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Katie van Schaijik

A thought about personalism

Jul. 2, 2009, at 10:45am

This morning I came across this 1964 quote of Albert Einstein, whom Time Magazine named “Man of the [20th] Century.” It comes from an article about nuclear war prevention:

The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything except our ways of thinking. Thus we are drifting toward a catastrophe beyond comparison. We shall require a substantially new way of thinking about mankind to survive.

It strikes me that the same thing could be said about other lately-unleashed catastrophic powers. I am thinking specifically of the unleashing of sex that has been happening across the course of the last 100 years. The other night I watched part of an excellent PBS program on the history of Jazz that made clear how much the power and appeal of Jazz had to do with its sexual connection. Allan Bloom (I think it was) later said the same thing about rock and roll: “Young people know that rock has the beat of sexual intercourse.” (Speaking for myself, I didn’t know it when I was young. Now I think it’s true. And whether we knew it or not, it had the effect of setting loose a primitive power of sex in society. Rap music strikes me as a evoking a consciously loveless sexual force.) There was the legalization of birth control, radical feminism, the sexual revolution…

This unleashing plainly calls for “a new way of thinking about mankind.” It strikes me that we have that new way of thinking in personalism. It strikes me further that, in the mysterious economy of redemption, personalism was taking shape at almost the very same historical moment as the scientific, economic and cultural developments and disasters that led us to our present moral condition. We were never bereft of a solution. The turn toward liberalism in morals and religion that coincided with the beginnings of industrialization and scientism, was personalistically addressed by John Henry Newman in the 19th century. Max Scheler’s value philosophy and his analysis of shame came early in the 20th. Dietrich von Hildebrand’s books on Marriage and Purity rehabilitating the role of love in marriage and in human life and deploring artificial contraception on grounds of love were written in the 1920’s—before Margaret Sanger became a household name. Gaudium et Spes, Humanae Vitae, Love and Responsibility all came out in the 1960’s, just before the sexual revolution exploded on the scene.

It seems to me that in John Paul II’s personalist anthropology and his Theology of the Body, we have the new thinking that is more than capable of meeting and overcoming the power of evil in our present generation. The old ways of thinking won’t cut it.


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