Photo by Robert Phelps
10 June 2020
Some Musings On
Riotous Disarray And Human Nature
It is desirable to speak of good news first, so let’s begin with the positive side of today’s worrisome events.
Countless people demonstrate throughout America with admirable restraint as they confront “racism” in our culture. Like you, I watch these earnest citizens calling for justice. At the same instant, I’m reminded of demonstrations fifty years ago when the same themes -- racial justice and peace – preoccupied our nation and provoked endless demonstrations.
Now, the bad news. Violence and chaos erupt. Calculated evil contaminates our streets. Lives are lost (most poignantly, 77-year-old David Dorn). The works of lifetimes are viciously destroyed.
As I watch all this, I wonder when we will learn that “racism” - and other social ills - are symptoms of a deeper moral need in human nature.
Every person and every society need a moral structure. Why? Because human beings are created as moral persons, born into the moral universe of human community.
Our Moral Origins
What does this mean? Here’s an analogy.
We do not create the laws of gravity. Gravity exists outside us and within us, independent of us, yet we are constantly influenced by it, born into the realm of its power, forever under its influence, always and everywhere affected by its ubiquitous energy.
So also are we born into a moral realm in which we inherit personal responsibilities and obligations to others -- and they to us. These responsibilities give birth to mutual rights and freedoms. But we are supposed to exercise these rights and freedoms according to boundaries and guidelines set by God through various virtues and moral principles.
Evidence of the power, value and necessity of the virtues as guides for moral living is found 1) in the consequences of how we treat others, 2) how they treat us, and 3) in our relationship with God.
Obligations, responsibility, limited rights and freedoms and accountability for the consequences of our actions: these define the essence of our identity as moral agents, as persons. When we stray from the moral path, the consequences are dire – like now.
The Eternal Struggle
I am older than most people who may read these words and am, perhaps, a bit wiser than some. I am saddened when violence is deliberately inflicted on anyone; saddened that our world is still fraught with conflict … and so I ponder the paradox of human nature’s capability for grand goodness and incalculable evil.
I am also reminded that in our society, violence in deed AND in word is far more common today than fifty years ago. I find violence prevalent not only in the vicious physicality of street conflicts but also in the denigrating sentiments which mark so much of today’s public rhetoric and daily media-speak.
So many of our leaders, especially in politics and media, do not seem to realize -- or to care -- that their sarcastic jibes, hostile half-truths and antagonistic accusations are the fertile soil in which disdain and violence are nurtured.
Our public discourse overflows with gratuitous distortions and weaponized exaggerations. Twisted facts and altered contexts are common. We are daily subjected to self-righteous posturing, baseless accusations and a barrage of hateful rhetoric befitting hostile tribalism rather than a society of civilized persons.
I find these distortions appalling. They reveal our loss of respect for Truth and our loss of reverence for the meaning of words. That is a tragic state which leads to national self-destruction, as history clearly records, time and time again.
I also recall that, for many years, we have eliminated God from our national dialogue. We continue to teach generations of our young that God and His moral principles of right-and-wrong (i.e., the virtues which should guide human behavior) have no place in learning or in the formation of the consciences of America’s youth.
Now, after decades of denying God’s precepts their proper role in our national identity, our culture flounders, plagued by disrespect for one another to the point of rage and murder. This, too, is tragic … and, sadly, it is also avoidable.
But Wait … There’s More
In response to violence in our streets, some bewildering ideas surface and dystopian schemes unfold. For example, some people push “Defund The Police,” a movement popular amongst some peripheral “celebrities” and mainstream politicos. Mayors of several major cities withdraw support from their own police, who serve as the first line of defense against violence.
Another example: increasingly I hear ululations from deluded, breast-beating Caucasians who fatuously castigate themselves for “white privilege.” Their calculated self-loathing promotes the inane notion that “whiteness is a naturally-occurring evil.” This rancid cliché is larded with the absurdly discordant theme of “Guilt by Color,” a further step into cultural anarchy.
You get my point. I need not further detail other tidbits now touted as thoughtful responses to “racism.” The litany is tedious, often fatuous, but it nourishes frivolous flirtations with chaos.
The Inescapable Reality
So, human nature is capable of both good and evil. In Christian terms, we are a fallen people, subject to sinful, fractious attitudes and acts, including racism. We often forget - or deliberately ignore – morality’s restraints and the cleansing power of virtue.
When stressed, many of us become mean-spirited, tempted to imprudent actions which are NOT in our best interests as individuals or as a society.
What are our options?
Christian virtues such as justice and altruism, fortitude and empathy, temperance and self-restraint, prudence and humility are our healthiest moral options. This would be obvious … IF we understand their true meanings and honor their true intent.
But our morally confused, often law-less, culture, regularly discards these virtues for secular tenets of unrestricted inclusion, diversity without accountability, self-determined biological contradictions, unchallenged individualism, irresponsible moral relativism and radical non-judgmentalism.
Contemporary history makes it clear that when we reject traditional moral principles in favor of radically secular ideas, we de-humanize ourselves and deface our nation’s history.
When we banish God from the public square and from our personal lives, we pay a heavy price for recklessly derailing our moral calling. We create conditions which foster evils such as racism and the intellectual ghettoes from which its destructive principles ascend.
It is within this de-humanizing moral vacuum that racism and the loss of human dignity emerge throughout human history.
The Necessity Of Moral Clarity
To repeat: Human beings are not merely “social animals.” We are moral persons, given life by God, born into a community. We are born for one another. We do not exist only for ourselves.
Thus, morality rests on our obligation to act responsibly and accountably with God, ourselves and one another.
Our moral status arises from the interactive nature of human life, from the fact that relationships define us, from the ultimate end of each life which, in the last analysis, rests on our potential to be trustworthy persons.
Human nature, in its very creation, is a moral reality because we cannot -- and should not – deny or denigrate one another’s dignity. We are born to respect God and one another. We are born to develop unique, often lasting, relationships – especially with ourselves; relationships which foster virtue and character, and which endure in time and memory, in mind, heart and soul.
We touch one another in ways which highlight the mystery of life itself. That is why, above all else, we are moral beings.
Moral Awareness And Character
Our character is determined by how we embrace virtue or deny it; how we observe moral order in our lives … or how we scoff at virtue and reject it as intrusive or irrelevant.
The cumulative outcome of our embrace -- or our rejection -- of our moral duties defines our character. Our character is revealed in our habits, our words and deeds, our attitudes and dispositions, our choice to honor virtue or extinguish it, and in the way we treat others. Character is the quality of our moral personhood which we develop, step-by-step, during a lifetime of becoming.
Our moral responsibilities connect us to our higher human goals by connecting us to one another in a mutual search for goodness, kindness and virtue. Thus, we are bound to one another, each and all, in a shared moral universe.
It is because of this moral context, because of this mandate to respect human dignity, that we may rightly determine that “racism” and its corollaries are moral evils.
Morality always has consequences, some personal and private, others social and public. Morality infuses our physical, cognitive, emotional, spiritual and psychological worlds wherein we live and breathe and have our being.
Virtue Is Dull Stuff !
So, we are born to be moral beings, but we can act immorally. We can push morality aside and embrace evil. It is always possible for us to choose NOT to honor moral principles. It is possible for us:
- not to honor our moral mandate,
- not to respond to the spiritual gravity of the moral bond which defines our nature;
- not to care about the consequences of our actions,
- not to attend to the boundaries which delimit our freedoms,
- not to observe road signs which point the way to goodness,
- not to honor God, other persons and, of course, ourselves.
BUT … if we disregard our moral call from God, then racism and violence, looting and murder become acceptable means to an end. Morality be damned; the end justifies the means by which we achieve it. Who is to say otherwise? And, at this sorry stage of life, indifference disfigures the soul and curdles the heart.
Some persons contend that ignoring our God-given call to virtue is really a neutral act. Morality, they say, is a private affair. Morals are up to each person to define for him/herself. If no one gets hurt, what’s the problem? In private, I can do whatever I want.
Such moral relativism is self-deluding. Why? First of all, it denies our dependent relationship with God. Second, it seeks to cancel our personal accountability to God, whose laws extend into every heart as well as into every community. Third, it denies us our role and responsibility to serve as moral exemplars in a culture bereft of the “better angels of our nature…”
Fourth, God, not mankind, creates us as moral beings - and we are not God. Denial of personal accountability and dependence on God (read the Ten Commandments) is abandonment of responsibility and rejection of His reality. Even in our private lives, we are accountable to Our Creator for our side of the relationship.
Fifth, moral relativism begets dangerous laxity and selfishness. It is only a matter of 1) degree, 2) time and 3) opportunity until our arrogance becomes habitual and the results of our egocentric self-deification and our narcissism are apparent … even to us.
Our Universal Call To Goodness
So, yes, we can choose to avoid our obligations and deny our responsibilities and reject our moral calling and betake ourselves into self-styled cynicism and moral darkness.
Yes, we can violate God’s gift of freedom by separating ourselves from the Author of our souls. However, by doing so, we frustrate our ability to fulfill the very purpose for which we are given life. By such impudence, we tarnish our essential reason for living.
What does that mean?
It means, once again, we are born to be morally alert and morally responsible 1) to God, 2) to our own informed conscience (note that word informed), and 3) to each other.
These principles are not merely pious piffle or compulsive guilt. Aristotle and countless other thinkers studied the purpose and end of human existence. Indeed, every civilization has devised moral codes and developed restraining laws, behavioral customs and practical virtues. All have been designed for one purpose – to live in peace with one another, to seek the good life.
Happily, our Christian principles go even farther. They clarify the moral terms and specify the essential paths for virtuous behavior. The Christian model offers practical steps by which to fulfill our human calling. The Christian model also reveals beneficial moral truths which would otherwise be hidden from us.
The Human Experience
We all experience goodness and love, sorrow and sadness, yearning and delight, temptation and evil … all of which prompt every one of us to ask at some point in our lives, “Is there a better way to live, a better way to treat one another?”
The answer is, of course, a universal “Yes …”
We can find evidence and learn Truth. We can find the Light and become truly humane. In fact, our God-given destiny is:
- to improve, not diminish, our human condition;
- to comprehend and live by the redeeming logic of virtue;
- to embrace the persuasive gravity of reason;
- to recognize that destruction and harm, unkindness and disdain, sin and evil are degrading and painful to everyone, beginning with those who choose them.
