on becoming extinct

Paradoxes are intriguing, perhaps this is so for the simplest of reasons: they seem to take one down the proverbial rabbit hole into a world filled with the illogical, the senseless, perhaps even a grin from a Cheshire cat. A paradox contradicts itself yet may in fact appear to be both true and not true at the same time.

Losing our humanity

Losing our humanity

Some of the most enduring paradoxes were devised some twenty-six hundred years ago by the Greek philosopher Zeno of Elea who attempted to show that motion is but an illusion. In one, often called the dichotomy paradox, Zeno claimed it to be impossible to leave a room through a single door located across a room. His reasoning: in order to reach the door first half the distance must be traversed. But before reaching the halfway point one must traverse half of half the distance or one quarter of the distance. And before reaching that point one must traverse half of half of half of the distance, ad infinitum. Thus, your trip can never begin because travel over any finite distance can neither be completed nor begun, and thus all motion must be an illusion.

It should be obvious that in order to solve a paradox one must first find the mistakes in it, a thing all too often not easily resolved. Some of Zeno’s have never been.

C. S. Lewis proposed another when he wrote “…as regards contraceptives, there is a paradoxical, negative sense in which all possible future generations are the patients or subjects of a power wielded by those already alive. By contraception simply, they are denied existence; by contraception used as a means of selective breeding, they are, without their concurring voice, made to be what one generation, for its own reasons, may choose to prefer.”[1]

Lewis saw with rare prescience and clarity of mind exactly “what the thing called ‘Man’s power over Nature’ must always and essentially be” further stating, “And all long-term exercise of power, especially in breeding, must mean the power of earlier generations over later ones….In order to understand fully what Man’s power over Nature, and therefore the power of some men over other men, really means, we must picture the race extended in time from the date of its emergence to that of its extinction. Each generation exercises power over its successors: …This modifies the picture which is sometimes painted of a progressive emancipation from tradition and a progressive control of natural processes resulting in a continual increase of human power. In reality, of course, if any one age really attains, by eugenics and scientific education, the power to make its descendants what it pleases, all men who live after it are the patients of that power. They are weaker, not stronger: for though we may have put wonderful machines in their hands we have pre-ordained how they are to use them. …There neither is nor can be any simple increase of power on Man’s side. Each new power won by man is a power over man as well….For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please.

It takes but little effort to see how much weaker we have become since Lewis wrote and spoke these prophetic words. More on this next week.



[1] C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, 1943.

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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