Understood rightly, Catholic Christianity is not a matter of “religion” but of reality. If we believe what Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition tell us about God’s creating love, caring intervention, and constant presence, then our comprehension of the world that surrounds us will be changed.
Strangers Among Flatlanders
Archbishop Charles Chaput has written a wonderful book titled, Strangers in a Strange Land. The title¹ comes from the Old Testament book of Exodus 2:22 (King James translation) of the Bible, a verse which explains why Moses named his son “Gershom,” which can be translated as stranger, sojourner, or even foreigner.
Certainly many of us—yes, Christians, but also many who are not—feel like strangers and sojourners in our societies. We are mobile, restless, and wonder about life’s meaning. We question our society’s direction and our government’s priorities.
Archbishop Chaput likens our postmodern world to that portrayed in the novel, Flatland. He points out: “Popular wisdom holds that Flatland was a satire of the conventionalism the Victorian era. But we might find better parallel closer to our our land.”
For Flatlanders, all of reality consists in width and length . . . One night the narrator, an urbane and orthodox Square (an attorney), is visited by a Sphere. The Sphere lifts him out of this Flatland universe. It shows him the glory of three dimensions and proves that Flatland is only part of a much larger reality [emphasis mine].²
The Order of Things
Fr. James V. Schall’s book, The Order of Things, may be the best guide to getting us out of flatland and grounding us in reality. As Fr. Schall explains, “The highest activity of the human being, that in which his natural happiness consists, is the contemplation of the truth, that is, of knowing the order of things [emphasis mine], what life and the world and their sources are about.”³
We live in an age of scientism. But science can only tell us about that which is observable; measurable on science’s own terms. What about justice, meaning, character, virtue, or love? What about the possibility of a higher power’s having ordered things as they exist?
Christian revelation, whether we like it or not . . . exists . . . as an intelligible explication . . . of things that are [emphasis his]. It is intended to alert us to more than we might think possible to know by our own powers. It is also a response to things we do know.
Revelation doesn’t simply complement reality. Revelation completes reality.
Reality is two-tiered: visible and invisible, as the Nicene Creed expresses it. Men and women who permit their reasoning to be constrained by the visible make themselves strangers to reality. More than 500 years ago in Hamlet, Shakespeare wrote of a similar failure to grasp all of reality, using words remarkably similar to the title of Archbishop Chaput’s book:
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!
And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
The refusal to consider all of reality, especially the Creator of reality, does not escape the “God problem,” as Fr. Schall calls it. “We merely locate our explanation someplace else, even if we call it atheism.”4
Yet the Christian is also a stranger in any land that closes its eyes to reality, by asserting that faith is a private matter with nothing to say about visible, public, day-to-day parts of reality. Archbishop Chaput’s book offers much that is helpful as we seek to live thoughtfully and responsibly as Christians and citizens. In the words of Fr. Schall:
To rule ourselves . . . means to use our mind and will to know and guide what is already in us or related to us, so that we direct these powers to a proper purpose, to the end of our being.5
Strangers in a Strange Land does much to identify that proper purpose and to explain our role in pursuing it during an era when thinking or acting in only two dimensions will not do.
¹ If seeking Archbishop Chaput’s book, click the title below, which is linked. The Archbishop’s book is a very different work from Stranger in a Strange Land, the science fiction novel by Robert Heinlein.
² Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World, by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, page 80 of 273 (Kindle edition).
³ The Order of Things, by Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press), page 108.
4 The Order of Things, p. 49.
5 The Order of Things, p. 95.