By Dr. Matthew Tsakanikas, Chair & Associate Professor of Catholic Theology at Christendom College
Time is Ordered to Eternity…a philosophy of desire and history
“The good is that which all things desire”…so said Aristotle and the ancient Greek philosophers. They observed that things move and act for an end or purpose; laws moving matter according to physics (externals) or something moving itself internally (by life forces and biology). The cause of the movement is ‘desire’. It sounds silly to the modern ear: “desire”? The term is used analogously for non-living and living entities. Things experience attraction by things acting upon them, even things not always present or materially visible. Living things experience an attraction because they are seeking fulfillment…an end. This pre-Christian definition of the ancient Greek philosophers concerning “the good” opens us to consideration of motion, the world in motion, and ultimately self-movement and direction…even the history of the world…a history of passion and intelligent pursuits.
In today’s scientific world, sometimes we need to be reminded it is O.K. to generalize and speak according to common sense, to look at the forest and see more than just individual trees. It’s O.K. to talk still about sunrise and sunset instead of describing the earth rotating on its axis in describing when you will wake-up or when the picnic will end. We do not need to know the measurement or movement of quarks to act with a moral compass. One way or the other, what is random at a micro or quantum level is certainly making possible freedom at a macro and human level. We understand the difference between external movements caused by physics and internal movements caused by life forces; that some material like rocks are moved by physics while animals are moved by biology and internal desire.
What exists even at a level random and relative to us has a cause for its existence since the random is not the cause of its own existence. Certainly, something always existed and makes the random, motion and the contingent even possible; makes experience possible and self-consciousness possible. This means that the cause of existence (and the goodness of existence) has even ‘the random’ within its eternal boundaries. Purpose and contingency flow within the bounds of Providence and Eternity. Looking at history in the general sense of it culminating in the human species and human freedom, this means that motion and the flow of time has been taken up into humans: into desires, attractions, and intelligence. History is not just movement in meaningless and eternal cycles. History is bound by Providence and reflected upon by human intelligence…wanting to bring the ideal into time.
Desire, attraction, and movement led to the human race. Desire still has a role to play in human history. Desire was intelligence’s first guide. It helped us follow nature’s lead: seek life, seek goodness. There is a reason we experience desire…eternal goodness exists and is constantly calling to us and acting upon us through the contingent, time and space. Desires within us are a witness inside of us to goodness and even to goodness that isn’t yet visible or in our grasp. Desire reminds us that we’re alive and have a destiny: to have life and have it more abundantly. Desire was purposefully planted in human nature and everything to keep us moving forward into the development of ourselves and the world in which we live.
Natural, and not just learned desires, are themselves a pledge of a possible reality to come…a reality we must strive to attain and come to understand through reflection and hindsight. In the very experience of desires, humans are educated into understanding the importance and role of natural and supernatural faith. We learn that certain longings – already promised within the experiences of human desiring – are in fact pledges and promises of future fulfillment. Eternal Goodness has developed desires within the human heart which it plans on eventually revealing and fulfilling…especially eternal life.
Hope in the Midst of Apocalypse
History is about development and an eternal plan, not meaninglessness or random existence. No doubt history is not tightly linear. It has cycles and loops in its progression. The universe may have expanded and collapsed tens of times before it reached the entropy needed for the equilibrium of natural forces for biological life as we know it today. History moves with two steps forward and one step back. Earth had to be developed and then destroyed before it gave birth to the matter that made the moon and gives the cycle of earth’s tides which drop life from the ocean onto the shores. Two steps forward and one step back is part of the natural process of bringing forth life and pushing it forward. History is more of a perichoresis and dance than a chart of simple linear evolution.
With a little bit of hindsight, the definition of the good (“…that which all things desire”) enables us to consider that there really is a plan that benefits each member of the human race and the succession of the ages. There is an eternal goal within the rise and fall of cultures, inside the rise and fall of the tides of time. “The good,” that which all men desire, actually explains why the whole world is in motion and the meaning of time itself. The natural desire for the good inside every human is always inspiring us to move forward to better ourselves, the eternal is always breathing desire and hope into every intelligent creature even in the midst of the tides of time, setbacks or prosperity. God works for the good inside all who trust in Him.
