I’m getting really tired of good people complaining about being alive today.
For whatever reason, it seems to be rather in vogue to wistfully heave a despairing sigh, clutch one’s copy of The Complete Works of Plato, and lament the “tragedy” that we (conservatives, Christians, enthusiasts of the classics or the arts, etc.) are stuck living in the 21st century. If only we lived during the golden age of Christendom, or if only I was around to walk with Christ, or if only I could pick Aristotle’s brain for just one afternoon.
Living in the modern world is just too…hard… people seem to say. There is just so much evil in our age.
Frankly, I’m getting tired of listening to it.
Here’s the thing — several weeks ago, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Weronika Janczuk from the World Youth Alliance. Bright eyed and enthusiastic, Weronika is one of the most delightfully insightful and passionate people I have ever had the honor of meeting. Out of the several hours-worth of intellectual conversation between the Student Fellows and Weronika, there was one small comment from her that pierced right through my heart in such a particular way, that it enkindled in me a hope and an excitement that I have never experienced before —
“I am so glad to be living in the 21st century! For the first time in history, it seems that we have all the resources available to us to piece together a complete anthropology of the human person!”
Now, at this point, you’re either extremely confused, or extremely excited (confused because you’re wondering “In what universe is anthropology interesting?” Or you are excited because you find geeky and/or unpopular/controversial opinions to be enthralling). Either way, try to stick with me.
What Weronika was referring to (and what I’m trying to get at) is that the 21st century affords us a treasure-trove of disciplines and sciences from which we can approach the study of the human person. Most recently, it seems that academia may be catching up to the truth that interdisciplinary study of a thing offers us the most robust and well-rounded understanding of that given thing.
Our advances in the studies of anatomy, biochemistry, behavioral neuroscience, genetics, endocrinology, sociology, philosophy, theology, spirituality, and psychology (just to name a few disciplines) offer us a wide range of angles from which we can approach an understanding of the human person.
The reason that this point of interdisciplinary study and development excites me so much is because it is wholly and uniquely consistent with the phenomenological approach that I have been so drawn to in my study of philosophy. Imagine holding a complex 3D object in your hand. Holding this object, it would be pretty ridiculous to assume that you can only look at it from your head-on angle. Rather, you can hold up the object, turn it, and observe it from a different angle. Put simply, this is the phenomenological approach.
Applied to our study of the human person, the phenomenological approach teaches us that looking at the human person from different “angles” means becoming knowledgeable about the human person in different fields of study. This interdisciplinary approach to anthropology is what makes living in the 21st century so exciting, and so full of possibility and optimism.
While the human person is a vastly complicated object of study, Weronika, in following Edith Stein’s observations surrounding the “I” of the person, proposes that a truly fleshed-out and complete anthropology must flow out of our understanding of the role of the heart in the person (1). Why the heart? Janczuk argues that “a comprehensive philosophy of the heart within the philosophy of human nature bears an existential urgency, as interior experiences at the heart’s depth, independently of a person’s rational faculties, shape personal existence and can either deeply clarify or deeply impair the ability to perceive and adhere to reality” (2).
This brings me back to our seemingly “pious” complaints about modernity. Scores of modern social, political, and humanitarian issues could be cleared up and even healed by a well-ordered understanding of the human heart.
Why? I would say that it’s because society is built upon our nature. If there is a disordered understanding of human nature and the heart in general, then society will be ripe with disorder in order to morph to and accommodate the current trends in anthropological understanding.
As harsh as it may sound at face value, this is what I would like to propose:
Stop complaining about “modern culture.”
Read a book.
Educate yourself on fields of study that you are not familiar with. Remember that “object” we were imagining holding in our hands, earlier? Turn it. Look at it from a different angle. There are so many incredible resources available to us in this “modern culture” of ours.
I think it’s about time we begin to make use of it.
Here’s hoping that our cries of “if only I lived back then” shift to the sound of triumphant hearts echoing: what a time to be alive!
(1) The Place of the Heart in Integral Human Formation by Weronika Janczuk. Presented at the Edith Stein Conference (University of Notre Dame), Feb. 11, 2017., 1.