Saturday, October 17, 2020

The Blindness Of The Secular

     “It’s your own blindness that deludes you,” Jamethon said. “You see nothing, and so believe no man can see. Our Lord is not just a name, but all things.” [Gordon R. Dickson, Soldier, Ask Not]

     I’ve known people, including some reasonably intelligent people, who actually became offended at any mention of God, faith, or religion. One particularly memorable example was an arrogant fellow who was forever prattling about his own achievements. He would actually interrupt a conversation between others to announce his disapproval of a belief in God. While it didn’t sit well with me, I forbore to engage him about it, figuring that the Holy Spirit needs more time to work on some than on others.

     It’s a kind of closed-off-edness: a rejection of the possibility that there may be more than our senses and our unaided reason can encompass. There’s very little one can say to someone who has precluded such possibilities. Indeed, it might be a grievous mistake to try.

     Yet measured in terms of what it has animated, faith is the strongest force known among men. You might have to squint a bit to see some of its achievements, but once you’ve seen them, they can never again escape your notice.

     My late friend Joe sought on two occasions to introduce me to people he saw as kindred spirits. One of them was John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute. Whitehead and I never met, though I did acquaint myself with his work, much of which is exceedingly impressive.

     Today, via ZeroHedge, my attention was drawn to this Whitehead essay. In it, Whitehead makes several references and comparisons to one of my all-time favorite video productions: Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner. He also cites this little-known statement by McGoohan himself:

     Think for yourself. Be an individual. As McGoohan commented in 1968, “At this moment individuals are being drained of their personalities and being brainwashed into slaves… As long as people feel something, that’s the great thing. It’s when they are walking around not thinking and not feeling, that’s tough. When you get a mob like that, you can turn them into the sort of gang that Hitler had.”

     Yet it’s difficult to see the connection between this pithy observation and the central thesis of Whitehead’s essay, which is “the panopticon:” the overwhelmingly successful efforts of the State to be not only Omnipotent but Omnipresent and Omniscient: to be all that anyone sees or hears, and to see, hear, and record everything every last individual says or does:

     Government eyes are watching you.

     They see your every move: what you read, how much you spend, where you go, with whom you interact, when you wake up in the morning, what you’re watching on television and reading on the internet.

     Every move you make is being monitored, mined for data, crunched, and tabulated in order to amass a profile of who you are, what makes you tick, and how best to control you when and if it becomes necessary to bring you in line.

     When the government sees all and knows all and has an abundance of laws to render even the most seemingly upstanding citizen a criminal and lawbreaker, then the old adage that you’ve got nothing to worry about if you’ve got nothing to hide no longer applies.

     This government effort to be all-knowing proceeds in collaboration with the technological masters of the digital realm and those who exploit our dependence on it for information and entertainment. The collaborators get away with it by being “water to a fish:” so ubiquitous as to become our whole environment, rather than merely one feature of it.

     Whitehead is quite correct that this is anathema to individuality. However, to see the connection in all its horror requires something more than awareness of the problem.

     I’ve written on several occasions about the importance of distinguishing between what you are – your human nature, which you share with all of us – and who you are – your individual identity, personality, and character. Individuation requires the formation and conservation of something entirely secular persons seldom think about: an interior life properly partitioned off from the external environment. Without such a realm into which one can retreat for reflection and the drawing of life-critical lessons, the external environment acquires complete control.

     Success by the Omnipotent State and its nominally non-political collaborators requires the elimination of the interior life, or its reduction to a husk of no importance. To expand:

  • What we do must continually be engaged with the State or its collaborators;
  • What we think about must be dominated by State-approved channels of communication and entertainment;
  • What we decide must never arise from the interior life: i.e., from private ponderings or the promptings of conscience.

     This seems “obvious,” doesn’t it? Yet the bombardment of our senses with unending political and commercial messages, day in and day out, is in large measure an attempt to distract us from it. Thou shalt focus on our messages, and the goodies we parade before thee, to the exclusion of all else.

