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Solving An Enigma

May 10, 2022 Featured Today No Comments

By DONALD DeMARCO

Veteran author and columnist Rex Murphy, in assessing what is going on in the world of politics, offers both an insight and a challenge to his readers. “How,” he writes, “a wild politics which shuns reality and punishes and attacks those who support it, has taken hold of so many sad minds is truly an enigma.”
“It is the besetting sin of the idealist,” wrote Christopher Dawson, “to sacrifice reality to his ideals; to reject life because it fails to come up to his ideals; and this vice is just as prevalent among religious leaders as secular ones.”
There may be a market today for “I Support Reality” buttons.
Enigmas, like the enigmatic smile of Mona Lisa, are both baffling as well as challenging. I decided to take up the challenge. Why is it that ideas that have no basis in reality can captivate an entire nation to the extent that sane and sensible people no longer have a place in it? Conundrums, though knotty, are solvable, but enigmas resist rational solutions. Nonetheless we might make some headway in dealing with the enigma that Murphy poses.
A student once told me that we would have a much better world if there were no guilt. He was confident in his opinion and expected me to agree with him. I disagreed with him, but I did not confront him. Guilt is the normal consequence of one’s complicity in wrongdoing. It offers the possibility of self-examination, repentance, and atonement. The inability to experience real guilt is characteristic of the sociopath, and a nation of sociopaths will not bring about a better world.
My student was idealistic, but his thinking was simplistic. If no one felt guilt, then everybody would be better off! He was a product of his times and needed more enlightenment than was readily available from me in a brief conversation.
Another student decided to withdraw from my class because I had used the word “better.” He was a strict egalitarian and did not want anyone to feel in any way superior to anyone else. No one is better than anyone
Therefore, envy would be eliminated and fairness would reign. Superior and inferior complexes would evaporate. I had made the unforgivable “mistake” in class by stating that Beethoven himself would agree that he wrote better music in his mature years than he did when he was an adolescent. My aggrieved student then enrolled in what he assumed to be a better class with a better teacher.
Another student withdrew from my class because I made mention of a “baby girl.” She told me in no uncertain terms that there are no “girls” and that I should have described the child as a “baby woman.” My student took feminism seriously and did not tolerate the downgrading of “woman” to “girl.” She could not permit the slightest hint of inferiority. All females are equally women! I gave my student credit for standing up for her beliefs and having the courage to “correct” her teacher. She regarded my phrase as a “sexist quip.” It is not easy to speak to a mixed audience and not “offend” anyone.
These three examples (I have spared the reader more) all have something in common that relate to the enigma that characterizes the problem that Rex Murphy presents. These students are idealists who hope for a better world and are willing to work toward that end. They see obstacles and want to remove them. Guilt, inequality, and sexism must be abolished.
The real problem, however, is in trying to abolish the problems with no regard to the consequences of their actions. Removing guilt also removes an important reason not to commit a wrongdoing. In addition, it removes the possibility of reconciliation. Absolute equality, even to the point of never using the word “better,” impedes progress and improvement. Teachers hope that their student make progress in their education. Doctors want their patients to get better.
Stretching the application of sexism too far causes a blurring of reasonable distinctions between women and girls which are important for one’s personal identity.
Phil Donohue once stated in his television show, in a gesture of magnanimity, that everyone, no matter what they did in life, should go to Heaven. “Let them all in,” he said. It was a nice gesture, but would Heaven be heavenly if it were inhabited by Hitler, Stalin, Mao, the Marquis de Sade, and Attila the Hun? These dire consequences would contradict the simple-minded solution. Such a Heaven would merely be a recapitulation of this world with all its problems persisting.
The examples that my students offered help me to understand the “enigma” that Rex Murphy presents. In a world in which religion has lost its attraction, desperate solutions are proposed to serve as its substitute and to deal with the nagging problems that people continue to experience. These “solutions” are invariably simplistic, one-sided, and incomplete. Not only that, but their application would create even greater problems.
We are in a hurry to mend a broken world. We ignore the requisite virtues of patience, temperance, humility, and piety. In dismissing God, we rely on our broken selves. As a result, we espouse the false reality of our own creation and attack those sane and realistic individuals who stand in the way. Reality is complex. Life is difficult. It is easy to dream of a world without problems. The world today is not enamored by the Cross of salvation
The Venerable Fulton J. Sheen offered us enduring wisdom when he stated that “Christ without the Cross leads to the Cross without Christ.” If there are solutions to the problems of the world, they must involve the redemptive value of suffering and idealists do not want to accept suffering.

  • + + (Dr. Donald DeMarco is professor emeritus, St. Jerome’s University, and adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College. He is a regular columnist for St. Austin Review and is the author of 41 books. He is a former corresponding member of the Pontifical Academy of Life. Some of his latest books, The 12 Supporting Pillars of the Culture of Life and Why They Are Crumbling, Glimmers of Hope in a Darkening World, and Restoring Philosophy and Returning to Common Sense, are posted on amazon.com. His most recent book is Let Us Not Despair. He and his wife, Mary, have 5 children and 13 grandchildren.)
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