Entrance for a Red Temple No. 1 by Vienna Kim

What kind of a place is the Red Temple depicted in Scottish artist Alan Davie’s Entrance for a Red Temple, No. 1 (1960)? Is it a spiritual haven or point of pilgrimage as the title suggests? If so, to what religion does it pertain? If one leans in to the canvas, one can identify two religious symbols seemingly floating in the archway of the temple. The first, located above the other, is the Egyptian ankh, which is the hieroglyphic that reads ‘life’. The second resembles the Wheel of Life, which is a common symbol in Buddhist art. The painting, then, seems to depict a polytheistic site of worship. The work was created at a point in time when Davie was fascinated by Zen Buddhism and the writings of Carl Jung. Jung contended that there exists in the human condition a collective unconsciousness that expresses itself in the forms of symbols and myths, which are common to every culture of every age. The Christian faith, also, has a series of marks and symbols that hold deep meaning for a believer. Among the most prominent of Christian symbols is the cross. This essay will explore the true meaning of the cross in the Christian faith, beyond its prolific exposure in mass- produced commodities. It will then connect the meaning of the cross to the wider concern of the collective unconsciousness of humankind, and the mysterious commonality observed in almost every religion to utilise symbolism as a method of conveying ideas of life and its purpose. 

The cross is a symbol that has been widely commodified, and can be found not only on churches, but on necklaces, earrings, and as a motif or pattern on clothing. In many ways, the true meaning of the cross has been erased from the fabric of 21st century Western culture. In actuality, the cross is a crucifix, the site of a torturous method of execution that was considered the worst form of the death penalty in the first century world. Unbeknownst to many is that wearing the cross as a fashion statement is equivalent today to wearing an electric chair. The cross is not quaint or elegant—it is brutal, violent, bloody. How did this marker of execution become the most universally recognised representative for the Christian faith? For Christians, the answer lies in the acts that occurred on the cross. 

In the account of the Gospels, Jesus is flogged, mocked, forced to drag a heavy, splintered crucifix over his raw wounded body up to Golgotha, the place of the skull, and suffered a slow, suffocating and excruciating death on the Cross. (John 19) In every way, the Cross does not represent a dainty, elegant accessory—far from it. Rather, it is a reminder of Christ’s bloody suffering. 

When Christians wear the symbol of the cross, it is important to know what they are subscribing to. They are not signing up for a Westernised, well-to- do religion that promises ‘everything is going to be okay’ if one simply prays. Rather, they are professing Matthew 16:24-25: Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” 

Hanging a cross around one’s neck in many ways is symbolically analogous for putting one’s head through the loop of a noose. In some nations where it is illegal to profess Christianity, this may literally be the case. Whether metaphorically or literally, however, Christ makes the bold assertion that in order to be a follower of him, one must ‘lose his life.’ This means that every single aspect of one’s life must be given over to his purposes—one must be willing to sacrifice everything to live how God says one should as recorded in the Scriptures. Following Christ doesn’t just stop at wearing a cross-shaped pendant. Though the weight of a golden accessory is much less than an oversized wooden crucifix, taking up the cross involves taking on the weight of the sacrifices, persecutions and hardships that comes with the life of a Christian, just as Christ sacrificed himself for mankind and suffered the worst forms of trial. 

This grim declaration doesn’t stop at ‘sacrifice everything and lose your life,’ however. The second clause to Christ’s promise is even more important than the first—that those who lose their life for his sake will find it. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus reverses the logic of the idea that one has to earn God’s acceptance and love through obeying the Law of the Jewish religion and performing good deeds. Contrary to the general assumption of the time—and even of society today, which glorifies busyness and hard work to achieve riches and status —in God’s equation, ‘the last will be first, and the first will be last.’ (Matthew 20:16) Those who are considered lowly in society and rely on Jesus for their redemption are raised up and glorified. Those who have attained a high position in society and rely on their own abilities to maintain this status are brought low. The key, however, is that everything is lost for the sake of Jesus. Christians are not called to give up everything for nothing. The Bible contends that those who work for Jesus’ Kingdom and obey his commands should not concern themselves with the material gains of earth, but that treasures and rewards are being stored for them in heaven. (Matthew 6 provides a good account of this.)

Likewise, those who have much and yet are totally committed to Jesus are not necessarily brutally stripped of their earnings simply because they are wealthy. The Bible holds no reservations over the fact that God is a Father who wishes to bless his children. The true cost for following Jesus, then, does not strictly pertain to the realms of materialism and comfort (though it may include these), but is the forfeit of the subtle arrogance of self-sufficiency and autonomy over a life that, as humans, we know little about in comparison to God, who knows all things. However, the gain from this sacrifice is much greater—life in God’s Kingdom is an eternal one with the One who loves each of his children individually, uniquely and passionately. In this way, the symbol of the most notorious form of execution becomes a symbol of hope, resurrection, love and eternal life. 

As observed in Alan Davie’s painting Entrance for a Red Temple No. 1, the Egyptian ankh and Buddhist Wheel of Life are also religious symbols that represent life. Every religion is a worldview that seeks to find answers to life’s most crucial and essential questions: where does life come from? What is the purpose for life? What happens after life? Religion explores the possibilities of these meanings through symbolism. In ‘The Concept of the Collective Unconscious,’ psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Jung identifies an ‘aspect of the unconscious mind which manifests inherited, universal themes which run through all human life.’63 These themes exhibit themselves in common ‘archetypes’ such as a wise elder, water, or the Tree of Life, to name a few, all of which can be found in most of the world’s major religions and their texts. This essay is not attempting to argue that Christianity is essentially synonymous with every other religion that explores the meaning of life through common representations of certain themes. However, while it does not adopt a polytheistic or Universalist perspective, it does stress the need for acknowledgement, respect and exchange of dialogue with the different developments of faith. This is because spirituality is an instinct and intuition common to all humans, and occurs out of what Jung defines as the collective unconsciousness. 

Alan Davie was on to something in his painting Entrance for a Red Temple No. 1. By putting the concepts Jung developed about the collective unconsciousness into pictorial form, the Scottish artist created a space of dialogue by juxtaposing the symbols of the Egyptian and Buddhist faiths. Jung stated that the collective unconsciousness manifests itself in the form of symbols and mythology, and is a characteristic of all humankind. This is why every major religion has a distinct mark that serves as a map or representation of its beliefs. Interfaith dialogue and the collaboration of different religions is essential, therefore, because the close integration of symbolism in every religion points to a common denominator present in every human being. We are of the same fibre, we share the same questions, anxieties and desires for a purposeful life, and we entrust these thoughts to certain world views— whether Christian, Zen-Buddhist or atheist—to bring us closer to the Truth. Just as the ankh and Wheel of Life come together in Davie’s painting to create a beautiful image, so must we of differing faiths come together to create a beautiful world. 

Consider Infinity by Yaz El-Ashmawi

Consider Infinity. Arguably a task easier said then done, but one shouldn’t lose heart, as there is still truth to be found on the quest to find absolute knowledge, even if one can’t find that knowledge absolutely. And the truth to be found here is absolutely essential to the knowledge of something as infinite as the universe, as objective truth, and of the inconceivable, incomprehensible gestures of a hand that conducts all things. And yet, not only is the very existence of such a hand a topic of endless questions, but also, perhaps equally, is its shape and tone; strength and delicacy; compassion and wrath; mercy and judgement; questioned frequently on all sides with all sides declaring fervently that their side knows the truth absolutely and that that truth is both absolute and infinite. Which may, I think, be a contradiction. Because to define something infinite is to inevitably limit it, and some thinking thing, in finite form, should have no final say in infinity.

Perhaps now, we start to see the difficulties in speaking in terms of a concept as crude and relative as size. In our heads we send our mind’s eye to the sky, extend a line, and call length without end the essence of endlessness except that’s not quite right: infinity does not have to merely embody a length. There’s a kind of depth there too. 

In mathematics they say (and in such a faculty things are not spoken of without proof thereof) that there are more numbers contained between two fixed boundaries than there are whole integers. That is: counting from zero to one to two to three so on so forth indefinitely, provides less numbers than simply counting the numbers between zero and one. Or, in even simpler terms, with the full weight of logic and mathematics behind the statement: the biggest things are not just that which are long but full; not just that which are tall, but deep. 

And there perhaps exists no sentiment quite as illuminating than the very luminance presented by colourless white light itself. The word ‘colourless’ is not misplaced here: white is not a colour. No photon has a frequency that produces it; no white LED that consists of only a single diode; no paint shade that is but a combination of pigments. It is constructed. With ink: cyan, yellow and magenta. 

In our own eyes: red, green and blue. When combined, we find that which we are all so familiar: that particular brightness. But when white light itself is the origin, it does not merely split into a trinity - the whole colour spectrum is contained within, more than every colour imaginable. A rainbow is not just a mixture of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet: it contains everything in between too. 

White light embodies this deeper infinity: an infinity that fills a finite space infinitely; larger than just some un-fillable, un-unifiable infinite space, it is the fullness between two frequencies: zero and one, far-red and hyper-blue, and everything contained within. It is the amassing of every colour imaginable; a mass of masslessness managing to emerge into an unmistakable brightness from clashing shades; hues that once seemed so contradictory that those lights looked different entities entirely. White light is, in essence, an ideal; a construct greater than the sum of its parts. It is an emergence, standing on the shoulders of individual frequencies of light; individual colours; neatly- fitting jigsaw pieces that form one giant overall painting; brush strokes small and intricate, yet each distinct, each unique. 

