Sunday, July 5, 2015

Angst, Hope, and Building a Better World

I've run into — and experienced — many flavors of angst over the decades.

Back in my 'good old days,' some folks feared the communist menace, others the population bomb and imminent death of all the ocean's fish. And there's that perennial favorite — the End Times Bible Prophecy. (June 9, 2012; October 3, 2009)

I take the last things — death, judgment, Heaven and Hell — quite seriously. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1021-1022, 1023-1029, 1033-1037, 1681-1683)

But recognizing that there's a really big closing ceremony for Creation 1.0 coming up — the Last Judgment — doesn't mean I think someone knows more than Jesus did. (Mark 13:32-37; Catechism, 1038-1041)

All we know for sure is that we're two millennia closer to that event than we were when our Lord left. My guess is that we'll still be waiting and working when the 8.2 kiloyear event, Y2K, and Y10K are seen as roughly contemporary. (April 19, 2015; April 5, 2015)

Doomsday Predictions and Fashionable Melancholia


I don't know why so many folks are so pessimistic about so much: particularly since doomsday predictions keep fizzling. (February 25, 2014; June 14, 2011)
"...in ten years all important animal life in the sea will be extinct. Large areas of coastline will have to be evacuated because of the stench of dead fish...."
(Paul Ehrlich, on first Earth Day, (1970))

"...By the year 2000 the United Kingdom will be simply a small group of impoverished islands, inhabited by some 70 million hungry people...."
(Paul Ehrlich, Speech at British Institute For Biology (September 1971))
"

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity...."
("The Second Coming," William Butler Yeats (1920))
In fairness, William Butler Yeats (1865 - 1939) lived in a particularly unsettled chapter of humanity's story. I've discussed Yeats, Lovecraft, and getting a grip before. (November 21, 2014; October 19, 2014)

I'm pretty sure that gloominess is not next to Godliness. We're supposed to desire happiness, and hope is a virtue. (Catechism, 33, 1718, 1817)

I suspect that some doom and gloom has roots in the fashionable melancholy that's been "...an indispensable adjunct to all those with artistic or intellectual pretentions..." off and on for the last five centuries.1

Dealing with undiagnosed depression and a few other neurological glitches for decades help keep me from romanticizing despondency, and that's another topic. (October 5, 2014)

Spending my youth in the '60s, hearing radio preachers alternate between warnings against the 'un-American' forces of communism, Catholicism, and rock music; and the latest End Times Bible Prophecy — helped me learn to love rock 'n roll. And that's yet another topic. (August 26, 2012)

I'm a bit more sympathetic now, toward folks who spat venom and seemed convinced that God ordained that women should never wear trousers. Their world was crumbling around them, which would upset anyone. (March 29, 2010)

We are Free


Quite a few folks are celebrating the United States Independence Day this weekend.

One of my alter egos, the Lemming, pointed out that July fourth is also the anniversary of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland's publication and Pactum Sicardi, Trois-Rivières founding day, and Ashikaga Yoshiakira's birthday. And that's yet again another topic. Topics. (Apathetic Lemming of the North (July 4, 2015))

A few of my online friends and acquaintances are very distressed about current events. I sympathize, to an extent, but I'm also nowhere near as upset.

Others have what I think is a much more reasonable attitude about what some call the 'end of Christendom:'
I was one of 'those crazy kids' in the '60s, who thought America wasn't perfect: and that we could do better. I still do.

Even if it was possible, I would not want to drag America back to the 1950s. I remember the 'good old days:' and they weren't.

I also remember American culture's Calvinist version of being a 'Christian' nation - - - and although reforms since then haven't all gone as I had hoped: I think we may actually be better off with a clean(ish) slate.

Besides, as Brendan Walsh pointed out — we are free, and have been for two millennia.

The current rough patch will pass, our Lord hasn't given up: and for that reason, neither should we.

