Culture and Sustainable Development
The search for truth and understanding in the nature of things; the attempt to “understand” the universe, questions about its structure, or, even more extremely, why does it exist? is an argument which could continue indefinitely, with a series of generic questions and vaguer answers, without perhaps ever coming to any concrete conclusions, if we do not establish fixed points on which to hinge the reasoning.
For over two thousand years, these questions have created in man two different ethical positions; two ways of conceiving his own relationship with the cosmos.
Atheists or agnostics on the one hand and men of faith on the other have opposed each other on these questions. But the men of faith, the men who have welcomed the supreme being or, better still, God, in history, those people who have understood the revolutionary nature of this event, have often not known how to collocate correctly in their own lives material things and spiritual ones (give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s).
A knowledge and a culture, which is still partial, make man fearful and restless towards the contrast between the material being and the conscious being. The decay of matter and the incorruptibility of the spirit would seem to belong to a dipole which does not have a logic in common.
Therefore could the Creator who planned the universe have given it two contradictory realities? One “bad” because it is corruptible and the cause of the difficulties which man has in life, and the other, in contrast, the only practicable reality? This is difficult to believe.
All of history, above all in the last two thousand years, is the story of the ethical-religious events of every civilisation, with various origins and traditions, but the substance has practically remained the same.
Jumping from the traditions of those populations in which religion has found in asceticism the only means to lift the human spirit, to those where the advent of Christianity, though renewing and giving a new role and meaning to these forms, has given man the role of being present in history, in the world, in matter, to being near to it. “In virtue of the creation and even more of the incarnation, nothing is profane down here for whoever is able to see”. (Teilhard De Chardin P.)
The evident social, cultural, scientific and, not least, political repercussions on western society are, without a doubt, influenced by these new and different methodological definitions.
However, a continuous and further evolution in culture in the third millennium can be had through a more complete and thus truer interpretation of the cultural and philosophical speculation which Christianity presents and possesses and which, though grafted onto history for around two thousand years, still has to make the plant of civilisation bear fruit in a complete and full way, transforming the raw lymph of human action into elaborate lymph. In fact, “the work of the algae which concentrates in their tissue the substances scattered around them… is only a pallid image of the continuous elaboration undergone in us of all the potential of the universe, to transform it into spirit.” (Teilhard De Chardin P.)
We know that the swaying of the pendulum is always due to a cause; the more energy that there is in the cause, the greater will be the effect; or better, in a certain sense, as in all aspects of culture and in the history of man, “man does not possess the faculty of instantaneously assimilating, of immediately digesting a novelty, a new knowledge, but in his progression (in his breathing) and perception of that new thing, he sways between two positions (as has often been the case in history) until, like the pendulum, he finds a point of balance (it is pedagogy in itself the fact that error and awareness of the sin leads to repentance, to the need to be included within the Great Principles)- “following the path which leads to the Mount of the Transfiguration.” (Teilhard De Chardin P.)
Going back to what was said in the premise, what has matter got to do with all of this? And what relationship is there between it and man?
Christianity leads man to intervene in the world, in places where there is need, through his contribution, in places where matter in all its possible and imaginable forms asks to be brought back towards the reason for its being.
Let’s make this aspect clearer. We are often led to judge, to classify in airtight sectors, the things that we see: the tangible (we’ll leave out the transcendental here), giving it various identities and qualities and often therefore different logic. We are spontaneously led to judge.
For example, there are grasses which are beneficial for man and others which infest him; good and useful things and bad or even useless ones. There exist parts of the world which are beautiful and good and others which are ugly and bad.
This way of classifying the cosmos has its origin prevalently in a partial human valuation, but it is above all born from the presumption that this comprehension is sufficient enough to explain the world. This culture, which grew stronger above all in western countries after the years of the Enlightenment, thought itself able to explain through reason, and thus with the knowledge of the times, that which fell within the dominion of the senses. It had in fact attributed an incomplete function to matter because made absolute and therefore out of every logic, of the logic which must necessarily give a role to matter as a counterpart to the spirit or even as the only reality in existence.
This culture, which was useful in getting beyond the ideological waste of the Middle Ages (and thus in turn a transitional knowledge found between two eras) has led us to think in categories of things and not in wholes. This was a way of thinking which was useful for its time in the past, but transitory on the path of human history.
But if the tangible and transcendental universe is a whole, as it obeys the rules of a single planner, then for some time human logic, which is not different from divine logic (man is made in our image and likeness) has had to resolve a question (material-spiritual) without some necessary elements which are useful for the solution and for comprehension. It is as if in a mathematical equation we forced ourselves to find a solution without knowing the value of an unknown quantity, and it is the unknown quantity which gives a sense and value to the whole equation. (The unknown quantity is not however a synonym of inexistence as is the tendency in western societies).
Let us now make another consideration. What difference is there between a rock and a man? Let us argue this from an exclusively materialistic point of view. Unable to say the spirit (as it is an immaterial element), we would then be forced to talk about the ability to move (or immobility), to reproduce and so on.
We would therefore be forced to make considerations about their substantial and visible nature and not on intellectual values. In effect, man (as solely a material component) and rock belong to the same universe, are made up of the same elementary particles, have to follow the same laws, the same rules, the same transience as matter. For too long Science, Technology, Culture and Politics have worked with elements and not with wholes, and the culture of elements behaves like an ostrich with its head buried in the sand. It does not see that the hole is contained in something (much more) bigger.