We put ourselves in grave danger when we choose distortion over truth, rumor over evidence, exaggeration over fact, prejudice over empathy, indulgence over restraint, racism over kindness, excess over temperance, cynicism over hope, self over God.
We sink into empty nihilism when we belittle moral acuity, self-restraint and humility. We lose – big time -- when we do not heed the lessons of history and we rebuff the guidance of Our Creator.
Finally . . .
Even though our world is rife with conflict and evil, there is truly much good in life and many good people to show us the way.
To seek goodness is to hold the Hand of God. To love and be loved is to be blessed with God’s grandest grace.
To reject the simplicity inherent in surrender to God’s patience is to miss a very great gift in one’s life.
It is an inspiring moment when Truth (always a threatening variable) is honored, goodness is celebrated and humility grants us grateful peace of heart and serenity of soul.
Some persons in our fractured culture (white people and black people and brown people, men and women, Europeans and Asians … “people” ad infinitum) hold a moral vision which begins only with themselves and ends in a vacuum. They refuse to admit that kindness and civility, truth and humility, temperance and the array of Christian virtues keeps life healthy, spirits hopeful and societies just.
Still, we are all human. No matter how hard we try, sometimes our faith will falter, our hopes will dim, our charity will fade. We will wonder what life is truly all about. What are we supposed to accomplish during these all-too-brief years on this earth? How should we handle the pain and loneliness which life inevitably brings? How do we sustain the spirit of gratitude which the miracle of life deserves? What do we do when we feel alone in the vast and soundless universe?
Elie Weisel, the author who survived Auschwitz, puts it this way:
“I belong to a generation who has often felt abandoned by God and betrayed by mankind. And yet, I believe that we must not give up on either.”
Let us never give up on God or on mankind – and certainly not on ourselves.
Let us never forget that we, each and all, are called by Our Creator to follow the moral path of Truth and virtue and kindness.
Let us always remember that we are called to be moral exemplars to that portion of the world in which God has placed us … and, in that place, let us do -- with virtue and joy -- whatever He asks of us, no matter what it may cost, no matter how small it may seem, at first.
When these Truths come alive in our minds and hearts, motivating our days, inspiring our courage, prompting us to Truth, moving us to gratitude for life and breath, whilst easing our soul’s journey … are we not then assured that all else in our lives will surely follow … just as God intends?
Given this Christian vision in action, could racism long survive?
27 May, 2020
Honoring Truth, Wisdom’s Price
I once consulted with a corporate executive who was a technical whiz and a shrewd decision-maker, but - alas - she was a wretched communicator, disliked by her associates, distrusted by her employees.
Because once she found a person’s vulnerable spot, she belittled and demeaned with scalding one-liners, scathing tirades and humorless put-downs.
Her technical “smarts” did not compensate for her intemperate communication, her lack of empathy for the human condition and for the missing qualities-of-character which Wisdom grants.
Yes, she was intelligent, but her mind was tightly closed, her heart embittered and unmoved – and others paid a painful price.
What’s It For ?
She did not understand that we are given the beneficial gift of communication so we may strive for three benevolent outcomes: 1) to clarify our intentions and facilitate degrees of mutual transparency; 2) to seek and share the best means to achieve worthy ends; 3) to bolster respect for each person’s dignity, even in strife and disagreement.
I realize this sounds idealistic. But when Wisdom prevails, these outcomes actually are human nature’s proper goals, the ultimate ends for which we are created.
Often (not always, but often) these qualities are most evident in a solid family, a marriage of mutual commitment and the balanced raising of children. In a loving family we are most likely to find appropriate expressions of mutual love and intimacy, collective friendship and fidelity, and respect for everyone’s dignity as hallmarks … even in strife and disagreement.
Other communication goals exist, of course: getting a job done well, the delights of civil conversation, emotional relief afforded by wit and humor, factual reportage, learning in a variety of contexts, defending ourselves against injustice, sharing secrets with our Beloved … on and on.
But above all else, not only in family but in all reaches of society, the gift of communication is given to us for clarity and understanding with one another, to reduce confusion and to reveal each person’s individuality.
Effective communication guides us through a plethora of relationships, with everyone’s dignity intact. And, once in a great while, precious intimacy may be shared with those rare few we come to trust as “true friends.”
The Gift Of Communication
Some communication is fleeting because the encounter is superficial and ephemeral, soon forgotten. But some relationships are so significant and so life-giving that they define us.
Some communication is stressful, even abrasive. No life is without crises and injuries; pain is inevitable. But some communication brings peace to the soul and joy to the heart, sometimes without a word being said, sometimes by the simple touch of hands or the glimpse of smiling eyes.
Whatever the circumstances, our gift of communication is not meant to be abused or “weaponized” nor meant to harm or demean others while elevating ourselves.
But beyond social and moral reasons for using our gift of communication with virtuous consistency, the proper goal of communication is Truth.
We are born to seek Truth and we are restless to know Truth about God, about ourselves and about life.
That’s why lies are offensive to us and deception is so disconcerting to the soul and psyche: they violate the deepest value which defines human nature, namely, our unquenchable need for Truth.
The power of Truth is magnetic to the soul.
So, when we say that we must monitor our own communication, this really means we must moderate ourselves. Why is this so essential? In the eyes of others, what we say (in our tone and our gestures, as well as in our words) is who we are and what we are. We cannot forever conceal the Truth about ourselves.
That’s why is it most unwise to violate boundaries of mutual respect or to demean human dignity (which underscore the moral responsibilities we have to one another, even to strangers).
And how do we monitor ourselves?
By honoring objective standards of self-control, prudence, good judgment, empathy --- and a host of other attitudes and skills which are called virtues (from “virtus” which in Latin means “strength”).
These virtues - these “strengths” - are the contents of our character which guide us (or should) throughout life. These virtues come alive in the way we think and how we act. They regulate our thoughts and behavior.
But these standards - these virtues - are not merely subjective principles or merely personal; we do not make them up. They are universal standards; they apply to everyone. Cultural variations appear, of course, but the underlying principles are based on human nature’s innate need for Truth.
Of course, some people have their own personal versions of “the truth.” Indeed, we all see and interpret “reality” according to our own mode of receiving and processing information. But in the last analysis, Truth is not merely a personal “reality” filtered through our five senses.
Truth is instilled into human nature by God and is, therefore, available for our comprehension and reverence provided we seek Truth humbly, with good will and an open heart, ready to go beyond the distracting illusions of resistant ego.
Truth carries profound weight in human affairs, even though it is so often stretched and mangled in the barrage of unsavory accusations and shallow harangue which constitute much of today’s public discourse.
What’s involved in honoring Truth? Let’s look at some basics.
Truth Has Consequences
For starters, Truth tells us that the world does not exist solely for us; other people matter. Truth reminds us that we share this world with others, like them or not.
Truth often requires us to make difficult decisions and endure suffering in ways which afford us little consolation or logic. And when we are thrust into painful circumstances, Truth tells us that gratitude rather than self-pitying victimhood is the wiser course.
Truth does not indulge in posturing or pretense. Simplicity of spirit is easier on the soul … and on the sensibilities of others.
Truth resists abusive language inspired by sophistic ideology or a preening ego. It abhors “virtue signaling,” i.e., that prissy, addictive rush of smug self-righteousness which alibis the offensive use of false accusations and foppish rhetoric.
Truth requires humility, with its abiding distaste for falsehood, manipulation and deception. Some self-absorbed persons find Truth an alienating burden. Nonetheless, Truth necessitates acceptance of our limitations and our strengths – and that sort of candor takes humility.
Dignity And Responsibility
Even more testily, Truth demands that we do our best to respect the dignity of others. But such respect does not mean we ignore or excuse the irresponsible actions of others. We do not adapt moral laxity. We do not overlook our own responsibility to speak up when avoidable harm is done and deliberate pain is inflicted.
Respect for others does not mean we are morally neutral. It does not mean we subscribe to the moral fallacy that we can do anything we please, as long as no harm comes to others.
We do not accept the principle of moral anarchy, which says, “I can do what I please in private….”
For example, some critics argue for “unlimited freedom.” They contend that watching pornography or taking drugs is a private matter. No one is harmed, so what’s the big deal?
The Truth is that extraordinary harm is directly associated with the production and distribution of porn. In addition, the destruction of countless lives and unspeakable violence is inherent in the production and distribution of so-called “recreational” drugs.
The Truth is that even remote support for these evils is still support for evil and for its indefensible outcomes -- no matter how strenuously one argues for specious “personal freedoms” or for so-called “civil rights” which are, so often, “uncivil wrongs.”
The Truth is that we do not exist in a moral vacuum. First, we are given a relationship with God, then born into a human community in which reasonable laws and expectations already exist.
The Truth is that we are bound, first of all, by our responsibilities to God and to one another. Rights come later, after we learn to be responsible persons, who uphold our part of those relationships.
But Truth also recognizes that we are fallible creatures, capable of grave error under the banners of false “freedoms.” Some of our mistakes can be fatal, which emphasizes the fact that we cannot live solely for ourselves, carelessly strewing insult and imposing injury as we pass.
We are all responsible to others for what we say and do. This mutual dependence is the foundation of our moral life and of our responsibilities to God and to other persons.
The Truth is that we are bound - first and foremost - by laws God has given us. These laws coalesce in the greatest of all Truths, the command to do what often seems impossible: to (gulp) love one another (including children unborn and being-born) as we are loved … and that can be quite a chore.
We can ignore these Truths and deny these standards and reject these virtues … and, in the process, severely mis-manage our freedoms. We can abuse others - even fatally - with righteous anger or acidic cynicism or delusional appeals to non-existing “rights.” But we thereby risk enabling cultural dis-eases and extending the umbra of moral darkness throughout our culture.
Moral darkness fuels hostility and chaos, futility and depression, revenge and schadenfreude, as it unleashes the fallen angels of our nature, whose power should never be underestimated.
The Wages Of Moral Darkness
Moral darkness banishes God and stiff-arms moral acuity. It extinguishes our respect for one another, and for life itself. Truth is eradicated. Rhetoric becomes “weaponized.” Evidence is ridiculed. Accusations, exaggerations and deceptions abound. Facts are blithely dismissed. Moral darkness spawns the denial of science. It rejects solid tradition and fosters deliberate lies.
Common sense and our own experience surely tell us that unbridled urges and itchy egos must be brought into sync with standards of Truth. Maturity demands virtue from all of us, as individuals and as a nation. No matter how righteously we try, we cannot sanitize bad behavior nor ennoble harmful choices.
