The image of man that dominates in modern [culture] is a primarily a gloomy image. The great and the noble are suspect from the outset… morality counts as hypocrisy, joy as self-deception. [At the same time there is a kind of optimism] that the fundamental trajectory of human development is progress and that the good lies in the future—and nowhere else.
A Turning Point for
Reflection – “A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing,” goes the memorable Oscar Wilde quip. Ratzinger echoes this in his analysis of modernity and its view of humanity. Everything stinks—bluntly put, this is the typical view of the cynic. It is, at base, a rejection of the transcendental truth and goodness of all being. When this sense of goodness, of intrinsic value is lost, all that is left is the current market value. How is your personal stock price doing today? Are you a valuable commodity? A treasured resource? What are you trading at (i-trade!)?Running alongside the dour cynic with the cash register heart is the optimist of sorts: everything stinks… now. But let us pull everything apart and tear everything to bits, and we’ll fix it. This, as far as I can make out, is the general ‘idea’ (if that’s not too strong a word) of the protestors on Wall Street right now. Not sure what they want, but they hate the way things are – let them burn everything down, and they’ll eventually get around to figuring something else out.
I sympathize with them in their frustration. I don’t sympathize much with the cynic—I’ve always considered cynicism to be one of the cheapest ‘outs’ available to men. It’s too easy to just sneer at everything. But the Christian response is different. We begin with “God saw everything He had made and said ‘It is very good.’” We begin with ‘In God’s image and likeness He made man’. We begin with the apprehension of truth, goodness, and beauty, ineradicable at the heart of every creature, of every molecule God made, and above all every person God made.
It’s only from this that we can even know what to think about the world and the mess it inarguably is in. It’s only from this that we can do our little bit to love, serve, help, clean up the mess at least a bit—whatever we can. But if we don’t know that we’re not so much clearing out a dump as restoring a great masterpiece, then we won’t go about it correctly. It takes reverence, care, caution, and above all much love and compassion to move into the world’s pain and wounds. All of this is what is lacking too often today; this is what Christians must bring.