Draining Death of Meaning

Author: Carrie Gress


Draining Death of Meaning

Suffering in an Age Without God

By Carrie Gress

ROME, 25 FEB. 2008 (ZENIT)

The type of secularization facing the world today is making it increasingly difficult to believe in anything beyond the human mind while emptying suffering of meaning, said theologian Joseph Capizzi.

A professor of moral theology at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., Capizzi said this today at the two-day international congress of the Pontifical Academy for Life titled "Close By the Incurable Sick Person and the Dying: Scientific and Ethical Aspects."

Capizzi spoke of the challenges that Christian believers face when encountering a secular vision of suffering and death formed by the primacy of the human mind in the cosmos.

In his lecture, Capizzi drew from the recent work of philosopher Charles Taylor in his new book "The Secular Age," by outlining two very different worlds and the way that the people of them view the ultimate questions of life, death and suffering.


The first, the "disenchanted world," Capizzi described as the contemporary western world, which he characterized as "a world where the locus of thoughts and feelings are in what philosophers call 'minds,' and the only minds in the cosmos are those of humans."

All thoughts and feelings, he continued, "are located within human minds. This means all our thoughts, perceptions, and beliefs about the world emerge from within us, and indeed whatever is outside of us is merely the consequence of particular thoughts and beliefs we have."

The other world, the "enchanted world," Capizzi said, can be found in the past, such as Christendom. He defined it as a place where "meanings are not located in the human mind; instead, there was abundant life independent of any human thinking."

"Thus," he continued, "ordinary folk lived in a world of good and bad spirits. Of course there was God, residing above all and intervening as necessary, but in addition there were saints to whom one prayed for relief and protection. … Mortality was made explicable by the notion of an age beyond ours; of living eternally with God and the saints. This made of death simply a stage of life."

Mind over divine

"Over time," the American theologian explained, "the enchanted worldview was inverted by disenchantment, and accompanying this was the move from external sources of meaning to the ascendancy of the self, the sole source of all meaning. The human mind triumphs at the expense of the divine."

So today, Capizzi continued, "belief is almost unthinkable; the practices of belief — such as belief in the real presence of Christ in the Host, fasting, denial, the acceptance of suffering — seem not merely unreasonable but mad."

As a result, Capizzi emphasized, "much of the complaint of today from believers is precisely the felt alienation from all that enchantment. In fact, one cannot at times help but hear a tinge of resentment in believers who complain that our age is hostile to religious belief and practice. We live at a time when we're told increasingly that belief itself is a problem."

"When the foundations of belief have been so challenged that it is apt to speak of the death of God, how can moral doctrines that depend upon God themselves have and give life? At this point," Capizzi concluded, "one understands Viktor Frankl's comment that 'Man is not destroyed by suffering but by suffering without meaning': A secularized age fears death and marshals many of its resources against it because death has become meaningless."

After the lecture, Capizzi told ZENIT that he hopes "people took away from this lecture that a key issue is that the current secular conditions make it very difficult to believe in God. Such an outlook also changes the nature of what people consider to be rational. Rationality now excludes belief, making a recovery of the enchanted world more and more difficult."

"Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II both has emphasized the link between faith and reason," he added. "This, though, is nothing new, as scholars in the past, such as [St. Thomas] Aquinas and [Cardinal John Henry] Newman, understood well that rationality requires belief."

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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