Thursday, July 19, 2012

How the Hippies Narrowly Avoided Losing Me: Part 1

An old friend who knew me during my liberal New Age environmentalist hippy days said that she'd love to hear how the hippies lost me.

Well, the first thing to say is they didn't. Everything I loved about being that hippy I still have, and have much better. What I am now involves the same sensitivity to others, the same liberality, the same spirituality, the same deep love for Nature, and the same spiritual burning for Love. So this is less a story about how the hippies lost me than about how they almost lost me.

When I was introduced to the book Bridge Across Forever by Richard Bach it changed my life--infused me with new purpose. I was a teenager at the time, going through all the philosophical and romantic convulsions that are typical of the age, and one phrase from that book struck a deep, deep chord with me: "Do you ever feel like you are missing someone you never met?"

I did! That was exactly how I felt. And Bach's philosophy of the soulmate in that book was, looking back on it, filling a void that religion had left--a spirituality not of dogma and rules but of Love. Pure, free, wild Love. For a kid who had become so spiritually parched, that idea of Love was a life-giving spring and I drank deeply from it. I adopted Bach's philosophy as my own.

Two problems, however, began to intrude on it. One was science. Science had a beauty of its own--a high, cold, piercing beauty but one seemingly unrelatable to Love. Oh sure, scientists could say that they loved truth and loved discovery and loved the Universe and all that, but it wasn't the *same* kind of deep, fulfilling personal Love that Bach was talking about. And objecting from the other angle, what, scientifically, was love anyway? How could you explain it? This wasn't a huge problem, just a philosophical disconnect, but its presence annoyed me.

Far more formidable were the two worst enemies my hippy nature had ever encountered: evil and sin. Evil was something I understood well--why that's just the bad things other people do. Sin was something I didn't understand--because I was not prepared to acknowledge the bad things I did. So I had a curious theology that recognized evil but not sin--the problems in the world were everyone else's. Not mine. They were general, not personal.

That was the state I was in.

At the time I was reading more history, and I was starting to realize how utterly lucky I had been and how rare a kid's life in the American 1980s was. Depressions, war, famine, last the fact hit me with the force of a philosophical sledgehammer. The good times wouldn't last for me. They couldn't last.

My extreme sensitivity to others, I finally realized, had only survived blanketed in a naive assurance that I would always be fine. Sure *other people* were suffering, I felt badly for them, but we in the U.S. were ever expanding our Empire of Kindness, we would soon reach them as well, and all would be right with the world. In my mind was an unspoken prayer to the suffering of humanity..."Just hang on, friends, we will save you."

I was now convinced we would never save them. We *could* never save them. Suffering would always be among us--and even we optimistic go-getter Americans could fall prey to it. My blanket of smug assurance melted before this realization, and there I was, left with my extreme sensitivity to suffering bare naked before the violent ravages of evil.

Meanwhile, my own evil--my sin--was becoming harder and harder to ignore. My sensitivity had begun to fold inward. I was becoming more selfish. More self-absorbed. I began to suffer nausea and anxiety. The more I put my own needs and my own pleasures before all else, the sicker I became and the less joy I felt in anything.

In such a condition, Love became impossible. And I knew it.

That's when I had a philosophical meltdown. Every joy in life evaporated. The Love that I had put such confidence in seemed not only impossible but powerless and puny.

For a few days I was brought to the lowest point I have ever been in my life. It was a period of utter nihilism. Nothing mattered. My life didn't matter and there was nothing to believe in. I was a shattered, broken, miserable, wretched human being.

But, as I was later to discover, this wretchedness was the greatest blessing of my life.

"Into the blistering wilderness of Shur, the man who walked with kings now walks alone.

Torn from the pinnacle of royal power, stripped of all rank and earthly wealth, a forsaken man without a country, without a hope, his soul in turmoil like the hot winds and raging sands that lash him with the fury of a taskmaster's whip.

He is driven forward, always forward, by a god unknown, toward a land unseen...into the molten wilderness of sin, where granite sentinels stand as towers of living death to bar his way.

Each night brings the black embrace of loneliness. In the mocking whisper of the wind, he hears the echoing voices of the dark...

His tortured mind wondering if they call the memory of past triumphs or wail foreboding of disasters yet to come or whether the desert's hot breath has melted his reason into madness.

He cannot cool the burning kiss of thirst upon his lips nor shade the scorching fury of the sun.

All about is desolation.

He can neither bless nor curse the power that moves him, for he does not know from where it comes.

Learning that it can be more terrible to live than to die, he is driven onward through the burning crucible of desert, where holy men and prophets are cleansed and purged for God's great purpose.

Until at last, at the end of human strength, beaten into the dust from which he came, the metal is ready for the Maker's hand.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Non-Choice of Contraception

So let's say I didn't want toast. Yet every morning I went to my toaster, put two pieces of bread in it, and then turned it on. And let's say--because I didn't want toast remember--I'd cover the bread in fiberglass insulation, I'd spray water on the bread, or I'd shoot cool air into the toaster from a high-powered fan so that a few minutes later I could hear the little "ding" and pull my bread out perfectly untoasted--just how I like it.

Well, basically, that's exactly what people are expecting the Church to say when it comes to birth control...and I'll explain why.

The toaster in my analogy is the Reproductive System. That system is a machine with a purpose. It does exactly what it is designed to do. And what is it designed to do? Reproduce. That's what it's for.

If that is what it's for--and I challenge anyone explain it any other way evolutionarily--then it seems a bit curious to play this little game of engaging it halfway and then frustrating it in its natural conclusion. More sensible to simply not engage it in the first place right? Leave the toaster off, and there's no worry about toast.

This is fundamentally what the Church objects to in the act of contraception--this halfhearted, confused act of auto-frustration.

She does not object to the choice itself, nor does she object to whichever way a human being decides to go. She supports our yes, and she supports our no. Every man and woman who have children she elevates as participators in the divine act of creation. Every man and woman who do not have children she elevates as a model of celibate chastity. There have been married men and women in her annals who have deliberately decided not to have children even in marriage--a spiritual or Josephite marriage--and they have been celebrated for it.

The stupidity in the modern thinking on this is precisely here--that the "choice" to have children is thought to be in the frustration of the natural act of sex, and not in the choice to engage the sexual faculty in the first place.

What the Church strenuously objects to is a no-filled yes, and a yes-filled no--one where we do everything in our power to make toast, while we do everything in our power to not make toast. One where we deny ourselves a real choice, a real freedom to decide one way or another, for this strange half-state where we haven't really chosen anything.

The Church knows, sensibly, that there are saner ways to satisfy our need for a nice little "ding".