Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Did 9/11 Give Your Life Significance?

In his book Lost in the Cosmos, Walker Percy discusses the fact that fallen humanity both need and desire violence in order to infuse common life with meaning. Much like Flannery O'Connor's fiction, many of Walker Percy's books involve characters who experience some sort of injury or violence, and that moment of violence creates a world of significance and escape from the boredom - at least for the moment.

Since 9/11 is coming up and it is en vogue to talk about it for the moment, permit me to offer an illustration. Most of us remember where we were when we learned that there was a terrorist attack on New York and Washington D.C. I was sitting next to my soon-to-be-wife during my freshman year of college, in a chapel session. Though it was horrific, there was something exhilarating about the thought that maybe - just maybe - the world was coming to an end. It suddenly felt that something was afoot - that there was something tremendously significant happening, and we were a part of it, and it was moving all around us in a way we didn't understand. Between our tears for the suffering and the dead, we felt alive again. This is a somewhat embarrassing truth because it makes us look callous and heartless, and we often care what other think about us. But this truth is also horrible, because it shows that we are not able to awaken ourselves from the malaise - from the joyless monotony. We emotionally need to be rescued from without by some unspeakable violence which few of us would admit that we need.

I hate to be too obvious, but it seems to me (and this seems to be Percy's answer, though he never says it explicitly) that the answer to humanity's permanent malaise has come in the death of Christ. Though this event took place thousands of years ago, it was arguably the most unjust, the most horrendous act of violence (spiritually and physically) which humanity ever committed or witnessed. If Christians are right that Christ was, Himself God, then their contention that Jesus was infinitely good makes the death of Christ infinitely horrible. As such, while events like 9/11 are horrible and are scarred onto us in a way that is unimaginable, the horror of it all is nothing compared to the evils and horrors of the death of Christ. His death was so rife with meaning and injustice that it still rings out, through the aeons, as the violent act which is alone truly capable of permanently shaking men from their malaise.

We have no grounds for boredom or laziness or meaninglessness or insignificance in a universe where Christ has been crucified. Those who find themselves in the malaise need only remind themselves of the bare facts of Christ's death on the cross before their soul and conscience is shocked to the core that a pure and innocent man should willingly die this ignominious, shameful, and violent death. Just as men said to one another, "Did you hear about the twin towers?" in order to feel alive again, men ought just as well to shock one another by something as simple as, "Did you know that the anointed one, the Holy One, the Messiah, died as a naked crook?" If our consciences were working properly, we would never cease weeping at the thought that the innocent Lord of Heaven and Earth hung naked on a piece of wood, despised by his Father and cursed by his people. Because Christ died, we know that forever, something is afoot - something is happening. And we know that it is a bigger deal than 9/11 felt like when it happened.

This may be the greatest testimony of man's wickedness - that upon hearing of Christ, we often respond with a careless yawn and feigned interest. It is no wonder that man has become bored with sex, bored with violence, bored with amusements - bored with himself. His own conscience is barely roused to cognitive wakefulness by the deepest dreadfulness the universe has ever known. If the death of Christ will not shock man out of the doldrums, then what makes him think that watching a person being mutilated on television or a children's hospital being blown up abroad via the news will barely more than increase his circulation?

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