Saturday, May 4, 2013

Review: Society and Sanity

The book you hold in your hands is, I firmly believe, the single most useful and important book (outside of the Church’s own official teachings in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the papal encyclicals) that we can possibly read about the single most important field of conflict between the Catholic Church and the increasingly de-Christianized Western world today.
If you care about the “Brave New World” our society is moving toward, and if you want to know the minimum that you must know in order to reverse that direction, this is the book you must start with.
 --- from Foreward, by Peter Kreeft
I’ve read many of the scholarly works written by Catholic philosopher and apologist Peter Kreeft.  He doesn’t mince words, and so when I read the opening words of his Foreward commentary I sat up and took notice.  Society and Sanity, by Frank Sheed, must be a most unusual book, and I found that to be so.
Frank Sheed wrote this book in 1953 --- “old news” you’d be tempted to remark, but Sheed’s wisdom on the underpinnings of our societal problem – and trend – is timeless.  Even as criminal psychologists today know that a youth who tortures animals will likely grow to be an adult menace to society, so Sheed saw the foundations of our society shifting in the ‘50’s and foresaw the looming impact, which we are seeing today in our post-Christian era.
Even before Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote (in Planned Parenthood v Casey), “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of the universe, and of the mystery of life,” Sheed saw its implications in societal trends:  man wanted to replace God.
Sheed’s book is broken into three areas: Man, Marriage and the Family, and Society and State.  In each area Sheed goes back to basics, about what these entities are for, what they were created to be, and why.  And then he looks at societal trends, often driven by “feelings” of what is right or good, without any underpinnings of WHY it is so.  It amounts to men trying to do what they “feel” is good with only their feeling as a reference point.  In effect saying: “I think I am good, therefore if I think something is good it must be,” --- making this declaration as if they were gods.
Sheed takes us back to core Catholic teachings, revelation, philosophy, and reason to get to the “why’s.”  Why does man exist?  Why was he created to relate to God and other men in a certain way, and to family in marriage, and to government?  Sheed talks about the freedom of man, and the responsibility that goes with it, and how man shares his responsibility in marriage and with the government.  He makes clear the limits of that sharing, and why these limits exist and are reasonable.
In short, Frank Sheed leads you to think and reason on what is good for man to do, and how acting on “feelings” only makes us not much above animals --- but we are so much more.
I said (in a prior post) how this past Lent has been a transforming one for me, largely because of a few great books I have read.  This is one of them.  I can’t recommend it enough.
And, of course, I close with a few quotes:
Seneca uttered it: “man should be an object of reverence for man.”
Happiness in a personal relation can abide, if we love the image of God in the person, and love the person and God together.
St. Augustine’s definition of human society: a group, large or small, of people united by agreement as to the things they love.
St. Thomas says that where every man seeks his rights, there is chaos, … there is the certainty that the majority of men will take too large a view of what is their own.
A man had better study what a human being is, because he’s marrying one.
Reverence is due to all men.  It was the Roman poet Juvenal who said that the greatest reverence was due to children.
Vitality flows from Society to State, and not the other way.
Is it the function of the citizens in a democracy solely to elect?  That is the clearest function, … but the duty they must at all costs perform is to create the moral and spiritual atmosphere in which Caesar must operate --- if they do not, their care in electing will go for nought.
Society cannot be really united if it is not united on the fundamental question of what man is, which involves the further question of the meaning and goal of life, and the standard by which we know what actions are right and what wrong.
The Welfare State is noble in nature, but it invariably proceeds by providing more and more things for men which once they provided for themselves; and this involves making decisions for men which once they made for themselves, undertaking responsibilities which once were theirs, and so inevitably making them less capable of decision and choice and responsibility --- and diminishing, in other words, the special qualities that distinguish man from animals and vegetables, the special qualities that make him man.
Personal responsibility is of greater value than either learning or medicaments.
It is growing as a governmental principle: because some cannot be trusted (to act responsibly), a machinery is set up which treats all as untrustworthy, … (and) the way to make a trustworthy man untrustworthy is to mistrust him.

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