Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Scientific Age and Scientism

In the year 2015 the Israeli historian Yuval Harari who wrote: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, was translated into Korean and continues to be a best seller.

A Jesuit researcher in the relationship of science and religion at Sogang University, in an article in the Kyeongyang magazine, gives the readers the place of 'scientism' in our present world.

He takes a paragraph from the book and introduces it to the readers. "According to biology humans were not only not created but they were endowed with nothing from the 'creator'. Existence is only a meaningless evolutionary process. Individuals have been born into existence without purpose. From the creator we were endowed should be translated merely as born."

How can a historian not a scientist speak such words with confidence? And how can the readers of these words accept them as written?

Science explores the world and nature through the many kinds of rational inferences that exist in the world. Through its search, it has influenced our lives and thinking in many ways. It is precisely this influence that Yuval Harari presents to his readers.

From the beginning, natural science to be more exact natural philosophy, began with religion. Our ancestors looking at the night sky, the gleaming ocean of stars, the majesty of the sunset and sunrise were overcome with awe which gave birth both to religion and natural science. "Since through the grandeur and the beauty of the creatures we may, by analogy, contemplate their Author" (Wisdom 13:5).

In response to the beauty of creation, we have the birth of twins: a religion which in awe began to ask who was the creator and the other twin began to ask from the same awe, its nature, and order and pursued its study.

However, sadly in the 18th century from the time of the enlightenment, atheism and the movement against religion arose.

In France, we can easily see the movement against religion. During the French Revolution (1787-1799) all the Carthusian monasteries were closed and property confiscated. This continued under the reign of Napoleon only five monasteries continued to exist. In Portugal, Spain, and Switzerland we have the same.

During this period against religion, the scientists raised questions and doubts about the unseen world: God, angels, soul, and the church's teaching. With the rise of science, we have very naturally the importance of the material and the spiritual was ignored and opposed.

Since this has been the situation for hundreds of years it is now understood by many that Science and Religion can not exist together. For some of the leaders of this movement, God doesn't only not exist he is not needed. With mockery, they confidently express their opinion.

Many ordinary citizens sympathize and support this position and foresee shortly that all will be answered by science. In the 21st century, we see this antipathy towards religion because religion is seen as superstition and needed by the weak members of society.

Can science answer all our questions? Scientism says yes, and sees the teachings of religion as fabrications and delusions.

Richard Dawkin's The God Delusion is a good example of this thinking. Most of the natural scientist in the world today are atheists. This scientism is not something that we can dismiss off-hand for it is influencing our society.

We can see this, not only in the young who were brought up as Catholics but in the other religious communities with the decrease of young people participating in religious life.

Does science succeed in giving answers to all our questions? Does religion in this world environment still have meaning? As Christians in this scientific world in which we live, we must understand what is going on, accurately identify the problems, and have answers.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Gap Between Life and Religion

In a world where money is everything... the life of the Christians and religion little by little are separating. This is not only true in Korea but we see this in many other parts of the world. The Catholic Weekly gives us some statistics of the situation in the Korean Catholic Church. In 2020, the Bishop's Korean Catholic Pastoral Institute analyzed the Korean Catholic Church Statistics for the past 20 years from 1999 to 2018.

Although the numbers of Catholics continue to increase since 1999, there was a 48.6 percent increase of believers but a consistent yearly decrease in the numbers coming into the church. Last year the increase was 0.9% the lowest it's ever been.

Those entering the church, which can be used to check the religious life of believers, continue to fall. In 2014, there was a temporary increase of 2.2%. This can be seen as a "Francisco effect" influenced by Pope Francis' visit to Korea that year.

The ratio of believers to the total population has risen by about 0.1% each year, from 8.3% in 1999 to 11.1% in 2018. However, the Sunday Mass attendance rate, the main indicator of the believer's life of faith, fell more than 10% from 29.5% in 1999 to 18.3% in 2018. The proportion of believers is increasing but the rate of believers who participate in Sunday Mass, the duty of believers, is falling rapidly.

