As I ended my last program I was discussing how former utopian reformers, who tried to create a
better world, failed because they drifted too far from reality and human nature. Even Karl
Marx, who wanted to create a “classless society” that would be a workers’ paradise in which
everyone would “work according to their ability and receive according to their needs”
misinterpreted what the workers really wanted or were able to do. Lenin, who first took Marx’s
theory and established it in Russia in 1917, died despairing of any hope that the people would
ever carry out the theory of Communism as he and Marx had envisioned it. Theories always work
better on paper than they do in reality because they don’t have to deal with the problem of
human freedom and individual differences.
Yet, civilization, which involves the unification of vast numbers of people into a common
effort, has survived and flourished but not without difficulty because it is a constant battle
between entropic forces, which are dragging it down, and negentropic forces that are holding it
up or pushing it forward. To illustrate this, I used to tell my students that civilization
could be compared to a group of people pushing a very large and heavy boulder up a steep hill.
It survived so long as they applied enough pressure to keep it where it was; it advanced if
they applied greater pressure to move it upwards; but, the moment they relaxed and took it for
granted, the boulder would roll downward, crushing them.
My point was that each generation had to continue the struggle to maintain a civilization or
they would lose it and the first sign of its collapse was the philosophy of hedonism through
which the people adopted the attitude that “whatever gave them pleasure was good; and whatever
gave them pain was bad.” Once this attitude becomes prevalent, the Second Law of Thermodynamic,
the Law of Entropy, kicks in and the civilization begins its downward spiral towards chaos. It
has happened before and it will happen again so long as people fail to realize that all
civilizations must be preserved by a constant struggle to maintain the level it has achieved
and an even greater struggle to push it to an even higher level.
In a sense, all civilizations contain the seed of their own destruction because through their
success they create an environment of comfort and ease which succeeding generations, forgetful
of the struggles and sacrifices of those who went before them, take everything for granted. And
that is why we institute and celebrate holidays like Memorial Day in order to keep alive the
sense that we stand on the shoulders of the many who have given their lives to preserve what we
have inherited. Unfortunately, however, we often fail to see the many ways in which we dishonor
their memory whenever we add to the hedonistic pursuits that weaken our moral fiber and
undermine their spirit of self-sacrifice and discipline. As one philosopher noted, “You can
give a civilization to a group of people but only those who know how to maintain it, will be
able to preserve it.” It’s like everything else,- your house, your car, your lawn, your
marriage, your relationships etc…- the secret is “maintenance”. Thus, those whose aim is to
remove the concept of hardship and struggle from everyone’s life don’t understand what life is
really about. Jesus did and that is why he said, “If you want life and want it fully… Pick up
your cross and follow me.” And to illustrate his point, he struggled up the hill of Calvary,
and, according to tradition, after having fallen for the third time, he accepted the help of
Simon the Cyrene. Then he was nailed to a cross, died, and, after three days, rose to a higher
level of existence. And, in this living parable, he was showing us that the way to salvation
was to sacrifice ourselves out of love for others.
The philosopher Hegel noted that life was not made for happiness, if by that we mean a state of
constant pleasure and ease. Rather, he said, it was made for struggle and development with
moments of happiness being merely plateaus where we rested in order to get ready for the next
challenge that life has prepared for us. St. Paul in First Corintians 1:18-25 writes:
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it
is the power of God. For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the
cleverness of the clever I will thwart." Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is
the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the
wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of
what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we
preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are
called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the
foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
What is the “wisdom of the world” of which St. Paul speaks? And what is the “foolishness of
Is it the same wisdom for which Jesus rebuked Peter in Matthew 16:23 where he says,
“ Get thee behind me, Satan; thou art an offence to me, for thy mind is not on the things that
are of God, but on the things that are of men.” All Peter did was to suggest that Jesus didn’t
have to go up to Jerusalem to be crucified. But it was the easy road of our flesh which,
operating on sensations, considers pleasure and ease to be good and pain and struggle to be
bad. It was the road that secular social planners take when they set out to remove all problems
and struggles from our lives with debilitating social welfare programs. It was the wisdom
expressed by the World Controller in Brave New World when he said, “Nothing has been spared to
make your lives as emotionally easy as possible.” But what wrong with this? Aren’t we suppose
to make the world a better place by eliminating problems. Does the “foolishness of God” mean
that we are simply to stand idly by and be beaten down by our problems, ignoring poverty,
disease, crime, and the needs of others. No!
It’s not the solving of the problem that is wrong, because God expects us to overcome problems.
