Tag Archives: national post

Institutional Blame

I have been hiding in the wilderness of Sooke for the past week camping with some homeschooling families with whom I am very close.  Thus I missed the following very interesting set of letters from the National Post from last week.

Give them a close read.  Most (except for maybe the first) are fairly coherent presentations of their views.  Each give a stable and laudable defense of whether or not religion is a source of good or evil.  While there is some elements of truth to the debate and the positions given, I believe there is an underlying presupposition that is fundamentally flawed in those who are either pro or against religion or atheism.  This presupposition is that the institution or the “greater universal force” of religion or atheism or any type of ‘ism’ is the source of praise or the blame.

This presupposition is wrong because it seems to imply that some great man-created force exists independently of human activity.  The most common example of such an idea comes when people speak of “the market” as if it is some force that governs, limits, and guides human economic activity.  There is some validity to such a turn of phrase: the ancient metaphysical principle that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts surely applies to any collective human activity.  However, this whole acts only in the concrete actions  of the parts that make up the whole.  Thus, to speak of ‘the market’ apart from human participation is like speaking of a play without any actors: it makes no sense.

Yet this turn to the institution as if it is some divine force is so very common to our every day parlance that we find it difficult to look beyond it.  I recall a conversation I had with a friend about this in which this friend stated that every corporate institution is a moral evil.  I understand where they are coming from: some corporations have it built within them to always look out for themselves to the neglect of others.  However, this is not the fault of “Walmart”, “conservativism”, “americanism”, etc.  While certain ideas do have an effect, it ultimately comes down to the people in the institutions and corporations that affect the outcomes and corporate actions of the body.  Yes, laws, mentalities, ideologies, and cultures are all part of this.  But they always need human persons to instantiate these principles.  Without people, ideologies, mentalities, laws, cultures, etc, would not exist.  The laws and cultures are the result of human activity, not the other way around.

This brings me back to the letters above.  You will note that we have one side defending “religion” while the other is defending, for lack of a better word, “atheistic humanism”.  Both defend their own ideology by demonstrating how the other ideology, as if it is in and of itself some divine force, is fundamentally the force of all that is wrong in the world.  Both are wrong because both are defending an idea rather than the concrete reality of human activity.  Simply put, neither position is scientific because it does stand to the test of reality.  We all know saintly religious people, we all know, too, virtuous atheists.  Why doesn’t “atheism” or “religion” force them to be bad?  Because, in the end, it is about human decision and freedom acting upon ideas, worldviews, and the day to day situations people are faced with.

The debate should not be about “atheism” vs. “religion” because it is not about institutions or even ideas.  The debate needs to be about what does it mean to be human.  Does man have a destiny?  Is man oriented to something greater than himself?  It is here that the debate must turn and until it does turn towards the problem of transcendence we will continue in the antinomy that is so prevalent in such a debate.

How does this happen?  This is where it becomes difficult because many people do not allow for careful, thoughtful reflection.  We always want to affirm our own position, and this tends to be done in an antithetical manner against the “opposing side”.  This is not helpful.  However, those who are truly reasonable about such questions tend to be relegated to the sidelines of intellectual history.  For example, in the English speaking world, a man who attempted to change the terms of the debate is largely unknown: Maurice Blondel.  He saw this antinomy between the two sides and saw the same problem: we are not dealing with the concrete situation in life.

Ultimately, it is about dealing with the human person, challenging them to think upon the transcendent character of their existence.  Only then will the debate become constructive, helpful, and life giving.  Until then, it will become a violent exchange of words.  Both sides blame the other for such violence.  But it is not “religion” or even “atheism” to blame, but rather it is people who are unwilling to give a moral analysis of their lives, to reflect on the transcendent character of human existence.

in Christ




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The End of Oprah

Priestess of the Culture of Self-Importance

Fr. Raymond de Souza has an insightful article in the National Post about the reign of Oprah here.

He makes a great point about how Oprah is the result and response to a culture that is so atomized that it needs to look to tv personalities for a ray of hope and vacant platitudes that make us feel better.  It is, indeed, a major cultural issue, and yes, it is due to the failure of our society, friends, families, churches, etc., that have brought about this atomized culture.

I remember when I was a kid when everyone knew each other on the block.  The kids would always become friends and play together, and the parents would quickly become friends as well, often hosting BBQs and nights to simply spend time together chatting while the kids played hockey or swam in the pool.

Today, if you attempt to get to know your neighbour, you’re seen as a bit of a weirdo almost.  The idea of “neighbourhoods” and “neighbours” are, in my mind, long gone.  Perhaps it’s just my experience on the West Coast; I hope this isn’t a reality everywhere.  But even though we have a physical proximity to people, there is no spiritual proximity – and I am not speaking here even in a religious sense!  Naturally, human beings are spiritual creatures who find fulfillment in creating community with others.  When that isn’t happening, then we are entering a spiritual crisis on the natural level (which is scary because it precludes a crisis on the supernatural level first!).

We no longer desire to know others.  I remember, for example, going to a Pizza Hut one day a couple of years ago in Edmonton and seeing four kids sitting at a table, texting each other: they wouldn’t even speak to each other!  I must admit that I myself have even fallen into this culture, and it is difficult to have the eyes to see in order to break out of it.

When we no longer desire community, when we no longer desire to be with others – think of the family in which each person eats the meal of their choice in front of their own tv, a sad but true reality in many households – then we seek others to fill our spiritual void, but in a way that the spiritual void is not actually filled, but only superficially.  We thus run to TV, self-help books, the internet, drugs, alcohol, promiscuous sex, and so on, in order to fill that spiritual gap in our lives.  We are empty, and we know we need to be fulfilled, but we don’t know how, so we go for those places, people, and things t hat seem to give us fufillment.  It is a sad state in the world when this is the natural spiritual condition of a culture.  I believe, too, that if this is indeed the case, then we are in for cultural suicide.  This is not just a spiritual hunger: when we become atomized, when we become isolated from others, then basic human principles such as love, compassion, forgiveness, reason, are no longer easy tasks to carry out, and thus man becomes more like an animal when, ironically, he is claiming to be more human than ever! 

It is a sad state when truth becomes a lie and the lie becomes truth.

in Christ


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