06 September 2011

On not running on empty

23rd Week OT (T)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Blackfriars, Oxford U.

The artists, poets, musicians, novelists, and all the other demiurges of the 20th century culture-machine were deeply influenced by the “twin idols [of] humanism and nihilism. . .” So notes literary critic Joel Brouwer back in 2009. He goes on to observe that the simultaneous worship of the Human and Nothingness creates “an impossible religion. . .” When the reality of all things is measured by the human, and yet—at the same time—life is lived as if nothing is truly real, then what it means to be human is reduced to nothingness. Perhaps we should borrow an epitaph from the 5th century B.C. philosopher, Gorgias and use it for ourselves: "Nothing exists; and even if something does exist, nothing can be known about it; and even if something can be known about it, knowledge about it cannot be communicated to others." This is the sort of “seductive philosophy” that Paul warns the Colossians about in our reading today; this is the sort of empty thinking that left the Ephesians “without hope and without God. . .” until they encountered Christ. And—despite all of our advances as rational creatures in the 2,300 years since Gorgias' death—his is the sort of nihilistic thinking/believing that continues to poison our hearts and minds against the beauty of our redemption, against the truth and goodness of our renovated lives in Christ Jesus. What is the truth of our salvation? Paul writes, “For in [Christ] dwells the whole fullness of the deity bodily, and you share in this fullness in him. . .” 

If this is true (and it is), then it is fairly easy to see how the Church—as she goes about proclaiming the Good News—sets herself against the spirit of this age, sets herself against the wisdom and traditions of men, the seductive philosophies and empty thinking of this world. Let's break it down. The whole fullness of the deity dwells bodily in Christ. You and I were buried with him in baptism, a baptism in which we were also raised with him through faith in the power of God. And b/c we were buried with him and raised with him, we share in the fullness of the divine that dwells in him. Now, excuse my Mississippi English. . .but that ain't NOTHING, folks! It's not Nothing. But it's more than just something. It's everything. Because even when we were dead in our transgressions and in the uncircumcision of our flesh, he forgave us all our transgressions and brought us to life along with him. He brought us along with him. To life everlasting. . .he brought us along with him.

Yes, Christ brings us along, but we must follow. And we cannot follow Christ if we worship the twin idols of humanism and nihilism, if we practice the impossible religion of making man the measure of all things and at the same time believing that there are no existing things out there to measure! Those who gather around Jesus and the newly appointed apostles know that they need to touch the Christ; they know that he is the source of healing and cure for their diseases. Luke reports, “Everyone in the crowd sought to touch Jesus because power came forth from him and healed them all.” Power came forth from him. Virtus. Strength. Excellence. Vigor. The crowd knew his strength. They sought it out. And when they were healed, they went out as witnesses testifying to his power. Jesus gathered followers because he always spoke the truth, always radiated goodness and strength, and pointed always back to his Father as the Source of all life. If we are follow him to where he would bring us, we must do the same, rejecting the emptiness of this age's thinking, walking in him, rooted in him, built upon him and established in the faith, abounding always in thanksgiving!

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  1. Anonymous11:39 AM

    Postmodernism can make strange bedfellows. Objectivist philosopher Stephen Hicks makes the case that after Kant collapsed epistemology and reality collapsed Marxism, postmodernism became the vehicle through which socialists could eat away at Western institutions. As you note in connecting contemporary humanism with nihilism, we have the bizarre phenomenon of people engaged in world-changing politics --for ethical reasons-- and who yet believe that the world they want to improve is ultimately without meaning. The smell of will-to-power is all over it.

  2. Anon., you are absolutely correct.

    This is all just Gramasci's cultural Marxism writ large.