Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Desensitize to legitimize, and vice versa…

“Did you ever think it's the only time I'm brave enough, or maybe just unpreposssed enough, to ask these kind of questions?”

“Sure, I can see that. But did you ever think that when you ask those kind of questions has something, maybe everything, to do with why you ask those questions?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I mean, logically speaking, the occasion for your asking such questions is coextensive with you asking those questions.”


“Again, logically speaking, I mean that the times you ask such questions is at least materially equivalent to your asking the questions.”

“Kay. So?”

“You have no way of asking questions like you do unless you also have an occasion, a suitable span of time, in which to pose the questions to yourself. So if you remove the occasions for asking the questions, you remove the asking of the questions. Don't make time for the questions, so to speak, and you won't make the questions.”

“But you're just telling me not to ask the questions. But my whole point is that maybe I only let them rise to the surface on those occasions. Not making time for them doesn't mean I don't still have them brewing, lurking, inside. So why can't I at least have times to ask myself questions like that?”

“My point is not that you shouldn't give vent to the questions, but maybe instead that the act of making time for them––setting up a stage for them, if you will––is just the reason you have the questions in the first place. What if they are just artificial effects of the times you get like that?”

“But don't my questions have validity in their own right? I mean, if I normally raised them, under normal circumstances, at normal, calmer times, wouldn't they still demand answers, or at least pondering?”

“Fair enough. But my point is that that's too hypothetical given what we know about your consistent behavior. I didn't say the questions only arise when you are like that, you did!”

“Well, yes, it's true, I only feel them, or face them, I guess, at those times, but that just tells me I normally don't face them.”

“But you don't like the questions, so if they normally don't bother you, isn't the deeper problem that you put yourself into situations, into a state of mind, that basically confabulates questions, questions which you would normally, and in a clearer state of mind, wouldn't give a hearing? If you remove the cause, you thereby remove the effects. And it seems to the questions are just effects of the cause, of you bringing yourself into that state of mind. The only reason you give them a hearing at all, perhaps, is because you get far enough from your normal self that you can't resist the absurd quandries you pose to yourself.”

“Yeah, but what about other people, like atheists and skeptics and nonbelievers, who have the same questions in a normal, clear state of mind? Are you saying they are habitually displaying an unhealthy state of mind just by raising such worries about our faith?”

“Why not? It's just a cultural bias in favor of Freudian suspicion that we think letting out perverse inner impulses is a sign of health. Supposedly, if every time a man is on drugs he starts pondering suicide, he is doing himself a small form of therapy, of catharsis. But if he began pondering suicide without drugs, we'd instantly recognize it as a mental imbalance. So why give vent to perverse worries in one state of mind, pretending they are healthy releases, when in a different state of mind you'd recognize them as absurd and neurotic?”

“So are you really saying atheists and the like are habitually neurotic about religion?”

“Like I said, why not? If you drink and start wildly criticizing your boss and loathing your job's very existence in society because of the stress and faitgue they give you, but when you're sober you just take the stress in stride, as countless people do every day, then why should you legitimize the pessimism under a cloak of alcoholic catharsis? I can't help but pose the same kind of question about your religious worries at times like those. If it's reckless and negligent to allow a man to stoke the flames of his rage or depression my drinking and taking drugs to the point that they bleed into his mind when he's sober and clean, then how much more reckless and naïve is it to pat skeptical scruples on the head just because they've escaped the bonds of alcoholic melancholy and paranoia and become a respectable dimension of our modern society?”

“You're mad. Everyone's entitled to their own opinions.”

“Look who's talking! And that's just your opinion anyway, haha. If an otherwise good man wants to abandon his family for an illusion of freedom every time he gets drunk, then how can we condone the same desire on his part when he's sober? I can't help but see much difference between that and the established paranoia of atheism. When a man at a pub mounts his mug of tears and begins decrying the goodness and value of the world, and goes on to accuse God of great failure, we just tell him to go home and sleep it off. But when a sober man undermines the goodness of God and the world in the same way in a philosophical journal, we give him an honorary degree. A bit odd, don't you think?”