In the Bahá'í faith, God is regarded in a way not dissimilar to this. Believers speak of an omnipotence that has touched individuals and cultures across the whole word; revolutionary revelations revealed through His manifestations; the articulation of His story throughout history. Each religion a part of the puzzle of absolute truth; white light in the process of construction, with colours added once at a time in the form of religions borne from messengers of God. And although I cannot confess to fully subscribe to the religion, this idea innately resonates within me. 

We often speak of individuals as ‘finding’ God, yet we regard the inception of a religion not as a discovery to be found, but as a given gift; some sacred, selfless present; a presence sent to present itself to ourselves. 

We often consider faith to be a deeply personal, perhaps even introspective, experience, yet we spar with the belief systems of others; pitching Gods against one-another all-too-often in the attempt to reaffirm our own beliefs; as if another’s subjective experience with the Sublime expresses a reduction of our own; that what is ‘known’ by us must be known by each and every other soul; as if the heat of different views threatens to burn away truths that seem so contradictory that all these. Gods look different entities entirely. 

But perhaps in doing so we can be disposed to forgo the richness of perspective, and the wealth that the variation of people across all creeds offers us as a species. And we refrain from considering that the very thing that makes our faiths so personal and unique is also the thing that makes them so distinct. Universalism is an easy ideal to reject. It oft swoops in, blindly declaring all ideals equal and demanding equal acceptance from all - ideally ignoring any contradictions or delicacies; reducing the intricacy and beauty of a belief into a blank canvas for all to unequivocally agree on. 

But perhaps what it aspires to do is not so ignoble. After all, faith is personal, and to honour that is to acknowledge that the way we see our own image in Universal eyes is a reflection of the way we see ourselves. That, whilst many of us indeed see mankind as made in His image, we can be blind to the differences in the images of different kinds of man. So that when we look upon God (whatever that may mean for us) we inevitably do so through a lens crafted from our own mind’s eye: an eye witness to a life’s worth of experience: moments of either strength or delicacy; compassion or wrath; mercy or judgement. 

At times of wondering reflection I find myself inclined to wander further than even the Bahá'í beliefs. To consider a religion, rather than a building block of colour, as instead a shade of whiteness in and of itself; a colour-spectral- conglomerate composed of yet another nested-set of near-infinite contributions: sources of light that propagate packets of brightness outwards; illuminating neighbouring nations and populations and regions; clashing subtleties in ideologies sowing the seeds of revolution and revelation, and the elevation (perhaps even salvation) of the societies of our species across history.

And I might wander further still. To suggest that these streams of colour that comprise a religion propagate from within that very religion; from within, even, the components that comprise that religion: from within each and every one of us. That, alongside any and every single soul; every spark of life that has ever been and seen and thought and spoken, is a unique myriad of hues; sparks of experience and expression; reflections of our so-called ‘essence’, of our so-called ‘humanity’ left in the wake of our Living. 

That we leave footprints. And where there might be harmony in palettes, so too would there be compatibilities in ideologies. And the scene created; the scene we are creating; is the sum of our collective journey. A scene bathed in the hues of sacred saffrons; of Tekhelet blues; of rich, Islamic greens; painted on pitched flags; set against one- another; colours of free-markets and demarcated freedoms; of war and stained crimson swords and uniforms; the scene formed as billions of non- homogenous, genius, homo-genus primates discover both themselves and each-other over the course of 200,000 years. 

That these colours; these fractures of whiteness; these splinters of infinity; should emanate from humanity is evident of not only our breadths, but of our depths too. Indeed, we are large, and the multitudes we contain attest to our collective capacity to experience; and interpret; and reason; and create; and love; and be Loved. 

And it is this capacity that I ask to consider when I ask to consider Infinity. To consider the image of mankind as the infinite construction and combination of entirety fractured white light: the image of whitely-lit Divine hands left burning on the retinas of the eyes of a kind-of ‘Divine hive- mind’. That is, that if each and every life is indeed made in His image, then the image we all create is the image of the Creation of Life –– with that familiar, particular brightness of Life, or of God, or of the Universe, or Earth, or the impossible revolutions of heavenly spheres of the infinite and Divine; a bright, white glow constructed from sparks of colour that emanate from within us: the emergence of transcendence through the coalescence of immanence. 

And if one would feel so inclined as to introduce the concept of duty into faith, perhaps it would be to help in the preservation of that building of the brightness. To aid it in its construction and to listen to what the ‘other’ has to say. What their best and brightest, their Einsteins and Michelangelos and prophets and saints had to say. What it has noticed. What it celebrates. 

Interfaith rhetoric is often packaged with words like ‘tolerance’ and ‘endurance’, yet I struggle to consider the concept of interfaith in terms of anything other than just that: a ‘celebration’. To consider our prophets as our Einsteins and their revelations as the science, art, philosophy, psychology and mental existentialism that they brought into the world. Not perfect, but still Divine. Perhaps not fully understood. 

But understanding infinity is (as we’ve established) a difficult thing to be doing –– and certainly to be communicating to others! And to understand it absolutely is perhaps not possible at all (as I’ve said, to define something infinite is to inevitably limit it, and some thinking thing, in finite form, was never going to comprehend endless infinity without being endless infinity itself). 

And yet, we may still look deeply at the diversity evident within the spectrum of splinters of the Sublime that radiate out through the hundreds of different people, cultures, traditions and beliefs we witness in our lifetimes. And we can learn from them. That we might tend to our collective image constructed by mankind for mankind from colours streaming from the footprints our kind leave on this planet. Our legacy is also our future, and if Heaven is our future, then within it is also our legacy, and within Hell is perhaps no legacy at all –– the most frightening property of fire has always seemed to me to be one of reduction: that, should we burn, none and nothing of Us would remain, our remains reduced by those flames so that the very wood that burns us is indistinguishable to us, that our swan song is silence and the footprints we leave on this Earth are just scorched layers of ashes, to ashes, to dust. 

If whatever it is that I am –– my views, thoughts, mannerisms, beliefs, passions and visions –– my colours –– if ever they were to shine through another –– be it through music, or writing, or conversations with friends or loved ones –– a hue of who I am living through another –– however briefly –– I would consider it a legacy worthy of all the promises of heaven I was told as a child. 

For what is the purpose of worship if not to both consider one’s place in the grand scheme of things and be humbled by the greater whole. To both consider one’s own light and bathe in the light of the whole star. And fight for that light with illumination, acceptance, expression, creation, faith, progress, open-mindedness, righteousness and Love. 

A Discipline of Looking & Watching by Taylor Carey

...a time must come when I am alone with my experience, belonging to it, reshaping it' (Rilke, Letters, 1902-1906). 

'Yes: to belong to one's experience. And to transform it. That is my great yearning as well. We must carry our experience within us, place it at the centre of a quiet space within us and hearken to it there' (Etty Hillesum, 1942).

Red and yellow roses, Rilke and Dostoevsky, sexual desire: the material life of 'the girl who could not kneel, but who learned to do so on the rough coconut matting in an untidy bathroom'. Etty Hillesum 'traced the contours' of a demonic age in Europe, in its midst discovering within herself a 'centre...growing firmer by the day'. Hers was, in every sense, a religious existence, recorded amidst growing barbarity in 1940s Amsterdam, and ended in Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1943. Hillesum possessed a deep commitment to occupying a certain place in a chaotic world, a determination to 'bear witness where witness needs to be borne...', allowing her interior life to carry the tumultuous agonies, and the everyday joys, of wartime society, and accepting the task of bearing within herself certain fundamental but fragile realities. This 'hearkening' to her innermost self, as the place where gift and agency were made manifest, was never a matter of mere solipsism; as Carl Jung had taught her, 'once a person has a centre, all external impressions can find an anchorage there'. 'All this has nothing to do with being introverted', Hillesum maintained, 'all my senses are focused on the outside reality, and what they observe there they convey to the centre, which may thus be said to be reinforced by every new impression'. The challenge to any contemporary dichotomy between 'religion' and 'spirituality' should be clear: the woman who could write, amidst all the atrocities of her time, of 'living one's life with God and in God and having God dwell within', was the same woman who saw as basic to her daily existence the physical commitment of waking, kneeling, and praying. 

Religious lives are premised on ‘taking time’, what the great Anglican theologian W.H. Vanstone termed ‘the passivity of waiting’. For Etty Hillesum, the ‘self’ was the site within which certain universal realities could ‘find a home’ over the temporal course of an earthly life. ‘God’, though frequently described as a ‘deep well within’, was never merely a shorthand for self-reflection; rather, ‘God’ was an encountered Other, an acknowledgement of whose pervasive reality could be ‘forced’ on a human person through reflection on the pattern of their life history. ‘Life can educate one to a belief in God’, wrote Wittgenstein in 1950; for both Wittgenstein and Hillesum, religious lives were material existences, in which patterns of activity – kneeling, praying, silent contemplation – were embraced in order that something of the ineffable reality of God could be made accessible in the shared realm of language. Religious lives are ‘bound’ to God, committed to discerning the reality of an uninvited, encountered ‘otherness’ at every level of perception, thus exploring the contours of a new landscape revealed through patient attendance to self and world. The material practices of religion are firstly responsive to divine ‘pressure’ or imperative (recall Hillesum’s remark that she felt at times that her body was ‘made for kneeling’), and secondly constitute the ‘necessarily gradual and complex outworking of the wider landscape’ sensed and discovered as the ‘self’ is reconfigured in relation to what escapes simple description or labelling. Religious lives thus make manifest what cannot be reduced to mythology or translated into logical proposition: the discovered, encountered need to be the place where certain realities are borne, carried, and allowed to generate further responses within the world, much like painting or poetry. 

