The bog of uncertainty
I fear I will be plucking a lot of quotes from Ratzinger’s book if he keeps up this level of exposition. From the pages of Chapter One, “Belief in the World Today”:
Man does not live on the bread of practicability alone; he lives as man and, precisely in the intrinsically human part of his being, on the word, on love, on meaning. Meaning is the bread on which man, in the intrinsically human part of his being, subsists. Without word, without meaning, without love he falls into the situation of no longer being able to live, even when earthly comfort is present in abundance… meaning is not derived from knowledge. To try to manufacture it in this way, that is, out of the provable knowledge of what can be made, would resemble Baron Munschausen’s absurd attempt to pull himself up out of the bog by his own hair. I believe that the absurdity of this story mirrors very accurately the basic situation of man. No one can pull himself up out of the bog of uncertainty, of not being able to live, by his own excertions; nor can we pull ourselves up, as Descartes still thought we could, by a cogito ergo sum, by a series of intellectual deductions. Meaning that is in the last analysis self made is no meaning. Meaning, that is, the ground on which our existence as a totality can stand and live, cannot be made but only received.
To believe as a Christian means in fact entrusting oneself to the meaning that upholds me and the world; taking it as the firm ground on which I can stand fearlessly. Using rather more traditional language, we could say that to believe as a Christian means understanding our existence as a response to the logos, that upholds and maintains all things.
A simpler way of saying what the Pope is getting at (and he wrote this book back in 1968, long before he was even a papal contender) is that a few rules make a game possible. They give meaning, direction and purpose to all of the actions that take place within. If we get rid of them we do not have more freedom; we have in fact nothing at all. Importantly, he is also saying that God does not merely make up the rules arbitrarily because truth and rightness and existence cannot exist in anyway apart from him. From the Catechism #2465:
The Old Testament attests that God is the source of all truth. His Word is truth. His Law is truth. His “faithfulness endures to all generations.” Since God is “true,” the members of his people are called to live in the truth.
They are, in other words, called to recognize the universal objectivity of the Truth, the recognition of which is crucial to restrain the human will to power.