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Commentaries and observations about the conflicting moral beliefs and psychological issues facing our culture.
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"AWAY WITH WORDS"
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1 April 2021
An Easter Reminder About
The Point Of Our Being Alive
A covid-weary colleague contacted me recently. He is discouraged after a year of missing intimacies and stifled family affections. He is weary; he needs the reassuring contacts which only time-trusted friends provide.
My colleague concluded his comments with that age-old question (so poignantly present at Easter): “What’s the point of it all? What’s it all about?”
My friend’s need for a reminder about our purpose in life is not uncommon these days. Life’s normal uncertainties generate enough wonderment for us all, especially when we face our innate vulnerabilities. But Easter reminds us that The Good Life always involves personal sacrifice and generously giving ourselves to others, even as the Covid culture makes our shared vulnerabilities more obvious.
The Price For Assumed Safety
The de-humanizing disconnects occasioned by masks and neutering distances force upon us a state of social estrangement and collective wariness. We are deprived of subtle yet deeply reassuring civility and familiarity in our interactions with one another.
This deprivation has created a fitful, unfamiliar dystopian world in which we are now forced to exist. Safety from contamination comes at a very great price to our minds and hearts, to our mental stability and spiritual balance.
Reactions And Reactors
For some people, this disconnect escalates into hopeless, agnostic bewilderment. They feel emotionally lost, without purpose or direction, emptied by it all.
Other people find meaning in aggressive pretense. They disdain empathy and altruism. They exude the intolerant superiority of those possessed by excessive self-regard.
Still others find the challenge of wonderment a spur to deepening their Faith and Hope. For these people, every challenge elicits quiet forbearance and calm, enlightened resignation rather than creeping cynicism or dismissive nihilism.
In other words, they realize that we are, all of us, in the hands of God …. like it or not, believe it or not.
Making Sense: First Principles
So, how do we make sense of it all?
Here are some observations I’ve learned over my decades of stumbling sincerity and grateful wonderment. In good times and in strife, these ideas (I call them First Principles) still afford me considerable solace.
Of course, each Principle has corollaries, and we could quibble about clarity and precision. But these ideas are also the result of many reasoning minds, of hearts thankful for life, and of hopeful souls who strive to honor the intentions of our better angels … beyond the facile facades of a fragile ego, humbled by Easter’s Promise.
So … here are some of the First Principles I have valued for the length of my many years.
What Does It Mean To Be Alive?
1, We do indeed possess an eternal soul. Moreover, we can know we possess a soul. We know we did not create our own soul, nor bring ourselves into existence. Soul is a gift far beyond our human capacity to create.
2. What is this “soul” of which I speak? It is the God-created source of our life’s unique energy in mind and body and spirit; the energy by which we grow and change, develop and survive, think and interact with the world around us. It is the divinely-given origin of life - both temporal and eternal life.
3. Our soul is instilled into us at conception when we become true persons, true human beings. Our growth and change as persons begin at the instant of conception; not weeks or months thereafter, not when our heart starts beating … but instantly. We are persons at conception.
We are also able to observe various stages of human growth. From the instant of conception, the developmental process is visible, obvious, self-initiated and undeniable. The evidence for these beliefs is overwhelming.
4. Thus, the soul is the universal reality which defines us as human beings. We all receive the gifts of soul and personhood which direct our development from conception to death. Our souls also unite us in our common personhood as human beings.
5. Each individual soul is the source of unique identity and individuality. It makes each one of us a distinct human being and is the engine of our specific identity. But we also possess vast individual differences, personal singularities and qualities of appearance, temperament, culture, genetic background and so on.
6. Despite countless individual differences, we share common responsibilities to God, to self and to one another. This mutually-intertwined network of our responsibilities to God, self and others (even to strangers) is the bases of all morality and decency.
7. Our universal responsibilities also identify us as moral creatures. As we mature in our moral lives, our responsibilities to God and one another come before our rights. We may claim our rights only after we meet our responsibilities.
8. Morality means we are responsible for the choices we make … for good or for evil. We are responsible for the impact of our choices and behavior on other human beings and on their rights. We are responsible for what we do and how we do it, since rights are always preceded by responsibilities and accountabilities.
9. As moral beings, we possess God-given awareness (both instinctual and learned) about our responsibilities, about what is expected of us, about what we should do and what we should not do. And, as we develop in mind and body, we learn the spiritual, religious and social and community rules which determine moral responsibilities.
9. How do we learn? Our first teacher is Human Nature. Even young children instinctively know that certain actions are good, some of lesser good, some forbidden. Then, as we grow, we learn primarily from family and friends. Then we learn from our culture and from the agencies therein (church, school, formal and informal community agents). But we learn first from our parents who are, by divine law and human decree, our primary educators.
10. Underlying all of this is the fact that Nature’s Creator has endowed each of us with free will, Free will is our innate ability to choose for ourselves to follow or to ignore [A] Laws of Nature and community, [B] the Divine Will, learned through Revelation, and [C] the dictates of our relationships with God, ourselves and others. Make no mistake: We are bound in Justice and Charity to human laws passed by legitimate authority for the common good.
11. Our knowledge of right-and-wrong (our properly educated consciences) and our informed free will determine the morality of our choices. As we age, our choices (based on moral knowledge and free will) determine the content of our character.
12. The mind, heart and soul’s innate capacity to learn rests in our ability to think and to reason. Our ability to reason accurately, intelligently and logically evolves as we develop in knowledge and experience. Hopefully, we learn to use our Power of Reason in accord with truth and facts as our guides ... for only with logic, truth, respect for facts and a humble heart will we learn to Reason reasonably.
