Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Why

Today I attended a John Adam's Center lecture given by professor Peter Lawler entitled "The Christian Idea of the Person and the Nature of the Family", which was followed by a group discussion during lunch.  It was an edifying part of the conference that reconfirmed the notion that Mormons and Catholics have much in common, particularly as it pertains to questions of God and the family.  Of course, the same could be said of the common ground that is shared between other Christians, Muslims, Jews, people of faith, and all people, but today's discussion focused primarily on Catholic teaching, from Aquinas and Augustine to G.K. Chesterton and the Pope.

Professor Lawler framed his lecture with the idea that modernity represents a type of Christian heresy that was brought about in part by the thought of John Locke.  For Plato and Aristotle, God was neither personal nor relational.  In contrast, Christianity emanates from a God that is both personal and relational.  According to Lawler, Locke's heresy was to sever the relational God from the personal God, thus presenting a diety who created mankind only to ignore him.  Lawler explained that God and man are rational, willful, and loving beings, but that modernity has found ways to emphasize the rational and willful at the expense of the loving.

Professor Lawler imparted a few gems during his lecture that are worth recording:

"The modern world is a rebellion against Christianity."

"What does a woman need?  A good marriage.  What does a man need?  Any marriage at all."

"Chastity is a virtue for both men and women equally, but it's news for men."

"Women civilize men through love."

The discussion following the lecture was especially stimulating.  Some remarks were made about how the ancient Greeks answered the "what" questions (For example, What is justice?), whereas Christianity answered the "who" questions (Who is God?).  While the "what" and the "who" are important questions, with significant answers, the entire discussion seemed to point toward the "why".  We could ask, "What is man?" or "What is love?" and provide splendid answers from the annals of history, philosophy and literature, but the "why" seemed suspended above us, waiting to be seized.

This key teleological component is, in my mind, one of the greatest contributions of Mormonism that was restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith.  Like Moses in the Pearl of Great Price, he approached God with wonder and meekness, enough to ask not just "what" or "how" but "why"... or for what purpose did God create all things?  Why did God create the earth?  Why did God create man, woman, and all things?

The Pearl of Great Price contains a record of one of Moses' visions of the Lord.  Moses beheld every particle of the earth and discerned every soul by the Spirit of God and with spiritual eyes, after which he was moved to inquire: "Tell me, I pray thee, why these things are so, and by what thou madest them?" (Moses 1:30)  Then, pressing further, Moses inquired again: "Be merciful unto thy servant, O God, and tell me concerning this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, and also the heavens, and then thy servant will be content." (Moses 1:36)  Moses had discovered the what and the who... but he wanted to know the "why".

The Lord's loving response contains more than the wisdom of the ages: "For behold, this is my work and my glory- to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." (Moses 1:39)