Sunday, January 8, 2012

Hope, Joy, and 'More Despondent Than Thou?'

There's something in the human psyche that seems to resonate with despondency. Or the feeling that there's some terrible crisis right around the corner.

Apocalypse Whenever

I think that explains some of the appeal for the perennial 'End Times prophecies:' like Mr. Camping's doomsday prediction last year. Christians with this quirk may be sincere. But I think they're doing themselves no favors.

Oh Woe, All Ye Faithful?

I also think a 'more despondent than thou' attitude projects a warped image of my Lord.

We're All Gonna Freeze Starve Get Blown Up Drown Uh, Change?

On the secular side, there's the environmental crisis du jure, with its 'and we're all gonna die' refrain. I've watched several coming apocalypses move from headlines to dim memories, like the:
  • Coming ice age
  • Population bomb
  • Impending nuclear holocaust
  • Horrific effects of global warming
    • New York City Floods!
    • Los Angeles Drowns!!
    • Pandas perish!!!
These days the fashion seems to be acting distraught over 'climate change,' and that's almost another topic.

After I saw a few 'doomsday' dates swish by, I wasn't all that impressed by 'and we're all gonna die' predictions: but there are those who seem to relish the idea that all is lost.

Quirks and Kooks

A few quirks seem to pop up in any largish group of people. Like the notion that despondency is a virtue, or a sign of 'intelligence.' Folks with this trait seem:
  • Determined to see the dark lining in every silver cloud
  • Dedicated to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory
I think the silly side of chronic pessimism is easy to spot, when 'those people over there' exhibit it. When 'serious thinkers' are part of one's own group? Maybe not so much. The kook who agrees with me can be more annoying than the crackpot who doesn't, once the kookiness becomes apparent, and that's another topic.

Hope isn't Irresponsibility

Willingness to see hope isn't the same as irresponsibility. There's a difference between seeing frostbite in every snowflake, and dressing warmly in winter.

By the way, there's nothing wrong with 'environmentally aware,' recycling, and not throwing out a pound of food for every pound you eat. As a practicing Catholic, I have to be concerned about God's creation:
That's far from a complete index of what the Church has to say about taking care of creation, and I've been over this before:

'Gloominess is Next to Godliness?'

So: Why do so many folks seem to assume that:
  • 'Thou shalt not smile' is an 11th Commandment?
  • The world's gonna end in 2012?
  • Or that we'd have mass starvation in the '70s?
I don't know.

Leibniz and Ehrlich

Another quirk, not quite so common these days, is the 'best of all possible worlds' attitude. That hasn't been fashionable for quite a while, although it enjoyed a sort of renaissance in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

That was when science and technology was supposed to solve all our problems. These days, it's more in vogue to say that science and technology will kill us all. Paul Ehrlich still has a remarkable number of disciples, despite our getting disco instead of mass starvation, and that's yet another topic.

Finally, here's what got me started:

"Faith Fatigue?"

"Faith Fatigue Isn't Everywhere, Assures Pope"
ZENIT (December 22, 2011)
"Addresses Curia With Traditional 'Year in Review' Message

"Benedict XVI says that the solution to the problems of the world and the Church is a return to faith. And zeal for the faith is present in some places, he assured, notably in Africa and among the youth....
The Pope was talking to the Roman Curia.1

Part of what Benedict XVI said was familiar enough:
  • Regular churchgoers are growing older all the time
    • Their number is constantly diminishing
  • Recruitment of priests is stagnating
  • Skepticism and unbelief are growing
Oh, woe is us? No, not really.

The Pope had some pretty good reasons for optimism:
"...A further remedy against faith fatigue was the wonderful experience of World Youth Day in Madrid. This was new evangelization put into practice. Again and again at World Youth Days, a new, more youthful form of Christianity can be seen, something I would describe under five headings...."
(Pope Benedict XVI (December 22, 2011))
I'll do a summary of those five headings (look for "Hope and the Pope"), after getting some reminiscing out of the way. I think this relates to what the Pope said:

Kids These Days!

My teen years were in the '60s. The older generation of the day, some of them, were upset that 'those kids' weren't obsessed with wealth and status. 'Get a real job' was a familiar refrain.

Some of my contemporaries probably were 'lazy bums' who simply didn't like to work. But many were no more favorably impressed by lockstep conformity and obsessing over material gain than I was.

Not all older Americans were success-crazed worshipers of the almighty buck. But enough 'bought things they didn't need, with money they didn't have, to impress someone they didn't like' to make 'the American dream' less than appealing.

No, I was never a hippie. The conventional non-conformity of my youth was no more appealing to me than a gray flannel suit. And that's yet another topic, again.

Harmony, Understanding, and Commie Plots

Decades later, it's easy to look back at "Age of Aquarius" dreams and laugh: derisively or otherwise. Quite a few of my contemporaries took it seriously, though. I can see why.

Compared to marching to and from a cubicle each weekday, hating commies, and clawing your way up the corporate ladder, this sort of thing had real appeal:
"Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind's true liberation....
("Age of Aquarius," 5th Dimension)
I never did see why harmony, understanding, sympathy, and trust were hideous threats to the star spangled banner, mom, and apple pie. Still more topics.

Seeking Something Better

Jimi Hendryx and others demonstrated that "the mind's true liberation" was often either lethal: or left folks with damaged brains. The 'liberation' of people from rules that keep us from killing ourselves and each other didn't work out quite as-advertised either.