It is worth paying attention to the decline in the attendance rate of believers at Sunday Mass. In a rapidly changing world, the polarization of life, materialism, and the reality of a competitive society are deeply rooted in the church, showing the gap between believers' lives and their beliefs. It is not only recently that the issue of apathy in the church has been highlighted. The Church has been trying to identify and solve these problems, represented by statistical numbers.

The statistics over the past two decades are not optimistic. There are many negatives, a decline in believer growth, a decline in mass attendance and a decrease in the number of children. Believers are turning away from the church because of the anxiety of life due to secularism, relativistic values, extreme consumerism, individualism, and neoliberal capitalism. The public's appetite for Catholicism is also decreasing.

The Catholic Pastoral Institute of Korea proposed a solution to the pastors: get rid of authoritarianism and become a church of the poor. It is time for the pastors to draw people by their human attractiveness as priests, and concern for the poor and the marginalized. Pope Francis wanted pastors  "who smell like their sheep"; he said he wanted a church "that is poor and for the poor." He envisioned the church as a field hospital, where those shattered by a "throwaway culture" can receive mercy's balm. In all of this, Pope Francis sought to move the church toward the very same goal his predecessors had desired: a "new evangelization for the world and a "new springtime" for Catholicism.

POSTSCRIPT: A Gallup Survey on religious preference among the citizens of Korea excepting Chejudo was made in May of 2019. Citizens from 13 years old and above were the subjects of the personal interviews of 1,700 persons. The results showed that Buddhism was the most favored religion with 25% in 2014 and in 2019, 26%. Protestantism showed a favorable response of 21% in 2014 and 20% in 2019. Catholicism in 2014 was 16% favorable and in 2019 dropped to 11%. Those who had no good feelings toward religion in 2014 were 38%, in 2019 it rose to 43%. Something for Catholics to ponder and ask why?

Saturday, January 18, 2020

A New Year With the Hope of Peace in Korea

A religious sister begins her column 'In the Eyes of the Believer' of the Catholic Times with a greeting from the Book of Numbers: “May God uncover his face to you and bring you peace"(Numbers 6:26).

She was impressed with "The Two Popes”, a film directed by Fernando  Meirelles. The film deals with the meeting of two living popes: Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.  Although a fictional melodrama, the film shows the meeting of two popes who have achieved a peaceful transformation of church history. It is a portrayal of two men done realistically, with wit and religious sensitivity.

Personally for the Sister, the most beautiful and impressive scene in the film was the dialogue and confession of the two popes and subsequent blessing. This scene of reconciliation with God, self, and the painful past is a turning point in the film,  in church history, expressed as a sign of reconciliation and peace. In hope of a new transformation, she looks back on Pope Francis' World Peace Day message and finds in its words a way of resolving the conflicts in our society.

She often hears stories of nuns who are struggling with the large gatherings (demonstrations for and against government policy) held every weekend—the communities' house is adjacent to the place holding the demonstrations. On the way to and from the home, they hear swearing, spitting, and mild violence from the participants; they are fearful of the threatening atmosphere. On Mondays in the same area before and after the Mass for Peace on the peninsula, they see and hear similar insulting comments. from the believers.

With these experiences, when she looks back at the various conflicts that are currently occurring in Korea, many come from the history of division and ideological conflicts experienced in the past and she feels sad thinking of those who are hurting. The division between the two Koreas is a pain that the whole Korean peninsula suffered, the pain of the church included in society, and since her congregation was founded in Pyongyang, they are waiting for the day of reunification. So as we approach the Lunar New Year, we will feel more pressing our desire for true reconciliation and peace.