For Hillesum, amidst the horror of twentieth- century genocide, this took the form of an extraordinary commitment to being the ‘site’ of God’s creative love, even at the centre of a concentration camp. ‘At this moment I know that I have a task in life’, she wrote, ‘I shall have to live through everything...I shall become a chronicler of our adventures. I shall forge them into a new language...’. And whilst she very concretely contributed to the improvement of the life of her fellow inmates, Hillesum never lost sight of her foundational motive, her innermost reality: ‘Let me be rather than do’, she wrote, recalling of her fellow prisoners that ‘I would now and then discover in each one of them a gesture or a glance that took them out of themselves and of which they seemed barely aware. And I felt I was the guardian of that gesture or glance’. Hillesum was the ‘thinking heart of the barracks’, who dedicated her life to chronicling the tragic contours of her environment, to being drawn further into the suffering around her that she might ever more closely become the site where God’s creative reality could emerge. Her life was, in those last years, given over to being a ‘sign’, nurturing within itself a reality which did not compete for space with other realities in the world, but which could only be made manifest through her; this, for Hillesum, was the reality of God’s love, to which her every movement and action became a testimony and theatre. 

A discipline of looking and watching. A commitment to living at the interface of sensed environment and human response. The ‘passivity’ and patience of waiting. This is the ‘grammar’ of religious life, which seeks ‘not simply to describe an external reality, but to modify over time the way self and world are sensed’. There is, as Vanstone puts it, a shift from a utilitarian awareness of material reality (‘what is useful for me here and now?’) to ‘a sense of responsibility for it’. And it is this which poses a decisive challenge to certain kinds of secularism, as much in relation to the possibility of art, beauty, and tragedy, as to the possibility of religious narrative. For it would be fair to say that a particularly crude strand of functionalism has successfully pervaded the basic assumptions of a great deal of contemporary thought, from the advancement of ‘neuro-aesthetics’ to the popular fascination with technological solutions to complex socio-economic problems. Such perspectives risk propagating a naïve image of the human subject as a mere receptor of determined environmental data, and suggest as possible a single, static ‘description’ of the world, exhaustive of all material reality, and final in its determination of a ‘correct’ reading of the universe. It is this which the religious habit of life stands against, conscious always that what confronts me is never exhausted by my perception of it, never simply defined by my subjective awareness, just as my own subjectivity is never wholly in my possession. Against the ‘view from nowhere’ articulated by secular modernity, religious traditions, in various ways, seek to realign the metaphor of ‘knowing’ from a labelling of static categories, to a participation in musical performance. To ‘know’ is not simply to receive and process external data; it is to re-enact in a different mode what is sensed to confront the self from outside, with the awareness that what may be perceived is to a great extent a consequence of the relation of self and world within the thinking subject. 

Thus, for the religious believer, ‘there is the sense that the world gives itself to be understood in the very moment when we realise that describing it simply in terms of how it relates to me, let alone serves my interest, is an inadequate or actually untruthful perspective’. What the religiously observant subject desires is the ‘unfolding of truth’ through the discipline and obedience of daily practice, such that what the world is to me is routinely problematised, stretched, and challenged. The site of coincidence between human subjectivity and external stimuli is preserved, revisited and transformed; our experience of the world, which in turn colours and shapes our ongoing interaction with it, is held up to become the object of contemplation. And, slowly, and not without a little discomfort, our own ‘looking’ and ‘seeing’ grows, for the religious believer, into something of that infinite and perfect perspective of God. The life of the religious believer is given over to the commitment to embody the infinite patience and love of God in looking at what has its own integrity and presence. 

Secular modernity may have inculcated the idea that ‘we can edit God out of the language and leave our social world unchanged’, yet the example of Etty Hillesum and many others should give us pause for thought. What Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and many other traditions preserve is a commitment to an open and generative world, in which identity can never be closed and exclusive, and no word is ever ‘final’ in any narrow and political sense. Etty Hillesum’s life was a task: to embody, nurture, and protect God’s love and freedom, which, as wholly other to worldly process, claims no stake in the ordinary negotiations of human society. Yet precisely as responsive to the wholly other, Hillesum’s life stubbornly refuses to attempt a premature foreclosure of conversation; no situation, not even the most appalling suffering of the Holocaust, can simply have the final word in the life of the universe. Indeed, precisely because of her vocation as the ‘guardian of the glance’, Hillesum enters ever more deeply into the suffering all around her, mindful that, at the very epicentre of an earthly hell in which humans were robbed of all dignity, the reality of God – and thus the infinite dignity of humankind – remains and finds a home in the world. Her life becomes an invincible challenge to hegemonic power, proving that history is not simply the palimpsest of victors, but the arena for infinite meaningfulness and ultimate relation. 

The twenty-first century faces unprecedented challenges in matters of identity, coexistence, and plural society. The Arnoldian retreat of the Sea of Faith has been accompanied by a violent resurgence of fundamentalist religion, to which a widespread reaction has been the insistence on an ever-more secularised public sphere. Yet, if a basic characteristic of fundamentalism is its desire to foreclose debate and interpretation by imposing final forms of words, then secularisation can hardly represent an alternative; government cannot be reduced to technical solutions of resource redistribution, and the practice of politics can never simply concern negotiations of power. Any genuine alternative to a closed, exclusive, and defensive world must regard the taking of time, and the commitment to contemplation which are basic to religious lives, as of central importance to human society. To be ‘religious’ in a world such as ours is not, then, primarily a matter of holding certain beliefs and ideas in mind; at its core, it concerns a discipline and obedience which regards our environment as shared, inexhaustible, and infinitely worth our patience. It seems that, in an age of fearful, egotistical, and violent politics, we must indeed ‘carry our experience within us, place it at the centre of a quiet space within us and hearken to it there’. Its transformation may provide our only hope. 

 

The Sistine Madonna by Elizabeth Wood

The liberality with which Heaven now and again unites in one person the inexhaustible riches of its treasures and all those graces and rare gifts which are usually shared among many over a long period is seen in Raphael Sanzio of Urbino.’ (Vasari: Lives of the Great Artists.) 

Bombs fell like rain during air-raids over Dresden, in February 1945. The city was raised to the ground. Yet one miracle occurred amidst the scene of total destruction and annihilation: The Sistine Madonna was rescued, intact. This masterpiece, painted by the great Italian Renaissance artist Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, 1483-1520), is not simply one of the finest paintings in human history but a sublime example of Christian art. 

The Sistine Madonna is an oil painting in which the highest ideals of tender maternal love are universally expanded. It is perhaps the best example of an extensive series of Holy mother and child compositions, which Raphael created. It expresses the culmination of his own artistic development and conveys the full aesthetic harmony of the High Renaissance. For our purpose however, its unique interest arises through the way in which it reflects the most noble feelings and ideals that exist both privately and in our shared humanity. Indeed, it is a painting that lives for all people, for all time. 

Raphael emerges during his short life, out of the depths of human spiritual evolution, like a brilliant star that flashes for a moment, then is gone. Yet within his brief lifetime his mission is fulfilled. His legacy is the majestic creations that live on into the future to inspire mankind. One of the greatest of these is the Sistine Madonna. Its miraculous escape from the ravages of the second world war give the painting an aura of divine protection. Not surprisingly then, the painting is concerned with the incarnation of the Prince of Peace, himself. And similarly, though Raphael himself grew up in the tumultuous world of Florentine Italy, the artist is praised by Vasari, for his exceptional humane and gentle nature. 

Born on Good Friday, and dying on the same day thirty seven years later, one gets the feeling that Raphael must have a special relationship to the Christian faith. Indeed, his paintings continually reveal how deeply he was connected to the mysteries of Christianity. Through his paintings, he became the forerunner of a new Christian expression, free of dogma, liberated from the quarrels of the Papal States, transcendent in all aspects. His works embody a progressive, cosmopolitan Christianity that blows through the complex decadence of medieval religion, like the breath of spring. 

Although born into quiet, humble beginnings in Urbino, revolutions in the wider environment shaped Raphael’s art as he grew up. The influence of ancient Greece electrified the artistic scene of Florence and Rome and the greatest works of Hellenism were unearthed during Raphael’s youth. These works of antiquity were inspirational to the young artist and he was able to distil from the beauty and perfection of their sculptural forms, the unparalleled harmony and composure that characterises his own paintings. This is evident in the classical grace that suffuses the composition of the Sistine Madonna. 

The quality of Raphael’s artistic genius attracted the attention of the spiritual leaders of the Renaissance and he was highly favoured by religious leaders. Pope Julius II commissioned Raphael to create a painting for the high alter at the Benedictine monastery of San Sisto in Piacenza, Italy in 1512. Here, Raphael’s painting, the Sistine Madonna received its name. Since the relics of Pope Sisto and Saint Barbara were housed in this abbey, Raphael includes them in the painting, to enhance the revelation. However, the main focus of this masterpiece is, undoubtedly, the Holy Mother and the Christ child. 

That Raphael lost his own mother when he was only eight years old is highly significant. His series of Madonna paintings, reveal how the artist transformed the lost embrace of his own mother into the great archetypes we now see. The Sistine Madonna is no exception to this. However, this painting evolves remarkably from all his other Madonna paintings. Raphael’s earlier Madonnas focus more on the tender intimacy of maternal love, in its earthly aspect. For example, the Bridgewater Madonna, housed in the National Gallery of Scotland depicts the Holy mother delighting in the playful babe. 

