Did you ever wake up in the morning and wonder just what has gone wrong?
Yes, I know. The water runs clearly, friendly faces chat about good news, pills slaughter your germs, back seats bulge with mall loot, and chocolate-chip bagels are but a few steps away.
Isn’t it the best of all possible worlds? You’d rather be a sixth-century Visigoth or an Aztec virgin preparing for her sacrificial duty, maybe?
But there it is, nonetheless, tugging at what some still suggest is your soul. A suspicion that something has gone awry, that in this age of the fit, the prosperous, and the wired, someone has neglected to tell you something important.
And the science—oh, that science. It prolongs your life, brings wonders into your home and explains everything that mystified those impoverished ancients. Everything, that is, except for one thing, as writer Walker Percy puts it:
“How indeed is one to live in this peculiar time and history and on ordinary Wednesday afternoons?”
Yes, you suspect, there is something wrong, for there are those moments when you realize that modern life, culture, and knowledge have left you without something most fundamental: a satisfying understanding of just who you are and why you are here, in this place, watching the sun put one more day of your life in the past. You must be more than a mere organism or an insatiable, endlessly manipulable consumer.
. . .
Percy’s targets are the shallow pursuits of contemporary life that entertain us into a state of mass misery, and those who seek to raise us from the despair: pop religionists who treat us as irrational, unembodied spirits, scientists and theoreticians who diagnose our ills in purely physical terms, and social planners who would solve human problems by eliminating human beings—the last being the particular subject of The Thanatos Syndrome, a book that I saw for the first time stacked on a display table at a National Right to Life Convention.
The battles Percy describes are fierce, comic, frightening, and, one can’t help reflecting, prophetic. Something has gone very wrong, as we all admit when we are honest about what we see. We seem, simply put, to have forgotten who we are and why we were put here. It is time to let the ghosts take care of themselves and embark on the pilgrimage. We can thank Walker Percy, who left a challenging, fascinating body of work behind him when he passed away on May 10, 1990, for heroically diagnosing our ills and suggesting, however elliptically, a cure.
Desire for comfort is also connected to the global addiction to abortion and growing attraction to euthanasia. [Cardinal Robert] Sarah learned something different:
“I learned from my parents how to give. We were accustomed to receiving visitors, which impressed on me the importance of welcoming and generosity. For my parents, and all the inhabitants of my village, receiving others as guests implied that we were seeking to make them happy. Familial harmony can be the reflection of the harmony of heaven.”
Family values may be also perverted into a false tribalism, he says. But the absence of close ties may be the broadest horror today because it goes to our roots as persons: “The battle to preserve the roots of mankind is perhaps the greatest challenge that our world has faced since its origins.”