NCR Podcast: Interview with Albert Nolan
Part One (20:35)
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† On the line with me today, from Johannesburg, South Africa is Dominican Father, Albert Nolan. He is the author of the newly released book from Orbis [Books]: Jesus TodayóA Spirituality of Radical Freedom. Albert Nolan played a significant role in the church struggle against apartheid.
His first book, Jesus Before Christianity, sold 150,000 copies. In that classic work, Nolan stressed the political context of Jesusí mission. Now in this new sequel, he focuses on the spirituality of Jesus and its relevance for us today. After surveying the signs of the times, he outlines the elements of Jesusí spirituality and shows how these lessons might promote a greater communion with God and with Godís creation.
Elizabeth A. Johnson, the theologian, has written: ďWhat Albert Nolan did 30 years ago with Jesusí passion for justice, he does again with Jesusí spirituality. Writing simply and clearly as a bell, he lays out the heart of the gospel in such a way that it lights up the world and ignites the heart of the reader. What a pleasure it is then to have with us, Albert Nolan.
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Thank you, and Iím very pleased to meet you, even if it is on the telephone.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† In what year did you first write Jesus Before Christianity?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Nineteen seventy-five. I wrote it in 1975; it was published in South Africa in 1976, so itís more than 30 years old.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† For our listeners today, perhaps you could tell us a little bit about what you tried to achieve in Jesus Before Christianity.
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† The general idea of Jesus Before Christianity was, first of all, before his time. That is to say, what would Jesus have been like to his contemporaries before Christianity or the doctrines about Jesus, et cetera? The other meaning of ďbeforeĒ was in terms of priority ó that Jesus has priority over Christianity.
In other words, one can criticize Christianity in the name of Jesus, but Jesus has priority. That was the general idea. More specifically, I was interested in trying to show people more than 30 years ago, that Jesus, first of all, was human. That was very important, and I think very important at that time as it is today, that Jesus was fully human, as we say, in all things except sin.
Also, that Jesus was involved in the politics, economics, the crises, the ordinary, everyday things that we today would call secular or politics or economics, but were not separated out in those days. Because I lived in a country where we were struggling against apartheid and very many [Christians] were saying, ďOh, you mustnít interfere in politics. Christianity is about the individual and being saved in order to go to heaven.Ē I wanted to show, no, Jesus was concerned about what was happening in his time ó the politics, the economics, the social problems and all the rest.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† You were responding to the signs of the time in South Africa too, and to apartheid.
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† In that sense, yes; not specifically the signs of the times. I donít specifically describe the situation in South Africa in that book, but I wanted to talk about Jesus in a way that would correct some of the misunderstandings about Jesus that were common in South Africa at that time, and that were making it difficult for people to oppose the racial injustice of that time.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† Even today, there is a sense that one hears, here in the United States and elsewhere, that Christians shouldnít get involved in politics, that itís a spiritual religion, and ďWhy are you trying to change society?Ē
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Yes, that does remain and it, in some senses, remains in South Africa, but there is now a development. Itís not quite the same situation as it used to be because they are fundamentalist-type Christians, who do get involved in politics today and say you must get involved in politics today. So itís a bit different from what it was before.
Those same fundamentalist Christians in the past were saying nothing to do with politics. Now, they do get involved, so it isnít quite the same situation, but Iíll explain in a moment why weíre sickened because the situation worldwideónot only in South Africaóis different today.
Tom Fox:†††††††† ††††††††††† What inspired you to write this second book after 30-some years?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Well, as I said, the situation is different and I would describe the difference by saying that I felt that I now needed to write a book that was not simply how Jesus was understood in his time, but what Jesus might mean to us today, to our contemporaries, to ourselves, in fact, in the world in which we live today.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† One of the reasons for that was that so many people donít believe in God to start off with, but also more and more people, it seems to me, feel that Jesus is irrelevant, so I wanted to say something about the relevance of Jesus. But it wasnít simply that.
In my own country, and I think elsewhere, we have struggled for social liberation, and having struggled for that, we discover that sometimes it doesnít fully work out the way we expected it to because the people involved do not have personal liberation. They are not liberated as individuals; they donít have inner freedom.
Consequently, there would be power struggles, corruption or people just trying to make more money out of it, becoming more individualistic and things like that. So it seemed to me that thereís another part of Jesus, if you like, that emphasizes the individual, the spirituality, the love and so forth, that also must go with struggling for social liberation.
If it doesnít go with it, the social liberation alone will not be successful. Thatís my experience of whatís happening here, but itís also my experience of whatís happening, as far as I know of it, worldwide, that social liberation without personal liberation is incomplete.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† So youíre sensing that thereís a more holistic ďJesus answerĒ in a way.
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Yes. The spirituality that Jesus had was more holistic but it was social and individual. He looked at the needs of society but it also looked at the needs of the individual and didnít separate the two. I see people, again and again, separating the two.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† Letís start by the subtitle, A Spirituality of Radical Freedom. I know that in the latter part of the book, in the final chapter, youíre dealing with radical freedom, but just as an introduction, perhaps you can explain why your subtitle reads Jesus TodayóA Spirituality of Radical Freedom.
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† First of all, I wanted to emphasize that if Jesusí spirituality is going to be in any way described or categorized, then I would call it spirituality of freedom. I think that is a characteristic of the spirituality throughout. Jesus was an amazingly free person and what he was bringing was not new constraints and so forth, not new prohibitions, et cetera, but freedom.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† That, I think, is very important to say today, on the one hand, because many people look at Christianity and the church and see it as something that constrains, it prevents people from being free, it prevents people from doing things, and is generally restrictive and I think thatís a mistake. Christianity is not supposed to be like that and Jesus was not like that.
So thatís the reason why the word ďfreedomĒ is there. But then, I also added ďradicalĒ because I wanted to point out that it wasnít really freedom in quite the same way as many people use that word, and it wasnít a superficial kind of freedom from the law or something like that, or the different kinds of freedom that I described in the last chapter as not what Jesus was about.
I called the kind of freedom that Jesus was about ďradicalĒ and it goes right down to the roots of the person, and that was Jesusí freedom. I could have called it ďinner freedomĒ I suppose, but I wanted to make sure that people understood it as both inner and outer freedom, a really radical freedom.
In other words, the kind of freedom that people are striving for, I criticize. I say Jesus would not have had that kind of freedom because itís not radical enough. Itís not as if one is saying that people are asking for a radical freedom and Jesus gives a little bit of it as superficial freedom. Iím saying Jesusí freedom is far deeper, far more profound, far more radical.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† The book is dedicated to the memory of Thomas Merton. We all know Thomas Merton and love his writings; why Thomas Merton?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† He had such a big influence on me. I became a Dominican and entered the Dominican Order after reading Thomas Merton, so his influence upon me, and I know his influence upon so many other people, but also particularly because Thomas Merton stands out for me as an absolutely honest person who developed and changed.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† He changed his ideas over the years and had that kind of freedom to change. He saw that he had been incorrect or mistaken before, so he would change that attitude. The Thomas Merton who first goes into Gethsemane and the Thomas Merton who dies in Bangkok are someone who has developed a long way. That was one of the reasons why I put him in.
Thomas Fox:††††††††††††††† You have a foreword written by Timothy Radcliffe, the former head of the Dominican Order. Is there any particular reason, except for the obvious, as to why you chose Timothy Radcliffe to write the foreword?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Well, I know him and I know him well, and we have often talked about this and many other similar things. I thought he would appreciate the book and I thought if he recommended it in the preface, then people would take notice of the book. So yes, we are friends, so I asked him to do that. We are brothers in the same Dominican Order.
Thomas Fox:††††††††††††††† Remind me, what is the proper way that one addresses the head of the Dominican Order?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Masteróthe Master of the Orderóor many people would say the Master General of the Order.
Thomas Fox:††††††††††††††† Okay. For the record, if I recall correctly, you were chosen or elected to be the Master General of the Dominican Order, but you turned it down. Is that correct?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Thatís correct, yes.
Thomas Fox:††††††††††††††† What year was that, and perhaps you could explain the circumstances of that decision?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† It was 1983, at what we call a ďGeneral Chapter,Ē an elective chapter, when we elect a new Master General and I was elected, yes. Let me explain that in our constitutions, once you are elected, you are then asked, ďDo you accept?Ē and you are permitted to say no, you donít accept.
Then you must give the reasons why you donít accept. That is then debated, and then thereís another vote, and the second vote is whether the capitularsóas they call the people gathered there as votersóaccept your reasons or not, and they accepted my reasons. So it was not a defiant kind of thing at all; it was quite normal procedure that doesnít often happen.
The reasons why I asked that they accept me refusing it, or saying no, was because I thought it was much more important for me to go back to South Africa at that stage in 1983, because apartheid had been given a theological justification, and there was a desperate need for theologians who would stand up and contradict that. So I asked to be allowed to go back and do that ministry, that work, rather than to be Master of the Order, and they accepted that.
