Some years ago in Poland, an elderly professor of mine who had been a student of John Paul II told us that, earlier that day, he had been giving a lecture to some high school students, a society of Young Humanists, as they called themselves.
He says he spoke to them about Dostoevsky and said: “In all of Dostoevsky’s books you can find characters who are very poor from the worldly view, especially in The Idiot with Prince Myshkin who is so poor and naive. But can such persons be heroes from the moral point of view?”
He continued to us, “Of course, high schoolers are beginning to look toward their careers and for success. And I wanted to say to them, ‘Look, if you close your understanding of happiness in a human life to this sort of success, you miss these important characters who were definitely not professionally successful. Look out for your goals, okay. But please do not lose these special characters. Sometimes these aspirations cannot be easily held together. Remember, though, that even if you lose this success for which you strive, you do not need to lose your humanity, your heart, your life,’
After nearly 200 days of blogging about death every day, where is this leading?
I find myself becoming fascinated and absorbed by the topic of the resurrection of the dead.
As a friend remarked to me the other day, this is one of the most fundamental beliefs underlying our civilization and yet, it is a teaching about which most people are, if they are being honest about it, rather incredulous or indifferent.
My very preliminary hypothesis is that belief in resurrection is subliminally decisive to how we live and that it has wide-ranging implications in ethics, technology, and culture.
To play with these ideas, we can ask: What difference does it make whether or not we believe in a resurrection of the dead? What are the practical consequences in our lives of its possibility or impossibility?
Another question: If people believed in the resurrection of the body, what would it change in our public bioethics?
I do not yet have many answers to propose. However, my first intuition is that the precariousness of our embodiedness needs redemption.
Whether this redemption is possible and whether we stake (or mistake) our hope about it in the correct place is, I think, a more interesting and practical question than many realize.
Here is a short piece I wrote a few ago on the value of and the possibility for intergenerational friendships.
During the Year of the Family, Pope Francis devoted one of his Wednesday addresses to the elderly and another one to grandparents. He thinks that part of the culture of death is a poverty of intergenerational friendships: “How I would like a Church that challenges the throw-away culture with the overflowing joy of a new embrace between young and old!” What are the obstacles to such an embrace? In his Ethics, Aristotle observed that young people tend to seek pleasure in friendships and that the old tend to seek friends for utility, but that good, enduring friendships involve being friends for the other’s own sake. Given the distinct tendencies to which the old and young are prone, can they actually be friends?
Aristotle observed “the old need friends to care for them and support the actions that fail because of weakness” and friendships aimed at useful results tend “to arise especially among older people, since at that age they pursue the advantageous.” Because of their frailty, older people may depend on others to ensure their physical wellbeing and because of their age, they may be especially concerned about conserving their acquisitions. He says, “Among sour people and older people, friendship is found less often, since they are worse-tempered and find less enjoyment in meeting people, so that they lack the features that seem most typical and most productive of friendship. That is why young people become friends quickly, but older people do not, since they do not become friends with people in whom they find no enjoyment—nor do sour people.”
This is coherent with 89-year-old Douglas Walker’s account of life at a retirement home: “Unlike soldiers, prisoners or students, we at the lodge are here voluntarily and with no objective other than to live. We don’t have a lot in common other than age (and means). However we are encrusted with 70 or 80 years of beliefs, traditions, habits, customs, opinions and prejudices. We are not about to shed any of them, so the concept of community is rather shadowy.”
The very interesting philosopher, Max Scheler, died on this date in 1928. He was a prominent influence in ethics, phenomenology, and personalism. He had an eclectic trajectory involving his German Jewish background, his youthful interest in Nietzsche and Marx, his gradual embrace of Catholicism, and his eventual distancing from the Church.
Scheler was quite interesting and imaginative and the impression he made on twentieth century thought is detectable, particularly in many Jewish and Catholic thinkers who address such topics as shame, resentment, and values.
Today I was returning to his book Person and Self-Value and, in particular, to the third section on “Exemplars of Persons and Leaders” in which he reflects on the question of what is actually meant by following an exemplar: