Much of the road from Mittagong, New South Wales, to the Abercrombie River was in 1968 extremely dangerous, except for a few careful drivers. I drove it one night in that year and arrived safely at the campsite of the parish youth club. Would anyone be surprised to hear that I had the headlights on?
Perhaps I could have dared myself to cover that twisted, narrow, unsealed track winding its way down the mountains with no headlights. More than likely I would have finished up in pieces at the bottom of that steep and treacherous gorge. I would have been mad to try it.
Why then do many influential philosophers, theologians and Scripture scholars still try to sort out the meaning of life, the nature of man, the explanation for the existence of things, without reference to Divine Revelation?
One can understand the unbelieving philosopher not applying the advantages of Revelation - hoping for his sake that his conscience is clear - but why some of the recipients of Revelation persist in offering incense to scholars, who fail to reach the right conclusions, remains as unfathomable as driving the Abercrombie Road at night without headlights!
Philosophy is the study of all things by the light of unaided human reason. Theology is the study of all things under the light of Divine Revelation. These days one must be careful of philosophical degrees; you can meet doctors of philosophy who got their degrees by a knowledge of geography or the eating habits of Amazonian red ants! A true philosopher has the love of wisdom, which is what the word philosophy means. Degrees do not necessarily guarantee that.
The same applies to theological degrees, or degrees in Sacred Scripture: there seems to be a horde of these people charging about the darkened countryside of human thought without the headlights on, who love "scholarly" conclusions that work against the Sacred Magisterium of Jesus Christ's Church. The magisterium of the scholars!
There seems to be, in much of today's philosophy and theology, a determination to go no higher than standards of thought set by those regarded as the "experts" in those fields. All that happens here is that such scholars keep banging their heads on the low ceilings of human thought, limited by its very nature, instead of being free to speculate safety, with the Magisterium, in the unlimited wonders of Revelation.
At the same time they enjoy immensely the light it sheds on what is beautiful and good upon God's earth and in human life, which He made to reach the height of being "in His image".
Why is it that a great proportion of scholarship persists in leaving out that very gift which is designed to give it thrilling fulfilment? Why do scholars leave God out of reality? Why divorce from human thought the very One which created man's power to think?
Some of us still persist in "eating of the tree of knowledge,"ending up in the confinement of obsolescent thinking, rather than accepting the invitation of Infinite Thinking Himself, whose "truth will get you free."
Plato will rise up to condemn the ignorers of Revelation, for even without its benefits, he knew God's existence was obvious from the order in the universe, and wanted atheists who persisted in their heresies put to death!
Perhaps fear of being put outside the peer group inhibits some scholars; or perhaps they have simply lost the Faith. The evidence that they have done just that is as obvious as a tsunami roaring towards some unfortunate shore, for everywhere we see the fruits of driving without the headlights of Revelation: a Jesus Christ without divinity, sources of Revelation, especially Scripture, that have no historic foundation, a moral law changeable to suit the human whim. What inspiring conclusions!
The test of good scholarship must always be its power to provide true inspiration for us to seek the Highest.
Will we never learn? The long, long path of man's speculations is strewn with the decayed ruins of his unsatisfying philosophies and theologies: habitations for the mind that could not sustain it unto its truly attainable fulfilment. So they keep quoting their experts, without looking deeper to find the True Source of expertise.
If one wants to show the Blue Mountains to overseas visitors, one does not take them up there at night and try to illustrate the wonders with a man-made torch! One goes there when the sun is at its best and brightest. Then one sees the glory of the created and the Creator!
Just so one is thrilled in the use of the human mind doing what it was designed and made to do - enjoy the light of Divine Revelation showing us the wonder of the Giver of Life and of the gift of life
Perhaps pride is the problem. Man loves to be able to claim credit for things and theories. The desire for what is really false independence is the innate danger inherent in the gift of mind and free will, the essentials that constitute human nature.
God foresaw it, of course, but still created us, knowing that there would be those who would take advantage of their human existence and use life according to His plan, and so come to its ineffable fulfilment.
How misunderstood is humility? Far from being a weakness, it is the necessary condition in a person that flushes out the refuse of self-centredness; it enables all the gifts God plants in each of us to grow in beauty; and far, far more, it enables Divine Truth to glorify the mind of man, and Divine Life to lift his soul beyond himself.
Is that not what all our human quest has been about? "I was outside myself!" we cry when we are happiest. Outside ourselves! That is where the joy of Life is waiting. Benedicamus Domino!
Fr John O'Neill is the parish priest at Doonside in the Parramatta Diocese. He is the author of several books and collections of poetry.