By Jesús Colina
SANTIAGO, Chile, NOV. 27, 2007 (Zenit.org).- When a society loses its religion, sooner or later it loses its culture. This is one of the reflections of English historian Christopher Dawson, highlighted in a book on his philosophical contribution to the study of history.
Jaime Antúnez Aldunate, editor of the Chile-based review Humanitas, is the author of "Filosofía de la historia en Christopher Dawson" (Philosophy of History in Christopher Dawson), a man he says was the best Catholic historian of the 20th century. The book is available in Spanish from Ediciones Encuentro.
In this Interview with ZENIT, Antúnez reflects on the main principles of Dawson's thought and how his reflections can be applied to modern culture. Dawson lived from 1899 to 1970.
Q: In your book, you make it clear that Dawson the historian can also be analyzed as Dawson the philosopher.
Antúnez: Indeed, he can. No one could deny the depth and originality of a significant number of his philosophical intuitions springing from a meditation on history, even if they sometimes lack a certain systematic nature.
I looked specifically at his writings on the meaning of human acts. I must say that on the subject of the philosophy of history, Dawson is a strenuous defender of what he calls metahistory -- his own and most genuine field of thought -- an area in which history, theology, sociology, political science, anthropology, art and philosophy cohabit and complement each other.
The concept of culture has particular relevance in Dawson's metahistory. This concept is a common thread throughout his body of work and enriches his thought. It is based on a well-balanced equation of material elements, covering everything from geography to spiritual elements.
This formula surpasses the imbalance that had arisen from various philosophical determinisms, such as materialism that denies the importance of the spiritual realm. In Dawson's equation the spiritual factor -- the final guarantee of human liberty -- always prevails.
For Dawson, the synthesis of a culture is obtained on the level of rationality, with the highest expression of rationality being the intelligibility of religion. More specifically, he suggests that the light provided by Judeo-Christianity to understand history finds its natural fulfillment in the presence of the divine: God has first revealed himself to human beings and has later become human through the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity. Incarnation and Trinity constitute, therefore, the core of Dawson's metahistory.
Q: Can you explain how Dawson understands the role played by consciousness in religion and culture?
Antúnez: Dawson explains that when man adores the mystery expressed in nature, or simply nature, we are still in the stage of paganism. However, when the forces governing nature lead human beings to perceive God in the soul, in the deepest darkness of consciousness, the grounds for a religious evolution are already lain, as seen in historical religions.
In this same line of thought, the world of culture comes to exist through the cooperation between the psyche and reason, and, achieving this unity has been the historical function of religion. World religions have been the cornerstones of world cultures. And as a result, if taken away, the arches will fall and the buildings will collapse.
Dawson concluded that over the centuries it has been repeatedly confirmed that religion is the greatest cohesive force of culture and it constitutes the cornerstone of every major civilization; so much so that when a society loses its religion, sooner or later it loses its culture.
Q: In 1945, just at the end of World War II, Dawson wrote that the barriers of culture and religion have fallen and, for the first time in history, the whole physical world comes to be one. What did he mean by this, given that tumultuous period?
Antúnez: The cultural reality that he observed originated in Europe and was inspired, though not exclusively, by the philosophy of the Enlightenment. The same materialistic tendency exists today, but not so much in the force of ideological structures. It exists in Western scientific techniques that provide the common structure of human existence and the basis upon which the new, universal, scientific civilization is being created.
The challenge for religion, Dawson noticed, and particularly for the great universal ones, is this scientific world, one [that is] unified, organized and controlled by knowledge and scientific techniques. Religions survive and continue to have an influence on human life, but they have lost their organic relationship with society; a relationship that was expressed in the traditional synthesis of religion and culture, in the West as well as in the East.
Not just in 1945, but before our eyes is the most extensive, comprehensive and intense secularization the world has ever seen. From this Dawson concludes that a culture of this sort is not in any way a culture in the traditional sense; that is, it is not an order that assembles all the aspects of human life into one living spiritual community.
Q: How did Dawson tackle the topic of philosophy of progress that came from the Enlightenment agenda?
Antúnez: In 1929, Dawson's book "Progress and Religion" dealt with the ideological perspective of the concept of progress adopted in modern culture, beginning mainly with the Enlightenment, and its consequences.
Coinciding with other authors who wrote analyses of this period on the history of thought -- such as Nicolas Berdiaev and Jean Guitton -- Dawson noticed that in the 18th century, due to the influence of Enlightenment philosophers, a sort of replacement of religious sentiment takes place. Faith in a beneficent and provident Creator and maintaining the main precepts of Christian morality, Dawson said, were "divested of their supernatural dimension and adapted to a utilitarian, rational scheme of contemporary philosophy."
In this way, moral law was deprived of the ascetic and spiritual elements and put on a level with practical philanthropy. Moreover, the providential order was transformed into a mechanistic natural law. This took place particularly in the idea of progress. Consequently, the belief in moral perfectibility and in the indefinite progress of the human race replaced the Christian concept of eternal life as the final aim of human effort.
Q: Have these concepts been handed down to us today?
Antúnez: Several events throughout the 19th century, especially the catastrophic circumstances at the beginning of the 20th century, deeply shook the stability of the creed of progress. This does not play down, however, the timeliness and scope of the problem.
Though it is true that this faith in progress in the terms formulated by the Enlightenment philosophers would not be accepted today, it still remains as a backdrop, permeating, to a great extent, the problems of our times.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger observed in the 1980s that our times are "found at the halfway point between millenarian irrationality and hopeless positivist rationality." This coincides well with Dawson's early prediction, expressed in 1927, that a new culture was about to be born. He said it would be one that would not recognize a hierarchy of values and that, abandoning itself to the chaos of feelings, would allow "the most astonishing perfection of scientific technology to be dedicated purely to ephemeral ends."
Q: From all of this, did Dawson have a deep-rooted, critical vision of modernity as culture or did he see anything redeeming in it?
Antúnez: In light of Dawson's analysis, it is the human being and his position in the universe that, as a result of the phenomena described above, was altered.
Even though he says in "Progress and Religion" that the new synthesis of modern man is superior in relation to the physical world compared to the synthesis of the 13th century, in its totality it is inferior. Human beings not only lost their central place in the universe as the link between the superior reality of the spirit and the inferior reality of matter, but "they were left in danger of being expelled from the intelligible order." This is due to the fact that the universe is conceived as a closed mechanical order, governed by mathematical laws, in which there is no room for the spiritual and moral values that were previously considered as the absolute reality.
However, Dawson's critique of modern culture does not imply -- thanks to human freedom -- an irreversible or a predetermined process. As with everything human, its persistence or defeat depends on human will. Nor does this necessarily imply a regress in the field of scientific and technological advances. On the contrary, considering them as positive results of the civilization in which they came to light, the Christian one, they are elements, among many, to be reintegrated into a search for a spiritual unity of culture.
[Carrie Gress contributed to this interview]
Monday, December 31, 2007
Sunday, December 23, 2007
The New Political Bible of Human Rights
Janne Haaland Matlary Addresses Dangers of Relativism
By Father John Flynn, LC
ROME, DEC. 23, 2007 (Zenit.org).- In Benedict XVI's Dec. 1 address to an audience with participants in the Forum of Catholic-Inspired Nongovernmental Organizations, he warned against basing international relations on a relativistic logic.
We can look with satisfaction, the Pope said, to an achievement such as the universal recognition of the juridical and political primacy of human rights. Nevertheless, he continued, discussions at the international level "often seem marked by a relativistic logic which would consider as the sole guarantee of peaceful coexistence between peoples a refusal to admit the truth about man and his dignity, to say nothing of the possibility of an ethics based on recognition of the natural moral law."
If the relativistic position is accepted, the Pontiff warned, we run the risk of laws and relations between states being determined by factors such as short-term interests or ideological pressures. Benedict XVI urged those present to counter the trend toward relativism, "by presenting the great truths about man's innate dignity and the rights which are derived from that dignity."
The Pope's long-standing concern over the dangers of relativism is well-known. He is far from alone in recognizing the danger this presents in the area of human rights.
Janne Haaland Matlary, professor of international politics at the University of Oslo, supports the natural law tradition as defended by the Catholic Church. Matlary, who was state secretary for foreign affairs for Norway from 1997-2000, released earlier this year an English translation of her collection of essays titled "When Might Becomes Human Right: Essays on Democracy and the Crisis of Rationality" (Gracewing).
A new bible
Today, Matlary comments, human rights have become a sort of new political bible, but unfortunately this bible is often affected by a profound relativism when it comes to its fundamental values.
Matlary's book is focused on the situation in Europe, where, she warns, relativism is leading to attempts to redefine human rights. In fact, she continues, there is a real paradox present, because on the one hand Europe and the West urge the world to respect human rights, but on the other hand refuse to define, in an objective manner, what these rights mean.
Matlary explains that the contemporary emphasis on human rights stems from the rejection of the evils of the Nazi regime, which saw the dangers of subjects obeying orders by a legal ruler that were, however, contrary to morality. The subsequent 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights is formulated in such a way, she argues, that it is clear they are to be regarded as inborn for every person. The declaration can, therefore, be regarded as a natural-law document.
Today, however, human rights are often regarded as being dependent on the political process, Matlary continues. While the 1948 declaration defends the right to life, many states have legalized abortion. Similarly, the 1948 text proclaims the right of a man and a woman to marry, but there is increasing pressure in many countries to establish a "right" to same-sex marriage.
Another example is the Convention on the Rights of the Child, approved by the U.N. General Assembly in 1989. It stipulates that a child should have the right to know and be cared for by its parents. Only a few years later, this is ignored by the use of anonymous donors for invitro fertilization treatments, Matlary comments.
