Wednesday, December 05, 2007

On Ends, Part Two

More from the lecture (first excerpts here) by Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, Italy, a member of the International Theological Commission, to a Nov. 12 meeting of the bishops of England and Wales.

Within the horizon of the search for the infinitely loving Father-Mother it is possible to distinguish two different attitudes regarding the relationship between religion and freedom: the first one, marked by rejection of the Father-Mother figure in the name of the emancipation of human being; the second one, characterized by the conviction that without the acceptance of a transcendent truth there is no possible freedom and no religious freedom at all.

Emancipation: This was the dream which pervaded the great processes of historical transformation in the modern age, born with the "Enlightenment" and the French Revolution, from the emancipation of the working classes, the oppressed races and the peoples of the so-called third world, to the emancipation of women, in all variety of different cultural and social contexts. This dream of total emancipation strained forward toward a reality entirely enlightened, where the radiating power of reason might express itself without constraint.

Where reason triumphs, there rises the sun of the future; in this sense, it may be said that modernity is the age of light. Freedom -- interpreted as self-consciousness, self-determination and self-realization -- is light: The light is being set free from every dependence, from every Father-Mother who could decide for us. Freedom is precisely emancipation, liberation from every transcendent Lord, from every historical slavery. Revolutionary freedom as well as the bourgeois one are both aspects of the modern spirit of emancipation. The fullest expression of this spirit is "ideology": modernity, the age that dreamed of emancipation, was also the time of those all-embracing ways of understanding the world proper to ideologies.

(Freedom for ...narcissism?)

"Liberté, égalité, fraternité": The sun of reason generates liberty and equality, and hence fraternity, according to an egalitarianism founded on the light of reason, which governs the whole world and all life. The critique of the "father-lord" figure thus leads to the complete rejection of God. Just as on earth there must be no fatherhood creating dependence, so in heaven there must be no Father of all

...Reality is forced to bend to the idea; reason's will for power (F. Nietzsche) strives to dominate life and history so as to make them conform to its own goals. Inexorably, this all-encompassing dream becomes totalitarian: Totality -- as understood by reason -- produces totalitarianism. Neither by chance nor by accident, all the enterprises of modern ideology, of right and left, bourgeois and revolutionary, eventually issue in totalitarian and violent expression. And it is precisely this historical experience of totalitarianism that leads to the crisis and twilight of the claims of modern reason: "The fully enlightened earth -- affirm Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno -- radiates disaster triumphant" (Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944), New York 1969, 3).

(As we pointed out, Mohammedanism arrived at the same end by "anti-Reason"--the abjuration of Natural Law.)

Our worst contemporary ailment is this lack of "passion for the truth": This is the dramatic face of our postmodern age. In this climate of nihilism, everything conspires to lead us not to think anymore, to flee from any passionate striving after truth. In the dark light of nihilism, to be freed means to be "condemned" to freedom, compelled to make choices, not free to be or not to be free, and religious freedom has no meaning, because there are no gods and no free human beings!

The result of such a cultural process is the triumph of the mask over and above truth: Even values are often reduced to banners hoisted to camouflage the lack of meaning. Human beings seem to be reduced to a "useless passion" (Jean-Paul Sartre: "l'homme, une passion inutile"). One could say that the most serious malady of this so-called postmodern age is the abandonment of the search for a father-mother toward whom to hold out our arms, while we no longer having the will or desire to seek a meaning worth living and dying for.

Excerpts from Part 3 tomorrow.

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