post a link to it in my third-parties blog.

Please let me suggest three other strategies for restoring power, in addition to the three you mention. First though, let me explain that I approach politics from a perspective that is both spiritually-oriented and logically hard-headed. I always feel I must apologize for this, fearing that people will associate my ideas with those of ignorant religious fundamentalist or ‘new-agers’. Be assured that such is not the case. My religious views are more like those of the Renaissance or in classical Greece and Rome — in times before the radical dissociation of Science and Religion occurred. The ‘System’ has discredited religion, thereby removing our most potent tools for restoring control. It has marginalized religious thought, drawing most attention to the more ignorant representatives of this viewpoint. Regardless of what the dominant positivist-materialist worldview teaches, evils does exist, and it quite plainly operates in ways that go beyond our current scientific models. It stands to reason that if we want to counter evil, then we have to be willing to consider spiritual paradigms. The fact that this seems to many so implausible is itself evidence of our conditioning.

Enough by way of preface then. Now the three additional strategies for restoring power:

4. Personal education. We have let our nation become dumbed down. This must be reversed. People, need to read more, and to read better quality material. Throw out Harry Potter and Tom Clancy. Pick up Plato, Aristotle, Shakespeare, and Gibbons. If that seems too hard and gives you a headache, so much the better; it proves the point: that people’s brains have become ‘flabby’ through non-use. The better people educate themselves, the more apparent the lies and oppression of the two-party monopoly will be. This is a cheap solution, and, importantly, one that, like all true solutions, begins with a person asking, “How can I promote change by reforming and improving myself?”

5. Acquiring virtue. Yes, the System is evil and exploits us. But, as Walt Kelly, social critic and creator of the “Pogo” comic strip, wrote so long ago, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Unfortunately, we are not just oppressed by the System, we are, to an alarming degree, part of the System. Anyone with a bank account or a pension plan is, intentionally or not, invested in the stock market — that immensely powerful, blind, and amoral force which *owns* the corporations that own the political parties.

We need to become more virtuous — more just and charitable. We need to re-examine areas of our own life that contribute to the system. The more each of us acquires virtue, the more we enable others to do so by our example.

6. Spiritual weapons. Most Americans apparently believe in God and an afterlife. They believe they are immortal beings. They also believe in prayer, or say they do. Yet somehow we dissociate these beliefs entirely when it comes to politics. That makes no sense at all. Either people should give up their religion or use it! And if religion is true, then people should pray for change. Indeed, that should be their first and most primary tool.

Related to prayer is the class of tactics that Gandhi called “satyagraha”, which means “truth force.” Examples include things like demonstrations, constructive civil disobedience, and the willing acceptance of forms of suffering to promote change. When was the last time you heard anyone suggesting that people should go on penitential fasts for the sake of effecting social change? But the efficacy of such fasts is an established tenet of Judeao-Christian religious beliefs. We are ignoring all the most effective means human culture has ever known to promote social change.

As this is just a comment, I shouldn’t make it too long. Let it suffice to suggest that people should think more about re-introducing religious and spiritual themes into discussions of socio-political reform. This should not be narrow-minded, fundamentalist, or sectarian. (Gandhi, for example, was famous for holding interdenominational religious services, combining Hindu, Muslim, and Christian prayers and scriptures.) But if we’re fighting evil, then we would be foolish indeed to fail to make use of our most potent weapons for combating it.

Written by John Uebersax

February 18, 2008 at 10:17 am

Recognizing the Power of Prayer

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The thing about prayer is that everybody knows it works, but they act otherwise.

The problem is not that prayer doesn’t work, or only works sometimes; it’s that people forget to pray. Scripture teaches, the saints affirm, and I am personally convinced that prayer works. And it always works.

You are not just some lump of clay who utters a few words, thinking God might hear, and then weakly hopes God might choose to act on them. You are a divine, immortal being, made in God’s image and likeness. Further, if you are properly on the spiritual path, then, by the grace of God, you are a Son of God. Your prayers are not minor things, then. They are, or are meant to be, immensely powerful cosmic forces.

Well-Motivated Prayers

God always hears; and He answers all well-motivated prayers.

What is well-motivated? That means, principally, that the impetus for the prayer comes not from you, but from God. You, to be sure, must apply your will in prayer; prayer involves an active effort of faith and will. In some sense, your will is probably instrumental in making happen what you pray for. But if the prayer is well-motivated, working beneath or within your will is God’s will, moving yours.

If you pray for something entirely selfish — like to win the lottery — chances are that God’s will is not at work in the prayer. But if you pray for another person, and out of genuine concern or compassion, then God is likely at work. Then pray fervently, believing not just that your request will be granted, but that you act on God’s behalf in making it.

People sometimes wonder why we’re put on earth. Theories include that we are here as punishment, as purification, or as education. But perhaps the most important reason we are here is to assist God. We are unique beings — part material and part divine. On that basis we have a special role in making things happen here. Our prayers have a unique efficacy — we can accomplish things that angels cannot.

When you pray for another, the person is always helped. Sometimes the help is not recognizable: God’s wisdom and foresight are infinitely greater than ours. But if you request benefit or help for another the prayer will be answered — and in ways better than you could have planned or imagined.

It’s truly a wonder that people don’t take advantage of this tremendous resource, prayer. It’s like a person who lives in direst poverty, oblivious to a purse full of gold coins that they hold. If one could see how valuable and effective prayer truly is, ones life would be transformed. One would pray all the time, and for everyone.

So be moderate in most things, but not in prayer. Pray for small things and great things. Pray for those around you; for whoever is in need. Make prayer your vocation.

Most of all, pray now for world peace. Pray sincerely, and with full confidence.

Written by John Uebersax

January 18, 2008 at 2:38 pm