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Friday, December 30, 2011

Is God a Dictator?

At School of Community we are currently reading the last chapters of "The Religious Sense" by Monsignor Luigi Giussani, the founder of Communion and Liberation. I quote from the back cover: "This is a book for all faiths and no faith…Christians, Buddhists and Jews celebrated the spiritual and religious renewal that Luigi Giussani's work has inspired throughout the world (1997 United Nations Conference)".
I love all his books, and from now on I'll blog mostly about what I gather from these readings.

During our last meeting we talked about the freedom that can be experienced in the faith. As I anticipated last week, my son has started to read the Gospels and, having a problem with authority, he's taking them the wrong way.

Is God a dictator or a peace-maker? Is He someone who enslaves us or someone who sets us free? Apparently, it's a matter of opinion. Those who embrace Him find in Him unexpected, all-encompassing freedom. But others reject Him on the ground that not only His existence is not proven, but it's also undesirable.
Questioned about the possibility of the afterlife, Bertrand Russell said that, should he die and find himself before a Creator, he would tell Him: "Sir, you did not give me enough evidence".
Christopher Hitchens, author of "God is not Great", died a couple of weeks ago. He wrote:
"It would be horrible if it were true that we were designed and then created and then continuously supervised throughout all our lives…and then continue to be supervised after our deaths…It would be like living in a celestial North Korea. You can't defect from North Korea, but at least you can die. With monotheism they won't let you die and get away from them. Who wants that to be true?"


As a Christian, Hitchens' misconception seems to me huge, but understandable. God may be mistaken for a tyrant by anyone who doesn't experience His love. Converted at the age of fifty, I've found true freedom for the first time in my life in Jesus Christ. It is the kind of freedom that Buddhists strive for, achieving it, if they are diligent enough in their practices, after years of meditation. It is freedom from attachment, suffering and sin. It's nothing but peace.

We Christians believe that God chose not to impose His presence on the human race; that's why He doesn't offer us evidence of His existence. Jesus actually died to preserve our freedom of choice: We are free to believe, as were the people of His time, that He was a failed prophet crucified by the Romans or the Son of God raised from the dead. But atheists are angry at God precisely because He gave us the option of accepting Him or rejecting Him. And yet, our society has come to value freedom as the most important aspect of civilization. Why then is it so hard for them to appreciate it when it comes from God?
I have posed this question to my son, and the answer was that there is no freedom where there is punishment, even if punishment consists of being separated from a God they didn't love. It seems to me that, given these premises, God just can't win. For the atheist, the act of creation itself implies dictatorship, for whatever system of relationship with His creatures the Creator would choose, would be an imposition on them. Therefore they don't want a Creator, and they are ready to give up eternal life to eliminate God.

I want to conclude quoting Giussani: "To be conscious of oneself right to the core is to perceive, at the depths of the self, an Other".
Can being in contact with yourself right to the core enslave you? Of course not. It can only set you free.


At each School of Community meeting, the partecipants share their everyday experiences related to the reading. Would you like to do the same here? How do you experience freedom in God?  (Moving around my posts I've lost all your comments. ..I hope to get new ones!)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Remembering Christmas in Italy

Here we are, my family and I, on our eleventh Christmas in the USA. For the first time we receive the Italian TV channels and that increases our nostalgia. Actually I should say my husband's nostalgia and mine, because our son doesn't miss Italy.
I miss Christmas in Rome, with the life size Nativity in Vatican Square. On TV I'm watching Piazza di Spagna at night (over there it's already late, six hours later than here). White Christmas lights are wrapped around the trees and shining decoration is hanging from the branches like fruit.

My son was nine years old at the time of our last Christmas in Italy, and I took him to every Nativity display both in Rome and Naples, so that he could have some memories. Unfortunately he doesn't remember much, but I do remember the huge villages full of shepherds dressed in real fabric in Santa Chiara Monastery, and most of all the live Nativity with camels, elephants and sheep at Naples' harbor. What a night, and what beautiful songs!

We do our best to recreate the Italian Christmas atmosphere. My husband and I have built a typically Neapolitan Nativity in our living-room. I painted on carton board a night sky full of stars and high mountains dotted with small houses. We struggled with aluminum foil to make it look like a stream. Dipping brown paper in a bucket of liquid glue, he made papier-mâché hills, a lake, and of course a barn where, according to the tradition, Mary gave birth to Jesus.
It might seem awkward to you, but the Neapolitan Nativity, which in Italy is called Presepe, also includes a restaurant complete with chunks of prosciutto and mozzarella hung from the ceiling. We brought our hand-made terracotta figures from our country, and besides the classic Nativity characters we have two small terracotta tables with people sitting around them, happily having dinner. Jesus, as you probably know, loved to share good meals with his disciples, so the pizzeria is not so out of place after all!

My husband and son like to keep the Presepe tradition going, but their are not believers. However, this last Christmas I felt that something was changing. My husband found on U-Tube the Neapolitan version of an old Christmas song and kept listening to it all day long. He said that it was touching, because it showed that Baby Jesus was a human baby born in a magic world where, although it was winter,  flowers were blossoming, birds were singing and sheperds were waking up in the middle of the night at the beat of their heart. I thought what he said was important because, from personal experience, I would say that the first step towards faith is to understand Jesus' humanity. Isn't it for this reason that he became man?

Our son also manifested his will to take an important step. He said that when he's done with studying he will read the Gospels, and he will do it with an open mind. I hope he will perceive Jesus' humanity, his frustration and his suffering. I hope that next Christmas will mark another step towards faith for them.
  
Here in the States Christmas is fun because of the outdoor lights that decorate people's houses, but there isn't much to see about the Nativity. To preserve the spirit of Christmas I sculpted the one you see right here, on the right.
Merry Christmas to all! See you next week.