The good motivates us to live and silently urges us to keep trying despite trial and hard times; despite the tides of cultural change. There really is an apocalypse coming, an unveiling of the eternal. This is what apocalypse ultimately means: unveiling. Sometimes it’s the unveiling of ourselves and our limits and sometimes of the eternal and Eternity’s plan. Nevertheless, apocalypse is about an eternal plan to break the power of evil and not just about senseless destruction. Eternal goodness calls us to courageously keep building a civilization of love, to keep bringing the Good and eternal into time and the temporal, the secular and saeculorum. Humans, the very mystery of intelligence within time & materiality, were made to unite heaven and earth in ourselves. From ancient times into Christianity, humans are microcosms. We even can carry the eternal in our souls when time ceases for us biologically. Eternity can connect with time inside human intelligence (the soul), and human intelligence can be carried into eternity.
The Good is eternal and has been drawing all creation to itself through the natures They created and developed with wisdom. The Eternal One, Life, the Transcendent, wants intelligent creatures (who image Their one Intelligence and Love) to draw Their eternal life into time. This happens by the intelligent creature loving and desiring Their eternal life and wisdom. This is why despite all suffering and apparent meaninglessness, both in real life and in disaster movies, humans hope against all earthly reasons to hope and strive for survival in this world which is always passing away. Humans were made throughout time to be the very desire for goodness and eternal life.
Time and eternity are distinct realms, but time can be taken into eternity via the path of natural desires…especially the natural desire for the truth as it seeks eternity’s call. Eternity has been cultivating time. Eternity can enter time without disruption to the creation which Eternity sustains. Desire, and the hidden eternal goodness behind every limited good, have been secretly aiding humans all along towards our eternal destiny, sustaining us in hope.
Towards Ecology: Morality, Purpose, and the Common Good
There is something beyond what we see, something eternal and intelligent and the cause of intelligence and life in the material universe; something that is purely intelligent and immaterial, Eternal and without cause; Something intangible to time but developing created intelligent/loving creatures into its likeness. The Eternal beckons the human mind to strive for the goodness which the Eternal possesses as the source of all goodness. “The good is that which all things desire.” We follow desire because we know that what we want is good for us even when we can’t articulate why. Even if we mistakenly act in evil and ignorance, desire is still a partial guide: good is to be pursued, evil is to be avoided. The partial guide which we know as desire is only completed in wisdom and following the natural desire for truth. Intelligence seeks truth as the lasting good and participation in wisdom. This is why all intelligent creatures hate being lied to: truth exists and we desire it for our goodness and freedom.
Desire is our first educator and is real and carries a partial message about the good within it. We follow desire because we believe it will make us happy. In the end, we are striving for happiness and lasting happiness, even while living in a valley of ignorance, suffering, and tears. True philosophy, love and desire for truth and wisdom, is about striving and bringing about what will help humans discover, develop, and attain lasting happiness. Goodness is the source and end of all human activity because it generates desire. Nothing can ever change this, but desire needs to be educated in the truth about the good in order for desire to be a valid educator; for humans to achieve wholeness and fulfillment in truth. The truth about ourselves and all our deepest desires is that we must not exclude the common good (which makes possible our own good). This common good is founded within friendship for God and neighbor if we wish to find fulfillment and life in the Eternal. Making a better culture and a better environment for our neighbor is part of wisdom and truth.
Humans, Ecology, and the Founding of America
Good ideas are channels for goodness to enter the world and goodness exists to be shared. As the ancient philosophers also said, “The good is diffusive,” it wants to share itself. Sharing is at the heart of goodness. Thoughtful sharing makes us more humane, more like God the Eternal. The human mind was made to recognize true goodness and channel goodness into the development of the individual, natures, and the development of the world. Good is to be multiplied, and evil is to be shunned. As the image of God, humans are naturally ecologists, stewards and managers of the world they inhabit. They must manage the world with wisdom, helping others share in the freedom which also make humans accountable for the world.
