January 09, 2006

Gaudium et Spes 5

Continuing our examination of the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, we find a report stating:

Today's spiritual agitation and the changing conditions of life are part of a broader and deeper revolution. As a result of the latter, intellectual formation is ever increasingly based on the mathematical and natural sciences and on those dealing with man himself, while in the practical order the technology which stems from these sciences takes on mounting importance.

I think this is presented more as a passing on of fact, rather than as an example of a laudable development. If anything, the past forty years has seen an intensification of modern attachment to the "hard" sciences as well as psychology (to a lesser extent, that one). While I think the seeds of disappointment were planted in the World Wars, the Cold War served only to reinforce the perception of the futility of science when dealing with the core issue of concern for many people: surviving the nuclear age.

Yet we seem all too ready to applaud the application of the sciences we put to use in the armed forces that protect us. Computers, miniaturization, and the complexities of modern life may not be enough to protect us. Perhaps we no longer fear nuclear annihilation, but economic downturn. That is something over which the West now seems willing to wage war.

This scientific spirit has a new kind of impact on the cultural sphere and on modes of thought. Technology is now transforming the face of the earth, and is already trying to master outer space. To a certain extent, the human intellect is also broadening its dominion over time: over the past by means of historical knowledge; over the future, by the art of projecting and by planning.

Knowledge and information? Perhaps. But not an equivalent dose of wisdom to join and manage it.

Advances in biology, psychology, and the social sciences not only bring (people) hope of improved self-knowledge; in conjunction with technical methods, they are helping (people) exert direct influence on the life of social groups.

An acknowledgement of a reality that troubles the Church:

At the same time, the human race is giving steadily-increasing thought to forecasting and regulating its own population growth. History itself speeds along on so rapid a course that an individual person can scarcely keep abreast of it. The destiny of the human community has become all of a piece, where once the various groups of (people) had a kind of private history of their own.

And lastly for GS 5:

Thus, the human race has passed from a rather static concept of reality to a more dynamic, evolutionary one. In consequence there has arisen a new series of problems, a series as numerous as can be, calling for efforts of analysis and synthesis.

In order to plan well, the Church needs to have an accurate diagnosis of the world's anguish. A greater insight into the natural workings of the universe have brought people to this point. Is the answer to refuse this knowledge? To return to a "simpler" time? A naive thought ... tempting maybe. Barring a worldwide dark age, that is not likely to happen, except as the choice of small intentional communities.

The Church acknowledges modern reality. More than that, it can bring the resources of theology to bear on these modern problems.

Or can it? What are your thoughts?