Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

The Creative Act is the Creative Act even of Evolution. Chance and Natural Selection are also created out of nothing by a free act that by definition must have meaning. To act freely is to act with meaning (Logos).

1) One gives thanks to a Person, not to a process, for the reception of a gift. Gift is always the result of freedom. Hence, we must clarify that we are not the mere result of an evolutionary process that the scientist calls chance and natural selection.

Joseph Ratzinger:

"The question that has now to be put certainly delves deeper: it is whether the theory of evolution can be presented as a universal theory concerning all reality, beyond which further questions about the origin and the nature of things are no longer admissible and indeed no longer necessary, or whether such ultimate questions do not after all go beyond the realm of what can be entirely the object of research and knowledge by natural science. I should like to put the question in still more concrete form. Has everything been said with the kind of answer that we find thus formulated by Popper: "Life as we know it consists of physical 'bodies' (more precisely, structures) which are problem solving. This the various species have 'learned' by natural selection, that is to say by the method of reproduction plus variation, which itself has been learned by the same method. This regress is not necessarily infinite." I do not think so. In the end this concerns a choice that can no longer be made on purely scientific grounds or basically on philosophical grounds.

"The question is whether reason, or rationality, stands at the beginning of all things and is grounded in the basis of all things or not. The question is whether reality originated on the basis of chance and necessity (or, as Popper says, in agreement with Butler, on the basis of luck and cunning) and, thus, from what is irrational; that is, whether reason, being a chance by-product of irrationality and floating in an ocean of irrationality, is ultimately just as meaningless; or whether the principle that represents the fundamental conviction of Christian faith and of its philosophy remains true: "In principio erat Verbum" -- at the beginning of all things stands the creative power of reason. Now as then, Christian faith represents the choice in favor of the priority of reason and of rationality. This ultimate question, as we have already said, can no longer be decided by arguments from natural science, and even philosophical thought reaches its limits here. In that sense, there is no ultimate demonstration that the basic choice involved in Christianity is correct. Yet, can reason really renounce its claim to the priority of what is rational over the irrational, the claim that the Logos is at the ultimate origin of things, without abolishing itself?”[1]

2) Christian Revelation says: God has chosen us “before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1, 4). Alvaro del Portillo (successor of St. Josemaria Escriva) wrote: “Before the creation of the world, he destined us to be saints! He chose us first, and then created us to fulfill that call. We were chosen before we existed. What is more, that choice determines the reason for our existence.”[2] Notice that the Christian revelation speaks of the creating act as reasonable and impregnating creation with the meaning that is our very selves.

3) The constitution of the United States as a unique society was the 150 previous years of Christian experience. The colonists revolted against England not because of oppression.

Gordon Wood, the premier historian of the American Revolution wrote: “There should no longer be any doubt about it: the white American colonists were not an oppressed people; they had no crushing imperial chains to throw off. In fact, the colonists knew they were freer, more equal, more prosperous, and less burdened with cumbersome feudal and monarchical restraints than any other part of mankind in eighteenth century. Such a situation, however, does not mean that colonial society was not susceptible to revolution”… In fact, it was one of the greatest revolutions the world has known, a momentous upheaval that not only fundamentally altered the character of American society but decisively affected the course of subsequent history.

“It was as radical and social as any revolution in history, but it was radical and social in a very special eighteenth-century sense….

“By the time the Revolution had run its course in the early nineteenth century, American society had been radically and thoroughly transformed. One class did no overthrow another; the poor did not supplant the rich. But social relationships – the way people were connected one to another – were changed, and decisively so. By the early years of the nineteenth century the Revolution had created a society fundamentally different from the colonial society of the eighteenth century. It was in fact a new society unlike any that had ever exited anywhere in the world…

“That revolution did more than legally create the United State s; it transformed American society. Because the story of America has turned out the way it has, because the United States in the twentieth century has become the great power that it is, it is difficult, if not impossible, to appreciate and recover fully the insignificant and puny origins of the country. In 1760 America was only a collection of disparate colonies huddled alone a narrow strip of the Atlantic coast – economically underdeveloped outposts existing on the very edges of the civilized world. The less than two million monarchical subjects who lived in these colonies still took for granted that society was and ought to be a hierarchy of ranks and degrees of dependency and that most people were found together by personal ties of one sort or another. Yet scarcely fifty years later these insignificant borderland provinces had become a giant, almost continent-wide republic of nearly ten million egalitarian-minded bustling citizens who not only had thrust themselves into the vanguard of history but had fundamentally altered their society and their social relationships. Far from remaining monarchical, hierarchy-ridden subjects on the margin of civilization, America had become, almost overnight, the most liberal, the most democratic, the most commercially minded, and the most modern people in the world.

“And this astonishing transformation took place without industrialization, without urbanization, without railroads, without the aid of any of the great forces we usually invoke to explain ‘modernization.’ It was the Revolution that was crucial to this transformation. It was the Revolution, more than any other single event, that made America into the most liberal, democratic, and modern nation in the world…. The American Revolution was not unique; it was only different… The American Revolution was integral to the changes occurring in American society, politics, and culture at the end of the eighteenth century.

“These changes were radical, and they were extensive…. The Revolution not only radically changed the personal and social relationships of people, including the position of women, but also destroyed aristocracy as it had been understood in the Western world for at least two millennia. The Revolution brought respectability and even dominance to ordinary people long held in contempt and gave dignity to their menial labor in a manner unprecedented in history and to a degree not equaled elsewhere in the world. The Revolution did not just eliminate monarchy and create republics; it actually reconstituted what Americans meant by public or state power and brought about an entirely new kind of popular politics and a new kind of democratic officeholder. T he Revolution not only changed the culture of Americans – making over their art, architecture, and iconography - but even altered their understanding of history, knowledge, and truth. Most important, it made the interests and prosperity of ordinary people – their pursuits of happiness – the goal of society and government. The Revolution did not merely create a political and legal environment conducive to economic expansion; it also released powerful popular entrepreneurial and commercial energies that few realized existed and transformed the economic landscape of the country. In short, the Revolution was the most radical and most far reaching event in American history.”[3]

Fr. John Courtney Murray wrote that “the United States of America (was) the first state in the history of the world t hat was established by the uniquely revolutionary means of a formal constitutional consent.” Benjamin Hart wrote: “A principal difference between the American Revolution and the French Revolution was this: the American revolutionaries in general held a biblical view of man and his bent toward sin, while the French revolutionaries in general attempted to substitute e for the biblical understanding an optimistic doctrine of human goodness advanced by the philosophes of the rationalistic Enlightenment. The American view led to the Constitution of 1787; the French view, to the Terror and to a new autocracy. The American Constitution is a practical secular covenant, drawn up by men who (with few exceptions) believed in a sacred Covenant., designed to restrain the human tendencies towa4rd violence and fraud; the American Constitution is a fundamental law deliberately meant to place checks upon will and appetite. The French innovators would endure no such checks upon popular impulses; they ended under a far more arbitrary domination.”[4]

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Creation and Evolution” Ignatius (2007) 19-20.

[2] Letter March 1992, #11, to the Prelature before the beatification of St. Josemaria.

[3] Gordon Wood, The American Revolution: A History (Modern Library Chronicles) (2002) 5-8.

[4] Benjamin Hart, “Faith and Freedom” Lewis and Stanley (1990) 301-316.

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