by MICHAEL OTTO
The best answers to modern denials of the freedom and responsibility of the human person, and on the reality of the person at all, are to be found in the proper study of philosophy and theology.
This was one of the messages driven home by Fr Justin Taylor, SM, at the inaugural 2016 Mass for Good Shepherd College in Auckland on February 19.
Fr Taylor, a senior visiting scholar at Good Shepherd, preached the homily at the inaugural Mass. He said an understanding of personal responsibility “shows the way out of all ancient determinisms”, where one’s fate could be held to be in the stars, or one’s ancestry, or decreed by an “implacable divinity”.
“This understanding also offers a way out of our modern determinisms,” Fr Taylor continued. “Our fate is not in our genes or in our environment or upbringing.”
Fr Taylor said, “the freedom and responsibility of the human person, even the reality of the person, of the self, seem not to be truths acquired once for all by humanity”.
“They are frequently denied or undermined today — even though our society and its laws are based upon them.”
Fr Taylor acknowledged that limits to freedom and responsibility might have to be acknowledged in a particular case. “ . . . [But] if I am not free and responsible, if, in the last analysis, there is no ‘I’, how can I be held responsible for my actions, how justly punished for my misdeeds, or rewarded for my good actions? “A great deal is at stake here.”
Fr Taylor continued that “the best answers to contemporary attacks on freedom and on the reality of the person are to be found in the subjects that are studied and taught at Good Shepherd College and in other schools of Christian learning”.
“The basis is philosophy, with its questions about the human being”, dealing with freedom, the self, personhood and the soul.
Philosophy, Fr Taylor said, will ask if a persistent idea of self, of “me”, in a person “can resist the dissolution by the findings of neuroscience into a mass of chemical reactions in the brain?” He went on to say theology then continues the study of the human person, reflecting on the revelation that “God created man in God’s own image”.
It will go on to contemplate the Second Adam recreating the First Adam, “the human being graced and growing into Christ”.
“Here are the deepest answers to our questions, ‘Who and what am I?’” He also spoke about theology and the questions it asks about God, including “Who is the God of the Bible?” and “Who is the God who reveals himself in Jesus Christ?”
“Study at Good Shepherd College and find out.”