“The reason why God is so great a lover of Humility is because he is the great Lover of Truth. Now Humility is nothing but Truth, whilst Pride is nothing but lying.”
-St. Vincent de Paul
Sometimes I ask myself why Americans like superheroes so much. We thirst for superheroes. Batman, Superman, Luke Skywalker, Captain America, Iron Man, Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes, Wolverine, Professor X. . . the list goes on and on. We re-write, re-film, and re-tell their stories in different ways in order to get a new take on their superhuman lives. And when we exhaust that, we simply create new heroes.
I normally try to avoid the superhero media, but today my roommate was watching episodes of the TV show Heroes, and I stepped over to watch for a few minutes. I stayed for probably an hour, and was reminded of how powerful the imagery can be.
The premise of every superhero story ever created is that there is a massive problem. The problem is so massive, in fact, that no normal human can possibly remedy it. Thus, the need for the superhero is created–A person who, by their nature or by some properties they possess, has transcended the powers of the human race and can meet the monstrous problem and defeat it. Their actions satisfy this deep need that we have, to know that when the world gets so out of control that we can’t handle it anymore, Luke Skywalker will be there to whip out his lightsaber and save us.
But it’s at this point where a lot of people (And most Americans) make a fatal mental transition. We think that we’re Luke Skywalker.
Nothing could be further from the truth. We are not superheroes. None of us are.
We’re told at a young age that we can change the world. While it sounds nice, encouraging, and inspirational, it is simply not true. And this is the problem that the U.S. and the United Nations seem to have gotten themselves into. They are under this illusion that they have the power to save the world, eradicate evil, and create a perfect society, when they can do nothing of the sort.
The only way the world will ever become any better is if the hearts of people change. And the only way that can ever happen is if God gets a hold of their hearts and transforms them into the likeness of his Son. And no amount of legislating, promulgating, or howling on the part of Congress or the U.N. Bureaucrats will make that happen. Peace, Justice, and Good-will can only come through God leading people, day after day, to follow his will instead of their own. And when we recognize that, we come to the conclusion we should have reached after watching all those superhero movies:
We are not Luke Skywalker. God is Luke Skywaker. He is the hero whose powers transcend ours. He is the one who can and will save the world. We need to stop waving our plastic lightsaber around and instead, follow Him. As the writer of the book Blue Like Jazz said:
“At the end of the day, when I am lying in bed and I know the chances of any of our theology being exactly right are a million to one, I need to know that God has things figured out, that if my math is wrong we are still going to be okay. And wonder is that feeling we get when we let go of our silly answers, our mapped out rules that we want God to follow. I don’t think there is any better worship than wonder.”
The attitude that we can somehow “save” or “change” the whole world is not just wishful thinking or a positive attitude: It is the height of Pride itself. It is believing the great Lie that we can somehow take God’s job upon our shoulders and fix our broken world without making it worse. We can’t. We can only obey the simple, daily commands of God to love those who cross our paths and do Justice to them. For us to be Humble, the first thing that is required is for us to embrace the truth that God, not us, will save the world, and that all we ever have to do is obey him–here, now, in this moment. This Humility will save us from the disobedient excuse that we must go outside our country to do God’s work of Justice. Do Justice to your neighbors here, and if God calls you to leave, then Go.
But only if God calls you.
If you have time, take a look at this video. It illustrates this point very well.
I had the privilege today of attending a formal dinner with some other students at my University. The guest lecturer was an author/professor from our English department, and she spoke about “Escaping Indiana’s Gravitational Pull”. Briefly put, Indiana’s gravitational pull is the culture of the state that makes people want to stay here instead of leave.
One of the reasons she cited for this phenomenon was the “Folks” and “Folksiness” of Indiana’s people, or the “normal” atmosphere that permeates most of the communities here. For the most part, it is a place where people don’t do anything abnormal. God, family, marriage, and traditional notions of what is right and wrong are respected.
While I am completely aware that “normalness” can be taken to an extreme (if you don’t believe me, come visit, and I’ll show you) there was a tone in the speaker’s talk that gave me the impression that “normalness” wasn’t good, and that a people who accept tradition as truth are somehow ‘unintelligent’ and need to be avoided. There is something about an attitude that says “I don’t know why, but that’s just wrong” that seemed to bother her.
I don’t mean to say that tradition has gotten everything right. What I do mean to say is that academics and intellectuals have a tendency to make things more complicated than they really are, and that a healthy dose of “This is the way things ought to be” has something positive to offer the world. Gianna Jessen, a survivor of a late-term saline abortion, said this about our culture’s treatment of the procedure which was intended to kill her:
“We have taken abortion, compartmentalized it, put it on a shelf and said, ‘It is an issue.‘ This is not an issue.”
St. Paul spoke about this philosophy in a slightly different way in 1 Corinthians 1.18-29:
“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
Reason certainly has its place in the world. But in our reason, let us not forget that there are some things that simply ‘are’. Although they may never be proved by logic, data, research, study, or intellectual debate, their inherent truth is here to stay. Not everything is like this, but when we find things that are–the importance of the family, the sacred nature of marriage, the gospel, and the value of human life–the sooner we let go of our rational inhibitions, the better.
