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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Searching for human triumph

John F. Schumaker, clinical psychologist, makes very poignant observations and poses even more poignant questions in this article from The Age, "Triumph of the Trivial Life". He begins with this:

  THE RESULTS of the cultural indoctrination stakes are not yet in but there is a definite trend — triviality leads, followed closely by superficiality and mindless distraction. Vanity looks great while profundity is bringing up the rear. Pettiness is powering ahead, along with passivity and indifference. Curiosity lost interest, wisdom was scratched and critical thought had to be put down. Ego is running wild. Attention span continues to shorten and no one is betting on survival.

Perhaps because the hope espoused by humanists cited were even flimsier than faith in God ever was:

  .. Erich Fromm .. forecast a utopian society based on "humanistic communitarianism" that would nurture our higher "existential needs".
  .. Carl Rogers .. believed that we — those "people of tomorrow" — would minister over a growth-oriented society, with "growth" defined as the full and positive unfolding of human potential.
  Maslow claimed that human beings naturally switch attention to higher-level needs (intellectual, spiritual, social, existential) once they have met lower-level material ones. In moving up the pyramid and "becoming", we channel ourselves towards wisdom, beauty, truth, love, gratitude and respect for life.

I do not consider myself a cynic, but the empirical data suggests that these hopes expressed by thinkers of the past century were futile. Perhaps in their exclusion of the supernatural, their conclusions have missed out by a mile. After all, premises count, and I suppose the incongruity between theory and experience can be explained by having assumed a false premise.

It isn't that I think mankind to be so far removed from nobility and greatness of spirit. It is only that what the Church has been saying for so long captures the true story. Man is made in the image of God, and so bears His greatness. But the Fall did compromise man's ability to be true to his own divine destiny. Without God to heal the rift, that destiny cannot be fulfilled, much less taken up deliberately.

In the end, Mr. Schumaker's essay seemed to me an incomplete story. His observations are as striking as his questions -- but the answer was left out. Man's greatness is obvious to anyone who is deliberately hates mankind, but this greatness is incomplete and insufficient. Our capacity for evil and savagery is a stark reminder of this. We bear a great wound in ourselves that separates us from the nobility we all share in varying degrees, but glimpsed among the greatest of our heroes. I sincerely believe that we are only healed through the One who took our fall into his body, by whose stripes we are healed. By his grace alone are we saved, and by His Spirit are we restored to who we are destined to be. Humanism is nice but let's call its greatest aspect by name: love. That which, beyond logic, beyond expectation, gives all for love.

But healing takes time -- a lifetime -- as well as nurture. If humanists were only to allow this thought: that the answer eludes mankind because that which will let us rise above the superficial is truly above us, that it is not natural but rather supernatural. That it has indeed come in the flesh and dwelt among us, in love, so that we, outsiders, may be co-heirs of all that is holy and all that is love. Then and only then will all our hopes of human destiny be fulfilled.

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