The Religious Sense

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Chapter 8: Consequences of the Unreasonable Positions Before the Ultimate Question

The six positions discussed in the previous two chapters carry with them cultural consequences, three of which are the break with the past, melancholic solitude, and loss of freedom.

The Break With The Past

Without meaning, man is tossed about like a ship in a storm. He becomes paralyzed, unable to understand or use anything, and eventually the past means very little to him. He interacts with the world by sheer reactivity, without aim or purpose. "Reactivity as the criterion for a relationship with reality burns the bridges linking us to the richness of history" (81).

To draw a parallel, let us look at how a baby interacts with the world. Given any object, a baby will play with it, and, even if it is extremely valuable, will throw it on the ground and break it into pieces. A cardboard box and a music box are both as easily destroyed by pure reaction; the baby has no understanding of meaning or value. In the same way, when man has lost his sense of the past, of history, of tradition, he merely 'plays' with things and ends up destroying his surroundings, but "you cannot say that this person is merely playing... because the situation is simply too dramatic and tragic for that" (81). Indeed, lives, civilizations, and relationships are at stake.

Even so, the rejection of the past is viewed as an ideal philosophy today. The further-reaching consequence of this is that the future will be emptied of anything good. The future is constructed by an action in the present, and although the energy for construction is manifested in the present, "the richness of the present comes from the past" (83).

Incommunicativeness And Solitude

Communication and dialogue are also crippled when the past is forgotten, since these are the fruit of experience, of memory. The more experience I have, the more I engage in life, the more I have to share with others, and the better I can relate to and establish a connection with another.

To summarize: we have pointed out that assuming an unreasonable position before the ultimate questions results in a loss of meaning, which concomitantly, blurs, annuls the personality. (84)

If we are unable to communicate with each other, we are isolated. Desperate solitude becomes the overpowering mentality. Man without meaning walks through crowds of people on the street and blabbers on about the 11 o'clock news but feels totally alone. "We live together failing to recognize what unites us... solitude becomes an exasperating social climate, sadly the characteristic face of today's society" (85). The greatest disaster that can befall humanity is not famine or earthquake, but spiritual emptiness, in which man has no taste for life.

Loss of Freedom

Before talking about freedom, we need to grasp what freedom really is, because the current mentality and culture have certain preconceptions in place which may or may not be true. To have freedom means to be free, so let us begin by describing the experience of feeling free with our elementary experience.

You, an employee of a corporation, are planning to take a 3-day trip to the beach with your family. Your generous boss has always let you miss work on Friday for family vacations, ever since you worked under him when you started ten years ago. But this time, he emphatically says "No, I can't let you go, there is too much to be done!" You would not feel free; "it would be impossible for you not to feel oppressed, imprisoned, suffocated, without freedom" (88). If your boss were to happily grant your request your feeling of freedom would have greater since you greatly desired to take your spouse and your children to the coast.

"Experientially we feel free when we satisfy a desire" (88), which can be in the form of a hope, a dream, or a need. Yet, even if we have moments of being free, we do not have total freedom; there are always desires we cannot seem to satisfy. We are never perfectly fulfilled in what we long to possess and who we want to be. Freedom then, is:

the capacity for the end, totality, for happiness. Complete self-fulfilment, this is freedom. Freedom, for the human being, is the possibility, the capacity, the responsibility to be fulfilled, that is to say to reach and confront one's destiny: it is the total aspiration for destiny. Thus freedom is the experience of the truth of ourselves. (88)

This truth exists in God, the ultimate answer that the heart seeks. The structure of the human person testifies to God's existence through his insatiable longing for the infinite, but since we do not yet have full satisfaction through God our freedom is an ongoing process, "a state of becoming" (89). By faith and prayer we reach out to God, our destiny and freedom.

The next section Giussani describes as "freedom's precarious condition." Let us say that the circle on the left represents all of reality. There is nothing inside the this figure until your existence emerges at some point in time. The point is you, or it could be I. Now reality looks like the circle on the right.

If you exist as only the product of certain material and biological occurrences, a small and temporary protrusion in the enormous flux of the the world and all of history (which is the circle), then why should you have any rights? Who are you to demand any sort of freedom when you are so insignificant? It is like a shrimp asking the entire ocean to agree with its demands.

On a human level these circles also represent humanity, or, in concrete terms, society. Society has order, and it is maintained by those in power. As long as you are simply a fleeting collection of atoms, you have absolutely no rights, because "power is the prevailing expression of a determined instant of historical flux" (90). A government, an army, or a parent needs no justification in using you as a means to an end or even killing you. This is easily seen in various governments throughout time who have arbitrarily decided on who deserves human rights. In Rome it was the Roman citizen. And who decided who was a citizen? Those in power. In Nazi Germany it was the racially-pure Arian, once again defined by the State.

Man can only have innate dignity when there is God, when he has "a direct relationship with the infinite" (91). If man is just a transient blip on the earth, a meaningless point in reality, a consequence of mere biology, then "freedom" and "human rights" are just empty words. Religiosity is the one defense man has against living under domination. It shows man his dependent relationship with God, without which there is only slavery to the ruling powers. Those in power abhor true religiosity because it restricts their dominion over others.

Only this hypothesis [of God] allows me to proclaim that the world can do what it wants with me, but it cannot conquer, possess, grasp on to me, because I am greater than it is. I am free. (91)

The paradox is that we depend on God. Our freedom is intrinsically linked to God, the Other that created us and the structural desire to reach out for the infinite and possess fullness of being, complete happiness.


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