Matlary examines a number of factors that have contributed to the triumph of an ethical relativism in Europe. One of these is secularization, which means forgetting the Continent's Christian roots, as well as the values Christianity has contributed to politics and law. To this is added increasing immigration from other cultures, and uncertainty over the concept of tolerance. As well, an aversion to the concept of objective truth, often combined with the mentality of political correctness, undermines attempts to define common values.
There has also been a marked politicization of human rights, Matlary observes, as was evident in a number of conferences organized by the United Nations in the 1990s, on themes such as demography, the family and women's rights.
The debate on values and human rights, Matlary states, is also marked by a profound subjectivism. In many countries religion increasingly ceases to be based on adherence to an institutional identity and becomes "religion à la carte." Subjectivism has also contributed to the decline of ideology, but has replaced it with a superficial desire to follow the latest fashionable public personality and the trends popularized in the media.
Based on truth
The last section in Matlary's book considers how the case for natural law can be made in the midst of the prevailing relativism. Christianity has a vital role to play in this effort, she maintains, through its teaching in the area of anthropology, including the strong emphasis the Church places on inherent human dignity.
We cannot impose Christian norms in the political sphere, Matlary acknowledges. Nevertheless, on many points regarding the human person and rights there is no contradiction between faith and reason. The task, therefore, is not to create Christian states, but states based on the truth about the human being. What Europe needs, consequently, is politicians who are prepared to dedicate themselves to the common good, according to what is universally right and wrong based on the standard of human dignity.
Matlary admits that even among Christians there is often a legitimate plurality in the political arena, allowing flexibility between diverse courses of action. There are, however, some issues over which there cannot be compromise, those that concern human dignity.
This concluding section also looks at the contribution made by the Vatican to the debate over human rights. In a chapter dedicated to Pope John Paul II, Matlary commented on his skillful public diplomacy, as well as the quieter, but also very effective, contribution made by Vatican diplomats around the world.
A further chapter examines the analysis of modern rationality made by the current Pope, in many writings authored when he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. One of the matters dealt with by him was the notion of human freedom, which many today regard as having no limits.
The lack of willingness to limit personal autonomy, Matlary comments, ultimately lies in the inability to define the human being and what is good and bad about human nature.
Another defect identified by the then Cardinal Ratzinger, according to Matlary, is the idea that rationality is limited to the technical area only. Accepting this means we no longer have any idea of how to reason about right and wrong, as well as denying there is any standard of ethics outside of an individual.
In addition, Cardinal Ratzinger criticized a purely materialistic concept of rationality that ignores the philosophical and theological dimensions of our nature, thus reducing the idea of progress to the merely technical and economic dimensions; an argument still present in the thought of Benedict XVI.
Juridical norms need to be founded on morality, which in turn is grounded in nature itself, explained the Pontiff in his message for the World Day of Peace. Without this solid foundation, the Pope counseled, the juridical norms will be "at the mercy of a fragile and provisional consensus" (No. 12).
"The growth of a global juridical culture depends, for that matter, on a constant commitment to strengthen the profound human content of international norms, lest they be reduced to mere procedures, easily subject to manipulation for selfish or ideological reasons," he warned (No. 13). A timely reminder that the political process is not the absolute master, but needs to be oriented by the truths inherent in human nature.
Monday, December 17, 2007
I tend not to believe it, because such an assertion depends on a reductionistic view of the relationship between DNA and development. Tinkering on a grand scale may not produce a viable organism; more likely it will produce a malfunctioning one.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
I've read the claim about the human spine being "suboptimal" (see the comments for this post by Mark Shea) elsewhere, including Soompi--probably there is something at TalkOrigins--but how can people make such judgments, if they do not have an alternative model to use as a standard? How do we know what is suboptimal without knowing what is optimal? Just because a structure cannot cope with all stresses or problems does not imply that there exists some structure which can. (Or that there is even an alternative structure which makes up for those weaknesses but has others which the one in question lacks--how do we know such trade-offs are possible if we do not even understand development, how structures come to be?)
The same sort of noetic problems arise when critics talk about the "efficiency" and "inefficiency" of organic structures.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Law and Moral Purpose
by Robert P. George
The obligations and purposes of law and government are to protect public health, safety, and morals, and to advance the general welfare—including, preeminently, protecting people’s fundamental rights and basic liberties.
At first blush, this classic formulation (or combination of classic formulations) seems to grant vast and sweeping powers to public authority. Yet, in truth, the general welfare—the common good—requires that government be limited. Government’s responsibility is primary when the questions involve defending the nation from attack and subversion, protecting people from physical assaults and various other forms of depredation, and maintaining public order. In other ways, however, its role is subsidiary: to support the work of the families, religious communities, and other institutions of civil society that shoulder the primary burden of forming upright and decent citizens, caring for those in need, encouraging people to meet their responsibilities to one another while also discouraging them from harming themselves or others.
Governmental respect for individual freedom and the autonomy of nongovernmental spheres of authority is, then, a requirement of political morality. Government must not try to run people’s lives or usurp the roles and responsibilities of families, religious bodies, and other character- and culture-forming authoritative communities. The usurpation of the just authority of families, religious communities, and other institutions is unjust in principle, often seriously so, and the record of big government in the twentieth century—even when it has not degenerated into vicious totalitarianism—shows that it does little good in the long run and frequently harms those it seeks to help.
Limited government is a key tenet of classic liberalism—the liberalism of people like Madison and Tocqueville—although today it is regarded as a conservative ideal. In any event, someone who believes in limited government need not embrace libertarianism. The strict libertarian position, it seems to me, goes much too far in depriving government of even its subsidiary role. It underestimates the importance of maintaining a reasonably healthy moral ecology, especially for the rearing of children, and it misses the legitimate role of government in supporting the nongovernmental institutions that shoulder the main burden of assisting those in need.
Still, libertarianism responds to certain truths about big government, especially in government’s bureaucratic and managerial dimensions. Economic freedom cannot guarantee political liberty and the just autonomy of the institutions of civil society, but, in the absence of economic liberty, other honorable personal and institutional freedoms are rarely secure. Moreover, the concentration of economic power in the hands of government is something every true friend of civil liberties should, by now, have learned to fear.
There is an even deeper truth—one going beyond economics—to which libertarianism responds: Law and government exist to protect human persons and secure their well-being. It is not the other way round, as communist and other forms of collectivist ideology suppose. Individuals are not cogs in a social wheel. Stringent norms of political justice forbid persons to be treated as mere servants or instrumentalities of the state. These norms equally exclude the sacrificing of the dignity and rights of persons for the sake of some supposed “greater overall good.”
But since we are going back to first principles, we might ask: Why not subordinate the individual to the ends of the collectivity or the state?
Here we see how profound is the mistake of supposing that the principle of limited government is rooted in the denial of moral truth or a putative requirement of governments to refrain from acting on the basis of judgments about moral truth. For our commitment to limited government is itself the fruit of moral conviction—conviction ultimately founded on truths that our nation’s founders proclaimed as self-evident: namely “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
At the foundation is the proposition that each human being possesses a profound, inherent, and equal dignity simply by virtue of his nature as a rational creature—a creature possessing, albeit in limited measure (and in the case of some human beings merely in root or rudimentary form), the Godlike powers of reason and freedom—powers that make possible such human and humanizing phenomena as intellectual inquiry, aesthetic appreciation, respect for self and others, friendship, and love. This great truth of natural law, which is at the heart of our civilizational and civic order, has its theological expression in the biblical teaching that man, unlike the brute animals, is made in the image and likeness of the divine creator and ruler of the universe.
It is critical to bear this great truth in mind. We must not adopt a merely pragmatic understanding or speak only of practical considerations in addressing the pressing issues of our day. Sound positions cannot be effectively advanced and defended by citizens and statesmen who are unwilling or unable to engage moral arguments.
That is why we should, in my opinion, rededicate ourselves to understanding and making the moral argument for the sanctity of human life in all stages and conditions, and the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of one man and one woman.
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that practical considerations should or even can be left out of the argument. In a proper understanding of morality, practical considerations are not “merely” practical. The moral case for the reform of unilateral-divorce laws, for example, includes reference to the devastating, poverty-inducing, crime-promoting social consequences of the collapse of a healthy marriage culture and the role of unilateral divorce in contributing to the collapse. The moral argument for restoring legal protection to the unborn includes reference to the adverse psychological and, in some cases, physical consequences of abortion on many women who undergo the procedure.
Our task should be to understand the moral truth and speak it in season and out of season. We will be told by the pure pragmatists that the public is too far gone in moral relativism or even moral delinquency to be reached by moral argument. We will be advised to frame arguments in coded language so as not to scare off the soccer moms or whoever is playing their role in the next election cycle.
All of this must be resisted. We must, to be sure, practice the much-neglected and badly underrated virtue of prudence. But we must have faith that truth is luminously powerful, so that if we bear witness to the truth about, say, marriage and the sanctity of human life—lovingly, civilly, but also passionately and with determination—and if we honor the truth in advancing our positions, then even many of our fellow citizens who now find themselves on the other side of these issues will come around.
To speak of truth frightens some people today. They evidently believe that people who claim to know the truth about anything—and especially about moral matters—are fundamentalists and potential totalitarians. But, as Hadley Arkes has patiently explained, those on the other side of the great debates over social issues such as abortion and marriage make truth claims—moral truth claims—all the time. They assert their positions with no less confidence and no more doubt than one finds in the advocacy of pro-lifers and defenders of conjugal marriage. They proclaim that women have a fundamental right to abortion. They maintain that “love makes a family” and other strong and controversial moral claims. The question, then, is not whether there are truths about such things as the morality of abortion and the nature of marriage; the question in each case is, What is true?
