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Highlights: Prayer as a Political Problem

Here are some highlights from a book I recently read. I found these parts interesting while reading, though they may not make the most sense in isolation. These are put here to aide my recall of the book and to give you the barest of encouragements to read it too.

"Prayer as a Political Problem" by Jean Danielou, originally published 1967.

If politics does not create the conditions in which man can completely fulfill himself, it becomes an impediment to that fulfillment. 18

Why is it that prayer is fundamental to politics? As I have already said, politics exists to secure the common good. An essential element of that common good is that man should be able to fulfill himself at all levels. The religious level cannot be excluded. Indeed, the possibility of self-realization at that level is a fundamental element in the common good. The State must make provision for it, for we cannot suppose that a true polity can exist where there is no room for the religious dimension [of man]. In the Stat there must be a place for both service and adoration. 28

The church cannot disclaim any interest in temporal society for that also is subject to the law of God of which the Church is the interpreter. 36

Christianity is not merely a theory about human life, even if it were the highest of such theories. It is a divine irruption which cuts through to the very seat of our wretchedness, prizing us loose from this civilization which can do no more than lighten our load, and brings us out on to a quite different level of existence. 37 remains true that there is such a thing as Christian civilization. There is historical evidence. For a large part of humanity Christianity has been and remains the religion which is a constitutive element of any complete civilization... There is a danger that the obvious defects of the civilizations which have been called Christian may blind us to this fact. They must not be allowed to do so. Christianity has done much to heighten respect for the human person, to better the condition of women, to emphasize the brotherhood which exists between men of all races. 39

The greatest danger for the Christian does not come from persecution but from worldliness. The drama of Christian civilization lies in the fact that engagement in temporal affairs is at one and the same time a duty and a temptation. There must be a tension between care for the last things, judgment, hell, and heaven, and solicitude for the advance of civilization; and there is a danger that this will be allowed to slacken and the right articulation of one with the other go undiscovered. 42

Christianity is not bound up with any particular civilization, whether in time or place. It is of the essence of Christianity, on the other hand, to come to the rescue of all that has been created, and hence of the work and effort of mankind. In this sense, civilization has need of Christianity, eve in its own order, being by man's sin shut off from the fullness of its own development, even on the natural plane. It is sick and needs to be healed, like all things that pertain to man in his wounded state. Indeed, one of the characteristics of the our own civilization is a consciousness of the dangers brought to humanity by human progress itself, in so far as that progress is not freed from the forces of darkness, from the will to dominate or the passion to seize and hold, from all that betrays it and turns it away from its purpose. On the other hand, Christianity too has need of civilization. Christianity must take up and consecrate all that has to do with man. Therefore it must not ignore that side of human reality which concerns work. It is not tied to the culture of any particular place, nor to that of any particular time. Rather it is bound to all. The modern world is no exception. This, too, God has given to Christianity for it to consecrate, and it would be shuffling out of its responsibilities if it refused to face the task. It is true that industrial civilization began outside Christianity; but it is true also that it cannot come to fruition except with the aid of Christianity. It is the material on which Christianity has to work. 46

The question, then, with which we are faced today is what place to give to technology within a more complete vision of the nature of man. To have true meaning, it must be subordinated to the highest ends of mankind. The progress that has been made brings us sharply up against this, and makes us aware of situations with which technology is incapable of dealing. 54

One problem is that tech appears to be the only institution capable of and interested in fixing society's problems. Tech is is not equally suited to solve every issue, but quite simply lacks competition. The 100-fold increase in productivity has not been complimented by a similar reduction or refinement in man's desires, rather rank consumerism has coarsened these.

The artist has to be a man of his time and must therefore be today in some sort a technologist. He must do more than hold a mirror to technology; he must give it meaning. The artists of today lack ambition. They allow technology to dazzle and enslave them. What science asks of them is something more than a bored commentary on its progress. Science opens out upon the sacred, in the confrontation between the atom and world suicide, between the physician and death, between eugenics and love; but if it is to discover the sacred, science must have a means of expression. This is where art is to find its role. It must play upon the world of technology, which is like a muffled drum, and enable it to find its voice. My contention that the role is one of mediation calls for some explanation. The problem is to find a way of expressing sacred things which will correspond to the development of science and technology. The difficulty lies in bringing together the two worlds of science and technology on the one side and the world of sacred things on the other. Our tragedy today is that the bridges between them have been cut. A means of presenting one to the other is lacking; there is no imagery which can serve this role. What I am saying is that while science cannot give a picture of itself, the world of the sacred lays emphasis on imagery. Art can place itself at this frontier. While the artist as such is neither physicist nor metaphysicist, without him physics cannot lead to metaphysics. This is the problem that is posed by technological civilization. 62

Before the age of technology civilization was essentially religious. ... Man has moved from contemplation to production. He lives surrounded by the products of his inventiveness and skill, and sees in them the image of his own greatness. The heavens may bear witness to God's glory, but machines bear witness to the glory of man. There is a movement in the art of today which reflects this concentration of interest upon the making of things. Art is wedded to technical change; it elucidates its lines and prefigures its results. It ceases to be a way to knowledge and becomes a principle of production. In this way it serves to affirm man's power over his wold, and the artist becomes a share in the excitement of the technical revolution. 63

For those who are impressed with the importance of technology it becomes necessary to accept a separation between the sacred and the natural. Henceforth, nature must be thought of as completely secularized and demythologized. It is no longer a sign of the divine, but belongs entirely to man's domain. 64

This is pride; there remain many mysteries in soil, but it is more expedient to treat it as dirt.

Religious activity is a constitutive part of man. That this is so is proved by history, by psychology, and by philosophy. For the etnologist, tools and worship are signs that men are present. The psychologist also finds in the depths of the human personality something which cannot be reduced to any other sphere of experience. This is even more true for the philosopher, for whom authentic humanism is found where man displays the three sides of his nature: mastery over the universe by technology, communion with others through love, and conversion to God in adoration. 76

A world without God is an inhuman world. 76

When a man knows God truly, he has taken an immense step forward; for that knowledge is the fulfillment of his nature, the foundation of his ethics, the heart of his city. The claim of the Church has always been that it brings to men not only the light which Christ has given on the supernatural destiny and last end of man, but light also on man's natural life and the conditions in which he can find earthly happiness. 95

Therefore it is necessary for him to realize that the call to struggle comes from God himself in the midst of this earthly city which is subject to his law, and which he wants to see conformed to it. ... The Christian cannot let himself be deceived by a false laicism which sees the realities of political and economic life as belong to a completely profane world existing apart from God. 113