Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Meeting The World's "Needs"

Throughout all of history, man has sought to improve his lot. And yet when man looked on all he had done, all the wars, all the greed, and all the poor, he saw that all the works of man thus far have yielded little --- or certainly not enough, in the minds of many. The philosophers of the Enlightenment and their followers thought they were wise in seeing this obvious fact, and proposed that man, now so much wiser and organized through science, can at last make progress in improving the lot of man.

This made sense to many people, (especially after the misery of WWI) and was a compelling temptation to follow the Enlightenment promises: All will be made equal, no one will suffer again, all will have all they need -- and will not have to seek it through war or through greed. It will now all come to them, be given to them, by a just government of the people. It will be a just world. And how would all this “justice” come about? Well, the best and brightest of humans, the real “Enlightened” ones, would lead them into this wonderful world of equality in everything. And just who WERE those best and brightest people? Well, they had to humbly admit, they were among them.

How silly were these “brightest” of men. They thought that they could organize and provide for all the wants of men, and men would be satisfied. In the end, those who came to political power by proclaiming they would meet all men’s desires, only sought to meet their own. But man’s yearnings will never be satisfied with things of this earth, and even those political leaders were greedy for more, and then there came WWII. But the truth of the matter is: Our hearts are restless until they rest in You.

We often pray the Divine Mercy prayer: “Jesus, I trust in You.” Trust in God, yes, but why do we still choose to trust in self-proclaimed “wise men?” Men have been proclaiming their “wisdom” (and even claiming themselves to be gods) throughout all history. And still there are wars, and still there is greed, and still there are poor people. Have we not yet learned?

As science and technology have progressed yet further from the Enlightenment times, the only thing that has changed has been the politicians’ promises on what “needs” of men they can now meet. Not satisfied with just trying to guarantee equal food for everyone, they promise virtually equal everything, from light bulbs to toilets, and even equal temperatures on earth. If we just trust them.

And why, after we saw how well that “equal housing” thing they delivered worked out, have we not yet learned Who, and only Who, can really satisfy our needs --- and Who we can trust? Why do we still seek out and follow self-proclaimed “wise men?” --- who promise us anything and everything. Science may be progressing, but man’s wisdom seems to be regressing.

This past weekend the Wall Street Journal had yet another good guest editorial, done by Lord Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. You should try to read it in its entirety, if you can. He was speaking about the child rioters in England these past weeks. No summary of his words would do justice, so I reprint some of them here:

“The truth is, it is not their fault. They are the victims of the tsunami of wishful thinking that washed across the West saying that you can have sex without the responsibility of marriage, children without the responsibility of parenthood, social order without the responsibility of citizenship, liberty without the responsibility of morality and self-esteem without the responsibility of work and earned achievement.”

“… Has this happened before, and is there a way back? The answer to both questions is in the affirmative. … In the 1820s it was unsafe to walk the streets of London because of pickpockets by day and ‘unruly ruffians’ by night. What happened over the next 30 years was a massive shift in public opinion. There was an unprecedented growth in charities, friendly societies, working men’s institutes, temperance groups, church and synagogue associations, Sunday schools, YMCA building and moral campaigns of every shape and size, fighting slavery or child labor or inhuman working conditions. The common factor was their focus on the building of moral character, self-discipline, willpower and personal responsibility. It worked. Within a single generation, crime rates came down and social order was restored. What was achieved was nothing less than the re-moralization of society --- much of it driven by religion.”

“Much can and must be done by governments, but they cannot of themselves changes lives. Governments cannot make marriages or turn feckless individuals into responsible citizens.”

“One of our great British exports to America, Harvard historian Niall Ferguson, has a fascinating passage in his recent book ‘Civilization,’ in which he asks whether the West can maintain its primacy on the world stage or if it is a civilization in decline. He quotes a member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, tasked with finding out what gave the West its dominance. He said: At first we thought it was your guns. Then we thought it was your political system, democracy. Then we said it was your economic system, capitalism. But for the last 20 years, we have known that it was your religion.”

“The Chinese have learned the lesson. Fifty years after Chairman Mao declared China a religion-free zone, there are now more Chinese Christians than there are members of the Communist Party. China has learned the lesson. The question is: Will we?”

I pray for our brothers and sisters, and children, in Britain, as I pray for our own here in America. But as Lord Sacks points out, even more is needed than prayers. Prayers and religion, is the critical start. But solutions came about when people acted. We need to put our prayers into loving action, with our neighbors, our marriages, and our children. Then we can meet the world’s needs, its REAL needs. As Peggy Noonan pointed out, the need is love.

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