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September 04, 2013
The Burden of Creaturehood
By Alice von Hildebrand *

By Alice von Hildebrand *

To create (that is, to bring a being into existence from “nothing”) is a concept that could never have entered a man’s head. It is through the Bible and the Bible alone that we have become acquainted with it.

Genesis tells us explicitly that God first created the world and then created man to His image and likeness. To come into existence from “nothing” is indeed most amazing. It  differs radically from concepts such as “growth”; “development”; “evolution.”

To be “created” is an unfathomable, unimaginable gift; a gift that defies logic: how can being come from “nothing?” The young G.K Chesterton whose religious education was clearly defective, was vaguely aware of it when speaking about the gift of “existing” and our duty to say thank you. He was wondering to whom this “thank you” should be addressed. He also wrote some moving lines about the “baby unborn”... promising every virtue if he might only have the experience of life.” (Autobiography, 91)  

These lines should be written at the entrance of every abortion clinic.

The recipient of the gift of life should be aware of two facts:

First; existence is an unmerited gift. It is not something that is our due. This awareness necessarily carries with it the strict moral obligation to be grateful to the Giver. Moreover, this gift carries with it another obligation:  namely, to obey the commands of the Giver of this gift. “Noblesse oblige” as the French say. The beneficiary of existence should never lose sight of his metaphysical situation: he is privileged to exist and this very privilege places him in a position of metaphysical “indebtedness.” He should never lose sight of his situation: to be a creature means to be dependent.

 Evil breeds evil. Lucifer, having openly refused to acknowledge God’s “right” to impose duties upon him by uttering the words, “Non serviam,”, was bound to try to recruit other persons to join his camp and revolt against his being “only” a creature. Upon finding out that God had created a metaphysically “despicable” being called man, made up of soul and body, the Evil one had no difficulty convincing himself that because of his superiority over him – being a pure spirit – it would be an easy task to convince this “low rank” creature, that is a member of the metaphysical proletariat, to join his army of rebels.

Knowing that our first parents had been forbidden by their Creator to eat the fruit of one specific tree in the Garden of Eden, and had warned them that if they disobeyed, they would be punished by death, the father of lies and deviousness, cleverly approached Eve with an apparently innocent question, “Why can’t you eat of the fruit of that tree?” After all, is it not legitimate to raise questions?

Allowing herself to “forget” her creature hood – instead of saying to the tempter, “Vade retro, Satana!” Eve engaged in a conversation in which her deadly enemy easily gained the upper hand. He convinced the vain creature that disobeying God’s command, far from leading to death, would make her (and her husband) “like unto God.” In plain language: by eating the forbidden fruit, man was to overcome the limits of creature hood, and become God’s equal. He would then be “free,” that is, he would be entitled to existence and be metaphysically, supremely independent. He would no longer need to bow, to humiliate himself and to say “thank you.” Gratitude will then become meaningless and moreover, man would then taste the sweetness of being liberated from the heavy chains of obedience.

A logical consequence of this rebellious metaphysical attitude also finds its expression in Cain’s murder of Abel. Let us recall that it took place long before God Himself gave Moses the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai: one of them being “Thou shall not kill.” When God severely reproached Cain for his crime, the latter did not reply: “Moses has not yet given us he Tables of the Law; therefore I did not disobey any command.” It is clear that the law forbidding murder – now dubbed the natural (moral) law – was from the very moment of man’s creation, clearly written in his heart. He did not need to be “told.” He knew it; it clearly was an act of rebellion. The punishment was immediate:  “When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength.” (Gen. 4:12)   The earth now rebelled against man’s effort to cultivate it – a well deserved punishment for his having rebelled against his Creator.

The metaphysical foolishness of wanting to be God by one’s own power had now taken root in the dark cavern of man’s rebellious heart. At times, it might seem to be dormant, but the disease is chronic and bound to reappear in the course of time.