Every year, the Church announces the World Peace Day message for the New Year, and in this year's 53rd World Peace Day message, Pope Francis talked about peace as a journey of hope with the theme of dialogue, reconciliation, and ecological conversion. In his discourse, the pope wrote: Don't be limited by what one says or does but what is deep inside and is cherished. He urges all of us to join the journey of peace, listening and understanding each other, a journey of peace through dialogue, forgiveness with patience and trust, and treating each other as brothers and sisters. The Pope also mentions the Japanese atomic bomb victims (Hibakusha) who have kept the scars of war intact and praises them for participating in peace activities as witnesses for future generations as they overcame the pains of the past.

In the film, the two popes differed in many ways, in personality and taste, and different in their way of loving and sacrificing for the Church. But as much as they loved the church, they opened their hearts to one another, listened and empathized with each other for the new transformation of the church, and began a new journey of reconciliation with the world. Even if we have different generations, different realities, different political inclinations, we are eager to listen to each other's pains, to sympathize with them, and to go on a journey of peace through dialogue.

Also, Pope Francis sublimates the wounds and pains of his past misjudgments, reconciling the world with poverty and humility, and bringing peace to the world as a servant of the Church. We hope that like a wounded healer with scars of war, and a Korean peninsula cut at the waist, we will move forward as workers for peace on the Korean peninsula, in Northeast Asia, and even peace in the world.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Looking At North Korea With the Eyes of a Believer

News about North Korea is seen daily on Korean TV, in news articles, on the internet. It is one of the big issues in our society. We had a war and continue squabbling. For the most part interchanges between the North and South have stopped, between governments restricted. Most of the news of the North comes through the media and the internet. A young researcher with a doctorate in North Korean Studies writes in the Kyeongyang magazine on seeing the North with the eyes of a Christian.

Each year the media and research centers report on Jan. 1st New Year's Address of the North. The analysis of the address gives the South hints on the future relationship and outlook on the Peninsula. Important is the present situation, preparing for the future both for the country and industry.

The writer mentions that in her studies for the masters and doctorate on North Korean studies one of her major concerns was the inaugural New Year's address. A reason to wait for the  New Year and the curiosity and stimulation that would come from the new textbook. Often it would give a new theme to ponder. Those who knew of her specialty would be asking questions about the North. When a missile was launched her acquaintances would ask about the situation with the North, South, and US. Even though that was her subject matter she would be looking avidly at the news each day for things that could change quickly.

When the South and the North shook hands she was overcome with emotion. But very quickly it fell apart and we heard words of provocation and a sigh followed. It was like riding a roller coaster, one moment emotions up and next moment down. Very difficult to experience. As a religious person she finds she desires the peaceful coexistence of the two parts of Korea and when her hope is shattered everything turns upside down.

Her desire for peace is strong and it stays with her during all the ups and downs in the political situation between the North and South. When her hopes were low she met a person whose desire of a lifetime was to see a united peninsula.

In 1960 a white-skinned blue-eyed, mid-twenty-year-old, now a white-haired old man came to our country. He would be similar to our grandfathers in greeting the young who came to his door. We would get to know our history in his words.

His name is Gerard E. Hammond M.M. A member of the Maryknoll Foreign Mission Society. He left the United States in 1960 by boat, took three weeks to arrive at  Inchon in August. He lived with the poor of the country in the South and in 1990 participated in programs giving food supplies to the North.

He has worked with the Eugene Bell Foundation which at the invitation of the North Korean government helped in the distribution of TB drugs for those sick with tuberculosis in the rural areas of the North. The roads were not paved and would take a whole day to get to some of the areas to meet the sick. Since TB is contagious great care was taken and the work was done outside. This kind of arduous task was done for close to 60 trips to the North. He wonders when he will be going again and how those who he last saw are doing.

In the early days saying Mass, he would be using coal briquets and sawdust to heat the church. He is now 86 years old but has not lost the heart of a missioner. He continues to worry about those sick in the North for the increase in political discord makes humanitarian aid mission difficult.

