We have had a brief canvasing of some of my favorite ideas from the pope’s new encyclical. Things we say about nature will reflect things we say about human nature and vice versa. From the things’ integrity, by observing what a thing is, and what it is for, you can draw conclusions about its flourishing.
We learn more by observing our place in nature, and we can notice that we are created, certainly we get this from the Scriptures, too. We did not make ourselves. We do not decide what makes us tick or what completes us.
This alone is a challenging idea. We do not decide what is right or wrong for ourselves. Rather, we discern it from observation and from God’s correspondence with us.
That we discern right and wrong rather than make it up or depend on our own intuition is what is perhaps at the root of much of the misunderstanding. This dynamic has been around from the beginning. Adam and Eve desired to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) sees this as suggesting they wanted to decide for themselves what was right and what was wrong. The very fact that they are created not by themselves but by God makes this a metaphysical impossibility. Given our place in creation has created, that we are created, we don’t create what is right or wrong, rather, we discern what is right and wrong, we discover it, we learn it, just like we do with natures.
How we discern right and wrong will be reflected in how we discern the natures of things. Think of squirrels (squirrels often feature in my examples), no one just decides what a squirrel is. Squirrels are, plain and simple. Neither does anyone just decide what will fulfill or make a squirrel complete. It just does this naturally, seemingly on its own.
Because reason can make decisions, we can get the impression that we decide for ourselves what is right and wrong, what brings us fulfillment, what completes us, but I would suggest to you that the relationship between us and discerning our fulfillment resembles more the relationship between us and discerning the squirrel’s fulfillment than we might think.