What is centrally and decisively true about human embryos and fetuses is that they are living individuals of the species Homo sapiens—members of the human family—at early stages of their natural development. Each of us was once an embryo, just as each of us was once an adolescent, a child, an infant, and a fetus. Each of us developed from the embryonic into and through the fetal, infant, child, and adolescent stages of our lives, and into adulthood, with his or her distinctness, unity, and identity fully intact. As modern embryology confirms beyond any possibility of doubt, we were never mere parts of our mothers; we were, from the beginning, complete, self-integrating organisms that developed to maturity by a gradual, gapless, and self-directed process.
Our foundational principle of the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of every human being demands that all members of the human family be respected and protected irrespective not only of race, sex, and ethnicity but also of age, size, location, stage of development, and condition of dependency. To exclude anyone from the law’s protection is to treat him unjustly.
Of course, politics is the art of the possible. And, as Frederick Douglass reminded us in his tribute to Lincoln, public opinion and other constraints sometimes limit what can be done at the moment to advance any just cause. The pro-life movement has in recent years settled on an incrementalist strategy for protecting nascent human life. So long as incrementalism is not a euphemism for surrender or neglect, it can be entirely honorable. Planting premises in the law whose logic demands, in the end, full respect for all members of the human family can be a valuable thing to do, even where those premises seem modest.
Fully just law would protect all innocent human life. Yet sometimes this is not, or not yet, possible in the concrete political circumstances of the moment. Today, for example, we do not have the political strength to protect human embryos in cryopreservation units that can under prevailing law be destroyed, or donated for research in which they are destroyed to produce stem cells.
The real issue, though, is not the use of cryopreserved embryos produced by in-vitro fertilization. The real issue is the practice of creating human embryos by cloning to be destroyed either in the blastocyst stage (days five to six) or later in gestation. There are not nearly enough cryopreserved embryos for use in the research that scientists wish to perform. If, in fact, embryonic stem cells become usable in therapies to treat major diseases—indeed, even if they prove useful in treating a single major disease type—millions of embryos will be needed in relatively short order. Moreover, in vitro embryos are all products of the genetic lottery. They are not a genetic match to the patient who would be treated. As with vital organ transplantation, this raises the likelihood of rejection and the need for immunosuppression and other medical interventions. Cloning holds out a different possibility: Since the embryonic clone would be a twin of the donor, the rejection problem would probably be very substantially reduced. Cloning has not yet been perfected, but it likely will be. Thus, we face the prospect of human life being manufactured on a massive scale in order to be destroyed in biomedical work.
Stem cells of the sort we now have debates about—those obtained by destroying human embryos in the blastocyst stage—cannot currently be used in therapies and may never prove to be therapeutically useful. Despite the promises of magic cures, these stem cells—whether obtained from in-vitro embryos or from clones—are highly unstable and tend to generate tumors. That helps to explain why there is not a single embryonic stem cell therapy even in stage one of clinical trials. (By contrast, there are a large number of trials in progress—indeed, some have been successfully completed—using nonembryonic cells, such as those obtained harmlessly from umbilical-cord blood, amniotic fluid and placental tissue, bone marrow, and other uncontroversial sources.) Apparently, no one quite knows even how to begin thinking about the extraordinarily complex challenges of stabilizing embryonic cells so that they can be used in therapies.
Legislation in several states, including my home state of New Jersey, proposes to make state funding available for the macabre practice of human fetal farming. It is difficult to imagine a more egregious abuse of governmental power. Congress, however, was persuaded to pass a preemptive ban on the practice, which President Bush signed. This is a fine example of the pro-life movement’s looking ahead to problems likely to arise three to five years down the road and acting while public opinion is favorable. Most Americans are horrified by the idea of creating a human life, gestating it, and aborting it to harvest cells and tissues. Even most supporters of abortion are repulsed by this possibility—at least for now. But for those who would like to go down that path, there is always hope that the promise of miracle cures can be used to erode public resistance. Hence the legislation in New Jersey and elsewhere, laying the groundwork for fetal farming.
Although the congressional prohibition is an important achievement, it is a modest one. Our long-term goal must be a comprehensive ban on all forms of human cloning, including the creation of embryos to be destroyed in research. It is worth noting that pro-cloning forces have a long-term goal of their own: federal funding for the creation of research embryos by cloning. If there is a true moral nightmare in our future, it is a massive, federally funded industry in the manufacture and destruction of human beings. (As this article goes to press, work by leading stem-cell scientists has been published showing that pluripotent stem cells—cells with the exact properties of embryonic stem cells—can be produced by reprogramming ordinary skin cells obtained harmlessly from donors. Assuming that fetal farming is not the goal, this research could well make embryo-destruction for biomedical-research purposes obsolete.)
Let me turn to the other great moral question we confront today: marriage. The institution of marriage is battered in our culture, but it is not lost. Private pro-marriage forces, such as Marriage Savers, are doing important work through churches and other institutions. Much damage was done by bad legislation and policy, almost always in the name of reform. That legislation and policy is now itself in need of reform.
If we are to restore and secure the institution of marriage, we must recover a sound understanding of what marriage is and why it is in the public interest for law and policy to take cognizance of it and support it. Marriage is a prepolitical form of association—what might be called a natural institution. It is not created by law, though law recognizes and regulates it in every culture. Nowhere is it treated as a purely private matter. Some on the libertarian fringe toy with the idea that marriage could be privatized, and even some who are not on the fringe wonder whether that might be the best solution to the controversy over same-sex marriage.
I understand why someone would consider this idea, but it strikes me as a bad one. There is a reason that all cultures treat marriage as a matter of public concern and even recognize it in law and regulate it. The family is the fundamental unit of society. Governments rely on families to produce something that governments need—but, on their own, they could not possibly produce: upright, decent people who make honest, law-abiding, public-spirited citizens. And marriage is the indispensable foundation of the family. Although all marriages in all cultures have their imperfections, children flourish in an environment where they benefit from the love and care of both mother and father, and from the committed and exclusive love of their parents for each other.
Anyone who believes in limited government should strongly back government support for the family. Does this sound paradoxical? In the absence of a strong marriage culture, families fail to form, and when they do form they are often unstable. Absentee fathers become a serious problem, out-of-wedlock births are common, and a train of social pathologies follows. With families failing to perform their health, education, and welfare functions, the demand for government grows, whether in the form of greater policing or as a provider of other social services. Bureaucracies must be created, and they inexorably expand—indeed they become powerful lobbyists for their own preservation and expansion. Everyone suffers, with the poorest and most vulnerable suffering most.
The effective defense of marriage against the current onslaught will require an understanding of marriage as a matter of moral truth. Practical or pragmatic arguments are legitimate and important. But too few pro-marriage politicians are willing to say much about what marriage actually is. This gives those who would abolish the conjugal conception of marriage an important advantage in public debate. They hammer away with their rhetoric of “love makes a family” and demand to know how anyone’s marriage would be threatened if the same-sex partners next door were also allowed to marry.
Everyone agrees that marriage, whatever else it is or does, is a relationship in which persons are united. But what are persons? And how is it possible for two or more of them to unite? According to the view implicit in sexual-liberationist ideology, the person is understood as the conscious and desiring aspect of the self. The person, thus understood, inhabits a body, but the body is regarded (if often only implicitly) as a subpersonal part of the human being—rather than part of the personal reality of the human being whose body it is. The body is viewed as serving the interests of the conscious and desiring aspect of the self by functioning as an instrument by which the individual produces or otherwise participates in satisfactions and other desirable experiences and realizes various objectives and goals.
For those who formally or informally accept this dualistic understanding of what human beings are, personal unity cannot be achieved by bodily union as such. Persons unite by uniting emotionally (or, as those of a certain religious cast of mind say, spiritually). And, of course, if this is true, then persons of the same sex can unite and share sexual experiences together that they suppose will enhance their personal union by enabling them to express affection, share the uniquely intense pleasure of sex, and feel more intensely by virtue of their sex play.
The alternate view of what persons are is the one embodied in both our historic law of marriage and what Isaiah Berlin once referred to as the central tradition of Western thought. According to this view, human beings are not nonbodily persons (consciousnesses, minds, spirits, what have you) inhabiting and using nonpersonal bodies. Rather, a human person is a dynamic unity of body, mind, and spirit. The body, far from being a mere instrument of the person, is intrinsically part of the personal reality of the human being.
Bodily union is thus personal union, and comprehensive personal union—marital union—is founded on bodily union. What is unique about marriage is that it truly is a comprehensive sharing of life, a sharing founded on the bodily union made uniquely possible by the sexual complementarity of man and woman—a complementarity that makes it possible for two human beings to become, in the language of the Bible, “one flesh,” and for this one-flesh union to be the foundation of a relationship in which it is intelligible for two persons to bind themselves to each other in pledges of permanence, monogamy, and fidelity.
So, then, how should we understand what marriage is? Marriage, considered not as a mere legal convention or cultural artifact, is a one-flesh communion of persons that is consummated and actualized by acts that are procreative in type, whether or not they are procreative in effect. It is an intrinsic human good, and, precisely as such, it provides a more than merely instrumental reason for choice and action.
The bodily union of spouses in marital acts is the biological matrix of their marriage as a comprehensive, multilevel sharing of life: a relationship that unites the spouses at all levels of their being. Marriage is naturally ordered to the good of procreation (and is, indeed, uniquely apt for the nurturing and education of children) as well as to the good of spousal unity. At the same time, it is not a mere instrumental good whose purpose is the generating and rearing of children. Marriage, considered as a one-flesh union, is intrinsically valuable.
To understand how it can be the case that, on the one hand, the generating and rearing of children is a perfection of marriage and not something merely incidental to it, and, on the other, marriage is not a mere means to the good of generating and rearing children, it is important to see that the procreative and unitive goods of marriage are tightly bound together. The one-flesh unity of spouses is possible because human (like other mammalian) males and females, by mating, unite organically—they form a single reproductive principle.
