Lesson 67- Progress and Destruction of Reflection
Each year, at the end of my course, my parting words to my students are Let you motives be loving and your methods be wise to remind them that the best results occur when the feeling based right lobe is balanced by the knowledge based left lobe of the brain. The major flaw, as I explained in my last program, in the Secular Humanistic vision of the New World Order is that their motives often are loving, but their methods are, just as often, unwise and that is why the Church often agrees with them on ends but disagrees with them on means. It is also why so many liberal-minded people, who call themselves Catholics, such as Catholics-for-Free-Choice and Catholic politicians like Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, buy into the programs of the secular humanists. They want the government to take responsibility for eliminating all the difficulties from peoples lives.
The humanist hate to see people struggle and suffer and so they have set out to create a world in which a super, paternalistic, government will eliminate these nasty qualities from our lives. In a way, its hard to blame them because many parents hold the same view about their children. They believe that it is their job to remove all obstacles from their paths so that their children will never have to face the very difficulties that made the parents strong. And both the Secular Humanist and those parents often reap the same consequences: spoiled, irresponsible, dependent and debilitated children who, as adults, are unable to accept responsibility for themselves and are always either bailing out of their own responsibilities or looking for someone else to take the responsibility from them. As a result, they never learn from their mistakes because the consequences of their actions are always being short-circuited by other well-meaning people. As one minister once put it, Sometime God has a person just where He wants Him and we lend him $10. In other words, the person has reach the end of his rope where all of his excuses and rationalizationsfor not choosing the right path have run out. He is just about to face the Truth by seeing that if he doesnt choose life then the result will be death. And then, we come along with a misguided sense of love and give him the means to avoid the tough decision for one more day.
There is a seemingly innocent little Gospel song called Rock My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham that little children are taught. However, although the words are simple, the meaning is very deep. They say:
Rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham
Rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham
Rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham
Oh rocka my soul
So far it is just an innocent little childrens song. But now it goes deep. It say:
The Truth is so high you cant get over it
So low you cant get under it
So wide you cant get around it
Oh rocka my soul.
In other words, the hardest thing for human beings to do is to face the Truth that will set them free. They will try every device possible to go over it, under it, or around it because they dont want to go through it.
When I first entered college, following my discharge from the Navy, I wanted to be a social worker that worked with troubled children. Therefore, after getting my BA in sociology and psychology from LaSalle, I enrolled in the University of Pennsylvanias Graduate School for Social Work. I didnt know it at the time, but there were two competing theories in the United States concerning the role of social workers. The largest was the Freudian School based on the theories of Sigmund Freud. This school emphasized repressed sexual desires as the basis for the dysfunctional behavior of their clients. Therefore, they went digging into past memories and dreams to discover the sexual hang-ups that were keeping the person from functioning proper.
The other school was called the Functional School and there were only two schools of social work in the United States: the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Chicago- that taught this approach. Their theory was that human beings wanted to and were made to functional properly and that if their lives had come to a impasse where they had become dysfunctional, it was because some crisis, or combination of crises, in their lives had become so overwhelming that they had been frightened into immobility. In other words, life had become more than they could handle.
Thus the job of the social worker was to get their vital juices working again so that they could once again begin to assume responsibility for their own lives. In other words, to break up the log jam that was preventing anything from moving. Therefore, the problem was not in the deep unconscious recesses of their childhood memories. Rather it was in the present or at the point where the dysfunctional behavior began. If they had been functioning up to that point, then something must have happened that overwhelmed them and was now causing a log-jam that was affecting all of their behavior. Let me give you an example. I have changed some of the facts to protect the identity of the person but the essential facts are there.
I had a client who had been a very successful businessman. He was married, had three children, owned his own company, and was a productive member of society. Then his marriage failed, his business went bankrupt, and his wife left him and their three children. At first, he managed to care for his children but as time passed he began to drink heavily. Soon, we were getting reports that the children were being left alone and, sometimes, he would take them with him on a drinking binge and leave them unattended in bars or speakeasies. The authorities were informed and the children were placed in protective care. He was outraged by this and threatened to sue the agency and anyone connected with the decision. However, each time the children were returned to him, the same pattern began over again.