The writer after talking to Fr. Hammond and hearing the need to act like human beings and thinking deeply about the situation between the South and North,  as a believer she doesn't know what to think about the North. When Pope Francis visited Korea in 2014 he asked for prayers. This evening at 9:00 when she hears the alarm go off from her handphone she will say an Our Father and Hail Mary for Peace on the Peninsula and not be upset with all the confusion that comes with news and direct her prayers to God (Korean Catholics have been asked by the Bishops of Korea to daily at 9:00 pm pray for peace on the peninsula).

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Loss of Meaning In Life

"We were born without a reason and we need to keep living without a reason" are words used by some to console in our modern society. Sad is the way the loss of belief in God is not seen as a reason for the agony of many and the loss of meaning in life.

In the Catholic Peace Weekly, the recent editorial comments on the need to have concern for the hardships of life and the despair that so many have to endure. This shows in the number of those taking their own lives and the lives of family members.

Suicide remains the number one cause of death among young people in South Korea. Overall Korea has one of the highest rates of suicide in the world. Despite the efforts of the government to tackle the problem, the suicide rate among the elderly is high. The amount of poverty among the elderly is a prominent reason for despair.

One of the sad aspects of this situation is the tragedy of parents committing suicide after killing their children. The editorial reacts to the recent example of a family of three found dead in their apartment. Since September of last year, there have been 10 similar cases reported in the press. Outwardly everything in society seems to be going well but internally there are many wounded and crying for help and not heard.

Reports by the police and experts show two major reasons for parents to make these extreme decisions. One is emotional problems such as family discord and depression, divorce and separation; the other is the sudden change in economic conditions due to poverty, debt or business failure.

In particular, the economic situation worsened in the middle class and the lower levels of the higher class where there are no state or local government support. Attention needs to be paid to the lower-level members of the higher class, considered to be about 940,000 people. They are now in the welfare blind spots, they need to be found and helped.

Nevertheless, we should not consider suicide and the killing of children as inevitable because of economic problems. The 15 children who have died since September never chose to commit suicide. They are victims of crimes, murder by mothers and fathers with an unhealthy understanding of family relationships.

The church must be more active in preventing these kinds of tragedies. Good use of the parish structure, which is divided into villages and districts, can help find neighbors in trouble and avoid these extreme choices.

WHO estimates that about 1 million people die each year from suicide. It is difficult to understand what drives a person to take their own life but the pain is so great that they see no other way. They are looking for other ways to relieve their pain but they can't find it. Society doesn't make it easy for those with pain to find the extra strength to overcome their problems and search for answers in the community in which they live. Our individualistic lifestyle makes this difficult but not impossible; we need to be messengers of meaning to those who have lost it.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Like the Flow of a River

In the Peace Column of the Catholic Peace Weekly, the writer tells the readers he has reached his
 60th birthday. The traditional 60-year lunar calendar would end a 60-year cycle and begin a new cycle with the new year. At age 60 you began a new cycle celebrating longevity and a new beginning.

Also, at 60 you understand the real intention of people and have an obedient ear. In his case, he doesn't see this happening. Rather afraid that he is becoming more intolerant and stubborn. He sees the many regrets, and anger which he hasn't been able to overcome and continues to groan about the past. He continues to be scared and aloof from the world and far from where he wants to be.

What's different about the New Year? The earth only traveled one more time around the sun. There is no substantial difference between 2019 and 2020. There is no starting line or finish line in outer space. The time of eternity flows silently, ignoring human naming and counting-- neither happy nor sad. It's just another year to live. What is the meaning of time? Looking back, life at times seemed long and on the other hand, it passed in the blink of an eye. One is not able to grasp time.

At the end of the year, we can hear the lamentation: "It's already December." "Time goes by really fast." "One year has passed like lightning." Why do humans miss the absolute time and measure the time with clocks?

Time is not flexible. Time does not flow evenly throughout the universe. Since Einstein, science has broken down the absoluteness of time. Slow on the flat ground and fast on the top of the mountain. Einstein's theory of relativity states that time and space are not as constant as everyday life would suggest. Time can run faster or slower depending on how high you are, and how fast you are traveling.  The uniqueness, independence, universality, continuity, and direction of time all fell apart.

