Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Spe salvi: Hope and false hope

Pope Benedict's new encyclical is a masterful presentation of Jesus Christ, the only true light for man in the world, in the past and for the future, therefore our Hope, the only true Hope for everyone. The alternative sources of hope in the world are false and inadequate in that, being less than God With Us they are limited by the limitations of men. If our hope is in history and in humanity, then our hope shall be materialistic and lack a soul because material progress alone does not supply good and happy men. For good and truly happy men we need to assist men inwardly to pursue justice and truth and goodness; for that we need divine grace. "[Marx's] real error is materialism: man, in fact, is not merely the product of economic conditions, and it is not possible to redeem him purely from the outside by creating a favorable economic environment. [Marx] forgot man and he forgot man's freedom. He forgot that freedom always remains also freedom for evil." 21 The goal of an earthly utopia is not possible because of the problem of sin. Man needs a supernatural orientation to know how to live and to have the capacity (grace) to live accordingly. And, given the widespread evil in the world, true social justice must be final eternal justice for any real hope in the world, viz. hope that all will be set aright. Christ, our final Judge, who shows us the way of Truth and Justice and Merciful Love for the sake of Goodness, for love of the Father, is therefore the blueprint and the source of our hope. By way of a more detailed summary of the new encyclical I shall present a list of the false hopes and the answers in the one true Hope of Christ, God in the Flesh.

False Hopes

1. False religions: " [W]hen we compare the Christian life with life prior to faith, or with the situation of the followers of other religions...we see [that]...the followers of other religions were 'without hope and without God in the world' (Eph 2:12)...[T]hey had had gods,...they had had a religion, but their gods had proved questionable, and no hope emerged from their contradictory myths. Notwithstanding their gods, they were 'without God' and consequently found themselves in a dark world, facing a dark future. (2)

2. Subjectivist Christianity: "Faith is not merely a personal reaching out toward things to come that are still totally absent, [merely] '...standing firm in what one hopes, being convinced of what one does not see'" (Heb. 11:1 German translation) (7) There is a prevalent idea (rooted in the Protestant and later Enlightenment privatization of faith) that "...Jesus' message is narrowly individualistic and aimed only at each person singly." (16)
"[M]odern Christianity, faced with the successes of science in progressively structuring the world, has to a large extent restricted its attention to the individual and his salvation. In so doing it has limited the horizon of his hope and has failed to recognize sufficiently the greatness of its task--even if it has continued to achieve great things in the formation of man and in care for the weak and the suffering." (25) True missionary conviction and zeal have suffered with indifferentism setting in. [2]

3. Misunderstanding of the meaning of "eternal life."
A. "Life": "There is a contradiction in our attitude, which points to an inner contradiction in our very existence. On the one hand, we do not want to die,...on the other hand, neither do we want to continue living indefinitely, nor was the earth created with that in view...Our paradoxical attitude gives rise to a deeper question: what in fact is 'life'?[1]...There are moments when it suddenly seems clear to us; yes, this is what true 'life' is--this is what it should be like. Besides, what we call 'life' in our everyday language is not real 'life' at all." (11)
B. "Eternal"...suggests to us the idea of something interminable, and this frightens us; 'life' makes us think of the life that we know and love and do not want to lose, even though very often it brings more toil than satisfaction, so that while on the one hand we desire it, on the other hand we do not want it." (12)

C. "Eternal life" "Perhaps many people reject the faith today simply because they do not find the prospect of eternal life attractive. What they desire is not eternal life at all but this present life, for which faith in eternal life seems something of an impediment. To continue living for ever--endlessly--appears more like a curse than a gift. Death, admittedly, one would wish to postpone for as long as possible. But to live always, without end--this, all things considered, can only be monotonous and ultimately unbearable. (10)

