I wanted to be an English major until an adjunct History professor at Holy Cross enthralled me with his military exploits as a Marine tank commander in the Pacific Theater during World War II. His personal experiences within the broad context of Asian History presented such a broad spectrum of heroes, philosophy, and human conflict that I spent the next nine years studying the discipline while collecting a pair of graduate degrees along the way.
Historical facts came easy in Graduate school. It was the different interpretations that made studying history difficult. Most historians were so awash in a sea of relativity that they made the past nearly unintelligible. Some stressed history as a study of heroic figures. Others saw it as materialistic determinism. My personal definition focused on history as the story of man’s human nature acting in time.
While its pages portrayed people in different milieus, there always was one essential constant. Man’s human nature never changed. It was easily likened to the philosopher Heraclitus’ flowing river, which was always changing while remaining the same river. Each historical era does things differently but its people still maintain their inborn attraction to evil.
This explains why, according to the late Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, in the 1000s of years of recorded history, only 22 years have been free of war. Violence is and always will be an essential part of human nature. While no one is born rotten to the core, as the Calvinists would have us believe, man has never been the angel the French Philosophes, purported him to be. The French reign of terror with its menacing guillotine disproves this idea. Men are more like what late historian Michael Shara called killer angels, capable of great love and charity but with a stark propensity for death and violence.
Since the French Revolution, philosophers have attacked the Church’s teaching on man’s human nature with regard to sin. Its philosophical heirs, Marx, Darwin, and Freud denied the entire concept of original sin. A behavioral license to act without consequence has become the standard by which belief, morality and personal conduct is to be judged. It is this inherent philosophical conflict of the City of God versus the City of Man that is at the epicenter of the long-lived culture war.
Pope Benedict’s historic statement in 2006 on Limbo and the hope for unbaptized babies has clouded this metaphysical debate even further. It prompted former University of Notre Dame Theology professor, Fr. Richard McBrien to opine if there is no limbo… it must to follow that everyone is born in the state of grace.
This reasoning leads to a singular logical conclusion that baptism does not wash away the stain of original sin and Christ’s death and Resurrection were unnecessary. Father McBrien’s interpretation marches in lockstep with the progressive fallout from the French Revolution, which has assumed an Immaculate Conception, which they deny for the Blessed Mother, for every other human being.
Progressives explain away the lingering question of evil with the same twisted logic of comedian Flip Wilson’s female character Geraldine, whose illicit behavior always prompted the response, The devil made me do it! This thinking is akin to that of an ex-professional basketball player, who, when arrested for drug possession, said Drugs ruined my life, making made him the ironic victim of his own crime. What the left fails to understand is that we are all tarnished angels who have an inner yearning to revolt against the moral integrity of our being. Catholic convert G. K. Chesterton once opined that original sin was the one Catholic doctrine that never needed any proof. All one had to do was read a newspaper…or he might have added… a history book.