Elizabeth Scalia — The Anchoress — tells why she remains a Catholic in the face of the revelation of human, hidden, power-protected sins.
The darkness within my church is real, and it has too often gone unaddressed. The light within my church is also real, and has too often gone unappreciated. A small minority has sinned, gravely, against too many. Another minority has assisted or saved the lives of millions.
But then, my country is the most generous and compassionate nation on Earth; it is also the only country that has ever deployed nuclear weapons of mass destruction.
My government is founded upon a singular appreciation of personal liberty; some of those founders owned slaves.
My family was known for its neighborliness and its work ethic; its patriarch was a serial child molester.
The child molester was also a brilliant, generous, talented man — the only person who ever read me a bedtime story. I will love him forever for that, even when I wake up gasping and afraid.
I am a woman with very generous instincts, and I try to love everyone, but I am capable of corrosive scorn. Have I been much sinned against? Yes. So have you. Have I sinned against others? Oh, yes. So have you.
Damn, that’s breathtaking.
Grand go the Years,
In the Crescent above them–
Worlds Scoop Their Arcs–
Soundless as Dots,
On a Disc of Snow.
[Courtesy of new-old friend Arthur Boehm, on facebook]
I’m worried that people like being pissed off much better than they like getting things done. And that’s one of the reasons why there’s so much to be pissed off about.
Being pissed off is an addictive drug, maybe literally. It’s exciting. It is sensation in a deadened and deadening world. It mobilizes adrenaline and fight-or-flight feelings that are primal and revitalizing. And it reinforces our feelings of being right and righteous. The feelings that drove small tribal wars in hunter-gatherer times, probably helping human groups compete and cohere. (Just read about how, say, the Lakota despised the Crow, traditional enmities that European colonists were able to exploit until it was too late for both and more.)
When one extreme gets in power, you have to go to the other extreme to push them out. Thus the Obamites and the Tea Party. I would vote for the latter even though they are too far right for me, because the Dems are too far left for me.
But the extremes push each other to extremes. Obama claimed to be willing to compromise (and indeed, some leftists see him as unacceptably centrist). Republicans claimed that was just lip service and the Dems were all about ramming their radical agenda through, so they refused them any bipartisan window dressing. Repubs say the Dems never really meant to listen and compromise. Dems say Repubs never gave them a chance. The whole picture is contaminated by power-seeking. If Repubs actually helped Dems accomplish something, the Dems might get credit for it and stay in power. Meanwhile, Dems think the way to stay in power is to paint the Repubs as total obstructionists, “the party of no.”
It’ll tell you something that my favorite politician (God, those words grate on my ear — oxymoron alert!!) is Lindsey Graham. Almost nobody can stand him: to Dems he’s a conservative, to conservatives he’s a RINO. But while there are wimpy, wishy-washy RINOs, I think Graham is a gutsy one. He seems willing to sacrifice getting reelected to do what he thinks is right, and what he thinks is right is to disagree where necessary and compromise where possible. He commits the cardinal sin of the day, which is to acknowledge that we (right and left) still live on the same planet, in the same country, and have a mutual stake in it. The metaphor of King Solomon and the baby often comes to mind. The real mother is the one who would rather give up the baby than even entertain the idea of it being cut in half.
If more pols on both sides of the aisle were like Lindsay Graham, maybe more would get done that actually worked in a both/and, neither/nor kind of way, and the country would be in better shape, and people would be less pissed off.
BUT PEOPLE LIKE BEING PISSED OFF . . .
Rebecca, a former actress turned energy healer, has been our friend for 30 years. Visiting from Arizona after being out of touch for some years, she gave us energy treatments, cooked and filled our freezer with food. She says we fed her for 10 years in New York, and now it’s her turn. Rarely have we felt so cherished, or shall I say pampered?
