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God in Action: How Faith in God Can Address the Challenges of the Worldby Francis George
God in Action
There are many books about religion in public life. This book is not intended to be simply one of them. If the discussion about public life begins with “religion,” it usually treats the influence of religious belief on people when they act in their capacity as citizens. Religion then has influence if it shapes the thinking and actions of people who act. It has influence in public life if it shapes the thinking and actions of those who hold public office and those who elect them. If public life is taken to extend beyond the political to other areas where society is created, religion is still usually considered as a set of ideas peculiar to churches or synagogues, mosques or temples, ethical culture groups or moral improvement societies. Religion in this sense is primarily a philosophy of life. It is a public benefit when its practice inspires the altruism necessary for a civil community’s common life. It is a public problem when its practice leads to conflict or oppression of various sorts. In all these instances, however, religion is reduced to a set of ideas in competition with other ideologies.
But religion, in the sense in which the term is used in this book, is first of all belief in a God who reveals himself as a God who acts, a God intimately involved in human history. If religion presents only a God who is, at most, a cosmological principle, then it is science that shapes public life. If religion presents only a God who has no existence except as a projection that expresses the sum total of human yearnings, then it is psychology that shapes public life. If religion presents only a God who looks like a nation’s citizenry, then politics becomes the highest level of public conversation.
What, however, if God has his own ways that are not always our ways? What if God acts in public affairs in ways that can, of course, be ignored from day to day but at a price for individuals and whole societies? If God is an actor, how is it possible to trace his action? There are books on spirituality, the Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, for example, that help an individual to enter into a unique conversation that leads to a discovery of God’s will for him or her. This is not such a book. There are theologies of history that try to discern the grand lines of God’s action in shaping the destiny of human societies. This book is not one of them. There are visionary eschatologies that purport to show how human actions fit into God’s intentions and then point to how things should be in the end. These pages are nothing
This book is a modest effort to look for how God acts in the challenges of our times, in this day and age. Can we discover God’s actions in the part of human experience that is public in our day? The Second Vatican Council believed we could and challenged Catholics to read the “signs of the times.” This injunction was not to be an exercise in self- secularization, as if openness to the times means that the only criteria for making judgments would be provided by this world and on its terms. The Council’s challenge was, rather, to detect signs of eternity in the events of our world because the eternal God is at work in our times. The criteria for discerning God’s action have to be read from within human events with an eye for discovering a presence that brings good out of evil, hope from despair, and life out of death.
Catholic social theory is based upon reason in conversation with faith. Its basic category is the common good. It presupposes the God revealed by Jesus Christ, who became one of us in order to bring us under God’s sovereignty. God’s eternal Kingdom is made present now in the Church, the sacrament of God’s Kingdom, through which God acts surely and visibly. But God acts through and in all created reality. Just as religion is less a set of ideas than a vehicle for relating to God, the Church is less one more institution within a state than an instrument for relating each of us and the whole world to God.
This book considers the sense in which God is the primary actor in American society because he is the Creator and Savior of the whole world. It then examines a number of issues that challenge our reading of God’s influence in public affairs and concludes with a perspective that escapes narrow nationalism by looking for God’s action in the movement toward unifying the human family in our day.
A book such as this is the product of many occasions and much advice. I am grateful to those who asked me, on various occasions, to address some of the themes and topics discussed here. I am grateful always to those who helped me create this manuscript, especially to Mr. Thomas Levergood of the Lumen Christi Institute at the University of Chicago, whose urging and reminders and suggestions helped me bring the book to completion. I am grateful as well to Dr. Robert Royal for good advice and good example. His work helped the Doubleday editors. My staff is exemplary in their patience, and many in the Archdiocese of Chicago were understanding of the demands involved in this project, demands that sometimes prevented me from being as available to them as I might have been. I join those who might read this book in thanking all of them.
FRANCIS CARDINAL GEORGE, O.M.I.
Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed
December 8, 2010
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