Wisdom is chastened by history’s hardest lessons … but it is also aware of the high price human nature continues to pay for our repetitive propensity to ignore those lessons. That is why our cultural, moral and historical traditions matter. They are crucial to our nation’s survival.
Today, more than ever, caution is essential, especially in public discourse, because so many people thoughtlessly jettison the moral foundations of our national identity. God forbid we should lose (as Reagan called it) “the will and moral courage” to keep us a free people.
A Word To The Wise
Fidelity to Truth eventually begets Wisdom beyond intelligence. In turn, Wisdom embraces both worldly knowledge and spiritual discernment, both Faith and Reason.
Wisdom is seasoned by humility and prudence, earned through painful exposure of one’s strengths and weaknesses, and by acceptance of one’s vulnerabilities. And Wisdom is always alert to the unintended consequences of its own inclinations and choices.
Wisdom eschews shallow excuses, fatuous fads and trendy superficiality. But Wisdom is not quickly nor painlessly gained, because it demands internal discipline from us to do the right thing – and the impulse to the contrary is ofttimes unquenchable.
Wisdom distrusts artificial displays of frothy emotionality and feigned sentimentality. Wisdom attends to the stability of our souls and the consistency of our intentions. It weighs the long-term outcomes of our actions because it knows that an undisciplined ego leads immature persons (of any age) into avoidable error.
Wisdom eventually imparts to us a sense of wonderment which is far more than curiosity. It is a sense of awe, acknowledgement of creation’s mysteries which are beyond human understanding or control in their origin and outcome.
This sense of wonderment eventually blossoms into reverence, which is the foundation upon which God’s revelation rests.
Wisdom, Rights And Responsibilities
Because fallen human nature can get pushy and ego-flated, the exercise of our rights is always limited, codified first by God, Our Creator, then by the State, the family, our culture and society.
Thus, as we age (and, hopefully, mature) we are expected to gradually assume certain responsibilities. As stated above, only then may we legitimately exercise limited rights. Responsibilities come first; then rights … and never one without the other.
Furthermore, Wisdom insists we do not possess unrestricted rights or wide-open personal freedom. Our rights unfold only when we first accept prior responsibilities and obligations. But even then, our rights are never unlimited or without restrictions, boundaries and moral consequences.
To demand one’s rights without honoring one’s responsibilities is to live only for oneself. This is the nadir of immaturity. It speeds destruction of family, culture and society.
Responsibilities And Rights Are Inseparable
The Truth is that our rights cannot be separated from our responsibilities. Rights and responsibilities are two sides of the same hand; they are inseparable … but responsibilities come first.
Thus, Wisdom tell us that we are NOT given freedom to do as we please. We are given freedom so we may first fulfill our responsibilities to God and to others in our community.
This principle of mutual concern is the basis of community life. It’s fundamental to healthy parenting, to a secure family, to a healthy and lawful society. And (as our Founding Fathers knew when they risked their lives for this principle) it is essential to the health of our nation which, as John Adams said, relies on a moral citizenry for survival.
The Practical Value Of Truth
To sum up, Truth and Wisdom require of us and bestow upon us:
- intellectual clarity (i.e., learned ability to reason factually, correctly and logically) and the humility to admit our ignorance;
- emotional stability (i.e., prudence, self-knowledge and self-restraint) and the strength to delay personal gratification;
- the moral strength to speak and act according to various principles which we call “virtues,” both civic and spiritual.
- The gift of wonderment and hopeful awe, which open the heart, move the spirit and calm the soul … even in adversity and travail, trusting that God is both “out there somewhere” and yet deeply within our needy selves.
Truth neither denies evidence nor exaggerates reality. Rather, Truth understands that all knowledge and virtue, all hope and love, begin with our humble admission of how little we really know about life … and about ourselves and, therefore, how much sense it truly does make when we honor the Reality of God’s Presence in our world.
Truth looks life’s mysteries directly in the eye and recognizes the folly of denial and self-adulation -- and gladly says “Yes” to Faith and “Yes” the reassurance of belief.
Truth brings us to the threshold of Wisdom, which is, after all, the threshold of God’s own grace-filled embrace.
Finally, then, let us pray kindly for one another -- that our desire for Truth and our sense of wonderment and our respect for one another will continue to move our hearts and abide within each of us and all of us … all the days of our lives …
27 April 2020
Remembrance: Loving Nancy
May 1 is the second anniversary of my Beloved Nancy’s death. There is much … ever so much … I miss about her, the woman I have esteemed for decades, and for good reasons.
I admired her tenacity and her resilience, her fidelity and her gumption. I admired her courage especially in adversity during her last years, when pain accompanied her every moment, even to our final days together.
I admired her constantly-emerging humanity, her warmth and sincerity … for the giddy hours we laughed at private jokes, shared our secrets and relished whispered, gossipy tidbits.
I admired her candor and her feisty readiness to have her own way when she decided to have her own way. And I was often inspired by her tenaciously-loving mother-self and her unquenchable desire to see that those she loved received her fullest affection and attention, even as her ailments took their heavy toll.
In our younger days many years ago, my work took me away for a week at a time. On one occasion, I arrived home from a cross-country trip quite late. She was sleeping … but I noticed a pair of crutches leaning against the wall. She had fallen that day even as I was in-flight homeward. I saw those crutches and, instantly alarmed, I ran through a litany of maladies which might now plague my sleeping Beloved. And as my anxiety mounted for her well-being, I realized with overwhelming clarity why she meant so very much to me -- and why I wanted, with everything which defined me, to love her and care for her beyond my own limits.
In the beginning years of our marriage, we would both fall into occasional periods of ego-centric isolation, into sulky, self-gratifying artifice; into those protective postures which were, we came to realize, needless and puerile, inspired only by our shaky defensiveness and the uncertainties which plague amateur lovers, once the glow of mutual superficiality erodes and the true costs of really loving remain.
We realized we were both prone to childish fragility: our “feelings” were too easily-bruised. We were, we finally admitted, still mired in the dramatic, over-stylized selfishness which so many people believe -- incorrectly -- is essential to preserve their independence or declare their individuality or protect their identity.
We were, in short, still struggling to comprehend the deepest realities which a loving marriage proposes: self-abnegation and total, uncompromising commitment to the other – to the Beloved.
Back to those crutches.
Nancy had broken her foot and sprained every muscle in her right leg. She was in unrelenting pain. Next day, she started physiotherapy. I drove her to those sessions and watched from the corner of the room as she started to re-learn what we all take for granted: how to stand and walk and turn without excruciating pain blurring every movement.
With the constant aid of those crutches and the gentle urging of her therapist, she started to re-learn how to step to one side, then to the other, then to move forward one step, then back. Occasionally, she teetered precariously, then recovered and, standing straight -- and smiling, always smiling -- she readied herself to start again, to do over again with great effort and intense concentration what Nature allows all of us to do without thinking.
She demonstrated abounding courage as she took her tiny steps in ceaseless pain. Merely to put one foot forward, then to take it back safely, with growing confidence, was most costly for her, fraught with risk of falling again. Failure and fatigue and the threat of seizure were fearsome and ever-present. Yet she persevered – smiling throughout. One foot out-front, then back, repeat …a thousand times and more, over and over. And between the grimaces of unrelieved agony, she smiled with palpable tranquility which was, to me, utterly epiphanic.
And onward she went, with her ever-smiling courage; on, into the days and years we shared together. Into life … into our lives; courageously, again and yet again; sometimes hesitant for a time, then steady, and then without hesitation, pushing life ahead of her, sometimes with uncertainty and wonder, always with courage, always smiling with a quiet confidence which, to this day, still moves and still inspires those of us who love her still and admire her so.
And as I watched my Beloved struggle through her pain to find her bearings once more, I realized what an abiding treasure she was in my life … and our life together, our marriage, began to evolve.
I was utterly disarmed by her honesty and her uncomplaining acceptance of great pain and disruption. As we were more honest with each other, the nature and depth of our relationship began, quietly, to emphasize trust and accentuate mutuality in our married life. And in those days of increasing clarity about how to love one another, she would reach for my hand … and I was there with her; at last, always there -- and the simple goodness of all this was a revelation to us both.
Our lives became brighter with hope and trust and understanding of one another. The walls of our needless cautions fell. The doors to one another’s inner worlds opened … and the revelation of one to the other was both remarkable and an incalculable relief. If joy is to be found in this life, it is, we both understood, on this path of trusting together, of being honestly together, of giving more and seeking less.
It became clear to us that our marriage would flourish -- and we would flourish -- when we revealed our deepest selves to one another without fear or rancor or bitterness or threat. We took time to speak to one another in ways only married people may speak … but too often do not.
We learned the true meaning of intimacy -- and we were enriched as we learned to love one another with simplicity and candor, with and without words. We were enriched in our marriage when we took the opportunity to express, with gratitude and fidelity, our loving hopes and our desires and our fears – all with the one person, our spouse, who is (and will always be) our Beloved.
It also became clear to us that the deepest pain in life is when our love is not allowed to pour forth freely and unguardedly to the Beloved. The greatest pain is when our love has to remain unstated, silent, stymied and stifled within us, wanting in trust and without the certainty of safety. We learned that to be unloving is to be unloved.
We learned that the mere thought of the other and the knowledge of the Beloved’s love for us saves and uplifts us both in so many ways. I was – I am -- free to love, knowing that I was – I am -- loved. And she was free to love, knowing how greatly she was -- and is -- loved.
Life surely offers no greater grace and no deeper purpose than to love and to be loved by one’s Beloved.
And we both knew that in our hearts we were blessed for our lifetimes by our love of one another, together … for this is what our marriage was meant to be. Indeed, this is what marriage itself is meant to be as, together, we find our mutual salvation.
It is with this person, with my Beloved, that I am, at last, free to love, free to be saved from my fears of loneliness and my dread of being unloved, my yearning for intimacy beyond all other needs. And I am free to love myself and to love others………
And, as we grew together, we found that God was with us constantly to guard and to guide and to save us, one with the other.
The actual grace of loving another soul and being loved was – is -- an astonishing, yet daily, awareness for me. With such thoughts and memories of so grand a woman and so enriching a marriage, it is no wonder to me that love for the Beloved does not cease, but seems to abide ever more deeply. I daily remind myself how blessed my life continues to be because of her ... and daily do I think of her and thank her for the goodness she yet instills:
Once more, say again what you said to me that day;
Say again those words which bind us still.
