By Wayne Allensworth
If you live long enough and pay attention you learn some things.
Every day could be your last. That abiding truth concentrates the mind.
Every day should be thanksgiving.
Thank God you were born.
You can factor in all the pain, all the sorrow, all the disappointment, yet still find that it’s worth it. Living is better than not having lived. And the pain can be overcome, however briefly, in a moment of joy or that sense of fulfillment you get when the scales fall from your eyes. He who clings to his own life will lose it, and he who loses his life will gain it. What good would it do to gain the whole world and lose your soul?
Christ’s words. A paradox. One among many.
Living life to its fullest isn’t merely checking boxes on a “bucket list.” It’s quite the opposite.
One road is the way to an empty, bitter, and isolated end, one that has embraced nihilism, the real Zeitgeist of our age. It’s at the core of today’s prevalent anti-natalism, our culture of death. It turns out that living for yourself is living for nothing. Satan smiles. The paradox of all paradoxes is that bearing the cross and choosing the narrow way is the only path to a full life.
That’s a hard message for post-moderns to even conceive of. Those with ears to hear, let them hear. Blessed are your eyes because they see.
My wife and I are driving to visit relatives on a misty Thanksgiving Day.
Outside the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area, the telltale signs begin to appear, indicating that you have left the city. One proclaims “Coffee and Jesus Wednesdays” at Mel’s Diner. Another advertises rural land for sale, proclaiming “Life, Liberty, and Land!” for all who want it. I wonder whether it’s the loss of connection to the land, a connection that was gone for good when the tendrils of high technology finally enveloped us, that is a root cause of the disenchantment of the world. When we became isolated in artificial cocoons, everything was reduced to pixels on a screen, to blobs of atoms and quarks.
Our past life was land and livestock, crops and families, something to bequeath our descendants in a world filled with terror and awe. Wonder. Enchantment. The hidden forces that endless journeys down quantum rabbit holes can’t decipher. The mystery of it. What lies beneath manifests itself in the eyes of the beholder. That “observer” the physicists talk about. An observer who calls forth a concrete reality that he sees and lives in. And one needs the other to be.
It’s no illusion.
A line of cattle march through the mist. Ahead of them the herd grazes, indifferent to the damp broken clouds of fog that partly cloak them. Then the cloud collects around the herd and I lose sight of them.
Possessing means losing, for all things pass. What would “good” mean without “evil?” Accomplishment without failure? A life without tragedy would be meaningless. It would lead nowhere. Another paradox.
I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.
As we approach a town on the frontage road, a line of bronze-colored cattle, a longhorn statuary representing a time long past, appears on the lawn of a strip center and gas station. It occurs to me that somewhere within we know what has been lost and lament the halcyon days of life, liberty, and land. The longhorns watch the cars fly by in silent witness to what we have done to ourselves.
At the front of a convenience store an old man steps out of the passenger side of an SUV. He is dressed in a suit, sports a bow tie, and wears a snap brim hat. A young woman sets up a folding chair for the old sage and a sign that reads “Free Personal Bible Study. Request a visit!” The old man takes his seat and, his hands resting on his knees, braces himself to face the public with reserved dignity.
I wonder how the old seer fared. Did the travelers who passed his way think of him as a hoary sphinx, posing riddles they could not decipher?
I’ll never know.
Yet the words circulate in my mind: The night is far gone; the day is at hand. I can only hope that some among us can follow the epistolary directive and cast off the works of darkness. Let us walk upright in the daylight.
At dinner, I can’t help but notice that the gathering has slowly, then all at once, dwindled in numbers. It’s not only a matter of the passing of an older generation, but of what used to be called “broken families,” and smaller ones. What was once considered a minor tragedy, the “only child” family, is far more common than it once was. Sometimes there are no children at all. The institution of marriage is declining rapidly. What will become of the self-seekers as they grow old? Solitary internment in sterile “assisted living” facilities, at best?
The old familiar web of connections is fraying badly and with it the cycle of celebration and lamentation, of childbirth, of weddings and graduations, of domino games after Thanksgiving dinners, and families that once filled houses, overflowing into their yards.
