A few days ago The Guardian ran an article titled “Drowning in commitments? It’s time to stop giving a damn.” An excerpt from an upcoming self-help book, it mixed good advice about setting boundaries with the promotion of narcissism and selfishness in defining those boundaries. It promised freedom from guilt in an attractively bright and breezy style.
It wasn’t satisfying. The writer had no clear idea what man is for and therefore what we should do for others and what we should do for ourselves. Her argument wasn’t founded on any coherent anthropology. It left unanswered the question of by what criterion we can decide how to treat others, and it left unsatisfied both the human instinct for self-sacrifice and the human desire for the friendship and community that depends upon mutual deference. Her answer was mostly “If you don’t want to do what other people want you to do, screw ’em.”
A Reason for Hope
It isn’t satisfying, and thereby gives one small example of the Church’s continuing appeal, and a reason for hope when anxious Catholics are wringing their hands and triumphant secularists are crowing. People find themselves overwhelmed by the demands other people make on them, yet also want the community mutual sacrifices enable and want to be the kind of people who sacrifice for others, because they believe the good life requires it. Look at most movie heroes. The best the world—weirdly enough the same world that produces and consumes the movies—can typically provide is spirited instruction to stop giving a damn.
In this case, the Church provides the criteria the world wants. It helps you see what you, as a human being and as a particular individual, are for, what you were made to be and do. It helps you discern and order the demands placed upon you. It helps you see what sacrifices are good and needed and which divert you from doing what you are called to do. It doesn’t directly answer every specific question, but it can come close to doing so. It does so with a depth and coherence the Guardian’s writer and her peers, even the more sophisticated and less selfish ones, can’t match.
He’s not done. He’s offering up an antidote to the poison the world is offering.
Have some. Pass it on.
Then carry on.
Crossposted at Brutally Honest.