God, however, did not abandon his sinful creature and revealed Himself to Abraham – the father of the Chosen people. They were given the Old Testament which, in due time, was fulfilled in the New; the Good news of redemption was given to sinful humanity. It blossomed in Christianity and produced rich fruits of holiness. Men were given hope and the promise that if they joyfully received this divine message and obeyed its holy teaching, they would, one day, be reunited with their Creator. This is heaven indeed.

Thanks to this blessed teaching, man now had the help necessary to overcome the rebellious tendency dormant in him. Indeed, “ask and you will receive,” “Without me you can do nothing” is complemented by St. Paul’s words: “I can do all things in Him that strengthens me.”    

Thanks to the blood of the martyrs, Faith conquered the near East, and most of Europe. The period dubbed the “Dark Ages” (let us remember that one can be blinded by darkness, but also by light) was a blessed period during which man’s religious and spiritual life grew wings. The very word “truth” made souls beat faster – echoing St. Augustine’s words, “Truth, truth, how did the very marrow of my bones yearn for you when I heard them utter your name.” (Confessions, III,6) Europe was graced with innumerable works of art still admired today by people of all races. The “Dark Ages” gave us a Dante – this king of theological poetry – who has yet to be dethroned.
Moreover, and this is a truth unknown to most of us, it also saved a budding science. Father Stanley Jaki has eloquently shown in his book, Christ: the Savior of Science - (Gateway Editions, l988), that this branch of knowledge – still-born in both China and the Muslim world – was, in Medieval Europe, given the proper ground for its growth. For matter was also God’s gift to man. Faith, far from blinding him to its mysteries, was in fact helpful to unveil its treasures.

But as the discoveries of science are the work of reason (not of faith – for atheists could be great scientists) the Devil immediately perceived that he was given another opportunity of re awakening man’s metaphysical ambition: to become independent of his Creator.

The blessed teaching of the Church, reminding man constantly of his creature-hood and his obligation of gratitude and obedience to God, became seriously challenged. Whereas both theology and philosophy have periods of glory and then of decline, science goes from discovery to discovery, and is indeed “progressing” in the positive sense of this very ambiguous term. For most of us, the word “progress” has a magical attraction: it is naively assumed that it guarantees improvement upon improvement, victory upon victory. When fully developed, it will inevitably lead to another earthly paradise: poverty, sickness and death will be eliminated.

 In the course of the last sixty years, science seems to be realizing this dream of the  proud human heart: for it has “progressed” by leaps and bonds, and totally changed the face of the world in which we live. A child born today will start playing with computers when hardly out of his playpen, (recently in the elevator I saw a young child playing with a toy computer). On the other hand, elderly people struggle to learn the tricks of modern technology. The feats accomplished in this domain make children laugh at the limits of Jules Verne’s superb imagination. How tempting for the younger generation to feel “superior” to the “old one” who had neither air planes, nor computers, nor television, nor iPod's.  A diploma in computer science guarantees a brilliant job for kids out of school, who are pathetically ignorant of literature, history and especially of the Bible. Abysmal ignorance “married” to technological mastery, is not a bad definition of the intellectual level of those graduating today from schools and universities. The progress made in surgery defies description: a defective heart can now be “replaced” by a new one coming from an unknown “donor.” Landing on the moon in the sixties now seems a very minor accomplishment for those aiming at landing on Mars.  By clicking on the right key, anyone can see events taking place thousands of miles away. Children have “encyclopedic information” at their finger tips. For a child of five, these inventions are toys, while alas, reduce personal contacts to an absolute minimum. They assume that they hold the world in their hands. They have the snug pride of Wagner, in Goethe’s Faust marveling at “what amazing things we have achieved.” (Better translation: “Und wie wir’s dann zuletzt so herrlich weit gebracht”; verse 573)

Inevitably the young generation will be tempted to “deify” man: the “creator” of these prodigies of technique. One of the most ominous inventions was the making of the atomic bomb in the early forties. Now, a single such “perfected” bomb can annihilate a country, and possibly a whole continent. This is “power” indeed. What will remain is dust and ashes, and, some claim, cockroaches. 