Thomas Fox:††††††††††††††† Have there been other examples in recent Dominican history where someone turns down the Master General position?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Actually, nobody knows because it has always been a secret, and this was supposed to be a secret too. When I did it, and when I discussed the whole thing and argued my case, we all thought that was going to be a secretóno one would ever know that. Itís a confidential discussion.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† But it leaked and got into the newspapers, so since that, we donít know, therefore, how often it might have happened in the past and what the results might have been, but historians will tell you, it surely did happen.
Thomas Fox:††††††††††††††† In your own preface to the book, you mention that youíre indebted to many people, and in a very special way youíre indebted to Pierre Bester for introducing you to recent psychological, spiritual authors like A.H. Almaas, Sandra Maitre, and Ken Wilber. Thatís interesting. Can you say something about those three authors I particular and how they have helped you in your own formation?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Yes. Let me say that in a certain sense, itís whatís sometimes called ďsecular spiritualityĒ these days. That is to say, the kind of spirituality that is developing outside of the church, which doesnít mean outside of any Christian or religious influence, but not specifically developing within the church the way Thomas Merton would have developed within the church.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Then let me just point out that they have developed, often, very deep insights, it seems to me, which are linked also to psychology. All three of them would be using psychology one way or another. Ken Wilber uses just about everything. Itís an incredible synthesis of everything.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Almaas, Iíll quickly explain if it interests you, is from California. He was born in Kuwait; his mother was from Iraq and his father was from Iran, I think. In any case, he came to America to study science in California and from the science and psychology, and the knowledge of religions and so forth, heís sort of† [distilled] a kind of spirituality.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Thatís called the Diamond Approach and he has an institute in Berkeley that develops that. But he also is interested in the Enneagram and Iím also interested in it and how it works. Perhaps the most important thing I learned from him was about the meaning of what I call oneness, and consequences of saying we are all one, and the universe is one, and we are one with God, et cetera.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† So I learned a lot, I think, in the meaning of that, which seemed to me did not contradict what Jesus said at all. Almaasósure, he knows Hinduism and Buddhism, but particularly Sukhis and the religions of Persia, et cetera, as well as Christianity, so heís got an incredible, broad understanding of spirituality.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Sandra Maitre comes from the same school; sheís a disciple of his. She developed it even further, and particularly the Enneagram. Ken Wilber, Iím sure many of your listeners will know. Heís very famous in the United States, a leading philosopher of today, who is also, at the same time, a mystic and a psychologist and a Buddhist, and all sorts of things. He has an incredible, synthetic mind bringing it all together.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† This concludes part one of an interview with Albert Nolan, the Dominican and author of Jesus TodayóA Spirituality of Radical Freedom. This is Tom Fox and this has been an NCR Podcast.
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Part Two (22:34)
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† This is part two of an interview with Father Albert Nolan, the author of the recently published Jesus Today ó A Spirituality of Radical Freedom, by Orbis [Books]. We were speaking about what led to the book. We were speaking about a little bit of the history of your own work and writing. Now, Iíd like to speak to you about the first section of this book.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† The book is really divided into four parts. ďThe Signs of Our TimesĒ is the first; ďJesusí SpiritualityĒ is the second; ďPersonal Transformation TodayĒ is the third; and ďJesus and the Experience of OnenessĒ is the fourth. In this part of the interview, weíre going to speak about ďThe Signs of Our Times.Ē The first sign of the time that you list is a hunger for spirituality. Can you address that a little bit?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† It comes out of the post modernism in the sense of a response to post modernism, if youíd like, but more perhaps as a response to modernity. Modernity places all the emphasis upon science and scientists that know everything or can know everything, and the material world is all that matters.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† It seems to me that there is more and more disillusionment with that, and in one way or another, people are seeking a spirituality, are looking for something beyond the material, are looking beyond science and technology for answers, and so forth.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† I think itís a whole part in the sense of post modernism, the search for something beyond the material. We have been very materialistic. We have been very confined to the material world, the physical world, and money and I think people are moving beyond that now.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† At the very beginning of ďThe Signs of the Times,Ē you speak that weíre also living on the edge of chaos, but also, because of a giant leap forward in our history and evolution, there seems to also be a possibility of a real advance.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† On the one hand, there is chaos, and on the other hand, there is this possibility of what kind of advance? Are you speaking of a social advance or spiritual advance? It is some kind of an advance. What are you trying to say?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Well, all of those things, but I think the principle thing that I had in mind was the new science. I call it the science of Einstein, understanding the universe as an unfolding universe, starting with the Big Bang and moving forward, and understanding the mystery of everything in the universe.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† All of these things mean that weíre going to have a different scientific outlook in the future. We already have it in some people, but more so in the future, that it will make a very big difference to faith and religion. There will be a place for faith and religion if you like, or rather, almost a hunger for it in the new way of looking at them.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Itís a tremendous opportunity. We have a whole new way of understanding the universe, and therefore, understanding ourselves, who we are and how we fit in that has great potential for the future, and great potential, I think, for moving beyond selfishness. However, at the same time, we are going headlong into more and more selfishness and individualism.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† If that wins out, then we will simply destroy ourselves, so there are these two tendencies, if you like. I said at one stage that the signs of the times today are ambiguous in that way. On the one hand, theyíre leading to chaos, and on the other hand, they are opening up incredible new possibilities for the future.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† You put the context of life today in the post modern era, and you mention post modernism. Could you, for the sake of our listeners, define post modernism in a succinct way?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† The usual understanding of post modernism is the age after modernity, and modernity stands for the rational emphasis on reason, the possibility of sorting out all our problems in the world by means of science and religion, and that we are making progress over the past. Democracy was very important in all of this, as were human rights. These were obviously very good.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† That was modernity. Modernity was promising a great future where everything was going to improve. There were differences of opinion about whether it was going to be improved through capitalism or communism maybe, but nevertheless, everybody saw development, improvement and progress as inevitable.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† However, what people began to gradually realize was that this rationalism, and these reasonable human beings were acting very unreasonably. We have the Nazis, the Second World War, and great civilizations that suddenly become full of violence. Even the great nations of today fail.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† All the things that were promised with progress are not working. The great ideologies are all shown today to be faulty. The grand narratives, as they are called, are all falling apart. People are disillusioned. Post modernism is part of that disillusionment and disappointment.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Sometimes, it is called deconstruction, because it is deconstructing all the grand ideas, all the principles, the certainties of science and religion, and all the certainties of economic progress or whatever. All these things are not just being questioned, but being recognized as having failed us.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† People are just not what they thought they were going to be when they were rational human beings. That disillusionment we call post modernism. It takes a lot of different forms. People are not interested in anything anyone says. Thereís not necessarily one truth.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† You can have your own truths, and you listen to somebody elseís truth. People are not even sure there is any kind of truths anymore. You just have to find what interests you, et cetera. Thatís a very broad idea of what post modernism is about.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† Right, and you see that in many people today, especially in the area of spirituality, where theyíre no longer finding the full truth within any institution, but they are [making it] piecemeal, looking a little into Buddhism, Taoism, yoga, or various different other ways, just trying to find something, and finding bits and pieces of truth in many areas.
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Thatís right.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† I heard it said that the Second Vatican Council was bringing the Catholic Church into the modern world, just as people were moving into the post modern.
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Thatís right. Post modern is being disillusioned with all that modernity stood for. Weíve got to face the post modern world, and ask what our faith means in these circumstances. I think the post modern world is a great opportunity myself, not just baptizing it. I donít mean that, but I think it opens up all sorts of possibility for faith and religion.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† The other sign of the time that youíre mentioning in the area of spirituality is this return to the past and fundamentalism. We see that in the Catholic Church. We see that among Protestant fundamentalists. We see it among Jews and certainly among Muslims. There is this need to hold on and to become rigid somehow.
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Yes, and to find absolute certainty, because in a world which is very insecure, and where all certainties, dogmas and doctrines are being questions, inevitably, there will be some people who seek this security in trying to go back to the absolute certainties that might have been there in the past.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† They werenít necessarily there, but they feel there were absolute certainties in the past, so people want to go back. Itís perfectly understandable that, in a development like this into the post modern world, there will be some people who want to go backwards.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† In the post modern world, you talk about trying to offer an appropriate spirituality, or you say at least that there is a search for the appropriate spirituality. By appropriate, do you mean a balanced spirituality? What do you mean by that?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† I donít necessarily mean balanced spirituality. Spiritualities in the past might have been balanced, too, but one that speaks to the concerns, issues, insecurities, and all the rest of people today. In other words, it doesnít speak to the past and how people were in the past.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Some of us perhaps still have the past in us or with us, but it is one that actually has something to say to the people of today, the post modern world, the people who are struggling, the people who are looking for something and perhaps donít even know what theyíre looking for.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† It needs to speak to that. It needs to speak to people who are asking for freedom and they may not know what theyíre asking for. Thatís why I also emphasize what freedom is, because we live in a world where people are asking for freedom. It has to speak to that, even if it contradicts the kind of freedom that some people are exercising or looking for.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† You also talk of growth in mysticism. Could you explain?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† There has been quite mysticism in the last forty years or so that was unprecedented, because previously, the mystics would have been regarded as people who were weird or different. They didnít have any contribution to make to the development and progress of people before, because you had to be scientific and so forth.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Mysticism did not appear to be scientific. Thatís all changed, although not for everyone, of course. Generally speaking, mystics are much appreciated today. I think the reason why they are much appreciated today is precisely because they often question the kind of doctrine and dogma rigidity of the institutional church.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† More importantly, I think the mystics come into their own today because the mystics are talking about experience. Theyíre not imposing teachings of some kind or another on you. They talk about their experience, and people want to hear about it. They want to hear about peopleís experience, whether itís experienced today or in the past. The fact that it is experience makes all the difference.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† This experience of God, you write that the mystics who have had this experience have certain characteristics. You write that they become happy, joyful, confident, humble, loving, free and secure.