I am filled with many doubts as the lunar New Year approaches. Does time exist? Man wrestles before time, draws pictures of gold in the air as they count the passing of time. "Teach us to count how few days we have and so gain wisdom of heart" (Psalm 90,12). God's way of counting is different from human counting. "To you, a thousand years is a single day"(Psalm 90,4).

Maybe time is an illusion. It may be an optical illusion that change makes. Man who lives in the moment does not understand eternity and absoluteness. You just fall into a memory trap and struggle to get out. You and my time are different There is no common present. There is only each person's time standing alone before the Creator.

Today becomes yesterday. Tomorrow is today again. So there is only today. The past has passed away into His arms, and the future has not yet been laid. So 'present' and 'gift' have the same meaning.

As you get older, you have to bow your head, but the neck is getting stiffer. More things to be thankful for, to share and relinquish but one doesn't know-how. He is full of pride and stingy in forgiveness and love. He has more things to discard.

“My grace is enough for you: my power is at its best in weakness”(2 Cor 12: 9). He understands this faintly. Wow, grace can be found in weakness. When we are weak the opportunity is there to become strong.

Twilight is visible far away. I will not be afraid. I will flow along like a river. I will reveal my weakness and ask for help. "Let nothing perturb you, nothing frighten you. All things pass. God does not change. Patience achieves everything" (St. Therese of Avila).

Friday, January 10, 2020

Idée fixe (Fixed Idea) in the Church

In the Eyes of the Believer's Column of the Catholic Weekly, a priest gives the readers his opinion on girl servers at the altar. 

Recently he expressed his thoughts on the subject to a group of parishioners. "Girls may be altar servers until they graduate from elementary school but when they enter middle school should stop." One of the believers answered: "Isn't that discrimination against women?" The priest had always considered himself proud that he had always treated the men and women the same and was sorry by what he had said.

In his former parish, all servers were boys and he reorganized so the girls could serve. It was not only that. On Holy Thursday for the liturgy of the washing of the feet which only the men participated, he changed it to half men and half women. Discrimination continues to appear when there is no reason.
Since then, at the Mass of the Last Supper, men and women have come to the altar and sat in chairs to participate in the ceremonies.

In fact, gender role stereotypes are deeply rooted in the church and are ongoing. In the parish, for example, the pastoral council president and pastoral members are largely male. In particular, the pastoral president is regularly a male. Where the parish pastoral policy is discussed and determined, unconsciously the patriarchal way of thinking that women are inferior to men dominates. Fortunately, if there is a parish where a woman presides as president it often is recognized as a woman president which in its own way is showing discrimination.

Gender discrimination in the church has long been a chronic problem because of insensitivity to sexism. We need to ask ourselves whether there are areas we need to adapt to in this rapidly changing society.

Moreover, these days, if the 'Me-too' movement is spreading in society, and hate crimes against women are widespread, the church needs to be conscious of the way it is perceived by society. Some positions have to be maintained but others do not. For the church to evangelize the world, self-evangelization must first take place. Self-evangelization means self-renewal and change.

Society is very sensitive to sexism. The first issue received by the National Human Rights Commission was about color discrimination. A complaint submitted by a civic group suggests that distinguishing between products for girls and boys according to color violates the human rights of children.

Pink products are introduced for girls and blue products are introduced for boys. The classification of products by gender is a human rights violation according to many in society that enforces gender role stereotypes. In this way, society has come to a situation where it is necessary to sharply point out and even correct unconscious sex discrimination rooted in everyday life.

In this age where travel abroad is easy when Koreans go to a Catholic church, they will compare it with their home church. There are many differences, but the one that stands out is at the communion you have both men and women helping the celebrant to dispense the Eucharist.

In Korea, only men are allowed. When you have programs on sacramental education, only men gather. Someone who participates in a Sunday Mass in a foreign country and has received the Eucharist from a female would ask: "Why does the Korean Church only allow men to dispense the sacrament?'