     But to the resolutely secular mind, the exterior world is all there is. Whatever reason there is for continuing on must lie in it: its necessities, its imperatives, its satisfactions and diversions. No question of higher or unseen things ever occurs to such a person. At every encounter he will thrust it away as “a meaningless distraction” from the “real world” that he can see, hear, and spend his wages on. For surely the “real world” is all that “really” matters.

     While a completely secular person can have an interior life, it will inevitably be overshadowed in significance by the beckonings of the “real world” around him.

     I began this tirade with some observations about persons hostile to God, faith, and religion. It’s to there – and to Patrick McGoohan and The Prisoner — that I shall now return.

     In a discussion of a bit of my fiction, I recently wrote to a friend that:

     There is nothing for Mankind that isn’t part of one of two realms: Reason, and Faith. We are unequipped to cope with matters that neither of those two facilities can address. Everything I write grapples with the opportunities and challenges of both, as I’m sure you’re aware. Yes, I create heroes, some of them so massively improbable that they make Superman look like John Q. Public, but that’s because they’re my “solution to the simultaneous equations.” One who has the powers of Reason can solve mighty problems…but without Faith he can never penetrate beneath his premises, assuming he even realizes he has premises. One who has the foundation of Faith has a firm foothold upon life, something that will sustain him regardless of his travails…but without Reason he will be helpless before life’s challenges, even the smallest of them. But one who has truly mastered both Reason and Faith is prepared for anything.

     He who has mastered both Reason and Faith possesses an armor against deception, distraction, and delusion that nothing can breach. He has achieved the ultimate in individuation. His interior life is safe from being overwhelmed by The World – and a mighty thing that is, for The World – in John Whitehead’s formulation, “the panopticon” – is one of the three great sources of temptation away from the dictates of conscience.

     In this essay for PJ Media about The Prisoner, I wrote:

     McGoohan's perspective on freedom-as-myth partakes critically of the concept of purposeful self-command as the negation of freedom. This is underlined by contrast: through the condemnation, in the final episode, of Number 48 -- "uncoordinated youth; rebelling against nothing it can define," -- and Number 2 (Leo McKern) -- "an established member, turning upon and biting the hand that feeds him."' For all revolts against control will be either thematic or unthematic. In the former case, the rebel defies an external locus of control; in the latter, there is none. The sole unaddressed alternative is internal control: self-command in obedience to values and priorities one enforces upon oneself....

     In this connection I will note something most commentators on The Prisoner have neglected to consider: the influence of McGoohan's lifelong Catholicism. The Catholic faith emphasizes self-command as do few others. We are encouraged to develop it early and to strengthen it at every opportunity, that it will serve us against the temptations of temporal life. From that perspective, individual freedom, though not precisely a myth, is nevertheless an ambiguous thing: a panorama of opportunities to do well or ill. Self-command equips us to choose the former and decline the latter, even when the former is stark and difficult while the latter promises endless delights.

     To insist on self-command -- Catholics call this a well-formed conscience -- is to impose an authority upon oneself to whom no excuses for deviation can ever be convincing. For it is the cameras of that Village inside us that we can never escape nor evade. Note that when Number Six has just been shouted down by "the delegates" to whom he'd attempted to explain the ethical grounds for his "rebellion" against the Village and its conditioners, he is introduced at last to the long-sought Number One, and finds himself staring at his double.

     One’s capacity for self-command – i.e., to hear and obey the voice of one’s conscience – is an expression of his interior life. Indeed, nothing else could express it nearly as well. To reject the enticements of The World in obedience to the conscience is the ultimate assertion of individual freedom, and of individuality itself:

I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered.
I am not a number; I am a free man.
I shall not be turned from the way I have chosen.