It is a plain matter of biological fact that reproduction is a single function, yet it is carried out not by an individual male or female human being, but by a male and female as a mated pair. So, in respect of reproduction, albeit not in respect of other activities (such as locomotion or digestion), the mated pair is a single organism; the partners form a single reproductive principle: They become one flesh.
Some people desperately want to deny this. But consider this thought experiment: Imagine a type of bodily, rational being that reproduces, not by mating, but by some individual performance. Imagine that for these beings, however, locomotion or digestion is performed not by individuals, but only by biologically complementary pairs that unite for this purpose. Would anybody acquainted with such beings have difficulty understanding that in respect of reproduction the organism performing the function is the individual, while in respect of locomotion or digestion the organism performing the function is the united pair? Would anybody deny that the unity effectuated for purposes of locomotion or digestion is an organic unity?
Precisely because of the organic unity achieved in marital acts, the bodies of persons who unite biologically are not reduced to the status of extrinsic instruments of sexual satisfaction or expression. Rather, the end, goal, and intelligible point of sexual intercourse is the intelligible good of marriage itself as a one-flesh union.
On this understanding, the body is not treated as a mere instrument of the conscious and desiring aspect of the self whose interests in satisfactions are the putative ends to which sexual acts are means. Nor is sex itself instrumentalized. The one-flesh unity of marriage is not a merely instrumental good, a reason for acting whose intelligibility as a reason depends on other ends to which it is a means. This unity is an intrinsic good, a reason for acting whose intelligibility as a reason depends on no ulterior end. The central and justifying point of sex is not pleasure, however much sexual pleasure is rightly sought as an aspect of the perfection of marital union; the point of sex, rather, is marriage itself, considered as an essentially and irreducibly bodily union of persons—a union effectuated and renewed by acts of sexual congress—conjugal acts. Because sex is not instrumentalized in marital acts, such acts are free of the self-alienating qualities that have made wise and thoughtful people from Plato to Augustine and from the biblical writers to Kant, treat sexual immorality as a matter of the utmost seriousness.
In truly marital acts, the desire for pleasure and even for offspring are integrated with and, in an important sense, subordinated to the central and defining good of one-flesh unity. The integration of subordinate goals with the marital good ensures that such acts effect no practical dualism that separates the body from the conscious and desiring aspect of the self and treats the body as a mere instrument for the production of pleasure, the generation of offspring, or any other extrinsic goal.
But one may ask, what about procreation? On the traditional view of marriage, is not the sexual union of spouses instrumentalized to the goal of having children? It is true that St. Augustine in certain writings seems to be a proponent of this view. The conception of marriage as an instrumental good was rejected, however, by the mainstream of philosophical and theological reflection from the late Middle Ages forward, and the understanding of sex and marriage that came to be embodied in both canon law and civil law does not treat marriage as merely instrumental to having children. Western matrimonial law has traditionally and universally understood marriage as consummated by acts fulfilling the behavioral conditions of procreation, whether or not the nonbehavioral conditions of procreation happen to obtain.
By contrast, the sterility of spouses—so long as they are capable of consummating their marriage by fulfilling the behavioral conditions of procreation (and, thus, of achieving true bodily, organic unity)—has never been treated as an impediment to marriage, even where sterility is certain and even certain to be permanent. Children who may be conceived in marital acts are understood not as ends extrinsic to marriage but rather as gifts—fulfilling for the couple as a marital unit and not merely as individuals—that supervene on acts whose central defining and justifying point is precisely the marital unity of spouses.
I and others have elsewhere developed more fully the moral case for the conjugal conception of marriage as the union of one man and one woman pledged to permanence and fidelity and committed to caring for children who come as the fruit of their matrimonial union. I have argued that acceptance of the idea that two persons of the same sex could actually be married to each other would make nonsense of key features of marriage and would necessarily require abandoning any ground of principle for supposing that marriage is the union of only two persons, as opposed to three or more. Only a thin veneer of sentiment, if it happens to exist (and only for as long as it exists), can prevent acceptance of polyamory as a legitimate marital option once we have given up the principle of marriage as a male-female union.
To those arguments, I will here add an additional reason to reject the idea of same-sex marriage: The acceptance of the idea would result in a massive undermining of religious liberty and family autonomy as supporters of same-sex marriage would, in the name of equality, demand the use of governmental power to whip others into line. The experience of Massachusetts as well as foreign jurisdictions is that once marriage is compromised or formally redefined, principles of nondiscrimination are quickly used as cudgels against religious communities and families who wish to uphold true marriage by precept and example.
Part of the trouble pro-marriage politicians and others have in defending marriage follows from the fact that these pathologies that afflict the marriage culture are widespread, and supporters of marriage, being human, are not immune to them. This is not to excuse anyone from personal responsibility. But the fact is that sustaining a marriage despite the collapse of many of its social supports is difficult. In trying to stand up for marriage, political leaders, intellectuals, and activists who have had marital problems of their own are subjected to charges of hypocrisy. Many therefore censor themselves. As a result, the pro-marriage movement loses the leadership of some of its most talented people.
The question of same-sex marriage is critically important, but rebuilding and renewing the marriage culture goes far beyond it. By abolishing the basic understanding of marriage as an inherently conjugal union, legal recognition of same-sex marriage would be disastrous. But many would say that such recognition would simply ratify the collapse of marriage that followed from widespread divorce, nonmarital sexual cohabitation, and other factors having nothing to do with homosexual conduct.
It is certainly true that the origins of the pathologies afflicting marriage lie in such factors. Rebuilding the marriage culture will require careful, incremental legal reforms to roll back unilateral divorce, accompanied by herculean efforts on the part of nongovernmental institutions—especially churches and other religious bodies—to prepare couples more adequately for marriage, help them nurture strong marital relationships, and assist those who are dealing with marital problems. Public-private partnerships will be essential, in my view, to cutting the divorce rate. This won’t be easy. If marriage weren’t so important, it wouldn’t be worth trying.
As with abortion, same-sex marriage is being advanced by liberal activist judges who exercise creative powers of constitutional interpretation. That gives us reason to pursue with new dedication the larger fight against the judicial usurpation of democratic legislative authority—another profound abuse of governmental power. State courts have given the supporters of same-sex marriage some important early victories, especially in Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Jersey (though in the latter two states the courts did not order that the word marriage be attached to legally recognized same-sex partnerships), and those supporters are in a position to fight hard to secure their gains in democratic forums and even to advance them.
Despite extraordinarily broad support for same-sex marriage in the universities and the media, initiatives to preserve marriage as the union of one man and one woman have prevailed, usually by decisive margins, every time they have been put on the ballot but once. (The sole exception, Arizona, already had a legal definition of marriage as a male-female union in its state law.) Even in the deep blue state of Wisconsin, a marriage initiative prevailed in a near-landslide on election day in November 2006—in the course of what was around the country a big night for liberals and Democrats. With the Federal Marriage Amendment stalled, state marriage initiatives and constitutional amendments are vitally important. The issue should be taken to the people at every possible opportunity. Even in the bluest states, marriage will have a stronger chance with the people than with the judges or even with the legislators.
Some people have wondered whether the best way to handle the conflict over marriage in our politics is a federalist solution, one that eschews a national policy on marriage and leaves it to each state to define marriage as it sees fit. This, too, I think is a bad idea. Just as the nation could not endure half slave and half free but eventually had to go all one way or all the other, we will not be able to get by with a situation in which some couples are “married” in one state, not married when they move to or travel through the next, and married again when they reach a third.
If same-sex “marriage” is legally recognized in a small number of states, it will spread throughout the nation, either through judicial action under the Constitution’s Full Faith and Credit Clause or by the working of informal cultural pressures. Some states may try to hold out, but they will sooner or later be forced into line.
That is why we need a national resolution of the issue, and probably a constitutional one. Believers in marriage did not start this fight, and we are loath to interfere with traditional state powers—precisely because we view federalism as serving limited government and embodying our belief in the principle of subsidiarity. But judicial usurpation has put into operation a chain of events that will result in the radical redefinition of marriage unless action is taken at the national level—going beyond the Defense of Marriage Act (which may yet be struck down by the courts)—to preserve the conjugal conception of marriage.
Finally, there is the question of civil unions. Some politicians and others say that they are against same-sex marriage but in favor of legal recognition of same-sex partnerships, with all or most of the rights and responsibilities of marriage, only falling under a different rubric. If law and policy are at least to do no harm to marriage, it is critical that they avoid treating nonmarital conduct and relationships as if they were marital. There are clear moral lines—and not merely semantic ones—between what is marital and what is not, and the law should respect them. If they are blurred or erased, the public understanding of the meaning of marriage will erode.
Some of the benefits traditionally associated with marriage may legitimately be made more widely available in an effort to meet the needs of people who are financially interdependent with a person or persons to whom they are not married. Private contracts between such people should be sufficient to accomplish all or most of what they consider desirable.
If, however, a jurisdiction moves in the direction of creating a formalized system of domestic partnerships, it is morally crucial that the privileges, immunities, and other benefits and responsibilities contained in the package offered to nonmarried partners not be predicated on the existence or presumption of a sexual relationship between them. Benefits should be made available to, for example, a grandparent and adult grandchild who are living together and caring for each other. The needs that domestic-partnership schemes seek to address have nothing to do with whether the partners share a bed and what they do in it. The law should simply take no cognizance of the question of a sexual relationship. It should not, that is, treat a nonmarital sexual relationship as a public good.
The defense of life against abortion and embryo-destructive research calls America back to the founding principles of our regime and to reflection on the justifying point and purposes of law and government. The defense of marriage, meanwhile, shores up the cultural preconditions for a regime of democratic republican government dedicated to human equality, fundamental human rights, and principled limits on governmental powers.
