In recent weeks, I have thought more and more about what I can only call the “spiritual vector”. It seems that we are surrounded by so very many people telling us that they are so very good and we so very naughty or depraved… they want to throw open our borders to the poor while we Scrooges want only to hoard our wealth, they want to collect and melt down all firearms while we sadists want only for more children to die in school shootings, they want to liberate women and finance the health care and education of minorities while we patriarchalists want only to keep women pregnant in the kitchen and minorities scrubbing toilets and mowing lawns. We’re bad, so bad… and they are so very good—oh, is even Heaven worthy of them?
This level of hypocrisy has gnawed away at many of us for years, and even decades. The open-borders multiculturalist professor who gripes incessantly because his students write poor English and his research on Mycenaean tholos tombs is underfunded… the gun-banning crusader for innocent lives who considers the murder of an unborn child tantamount to wart-removal and turns abusive if the word “baby” appears… the woman-and-minority rights advocate who insists that all the sisters must abjectly “vote their genitals” and that all people of color are genetically too unpromising to make their own way… the list’s could grow by dozens with a moment’s reflection. If Heaven is populated by such whited sepulchers, I’ll take the other place.
Only in the past few weeks, however, has it occurred to me that something significantly directional distinguishes the humble person of faith from the fire-eating utopian. Faith draws the spirit outward in constant efforts of clarification and qualification—a challenging, intimate struggle with surrounding realities; theatrical self-righteousness draws everything inward like a black hole to orbit a narcissistic core. The believer finds and expresses his individuality by channeling his conviction through daily opportunities that exact compromises or require courageous declarations; the spiritual poseur strikes an inflexible posture, as before a mirror (or, these days, a lens framing a “selfie”), and demands that reality arrange itself into appropriate background. Guns, for instance, must be categorically hideous things whose complete abolition is the only morally tenable stance. If their use were nuanced (as, say, in the defense of children from psychopaths), then our Saint would not show forth with such éclat. Resistance to the minimum wage can only be processed as overt racism and class warfare. If the real-life economic catastrophe posed to blue-collar workers by such thoughtless rigidity were weighed, this would-be personification of society’s moral conscience would have no prancing charger from whose saddle to strike a Napoleonic pose.
In its most elemental form, we see here the wicked delirium of playing God. The utopian seeks to recreate the human universe just as he would like it to be—just in the fashion that puts him, with his superior moral lights, securely at the summit, handing down laws to Moses and the children, thundering away when he is disobeyed.
A sincere believer is probably distressed that guns exist—but he recognizes an overriding interest in preserving through deadly force the lives of innocents, who must not be left exposed to the mercies of a lunatic ready to harvest them with the joy of a wanton grump whacking down roses with his cane. For that matter, the believer understands that objects in wild nature, though not endowed with free will, should not be destroyed merely to create an amusement park or a speedier bypass; for the soul profits from acknowledging its partnership with the rest of creation and from sensing the imaginative outpouring that we call aesthetic perception. To ruin things that stir us just to put more cash in our pockets or to save our lazy bodies five minutes of walking is ignoble and degrading. A lot of self-styled believers spend too little time reflecting upon this.
But is our Saint Utopian any better off? I saw two unrelated documentaries last month that portrayed the same shocking variety of self-absorption in different venues. In one case, protesters were insisting (in the streets and at well-funded conferences) that lions, rhinos, and elephants must be allowed to roam free throughout Africa. In their incalculable ignorance, they obviously did not know that such creatures would starve themselves into oblivion in their already imbalanced ecosystem if not managed—and, of course, there was no detectable awareness of the stresses placed upon the continent’s burgeoning human population. In the second case, an equal ignorance was fueling a vigorous lobbying effort to let mustangs range free throughout the American Southwest. Yet mustang numbers are already so excessive that mass starvations occur regularly, while dozens of plant and other animal species are also imperiled by locust-like over-grazing.
Doesn’t matter. These zealots have their full reward when they pack up their placards to retreat to Olive Garden in the evening or repair to the hotel bar after the day’s final conference paper. They are better than you and I: more caring, more animated, more “woke”. The very animals or people on whose behalf they make endless noise (as others of us work for a living) will likely suffer further—if not die—should their protests effect “meaningful change”. None of that matters. The mission is, and always was, to establish their moral superiority. Mission accomplished.
At some point, naive souls foolishly misled into this maelstrom of egotism must either lose their innocence or paddle out of the whirlpool upon recognizing it as a death trap. At some point, error morphs into evil. A person whose life is dedicated to a kind of perpetual “selfie” is a corrupt being from whom no good can be expected. I could float several theories about why such beings are among us today in such abundance. Perhaps the electronic lifestyle itself is largely at fault, drawing us deeper into the service of mere appearance—the utterly artificial existence of the supporting actor tossing on something from the wardrobe chest and mouthing a few cliché lines. Or perhaps the steady accumulation of our sins—our history of hook-ups, abortions, slanders, betrayals, and cowardly flights—has left us (certain ones among us) suffering from so severe a self-respect deficit that we crave an instant and constant infusion of moral superiority. In this, of course, we only mire ourselves more profoundly in moral squalor.
I grieve for our sick society. I pity the gullible fools who flirt with lapse into real and abiding wickedness. I wish I could warn the away from the radioactive company of “God-substitutes” who declare that their own heads are tingling with brave new worlds—and that everyone and everything in the real world must be made to comply if “happiness” is ever to come. Milton’s Satan is brimming with just such visionary futurism when he looks about Hell and decides that the furniture can be pleasantly rearranged.
We need to recognize this pernicious influence for what it is and mount an effective resistance to it, or else the victims of extermination may include more than equids and pachyderms.