Monday, May 30, 2011

TMM: Don't Just Ask Me Why

In my last post for the Nicene Guys, I noted that my generation might easily be called "Generation Why?" because we by-and-large have been a generation which has time and again asked this question. I also noted that this can be, but is not necessarily, a good thing. My friend Mr Nathan Kennedy summarized this nicely in a comment:
While it is true that, as Fr. Rutler notes, our generation is not a stupid one and that our generation has been at the mercy of the previous one, there still exists one of the most pernicious effects that these failed experiments had on us. Such poor catechesis and revamping of the traditions did a grave violence to the religious intellects of our generation, so much so that it has often led us to abandon intellectual curiosity and the desire to learn. In my experience, what's more important to our generation is what is "cool", what is likely to allow a person to define his own identity in relation to his social environment. Intellectual endeavors are a scandal to such a priority, and sadly, this same kind of thinking has become very pervasive in the Church. 

Too true. My own thought more-or-less mirror this:
We ask, "Why is our morality the way it is, be it traditional or the confused malaise we've inherited?" which might prompt us to either look for answers and discover that the traditional Judeo-Christian morality isn't arbitrary at all (and thus to try and embrace it), or it may cause us to shrug off all morality and become hedonists, nihilists, or cynics. "Why haven't I been properly catechized, and why don't I know my own religion's beliefs?" might prompt Catechism (or Bible) studies, or it may prompt a shrug of the shoulders and a gradual slide into "relationship without religion," pantheistic "spiritualism," agnostic indifference, or (worse) neo-paganism and occcult paranaturalism.
What I mostly mean by this is that just asking why is not in itself a good thing. Once, asking why might have been the mark of mere curiosity--in and of itself not necessarily good--but now it generally does not even rise to that level. To ask "why" is good if it is done because of a true desire to learn something, to gain understanding (or better yet, wisdom). Sometimes this is the reason behind "why?": especially true when asked by a person who is genuinely trying to learn more about his religion--or another religion or worldview for that matter. Unfortunately, this is most frequently true of that minority of the population who is considering converting from one religion to another, eg. from Protestant to Catholic, from atheist to Christian, from Islam to atheism, etc; to a lesser extent, it's true of people who "convert" from apathy to sincerity, that is to taking his religion or worldview seriously.

Far more frequently, "why?" is asked without the least concern for the answer, or even without that bit of curiosity which may grow into actual interest in the answers. Curiosity may be indifferent, seeking a sort of intellectual entertainment, or it may grow into a desire for knowledge, and then understanding. When "why?" is asked without even the desire to satisfy curiosity, but rather as a defensive measure against learning, then we have the closing of a person's mind. Such is the beginning of cynicism, and the ending (indeed, abolition) not only of faith but of philosophy. To this "why?" no answer is owed--whether by the catechist or the apologist. The only just response from either towards the cynics is to shake the dust from his feet in protest (Matthew 10:14), though charity requires something more (mercy), which is prayer.

And though "Generation Why?" tends more towards the cynical than the philosophical, it is not too late for this to change. We are, after all, still quite young, and the graceful desire for wisdom and understanding may yet build on the nature which prompts a curious or even an indifferent "why?"
*Update: Our Holy Father has a bit more to say on the subject of indifference and its relationship to Faith (and the need for evangelization). Tip of the derby cap to Mr Kevin Knight.