I have found that people don’t like talking about this subject very much, and that no one seems to have any good answers. I am concerned about how we know what is the “right thing” to do in any situation, and the example I will use is extremely common these days. Sure doing the “right thing” is easy when it’s what you wanted to do anyway. I never want to kill anyone, so not killing is easy for me. I don’t want to steal anything, especially since the idea of getting caught is terrifying. I don’t want to drive through red lights, because it’s dangerous and besides I don’t want a ticket. So, I am always doing the “right thing.” Well, always, EXCEPT when I have no idea what the “right thing” is, or when what might be the “right thing” seems worse than death.
A woman I know at work, whose name is Mercy, is my example. I have known her for 10 years, and all that time her mother has been sick, and Mercy’s life has revolved around her mother. Not because she wants to, and not because she has a close relationship with her mother (she doesn’t), but because it’s the “right thing” to do. Her mother worked hard, as a poor single mother, to raise Mercy and her sisters. She did her very best, and wound up poor and sick.
For a long time, Mercy’s 3 sisters, who all live nearby, have felt that their mother belongs in a nursing home, so they do very little to help. Mercy has cooked and cleaned for her mother since I have known her, probably much longer. She feels that putting her mother in a nursing home would be abandonment. Mercy is single, probably because taking care of her mother never left much time for socializing or dating. Too bad, since all she ever wanted was to get married and have kids.
Recently, Mercy’s mother became very sick and unable to get out of bed. Mercy moved her into her own small home and started caring for her 24 hours a day. Mercy stopped coming to work, and did her job from home. Several months went by. I wondered what would happen, because our office is strict about limiting telecommuting. No one is allowed more than 2 days a week at home, and most don’t telecommute at all.
The other day Mercy’s manager informed her she would have to start coming to the office 5 days a week. She said the director has been concerned about Mercy’s productivity, since it’s hard to do her job entirely from home.
So Mercy is trying to get home care aides to stay with her mother on weekdays. She also plans to ask her manager if she can telecommute 2 days a week.
Mercy told me what her life has been like this summer. She can’t ever go out, except when one of her sisters stays for an hour, so she can go out for shopping and errands. She never takes a walk, has no social life, never does anything for fun. She is always home alone with her mother, who no longer speaks.
I have not been able to figure out if Mercy is doing the “right thing” or not. Some people said she is unfair to her employer — they are paying her the same, but getting less in return. Others say they would always put their family first, no matter what.
I think Mercy has been unfair to herself, and has missed so much of her own life because of her mother’s sickness. But I also think Mercy is doing this out of genuine love and goodness. She is resentful and angry and feels deprived, but she also feels virtuous. Maybe she is doing exactly what she wants to do?
I absolutely don’t know. I know Mercy very well and she has always been very unhappy, since I have known her. But maybe unhappiness and self-sacrifice is her happiness?
Amba’s situation is kind of similar, but Amba is never resentful or unhappy. For one thing, there is no one for Amba to be angry at, while Mercy has her uncaring sisters. Also, taking care of a mother who has always been miserable is different from taking care of a husband who was always the center of your world.
Anyway, I just don’t know the answer at all. Next month Mercy has to figure out how to come to work every day, while managing unreliable home care aides.
I spend a lot of time in the universal library (i.e. Google Books) while doing etymological research. Sometimes I find the strangest things: like this (ick warning)
“Government can be a mysterious institution. Indeed, the pathway to understanding how your tax dollars are being spent can be a very difficult journey, much like trying to find your way out of the ancient catacombs. That’s one reason why transparency is so vital in an open government.”
. . . is when we go out and spend money we don’t have because, hey . . . “to each according to his need!”
Having done this myself tonight, I’m feeling a little bit friendly, or at least lenient, toward that disgraced principle.
Yes, of course we should all be responsible and productive, live within our means, and strive to make, do, give, achieve, and succeed so that our abilities surpass or at least suffice for our needs.
But isn’t one of the very definitions of a human being that creature whose needs are always threatening to overwhelm its abilities? “To get ahead” doesn’t mean to get ahead of the Joneses, it means to gain some distance on the ravening wolf that is our own body and soul.
