Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tag! You're (an) It!

Another form of power has become prominent…. Man is now capable of making men, of producing them in test tubes, so to speak. Man becomes a product, and this fundamentally alters man’s relationship to himself. He is no longer a gift of nature or of the Creator God: he is his own product. Man has climbed down in to the wellsprings of power, to the source of his very existence. The temptation now to construct the ‘correct’ man at last, the temptation to experiment with human beings, the temptation to see them as garbage and to get rid of them – this is not some fantastic notion of moralists inimical to progress.
Values in a Time of Upheaval, 36
Reflection – Yesterday the Pope and I reflected together on the need for faith, on how human beings need to be open to what is bigger than ourselves, to what transcends our utilitarian practical capacities and knowledge. I went so far as to say that without faith, man becomes sub-human.
Today, we look at what this ‘sub-human’ life might look like in real world terms. Looks quite a bit like the world we live is, doesn’t it? It reminds me of the poem “For the Time Being” by W.H. Auden. A Christmas poem, he describes that moment in the stable at Bethlehem where “Everything become a Thou/And nothing was an It.” The intense personalization and communion-character of all reality touched by Incarnate God.
The modern world increasingly resembles a sort of anti-Bethlehem: a place where everyone becomes an It, and nobody is a Thou. Every human life is stripped of mystery and gift and wonder and awe and instead is evaluated on strict utilitarian socio-economic calculations.
We see this in the pre-natal diagnosis and aborting of disabled fetuses; we see this quite openly in the more radical strains of the euthanasia movement; we see this in the increasing and alarming tendency in psychiatry to pathologize any behaviors or thought patterns occurring outside a strictly defined norm.
This latter may be unfamiliar to people. I have a humorous example. When I was a seminarian, I discovered that priests and seminarians scored highly on the test diagnosing Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Now that sounds alarming—who wants a bunch of narcissistic priests, right?
But it turns out that the reason for this test result was that we answer yes to the question “Do you believe God has a plan for your life?” According to psychiatrists (so learned!) only narcissists believe that. That the same seminarians and priests would add that God has a plan for every human life, that each person He made is precious in his sight… well, that doesn’t come up on the test. So it’s not relevant. I guess.
Underneath all this, however, is precisely what Ratzinger is describing. Without a transcendent sense of things, without a sense of the mystery, wonder, awe, gift, marvel that human beings are, that life is—without all of that, we reduce humanity to one more ‘thing’, one more product, one more object of scientific study and technological manipulation.
This is what it looks like to live without faith, to live without a soul, as I put it yesterday. Everything is an It and nothing and no one is a Thou. This is why Down’s Syndrome children and bed-ridden elderly and hyper active boys and narcissistic priests (hee hee) are so important today. We have to reclaim the mystery, reclaim the wonder. We have to humble ourselves before one another and remember that there is something in each human person before which we can only bow low in reverence. We are not the masters here. And without a sense of God, of the Master of all, it may prove very hard to do that. Don’t you think?

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