These causes should not be regarded as distractions from other pressing goals, such as economic growth, assistance to the needy, environmental protection, and the defense of the nation against terrorism. They are, rather, causes that spring from the foundational moral purposes of law and the state. They are today among the most urgent causes.
Encyclopedic View of Catholic Social Thought
Interview With Richard Myers of Ave Maria Law School
By Dominic Baster
ANN ARBOR, Michigan, DEC. 10, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The Church offers to the world a vision of man that emphasizes his eternal destiny, as well as the need for charity and justice in this world, says the author of an encyclopedia on Catholic social thought.
Richard Myers, professor of law at the Ave Maria School of Law, is a co-editor of the two-volume "Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought, Social Science, and Social Policy," published by Scarecrow Press. The other co-editors are Michael Coulter, Stephen Krason and Joseph Varacalli.
The work is a compilation of the teachings of the Church on society, social relations and the human person. It has approximately 850 entries from nearly 300 contributors, including prominent scholars, theologians and Church leaders such as Cardinal George Pell of Sydney.
In this interview with ZENIT, Myers explains why he believes the encyclopedia is needed, and why Catholic social teaching remains one of the Church's best-kept secrets.
Q: Why is this Encyclopedia necessary now?
Myers: There have been pleas from successive popes that efforts should be made to make the Church's social teaching better known. This encyclopedia is very much a response to that call.
The message of Catholic social teaching is timeless in a way, because it is an effort to bring the Gospel message to bear on the realities of social life. But I do think there is particular urgency to present this teaching at this time.
Pope John Paul II spoke frequently about the crisis in the modern world. There is a widespread sense that we are at A great turning point in world history. The Church's social teaching has much to offer in shaping the hearts and minds of all individuals of good will and in shaping the culture.
The encyclopedia is also necessary because there is literally nothing else like it available.
Q: Why is Catholic social teaching such a mystery, not just to society at large, but also to many practicing Catholics?
Myers: I think there are many reasons for this. First, it is because of the many issues included within Catholic social teaching. Sometimes, people think of Catholic social teaching as consisting solely of the social encyclicals since "Rerum Novarum" in 1891. But the teaching is far broader than that.
The Church's social teaching is designed to contribute to nothing less than a proper understanding of man's place in the world and in human society -- dealing with areas including human rights, the universal destination of goods, the family, the nature of human work, economic life, politics, environmental issues and issues of war and peace.
So, because of the great variety of issues addressed by Catholic social teaching, many fail to see that the teaching has a structure and a coherence that aid in understanding its full richness.
Second, the Church's social teaching has developed incrementally -- often in response to controversies such as industrialization or globalization or encounters with systems of thought such as Communism -- and has not often been discussed in a comprehensive manner. I think that, as a result, many have failed to recognize the vast scope of the Church's social teaching.
Third, I think there is a great temptation in the modern world to think that religion only deals with a narrow set of spiritual issues -- such as the profession of faith, worship, and the sacraments -- and that one's faith doesn't speak to the secular world of work, family life, economics and politics. However, the Church has fought against this sort of separation.
The Catholic faith is comprehensive in the sense that it speaks to theological doctrines but also provides insights into the moral realm and Catholics, particularly lay Catholics, have a right and a duty to defend in the public square the moral truths concerning the individual rights and society and the common good.
Q: How can Catholic social teaching be made more accessible to ordinary Catholics in the pew?
Myers: This is certainly a challenge. There must be a commitment on the part of all Catholics to proper formation emphasizing that the Church doesn't speak to a narrow set of theological issues, but has something profound to offer about the basic realities of social life.
We view the encyclopedia as one effort to contribute to this task. Although the two-volume work is necessarily quite large, it is in reality quite manageable. The entries are mainly 1,000-1,500 words in length, so they provide a relatively brief discussion of key documents, themes and individuals who have helped to shape the Church's teaching.
We sought to make the encyclopedia accessible to any educated Catholic, so the entries try to avoid academic jargon and overly technical terms, while still retaining a high scholarly level. We also provide appropriate cross-references and bibliographies for people who are interested in further study.
We believe that the encyclopedia will be particularly useful to those charged with transmitting the faith -- including priests and others who teach the faith in schools and parishes. An increased emphasis on Catholic education is really critical and we hope that the encyclopedia will contribute to this task.
Q: How does the new encyclopedia complement the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, which came out in 2004?
Myers: Both the Compendium and the encyclopedia respond to the same basic need to make the Church's social teaching better known. When we started our project in 2000, the Compendium didn't exist. And although we didn't coordinate our efforts, the two projects actually complement each other quite well.
The Compendium states the teaching at a more abstract theoretical level, whereas the encyclopedia's distinctiveness lies, I think, in its particularity. The encyclopedia contains nearly 850 specific entries on key documents and persons who have developed Catholic social teaching and on the organizations that put that teaching into practice.
Q: Do you see the richness of the Church's social teaching as a tool in the work of evangelization?
Myers: Yes, of course. The Church views her social teaching in precisely this manner. In his encyclical "Sollicitudo Rei Socialis," John Paul II stated: "The teaching and spreading of her social doctrine are part of the Church's evangelizing mission." The Compendium makes the same point and links the Church's social teaching to the new evangelization.
The Second Vatican Council taught that earthly realities and human institutions ought to be ordered to man's salvation and that, properly understood, they can help to build up the Body of Christ. The Church's social teaching, as is true of all of the Church's teaching, is ultimately rooted in the truth of Jesus Christ and it is imperative that this be proposed to modern man.
Q: Catholic social teaching is quite radical in many respects. Why is it so much less well-known than teachings on life issues or sexual morality, for example?
Myers: I think there are a variety of reasons for this. First, the Church's social teaching is difficult to describe in simple terms that can be captured in a sound bite or on a bumper sticker. The Church's social teaching begins with foundational principles -- such as the nature of the human person and the social nature of man -- and then moves to a wide range of applications in the concrete situations of the modern world.
Many of the concrete applications reflect difficult prudential judgments about which the Church hasn't spoken authoritatively. As a result, it may be true that the clarity of the teaching hasn't come through.
Second, there has been a tendency for political actors to try to hijack Catholic social teaching in the service of partisan political causes. This happens on the both the left and the right, and I think this phenomenon leads some Catholics and others of good will to dismiss the whole project.
However, in contrast to the narrow vision of man offered by the modern world, the social teaching of the Church offers man a vision of great grandeur. It emphasizes man's eternal destiny, and the need for us to pursue holiness and the perfection of charity in this world.
It is in the practical day-to-day world that we have an obligation to promote this richer vision of man and the Church's social teaching provides the way in which to think about how this ought to be done.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Archbishop Forte on Religion and Freedom (Part 3)
"Those Who do Not Pray Will Not Live by Faith"
LEEDS, England, DEC. 6, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the third part of the address given by Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, Italy, a member of the International Theological Commission, to a Nov. 12 meeting of the bishops of England and Wales.
Part 1 appeared Tuesday, and Part 2 appeared Wednesday.
* * *
3. Consequences: What to Do to Respect and to Promote a True Relationship Between Religion and Freedom in Church and Society Today?
How can believers and nonbelievers, how can believers of different faiths meet and dialogue in truth given the challenges of the described landscapes? How can freedom be experienced as true and religious freedom be possible in truth and reciprocal respect between them?
To respond adequately to this question from the point of view of theological and pastoral responsibility, we must show how Christians, engaged in living and working in this changing world, are required more than ever today to give an account of the hope that is in them, with gentleness and respect for all (cf. 1 Pt 3,15).
At both individual and community levels, this means that Christians must be disciples of the One and Only, servants out of love, and witnesses to what it means to follow their Lord. At the same time, in the interplay between faith and nonbelief -- to which the adventures of modern atheism and the restlessness of nihilistic postmodernism make us especially attentive -- believers are called to go beyond every reduction of Christianity to ideology, and to be sincerely attentive to others in all their dignity, whatever their beliefs may be.
Thus, we discover that the atheist, the only atheist that can be taken seriously, may live in the very heart of believers themselves, because only someone who believes in God, and has experienced God as the loving Father-Mother, can also "know" what it would mean to deny him, and what infinite suffering his absence would be. The nonbeliever is not outside believers, but within them: This insight leads to a particular understanding of the life of faith itself, lived now not presumptuously, as something possessed, but in humble awareness of the constant need to put oneself at the service of the truth, and to do this not as so many private adventurers, but in the communion of the Church, which has been raised up and is nourished by the Spirit.
a) Believers, prisoners of the invisible. To believe is to be taken prisoner by the Totally Other. This is precisely why believers can bring the truth of faith to bear on human thought, as they let themselves become prisoners of the Invisible, not immediately available and certain. Thoughtful belief does not claim to have an explanation for everything, to throw light on everything, but lives rather as if by night, charged with expectation, suspended between the first and last coming of the Lord, already strengthened, certainly, by the light which came into the darkness, and yet still longing for the dawn.
Thoughtful belief is not yet totally lit up by the day, which belongs to another time and to another homeland, but it still receives enough light to bear the burden of keeping the faith. Thoughtful belief is humble: It hangs on the cross, which in the world's darkness is, and always will be, the disciple's guide, the star of Redemption, the revelation of the God welcoming us in love. In their turn, nonbelievers, once they have crossed the ford of modernity, live in the selfsame state of search and expectation. This is on condition that their nonbelief is more than a label, that it is the fruit of their experience of suffering and struggle with God and of their being unable to believe in him.
True nonbelief is not an easy denial, with little effect on the person concerned. Serious, thoughtful nonbelief, which pays attention to the true questions of the world and of life, means suffering; it is a passion for truth that pays a personal price for the bitter courage of not believing.
