Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Understanding human nature

John Waters had some interesting thoughts to offer in his Irish Times column recently.   Writing under the heading ‘Feeling the cost of forgetting our earliest lessons’ he says:

‘The greatest “sin” committed by Irish Catholicism was its failure to explain itself properly to the people.  I have in mind not any recent reluctance to comply with demands for accountability or penitence, but something deeper: the failure to explain that Catholicism is fundamentally an understanding of human nature as it engages with reality, and that the “point” is not social control, but personal self-understanding. … Although the church became centrally involved in educating the population out of ignorance and innocence, it never sought to review these once-functional simplicities – a failure that unleashed a widespread reaction against the rules and a consequent rejection of their supposed manufacturer.
‘The “rules”, though, are not, generally speaking, the whims of a life-mistrusting authority, but the distillation of ineluctable elements of mankind’s nature into principles intended to guide rather than compel….
‘Obedience is required as a way of avoiding not punishment, but consequences.  The Catholic view of contraception, for example, relates not to some intrinsic objection to rubber sheaths, but to a view of what best serves human dignity and happiness in the long run.  The point is to become aware that, when we plunder one another on the basis of immediate desire, we store up costs for ourselves and those we exploit. …
‘Every Lent and Easter of our childhoods we were taught that self-denial is the best way of enhancing enjoyment of life, that the point of forgoing the things we immediately crave is not self-punishment, but achievement of an understanding of our desires.  This is the lesson we awoke to every Easter Sunday morning, discovering that chocolate tastes better when you’ve had none for a while.
‘Because we had come to see such propositions as arbitrary impositions on our capacity to enjoy ourselves, it was probably inevitable that we would kick over the traces the first chance we got.'