Once more, remind me of what we share -- and always will,
Of what is ours alone.
For in those words, given one to the other,
Do we find life’s blessed purpose.
Though we are, in God’s good time, apart,
In those words do we, again, discover that surpassing truth
which makes all else in this life blessed.
In those loving words do we find ourselves,
together in heart and soul, always one, never alone.
And through the grace of God
We are, both, in grateful peace.
Nancy and I grew older side by side. In those passing years, she and I became wiser, more patient, kinder to one another, and we were -- are -- grateful to God for our being together … and our marriage became our way to God -- and we yet go Godward together.
Finally, our Catholic Church teaches that marriage is a Sacrament, a sacred and holy union sanctified by our mutual choice. As a sacred union, this Sacrament, through our willing union together, 1) signifies our union with God and God’s union with us, and 2) accomplishes, brings about, what it signifies.
As God entered our relationship, we were -- are -- immersed in His Loving Self, just as we are immersed with one another in our marriage. And all of life -- the delights and the sorrows of it -- all make sense at last, and we were -- are -- ever so grateful to be married in God’s good time, one to the other, Nancy and I …
13 April 2020
An Easter Reminder
As our viral stand-off goes on and on, people sicken and many die … while evidence mounts that this tragic event could have been prevented.
Everyone is affected. Businesses shut down. Schools close. Industries cut back drastically, jobs vanish, travel ceases, churches lock their doors. Daily routines are stymied, lives interrupted, freedoms blunted, hopes curtailed. Hygiene keeps us yards apart; gingerly do we embrace loved ones. We dare not socialize nor hobnob, except at a sanitized distance.
We feel stranded in a fog of isolation and ambiguity … all because of a critter we knew nothing about a month ago.
But Wait, There’s More…..
In the midst of our chaos and loss of control, one fact remains unchanged:
Even before the corona-bug took center stage, we have never been in control of anything in this world except the choices we make and the way we act.
We do not control Nature nor govern the universe. We struggle at the edges of knowledge, exploring the mysteries of Creation, seeking to understand the vagaries of life. But we control very little … except our own choices and our own behavior, and even then, we often falter . . . .
So … beneath corona-driven taboos, beyond off-putting restrictions, a serendipitous awareness awaits, offering us insight by which we may better understand our role in the reality of Creation and the fundamental mandate of our lives.
Command And Control
People need clarity and control, predictability and routine. We do not welcome confusion or incoherence. Uncertainty and ambiguity discombobulate us. We resent anything which renders us powerless and vulnerable.
Once we lose control, we face chaos. Understandably, we seek our comfort zone, i.e., that cozy inner place where we are in control, safe and secure; that zone in which life is predictable, the angels are on our side and our ego is unthreatened.
Nonetheless, even in our comfort zone, we still live in a universe characterized by two distinct states which seem contradictory, but which are also complementary.
The first state is chaos. The second state is order.
And it is wondrously reassuring that chaos and order are two sides of the same Hand.
For example, certain sectors of the universe reveal chaotic movement … and yet order is clearly there.
Our cosmos is filled with billions of galaxies, each with millions of planets and stars and entities undefined … and order is there.
Our human brains are filled with a billion cells which, somehow, come together and make sense … .and order is there.
Obviously -- and miraculously -- order is always and everywhere evident throughout our cosmos … and within us.
When chaos occurs, we find exquisitely-regulated order. Indeed, both the universe and our human nature obey laws and patterns which are evident to those who know what to look for, those who comprehend what we all perceive, those who get the message.
And what is the message?
The honest observer soon recognizes that an Unseen Power constantly guides the stunning panoply of Creation, including us. We are (as Carl Sagan used to say) made of “the stuff of the stars” -- and a whole lot more.
It’s All Some Sort Of Accident … Right ?
How should we interpret that message? What does it say to us?
Skeptics hold that the universe - and human beings -- are “accidents,” mere random results which evolved from that Big Bang awhile back.
Where did that Big Bang originate? What caused it?
Skeptics add, “It just happened; the universe just happened; people just happened; that’s that!! Move on...”
But the mysteries of Creation - around us and within us - cannot be so readily discounted. Evading the question never satisfies reason or logic, faith or science.
Still, many folks habitually avoid the fact that the evidence demands a Creator – Our Creator.
Abundant evidence of His Presence is all about us. Evidence floods our minds and fills our senses and tugs at the soul each instant of our lives.
Anyone with common sense (which is another word for humility) eventually admits that the universe is a created reality and we are part of it.
We cannot escape the obvious: Creation includes us….. we are God’s creation or, more accurately, God’s children, endowed with the gifts of knowing and choosing, gifts of insight and decision-making; gifts given freely to human nature.
Given all this, it is reasonable to wonder: Why do so many people refuse to acknowledge our Creator, our God?
Avoiding The Obvious
To say “Yes” to God is to admit that we are children of God and that we are, therefore, dependent on Him. But if we admit that we depend on God for our very lives, this acknowledges a bond between God and us, a bond which deserves our deepest affection and fullest attention. It is a bond which obliges us to pay heed to what God asks of us.
And what does God ask of us?
To bring order – moral order – where chaos reigns.
We are born into a moral universe consisting of families and societies and cultural associations and a multiplicity of people and collectives. The distinguishing feature of our human nature within these human associations is that we are, by God’s design, born to be His moral agents upon this earth, born to bring peace and stability into the human community, wherever we may find it.
If we admit all this, then we can no longer deny that our humanity functions in terms of laws and guidelines aimed at our bringing moral order to human affairs.
If we admit all this, then we cannot evade the truth about ourselves.
If we admit all this, then we cannot live solely on our own terms.
If we admit all this, then we are subject to the guidelines God sets for us, so that we may infuse our world with the order and the regularity which flow from our moral influence.
To See The Right Course
If we admit all this, then the truth stares us in the face: our humanity demands that we exert moral control over ourselves, our attitudes, our choices and our behavior.
Inherent laws codes of conduct flow from our status as children of God and as moral exemplars. As we come to know and honor what’s right and what’s wrong in human affairs, we mature and accept certain responsibilities. For example,
- we know lies and exaggerations are wrong;
- we know deliberately harming others is wrong;
- we know self-restraint is our constant need;
- we know revenge, hatred and violence are wrong;
- we know false accusations, defaming and demeaning others are wrong;
- we know selfishness and disdain for others are wrong
… but how soon we lose our focus, and forget . . . .
Despite our failings and faults, our calling remains. We are born to bring moral order, right reason and goodness into this world. Even as chaos ofttimes swirls around us, resilience renews us. We persevere.
This is what our maturity demands. This is why we are here.
This is what adults do – seek and maintain moral order.
The virtues we model, the choices we make, the example we give to young and old, all determine how much chaos -- or how much order and goodness -- we inject into our world.
It matters not whether we are CEOs or new parents coping with the infantile chaos of a hungry newborn. Our vocation is to bring and to maintain moral order, to make sense where chaos hovers.
Our Choice Is Evident … Isn’t it?
The rules are clear; our choices are two:
- We can think and act as moral exemplars, seeking goodness and virtue as our maturity requires … or …
- We can create and foster chaos and indifference in our own hearts and souls, in our families, in the young entrusted to us and in the world we inhabit.
Where do we begin?
Our benign influence begins within our own family whom we are blessed to understand most fully and to love most faithfully.
From there, our impact extends into this needy, lonely world, to those who wait - hopefully - for solace or generosity or a moment of kindly recognition and the touch of another soul, so rarely given.
This is our mandate, our path to the full measure of our humanity: to build and exemplify the moral order in our lives and in the lives of those around us – even if our efforts are thankless and lonely.
We witness the gravity of our mandate in its absence, e. g., when violence – physical or mental, psychological or spiritual, cultural or societal, in marriage or family – is allowed, even regularized.
When moral restraint is blurred, when self-control is lost, when others are demeaned and punished in society or in family, then do we realize (sometimes too late) the absolute necessity of these norms and guidelines, these God-given moral mandates and social imperatives. To this day, history reveals the peril which results when our fidelity wanes and our commitment fades.
The need for order – moral order – is essential for the health of our souls as much as food and sustenance are essential for our bodies.
This is true for individuals. This is true for whole nations.
This is a tiring and stressful task, especially in a world which has forgotten so many basics. So, where do we find strength and renewal to carry on with fidelity and courage?
For starters, the reassurances we need come – at long last, after much effort and many errors -- from simplicity of soul which seeks respite in God; respite which finds faith and hope and peace in one’s heart as a result.
Some people object. “This is really a lot to ask of me. After all, I’m only human …”
Of course it is ….. but what else is God’s gift of life truly for?
18 March 2020
…. Reflections On That Nasty Bug ….
This coronavirus has us by the throat. Media inundate us with opinions from experts who instruct us how to stay healthy. We are told to stay home, avoid crowds, sneeze into our elbow (why not Kleenex?), use alcohol-based stuff, don’t touch common surfaces, wash our hands for at least twenty seconds, avoid sick folks and be extra-cautious -- especially us elders, a high-risk category.
After several weeks of escalating inundation, I often wonder what is factual and what is hype, what advice is medically sound and what is media overkill. But the World Health Organization has declared a pandemic, and the virus seems to spread with tenacious ubiquity, taking lives around the world. Moreover, the number of reported cases increases daily, while progress in diagnosis and prevention seems slow, ever so slow. But we do indeed see progress – and this is encouraging.
This virus is tiny, but it creates an extensive ripple effect in our world, in our nation and in our economy. People are fearfully alert. The Federal Reserve lowers interest rates as the market drops precipitously. Schools and theaters and public places close. Rubber gloves, face masks and sterile wipes are everywhere.
At such times, science seems brought to a crawl. Fears of the unknown surface dramatically. Our best laid plans quake and rattle in the face of an alien foe. The familiar is threatened; our routines no longer sustain us. Our vulnerabilities are exposed, both as individuals and as a nation.
The Upside Of Challenge
Such times at this create universal distress throughout our society. Uncertainty tests us all. But realistic anxiety can – and should – usher us into the deeper corners of the human heart, into recesses within ourselves which many of us muzzle and rarely explore, lest we uncover vulnerabilities within ourselves which we deem too severe -- and too revealing -- to manage.
The realistic threat of illness, reports of death and the stark aura of hovering danger moves many of us to reflect on these challenges with religious wonderment. But, contrarily, there are persons who remain unmoved, entrenched inside themselves; persons who mock prayerful soul-searching and ignore the responsibilities we have to one another, to our children and our loved ones, to strangers next door … and a world away.
Skeptics dismiss prayer entirely and express nihilistic resignation and disdain for faith. Yet dismissive denial does not lessen the reality of a world held hostage by a foe so small, yet so powerful, as to threaten us all.
So, some of us are moved – and rightly so -- to ask fundamental questions about the gift of life and the manner in which we live; about who we are, and what sort of person we have become, what we value, what we believe our lives are all about, who we love and who loves us … about the opportunities which still remain to us, about our future and what we choose to do with its hopeful possibilities.
A Personal Moment
These questions remind me again of how precious life truly is, mine and yours.
These questions remind me again how marvelous it is to be consciously aware of the world around me -- and within me.
These questions remind me of how extraordinary are the ordinary experiences of every minute’s sights and sounds and tastes; how engaging are the people around me, how grandly beautiful the color of sunlight on the grass – all of this comes into clearer focus for me, especially when I realize that we are threatened – or more honestly, that I am threatened -- and that all I take for granted may soon be changed, even taken from me.
My thoughts push me ever-further into that tender area of my life’s mysterious path ... and I am once again filled with wonder at the intricacies of the simplest events, filled with equal wonder at the ordered simplicity of the most intricate events.
I look up at the sky and I see the very edge of infinity - in living color. The sun is one of a billion stars in our galaxy; this reminds me that there are a billion galaxies beyond my gaze … and I shake my head and smile at the mystery and wonder of it all.
I look at my own hands and realize the miraculous texture and flexibility of skin and bone and sinew of which my hand is made. I recognize anew that my fingernails somehow grow all by themselves. I cannot order them to cease their growth, for their regulation is beyond my control, as are so many miraculous functions and elegant processes which sustain my health and support my very existence. And my body brings back to me the fact that I am, as are we all, a mystery of astonishing dimension.
The Wonderment Of Soul
Once again, I am moved to wonder about who I really am, and what is my place in this world? And I ask myself some questions which echo with the heart’s deepest wonder:
“Who am I, really?” I ask myself. “What is my identity?” It’s a trite, yet complex, question, I know. But to understand myself, I realize I must finally look to where I invest my heart’s dearest values … for, after my length of years and my decades of work and wonder and hope and striving, I have become only what I most love.
I recall the gifts of goodness and gentility I have received, sometimes from loved ones, sometimes from strangers, always in the sight of my Creator. I happily recall the face and voice and touch of my Beloved. I recall our living close by the sea, watching the fog roll in from the ocean as it sidled slyly through the forests with silent assurance. I recall our visits to the herd of elk in fields nearby, stately and grand in their silent graze and sturdy mien.
And in the same questing manner, I ask myself what I fear most in my life? Is it illness or becoming dependent or missing the few loved ones who have faithfully stayed the course with me in my life? I ask myself if I will be well-remembered when I am gone? And who, I ponder hopefully, will remember me with gracious, forgiving memory?
Then I ask myself: What -- or who -- gives me greatest joy? In what ways can I spend the rest of my days in shared gratitude and delight, with candor and a humble heart, as I am brought to the gentle realization that I am in the Hands of God, and I am safe and beloved beyond any conceivable measure.
Then, I ask myself, “If I love -- truly love -- someone, have I done all I can do to be worthy of love in return? If not, why not? With the time I have left in my life, when will I start to be the loving person I was born to be? What can I do more -- not from fear of illness nor anxiety about the unknown – but simply because loving is what I have been put here on this good earth to do … all along?
Finally, because I do believe in God, I thank God for all that He has given and does give, for all that we behold, for all that is yet to come. And, with gratitude for my life -- and for life itself -- for love and goodness abounding, I pray to God to love and bless you and me … and to be kind to us, each and all.
May it be so. May it ever be so.
20 February 2020
No One Tells Me What To Do !!
When I was a youngster decades ago, I had a grammar school classmate named Joey. Joey was possessed by a precociously wicked world-view, with a flippant, dismissive attitude toward all authority and a prodigal’s distaste for anything which challenged his version of “freedom.”
Joey cheated on tests, snuck food into class and gobbled Twinkies under his desk. He’d steal candy bars and comic books from the drug store. He’d tell straight-faced lies to his parents. He even lied to The Good Nuns (a sure ticket to perdition).
I once asked Joey why he did stuff we all knew was wrong and (to us Catholic kids) sinful. His answer: “It’s a free country, isn’t it? I can do what I want; it’s a free country…”
In his primitive manner, Joey twisted authentic “freedom” into a fallacious “right” to do anything he pleased. He lived as if he were subject to no laws or restrictions. His moral vision admitted no personal wrongdoing. His superficial charm and persuasive duplicity revealed no remorse for his misdeeds, no regret or concern for the consequences of his wayward deeds.
Joey was deaf to the moral voice of conscience, numb to human nature’s innate tug of decency and altruism. Anything he wanted to do – any urge or impulse – was a “right,” no matter what harm ensued. No restrictions. No restraints. He was addicted to irresponsibility.
In effect, his motto was: “I have the right to do wrong.” He had only one caution: “Don’t Get Caught . . .”
Now, many decades later, countless people accept Joey’s specious idea that a person is subject to no laws other than those he decides for himself. Freedom and liberty, morality and conscience have no binding force other than what each individual decides. Freedom means we say and do anything we wish. We can lie without guilt, offend and demean and name-call with impunity. We can pursue harmful ends with harmful means. We are righteously “free” to do what we choose.
The social and moral consequences of this outlook are frightening for individuals and for a society which uncritically accommodates such radical, ethically unsound ideas. In this view,
- Traditional morality and conscience are archaic and civility is irrelevant.
- Freedom and liberty are severed from their proper purpose, namely, to seek Goodness and choose what it requires.
- Liberty and freedom are used to do harm, to offend and to manipulate, as we choose.
- Culture is polarized; communication is self-righteously accusatory and hostile.
- Morality and law mean only what each individual decides.
- No common standards of behavior bind us as citizens, and we have no moral center to our culture.
- Conflict and hostility replace courtesy and empathy. Fact-less accusations are tossed wildly about.
- The Commandments are passé. Scripture’s admonitions? Tiresome! Respect for centuries-old customs of Western culture? Boring! The Christian virtues? Fuhgeddaboudit!
Constitutional guarantees and limits, legal restraints and even common-sense are rejected. Law, religion, history - even scientific evidence from biology and genetics - are the detritus of a repressive era, of no worth whatever. They’re diktats of outdated elites. Even aborting children is a “civil right” or a “woman’s health concern” or a “social justice issue.”
The Costly Consequences
This view defines the moral order as an offensive intrusion on radical individualism. Morality is imposed by an un-woke, power-yielding collective of homophobic, xenophobic, racist, misogynistic, hate-speaking, toothless, white-privileged men.
Everyone in our culture today is affected by such thinking. Why? Because (among other outcomes) these distorted concepts have profoundly diminished the value of human life and the validity of traditional marriage and family, which are the historic foundations of every stable culture … and this is only for starters.
So, we must ask: How can morality survive in such a radically selfish culture?
More than that, how can a morally-conscientious person survive?
What happens to individual conscience and the larger culture when each person is guided only by their aggrieved feelings and their errant urges?
Morality And Conscience
What does “conscience” truly mean? Why does morality count?
The basic meaning of “conscience” is “knowledge with others.” Conscience compels us to move out of our self-centeredness and pursue knowledge of right behavior -- not only for ourselves but for the benefit of others with whom we share this earth. In this context, “others” refers not only to loved ones but to strangers up-close and half-a-world away.
The moral content of the educated conscience not merely a set of arbitrary rules, imposed by a distant, power-sated deity. Morality is a reflection of God’s design for us all. Morality proposes a set of practical rules and admonitions based on the fact that we share this earth with countless others. We are accountable to one other, as well as to God.
Morality is God’s way of telling us how to get along with others, how to find the right way to behave so we can live in peace with one another. Conscience tells us that morality is not arbitrary or peripheral to life. Morality is essential if we are to treat one another with dignity and consideration, so that we might all be better human beings, able to love and to give of ourselves generously to one another, in peace and kindness, respectful of one another, grateful for the gift of life God has bestowed.
Conscience - rightly understood - is our well-formed, morally educated awareness which informs us about Goodness and then inspires our will power to choose to proper action.
Our moral education is a life-long learning process which gradually empowers mind and will, heart and soul. Our educated conscience then becomes the center of genuine freedom … religious and civil, personal and cultural.
The educated conscience comprehends the value of goodness and the harm of evil. Like any human skill, conscience also grows and deepens its knowledge over time, as we learn more about the true nature of life and the responsibilities of being a person.
Conscience increases our moral intelligence and refines our grasp of what is expected of us, of what Goodness truly requires of us, of what “justice for all” really means to us, of what charity demands of us, of what love for neighbor costs us, of what self-respect and self-restraint require of each of us, of what more we can do to extend virtue and Goodness in this world.
The well-formed conscience is not naïve or passive, not willfully ignorant nor evasive. It does not avoid hard reality nor alibi away its responsibilities.
As our educated conscience matures, we also mature -- and we understand the dignity and necessity of our becoming a truly accountable person. That’s why liberty -- true liberty -- is always directed to a morally good end. True freedom is never separated from moral truth. Why?
Because we do not create ourselves or the moral laws which oblige us. Neither do we create the inner voice of our conscience, that universal voice which, always and everywhere, whispers (sometimes vociferously) to us about right-doing and wrong-doing.
True Freedom Seeks Good
The natural goal of our choices and our behavior is a perceived good. Our behavior seeks a good end … or at least what we define as good. How we correctly determine what is truly Good is the key issue in our development as persons.
Some people knowingly – and errantly -- assume the authority to define evil as good, thus engendering a dangerously selfish life-style. To do this, they must blunt their moral responsibilities, silence conscience’s inner voice, rid themselves of altruism and empathy, and risk the loss of their ability to love and be loved.
Nonetheless, some people become so perniciously self-centered that goodness eventually means nothing to them, as their conscience is muted. The chronically selfish person learns to dismiss moral truths, to reject conscience’s inner voice and to studiously ignore the storehouse of moral knowledge which defines us as persons and dignifies human nature.
Such selfishness is contrary to Nature’s intent. Even those who learn evil at an early age, or those burdened with severe neuroses come, sooner or later, to know right from wrong, good from evil. They know what they are doing.
From Good To Better
A well-formed conscience is more than knowledge. It’s also a power which, as we mature, inspires us to choose what we know is right and good over what is wrong and evil.
A well-educated conscience energizes us, spurs us to action as well as to refection and contemplation.
But more --- as our conscience matures, Good will inevitably ask more of us. We will learn to be ever-more grateful and generous. Our growth in moral maturity will reveal to us the value and dignity in even the smallest human actions.
We will recognize the Godly power of good will and loving intention which inspires us to perform even small gestures of kindness and care; those acts of acknowledgment and civility and honor by which we extend gentility and dignity quietly to others … in ways which give them a moment’s revelation of Goodness Itself.
A reassuring smile to a fearful stranger is an example: a tiny gesture of value immeasurable .. a reminder that “I see you, and I recognize you. You are here, and you are not alone …”
In the sight of God, nothing small is truly small.
Maturity is the union of knowledge and will – the union of thought and behavior, of knowing and doing, of seeing and choosing, of insight and action, of intention and recognition, of generously giving of oneself – a union which grows and deepens throughout our lives.
It is this union which defines us as moral persons aa we move from doing to becoming.
It is charity -- love of others -- in action.
This is the heart of what we mean by moral choice, the generous act of our giving more than we are asked to give, of taking less than we are allowed to take.
It is the quality of the Divine to which we are called.
As Always, It Is Our Choice
Our human growth and development as mature persons depend on how open we are to hearing and to heeding these truths which conscience reveals to us.
Moral truths come to us through formal education and from learning of all sorts. We learn from others, from our reflections on our experience, and we learn from God, Who is behind all of this.
Even those who deny God’s existence or those who ignore the promptings of God’s echo cannot escape the inner voice of their own conscience, a voice which, many believe, is the whisper of God.
- Thus does God communicate His creation to us in our own created hearts.
- Thus does our conscience become the gift of His largess in our personal lives.
- Thus does He appeal to our humanity and usher us toward Goodness by revealing to us our own special path to His Goodness – with-and-through the “others” in our lives.
- Thus does He call personally to each - and to all - of us.
- Thus does God ask us to love and serve Him … with-and-through the other human beings all around us.
These truths were once widely accepted in our society. Once we shared a common awareness of right and wrong. We did not hesitate for an instant to allow our children to pray in school. We did not question the faith of our neighbors, nor did we indict them as “haters” for their traditions. We certainly did not entertain the madness of surgically mutilating our children or feeding them hormone-killing drugs. We were not ashamed to publicly express our gratitude to God for blessing our nation with liberty and justice for all -- even if our struggle to attain these ideals was sometimes hampered by our moral blindness.
Finally . . .
At the conclusion of his “Inferno,” as Dante ends his travels through Hell, he emerges from the depths, and tells us that he again sees “…those beauteous things which Heaven does bear; thence I came forth to re-behold the stars.”
In our struggles to do what is right and good, let us “re-behold” Goodness. Surely, as we struggle, we err and fail, fall and rise again. But to find meaning in our struggles, we cannot escape the fact that our hearts and souls are made for Goodness, no matter how long we evade this truth or how much we deny it.
Goodness awaits … often, despite our ploys to avoid.
In the last analysis, it is humility which unites us to Goodness. Humility urges us to admit and accept truth – truth about ourselves, about creation and our place in it, about our neediness as created beings to believe and to hope, about the fact that God, Who is Goodness, patiently awaits.
In the last analysis humility obligates us all. Humility obliges us all to see and hear the truth, and to speak truth, as well. We are obliged -- all of us -- to recognize truths beyond ourselves … truths within ourselves … truths which bind us all; truths which God has given us, truths which define us as His children.
In the last analysis, then, it is always God’s gift of humility which allows us to see that ….
There is a time when anguish and doubt
must give rise to hope.
Then strength and grace are to be found
in the silence between our soul's dark night
and the Light and Life which enliven.
Then does our hope move us to God,
and our search for His goodness
leaves us stranded in Him;
there, at last, with the gift of His vision,
to behold Him anew…
God Who, alone, is the Loving Cause of life
And the reason for it all.
5 February 2020
Choosing Legacy: For What
Shall I Be Remembered
When I was a very young child, my ever-loving parents would occasionally take me to various of their social events. Invariably, my mother would caution me beforehand not to pester, not to romp nor cavort like the child I was. “Sit. Sit still and listen,” she would sternly command. “Listen… Just listen...”
On one occasion, as we entered the home of a new neighbor, the husband greeted my parents, then greeted me … by name! He knew my name. He welcomed me … and his sincerity was -- to my child-self -- overwhelming.
The power of his acknowledgment was overwhelming to me. It was stunning that an adult knew my name. He knew who I was. He remembered me … and he treated me with goodness and dignity and genuine warmth which I remember to this day. (He later assumed a role in my life which greatly enhanced his credibility and caring -- but that is another tale, for another time.)
Now, so many decades later, I recall with affection and admiration that Good Man … and the power of his presence in my life. By my memory of his goodness, I celebrate his still-blessed legacy. And, many decades later, I still honor him, for he is well-remembered.
The power of his presence remains, and his legacy of goodness still touches my heart … for goodness is never out of season, even if, in these latter days, the power of human presence is rarely noted or goodness seldom revered.
The Power Of Presence
In quiet moments, with these reverent memories ascending, I am reminded, once again, of what goodness is like in human affairs; reminded that even the smallest gift of kindness elevates the listless soul and relieves the dark wonderment of life’s endless, unanswered questions.
I am also reminded that no human interaction is neutral. Even glances exchanged between strangers has an impact -- subtle but discernible -- on the mind and heart and emotions. Memory may not linger on these brief encounters but an impact, an awareness and, often, a reaction to the presence of the other, does invariably occur. Somehow, in some mysterious manner, we register the presence of one another.
Despite a plethora of contrary evidence, human beings possess a sacred potential which is a reflection of the divine. A sacred factor hovers at the threshold of every encounter between people. In fact, we possess the potential to reveal the divine in each of us … if we but look and see what is to be seen … then choose to make it so.
The power of human presence offers us a vision of Creation but it is a vision we must seek, a vision which we must enliven by our free choice. However, for many people, it is a vision often obscured by the vagaries of personality, de-sensitizing distractions, endless mind-cluttering detours and errant feelings which our lonely, rootless culture spawns.
Still, despite the snarky put-downs of skeptics and the all-too-abundant weaknesses of the flesh, some of us hold tenaciously to our belief that a sacred factor exists in each person, even if many people rarely advert to it or are oblivious to our innate human dignity.
Many of us believe that the reality of the divine is embedded in human nature and resides close to the surface in every human encounter, there to be found and brought to life. Moreover, that divine quality enlightens our spirit whenever we act upon the belief that:
- kindness is preferable to disdain,
- that care is preferable to indifference,
- that forgiveness is preferable to revenge,
- that patience is preferable to intemperate emotion,
- that we are, each and all, children of our Common Creator.
The Point Of It All
Goodness and forgiveness and all those “better angels of our nature” do not appear haphazardly in our behavior. Goodness does not result by accident or chance. Goodness is not a bloodlessly ethereal quality, not a phantom wandering aimlessly through the ethers. Nor do we create Goodness merely by dropping money into the poor box.
Goodness is, above all else, a divine reality, a quality which is sacred in its origins -- and sacred, too, in its human realization when it is revealed by the power of presence.
In human affairs, goodness revealed is a gift given to us by God; a gift freely given which we must not squander on selfish wants or foppish excess. Goodness is a means and an end, a path and a goal. It is meant to inspire us to choose freely to become what God intends by His act of Creation.
When we introduce goodness into any relationship, it is always the result of a free choice we make, of an action we choose. Goodness is then as real as pain we experience or rejection we feel or doubt we harbor or cynicism which sours the heart -- or the sustaining, unquenchable love we experience for our Beloved.
When we choose goodness and kindness and the panoply of our nature’s better angels, they become human realities with specific characteristics, discernible qualities and tangible human traits which we know as virtue. Yes, virtue exists. Virtue is real.
Then does Goodness have a face and a name. And our motive for our choice is not to promote our own ego, nor to role-play for the gullible, nor to wallow in the “feel-good” shallows of our dreadful Culture of Nice.
Our choice (as cliched as it may sound to some) is to do what is humanely sacred, to do what is divinely right – to do the morally right thing, to choose Goodness, to respond to that inherent spark of divinity which is ever within our choosing.
No Human Encounter Is Neutral …. BUT ….
“Nonsense,” some critics are quick to say. “These ideas are the ravings of someone unfamiliar with the struggle to get ahead, to get what’s mine, to succeed in this grubby rat-race, to do unto others before they do it unto me, yo………”
It’s true; some encounters are hostile, loaded with conflict and aggression. Rage and anger seem de rigueur in our culture. You gotta be hard, tough. Trust no one.
Most encounters are fleeting, seemingly irrelevant, superficial at best, with no apparent point or purpose. For example, we pass dozens of people dozens of times each day, but rarely do we advert to their presence, or they to ours. We rarely greet them nor are we greeted by them. We are busied with distracting cell phone chit-chat and a litany of obsessive irrelevancies. People are often last in our priorities. We listen to others with an eye on our screens and an ear attuned to our apps.
On the other hand, overly-friendly people are often assumed to be a bit balmy or simply tasteless boors. Social restraints forbid incursions into another person’s private space. Moreover, the discomforting truth for many of us is that our interest in others is very often stimulated only by a “what’s-in-it-for-me” outlook.
Yes, we can be a caring race -- but selectively. Why?
Because we are a vulnerable race, drawn instinctively to self-interest in its various forms and fashions, some heathy and essential, some indulgent and intentionally distant.
Happily, however, we are entirely capable of learning from our mistakes and recovering from our sins (if, that is, we any longer accept “sin” as a moral reality in human affairs).
- We are certainly able to grow beyond our hapless immaturity and choose wiser ways to live than estrangement and division … if we so choose.
- We are certainly able to rise above the lingering allure and assorted seductions to which we are heir … if we so choose.
- We are certainly able to give voice to that sacred gift within us -- that gift which animates the soul and taps at the conscience of every person … if we so choose.
The Real Meaning Of Choice
Self-encapsulated individuals often choose the pursuit of power as their life-style, savoring the two-edged pleasures of control over others. Some people even choose evil, and do so with unrepentant, repetitive clarity and full knowledge that their actions hurt others. Yet they proceed knowingly, and thereby taint their souls, sometimes beyond redemption --- but always by choice.
The truth is that we always have a free choice about what we shall do – here and now. We have a free choice about who we will become, about what legacy we bequeath.
But let us be clear: freedom of choice is intended for the pursuit of Goodness, not evil. Our freedom to choose is NOT about doing whatever we wish to do, not about living a life with no moral boundaries nor concern for personal accountability. And we are certainly not given freedom of choice so we can injure or demean others.
True freedom of choice actually means the freedom of each individual to choose the path of Goodness, no matter what the cost. The choice of Goodness makes us most human.
Finally . . . . .
We live in a zone of choice between the Ideal and the Real, with advocates and persuasions tugging at us both ways throughout our years. We are tempted as we struggle between the divine and the human. We can choose evil, BUT we are born to choose Goodness. We are not born to celebrate the worst of which we are capable, as individuals or as a race.
Thus, true freedom is the response-ability to choose Goodness, not evil. The choice we make is the defining response-ability which determines who-and-what we truly are. And in choosing, we determine our own legacy.
It is our power to choose and our power to think which radically define us as persons, as individuals, as human beings, as participants in the sacredness of Creation.
So, we can choose what sort of person we wish to become. Our choice reveals who we truly are and determines the legacy we intend to bequeath.
So, let us consider:
- If we but look at -- and see -- the beauty of life all around us;
- If we but look and see the gift of life which abounds all around us;
- If we but look and accept the Goodness which Creation constantly reveals all around us…
- we cannot but gratefully realize that Goodness is everywhere to be found, all around us.
Then will we also recognize that the point and purpose of one's life – i.e., the burden and the glory of our personhood -- is to freely choose the path of Goodness, to look and see that Goodness is also God’s gift within us – if we choose it and embrace it, no matter what the cost.
It is that free choice which answers the query: "Who Am I?"
It is that free choice which determines the values (or lack thereof) we possess, the patterns of life which we follow, the goals which mean most to us, the person we choose freely to be, the legacy we shall finally leave, the way we shall be remembered.
But our legacy is always the result of our free choice … always our choice … and always ours alone …………
18 January 2020
Mystery And Wisdom:
Life’s Abiding Realities
As years go by, the process of growing older has a way of nudging us toward the (sometimes painful but healthy) realization of how little we know about our own lives and about our own specific role in the vastness of Creation. And, if we are wise, we will listen to our sense of Wonder.
We are, of course, easily distracted in our individual search for clarity. We do stumble and deny and avoid certain fundamental questions. We may still argue needlessly or defend ourselves for no solid reason. Some of us even become chronically angry and jealous in ways which are unworthy and unreasonable.
But some people realize that getting older can actually help us traverse the maze of options (some good, others way off-course) which life affords. If we listen humbly to our wonderment and to the call to Goodness at its heart, we may realize the aging process is actually a grand gift, a doorway to the path of innocence regained … an invitation to personal Wisdom.
We all know that, as we age, our “successes” (such as they are) surely fall behind. No more ticker-tape parades or pursuits by eager autograph hounds. No more feature stories in Fortune Magazine. Our lesser tendencies – to exaggerate, perhaps, or to back-slap with too heavy a hand or to worry about appearances or to seek approval all too readily – these all fade away, in favor of a less grandiose vision of who we really are … and, hopefully, a far more honest, humbler, giving sense of self.
As we age, we are better – and wiser -- when we are deliberately less self-centered, more openly probing, more candid, more empathic to the needs of others, more ready to listen than to ignore, more truly forgiving of our own stumbles, more grateful for friendships which last, quicker to respond to altruism without reward, blessed with a Spouse who loves us still…...
As we age, we also begin earnestly to question whether we spent our years worthily. In so many ways, our accomplishments are still unknown by so many people; people who are enmeshed in their own reverie, pondering the nagging wonderment of what life and living are all about.
To some of us elders who ponder thusly, the words of Isabella (in “Measure for Measure”) make much sense: “…but man, proud man, dressed in a little brief authority, most ignorant of what he's most assured.”
The Lingering Why
As we age, some elders do a profit-and-loss study. They come to realize that their great loss over many years has nothing to do with market quotes or estate planning or insurance costs. No, they see their great loss is their inability - or unwillingness - to embrace the inescapable presence of Mystery in their lives. They come to realize that Mystery rests at the heart of our struggle to seek and find Wisdom, whose first mandate to us is that we admit we really know so very little.
As elderhood pushes our aging envelope, our health gradually begins to fail us. Our “friends” are fewer, our children grow up, aloneness edges in .. and eventually, inevitably, we all recognize we are not the center of the galaxy.
Age will surely have its way with us. We will be moved one day to admit that we possess no power to fully control anything in our world. But Wisdom wisely reveals to us that all of this -- and more -- is to be accepted not with curmudgeonly spite or outdated pride or hopeless resignation, but with profound gratitude and quiet, abiding dignity and a statement to the world that it is a wondrous gift simply to be alive, to yet pursue Wisdom.
Wisdom further teaches us to greet the Unknown not with rage and complaints, but with the ageless grace of grateful Wonder. Wonder enlightens us sufficiently so that we admit our lives are precious, divinely-given gifts. Our lives are gifts beyond all other gifts. They are gifts beyond all our understanding …. gifts which have been given -- to each and all -- freely. For this gift, may our gratitude be ever forthcoming.
Some dissenters find the concept of Mystery unacceptable and intrusive. They find Wisdom’s insistence on gratitude unwelcome, discomforting, offensive, intellectually off-base. “I am,” they say, accountable only to myself. I am my own master, my sole creator,” goes their tinny mantra.
Some of these dissidents look to Science for all the answers we need in this life. Science studies the Mysteries around us and within us, then reports its findings. “What else is there, for God’s sake,” the dissidents ask…..
Indeed, science reveals ever so much about our universe that is riveting in its stunning reality. Some examples:
- Cygnus X1, the first identified Black Hole, is a hefty 6000 light years away from Earth.
- The speed of light is agreed upon as 186,000 miles per second (give-or-take a mile or two);
- A Black Hole four million times the mass of our sun lies at the center of our Milky Way;
- Billions of galaxies exist in the universe (yes, that’s billions);
- Dark matter and dark energy comprise better than 90% of the observable universe … but what is it?
- There is a vast range of electromagnetic radiation, of which our area of vision is but a quite smallish fraction.
These and other beguiling Mysteries -- such as the fluctuating vagaries of gravity and quasars and quarks, and an array of inexplicable realities -- continue to confound us as “Out-There Mysteries” of Creation. They have existed for billions of years, but they remain entirely beyond our comprehension, beyond our making --- yet we are part of that Creation, part of that “star stuff,” as Carl Sagan used to say.
More than that . . . in addition to these “Out-There Mysteries,” we are also confronted with the “In-Here Mysteries,” the list of personal wonderments summed up in the question, “Who Am I?”
In truth, we stand before Creation and before our Creator as the weakest of creatures, dependent totally for our bodies which give us breath, dependent utterly for our souls which give us our lives and the energy which sustains us all our years.
Bonhoeffer’s Moral Exemplar
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Methodist Pastor imprisoned by the Nazis, wrote his poetic response to that perennial question of “Who Am I” days before he was murdered in prison. He was just 39 years old, killed weeks before the end of World War II:
"Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell's confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a Squire from his country house.
Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
freely and friendly and clearly,
as through it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.
Am I then really that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing
My throat, yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
tossing in expectation of great events,
powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.
Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person to-day and to-morrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine,
Whoever I am, Thou Knowest, O God, I am thine."
To be sure, Bonhoeffer based his life -- and his death -- on the example of Jesus Christ, Whose name and ideas are today so blithely attacked, so readily trashed. But He, and Bonhoeffer in His stead, offered incarnate witness to Goodness, and to the belief that one cannot speak of moral values unless one is living these values in one’s own life. Christ as Moral Exemplar.
Finding The Path
Living a virtuous life as prescribed by Wisdom is difficult. But doing so is also a noble standard, really the only reliable standard for our credibility as persons who are true to our word … true to the highest traits of Human Nature, true to the Mystery, the Wisdom and the Wonder of our creation.
Indeed, we do not bestow dignity upon ourselves. Our task in life is to recognize, honor and nurture the inherent dignity we already possess as creatures of God, then to assist one another to find and follow -- together -- the paths which God’s Wisdom opens to us.
The message and the ground rules – the “In-Here Mysteries” – are clear. There is no mystery whatever about what is expected of us … as individuals and as a race of created beings in search of our Creator.
And, as we learn to search our hearts with honesty and humility, the answers to our wonderment about “Who We Are” and why we are here become clear, and so does the price of Goodness which we must pay … for our victory already achieved.
7 January 2020
Denial And Its Corollaries:
America’s Flourishing Addiction
Life’s Little Tyrannies
Remember when you were a kid, and a playmate said to you, “Bet’cha can’t climb that tree…” and you emphatically replied, “Can too!!” Then up that tree you went, scraping your knees and cutting your fingers … just to prove you were a fearless tree-climber.
We all have stories like that. Even as kids, we learned that our egos were -- and are -- powerful, feisty, vulnerable, easily aroused, ready to respond to challenge or threat by fighting or fleeing. And our most immediate ego-response is Denial: we deny the validity and gravity of the threat -- no matter how true it may actually be.
I first felt Denial’s feisty compulsion to defend my ego when I was an eight-year-old, pretending to be a tree-climbing hot-shot. One of my classmates called my bluff and, foolishly, I took up his challenge … even though I was fearful of heart, stubborn of mind and weak of will. I knew I was definitely not an adroit climber-of-trees. Not me. No sir. No ma’am. Not me. No way!!! But Denial still had its way with me.
Why? Because I cared too much what others thought of me. The threat of my sullied notoriety amongst my taunting playmates was too much for my ego to bear. It pushed me hastily into a state of blind, stupid Denial. So … up, up that daunting tree I went – only to fall from a reckless height, injuring my back, requiring hospitalization and weeks of slow recovery.
And, to add to my self-styled humiliation, my attempts at Denial were infamously related to other classmates, and greeted by a barrage of whispered giggles occasioned by my self-inflicted dishonesty. How my weak ego did betray me … and, thus, did I painfully thud my way into grade school ignominy – a wretched state for a third-grader.
Learning The Hard Way
On the bright side, my act of Denial taught me a life-lesson: Denial may work for a while, but it becomes the eventual doorway to other falls from grace, some of which cause much avoidable hurt for many people.