The Sistine Madonna moves beyond the personal however, for she becomes occupied with the eternal, as Queen of Heaven. The painting’s greatness, in its culmination of the Madonna theme, rests in its supreme universality. Now, the Holy mother and child are involved in their explicit divine purpose. Their gaze is turned firmly outward, in an offering gesture. They are looking at you and I. Their love has now become, our love. The love of all. 

Mary and the infant Christ appear in the Sistine Madonna as if emerging from the spiritual world itself. Green curtains, symbolising the earth, are rented apart so that the Madonna and child can be viewed in their full divine splendour. As the radiance of the beauty of the heavenly scene is revealed to us, we feel as if let into a secret landscape of heaven; as if participating in a rare glimpse into the mind of God. The Madonna and child are emerging amidst a golden, gleaming sunrise; as if illuminated by the dazzling light of heaven itself. All the while, young Mary is portrayed with an aura of assured dignity in the gentle confidence of her outward gaze, gesture and the bold colours of her raiment. Her garments of red and blue denote both earthly and heavenly love that she is to embody. Her simple humanity is characterised by the way she stands barefoot on the clouds edging towards the viewer. She holds the babe with a forward looking gesture, presenting him to the world; indeed, to us. In this way, God proclaims, ‘here is my beloved son. 

The infant Christ rests contentedly on the arm of the Holy mother. Although vulnerable and dependant, emanating love and gentleness, he is also robust and awake. His countenance reveals clear consciousness of his divine purpose; the bearer of all-prevailing love. He looks us straight in the eye as the archetypal infant of all humanity. He is coming our way and is one of us. And in the multitude of children’s faces that hover in the background. We see the ‘every child’ in the stream of humanity, poised for incarnation. 

Below the Holy mother and child, Sains Sistus and Barbara straddle the planes of earth and heaven. Their hand on their heart gesture expresses the devotion with which they view the divine spectacle. Sistus, appears in sunlight’s golden cloak. He directs our upward gaze whilst his out-pointing hand reminds us how the vision is not speaking to him alone but to the whole of mankind. We are involved. 

Saint Barbara is more self-contained. She accompanies the virgin and child in their descent to earth with a quiet dignity and inward tenderness. Her graceful swirl, echoes the movement of the Virgin and child. She looks down towards the world into which the infant Christ will incarnate and live out his sublime yet harrowing destiny. Her delicate forward motion revealing the true nature of Christianity; that it is not so much an ideology but a way. 

Lastly, two adorable little cherubs look on with an innocent gaze. Whilst their effect is to anchor the harmonious balance of composition and emphasise the revelation they also serve to emphasise the revelation their lightness and charm, balance the mood of the painting. 

The Sistine Madonna now resides in the Zwinger Gallery in Germany. For hundreds of years and to this day then, the Sistine Madonna has profoundly lifted and transformed the souls of those beholding it, reminding us of our true spiritual nature and origin. It defeats and transcends all the narrow limitations of dogma and doctrine. It embodies hope, transformation and a sense of protection. 

As our world becomes ever more diverse with all races, cultures and faiths, this painting is not an exclusively Christian icon. In the St John Gospel we learn that Christ came as a light, ‘for every human being in the world’. This modern type of freedom is embodied in the Sistine Madonna. 

Most people in our modern world are repelled by acts of violence and in the current horrors committed in the name of politics and religion. Raphael himself lived in turbulent times. Yet the calm beauty of his soul shines through this painting, reassuring us that Christ’s purpose is to bring peace and renewal to the suffering world. Divine love, descending from the heavens reveals the greatest love for humanity. 

The bombs are still falling in our time, right now. Not on Dresden but on Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan... Vast swathes of our fellow human beings are on the move, millions of people in desperate search for a place of peace, in search of home. And what has this got to do with the Sistine Madonna today? Perhaps the Holy Mother Mary carries one sure antidote to the conflicts that rage within and all around us; the healing power of Christ. 

The Sistine Madonna ever reminds us of our true spiritual origin; how we are far more than our bitter quarrels, hatreds, harms and compulsion toward destruction. Our true nature, comes from God. It is not partisan or separate but intrinsically part of a greater unity, an organic whole. The Holy mother and her Child, embody the better part of each one of us that is kind and brave and beautiful. The painting reveals how there is a greater soul that lives amongst us in our communities which is caring, compassionate and life-affirming. It is the greater love; the all-embracing, world–renewing, cosmic love, which defines us as creatures of light, not darkness. Through this darkness, Raphael’s Sistine Madonna illuminates our noblest part, our true humanity. 

Cradle Catholic by Dominic Dark

I am a “cradle Catholic”. By this, I mean I was born into the Church without much of a say during my Baptism. I kicked and screamed as I was doused with water, but needless to say that did not really constitute a reasoned opinion. Either way, I was ignored –– for which I am very glad. I am glad because I strongly believe that my faith in a greater, forgiving and loving being significantly contributed towards my contentment as a child. Atheists, notably Richard Dawkins, often chastise the notion of being born into a faith. At a talk recently held in St Andrews, he tried to illustrate the absurdity of saying that a new born was Jewish, Catholic or Hindu by using the analogy of new parents fresh from the maternity ward, telling friends that their child was a logical positivist. Of course, we are not born with the ability to critically think about the types of defining aspects of a particular faith, rather this is something that develops and is fostered over many years. However, is it really such a bad thing to be born into a faith, or to accept faith blindly as children often do? It is this question, the role of critical thinking in religious belief, with which this essay is concerned. Ultimately, I want to show that in the absence of the ability to think critically about religious beliefs, most notably as a child, there is nothing wrong with blind faith; but once we do develop such a capacity to think critically, rational reflection becomes essential. 

Blind faith is as ubiquitous as it might ever have been before, it is only the object of blind faith that has changed over time. God was once the face of the inexplicable, but now the microchip is almighty. Every time we turn on a phone, or send an email, we trust electronic devices to perform their expected function. Of course, the parallel between God and technology is incomplete, as a significant minority perfectly understand the marvellous advances of the science and technology that guide our lives –– we do not have this same type of knowledge of God. However, compared to the entire population of users of modern technology, those that could explain with a high degree of accuracy on a physical level, for instance, every mechanism from the contact between the finger and the screen to the receipt of a message 1000s of miles away between phones, constitute a very small proportion. In other words, ignorance is rife amongst most users of modern technology. But surely, this does not matter? On the occasion that a smartphone stops working, we are happy to defer to a greater authority – normally an overseas call centre. We can still enjoy the use of most modern technology without understanding well how they function. 

The point in the preceding paragraph is simply that there are many instances in the modern world where blind faith is abundant, and it is not really an issue. It is not really a problem that the vast majority of users of modern technology do not have a strong grasp of the science they are dependent upon, because 1) on the whole, this ignorance has no negative consequences, and 2) it does not prohibit enjoyment gained from using these devices. Why then, for vocal atheists, can the same reasoning not analogously be applied to the blind faith of a child holding religious beliefs? As an uninquisitive child holding faith in God, there were 1) no negative consequences to unquestioningly accepting the existence of God and 2) it did not prevent me from enjoying the fruits of faith, particularly the comfort of believing in an omnibenevolent being. To argue that millions of children ought to be stripped of this type of comfort and happiness that is unique to being born into a religious faith, a strong argument must be put forward. 

People opposed to the notion of being born into a faith would likely claim that the reason it is absurd to say that a new born or young child belongs to a particular religion, is because this claim assumes that they hold particular religious beliefs for which it is unreasonable to assume they could rationally defend. 

But this criticism fails to appreciate the fact that holding religious beliefs can import a great deal more meaning than other types of beliefs, such as those about empirical facts. Were someone to say that they believe in God, they would be saying something more than just claiming that God exists. By expressing a religious belief, they would be expressing something about their own state of existence. I have tried to point to those aspects of my state of mind as a child that were characterised by my religious beliefs. In particular, my belief in an omnibenevolent God. Empirical beliefs, such as my belief that the earth is round, simply do not bear the same type of significance on someone’s state of mind, and as such, I would argue are fundamentally different in type. Whilst it might be defensible to claim that a child should not hold empirical beliefs that they cannot defend with reason, in virtue of the far greater emotional significance of religious beliefs, this claim alone is insufficient. I think a much stronger argument would be needed to show that it is wrong for a child to uncritically hold religious beliefs. Given that there is more meaning to religious belief than claims to empirical facts, it is not absurd for a child to hold these claims without critically thinking about them. 

However, I think that the relationship between religious beliefs and critical thinking does significantly change as our capacity to think independently develops. In fact, I would go as far as to say that when we do develop a capacity to reason and think critically, contemplating beliefs becomes an essential part of faith. Furthermore, throughout that turbulent transition from childhood to adulthood, during which we mysteriously begin to become more inquisitive and reflective, I think that the nature of belief changes. So much so, that for beliefs to really count for someone who is able to think critically, they have to be able to stand up to scrutiny. 

Once you have the ability to think critically, a reluctance to challenging religious beliefs would be very troubling. Reluctance to serious reflection, for someone who is capable of reasoning well, would amount to acknowledging that your beliefs may not stand up to inspection. If you are concerned that your beliefs would not stand up to inspection, then a critical thinker should have less of a reason to hold them. This is why holding faith in God, and willingly challenging this faith critically is a tremendously courageous act. It involves a step into the darkness from which you could suddenly be beaten back. For atheists this might be a strange notion to fathom but to believe in something for which there is no substantive empirical proof, and to genuinely challenge those beliefs which are often central to your own existence, is exceptionally difficult. 

