by Alessandra Luedeking
On Wednesday, March 12, Mark Miller, Ph.D. graduate from Boston College’s former Theology MA program and current professor of theology at the University of San Francisco, delivered a lecture on the occasion of the publication of his new book, The Quest for God and the Good Life: Lonergan’s Theological Anthropology.
Miller’s work centers on the belief that “all statements are answers to questions, and all questions arise in a context. To understand the statement, you have to know and understand the question that answers and then the context in which it arose.” His book aims at exploring a collection of statements and the questions that preceded them.
Miller began by providing his listeners with the context leading to the creation of his book. As a foreign service major at Georgetown, Miller’s classes often erupted into debates which boiled down to the ultimate question: “how do you know?” Miller argued that all decisions are based on what people think is true about reality and also on what people hold as their highest good. Conflict stems from a lack of love.
“There is conflict because people don’t love themselves. They place conditional grounds for love, such as ‘I love myself because I am educated, rich, beautiful, etc,’” Miller said. The antidote to this is given in the Great Commandment which inspires unconditional love: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,’ and ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Mt. 22:37-39).
“We need unconditional love to have self-love and then to be able to love other people,” Miller said. “There is an ordered structure to the Great Commandment. Proper love of other is based on proper love of self. And proper love of self is based on love of God.”
His ideas are echoed most prominently in Bernard Lonergan’s philosophy, which informs the content of Miller’s book.
Miller then focused on the content of his book. He presents Lonergan’s three-part dialectic of things in continual struggle and harmony: nature, sin, and grace. Miller argues that there is “a good natural desire in all of us.” Our guilty consciences attest to our inherently good natures. Sin “twists” good nature, and grace is divinely bestowed to make humanity more divine.
“Nature, sin, and grace are all forces moving on us all the time. A person, everything we do, is a product of the three forces (to a greater or lesser extent at certain times). Nothing in life is purely natural, purely sinful, or purely grace, but these abstract categories help you to understand work within reality,” Miller said.
Miller then distinguishes in his book the four biases that plague one through life. First is the dramatic bias, in which we lie to ourselves and “part of you is at war with yourself.” Next is the individual bias, or the egoist attitude, where “you only care about yourself.” Then is the group bias, in which you only care about “your group and not the other.” Finally, there is the general bias, where you don’t consider the long-terms effects of your actions, and “you only care about your generation.”
Miller closed by claiming that grace helps overcome these biases. In agreement with Lonergan, he posits that the Cross, which embodies salvation and redemption, is the answer to the question which is the human situation.