Redeemer of Man — Signs of the Crisis of our time

To understand the crisis of our time according to Pope John Paul II we must begin with the signs of our times — those events and trends indicating a crisis. The signs are encountered in daily life and in the trends of history. These are a source for fear and anxiety for most people in the world today. Here are some of the signs. The first is the expansion of technology throughout the world and into every aspect of life. John Paul is not the first to observe that the expansion of technology is ambivalent. (§15) It opens up possibilities for good and evil, it depends upon proper use of the technology. But we are now more aware of the potential dangers and threats to human well being from technology. At present we await the flow of an oil spill onto the Gulf coasts and the destruction of fishing, boating, wildlife preserves etc. Scientists have invented new medical technologies and new organic forms. For what purpose will these be used? There is the obvious threat of scientific weapons which have already been used to slaughter and maim thousands and millions of people. That is the first sign of the crisis of our time. A second sign of a crisis is the rise of political violence and oppression on a vast scale. (§17) We saw totalitarianism on the right and the left, Nazism and Stalinism both used modern techniques of propaganda, social control, and violence to enslave entire peoples and classes. Those forms of political regime endure or emerge as possibilities only to be outdone now by political and religious terrorism organized on a global scale. The crisis consists not only in the actual threat of the modern ideologies of power and violence, but the turning of many individuals to the fanatical embrace of such creeds and the apparent failure of the regimes of liberty to give a coherent and persuasive account of their way of life. A third sign of the crisis of our time is the widespread and sometimes novel forms of degradation of the human. Some of these forms are old – economic exploitation, forced prostitution etc; but the sheer volume and scope of the degradation is novel. The massive scale of the kidnapping and trafficking of thousands of women world wide, the starvation and genocide of peoples – matched by the apparent indifference and complicity of so many – it is a sign of a very deep and tragic crisis of our times. And then we can add the voluntary self-degradation of man – through drug and alcohol abuse, pornography and sexual addictions, consumerism and debt filled spending – all made possible by economic expansion, free time, and free choices. These are palpable signs of evil and they indicate a deep disorder in social organization and personal life. We are so inundated with the signs of disorder and evil we can read about them daily, listen to well groomed and handsome TV personalities describe them and decry them — and we continue to pour the milk on our cereal and adjust the air conditioner. What can we do? Pope John Paul II proposes that we must establish in our own life and in society and the world the priority of ethics over technology, the respect for persons more than things, and a recognition of the superiority of spirit over matter. (§16) These three priorities hearken to philosophical inquiries going back to Socrates and the Apology. But why then are unheeded? Why is reason so weak and ineffectual? Is there a deeper origin of the crisis? Previously we have taken a clue from Solzhenitsyn — men have forgotten God. Pope John Paul II also believes the signs point to the turning from God. Solzhenitsyn works through the political signs of the times to arrive at this core truth. Pope John Paul II develops an experiential and phenomenological account of personal existence that arrives at this truth. And like Solzhenitsyn he sees signs and glimmers of hope. A tremendous responsibility falls upon the Church and the believer, and a distinct but weighty responsibility falls upon the political community and the citizen. There is a message. There is a path. It begins with the Redeemer of Man. And the message is amplified and developed for the subsequent 26 years of John Paul’s leadership. The path is “the way of man.” It involves a proper understanding of conscience, education, rights. But at the heart of it all, it is the path of love. It is the path of Christ and the saints. It is the universal call to holiness and the sanctification of everyday life. .

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