Thursday, April 26, 2007

Chaput on Bernanos and Reclaiming History


Charles Chaput at First Things refers to The Last Essays of Georges Bernanos:
As Bernanos explains it, big ideological systems “mechanize” history with high-sounding language like progress and dialectics. But in doing so, they wipe out the importance of both the past—which they describe as primitive, unenlightened, or counterrevolutionary—and the present, which is not yet the paradise of tomorrow. The future is where salvation is to be found for every ideology that tries to eliminate God, whether it’s explicitly atheistic or pays lip service to religious values. Of course, this future never arrives, because progress never stops and the dialectic never ends.

Christianity and Judaism see life very differently. For both of them, history is a place of human decision. At every moment of our lives, we’re asked to choose for good or for evil. Therefore, time has weight. It has meaning. The present is vitally important as the instant that will never come again; the moment where we are not determined by outside forces but self-determined by our free will. Our past actions make us who we are today. But each “today” also offers us another chance to change our developing history. The future is the fruit of our past and present choices, but it’s always unknown, because each successive moment presents us with a new possibility.

Further, "Time and freedom are the raw material of life because time is the realm of human choice." And Chaput--referring to Bernanos' thoughts on the atomic bomb--looks at technology's role:
The tidal wave of our toys, from iPods to the Internet, is equally effective in getting us to ignore history and ignore our own emptiness. The struggle for real human freedom depends upon the struggle for human history. Unlike the ideologies that deny the importance of the past and the present and focus on the illusions of a perfect future, Christianity sees the most important moments of the human story to be the past event of the Incarnation and the present moment of my individual opportunity to love.
The Christian faith is grounded in what God has done. Our love is what we choose to do now, and our hope is founded in God’s past acts of love and our present ones. Without history, there is no Christianity. So the fundamental question, for Bernanos, is “whether history is the story of mankind or merely of technology.” Modern man must be convinced again that he is free, that he can really choose in this moment of time between very different paths to very different futures. In the act of choosing, we regain history as our own.

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