I was 12 when I first truly challenged my faith in God. I distinctly remember praying one evening, when I suddenly felt overcome by a sense of stupidity. Sitting there with my palms clasped and eyes closed, I felt like a fool imagining things into existence. Then almost immediately afterwards, a vivid crushing sensation as I suddenly felt a sense of isolation and meaninglessness that I had never experienced before. I was a disposable sack of atoms that would one day be nothing more than soil fertiliser. 

For me this episode prompted a definite changing point in my relationship with my own religious beliefs. I could no longer accept them and be content in the same way I had been as a child. Now, I felt a strong necessity to question their coherence. 

But it would be very wrong to think that this weakened my faith. Through rational reflection, one actually consolidates and strengthens belief by posing and overcoming critical challenges. 

In the Catholic Church, I believe this is why the sacrament of confirmation is so important. It is an essential step in your own religious life that demands that you, and no one else, affirms your faith in the Church. This process demands stringent contemplation about your own beliefs, and for those that do become confirmed, it serves to strengthen faith. 

I have tried to show through this essay that the nature of the relationship between critical thinking and religious beliefs changes throughout someone’s lifetime. During childhood, religious beliefs carry sufficient meaning in virtue of their significance to justify their being held uncritically. However, once we have developed a capacity to reason and think reflectively on our beliefs, thinking critically about religious beliefs becomes a necessity. Through challenging these religious beliefs, our faith actually becomes stronger. 

A Sense of Community by Sam Puckorius

What is the purpose of worship? Worship connects people with themselves, others, and God. By practicing worship, we grow in our faith through thinking through and reaffirming what we believe. 

As a personal, individual act, worship can create close experience between yourself and the god you worship. It allows us to understand ourselves when the only thing we have to face is our beliefs and our god. 

I must admit, I’m not a ‘good’ Catholic. I’d like to think I’m a good person, but I know I’m not a good Catholic. I barely pray. I never talk to God, except when I swear (which I tend to do a lot). The few times that I do turn to God are when I am terrified or in pain. In my darkest times, the rare instances of abject terror or isolating loneliness from a panic attack or deep emotional distress, I have looked to God. I have pleaded with God. 

In high school, I was chosen as a Kairos leader. Kairos is an overnight retreat Catholic high schoolers go on to connect to God through their community. It was a life-changing experience, and I was lucky enough go twice (once as a retreatant, once as a leader). Kairos allowed me to bare my faults and insecurities to my classmates without fear of judgement or rejection. For the first time in high school, I seemed to have made substantial, close friendships with people at my school. 

Leading on the retreat had been an eyeopening experience. I was good at it. It made me so happy to see the positive effect I had upon the members of my small group, my fellow leaders, and all the retreatants. My vulnerability had meant something to them. After the retreat ended, numerous retreatants came up to me, saying how they heard my leading partner and I had been the best on our retreat, frankly two of the best leaders from our entire grade. I became hopeful that I would be chosen to become a rector. As rector, I would go on Kairos a third time, being in charge of my fellow student leaders and running the retreat. Ultimately, I was not chosen. 

Never in my life have I been more heartbroken. It was one of the few things I had prayed for. Kairos actually brought me closer to God, which fifteen years of Catholic school had failed to do. Why wasn’t I good enough? Why did I have to watch others be given my dream? My heart was broken. I felt rejected and used, like a greedy plaything who expected to be rewarded. I felt no solace, no comfort, only pain. 

My peers were joyous around me, congratulating the new rectors at the ceremony while I was barely holding myself together. As I went to leave, I saw the woman who ran the retreats, Ms. White. In her, comfort began. Never in have I known someone to better represent God in my life. She told me that she had voted for me to be rector, put the deciding panel had gone the other way. I barely remember the other words she said, I just remember how she made me feel. 

She reminded me of my worth. She reminded me that people still care about me and that I was not the insignificant, lonely insect I felt myself to be. Even now, months later, thinking of Kairos still gives me pain. Thinking of my rejection makes me hurt inside. But thinking of that moment, when I was by myself, praying for God to make me feel better, to just get me out of that room, I remember Ms. White. She brought me to God when I first went to Kairos and when was last turned from Kairos. Through her, God gave me peace. 

Those ‘low moments’ when I have turned to worship, attempting to communicate with God, have been the most painful and difficult moments of my life. Yet, somehow, my prayers, desperate pleas, and questions get answered. God has served as someone who does not judge me because I feel vulnerable, who reaffirms that life does matter, that I do matter. 

As a shared act, worship builds community and connection within ourselves and with others. It makes us question our own perceptions and our own roles in our society and our relationships. This past Ash Wednesday was the first time I had gone to mass of my own initiative. I was raised Catholic and went to church with my mother every Sunday (mostly because it made her happy that I went with her). I went to Catholic school for fifteen years, from the age of three to the age of eighteen. Until I came to university. 

I don’t really know why I felt like going to mass that day. Perhaps it was because I hadn’t missed Ash Wednesday in my lifetime. Maybe I thought it would make my mother happy to know I went. Packed into the smallest Catholic church I’ve ever been in (I am from one of the most Catholic cities in America), I didn’t stand out as much as I thought I would. I guess, per my usual overinflated sense of self importance, I expected the entire congregation to turn and look at me like the errant cafeteria Catholic I know myself to be. I could not have been more wrong. 

They came for themselves and for the church. Or, perhaps because they too were feeling the immense Catholic guilt that I had been overwhelmed with that Wednesday. I saw people at that service who I never knew to be Catholic, who I never imagined shared the same core life experiences and beliefs that I did. There were people from my previous tutorials and classes, even people who belong to the same societies and residence halls that I do. By sharing in that worship experience with them, by even just sitting in the same church, I learned so much more about myself, my perceptions, and those whom I call friends. 

I had been wrong about so many people, about who they were and who I am. It was surprisingly comforting to be with most complete strangers in a new place thousands of miles from home, because I was back in that shared experience of worship that was familiar to me and so key to my identity as a person. 

Worship facilitates understanding. It allowed me to understand myself at my lowest moments and to see my own incorrect perceptions of others. Worship creates a sense of community, that we still matter and are not alone. 

Defining Love by Thomas Claridge

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.’ (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, New International Version). 

Love plays a central role in many religions throughout the world. In Christianity, as the above passage emphasises, love is the ultimate virtue that a Christian may exhibit. Yet despite this, a concise definition of Christian love is difficult to come by. While insightful descriptions of love abound the various books of the Bible (‘love is patient, love is kind’ - 1 Cor. 13:4), as well as useful guidance on how to exercise love (‘do to others what you would have them do to you’ – Matthew 7:12) a concrete definition of love itself often eludes the reader. 

One possible definition is to perceive Christian love as the sum product of the Christian virtues. For if ‘love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy’, then a relationship could be described as loving if it is patient, kind, and not envious (1 Cor. 13:4). Such a definition of Christian love that requires the continued presence of Christian virtues and absence of their corresponding vices seems plausible. A loving individual could be seen as a Christian form of the Grecian megalapsychos, an Aristotelian term for an exceptionally virtuous individual; someone who has united the various virtues to achieve megalopsychia (“the crowning virtue”), which in Christianity would be love. 

If love is to be defined as the summation of Christian virtues, we should then enquire what those virtues are. St Augustine (in Book IV of The City of God) acknowledges the Roman-Grecian tradition of worshipping the four Aristotelian virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance as Goddesses in their own right. Declaring these virtues to be of value, St Augustine nonetheless explains that “they are gifts of the true God, not goddesses themselves.” Therefore they should not be exclusively worshipped, but instead considered as Christian virtues; consequently they became known as the four Cardinal Virtues

In addition to the Cardinal Virtues are the three Theological Virtues. These derive largely from the Biblical works of St Paul of Tarsus (specifically his First Epistle to the Corinthians as quoted earlier), and are commonly specified as being ‘faith, hope and charity’ (1 Cor. 13:13, King James Version). The three Theological Virtues have been emphasised in recent years, in ecclesiastical works such as Pope John Paul II’s Catechism of the Catholic Church and by recent Pontiffs, with Pope Benedict XVI penning Papal Encyclicals on charity (Deus Caritas Est), hope (Spe Salvi) and Pope Francis completing the final Encyclical on faith (Lumen Fidei) in July 2013.

Taken together, the three Theological Virtues and four Cardinal Virtues form the seven Christian virtues; which when united presumably define love (love is prudent, charitable, faithful, etc). However there are problems with this virtue-centric definition. The possession of these seven virtues may produce an accurate description of the virtues that a loving individual may possess, but they do not produce an exhaustive definition of Christian love because they exclude the notion of intention. 

To illustrate, let us take the virtue of prudence as an example. Prudence is defined by the Catholic Catechism as the “virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it.” It is the virtue of knowing what to do, and how to do it. 

Therefore suppose a father utilises his prudence or practical reason (which is inherently fallible, God being the only omniscient entity), in an attempt to discern the true good for his child; and mistakenly concludes that his son is becoming spoilt and consequently prone to greed. The father consults the Bible, in which he understands that disciplining wayward children is permitted; for ‘we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it’ (Hebrews 12:7-9). Consequently he reprimands his innocent child. 

In this situation, the father has clearly failed to possess true prudence; for he was not able to discern the truth of the situation and consequently chose the wrong means of dealing with his child. Yet if love is supposedly the sum of the seven Christian virtues, and this father does not possess true prudence, can we really declare that he therefore does not love his son? 

