I received the following and unexpected email this morning at work from a co-worker:
A blessed feast of the Assumption to you, brother!
While it’s not exactly the catacombs you do need to watch your back here in corporate America. This was very cool and meant a lot. Surprisingly much.
Anyhow…onward. Three quickies and two extended thoughts follow.
— 1 —
While so many are posting back to school photos of their children (our Catholic school begins next week) I’ve also seen a few articles aimed at moms in helping them cope with their “baby leaving for college”. I get it. I do. But at the same time I find that I can’t identify with any of that and am thinking to myself that mine is leaving for Marine boot camp.
Not quite the same thing.
It’s why I could be found last Saturday near midnight, sitting by the glow of the dying embers in our firepit and super moon, praying a rosary. I asked for two things, things that have become a continuous request of mine during these days in which the world seems determined to consume itself: fortitude and wisdom. God grant me these.
— 2 —
Otherwise, this has been a rather sobering week. I haven’t commented publicly on the death of Robin Williams because a) it’s too soon; and b) who really cares what I say?
I loved the guy, as much as one can love a stranger. I unearthed my box of old albums from deep within our storage room the other day and held in my hands his first comedy album “reality…what a concept” from 1979. Sadly without a turntable I was unable to listen to it. The one quip I do remember from this manic performance was his musing:
I wonder what a chair thinks about all day?
Well here comes another asshole.
I was a big fan of Robin’s and like so many grew up with him. I didn’t see all of his movies but did see more than a few. It’s just too soon and not a little undignified for me to address.
As for his movies, after a disappointing debut in Popeye he went on to huge success of course. And while Dead Poets Society is among my favorites I would have to say that at the top of the heap for me are these two:
Followed by this.
Not even close, really.
It wasn’t just that Robin could make my sides sore from fits of laughter. It’s that he was capable of making my heart ache with emotion.
— 3 —
The only comment I did make on Facebook this week related to Robin’s suicide was by posting:
In the wake of the recent suicide of Robin Williams I’ve seen more than a few articles or FB posts taking shots at the Catholic Church’s supposed teaching that “suicides are condemned to hell.” Everyone needs a hobby I guess. But a simple Google search (or actual desire to know the truth) would reveal that this isn’t the case.
And I provided this link. Took me ten seconds to Google and 2-3 minutes to scan through the first three articles that came up.
To be fair I’ve seen it said by Catholics as well as non-Catholics. When did simple research and thinking become such a chore?
— 4 —
Thinking became a chore for many reasons. One of which is that there no longer is a common ground amongst us. A common language. When discussing an issue with someone I used to be able to assume a commonality, but that is no longer a given. I see this most apparent when speaking on issues of life. When the other party you are talking to no longer holds to the centuries old concept that life is precious, dignified, and that we are created in the image of God then the rest is just a house of sand discussion-wise. You won’t reach any sort of civilized consensus on points B or C when you don’t even agree on A.
I’m reading Joseph Pearce’s just released book Beauteous Truth: Faith, Reason, Literature & Culture. It is comprised of 76 essays covering a variety of subjects. Each chapter or essay is 3-4 pages long and the book moves quickly. But not too quickly as there is a lot of meat on these bones and much to digest. In “Chapter Three: Faith and Popular Culture” he writes:
…it is clearly necessary to draw a distinction between the healthy “popular culture” of the rooted common man, and the inane “pop culture” of the rootless masses. Those with roots evolve; those without roots revolve or revolt. It was Chesterton who warned that the “coming peril” was not “bolshevism” but was “standardization by a low standard,” or, to use our ugly modern vernacular, the coming peril is the “dumbing down” of culture.
It can be seen, therefore, that healthy popular culture is rooted, it clings. It is rooted in the decencies and charities of Christendom.
Branch, stem, shoots—We need roots.
— 5 —
So not only has thinking become a chore that is in part because of a lack of common starting ground. It has also been deemed something as unnecessary by the arrogance of modern man. In a chapter called Fides et Ratio: Faith and Philosophy Pearce writes (with my emphasis):
One of modernity’s many misperceptions is that Christianity is irrational. It is somehow assumed by moderns that the beliefs of Christians, or even the more generic belief in God, are somehow superstitious and that such beliefs fly in the face of “reason.” This prejudiced presumption, rooted in ignorance, enables the moderns to avoid thinking about questions of faith. It also allows the moderns to presume that Christians and their beliefs can be safely ignored and marginalized. This is decidedly odd for, as Chesterton reminds us, the Catholic Church is the “one continuous intelligent institution that has been thinking about thinking for two thousand years.”
Shouldn’t this cause the modern to at least pause for thought? Pearce asks. He answers
The problem is that the modern seldom pauses and hardly ever thinks. He’s too busy and too thoughtless to concern himself with such things. Needless to say, however, that his thoughtlessness will not deter him from reiterating his judgment. He can still say, in passing, and in haste, that he doesn’t have time for “religion” or “Christianity” because such irrational nonsense is, well, a waste of time.
Pearce sounds harsh, but he’s right. I’ve shared in this experience when trying to talk to friends or (ugh) engage them or strangers in the comboxes of this life. Thought, real honest-to-goodness thought, is dismissed with a huff of derision, eye-roll, and an appeal to feelings. As if something as arbitrary as one’s feelings is a foundation of truth. Yet there it is. Truth for many has become nothing more than “It’s what I feel so it’s what I believe. Therefore it is my truth.”
Nowhere in that statement is anything pertaining to a thought process.
The Catholic Church has not only been thinking about thinking for two millennia, it has been thinking about those who were thinking about thinking in the preceding millennium also. It was Augustine who synthesized the thought of Plato with Christian doctrine; it was Aquinas who baptised the philosophy of Aristotle. Nor should it be forgotten that the Church was a defender of realism as distinct from the nominalism and de facto realism of William of Ockham and his followers. Little does the modern know that he has abandoned realism in favour of nominalism, or that his much touted “realism” is in fact only nominal, as is everything else he believes! The tragedy, or comedy, of the modern mind is that it has gone far beyond the errors of Ockham or even the reductionism of Descartes. Beginning with the Cartesian “I think, therefore I am,” modern man has descended to the ultimate reductio ad absurdum: “I don’t think, therefore am I?”
As witty and truth-filled as the above paragraph may be, it reveals a huge problem going back to my point about common ground. How do you pursuade people to engage in thought once more or get them to understand the reality of our common predicament today when they have no idea who Augustine, Aquinas, Plato, Aristotle, or William of Ockham were. Old, dead white dudes. Irrelevant.
How do you get them to see that they can stand on the shoulders of giants and reach higher heights when they’d rather sit in front of a television and have all their thinking done for them by their puppet masters in Hollywood, Madison Avenue and Washington DC?
I don’t think, therefore am I?
Based upon all the various commentary I’ve seen surrounding a man’s death by suicide this week the answer is a resounding “no.”