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Yes, indeed. I think so. As Iím saying, this is something that people are discovering. You may have thought that these mystics were having a strange kind of reasons and so forth and that they were irrelevant, but today, we see the consequences of that in those people.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† The fruits of it are the kinds of things that people are looking for today. They will look to these mystics. People are not interested in proofs of the existence of God. People are interested in anyone who says he has experienced God.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† I donít want to get ahead of myself, but you also write later in the book that the saints of today have this experience of God, but they also have a very deep commitment to healing and to the social order. Theyíre not just one-dimensional.
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Thatís right, because those dimensions donít exist for them. It would take a long time to try and explain how originally mysticism and prophecy, or work for justice, on the one hand, and prayer and spirituality on the other hand were all one. They were not separated from one another.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† That separation comes with the age of reason and enlightenment, where you separate off the secular concerns and the religious concerns. Thatís a long story of its own. What I think I would want to say now is that people do not want to necessarily divide up all these things into compartments anymore.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† They just want to know about people experience. Whether itís scientific or comes out of science, or whether it comes out of a mystical experience, the two are seen as equally valid and interesting.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† You write that another component of this hunger for spirituality is a hunger for healing. What do you mean by that?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Letís start with the opposite of that. Iíve tried to describe that when I talk about Jesusí attitude to sinners. The opposite is condemnation, making people feel guilty, imposing things on people, telling them what they must do and all the terrible consequences if they donít do it and moralizing in that sense.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† That has been the kind of attitude that treats people as guilty, as sinners and condemns or blames. Iím saying that Jesus was not like that. Jesus saw people as certainly having faults, problems and so forth, but sort of more as wounded, as needing a healer or doctor, and not as needing condemnation.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Itís a totally different attitude to life. It comes up for many people in terms of the word sinner. Do we go around, looking for sin, condemning people to hell for their sins, or do we go around looking at people and seeing that weíre all struggling, that some are not very well, that theyíre all wounded. In various ways, we hurt.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† This is the kind of thing that Henri Nouwen was saying in his spiritual writings. Weíre all wounded and hurt, though perhaps differently, but letís help one another towards healing. To understand salvation in terms of healing would be a way that post modern people could understand. In any case, itís the way Jesus did it.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† This healing, again, is a holistic healing thatís spiritual, psychological, and physical, all in one.
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Once again, we need to be getting beyond all the divisions and departmentalization of things. That can have a certain value to distinguish the psychological from the physical, but in the end, we are all these things. Any particular human being or society has all of this together. Healing must be holistic in that sense.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† One of the problems is the way we have separated things, and so, you get physical healing. The work that many doctors do is they treat the physical as totally separate from the spiritual or the psychological. Most people are beginning to realize that doesnít work.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† The other element in spirituality that you write about is secular spirituality. You say that one of the most significant developments of our time is the separation of spirituality from religion. You hear young people say, ďIím spiritual but not religious.Ē There seems to be an increasing separation. Why is this happening, and what does it mean?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† I think itís because once people have a genuine hunger for spirituality, they are discovering that what is offered to them in the churches, and in other religious institutions as well, does not meet that hunger. In other words, they go to Mass, but the hunger for God, meaning, inner peace, inner freedom and all these kinds of things is not being met.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† This may be because perhaps they come out of it feeling terribly guilty and condemned if they donít live up to the teaching of the Church. They are not taught how to pray when they go there. Theyíre not taught how to live with one another and things like that.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† By and large, they either have certain doctrines and dogmas that they find very difficult to believe or there is a moral teaching that makes them feel guilty. People are not being nourished. Their hunger is not being fed by most of the things that happen in churches. Consequently, they look somewhere else.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† Why arenít many of the young finding what theyíre looking for in the Church today?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† I think it is several things. To begin with, there is the authoritarianism of the Church. Itís a bit of an exaggeration, because itís not all people in all churches, or in all parishes, but for post modern people, they donít even think they need to listen to that kind of thing if itís presented in an authoritarian way.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ďYouíve got to believe or else,Ē doesnít wash. It also makes people feel guilty. The authoritarianism is something that puts young people off. The other thing is that the doctrines and dogmas are not formulated in ways that would make sense to them. They are formulated in terms of philosophies or ways of thinking about life and the world that belong to the past.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† They cannot identify with this, so they find it very difficult to accept the doctrines and dogmas because of the way theyíre presented. There is an enormous theological task that needs to be done, which is the reformulation of almost all our doctrines and teachings.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† The teachings are fine. Thatís not the problem. The problem is the way itís formulated. The Second Vatican Council started to try to do that, but it hasnít gotten very far. Actually, it got very far with some theologians. Theyíve been working at it, but the Church, by and large, hasnít caught up with anything like that. Weíve got a long way to go.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† This concludes part two of an interview with Albert Nolan, the author of Jesus TodayóA Spirituality of Radical Freedom. Weíve been discussing the signs of the times as he presents them in this book. This is Tom Fox, and this has been an NCR Podcast.
Part Three (17:52)
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† This is part three of a conversation with Dominican Father, Albert Nolan, the author of Jesus TodayóA Spirituality of Radical Freedom, published by Orbis [Books]. In the earlier conversations, we were speaking of the signs of the times and a hunger for spirituality that seems to be prevalent in many parts of the world.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† And in this segment, we will speak about other signs of the times, and weíll continue to enter into part two of the book, which represents a conversation on Jesusí spirituality. In our earlier segment, we were talking a little bit about the hunger of spirituality as one of the signs of the time, and you list three other signs.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† You list the crisis of individualism, globalization from below and the science after Einstein. Could you deal with each of these, the first being the crisis of individualism and how this is leading perhaps to our own problems vis-ŗ-vis the earth?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Yes. Well, put very, very simply, itís the crisis has arisen because while we, in the Western world anyway, were pursuing individualism as a great ideal, being independent of everybody else and autonomous and so forth, we are beginning to discover now that that is not good for us. Itís put as simply as that.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† In other words, being selfish and self-centered is our problem, not the solution to our problems. I think Robert Bella, as I quote in the book, was somebody who pointed that out very strongly and had his team of sociologists who went around interviewing people in the United States discovering all the problems that had arisen because of this cult of the individual I quoted.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† So I think that is indeed a very, very big problem, and I argue that the global warming and the whole destruction of the earth can be traced back to human selfishness, that if we had not been selfish, if weíd been concerned for one another and for the future and for all of Godís creation, this would not have happened or we would have taken steps to stop it already or would do so soon. Therefore, the fundamental problem is selfishness. That is, in a nutshell, what I was trying to say.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† Now is the world economic system an outgrowth of this selfishness or does it reflect this selfishness or does it contribute to this selfishness?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Well, all of those things. I think, first of all, it does reflect it because our whole economic system is based upon selfishness ó grab for yourself and even the whole idea of profit taking and the emphasis on private property to such an extent that somebody can accumulate much more than they can ever use while others are starving, et cetera.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Certainly, our economic system runs on that self-interest and so forth. So, yes, it reflects the selfishness. On the other hand, it perpetuates it as well because you get into an economic system where you can only almost survive by being selfish. So, certainly, the only way you can prosper in that system is to be selfish. So it perpetuates selfishness, yes.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† They say that the economic system is the most efficient and it leads to growth, but youíre suggesting that maybe growth is not the most important thing that we have to deal with at the moment?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Absolutely, especially when growth means growth for some people and not for others. Then growth can then become a cancerous growth. Itís not an overall growth for the common good of everyone. In any case, growth is not the issue. The issue is more the distribution of what we have and together, trying to certainly grow in this sense that there is more for all of us.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† Do you feel that thereís any evidence today that people are moving away from this notion of this rugged individualism?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Yes, I think there is. I think, as I say, individualism is in crisis in the sense that it is being criticized and it is criticized very much from a Third World perspective. Other cultures looking at the Western culture see it as very selfish, if you like, very self-centered. Of course there are people around the world who imitate it.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† But, no, I think itís being seen as a problem, and I think psychologists are seeing it as a problem and people who get involved in a deeper spirituality are seeing it as a problem; the church through its social teaching and all there is, is certainly beginning to see this selfish individualism as a problem thatís destroying us.
Itís not very many people, perhaps, but I think itís growing, and I describe part of it in the next chapter under globalization as the growth in concern for justice and for peace.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† What do you mean by globalization from below?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Globalization is, as I explained in the book, simply spreading something throughout the globe. That in itself is neutral. It depends entirely on what you spread throughout the globe. Now what has been spread up until now has been spread from above in the sense that it is the rich and the powerful who are spreading the particular economic system and the particular understanding of trade and economic structures and so forth, and that has been called globalization.