4. Artificial "redemption"
A. The critique of Heaven/of theology: e.g. Francis Bacon
"There arose the new correlation of experiment and method that enables man to arrive at an interpretation of nature in conformity with its laws and thus finally to achieve 'the triumph of art over nature (victoria cursus artis super naturam) a new correlation between science and praxis. [The] theological application [being that] the dominion over creation--given to man by God and lost through original sin--would be reestablished." (17) Faith becomes irrelevant in this hope in the unlimited capacity of man to right all of the evil in the world by the capacity of reason and in the exaltation of man and his unrestricted freedom. Reason and freedom become the central categories as the force of good, thereby replacing the Church.(18) "The Kingdom of God arrives where 'ecclesiastical faith' is vanquished and superseded by 'religious faith', that is to say, by simple rational faith." (19)
B. The critique of earth/of politics: e.g. The French Revolution and Karl Marx
"The critique of Heaven is transformed into the critique of earth, the critique of theology into the critique of politics. Progress towards the better, towards the definitively good world, no longer comes simply from science fut from politics--from a scientifically conceived politics that recognizes the structure of history and society and thus points out the road toward revolution--all encompassing change." [Marx] presumed that with the expropriation of the ruling class, with the fall of political power and the socialization of means of production, the new Jerusalem would be realized...His error [was] that he forgot that man always remains man. He forgot man and he forgot man's freedom. He forgot that freedom always remains also freedom for evil. He thought that once the economy had been put right, everything would automatically be put right. His real error is materialism: man, in fact, is not merely the product of economic conditions, and it is not possible to redeem him purely from the outside by creating a favorable economic environment." (21)
"Theodore W. Adorno formulated the problem of faith in progress quite drastically: he said that progress, seen accurately, is progress from the sling to the atom bomb." (22) When man without God makes the rules for the world, then there is no moral compass for the rulers of the world.
C. Salvation in Structures
"[G]ood structures help, but of themselves they are not enough.[3] Man can never be redeemed simply from the outside...It is not science that redeems man: man is redeemed by love...Man's great, true hope which holds firm in spite of all disappointments can only be God."

True Hope

The Holy Father later indicates the "Settings" for learning and practicing hope. I will simply list them here and elaborate on them later with my next post with his responses to each of these false hopes in the one true hope for man: Jesus Christ. One learns and exercises hope in Prayer, in Action and Suffering (all serious and upright human conduct) and in the Last Judgement (by the realization of the fact that death is immanent and after death comes the Judgement when each man will be repaid according to his deeds).

[1] cf. Benedict XVI address to the Roman Curia, 22 December 2006 in which he explained why Europe does not want to have children: There is the problem of time, the problem of definitive decisions in binding oneself for ever and the problem of morality: "The modern spirit has lost its bearings...[W]hat rules should we apply to ensure that the child follows the right path and in so doing, how should we respect his or her freedom?...[W]e are no longer sure of the norms to transmit; because we no longer know what the correct use of freedom is, what is the correct way to live, what is morally correct and what is instead inadmissible...This lack of bearings prevents us from being indicators of the right way to others...Contemporary man is insecure about the future. Is it permissible to send someone into this uncertain future?...[I]s it a good thing to be a person? This deep lack of self assurance--plus the wish to have one's whole life for oneself--is perhaps the deepest reason why the risk of having children appears to many to be almost unsustainable. In fact, we can transmit life in a responsible way only if we are able to pass on something more than mere biological life, and that is, a meaning that prevails even in the crises of history to come and a certainty in the hope that is stronger than the clouds that obscure the future. Unless we learn anew the foundations of life--unless we discover in a new way the certainty of faith--it will be less and less possible for us to entrust to others the gift of life and the task of an unknown future."

[2] cf. Dominus Jesus on the Unicity of Salvation from Jesus Christ and the consequent urgent need to bring Him and His saving message to the world that without Him is lost and without hope; and Truth and Tolerance, Ratzinger "Can one, in any circumstances, simply allow religions to remain as they are, stopping history right there, so to speak? It is obvious that one cannot declare some people to be living in a kind of 'nature conservation park' for religious and cultural history, into which the modern age would not be allowed to come. Any such attempts are not merely undignified and, ultimately, lacking in respect for people, they are also completely unrealistic. The meeting of cultures and the gradual growing together of the separate geographical areas of history into one common history of mankind are grounded in the nature of man himself. Likewise, one cannot make use oneself of the possibilities offered by technological civilization, while at the same time forcing upon other people one's own dream of a pretechnological world...it is a question of justice." pp.75-76
Speaking on the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum and the prayer for the conversion of the Jews, Pat Buchanan stated that we should continue to pray for the Jews, since, being convinced of the necessity of Jesus Christ for the well-being and fulfillment of life in holiness of every man, it would indeed be anti-semitic to exclude the Jews from our prayers for the conversion of all men to the Way, the Truth and the Life.

[3] That is because man as man must always ultimately determine himself. That is why even religious structures are not enough. True faith, though helped by true religion, must reach the interior of man in his freedom of self-gift.
It is because of man's radical freedom and his essential goodness that the Church never declares a person to be a "homosexual" but rather a person with a tendency who can and must always choose to do good and avoid evil. We cannot say that any person is automatically programmed to do evil or is evil, it is of the nature of man to be able to choose between good and evil: the evil will always harm him while the good will always benefit (even if the results are not readily apparent in this life as in the case of martyrdom).

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