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Friday, December 19, 2003

Quick hits on fatherhood.

The first is a short essay on earthly fathers and the heavenly Father by Scott Hahn.

The Catechism concludes that "God reveals his fatherly omnipotence by the way he takes care of our needs." We know God as Father because, over a lifetime of prayer, we experience His care for us. We come to see for ourselves that He is mighty and that He will deny us nothing that is good for us.

Earthly fatherhood at times reflects these characteristics, as do those offices that assume "fatherly" roles in society: the priesthood, for example, and the government. Yet earthly fathers can perfect their fatherhood only by purifying themselves of earthly motives—such as greed, envy, pride, and the desire to control. They can become true fathers only by conforming themselves to the image of their Heavenly Father, and that image is His first-born Son, Jesus Christ.

In governing, in parenting, or in priesthood, we come to exercise a more perfect fatherly role as we "grow up" in the Family of God: "We are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:16-17). This process is a divine corrective to the world's distorted notions of patriarchy and hierarchy.

The second is a review of a book examining several prominent atheists and their concepts of fatherhood.

Professor Vitz [] marshals a series of short biographies of famous atheists, with a focus on their relationships to their fathers. It is a pitiable litany of "defective" fathers ("weak, dead, or abusive") and of the men (most are men) who rebelled against God as a way of getting back at them. After the first few, one realizes that this is really just shooting fish in a barrel, or, better yet, like one of those films that animal rights activists make with guys clubbing baby seals to death. The victims lie there inert and helpless as a superior intellect lays into them. Even Professor Vitz recognizes that this parade of woes is almost unfair--the formula by which their youthful unhappiness with their fathers leads to their future unhappiness with God is so precise as to diminish terribly our respect for their work--but, as he notes, since psychology is a weapon that atheists have chosen to wield against God, it is only fair that they be hoist on it.

Third is an essay linked in the book review discussing two decent and humanitarian figures in existentialism and their father-son relationship, Jean Grenier and Albert Camus.

Camus was born in 1913 into a poor family in then-French Algeria. He never knew his father, who died the next year in the Battle of the Marne. So Camus was brought up in the poor Belcourt quarter of Algiers by his mother, grandmother, and other relatives. Despite a meteoric rise to the stratospheric summit of France’s elite culture, he never lost touch with these origins; indeed, he found in them a richness and reality that kept him from ideologies and political movements that professed love for ordinary people in theory but rode roughshod over them in practice.

One figure, 15 years his senior, who came early into his life and remained as a kind of intellectual father-figure until Camus died in a car accident shortly after winning the 1957 Nobel Prize for literature, was a significant French writer in his own right, the philosopher, essayist, and mystic Jean Grenier. Camus publicly acknowledged his debt to this master throughout his life, another way in which he differed from other great modern authors, who generally have tended to portray themselves as self-made geniuses, radically independent of any intellectual patrimony—indeed, engaged in a Hobbesian intellectual struggle to best all competitors.

Camus deftly exploded this pretension in the introduction he wrote to Grenier’s magical little book, Les Iles (Islands), which reflects a different reality that had transpired between the two men: “Among the half-truths that delight our intellectual society this stimulating thought can be found—that each consciousness seeks the death of the other. At once, we all become masters and slaves, dedicated to mutual annihilation. But the word master has another meaning, linked to the word disciple in respect and gratitude.... Mind thus engenders mind, from one generation to another, and human history, fortunately, is built as much on admiration as on hatred.”

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