Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Against Grand Unified Theories

In one of those great moments of wit he is known for, Francis Cardinal Arinze stated that the Gospels only contained everything necessary for salvation, not to satisfy our curiosity.  I had this in mind when I read the interview with Christopher West where Mr. West promotes his latest book.

I really don't want to argue too much about what West does and doesn't say.  I still feel that debate was settled definitively two years.  Yet in this interview is the belief that TOB really is the grand unified theory for solving every problem that has ever existed.  Likewise, Fr. Thomas Loya (who one day filled in on Dr. Greg Popcack's radio show), one time said that Theology of the Body held the answer for political health care reform.  Not only do I find this line of thinking false, I think the effects it has on those who promote it are dangerous.

First, why doesn't it work?  In the end, we are sinful creatures in a fallen world.  God gives us doctrine in revelation, yet our approach in spreading it, while not necessarily flawed, is by its very nature imperfect.  As a result, our attempts to deal with that world will, to one degree or another, always be wanting.  There can be no grand unified theory because perfection isn't possible this side of the grave.

All of this sounds incredibly cliche, but it has ramifications.  John Paul II's Wednesday audiences were not given as a way to reinterpret everything.  They were given as a way to provide a proper defense of Humanae Vitae, and how to get a world that lacks basic Christian understanding to listen seriously to the Gospel.  These approaches change throughout time. 

Now why is this a problem?  This kind of thinking leads to factionalism in the Church.  When you possess the grand unified theory of everything, your begin to see it as your job to educate the ignorant masses outside your particular clique.  When Dr. Janet Smith speaks of the church before the discovery of the grand unified theory, she flashes the stink eye and looks down on "yesterday's church." In the eyes of Fr. Thomas Loya, Catholics lacked the Gospel for 500 years until JPII gave us the grand unified theory.  Elsewhere, some charismatics act as if only they have the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and some of my traditionalist brethren teach their preferences as the height of Catholicism, and the fullness of tradition is meant as "stuff I like."

What approach should we take instead?  We should simply realize that there is one truth, and that truth is Jesus Christ, communicated to humanity through the Catholic Church, outside of which there is no salvation.  If a particular devotion or work of scholarship gets you to that point, good.  To the extent it doesn't, there are a lot of different avenues for Catholics to indulge themselves in to arrive at the one truth.  Make sure you use them.

* One final note.  At the end of the interview, Mr. West emphasizes the importance of the Incarnation, and how we must spend our lives probing the infinite mystery that is the Incarnation.  This is good.  Perhaps Mr. West has finally listened to his critics, since his lack of incarnational theology was a primary criticism launched against him throughout the years.  (In TOB Explained, while he emphasizes the need to "incarnate" the truth of TOB in your life, he provides almost no coverage on this central truth of Christianity.)  If he continues to focus on the Incarnation, he will find that there is precious little that damages Blessed John Paul's audiences, and a ton that strengthens it.

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