St. Peter predicted that one day the whole world will be destroyed by fire. This is indeed technologically possible. Man is now “entitled” to exclaim, “We are therefore masters of life, because we can annihilate it.”

 In Dostoevsky’s prophetic and fearful book, The Possessed (or The Demons) one of the “heroes”, Kirillov, carefully plans his suicide, convinced that by this act, freely chosen, he will become God. Millions of people have committed suicide, but they did it “out of fear.” He, Kirillov, will take his life to prove that “he has overcome fear” and consequently will become God. He males it clear that his decision is motivated by “insubordination”; he is asserting his “independence.” 
As the same author powerfully puts it, the God-man will be replaced by the man-God.  Kirillov did not choose to exist: it was “imposed” upon him. But he has the power of ending his life and deciding by himself the precise moment of his death. This is a “privilege” that no one can take away from him.

To destroy, to annihilate, had to find some sort of philosophical formulation. “Nothingness” had now acquired some sort of metaphysical dignity. Not surprisingly, it found its expression in a book entitled: “Being and Nothingness.” The very title guaranteed its being a best seller, quite independently of whether people understood its message. Man’s future is glorious. He can now dream of a time when he will be able to say, “be” and then bring someone or something into existence.

As mentioned above, the evil one – who never sleeps – perceived that the phenomenal development just alluded to, was giving him another chance of recapturing the world into his evil nets, by rekindling man’s ambition to become God without God. He convinced man that his scientific discoveries, conquered by unaided reason (some great scientists are atheists), were be exclusively credited to man’s genius. The Creator had no part in these scientific marvels. His help was not needed for empirical discoveries and still less for amazing technological progress. All machines are man-made; whereas Catholic culture was inspired by the beauty of God’s nature (St. Augustine wrote that the universe spoke of God through its beauty, Confessions, X.6), machines have no exemplary cause in God. They are master pieces of clever ugliness. They were and are truly man’s own inventions. Indeed, if one goes to a factory, (deafened by noise) and witnesses these impersonal monsters producing whatever will “facilitate” man’s life at a maximum speed, it is obvious that they are not reflecting God’s creation. Atheism does not grow on farms; factories provide an ideal ground for it. They are truly man’s inventions, and in no way “traces” of the Creator of the Universe. St. Bonaventure tells us that a blade of grass suffices to prove God’s existence. But machines cannot make such a claim. They were not  “given”; they were the fruits of hard research. Modern man proudly claims that scientific discoveries (as opposed to revelation) depend exclusively upon human intelligence and human efforts. Its discoveries fed man’s never-sleeping pride. Forgetting that man’s talents were also God’s gifts, modern man is tempted to attribute its “genius” exclusively to himself. He is on his way to become God.

Moreover, the world left us by the Dark Ages: is riddled with problems that the “age of faith” has not only failed to solve, but has, in fact, “created.” Believers are fed on myths, on vague promises, on a long list of prohibitions, threatening those who defend their “freedom of choice” by eternal punishments. No progress is possible in such a world. Faith (intellectual food for numbskulls) should be systematically eliminated; the most efficient way of doing it is by “ridiculing” it and showing its radical incompatibility with modern science. Man’s reason, when liberated from paralyzing taboos, will solve all problems. It needs no help. We are now promised a “new world order”; a world in which justice will prevail; a world where, sickness, deformities, and ultimately death will be “conquered.” A defective baby can be identified soon after its conception and be “charitably” eliminated by abortion. Love of humanity commands us to prevent unwanted children from being born: how cruel to force into earthly existence beings bound to be unhappy and unloved!  Millions of elderly people (who only vegetate and cannot contribute to progress) can now be the beneficiaries of “scientific compassion” by assisted suicide. Such beings are obstacles to the realization of a man’s new world in which everyone will find “self fulfillment.” Not only are these mummies kept artificially alive, meaningless economic burdens – money can be put to better uses – but to keep them in existence is nothing but refined cruelty, a form of sadism, that should be prohibited by law, and severely punished when disobeyed. To choose when to end one’s life is a birth right of every individual. Reason commands us to eliminate the weak, the useless, the sickly, the stupid. Man is now finally “The Lord of the World.” This scientific king pledges that he will wage war on these self created evils – a sad remnant of the Dark Ages.