I do not believe so. His actions can be called loving because they were motivated by loving intentions. The father didn’t berate his child out of anger; he only intended to discipline the child for their own good, out of love. Therefore a definition of love must place due emphasis upon the intentions of an individual, for there is clearly a problem with defining love as the summation of virtues alone because it implies that only those who perfectly possess each virtue are capable of love.

St Thomas Aquinas emphasised the importance of intentions in determining the moral value of any action in his Summa Theologiæ. He recognised the disconnect between “the will’s own internal activity and its external activity”, essentially the difference between our intentions (the father’s desire to prevent his child becoming spoiled) and our subsequent actions (the unnecessary reprimanding). Because St Aquinas declares that “human acts get their specific nature from their end and objective”, we may describe the father’s actions (although misguided) as ultimately loving because they aimed at a virtuous end, the betterment of his son. 

An emphasis on intentions crucially recognises that love is possible, even if we imperfectly do not possess all virtues. The father did not possess true prudence, yet he still loved his son, because his intentions were good. A definition of love that recognises the importance of intention also acknowledges the fallibility of man, that imperfect individuals who have not perfectly attained all virtues are still capable of love. 

The importance of intentions in defining love is that just as good intentions can indicate love, the absence of good intentions can condemn good acts as unloving and hollow. This is demonstrated in the Parable of the Unjust Judge; “there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’” (Luke 18:1-5). 

The judge has clearly performed a virtuous act (granting justice). Had our definition of love solely focussed upon someone’s actions conforming to the seven virtues, we would be able to declare that by the end the Judge somewhat loved the woman; for he was granting her justice (a Cardinal Virtue). Yet the Judge certainly doesn’t love the woman, because his help was motivated by selfish reasons and nothing more. Crucially, it was the absence of good intentions behind his good act that led us to condemn the Judge as unloving. 

Therefore intentions are important. A definition of love which neglects intentions may result in many individuals technically displaying the appearance of love outwardly through good acts, yet without kind intentions to back them up, these good acts would be merely hollow imitations of genuine Christian love. It is for this reason that in giving to charity, we should ‘not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by men’ (Matthew 6:1-2). Such individuals are clearly motivated by the applause they receive, and not out of the loving help they confer. 

Is this to say that good intentions alone can define what Christian love is? No, for good intentions alone are not enough; for “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:14-17). Similarly ‘let us not love with words or tongue but with actions’ (1 John 4:18). Therefore a definition of love cannot focus on intentions alone, but also on actions. 

If good intentions without accompanying actions are useless; and actions without good intentions are hollow, can we define Christian love as a combination of the two; as acting upon good intentions? Possibly; for if someone has both good intentions and acts upon them, they are displaying love. Yet as we saw from the example of the disciplining father, one can harbour good intentions, and be ready to act upon them to help others, yet still be led into committing misguided and harmful actions, as the father did in wrongly punishing his child. 

Another example of this may include a teacher who, with the good intention of encouraging their students to work harder, resolves to constantly criticise their work in the hope that ‘suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope’ (Romans 5:3-4). The eventual result is some students, feeling incompetent, subsequently lose hope and give up on their studies. 

What then can we conclude? Clearly loving ends are no guarantee of loving means. The problem is that acting upon loving intentions may unwittingly harm the object of our love (as both the father and teacher did). Therefore how do we keep our love from turning sour, and ensure it harms no one? To resolve this final problem, we come full circle; to the descriptions of love found throughout the Bible which did not serve as standalone definitions of love themselves. For if one has loving intentions and the consequent will to act, but not a complete grasp of all seven virtues, one could end up committing harmful acts by mistake. Recognising that humans are fallible and rarely attain all seven virtues, we should consult objective guidelines for love, to prevent us from mistakenly causing harm. For this purpose the many descriptions of love that are found in the Bible prove useful. Although not sufficient as definitions of love in themselves, they provide guidelines for how to practice Christian love. Therefore if an individual has good intentions, and intends to act upon them, the various Biblical descriptions of love provide a guide to what those actions should be. 

An example of such a description is that love is ‘not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres’ (1 Corinthians 13:5-7). Therefore if one has good intentions and intends to act upon them, but the actions pursued become rude or self-seeking, love should be expressed differently. 

Consequently we arrive at a three-part definition of Christian love, comprised of good intentions, the willingness to act on those intentions, and the resultant acts conforming to Biblical descriptions of love. For without loving intentions, our acts are hollow. Without acts, our loving intentions are worthless. Should we possess both, we certainly love, but this love may misguidedly harm others; it should therefore also conform to the descriptions of love found in the Bible. 

The significance of this definition of Christian love is that it doesn’t make love exclusive; something that only completely virtuous individuals can truly express. Instead, it recognises mankind’s fallibility, yet argues that anyone (even someone without all of the seven virtues) is capable of love. This recognition of humanity’s shared capacity for love is crucial to remember today, in the face of an increasingly divided globe. 

 

No Greater Commandment by Sarah Farrell

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ [...] ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31, NIV) From a young age, these verses have been ingrained into my brain as the most important aspects of the faith that I was raised with. Time and time again, year after year of Religion class, we were told that these two lines were the most important commandments we have been given, and were to be regarded above all other thoughts and beliefs. Similar to this commandment, the secular term ‘to treat others as you would want to be treated’ was another major lesson that I was raised with. Based on the fact that this commandment has become the most important lesson I have learned as a child indicates how important of a role love plays in my religion. My religion, and the love that I have been able to grow and deepen as life continues, has shaped me into the adult that I am today. 

As a raised and presently practicing Catholic, it has always been clear that spreading love is the most important lesson that Jesus Christ taught his followers. Through every action, saying, and teaching He gave, He was able to project love on everyone around Him. Through this overwhelming amount of love that He held in His heart, He was able to spread the good news and hope of a new life to so many people. He found the most marginalised, neglected, sick and elderly people and he gave them each an overwhelming amount of love. He was not only spreading a message, but He was also acting as a model for all of us whose faith has stemmed from these teachings. Through the love that He shared with the most mistreated of people, He was able to give joy and hope and strength to their hearts. These actions alone show how important the role of love is in religion, and it is clear how often we are taught this from an early age. Due to the learning and understanding of this message through the years of my life, it would make sense that as Catholics we are to love and support all people, no matter where they come from or what they believe in. 

As stated above, the role that love plays is a very significant part of the Catholic faith. All Catholics are told throughout their lives that love is the most important and sacred gift that God has given humanity. We are taught that it is necessary to follow Jesus’ footsteps and spread our love and hope and faith to all those around us, especially those who are less fortunate. We are taught to love all, to take in those neglected, those rejected, the people who Jesus spent his life working for. Love is the piece of our lives that can bring us closest to God and his teachings, and towards the deepest understanding of him possible. Unfortunately, as the world continues to become more modern and secular it seems that the importance of love is something that begins to get lost in the waves of fast-paced, contemporary life. As important as it was to Jesus to spread His love and hope and faith to all of the people around Him, should it be as important for us. However, in order to achieve this, we must be able to understand that there are differences in this world, and that people of all faiths, or no faiths, should be no less deserving of God’s love than we are. 

As this world continues to grow and develop in a continually secular way, it is very important for all faiths to come together in a deeper understanding and connection with one another. As Catholics, as Muslims, as Buddhists, as believers of all other faiths, we must stand together in a way that strengthens the hope and love and faith we have in our hearts. It is so important that the love we have in our hearts for God, for our religion, for all things, extends to those who are so different, yet so similar, to us. People of all faiths should stand up for their brothers and sisters of the same or different faiths who are being persecuted against, to show that strength and hope and love will overcome all hate and darkness in this life. It is important within the Catholic faith to spread our love to those around us: to God, to our families, to our neighbours and to our brothers and sisters in faith. As we do this, we must not forget the important lesson that we have been taught our whole lives: to love our neighbours as ourselves. We must understand that ‘neighbours’ is not exclusively in reference to those of the same faith. As Jesus made it clear through his work with the most neglected of society, ‘neighbours’ includes people of all faiths and paths of life, and it is our duty to extend the love that we have so deeply ingrained in our hearts to these neighbours of different faiths as well. 

The love that God has gifted us will allow us to empathise with one another. In doing so, we will be able to reach out and understand what people of different faiths believe and why they believe it. We will be able to stop focusing on the differences of each faith, as we have done through so much of our history, and begin to see the striking similarities that lay so close to the surface. If we begin to use the love that God has granted us this way, and stand in solidarity with one another of all faiths, love will spread even further than it does today. The love that Jesus worked so hard to spread, and make clear that it is spread to all people by all people, will blossom into something that can make the world into the place that He envisioned. 

Love is so important in the faith that we live in this world today. If we try our best to truly emulate the love that Jesus showed us how to share, then the religions of this world would be so powerful and so beautiful that the world itself would be a different place. If the love that we have been taught about our whole lives, and expected to share and spread our whole lives, could reach past the people of our own faith and group and into the lives of other faiths and places, then the world that Jesus, that Mohammad, that Siddhartha, that all others imagined, would be within our reach. 

Jesus was cast down upon and discriminated against for all the love that He shared with those who were deemed unworthy or unforgivable. We have been taught that His sacrifice was for the greater good and forgiveness of all humanity. But we must not forget what He taught us before His sacrifice, what He spent His years of preaching doing. His (then) radical belief to love everyone, and not just Jewish people, was something that put Him in grave danger. It is also something that was the beginning of an entire religion and endless followers. It is something that has brought generations after generations of followers his hope and faith and love. It is something that we are able to venerate and look up to. It is also something that we must begin to emulate and act on, and members of all faiths must begin to act on. There would be so much more hope and love in this world if the religions of the world took their important doctrines of love and spread them past those who they believed belonged. When the world begins to break down barriers and build bridges between one another, the love that we have spent our whole lives learning about will be able to thrive and spread to so many hearts that have never known the joy of it. 

