Stop Feeding the Beast

I struggle with what is called Depression, though recently I’ve had better success in dealing with it by stumbling onto a very important insight, which I call ‘Don’t Feed the Beast.’

See, Depression takes the form of extreme negative thoughts, sometimes explicit, more often present as a kind of underlying assumption. E.g. “I am never going to amount to anything.” That these are, objectively, often untrue isn’t really relevant; they seem plausible enough, and you can always point to something that you do or don’t do, to habits and facets of your personality that seem to lend credence to them (every lie has some degree of positive evidence in its favor; just ask Herr vom Rath. It is usually the existence of counter evidence that shows it to be a lie).

A lot of the time it works something like this: we sit down to work and hear the thought “You’ll never amount to anything, so why bother putting in the time? You’ll only humiliate yourself”. For fear of humiliation, or because we just want the painful thoughts to go away, we comply, hoping that, perhaps later, we’ll feel better. But then an hour or a day later, with nothing much to show for our time, it becomes, “See? You just wasted all that time doing nothing instead of working. That’s why you’ll never amount to anything.”

But if once we realize that our depression is based on the fear that we’ll never amount to anything, we ought to see that a reluctance to work is exactly what would make that fear come true, and thus in giving into that fear, we only make it stronger. We are feeding the very beast that we’re trying to escape.

So, per the advice of the great therapist Bob Newhart, stop it.

A lie becomes stronger the more it is believed or acted upon. The more you treat as if it were true, the greater the hold it will have over you. It may even become true in the end.

I bring it up both because I hope it’ll help anyone reading who has a similar problem and because I think we’ve been living this pattern on a societal level, especially in the Church, for quite some time now: acting on lies that we know are lies in the hopes of sparing ourselves pain. The attitude of “Yes, this isn’t true, but…” But we don’t want to be thought intolerant. But there are people like that out there (remember Herr vom Rath). But people might turn away if we make a fuss about it.

And in so doing, we confirm the lie and lend our own credence to it. By saying something like, “this is true, but we can’t put it like that because people will think we’re bigots,” we only vindicate that interpretation. We are, in effect, agreeing that this particular truth is bigotry and thus cannot be spoken, when what we ought to be doing is challenging that interpretation: not “that’s intolerant; we don’t believe that. We believe (same thing in weaker words),” but rather “we believe that and it isn’t intolerant because….” In trying to be charitable, we in fact surrender.

As with depression, we really need to stop it; to stop admitting to lies or trying to make accommodations because we’re afraid of what others will think about us. By so doing, we only, in fact, confirm their worst ideas by acting as if they were true. Then we wonder why we keep losing ground.

Stop Feeding the Beast.

Friday Flotsam: On Not Getting What We Want

On Monday I had a job interview, the final such one before the decision. It was for a job I dearly wanted, a company I have actual interest in, and in a location I wanted to move to. I was well-qualified, and the job promised excellent opportunity for growth. The interview seemed to go really well, with a lot of positive comments, good humor, and talk about what made the company great to work for.

This morning I found that I didn’t get the job.

Such is often the pattern, I find; a great opportunity comes along, one replete with every advantage. We pray hard, do all we can to make the most of the chance…and nothing.

The worst part is not just the disappointment itself, but the fact that we now have to go through the exact same tedious, Sisyphean process all over again, likely in pursuit of a far less desirable opportunity, if there is an opportunity at all. The question can’t help but come up ‘how many such companies / jobs / chances are there?’ To put it another way, “there’s plenty of fish in the sea” may be helpful advice if I’m a fisherman and all I am after is any old fish to have for supper; it really doesn’t help if I’m a collector and just lost a rare, beautiful, one-in-a-million fish that I’ve spent hours trying to reel in.

Times like these, it’s very easy to get angry with God; to feel like we’ve done everything we can and yet He still jerks us around. Even now I can’t help wanting to ask ‘just what do you want from me here?’