In fact, it may be that the problems of life are His greatest gift to us because they are
inducements to enter growth processes. As one country song puts it, “God gave us mountains to
teach us how to climb!” It becomes wrong when the method used are government entitlement
programs that undermines the growth of love that results when we become personally concerned
with the needs of others. Mother Theresa looked upon the needs of those she helped as gifts
from God because they presented her with an opportunity to develop and exercise her capacity to
love. To the world, this sounds foolish because, believing that Man lives by bread alone and
the satisfaction of our physical needs is enough to make us happy, they consider the
elimination of the need to be enough. God, and the Church, on the other hand consider the
method to be more important because our need to give and receive love is greater and more
important to our eternal salvation than the aid that is given. Our idea of imperfection, in
which persons and things are lacking, is God’s idea of perfection and that is why “the
foolishness of God” is wiser than the wisdom of men, and the weakness of God is stronger than
the strength of men.” God’s Wisdom says “If you want to save your life seek to lose it”; if you
want to get, learn to give; if you want to be first, seek to be last; if you want to lead, seek
to serve. All of which are foolish by human standards.
Had we made the world, everything would have been perfect and complete… and utterly boring. In
such a world, everything and everybody would be equal because to lack something that somebody
else has is a sign of deficiency and imperfection. There would be no doctors, lawyers,
plumber, carpenters, ministers, judges, teachers etc… because, in a perfect completed world,
there would be no need for their services. In fact, there would be nothing to do because it was
So to those who think that the goal of life is comfort and ease, both Jesus and the Church
continue to remind us that it is struggle and effort. Thus, the City of God, which we are
called to build, is not the place of automatic comfort and ease that many imagine. In fact,
comfort and ease may not be what we really want. Yet, in our misguided worldly wisdom, we
continue to imagine that work and effort are our enemy and comfort and ease are our final
destination. You old-timers might remember the song, “Lucky Old Sun”, by Frankie Lane whose
lyrics express our misconception about heavenly bliss. They said:
Up in the morning … out on the job
Work like the devil for my pay
But that lucky old sun has nothing to do
But roll around heaven all day….
Dear Lord above, can’t you see my pining
Tears are in my eyes…
Send down that cloud with the silver lining
Take me to paradise…
Fuss with my woman
Toil for my kids
Sweat till I’m wrinkled and gray
But that lucky old sun has nothing to do
But roll around heaven all day….
So that’s what it’s all about and the heaven that we all yearn for. To be “That luck old sun
has nothing to do but roll around heaven all day.” And, of course, there is that similare
vision of heaven that has us sitting on a cloud play a harp… Or, if you are a Muslim male,
having at your disposal forty virgins for your carnal delight. And all of this for eternity.
Did you hear that… for eternity. Do we really think that “having nothing to do… or playing a
harp… or being involved in carnal pleasure with forty virgin… for eternity is a heavenly state
and the fulfillment of all our dreams. Why we couldn’t even stand a lifetime, let alone an
eternity of these. So if these aren’t heavenly bliss, what is?
Someone recently asked me “What is the first thing that you would say to God when you meet
him?” My first response was “Oh God, be merciful to me a sinner” and, then upon further thought
“Here I am, Lord. I’ve come to do Your Will. What do you need done?” The person laughed because
He imagined heaven to be a place of eternal rest where all work ceased. Yet, the scriptures say
that God has legions of angels who are constantly at His service. God, according to the
scriptures, is a great delegator who sends angels, like Gabriel to Mary, to do His bidding. He
has a universe to maintain and, even if He could do it all by Himself, He seems to prefer to
involve others. Why? Because the “fullness of life” is to be involved in the service of others
and He wants to share with us the joy and sense of fulfillment that comes from this.
Swedenborg, an 18th century Protestant philosopher, who claimed to have experienced life-after
-death said that when people arrive in heaven they all arrive with some concept of what it
should be. God, he said, allows each person to experience his misconception. Some think it is
sing songs of heavenly praise; others to listen to the thoughts of great philosophers; still
others to meditate and pray. And, after experiencing their misconceptions for a while, they are
overwhelmed with boredom and despair when they realize that this is forever. Then God reveals
the true meaning of heaven which is to be actively involved in sharing our gifts for the
benefit of others. In other words, it is the sacrifice of our time, treasure, and talents in
the service of others, which is a description of “sacrificial love”. And “sacrificial love” is
just another name for God, whom, Jesus, the visible image of the invisible God, portrayed while
hanging on the cross. So when we meet God, our first question after admitting our sinfulness
it to ask how we can serve Him in the service of others.