Love will change this world. It has already done so, and will continue to do so, if we continue to allow it. It will spread to the most disheartened and the most fearful if we allow for it to be as important to us as Jesus demanded. If this love that has always been so imperative in our churches and synagogues and mosques goes further and reaches into each other’s places of worship, it is possible to imagine how special the world would be. We can imagine the place that Jesus wanted this world to be like. The beauty and faith and love and strength that God granted each human being can thrive in a world full of all-encompassing love. As previously stated, love is the most beautiful thing that God has gifted to humanity, but it is also be the most powerful thing that He has given us. It is our responsibility as Catholics, as Christians and Jews and Muslims and followers of all other faiths, to use this to strengthen humanity, to bring us all closer together, and to love all of those in the deepest and most beautiful ways we possibly can. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ [...] ’Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31, NIV) 

Resisting Easy Characterisation by Alexander Black

Turning our attention to the twentieth century history of religions in Britain – we notice that the waters of the ‘religious decline’ narrative, are muddied by the continual growth of alternative religious traditions imported with post-war immigration from the Caribbean, South Asia and Africa. This is because the decline narrative is closely linked to the dominant religion of the British Isles: Christianity. In particular, the Protestant strains associated with established Churches. Church attendance is often considered the benchmark of religious observance, considering it is the dominant religious tradition in the islands. However, surveying the history, one finds that church attendance has been in decline since long before the twentieth century: “Church attendance in England had already dropped to 40 per cent by 1850 – nine years before the Origin of the Species was published”. Notice the process was well underway before Darwin – this is because the real reason attendance dropped, was the rapid urbanisation of the Industrial Revolution. No wonder that in 1808, Blake lamented the appearance ‘dark Satanic mills’ – the lapse in parish activity was caused not by (relatively late) scientific challenges to theological doctrine, but rather the geographic facts of employment patterns: “Church attendance dropped after 1850 from about 40 per cent to 20 per cent by 1900. Some rural churches closed, and communities died with them”. 

Church attendance has long been a skewed measure of religious observance, as it was initially highly contingent on population concentration, but also remains problematic today. That many country pews stood empty and parish life withered prior to 1900, didn’t at that time mean that religious belief had been discarded, it just meant that the people were working elsewhere. In modern times, it may well be that same English reserve which is exerting contradictory pressures on their national church. The Church of England has still not fully decoupled from English identity, and a great many (a large plurality of the population) continue to loyally enter ‘CofE’ into their census forms every decade. Simultaneously however, these same people will cringe at the Church’s attempts at boosting attendance through spectacle. The British are too self-conscious to be swept-up in the soaring rhetorical-style of American preachers; the vibrant ‘happy clappy’ gospel choirs seem more suited for balmy Caribbean beaches, than a draughty old chapel in Margate or Musselburgh. The Church of England’s catch-22 position, since attempting to reclaim parishioners through contrived gimmicks, not only appears desperately undignified, but to do so undermines the Church’s Protestant emphasis on scripture and works. The ‘market’ approach to analysing religious reinvigoration clearly fails in this instance because “cultural diversity prevents a religion from existing in the ‘church’ form”.

One might make the case that the appalling horrors of the Great War (and later Holocaust), had entirely stripped religious belief from successive generations. For some people, the experience undoubtedly had such an effect – Robert Graves, whose ‘Goodbye To All That’ chronicled how the trenches’ futile brutality left his worldview bereft of hope or faith. Yet such harrowing experiences are deeply polarising. Like Job, many will have clung to their beliefs much more strongly when confronted with suffering. The memorials to the fallen, found in every village throughout the country, are overtly religious in nature –– and stand as a perennial counterpoint to any absolutist interpretation. Nonetheless, whilst “in a formal sense, Britain was still a recognisably Christian country”, the material loss of an entire generation of parishioners, through rainy marching in the painful field, did much to diminish the moral authority of churches in the Roaring Twenties and Depressed Thirties. This trend for receding religiosity continued in the post-war era: “[1940s Britain] was then a religious society, though less so than in any previous time”.

However, the title statement alludes to a particular shift that has taken place during the 20th century. From the social upheavals of the 1960s, there has been a creeping secularisation of public discourse. An interesting parallel can be noticed on either side of this mid-century pivot in attitudes. 50 years previously, David Lloyd-George, was privately agnostic, but cultivated a public persona of piety. 40 years on from the Swinging Sixties, Tony Blair, was privately deeply religious, but publicly “didn’t do God”, in the words of his spin doctor. We are far from the days of Gladstone whose high-minded oratory was marked by rich Biblical allusion and theological justification. The only contemporary politician who makes equally conspicuous displays of religiosity is the rather less eminent George Galloway. 

It is not just the political sphere however, that has been gradually desiccated of reference to religion – sociology’s secularisation theory now frames much of the public comment surrounding religious matters. In essence it argues that religion’s role and importance in declines commensurate with modernisation and developed market economies. 

In a narrow sense, there is some validity in this – living in an advanced society, one has far more options on how to spend time than in the parochial pre-industrial days of old. Church was a daily occurrence; on Sundays it was not unheard of to attend several times. Naturally, many people today are reluctant to go to that often – it jars with the ‘express’ rhythm of atomised modern life. There is a strong case that relaxed sexual attitudes so prevalent today, are an area in which traditional religious authority has lost moral authority. Nonetheless, one would also have to admit trysts have always occurred, but now shorn of surreptitiousness they seem more prevalent for their visibility. 

Yet secularisation theory fails to explain American religiosity; the 5 daily prayers of European Muslims; relatively unstructured practice of European Buddhists; strict piety of developed Gulf States; the non-compartmentalised, simultaneous blending of religious practice with daily life by Hindus – for instance the not uncommon satisfaction of a Hindu shopkeepers with a lighting a stick of incense and a hurried prayer to Lakshmi the wealth goddess whilst taking stock-check. Despite claims “the thesis of long-term secularisation is well supported, both theoretically and empirically”, a suspicion is that the thesis is trying to draw a universal observation from a particular trend. It seems mainly applicable to a European lapse in formal Christian practice, but grapples unsuccessfully with non-Eurocentric or non-formal religious manifestations. Furthermore, it ignores the increasing tendency for individuals to choose various beliefs a la carte. It is this conceptual frame which led Morgan’s survey of 20th century British history, to commit the error of noting in the closing chapter “Religious observance was [now] confined to a small minority. 

Defining ‘Religious Observance’ is integral to this essay, yet requires some knowledge of prevailing British culture. A complex element in British social mores is a particular diffidence, which discourages indulgence in ostentatious behaviours, or any displays of earnestness result in (to the observer) an apparent “benign indifference” for many Christians. It is important to be cognisant of this strain of British practice, in order to avoid mistaking the lack of overt religious activity, for a lack of private belief –– masterfully summarised as “believing without belonging”. 

However, this is a particularly English approach to religious identity, in which one’s membership of the CofE is a latent element of identity. There are those in Britain, for whom their identity is closely infused with their identity. This manifests in 

various ways – a relatively benign form of religious identity could be claimed by Jews, whose religion is inherently linked to ethnicity, as members of the scriptural ‘Tribe’. More aggressive observance of religious identity might be found in Glasgow or Belfast, where complex sectarian conflict is inseparable from competing Protestant-Catholic ethnicities. A more defensive adoption of religious identity might be the instance of inner-city British- Bangladeshis, with their increasing trend for the women to wear full veil (despite this being highly unusual in Bangladesh itself). It has been argued that the intergenerational trend for younger Bangladeshi women to identify as Muslims more strongly than their mothers and grandmothers is primarily due to the extensive public consciousness of Islam, as a result of post-9/11 political trends. Indeed the excessive focus on Muslim women’s religiosity has been a key catalyst in such trends. We are assured by the latest research that disparagement or suspicion of minorities weakens their sense of belonging, and makes more fertile ground for disharmony and violence as “those who insist that the country is one's enemy become more plausible. It is in this way that the willingness to cooperate with authorities diminishes and the appeal of radical groups increases”. With such awareness, it is clear that many religious leaders’ tolerance, such as Pope Francis’ history of fostering “encounters, dialogue and co-operation with Christians of other denominations as well as with members of other world religions is necessarily a welcome development. 

Clearly, from considering these few examples, religious identity in Britain is a complex issue, resisting easy characterisation. However, even by hitching observance to identity briefly, it is clear that sweeping statements about British religious practices – such as the title –– are at the very least incurious about nuance, and perhaps even damaging in their material effects. 

In conclusion, this essay would dispute every individual presumption of title statement, and assert that it suffers from a lack of perspective. Religious observance almost certainly hasn’t entered terminal decline. Whilst it has certainly declined in relative terms (with respect to previously dominant established religious practice) the extent is disputable. In any case, it did not enter or begin solely since the beginning of the 20th century – the causes of apparent formal decline are rooted much further back. Moreover, even accepting the ‘secularisation’ case as correct, it cannot be assumed that the assumptions would hold true beyond the 20th century – even within their own model, there remains possibility for religious belief to experience resurgence in the future modernity. Examples and trends abound, for which secularisation’s model cannot account, as it lacks both structural and empirical integrity – resting on conflations, distortions, contradictions and blinkered perspectives. The only valid empirical buttress, is the decline of formal churchgoing observance and census responses. Other than that, it has largely been misled steady advance of assertive secularism in the public sphere, which has presented itself as a neutral, equalising void, obscuring the more complex societal realities that public life fails to reflect. It is perhaps this false impression which has convinced the advocates of ‘religious decline’ narrative –– so beloved of the ‘New Atheists’ –– that the local curve of history observable to them is the culmination of that particular saga. 

