Most Catholics can remember when Karol Wojtyla (John Paul II) began criticizing the foundations of our capitalist ethic in admonishing the wests embrace of materialism. He challenged us to become more by having less. As a poet he understood the words of Wordsworth ‘getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.’
His studies against Kant, Hegel, Heidegger and hosts of other German, Slavic idealist systems permitted him the freedom to begin where Arthur Schopenhaur did: by recognizing the reality of the body. As a Pole, informed from the synoptic traditions of a humanism untouched from either a Reformation or Enlightenment, he pursued lines of thought that would not ‘put asunder what God joined’. He fervently knew that one cannot begin any rigorous thought in a posture ignorant of the antecedents of reality. For John Paul, Catholics do not provide the ground from which to produce a culture. This is the perversion of modernity. For Karol Wjotyla, ‘what is’, is given as an antecedent to our thinking; it is reality, whose highest felt quality remains the conjugal act. Their remain moral and ethical consequences for not pursuing such intellectual gifts, for when we try to construct systems independent of the gift of revelation we experience exhaustion and defeat. In itself these may be openings by which the Holy Spirit may begin the arduous task of refashioning a deformed soul. Their cannot be for Christians a tragic world view.
However, secularist thought pursues ever greater means for man to ignore his spiritual heritage. With the promise of his independence as the sole guarantee grounding his liberty man gives up his call to discover the truth of humanness. Strivings divorced from acknowledged truths of our nature ultimately lead man to give up his independence (this is why as Pope, he fervently sought to expose the lie of the proportionalists, consequentialists and the proponents of fundamental option: the three insidious moral heresies that dominated late 20th century thought; they all denied the possibility of grave matter, the reality of objective evil.) When man willingly arrogates to himself the ability to freely choose giving up his call to shape his freedom, his integrity; man becomes enslaved to numerous fashions and currents unalloyed from the foundation of a heritage that saves freedom. In so doing, man no longer possesses a conscience to judge. Such false freedom as license erases the capacity to discern. All that remains is the false claim to freedom.
Secular life promises transformation. It delivers. It eradicates the informing membranes that permit the human person a divine quality of discernment. To acknowledge the good in an act of prudence is a divine quality. It is the arduous task of adulthood that permits one the loving grace to accept such a quality.
The human person is nuptially (reciprocally) ordered, their is no way out of the moral dilemma of being human. We either acknowledge grace and the limited order of autonomy that allows freedom to flourish or we transform ourselves into an object, an appendage to either an untethered capitalist ethic or Fascism; for man cannot live absent law without coercion.
This is the challenge of our time.