13. As we mature, Right Reason becomes our Organizer of Reality. But Reason can be right or wrong, correct or in error, depending on the sources we use and their coherence with facts, history, Revelation, logic and consequences which are sought or unintended.
14. The requisite conditions for learning Right Reason and moral clarity are [A] our own honesty (not merely sincerity alone), [B] history in all its dimensions, and [C] Tradition. Tradition means the cumulative discernment and practical wisdom - sacred and secular - of our stable elders.
15. We cannot deny the limits of our unaided human thought. We cannot deny our need for a Higher Source of secular and sacred knowledge, i.e., God. Logic dictates that we acknowledge the central role His Revelation plays as the most relevant source of learning.
Disputes and Challenges ?
These few First Principles rest on fundamentals of Faith. Some are also bolstered by scientific facts. Even so, committed cynics find much to fault. Staunch doubters take unsavory delight these days in not only dismissing Faith but also basic science and fundamental logic.
Cynics dismiss Faith and Reason as essential factors in understanding life’s tricky, relentless ambiguities and human nature’s insatiable, often errant, need to know.
Why is there so much insane rejection these days?
Well, for one thing, Faith is a demanding Principle; it’s costly, especially for persons with dominating egos. Faith compels us to admit we are often not in control of anything or anyone, even ourselves. Admitting this requires an aggravating degree of humility, which means facing the truth about self … and that’s always a threat to committed ego-centrists who accept only one form of “evidence,” their wayward, often very immature, emotionality.
Moreover, Faith also makes it clear that, as a race, we humans still do not grasp the dignity of life. We cannot live literally by the words of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy's two-edged dictum (rendered gratuitously in the Casey Decision): "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life."
- We certainly cannot go it alone in this life, nor can we say or do whatever we please, especially when doing so elevates toxic individualism above human life.
- We cannot reject the discipline and self-sacrifices of traditional family life in favor of expressing a mutilated form of selfish “love.”
- We cannot rationally erase the obvious biological differences between men and women which now leads to a plethora of medical, psychological and spiritual tragedies.
- We cannot logically continue to celebrate the slaughter of babies born and unborn, even though our government works to internationalize such madness.
- We cannot reasonably continue to legislate against the religious beliefs of citizens, even though some of our elected leaders seek to do precisely that.
We pay a huge price as we pursue a variety of bizarre “answers” to the questions which are central to our existence: “What’s it all about? Why are we here?”
Finally …. Some Corollaries
How do we discover Faith, Right Reason and the correct standards of morality?
We start with our five senses and behold the wonders and miracles they reveal to us every second.
For example, take a long look at the stars, or study your reflection in the mirror. Approach created reality as a gift, with awe and gratitude and humble wonderment.
Our senses are our starting point, but they’re limited ways for us to further comprehend the staggering mysteries and parade of ever-present miracles which cascade right in front of us at every instant, all around us in Creation. Miracles are always present to us – in ourselves and in one another.
To Thine Own Self Be True
Only if/when we are honest with ourselves and true to our nature’s God-driven desire to know what it’s all about … only then can we be honest with one another.
And if we are honest with ourselves, if we choose to go beyond our own pretenses, then we cannot help but admit that:
- We require more than ourselves to find purpose and meaning, peace and fulfillment in our lives;
- Without knowledge from a Source greater than our human selves, we will have no idea what we are here for, nor Who it is Who watches over us, even when we doubt, even in personal darkness and suffering;
- When we listen only to ourselves and seek to glorify only ourselves, we are prone to selfish action, illogical behavior and hurtful outcomes. Clearly, we need more than ourselves to understand what it is all about, to understand what we are all about.
- That’s why Right Reason demands our assent to Revelation as the further source of our knowledge. We need knowledge from a Source above and beyond human reason alone.
Gifts And Miracles Abound
In the long run, Right Reason reveals that everything we have is a gift, even the light from the trillions upon trillions of stars whose very existence is beyond our imagining without God’s astonishing, miraculous power.
In fact, miracles are as common as the stars above, or the grass beneath our feet … or the soul within us.
In fact, miraculous reality is constantly available to us.
In fact, of all the miracles we behold each day, the most humbling miracle is … our own selves:
- the astonishing way we are formed,
- the manner in which our bodies behave,
- the way we can manage ourselves in a world where we are truly guests,
- the way we can read these words and freely say either, “Help me to be grateful and thank you, God” … or “What nonsense God truly is to me.”
In fact, we should be profoundly grateful for what we have been given. In fact, our knowledge, as great as it is in some areas, also seems so fragile and small before God's power and wisdom.
In the face of all this, Faith and Hope seem most reasonable, logical and honest responses.
And, as we recognize the utility of Faith and Hope in human life, along comes that nagging, one-word Christian message. It is the hardest task of all, the crowning bit of wisdom for the honest seeker to put into action: Charity.
“Love” is a weak word to describe the meaning of Charity … unless we have loved and been loved and have embraced love’s inseparable joys and sufferings, losses and gains, moments of trust and daily risks of self-exposure. These are the inseparable ingredients of true Charity in this life, true giving of self to God and one another. And for the Christian, there’s no other path.
But, happily, Charity is love with a capital L. This means that God is infinite not only in His caring for us … but in His understanding and uplifting of our human nature … and His care for each of us and all of us … for we are His children, like it or not, believe it or not.
God’s particular form of Charity for us is revealed in the story of Christ. By His life, we are called to goodness. If we live accordingly, goodness becomes ours to nurture and cherish through our own life-long call to give love and to receive love as His legacy to us … and to one another.
It is not an easy calling … but it is what we are called to hear and to heed.
These Principles are, I suggest, what life is all about -- for starters. There is, to be sure, much more to know and to attend to, but this seems a good place to start.
What do you think?