Hard as it is to believe, though, there is a reason for it. Don’t ask me what it is, but God’s will for us is always for our own benefit. This does not mean that I’m assured of an even better job down the line; having a good job might not really be the best thing for me, or at least might be an impediment to something better (obviously, I sincerely hope it isn’t, and it disturbs me to even write that). God’s idea of our good has very little to do with the things we are concerned about in this life, or even our earthly happiness: it has everything to do with our eternal happiness.

That isn’t to say God is indifferent to present happiness. This life is a part of our everlasting life, after all; the foyer of Heaven. I suspect that He is delighted when the chance comes to give someone as thoroughly happy a life on earth as could be and welcome him into Heaven afterwards. But unfortunately, that is not how things usually work, and if it is a choice between happiness now or happiness forever, He’s going to pick the latter every time, as should we. And if that means that this life is thoroughly and unremittingly miserable for us, He thinks that a small price to pay to have us with Him forever in Heaven.

Or perhaps as a price to pay to have other people in Heaven. Remember, He did not spare Himself or His nearest and dearest from the miseries of life, if it meant saving the souls of the human race. It may be that you could get to Heaven on very easy terms, but that if you did, this other person might not get there at all. If so, and if God thinks you can take it, then He’ll strip away your happy life for the sake of saving both you and the person you will never meet.

Hence, “Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” and “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

This sort of thing is alarming to write, given that I feel I’m bucking for God to say “Glad you understand; now here’s a tedious, pointless job in downtown Detroit for you to work for the next three years…” But so it is. It doesn’t make it hurt any the less, and I don’t know that I would say this to someone in the midst of mourning, but it does at least help maintain hope and makes it easier to soldier on. God knows what is best for us, and He has a far better perspective than we do.

I find being a writer helps to grasp this point. Often times the fun part is taking a character and giving them something that they initially hate or which makes them thoroughly miserable for a while, and then turning that into the source of their ultimate happiness. This is one reason, for instance, I really like the romance between Ron and Hermione in the Harry Potter books (spoilers, I guess, though you probably already knew that). They start our thoroughly disliking each other, and Ron even groans when he finds out she’s going to be in the same house with them. Then, by the end, she’s become the thing he wants most in the whole world. That transition and the final result is a large part of what makes that relationship (and consequently those characters) so enjoyable.

God is the great author, and He sees our stories whole and complete, while we only get it a page at a time. So, even when we don’t like His decisions, even when they’re the opposite of what we have been praying for, and we see not prospect of anything half as good, we may rest assured that He knows what He’s doing. “Just keep reading…”

Everyman Corona Thoughts

I offer some of my thoughts on the present insanity at The Everyman:

In fact, we are wedded to the idea that any given problem is solvable, and that we – those fortunate enough to be born in the age of science and reason – do not have to put up with what our poor benighted ancestors did. They may have suffered from cholera and typhus and smallpox, but with our medical care and hygiene, these things are in the past. They may have had to put up with world wars, institutional oppression, and grinding poverty, but we have evolved beyond that and know how to eliminate these things. It is, in fact, an article of faith with us that we can make a heaven on Earth and become like gods, if we have enough laws, enough knowledge, and enough good will.

This is what might be termed ‘Progressivism’, the belief in the advancement of man, so that man today is superior to man yesterday, and that man tomorrow will be greater still, and that mankind may, through science and reason, come to rule his world and supply all his wants and needs in perfect contentment. This is the chief religion of the modern west, and has been for some time, even among many who still claim the name of Christian.

The credentials of this faith rest on the real advancements, mostly in science and medicine, that have been made over the past few hundred years. Its promise is that it will, eventually, be able to do the same for every ailment of mankind. If we can’t do it yet, we will be able to in the future, but certainly there are no permanent evils of the human race; only those who have some interest in keeping their fellow men down would say such a thing (these same oppressors serve as excellent scapegoats when the promised benefits fail to materialize).

