Monday, August 1, 2011

Making the World What It Oughta Be??

Two categories [have] become increasingly central to the idea of progress: reason and freedom. Progress is primarily associated with the growing dominion of reason, and this reason is obviously considered to be a force of good and a force for good. Progress is the overcoming of all forms of dependency—it is progress towards perfect freedom. Likewise freedom is seen purely as a promise, in which man becomes more and more fully himself. In both concepts—freedom and reason—there is a political aspect. The kingdom of reason, in fact, is expected as the new condition of the human race once it has attained total freedom. The political conditions of such a kingdom of reason and freedom, however, appear at first sight somewhat ill defined. Reason and freedom seem to guarantee by themselves, by virtue of their intrinsic goodness, a new and perfect human community. The two key concepts of “reason” and “freedom”, however, were tacitly interpreted as being in conflict with the shackles of faith and of the Church as well as those of the political structures of the period. Both concepts therefore contain a revolutionary potential of enormous explosive force.

Spe Salvi 18

Reflection – “We can change the world, rearrange the world…” I’m not exactly old enough to remember the 1960s, but I am the youngest of six children, and my oldest brother and sister were avid record buyers. I therefore grew up surrounded by the sounds of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, the Moody Blues, Joan Baez, etc., etc, all sounding the call to revolutionary change and promising freedom from all constraints if we anwered it.
Similarly, I’ve often noticed a similar theme present in people who came of age in an earlier generation yet, those who were young adults in the 1950s or so, a certain expectation of endless progress, endless growth. Things are just going to keep getting better and better and better… this was the expectation of a certain era and place. ‘Better living through science!’ was the promise.
Pope Benedict reflects here on precisely this, such a familiar strain of thought to us. We’re going to figure it all out, and once we figure it all out we will, in the words of that peppy ‘Up With People’ song, “make this world what it oughta be.” This is the secular strand of hope that has been presented to us, in its essence.
I must confess that it holds little to no appeal to me, and not because I have any great spiritual vision, either. Whether it’s the time I grew up in or some quirk in my character, I’ve never for a moment believed in the myth of human progress and perfection. Born in 1966, my earliest memories of the social and political world were Watergate, Viet Nam, the oil crisis, pollution, the Cold War and consequent fear of nuclear annihilation. That’s enough to make any seven year old slightly jaundiced!
Today, it seems like our economic system, built to a large degree on credit, debt, and putting off to tomorrow’s tax payers what we cannot pay for today, is coming to a crisis. Debt ceilings and defaulting on loans and all that. What it all means, what it will look like when what seems to be the inevitable crash comes—I don’t have a clue.
As a priest and a Christian, though, I know that it is when all earthly hopes crumble that God offers us the true hope of humanity. It is when our little kingdoms fall that the Kingdom rises in our hearts. It is when our plans and schemes and economic models fail that God’s holy will can flourish in our hearts.
And this is true hope, the hope that we poor little post-moderns, who really don’t know very much and who are rapidly approaching a crisis for which we seem to be ill-prepared, will be met there by our Father in heaven who loves us, and who offers us a new way into the future, the way of love, faith, radical dependence on him, and from this the ability to lay down our lives for one another. I think we are going to need this ability in the days ahead.

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