Just look at our caloric requirements, for starters, and the great difficulty most humans have always had securing or producing enough calories to keep themselves and their growing families going. The activity required to get calories burns more calories, so it’s a kind of vicious cycle. (Of course, that vicious cycle is called “life,” for all living things. We are all on a treadmill outracing entropy.) And as many calories as hard physical labor consumes, the brain, especially the growing brain, is the biggest glucose glutton of all.
The brain is also the only body part that can lift us above a hand-to-mouth existence, given wit, perseverance, luck, drive, and sometimes ruthlessness. Its needs are proportionate to its potential abilities. But what a struggle! Especially if we don’t have anyone to stand by with water bottles and energy bars along the marathon route. And we don’t only need food and water, we need rest and pleasure.
So now and then we break down and tell ourselves that we’ll run the race better if we can have just some of the rewards in advance of crossing the finish line. It’s a tough call where the line is between needs and wants (not to mention addictions), and the line tends to move. It’s also a tough call how many of us, given access to the rewards, will slack off on the efforts. There is a belief out there that humans need a mortal threat to be properly motivated. (Note the approving use of the word “hungry.”) But there’s another fine line — in different places for different people — between what spurs and what paralyzes.
This is part of what credit card debt was all about.
But on the other side of the argument, it is cruel — in a social-Darwinian way — to make survival itself contingent on success. Success is something different from the willingness to work hard; it’s an amalgam of many ingredients, fused by an ineffable alchemy. If you’re lazy you’ll most likely miss the gold ring, but missing the gold ring doesn’t mean you’re lazy. Even if everyone tried their best to be a successful entrepreneur or inventor, entertainment star, or bestselling author, relatively few would succeed. Yet we are moving toward this sort of jackpot economy where not even years of education or experience — only some kind of freak fame or empire-building — can lift us above a hand-to-mouth existence. For a while, in the industrial era, there was this thing called a “job” that was a pretty decent fit for a man’s needs, whether or not it fully tapped his abilities (gendered language intended). Now, we’re left with our orphaned abilities flapping uselessly in the breeze as we struggle desperately to stay ahead of our needs.
So, credit-card communism — our unsafe plastic safety net, stretched across the gap between abilities and needs.
. . . things would make much more sense.
Life is tough . . . What do you get at the end of it? A death. What’s that, a bonus? I think the life cycle is all backward. You should die first, get it out of the way. Then you live in an old-age home. You get kicked out when you’re too young, you get a gold watch, you go to work. You work forty years until you’re young enough to enjoy your retirement. You do drugs, alcohol, you party, you get ready for high school. You go to grade school, you become a kid, you play, you have no responsibilities, you become a little baby, you go back into the womb, you spend your last nine months floating — and you finish off as an orgasm.
Very exhausted, so this won’t make much sense . . .
The other day I “tweeted” approximately “America is in decadence; we’ve had it too easy for too long; can a nation get out of decadence? how?” Jason the Commenter tweeted back, “Let individuals face the consequences of their choices.”
I keep thinking of that as I watch the steel jaws of this recession relentlessly closing on so many of my friends (flash of Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum”), and I observe that we are now to be relentlessly punished for every wrong choice we’ve ever made: every opportunity we ever let go by, every reckless investment we got seduced into, every job or home value or interest rate or state of health we ever took for granted, the happy heedlessness bred of affluence and security that felt like it would go on forever. Everyone who was the grasshopper instead of the ant, everyone who was vaguely rather than ruthlessly “creative,” everyone who was stupid enough to be unlucky or wounded enough to be unsure — all who hesitated and all who impulsively leaped off the beat — will be lost.
(Well, no. Many will adapt, strip down, toughen up, and survive. But so much of what we thought was rightful entitlement — to do what we pleased, say what we thought, fulfill and amuse ourselves, deposit a paycheck — turns out to have been luxury.)