Benedict points out that a Christian Hope based on Faith has increasingly become replaced by a faith in ‘progress,’ which is understood to mean mastering nature through use of our reason.

Reason is seen as self-sufficient—particularly as manifest in technology—for solving all the problems of mankind, including suffering and lack of hope. Although it is clear that we have not yet reached that utopian state, nevertheless many people still have faith that technological progress will eliminate the essential tensions in human life.

But reason and freedom defined in opposition to God do not lead to real progress and happiness but rather to death. Even Immanuel Kant (who was enthralled by the power of the Enlightenment understanding of reason), saw, after the Reign of Terror, that reason so construed is not sufficient to guide human beings to happiness. The gulags of Communism provide further evidence.

Secular ideologies such asCommunism or Consumerism are mirrored on religious faith in that both promise happiness for man, both can be motivated by an evangelical fervour, and both provide a philosophical orientation to life’s challenges and rewards. But the ideologies, unlinked to the transcendent, lead not to paradise but to the violent domination of some people (the ‘enlightened’ ones) over others:

‘Yes indeed, Reason is God’s great gift to man, and the victory of reason over unreason is also a goal of the Christian life. But when does reason truly triumph? When it is detached from God? When it has become blind to God? Is the reason behind action and capacity for action the whole of reason? 

If progress, in order to be progress, needs moral growth on the part of humanity, then the reason behind action and capacity for action is likewise urgently in need of integration through reason’s openness to the saving forces of faith, to the differentiation between good and evil. Only thus does reason become truly human

It becomes human only if it is capable of directing the Will along the right path, and it is capable of this only if it looks beyond itself. Otherwise, man’s situation, in view of the imbalance between his material capacity and the lack of judgement in his heart, becomes a threat for him and for creation.’22

There can be no real progress for humanity without a moral development also. And unlike technological development, moral development cannot just be handed on to each generation. We do not each need to discover electricity anew, but we each need to acquire good habits. As Pope Benedict writes:

‘We have all witnessed the way in which progress, in the wrong hands, can become and has indeed become a terrifying progress in evil. If technical progress is not matched by corresponding progress in man’s ethical formation, in man’s inner growth (cf. Eph. 3:16; 2 Cor. 4:16), then it is not progress at all, but a threat for man and for the world.’ 23

By technological progress, man moves from using the slingshot to nuclear power, but without moral excellence, nuclear power doesn’t make the world better but rather much more frightening.

Tools, of whatever kind, can be used or abused depending upon the person making use of them.

‘Science can contribute greatly to making the world and mankind more human. Yet it can also destroy mankind and the world unless it is steered by forces that lie outside it,’ writes the pope.

‘On the other hand, we must also acknowledge that modern Christianity, faced with the successes of science in progressively structuring the world, has to a large extent restricted its attention to the individual and his salvation. In so doing it has limited the horizon of its hope and has failed to recognise sufficiently the greatness of its task—even if it has continued to achieve great things in the formation of man and in care for the weak and the suffering.’ 24

Christopher Kaczor

 

Edited and adapted from ‘Man needs Hope to Live’ by Dr. Christopher Kaczor.https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/man-needs-hope-to-live dated 12 October 2011.
22 Spe Salvi, 23.
23 Spe Salvi, 22.
24  Spe Salvi, 25.

This article can be found in Mirror 0417.