Consequently, we always have to do something in the face of any given problem. If there is an illness, we must march for the cure. If a Starbucks employee seems to act in a racist fashion, the company must impose sweeping new policies. If there is a shooting, we must impose gun control. If there is poverty, we must expand welfare. The point isn’t whether these things solve the problem, the point is that we can never admit that a problem is outside of our control, or that the best we can do is endure, because to do that would be to deny our faith in Progress.

Read the rest here.

A parting question:
Which had greater long term consequences; the Spanish Flu or the Great Depression?

Some Thoughts on Authority

Lately my thoughts have been focused largely on the subject of authority, which I think is one of, if not the chief blindspot of the modern mind. As such, tackling it adequately would require a much larger post than I have time for tonight, but I wanted to present a few of the conclusions I’ve reached.

-Authority is the capacity to create a moral obligation in its subjects. If I own a lawn, I can order you to get off it, and thereby create in you the obligation to do so. If you choose not to, you will be committing the sin of trespassing. This holds true whether or not I have the actual power to remove you from my lawn. (HT: The late Zippy Catholic)

-Authority stems from relation and is a natural consequence of it. A father has authority over his children because he is their father; to be a father means, in part, to hold authority. A President’s authority comes from the fact that he stands to the citizen in the relation of President.

-This means that authority is not based on merit. It doesn’t matter whether a lord is the smartest, most virtuous man in the neighborhood or whether he is a fool; his authority stems from the fact of his standing in that particular relation to the people around him, not from his abilities.

-Consequently, absolute authority only exists in God, and more specifically in God the Father. No human authority could ever be absolute.

-Even apart from the relational nature precluding absolute authority, the fact that authority means the capacity to create moral obligations makes it impossible to legitimately order anyone to sin; you cannot morally compel someone to do what is immoral, as that is a flat contradiction.

-To be in a relation of responsibility to someone means to be in authority over them. Responsibility implies the ability to direct the subject of responsibility (as in, again, a father’s authority over his children), since in what way could a man be responsible for something he has no control over? If I am responsible for a given task at work, I must have decision making powers over it, or else there is no meaning in saying I am responsible for it. Thus, to say a husband is responsible for his wife is synonymous with saying he has authority over her, and to say a king has authority over his subjects is synonymous with his being responsible for them.

-What this means, of course, is an added burden of an account to be made to God; the higher one’s earthly authority, the greater one’s eternal danger. A bishop, it is said, is damned or saved according to the fate of his flock. “To whom much is given, much is required.” “Who is the wise servant whom the Lord will place in charge of His goods?”

-Mercy is a consequence of authority, as is judgment. I am not subject to the courts of Mexico, because I am an American citizen and under the authority of the United States government. For that reason, if I were accused of a crime in the United States, it would be absurd for a Mexican court to issue an acquittal. In order to show mercy, one must stand in a position of authority, to the point that one has the capacity and right to execute judgment, even if that authority is only that of creditor to debtor, or of “I have a gun and you are at the wrong end of it.”

This is the reason, or one reason, why there is still damnation. God is the supreme judge and supreme authority. He is supremely merciful and willing to forgive all things of those who come to Him. However, it is impossible to have mercy on someone who stands outside of your authority, or who refuses to acknowledge your authority. Particularly for God, who cannot lie. For if a man claims to be outside of God’s authority, then the only options are to enact judgment or to confirm his claims. But to do the latter would be a lie and denial by God of His very self.  

Movies I Will Never Review: The Godfather I and II

My experience with the Godfather films is really a strange one for me. It is usually very easy for me to get invested in a story; any story. I may lose investment afterwards, but I tend to be easily drawn in. But these films left me utterly cold in a way that very few films ever have. The experience was like being at a party full of people you don’t like and who talk on subjects that you have no share in; after a while I found I was just waiting for it to be over.

