Column by John Jalsevac

March 6, 2009 ( – Abandonment to Divine Providence has, as a way of life, gone out of fashion.

Of course, it was never particularly popular to begin with; but at least it was once considered “quaint,” or perhaps “idealistic,” while it is now popularly believed to be a sign of madness and cowardice – the refuge of weak and unimaginative minds who would rather throw up their hands and “trust” in something invisible, than apply their intelligence solving problems and diligently planning for the future.

This past Sunday, Catholics heard the Gospel reading about Christ’s temptations in the desert. Pope Benedict XVI, in his book “Jesus of Nazareth,” addresses this episode. He shows how the three temptations fit into a pattern throughout Christ’s life, where He was time and again enticed to alter his fundamentally spiritual mission to fit the expectations of the world; that is, he was tempted to definitely prove himself to be a bona-fide savior by providing some purely material good (i.e. bread, or security, or power).

This, the pope suggests, is much the same temptation that we each, and the whole human race, struggles with. Ultimately it is the temptation to make God second fiddle, and to make the fulfillment of our temporal needs the real goals, the important goals. It is also the temptation to believe that we can achieve these goals under our own steam, and according to our own rules, eschewing any role for Providence at all. In our modern day, this temptation has given rise to all of the anti-family and anti-life forces which purport to seek to create a better world, but in all the wrong ways.

* * *

“The tempter is not so crude,” writes the Pope, “as to suggest to us directly that we should worship the devil. He merely suggests that we opt for the reasonable decision, that we choose to give priority to a planned and thoroughly organized world, where God may have his place as a private concern but must not interfere in our essential purposes.” You may recognize this as precisely the sort of rot that you hear from the whole “social justice” crowd that is trying to hijack the Church these days: i.e. that Jesus was just a “wise teacher” who came to show us how to get along, end world hunger and institute “sustainable development.”

But this isn’t a view of Jesus that Pope Benedict has much sympathy for. In the first place, he says, Jesus didn’t come just to show everybody how to be groovy. He came for one reason only – to bring God. But, in the second place, the pope says, this view of things won’t work anyway: “When this ordering of goods [i.e. God first, everything else second] is no longer respected, but turned on its head, the result is not justice or concern for human suffering, the result is rather ruin and destruction even of material goods themselves. … It is not just the negative outcome of the Marxist experiment that proves this.”

Indeed it is not. 

In a recent column addressing this same passage in the pope’s book, historian and journalist Paul Johnson points out that one prominent consequence of making God second fiddle is the triumph of moral relativism. “As I see it,” says Johnson, “the Satan who confronted Jesus during this encounter is the personification of moral relativism, and the materialism which creates it.”

Advocates of relativism and materialism, says Johnson, argue in the following way: “If you will accept this view of our fate [materialism], then there is just a chance that by applying the laws of science to the exclusion of any other considerations, and by dismissing the notion of God, or the spirit, or goodness, or any other absolute notion of truth and right and wrong, we shall be able marginally to improve the human condition during the minute portion of time our race occupies our doomed planet.”

Of course, as I’ve said, it doesn’t really work out this way, and, as the pope said, it isn’t just the Marxist experiment that proves this.

Johnson gives the example of numerous murderous regimes over the last century, who, in their initially noble efforts to institute the perfectly scientific just society, resorted instead to massacring innocents. Johnson is a bold and a moral man, and unapologetically includes in his list the Allied bombing of German civilian targets during WWII, and the American bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I think he is right to do so.

* * *

Given my line of work, however, I tend to think of somewhat more subtle and less popular examples. I consider, for instance, the failures of the early twentieth century attempts to institute eugenics. Eugenicists set out to apply the most advanced principles of science to improve the “stock” of the human race by careful social planning. Instead they ended up violating every basic principle of human rights and spread misery and prejudice wherever they went – forcibly sterilizing hundreds of thousands of the “unfit,” branding as less-than-human anybody who failed to meet their subjective standards, etc. The eugenics philosophy reached its culmination in Nazi Germany, which stands as a fitting testimony of what happens when man subordinates God’s law to his own clever ideas.

I also think (in an even less popular vein) of the invention of the Pill, which was welcomed by feminists as the veritable symbol of scientific emancipation. The Pill was supposed to usher in a new era of exhilarating freedom for women, an era of “family planning” in which they might be able to perfectly control their fertility and be freed to achieve their fullest potential, to “self-actualize.”

However, a while back Pope Paul VI warned that, rather than an age of freedom and peace and “self-actualization,” the Pill would instead cause: “a general lowering of moral standards throughout society; a rise in infidelity; a lessening of respect for women by men; and the coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments.”

And that sounds about right.

Then, of course there’s the “new eugenics,” which has as its goal the same thing as the “old eugenics,” but with different and subtler methods of going about it. Instead of sterilizing adults, the new eugenicists murder the unborn who they deem “unfit.” The whole rotten premise of this philosophy, of course, is that we ought to love and welcome others conditionally, based upon certain criteria. I wonder, does it really take a prophet to tell us to what misery and abasement of the human race this philosophy will inevitably lead? It seems that it can only, and will only lead to another scientific Auschwitz. But the eugenists think they’re simply building a better world through “planning” and “science,” and scorn the religious zealots who object to their progress.

The point, then, is this: if we seek to build a heaven on earth through our own efforts alone, we will inevitably justify the usurpation of powers that are not ours to have. In doing so, rather than ushering in an era of justice and peace, we will spread misery and evil. In the words of Pope Benedict, “Anyone who claims to be able to establish the perfect world is the willing dupe of Satan and plays the world right into his hands.” History proves that this is so.

The solution, then, is to restore the proper order to our actions. God first, our plans second. Putting things in this order short-circuits the perennial temptation to seek perfect security in this life, which in turn leads to the temptation to do what we ought not to do in order to obtain that perfect security. Instead, we must put our trust in the higher purposes of Him who sees and directs all things, and trust that if we do everything in our power, but within the limits of His law, He will provide for any apparent deficiencies in our plans. This is the essence of living according to Divine Providence, which I mentioned at the beginning of this piece.
Or, in the words of Jesus, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.”


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