Archive for January 27th, 2009

In a controversial story that broke in Time in 2007, Mother Teresa’s secret letters confess an emptiness that troubled her in her last years:

The letters, many of them preserved against her wishes (she had requested that they be destroyed but was overruled by her church), reveal that for the last nearly half-century of her life she felt no presence of God whatsoever

Author Christopher Hitchens, an atheist and a long-time critic of Mother Teresa, described the revelation as eye-opening both to non-believers and believers alike. In this video, Hitchen’s jousts with Christian pastor Bill Donohue about Mother Teresa’s secret confessions:

(Thanks to Daniel’s site for bringing this video to my attention).

This undestandably raises a lot of controversial faith questions like is faith necessary to do good works? Mother Teresa actively sought for faith her entire life and decorated her life with charitable works, and yet despite this self-confesses to have not found God in her life. Against this benchmark, how do people evaluate their own faith (or claim to faith)?

Here’s some soundbites in reaction to the article:

Albert Mohler: The recent revelations of Mother Teresa’s spiritual struggle should remind all believing Christians that our faith is in Christ — not in our feelings.

Rene Bas: Why does God allow the dark night of the soul to visit His most faithful children? Because they are being deified! They are being engoddened! They must lose all feeling of self-love. They must learn to will to love God even if the senses get no joy out of it.

Simply put: if your feelings can’t feel God, don’t trust them?

What do you think?

*** edit add: Mother Teresa’s spiritual emptiness was cause for an exorcism performed on her, which we featured sometime back.

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Satish Kumar’s article on the guardian “Worshipping The Wrong God” is an interesting take on the present financial crisis, with a refreshing ethical and spiritual approach:

It amazes me to see that the great economists, industrialists, business leaders and politicians have even forgotten the true meaning of economy. They only think in terms of profit maximisation, whereas the true economy means good housekeeping; proper management of all aspects of the home. The criterion of good house management is to ensure that all the members of the household are living in harmony with each other and the place. Money is only a means to a good economy, not the economy itself.

Banks and business leaders, politicians and economists are looking for economic recovery, hoping to go back to business as usual: the good old days of growth without limit, consumption without restraint and profit without principles. From a spiritual perspective economy is good economy only when it is in harmony with ecology, ethics and equity. Day and night we chant the mantra of economy while our ecology is in ruins, our ethics shelved and our principles of justice are put on the back-burner.

Kumar statements highlight first the obvious issue:

There are two roads to economic recovery: the first option is to bail out the banks and fuel consumerism,

the second option is to think holistically, to invest in land and agriculture, in renewable energy and practical skills

But at the same time, he poses the deeper, neglected question to us:

But how do we choose the right answer without some guiding values? Such values can be none other than moral, ethical and spiritual.

Ah that word: “moral”–notice how it scares people into not thinking. But very brave and inspiring words Satish. We definitely agree.

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Taleb has taught us that history can lead to probabilistic fallacies since it is only one possible path events could have taken, which necessitates a practical skepticism on our part on the appreciation of historical events. Although this can be enough to make us critical of historical assumptions, I think it is only a partial framework in evaluating ideas.

Thankfully, K.M. gives us a complimentary angle which can help us in our critical thinking: on evaluating an ideal from a moral or philosophical standpoint apart from a historical (i.e. empirical) one–which we already know from Taleb is only a partial insight.

K.M. differentiates between political ideals and political systems, and which of the two can be approached from a philosophical or moral standpoint and which can be approached from the (imperfect) historical one:

political ideal is a moral ideal, not an economic one. A political system is an economic/organisational structure that attempts to realize political ideals. A political ideal of economic equality leads to a political system of communism (example: The Soviet Union). A political ideal of ‘equality of opportunity’ or ’social justice’ leads to a political system of socialism (example: India until the 90s). A political ideal of national superiority leads to a political system of fascism (example: China). A political ideal of liberty leads to a political system of capitalism (example: the early USA).

There is no such thing as the success or failure of a political ideal.Ideals do not succeed or fail. They are accepted or rejected. While the failure of a political system might cause some people to reject (or at least question) their ideals, the failure does not prove that the ideals are wrong. As long as one still holds the same ideals, the failure of a particular political system is simply useful empirical data for constructing a better political system.

For me the implications of this insight bolster the argument for an active, rather than passive appreciation of knowledge. People whom Taleb calls naive empiricists: will simply rely on evidence and history to allow them to discern the value of an idea in practice, and leaving the theory or philosophy behind the practice neglected (a sign of intellectual laziness). What K.M. explains is that despite a concept’s failure or success in history (i.e. the system), it still is separate from the philosophical or moral value of the idea–which still bears critique. Although as he says, ideals can never be wrong but they can be rejected.

There is another angle here that bears caution: the invention of the computer and internet has brought more data and evidence at the access of more people than ever experienced in history. So while this can help critical thinking in finding historical empirical support for ideas, this can also lead to the “sharpshooter fallacy” which we described earlier–where an observer simply looks at history and ignores the theoretical framework of any concept.

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