Now that I think about it, we've always been free. Free will, our power to decide what we do or do not do, is part of human nature. How we use it is up to each of us. (Catechism, 1731-1742)

Then, two millennia back, our Lord came and gave those who would accept it, a more radical freedom: and responsibilities. (Matthew 5:21-28; John 8:31-32; Hebrews 2:14-15; James 2:12)

Love and Responsibilities


Our responsibilities are simple: love God, love our neighbor, see everyone as our neighbor, and treat others as we want them to treat us. (Matthew 5:43-44, 7:12, 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-31; Luke 6:31 10:25-27, 29-37; Catechism, 1789)

I run into Christians who don't always live up to those principles.

I'm much more aware of how much I fail to live as love of God, neighbors, and self were all properly balanced. That's understandable, since I live with the consequences of our first parents' regrettable decision. (Catechism, 396-412)

I'm responsible for my decisions and actions — but the Church doesn't expect the impossible. Utter perfection isn't required: using my brain is. And that's still another topic. (Catechism, 1734-1736)

Part of our job is building a better world. (Catechism, 1928-1942, 2419-2442)

If I thought we had a perfect society in 1950s or 1860s America, or 11th century Europe, I'd demand the suppression of comics, a return to bustles, or the re-union of England, Daneland, Norge, and part of today's Sweden.

But we are not futilely trying to drag humanity back to an imaginary 'golden age.' We can't bring back the past: which is just as well. (October 12, 2014; August 29, 2014; July 13, 2014)

Looking Ahead



("Summer Walk," MeganeRid, used w/o permission.)

Imagining a beautiful, livable, city takes effort — if you're going to show others what your mind's eye sees, anyway. Making it happen is, I think, much harder.

Bringing the world up to standards set by places like Vienna, or Tokyo — that's a huge job.

But part of our mandate is building a better world, one with a greater degree of justice and charity: and respect for "the transcendent dignity of man." (Catechism, 1928-1942, 2419-2442)

That includes freedom to worship: for everyone. I can hardly expect others to respect my right to worship, if I try forcing them to agree with me: or heap abuse on those who are not just like me. (Catechism, 1738, 2104-2109, 2357-2359)

If we help others keep what is good and just in our society, change what is not, and act as if we really believe that loving our neighbors makes sense: we can make a difference.

We must be patient, though. Folks can't be forced to embrace truth: particularly when it means giving up some cherished injustice, or long-established privileges.

But truth wins — eventually. Slavery, for example, has been a way of life for millennia. Laws regarding slaves show up in the law codes of Ur-Nammu and Hammurabi, and Roman law.

But acting as if a human is property is wrong. So is genocide and torture. Invoking God as an excuse makes the offense worse. Lots worse. (Catechism, 2148, 2297-2298, 2313, 2414)

After two millennia of passing along principles like "love God, love your neighbor, everybody's our neighbor," slavery became illegal in several countries. More remarkably, I think, it became unpopular — or at least unfashionable. A few generations later, the United Nations made genocide illegal.

Some Christians behaved abhorrently, and some folks who aren't Christians are helping end slavery and genocide. The point is that after two millennia, we're making real progress toward ending two ancient social evils.

Maybe, if we keep working with all people of good will, some time around the 42nd century we'll have an "international authority with the necessary competence and power" to resolve conflicts without war. (Catechism, 2307-2317; "Gaudium et Spes," 79 § 4)

And we'll still have work to do. Humanity has a huge backlog of unresolved issues.

Looking back, and looking ahead with hope:

1 "The Elizabethan Malady: Melancholy in Elizabeth and Jacobean portraiture," Roy Strong, Apollo LXXIX (1964); quoted in Melancholy Cult, Wikipedia.

3 comments:

lesliesholly said...

Great post! I particularly appreciate all the links to the Catechism.

Brian Gill said...

Thank you, lesliesholly: particularly about the Catechism links.

Rich Maffeo said...

Remarkable post for its down-to-earth-ness (is that a word?). short, succinct jabs at silly ideas and provably false notions . . . another great read.

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