100 Million Americans Living in Spiritual Poverty!
In a post last year, she wrote that this “dynamic tension remains and the struggle continues unabated. I don't seem to have progressed too far along in resolving that conflict, but I have progressed. And, it is reassuring to realize that Siggy is correct when he says, To struggle with faith is as much a part of faith as anything else."
I think that last statement is quite accurate, in the identical sense that one could say that “to struggle with knowledge is as much a part of truth as anything else,” or “to struggle with love is as much a part of relationships as anything else," or "to struggle with virtue is as much a part of being good as anything else." In each given case, the struggle is founded upon the faith that truth, love, or goodness exist, and that it is worthwhile to struggle toward them. I think we are simply built this way, in the same way that the flower is built to turn toward the sun. The flower never stops to think about whether it is worthwhile to do so, nor should we stop to wonder whether the True, Good and Beautiful exist. Just bend your will in their direction, and be nourished by their transparent light.
Humans, by definition, are fated to inhabit the vast middle realm between being and nothingness, the absolute and the relative, matter and spirit, time and eternity. The paradoxes of human existence are impossibly difficult if you give them even a moment’s reflection, but they all result from this I-AMbiguous in-between realm in which we pass our days. A human being is the only thing in the cosmos that is both a fact and a possibility -- even an infinite possibilty, more or less. But from here to there is a struggle.
Despite all of our scientific and technological advances over the past 300 years, I see no evidence that human beings are any happier than they have ever been. If anything, happiness might be even more elusive, because life is so much easier than it was for past generations. We expect things to go well and are devastated when tragedy and disappointment hit, which they inevitably do. To paraphrase or possibly plagiarize Theodore Dalyrmple -- and this is something no liberal understands -- Misery rises to the level of the means availible to alleviate it.
Repeat after me, lurking lefty: I am an unhappy person and there is nothing Mommy Government can do about it, because my misery will just rise to the level of Mommy's efforts to alleviate it. And soon my misery will sink even beneath that level because of my frustrated sense of infantile entitlement and my abiding belief that someone else should make my life pain-free. Amen.
No one in the past felt they were entitled to the things we take for granted -- health, plentiful food, absence of physical pain, a long life, thriving children, a foolproof plan, an airtight alibi, Bob Dylan's new unlisted phone number, a Las Vegas wedding, a Mexican divorce... Thus, it was no doubt easier not to become overly attached to the temporary and transient. Death was a constant reminder of the fragility and fickleness of existence. (In fact, this proximity to death probably conributes to the fact that the Islamists are willing to die for their insane beliefs, while so much of the West cannot even muster the enthusiasm to defend its rare and precious civilization.)
Last week the census bureau informed us that there are 37 million Americans living in poverty. First of all, they're only talking about material poverty, not the millions of leftists who waste away in spiritual poverty, which is a far greater existential threat to the union. But even then, as Robert Rector explains,
"The typical American defined as poor by the government has a car, air conditioning, a refrigerator, a stove, a clothes washer and dryer, and a microwave. He has two color televisions, cable or satellite TV reception, a VCR, or DVD player, and a stereo. He is able to obtain medical care. His home is in good repair and is not overcrowded. By his own report, his family is not hungry, and he had sufficient funds in the past year to meet his family’s essential needs. While this individual’s life is not opulent, it is far from the popular images of dire poverty conveyed by the press, liberal activists, and politicians."
Furthermore, the majority of true poverty is behavioral and can be explained by two factors: "Their parents don’t work much, and their fathers are absent from the home.... Nearly two thirds of poor children reside in single-parent homes; each year, an additional 1.5 million children are born out of wedlock. If poor mothers married the fathers of their children, nearly three quarters of the nation’s impoverished youth would immediately be lifted out of poverty."
But over the past 35 years, the left has done everything possible to trivialize and disincentivize marriage. In fact, it is in their interest to undermine marriage, because the disaster that results benefits them politically. Much of the Democrat base is composed of the victims they help create, such as single mothers and "helpless" blacks. "Although work and marriage are reliable ladders out of poverty, the welfare system perversely remains hostile to both. Major programs such as food stamps, public housing, and Medicaid continue to reward idleness and penalize marriage. If welfare could be turned around to encourage work and marriage, the nation’s remaining poverty could be reduced."
A more realistically stoic attitude -- to put it mildly -- prevailed in the West through the great depression and World War II. For example, as recently as the 1970’s, inflation was completely misunderstood by economists, and therefore untamable. The “boom or bust” business cycle really only began to seriously flatten after the Reagan revolution, in that our inevitable recessions are far less severe than in the past. What was once a plague is now a common cold, and yet, leftist econmanists such as Paul Krugman are more hysterical than ever.
