Discuss Life and Religion with Tan Tai Wei

Saved from What?: “This is the condemnation”.

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We were born, “thrown” into the world, as Heidegger said, and we have to come to terms somehow or other visavis the realities we encounter.  We are given to do so from only our point of view as centres of consciousness, interpreting the impressions of things that impinge on our consciousness.   How we so interpret  is, therefore,  crucial in determining how successful, or otherwise, we are at  understanding and relating to those realities.

Now, all this means there are, broadly speaking , two  directions we could go in response to the realities impinging upon our consciousness. One is to be uncareful, care insufficiently or mistakenly about, or totally reject the claims of reality impinging on our consciousness for due attention. The other is to accord due  respect for reality, seeking more and more to come to terms with the truth of things, by which means we grow along the path of “becoming” and “soul-making”, continually to actualise our status as “children of God” in right relationship visavis the world, other persons and God. (“The whole of creation groans for the manifestation of the sons of God” , yearns St Paul.)

The former way is the way of “hell” and “death”. It is a condition of unrelieved loneliness and imprisonment within our own awareness of only those fantasies and half-truths we spin in our misunderstandings and misappropriations of other persons and the world. In such a state, even though we may seem to ourselves to be relating well, we are in fact  dealing only with the phantoms our own warped imaginings. It’s like struggling and sweating in disturbed sleep, unable to wake up from those nightmares, even if for the time being the fever is kept down by the panadol of superficial “socialising” and the like. We have not been made destined to such solitude.  That solitariness ill-suits our nature seems confirmed by the fact  that persons who had tried to live alone had literally gone  mad. On the contrary, “man is a social animal” (Aristotle), a “being-with-others-in-the-world” (Heidegger). The viability of his existence and “being” depends crucially upon his “becoming” as such.

His experience of persons and things being essentially interpretive, it is a cognitive process, thereby involving his intention to learn and understand. This in turn involves voluntariness and freewill. Thus, should he not choose the path of progress towards coming to terms with reality, socially and otherwise, and continually so to improve, he would be  responsible, morally and otherwise, for the state of isolation and solitude he abandons himself to. So this state of “hell” or “living death” is not inherited and due to any “original sin” visiting subsequent generations through no choice of their own. (The “orthodox” doctrine of “original sin” that can be transmitted must, of course, be abandoned if we rightly uphold in our day individual responsibility as against the “herd” responsibility believed by peoples, though not all, of yesteryears. And “fundamentalists” who want still to hold that belief must see that it would make it hard for them to hold their even more “fundamental” belief about Jesus’  being “without sin”. They think that because of “the virgin birth”, “original sin” wasn’t transmitted to Jesus. But that is based on faulty physiology, for we know for a fact that women play a crucial role also at genetic inheritance!)

That being the condition of our existence, there lies before us a crucial choice, either 1) to accept with gratitude and reverence this gift of life, and to tread the “narrow way (because uphill and difficult, with comparatively few thereon)”  and join with those who take Plato’s challenge to laborously climb up and out the cave of darkness and shadows into the sunlight of understanding,  painstakingly interpreting aright, often failing and then being corrected, those items that continually impress on our consciousness by the social and natural worlds without; or 2) to reject, with conscious intention or by implication, this gift of life, through deliberate denial of, or being careless and lazy about our obligations as choosers, morally or otherwise, to understand and relate visavis other persons and the world.

Our status as finite beings is such that we are initially confined within our own consciousness as centres of experience, and the external world of things and persons are “revealed”, and can relate to us, and we relate to them only as we sensitise ourselves, and respond adequately to the impact they make on our awareness. And as “social beings” our proper “becoming” as persons must be most importantly in our  sentisizing and response to other persons  for our relief from the loneliness that is our initial lot. Our failure in this regard, especially when it pertains to recognising and submitting to the moral rights of others, is tantamount to repudiating our natural status as potentially social beings and alienating ourselves from the community of persons. For by repudiating especially their moral claims on us, we disregard the truth that, as Kant put it, “we are members of the kingdom of ends” where justice and love should prevail amongst persons in mutual respect as ends, no one being treated and used only as means for anyone else’s selfish aims. And, supremely important, in thus repudiating them, we too reject their, and by implication also our own status as “children of God”, thus disobeying the  “commandment” to “love our neighbours”. All this, therefore, become “sin”, as it amounts to the choice to reject the gift of life and alienate ourselves from our neighbours and God (for “how can we love God whom we cannot see when we don’t love our neighbour we can?”: Letter of James ) And we have not yet mentioned our proneness to ignore the claims of Ultimate Reality or God  on our attention, morally and otherwise, and the  supreme importance of our becoming sensitized  and maintaining a personal relationship to God  in due worship and religious practice.

Now, despite such responses we are called upon to make being a matter of individual choice and reponsibility, there is also such a phenomenon as “moral clime” that could either be conducive  or an  impediment to the individual’s choosing appropriately. And on this, we may discern a sense to the ancient belief of “original sin” and its consequences being “passed on to inflict the fourth and fifth generations”, as thinkers like HD Lewis and CH Dodd observed. Wrongful choices, deliberate or through uncaringness and neglect, for which individuals are responsible, may accumulate and infect a whole societal environment within which persons have to live and interrelate. And through cultural transmission, succeeding generations could inherit and suffer the consequent obstacles to  healthy living, especially  maintaining interpersonal understanding and relations,  of such social contamination. Consider how isolated and “forsaken” an individual can feel where he has to choose and act in good moral and other practice in an environment, say where the ingrained, unquestioned  yardstick as to life’s meaning and goal has long been selfish materialistic pragmatism. His rightful perspective and quest in life, the very formula for healthy relationships, etc, becomes  within that cultural milieu the cause of his unmerited solitariness and feeling “forsaken”, even though, like Jesus, he is in that predicament surely not forsaken by his God (even if it felt so). He has therefore  constantly to plead not to be “led into the temptation” of compromise, even if that social clime hasn’t pulled him totally down with it.

That degree of non-being we confine ourselves in, through repudiating the rightful claims of the world, God and other persons, including moral claims, on our attention and  fulfilment of them, is in truth “hellish” if only we know. Take, for instance, that smug one who thinks he is lord over all around him because he presumes to judge (“judge not that ye be not judged”) absolutely other persons’ actions, intentions and motives, not reverencing them as centres of consciousness whose points of view and experience we do not experience first-hand and therefore should respect and distance ourselves from (taking off our shoes in respect of the “holy ground” of other persons, as HD Lewis put it). He, in his dreamworld, thinks he has “sized up” everybody else he nags at. In truth, however, he lives in the nightmare he has created for himself, relating, not with the true other persons, but with concoctions of his own creation, tolerated if not hated, rather than related viavis all others. The otherness of other persons, as experiencers of their own awareness he cannnot experience at first hand,  he has failed to acknowledge and respect. There is therefore no true relationship between him and others in the real world. He is thus the centre of his own, fantastic  nightmare universe, and doomed to remain so as long as he resists the divine call to “deny” this unreal “self” of his in order to “save his life” by seeking and realizing “the truth” of things, “the truth  that would set him free”.

Religions address  man, given the condition of his existence, either to accept it and its challenge to progress towards actualising his ideal being, or to remain  within the cave of misunderstandings or downright ignorance, sinking deeper and deeper. For there can be no standing still; each time he repudiates an opportunity to understand and progress, he thereby increases his accumulation of irresponsibility and sinfulness. I shall, in the next posting, discuss the ways of “salvation” some major religions and Christianity offer.


Written by Tan Tai Wei

May 13, 2011 at 10:24 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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