Friday, July 13, 2012

Fight or Flight

The real untruth of the worldview of which drugs and terrorism are symptoms consists in the reduction of the world to facts and in the narrowing-down of reason to the perception of what is quantitative.

A Turning Point for Europe?,  35

Reflection – This short passage may seem a bit obscure. It may even seem like practically nonsense, a bunch of familiar-type words jumbled together into a single sentence. Whassit mean?

Now of course this is one sentence lifted from a lengthy analysis of the subjects mentioned, namely drugs and terrorism. It’s nice to know that Ratzinger has really engaged with all the manifestations of modernity in his writings. A while ago I mentioned that he has theologized about rock music; here he philosophizes about the drug culture and terrorism.

These two may seem unconnected from one another, especially since the form of terrorism we are most familiar with right now is the Islamist variety. What does the quest for the global caliphate and universal sharia law have to do with toking up? But both drug use and political violence spring from a common source, which Ratzinger deftly identifies here.

Namely, the world of ‘facts’ is a bad world. All we have are facts, ‘the way things are,’ and the way things are is bad, bad, bad. And so, let’s get high. Let’s escape from the way things are into a cloud of artificial bliss. Sure it’s not real, but reality is highly over-rated, right?

Or, let’s blow stuff up. Let’s force the world of facts to change by violent direct action. The lives destroyed by this may or may not be regretted, but the bottom line is that the way things are is intolerable and we must pull it all down around us, tear it to pieces, and make things be some other way.

Flight from reality or fight with reality—drugs and terrorism, two different responses to the same apprehension of things. And Ratzinger rightly links this to the logical positivist approach to reality that I have often discussed on this blog: that all we have are the bare quantifiable facts, that there is no reality outside those facts, and that there can be no reality outside them, and we are all trapped in a world of brute matter and meaningless clashings of particles and energy fields.

Fight or flight—that is all that’s left to us in that positivistic world. Oblivion or destruction—what a choice! And even for those few of my blog readers who are neither raging coke fiends or members of terrorist cells, the ‘fight or flight’ approach to reality may beckon. We can fly into other things besides drugs, into banal entertainments or ceaseless busyness or (Internet users beware!) constant low-level intellectual stimulation. All of this can take us out of reality in ways subtle or not, out of our own hearts and the here and now demands of our lives.

And we can ‘fight’ reality in ways that don’t involve plastic explosives or high jacked airplanes. All the paths of manipulation, dominance, spin, influence peddling, politicking, and the manifold rejections of the moral law and rationalization therein, can be ways of rebelling against reality, bending and shaping it to my specifications and ideas with little regard for the human costs of that rebellion.

Fight or flight—when all we have are bare facts, and those facts are painful and ugly, that’s all we can do. But what, then, is the Christian alternative? It is to go forward towards reality, towards ‘the facts’, and embrace them in love. To meet the world as it is with the love of Christ, a love not our own, but given to us in baptism and fostered in us by the life of prayer and virtue.

This calls us, then, not into oblivion or destruction, but into the passion of faith. Because the world of facts will do to us what it did to Christ; it will crucify us. But because we are not bound by the mere brute facts, because there is a deeper, higher, truer reality around and within us—the nascent kingdom of God—we can enter this passion, this crucifixion.

We do not have to flee from reality or attack it. We can love it, and in loving it with the heart of Christ, enter into His work of transforming reality into Reality, facts into The Fact, meeting brute matter with the power of the Holy Spirit and in that power raising up a fallen world into the new world, the new heavens and the new earth, coming to us not in violence or terror or fantasy or escape, but as a gift of God descending from Him out of love for us.

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