Thus, we should beware of utopian thinkers who want to eliminate all of our problems, or
crosses, by taking the responsibility from us. Whoever assumes the problem or cross, grows and
develops and rise to a higher level of competency, while those who avoid them stagnate and
wither and remain dependent on others. The path to the “fullness of life” is not always easy
but it is always fulfilling because it calls forth creative responses that reveal potentials
that lay hidden within us.
The problem is that the people who want to save us are motivated by misguided love and concern
for us. Or so it seems. And that is why it is so hard to resist their overtures. It is also why
those who oppose them seem so uncaring and heartless. It is very difficult to watch those we
love go through the growing pains of development but unless they do, they will not grow. That
is why “our motives should be loving but our methods must also be wise.” We have to be wise
enough to know when and how to help according to the Principle of Subsidiarity.
We are presently experiencing the consequences of well-meaning governments attempt to save
everybody through generous government social programs. The results are bankrupt socialistic
government in Europe that drew masses of dependent people with their generous benefits who have
come to expect a “handout” and, in our country, a federal government with massive deficits and
states like California who are facing the same problem. Yet, President Obama was elected on the
promise that his goal was to equalize everybody by redistributing the wealth.
sWhat wrong with this? Isn’t this country based on the belief that “all Men are created equal.”
Yes. But it meant the equality of opportunity, not equality of results. In other words,
everybody has the opportunity and freedom to pursue their own interest and vision through hard
work and ingenuity. Immigrants, who come here from places where this is not possible, are the
first to appreciate and take advantage of it. They often rise within a few years to levels
higher than native born Americans who have live here their entire lives.
Yet, the temptation to have a paternalistic government assume the responsibility for our lives
is so great that tyoung people in each generation seems to toy with a socialistic solution. I
know this from experience because during the ‘60’s that is what I thought until I eventually
saw how ineffective and inefficient the federal government is and that there is no such thing
as a free lunch. Eventually, somebody has to pay. Yet, the young continue to be tempted and old
don’t seem to care because they know that the bill has been passed down to future generations.
Consider a recent email that I received from a friend.
An economics professor at a local college made a statement that he had never failed a single
student before, but had once failed an entire class.That class had insisted that Obama's
socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no one would be rich, a great equalizer. The
professor then said, "OK, we will have an experiment in this class on Obama's plan". All grades
would be averaged and everyone would receive the same grade, so no one would fail and no one
would receive an A. After the first test, the grades were averaged and everyone got a B. The
students who studied hard were upset and the students who studied little were happy. As the
second test rolled around, the students who studied little had studied even less and the ones
who studied hard decided they wanted a free ride too so they studied little. The second test
average was a D! No one was happy. When the 3rd test rolled around, the average was an F. The
scores never increased as bickering, blame and name-calling all resulted in hard feelings and
no one would study for the benefit of anyone else. All failed, to their great surprise, and
the professor told them that socialism would also ultimately fail, because when the reward is
great, the effort to succeed is great, but when government takes all the reward away, no one
will try or want to succeed.
Another example where the “foolishness of God” is wiser than the wisdom of Man. God, who
created the natural laws which include the Laws of Natural Selection and Survival of the
Fittest” knew that the price of freedom would have to be “winners” and “losers.” But in the
long term this competition would create the greatest good for the greatest number. But he also
knew that competition would also impels individuals to form cooperative groups to increase
their chances for survival. And thus two great principals evolved from His Plan: competition
and cooperation and, in the end, the need to compete would lead towards the greatest degree of
The philosopher Hegel once observed that any good idea, taken too far, becomes a bad idea
because Truth in a unity of opposites. In other words, it is a balance in the tension between
two opposing ideas and anyone who fails to keep the balance falls into error. In previous
programs I have mentioned that one of the reasons that the Church has survived over two
thousand years of history is because it always seems to find the midpoint. Is Jesus God or man?
He is both. Are we saved by faith or works? By both. Do we know God through faith or reason?
Both. Do we know the nature of the Church through scriptures or traditions? Should we follow
capitalism or communism? Both
In Physics they say that “work” is the movement of energy between unequal forces and it ceases
when the forces are equal. I have already mentioned that electricity is the result of the flow
of electron through a wire from one pole with an excess of electrons towards a positive pole
that has a deficiency of them. Once the numbers of electrons in both poles are equal, the flow
of electricity stops. Or to bring it to the human level, teaching is the transmission of the
greater knowledge of the teacher on a topic to the mind of the student with lesser knowledge.
Once the student knowledge is equal to the teacher, the process ends. And if students already
knew everything that teachers had to teach, that would be the end of teaching. It is the need
of the other that motives the efforts of the provider and if there is no need, there is no
reason to provide.