I penned my first 'With Good Reason' column a bit over four years ago in November of 2006. At the time, my hope was to make a solid contribution toward curbing our cultural malaise which is, in myriad ways, so adverse to reasoned consideration of our beliefs, policies and behaviors. Such a culture-as I suggested at the time-cannot sustain for long a thriving and well-ordered democratic way of life.
And so it is, in that deeper-than-usual nostalgia and spirit of reflection which envelopes most of us (or me at least) at this time of year, that I now sit me down to pen my final WGR column.
No, I have not given up on the battle for reasoned discourse in the public square! On the contrary, of late I have had reason to be encouraged. And over the past four years, there have been any number of indicators that reasoned public discourse on moral matters is experiencing a refreshing revival of sorts. One might consider, for example, how the advent of embryonic stem cell research occasioned the lively and vigorous public debate about the moral status of the human embryo, a debate that had been effectively squelched during the first decades of the debate over abortion.
In ending my monthly columns, I am certainly not disappearing from the ethics scene. On the contrary, other commitments (the ethics boards on which I sit, research and writing commitments-including my hopes of publishing a book or two-as well as teaching and pastoral work) are simply occupying my time to such an extent that I have elected to give them greater attention. Publishing will continue, of course, albeit in other venues.
But back to that reflective mood.
I write on a day that the headlines tell us: Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo (himself jailed and his wife under house arrest) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in absentia in Oslo; pressure mounts in Washington to cut federal spending as lawmakers finally step up to take action at the prospect of hitting national bankruptcy by 2025; 16 year-olds are conducting a cyber war on major American businesses; scientists have created a mouse whose genetic makeup comes from two males; the debate over the military's 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' policy is at the forefront on Capitol Hill even as our service men and women continue to be killed by IED's; and North Korean aggression toward South Korea is growing, not diminishing.
Plenty to write about.
Truly, there's never an end to the challenges facing humanity and which call for reasoned moral discourse in the public square.
Looking back on four years of non-stop "issues" to which I dedicated my key pad and best mental energies, I can't help but wonder again at those enduring questions that underlie the issues: What is truth? Why am I here? Why do we suffer? Is there a God?
Now, if truth be told, any day of the week, we can glance at the news and wonder if the headlines do not portend a new and rapidly advancing dark age, or whether — as the philosopher Aladair MacIntyre already opined three decades ago in his now classic "After Virtue" — that the new dark age is already upon us, and whether its barbarian doyens "are not waiting beyond the frontiers [but] have already been governing us for quite some time."
However one parses the present age, as Christians we are called — in the spirit of St. Augustine — to sing, and not curse the darkness, as we strive to build the City of God, and journey toward the consummation of all times. We are called to hope, and hope entails patient expectation.
To borrow again from MacIntyre, however, we are certainly not waiting for Godot; Christian expectation is infused, through and through, with meaning. As to MacIntyre's suggestion that we are rather awaiting a new St. Benedict, well, that would surely be nice.
But far more importantly, all of us are hopefully awaiting "the blessed hope — the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ."
He alone is the Word of the Father, the Logos through whom all things were made.
He alone is the font of Wisdom in whom we participate through our right use of reason.
He alone is the ultimate answer to the deepest questions of the human heart.
That's why, at Christmas 2010 we cry, once again: "Marana tha! Come Lord Jesus!"
God bless you.
And... P.S....As one smidgen of that hope, treat yourself to this on YouTube. Merry Christmas!
Father Thomas Berg is a priest in the Archdiocese of New York and Professor of Moral Theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary (Dunwoodie).