Asylum Living

A good chunk of humanity is insane.  By a good chunk I mean a very big chunk, possibly the majority.  This isn’t hyperbole or poetic exaggeration; I mean quite literally that billions of people in the world are insane.  “Now hold on,” you may say, “a lot of things in the world are in pretty rough shape, but that is going way too far.  Maybe that statement shows that you are the insane one.”  Well, maybe so, but I’m betting my life that I’m not.  And not this piddly earthly life with maybe a few pathetic decades left either, but the eternal one, the big tamale.

In Society and Sanity, Frank Sheed wrote that “’Sanity’ means seeing what is, living in the reality of things….In every field, the test of sanity is what is.”  In other words, reality is real!  Can billions of people really be insane?  It turns out they can.  Since reality is an objective thing, it exists no matter how many people are blind to it.  God really exists, man really is a union of a material body with a rational soul, oriented toward union with his Creator, God’s law really is meant for man’s happiness.  Even pagan Aristotle was able to reason his way to the existence of one God, and the need for virtue if man is to lead a happy life.

Of course, one doesn’t get very far in trying to convince an insane crowd that they are blind to reality.  Secular modernity is the world of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether writ large.  As St. Augustine observed, “No one would doubt that they are mad, had they been mad with the minority; but now the multitude of the insane is the defense of their sanity.”  Or as Chesterton pithily puts it, “Right is right even if nobody does it. Wrong is wrong even if everybody is wrong about it.”

I’m thinking of this because I recently ran across the infamous quote from Justice Kennedy in the 1992 Planned Parenthood vs. Casey decision.  “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”  That is, the universe does not exist in reality, it exists in my mind, and its purpose is to serve me.  “Take a hike God, I’m driving the bus.”  His “heart of liberty,” then, is not concerned with the freedom to pursue excellence, nor with our divine destiny, nor is it directed to any kind of common good.  St. John Paul II warns about this in Veritatis Splendor when he says that “freedom and [God’s] law are set in opposition to each other, and freedom is exalted almost to the point of idolatry” (he wrote that the year after Kennedy’s opinion, and perhaps it was not a coincidence).  Here is the bottom line – Justice Kennedy, a baptized Catholic, has exalted freedom to the point of idolatry.  He says that the purpose of liberty is so that everyone can make up their own reality about the mystery and meaning of life and the universe.  Justice Kennedy is insane.

It seems that one of the great consequences of modern insanity is the sin of pride.  St. Aquinas says that humility restrains the appetite from aiming at great things against right reason (ST II-II, Q 161, A 1 for you really motivated types).  With no vision of the infinite majesty, goodness and omnipotence of God in our society, what is there to restrain us from aiming at (or making private judgments about) things we have no business doing or deciding?  It’s not really a surprise that our primal sin would keep hanging around with a vengeance.  Although it’s rampant through our country, it is rather easy to take shots at politicians, so that is what I’ll do because I’m lazy.  Reflect on these quotes from three “politicians” in chronological order.  “Who am I, and what is my house, that thou [God] hast brought me thus far?” (King David).  “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right…” (Lincoln).  “Only I can fix this!” (Trump).  Is Donald Trump insane?  Do you really need to ask?  However, I do believe that both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have a lot to offer this country, and as soon as we can get them both to spend the rest of their lives in secluded fasting, prayer, mortification and voluntary poverty they can start to contribute to the common good.

I recently had occasion to consider the lives of two great Carmelite saints, St. Thérèse of Lisieux and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein).  Juxtaposing them illustrates the insanity of pride, as it shows the flattening of all human achievement apart from God, and His often surprising use of His saints.  Thérèse, the lightly educated nun who entered the convent as a teenager, Edith Stein the brilliant atheist.  St. Thérèse was not handicapped in the essential work of charity by her relative lack of education, nor did Edith Stein’s academic prowess benefit her or anyone else until the light of faith provided the proper focus for it.  It only seems ironic that St. Thérèse is the one named a Doctor of the Church, and that the PhD died a martyr’s death of love in a concentration camp.  All human abilities and achievements divided by the infinity of God tend equally to the same asymptote – zero.  It’s a good reminder for all of us trying to stay humble and sane in the asylum.  I’m of no more worth than the lunatics just because I know they are crazy – divide any man by infinity and see what happens.  Unless I have God up in the numerator with me the answer will always be zero.  “He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5).

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