March 8, 2007: Thursday of the Second Week of Lent

DECEIVING OURSELVES

At daily Mass, the prophet Jeremiah tells us:

Thus says the Lord:…
The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately corrupt;
who can understand it?[Jeremiah 17: 5-10]

God’s world is more a narrative than a machine constructed from tinker-toy pieces. Understanding is often a matter of being able to see a coherent story-line in a very complex world.

Human beings, like most creatures, move about their environments and order their activities partially in response to pain or pleasure. We tend to avoid pain and to seek pleasure, though that is far from an absolute. Sometimes we need to do things which bring pain, the most obvious case being women who often feel great pain during childbirth or sickness during child-bearing.

Some evolutionary psychologists have spun plausible narratives in which the future belonged to females who felt strong enough passions for a male that they were willing to pay a steep price to bear babies for him. After all, those creatures which breed successfully are the ones which leave descendants — a seeming tautology but also the truest form of selection in biological evolution.

Human females can anticipate a good chance of pain or discomfort when reproducing and can also anticipate being tied to their children for years, caring for infants and educating them for years afterwards. In our modern age, we’ve shown that women can be raised so that they shun bearing children, dooming themselves and their culture with its attitudes to extinction. But, even in such an age where teen-aged girls are raised to value time on the soccer field over time spent learning how to take care of babies, many women will pay high prices to have those babies.

Why would nature need to trick women in such a way? Since God’s world is a story and not a tinker-toy construction, there may be no explanation of the sort modern human beings often crave. The Lord may have simply decided this is the story He wished to tell: one in which even the purest emotions arise during biological evolution and are mediated by mere hormones. Here is a text which lies at the intersection of revelation and evolutionary theorizing:

To the woman [H]e said,
“I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children,
yet your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.” [Genesis 3:]

Yes, the heart is deceitful and yet something truly remarkable is revealed here. By evolutionary trickery of a sort, the human race came to know love of a sort which can become true marital love though it can also become disordered love. Similar trickery mediated through hormones released during childbirthing and breastfeeding seems responsible for the purest and strongest of all natural human loves: the love of mother for child.

‘Trickery’ and ‘deceitful’ indicate a wrongful attitude on our part. Moral nature is not some sort of pure spirit imposed upon human apes. Animal nature, including that of human beings, is founded upon physical stuff. Those flows of hormones and the resulting passions are, in particular, the stuff and raw forms of its moral aspects. From such we must forge our love for God. God is a more competent Creator than we sometimes implicitly believe with our theories that morality and true love can only come to be if something purer is imposed upon the stuff which the Almighty Himself made. Moral nature evolved. It might even be true that the stars and beasts are made of some sort of stuff which has a fundamental aspect called ‘love’, a love perhaps infused when the world came to be as a result of God’s free decision to love it before it existed.

When we think along with God, we move with the grain of the universe, but we can only move along paths known to our age or perhaps vaguely seen by prophets of a sort. God doesn’t seem to have infused knowledge about cosmological astrophysics or biochemistry into the authors of the book of Genesis. They saw more than we sometimes realize but they only saw what they could conceive of given their language and the thoughts available to them. In the modern age, we’re in the position of being able to understand far more about the physical aspects of God’s Creation than those in prior ages. We have the responsibility to God and to our children to take on this task, energetically and courageously.

We should dare ask questions which God’s world forces upon us. We should seek the answers without blinders which eliminate most of that world from our view. At the end, we should knock and let God direct our thoughts that we might come to a truer and more profound understanding of Creation including ourselves.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Christian spirituality, Christianity, Lenten meditations, Peace of Christ, Religion, religion and science

One Comment on “March 8, 2007: Thursday of the Second Week of Lent”


  1. I’m not sure I agree with everything you said, but it was certainly an interesting post. 🙂


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