Day: October 26, 2008

The battle over Pope Pius XII

Eight years ago, when Pope John Paul II prayed at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, there seemed to be a new level of trust between Roman Catholics and Jews. But so heavy is the historical baggage that the relationship still creaks under the strain. The latest problem is a nasty flare-up in an old argument over the role of Pius XII, who was pope during the second world war. Was he a hero who deserves to be beatified, or was he, as some Jews say, guilty of neglectful silence?

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Putting the Bailout in perspective

Nearly £2 trillion has been pledged to stabilise the banking system and start the flow of credit again. This is nearly 36 times the aid sent by the richest nations of the world to the poorest every year, and 190 times the gross domestic product of the whole of Ethiopia. We are, it seems, as profligate when it comes to solving our own problems as we are miserly when it comes to solving other people’s.

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Why we can’t imagine death

People in every culture believe in an afterlife of some kind or, at the very least, are unsure about what happens to the mind at death. My psychological research has led me to believe that these irrational beliefs, rather than resulting from religion or serving to protect us from the terror of inexistence, are an inevitable by-product of self-consciousness. Because we have never experienced a lack of consciousness, we cannot imagine what it will feel like to be dead. In fact, it won’t feel like anything—and therein lies the problem.

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Why we believe

Our greatest fear is annihilation, not physical death, necessarily, but annihilation as a person. It is the desire to avoid this that motivates us throughout our lives. For some, religion is the answer, because it tends to suggest quite straightforwardly that life carries on after death.

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With eyes undimmed

Moses did not set foot on the land below for which the people were longing by reason of the promise. He who preferred to live by what flowed from above no longer tasted earthly food. But having come to the very top of the mountain, he, like a good sculptor who has fashioned well the whole statue of his own life, did not simply bring his creation to an end but he placed the finishing touch on his work.

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