I was a student social worker who had been assigned, as part of my training, to the agency that was handling the case and this man became part of my caseload. The regular social workers smiled knowingly as they told me that I had my work cut out for me since he had a reputation for being belligerent, intimidating, and irresponsible. He was always suing someone for some imagined offense and he never kept appointments. He was a large, impressive man and very flamboyant and, whenever he did arrive at the agency, he would come in like he was the mayor of Philadelphia. The office staff and even some of the workers trembled at the sight of him.
According to the Functional Theory, it was not our job to take over responsibility for his life. Rather, it was our job to temporarily remove the log that was causing the jam so that his vital energies could begin to flow again. However, it was essential to hold him to those responsibilities that he was capable of handling. Thus, since he had demonstrated that the couldnt care for the children, they were in protective care in a nearby group home for children. It was my job to keep tabs on them and to work with the father to help him to reassume responsibility for them. Thus, we demanded that he continue to visit them. However, I soon learned that his visits had become a problem for the children since his flamboyant ways had become an embarrassment for them with the other children. I asked them if they wanted me to deny him visiting privileges and they said Yes!
I knew that this was going to cause an explosion but, after talking it over with my supervisor, it was decided to stop his visiting privileges. Within days, he came storming into the agency demanding to see me. According to the Functional Theory, he, like all human beings, would try every device he could think of to get around my decision and it was my job to hold him to it. He threatened me physically and I refused to bend. He threatened to sue me and I refused to bend. He pleaded and I remained firm. Then he began to cry and I began to weaken but I still refused to bend. I informed him that he would not be allowed to see the children until he agreed to keep a weekly appointment with me to discuss his situation and the problem with the children.
To my amazement, he began to keep his weekly appointments. He continued to try various strategies to get me to relent in my decision but I stuck to the theory and refused to bend. Eventually, he stopped trying to get around it and began to talk seriously about the problems facing him and his children. I told him how his flamboyant ways were affecting them and that he would have to deal with this before we would reinstitute visiting privileges. Then we began to talk about his tendency to blame everything that happened to him on others, which displayed itself in the multiple lawsuits that he had initiated.
He told me that as a child he had been told that he had tested 155 I.Q., which is in the genius range, and that everyone used to praise him about it. It soon became clear to me that he was suffering from what one writer called The Catch in Praise. In other words, we all enjoy being praised but it also places a burden on us to maintain the level of performance that brought the praise. This is what happened to this man. After being praised for being a genius, he felt that he couldnt make a mistake and whenever he did it threatened his image of himself. Therefore, he began blaming other people for his own mistakes in order to maintain his image as a genius. When I informed him that a genius I.Q. didnt mean that he couldnt make a mistake and that some of the greatest minds make the silliest mistakes, he seemed relieved of a great burden.
After that he became much more cooperative and willing to talk honestly about his situation. Everybody in the agency began to comment on the change that had taken place in him. What did you do, Reilly. Hes a different person, they would say. I would say, I only made him face the Truth. For you see, as the song says, The Truth is so high you cant get over it, so low you cant get under it
So wide you cant get around it and, as Jesus said, Only the Truth can set you free.
Eventually, we reinstituted visiting rights and even his children commented on the difference. I left social work before this case came to a final conclusion. But if the theory is correct, the log jam had been broken, the vital forces were again flowing, and having gotten past this impasse, he would eventually take back the responsibilities that we had temporarily taken from him. For you see, it never was our intention to take responsibility for his life because that would have destroyed him. Rather, it was our intention to remove only that part of his problem that he was unable to handle at that time while demanding that he continue to handle those parts that he could. As the saying goes Success breeds success and each time he handle any part of his problems it strengthened and encouraged him to handle the rest.
This incident convinced me that our best friends are those who care enough to demand the very best from us. The lesson is Beware of people who want to take over responsibility for your life and who, through a misguided sense of love, are willing to help us to rationalize our weaknesses and/or avoid our responsibilities. They become enablers who weaken us because they dont understand the mystery of the Cross.
