Your life does not belong to you

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It was revealed this week that, for the first time in its history, Harvard University, which had been founded for religious purposes and named for a minister of the Gospel, has admitted a freshman class in which atheists and agnostics outnumber professed Christians and Jews. Also this week, the House and the Senate of California passed a provision that allows for physician assisted suicide in the Golden State. As I write these words, the governor of California is deliberating whether to sign the bill into law. Though it might seem strange to suggest as much, I believe that the make-up of the Harvard freshman class and the passing of the suicide law are really related.
I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised that non-believers have come to outnumber believers among the rising cohort of the American aristocracy. For the whole of their lives, these young people have been immersed in the corrosive acids of relativism, scientism, and materialism. Though they have benefitted from every advantage that money can afford, they have been largely denied what the human heart most longs for: contact with the transcendent, with the good, true, and beautiful in their properly unconditioned form. But as Paul Tillich, echoing the Hebrew prophets, reminded us, we are built for worship, and therefore in the absence of God, we will make some other value our ultimate concern. Wealth, power, pleasure, and honor have all played the role of false gods over the course of the human drama, but today especially, freedom itself has emerged as the ultimate good, as the object of worship. And what this looks like on the ground is that our lives come to belong utterly to us, that we become great projects of self-creation and self-determination.
As the Bible tells it, the human project went off the rails precisely at the moment when Adam arrogated to himself the prerogative of determining the meaning of his life, when he, in the agelessly beautiful poetry of the book of Genesis, ate of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Read the chapters that immediately follow the account of the Fall, and you will discover the consequences of this deified freedom: jealousy, hatred, fratricide, imperialism, and the war of all against all. The rest of the Biblical narrative can be interpreted as God’s attempt to convince human beings that their lives, in point of fact, do not belong to them. He did this precisely by choosing a people whom he would form after his own mind and heart, teaching them how to think, how to behave, and above all, how to worship. This holy people Israel – a word that means, marvelously, “the one who wrestles with God” – would then, by the splendor of their way of life, attract the rest of the world. On the Christian reading, this project reached its climax in the person of Jesus Christ, a first-century Israelite from the town of Nazareth, who was also the Incarnation of the living God. The coming-together of divinity and humanity, the meeting of infinite and finite freedom, Jesus embodies what God intended for us from the beginning.
And this is precisely why Paul, one of Jesus’ first missionaries, announced him as Kyrios (Lord) to all the nations, and why he characterized himself as doulos Christou Iesou (a slave of Christ Jesus). Paul exulted in the fact that his life did not belong to him, but rather to Christ. In his letter to the Ephesians, he wrote, “there is a power already at work in you that can do infinitely more than you can ask or imagine.” He was referencing the Holy Spirit, which orders our freedom and which opens up possibilities utterly beyond our capacities. To follow the promptings of this Spirit is, for Paul and for all the Biblical authors, the source of life, joy, and true creativity.
All of which brings me back to Harvard and legalized suicide. The denial of God – or the blithe bracketing of the question of God – is not a harmless parlor game. Rather, it carries with it the gravest implications. If there is no God, then our lives do indeed belong to us, and we can do with them what we want. If there is no God, our lives have no ultimate meaning or transcendent purpose, and they become simply artifacts of our own designing. Accordingly, when they become too painful or too shallow or just too boring, we ought to have the prerogative to end them. We can argue the legalities and even the morality of assisted suicide until the cows come home, but the real issue that has to be engaged is that of God’s existence.
The incoming freshman class at Harvard is a disturbing omen indeed, for the more our society drifts into atheism, the more human life is under threat. The less we are willing even to wrestle with God, the more de-humanized we become.

COMING UP: Ms. Taylor: St. Louis’ fourth grade founder

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The following interview was conducted by the eighth grade class of 2020 at St. Louis Catholic School in Louisville to honor Ms. Lydia Taylor, the school’s beloved fourth grade teacher who is retiring after 20 years of teaching at St. Louis.

Our beloved fourth grade teacher, Ms. Taylor, has been working at St. Louis for over 20 years. As such, she has plenty of experience teaching in a Catholic environment. Since she is retiring this year, the 8th grade class at St. Louis decided to interview her and find out about Ms. Taylor. These are just a few of the many answers we received from her.

What are some things you wish more people understood about teaching in a Catholic School?

“I feel like we address the whole person… and [teach] life skills that can be carried on into their grown-up lives.”

Ms. Taylor feels that in Catholic schools, children receive an education that is applicable in all aspects of life, not just the academic portion. Catholic school teachers help children with social skills and independence among other skills. At public schools, teachers don’t get to know their students on a personal level, unlike Catholic schools. A personal connection with their students allows teachers to educate them on important life matters. Our Catholic faith and morals also allow our teachers to help students without having to worry about offending or insulting them.

What will you miss most about teaching at St. Louis?

“I’m going to miss the students for sure, and I’m actually going to miss the parents. I have had a lot of friendships over the years… A lot of my teaching friends have left before me, but I still keep in touch with them.”

Since Ms. Taylor was hired at St. Louis three days before the school year started, her room was a mess, and she wasn’t going to be able to clean it up in time. The parents at St. Louis saw how worried she was and stepped in to help by cleaning her room and organizing her lesson plan. She says she has met some truly incredible people here at St. Louis.

How would you like to spend your summers when you leave St. Louis?

“I think I’m going to move back East and vacation here in the summers… When I became a teacher, I thought I would have the summers to write, but I don’t, so I will probably catch up on my writing when I retire.”

Ms. Taylor has a passion for writing and even used to be a newspaper reporter. Her passion to write is still strong, and she hopes to do plenty of it when she retires.

Ms. Taylor with the eight grade class of 2020 at St. Louis. (Photos provided)

What accomplishments fill you with pride over the last 20 years at St. Louis?

“Having student teachers come back. I enjoy having my students come back wanting to pursue a job as a teacher.”

Ms. Taylor feels that she did her job properly when she inspires her students so much that they come back asking for assistance so that they can be just like her. She also enjoys hearing from students who have graduated and she can see what they are up to and how she impacted their lives.

Is there a quote/ saying that you live your life by?

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Gandhi

Ms. Taylor believes that if you want to improve the world, you will have to set a good example of how we should treat each other and how we should live our lives. Ms. Taylor sets a good example for her children in hopes that they will go out and set a good example for the rest of the world.

If you could pass on any wisdom to your students, what would you share?

“Don’t sweat the small stuff,” Ms. Taylor believes.

She thinks that people shouldn’t worry as much about the minor issues in life but focus on the things that are more important.

What would students be surprised to find out about you?

“This is kind of embarrassing, but I was actually in the Mrs. Massachusetts pageant… It was great for all my friends because they got to watch me up on the stage, but for me, it was like, “What do we do now?” and “Why am I doing this?”

Ms. Taylor also brought in a picture of a quilt she made with her class one year, which hung in the capitol building for one month. The whole class received official certificates of their work from the quilt, and the quilt sold for $2,000 at our school’s Gala.

Ms. Taylor is an incredible teacher and has been here for her students for over 20 years. We wish her luck in her further adventures and will always remember her here at St. Louis as an amazing teacher and friend.