One who does not believe, and who lives this condition in a responsible way, is aware of the acute pain of absence, feeling himself orphaned, deeply abandoned: Only the death of God can cause such sorrow in the human heart and in the history of the world. Thus it is that the thinking nonbeliever, just as the conscientious believer, wrestles with God. "My religion is to wrestle with God": According to Miguel de Unamuno, a voice speaking for the "tragic sentiment of life," the whole of religion lies in this "wrestling with God." And since "to live is to yearn for eternal life," living is inevitably marked by the tragedy of having to fight this unequal combat.
Out of respect for the dignity of such nonbelief, which emerged in all its clarity after the tragically heady days of ideological atheism and its fall, believers are called to question their faith and rediscover the struggle with God as a part of their love for him. The company that faith and nonbelief keep with one another in this way has its origins in the one human condition: When human beings ask the deepest questions about their vulnerability to pain and death, they do this not as people who have already arrived, but as searchers for the distant homeland, who let themselves be permanently called into question, provoked and seduced by the furthest horizon.
Human beings who stop, who feel they have mastered the truth, for whom the truth is no longer Someone who possesses you more and more, but rather something to be possessed, such persons have not only rejected God, but also their own dignity as human beings.
To be human, to be free, means to go on a journey outward: Human beings are on an exodus, called permanently to go out of themselves, to question themselves, in search of a home, glimpsed but not possessed, in search of the loving Father-Mother who welcomes them. If human beings are by constitution pilgrims toward life, begging for heaven (Jacques Maritain), the true temptation is to stop journeying, to feel they have arrived, no longer to think of themselves as pilgrims in this world, but masters of an impossible eternal instant. This illusion of feeling we have arrived, the presumption of thinking we are already fulfilled, that we have achieved the goal of our existence, this is the fatal illness.
All this can be applied analogously to the things of God: In the life of faith, too, the greatest temptation is to stop. Because Christians are called to follow the cross, where God spoke in the silent, disquieting eloquence of the passion, they are constantly placed before this great choice: to crucify their own expectations on the cross of Christ, or to crucify Christ on the cross of their expectations. This is exactly the way in which the cross is the gospel of freedom, as Jesus showed us in the way, he went out of himself in choice after choice, to the point of deepest self-abandonment!
In everyday experience, as in the journey of faith, human beings are called to be free by paying the painful price of this continual, inevitable choice, a choice that constantly places us on the threshold, sensing the dizzy alternative of going one way or the other.
b) Faith: struggle and submission. As human beings constantly go out of themselves to struggle against death and walk toward life, they are joined by the Word who comes from the divine mystery, from that God who, according to Christian faith, "has time" for them. God comes to us so that our history may enter the mystery of home and there find rest. This meeting between human beings who go out and God who comes, between exodus and advent, is faith: It is struggle and agony, not the repose of a certainty possessed.
Whoever thinks they can have faith without a struggle risks believing in nothing. Faith is what happened to Jacob at the ford of Jabbok (cf. Genesis 32:23-33): God is the one who attacks under cover of dark, who comes upon you and wrestles with you. If you do not know God in this way, if for you God is not a consuming fire, if for you the encounter with him is always going through the same comfortable motions, your God has stopped being the living God, and is dead.
That is why Pascal said that Christ would be in agony until the end of time: His agony is the agony of Christians, the struggle to believe, to hope, to love, the struggle with God! God is other than you, he is free with respect to you -- as you are other than him, and free with respect to him. Woe to us if we lose the sense of this distance and the suffering involved in our difference from God!
In a beautifully naif medieval insight, to believe (credere) comes from "cor-dare," to give your heart, and this involves a continual struggle with God's total otherness which does not let itself be "solved" or "possessed." God is other than you. That is why faith is always challenged by doubt.
Only those who do not know are shocked by the Baptist's words, when at the sunset of his life, and evidently restless with doubt, he sent to ask Jesus: "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" (Matthew 11:3). This is the trial of faith: to struggle with God, knowing that he is the Other, who escapes from our certainties, and does not allow himself to be tamed by our presumption.
So faith is struggle: The voices that witness to this are innumerable. St. John of the Cross speaks of this scandal through the metaphor of the "noche oscura": "On a dark night, anguished, with burning love, oh blessed fate, I went out, unnoticed, all were asleep at home. Night, you led me! Oh, night more loveable than dawn, oh, night that joined the Lover with his beloved, the beloved transformed into the Lover" (Noche oscura, 1 and 5). Dark night is both the place of scandal and of betrothal: God is not to be found in easy earthly possessiveness, but in the poverty of the cross, in death to self, in the night of the senses and of the spirit. This is the place of greatest joy!
Darkness is the place of love, and of faith experienced as struggle. Christ is not the answer to our questions; above all, he subverts them. And only after leading us into the fire of desolation, does he become the God of consolation and of peace.
Finally, faith is submission: In the combat there comes the moment when you understand that the loser really wins, and so you give yourself up to him, you submit to the one who attacks at night, you allow your life to be marked forever by that meeting. Then it is that faith becomes self-abandonment and forgetfulness of self and the joy of entrusting yourself into the arms of the Beloved. Faith means entrusting yourself like this to the Other. "O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed; you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed. [...] If I say, 'I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,' then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot" (Jeremiah 20:7,9).
In these words of Jeremiah we hear the voice of one of the greatest witnesses to what it means to submit in faith: Jeremiah wrestled mightily with God, but in the midst of the combat he learned how to give in, to submit in love and to entrust himself to God. This is how faith can become a homecoming of beauty and peace. This is not the beauty the world knows, the seduction of a truth explaining everything; it is instead the beauty of the man of sorrows, the beauty of crucified Love, of Jesus' total offering of himself to the Father and to us.
c) Consequences. If faith, then, is all this, if it is struggle and submission, inseparably joined, then believers will not be looking for vulgar signs which exhibit the fidelity of the God in whom they believe. They will still believe in him even when the answers to the true questions of human suffering remain hidden in his silence. Consequently, believers are, in the end, those who try every day to begin believing, and nonbelievers, as they suffer from the infinite pain of God's absence, are perhaps people who try anew every day to believe, but fail. If believers did not struggle every day to be faithful to the living God, their faith would be nothing more than worldly reassurance, one of the many ideologies that have fooled the world and alienated human beings.
Against every ideology, faith is to be understood and lived as continual conversion to God, a continual handing over of the heart, beginning every day afresh the effort to believe, hope, and love: In consequence, faith is prayer, and those who do not pray will not live by faith! But if believers are those who struggle with God and submit themselves to him anew every day, then what of the struggle of nonbelievers who try anew every day to believe, but fail? Not the superficial atheists, but those who struggle with an upright conscience, who have sought but not found, and who feel all the pain of God's absence: Will they not be true companions of those who believe?
From this way of understanding the relation between religious experience and conscience, dialogue between believers and nonbelievers can be understood as an exercise of reciprocal respect and a witness to religious freedom. In the first place, we must say "no" to a lazy, static, habit-worn faith, made of comfortable intolerance, which defends itself by condemning others because it does not know how to live the suffering of love.
To this "no" we must add a "yes" to a questioning, even doubting, faith, capable of beginning anew every day to entrust itself to others, to live the exodus with no return, ever journeying toward God's mystery, disclosed and hidden in his Word. There also arises, however, a "no" to every superficial atheism, to every ideological denial of God and of the holy mystery, as well as a "yes" to the unceasing search for the hidden Face, for the love beyond every word, the love which opens itself to embrace our searching hearts.
In this age of ours that lacks great hopes, perhaps more than ever the real difference is not between believers and nonbelievers, but between those who think and those who do not, between, on the one hand, men and women who have the courage to face life's pain, to go on trying to believe, hope and love, and, on the other, men and women who have given up the struggle, who seem to content themselves with the penultimate horizon, and no longer know how to burn with desire and yearning at the thought of our last horizon and last home.
Believers thus make their own -- in the name, too, of nonbelievers -- the prayer with which St Augustine closes the most beautiful, the most deeply considered, and perhaps the most tormented of his works, the 15 books of the "De Trinitate": "Lord my God, my only hope, grant that when I am weary I may never cease to seek you, but may always passionately seek your face. Give me strength to seek you who let yourself be encountered, and give me the hope of meeting you more and more.
"Before you I place my strength and my weakness: Conserve the first, heal the last. Before you I place my knowledge and my ignorance; where you have opened, welcome me as I enter; where you have closed to me, open when I knock. Let me remember you, understand you, love you!" (15, 28, 51).
In the restlessness of questioning, the faith of the believer meets the invocation of those who would like to believe: on the basis of a common poverty and of a common search, but also on the basis of listening to the other who dwells in the depth of both partners in a meeting. Dialogue between believers and nonbelievers is one of the highest and most enriching challenges in the cultures marked by nonbelief and religious indifference, which are particularly those of our postmodern Europe.
Are we ready as believers and as Church to accept this challenge without fear, with spirit and full hearts, trusting in the faithful God? And are the various expressions of culture and society marked by the modern spirit of emancipation ready to respect the freedom of believers and to take seriously the challenge of their values and of their vision of life and death? Our ability, as persons, as society and as an ecclesial community, to serve today, in our historical context, the quality of life and the dignity of every human being depends on our answers to these questions.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Archbishop Forte on Religion and Freedom (Part 2)
"There Is a Return to the Father, Who Sets Us Free"
LEEDS, England, DEC. 5, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the second part of the address given by Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, Italy, a member of the International Theological Commission, to a Nov. 12 meeting of the bishops of England and Wales.
Part 1 appeared Tuesday. Part 3 will appear Thursday.