     And who shall say, with complete confidence, that the conscience – the “knowing with” that operates even when we strive most determinedly to ignore it – is not the voice of God? The resolute secularist will attempt to dismiss the notion by referring to “religious indoctrination” or “early conditioning.” Yet men who’ve known neither of those influences have heard the voice of conscience. It appears to be the one element of the interior life that no one can squelch.

     Which brings me to the only fitting conclusion for this essay:

O come, let us sing unto the LORD:
Let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.
Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving,
And make a joyful noise unto him with psalms.
For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the deep places of the earth:
The strength of the hills is his also.
The sea is his, and he made it: and his hands formed the dry land.
O come, let us worship and bow down:
Let us kneel before the LORD our maker.
For he is our God;
And we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.
Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your heart, as in the provocation,
And as in the day of temptation in the wilderness:
When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work.
Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said,
It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways:
Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest.

[Psalm 95]

     May God bless and keep you all.


Clayton Barnett said...

Another excellent post. Made me recall a little exchange from a later chapter in my book, "Echoes of Family Lost," which, like all of my books, is informed by my Catholic faith.

“Do you believe in God?” the little boy asked with a glance over his
After spending time with Gary in the anechoic chamber yesterday, Orloff had some familiarity with his whiplash changes of subject.
“Yes, I do, Gary,” he replied, his breathing mostly back to normal for their hike. “You?”
Gary shrugged. “Mother told me I’ve been baptized, but we’ve never been to church.”
“Church is good for worship, but you can learn about God anywhere and anytime,” Orloff said. “At your home, or even at Pavel’s, did you ever pray or study the Bible or biblical history, or even basic theology?”
“What?” Gary stopped and turned. “I thought faith was just believing something? I have to study, too?”
He seemed genuinely surprised. I guess Callie and her husband have done nothing for their son spiritually. That idly bothered him.
“Gary, faith is something that’s above reason, complimented by it, not below reason; that’s to be no better than an animal.” Remember your audience, he thought. “You use as much of your mind as you can to find out about God. After all, to love someone is to want to know more about them.”
Gary stood still. Orloff was pleased that the eyes didn’t change: good, he’s thinking about this on his own.
“So,” he said very slowly, “faith and reason….” He trailed off.
“Are the two wings on which the human spirit rises to see the truth. To see God.” Orloff knew he was paraphrasing, but it fits the boy better, he thought.

JWM said...

When I was a rambunctious three year old my mother hit upon the idea of putting a harness and a leash on me so I wouldn't run off at the slightest provocation. I threw a screaming hysterical fit, shrieked like a banshee, threw myself on the ground, kicked, howled, and would not let up until they took it off me. I suppose it could be argued that the leash was for my own good.
But that rebellious streak in me is still alive and well. The nightmare of this last year: the lockdowns, the insane "social distancing" mandates, and worst of all by many orders of magnitude: the mask, has had me struggling with that wild uncontrollable rage and panic that I felt when I was a tiny child.
My mental health has been in the toilet. I begin each morning with meditation and prayer. I pray for guidance, and strength almost hourly. Yet every time I leave my house I'm confronted by the hordes of compliant maskatroons. I know that these are (or were) human beings, but all I see around me are faceless, compliant zombies. They're on the bike path, on the street, in the park, at the beach, each and every one of them slurping in their oxygen through those filthy face diapers, ears stoppered up with the blue tooth thing, and eyes locked in on the cell phone.
Yesterday I read where the commissar of health for LA County (a social justice warrior with a phd in social justice) has already clamped down on Thanksgiving and Halloween. You know damn well they're just rubbing their hands in glee at the thought of cancelling Christmas. Yesterday, for the first time in twenty years of near perfect marriage, my wife, and I got into an argument, and it was over this shit. She can roll with things. I can't roll another inch. But it's morning of a new day. She isn't angry with me, nor I with her. My hair is shaggy, and I look like crap. If I want a haircut, I gotta put on the face diaper of shame. I'm tempted to just cut it myself.