Chesterton on Private Religion

Chesterton on Private Religion

G. K. Chesterton (1874–1936), “Introduction to the Book of Job”:

The modern habit of saying “Every man has a different philosophy; this is my philosophy and it suits me”—the habit of saying this is mere weak-mindedness. A cosmic philosophy is not constructed to fit a man; a cosmic philosophy is constructed to fit a cosmos. A man can no more possess a private religion than he can possess a private sun and moon.

Any comments?

History at the Crossroads: Evaluating Pope Pius XII’s Legacy

Once again the issue of Pope Pius XII’s potential beatification has come back into the news. Indeed, many people wonder: how could the Pope bequeath sainthood to a man who watched 1000 Jews in Rome being rounded up to the gas-chambers, without so much as uttering a protest? Questions like these are difficult to answer… however, it is easy for us to be critical after the fact; however, it is a huge leap to presume that Pope Pius XII did little or nothing to help Jews as they were being murdered by the Nazis.

The Vatican claims that Pope Pius XII did his best to operate, “from behind the scenes,” and did as much as he could to speak out against the evils of Nazism. While many Jewish leaders find this argument difficult to accept, it is still worth asking, “What if the Vatican is actually correct in making such an argument?”

Let me share with you a personal anecdote that occurred this past year.

When Father Patrick Desbois, the author of the best-selling book “Holocaust by Bullets: A Priest’s Journey to Uncover the Truth Behind the Murder of 1.5 Million Jews,” spoke at St. Ambrose University this past year, I had the opportunity to ask him his question about Pope Pius XII’s beatification. “Are you for it or against it?” I asked him. He replied, while rushing out the door with a clear but brief response: The Vatican must open its archives once and for all for everyone to see, once they do, then we shall know how to answer this question.

Well, the Vatican plans on doing exactly that and by 2015, and we will see the archival material made available covering Pope Pius XII’s leadership from 1939-1958. I am among a number of people who happen to think that the Pope will be vindicated for the most part. Along with enormous power comes enormous responsibility.  After Pope Pius XII died, many Jewish leaders from the Italian community felt a debt of gratitude toward the historical Pontiff. Continue reading “History at the Crossroads: Evaluating Pope Pius XII’s Legacy”

Behind the Theology of Ecology

For several decades now, many theological and secular ecological  thinkers tend  to blame the ecological woes of the planet on the Bible.  Unfortunately, such a perspective comes from well-meaning people who seldom study the biblical teachings about ecology. By the same token, most ecological advocates are woefully unaware of what the Jewish and Christian traditions actually teach concerning the primacy of biblical stewardship.

Without belaboring the issue, here is one of my favorite midrashic teachings on the subject.

When the Holy One, blessed be He, created the first man, He took him and led him round all the trees of the Garden of Eden, and said to him, ‘Behold My works, how beautiful and commendable they are! All that I have created, for your sake I created it. Pay heed that you do not corrupt and destroy My world. For if you do spoil her, there will be nobody to repair her after you.[1]

This Midrashic interpretation highlights the importance of stewardship, not only for the Garden of Eden, but for our taking care of the earth, God’s garden. By taking care of the primordial garden, Adam learns to recognize that all of life is God’s unique design, endowed with spirit, consciousness, and intelligence. Adam’s respect for Creation makes him realize that the human species is a part of the great web of life, which he must nurture for the world to be self-sustaining and productive. Indeed, the degradation of the environment damages the original balance that Adam and his progeny must maintain. Through toil, Adam would realize how all of Creation depends on the Divine as the source of life for its sustenance and continued existence.

Understanding the implications of Adam’s stewardship is vital for our contemporary society.  The science of ecology has shown how ecosystems of the world are delicately balanced; should human beings ruin them through abusive acts (ecocide), future generations will have to endure the consequences. Through work and stewardship, humankind comes to emulate God’s own work and creativity as Imitatio Dei (imitation of God). It was the divine intent from the beginning for humankind to elevate and ennoble itself by means of work, and in so doing, elevate Creation to the realm of the spirit, leading all Creation in song and joyous exaltation of the Divine. Note that God intended to make Adam not a “master” over the Garden of Eden, but rather, its caretaker and steward. Once Adam forgets that he is only a steward of the garden, the boundaries established by the Creator became unclear and ultimately violated.


[1] Eccles. Rabbah 7:20.