But Iím saying that as a natural fact, there is another kind of globalization that comes from below, and that is the resistance to the globalization that comes from the top. That takes the form of people now coming together when they want to struggle for justice, globalizing that.
They have been able to have demonstrations, for example, with people from all around the world and many, many different organizations and so forth because of the Internet. So all of that globalizes the struggle against imperialism, the struggle against oppression, the struggle against injustice.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† Are these what you call the ďnew voicesĒ who are speaking out against globalization from the top?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Yes, I think that they are the new voices. There have always been, as I explained, voices who speak for the voiceless, the humanitarian kind of people, often religious people who are concerned about the poor in others.
But the new phenomenon that I see as one of the signs of the times is that the poor women, indigenous people and so forth, are not just allowing someone else to speak on their behalf, but they are speaking themselves.
They develop more and more organizations and movements, and these come together in the worldís social forum now so that they then have more of a voice in the world. So the voices are acquiring a voice globally, and thatís another kind of globalization.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† So the final sign of the time after hunger for spirituality, crisis of individualism and globalization from below, you list science after Einstein. What do you mean by the ďnew scienceĒ and how does this fit into one of these four signs of the time?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Well, first of all, perhaps itís easier to say what you mean by the new science by explaining what it is not. It is not the mechanistic science, I call it, of the past, which tended to see the universe as a kind of machine and tended to see human beings and other living things as sophisticated machines.
The new science is beginning to see that it is not as simple as that at all. In fact, theyíre very different from machines. The universe doesnít operate like a machine, and with Einstein and relativity and his time, space and all that kind of thing, weíre beginning to see that the whole thing is far more mysterious, that the whole thing is beyond our understanding.
I think scientists have reached the point where theyíre able to say, ďWe donít know, we donít understand, and many things we donít understand.Ē Quantum physicists particularly will tell you what they donít understand. So I think this is a whole new attitude on the part of scientists.
Itís a whole new approach to the universe, to the world, to human beings, to everythingóthat it is mysterious, we can see something of how it works, that thereís a great deal we donít understand, and the more we understand, the more we realize that itís very mysterious, and itís certainly not like the things we manufacture, namely, machines.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† I take it that you are of the opinion that as we learn more and more about the new cosmology, itís a kind of revelation, a divine revelation?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Yes.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† The new science then becomes another kind of divine revelation?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Well, another kind ofóI would hesitate to quite say that. It is a divine revelation and has always been seen as a divine revelation. In other words, that God reveals Godís self first of all, in creation and only later in the revelations that we have in the Bible and so forth. So, yes, God speaks to us through the universe. Now, the new thing is that we know much more about that universe.
Itís almost as if weíve suddenly been able to discover a whole lot more about the language that God speaks, but itís not new because the language was always there and we always knew that we learned something of the glory of God from Godís creatures and the whole of creation. But now we see that the whole of creation is more magnificent than we ever imagined. In other words, therefore, God is speaking more loudly and more clearly through that than before.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† So in the first part of your book under ďSigns of Our Times,Ē you choose four topics, and in our own conversations, youíve said that you couldíve chosen others as well. But these topics you chose because they relate directly to Part Two in Jesusí Spirituality. So tie together those four signs with this hunger or this overarching need to understand Jesusí spirituality.
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Let me say that it wouldnít work out quite as mechanically as you seem to put it. Now, I looked at the signs of the times. I looked at where things were moving today, whether it looked as if it was for good or for bad, and then I looked at Jesus, and what I said about Jesus doesnít relate point by point to a particular sign of the times.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† I avoided trying to do that. I simply wanted to give people Jesusí spirit, if you like, his spirituality, so that they could see how with that, we can see this whole world that weíre in differently. Thatís why the first chapter is aboutóI call it a revolutionóJesus turning the values of his time, which are largely still the values of our time, upside down.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† That was extremely important. So what I wanted to say was this is the world we have, this is the selfishness we have, this is the suffering that we have, this is the hopeful things that we have and all there is, and Jesus comes along and he sees the whole thing differently. He sees the whole thing upside down or right side up as I say later on.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† So that what we have to begin to do is what people regard as often a great success or a great achievement or a person of very high status or all sorts of things like that, Jesus turns on its head and looks at the humble, looks at the people who have forgotten, looks at the opposite, the poor and so forth.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† So he turns all these things on their head. Now, the first thing that Iím saying in that particular chapter is we need to learn to turn things on their head to see the world as it really is. In fact, whether itís Jesusí world or our worldóbut we need to see our world as it really is right-side up.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Now that doesnít relate to any particular sign of the times. Later on when I come to love and oneness and so forth, that contradicts the individualism, thatís true, and Jesusí consent for the poor and the ones who are below, you could relate that, et cetera. But itís not the point in that first chapter. The first chapter is Jesus turning our whole view of reality upside down.
Now why thatís particularly important is because he didnít come to add something to what we already know and the world as it is, which is often the way revelation is understood, that he came and added something. Iím saying, no, he came to give us a perspective from the world thatís different from the perspective we now have on the same world, if you like, not another world. Does any of that make sense?
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† Yes, it does. Once you have this first element in the first chapter of the revolution, or seeing the world upside down as Jesus has suggested that we do, you say another element in Jesusí Spirituality is that of prophet and mystic. Itís interesting that you combine prophet and mystic. Normally, these are not necessarily linked but youíre linking them here.
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Purposely, yes. Iím purposely linking them because they have very often been ďdivorced,Ē I think is the word I would prefer; that the mystical side, the prayer, the contemplation, has often been divorced from the act of prophetic speaking art, activism, and I think thatís a mistake. Prayer and justice should never have been separated like that. So itís intentional that I put those two together, and I tried to show that there is no such divorce or contradiction in Jesus.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† Weíve been speaking with Dominican Father, Albert Nolan, and our conversation today is focused on Jesus TodayóA Spirituality of Radical Freedom, his new book by Orbis [Books], and in this part, weíve been talking about Jesusí own spirituality and the way he came to turn the world upside down.
In his presentation on Jesusí spirituality, Nolan also joins together the mystic and prophet, the social justice element with the prayerful, contemplative element. This is Tom Fox, and this has been an NCR Podcast.
* * *
Part Four (26:59)
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† This is part four of a conversation with Dominican Father, Albert Nolan. Weíre talking about Jesus Today, his recent book published by Orbis [Books]. In the earlier segments, we spoke about the signs of the times. In the last segment, we began to speak about Jesusí own spirituality as presented by Father Nolan in the book. We now continue with that discussion.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Albert, in the last segment, we were talking about Jesusí spirituality. Two points you made were that Jesus really didnít come to add but he came to overthrow, or to turn upside down, to create a revolution in the way one looked at the world.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† The second point you were trying to make, I think, was that itís important to bring together both the prophetic and the mystic because both are required in Jesus. Do you want to add anything to those two points before we go on?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† No, except to perhaps emphasize, again, that the revelation he brings is another perspective on the world and universe and everything, rather than an addition, as I said. I think that is important. We tend to think he introduced another world or something.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† That is important. The other part of that is reading the signs of the times. He looked at what was happening in his time and he understood it differently from the way others had understood what was going on in his own time. If weíre going to do the same today, we need to read the signs of our times and try to understand the world right side up instead of upside down as itís generally understood.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Then the other side was the mysticism, that is the clue of how Jesus did this or was able to see this was his union with God, his oneness with God, which is what the Mystics always talk aboutóunion with God. In his case, it seems that he experienced that or expressed that experience as God being his Abba, God being intimately his Father, but in the sense that he was a loving Father from whom he learned everything.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† Another element in your presentation of Jesusí spirituality is the spirituality of healing. Can you address that, please?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Yes, I think itís very important that what Jesus tried to do for people was not to condemn, to blame, to punish, judge, or any of those things, but quite clearly to heal. He says that people need, the sinners need a physician. They need a doctor. They need a healer. He comes with that attitude of healing, which is very important for understanding the healing miracles, but also for understanding his introduction of forgiveness and so forth.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Healing is very important, Iím saying, for Jesus and itís a way of understanding what he actually contributed, what he brought, what salvation is all about. In fact, it is healing body and soul. Healing the human, and in that way, healing the universe.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† In part three of your book, you shift the focus from the signs of our times and the spirituality of Jesus in his time to a practical spirituality for today and you begin with a segment on silence and solitude.
