“What Sort of World” (part 2 of 3)

Hands_of_God_and_AdamIf this world is something more than the obvious, the material, the analyzable, then what is that “something more”?

Fr. Stephen Freeman points out one possibility:

“For some, the problem of many things carrying a double meaning is resolved by placing one of the meanings within the mind of the person who sees it. Thus, something is literally one thing, while a person may understand it to be another. The Sistine Chapel is literally marked by a collection of colors, but is understood as beautiful and a work of genius by an educated witness. Of course, this distinction has the handicap of saying that things are really only their material components—anything more is in the eye (or mind) of the beholder. Thus the significance of reality is somehow less than real—it becomes merely psychological or cultural. This is another manifestation of the two-story universe. The first floor on which we all live is “real,” while the second floor is found “in the understanding” of some.” [italics mine]

Thus, the usual modern response is that the world may indeed have more meaning than its mere materiality. But you and I, the observers, determine that meaning. It is in my mind; it true for me; it’s my opinion. You and I assign its meaning.

Along these same lines, it is common to hear the statement in modern discussions about the meaning of things, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” (so put in this modern form by Margaret Wolfe Hungerford).

Both of these viewpoints suggest that, in answering the question, “What sort of world is this?” the answer can be left to the observer—to you, to me—to anyone who cares to venture an opinion. It is the one who is questioned, the one who is looking at the Sistine Chapel who determines the answer.

To sum up, “It is man who assigns the meaning.”

It may well be true that a large group of men will agree that the Sistine Chapel is beautiful, or they may come to a similar answer as to the meaning of the world, but the key to this view is that man is the determiner of that meaning. Man can answer the question accurately.

An obvious problem arises when these men disagree. The disagreement may be due to cultural, psychological, or other factors. What if they come to different conclusions as to the answer to these questions, “What sort of world is this? What sort of people are we?” It’s not long before problems arise, as we can see in our own country this very week.

So, have we found the answer? What sort of world is this anyway?