Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Crisis of Our Time: The Loss of the Experience of God.

1) The crisis our time: The Absence of God.

“The greatest `crisis’ facing the Church and the world is `the absence of God’ – a culture and way of life without any transcendent dimension, without any orientation toward eternity, toward the sacred, toward the divine. And that the `solution’ to this `crisis’ is quite simple to express in a phrase: the world needs `the presence of God.’
Benedict had long argued that the `absence of God’ in the modern world, the `secularization’ of modern `globalized’ society, has created a society in which the human person no longer has any sure protection against the depredations of power or, more importantly, any clear understanding of the meaning and ultimate destination of his life.
Yet his call to reorient human culture toward God has never meant an abandonment of the search for social justice. Rather, it has always been a challenge to place that search within the Christian context of repentance and belief in the Gospel….
Benedict was elected by his fellow cardinals, including many from very poor countries, because they agreed with him about the need for a Pope who could preach the priority of God, and in so doing, lay the only secure foundation for a just society.”

2) The cause of this absence: we have lost the experience of God.

Up front, the in-depth answer: We have lost the experience of ourselves as images of God. When we experience self as imaging God, we experience God.
. One experiences self in the act of self-transcendence. This is par excellence the act of Christian faith, and any action that is service to others approaching martyrdom asymptotically (or in fact). John Paul II says:
“The surrender to God through faith (through the obedience of faith) penetrates to the very depths of human existence, to the very heart of personal existence. This is how we should understand this `commitment’ which you mentioned in your question and which presents itself as the solution to the very problem of existence or to the personal drama of human existence. It is much more than a purely intellectual theism and goes deeper and further than the act of `accepting as true what God has revealed.’
“When God reveals himself and faith accepts him, it is man who sees himself revealed to himself and confirmed in his being as man and person”
(underline in original).

Causes for the loss of the experience of the self:

1) Bourgeois mentality: Cardinal Francis George proposed the explanation of this thesis by the confrontation of God as all powerful and the greatest asset of man being his freedom. In order to affirm and bolster man’s freedom in this zero sum confrontation, Nietzsche declared God dead. We kill God and command freedom to flourish.
But there is a “soft” way of getting rid of God: trivialize Him by reducing Him to a hobby engaged in during leisure time (“If you go to Mass on Sunday [Saturday evening to leave Sunday free for the serious business of recreation and sports], good; and if you don’t go, that’s good too);
2) Relativize the epistemology. Instead of conversion from the bourgeois attitude and life-style, formulate a philosophy of “disengagement” from the harsh realities of an authentic life. Truth as conformity of the self to the created order of things is replaced by the disengaged self creating certainty (truth) by the method of the clear and distinct idea.

Obviously, 1) and 2) are reciprocal causes. To be bourgeois eliminates the experience of the self as intrinsically relational as conforming to Being as Other Person/persons and “nature.” Once the experience of the self is dropped from consideration, we are left with only the experience of sensation and perception, but not with things. With the supreme criterion that “ideas” had to be clear and distinct as the criterion of truth, sensation and perception are acts of the self’s subjectivity, not of the receptivity and objectivity of things. The most perceptive of the modern philosophers, particularly the British (Locke and Hume), insisted in precisely this, that sensation in itself does not yield the real thing-in-itself. The self becomes reduced to consciousness and a bundle of sensations. Hence, from the side of ideas, or from the side of sensation, the self as a reality able to be experience drops out of existence. God may be thought, but, as the self, He cannot be experienced.
John Paul II commented: “In fact, about 150 years after Descartes, all that was fundamentally Christian in the tradition of European thought had already been pushed aside. This was the time of the Enlightenment in France, when pure rationalism held sway. The French Revolution, during the Reign of Terror, knocked down the altars dedicated to Christ, tossed crucifixes into the streets, introduced the cult of the goddess Reason. On the basis of this, there was a proclamation of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. The spiritual patrimony and in particular, the moral patrimony of Christianity were thus torn from their evangelical foundation. In order to restore Christianity to its full vitality, it is essential that these return to that foundation.
“Nevertheless, the process of turning away from the God of the Fathers, from the God of Jesus Christ, from the Gospel, and from the Eucharist did no bring about a rupture with a God who exists outside of the world. In fact, the God of the deists was always present; perhaps He was even present in the French Encyclopedists, in the work of Voltaire and of Jean Jacques Rousseau, and even more so in Isaac Newton’s…modern physics.
“This God, however, is decidedly a God outside of the world… The rationalism of the Enlightenment put to one side the true God – in particular, God the Redeemer.
“The consequence was the man was supposed to live by his reason alone, as if God did not exist. Not only was if necessary to leave God out of the objective knowledge of the world… it as also necessary to act as if God did not exist, as if God were not interested in the world. The rationalism of the Enlightenment was able to accept a God outside of the world primarily because it was an unverifiable hypothesis. It was crucial, however, that such a God be expelled from the world.”