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Thatís right. What Iím trying to do in that whole section, part three, is trying to make what Iíve been saying practical for today as a practical spirituality. How do we go about this? It would be very easy to just write a theoretical relationship between Jesusí spirituality and the problems, all the rest of our times.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† I start, therefore, by a very, very practical thing of each of us have to find time for silence and solitude in the way that Jesus did, otherwise, transformation just doesnít happen. Itís all very nice. It remains in the head unless we can set aside time for prayer, for meditation, for just being present to the world and to ourselves and to God.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† How much of that is required?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Well, that is impossible to lay down for everybody in the world. It just means weíve got to do something like that. The point I think Iím making there is many of us are just so busy and we distract ourselves from what really matters by being busy in all sorts of ways, maybe doing very, very good things.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† If weíre constantly distracted, weíll never see the world right side up. We will always be part of understanding the world upside down, the way most people do, even if weíre morally good and whatever else.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† So you need to step out of it?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† In a certain sense step out of it is you could put it like that, step back if you like. But it is having the silence and the solitude to start looking at it properly with all our thoughts being simply distraction-less. Weíre distracted with the practical things that need to be done every day, which obviously do need to be done. The point is that weíve get a space that we can just look at life, ourselves, the world, God.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† You make the point that the usual recommendation is that we meditate for 20 minutes twice a day, but that you donít want to create yet another burden or yet another obligation.
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Yes, thatís right. Yes, Iím trying all the way not to be prescriptive in that kind of sense. Youíve got to do it 20 minutes a day or twice 20 minutes a day or youíve got to have so much time in the morning or something else like that. Itís so different for different people. Whatís possible for different people also varies from place to place and time to time.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† While weíre talking about meditation, do you have any advice on how practically one starts a meditation, for the novice or for a person who maybe hasnít practiced meditation?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Yes. There are so many different methods. I, myself, prefer the mantra kind of meditation, just to say weíre teaching the word or a set of words as a way of focusing the mind, as a way of bringing the mind away from all the distractions to get it focused, if you like, but itís much more than focused.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† In any case, it is this moving away from a life of being superficial because weíre always distracted from reality. A method for doing that would be to use a mantra words like that, but other people would probably prefer to just try to be quiet. Some people prefer sound like ďOhmĒ or something like that. Others prefer reading a passage and repeating some words of the passage or scripture or some other way like that.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† The next step, and this follows from the meditation, I believe, is as you say, getting to know yourself. Could you explain that?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Well, one of the problems of what Iím now calling the distraction and seeing the world therefore in the wrong way, up, is that we donít look at ourselves. We donít stop to examine ourselves and look at what weíre doing and why weíre doing and why weíre doing things and what our motives are and what our ego is doing, et cetera.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† The place we have to start in getting in touch with reality and getting in touch with reality about ourselves, we begin to see the truth of the world. We begin to see the world right side up, first beginning to see ourselves right side up, if you like, beginning to see whatís really happening in all humility, understanding ourselves.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Not all spiritualities, all spiritual traditions will tell you that you must get to know yourself. If you donít know yourself, you will simply fool yourself thinking you know whatís going on when you donít.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† What do you mean by getting to know yourself?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Beginning to recognize, for example, my motives for doing things, beginning to recognize that Iím projecting my problems onto other people, beginning to recognize that I have a false image of myself and that Iím projecting, perhaps, a false image of myself, getting to recognize that there are very good things in me as well, what I call the true self, that sometimes come out.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Until I see whatís happening there, I am, like Jesus would say, a person with a huge log in their eye. Therefore, they cannot see straight anything outside because thereís something blocking. Theyíre blinded by something. Until we can see, yes, there is a log in my eye.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† I do need to remove that log in order to see clearly. I am, what shall we say, prejudice or whatever else, or my ego, which is setting myself up as the center of the universe and everything must happen for me, to please me, and whatís best for me, is putting myself in the center of the world. That is, of course, false. Iím not the center of the world. As long as I see myself as the center of the world, I donít know myself.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† Albert, there seems to be two traditions that one is to face our sins, our shortcomings, or whatever you call them, and to try to rid ourselves of those. Another is this whole notion of acceptance and trying to befriend, in a way, our weaknesses perhaps as a means of accepting ourselves. Iím wondering if you could address or try to resolve those two points.
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† As you may notice, I donít put the emphasis on sin and guilt because I believe Jesus didnít do that. When Iím talking about getting to know yourself, itís not the traditional examination of conscience, whatís sins have I committed, because maybe I discover something about myself, but it leads to feelings of guilt, et cetera.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† The problem with that is you then begin to reject yourself or part of yourself as you understand it, et cetera. When youíre just simply trying to get to know yourself without blaming yourself, without imputing guilt even to yourself or to anyone else, one begins to see whatís actually happening without any guilt trips.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† As you see whatís happening, you see that there are some things that perhaps you wouldnít be very proud of exactly, because you see that you are selfish in your motives for doing this, that, and the other thing, but then recognizing thatís me, thatís my shadow, if you like. Thatís part of who and what I am.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Just in the same way as Jesus did not go around blaming people, so we mustnít blame ourselves all the time. We must rather just see whatís there. That will lead to action. That will lead us to want to try and change some things, of course. It will, first of all, lead us to learn to accept ourselves as we are and to love ourselves because God loves us as we are. So far as something needs to change or be improved, of course weíll do that too, but not out of this desperate sense of guilt.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† One of the traditional problems that we face is the sense of lust or desire of the flesh. Itís so human. Where do you place that?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† I have said in one place that desire is not wrong, sinful, bad, or any of those things. Of course, when you talk about guilt, thatís one of the main things that when we begin to know ourselves and we begin to see our own desires, sometimes we feel guilty and we shouldnít. Desires in themselves are good, as many spiritual writers are saying today.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† We must recognize that they are excellent, they are good. Whatís wrong is when we use any desire, any desire at all, in a selfish way. Lust, the word generally means that you have a sexual desire but you are indulging it in a way that is selfish. If you do not indulge it in a way that is selfish, then it is not in itself wrong.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Itís not wrong because itís sex. Thatís what Iím trying to say. Itís wrong because itís selfish. If I have to change, then itís not my sexual desires or any other desire for food or whatever else that has to change, it is my misuse of those desires that has to change.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† Iím talking today to Dominican Father, Albert Nolan the author of Jesus TodayóA Spirituality of Radical Freedom published by Orbis [Books]. This is Tom Fox. So much of what you write about addresses the effort of trying to find, understand, come to terms, the true self.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† At one point you write, ďThereís no way you can simply conquer your ego or annihilate it, as many ascetics have tried to do. Such efforts only strengthen the ego because it is your ego that does the fighting or conquering. You cannot destroy it but you can sideline it and transcend it.Ē Itís a taming of the ego, is that it?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Taming may be one way of looking at it. I think you kind of objectify the ego and then do not identify with it. If I have a false image of myself as the center of the world, I need to recognize that that image is there, that temptation, if you like, is there, but Iím not going to identify with that.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† I am going to disassociate, if you like, myself from that way of looking at life, because itís not true anyway. Itís an illusion. Itís objectifying and becoming what some people call a witness to stand back and look at that and see what is happening and then say, ďThatís not what I want to pursue.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Thatís not the image of myself that I would regard as true.Ē Itís a false image. Itís a mistake or whatever you like. Itís this business of ability to distance oneself, if you like, from it but still look at it and still recognize that itís there and still recognize that it may come up again and again as a temptation. I cannot just simply destroy it.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† Now, in this section on personal transformation, you come to something that is another practical element here and you hear it other places. You say, ďYouíre trying to live with a grateful heart as Jesus lived with a grateful heart.Ē That whole sense of gratitude, living with gratitude, can you explain that a little bit?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Well, expand on what I did. The issue is how we see everything in life. We can see things in life in terms of, ďI deserve it,Ē or ďI donít deserve it,Ē or something else like that. ďI possess it. I have it. I want it. Someone else has it. I want it,Ē or one can look at everything in life more truthfully and that is to see it all as a gift.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Everything is a gift. Everything in my life, starting with my own existence, is a gift. I didnít earn my existence or merit it or anything like that. It was a gift. Everything that happens to me is a gift. Itís true I do do some things, that is perfectly true. But if whatever I do is, what shall we say, successful or a good thing, then I need to recognize too that thatís a gift too.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† I need to be grateful for that. What it does, in affect, is it enables me to look at the whole world differently, a whole different attitude to everything in life, which is what opens ones eyes to truth again, to seeing the world right side up. When I no longer see the world in terms of what I merit, deserve, should have, achieved, et cetera.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† So many other spirituals writers, it seems, and you quote a number of them, are saying that the deepest prayer or the deepest way to live is to live gratefully.
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Thatís right, to look at everything in terms of a gift and therefore ones attitude is always, ďThank you,Ē gratitude.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† You go on then to talk about this and living like a little child. Help us to understand what it means to live like a little child.
