Modern culture in denial: Nothingness reigns in Argentina, too.
It is not news that those who are in favor of abortion—and especially those who regard it as a human right—are living in denial. You can always tell this is the case whenever deliberately deceptive language is reflexively adopted to obscure reality. “A woman’s right to choose” whether to have a baby and “a woman’s right to control her own body” are expressions that purposefully ignore the undeniable fact that there is another person’s life at stake, a life other than the mother’s. I could cite other examples, but, as I said, this is not news to anybody.
If you haven’t yet seen the movie Unplanned, which tells the story of Abby Johnson’s conversion from pro-abortion to pro-life, you should do so, and not only because it is an object lesson in the redemption of a person in denial. (See also Thomas V. Mirus’ interview with Abby in Episode 35 of The Catholic Culture Podcast: Moral Blindness and Abortion.) But Johnson is the first to admit that she was in denial for a long time.
While the temptation to denial is endemic to the human condition, it is perhaps the defining evil of the modern West. Contemporary culture is in flight from God, and the form this generally takes is the insistence that we cannot know anything about God (a denial of reality), that the only true knowledge is material or scientific (another denial of reality), that we are not determined in any way by the random accident of human nature (two more denials of reality in one), and that the pinnacle of personhood is individual self-determination (a final denial of reality, utterly futile in terms of both personal happiness and the common good).
To flesh out my point more quickly here, let me cite three commentaries I have written since 2017 on various manifestations of this problem of denial:
- First, back to the ancient world to see just how pervasive this human problem is: Marcus Aurelius on living in denial (February 3, 2017).
- Second and very quickly, on the absurdity of the claim that all religions are the same, and all equally unverifiable: Time to give the lie to a culture in denial? (May 29, 2018)
- Third, a somewhat more detailed treatment of one specific problem in the Church today: In denial about not ordaining homosexuals? (September 18, 2018)
A very sad case in point
You would think I had covered the topic sufficiently, but I have never been one to undersell a good idea. To bring things up to date, then, let us consider a current case of ultra-denial, the prosecution and conviction of a doctor who saved a baby from a chemical abortion—a baby who is alive and well two years later—for the failure to complete the abortion, as he was required by law to do, because he had not registered as a conscientious objector.
This case represents at least three kinds of denial. The first is the denial that the result—a healthy two-year-old—is not infinitely better than the same child murdered in the womb, irrespective of the question of “choice”. The second is the denial that there is an objective moral law against which all human provisions must be judged. And the third is the denial that the root of human responsibility is far deeper than compliance with the provisions of the regulatory state. Look at this case again. How can anyone not see its Alice in Wonderland quality, its utter inversion of the order of being?
The misuse of language I cited in the introduction depends, of course, on the same inversion of being, as captured so memorably by Lewis Carroll:
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
So often we would rather be the master of our own nothingness than a servant of God—which is to be a servant of Being. This is, of course, the root of our more or less constant struggle with fallen human nature’s psychological defense mechanism of “denial”. Our self-selection of nothingness appears to free us from responsibility, and therefore from guilt. It facilitates the transitory pleasures found in the indulgence of essentially selfish desires. But it does this always through some denial of reality, some denial of being.
In the book of Genesis (a wonderful title for our purposes), God (who is already self-describing at times with the familial “we”) tells Adam and Eve not to try to determine good and evil for themselves, lest they die (Gn 2:17). In the book of Exodus, when the Lord wished to extricate the Israelites from their slavery to their fleshpots, He identified Himself to Moses as “I am”, and instructed Moses: “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Ex 3:14).
And so Scripture continues until St. John reflects back on all this in the prologue to his gospel:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. [Jn 1:1-4]
Finally, as we come to the very end of Biblical revelation, we find this in the last verses:
I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end…. I warn every one who hears the words of the prophecy of this book…if any one takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life… [Rev 22:13-19]
Whether we honestly consult our own experience, study philosophy, or learn from the Christian scriptures, the conclusion is the same: It is God and God alone who creates. It is God and God alone who conserves what He creates. And it is God and God alone who says, again, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the fountain of the water of life without payment” (Rev 21:6).
But to thirst for nothing is not to thirst at all. “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (Jn 4:10). Is it because we cling to our freedom to be nothing that we are so afraid to ask?
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Posted by: Randal Mandock -
May. 24, 2019 2:40 PM ET USA
God "tells Adam and Eve not to try to determine good and evil for themselves, lest they die." Interesting insight. When we compare this interpretation with Humpty Dumpty's will, we see deeper meaning in the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The "tree" becomes the "master." Eating from this tree implies mastery of the tree, and thereby master of its fruit. This applies likewise to the a second prohibition: the man must not become the master of life and death, lest he choose death over life.