Ideas are what make an intelligent culture great and elevate the inhabitants or which make cultures ignorant, prone to evil and lead them to self-destruction. The more goodness we see in ideas the more attractive (desirous) ideas become. Selfish people look only for what satisfies them, without wisdom and concern for others. They are immature and uncivilized. Loving and good people look for what benefits them and raises up the people around them. Only a healthy and developed mind, an ecological, experienced, and mature mind has the sight to see which ideas lead to prosperity and development and which ideas sow the seeds of self-destruction.
Ideas that lead to respect for the nature of things, greater human freedom and realization, development of the common good, and lasting happiness are ecological and based in the truth. Note “logical” inside ecological. The root word of ‘logical’ in Greek is logos, reasonable…discerning the way things work and fostering goodness. At the heart of ecology is recognizing nature (the forest) and natures (the individual fruit trees) and understanding nurture (how to develop the immature or dependent). It’s about habitats and homes…the “eco” in ecology which comes from the Greek word for home, oikos.
Ideas not based in authentic natural human desires for the true, realization, the good of others, respect of natures, and for lasting happiness are false and lead to destruction. They are un-ecological, developing neither the environment and health we need, nor the natures of living things we need…from clean water, to plants, to animals, to good and intelligent stewards of it all. As intelligent creatures we are stewards of creation, called to build good homes for all living beings, called to channel goodness into the world through preservation of good ideas and good practices, called to protect the most valuable tangibles and intangibles.
The human mind, intelligence, the image of God, is capable of recognizing truth and goodness and sharing ideas, development, health and wealth. Persons are sacred, the highest good in the order of time, and only humans make sacred the things that exist for them. Because humans are sacred – the image of God – murder is a crime and destruction of their homes is second to it. Immaterial and sacred, the image of God in humans is like God and is to be cherished. The image of God in humans produces true wealth. It can be used to intelligently multiply and spread good and eternal ideas without cost or diminishment to the giver the more ideas are given away. Because humans are so important and sacred to the environment, humans can define by their ideas and discoveries from eternal wisdom what is sacred and what is not. If humans are not sacred, then nothing in the environment that they observe or declare to be sacred can be sacred. Humans speak for the environment and the eternal holds us responsible because freedom entails responsibility.
Earthly realities are sacred when through the human mind they have been discovered and promulgated as sacred (life-giving) and when God reveals them as sacred. Without humans as the image of God, nothing in the order of time, has intrinsic value. We are the summit of history and time as even the Incarnation demonstrates. Humans have been given intelligence in order to multiply what is good and develop nature in accordance with wisdom, not to destroy it. We are cooperators with the Eternal One inside the temporal order. Good ideas, sacred ideas, truly life-giving ideas which can be multiplied without cost and shared without diminishment are meant to be shared freely and liberally.
This is why the pen (keyboard) is mightier than the sword. This is why the intangibles are more valuable than the tangibles and why timeless truths (true religious ideals) outlast godless empires. It is only the intangible truths which are capable of developing a culture in lasting goodness and prosperity, because only the truth can make us free to abide in greater goodness and multiply what is good. “The good is that which all men desire.” Only the truth can give us the happiness we ultimately desire: that which is real and good and for which intelligent creatures live and by which we are made happy. The truth sets us free for freedom.
Only the truth opens us to what is eternal and the greatest freedoms. The founding document of American culture is clear. Founded on “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” the Declaration of Independence promulgated: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The American story and the truths that originally made the culture prosper, are part of the human story…the true ideas that make a culture great and exceptional. “Created equal” is a cultural reference to the greatest of all truths and ideas relative to humans: humans are made in the image of God. This idea, this revelation’s true meaning and accomplishment is being forgotten and misrepresented. Its recovery is necessary for re-channeling all the goodness that made America and Western Civilization prosper.