The problem, of course, is that to really love someone is to desire to see them grow and requires us to accept the fact that without struggle there is no progress. And thus we must be willing to accept the initial rejection and misunderstanding of those that we are trying to help. This is not a strategy for those who have a greater need to feel loved themselves than to give love to others. Its not for those who major goal is to be nice. It is not for those who think with their feelings. Its for those whose guiding principle is to let my motives be loving and my methods be wise. It sometimes requires a hardnose approach that remains focused on the need of the other person to grow and not on our own need to be liked. As a result, it, like God, is always being misunderstood and accused of being heartless and unfeeling. This is the very charge that atheist, like Jean Paul Sartre, leveled against those who believe in God. How, he says, can you believe in an all-powerful, all-good God when evils, like the Holocaust, are allowed to exist? Helen Keller, who was no stranger to suffering herself, addressed this question by noting that the only way that evil could be eliminated is for God to take back the gift of free will and, in that case, the solution is worst than the problem because we would become robots with no minds of our own.
As I said in my last program, Gods justice, which demands that we must reap what we sowed is kinder than Mans mercy which allows us to avoid the consequences of our own actions.
In nature this plays out in the Laws of Natural Selection and Survival of the Fittest, which in the short term and on the micro level seems harsh to us. However, in the long term and on the macro level it has produced the greatest benefit to the greatest number.
Now dont get me wrong. I am not suggesting that we return to the Law of the Jungle but I am suggesting that there is a balance between the extreme harshness of nature and the extreme softness of the Secular Humanist and that the truth, like in so many other issues, lies at the midpoint between the two extremes. There are times when people need to be helped and there are times when they need to be left alone and it requires Wisdom to know when.
After having taught in our public school system for over forty years, I can speak from personal experience of the impact that this philosophy has had on our students. No matter what the students choose the fault is always in the teachers, the administration or the parents never in them. Thus, we go on a soul-searching mission to find out what we can do to make them succeed. Forget the fact that they often dont do the homework that is assigned; forget the fact that they have a pattern of habitual absences and lateness; forget the fact that they dont pay attention or become disruptive to the educational process; forget the fact that they have poor test results from the lack of studying; forget the fact that they have powerful cultural forces in the media and entertainment industries that are constantly telling them to Let it all hang out !; Do your own thing! and If it feels good just do it!.
As a result the students come to expect that no matter what they choose, we will find a way for them to pass the course and move on. It is a false world of no consequences which allows the student to keep on repeating the same behavior while expecting different results which, you might remember is my definition of insanity because it indicates that we are out of touch with Reality or the Truth. And as this misguided love debilitates those that it touches, it erodes away the standards that are necessary for the survival of our culture. This erosion of standards begins in kindergarten, moves up to the elementary level, jumps to the high school level, continues to the college level and eventually blooms to maturity in the families that they form or dont form and the jobs that they do or dont do. And as it moves up, each level makes some adjustment in their standards to accommodate the deficiencies that were passed on from the previous levels. Instead of asking the students to adjust to reality, we have reality adjust to them. And, if Jesus is correct when He said, The Truth will set you free, then these students are destined to be imprisoned for life as well-meaning people protect them from reality- which is just another name for Truth- by denying them the consequences that reality is reflecting back to them.
Frederick Douglass once observed that without struggle there is no progress which certainly seems to be true. We might add to this that without reflection there is no progress. For example, if it were impossible for you to see your own reflection, either because you were blind or there were no reflective agents in your environment, then it would be impossible to improve your appearance. You could style your hair, shave, apply make-up, change your clothes etc but no matter what you did to improve your appearance there would be no way of knowing whether it made you look better or not without something to reflect back the consequences of your actions. Therefore, without reflection progress is impossible. This is no only true for human beings but for all living things that must constantly make adjustments to reality in order to survive. There are at least two reflective agents that all living thing use: the first is life and the second is the reaction of others.
