Sunday, November 29, 2009

Caritas In Veritate, Part 8

And we're heading down the home stretch.

A particularly crucial battleground in today's cultural struggle between the supremacy of technology and human moral responsibility is the field of bioethics, where the very possibility of integral human development is radically called into question. In this most delicate and critical area, the fundamental question asserts itself force-fully: is man the product of his own labours or does he depend on God?

Remarkably similar to the recent post on Clement, albeit with a modern context.

It is no coincidence that closing the door to transcendence brings one up short against a difficulty: how could being emerge from nothing, how could intelligence be born from chance?

I’ve seen a lot of comments on the encyclical. Nobody wants to touch this part. It’s weird how folks seem to take their allegiance to certain scientific concepts more seriously than to the Faith. Folks will let people get away with all sorts of blasphemous claims about Jesus not being Divine, yet mock anyone who bothers to challenge materialist views of Creation. All so they won’t be considered dumb or unenlightened.

In vitro fertilization, embryo research, the possibility of manufacturing clones and human hybrids: all this is now emerging and being promoted in today's highly disillusioned culture, which believes it has mastered every mystery, because the origin of life is now within our grasp. Here we see the clearest expression of technology's supremacy. In this type of culture, the conscience is simply invited to take note of technological possibilities. Yet we must not underestimate the disturbing scenarios that threaten our future, or the powerful new instruments that the “culture of death” has at its disposal. To the tragic and widespread scourge of abortion we may well have to add in the future — indeed it is already surreptiously present — the systematic eugenic programming of births. At the other end of the spectrum, a pro-euthanasia mindset is making inroads as an equally damaging assertion of control over life that under certain circumstances is deemed no longer worth living.

Also important in all this is the use of labels. When was the last time you heard a popular outlet address these issues as eugenics? Instead, the annihilation of life deemed unsatisfactory is gets framed as helpful and protective of human dignity. More and more, our capacity for death and death-dealing is coming to define our society. How frightening.

How can we be surprised by the indifference shown towards situations of human degradation, when such indifference extends even to our attitude towards what is and is not human? What is astonishing is the arbitrary and selective determination of what to put forward today as worthy of respect. Insignificant matters are considered shocking, yet unprecedented injustices seem to be widely tolerated.

The Popes have warned about this for over a century. When you allow the masses to determine the morality of a given situation, you are left with no morality at all. With no objective grounds for determining right and wrong, there is only the shifting pleasure of the voter. Without God, such distinctions are impossible. And, as the current Holy Father has made clear in this particular work, people left to their own godless devices are going to screw up.

One aspect of the contemporary technological mindset is the tendency to consider the problems and emotions of the interior life from a purely psychological point of view, even to the point of neurological reductionism. In this way man's interiority is emptied of its meaning and gradually our awareness of the human soul's ontological depths, as probed by the saints, is lost. . . Development must include not just material growth but also spiritual growth, since the human person is a “unity of body and soul”, born of God's creative love and destined for eternal life. . . There cannot be holistic development and universal common good unless people's spiritual and moral welfare is taken into account, considered in their totality as body and soul.

The recurring theme: Development without the concept of salvation is not real development. It’s what separates the “authentic” from the phony.

On a side note, I wonder if any such thing has occurred to Fr. Jenkins and his bastardized notion of common good that he attempted to pass off at the ND graduation. When was the last time you saw an ad for ND that proclaimed: “Fighting for the salvation of souls!” or “Fighting for the Gospel of Jesus Christ!”

The supremacy of technology tends to prevent people from recognizing anything that cannot be explained in terms of matter alone. Yet everyone experiences the many immaterial and spiritual dimensions of life. Knowing is not simply a material act, since the object that is known always conceals something beyond the empirical datum. All our knowledge, even the most simple, is always a minor miracle, since it can never be fully explained by the material instruments that we apply to it. In every truth there is something more than we would have expected, in the love that we receive there is always an element that surprises us. We should never cease to marvel at these things. In all knowledge and in every act of love the human soul experiences something “over and above”, which seems very much like a gift that we receive, or a height to which we are raised. The development of individuals and peoples is likewise located on a height, if we consider the spiritual dimension that must be present if such development is to be authentic. It requires new eyes and a new heart, capable of rising above a materialistic vision of human events, capable of glimpsing in development the “beyond” that technology cannot give. By following this path, it is possible to pursue the integral human development that takes its direction from the driving force of charity in truth.