“You should have been born in the Middle Ages. We live in a pluralistic society now. Things aren't so black and white anymore.”

“I enjoy Youtube too much to have been born in the Middle Ages. You're right that we live in a pluralistic society, but that's hardly an argument for it as such. Pluralism might entail the establishment of a drunkard's society, but in a healthy society, it would be quickly abolished due to harm an organized, condoned society of walking drunks poses to society at large. Why can't we raise the same objection to irreligion based on the harm it poses to society?”

“What harm? At least no one is burned at the stake anymore these days.”

“Well, no, no one who escapes the womb in time, you're right. But the harm I'm talking about has to do with the undermining of a collective sense of brotherhood and unity based on an awareness of the transcendent fatherhood and unity of God as the one Maker of all. Once you start fracturing the unity of the heavens, the stability of the earth follows in little time. In any case, we've gotten away from the original point, which is about you.”

“What about me?”

“If you recognize that the questions in question, heheh, undermine your own inner peace and more basic sense of well-being in the world, then don't you owe it to yourself to preempt the occasions for those questions? Your state of mind at those times just infects you with despair, and it's a kind of moral duty to yourself to weed out the seeds of despair. My larger point is just that we might owe it to our neighbors as much as we owe it to ourselves to see the seeds of despair for what they are: worries stirred up by unhealthy consumption. If what you do to yourself is wrong because it undermines your well-being, like slow suicide by gas leaking in, then it seems just as wrong to legitimize and applaud collective efforts to undermine society's well-being by denying any ultimate or eternal value to its endeavors.”

“Yes, but…”


1 comment:

Agellius said...

This seems applicable to a friend of mine. He was raised Protestant, fell away from all faith in his teens and early 20s, then in his late 20s (I think) realized that his life was in a tailspin and turned back to God. He had a Catholic aunt who then shared various Catholic apologetics materials with him, which convinced him that the Catholic Church was the true Church founded by Christ. He went through RCIA (or something like that) and was received into the Church.

But about six months later, somehow he got hold of some Protestant apologetics materials, which convinced him that the Catholic Church was not the true one, and he stopped attending mass.

But that was not the end of the story, because he still suffers from periodic bouts of what he calls "Roman fever", where he has a longing to attend mass and re-join the Church. In fact at one time he reached a point where he said he was going to set aside his doubts and come back into the Church once and for all.

The problem is that when he attends mass, or Eucharistic adoration, or prays the Rosary, he says his conscience suddenly starts reproaching him, saying "you know this isn't right", because of course it's idolatry. Then he becomes firm in his Reformed Protestantism again -- for a time, that is, until the Roman fever strikes again.

It seems he just can't remain firm one way or the other. I know that he has been presented with adequate evidence for the Catholic side, but to his mind that evidence is canceled out by the evidence on the Protestant side; and at the same time he can't rest on the Protestant side because he always eventually feels himself pulled back to Rome; and also because there is evidence against the Protestant side as well (primarily he has trouble with the question of how we can prove the canon of the scriptures).

It seems he can't rest on one side or the other without something like a mathematical certainty that it is the correct one. And of course such a thing doesn't exist. I have tried suggesting to him that he simply stop entertaining his doubts when they arise, since he will never have absolute certainty. But that usually results in him saying, "you're right, I'm going to make up my mind once and for all, to be a Protestant!". Until Roman fever strikes again ...

For this reason (among others) I can understand why in the Middle Ages irreligion and false religion were understood to be potentially harmful to society, and to individuals, and were therefore monitored and controlled if not abolished. No doubt my friend would be a contented and faithful Catholic if not for the confusion engendered by his exposure to Reformed Protestantism.

My son, meanwhile, is suffering temptations to atheism, despite attending a strongly conservative, faithful Catholic high school. I suppose that's inevitable to an extent, but no doubt the respectability enjoyed by atheism in modern society isn't helping.