Monday, September 14, 2015

The two-headed dragon

Last week beneath a post of Rod Dreher's discussing the transgender revolution, a commenter who uses the nickname "Rob G" wrote what I thought was a very insightful comment. Since he kindly gave me permission to quote him I'm going to share Rob G's comment here:
And this is precisely where the coherence of both the mainstream Right and mainstream Left breaks down. The former believes in the “sovereign Self” when it comes to economics, but not in terms of sexuality. The latter believes in precisely the opposite. The incoherence arises from both sides’ inability and/or refusal to see that the two are inseparable. They both think that their respective versions of sovereign Self-worship can be hermetically sealed from the other. It’s like each side, dealing with the same two-headed dragon, insists that the head that it prefers is benign, and that it’s the other head that’s the dangerous one. Meanwhile, of course, it’s the whole critter that’s deadly.
I think this is a brilliant observation and a pretty cool analogy, too.  It reminded me of the following sections of Pope Francis' encyclical, Laudato Si:
116. Modernity has been marked by an excessive anthropocentrism which today, under another guise, continues to stand in the way of shared understanding and of any effort to strengthen social bonds. The time has come to pay renewed attention to reality and the limits it imposes; this in turn is the condition for a more sound and fruitful development of individuals and society. An inadequate presentation of Christian anthropology gave rise to a wrong understanding of the relationship between human beings and the world. Often, what was handed on was a Promethean vision of mastery over the world, which gave the impression that the protection of nature was something that only the faint-hearted cared about. Instead, our “dominion” over the universe should be understood more properly in the sense of responsible stewardship.[94]
117. Neglecting to monitor the harm done to nature and the environmental impact of our decisions is only the most striking sign of a disregard for the message contained in the structures of nature itself. When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities – to offer just a few examples – it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected. Once the human being declares independence from reality and behaves with absolute dominion, the very foundations of our life begin to crumble, for “instead of carrying out his role as a cooperator with God in the work of creation, man sets himself up in place of God and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature”.[95]
118. This situation has led to a constant schizophrenia, wherein a technocracy which sees no intrinsic value in lesser beings coexists with the other extreme, which sees no special value in human beings. But one cannot prescind from humanity. There can be no renewal of our relationship with nature without a renewal of humanity itself. There can be no ecology without an adequate anthropology. When the human person is considered as simply one being among others, the product of chance or physical determinism, then “our overall sense of responsibility wanes”.[96] A misguided anthropocentrism need not necessarily yield to “biocentrism”, for that would entail adding yet another imbalance, failing to solve present problems and adding new ones. Human beings cannot be expected to feel responsibility for the world unless, at the same time, their unique capacities of knowledge, will, freedom and responsibility are recognized and valued.
In other words, some of us, including some of us who are followers of Christ, look at Rob G's two-headed dragon and insist that because humanity is the pinnacle of creation, there is nothing at all wrong with some members of the human race destroying nature and making use of other people's labor at unjust wages in order to turn a profit while using the law to keep competitors away--and this is called the "free market."  In the meantime others of us, including others of us who are followers of Christ, see the dangers of the first head of the dragon, but insist that the other head is good: the one that sees human beings as a blight on the planet and promotes contraception, abortion, gay "marriage," transgenderism, and anything else that involves the breaking of the natural family and the promotion of the idea that sex is all about using another person for your own pleasure--and this is called "reproductive freedom."

As Rob G correctly identifies, both of these things are a particularly pernicious form of the worship of the Self.  Pope Francis, in the passages from Laudato Si quoted above, draws a connection between the "excessive anthropocentrism" which not only disregards nature, but the importance of human social bonds and the limits on the human person which are imposed by reality itself (for example, a person who is born male cannot simply decide to be a woman), and the tendency of human beings to carry this disrespect for nature and reality to the ultimate extreme of deciding that we are gods ourselves and no longer need God.  It is the same temptation Satan used against Eve in the garden: the temptation to believe that it was good, and right, and possible for Adam and Eve to become like gods themselves.

So often, though, we--and I speak particularly to my fellow Catholics here--get far too caught up in the idea that the dragon head we follow is sane, and right, and sensible, and that only the other one is dangerous.  That is why you can have Catholics who have worked all their lives to protect unborn human life, who have helped women in crisis pregnancy situations, and so on, posting really disgusting things about the Syrian refugee crisis on Facebook without, apparently, seeing any disconnect between their deep concern for unborn human life and their callous disregard for the lives and well-being of refugees and migrants.  At the same time, you can have the equally jarring spectacle of Catholics who work with the poor, who help immigrants, who promote literacy, who spend a great deal of time and money easing the sufferings of their brothers and sisters--and yet they defend Planned Parenthood and argue seriously that if the Church really cared about the poor, she would permit both contraception and abortion as good and helpful things.

We cannot follow both Christ and the dragon.  It doesn't matter which of the two heads we think is trustworthy or noble or good--it is still the dragon. If we don't leave its side, sooner or later it will devour us.  And the sad and tragic thing is that it will be the head that we trust that eats us alive.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

The quotes from Laudato Si ring very true to a Buddhist understanding of the interconnectedness of all beings.