Monday, October 8, 2012

The Crisis of Modernity: The Past two Popes and the Church of the 21st Century

The first speaker of the CMA conference last week was George Weigel; this was probably vital since the conference had stolen its title right from Weigel's 1999 book A Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II.

Still being in student-mode, I took copious notes. Mr. Weigel, alluding to Alisdair MacIntyre, began by saying that our culture possesses the language of morality without theoretical or practical comprehension of what the language expresses. I vehemently agree! Post-Christian healthcare as it insists on human dignity and simultaneously affirms unbridled human autonomy doesn't realize what it's talking about.

To discover how we got into this situation, Weigel next reviews Marx, Bentham, and Hume: Marx, who thought that the good was some glorious society of men, the pinnacle of evolution; Bentham, that the good was the benefit to the greatest number; Hume, that morality could not be derived from reality. Granted, each of these develops into a different dystopia (for Marx, see 1984 or your history book; for Bentham, see Brave New World or the newspapers; for Hume, see both).

But all three had direct political and practical effects: morality, unrelated to reality, became arbitrarily or socially derived. Politics, unrelated to reason, became a business or utility. The purpose of life collapses into social or hedonist utility and the long-asked, bigger questions about beauty, goodness, and being become irrelevant.

Utility (not dignity) became the measure of a man's worth, because to dismiss these questions (as part of a dismissal of higher purpose, need for salvation, etc.) is to dismiss man's nature, designed to appreciate created and uncreated truth, goodness, beauty, and being. A dismissal of such a particular rational nature includes all that comes with it, including dignity, since man's nature alone (among material creatures) was made in the image of God.

This leads to "a pulverization of the fundamental uniqueness of each human person" (Henri de Lubac). Fortunately, the cure is well-known and easy, if long: we must daily confirm the richness of each person, founded on the Incarnation* and defended by true philosophy. Practically speaking:

  1. By applying Christ, our Remedy, we can heal. Therefore, promote the Sacraments and Scripture and transform our lives to be Christ to others.
  2. The culture is not neutral or permissive to passing on the faith. But don't just sit there pouting about it and feeling all righteous. Convert the culture, with a return to virtue ethics!
Long story short: great talk.
There were some great one-liners that really struck me, especially a quote from Bl. Pope John Paul II. At the canonization of St. Faustina Kowalska (whose feast day was Oct 5) he said that Divine Mercy must affect us to answer big questions, the same ones that secular relativism dismisses. This is very powerful! The Mercy we need because of our sins and sufferings is precisely what beckons us toward a true understanding of our world and our happiness. In short: God uses our misery as an opportunity to show us the Truth.

This struck me particularly because I think sickness is a major one of these miseries. That's one of the reasons I want to spend my life in healthcare: I want to be with people who need doctors because the times of our bodily or psychological vulnerability show us that the lies of utilitarianism/secularism/relativism are lies, and that there is a purpose to life and suffering above our ordinary comprehension.

Weigel also made some interesting remarks touching democracy and capitalism. Because a friend at TAC was a political mind, my brain still thrills whenever I hear suggestions that economical systems should be judged by their ability to produce moral societies, or that democracy is/is not intrinsically good. For instance, Weigel stated that Marxism was unable to produce a moral culture. Is this how we should judge capitalism? In addition, Weigel said that "secularism eviscerates democracy." Is this inevitable, accidental, or related but unnecessary? Sadly, I don't have a very well-trained political faculty and therefore cannot comment on these things here. Maybe when I retire I can read a bunch more political theory and really find out whether I should jump capitalism and be a distributist. </paragraph that has nothing to do with medicine and the new evangelization>

* Another great Weigel one-liner: "[The] deepest truth about man is articulated in Christ." 


  1. Hi, I'm a Catholic med student from Indonesia! It's really nice that you can have this kind of faith event. It's not easy for me to find fellow Catholic med students, doctors, and nurses who adhere to true Church teachings. I wonder if it's only in my country or you experience that too, what with Obamacare and profound secularism.

    1. Anna, I'm so glad you commented! I'm sorry you don't have many faithful medical professionals...I absolutely experience that too--there are many Catholics here who live secular lives indistinguishable from non-Catholics, and some who frankly disagree with Church teaching. I am so grateful for the CMA!

      On the bright side, have you heard of the Asian Federation of Catholic Medical Associations (AFCMA)? Their conference is Oct 18-21 (the conference website is here) and is actually being hosted by the Indonesian Catholic Medical Community (ICMC). Maybe you could go! If not, you could get in touch with them: the address I found here is Jalan Kramat VI/7, Jakarta 10430, Indonesia.

    2. WOW! I never knew that!! Oh goodness, thank you so much! My medical school is staunchly Calvinist so I only know one "ecumenical" organization. Some of my Catholic friends are members and sadly, they become somewhat Protestant-ish in their viewpoints :(