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2. Principles: "Religion and Freedom From Modern to Postmodern Time"
We move now to the second archway of our bridge. Within the horizon of the search for the infinitely loving Father-Mother it is possible to distinguish two different attitudes regarding the relationship between religion and freedom: the first one, marked by rejection of the Father-Mother figure in the name of the emancipation of human being; the second one, characterized by the conviction that without the acceptance of a transcendent truth there is no possible freedom and no religious freedom at all.
a) The metaphor of light provides us with the most expressive way of talking about the principle which inspired modern reason's ambitious claim to understand and master everything. This project -- which lies at the foundations of the Enlightenment in all its manifestations -- maintains that to understand the world rationally means to make human beings free, masters of their own future, emancipating them from every possible dependence.
Emancipation: This was the dream which pervaded the great processes of historical transformation in the modern age, born with the "Enlightenment" and the French Revolution, from the emancipation of the working classes, the oppressed races and the peoples of the so-called third world, to the emancipation of women, in all variety of different cultural and social contexts. This dream of total emancipation strained forward toward a reality entirely enlightened, where the radiating power of reason might express itself without constraint.
Where reason triumphs, there rises the sun of the future; in this sense, it may be said that modernity is the age of light. Freedom -- interpreted as self-consciousness, self-determination and self-realization -- is light: The light is being set free from every dependence, from every Father-Mother who could decide for us. Freedom is precisely emancipation, liberation from every transcendent Lord, from every historical slavery. Revolutionary freedom as well as the bourgeois one are both aspects of the modern spirit of emancipation. The fullest expression of this spirit is "ideology": modernity, the age that dreamed of emancipation, was also the time of those all-embracing ways of understanding the world proper to ideologies.
Ideologies tend to impose the light of reason on the whole of reality, to the point of equating ideal and real. In pursuit of this ambition, the "great ideological narratives" tended to construct a "society without fathers," where there are no vertical relationships -- unfailingly thought to imply dependence -- but only horizontal ones, of equality and reciprocity.
"Liberté, égalité, fraternité": The sun of reason generates liberty and equality, and hence fraternity, according to an egalitarianism founded on the light of reason, which governs the whole world and all life. The critique of the "father-lord" figure thus leads to the complete rejection of God. Just as on earth there must be no fatherhood creating dependence, so in heaven there must be no Father of all.
"Religious freedom" is freedom from religious slavery, from every fear in front of the divine: Human beings alone are the heroes of their own destiny and of the future of society. There are no divine "partners," there is no other world; there is only this history, this horizon. The only idea of God allowed to stand before the court of adult reason is of a God who is dead, meaningless and with no practical purpose ("Deus mortuus, Deus otiosus"). This collective murder of the Father is carried out in the conviction that human beings must manage their own lives for themselves, molding their destiny with their own hands. The modern ideologies, whether of right or left, pursued this ambitious aim of emancipating human beings in a way so radical as to make them the sole subject of their history, and at the same time both the source and goal of all that happens.
There can be no denying that this is a mighty project, and that we are all in some measure in debt to it: Who would want to live in a society that had not undergone this process of emancipation? And yet, this dream has also led to satanic consequences: Precisely because of its all-embracing ambition, ideology becomes violent.
Reality is forced to bend to the idea; reason's will for power (F. Nietzsche) strives to dominate life and history so as to make them conform to its own goals. Inexorably, this all-encompassing dream becomes totalitarian: Totality -- as understood by reason -- produces totalitarianism. Neither by chance nor by accident, all the enterprises of modern ideology, of right and left, bourgeois and revolutionary, eventually issue in totalitarian and violent expression. And it is precisely this historical experience of totalitarianism that leads to the crisis and twilight of the claims of modern reason: "The fully enlightened earth -- affirm Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno -- radiates disaster triumphant" (Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944), New York 1969, 3).
Thought without shadows becomes violent; far from emancipating, it generates suffering, alienation and death. The modern "society without fathers" does not bear children who are freer and more equal, but, instead, dramatic dependent on those who at various times offer themselves as "surrogate" fathers. The "leader," the "party," the "cause," these become the new masters, and the freedom promised and dreamed of turns into a painful, grey manipulation of the masses, held in place by violence and fear.
The collective murder of the father did not prevent the proliferation of these new, barely camouflaged, fathers and lords. The dream of emancipating life and the world seems, then, to have dashed itself against the unheard-of violence produced by the age of emancipation. Where are the new heavens and new earth promised by the great ideological narratives? This is the drama with which the 20th century closed: a moral drama, a crisis of meaning, a vacuum of hope. Freedom and religious freedom in a world without God have not made us more free, more equal, more fraternal.
b) The need for a transcendent horizon arises from the crisis of the suppositions of the modern era. If, according to modernity, everything found meaning within one all-encompassing process, for the "weak thought" of the postmodern condition -- shipwrecked on the great sea of history after the collapse of ideology's claims -- nothing seems to have meaning any more.
In reaction to the failed claims of "strong" reason, then, there emerge the contours of a time of shipwreck and collapse; this crisis of meaning is the special characteristic of postmodern restlessness. In this "night of the world" (Martin Heidegger), what seems to triumph is indifference, a loss of the taste for seeking ultimate reasons for human living and dying. And thus, too, we reach the nadir of the parable of modern ideologies, nihilism: Nihilism is not simply a matter of giving up values for which it is worth living. It is a much more subtle process: It deprives human beings of the taste for committing themselves to a higher cause, of those powerful motivations which the ideologies still seemed to offer.
Our worst contemporary ailment is this lack of "passion for the truth": This is the dramatic face of our postmodern age. In this climate of nihilism, everything conspires to lead us not to think anymore, to flee from any passionate striving after truth. In the dark light of nihilism, to be freed means to be "condemned" to freedom, compelled to make choices, not free to be or not to be free, and religious freedom has no meaning, because there are no gods and no free human beings!
The result of such a cultural process is the triumph of the mask over and above truth: Even values are often reduced to banners hoisted to camouflage the lack of meaning. Human beings seem to be reduced to a "useless passion" (Jean-Paul Sartre: "l'homme, une passion inutile"). One could say that the most serious malady of this so-called postmodern age is the abandonment of the search for a father-mother toward whom to hold out our arms, while we no longer having the will or desire to seek a meaning worth living and dying for.
Orphaned by the ideologies, we all run the risk of being more fragile, more tempted to shut ourselves up in the loneliness of our own selfishness. This is why post-ideological societies are increasingly becoming "crowds of lonliness," in which people seek their own self-interest, defined according to an exclusively selfish and manipulative logic: Faced with the vacuum of ultimate meaning, we grasp at penultimate concerns, and seek immediate possessions.
This explains the triumph of the most shameless consumerism, of the rush toward hedonism and whatever may be enjoyed at once; but this is also the deep reason for the emergence and affirmation of forms of thought which are sectarian, narrowly ethnic, nationalistic or regional. Without the wide horizons offered by truth, we easily drown in the selfish loneliness of our own particular situation, and our societies becomes archipelagos, collections of separate islands.
It is exactly this process which shows that we all need a common father-mother to free us from our selfishness, to offer a horizon of hope and love -- not the violent one of the ideologies, but one which truly frees all, and respects all. So if the "society without fathers" ran after the dream of emancipation, and to achieve this dream sought to destroy the father, it is precisely the bitter fruit of totalitarian and violent emancipation -- and the vacuum it created -- that evokes the newly felt need for a transcendent father-mother who welcomes us in freedom and love and guarantees the dignity of each person, the freedom of all, and the ultimate meaning of life.
This is the longing for the Totally Other, of whom Horkheimer and Adorno spoke as they foresaw the crisis of the ideologies. It is the yearning for the hidden Face, the need for a shared home, which provides horizons of meaning without violence. There are signs of such an expectation: There is a "longing for perfect and achieved justice" (Max Horkheimer), which can be perceived in the contemporary restlessness and "search for lost meaning."
This is not simply "une recherche du temps perdu," not mere nostalgia, but a striving to rediscover meaning beyond shipwreck, to discern an ultimate horizon, against which to measure all that is penultimate, and to give an ethical foundation to that we do.
There is a rediscovery of the other, in the recognition that my neighbor, by the mere fact of existing, can give me a reason to live, because he or she challenges me to go out of myself, to take the risk of an exodus with no return by committing myself in love to others. The new concern for the weakest -- especially for foreigners fleeing from situations of deprivation and poverty of every kind -- and the growing awareness of the demands of local and global solidarity may be counted -- even if still beset by many contradictions -- as signs of this search for lost meaning and for a freedom based on respect for each human person and his infinite dignity.
At the same time, there seems also to be a rediscovery of the longing for the Totally Other, a kind of rediscovery of the Holy over against every nihilistic denial. There is the reawakening of a need, which may be described in general as religious -- for an ultimate horizon, understood not in the manipulative and violent way of ideology. A transcendent womb which allows us to affirm that the value of creation is promoted and not undermined by the Holy.
Under very different forms, there is a "return to the Father," who sets us free, even though not always without ambiguity or even a certain ideological nostalgia. To witness to such a need of the Other, able to offer reasons for life and hope, and to proclaim the Face of this transcendent loving Father-Mother, is the most important commitment of the Church's mission today. The Second Vatican Council expressed this intuition in a particularly deep way when it said: "One is entitled to think that the future of humanity is in the hands of those who are capable of providing the generations to come with reasons for life and hope" (Gaudium et Spes 31).
In these words we can espy the role of a fundamental paternal-maternal mediation, of a kind of paternity-maternity of meaning, which might be able to stop the future from falling into nothingness. The Other -- ultimate foundation of all true reasons to live, and to live together -- seems to be offering himself as the answer to the truest and deepest question revealed by the crisis of our present age; and the yearning for his hidden face seems to lead us toward a father-mother who has a loving welcome for us all.