Life, through the consequences that result from our behavior, is always reflecting back to us the quality of our choices. Take away the consequences and we would have no way of learning whether those choices were good or bad. In fact, Proverbs 8 says that wisdom, who is Jesus, speaks to us through experience. Thus, those who are paying attention to what their own experiences and the experiences of others is teaching them will grow in wisdom. However, Jesus said that the problem with many of the people of His time was that they had eyes to see but couldnt see; and ears to hear but couldnt hear. In other words, they couldnt learn because they werent using the equipment they had to receive the information that Reality or Truth was reflecting back to them either through their own behavior or the behavior of others.. If they did, then the truth would have set them free from their destructive behavior.
The second reflective agent is the reaction of others to what we do. In sociology there is a principle called the Looking Glass Self which says that we use the reaction that others reflect back to us to evaluate our own behavior. If they give us positive feedback by smiling or laughing, it encourages us to repeat the behavior. If they give us negative feedback through frowns or groans, it discourages the behavior. Thus, we all play a important role in the shaping of each others personalities. In other words, we become enablers through what we approve and disapprove of in others. This is also true of animals because, since they dont possess language, they are excellent observers of non-verbal communication. They read our body language and the tone in our voice to determine whether we are happy, afraid, angry, aggressive etc and make adjustments in their own behavior according to what we reflect back to them. At the same time, our right lobe, which is also an expert in non-verbal communication, reads their body language for signs of their reaction to us.
Thus, both animals and human beings progress or survive by using life and the reaction of others to shape their responses. However, there is a third reflective agent which, it appears, only human possess. We have a reflective mind in which our logical left lobe evaluates and reflects upon the impulses of our alogical right lobe. Thus, we might say that the right lobe proposes and the left lobe disposes. In other words, the creative, imaginative right lobe proposes some behavior or action and the logical left lobe reflects on it and evaluates whether the behavior is good or bad. Without the logical check of the left lobe, we would be impulsive animals who would have to depend on the other two checks- life and the reaction of others- to help us to shape our behavior.
Furthermore, if it is true that without reflection there is no progress then it logically follows that animals, with non-reflective brains, in which both hemispheres are duplicates, have non-progressive brains while humans with a right hemisphere that is reflected upon by a left hemisphere have progressive brain. We could further conclude that the purpose of an animal life, since their brain are non-progressive, is to exist while the purpose of human life, since their brains are progressive, is to develop.
And finally we might conclude that anyone who undermines the three reflective agents- the consequences of life, the true reaction of others, or the ability of our brains to reflect and evaluate the rightness or wrongness of behavior- also undermines our ability to progress as human beings. And my contention is that Secular Humanism, with the best of intentions, does all three.
First, they undermine Life as a reflective agent by short-circuiting the consequences that people ought to receive from their behavior. They have a social program to handle the consequences for all types of irresponsible behavior.
Second, they undermine the reflective role that the Looking Glass Self plays as a reflective agent by teaching the rest of us to be non-judgmental and super-tolerant of all behavior. Whos to say? Its different strokes for different folks! And, as a result, they have laid a guilt complex on anybody who dares to reflect back to another human being any type of disapproval, thereby denying that person an honest evaluation of their behavior. To do so, they claim makes you a narrow-minded bigot who is phobic about other peoples lifestyle.
This would be bad enough. However, they even require us to reflect back approval for behavior that in the long term and on the macro level undermines our humanity and the future of our society.
Just recently, I picked up magazine entitled Sex Inc that had been placed in a pile on the table in our school library. It was aimed at the teenage population and had been put there for the students to take. Ostensibly it was written for teenagers by teenagers and its basic message was have responsible sex either by waiting till you met someone that you really cared about or by using contraceptive or practicing oral sex and mutual masturbation. There was only a weak suggestion that abstinence might be good and that was only until you met a significant other that could either be a member of the opposite or same sex. On the last page was an article written by a high school student who told of his experience of coming out of the closet with his classmates. He told of their loving acceptance of him and how they actually congratulated him on being gay and told him that they envied him because being gay was cool. At the bottom of the page was an add telling the students that if they wanted further help or advice they should contact Planned Parenthood, a major weapon in the Secular Humanist arsenal.
