"Kicking the Carcass: Humility, Hubris, and Facebook Flame Wars (Part One)"
Between second and fourth grades, I went through a stage of pretending like I knew more about nature than I did. I can't remember what got this going. I'm firstborn, and we tend to be bossy know-it-alls, so maybe that's it. Or maybe I read too many chapter books about creative children who could survive in the wilderness because they had read books about creative children who could survive in the wilderness.
These were also the years someone told me I was 1/32 Native American, and even back then I had romanticized opinions about rooted, tribal people who were bound to the land more intuitively than boring, thinky white folks.
On weekends I would find some place to sit under trees and strain to hear the soul-radio frequencies of ancestors who had walked in those same spaces centuries earlier. America felt more mine than other people's, because I was really from here. I mean really, really from here.
But however it happened, during those years it was important to me to be the person who knew what the earth meant. And even though I generally had no idea what I was doing, I used pretense to my advantage.
In the second grade I asked a girl over to my house after school, and when she ended up not being as interesting as a boy, I decided I didn't like her. Needing to get rid of her, I convinced her to walk with me out into the middle of a tall, Ohio corn field that I knew was full of writing spiders.
After she was sufficiently freaked out, I looked up at the sun and said with confidence, "You know, I'm part Indian. And I can tell by the angle of the sun in the sky that it's late. 5:30 exactly. It's time for you to go home." She believed me, and I was free for the rest of the afternoon.
Then in fourth grade, I was walking with my friend on her farm in Kentucky. We saw a dead groundhog swollen so tight in the August sun that the hairs on its belly were poking straight out. I wanted to be the science-loving tough-girl who wasn't dismayed by dead animal bodies, so while that other girl squealed "Eww!," I walked over confidently and gave it a kick.
Explosion. Five thousand maggots airborne, like confetti thrown from a parade float, propelled in the solitary flight of their lives. My jeans smelled like corpse for the rest of the evening.
Watching the internet lately brings back some of these memories. So many people seem so certain with so little information.
It's an interesting trend, if you consider that the strongest attitude of our time is not really authoritative but relativistic. "What's okay for you isn't okay for me, and that's okay," is all that is okay. We mistrust meta-narratives (big stories that claim to know how the world works), because they imply authority.
Intellectuals argue about what the Bible really says about being rich or being a woman, but the first four words of Genesis are the most offensive of all.
"In the beginning God." Whatever follows must submit to that much. It's checkmate.
So we just threw the pieces off the board and declared God dead, thinking it would free us up to make up a game of our own.
But instead of opening our minds like we had hoped, killing God only created a new morality that is proving just as constricting. We used all our strength to yank apart the iron bars of right and wrong, only to find that ethics are magnetic. They won't stay broken. They suck back into themselves, even in a world that rejects divinity, adopting a human form that is more distorted in its determination than revelation ever was.
"Free thought has exhausted its own freedom," writes Chesterton. Because as we have tried to pull the religious hat off humanity, our heads have come off with it.
What's left? An entire culture that rejects authoritative morality getting on Facebook and Twitter. And what do they post?
"We should __________ with the refugees."
"Gays should (or should not) have the right to ___________."
"College education (or health care, or whatever) should be free."
"The right thing to do with the Confederate flag is __________."
"Fetuses (or women) should have the right to live (or kill)."
"Guns are _____________."
Millions of opinions. Strong opinions. And if you don't agree with them you are a monster, or a fool, or ignorant.
Those are harsh accusations, but what is left in the vacuum metanarrative left? We no longer have to love our neighbors as ourselves, and there is no Divine referee to call fouls or to pull out a rule book. We are angry, ignorant children banging on a piano, trying to bang louder than the next kid, believing that sheer volume of chaos equals music.
There is nothing left but this. Nothing we can do but grab on to floating pieces of wreckage that seem right to us. Compassion for refugees. Compassion for the unborn. Compassion for the gay couple who can't visit one another in the hospital because they can't get married.
We pick, and choose, and fight like hell. We fight like experts. We fight like we know jack. And our beloved virtues are as dangerous as our vices.
I'm going to include a quote next, but don't skip it. It's stinking good, worth the work of chewing until you get it.
"The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful." ---GKC
(To be continued...)