The modern age has given way to all sorts of technologies, innovations, and information sources. But any good thing in excess can become a bad thing. That object or habit that was made to provide freedom can turn into a sort of idol or master. It can take many forms, whether it be our phones, our work, our laziness, or any number of things. Taking that into account, how do we battle against the dangers of the modern age? What things can we cut out to maximize ourselves?
Recently on The Cale Clarke Show, Cale took a look at a book by Antonin-Gilbert Sertillanges, O.P. called The Intellectual Life. Sertillanges wrote the book as a guide for readers who were intent on excelling as scholars, but the advice in the book is not only valuable for academics. It addresses a host of issues relevant to all laypeople who want to reinvigorate their lives.
Sertillanges talks about certain habits we should strive for, including eating healthily, taking walks, getting enough rest, prioritizing our tasks, and staying organized. However, the overarching theme behind the guide is to remind us that we are human beings. “And I used to have this professor. He used to ask this all the time. He used to always say, ‘Are you a human doing or are you a human being?’” Our lives are filled with activities, work, responsibilities, obligations, necessities, wants, and needs. It’s easy to get lost in the whirlwind of constant motion that we forget what we are. We forget to “be”.
In The Intellectual Life, Sertillanges rejects the idea of “Cartesian Dualism”, the belief that what you think can determine your reality. In his quest to present an effective path to excellence and happiness, he denies the acceptance of false freedom, this false freedom that we can alter reality by denying it. That’s just delusion.
There is a book by Father Jacques Phillippe titled Interior Freedom which talks about the concept of true freedom versus what freedom looks like to the world. According to the secular view, freedom means being able to actively choose what we want, regardless of moral standards, legality, or reality. We live in a time where many people are calling for this false freedom, this embrace of delusion. Choose what you want. Father Jacques disagrees. True freedom is the acceptance, the consent to be as we are, with all our faults, all our shortcomings, and all our potential. To attempt to recreate reality is to say God made a mistake.
“That’s exactly this ‘Cartesian Dualism’ run amuck. ‘What I think I am, I am. I am whatever I think I am.’ No. We don’t buy into that as Catholic Christians because we believe that the human person is a body-soul unity. You are a body. You don’t have a body.” This corporeal form that we inhabit is not a restriction on reality or our freedom. It is a gift from God, a temple. We are ourselves, created in the image and likeness of God. We can’t allow this modern adaptation of freedom to taint the truth.
Another danger of the modern world that Sertillanges says poses a danger to our maximization is the inordinate consumption of information and stimuli. He was writing this in the 1920s, yet his words are more relevant now than ever. He said that by overindulging in reading, people slowly eliminate the ability to form original thoughts and their mental energy is slowly worn down. “The continual sight stimuli, thus occasioned, destroys mental energy as constant vibration wears out steel.” We have this modern conception that to stay informed, smart, and relevant, we need to consume information at an alarming rate. But in actuality, this obsession with reading is harmful. It is in the silence, the language of God, that we find our intellect.
“When silence takes possession of you, when far from the racket of the human highway, the sacred fire flames up in the stillness, when peace, which is the tranquility of order, puts order in your thoughts, your feelings, your investigations, then you are in the supreme disposition for learning.”
Listen to the full talk below:
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