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What Civilizes Us?
CERC ^ | April 8, 2010 | Father James V. Schall, S.J.

Posted on 04/19/2010 3:38:06 PM PDT by the invisib1e hand

Civilization points not to itself but to what is beyond itself.

The word "civilization" means, roughly, the capacity to live in the city while freely and intelligently participating in its order. The city is the "this-worldly" locus wherein all the potentialities of mortal man, both those for good and for evil, can and usually do come forth. Civilizing distinguishes, in this living order, what is good from what is evil. Civilizing defines and accounts for what is noble through laws, customs, artifacts, and our self-articulation.

Yet something strange is always found in civilizations. At their best, all have some relation to an order that is more than civic. This social order, by being what it is, likewise points to what transcends man. Indeed, for man to be himself, he needs to transcend himself. If nothing is found beyond him, he ends up less than human.

In a recent address in Melbourne (Spectator, UK, April 3), George Cardinal Pell addressed the "Key to Our Civilisation." Pell began his lecture by citing 2002 studies from the Chinese Academy of the Social Sciences. In analyzing the superiority of their own culture, the Chinese have long been puzzled by the speed and causes of Western power. Why did this development of civilization happen there first?

By a process of elimination, the Chinese scholars recognized that this superiority was not due to guns, or political systems, or economies. The key was religion, specifically, Christianity. These conclusions, Pell recalls, are roughly parallel to the studies of Christopher Dawson on the nature and cohesion of culture. (Dawson, The Formation of Christendom, Ignatius, 2008). Yet the Chinese realized that not all religions are the same, not all produce the same results.

The economist Zhao Xiao, as Pell cites him, observed that "market economies promote efficiency, discourage laziness, force competition. They work and produce wealth. But . . . a market cannot discourage people from lying or causing harm and indeed may encourage people to harm others and pursue wealth by any means." The Chinese concluded that we must combine an objective moral code with the spirit of enterprise, both of which require a proper and unified understanding of man and his destiny.

But in the context of China, this conclusion has a drawback. The Chinese "these days do not believe in anything," no God, no judgment, no after-life. Pell reminds us that such skepticism and unbelief are quite prevalent in the West, though here, even among the atheists, a residue of Christian moral categories remains.

This "residue" is also what continues to link Europe to its own historic and intellectual past. Was Christianity a mere sidelight or was it Europe's heart? Were the Chinese scholars more perceptive than the European politicians? Is Europe dying for the same reason the Chinese populace has no belief in anything?

Pell recalls the 1983 remark of Solzhenitsyn that "Men have forgotten God." This forgetfulness is not neutral. It has practical consequences on whether life is worth living. If the individual has no meaning other than what he gives himself – the current doctrine – what is he? Who cares? A world filled with poor, numerous, meaningless people cannot really find motivation to reestablish the moral dignity that makes a civilization humane and honorable.

Indeed, for man to be himself, he needs to transcend himself. If nothing is found beyond him, he ends up less than human.

At least some in China realize that the heart of civilization cannot be empty. They may not believe in Christianity, though it tempts some of them. But their studies tell them that it makes a difference what one thinks about the worth of human beings and the moral code, not just for those who possess such norms but for everyone else. The heart of Christianity is not just that we live for others, but that we first need to be related to a higher order.

In a passage mindful of Benedict's profound Spe Salvi, Pell cites Czeslaw Milosz: "The true opium of the people is a belief in nothingness after death – the huge solace of thinking that for our betrayals, greed, cowardice, murders, we are not going to be judged." Of course, at the end of the Republic, Plato said that, for these same things, we are going to be judged. This belief in judgment upholds the central belief that the world is not made in injustice. But if nothing matters, as the Chinese see, unbelief leads to nothing but the rule of the powerful, something that Plato, not to mention Machiavelli, also saw.

Pell's conclusion, not unusual for him, is "countercultural." We cannot understand ourselves "without Christianity." Nor can we survive without what even the Chinese have discovered is the basis of our strength. Yet this "strength" depends on our recognition of what is higher than ourselves, of what it is that we are finally revealed to be. Civilization points not to itself but to what is beyond itself. When it does not, as the Chinese worry, we lose even ourselves.


TOPICS: Business/Economy; History
KEYWORDS: civilization; moralabsolutes

1 posted on 04/19/2010 3:38:06 PM PDT by the invisib1e hand
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To: the invisib1e hand

Women. Otherwise I would live in a cave.