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Iím going to keep relating it, which I didnít do in the book, actually, but now that you ask, relating it back to Jesus turning the world upside down or rather right side up. What happens is as children, in many respects, we see the world right side up. We see the world with a certain humility, without the pride that people have, without hypocrisy.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† We see the world trusting the world and trusting people. We have a sense of wonder about everything in the universe and we have a playfulness, et cetera. Now, thatís genuine, if I can call it genuine. We lose it. We tend to lose each of those things in one way or another.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† We become proud. We become self-centered. We no longer trust God. We no longer trust the world. We lose our sense of wonder because itís not useful for anything. Even our joy and playfulness gets squashed because we get so serious about making money and other things like that in life.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† In other words, there are certain qualities in a child, which we would mean our childhood hopefully as well, that are genuine and that we tend to lose. One of the reasons why in Jesus trying to get us to have a different attitude to the world is by using the child and our own childhood to go back to the good, genuine things that were there before we began to spoil them and to turn the world wrong side up.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† The final element in this practical, spirituality that you relate to Jesusí spirituality is letting go, just letting go. Help us to understand does that mean just getting rid of the things of this world or is it something else?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† No, no, not getting rid of. I try to underline that. Itís not a matter of getting rid of everything so that I kind of have nothing and possess nothing at all. Itís a matter of being detached. Itís a matter of not clinging to things. Because what, again, prevents us from seeing the world the way it is?†
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Itís our attachments. For example, if Iím very attached to my money and possessions, then I get a completely wrong view of other people, the world, nature, and everything else. I canít see clearly because Iím attached to that. So with my reputation, my idea, my practices, if Iím attached to them, but if I had them and yet are free to, in any way, leave something, let go of something if necessary, when necessary, et cetera, Iím free of it so Iím free to see differently. Iím free of the ego.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Iím free of the log in the eye, et cetera. Iím able to see the world more clearly because of that. Now thatís very important in all spiritual teaching and itís particularly important to Jesus. He was continuously challenging people to let go.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† This detachment, you say, or suggest here that it is a willingness to die. Itís a trust in God that you can let go and die.
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† And you wonít come to any harm.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† And you wonít come to any harm. Is that the final detachment?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Oh, yes, surely. The final detachment is when I let go of my ego, which means letting go of my life, being willing to die, which is above all what Jesus is freedom, above all was his willingness to die. He was free to die if necessary, when necessary. Yes, that is the final letting go and the final thing that ever opens our eyes and opens us in the sense of freedom as well.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† You take it to another point here. Let me read you a sentence from this point in trusting God. ďTrusting God as Jesus did does not mean clinging to God. It means letting go of everything so as to surrender ourselves and our lives to God.Ē What do you mean by clinging to God?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Clinging is this attitude throughout [what] Iím talking about and we cling to all sorts of things including very good things and very important things. What I think Jesus is about is not the clinging. You can cling to God, then you are a frightened ego again, a frightened person, and you hang onto God and you cling to God.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Iím saying thereís something beyond that. When you donít have to cling to God, when you can just surrender, when you can just give yourself over the way a child does in the arms of its parents, or its mother, say. The child doesnít have to cling to the mother. If you see a child clinging to the mother, then you know thereís something wrong.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† The childís afraid; itís frightened, et cetera. Thatís not the attitude we should have to God. When you see a child that can just surrender itself and fall asleep in its motherís arms because it totally trusts the mother and has surrender itself completely to the mother, thatís not clinging Iím saying. Thatís the ultimate detachment, if you like, giving oneself completely, surrendering oneself in complete trust to God.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† This then concludes part four of an interview with Albert Nolan the author of Jesus TodayóA Spirituality of Radical Freedom published by Orbis [Books]. This is Tom Fox and this has been an NCR Podcast.
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Part Five (21:15)
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† Iím speaking again with Albert Nolan, and we are talking about Jesus TodayóA Spirituality of Radical Freedom. We have been speaking about the practical transformation that we can make by patterning our spirituality on the spirituality of Jesus.
Now we are going to speak about Jesus and the experience of oneness. But before I do that, Iíve heard that this book has already won a couple of awards. Can you tell us more about the awards that this book has won?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Yes. The first one is the first place award of the Catholic Press Association. Now, I donít know too much of what first place award means, but maybe you know better than me. Itís obviously the Catholic Press Association of the United States.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† And Canada actually.
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Is it, and Canada? Okay. Thatís one. The second one is Finalist in Spirituality awarded by the National Indie Excellence 2007 Book Awards in the category of spirituality. What is the first one called? The winner or something. But then there are finalists, which seems to be also some kind of a award in the category of spirituality.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† Well, I certainly can attest that this is one of the best spirituality books that I have come across in many, many years. I think the way that you have put it together and captured, I think, a sense of longing and spiritóthat is quite remarkable. In a way, you become the conduit of this echo of spirit that is resounding through the world. I think that is the sense that I have of this.
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Thank you very much. I think that my point is that that spirit that is, what did you say, resounding through the world at the momentówhat I tried to do, is to link that to Jesus. Because very often it is not, and that is understood as a spirituality that either has nothing to do with Jesus or else goes for beyond Jesus, or something like that.
And I think that is a very serious misunderstanding about Jesus, to start out with . Not apart from the fact that I think we can improve the spirit that we are talking about today by looking at Jesus and his spirit.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† So in the final part, the fourth part of this book, we are really talking about the experience of oneness that the mystics talk about. Again, letís make the point that weíre not just talking about the experience of oneness, but Jesus and the experience of oneness.
Itís the linkage of Jesus to this experience of oneness that we are dealing with. You start with a chapter called ďOne With God.Ē Do you want to start from there?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† May I come back first to Jesus and this oneness?
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† Please.
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† I think the important thing is that many people are talking about oneness in a variety of ways these days. Mystics talk about that, whatever religion they are, for that matter. But very few people recognize that thatís the whole point of Jesus, that he experienced oneness.
That is the point of calling him divine in fact, that he experienced this oneness of God that made him act as one with God in a way that was quite extraordinary. While that becomes a problem for most people, the divinity of Jesus (I donít say all this in the book),† in fact, it is Jesus emphasizing this oneness more so than any mystic have ever done before, or after I think.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† ďI am one with the father.Ē
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† ďI am one with the father.Ē All that we read again and again in the gospel of John, particularly. But, I mean, that was the whole of Jesus life, this experience of oneness with God as his father.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† Did the gospel of John capture that oneness more so than the other gospels or is it embedded in all of the gospels?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† It is in all of the gospels, and John perhaps writes more about it, you might say. But he writes with hindsight, of course. He writes many years afterwards, and John is in many ways the mystic who, in any case, is interested in onenessóthe oneness amongst people themselves, the oneness with God, the oneness with Jesus and so forth.
So he emphasizes it, and puts words about oneness into the mouth of Jesus. Jesus was one with, and he did search and he lived that and expressed that. But John, with hindsight, can see that perhaps more clearly.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† Is it your sense that Jesus, over a period of time, developed his understanding his of oneness of God, and can you trace that in the gospels or is that your hunch, or was there something deep within him from the start, in which he had this insight?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Well, it is difficult to say. It is difficult to say because we donít have sayings of Jesus from early age to the end, so that we can put it chronologically and see some form of development. So that is difficult to say, but because he was a human being, he had to develop.
There is no way you can be human without developing. Luke says he grew in stature and wisdom, so clearly he did grow, but we donít know much about stages or steps or anything else like that. We do see some things that look like development.
For example, after following John the Baptist, he eventually gives up doing the same thing as John the Baptist and changes to a way of life that is more directed to the poor and is more concerned about healing than the judgment that is coming and things like that, so you see some development there.
Also, the baptism storiesóclearly something happened there that made Jesus recognize more deeply his vocation, his calling. ďYou are my beloved son.Ē That whole thing is clearly indicating that at his baptism there was some kind of development. So, yes there is, but we canít obviously trace it from year to year or anything like that.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† So you say the first question we need to face is whether we can know anything at all about God, and the mystics speak of God as a noble?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Yes.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† So at one level, we are saying that we really cannot know this God, that this God is way beyond us, but we can experience this God.† You also make the point of the experience of God is the experience of knowing deeply that we are loved and we accept that love. It is a gift but it fills us. Am I expressing that correctly?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Yes, with one step in between what you said there, and that is the concept of mystery. I think we donít know what God is, and that is pretty traditional theology, anyway. We donít know what God is, but we can know that God is, and that is a different thing.
Knowing that God is means that we can experience ourselves in the midst of mystery. We can experience all of life and all of the universe, including ourselves as mystery. There again, it is an attitude like the gratitude one; this time it is saying everything is mysterious.
Everything is a mystery. That doesnít mean to say everything is disappointing because we would like to know it all instead of facing it as a mystery. Rather, it is recognizing that we donít know, but it is so much bigger, greater, grander than anything we do know.
That we are in the presence of colossal mystery goes far beyond us and is much bigger than we are. That leads to a kind of attitude of praise and worship and adoration and things like that, but then also the recognition that the mystery loves me and you and everybody else. So, it is a mystery of love.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† You write that somewhere in the heart of Jesusí spirituality is the awareness of God as very, very near. So while mysterious, we sense and feel in the wonder of creation, in all that we see around us, we see and feel the presence, the fullness, this all-encompassing God who fills every space.
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Thatís right, and including ourselves.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† Including ourselves.
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Yes. We are part of the mystery.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† While we are here. Let me ask you this question, the question of pantheism. If God is everything and all and fills every part of us, are we pantheists or is there a separation from God that leads us to what some call a panentheism?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Well, that is what is commonly said these days. First of all, I am not a pantheist and I do not agree that God is not the same as everything; God is not all objects and things in the world put together as a whole and then we call that whole God.
