Friday, February 25, 2005


Charity and Utopia

I still feel a little bit fired up. This evening I saw my favourite Biblical exegete speak. Gianfranco Ravasi is probably one of my favourite writers and speakers "tout court". His presentation wasn't the usual sort that an expert of his calibre gives, where he analyses the text itself and the text, a unicum of form and content, WAS the content. The talk was about the theme called "The Theocracy of Charity"..... I had no idea what to expect of that topic, but with someone so illuminating, he came up with the goods. It's impossible to not be bowled over by his intellect, clarity and great communicative skills. Almost too much material for me to be able to even assimilate right now. But, while my mind is still running circles around the enormous quantity of material he presented, (good thing I took notes, I've now got a pretty long reading list!) I feel the urgency to present just a few of the considerations he made, and how they relate to the Palestinian struggle for justice, and the need of all of the people in the Middle East to have a true peace take over.

He spoke of the dimensions of the sacred and the secular spheres, carefully and skillfully critiquing the exclusiveness of the project inherent in the extremes of these philosophies. He referred to two dimensions of this dichotomy, the faith vs the political, moral responsibility vs society and ethics vs economy, mentioning that there is a distinction, even if often there is not a complete separation. He made a very convincing critique of the prevarication of one over the other, and opted for the consideration of the sacred aspect (a protected zone) having the capacity to in some way coexist but not override the secular (human) zone. What was especially relevant to me in his discussion was the argument of Utopia. He said that it is not a land of dreams, but that it is a project that aims at completeness. It is a transformation of society itself. It has to aim high and avoid "the practice of the minimum", which sets low goals, because it sees them as pragmatic. It keeps in mind the final reality, the "ultimate reality", as he called it, the transcendent one where one not only responds to one's own conscience, but to supreme values that he nominated in the Seven Precepts of Gandhi.

It was particularly inspiring to hear the final one of Gandhi: "There can be no religion without faith". (Faith as the belief in the higher values of love). Condemning the emptiness of any religion which does not include the concept of compassion or love for the other, because love is all about a relationship between two or more individuals, and it has as its precondition the reciprocity of donation: between myself and the other, there is a common thread. It is about Charity, and that comes from the Greek word Charis, which means "grace". Therefore, one has to recognise the sacred element of love, and that is the spiritual dimension of charity. The requirement of compassion and identification with the other.

But, the most interesting conclusion to this affirmation was that there has to be balance. He didn't define balance as drawing the middle line. "It is not necessarily the point in the middle, quite the contrary". It is the capacity to somehow join together the two diametrical parties. It is contact, not separation. It is understanding what Justice is about. He made a fascinating presentation of the Biblical history of Justice, from the distributive justice of the "eye for an eye" to the Law of Lamech (7 + 70), which turns into a spiral of violence, and which seems to be the way that society has decided to practice Justice and punshiment, as if those who have the secular power are also divine and have the right to mete out justice in a manner far outweighing the "crime". Rage in itself is a sin, (he defined sin as a social fault, an act against the society, against the other) but anger over injustice is turned into a virtue.

One of his sources was Racine. I didn't catch the name of the piece he was quoting (he quoted his French sources in French, his Hebrew ones in Hebrew, his Greek ones in Greek, and so forth... I had all I could do to just stop marvelling at the erudition of this speaker), but the line remains firmly impressed in my mind, and it could relate very well to the situation of the Palestinian people who are seeking justice, whose search for compassion from those who dominate them will someday be rewarded if this project for Utopia can avoid Minimalisation and if it has the courage to Think Big: "This Temple is also my country, for I know no other".


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