Similarly, I am blessed to have diabetes at a time when it is so easy to control it with different types of insulin and instantaneous digital readouts of my blood sugar, but my mother, just one generation before, had no such control, with devastating results. LIkewise, my father died at 58 of an abdominal aneurysm that is easily detectable today with a $35 exam at a health fair.
Given these profound existential changes, I think it is natural that westerners began to focus on this side of the “time-eternity” divide, and look for their spiritual sustenance in the things of the world, so to speak -- relationships, possessions, experiences. But does it work? I suppose for some. For others -- perhaps we’re just neurotic, I don’t know -- there is nothing in the field of time that will suffice or answer to this deeper call of the Spirit. It is a part of us that cries out for something that is not found in the objects of the world, and is only satisfied by one thing.
Is it real, this part of us that cries out for transcendence? I don’t know if that is the proper question. It’s somewhat analogous to falling in love and asking yourself if love is real or just an illusion, a trick of the nervous system. I’m imagining the Gagboy 10 or 20 years down the line, when he is at the peak of his enchantment with the opposite form of the complementary gender:
“I know it looks like women are attractive, but don’t be fooled. It’s just Darwin playing tricks on you, trying to get you to reproduce. In reality, woman aren’t attractive or unattractive. To the extent that you find them alluring, just remember that it’s just an illusion programmed into you by evolution. In short, I am only looking at this Victoria's Secret catalogue for its scientific value. Now run along and mind your own business.”
“Gee, thanks, gagDad!”
Isn’t this the same kind of “sophisticated” advice we might receive from the typical college professor regarding the spiritual dimension? “God? Nothing more than an illusion programmed into our nervous system. Just ignore it.” But doesn’t that just beg the question of whether everything is just an illusion built into our nervous system, including the statement that everything is? That way madness lies. But also tenure, so there are compensations.
If we consider religiosity on a continuum from extreme atheism on the left side (“zero”) to mystical union on the right (“one hundred”), let us suppose that Dr. Sanity is at 50. Well, probably more like 40. I myself started at closer to zero, or at least veered in that direction after an initial interest in Eastern religions prompted by the Beatles’ (especially George’s) adoption of yoga. But I became seriously interested in philosophy during my college years, and virtually all modern philosophy is essentially atheistic, whether existentialism, positivism, phenomenology, what have you.
Just recently I have begun to think of religiosity as simply “the right way to live,” so to speak. After all, these are traditions that somehow nourished the human soul for hundreds and thousands of years, almost as if we were made for them and they were made for us. Regardless of whether or not we may attribute these traditions to a creator, I find that there is a wisdom in authentic religion that far surpasses what any single mind could have come up with.
It’s a bit like marriage and the family. No one “invented” either, but for most people -- clearly not everyone, but for most -- it is simply the “right way” to live. Sure, you can experiment with other ways. Like Bill Maher, you can date porn stars, substitute dogs for children, and worship the earth, but is this really the way we’re built? Does he look happy or well adjusted to you?
I didn’t actually dive headlong into spirituality until 1995. In my case it was yoga, but once I did, the part of me that was hungering for transcendence all along began to “grow.” It reminds me of what they say about babies -- ”sleep begets sleep.” That is, if they nap more during the day, they sleep better at night. Likewise, faith begets faith. Just by taking that leap and living in the way humans have always lived, something automatic seems to kick in, an innate, uncreated wisdom.
I don’t mean to trivialize it, but it reminds me of sports. I think it has to do with the arrival of the Gagboy three seasons ago, but before that, I was an absolutely fanatical Dodger fan. To be honest, the spell started to be broken when they were purchased by Fox from the O’Malley family, but from the age of nine, I lived and died with each win or loss. I would listen to entire games on the radio even after the team had been mathematically eliminated from the pennant race, apparently hoping that they could somehow overcome the rules of arithmatic. And yet -- especially as an adult -- I would sometimes reflect on the absurdity of my devotion. As Seinfeld said, when it comes right down to it, since the players constantly change, you're essentially rooting for laundry. But was I any happier when I thought this way? No, not at all. In fact, it just spoiled the fun.
There’s an old saying in baseball: “Don’t think, you’ll hurt the ballclub.” I think most secular philosophy falls into this category. There are ways to think that will be metaphysically fruitful and add to your fulfillment, other essentially abcircular forms of thought that are spiritually barren and go from nowhere to nothing (and certainly won't help you hit a curveball). To be honest, they aren’t worthy of man, itself a statement that touches on the mystery of what man actually is.
The "good news" of religion is that the world is not a closed circle, that it is not an eternal prison, that it has an exit and an entrance.... "Perdition" is to be caught up in the eternal circulation of the world of the closed circle... [whereas] "salvation" is life in the world of the open circle, or spiral, where there is both exit and entrance. --Meditations on the Tarot