So no, I am not a pantheist in that sense, that God is everything. But, I have a bit of difficulty with what is generally said these days of panentheism because that means God is in all things. Now thatís fine; God is such a mystery that we canít get words that would perfectly describe what God is.
But in all things, I think it leads to a kind ofÖthere is something in that tree, and there is something in that building, and there is something in that person, and something in the stars, et cetera. But it is the ďin,Ē the spatial in that I have a bit of problem with.
In other words, when God and the universe are put together as one in the other, then youíre dealing with spatial images that are fine but limited. So you may notice that what I do is I say no, the distinction is not between God outside and God inside, if you like, but that God is the subjectivity of the universe.
Which is not saying that God is the universe or all things in the universeóthat would be pantheismóbut that God is the subjectivity of the universe means that God is the universe as the creator, the subject, the agent that is doing it all, but in not to be thought as something inside things, but in the limitations of our knowledge, another dimension altogether of the universe, if you like.
The subject aspect of the universe as opposed to the universe as an object we can know, if that makes any sense. That is perhaps the most obscure part of the book and the most original part of the book in another way as well. Itís based upon the fact that it seems to me, human knowledge is always in terms of subject/object. That is not a bad thing in itself; that enables us to appreciate a lot of things.
Like we can see a person, a human being, as an object, but we can also see them as a subject, and thatís very important. In any sentence, you have a subject and then you have a predicate, which qualifies that subject, but the subject itself has no dimensions, as the subject is just there as the self, the agent.
I canít think of other words to describe it, but itís that kind of distinction that seems to be very important and is very important also, because in the end, that is why I think that God is a person, or that we can talk to God in terms of ďpersonĒ because God is the subjectivity, the subject of everything. Everything in the world, as some people would say, is Godís body. But God is not the body, God is the soul, if you like, or the self that has this body.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† Itís the subject precedes the sentence?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Well yes. It precedes the sentence in time, but it also tells you what we predicate in the sentence, or what we are referring to. Not what we are stating, but the subject in the sentence tells me what I am referring to, what I am going to say something about. Then the rest of the sentence is the statement about that.
In the same way, I am saying that the whole universe is a statement, it is the object, the manifestations of God, which is perfectly traditional theology, as Thomas Aquinas [noted], everything in the universe is a manifestation of God, but it is not God. God is the subject behind that; not an object, not another object, not one of the objects in the world.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† A pantheist would not have a subject and a predicate, a pantheist wouldÖ
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Would just be saying that another word for the whole universe is God. And I am not saying that.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† Thatís right. Letís address the other major problem that theologians or that all human beings face, and that is dealing with the problem of evil. If we are still talking about one with God, and God one with the subject of all creation, where does evil fit in?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Well I donít think evil fits in. That is the first thing I would like to say. The traditional understanding of evil in Christian theology is that it is a lack of something, and it is something missing. It is not a being or a reality in itself. That is very abstract and I havenít gone into that in the book.
No, I think evil is something we suffer and need to have compassion about, and worry about, and if you like. It is always, and always has been, a problem because it questions God as good. But I think the mysterious answer to this is that we donít know fully the difference between good and evil.
Only God knows that, and what appears to us very often to be evil, or what in relationship to me may in fact be evil, in relationship to the whole universe and to the common good, maybe is seen differently by God. We get this in Genesis, where Adam and Eve want to be able to decide what is good and evil.
We sometimes want to decide for God what God should do and not do, what is good and evil in Godís sight, or should be good and evil in Godís sight. But all we can say is we donít see the whole picture.
There is too much we donít know, and so this particular thing may be regarded as evil in relationship to me or even to the human race, or something else like that, but may have some kind of place, in the broader, common good of the universe. I donít know and I canít say that itís like that. I can only say itís a mystery, because our knowledge is limited.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† In this fourth part where you are talking about Jesus and the experience of oneness, the first concept is being one with God, which we have been speaking about. The second concept here, and chapter title is ďOne With Ourselves.Ē Can you elaborate on what you mean by that?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Yes. It seems to me in my experience, and many others write about it as well, that we are very often divided against ourselves. The form that this generally takes is that ďI donít want to be who I am. I want to be somebody else, I want to be like somebody else, so I hate my body, or I hate my life, or I hate what Iíve done, or I hate the fact that I cannot do this, I that donít have these talents,Ē et cetera.
All these things divide me from myself, and before we can experience the total experience of oneness, I have to be one with myself as well. Now, you mentioned earlier, accepting myself as I am, loving myself as I am, accepting the limitations that I have. All of this contradicts the ego, because the ego wants to be on top, wants to be superior, wants to be the center of the world and all that kind of thing.
But I have to face the truth that this is me, this is how I am, and not only am I like that inside, but I [accept it, not to be resigned], but to really accept being that. Embracing it, if you like, because thatís how Iíve been created by God, because that is the unique role that I have to play in this unfolding universe, and this is the person that God loves.
I am lovable as I am. Now, that doesnít mean to say there are things that shouldnít develop and improve and grow and all the rest. But I need to accept myself as I am, embrace myself as I am, love myself as I am, because thatís whatís lovable in the eyes of God. That is becoming one with oneself.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† This concludes this segment of an interview with Albert Nolan, the author of Jesus TodayóA Spirituality for Radical Freedom. This is Tom Fox, and this has been an NCR Podcast.
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Part Six (24:12)
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† This is the sixth and the last segment of a conversation with Dominican Father Albert Nolan, the author of the recently published Jesus TodayóA Spirituality of Radical Freedom by Orbis [Books]. In this, the final segment, we conclude our conversation on Jesus and the experience of oneness.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† So in the last segment we were talking about being one with God and one with ourselves and this comes under part four of Jesus and the experience of oneness. It flows then into another segment in this fourth part, which is ďOne with Other Human Beings.Ē
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Yes.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† That seems to be a pretty basic commandment. Tell me how you developed this.
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† I think we grow up to attempt to love one another, but we attempt to love one another as separate from one another. Iím trying to say that we could come more spontaneously to love one another if we appreciated that weíre not separate from one another, that we are closely linked.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† My example of that is kinship. In a family, a mother and child is the first example, but also genuinely feeling of a family being responsible for one another. They feel one and therefore will say things like, ďWhatever you do these brothers and sisters and mother and father of mine, you do to me.Ē
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† That love comes right out of the feeling of oneness with a kinsperson. Iím saying what Jesus was onto was the whole human family is one family and whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters in this whole family, no matter who they are, you do to me.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† He identified himself with the whole human race. Thatís what enables one to love the whole human race or every individual in the human race, anyone we come across, and anyone we meet is this recognition of oneness. ďLove your neighbor as yourselfĒ is recognizing the other person as another self or the same self as me, but in any case, a form of oneness.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Then I take it through the oneness in birth that weíre born from one another, the oneness in sex, for example, the union there. Weíre all the same flesh. Weíre all made of the same stardust, as they say, and the [indiscernible] and all the rest. We are one. To the extent that we can appreciate our oneness, to that extent it will be easier to love one another.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Thatís also part of the ego, of course, is the separation. The ego separates us from other people so we compete and we compare and weíre in conflict with and our success, our good, is seen as someone else must lose or someone else must be second to me and so forth.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Itís when you can get rid of that separation; we can become conscious, rather, of the fact that weíre not separate, we are all in this boat together, we are all one and we are all one flesh, that it becomes easier to love one another.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† In this segment, you talk about empathy and empathy with the poor leads us to take what we call the option for the poor. We have a special sense of oneness with the weakest among us, is that what youíre saying? Or it flows from oneness?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† It flows from oneness, you see, because they are the excluded people. If youíre looking at it in terms of oneness and youíre looking at separation and exclusion and marginalization, and therefore oppression of people and the suffering of people that we donít care about and all the rest, very often they are the poorer.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† It becomes particularly important for us to recognize our unity and oneness with the poor. However, what Iím pointing out there is that itís not so much a preferentialóI donít like the word preferentialóoption for the poor. Itís an option for the cause of the poor, which doesnít mean to say that I think poor people are always better morally, or whatever else, than rich people.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Thatís not the issue. The issue is they are oppressed, they are excluded, and I side with the excluded people against those who want to exclude them, not that I want to reject those that want to exclude themóthe oppressor. As I say in another part of that chapter, we need to feel one with those people as well.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Not with their sin, not with their wickedness or what they do as wrong, but structurally, the cause of the poor is the cause of the victim is the right cause and the cause of those who make them victims is wrong and unjust.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† What about this notion of sharing that comes out of this option for the poor?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Yes, sharing seems to be an extremely important part of Jesus teaching that gets lost. Itís kept up sometimes in religious life, but by and large, it gets lost. Itís no longer seen as the great ideal that Jesus wanted. I think Jesus saw the solution, if you want to call it that, to the problem of poverty and wealth, and all that kind of thing, as sharing. Thatís why he started sharing communities and the sharing community in Jerusalem and so forth.
