Monday, April 25, 2005

Someone and Nothing

Nothing is wrong with the world today. Nothing is the void of our own alienation. It’s the absence that will not admit the One from whom we have alienated ourselves. It crushes our culture with the mirage that anything of our own making will quench our existential thirst. Then it sings as we collapse in a pool of our own tears. Nothing is anonymous iniquitas, evil unnamed.

Theologian George Weigel made this prophetic observation in his biography of Pope John Paul II, Witness to Hope: evil has its agents, and they are legion. A little over a century ago until perhaps the 1960s, many of these agents were known as Nihilists. Existentialist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche made their case: God was dead, for we had killed him. We then knelt upon the shards of our shattered existence, and we trembled as we reassembled them into an order of our own uncertain making.

The nihilist has become something of a cliché. That’s a shame, for their philosophy lives on like an undiscovered tumor in the consciousness of humanity. At least Nietzsche’s shocking and maniacal worldview was self-apparent. Today’s anonymous Nihilism refuses such honesty. It masquerades as the privatization of morality and the relativity of situational ethics. It hides itself within the ubiquitous emotive reasoning that passes for prudence. Today’s celebration of Nothing is the corpse of Nero’s bread and circuses, embalmed with contemporary comforts such as Welfare State aspirations and American Idol. The 2005 Easter season has witnessed how destructive this contemporary nihilism can be when practiced by our elites.

Two events in particular reveal how some of our elites have lived out their new devotion. Terry Schiavo died of starvation and dehydration imposed upon her by judicial fiat. The ACLU, the NY Times and LA Times applauded this administration of “justice”. The word of Ms. Schiavo’s compromised husband about her desires was enough for them. However, when Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger ascends the throne of Peter as Benedict XVI, Maureen Dowd, Andrew Sullivan and other progressives condemn the decision. They call the new leader of 1 billion Roman Catholics an “arch-conservative” and “Nazi” that “brutally suppresses” those with whom he disagrees.

The common denominator in these elites’ reaction to Terry Schiavo and Benedict XVI is their worship of Nothing. Since there is nothing, only humanity exists as the sole criterion of meaning. Therefore, anything humanity determines must be valid and good. Human society’s colossal apparatchik, the State, may make these decisions. Thus, the law may be deployed as the executioner’s axe against the most defenseless because the State finds their lives are wanting. When Benedict XVI has the unmitigated gall to proclaim Some One and then oppose the State’s judgments, then he must be reviled. How dare he challenge the orthodoxy of Nothing? How dare he stand in arrogant judgment and declare those things wrong that society deems right? What Hubris! What intolerance! What exclusiveness!

The irony of these elites’ attitude toward the new Holy Father’s “exclusiveness” is that they protest the path to what’s right in the world. Benedict XVI presents everyone with an opportunity to encounter the Right. Everyone may take it or not. Those who don’t take it find the Pope exclusive because they’ve excluded themselves.

The truth is that there’s only one answer for what’s wrong with the world. That is to acknowledge and live in what’s Right with the world, who is Some One. His brilliant yet invisible presence embraces us with the arms of the joyous ones that have embraced him. He unites Himself with us in the Eucharist, in a union so intense that any shadow of isolation evaporates like dew in the light of day. He whispers to us, through the compassion of His disciples, about the greatness we can achieve in him. He offers us through the doctrines of our Catholic faith the truth about ourselves. We matter. We’re important because we are. He fulfills every longing we have and could ever imagine having. He waits for us to return his abundant love and become whole again.

His Presence annihilates the absence of Nothing. Still, the world struggles in labor pains. The temptation to believe in Nothing threatens to overwhelm us when we experience these pains. I experienced such temptation one day.

It was not an extraordinarily bad day, just one that got away from me. All of the worthy aspirations I had wanted to accomplish went unfulfilled. Feeling frustrated, I stood on my deck and looked across my yard. The late afternoon breeze danced with our wind chime as I opened my heart in prayer to the Lord. Even in this moment, however, my frustration and anger overcame me. I heard a voice that disappointingly sounded like my own ask, “what if there really is nothing?”

This temptation strikes on even such an ordinary day. Imagine how seductive its song was when I picked up my office mail after another day teaching at the suburban High School of my dreams, and found a pink note from my Principal. The same week in which my uncle died I sat in a conference room with her and watched my career come to an end. Imagine how enticing Nothing is to those who suffer even more.

That’s why it’s so important for others to know the solution. We must live our witness to His presence. Even those willing agents of Nothing are our fallen brothers and sisters. They need our example, not our sentence. Jesus Christ is the solution to what is wrong with the world. We must bring Him to all those who have Nothing. Only then can there truly be nothing wrong with the world.