The third way that they undermine the power of reflection in helping us to find the Truth is that they undermine the concept of Truth itself. I have already talked about the philosophy of Existentialism that is based on the concept that there is no God and therefore the universe is accidental and absurd. If this is true then there are no primary purposes that come from a Creator and thus all purposes are secondary and come from us. Therefore, according to this philosophy, there are no objective standards for anyones behavior since everything is subjective and based on ones personal feelings.
According to Jean Paul Sartre, a leading existentialist, this realization depressed him and caused him to feel suicidal but then, just as he was about to exit this meaningless and absurd world, he realized that this allowed him to be free to invent his own meaning and purpose. If there is no God, then Whos to say what is right or wrong? The obvious answer, says Sartre, is that we are and since we all feel differently about things, it must be different strokes for different folks!
This leads to the ethical theory of Situational Ethics which says that the only standard for deciding whether an action is good or bad is whether it was freely chosen by the person involved in the situation. In other words, since all standards are subjective rather than objective, what really matters is whether the person made a choice based on how he or she felt about it. This leads to slogans like Its her situation and its her choice! or just the word Choice! Recently, a fellow teacher told me that no one was really for abortion. Rather, they were for choice!
Of course, most people repeat these slogans without ever understanding the philosophical premises from which they come and that is why, like most slogans, there effectiveness depends upon the fact that the person doesnt reflect on their meaning.
And thus, the Secular Humanist, have succeeded in eliminating the third source of reflection: the ability of the logical and objective left lobe to reflect upon the impulses of the non-reflective right lobe. By eliminating the whole concept of objective truth they have returned us to the Gehenna of empty thought where impulses and feelings rather than thought and facts become the basis for behavior. And, in doing so, they have entrapped us in a subjective world from which we can not be set free because the Truth which could have set us free has been denied any legitimate existence.
We are involved in a philosophical battle which we are losing because of our philosophical ignorance. As Professor Robert Heilbroner once said, People lives are affected by philosophies of which they have no knowledge or understanding. Our problem is that we are trying to fight a philosophical battle with religious revelation and that wont work. A logical principle is that you cant compare unlike things because if a thing is good or bad according to how well it serves its purpose then you cant compare things that have different purposes. For example, you cant say a pen is better than a banana because the pen is a writing instrument and the banana is a food. You must compare a pen to another writing instrument and a banana to another food.
Therefore, you cant confront a philosophical argument with a religious revelation because the first comes to its conclusions through logical analysis and the second comes from a direct revelation from God. Thus, you must confront a philosophy with another philosophy and a religious revelation with another religious revelation.
This is the reason why so many of our positions are disregarded because, instead of using the philosophical arguments which are part of the storehouse of the Wisdom that the Church has, we argue from religious revelation and our arguments are dismissed as being our religious beliefs that have validity only with people who share those same beliefs.
It is discouraging to see young minds being filled with philosophical principles that violate common sense while those based on logic and reality are either unknown or ignored. Its bad enough that this problem exists in the public schools but it is obscene and outrageous that Catholic students can go through twelve to sixteen years of Catholic education and still be just as ignorant of them as public school students.
We are paying a great price for our philosophical ignorance because we are losing in the battle for the hearts and minds of men. What is even worse, we are losing in the battle for the hearts and minds of our own childrenwho often receive secular humanistic view in the very Catholic institutions that were created to teach them the wealth of philosophical insight found in the Church.
Philosophy should not scare us because philosophy is the pursuit of Wisdom and Wisdom, according to the Church, is Jesus Christ. The saints knew this and that is why St. Augustine, St. Albert the Great, and St. Thomas Aquinas were able to turn their minds towards philosophical speculation. Therefore, in future programs, I will be speaking more about some of the philosophical underpinnings of todays world.
It was my intention to get to the philosophy of Hegel in this talk but I see that my time is almost up. Therefore, I will take this up in my next talk.