Journey Back to Eden
These first three words of sacred scripture describe a time, a place, and even a state of being where man earnestly desires to return. It's interesting to imagine the lives of Adam and Eve post Eden. Did God in His mercy erase their memories of what it was like to be in perfect harmony with Him, or did they live out their lives with full awareness of Paradise lost? A case can be made that humanity's first parents did indeed retain some memory of their original innocence as the drive to find a way back to God seems to get passed down from generation to generation as an ever present characteristic of man's very nature. Much of his lived experience centers on acting upon this constant yearning.
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth."
That word "dominion" is a tricky one. For many it implies a possessive meaning. The idea that God gave man the Earth to conquer, control, and have absolute authority over nature. And He very well may have intended that, but what gets subtly lost in the telling of the account of creation is the very fact that when Adam and Eve lost Paradise, they lost their dominion over the Earth right along with it. In their fallen nature, how could they, or their descendants for that matter, be entrusted as good shepherds of the planet. The fish of the sea, birds of the air, and every living thing were not the ones that became less. They did not fall from grace nor was their nature changed. A fish is still a fish.
Man did fall. His tumble from grace ontologically changed him. And while he still maintains a moral obligation to respect the world God created for him, he has a far reduced dominative role to play despite what Al Gore says. Man didn't become evil by the fall as the Calvinist would suggest. He simply became wounded. The desire to repair that wound drives him in many ways to seek his creator. In his mercy, God gave man a way back home. Faith, hope, and love in concert with the gift of His only son, Our Lord Jesus Christ was the remedy for the injury to man's fallen nature. And before Christ, a belief in God served as the moral compass of man.
That all began to change a few hundred years ago, which in this instant information age of this high-speed Internet world seems like the distant past but in reality is relatively recent. It was at this time, in the 1700s, that man began to look at his world through the eyes of science discounting the disciplines of philosophy and most important theology. For a masterful summation of this event in history one should refer to Pope Benedict's Spe Salvi, sections 16-23. In short, technology advanced to a point where man could start explaining more of the mechanics of his physical world and his fascination with these discoveries led him to begin to believe that he could indeed achieve dominion over his world once again. Redemption via faith began to be supplanted by knowledge gained through the scientific process.
Now, this “redemption”, the restoration of the lost “Paradise” is no longer expected from faith, but from the newly discovered link between science and praxis. It is not that faith is simply denied; rather it is displaced onto another level—that of purely private and other-worldly affairs—and at the same time it becomes somehow irrelevant for the world. This programmatic vision has determined the trajectory of modern times and it also shapes the present-day crisis of faith which is essentially a crisis of Christian hope...If technical progress is not matched by corresponding progress in man's ethical formation, in man's inner growth (cf. Eph 3:16; 2 Cor 4:16), then it is not progress at all, but a threat for man and for the world.
So what happened?
This generation was the first that in large numbers displaced God as a purely optional, private matter. Instead they put their faith in enlightened self-interest and in the technological progress of man. What is interesting is that most of this generation did not live the stereotypical life identified with the Sixties. Most did not march in the streets, burn their bras, or become hippies. Their protest was much more passive and private. In their attempt to conform to what the media and their peers portrayed as "my generation," they discarded the faith of their fathers and pursued something else or in most cases believed in nothing at all except their own abilities. Small wonder that as some approach the last third of their lives, they see no hope and lose their will to endure and meet an unnatural end.
The Holy Father references the philosopher Immanuel Kant to describe this unnatural end:
Now Kant considers the possibility that as well as the natural end of all things there may be another that is unnatural, a perverse end. He writes in this connection: “If Christianity should one day cease to be worthy of love ... then the prevailing mode in human thought would be rejection and opposition to it; and the Antichrist ... would begin his—albeit short—regime (presumably based on fear and self-interest); but then, because Christianity, though destined to be the world religion, would not in fact be favoured by destiny to become so, then, in a moral respect, this could lead to the (perverted) end of all things.”
The good news is that one who has been on the path of hopelessness can change course. Christ, entered human history to give humanity a way out of its fallen existence. And if one missed the message in one's youth, adolescence, and young adulthood, so what? The truth remains ready for one's embrace. There exists a hope far beyond the banality and limitations of physical science. The politician, the eco-warrior, the television pundit may all be screaming that the sky is falling; however, they miss the mark entirely. The Heavens have not fallen. It is man who has.
"Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going." Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?" Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me."