If we are one, if we truly love one another, then we will want to share, we will share. Once we do share, then nobody will be in need because we will always be sharing with one another and helping one another and comforting one another and loving one another and caring for one another. Thatís all part of this sharing that Jesus had in mind, which seems to me to describe a very important aspect of the Kingdom of God.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† From this oneness with other people, your final oneness is oneness with the universe. You call it ďthe full participation in the spirituality of Jesus would have us include some experience of our oneness with the universe.Ē
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Right. Well, once again, the mystics seemed to have always experienced thatóthe oneness with the universeóhowever they understood the universe. Still, they experienced a oneness with the universe, a oneness, they might have said, with Godís creation. They are part of Godís creation and we are one with all of creation.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† In other words, we move away from this as separateness that as human beings we put ourselves, somehow, outside of the universe looking in at in and looking in at nature and looking at how we can use nature or not use nature, et cetera. That is just an illusion and itís a fantasy.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† We are not outside of it. We are part of it and being part of it is a tremendous freedom. When we know that, thatís where we are and weíre part of it, thatís the way we really sideline the ego, is that we recognize that we are part of the universe. Then I go on to talking about the universe as we understand it today, which actually helps to make this particular form of oneness clearer than it might have been before, just as a help.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† I think it helps us because what weíve discovered with the expanding and unfolding universe, starting from the Big Bang and all the rest, is indeed the unbelievable oneness of all things. Together weíre interconnected in every way. We all come from the same origins of the Big Bang.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Weíre all linked to this day and thereís absolutely no way in which any of us can stand outside of this. We are part of all of it, even if we are freedom, weíre still part of all of it. We have evolved and developed. From the point of [indiscernible], we can feel our oneness with the universe.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† My argument is, although not much is said about that in the gospel, it seems to be very clear that Jesus experienced also a oneness with nature, with creatures, with the birds, with the fields, with the whole of nature. He did not see himself as standing outside of it all and manipulating it all or using it all.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† All the attitudes that they call the industrial culture of today where the whole universe becomes something we use, manipulate, et cetera. For Jesus, it was Godís creation, not something that we use, and we are part of Godís creation.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† You make the point that this is a continuously evolving universe and you extrapolate from that that we too then are part of the process of this evolution. Our lives are a part of a process, which is different from seeing ourselves as just a place or an object within this universe.
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Exactly, yes.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† That somehow we are playing a role in this very evolution.
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Thatís right, thatís right.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† This process, then, has to have some reflection. It has to be saying something to us about God itself in a special way that we might not have understood prior to our understanding of an evolving universe.
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Well, yes, I think what it makes clear is that Godís creation, Godís act of creating, not only continues right through to today, but that God creates with a process thatís evolutionary. In the past, I think we didnít realize that. Even the great theologians, and so forth, didnít realize that.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† They saw God as creating, yes, and continued to create today or keeping things in existence today but in a static kind of way. Whereas what we now know is that God doesnít create a tree, say, or particular species of tree just out of the blue like that, but that God evolves that tree from what had happened before.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Then from that can evolve further and we evolve from all of that as well. Now that makes for a far greater wonder, if you like, when we look at the meaning of creation. God creates in a kind of artistic, ongoing way that is much more creative and artistic. It is much more creative than we had thought before.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† In fact, God was too often seen, not as a creative artist, but as a manufacturer, the way we manufacture things. The comparison should reveal to the artist the way the thing emerges for an artist as he or she goes along.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† You sight that as this universe evolves itís becoming more diverse, more complex.
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† That, as far as we can see, yes indeed diversity seems to be one of the characteristics of the process, greater and greater diversity. There is also greater and greater complexity. Yes, and thatís, again, part of Godís creativity.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† At one level, weíre united. Iím extrapolating and trying to put this into the concept of the human experience. As human beings are part of this process, then human beings are in some ways more diverse but our fundamental understanding is that of being also one with other human beings.
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Yes, yes.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† So weíre going in two directions, as it were?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Well, being one with other human beings should not be understood in what I call the mass production of oneness. We are one with other human beings. We are one flesh, if you like, but each individual is unique in the same way as snow, I believe. All the crystals of snow form a kind of unity, if you like, but each crystal is unique and different, so with us, each of us is unique and different, that is true, and our oneness is not that weíre cloned or all the same mass produced.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Each one of us is unique and our oneness with others is part of that uniqueness. I suppose you might say in a work of art, again, that each little leaf or each little stroke of the brush is different from the next one, but the point is that together that forms a whole, a oneness, some isolated stroke of the paintbrush.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† Out of this oneness with God, with ourselves, with other human beings, with the universe, you move to a final point or a final concept and that is this glorious, liberating experience. Your final chapter gets back to your radical freedom, the very subtitle of the bookóA Spirituality of Radical Freedom.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Radical means reaching down to the roots, so please help us now to draw from this oneness, going back to Jesus, and this radical freedom that all of this lays at our feet.
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Let me first say that one of the reasons why I emphasis freedom is, of course, that Jesus was free, but one of the reasons why I emphasize for us for a strategy for today is because more than ever people want to be free and are consciously wanting to be free in all sorts of way.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† I think what happens is we develop a very superficial kind of freedom, which in the end is not even freedom at all, because it seems to me we just imprison ourselves even more than before. Thatís kind of the dilemma that very often we are faced with. However, in Jesus case, there is a freedom.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† I didnít want to try to present it as saying, ďWell, Jesus doesnít want to have or had as much freedom as people seem to want to have today.Ē I didnít want you to look as if Jesus freedom was less of a freedom than the kind of thing that many people are striving for.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† That would be totally false. I wanted to describe, in the first place, Jesus freedom as different because itís radical, because it goes right down to the roots. Itís not the superficial kind of freedom, that freedom of choice so that you can choose any brand of toothpaste you like and all sorts of things like that.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Itís totally superficial freedom. Then I think the most important thing in the end as a description of these false freedoms as opposed to the freedom that Jesus had was to say that what people are too often seeking is freedom of the ego instead of freedom from the ego.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Thatís the fundamental difference, I think. So freedom of the ego means that thereís a freedom for the ego to just do whatever it wants. In other words, that I can selfishly do whatever I like in relation to other people and consider myself as free. The more my will, my ego, triumphs over everybody elseís, the more free I think I am. That is nonsense, Iím saying, illusion.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Whereas, the freedom that Jesus was talking about and the freedom that goes through the whole book is the freedom from the ego. In other words, Iím not attached, Iím not tied down. Iím not free in a selfish sense. Itís the freedom to do Godís will. Itís the freedom to love other people.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Itís the freedom to be one with other people and the whole universe. Itís the freedom to work for the common good and not just my selfish idea of whatís good for me. Thatís the kind of distinction Iím making.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† The very important distinction, the core distinction.
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† The core distinction is a freedom not of the ego but from the ego.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† The focus that youíve placed on ego is interesting because itís also, obviously, a focus that the Buddhists have given. Buddhists would say, as I understand it, that this false ego is really the core reason that we suffer.
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Yes, yes. I wouldnít necessarily say that Jesus said that or meant that, maybe, but I donít think so. Iím not sure of that. The ego is prominent in Jesus as well except itís spoken of differently. Itís spoken of in terms of self, selfishness, self denial, loving others, going out to others, sacrificing themselves for others, being detached.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† All of those things are about the ego but donít have ego to bring it all together. Many Christians [indiscernible] today would do that and some of the mystics would have done that, certainly. Some of them would have just said self, not just ego, but youíve got to deny yourself or even some would have said annihilate yourself, which of course, I think, is not true.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Whatever words they use, the same concept is there, as youíll find amongst Buddhists, without necessarily drawing the same conclusion that all suffering comes from the ego. Iím not sure about that.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† This has been very enlightening and Iím most grateful for your having taken the time to share the book itself and the spirituality that youíre talking about, this radical freedom that we find in Jesus today, most grateful. Are there any other thoughts before we finish?
Albert Nolan:††††††††††††††† Maybe just one or two other things that are in that chapter about freedom. One of them is the fear of freedom, which I think is very common and is one of our biggest problems in the church, I think, that we fear freedom. Some people fear freedom and they fear freedom from themselves, they actually fear freedom for others as well.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† This is a fundamental mistake, I think, but I have tried to explain why itís there and how it came about and hopefully we can move beyond it. The other thing I wanted to say [that would fall in] that chapter is that while I build this whole thing throughout the book about becoming free, as Jesus was, in the end Iím not saying that salvation is freedom or the aim of life is freedom or the goal of all human striving is freedom.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Iím saying that, yes, we are moving towards freedom, or should be, but for the purpose of doing Godís will. We must be free in order to do what God wants and I describe Godís will, which seems to me one of the important things Iím saying in this book, as the common good.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† What God wants for us is the common goodówhatís good for all of us, whatís good for the whole universe. Why I need freedom is to be able to pursue that. If Iím not free and Iím not moving in that direction of freedom anyway, we never become perfectly free I donít think.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Following Jesus in that kind of freedom, I will not be able to do Godís work. I will not be able to do what is best for everyone, the common good, which is Godís will. Thatís the climax of the book, actually.
Tom Fox:†††††††††††††††††††† Again, thank you very much. This concludes a conversation with Dominican Father, Albert Nolan, the author of Jesus TodayóA Spirituality of Radical Freedom recently published by Orbis Books. This is Tom Fox and this has been an NCR Podcast.
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