The Personalist Project

Should we raise our children in a bubble of wishful thinking, or should we opt for reckless endangerment? Should we be producing children too naive to fend for themselves, easy prey for abusers, and congratulate ourselves on our purity? Or should we aim to be so naive ourselves that we toss them into mainstream hookup-land, hoping for the best, and congratulate ourselves that at least we're not acting like overprotective fundamentalists?

Put that baldly, it's clear that these are the wrong questions to be asking.

It's not just parents who are in this predicament, either. One way or another, everybody needs to confront the same kind of dilemma: Is "the world" good or bad? Is human freedom a gift or a danger? Some of us know the answer, theoretically speaking, but I propose that even if so, we'd do well to check in on ourselves, over and over, to see whether we're keeping it in mind and acting like we know it--or veering from timidity to recklessness and back again.

I've found a book that addresses the question: Changing the World: The timeliness of Opus Dei, by Fr. Martin Rhonheimer. It's crystal clear and brilliantly nuanced--but honestly, I think I'm going to contact him and suggest that he change the subtitle, because this book addresses a far broader array of questions than that suggests. Do read the whole thing, or at least the first half.

Here's what Rhonheimer affirms: Neither creation--"the world"--nor human freedom are to be feared, shied away from, or even warily and reluctantly brought into our calculus of how to please God in this world and be happy with Him forever in the next. But also: corruption is real.

The world---all of creation--is "plainly and simply good"--having issued from the hands of God Himself. It's only evil, and only constitutes an obstacle, to the extent that human sin has damaged it, So we don't need to quake with suspicion of it. But more than that: it's precisely our calling to get in there and do something about the corruption and evil. And THAT'S precisely because its original goodness has not been blotted out entirely--because there's something worth saving, something worth restoring.

We're meant, in fact, to roll up our sleeves and, with the "glorious freedom of the children of God" take the initiative, loving the world without fear of getting our hands dirty. We recognize that there's evil that needs to be remedied, AND that the good outweighs the evil. 

A lot of confusion on this point has persisted over the centuries--as if embracing the goodness of creation and human freedom were "worldly." In some quarters the assumption has been that the good things of this world ought to be held at arm's length and considered only instrumentally--as if their goodness isn't real, or shouldn't be dwelt on. Beauty and pleasure and fun can be warily affirmed, maybe, if and only if we can produce hard evidence that they're leading us towards holiness. Even then, they can never really be embraced, just tolerated. And best to stick to overtly religious music, art and hobbies, for fear of "worldly" contamination. 

Believe me, as a mother of eight, I understand the temptation! I'm not advocating a careless embrace of conventional pop wisdom, or losing your eternal soul for the sake of a passing illusion. 

But as we protect ourselves and those in our charge from the genuine corruption of a fallen world, we need to do it without falsifying that world, falling prey to a sad reductionism that cuts us off from reality in an attempt to cut us off from sin. As if evil were real and goodness only theoretical.

Maybe this all seems obvious.I feel like I'm repeating myself, month after month. But if I find I have to call myself back, over and over, to appreciate the goodness of freedom and the freedom to embrace goodness, maybe it's not just me. 

Wholeheartedly acknowledging the good and fleeing the evil, and teaching our children to do the same, is tricky. It would be a lot simpler to just plain embrace OR just plain flee. 

But that would be a cop-out. 

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