“A New Trajectory of Thinking” (B XVI’s “Charitas in Veritate” #53)
Benedict XVI, Neil Postman, and Chesterton’s Father Brown
[Blogger] – Having been immersed in the mind of Benedict XVI, I have been dabbling with Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death” (also “Technopoly”) and Chesterton’s “The Secret of Father Brown.” When you perceive something intellectually with insight, you begin to see it everywhere. As they say, to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
My nail is the transphenomenal self behind/beyond the appearances. The positive transphenomenal self of Christ in Scripture for Benedict, the negative absence of a real self buried in the technology of TV and the computer for Postman, and Father Brown’s consistent ability to sleuth out the person of the murderer. On my read, each of them is reporting on an empirical experience of Being, which is the self. The failure to realize that the self – the “I” – is real, empirical and being [not consciousenss], is to continue to put “Descartes before the horse” (as I read amusedly this morning). And the persistent reason for the failure to realize that the self is ontologically real is our inability to perceive it except as consciousness. Hence, what we perceive is consciousness and not this or that “thing.” In a word, the self is camouflaged by the very medium whereby it can be perceived: consciousness.
But, as Wojtyla insisted when doing his phenomenology of the self, there is a difference we access the self as reality when we are engaged in moral activity. To simply reflect on self as the result of sensible experience and abstractive thought gives us a consciousness as a unity of cognitive experiences, but it does not give us the “I” as being. What is essential is the free inner act of self-determination. When I have to decide to do this or that freely according to the truth of conscience, there must be a mastery and determination of the self by the self. That act of self-determination is an experience of my being of which I become conscious.
The failure to be sensitive to this critical personal event and discern that there is a more powerful experience taking place – and therefore a more intense contact with the empirically real – has left us with ½ a Millennium of separation between thought and being.
In part, it makes sense that there has been such a cleavage since I access my self cognitively through cognition. How can I know except by knowing? But in the act of reflection, I don’t find being but thought; hence, the confusion of evaluation of the reality, not as reality but as consciousness. However, Wojtyla put his finger on the solution when he went beyond the experience and consciousness of sensation and interior feelings and went to what had to be the experience provoking the consciousness of the values of good and bad, peace and guilt, etc. In a word, he centered on experience as the operative key to discern the source of cognition, be it through the senses, be it internal emotion and sentiment, be it moral value. He said as much in his 1994 Crossing the Threshold of Hope: “It is therefore possible to speak from a solid foundation about human experience, moral experience, or religious experience. And if it is possible to speak of such experiences, it is difficult to deny that, in the realm of human experience, one also finds good and evil, truth and beauty, and God Himself certainly is not an object of human empiricism…” “[But] If God is a knowable object – as both the Book of Wisdom and the Letter to the Romans teach – He is such on the basis of man’s experience both of the visible world and of his interior world.”
 John Paul II, “Crossing the Threshold of Hope,” Knopf (1994) 34.