In his recent work ‘Religious Diversity: Philosophical and Political Dimensions’, Oxford theologian Roger Trigg asserts that

The cognitive science of religion predicts that impulses leading to religion will always be present in humans, and religion is always likely to be resurgent in one form or another. The sociological theory of an inevitable secularisation... was always doomed as a theory. 

We can be sure that firstly, globalisation will increase cultural proximity, fusions and frictions, and secondly that religion will not be exempt from this broader trend, as demonstrated by observing the identity impact of religious observance. “Identities are not hats. Human beings can and do put on several at a time – evidently it is possible to combine overlapping layers compatible identities, such as being a Yorkshire Muslim, or a Belfast Catholic, and this puts the lie to the assumption that interfaith relations of diminishing relevance. It is reductive to assert that religions today “being a matter of individual... preference... detached from communities [making] their political associations simpler – the twin pressures of globalisation and atomisation have intersected to make religions’ socio-political relations more complex, precisely because they are unmoored from earlier cultural restrictions. 

Just last month, Jews were granted their own Scottish tartan, with the rabbi asking “A friend of mine told me about a Polish tartan and a Sikh tartan had been registered, so why not a Jewish one?”.

 

Such trends highlight that disdain for all matters religious, is neither accurate in assessment of interfaith relations nor their amelioration– therefore such a conceit in public life which would be better rolled back, if greater social and interfaith harmony is to flourish. 

Bring Fruits to the World by Gina Karina

“You may be the only Jesus that your neighbour will ever see.” – Mother Angelica 

At the time when this essay is written, the world has just lost one inspiring personality of a Catholic Franciscan nun, Mother Angelica. She was best known for her innovation in broadcasting her teachings internationally through the cable television and radio network. One of her words that stroke me personally the most is the very word I put at the beginning of this essay, which is: “you may be the only Jesus that your neighbour will ever see.” Through this word, she reminded us that regardless of our spirituality, as long as it does not reflected in the way we live, it will not bring any fruit to our neighbour. Thus, we need to perceive religiosity more as how we put our belief into action, rather than merely preach about it. 

Religion still, and in fact, becoming more relevant in this increasingly secular modern world. As the world has significantly changed from the time when the religions are founded, it faced a new dynamic of problems that might have not been addressed explicitly in any of the holy book. These challenges particularly rose due to the growth of technology, which leads to various contemporary issues such as abortion, cloning, genetic modification, and so on. This essay will focus on one of the most prominent and existential issue that is currently faced by the human and other creatures all over the Earth: the climate change. 

This essay will focus on my own religion, which is Roman Catholic. We will begin by exposing the significant threat of climate change to the world existence, particularly on the perspective of scientific findings and socio-economic impacts. The following section will give the overview of the Catholic perspective on the issue of climate change as well as its recommendation on how it may contribute in addressing the issue of climate change. This essay will conclude that being religious in this secular modern world means practising what we believe in seeking to answer today’s problem, particularly to the most urgent ones. 

Although there are some groups of scientists supported by vested interests that are focusing their research in negating the climate change, due to the Precautionary Principle and the limited space of this essay, we will only focus on exposing the scientific findings on the climate change existence. Lord Nicholas Stern – famous for Stern Review Report on the Economics of Climate Change, the first of climate change study that focus on its economic externality – mentioned the four unique challenges of climate change science for policy (Stern, 2007), which are: 1) global, 2) long-term, 3) potentially catastrophic and irreversible impacts, and 4) uncertain. Firstly, he explained climate change as global in terms of the source, impacts, as well as the solutions. As every country is moving toward economic and infrastructure development; there are none that do not contribute any GHG emission. As the GHGs are well mixed in the atmosphere regardless where it was emitted, there are also no boundaries on its impact and thus, it is calculated as global externality. Consequently, solving this issue will also require a global collective action from the entire world citizen. 

Secondly, the warming effect of the GHGs that already release to the atmosphere cannot be undone and will last until decades to millennia. His research shows that even if we could maintain the concentration of GHGs to be remained at today’s levels, warming would continue for the next three decades or so. Thus, albeit taking action today will not result in any immediate demonstrable effect, delaying it will highly risk to a larger consequences and require longer commitments. 

Thirdly, the impact could be so severe to our natural environment – directly, such as the changing weather pattern, sea level rising, drought, flood, desertification, extreme weather, tornado, and so on, as well as indirectly to the biodiversity and ecosystem services. Some of these changes could be irreversible and we may prepare ourselves for a tipping points and abrupt changes. 

Fourthly, although current researches have given us a good understanding of the drivers of climate change, there is still significant uncertainty in predicting and quantifying the future changes. The uncertainties are even bigger as we look further into the future. 

The scale of current threat of climate change experienced differently by the world citizen depending on their geographical location, some has had to face an existential threat from it. People living in the island countries such as Kiribati, Marshall Island, and numbers of other countries in Micronesia and Pacific Ocean threaten the most due to the increasing of sea level that starting to submerged part of their countries (Leem, 2015). Mountain countries like Nepal was also not skipped from the climate change. They suffer water shortages due to temperature, decreases in precipitation, along with the increasing water use. They also suffer serious and recurrent floods during 2002 to 2004 (IPCC, 2007). Developed European countries are also not flee from the climate change. In 2013, unusual heat-waves stroke Western Europe countries, causing hundreds of deaths in France, UK, and Athens (Dailymail, 2013). 

The latest IPCC 5th Assessment Report (2014) has some important finding that will lead us to the rest of this essay. First, it said that the warming of climate system is unequivocal. Second, it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming. Third, human influence has been detected in the warming of the atmosphere and ocean. In other word, as the main causes of the climate change, it is imperative for us to innovate and change the way we live. However, although people have been convinced that the climate change is real; change does not come in a blink. In his lecture, Dietz (2015) one of the insight withdrawn from behavioural economics is that “people are motivated to do the right thing.” This is where religion plays a significant role in mitigating the climate change. 

In discussing about the religion role to the climate change issue, it is important for us to examine where these religion stands on this issue and what does it says to their believers. The Roman Catholic, as also the other Abrahamic religion, which are Muslim, Christian, and Judaism, believes that human are created in accordance to God’s image and we bear the entrusted to manage the other creatures in a responsible manner (Holy Bible, Genesis 1: 27- 30). 

In addressing social and political economy issue, the Holy See – as the centre of Catholicism in the world – divides the issues into two (Barrera, 2001), which are the First-order Principles for the pre-eminence of human dignity and integral human development, from which other Second- order Principles are derived. One of the Second- order principles is Gift of the Earth. The Gift of the Earth consists of two main principles, which are stewardship and universal access. The principle of stewardship defines as “the obligation of caring properly for the goods of the earth and of using them for the ends for which they were created: to meet human needs and to reveal the glory of God” (Barrera, 2001: 279). In doing so, human are given the gifts of reason and free will, and thus, are expected to hold accountable for managing the environment. The principle of universal access also needs to be considered while managing the environment, where there should be no one excluded from enjoying the fruits of nature. Both principles are particularly relevant in the context of economy where human’s greed lead to unsustainable exploitation of the nature and monopoly of the capital. 

The Catholic’s view environment also strongly felt by Saint Francis of Assisi through his famous prayer named “Canticle of Sun.” In it, he praised and gave thanks to God for all his creation of nature. He is also attributed as the Patron Saint for Poverty, Animals, and the Environment. 

Aspired by his dedication to the nature and concerned by the current environmental deterioration, the current Catholic Pope – who also took Francis as his papal name – released the ground-breaking encyclical letter all the Catholic in the world known as Laudato Si: On the Care of Our Common Home last May (2015). There, he reminds the world of the severe implications of the climate change. He stresses the human roots of the ecological crisis, from the side effect of technology, the globalisation of technocratic paradigm, and the crisis of modern anthropocentrism. He underlines the problem of consumerism, importance of access to safe drinkable water as a basic and universal human right, the role of gender, and particularly highlights that population control does not address the problems, saying that “since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion” (Francis, 2015: 120). 

Further, the Laudato Si also provides some tangible recommendation on what is required to be done by the believers and beyond. It calls for an integral ecology between environment, economic, and social, the new lifestyle, the role of cultural ecology, the principle of the common good, as well as justice between the rich and the poor and inter- generations. At the level of policy, it also urges better dialogue in the international community, new national and local policies, transparency in decision making, political and economy in dialogue for human fulfilment, as well as religions in dialogue with science. 

The Pope’s initiative is applaud by many. Lord Nicholas Stern immediately gave a positive response saying that it “fills the leadership gap left by the world’s politicians” (Tablet, 2015). In another opportunity, he also mentioned that it was perfectly timed’ for the COP 21 that was held just a few months after (Stern, 2015). 

Being religious in this increasingly secular modern world requires us to not only trust and obey in our own doing, but also to bring fruits to the world. It means that we need to contemplate our beliefs to the context of contemporary problems and be a light to be the solution, particularly to the pressing issues like the climate change. Taking no action and satisfy with just praying is another modern form of hypocrites, just like those mentioned in the Holy Bible that love to stand and pray out loud in the synagogues and at the street corners, but steal from the poor. The least we can do as believers is not to be another problem of it. This essay could be better with further research, particularly on the correlation between believes and practicing the environmental protection.