I don’t really know what it is; they’re excellently made films, obviously. The characters are all horrible people, but I’ve liked other films full of horrible people before now (Goodfellas comes to mind as a thematically similar film that didn’t have the same anemic effect on me). I don’t mind downbeat films either: I saw The Spy Who Came In From the Cold not long ago, and while that’s never going to be a favorite I had a much stronger sense of engagement with it. And to be clear, I didn’t hate the Godfather films; they weren’t actively unpleasant to sit through or anything. I just didn’t care. Nothing that happened in the films seemed to matter to me. As I say, that’s a rare experience for me, especially in a film that I know and can tell is very good (which is mostly why I wanted to mention it). But so it is. You will never see me review these movies, or talk about them much, if at all. They are outside my interest.

The Gods of Progress

Recently, I saw two classic films for the first time; Blade Runner and Network. I enjoyed both, but there was also something intensely sad about them. They both expressed such…hopelessness. They’re very much modern films, that is to say, films made from the perspective of a modernist / progressivist worldview, though a self-reflective one. Blade Runner had some room for wonder and morality; Network was a world ruled by crass commercialism and cynical disillusion. But even Blade Runner could only throw up its hands and take refuge in an agnostic materialism in which death is the inevitable and final end. It too was a fundamentally commercial and material world, but one in which people could still raise their heads and ask why, though no answer was forthcoming.

“I want more life, father.”

Both films sit firmly in a world of progress; of hard-headed materialistic triumph. Science in one, economics in the other. We have androids indistinguishable from humans who wrestle with the same existential questions, spaceships colonizing other worlds, endless cityscapes, we have powerful commercial networks that dream of economizing and entertaining all human problems away, headed by strong, domineering female executives who have shattered the glass ceiling.

And hardly a speck of joy or hope to be found in either of them. Even the sex scenes express no love and hardly any desire (Faye Dunaway’s character in Network keeps talking about her job even while having sex, which I found darkly hilarious). The result of all that is, as William Holden’s character puts it, “shrieking nothing.”

(That’s about as good a description of modernity as I’ve heard)

Films like these make me appreciate what a blessing it is to have faith. When Deckard’s voice over comments that Batty only wanted to know what everyone else does: “Where do I come from? Where am I going?” I found I had an answer: “we come from God and we are going to God. We have a place in this world; a place that is by no means supreme, but it is our own. We are made for infinite happiness.”

But it seems we, as a civilization, didn’t like that answer and so went with the strong gods of progress in the hopes of making our place supreme. The results are expressed in films like these.

“For though I lie on the floor of the world
With the seven sins for rods,
I would rather fall with Adam
Than rise with all your gods.

What have the strong gods given,
Where have the glad gods led,
When Guthram sits on a hero’s throne
And asks if he is dead?”
Ballad of the White Horse, Book III

Authority in the Passion

The concept of authority has been on my mind quite a lot lately. There’s a whole lot to delve into there, especially since it’s a subject we moderns tend not to understand very well. We tend to think of it as either consented rule (which would make it synonymous with ‘counsel’ or ’employment’) or oppression. In fact, authority means the power to impose a moral obligation on someone to obey. A father, for instance, imposes bedtime by his authority; his child is obliged to obey whether he wants to or not. Likewise, if I own a book, and you try to take it, I can, by my authority as its owner, order you to return it and thereby impose a moral obligation on you to do so, whether you wish to or not. Even in our own, liberal society, a substantial part of the electorate explicitly does not ‘consent’ to rule by the President, yet (for now) we generally accept that they nevertheless have a moral obligation to follow his leadership and not try to set up their own, separate government.  

Now, with regards to the Passion of Our Lord, remember that Christ stands in place of mankind; in place of sinners. Therefore, it was necessary, as I understand it, for Him to be condemned by people who, humanly speaking, had the authority to so condemn Him. Had He been stoned, as St. Stephen, there would have been no ‘reparation’ on behalf of mankind; no connection between Christ’s sufferings and the guilt of humanity. Mob murder by those who do not have the right of judgement is only a crime, with no moral implications for those who are not involved. St. Paul was complicit with Stephen’s martyrdom since he was there, but Pilate wasn’t.

