[Drawing from 2014]
A: Did you ever read Beowulf?
A: That’s a shame. It’s rather a basic part of any Anglo education.
B: Onto the eight-thousand-plus book pile it goes.
A: Anyway, there’s an introduction to it that was written much later, which implies that the characters must have had tremendous courage to have lived in a world without the good news of Christianity. A world without light.
B: Yes. Because atheists are all so enlightened. No shackles, no responsibilities to silly old traditions. Just free to live in harmony with nature. Nature, free food, no patriarchy. Mother Earth wills it!
A: Missing the point, as usual.
B: No I’m not. I just enjoy mocking the fedora-wearers. I’m guessing you’re about to make the point that we’re kind of living under the same thing now in this human-rights democracy world, and we need to get back to something more spiritually or maybe ritually based in order to be satisfied or something like that.
A: Well, I was going to say that it can’t be right that they were just living in utter hopelessness without Jesus. They almost certainty had a corresponding vision of Heaven.
B: Yeah, Valhalla and all that. Ragnarök, shieldmaidens, the world tree; larpy stuff that makes for compelling stories but attracts weirdos.
A: Sure, and yet, aren’t you a weirdo?
B: Not at all. I’m the quintessential normal dude. I eat pizza, watch sitcoms, go to a 9-to-5, attend the occasional trivia night at the bar, and will probably get married and have kids or something.
A: You not only possess a rosary hut actively pray with it. You know all the Catholic holy days. You actually make Lenten sacrifices. You sincerely believe in Hell as some profound and metaphysical thing. You’re abnormal in some crucial ways.
B: In this day and age, yes. But if I’d lived in any time before this one, I’d be typical.
A: I don’t think you would. It takes conviction to think the way you do. I mean, haven’t you seen people give you funny looks? Self-professed Christians think your nuts for your rosary and your inopportune bible quotations.
B: Those aren’t weird if the belief is correct. If it’s true then I’m right and they’re wrong, regardless of the Zeitgeist.
A: Exactly, thinking in those terms makes you weird! It takes real effort to do things differently, especially when there are social consequences for doing so. If you were alive a hundred and fifty years ago you would have espoused heretical ideas, and all the normal agnostic or vague pseudo-Christians would have been pious followers of whatever their leaders told them. But now Christians of just about all stripes dance to the secular puppet master using a similar formula. So essentially, you’re an outsider, no matter what.
B: You’re talking about perceptions of me. But the fact is that I was taught what I believe at a very young age. I was taught a particular set of values that accord with Christian imagery. This is something that has been transmitted for centuries and will not simply disappear due to modern trends. Postmodernity will end, and there will be millions of Christians there for when it does, doing what they’ve always done.
A: But, see, let’s say you’re right, and for the sake of example let’s transport you a couple hundred years into the future. And let’s also say that in this future, Traditional Christianity thrives amidst the futuristically oriented hyper-technological economic engines it has subverted to its purpose. I think you’d still be going against the grain. You’d be a heretic, finding the twenty-third century means of communicating your dangerous ideas to other though-criminals.
B: I’ll never find out. But in the end it doesn’t matter. My goal is the achievement of Heaven, and I get this one human body to carry it out.
A: But see how easy that was? See how easy it can be to return your focus to yourself? Why compare yourself to history, past and future? Will you matter in thousand years? How many men do?
B: I’m not preoccupied with what people will think of me in the future. Sure, I think about it sometimes. But let’s say I became some great conqueror or political mastermind and am able to introduce God’s word as a priority to all people and nations. Certainly an extraordinary feat. But it would be great because a greater power acted through me. Even if there were sculptures carves in my memory, details about my name, dates of birth and death, locations, ideas, and every last biographical detail known by every educated person for the rest of civilization, my name would end up being lost someday. Or there would be such a different worldview of the people of the future to ours, that there would be no substance to their knowledge of me. If that’s immortality, you can have it.
A: It’s intimidating to compare yourself to greatness. But we all feel an impulse to be great, and that impulse lingers there, forcing us to choose. If I know I can’t win, I’ll find a way to lose gracefully. I’ll sit in the shadows and meditate. I’ll find a quiet place where the rivers at the edge of this flat disk we call Earth fall out and disperse into space, and proceed to invent stories for how the stars got there, rather than suffer the mental consequences of facing this ticking clock I’ve got; this world-without-light. What if you could overcome not just fear of social reprisal, or fear of effort, or fear of boredom (my most onerous demon), but
B: That would be riveting stuff for keyboard philosophers to comment on. For now I’ll take my Tradition and faith over the words of an actual heretic and contrarian, and keep making my bible quotations. Speaking of foundational texts in Western history, have you read the Bible?
A: ‘fraid not.
B: I hear it’s a pretty basic part of any…education.
A: And so into my reading list it goes!