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Expressing the Good in An Age of Ideology PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 11 December 2009 07:00
Fr. Michael Sweeney, co-founder of the Institute, former partner in crime, and now President of the Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology, spoke at the recent Notre Dame Center for Ethics & Culture Conference. Fr. Michael spoke on the topic of "Expressing the Good" in the context of a deeply post-modern western culture.

It is vintage Fr. Michael: Thomistic in his progression of thought, insightful, surprising, and witty. Here's an excerpt:

A very great gulf separates those of us who hold to the social teaching of the Church and most of our contemporaries. The premise of the social teaching is faith. By “faith” I do not mean supernatural faith, the theological virtue; I mean, rather a natural faith, a disposition that insists upon staying with phenomena as they present themselves to us. In its simplest expression to be faithful simply means to remain, to stay, to look and not look away. Such a faithfulness clearly implies relationship: one stays with someone or something apart from oneself. It also implies a seeing: one who remains with another, who attends watchfully, will come eventually to see the other ¬– might we say have knowledge of the other – in a manner that would otherwise be impossible.

This is a disposition that is not wholly unknown to our generation, only extremely rare. For ours is not an age of faith but rather of ideology. We do not so much stay with other people and things – or even with our own experiences that seem so much to fascinate us – as we manipulate them to an end, generally to a political end. The most egregious examples are always the easiest ones to spot, and I would like to offer just one very fine example of what I would term ideological thinking.


Perhaps we should not be surprised when we discover that Bruno Latour and others have pursued their skepticism even into the realm of experimental science. Latour holds that the objects themselves of scientific study are socially constructed within the laboratory and that no existence can be attributed to phenomena apart from the minds that interpret them. Latour follows this “social constructionist” approach to interesting conclusions. In responding to the research that suggests that Ramses II died of tuberculosis Latour responds, "How could he pass away due to a bacillus discovered by Koch in 1882? ... Before Koch, the bacillus has no real existence." He asserts that to hold that Ramses died of tuberculosis would be as anachronistic as claiming that he died of machine gun fire.


While an extreme example, Latour’s viewpoint is much closer to the majority view in our present age than is that of the bishops. Any faith – even a natural tendency to stay with things and with others – has been rendered suspect to our generation, for the reason that faithfulness of that sort tends to holding firm positions about things; my view inclines to be fixed because it has been fixed upon another. Such a view will be inflexible with respect to projects that would seek to restructure knowledge or experience.

In the place of science we have “worldviews” that are judged according to their political viability for society to the degree that even being human has become a project to be engaged rather than a good to be attended. We have even developed the pernicious habit of speaking of the Catholic faith as an “ism” –apparently unaware that Pope Pius XII condemned “Catholicism”; the Catholic faith is not a worldview, an ideology, a “belief system”, a marshaling of all human experience into a program, however benign. It is, rather a faith, a close and very careful attending to the One who, as Augustine says, is wholly other, yet closer to us than we are to ourselves. Unfortunately many of us Catholics have developed not only a habit of speaking of our faith as though it were an ideology, but of living it and understanding it ideologically; we can be concerned, not so much upon living an encounter with Christ and others –a relationship– as with getting everything right.


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