Providence has given me a number of reasons of late to examine more closely my fundamental theological ideas. Among not the least of these reasons is my obedience to obtain a doctorate in sacred theology and my desire to be a responsible catholic blogger.
In this project I have begun to try to articulate a certain theological sense of modern history that I seem to hold, and which seems to frame a lot of my thinking. This being the case, I need to get these ideas out in the open so I can examine them better and submit myself to critique.
In that spirit, here are the outlines of the theology of history that I seem to have fallen into over the years. I don't present this as a set of theological claims, but as an attempt at self-examination.
1. Modern man, as Nietzsche famously diagnosed, killed God and thereby emancipated himself from religion (and yes, often even we religious people want to enjoy this emancipation for ourselves, wanting to have it both ways) and from both the desire for and responsibility to any supernatural destiny.
2. Because people want purpose, direction, and meaning more than anything else, purely rational substitutes for God as the purpose and goal of human history began to emerge thanks to Hegel, Marx, etc. Historical dialectics replaced the eschatological Kingdom of God. On the other hand, thanks to Freud, the ascent of the mind to God was replaced with an inward, therapeutic journey of personal archaeology.
3. As the twentieth century passed, these replacements for the dead God came to destroy themselves. National Socialism scarred the whole world. Communism caused tremendous suffering and then imploded. The inward, therapeutic journey which was supposed to be so liberating came to yield a rotten fruit of narcissism and entitlement.
4. With both God and Marx dead--that is to say without either a natural or supernatural meaning or destiny--modern man had become, by the middle of the twentieth century, adrift. He began to call his state of being adrift his 'post-modernity.' In this condition he has nothing left to do but argue about the right way to conduct the modern liberal state (and sorry, the 'modern liberal state' embraces both 'liberals' and 'conservatives' in the political sense of the terms.) But even in this project he has no criteria for doing so, being without any durable values, shared ultimate concern, or absolute truth. So the criteria for conducting the modern liberal state come to be based on personal feelings and personal convenience on the animal level--both having been given some sense of 'absolute' value by the therapeutic journey. Thus, we end up in a situation where various tragedies and absurdities, e.g. state-sanctioned abortion and homosexual "marriage" respectively, become to people obvious, 'no-brainers.'
5. Into this state of affairs, the Catholic Church, in the wake of Vatican II, tried to finally embrace the ideas of modernity, like someone who comes to a party just as it is ending. So we get a certain 'Spirit of Vatican II' that wants to talk about historical progress in the sense of the European Enlightenment, just as the rest of the thoughtful world--having witnessed the first half of the twentieth century--is just about ready to reject it. Thus, we end up with a kind of misplaced focus in our ministry and preaching, in which the 'progress of peoples' is seen in an overly this-worldly way. Works of material charity and social justice are very worthwhile, and even necessary, but even more than these, what modern "society" (if it can be called that) really needs is eschatology, a sense of where it is going, an idea of the Destiny from which derives the meaning of the present and the person within it.
So there it is. As I try to dig out my theological assumptions, I realize that this sense of history is a big part of it. In some ways, it's mixed up with my unconsciously abstracting a theology from my own experience of conversion.