This is the nub of modern philosophy known as “The Enlightenment.”

The Choice: The Meaning of the Second Vatican Council:

Then- Cardinal Ratzinger sizes up the choice that confronts us:

“Ought we to accept modernity in full, or in part? Is there a real contribution? Can this modern way of thinking be a contribution, or offer a contribution, or not? And if there is a contribution from the modern, critical way of thinking, in line with the Enlightenment, how can it be reconciled with the great intuitions and the great gifts of the faith?
“Or ought we, in the name of the faith, to reject modernity? You see? There always seems to be this dilemma: either we must reject the whole of the tradition, all the exegesis of the Fathers, relegate it to the library as historically unsustainable, or we must reject modernity.
“And I think that the gift, the light of the faith, must be dominant, but the light of the faith has also the capacity to take up into itself the true human lights, and for this reason the struggles over exegesis and the liturgy for me must be inserted into this great, let s call it epochal, struggle over how Christianity, over how the Christian responds to modernity, to the challenge of modernity.”
Robert Moynihan says: “You use the phrase `epochal struggle…”


“Well, at the very least, that means it is a struggle of enormous historical importance…”

“Yes, certainly…”

Ratzinger continued:

“And it seems to me that this was the true intention of the Second Vatican Council, to go beyond an unfruitful and overly narrow apologetic to a true synthesis with the positive elements of modernity, but at the same time, let us say, to transform modernity, to heal it of its illnesses, by means of the light and strength of the faith (underline mine).
“Because it was the Council Fathers’ intention to heal and transform modernity, and not simply to succumb to it or merge with it, the interpretations which interpret the Second Vatican Council in the sense of de-sacralization or profanation are erroneous.“That is, Vatican II must not be interpreted as desiring a rejection of the tradition and an adapting of the Church to modernity and so causing the Church to become empty because it loses the word of faith.”

Ratzinger then points to Augustine:

“Augustine, as you know, was a man who, on the one hand, had studied in great depth the great philosophies, the profane literature of the ancient world.“On the other hand, he was also very critical of the pagan authors, even with regard to Plato, to Virgil, those great authors whom he loved so much.“He criticized them, and with a penetrating sense, purified them.” “This was his way of using the great pre-Christian culture: purify it, heal it, and in this way, also, healing it, he gave true greatness to this culture. Because in this way, it entered into the fact of the incarnation, no? And became part of the Word’s incarnation.”

What is modernity, otherwise known as “the Enlightenment”?

"Disengagement" from the world as a spectator outside of the existential flow of history. Criterion of truth: the clear and distinct idea (which can mean sensation).

The acute examination of external sensation discovering that it only gives me perceptions that are really in me and from me. Common sense says that there are real beings outside of my thought and sensation, but if I attend only to the five senses, I don’t perceive substance (being), causality, the soul or God. A tree crashing in a forest may give off vibrations, but not sounds. There must be a receiver for there to be “sound” or “sight.”
That being so, Kant concluded that being, substance, cause, God, soul, etc. must be part of the structure of the human mind. They are not “out there” but “in here” as organizing demands of thought in the theoretical realm. In the practical, obligation does not derive from the order of reality, but from an internal imperative of my practical mind. Therefore, the authentic life – the “autonomous” - is one lived only in accord with the “categorical imperative” and not from any personal selfishness or vanity. The latter, Kant calls the “heteronymous.”
Hegel saw the truths of both sides of the duality of thought and things (body/mind) and wanted to re-instate modern man into the real historical world from which he had disengaged himself. He embraced both Kant’s autonomous self (freedom means determination of the self by the self, not being moved by inclination from without or from below) and the “heteronymous” inclination from without and from below of the expressivism of the Romantics (above all Herder, Goethe). It is not far from combining a Woodstock and a contemplative session of Buddhist monks. He did this by proposing the “philosophoumenon” of the Geist (the World Spirit). This, of course, did not exist. Hegel’s initiative awaited Wojtyla’s arrival on the scene.

