My view of the world constantly vacillates between the extremes of optimism and pessimism, as I journey through the modern world. On the one hand there seems to be a new effort on the part of many to live together on this small planet. Human rights, cultural diversity and respect, new avenues of communication fostered by technology, and the new ‘green thinking’ give me great hope.

Then again, I often find myself lamenting our age of specialization where the big picture of human life is often lost, as our educational institutions train our youth to do very specialized and complex tasks and procedures. Each person becomes part of a large mosaic of specialists. The situation has some similarity to bees working in hives, and ants in colonies. Many in our western societies have great technical skill, but little understanding or appreciation of the human journey. People often know a lot about very little, and very little about everything else.

The modern world expands the horizon of human consciousness, and promises great hope for the future. At another, level, the individual and personal one, it often narrows the focus and creates isolation. Today, many seem to exist in the cocoon of modernity, isolated from the expanded horizon.

It might be said that we are at a crossroads. Will we choose to use the wide angle lens or the telephoto lens to steer ourselves into the future of human civilization. There is evidence, I believe for both directions, but which one will lead the way? If Pope Benedict has anything to say about it, the narrow focus will open us up to the wide angle, if we deliberately focus on what it means to be human. Last week, speaking to a symposium of university professors gathered to extend the horizons of human rationality, he said:  “Modernity is not simply a historically-datable cultural phenomenon; in reality it requires a new focus, a more exact understanding of the nature of man.” Hopefully, his voice will be heard, and others of like mind will come forward to lead us out of our self-centered cocoons into a reality where we will truly recognize what it mean to be made in the “image and likeness of God.”

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