Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Reality is Much Bigger

The First Letter to the Corinthians (1:18-31) tells us that many of the early Christians belonged to the lower social strata, and precisely for this reason were open to the experience of new hope… Yet from the beginning there were also conversions in the aristocratic and cultured circles, since they too were living “without hope and without God in the world”.

Myth had lost its credibility; the Roman State religion had become fossilized into simple ceremony which was scrupulously carried out, but by then it was merely “political religion”. Philosophical rationalism had confined the gods within the realm of unreality. The Divine was seen in various ways in cosmic forces, but a God to whom one could pray did not exist. Paul illustrates the essential problem of the religion of that time quite accurately when he contrasts life “according to Christ” with life under the dominion of the “elemental spirits of the universe” (Col 2:8).

In this regard a text by Saint Gregory Nazianzen is enlightening. He says that at the very moment when the Magi, guided by the star, adored Christ the new king, astrology came to an end, because the stars were now moving in the orbit determined by Christ. This scene, in fact, overturns the world-view of that time, which in a different way has become fashionable once again today. It is not the elemental spirits of the universe, the laws of matter, which ultimately govern the world and mankind, but a personal God governs the stars, that is, the universe; it is not the laws of matter and of evolution that have the final say, but reason, will, love—a Person.

And if we know this Person and he knows us, then truly the inexorable power of material elements no longer has the last word; we are not slaves of the universe and of its laws, we are free. In ancient times, honest enquiring minds were aware of this. Heaven is not empty. Life is not a simple product of laws and the randomness of matter, but within everything and at the same time above everything, there is a personal will, there is a Spirit who in Jesus has revealed himself as Love.

Spe Salvi 5

Reflection – This rather lengthy passage from Spe Salvi is beautiful, isn’t it? I couldn’t really cut it down or chop it up – it all flows so nicely together.

This has always been Ratzinger’s fundamental answer to scientific materialism and logical positivism, to all these deeply corrosive philosophical theories that drain the world of meaning, love, personhood, and leave us with brute mechanical forces and cold empty space.

In Christ, God has revealed that reality is much better than that. The mechanical forces and the vastness of the universe are real—they are there—but alongside and running through and filling all things is love, and Love is made known to us in Christ.

When we talk about ‘god particles’ (and I realize that most real physicists don’t use silly terms like that), we belie a desire to find something, some bit of matter, that will finally account for everything and hold everything together in itself and by its own properties.

I am not versed enough in science to know exactly what the Higgs-Boson particle does or why precisely it is so important, but I know that it cannot hold everything together in itself. What of love? What of joy? What of self-sacrifice and nobility in suffering? These things exist, and no material particle really accounts for them.

Reality is so much bigger and better than what materialist atheists allow us. And we all know it. Everyone who has fallen in love knows it; everyone who has brought a child into the world knows it; everyone who prays knows it. And this is where hope enters in for all of us. Filling all things, behind and before and within all things, in the life and beauty and abundance of all things there is a Spirit who continually beckons us, calls to us and leads us forward into the future of all things, a future that is vouchsafed for us by this same Spirit, who is Love, who is a Person, who is God.

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