And I think it will end up making us more human.
Thursday was the last real day of CSW for us at the IYc. I went to an event focused on how the discipline of Social Work can be used to help rural women improve their situation. The second speaker on the panel was a woman named Dr. Marciana Popescu, a professor at Fordham University. She talked to us about a three-step process that she has found effective in reaching rural women with resources that they need:
1. Availability. The missing/deficient resources must be brought into the community.
2. Accessibility. The women must have access to or control over the resources so that they are able to use them for their families’ benefit.
3. Utilization. The women need to know how to effectively utilize the resource. This should be done either before the resource is brought in or as it is being brought in.
In particular, she stressed the importance of listening to the community when completing the last step. The good, but misinformed intentions of outsiders can sometimes completely miss the point and cause more harm than good. Here are some examples:
We’ve all heard the stories of women and girls walking for 3 hours to get water for their families. In response to this, a group of people raised money and built a well closer to the village where the women were living. The group left and then returned a year later, only to find that the women were miserable. What they found was that in the women’s long, hard workday, the three hours they spent walking to get the water was their down time. It was the time they had to laugh together, cry together, bond with one another, and to teach their daughters about life. When that time was taken away, their lives became less enjoyable. The practice was a legitimate problem, but it would have been better to involve the community in the solution.
In the Dominican Republic, there was a large group of refugees who were deeply impoverished. The government of the DR, however, categorized them as a “transitory population”, and so no aid programs were created to target them. Some social workers that were visiting the DR started analyzing the problems of the group and came up with some recommendations: Get the group more food, put up better shelter, start a literacy program, etc. But one of the workers decided to ask the community what it was that they thought they needed the most. When this question was asked, one of the female refugees said that they needed a public latrine. It was a simple request for dignity. Without this simple acknowledgement of their dignity, the women never would have made use of the other resources provided to them.
In Romania, the schools in many of the villages only go up to the 4th grade. Consequently, the only youth who are ever educated beyond the 4th grade are boys, since it is not safe for the girls to travel. In one of the villages, there was a girl who was just finishing the schooling available to her and wanted to continue so she could be a teacher, but she was promised in marriage to a man in the village (In the culture, the marriage isn’t consummated until the bride is old enough, but she is still expected to go to the in-laws house and fulfill other duties). The natural reaction of the social workers was to find a way for the girl to continue her schooling, and so they spent several weeks talking to the family and the in-laws to find a solution. Eventually, the in-laws agreed to let her stay with her family and attend school in the next village, as long as she didn’t go alone. The girl’s best friend volunteered to go with her, and the social workers would walk with the girls each day to school. They also worked with some of the boys, teaching them that it was their job to protect these two girls from anyone who wanted to hurt them. The plan was a success, and the girl (now a woman) is back in her village teaching other children. Had the social workers simply demanded the girl’s right to an education and sent her off to school without the help of the family and the in-laws, she almost certainly would have been raped, abducted, or both.
Just something to keep in mind as we help the helpless: They probably know more about their situation than we do.
I attended a session today where women from Kenya spoke of a sex boycott they had done several years ago in order to get language beneficial to women inserted into the new Kenyan constitution. They stated that they didn’t know for sure how successful the boycott itself was in effecting legislative change, but what they said they did know was that it brought the women of Kenya together.
Whether or not the sex boycott was the cause of legislative change, legislative change did occur, and Kenya’s constitution is now the “most progressive in the world”, according to one of the speakers. According to the panelists, the new Kenyan constitution recognizes the ICCPR, CEDAW, and CRC (among others), and requires that the Kenyan legislature incorporate the treaties into national policy. They stated that the people of Kenya should be able to effectively invoke the provisions of these international treaties in Kenyan court.
This was alarming to me, since the UN committees that enforce these treaties have found that there is a right to abortion within the “reproductive rights” sections of the treaties. One of my fellow volunteers asked the panelists a question on this point, inquiring about how the Kenyans were interpreting “reproductive rights”, and how they were planning to deal with the general comments of the UN committees which attempt to create an international right to abortion.
The panelists responded by saying that the Kenyan constitution makes it explicitly clear that abortion is not allowed except in extreme situations where the mother’s health is endangered, and that homosexuality is not recognized, but not criminalized. The point of implementing the treaties, they said, was to get a foot in the door for women’s rights, and they would simply not implement the parts of the treaties that they didn’t like.
As valiant as this sounds, it walks the line of being extremely dangerous for Kenyan children. International treaties like the CRC, CEDAW, and ICCPR are not instruments to be taken lightly, and they have legal force. If the UN committees try to enforce the “international right to abortion” in Kenya, it will be difficult for the Kenyan government to resist, despite any national policies or public desires to the contrary.
One of the C-FAM staff members made a comment that this approach was similar to the proverbial action of grabbing a tiger by the tail. Initially you think you control it, but in the end, it actually ends up controlling you.