Let us summarize these thoughts: for centuries, man erroneously attributed to God all sorts of admirable perfections which, in fact, were his by birthrights. This has been strikingly formulated by Feuerbach in his book: The Essence of Christianity.” Man is the glorious and great one; all “divine” perfections are his dowry. Finally, he became conscious of the fact that he no longer needed to go on his knees and implore the help and good will of an imaginary divinity. He has all the tools in his hand to create an earthly paradise. The time is ripe for a “brave new world” – a step closer to the earthly paradise that we have lost. Ethics is to be re defined; we have mentioned sadism; masochism is to fight against tendencies deeply implanted in a person’s biological nature. Let people freely choose what satisfies them. The Brave New World should condemn as criminals those who insist upon calling “sinful” the satisfaction of one’s desires. New laws should condemn those who publicly expostulate against and dare denounce masturbation, homosexuality and same-sex marriage.  Truly “humane” laws will finally free humanity from the unbearable burden imposed on them by barbarous and meaningless traditions.   Mount Sinai, a mountain in Arabia, was supposed to be the place where God’s commandments were given to Moses. The Jewish people perceived the thundering and lightning and were terrified.
We see that “fear” was the method used to intimidate men. No such method is now needed; scientific reasoning does not need psychological tricks to be accepted: its information is truly “the good news.” We therefore need to formulate new commandments.

Thou shall not allow crippled, defective, deformed beings to be born. Thou shall not challenge woman's right to choose to give birth or not. Thou shall not condemn other people’s life style because they differ from our own. Thou shall not keep alive old, crippled and people affected by an incurable disease, or by dementia. Thou shall not object to experimentation on fetuses claiming these tissues to be human beings. The good of “humanity’ should be our guide in such decisions. Thou shall not object to any organ transplant, even though this transplant necessitates the death of the donor. Thou shall not object to the inborn right of human beings to choose their own sex: to “impose” it on anyone is to infringe upon man’s freedom; his right is to decide what he happens to prefer.

Recently in England, parents refused to fill out a questionnaire asking them the sex of their child. The answer was unequivocal: “We let the choice up to ‘it.’” This is an “admirable” example of people who truly respect man’s freedom.

Is it not inconceivable that in the near future, it will be possible to make “cosmetic” surgery in the womb, to guarantee that people will have the face of their parents’ choice. It is indeed “unfair” that one’s physical appearance be imposed on one, and not freely chosen. Cosmetic surgery has, according to Dr. Phil, conquered the hearts of many high school students. This is only the beginning of a fairy world in which everyone will choose not only the size of her breast, but her (or) his own face. Is it not a crying act of injustice that very few people are pleased by their physical appearance?  Science will accomplish these miracles: it is all a question of time.

But the atheistic scientist seems to forget that time is a very mysterious reality; only the present is ours, but every single second dies as soon as it is born. (St. Augustine, Book X) Nobody can know how much “time” is still granted him. The Gospel reminds us of this.  Will “time” be given man to realize his rebellious dreams? For we know neither the day nor the hour. St. Peter tells us that the Lord will come like a thief and that this earth of ours will be totally destroyed by fire. (2 Peter 3:10) Woe to those who are not ready for His second coming.

Alice von Hildebrand is a lecturer and an author, whose works include: The Privilege of Being a Woman (2002) and The Soul of a Lion: The Life of Dietrich von Hildebrand (2000), a biography of her late husband. She was made a Dame Grand Cross of the Equestrian Order of St. Gregory by Pope Francis in 2013.
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September 2, 2014

Tuesday of the Twenty-Second Week in Ordinary Time

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