Summer 2011

America's Technological Ontology and the Gift of the Given: Benedict XVI on the Cultural Significance of the Quarere Deum

David L. Schindler
To put the matter in language not easy for moderns . . . Christianity [is at its] center concerned with grace—if that word is given its literal meaning. Grace simply means that the great things of our existing are given us, not made by us and finally not to be understood as arbitrary accidents. Our making takes place within an ultimate givenness. However difficult it is for all of us to affirm that life is a gift, it is an assertion primal to Christianity. Through the vicissitudes of life, . . . to be a Christian is the attempt to learn the substance of that assertion. 2
In the long run all that is not done through Love and for Love must invariably end by being done against Love. The human being who denies his nature as a created being ends up by claiming for himself attributes which are a sort of caricature of those that belong to the Uncreated. 3
No one can understand the world at all, no one can live his life rightly, so long as the question about the Divinity remains unanswered. Indeed, the very heart of the great cultures is that they interpret the world by setting in order their relation to the Divinity. 4    

These statements capture the burden of my argument: any act or order not formed in the logic of love—any act which is forgetful of being and its Source—must invariably end up, by implication, subverting the nature and destiny of things. 

Love consists in this, “not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son . . .” (1 Jn 4:10). The love characteristic of the being of the cosmos, in which the cosmos participates by virtue of its creation, is not a love that is first produced by the cosmos, but one that is always first given to the cosmos. As such it is a love that must first be received, through the power that is most basically that of the giver become effective in the gift, a power in which the creature is therefore always properly a filial participant. My proposal is that the mostly implicit ontology of modern culture—and I have in mind here especially America’s “exceptional” form of modernity—is one essentially of technology. Such an ontology abstracts from the logic of love proper to created being, and in so doing assumes a version of power that can only become in the end a caricature of the power of God, a power not of love but of a technical manipulation tending ultimately toward tyranny.

1. This paper is dedicated to Cardinal Angelo Scola, in gratitude for his work in theological anthropology and contemporary cultural issues, and for his collaboration and friendship over many years. It appears in “Sufficit Gratia Tua”: Miscellanea in onore del Card. Angelo Scola in occasione del 70 ̊genetliaco, ed. G. Marengo, J. Prades Lopez, and G. Richi Alberti (Venice: Carcianum Press, 2011).

2. George Grant, “Two Theological Languages,” Addendum [1988], in Collected Works of George Grant, vol. 2: 1951–1959, ed. Arthur Davis (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002), 60.

3. Gabriel Marcel, Man Against Humanity (London: Harvill Press, 1952), 55–56.

4. Joseph Ratzinger, Truth and Tolerance (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 61.