But - and I think this is important - the kids weren't, many of them, trying to tear something down. That wasn't the goal, anyway.

They - and I - wanted a world that was better than the 'lie, cheat, and steal your way to success' model of success. I might have felt differently, if my heart had ever been set on membership in a by-invitation-only country club. Yet again more topics.

Hope and the Pope

A transcript of the Pope's address to the Roman Curia, the one quoted by ZENIT, is online at the Vatican's website:
These are the five headings that Benedict XVI gave, describing the "new, more youthful form of Christianity" he saw at World Youth Days:
  1. A new experience of catholicity
    • Of the Church's universality
  2. A new way of living our humanity, our Christianity
    • Example: about 20,000 World Youth Day volunteers
      • Who devoted devoted weeks or months of their lives
      • Not
        • Because it was asked of them
        • In order to
          • Attain Heaven
          • Escape the danger of Hell
        • In order to find fulfillment
      • They worked "simply because it is a wonderful thing to do good, to be there for others"
  3. Adoration of Christ the incarnate God, present in the Eucharist
    • Example:
      • "Young people in Hyde Park responded in eloquent silence to the Lord’s sacramental presence"
  4. The sacrament of Confession
    • We need forgiveness
    • Forgiveness brings responsibility
  5. Joy
    • Certainty
      • Based on faith
      • That I
        • Am
          • Wanted
          • Accepted
          • Loved
        • Have a task in history
On my way to becoming a Catholic, I ran into some very odd ideas about the Church.

For example, the sacrament of Confession, point #4, is not the sort of 'you're damned, you foul sinner' thing I've run into now and then in the darker corners of American faith. I've posted about the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation before. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1422-1484, summarized 1485-1498)

The certainty in point #5 isn't the sort of 'I am the hammer of God' thing that makes the news occasionally. ("Crowbar for Christ in Colorado?" (October 7, 2010)) Although you may have run into a Catholic who think he or she is 'holier than the Pope.'

Major Depression, 'Being Spiritual,' and Taking My Meds

I take medication to control major depression, among other things. 'Trusting God' and taking reasonable steps to maintain my health aren't incompatible. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 301, and Catechism, 2288, for starters) And I've been over that before. (March 4, 2010)

So, do I believe that wringing my hands in agony over this woeful world is 'being spiritual?' No. If anything, I think trying to ignore emotional fallout from an imbalanced brain chemistry helped me decide that emotions weren't a good basis for decisions.

Particularly decisions about anything important, like whether or not to believe that:
  • Life is worth living
  • God gives a rip about His creation
    • And really exists
  • There's any point in trying to improve things
Emotional infarcts notwithstanding, I've decided that the answer is 'yes' to all of the above. Moving on.

Justice, Mercy, and Getting a Grip

I have no business, second-guessing the justice and mercy of God: I take the "stop judging" thing seriously. (Matthew 7:1-5) But there's a difference between thinking about someone's actions, and judging the person. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1861) I've posted about judgment and 'being judgmental' before.

Hoping, and Working, For a Better World

I don't think humanity can, on our own, make a perfect world. And I am not going to go off on a tangent about Last Things.

I also think there's a huge difference between thinking we can't make a perfect world: and feeling like there's no point in making what we've got, better. Which brings up topics like responsibility and social justice - and this post is already on the long side.

Related posts:

1 Roman Curia: I suppose you could call it 'headquarters' for the Church:
"In exercising supreme, full, and immediate power in the universal Church, the Roman pontiff makes use of the departments of the Roman Curia which, therefore, perform their duties in his name and with his authority for the good of the churches and in the service of the sacred pastors." (Christus Dominus, 9) (Quoted on Roman Curia,
The Roman Curia's home page includes an impressive list of departments:
  • Secretariat of State
  • Congregations
  • Tribunals
  • Pontifical Councils
  • Synod of Bishops
  • Offices
  • Pontifical Commissions
  • Swiss Guard
  • Institutions Connected with the Holy See
  • Labour Office of the Apostolic See
  • Pontifical Academies
  • Pontifical Committees
Starting with that list of a dozen departments, I could imagine the Vatican as being a vast labyrinth of corridors, cubicles, offices, and conference rooms.

Vatican City is a largish place, compared to most companies I've worked for. It's roughly a half-mile across, and covers 0.44 square kilometers. That's about 7/10 the size of The National Mall in Washington, DC.

On the other hand, Vatican City is entirely surrounded by Rome, and includes quite a bit of open land. Like the Vatican Gardens.

What folks generally see when the Vatican gets on television is Saint Peter's Basilica. There's more to the place than that, like the Marconi Broadcast Centre: and I'm getting seriously off-topic.

Those vast crowds you see in photos and video are visitors. Vatican City's population in July, 2011, was about 832. ("Holy See (Vatican City)," CIA World Factbook (page last updated November 7, 2011)

The number of folks actually on the staff of any one department isn't all that large. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, for example, has 45 folks - handling information from something like 1,100,000,000 Catholics. They're spread a bit thin, and I've been over that before.


Brigid said...

Wide long? "It's roughly a half-mile wide long"

I think you have the wrong word here: "They're spread a bit think, and I've been"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...


Heh, heh. Oops. One too many letters in "thin," I think. ;)

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