1973 - when I started asking questions, like, "Why are we all dressed so funny?"

Sunday, October 28, 2012


Two Venues, One Hubris 

Of late I have found myself working and studying in two different worlds: the college scene, studying nonprofit management, and the world of "church work" at my local parish.  The differences are not as great as one might expect, and, indeed, there is a common thread running through both secular and religious zealots.  It is this: the notion that "we" have the answer for "them."

Exhibit A: The Nonprofit World

One needn't be a disciple of Ayn Rand (does she rate disciples?) to observe that there is something morally ambiguous about helping others. Not with respect to the concrete action one might take, such as feeding a hungry person, but when one moves beyond the physical need to the social or spiritual. If I set out to help you, it means that I know (or think that I know) what you need. 

I see the homeless man with the sign that says, "Will work for food" and I immediately think of both what he really wants and what I know he really needs. He really wants booze and/or drugs, but I know he needs Jesus or housing or a hair cut and a job.

Entire organizations begin from the premise that they have the solution or solutions to the problems of others. Most of this is admirable and beautfiul. But the dark side is when an organization thinks of the human condition is "solvable" (cf. gulag, concentration camp, re-education camp, etc.) and sets out to eliminate the shortcomings inherent in the human condition by ... eliminating humans.  Obviously, this is an extreme case, but the spirit of perfecting humanity is alive and well. To see it play out in a microcosm, see Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Birthmark."

Exhibit B: "Orthodox" Catholics

Among we so-called orthodox Catholics (a term I dislike but it will do), I see the temptation to look at "the world" (as if Christians are disconnected from biological life!) as the place that needs "to be saved." Ah, the world is fallen, but Christ has saved me, ergo, I will plunge into the fray and save those who are in pernicious error: heretics, political liberals, peace and justice Catholics, pro-choicers, fundamentalists -- you name 'em, we've got a solution to what ails 'em.

Hmm. Sounds similar to Exhibit A, doesn't it? Yeah, amazing.

The Existential Alternative

 So how can I -- someone who would call himself a teacher! -- reject the notion that I have the solution to others' problems and simultaneously insist that I possess at least something that is useful to others?  As I see it, the only justifiable position is taking my own education, and hence my own humanity, seriously.  "Physician, heal thyself" (see Luke 4:23).  It is a matter of extracting the 2x4s from my own noggin first and/or caring for my own development concurrently with educating, helping, healing, assisting others. 

How can I expect others to take education seriously if I don't take my own education seriously?

The alternative is unrealism and unbridled arrogance. Now, if I can just remember these wise words of mine...

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