Modern scientific thought has increasingly shut us up in the prison of positivism, thus condemning us to pragmatism. Much can be achieved by doing so; it is possible to journey to the moon and still farther into the immensity of the universe. Yet in spite of this, man always remains in the same place, because he does not surpass the real limit, which is set by what can be quantified and produced. Albert Camus has portrayed the absurdity of this freedom in the character of the emperor Caligula: everything is at his disposal, and everything is too little for him. In his insane craving for more, for something bigger, he cries: ‘I want the moon, give me the moon!’
By now it is more or less possible to have the moon, but when the real boundary—the boundary between earth and heaven, between God and the world—does not open, even the moon is merely an additional piece of earth, and by reaching it man is not brought one step closer to the freedom and plenitude he longs for.
Called to Communion
Reflection – Condemned to pragmatism! What a fate! When the only question that matters is ‘can we do this?’ then this pragmatic trap is upon us. We are hungry creatures; it is indeed the very nature of human beings to always reach out for more, more, more… something.
We want more. And so we have crazy Caligula baying for the moon. In our day we have crazy trans-humanists baying for genetically modified human beings, a new super-race that will improve on what God has made. We constantly reach out for more, more, more. The moon is mere pocket change at this point.
It is a trap. What we long for is not greater technical capability, greater mastery of the universe and its secrets, greater ability to manipulate reality. We do not really want freedom from all moral constraints and a total carte blanche to fashion our lives as we please. Our longing, our hunger, is channeled into those directions, but it is not satisfied in those directions.
The longing is for self-transcendence, for breaking out of the merely human level. We truly are made for something greater than what our capacities can achieve. Technical competence, even if it takes us to the stars, leaves us at the level of our humanity. Moral lawlessness reduces us considerably below the level of our humanity. It is breaking through to that which is above our humanity, and which loves us in our humanity, that is the desire of our heart.
This, or rather He, is what cannot be quantified or produced. Only received, only contemplated, only loved. And in that contemplation and love, true freedom and plenitude are given to us.
We all have to grapple with these questions at some point or other. We can continue to be earth-bound, simply trapped in one form of pragmatism or other, living life bound by our own plans. But we have to know that the earth and all that is in it is passing away. The desire of our heart for true transcendence must take us beyond what our earthly limits and ambits set for us.
It is Lent, and a good time to ponder afresh these things. What are we made for? How are we going to get there? What is holding us back? And where is God in all this? Good Lenten questions. To escape the trap of pragmatism and break through to what God wants to do in our lives would be a good Lenten intention for all of us.