On a very cold night in late February, 2009, Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput delivered what may have been an even more chilling message to a near capacity audience at St. Basil’s Church on the campus of St. Michael’s College. “We can’t build a just society with the blood of unborn children.”
Canadians in the audience, who are familiar with former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s commitment to bringing about a “Just Society,” no doubt cringed a little in sensing that injustice cannot be a root of justice. Contradictions counter the most basic form of thinking. The subtext of the Archbishop’s talk, consequently, dealt with the current pandemic of non-thinking. Freedom is achieved through thinking, not, as many people believe, from thinking. “Real freedom”, Chaput told the gathering, “demands an ability to think, and a great deal of modern life . . . seems deliberately designed to discourage that.”
Despite the Internet and the information superhighway, people are not thinking. Consumerism is a narcotic, and TV lulls people into a dream world of inactivity. Real thinking about certain issues may be unattractive because it may lead people to unpleasant conclusions, and even burdensome obligations. Many find comfort in a warm blanket of thoughtlessness. If ignorance is bliss, not thinking is Nirvana.
Thinking, it must be reiterated, is not an exercise in one-dimensional simplicity. The knee-jerk and trendy affirmation of “choice,” “tolerance,” “diversity,” and “broadmindedness” does not exemplify thinking. Thinking is not a monadic, but a dyadic activity. It is not monocular, but binocular. It begins when two different things are brought into relationship with each other. In order to make music, a violin needs its bow; in order to be married, a woman needs her beau.
Sir Isaac Newton’s realization that Force is the product of Mass and Acceleration (F = ma), and Albert Einstein’s insight that Energy is the product of Mass and the square of the speed of Light (E = mc2) are fine examples of thinking on an extraordinarily high level. It is of no use to anyone to reiterate that Force is simply Force or that Energy is merely Energy. Thinking sees that more than one factor is at work. Thinking is, one might say, “stereophonic” (but not “stereotypic”).
Only an unthinking person, therefore, can be “pro-choice”, for thinking recognizes the critical factor that goes with choice, namely, the thing that is chosen. Who is pro-choice about domestic violence, fraud, arson, and grand larceny? Likewise, when it comes to tolerance, we want to know what it is that we are tolerating. Is it hatred, libel, drunk driving, and the torture of animals?
How can anyone be a champion of diversity if, in fact, the elements within the diverse spectrum war against each other to produce an unworkable anarchy? And broadmindedness can be so latitudinous that it not only erases boundaries, but also any coherent meaning in the process. A director of a Catholic family life program once told his audience that “a family is a cluster of at least one”. Such broadmindedness obliterates all the significance the word “family” has. If something means anything, then it means nothing.
Choice needs to be related to the good. Tolerance needs to be joined to responsibility. Diversity must find a common denominator. Broadmindedness must be defined within boundaries. As in Cartesian coordinates, the location of anything is found in the intersection of the x and y axes. Thinking locates the convergence of two vectors.
In emphasizing the pandemic of thoughtlessness, especially on moral issues, Archbishop Chaput had this to say: “Party loyalty for the sake of habit, or family tradition, or ethnic or class interest is a form of tribalism. It’s a lethal kind of moral laziness. Issues matter. Character matters. Acting on principle matters. But party loyalty for the sake of party loyalty is a dead end.” Politics must subordinate itself to thinking.
There is a vital difference between being a loyal party member and adhering blindly to the party line, and being a Catholic and opening up one’s mind to the truth of things. We should have the audacity to hope, but we must know where to place that hope. Thinking is the relentless pursuit of the illuminating correlative. There should be a stimulus package that goads people into thinking.
Chaput gave his audience much to think about, including the notion that Catholics are solemnly called to exercise their God-given capacities to think as way of achieving freedom and justice not only for themselves, but for others as well.
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