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Yearly Archives: 2017
St. Augustine tells us that all sin is disordered love. Socrates had a more basic approach to this question. He said that no man seeks what is bad because he thinks it is bad. He seeks it only because he thinks it to be good. It is his nature and his habits that are disordered. People, even nature itself, are fallen. Bent. Distorted.
St. Thomas Aquinas goes further, explaining that hatred is caused by something that which is the deprivation of good, that is, by an evil. Is caused by something that hinders us from attaining a good. It would seem, though, that hatred itself can be a hindrance to achieving a good. It can be that evil which deprives us of good.
What could we possibly love, even in a distorted way, that would attract us to hatred?
To continue the parade of philosophers, I’m reminded of Aristotle’s definition of anger. He says that anger is a pain caused by a real or apparent slight, accompanied by a pleasure at the thought of potential revenge. He brilliantly accounts for that self- lacerating joy we experience when we embrace wrath. We love the rush of it all: the fist- clinching self-righteousness, the clear-eyed vehemence, the puff and bluster that leaves us victorious and alone.
As with all evil, hatred is ultimately self-destructive.
Life in the DMV – that’s Delaware, Maryland and Virginia to you out-of-town folks – has improved dramatically this month. My day job has gone to 80% telework, meaning I only have to go into the office on average once a week. This pay period, I’m checking both boxes by teaching a 2-day class, so I’ve been enjoying a week and a half long telework binge, falling right after 2 weeks of vacation. Getting up at 6:15 to get on that train was almost novel enough to be fun.
The novelty wore off, however, by the time I reached Union Station, transferred to the Metro and stepped off into a cool 71° but a soggy 98% humidity. I moved to the right and rode the escalator up to the surface, willing the sweat to stop trickling down my back.
Halfway up, a burly young man in black pants and an unbuttoned white Oxford bustled by carrying a disheveled satchel and muttering something about “those of us who grew up in the country.” Guess only City Slickers ride the escalator.
Almost as quickly as my ego jumped to defend my apparent laziness, I realized that moral judgments about escalator riding were not foreign to my character. And though I’ve never voiced my thoughts, I’ve certainly been guilty of basking in smug superiority while striding up in the fast lane.
It’s easy to do, jumping to conclusions. Your mind and body are in a hurry to get to work, you’re uncomfortable and generally not thrilled about the process. The whole exercise is about taking shortcuts: avoiding traffic, deciding whether the MARC train or the Metro will be the best bet this morning, shaving angles as you walk obliquely across streets and around buildings. Stands to reason that one’s mind would fall into the same rut. That guy standing on the escalator? Must be lazy. Lacking in ambition. Or just pathetically out of shape, a consequence of said laziness and complacency.
Metro Riders, too, play their roles. The guys in paint-stained work pants and boots carrying hard hats. Women in business skirts and tennis shoes reading their Kindles. The summer interns, hoping they’ve dressed the part. The scented oil hucksters, bandoliers of multi colored bottles across each shoulder, smoothly peddling their wares through the car. The panhandlers’ various poses: ingratiating, pathetic, confrontational.
Alerted to this somewhat shameful process of categorization, I look at myself, as introverts are want to do. What do people see? The tailored pants and Brooks Brothers shirt, the more casual slip-on leather Skechers. The service academy ring. Slightly balding and slightly receding gray hair. The leather courier briefcase. Do I really look that put together? Where am I in all this?
Maybe in my sunken eyes they can see the four kids at home, clothed, fed, housed (if compactly), guided, cajoled and loved. Maybe my slight stoop betrays the tuition bills and the months of rent my tenant owes and the divorce debt. Maybe they can discern in my rigid stance the work before me this day – teaching for the first time in 6 years. Maybe my hurried gait implies impatience or anger or worry or drive or purpose or inertia.
Taking the time to observe, to see the possibilities that just graze the surface. Sometimes the morning commute is a writing exercise in itself.
I just digested a rather dense essay that speaks to some of the themes running through my forthcoming book, Displaced: A Darkening Path. In this essay, Russell Hittinger, who holds the Warren Chair of Catholic Studies and is Research Professor of Law at the University of Tulsa, traces Catholic teachings on how people live in the contexts of family, polity, and Church, and how these teachings have responded to competing ideologies. You can find it here.
Hittinger explains that the Church has long held that a person must live justly within the domestic, political, and ecclesial societies to achieve human happiness. He then traces the threats posed to family, political life, and religious institutions by the French Revolution and – in our times – by both the cultural revolution of the 1960s and what Pope Francis has called the techno-economic revolution of the global economy and global communications.
The former revolution shook the ground under the three necessary societies, upending political forms, subverting the Church’s authority and slackening familial ties with measures like no-fault divorce (yes, Napoleon started that).
The revolutions of the last 50 years have made out these necessary societies to be all but optional. Marriage and children, political action and affiliation, and religious devotion are now seen as mere lifestyle choices rather than frameworks within which a person may discover and then become what he was made to be.
Throughout these events, the Church has sought to teach “in light of a non-negotiable principle . . . that we are domestic, political, and ecclesial animals who achieve perfections by rightly dwelling in the perennial societies.”
“But,” Hittinger concludes, “sowing and harvesting the daily bread of this social principle remains a difficult labor.”
For Frank Smith, the protagonist of the Displaced series, these ties are at best duties he begrudgingly fulfills. At his worst, he disregards or wantonly violates them.
And that’s only before his world falls apart.