Two things I read in the last week or so stick in my brain, especially in light of our society’s current scorched-earth wars against biology and reality.
During my single stint as an RCIA sponsor, the deacon teaching the class said something very wise (he said a lot of other things, too, explaining why I had a single stint). He said, “That which is true is always very close to that which is real.”
The further you stray from reality, the more you become trapped in lies and fantasies. And when you assert to people in this situation that their beliefs have no basis in reality, they insist that reality is relative, that it’s what you make it, that even the laws of nature can be ignored or circumvented.
And more than that, if your reality doesn’t match the one they want, they’re happy to tear it all down. Better everyone should live wrapped in falsehoods and delusions — inside a facsimile of reality built with doublespeak and illusion — than for these folks to admit to themselves or anyone else that what they want is impossible.
Oddly, it begins with rejecting the supernatural in favor of the material world. In pre-Christian times, humans based their religion in nature, creating deities that represented aspects of the material world and of their own feelings, fears, hopes and urges. This had its highest flowering in Greek and Rome, but ultimately rotted from the inside.
Our time is no different. The Sixties may have begun with innocent worship of Mother Nature and “free love,” but even before the end of the decade, it had degenerated into addiction, depravity and violence.
Apparently, the ability to worship nature cleanly and purely is not in the nature of humanity.
In his 1923 biography of St. Francis of Assisi — written in a time we like to think of as more innocent, but, save Christ, there’s nothing new under the sun — G.K. Chesterton addressed this:
... nobody has written, in this sense, a real moral history of the Greeks. Nobody has seen the scale or the strangeness of the story. The wisest men in the world set out to be natural; and the most unnatural thing in the world was the very first thing they did. The immediate effect of saluting the sun and the sunny sanity of nature was a perversion spreading like a pestilence. The greatest and even the purest philosophers could not apparently avoid this low sort of lunacy. Why? It would seem simple enough for the people whose poets had conceived Helen of Troy, whose sculptors had carved the Venus of Milo, to remain healthy on the point. The truth is people who worship health cannot remain healthy on the point. When Man goes straight he goes crooked. When he follows his nose he manages somehow to put his nose out of joint, or even to cut off his nose to spite his face; and that in accordance with something much deeper in human nature than nature-worshippers could ever understand. It was the discovery of that deeper thing, humanly speaking, that constituted the conversion to Christianity. There is a bias in a man like the bias on a bowl; and Christianity was the discovery of how to correct the bias and therefore hit the mark. There are many who will smile at the saying; but it is profoundly true to say that the glad good news brought by the Gospel was the news of original sin. ...
In the Roman Empire also, long before the end, we find nature-worship inevitably producing things that are against nature. Cases like that of Nero have passed into a proverb when Sadism sat on a throne brazen in the broad daylight. But the truth I mean is something much more subtle and universal than a conventional catalogue of atrocities. What had happened to the human imagination, as a whole, was that the whole world was coloured by dangerous and rapidly deteriorating passions; by natural passions becoming unnatural passions. Thus the effect of treating sex as only one innocent natural thing was that every other innocent natural thing became soaked and sodden with sex. For sex cannot be admitted to a mere equality among elementary emotions or experiences like eating and sleeping. The moment sex ceases to be a servant it becomes a tyrant. There is something dangerous and disproportionate in its place in human nature, for whatever reason; and it does really need a special purification and dedication. The modern talk about sex being free like any other sense, about the body being beautiful like any tree or flower, is either a description of the Garden of Eden or a piece of thoroughly bad psychology, of which the world grew weary two thousand years ago.
As we know, unnatural passions cannot bring true joy, because that is not a gift of nature, but of God. While God may be able to draw straight lines with crooked pens, we can’t. But one way to mask this is to warp and bend the world to suit the crooked view of it, because when everything is crooked, nothing looks that way anymore.
Of course, this has no effect on any reality outside of the human psyche. It’s also an irony that the kindest people can be browbeaten into accepting this out of their wish to be compassionate and fair. Truly heartless people have no concern about the sufferings of others, but the kind can be coerced into salving hurt feelings at the expense of everything else, including their own souls.
As noted C.S. Lewis in “The Great Divorce,” his 1945 novel about the disruption of the “marriage of heaven and hell,” when the unnamed narrator meets a great teacher of his in a fanciful version of Heaven, he’s warned against accepting evil because of a false sense of mercy.
“The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven.”
“I don’t know what I want, Sir.”
“Son, son, it must be one way or the other. Either the day must come when joy prevails and all the makers of misery are no longer able to infect it: or else for ever and ever the makers of misery can destroy in others the happiness they reject for themselves. I know it has a grand sound to say ye’ll accept no salvation which leaves even one creature in the dark outside. But watch that sophistry or ye’ll make a Dog in a Manger the tyrant of the universe.”
“But dare one say-it is horrible to say-that Pity must ever die?”
“Ye must distinguish. The action of Pity will live for ever: but the passion of Pity will not. The passion of pity, the pity we merely suffer, the ache that draws men to concede what should not be conceded and to flatter when they should speak truth, the pity that has cheated many a woman out of her virginity and many a statesman out of his honesty-that will die. It was used as a weapon by bad men against good ones: their weapon will be broken.”
“And what is the other kind-the action?”
“It’s a weapon on the other side. It leaps quicker than light from the highest place to the lowest to bring healing and joy, whatever the cost to itself. It changes darkness into light and evil into good. But it will not, at the cunning tears of Hell, impose on good the tyranny of evil. Every disease that submits to a cure shall be cured: but we will not call blue yellow to please those who insist on still having jaundice, nor make a midden of the world’s garden for the sake of some who cannot abide the smell of roses.”
All the evils and perversions of the world have always existed; it’s only that sometimes they are accepted and celebrated, while, at other times, they are rejected and resisted.
What we know is this choice resonates in eternity, in the true Heaven and the true Hell. And when we are asked why we turned a blind eye, saying, “But, it would have caused hurt feelings” or “It would have made someone uncomfortable” probably isn’t going to be enough.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
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