This might be my favorite paragraph from the whole thing. One of my pet peeves is the death of metaphysics and the unwillingness of people to harmonize what they profess with how they actually live. CaptainEclectic on NDNation made a point earlier this week about people who claim they don’t believe in forms but really do. That’s what I’m talking about.

It’s like folks who are solipsists or deny causation, yet they (for some reason) live their lives as though other people exist or that when they do something that it will lead to a specific effect. The current secularism loves to produce scientific rationales for everything and pretend that that’s all there is. But these same people will trumpet mythical “rights” and “human decency” and what-not if it serves to meet their agenda.

See above comments on murder as leading to human dignity for an illustration.

Only if we are aware of our calling, as individuals and as a community, to be part of God's family as his sons and daughters, will we be able to generate a new vision and muster new energy in the service of a truly integral humanism. The greatest service to development, then, is a Christian humanism that enkindles charity and takes its lead from truth, accepting both as a lasting gift from God.

And if the immediately preceding section is to be taken seriously, we must take heed to insure that it’s more Christian than humanistic.

Openness to God makes us open towards our brothers and sisters and towards an understanding of life as a joyful task to be accomplished in a spirit of solidarity. On the other hand, ideological rejection of God and an atheism of indifference, oblivious to the Creator and at risk of becoming equally oblivious to human values, constitute some of the chief obstacles to development today.

Associating indifference with atheism. I’m not sure we’ve seen that in a long, long time. Even when JPII was warning against indifferentism in stuff like Redemptoris Missio, he didn’t make that connection. How long ago since we’ve heard this? Pius XII? Earlier?

I wish he would have fleshed this out a bit more. The “many ways to heaven” heresy is the primary symptom of our new Pelagianism.

A humanism which excludes God is an inhuman humanism.

It’s true, but it sounds like the tagline for a Roland Emmerich movie.

Only a humanism open to the Absolute can guide us in the promotion and building of forms of social and civic life — structures, institutions, culture and ethos — without exposing us to the risk of becoming ensnared by the fashions of the moment . . . God gives us the strength to fight and to suffer for love of the common good, because he is our All, our greatest hope.

Here we are, right at the end of the encyclical, and I still don’t get the criticism that this is an anthro-centric work. The Pope has consistently hammered on the point that man’s works are doomed without God.

Development needs Christians with their arms raised towards God in prayer, Christians moved by the knowledge that truth-filled love, caritas in veritate, from which authentic development proceeds, is not produced by us, but given to us . . . Development requires attention to the spiritual life, a serious consideration of the experiences of trust in God, spiritual fellowship in Christ, reliance upon God's providence and mercy, love and forgiveness, self-denial, acceptance of others, justice and peace.

More contra-Pelagian stuff. You can’t even love without it being given to you. Then the shift to real development as requiring Christ. While there was some blurry language previously on the association of other religions in this process, the Pope here expressly affirms Christ as needed for the spiritual aspect of development to be legit.

So where does that leave us?

At the conclusion of the Pauline Year, I gladly express this hope in the Apostle's own words, taken from the Letter to the Romans: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honour” (Rom 12:9-10). May the Virgin Mary — proclaimed Mater Ecclesiae by Paul VI and honoured by Christians as Speculum Iustitiae and Regina Pacis — protect us and obtain for us, through her heavenly intercession, the strength, hope and joy necessary to continue to dedicate ourselves with generosity to the task of bringing about the “development of the whole man and of all men.”

Final thoughts:

Where I've had difficulties, I don’t think I’ve sugar-coated things here, and far be it from me to criticize the teaching of the Holy Father. All I can do is look at it from the perspective of how my own pretty poor understanding of the Church goes.

There was a serious need for an editor in all this. A lot of stuff that got mixed in with the parts that seemed superfluous is what is being paraded around to claim the Pope is some sort of Marxist. Especially in this day and age, with the overwhelming media hostility to the Church, the Pope has to be very careful and very clear on how he phrases things.

That being said, there was a lot in this that needed to get out there. Continuing the Spe Salvi theme of man as lost and a cause of destruction when left to his own devices is necessary, as is the attempt to resurrect the Catholic idea of the common good. Too many of the heterodox use the banner of “social justice” as their smokescreen. Building the earthly utopia tends too often to usurp the primary purpose of the Church, namely, saving souls. Hopefully, these themes will provide reflection for the parties who have lost sight of these critical items. Finally, you’ve got the concluding reflections on the issues at the core of the culture of death, specifically, segregating the transcendent from our worldview and the materialist treatment given to life and reality in general.

Good stuff, although, I’ll admit that I still like Spe Salvi as the Pope’s best work thus far.

No comments: