December 28, 2008

Faxes of faxes of faxes...

I often mention "hollowing out" --that is, the way meaning seems to drain out of modern people's lives leaving an outer shell with nothing much inside. And how people construct substitutes for what they've lost, and how meaning then drains away from those substitutes...

I haven't seen a better example than this NYT editorial, When Christmas Comes:

...But, really, Christmas needs no saving. It does not exist apart from what we make of it. And, on its own, it cannot save us, though it contains the gestures of generosity and thankfulness that are halfway to being a better person, a richer community. Christmas is all the better for being a simple place, nothing more, perhaps, than two red cardinals, male and female, against the backdrop of a snowy field. They are there every day. The only difference is that today it feels like Christmas.

So what IS this "Christmas" the editors are editorializing about? Heaven knows. It's like a document that's been faxed around so many times it's turned to a gray blur. Somebody long ago fudged-up "secular Christmas." And then somebody created a secular version of that still quasi-religious thing, and then the newer blander version was refined into a yet-more secular thing..... Finally we get to "Snowflake Day," when, for some forgotten reason, we feel sort of warm and fuzzy inside when the city puts snowflake decorations on the lamp posts along Main Street!

The underlying reason for the hollowing-out is that anything that has "meaning" is bigger then the self. And therefore it makes demands on us. So if people become self-worshippers, then they will try to get rid of meaning. Get rid of the solidity, the real-ness of things.

We see this process all around us, and it bewilders me how little people will "observe" it. Everything that is tough and chewy gets tenderized into pablum. Marriage, for instance, has been repeatedly faxed throughout my lifetime, becoming ever less demanding and real. People keep hoping and wishing it will be meaningful for them, while at the same time eagerly knocking off any sharp edges that might bruise them. What a sick joke. It should be re-named "White Dress Day." And the especial insanity is that each time the document gets faxed, the proponents of that particular iteration insist that it stands alone, that this faxing is a one-time thing, and the document will really be the same.

It's all kind of funny, but once you really "see" it, you see that people are sliding over the edge of a terrifying abyss. If you worship yourself you worship Moloch. The "self" will ask for the sacrifice of anything that rivals it. We all say, "Of course I would not do such-and-such! There are lots of things I would not sacrifice for my own satisfaction." Alas that "of course" is actually for most of us just a collection of habits that we have all inherited with our culture.

But the habits aren't "real," aren't solid, aren't something you can take to the bank. We tend, for instance, to feel a bit less selfish at Christmas, to think more about family and friends..........but, that's just a habit. And habits have a way of wearing off. Especially if people are trying to get rid of the underlying reasons for them. (The ultimate source, sometimes buried under many layers, is Jewish and Christian faith.)

The more the habits (not to mention the underlying reality) wear off, the more scary things are going to be.

...As unbelievers deny Revelation more decisively, as they put their denial into more consistent practice, it will become the more evident what it really means to be a Christian. At the same time, the unbeliever will emerge from the fogs of secularism. He will cease to reap benefit from the values and forces developed by the very Revelation he denies. He must learn to exist honestly without Christ and without the God revealed through Him; he will have to leam to experience what this honestly means. Nietzsche had already warned us that the non-Christian of the modern world had no realization of what it truly meant to be without Christ. The last decades [the two world wars] have suggested what life without Christ really is. The last decades were only the beginning...
      -- Romano Guardini, from The End of the Modern World

"He will cease to reap benefit from the values and forces developed by the very Revelation he denies." That's what we see all around us.

Posted by John Weidner at December 28, 2008 1:49 PM
Weblog by John Weidner