Oh Lost! The delight of extended families, that warm embrace that carried us through, of cousins and aunts and uncles so numerous that the precise ties were blurred in a long and loving story. The crazy ones and the black sheep. Grandparents and great grandparents and the cheery ones who helped make those gatherings such happy occasions. The warm memories covered us like a cloak from the cold.
As atoms in a void, we will be crushed alone by the sorrow.
Ending the family as we know it, routine divorce, abortion that destroys the bond between mother and child, serial monogamy ending up in childlessness and empty houses. And now the endgame in “gay marriage,” “trans-sexual” and, yes, “trans-human” horrors. The normalization of “Minor-Attracted Persons.” For if a child can decide for him or herself to “transition,” then that same child can decide to have a sexual relationship with an “MAP.” If “consent” is the requirement, it can be acquired, especially if one considers parents themselves simply another oppressive impediment to self-realization. “Love wins” say the demons who are as Legion. Dear reader, the normalization of sexual deviancy is not a bug of the Zeitgeist, but its most prominent feature. It is the main weapon, a requirement, of the entire enterprise.
If there is anything that we have to stand for it is standing against all of those things and all those demons.
What I call the “pod people” cannot or will not understand this. The siren call to replace God with their own will is too strong. That message is everywhere, in every form of media, in the shallow soundbite vocabulary of “empowerment.” It’s what the pod people mean by “democracy” and “freedom.” They mean the end of all barriers, all limitations, all “social constructs” that restrict their will. It is a revolution without an end in sight. Seeking their own damnation, they will find it in an anti-human ideology that ultimately aims for the destruction of humanity itself. Wouldn’t “the planet” be better off without us? Isn’t anti-natalism thus a virtue? And euthanasia the final “choice.”
Anyone who does not accept their worldview is automatically deemed a “threat to democracy.” Our views, interests, and morality are illegitimate in the world of the pod people. And anything that is required to defeat us is allowed. “Democratic procedures” are merely a part of the larger game.
I would also point out that the lines run deeper than “red” or “blue” states. The devil is in the details, and Satan never sleeps. Even in relatively conservative states, the erosion of the old morality is in some cases quite advanced. In red state Montana, for instance, a majority of voters rejected a referendum requiring medical aid to save the lives of babies born after attempted abortions. More bluntly, they accepted infanticide. And red Kentucky voted down a proposal stating that the state constitution does not recognize a right to abortion.
It appears that a significant part of the “conservative” base accepts a fundamental premise of the pod people: that an unborn or even a newborn child’s “personhood” can be denied. That premise undercuts the basis for restricting, much less banning, abortion or preventing the dismal slide to infanticide. Attitudes regarding abortion are bellwether signs of the cultural divide.
The Christian religion as a defining factor in our culture continues to decline. As The American Conservative’s Carmel Richardson has observed, “the culture war without Christianity is a rudderless ship” and the success of Ron DeSantis in Florida may ultimately not amount to much. If we reject Christian morality, then there is no sound basis for opposing nihilism.
We adherents of the old morality, nostalgic for a lost country, find ourselves homeless in post-America. Our only recourse is to separate from the pod people in whatever way we can, politically, socially, and culturally. Politics are no longer possible when “the issues” are not arguments over line items in a budget or federalism, but the very meaning of existence, the definitions of “male” and “female,” or whether an objective reality is knowable or even exists. There is no longer any shared basis of morality, religion, or culture that could make compromise possible.
In the days that followed that Thanksgiving dinner, my wife and I brought down the Christmas decorations from the attic, and our grandchildren joined us to begin decorating for that wonderful season. They laughed and cried and played and hung ornaments and in them is everything we have of a future.
We can only hope and pray that we can somehow salvage a shred of the old wonder and revive a sense of the world’s enchantment. Of the sacred. Of hope and meaning. Of life as a gift. Of Thanksgiving Day and giving thanks every day of our lives.
Chronicles contributor Wayne Allensworth is the author of The Russian Question: Nationalism, Modernization, and Post-Communist Russia, and a novel, Field of Blood.