Sunday, January 15, 2006


The
Foundation
Of
Western
Democracy



Yesterday, I posted a passage from The Drama Of Atheist Humanism, by Henri De Lubac, which showed how, in the Christian worldview, man sits at the pinnacle of God's creation. He is given charge of the gallery, caretaker of God's beautiful artwork. Indeed, not only is man caretaker, but he is preeminent. He stands above and beyond creation. The totality of God's creation can not contain the soul of man, which like God's has an infinite and immortal quality to it.

These are dramatic ideas. They are a bit frightening to fathom. And, in all my years as a Christian, I do not recall ever having heard a Pastor say anything of the like.

In the days, since 9/11, I have begun to think through the implications of my faith, and of what I know of the Bible. I had come to these same conclusions, when I started reading the works of Catholic thinkers within this past year. Oh, what a joy it is to find that I am not a blasphemous heathen, but that, instead, my conclusions are considered to be orthodoxy by some of the most profound thinkers to have ever walked the Earth; Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict, and Mr. De Lubac himself.

Today, let's look at a passage that talks about what man has come to believe of himself, and what man is, and, of how the human race needs to be reminded of its purpose:


Philosophers have told man that he is a "microcosm," a little world made of the same elements, given the same structure, subject to the same rhythms as the great universe; they have reminded him that he is made in its image, and that he is subject to its laws; they have made him into part of the mechanism, or at most, into the epitome of the cosmis machine.

Nor were they completely mistaken.

Of man's body, and of all that, in man, can be called "nature," it is true. But, if man digs deeper and if his reflection is illuminated by what is said in the Sacred Scripture, he will be amazed at the depths opening up within him.

Unaccountable space extends before his gaze. In a sort of infinitude he overflows this great world on all sides, and in reality, it is that world, "macrocosm," which is contained in this apparent "microcosm."

That looks like a paradox contained in one of our great modern idealists. Far from it. First formulated from Origen, then by Saint Gregory Nazianzen, it was later repeated by many others. Saint Thomas Aquinas was to give much the same translation of it when he said that the sould is in the world contiens magis quam contenta - containing it rather than contained by it.

Man, to be sure, is made of dust and clay, or, as we should say nowadays, he is of animal origin - which comes to the same thing. The Church is not unmindful of this, finding a warrant for it in the same passage of Genesis ("God made man in His own Image and Likeness... from dust ... He breathed life into him ...").

Man, to be sure, is also a sinner. The Church does not cease to remind him of that fact.

The self-esteem she endeavors to instill into him is not the outcome of a superficial and ingenuous view of the matter. Like Christ, she knows "what there is in man."

But, she also knows that, that the lowlinessof his origin in the flesh cannot detract from the sublimity of his vocation, and that, despite all the blemishes that sin may bring, that vocation is an abiding source of inalienable greatness.

The Church thinks that this greatness must reveal itself even in the conditions of present-day life, as a fount of liberty and a principle of progress, the ncessary retaliation upon the forces of evil.

And she recognizes in the mystery of God-mad-man the guarantee of our vocation and the final consecration of our greatness. Thus, in her liturgy she can celebrate each day "the dignity of the human substance" even before rising to the contemplation of our rebirth.


Man was made for greatness. We may have gotten a little off-track, but God still sees in us, the greatness, the infinitude of creativity and imagination, the power of love, and the longing for righteousness. Because He sees these things in us, he laid Himself down as a sacrifice, the Passover Lamb, whose blood on the doorposts of our hearts, causes death to shrink away and escape in fear.

One is not required to believe what I wrote in the preceding paragraph to understand that, whatever you believe, it is upon an idea of such greatness in man that the founders of liberty, and the Western ideal, undertook their mission to free all men from the chains of slavery to monarchies, and fiefdoms.

When the idea was first proposed, that Kings would not own men, but that, instead, men would own their kings, the powers who had always ruled, shook, and were overcome with the nausea of men set adrift at sea.

How can common people be trusted to rule themselves? How can the rabble be expected to mind the china shop of civilization? How can the bungled and the botched be expected to preserve the culture we have worked so hard to construct?

We see these same questions being asked about the Muslim world today.

How can we expect men, who are slaves to an violent ideology, a religion of the sword, to ever become civilized like us? How can we entrust them with the power of Democracy? How can we allow them to rule themselves?

The answer is to understand that they are humans too, created in God's own likeness and Image. We need to return to the foundational beliefs of our civilization. We need to do so with confidence knowing that the rights of man, firmly established, will work their magic on the frightening culture of the Muslim world.

We need to trust and enforce the rights of man, and we need to know that Muslims have the infinity of freedom and creativity within themselves, as surely as we do, and that this infinitude, connected as it is to the world of our Creator, will guide their culture in the right direction, gradually, but surely.

They will find their way to freedom, just like we did.

We weren't a very pretty bunch when we started either. Just ask the Kings who had ruled us.