2 posted on 04/19/2010 3:39:36 PM PDT by Jewbacca (The residents of Iroquois territory may not determine whether Jews may live in Jerusalem.)
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Comment #3 Removed by Moderator

To: the invisib1e hand

not this place


4 posted on 04/19/2010 3:41:42 PM PDT by al baby (Hi Mom sarc ;))
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To: Jewbacca; chalybs
Since we're going in this direction...

...but the title isn't a question, it's a statement. I urge the reading of entire article.

5 posted on 04/19/2010 3:43:54 PM PDT by the invisib1e hand (fasten your persecution straps, sports fans.)
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To: the invisib1e hand
What civilizes us ? Please let us know . Till then I will continue holding out in my concealed stockade way beyond the river bend .


6 posted on 04/19/2010 3:44:40 PM PDT by kbennkc (For those who have fought for it , freedom has a flavor the protected will never know F Trp 8th Cav)
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To: chalybs; Jewbacca
o wait I put a question mark in the title.

Oh well. Read it anyway...

7 posted on 04/19/2010 3:45:21 PM PDT by the invisib1e hand (fasten your persecution straps, sports fans.)
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To: Jewbacca
Many social historians would agree with you. The biggest threat within a society is unmarried young males. This group is naturally aggressive, such as we see in the various gangs within America. Directing that aggressive energy in providing for a family helps build societies. Women are the civilizing agents in a society. The affects of a society in which men are no longer needed to protect and support a family, which is what we have today, will only lead to violence and other destructive behavior.
8 posted on 04/19/2010 3:47:05 PM PDT by Nosterrex
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To: the invisib1e hand

Self dignity. . .


9 posted on 04/19/2010 3:47:20 PM PDT by ▀udda▀udd (7 days - 7 ways Guero >>> with a floating, shifting, ever changing persona.....)
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To: Nosterrex

It’s much simpler than that.

Man lived in a cave with woman.

Woman’s sister had a bigger cave with man.

Woman demanded bigger cave than sister.

Man couldn’t find cave, so built house.

Women talked so man walked outside and needed something to do, so he invented the barbeque.

Women followed him outside, so man needed something to make it less painful, so he invented beer from left over crap that had stacked up and rotted.

The beer made the talking less painful. And the BBQ better.

So he began to grow the crap that turned into beer.

Other men came around and traded shiny things the woman demanded for beer.

This necessitated cultivation. And farming was born.

A few thousand years later, men now sit on benches in the mall, dreaming of their caves.


10 posted on 04/19/2010 3:57:58 PM PDT by Jewbacca (The residents of Iroquois territory may not determine whether Jews may live in Jerusalem.)
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To: the invisib1e hand

I believe that what originally civilized humans was the recognition by men that they are invested in their children and need to care for and provide for the mother of those children as well. This is the basis for the family and, IMHO, that’s the basis for civilization


11 posted on 04/19/2010 4:50:14 PM PDT by muir_redwoods (Obama: Chauncey Gardiner without the homburg)
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To: the invisib1e hand
Having lived through the Detroit riots in 1967 and having seen the thin veneer of civilization stripped away; I can speak with complete authority when I say that on our block the warning shots form my brother's M1 Garand, and my father's Remington 870 stopped the looters cold.

The fear of harm “civilized” our block.

12 posted on 04/19/2010 4:50:15 PM PDT by Mikey_1962 (Obama: The Affirmative Action President)
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To: Mikey_1962
The fear of harm “civilized” our block.

like the fear of God, one might reckon.

13 posted on 04/19/2010 5:05:27 PM PDT by the invisib1e hand (John Paulson is the new Michael Milken?)
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To: the invisib1e hand

Oh I am sure that they were thinking about the Almighty when they were running for the hills.


14 posted on 04/19/2010 5:15:39 PM PDT by Mikey_1962 (Obama: The Affirmative Action President)
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To: Jewbacca

Beat me to it dude. Yes, women. Women are the civilizing influence. “Man must have his mate..’’’


15 posted on 04/19/2010 6:23:58 PM PDT by John-Irish ("Shame of him who thinks of it''.)
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To: the invisib1e hand

Placemark.


16 posted on 04/19/2010 10:42:08 PM PDT by little jeremiah
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