Saturday, February 14, 2009

Book Reflections: Theology of the Body - Part I

I have started reading Man and Woman He Created Them - A Theology of the Body written by Pope John Paul II. This book is a very powerful and thought provoking look at the meaning of the human body. It is not an easy read, but if one takes the time to read this and reflect on the meaning and words it is very rewarding. Pope John Paul II was one of the greatest (if not the greatest) and influential man of the 20th century. As I read through this great book, I'd like to take the time to reflect and post my thoughts on this blog. I recommend picking up a copy of this great book yourself and reading along with me as we discover the greatness of this work.

Freedom and Love

Before I get to the actual speeches and writings of John Paul II, I am reading the excellent introduction to the book written by Michael Waldstein. I've read the first 40 pages and there were several very interesting things that I could write about and reflect on, but I just got the idea of really studying this book when I got to page 30. Immediately I began to take notes and I've found some great items of reflection. This first part I'd like to reflect on is about freedom (freewill) and Love. First let me post two quotes and then let's analyze what is being said.

"Freewill is in itself the noblest thing we can have because it makes us in a certain manner equal to God and exempts us from being his subjects." - Rene Descartes (16th century philosopher and scientist)

"Love consists of a commitment which limits one's freedom - it is a giving of the self, and to give oneself means just that: to limit one's freedom on behalf of another. Limitation of one's freedom might seem to be something negative and unpleasant, but love makes it a positive, joyful, and creative thing. FREEDOM EXISTS FOR THE SAKE OF LOVE… Man longs for love more than for freedom - freedom is the means and love the end," Pope John Paul II.

Descartes has been called the father of modern philosophy. He had a deep religious faith as a Catholic until the day he died. He had a passionate desire to discover the truth. He is credited with the famous line, "I think therefore I am." The existence of God was also central to his philosophy and he really wanted to see his philosophy accepted as the standard for Catholic teaching but the Church was very cautious about accepting new scientific thoughts at that time. The Church eventual came to realize that much of what the scientists discovered during that time was actually true and did not conflict with Church teaching. Instead, it helped us discover a new way of understanding the bible and Church teaching. Descartes was a key figure in the development of scientific methodology, which became a widely accepted method to discover truth. I believe that he greatly advanced human knowledge despite the fact that some of his philosophies have been misinterpreted. It is very important to remember that he did not separate the existence of God and the scientific method of discovering truth. He accepted God as a reality and this is essential as Christian believers. There is a God, he is the truth, and we as humans will never know the full truth until we reside in heaven. We can however come to discover many truths with the spiritual guidance of the Holy Spirit along with deductive reasoning and human thought. We have a brain, we can think for ourselves, but that does not mean that each individual can discover his or her own truths. There is but one truth and that truth can only be found in Jesus Christ our Lord. Let's take a closer look at Descartes quote above.

Descartes argues that freewill is the greatest and most noble thing we as humans possess because in his mind it makes us "in a certain manner equal to God." First of all, Christian teaching accepts freewill as a power of great dignity, but it's power is subordinate to love. In other words, free choice without moral clarity creates anarchy. We must use our freewill to discover love. Freewill is a great gift from God and it distinguishes us from other creatures of the earth. God gave each of us a brain and the freewill to make our own choices both good and bad. Our freedom does, in a way, make us like God. We are also made in the image and likeness of God. Descartes was not wrong in this way, but he is not completely right either. According to Descartes, a person is not bound by any preexisting purposes of nature, but sets his own purposes. As we all know, our knowledge is limited whereas God is all knowing. Just because we have freewill does not mean that we can create or discover truth. Certain truths must first be accepted or else we really can not know any truths. If our own minds are the basis for truth, each of us has a different meaning of truth. This can be very dangerous. In our current culture, I think many think and live what I call a Religion of Freedom (Not to be confused with Freedom of Religion). This is putting faith in our own freedom and reasoning as opposed to putting our faith in God. Our thoughts are never equal to or greater than God. He has given us the freedom and signs to help us discover the truth, but our freedom also allows us to rationalize everything if we so chose. We can tell ourselves that everything we think or do is good no matter how wrong it really is and justify in our mind any action. When we die we will receive our final judgment and our justifications and rationalizations will not save us from the truth and ultimately our salvation. We must put our trust in God. Our freedom is a great gift, but as we read the quote from John Paul II, I think we get a greater understanding of the relationship between freedom and love. Love is the greatest of all virtues and our freedom is really of little value if it is not based on the desire for love.

The key line in John Paul's quote above is the line he himself emphasized, "Freedom exists for the sake of love." The entire quote is one of the best quotes I've ever read. I'd like to repost the quote in it's entirety. "Love consists of a commitment which limits one's freedom - it is a giving of the self, and to give oneself means just that: to limit one's freedom on behalf of another. Limitation of one's freedom might seem to be something negative and unpleasant, but love makes it a positive, joyful, and creative thing. FREEDOM EXISTS FOR THE SAKE OF LOVE… Man longs for love more than for freedom - freedom is the means and love the end," Pope John Paul II.

Pope John Paul II's quote disputes Descartes comment that freewill is our greatest and most noble possession and replaces freewill with love. Love is our greatest possession and it is only possible with an acceptance of God and the freedom to accept His love. I relate John Paul II's quote to today's culture. Our culture often rejects this notion of love because it does not understand love. Our culture thinks that love is simply an emotion of passion. Love is not infatuation. Love is more than a feeling. Love is much more than that, it is what John Paul II so eloquently states a "limitation of one's freedom on behalf of another." Think about Jesus. He possessed freedom but he chose to die on a cross so that we might all have life. He showed us how to love, and yet this love is so foreign to most of our culture. Read the entire quote one more time; now think about what our culture tells us about children. Our culture tells us that children are a burden. They are a burden on parents and society in general. Our culture tells us that having more than two children is irresponsible and harmful to society. Our culture tells us this, but what is the basis for the thinking? Our culture fears over population but yet we still see poverty. How can this be? Our culture is so focused on money and financial wellbeing that we have all but abandoned that which is most important. We have put our faith in things and lost our spiritual direction. Our culture has lost the meaning of love. Our culture places so much emphasis on individual freedom that we have forgotten how to love. Without love, we see family broken and a lack of desire to share our possessions and do good works to support the poor and unfortunate. Our emphasis on individual freedom has distorted our understanding of life in general and we are seeing great attacks on life itself. We are aborting children and not surprisingly we see people rationalizing this action as good. As I said earlier, we can rationalize any action no matter how gravely evil. Our culture needs to emphasize love. This is not a rejection of freedom, but rather an acceptance of freedom to produce the great outcome of love. If our culture became a culture of love, we would embrace new life and not restrict life. We would create an environment that not only respects the lives of the unborn, but also the lives of all people. We would share our possessions and we would be a happier society. Divorce rates would drop drastically and crime in general would decline. Children are a gift from God, not a burden. The hardships we encounter in life and in bringing new life into this world only help us to grow in love if we accept the hardships as a gift. With every difficulty and struggle presents us with an opportunity to grow in love. Without love, our culture will die. Without a faith in God, our culture will die. We are killing innocent lives and in the process we are killing ourselves. God is our Lord. It is in Him I trust and it is through him that I can come to discover love and pass that love on to you. I love you. Now, go teach others how to love, our salvation depends on it. God bless you!

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