Thursday, May 4, 2017

What Matters: A Midweek Rumination

     I seldom ask myself whether what I write, whether here or in fiction, “matters.” I do it by choice; it matters sufficiently to me. But I have my moments. One of them arrived yesterday, in the middle of other diverse and troubling cogitations.

     I suppose everyone wants to “matter,” however the word is defined. At least, I’ve never met anyone who hopes that no one is aware of him nor will remember him after he’s gone from their lives. But the intensity of one’s desire to “matter” appears to be roughly proportional to the effort he invests in what he does.

     I’d venture to guess that by that measure, many persons would feel that they don’t “matter” enough. That’s fertile soil for a lot of emotional maladies.

     “A man who believes in nothing will believe in anything” – Gilbert Keith Chesterton
     “Without God, all things are possible.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

     This brief article should get major publicity. I’m not going to excerpt it; it’s far too striking and important. Please read it all before you continue on with my drivel.

     While author Annie Holmquist notes the powerful negative correlation between religiosity and involvement in some secular “cause,” she doesn’t delve into the understratum of the thing. Yet it could hardly be plainer.

Causes lend “meaning” to their adherents.

     Alternately, an activist “matters” to the extent that his cause “matters.” The relentless promotion of a cause as an issue of inherent justice or a matter of life-and-death can make it “matter” quite a least to those who swallow the promotion.

     People are willing to do an awful lot for that which “matters,” and therefore allows them to “matter.” The word martyr carries immense significance for exactly that reason.

     The search for personal meaning by investing oneself in a secular “cause” can result in harm to others. Often it does. After all, if the aim is to “matter,” the rights, needs, and prerogatives of others must take second place at best. This is seldom addressed by contemporary analysts of the “cause” phenomenon.

     For example, recently I’ve become moderately friendly with two “transwomen:” biological men who prefer to live and present as women. They’re not the first transwomen I’ve known; however, my previous acquaintances were severely damaged persons, incapable even of looking after themselves. It was illuminating to meet persons of that persuasion who appear well balanced and capable; I began to think that the syndrome might not always be better treated with psychotherapy than with surgery.

     Well known transwoman Blaire White has something to say about it:

     Regardless of all other considerations, these folks are being badly served by those who’ve taken up their “cause” and raised it to the pinnacle of contemporary issue-urgency. Moreover, those who dramatize the subject through fiction are doing them no favors. The villains in their stories are always political conservatives or Christians: the very groups most likely to treat them with tolerance, even if mixed with some degree of disapproval.

     This phenomenon deserves cautious but close analysis. Among other things, a transgenderism activist who smiles upon such groups as “Antifa” or “Black Bloc” because of their opposition to us naughty Righties and Christians should study what happens when such forces attain genuine political power. Few remember that Jews weren’t the only group Hitler targeted.

     I’ve written before about the desire for meaning that appears to be universal among men:

     “Today” is made “sweet” by an injection of Meaning: something to fill the yawning void created by their abandonment of God and the hope of individual salvation. For Man is the Project Pursuer, the Engineer: he who must have a goal to advance toward and a plausible means for approaching it. His consciousness of time and his own mortality will not abide an empty, hedonistic existence. Without the hope of salvation in an afterlife, the requirements for which really are quite straightforward:
     Now a man came up to him and said, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to gain eternal life?” He said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” “Which ones?” he asked. Jesus replied, “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false witness, honor your father and mother and love your neighbor as yourself.” [Matthew 19:16-19]

     ...Man will commit himself to some other absorbing Idea, some Cause to which he can dedicate himself. For we all desire immortality, and the variety derivable from the notion that one’s Cause will live after one’s own flesh has returned to dust is, if not wholly fulfilling, at least better than nothing.

     I’ve never been more certain of Man’s utter requirement for a transcendent religious belief system. Of course, the nature of the system “matters,” too. It must be wholesome: beneficial to those who accept it and (at the very least) harmless toward those who don’t. The benefits must include temporal ones as well as spiritual promises, which is why I cite that snippet from the Gospel According to Matthew so often. Once again, Chesterton put it best:

     The truth is, of course, that the curtness of the Commandments is an evidence, not of the gloom and narrowness of a religion, but, on the contrary, of its liberality and humanity. It is shorter to state the things forbidden than the things permitted; precisely because most things are permitted, and only a few things are forbidden.

     Bookworm adds a few thoughts on the matter:

     Islam is not about fun or even happiness. Nor are these missing attributes limited to the reverence associated with direct worship. For example, when we’re in a house of worship we don’t make fart jokes. Instead, the whole point of Islam, at least according to the Ayatollah Khomeni, is to vacuum any possibility of joy out of life:
     Allah did not create man so that he could have fun. The aim of creation was for mankind to be put to the test through hardship and prayer. An Islamic regime must be serious in every field. There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam. There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious.

     No wonder that the Islamic clerics and their mobs routinely deliver death to people who dare to dance or sing in a sharia-controlled world.

     Contrast this Islamic world view with Dennis Prager’s take on happiness. When his radio show played in my area, I frequently heard him say that, because God gave us the capacity to be happy, we have a moral obligation to be so. He also wrote that true faith should in itself inspire happiness:

     I once asked a deeply religious man if he considered himself a truly pious person. He responded that while he aspired to be one, he felt that he fell short in two areas. One of those areas, he said, was his not being a happy enough person to be considered truly pious.

     His point was that unhappy religious people reflect poorly on their religion and on their Creator. He was right; in fact, unhappy religious people pose a real challenge to faith. If their faith is so impressive, why aren’t these devoted adherents happy? There are only two possible reasons: either they are not practicing their faith correctly, or they are practicing their faith correctly and the religion itself is not conducive to happiness. (Prager, Dennis, Happiness is a Serious Problem, paperback edition, p. 4.)

     “Thou shalt be happy” might not be one of the tenets of the Decalogue, but all the evidence of Creation, particularly that which inheres in Man’s nature, points to the necessity. Happy people don’t involve themselves in ridiculous Causes. They don’t need them for confirmation that they “matter.” They already know that.

     May God bless and keep you all.


daniel_day said...

Our daughter occasionally refers to someone's tolerant attitude toward homosexuals in a way to imply that it is one of the most important criteria for obtaining her approval. She's heterosexual, so it's only a personal to the extent that she makes it so. I've concluded that it, among other things, is one of the causes she's attached herself to for the very reason you and Holmquist cite -- the need to feel committed to a (at least perceived) moral cause, in order to matter.

Jim Horn said...

The Catholic Sun

by Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953)
Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
There’s laughter and dancing and good red wine.
At least I’ve always found it so.
Benedicamus Domino!


Linda Fox said...

I would guess that an scatter plot of religious commitment (not just passively belonging to a denomination, but frequent attendance) paired with involvement in 'social justice' causes would form a sharply inverse trendline.

Some would say that having a strong religious foundation inoculates you against falling for specious nonsense.

Another way to look at it would be to say that if a need is met through religious belief, then you don't have the craving for another 'God'.

I do consider it a happy accident of my life that my Catholic mother's influence was strong with me, and that I married another Catholic.

I posted some links to people who were in the LA Riots (the old ones), and how their lives turned out - it's not what you might expect.