Tuesday, October 21, 2008

True education starts from a positive hypothesis

How do we engage reality without asserting ourselves against reality?

I want to look at the example of artificial contraception. Let me state up-front the truth of the matter: artificial contraception in marriage is immoral. It is important to note that in Humanae Vitae, Papa Montini begins from a positive hypothesis: "The transmission of human life is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator". In this one sentence, Pope Paul expresses so much. It is dense! It is positive. Our collaboration with God is serious and so requires freedom, which is necessary in order act responsibly. Nonetheless, because it affects the daily lives of couples and requires choices that are difficult and no small amount of self-sacrifice, the vast majority of practicing Catholic married couples use some form of artificial contraception. In doing so they assert themselves against reality.

We all know from our own experience that it is often difficult to be reconciled to the truth because the truth requires not just something of us, but precisely us, that is, ourselves, whole and entire. This is nice and uplifting rhetoric, but what does it do for me when confronted with a situation in which I do not want to do what is right, when I want what I want now, when I lose sight of, or intentionally ignore, that which corresponds to my heart, to my deepest desire, when I have an incorrect affection towards a known person or object, when I want to give in to vice? Whenever we are not reconciled to the truth, we assert ourselves against reality. So, while truth requires us to make judgments, to engage in the struggle, we do not judge others, we respect them in their personhood, in their freedom, always mindful that they, too, are a direct relationship with Mystery, and so are loved. We also know that victory is always already ours in Christ Jesus, faith in whom is what enables us to conquer the world and not be conquered by it, even if we lose some battles.

What is the best way to engage this situation? Is it to rail and assert church teaching against them, against their experience? No! That is not starting from a positive hypothesis. Contraception is a symptom, an effect caused by something else, though immoral in-and-of-itself. It flows from a lack of true education.

What does it mean to be truly educated and how does one educate? For starters, you cannot teach apart from communicating something of yourself, from your own experience. You cannot start from an abstraction, Papa Montini does not start from an abstraction, but from human experience. I am going to take a digital musical trend, a mashup, and apply it theologically by mashing Giussani with Radcliffe: the Church has nothing to say about morality until our listeners understand that they are a direct relationship with the Mystery and that freedom is constitutive of their person. True education lies in the effective communication of this positive hypothesis, before which proposal the other person remains free. True education is never a denial of freedom; it is not coercion. True education does not consist of bending or breaking the will of another, waterboarding them with the truth. It consists of appealing to another's humanity, to his longing, to her desire. It is an invitation, given by a witness, to "Come and see" (Jn 1,44-46).

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