Language is power. When you turn “torture” into “enhanced interrogation,” or murdered children into “collateral damage,” you break the power of language to convey meaning, to make us see, feel, and care.
A parallel point in George Orwell’s "Politics and the English Language."(via asuperfluousman)
A scholar’s business is to add to what is known. That is all. But it is capable of giving the very greatest satisfaction, because knowledge is good. It does not have to look good or even sound good or even do good. It is good just by being knowledge. And the only thing that makes it knowledge is that it is true. You can’t have too much of it and there is no little too little to be worth having.A. E. Housman, in Tom Stoppard’s The Invention of Love
Only the return of the Saviour, it strikes me, could adequately justify what these men have committed of themselves. And, what, I find myself briefly wondering, if He has no plans to come back? Where would that leave these great men and what they have made of their lives? I shudder at the implications of the question and delve back into the psalm to suppress the sense of absurdity that threatens to engulf me.
But then another thought overcomes the first: I am standing observing the dying breaths of pure Irish Christianity, and what the future holds for a world without men like this is infinitely more disturbing than any fleeting chill I may be feeling on their behalf.
The brief stab of absurdity I have experienced in this setting stands to become a chronic condition in a society in which there are no longer men and women prepared to live in this way. It strikes me forcibly that, even if we are barely aware of their existences - even if we scorn their sacrifices - the silent prayerful presence of these men here is somehow vital to our very human continuance. I don’t mean just that they pray for us, but that the sense they give us of something to be believed in so unconditionally - that, even as we scoff, this somehow allows us to continue inhabiting what we think of as the ‘real’ world, in much the way that we once partied all night, knowing that our staid parents slept fitfully at home, hoping we would make it back safe with the dawn.
It hits me like a train that, in a future without these monks at our backs, everything will seem as absurd as the moment I have just experienced as a spasm of sadness and affection.
In Father Columban Heaney’s booklet, there is the following startling passage: “The human person is really a metaphysical misfit in the world. He was not made for it and cannot find total fulfillment in it. Hence, he is a frustrated creature in this world; this can be taken as a definition of man. Monks and nuns are people who accept this definition of themselves and live accordingly. They know that they have no lasting city here on earth, so they turn to the desert where they hope to meet God and can begin to find part of that ultimate happiness for which they long.”
Without this clue as to the ultimate nature of reality, we are headed nowhere rather than somewhere, no matter how determined our step. Without such as these monks to remind us, all sense of an ultimate meaningfulness would leech away, leaving us with our baubles and the debris of our emptied hopes, cold-sweating in the face of another pointless and pitiless dawn.
This seems to follow the “religion is here out of an evolutionary necessity” track that I found through N.N. Taleb, though I know its been stated many other places and in much more detail. It also reminds me of Albert Camus and Absurdism. I believe he secretly converted to Catholicism towards the end of his life.
When you are very young, you think old people must feel inside as old as they appear on the outside. But as you move towards agedness yourself, you realise that this is entirely wrong. People remain young on the inside, no matter how old they appear. The idea of ‘old’ people is therefore a misapprehension of our culture, which sees the split instant of a human lifetime as something elongated, divided into decades and years, persistently defined by a number. But there are no ‘old people’. Everyone is young. The only clue you have about this is your own journey as a subjective intelligence looking out. You wait for a change to descend, some radical shift of thinking which will fit with your balding head or wrinkling face. But it doesn’t come: you get giddier and more childish. I had this insight very strongly at Mount Melleray, when I realised that all these men, like myself, were teenagers, or maybe children, in their heads.Inside Mount Melleray: ‘The world as you know it is passing away’. I don’t think this misperception is something that only the “very young” have: people of forty or more years tend to believe that somehow, as you age, your inner life comes to match your outward appearance. But as Waters, says, it’s not true. It’s not true at all. (via ayjay)
This June, as a grandfather clock rang the quarter-hour in her modest Iowa City living room, the American novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson, a woman of 70 who speaks in sentences that accumulate into polished paragraphs, made a confession: “I hate to say it, but I think a default posture of human beings is fear.” Perched on the edge of a sofa, hands loosely clasped, Robinson leaned forward as if breaking bad news to a gentle heart. “What it comes down to — and I think this has become prominent in our culture recently — is that fear is an excuse: ‘I would like to have done something, but of course I couldn’t.’ Fear is so opportunistic that people can call on it under the slightest provocations: ‘He looked at me funny.’ ”
“ ‘So I shot him,’ ” I said.
“ ‘Can you blame me?’ ”
‘‘Exactly. Fear has, in this moment, a respectability I’ve never seen in my life.”