Thursday, May 17, 2012

explanation or excuse

Paul turns to the people in the first reading, after preaching to them, and say, "I am free of responsibility."

In recent years a number of popular books have come out reporting more and more evidence about how much of our reactions and responses are hardwired into the human brain. For the last decades of the 20th century partly to overcome the prejudices that had so long be a part of our culture we tended to focus on research that suggested the basic equality of people, "You can be anything you set you mind to." We wanted to focus on models that suggested that we all have equal potential and it was all about how a child was raised.

More recently the pendulum has swung the other direction and books like Thinking Fast and Slow and Subliminal suggest that we are driven by forces within our brain of which we are often not consciously aware. A recent article in the New York Times dubbed them the "You Can't Help Yourself" books.

The Catholic faith charts what I believe to be the health middle ground. We start with the notion that we are all created in the image and likeness of God. "God looked at it and saw that it was very good." When then add a touch of original sin. You only have to be around any child and you see clearly the human tendency to turn in on the self (something we should outgrow).

We recognize and except the influences of biology, culture, and upbringing on each person. We understand how we are impacted for good and bad by the events of our life. At the end of the day however, we believe in two things that set us apart from the rest of the other creatures: free will and grace. Except for a small number of the profoundly mentally ill, we believe each of us has the freedom to chose, and by the choices we make we define who we are. If I steal I am a thief.

We also believe in the power of grace. Grace not only is there to bring forgiveness, but can actually transform us. Grace builds on nature. We are never too old to change. We are never too old to make the choice to turn toward. God.

St. Paul proclaimed the gospel to the people, but he was wise enough to know that in the end the choice was theirs.