But Christ is suffering on behalf of and in place of all mankind. This great mystery requires that mankind as such should condemn Him, and thus it must be by those who have a right to speak for mankind. It must be by those who stand in authority over Him, and His execution must be by ‘legal’ means.

Who has authority? First of all, the high priest, whose duty it is to represent God to the people and the people to God. The Mosaic priesthood, centered around the Temple and descending from Aaron, was at the time the voice of God upon earth. It was the legitimate, true means of rendering Him worship and of speaking His word (corrupted and stagnant though it had become; Christ Himself reminded His hearers that the Pharisees “sit upon the throne of Moses” and so the people were to “do and observe all they tell you” (Matthew 23: 1-3). The authority remains, even in the hands of bad actors (as indeed is shown by the fact that the priesthood even remains after setting up idols in the Temple back in the days before the exile). Thus, Christ is first tried by Caiaphas and the elders, who condemn Him for blasphemy because He claims to be the Son of God and ‘makes Himself equal to God’ (keep that in mind). They have the right to condemn Him, though they obviously are not right to do so.

However, as Caiaphas says to Pilate, they don’t have the right to execute Him, under Roman law, and so they go from the Temple to the praetorium; the seat of the Roman governor. From ecclesiastical authority to secular authority. Note also that, while Caiaphas can condemn Christ as a blasphemer and cast Him out of the Temple, he cannot take His earthly life. That power rests in the secular, earthly authority of Caesar, represented by Pilate.

Here is something interesting (to me at least). Rome rules Judea, and indeed the whole world. But is that authority legitimate, given that they are an occupying foreign power? The answer to that comes when Pilate tries to evade the issue by sending Jesus to Herod: the subordinate ruler of Galilee and (as I understand it) the present claimant to the throne of David. Herod, however, declines his authority by sending Him back to Pilate, and Christ seems to deny it as well by refusing to speak with him (He does speak with Pilate, at least a little). There is no legitimate authority left in that throne.

The authority of Rome is then further confirmed in that most unfortunate outburst of the priests: “we have no king but Caesar.” In their zeal to kill Jesus, they deny God in favor of secular authority.

Thus it falls to Rome, the legitimate representative of Man on Earth, to condemn the Son of Man. Indeed, Christ Himself acknowledges that authority: “thou shouldst not have any power against me unless it were given thee from above” (John 19: 11). Which is to say, all legitimate authority, including the authority by which Pilate condemns Christ, comes from God. Were Pilate’s authority illegitimate (as was Herods and as was that of the crowd that sought to stone Him), he would have had no power over Jesus.

But then, another interesting point is that Pilate, of his own authority, doesn’t want to condemn Jesus. He is obliged to do so by the threat of the mob; the people. Note that Caiaphas had no such pressure, but rather orchestrated it. Secular authority is never as secure as it seems, and ultimately is always handcuffed by what the people will allow (call it consent of the governed if you like). It is, therefore, the people who condemn Jesus, using the legitimate government as their instrument.

Again, Christ is standing in place of mankind as a whole, taking on our sins and giving satisfaction for them. Therefore, He must be condemned by those who have the right of judgment.

And what is He condemned of? First blasphemy, by the priesthood, and then sedition, by the government. The same basic criminal idea breathed through two contexts. The condemnation is that Christ seeks to usurp or undermine legitimate authority.

Which is the very crime that Adam committed: “ye shall be as gods” (Genesis 3:5). Indeed, it is the basic crime behind all sin, seeking to set ourselves up as knowing better than God, as ruling in place of God, as denying and undermining His authority.

The condemnation was unjust because Christ, as the Son of God, is the one man in all the world who never has nor could commit that crime. He suffers and dies in place of those who do; namely us.

