Sunday, May 31, 2009

1-21-2007: 3rd Ordinary Time (C)

Nehemiah 8:2-4,5-6,8-10/Psalm 19/1 Corinthians 12:12-30/Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21
When I was in seminary we read, or were supposed to read, a lot of the German theologian, Karl Rahner. One of the difficulties in reading Rahner (and there were many) was his German penchant for never ending a sentence – by the time the period popped up at the end, you had completely forgotten what he said at the beginning. Rahner also coined a lot of words we now use in theology, which could be as obscure as his endless clauses. One catchy phrase that leaves you scratching your head is gnoseological concupiscence. Concupiscence is nothing new in theology -- just a polite way of talking about lust. As for the other word in Rahner’s invention, it comes from the Greek gnosis, where we get our word gnostic (as readers of The DaVinci Code might recall); it means knowledge. Rahner coined the phrase to describe the difficulty modern theology faces in trying to cope with what he called “an insurmountable pluralism.” In other words: there’s just too much to digest. So, if you really desire knowledge, if you really want to discover what’s true, you’re going to have to be increasingly discerning about what you choose to read or study.

Gnoseological concupiscence is a lust for information, confusing information with knowledge or wisdom or even truth. It’s the need to survey absolutely everyone’s opinion in the name of democracy, to believe that something might be morally acceptable simply because the majority says so. It’s an insatiable desire to try everything before committing to something. You know you’ve got it when you find yourself spending half the day on the internet, or when you realize you’re hopelessly addicted to opening every e-mail you receive.

Good old-fashioned lust is not detrimental because it seeks pleasure; rather, it’s detrimental because it tricks you into believing the pleasure you seek will indeed satisfy your desire. Gnoseological concupiscence is likewise detrimental, not because it seeks information; but because it deludes you into believing that information, in itself, is the same as knowledge or wisdom or even truth.

The antidote to information-overload, this lust for information, might be found in today’s gospel – where Jesus stands up in the synagogue and is handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah to read. The gospel implies that he searched for the passage he wanted to read. In other words, Jesus was inner-directed. He did not have to read Isaiah in its entirety to express the truth about who he was, but rather searched for the right passage which would convey his conviction. His intention helped him focus. His decisiveness helped him uncover truth in those few verses of Isaiah he did read from the thousands of possible biblical verses he might have read.

Gnoseological concupiscence has gotten a lot worse since Rahner coined the phrase just thirty years ago; it will only get worse still. Just as the hedonist within each of us can waste a lifetime pursuing pleasure for its own sake, in the mistaken belief that it can satisfy all our desires, so the information-junkie could spend a lifetime surfing net and cable, tragically mistaken in the belief that information equals wisdom or truth.

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