The Pope's reflections on "Hope" : deeply-considered, sometimes very moving. (disclaimer - I'm not Catholic.) (note to intellectuals : he seems to like Adorno, cites repeatedly). The passage on how we might understand the concept of "eternal life" is especially rewarding & clear.

Two tentative criticisms come to mind. The first is that sometimes, despite his generally brilliant and subtle thinking, Benedict falls into a sort of sacerdotal "religion-speak" (understandable, coming from a Pope). Nothing wrong with this in itself : but it might be relatively inaccessible to non-believers, skeptics - anyone suspicious about, or simply incapable of, conceptualizing a theistic reality. (Maybe it's a job for philosophical poets - like Stevens, for example - to imagine, conceptualize, and picture basic cosmic/human realities in a graspable way.)

The second is more specific. In the course of contrasting humanistic or atheistic social utopias or conceptions of history with a Christian perspective - a critique of notions of "progress" - Benedict emphasizes that, because of the gift of human freedom of the will, we must expect that every generation will have to struggle against evil. Thus incremental human progress toward an earthly paradise is represented as a form of determinism or social engineering, incompatible with freedom, and with the moral imperatives facing individuals and individual generations.

I guess as an American (predictably) I have a problem with this. And I'm groping for a sort of theological ground for a different view. It seems to me that if Benedict's position is the case, then social idealism (whether in Dante or the Social Gospel) is, to a degree, in vain.

I think one could imagine a future Earth where social relations and moral education have changed for the better - so much so, that when new generations of children and young people come into the world, they can - without renouncing freedom of the will - for the most part distinguish between good and evil, and choose, for the most part, the good.

This seems hard to imagine... but there is some Biblical authority for it (I think!!). There are passages in Isaiah and the prophets, about "they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and learn war no more". There are verses where God announces that he will replace "hearts of stone" with "hearts of flesh", and that all people will come to know God, in their own hearts. Thee are passages in the New Testament about "saving the world", "a new heaven and a new earth", etc.

How these things relate to eschatology, the 2nd Coming, the Last Judgement - that's another set of issues, and beyond me at the moment...

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