English review - Never Lose Faith
The evening started out in a beautiful big theater room with ambient lighting and big red velvet curtains, which were opened up to show the speakers of tonight. The man of the hour was Tomáš Halík, who is a professor of philosophy and sociology at Charles University in Prague, and also a Catholic priest. The other speaker was Annemarieke van der Woude, who is a theologian at Radboud University. Besides being an academic and a former pastoral worker in a nursing home, she also writes articles on the end-of-life discussion. Liesbeth Jansen, the program manager, introduced the speakers and the context of tonight’s program: How can we deal with sadness of others and ourselves? We pretend all is well, and when we are miserable, we hardly know what to do. According to Halík it is time for change. Maybe, he states, misery is the only place where God can be found.
Professor Halík was convinced that the greatest danger for religion today is idolatry, not atheism. An example of idolatry he gave was “moneytheism”: placing money above all. He asked: ‘What is faith? What is it good for?’ And answered by saying that it gives us the strength to fully accept reality and counter the tendency to dress up reality in illusions.
However, understanding meaning in the world is not easy, according to Halík. One needs to actively look for it. It needs to be contemplated. Everyone experiences crises in their lives. But these are an important part of faith. If God is hidden, we can either ignore him or take it as proof that he does not exist. Or we can accept this situation as an opportunity for courageous seeking. Religion cannot be taken for granted. Crises are a challenge to understand it more fully.
He conceded that perhaps theology was too hasty with giving answers in the past. It is time to turn our answers into questions again. According to Halík, atheists are not wrong, only a bit impatient. But religious fanatics can be impatient as well, he continued, because they too do not accept God’s silence. In fact, some atheists are closer to God than some ‘lazy’ members of the church. God loves those who question him. And the atheism of pain and protest must be embraced by Christian faith.
Then he continued to say that there are as many kinds of atheists as believers. Faith and doubt are like two sisters who need each other. Authenticity of our faith lies in the courage to reject the temptation of cheap securities and step into the cloud of insecurities and accept the paradoxes of our time.
After receiving a well-deserved applause from the audience, Halík and Van der Woude sat down for the discussion. How did it get this way? Why can we not deal with misery anymore? Halík put the blame on the optimism of modernity. It was an illusion to think that science and technology would lead us to heaven on earth. Rather, we must be hopeful instead of optimistic: optimism is the illusion that everything is going well, while hope is the courage to keep going on when things are going bad.
Then, Jansen turned to van der Woude and asked if she noticed, as her job as a pastoral worker in a nursing home, if she noticed too that people have become worse at dealing with misery. Speaking from her experience as a pastoral worker in a nursing hom, Van der Woude added that we live in a culture nowadays where vulnerability indeed is seen as something negative. So how should we deal with the difficulties of life? Halík answered firmly: have patience and faith. There is so much tragedy in the world, and it is all on our screens. To deal with it, we kind of zoom out and become emotionally detached. But we should not become cynical and indifferent, instead we should try to do what we can. It is also important, according to Halík, to contemplate on our situations instead of immediate action. Meditative people like Ghandi were the ones who changed India without violence.
Whilst traveling in India, Halík was invited to visit an orphanage. The horrors he watched there made him want to escape and run away. But then he realized the misery of these children was actually the wounds of Christ showing themselves to him. It presented an opportunity to meet God. It made him read the Bible story of Doubting Thomas in a completely new way: he became the one who refused to see the resurrection of Christ as a cheap happy-ending that easily did away with the suffering of the world. Instead, Thomas insisted to see the wounds to know that misery is as present and important as ever, but the resurrection proved that love is stronger. According to Halík, we can discover deeper happiness, when we have gone through a dark night of pain. These moments of crisis are opportunities to learn and find this deeper happiness.
We need to reserve a special place for misery in our lives. To ignore it is illusory optimism, which can only lead us to idolatry, not true happiness. When we put ourselves in a true meditative state, we can feel and understand the pain that is around us. It is at this point that we can start to take action and do what we can to help. Not more, not less.
This report was written by Nico Heidari Tari, as part of the Research Master Philosophy of the Radboud University.