Plotinus in the Jungle

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(Written 4/3/13)

Today I dropped off Annie and CC at BWI so that they could visit CC’s parents in Boston and then I drove back to NY.  Keeping me company was a recording of Gone with the Wind – despite listening to it for the whole drive, I am less than halfway through.  I offer some thoughts on the travails of Scarlett O’Hara (the main character) during the Civil War, Easter, death, and my family’s upcoming trip

Scarlett is a pampered southern belle, forced by the conditions of the war to take over the family plantation and to work hard to simply have enough food for her and her family.  I consider her an anti-hero, for she is ferociously selfish and her coming of age seems to consist of a transfer of her “will to power” from the manipulation of polite society to the more practical task of rebuilding her family’s fortunes at whatever the cost.  Though I am far from the end of the book, Scarlett seems to be a completely unChristian character.   Her sufferings have not given her compassion, but have hardened her heart, such that she increasingly scorns any show of weakness or helplessness (including that of her three-year old son!).  Her current life goal is to amass enough money such that she and her family will never be hungry or ill-clothed again.  She seems to have no ambitions (right now) other than material security.  Yet she does not actually love her family or enjoy their company–she loves the abstract idea of their material prosperity.  She is afraid of death, dislikes being alone, and has no real friends (no one that she can or wants to share her thoughts with).  Despite the dependence of her household upon her, she is very much alone.

At the heart of Christianity, lies the empty tomb, the triumph of Christ over death.  In my experience, in American society, we tend to be very afraid of suffering and death.  If we do not equate happiness with material prosperity, we at least consider such prosperity as a precondition for happiness.  Yet, I feel that this puts us in a basic opposition to the Way of the Cross.  Following Christ’s example, we are called to conquer the fear of death by facing it squarely, accepting its reality, and yet believing that bodily death is neither the last word nor the greatest evil.  Unlike the promise of wealth and technology to isolate us from suffering, Christ calls us to be saved through our suffering.  Catholicism in particular believes in the idea of redemptive suffering, that through deprivation and pain we make present and are present to the sacrifice and victory of Christ.  Paradoxically, by suffering evil, we are or can be drawn more closely to God for Christ on Good Friday entered into the absence of God by drawing all sin onto his very person (Oh God, oh God, Why have you forsaken me?).  The darkness entered into the Light, but did not overcome it; such that the Light is now present in the darkness and works through the darkness, though the darkness for the present still maintains its reality.  Thus the Christian is called to really suffer and to eventually die, and yet to believe and live as if every sorrow and every death will be redeemed through the Resurrection of all things.  What happened to Christ on Good Friday and Easter will happen to us.  This belief is the source of all Christian hope.

These are deep matters.  My reflections here are based more on what I have read than what I have experienced.  For I have suffered little in my life.  My life has always been relatively sheltered and comfortable.  Even when I lived in Baltimore in an intentional life of simplicity, working with the poor, or when I lived in a rather rough DC neighborhood my first two years at Catholic; I never was hungry or without shelter or in any real danger.  I wonder how I and my family would get along if, like Scarlett, we were ever in a situation of real need?  Would my suffering bring me closer to God or would I harden my heart against God and man?

I do not go with my family to PNG seeking want, danger, and pain.  I need many books, a computer, and Internet for my philosophy work.  I’ve heard that no one goes hungry in the Highlands because the earth is plentiful and the climate is so mild.  The Archbishopric of Mt. Hagen has in fact pledged itself to take care of our material needs.  Yet our trip to PNG is a small step away from the American idol of material prosperity and security, a step that I pray will engender in me greater temperance, fortitude, faith, and hope; so that I might better reject Satan and all his empty promise and cling more closely to the cross of Christ.

It is too bizarre to hope for, at the age of 30 with a wife and child, for a coming of age experience?


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