The World We Live In

It is, I find, fatally easy to forget what kind of world we live in, especially today. We’ve got all our gadgets, our (relatively) ordered society, and all the rest of it, so that it becomes only natural to fall into a kind of trance assuming that everything just kind of works and that’s all there is to it. We think of things like Religion as mere classifications of people: this group believes this, that group believes that. And we only rarely go any further. In any case, the main point is how those beliefs practically affect themselves and the world around them: not the truth or falsehood of those claims.

It’s hard to describe, because I myself can only catch glimpses of another perspective. Habits of thought are extremely difficult to fight, and we all default to much the same assumptions: modernism (we assume ourselves at a higher level than the past), materialism (again, we assume the practical, material effects of any given idea or practice are the main point), and liberalism (we are suspicious of any kind of human authority). This applies whether you call yourself Conservative or Liberal, and it is a rare person indeed who is legitimately emancipated from it (again, speaking as someone who can only step out of it with conscious effort).

But the truth is this: we live in a world where God took flesh and lived among us as a Man: a Man in history, living a certain amount of years before us, in a place we know, at a fairly well-documented time of history. Consider, as you go about your day, that this world of ours, now filled with cars and computers and concrete, is the very same one in which Christ lived and walked and taught. We live in a world where Miracles have indeed taken place (and, I see no reason to doubt, continue to do so).

Jesus is not a ‘lifestyle choice.’ He is not simply one choice among many, nor is His Church merely one among many. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; He is the Lord, and there is no other.

We live, in short, in the time of fulfillment. Our age is the one in which God has revealed Himself to Man, and our only options are either to accept Him or reject Him. We do not live in the time of questions or doubts or plurality of religion, when man is searching for God. We live in a time when God has come to man and established His Church upon Earth.

It’s hard to convey the full impact of this. Basically, the supernatural is at work openly in our world; it is baked into its very structure. It is no more of a question – actually considerably less of one – than that gravity is at work. We live in a world of miracles, fulfilled prophecies (and prophecies still to be fulfilled), and authorities, amid unseen supernatural beings. If you believe in Christ, I don’t see how you can disbelieve in this or consider the ‘supernatural elements’ of Religion somehow less important than the material ones.

In any case, it is healthy to try to recall, when we pray, that we are speaking to a real Person who hears us, and at any time to consider the fact that this is the world in which God lived among us as a Man.

It is a sobering thought.

Gunga Din at ‘The Everyman’

A new ‘Everyman’ post went up yesterday, talking about Rudyard Kipling’s Gunga Din and what it reveals about both his perspective and ours:

Now, you cannot think sense about morality unless you get this idea of principles clear, and you cannot get it clear until you can identify what is and is not an equivalent case.

The respective views of Mr. Kipling and a modern college student on the subject of the Indian peoples, for instance, is not an equivalent case, for they were raised in completely different intellectual climates. Kipling’s point of view was never seriously presented to the college student as something he ought to believe; if it was presented at all, it was as a historical relic that has been supplanted. The reason the modern college student doesn’t think as Kipling did is not because he is that much more enlightened than Kipling, but because it was never a serious option for him to do so. He may as well be proud of the fact that he never owned a slave or mistreated a horse. Likewise, Kipling never seriously encountered a perspective that we would recognize as Progressive, and certainly wasn’t raised to one (though he was likely to be much the more independent thinker of the two, but we’ll discount that for now).

I am not here saying that Kipling’s Imperialism and the modern’s Progressivism are morally equivalent; that’s as may be. I am saying that they are socially equivalent. What we would call racist sentiments was as common in Kipling’s day as progressive sentiment is in ours. In both cases they are more or less the accepted, cultured view among the educated classes. And both have their ‘Other:’ the people who, in the common view, are ‘lesser than us.’ For the Imperialist it was the native population; for the Progressive, it is (among others) the Imperialist.

And herein lies the equivalent case; not how each regards Indian people, but how each regards their particular ‘Other.’ Stripped of their respective idioms, this is what is being said on each side:

The modern says, “This man is of this type and therefore he is of no account.”

Kipling says, “This man is of this type, but nevertheless is of more account than I.”

Read the rest here.