Archbishop Forte on Religion and Freedom (Part 1)
"Searching For the Infinitely Loving Father-Mother"
LEEDS, England, DEC. 4, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the first part of the address given by Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, Italy, a member of the International Theological Commission, to a Nov. 12 meeting of the bishops of England and Wales.
Parts 2 and 3 will appear Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.
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What really is important in life is not so much to provide answers, as to discern true questions. When true questions are found, they themselves open the heart to the mystery. Origen used to say: "Every true question is like the lance which pierces the side of Christ causing blood and water to flow forth."
In this light we understand why Christ is not first of all the answer: He is first the restlessness of the query, as we see by the fact that the Gospel opens with the word "metanoéite," change your heart and life. Only at this price is Jesus also the peace and the truth which enlightens. Therefore if we want to find true answers for our condition as pilgrims in history toward the homeland of God's promise, we must listen to the true questions which lie at the heart of history itself, since they will open us toward the enlightening darkness of the mystery.
Very often the mission of the Church fails because we answer questions no one is asking, or we pose questions which interest no one. The challenge is to discern the true questions, the questions that God writes on the tablet of our heart and of our time.
This is why my reflection on "religion and freedom" is developed in three parts, similar to the arches of a bridge joining thought to life. In the first arch -- which I call "Horizon" or "Searching For the Infinitely Loving Father-Mother" -- I listen to the questions posed by our heart and by the landscape of our times, so that the true question may enter our mind and open us to the horizons of mystery.
In the second arch of the bridge -- that I call "Principles" or "Religion and Freedom From Modern to Postmodern Time" -- I listen to the development of the ideas of freedom and religion in modern European history.
Lastly, in the third and final part -- the third arch of the bridge, which I call "Consequences" or "What to Do to Respect and to Promote a True Relationship Between Religion and Freedom in Church and Society today" -- I reflect on what emerges from the two previous parts to inspire practical choices in Church and society.
1. Horizon: Searching For the Infinitely Loving Father-Mother
a) What is the greatest question which lies at the heart of our heart? The question which makes us restless and thoughtful: "Fecisti cor nostrum ad te et inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te." "You have made us for yourself and our heart is restless until it rest in you." It is Augustine who speaks at the beginning of his "Confessions." The burning question which each of us carries in the depths of his heart is in fact the question of suffering and death. If there were no death there would be no thought, everything would be a flat eternity: To live is also to learn to die, to live together with the silent, persistent, tenacious challenge of death.
It is pointless to search for evasion as we often do, or easy consolation like that of Epicurius who says: "When death comes I will not be, and as long as I am, death will not come." These words are in fact only a pun, an illusion, because death is not only the final destiny, the last act, it is something imminent which hangs over and weighs on each day of our fragile, perishable living.
To struggle with death means answering questions which suddenly spring up in the heart like piercing wounds: What is my destiny? What is the meaning of life? Where am I going with all my worries, consolations and joys? And when I have all that I desire what else will I long for except that final victory, the victory over death? It is death then which sets us thinking: This is the paradox of the human condition.
The thought of death as our destiny and challenge prompts a counterattack, like a need to defeat the apparent triumph of death: To think is to struggle against death! So, we are at the same time thrown toward death, as Heidegger says, and yet fashioned for life. Without this contrast we would accept the destiny of death as something obvious and certain, without worrying about it, without seeking to give a meaning to life.
The fact that death makes us think and that we feel the need to give significance to our acts and days is the sign that deep in our heart we, pilgrims on the way to death, are in fact called to life. Within us there is an indestructible longing for the face of Someone who will take away our suffering and tears, who will redeem the infinite pain of death.
When we are alone and sad, when no one seems to love us and we even have reason to despise or criticize ourselves, from the depths of the heart there arises a restlessness, a longing for someone Other who will welcome us, make us feel loved in spite of everything, and defeat the final enemy, death. This longing which appears is the image of the Father, or if you like of the Mother, because "father" and "mother" are in this sense only two metaphors to express the same need inscribed in our heart: the need to have someone to trust without reserve, an anchor, a haven in which to rest our insecurity, our pain, in the certainty that we will not be thrown back into the abyss of our nothingness.
As such the figure of the Father is at the same time the figure of the loving Mother, the womb, the homeland, the origin in which we place all that we are. If in the depths of our heart we find anxiety facing the supreme challenge of death, and this makes us pensive, if life becomes a struggle to defeat death, then the image of the infinitely loving Father-Mother is something we all need.
Hence we cannot fail to ask ourselves: Why, if this is so, is it the case that in so many there is a visceral rejection of the "father-mother" figure? Why do we all, sooner or later, experience a moment when we contest the image of the father-mother in love?
Let us try to understand this contradiction between the need of a father-mother figure to overcome our anguish and at the same time the rejection of it, by reading a text taken from "The Letter to the Father," by Franz Kafka: "The feeling of nothingness which often dominates me," Kafka says, "originates in large part from your influence.
"I was able to enjoy all that you gave us only at the price of shame, fatigue, weakness and a sense of guilt. I could only be grateful to you as a beggar, not with facts. The first visible result of this education was that it made me flee from anything which reminded me, even vaguely, of you."
How often rejection of the father stems from a need to gain independence! How often paternity-maternity becomes possessiveness, slavery, dominion! This is when we see the dramatic image of the father's murder.
In actual fact, one of the most profound causes of the anguish found in the human heart is that -- although everyone wants to conquer death -- we all need a loving father-mother to embrace us, with regard to whom, nevertheless, we all, in one way or another, experience moments of rejection for fear of suffocation. The murder of the father is a sort of ritual murder, an act to affirm our independence, our autonomy. So we are all doomed to a never-ending condition of being orphans, consequently longing for a loving mother and father, and yet fleeing in order to remain free and independent like the prodigal son, who chooses to take his heritage in order to manage his own life.
This then is the great question: We need someone who will reveal to us the face of a loving father-mother, who does not create dependence, does not make us slaves; a father-mother who loves us and renders us free. We need a father-mother who does not compete with our freedom, but is its very foundation, the ultimate guarantee of truth and peace in our heart, who at the same time will heal our anguish with the medicine of love, and also heal that fear of losing our freedom, making us feel loved in a freedom which does not make us slaves, and does not create dependence. This is the infinitely loving Father-Mother sought by the human heart.
[How far do we want to take this, even if there is some truth--he does concede that father and mother are metaphors. But what of the divine filiation offered through Christ, in which we are able to truly call God abba?]
b) And at the heart of history? Here is the second landscape of our search for true questions: What happened to the father-mother figure in the last century? In the book "Age of Extremes -- The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991," by Eric J. Hobsbawm (Penguin Books, 1994), opened in 1914 with the outbreak of World War I and closed in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of ideologies. We built a society without fathers: This -- to be brutal -- is the basis of the modern process of emancipation.
From the Enlightenment onward, emancipation became the great dream of hearts, of minds, of the masses of humanity. But what is emancipation? Karl Marx in his book "The Jewish Question" defines it as follows: "Emancipation means leading everything in this world back to man, to man alone." There is no "God": There is only the human being who must run his life, his destiny alone. This was the great dream of modernity: Modern ideologies, left wing and right wing, pursued this ambitious goal of emancipating man, rendering him the subject instead of the object of his history.
The "great tales" ("meta-narratives," "mega-récits") of the modernity, which ideologies are -- myths just like those they were supposed to replace -- have in common the claim to build a world in which man is the only subject and agent, both the origin and summit of all that happens. It cannot be denied that this project is fascinating and we are all its children. Which of us would want to live in a society which has not passed through the process of emancipation?
Nevertheless, this dream had satanic effects: The dream of emancipating the world and life was shattered in the unheard of violence which the age of emancipation produced, eloquent signs of which are the Shoah of the Jews and all the holocausts of our times, up to the holocaust of famine consumed day after day. Is this the fruit of adult reason? Is this the result of the great ideologies of the left and the right?
Now, the fatherless society is precisely the one which followed the dream of emancipation by eliminating the father. The bitter fruit of totalitarian and violent emancipation however causes the need to recognize the face of a welcoming father-mother to be felt once again. This is not the search for the father-mother who is the party, or money, or power, rather it is the search for a father-mother who establishes at the same time each individual person's dignity and freedom, giving meaning to life.
We could say, then, that the most profound sickness of this age which we call postmodern, is that we -- orphans of ideologies -- are all weaker, more fragile, more tempted to shut ourselves up in the solitude of our selfishness. When there are no horizons of truth we drown in the solitude of our own particular selves. And this shows still more that we all need a common father-mother to set us free from the prison of our solitude, to give us a horizon for hoping and loving, not the violent one of ideology, but a liberating horizon. There is a nostalgia for a hidden face, the need for a common homeland which gives horizons of meaning without exercising violence.
In this light, life appears either as a pilgrimage toward a promised homeland or as a mere waiting for death. There is no other choice. Life is either a passion, a searching and therefore a restlessness, or it is a dying every day a little, evading, escaping in all the many drugs with which our society is afflicted, and which only serve to dull our senses and are incapable of posing authentic questions.
We need to make the decision: "I will arise and return to my father!" This is the great decision which our postmodern age needs. To help their traveling companions to make this decision, believers are the first who must arise and move toward the Father. So this brief inquiry to listen to our heart and to the heart of our time, leads to a first temporary conclusion: We need to become pilgrims once again, to overcome the frustration which at times grips us, especially when we see no results, no fruits.
The most important thing for those who believe in God is not to harvest, but to sow: The sowing will bear fruit in time when and how God wills. Therefore we must say "no" to frustration and "yes" to a passion for the truth which leads us to pose true questions so we may search for the hidden face, the face of the father-mother in love. The core of the Church's mission today is to proclaim this face to all those who are in search of it.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
What Christopher Dawson Lamented in Modernity
Interview With Author Jaime Antúnez
By Jesús Colina