* * * * * * *

The Key to the Recovery of Modern Philosophy by the Faith: The Discovery of the “I” as Real Being by the Use of Phenomenology and the Metaphysics of St. Thomas

What was missing was Wojtyla’s master work – The Acting Person - where he discovers the “I” in the act of self-determination in moral action. In his conversation with Frossard, he commented:

“And if God is not `dead’ in my intelligence, that is due in particular to my conscious refusal to accept the familiar methodological and epistemological mechanisms that have led to his `death’ in the mind of contemporary man. This does not mean that I do not admire the progress and conquests of science – far from it. I appreciate all that has been gained in the realm of research and experiment by the positive sciences. But I do not accept the positivist rule. I do not agree with it because it has a narrow and hence erroneous notion of experience, which deprives man of realities accessible to his capacity for knowledge. I am afraid that the next stage in this epistemology will, after the `death of God,’ the death of man, which one can see looming up over the horizon of our culture and civilization (underline mine).”

For John Paul II, the subject as real, and by real, he means Being. His key to reaching the subject as Being is experience. His claim is that the category of experience is wider than being limited to the external or internal senses. In Crossing the Threshold of Hope, he says, “It is therefore possible to speak from a solid foundation about human experience, moral experience, or religious experience. And if it is possible to speak of such experiences, it is difficult to deny that, in the realm of human experience, one also finds good and evil, truth and beauty, and God. God Himself certainly is not an object of human empiricism; the Sacred Scripture, in its own way, emphasizes this: `No one has ever seen God’ (cf. Jn. 1, 18). If God is a knowable object – as both the Book of Wisdom and the Letter to the Romans teach – He is such on the basis of man’s experience both of the visible world and of his interior world” (34).
He emphasizes that man can and does experience himself when he acts freely.

“Today more than ever before we feel the need – and also see a greater possibility – of objectifying the problem of the subjectivity of the human being…. The antinomy of Subjectivism vs. Objectivism, along with the underlying antinomy of idealism vs. realism, created conditions that discouraged dealing with human subjectivity – for fear that this would lead inevitably to subjectivism. These fears, which existed among thinkers who subscribed to realism and epistemological objectivism, were in some sense warranted by the subjectivistic and idealistic character – or at least overtones - analyses conducted within the realm of `pure consciousness.’ This only served to strengthen the line of demarcation in philosophy and the opposition between the `objective’ view of the human being, which was also an ontological view (the human being as a being), and the `subjective’ view, which seemed inevitably to sever the human being from this reality.
Today we are seeing a breakdown of that line of demarcation… I am convinced that the line of demarcation between the subjectivistic (idealistic) and objectivistic (realistic) views in anthropology and ethics must break down and is in fact breaking down on the basis of the experience of the human being. This experience automatically frees us from pure consciousness as the subject conceived and assumed a priori and leads us to the full concrete existence of the human being, to the reality of the conscious subject."

[1] “The Spiritual Vision of Pope Benedict XVI Let God’s Light Shine Forth,” ed. Robert Moynihan, Doubleday (2005) 4-5.
[2] "Be Not Afraid," Interview between John Paul II and Andre Frossard, St. Martin’s Press (1984) 67.
[3] "(T)his structure now replaces the concept of God and necessarily excludes it, since it takes its place. This systematic exclusion of the divine from the shaping of history and human life, referring to the definitiveness of scientific insight, is perhaps the genuinely new, and at the same time the truly threatening, element in that strange product of Europe that we call Marxism. I now assert that this same combination, in weaker forms, is active in the life of the Western world even outside Marxist thinking (he is talking of Western/American capitalism here). If it were to succeed in establishing itself definitively, this would ... be the end of what could make Europe a positive force in the world" (bold mine). ("Turning Point For Europe?" Ignatius, 1994, p. 125).
[4] John Paul II, "Crossing the Threshold of Hope," Knopf (1994) 52-53.
[5] Be Not Afraid, op. cit. 53.
[6] Karol Wojtyla, “Subjectivity and the Irreducible in the Human Being,” Person and Community Lang (1993) 209-210.
Rev. Robert A. Connor

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