I realized that Denial requires us, knowingly and willingly, to practice self-deception. That’s a heavy load to bear for anyone with a conscience. Yet even as adults, some people use Denial and deception with ease and aplomb, sometimes for decades.
But why do we use Denial? Because (so we believe) the opinion of others -- what they say and think about us -- deeply affects our ego, our self-image, our emotional safety, our reputation, our social status.
And why is that? Because we gotta look good to others -- at least that’s what our fragile ego says. So, we deceive ourselves and others, and follow the bad advice of our wayward ego … and are lessened for it.
Let’s look at three aspects of Denial and ponder its cost to us, to our families and to our culture.
Personal Terms And Outcomes
First of all, Denial is our personal attempt to avoid unpleasant truth and justify falsehood. We distort reality, stifle facts and deflate evidence. We try to convince ourselves that our problems are not real, that truth is only what we say it is, that language means only what we decide, that right is wrong, that wrong is normal and more desirable than honesty.
Denial is a handy cover-up, a manipulation of logic which replaces truth with fiction. Its perverse utility seems effective when something we value is challenged, even if what we value is morally wrong, medically risky, physically harmful and blatantly untrue.
Denial buffers us (however superficially) from the contradictions in our bootless pursuit of ego-centric superiority. It’s our way (often embarrassingly ineffective) of dismissing anything which might make us seem less admirable, intelligent, courageous, superior, sober or enviable. It’s a psychological Potemkin Village, camouflage for our fragile ego, a surrender to deception -- and a horrid example to others.
Clearly, some personal truths do indeed chafe our egos and make us look foolish, weak or needy – often, because we truly are. But, in truth, we are all foolish, weak and needy at times. But Denial deflects such embarrassing truths as it tries to sanitize our personal lives, choices and behavior -- our tree-climbing facility.
IN addition, there’s more – much more – to consider beyond personal issues. There’s also the social and cultural impact we must ponder …..
Second, some people have a need to be seen as confrontive cultural warriors, aggressive agents for social change. They dread the slightest suggestion that they’re unconcerned about social causes. They use Denial as a weapon, often with hostile vigor and an arsenal of baseless, condemnatory accusations of others, voiced with reckless intolerance.
In this context, Denial in recent years has been used by social militants with frothy righteousness. But their abuse of logic and language contorts traditional moral guidelines, religious beliefs, legal rights and accepted restraints of civility, courtesy and the common good.
Many of their “causes” are framed in the angry argot of “victimhood” and “civil rights,” mis-labeling their causes as “moral issues.” They employ frivolous accusations of “male domination and toxic masculinity,” “white privilege,” “heteronormativity” and other invented categories, including dozens of self-defined pseudo-sexual labels which burst the boundaries of risibility.
For example, a biological male claiming to be a “woman” contradicts scientific evidence, medical fact, history, morality, tradition and common sense. The claim is indefensible … yet much of our culture accepts it as fact and denies the evidence, with grave harm even to young children.
The public misuse of Denial has undeniably profound social impact with grave medical, religious, educational, familial and moral consequences. This misuse causes incalculable suffering.
The Addictive Element
Third, Denial has an addictive potential. Some people become hooked on Denial; it can become an unhealthy, addictive habit.
Denial may start small, with seemingly insignificant little lies and evasions -- but the Denial Process is thereby energized. And, as we know, the ego-fueled thoughts, feelings and behavior ignited by Denial are quite powerful, even in childhood and well beyond
Addiction, by definition, involves closed-minded defensiveness which very often spawns protective avoidance, haughty cynicism, flippant and sarcastic dismissal of other views and, when pushed, an aggressive, retaliatory response.
Reliance on Denial gradually nurtures true addiction as it deepens with repetition. Our character and moral vision are compromised. Our flight from reality and our avoidance of accountability become a life-style. Antagonism comes easily but it’s often muted behind caustic pseudo-humor or silent, stubborn avoidance of even benign confrontation.
In fact, some people become so addicted to Denial that they brusquely avoid anyone who disagrees with their self-protective scripts, including close family. And, in the process, Denial’s habitual avoidance of truth prolongs immaturity and undermines psychological stability.
Why mention maturity and psychological stability?
Because maturity and stability, not power or prestige or adroit Denial, define healthy adulthood. The following traits of mental, emotional and moral stability indicate healthy growth in maturity. Maturity is properly fostered when:
- we outgrow reliance on the need to shave the truth, tell lies and deceive ourselves and others;
- we do not unduly deny or needlessly hide anything about ourselves which is true; we “man-up,” even if it hurts;
- we grow beyond the childish compulsion to portray ourselves as anything other than as we truly are;
- we overcome the need to hold grudges, control others, seek revenge or punish those who confront or threaten us;
- we stop kidding ourselves about the limits of our talents;
- we are no longer intimidated by our own vulnerabilities;
- we honor the dignity and shared humanity of others in family and society, even strangers whose pain and need are unknown to us;
- we no longer resent people who offend us, nor do we harbor memories of conflict nor dream of revenge;
- we admit we can learn from many persons, so we listen with humility rather than attacking or dismissing their views;
- we do not seek perverse delight in demeaning others;
- we respect truth and evidence, even when it hurts.
These traits indicate a healthy soul in possession of itself, a heart in sync with the arc of the moral life. But people addicted to Denial are adversely controlled by their need to look good, to impress, to live a delusion of superiority. In fact, their pretense at independence is actually a form of dependence, since delusions start with one’s self.
Addicted persons become “fixated,” which means they stop growing emotionally. They get stuck -- fixed -- at a dysfunctional level of development. They may be singularly proficient in a specific area, not unlike the savant who excels (often spectacularly) in one arena of behavior but cannot maintain candid, stable relationships, even in marriage and family.
Furthermore, Denial also reinforces the erroneous belief that nothing is amiss. There’s no need to change, no need to listen to others, no need to rely on anyone. Emotions and loving self-disclosure, given-and-received, are avoided. Humility is weakness. Love and intimacy are kept at arm’s length.
As addiction settles in, the person believes he has no character flaws or unsightly wrinkles, no hormones out-of-place. He can control his needs and makes no bad decisions. His self-image, flawless and unmarred, lurks in pristine focus, providing unsullied energy for his mythically faultless life. Praise and adulation are his due. The rest of the world flaps and falters -- but says nothing, as enablers are expected to do.
In this scenario, he is the main character (often, the only character), deserving attention, reward and applause; always ready for his close-up, with the expectation that others will recognize his stardom and be silent -- as intimidated enablers are expected to do.
He hides from himself, covers his eyes and numbs his soul to the truth. His self-delusion is bad enough. What’s worse is his inflicting it on family and concerned friends in the community, who stay silent -- as exhausted enablers are always expected to do.
The Value Of Community
“Community” always means human beings -- people -- united by a hallowed sense of kinship and mutuality, with care for one another, even for strangers a world away, as well as family close by.
“Community” is radically defined and universally circumscribed by our God-given responsibilities and rights with one another. These mutually-binding, God-given responsibilities and rights are the bases of all morality. They originate beyond us and exist in our DNA.
We are born to be members of a morally-inspired community……….
- Our moral nature is our God-given road map to making right choices.
- Our moral selves are the core of our identity as persons and members of the human community.
- Our freedoms exist only in the context of responsibility before rights, duty before privilege. The reverse is pandemonium.
- We are free to do what is morally responsible and necessary, not what our selfish urges and raw instincts push us to do.
- Our rights come from our Creator, the Divine Origin of all rights.
- Our human dignity comes from respecting the limits of our shared human nature, not from exploiting or disregarding them.
We exist within a variety of “communities” where we interact with others who seek specific, if temporary, goals. The needs of community often overrule individual urges and personal desires … and rightly so. This is even more essential in the family, which is the original community for all human learning and development.
The lesson is obvious: some goals are larger than any individual. Therefore, we must all give something to the community before we have any right to expect or demand anything.
To deny this principle is to deny logic, human nature, common sense, history, Revelation, experience and reason – sources of evidence which Denial simply cannot erase, even as it struggles to obscure the truth.
Affirming The Point Of It All
Denial in our culture now runs deep in education, religion, family, school. It is no longer applicable only to the areas of substance abuse (which clutters our country and costs billions).
Responsibilities come before rights – but our culture now turns that natural law on its head. We now celebrate “civil rights” without responsibility. The meaning of “freedom” has been derailed. Rampant individualism and moral relativism reign.
The point is this: none of us is ever free to do as we wish. We cannot act any way we desire. Furthermore, we cannot fall back on Denial to avoid our God-given responsibilities to one another.
We are born into “community” which, by the laws of God’s nature as well as human society, demands limits, sets restrictions, applies restraints and metes out punishment for irresponsible behavior -- or used to.
History reveals that rights without responsibilities results in moral chaos and disaster. Closed-minded individualism always spawns relativism and promotes conflict, polarization and the aggressive eradication of opponents by law … or, in time, by violence.
And, of course, the less we believe in God and honor the guidelines of His Revelation, the less all this matters. Without God as the Origin of our rights and responsibilities, life is indeed chaotic.
Finally . . . . .
Personal freedom is never without mutual limits. Denial would have it otherwise.
Human community demands personal and social truth. Denial would have it otherwise.
Individual maturity is defined by our readiness to love and to be loved. Denial would have it otherwise.
Human flourishing relies on self-restraint … not for fear of punishment but for the dignity and rights of others. Denial would reject that truth.
As human beings, we are a conflicted breed. Denial cannot alter that.
Yet we are given our lives as a gift, born to pursue the noble mission of investing our lives with kindness and goodness, even if it means self-sacrifice. Denial cannot erase that.
We are also born into frailty and error. As Solzhenitsyn reminds us, the thin line between good and evil runs thorough the human heart. Denial cannot obscure that truth.
We all fall into the Denial trap and run from truth … more than we want to admit – and that’s precisely what Denial is all about:
- avoiding the fact that God does indeed exist,
- finding ways to numb the yearnings of our hearts,
- ignoring the deepest needs of our souls, i. e., the truth of who we are, and what our lives are really for – why we’re here.
The encouraging fact is that we always have a choice about acting with generosity. Since this is so, I often wonder what our lives would be like if we adhered to the marvelous notion that homage and fidelity and our very personhood might be at their strongest if we choose to respect the God-given truths of our moral heritage and humbly honor our duties to God and to one another.
I cannot help but wonder …. and hope.