Faith in a Secular Age

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Research Project

Faith in a Secular Age




Research Team I:  "The Interior Search for Meaning"

Coordinator: John Haughey

Team members: Gennaro Auletta, Jose Casanova, Ilia Delio, Howard Gray, Jack Haught, John Langan,  Ann Meyer


Project Description

A common project is developing on the emergence of the human species and the horizon into which it enters. I am recommending that we look at the future as gradually transcending humanity as we have known it. The sciences and technologies are construing and constructing such a future, like it or not. A kind of  trans-humanity, it seems, is the next frontier of evolution. Transitioning to it will have three possibilities with respect to faith in God as that has been housed in the past. One of these will be an enlargement of the horizon within which such faith is believed. The second of these: the majority of people will find themselves in a  post faith world making the horizon of faith in God more difficult to operate from. Three: the faith will become a diminishing ghetto of those who try to hold back the dawn in the name of fidelity.

A trans-human direction for our project I find appealing for several reasons. One of these is its continuity with the Taylor/George impetus. A concern that faith traditions presently seem to have less relevance to younger generations. Their meanings are acquired from their present cultures. Information technologies seem to accelerate this modus operandi. Presumably, in the future meanings will accumulate in this same way through similar means. Furthermore, scientific information gains more and more traction in the cultural setting of contemporary anthropology. Hopefully, our contributions from our several fields could add depth to this emerging anthropology.

The second reason this direction appeals to me is because it confirms the insight I  had in my book, Where is Knowing Going (and a second volume with essays by twelve authors) is that we humans are driven to make wholes or aggregate the dots that converge on our consciousness in disaggregated ways. There is a catholicizing dynamism in human consciousness. But that dynamism needs assistance from a tradition that represents a continuity with the past and can also give an account of the future.         

The Catholic intellectual tradition has often operated like a scouting expedition on frontiers ahead of the faith’s doctrinal tradition. The former must now try to anticipate where secularity and science seem inexorably to be headed. If there is objectivity in the work of scientists and  their research and usefulness in the constructs of technology, this is good wine in need of new wineskins. The interaction between the Catholic intellectual tradition and the magisterium can lace together the new wineskins, as they have done in the past. Or to use a different metaphor: the Church needs to provide a horizon for these trajectories that are becoming and will continue to become part of our lives. Sans the assist of scholarly anticipations, believing will become less believable and the Church will tend to hole up into a reactionary mode. The Gospel’s question will then resurface with a new legitimacy: when Jesus/God “comes in glory” will there be faith left on earth? The challenge is how to go from science’s and the secular culture’s growing (and rightful) autonomy to a theonomy that sublates them rather than seeks to fight or negate them. Needed: a faith that does justice to autonomy!  

Some questions about this trans-humanism thing: is it just a vaunt that wants to get us beyond our present limited human condition into a fictional future? Could such imaginings get us in a bigger mess than we are in now and somehow become less than human?  A more optimistic scenario: these developments will enable us to be more responsible about the exercise of the capacities with which we have been equipped by nature/god/genes/ neurons as well as by science/ technology/philosophy/theology.  These last four have come about because of  humanity’s past achievements. But at this point two contradictory images surface. One of these is  theosis; could it be that we have not even glimpsed the potentialities latent in our humanity and that scientific discoveries and technological developments are pushing us towards a kind of species transcendence. So   our species is finding itself with greater degree of power and oversight on the planet and in the universe than it has been able to exercise heretofore.

This is one image for trans-humanism and a direction to weigh. A radically opposite image to mull is the tree in the middle of the garden which we are forbidden to eat -- or the babel we are imprudent to imagine we can build. With either of these images, there is a need for a theological exploration that anticipates this “brave new world” and seeks to ferret out an anthropological normativity that comes from reasoning that has faith as its horizon.  

A blur is already developing between “man” and nature and this trans-human direction. It seems obvious it will only increase as technology and knowledge of genetics and neurons, of the brain and biosystems, etc. gain momentum. The blur can make techno-sapiential selfhood more dangerous and heighten the divide between the able and those who aren’t able to keep up. As natural selection falls increasingly into the hands of human selection questions about who God is and what natural law means and how responsibility is generated, all take on new urgency. Not for neophyliacs, of course; they will have a field day with this trans-human direction. Amnesiacs are another side of the same problem, i.e. they forgot or never knew the past achievements of the humans who got them here. For both, the past is baggage, a burden not a repository of wisdom. Emancipated selfhood makes the future its oyster.

Nature too needs to be revisited in this exploration; in particular, human nature; so does ecclesiology, pneumatology, soteriology, spirituality, asceticism, the omega point; but foundationally, anthropology both theological and philosophical is the key question.

In a word, what is the mission of the Church in the face of both incremental, anomic information and the seeming inexorability of the brave new trans-human world? 





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