Monday, August 9, 2010

To see with the eyes of Christ is to see the full measure of our humanity

In speaking about freedom in this year's Spiritual Exercises, Fr. Carrón, citing T.S. Eliot to the effect that we must resist the temptation to design "systems so perfect that no one will have to be good." Warning against this kind of utopianism, which always has a scientistic (as opposed to scientific) tinge, is something that unites the truly human voices of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, like Dostoyevsky, Orwell, Camus, Kołakowski, Giussani, even Kerouac, who, just as Camus wasn't just some generic existentialist (a moniker he despised), is not an idiotic Maynard G. Krebs-like beatnik, et. al. The pursuit of such utopias has been far more deadly for humanity than religion, a point frequently overlooked by the so-called New Atheists.

"If somebody wants to look to someone else to spare him his freedom (call him spiritual director, or boss, or friend - it's all the same), he has to clearly understand that he will not reach happiness in this way...if i don't understand this... I will always try to unload the drama of freedom onto someone else. This is the burden that the Grand Inquisitor...wishes to take off our backs, as he reproves Christ for the gift of freedom." The Grand Inquistor's objective "is to relieve man of this unbearable burden [his freedom] replacing freedom with authority. In this way mankind would be reduced to a happy flock of sheep, and happiness would be bought at the cost of freedom." Of course, this would be happiness. Perhaps the twentieth century's literary protagonist who shows us this, both be his resistance and his ultimate being brought to love Big Brother, is Orwell's Winston Smith, who was, as Orwell indicated with the original title of 1984, the last man in Europe.


The kind of scientifically reductive anthropology rejected by those mentioned above and many other astute observers of and contributors to a truly human culture arises from our collective loss of transcendence. Our loss of transcendence, in turn, begins with our tendency to give ontological status to the empirical findings of the social sciences, which is not to argue for one second that the social sciences make no contribution to genuine human knowledge, they certainly do. Applying the results of such research, as also happens when natural scientists, like Richard Dawkins, attempt to arrive at metaphysical conclusions from physical/material finding. Maslow's hierarchy of needs serves as a good example of this tendency because it is often applied in such an absolute way, both to one's person life and even more so to public policy. When applied as if Maslow had discovered some divinely revealed truth, it represents a reduction of our humanity because it actually inverts human need.

In Deus Caritas Est, the Holy Father wrote: "Going beyond exterior appearances, I perceive in others an interior desire for a sign of love, of concern. This I can offer them not only through the organizations intended for such purposes, accepting it perhaps as a political necessity. Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave" (par. 18).

Along these lines in his most recent Mail on Sunday column, the always provocative Peter Hitchens demonstrates the not infrequent Orwellian abuse of our absolute faith in scientistic humanism in a section entitled, Nanny knows true cost of having it all:

"Every few months, another successful career woman plunges into the debate about motherhood versus paid work. Now, the author Fay Weldon and the actress Emma Thompson are tussling over ‘having it all’. Neither of them has anything particularly interesting to say, because the truth cannot be spoken openly among such people.

"That truth is that children suffer terribly from the absence of mothers – and fathers – from their lives. Most of the social problems of our broken society stem from my generation’s selfish pretence that we can follow our own pleasures at the expense of our offspring, and nothing bad will happen. The lie is so pervasive that when research proves the hurt is genuine, new research has to be commissioned to contradict it. Hence the ridiculous American survey, much trumpeted by the Left-wing BBC last week, which says the damage done to young children by the absence of their mothers is outweighed by higher family income and better ‘mental health’ among their mothers. In other words, adult riches and pleasure cancel out childish loss and grief"
(underlining emphasis mine). Hitchens is correct when he observes that this is "a repulsive calculation."

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