Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Murder Of The Father

As the aftermath of my previous post on Cardinal Wojtyła's Lenten papal retreat back in 1976, as I went through the records of other papal retreat masters of the last decade or so, I came across a figure of Mons. Bruno Forte, now the Archbishop of Chieti-Vasto in Italy, who was one of the last retreat masters in John Paul II era. His 2004 retreat based on the theme of 'To follow You, the Light of Life", turned into a book under the same title, drew a closer attention to his person and his teachings...

One thing, particularly dear to my heart, the theme of a crisis of a father figure in a modern society (read my post on this here), has found a powerful echo in Archbishop Forte's lecture given in 2006 at the Leuven Catholic University. The full text of the lecture can be found here (the link opens as a MS Word document) and I strongly suggest to take your time and go through it slowly. It is an excellent paper, very challenging, open and frank. Not only constituting a great read but more so - a challenge to our consciences and attitudes.

'The murder of the father' thesis has become my recent discovery and I will surely follow Archbishop Bruno Forte in his intellectual and spiritual footsteps. Below is just a short excerpt from the lecture, which gives you a taste of what this man of God is made of and what he is all about.

Modernity's dream - and the "murder of the Father"

The metaphor of light provides us with the most eloquently expressive way of talking about the principle which inspired modernity – the ambitious claim of adult reason to understand and master everything. This project - which lays at the foundations of the Enlightenment in all its manifestations - maintains that to understand the world rationally means to make human beings free at last, masters and captains of their own future, emancipating them from every possible dependence.

"Emancipation": this was the dream which pervaded the great processes of historical transformation in the modern age, born with the "age of Enlightenment" and the French Revolution: from the emancipation of the exploited classes, the oppressed races and the peoples of the so-called "third world" to the liberation of women, in all the variety of the different cultural and social contexts.

This dream of total emancipation strained forward towards a reality entirely enlightened by the idea as such, where the radiating power of reason may express itself without constraint. Where reason triumphs, there rises the sun of the future; in this sense, it may be said that modernity is the age of light. This presumption lies behind claims that absolute reason can vanquish every shadow and resolve every difference...

The highest expression of this spirit of modernity is "ideology": modernity, the age that dreamt of emancipation, was also the time of those all-embracing ways of understanding the world which are ideologies. Ideologies tend to impose the light of reason on the whole of reality, to the point of equating ideal and real. In pursuit of this ambition, the ideological "great narratives" (“mega-récits”) tended to construct a "society without fathers", where there are no vertical relationships - held unfailingly to imply dependence - but only horizontal ones, of equality and reciprocity.

The sun of reason generates liberty and equality, and hence fraternity, in an egalitarianism founded on the one light of thought, which governs the whole world and all life: "liberté, égalité, fraternité" are the fruits of reason's triumph. The critique of the "father-lord" figure thus leads to the complete rejection of God. Just as on earth there must be no fatherhood creating dependence, so in heaven there may be no Father.

There are no divine "partners", there is no other world; there is only this history, this horizon. The only idea of God allowed to stand before the court of adult reason is a God who is dead, meaningless, and with no practical purpose ("Deus mortuus, Deus otiosus"). This collective murder of the Father is carried out in the conviction that human beings must manage their own lives for themselves, moulding their destiny with their own hands. The modern ideologies, whether of right or left, pursued this ambitious aim of emancipating human beings in a way so radical as to make them the sole object and subject of their history, and at the same time both the source and goal of all that happens.

There can be no denying that this is a mighty project, and that we are all in some measure its debtors: who would want to live in a society that had not undergone this process of emancipation? And yet, this dream has also led to satanic consequences: precisely because of its all-embracing ambition, ideology becomes violent. Reality is forced to bend to the idea; reason's “will for power” (F. Nietzsche) strives to dominate life and history so as to make them conform to its own aims.

Inexorably, this all-encompassing dream becomes totalitarian: totality - as understood by reason - produces totalitarianism. Neither by chance nor accident, all the enterprises of modern ideology, of right and left, bourgeois and revolutionary, eventually flow into a totalitarian and violent expression. And it is precisely this historical experience of totalitarianism that leads to the crisis and twilight of the claims of modern reason: "The fully enlightened earth - affirm Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno at the beginning of their Dialectic of the Enlightenment - radiates disaster triumphant".

Thought without shadows becomes tragedy; far from emancipating, it generates suffering, alienation and death. The modern "society without fathers" does not bear children who are freer and more equal, but, instead, produces dramatic dependencies on those who at various times offer themselves as "surrogate" fathers. The "leader", the "party", the "cause", these become the new masters, and the freedom promised and dreamt of turns into a painful, grey manipulation of the masses, held in place by violence and fear. The collective murder of the father did not prevent this proliferation of these new, barely camouflaged, "fathers” and “lords" (...)

I guess after reading this snippet from the lecture you may find your jaw right there on the floor at your feet at this point of time... just like I found myself... quite understandable...

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