Charlie's Blog: June 2018


Permanent Darkness

The truth, even when horrifically ugly, is always authentically attractive.

When I was growing up in the eighties, it was a relatively prosperous time in United States history. Yet, I would encounter old people who grew up during the Great Depression which was an experience that left a perpetual scar on the psyche of these people. My grandmother was a sort of food hoarder keeping a chest freezer filled with fruits and vegetables she had grown, picked, or bought. There was enough food in there to carry her for a year or more. An elderly couple who were literally millionaires were so frugal that you would never guess that they were rich because they lived so modestly. He drove the same old pickup truck for decades until it broke down, and he bought a brand new one. People were amazed that he did that, but he would drive that new truck for another two decades. Despite being rich, the couple never lived lavishly, worked incredibly hard, and never retired. This was a consequence of those years spent enduring the Great Depression.

All of these depression survivors shared a common trait. They did not indulge in the comforts of youth and prosperity that we know as optimism. For them, the wolf was always at the door. The good times can and will end at any time. Misery and hardship are the default settings of life. Suffering and death are the only things guaranteed in this world. These Depression babies knew this, and their scars became their strength.

People upbraid me constantly for being so dark and pessimistic about life. But this darkness has been earned as a consequence of bad times in my life. I am scarred, and I cannot erase these scars. This mindset I possess I call "permanent darkness." My greatest fear in life are not the bad times that will come but that I will forget that the bad times always come. I cling to bitter truths because they console me in a world of pleasant lies.

There is comfort in harsh truths. I discovered this while reading Schopenhauer as an atheist. Schop as I called him was a man who always lived in permanent darkness. His pessimistic writings are like acid dissolving away all delusions about existence. Schop was an atheist who definitely did not believe in the power of positive thinking. Reading this man is no pleasant day in the park, but you will find yourself drawn back to him again and again. Why is this? The answer is simple. The truth is always a consolation even if it is dark and unpleasant.

Schopenhauer didn't get it all right. The man was an atheist after all. But he was unflinchingly honest. I would see this same quality in the saints like St. John the Baptist and in our Lord Jesus Christ as I read the gospels with my new Catholic eyes. When Jesus tells us that the poor in spirit are truly blessed, I interpret Him to mean people who have lost hope in the false comforts and sham consolations of this empty world. Lies can never suffice. The cross is a brutal truth. Taking up that cross is a choice to embrace harsh truths that lead to life than to be satisfied with comforting lies that lead to death.

What are these harsh truths? Here is a list.

1. Everything dies including you.

Most people live under the delusion that death happens to other people. That is an amazing trick of denial, yet we have all done it at some time or another. We see people with terminal illnesses, and we feel sorry for them as if we will somehow not ever experience the same thing. But we will. At some point in your existence, your body will suffer catastrophic failure, and your immortal soul will separate itself from your mortal corpse. You should remind yourself of this reality daily in the practice known as the memento mori. Keep a skull on your desk. Contemplate your own mortality each time you pass a tomb or cemetery. Embrace with certainty that your time here will end.

2. The human race is corrupted by concupiscence and original sin.

All human beings after the Fall except two have been conceived in original sin. This means that all human beings are born inclined to evil. As children grow and mature, this evil manifests itself as the lovable child you adore becomes despicably wicked. Children and adults can be delivered from original sin through the sacrament of baptism, but the weakness of original sin remains in the form of concupiscence. The bottom line is that people are going to let you down, and you are always going to have to lock your doors at night.

3. There is no happiness in this life.

Life is misery, and all human beings are miserable. Even those who are wealthy and fortunate or those who indulge in pleasure find it all emptiness and meaningless such that even the lucky rich will choose suicide in the mistaken belief that it will end their misery. Schopenhauer nailed it when he wrote,
What disturbs and depresses young people is the hunt for happiness on the firm assumption that it must be met with in life. From this arises constantly deluded hope and so also dissatisfaction. Deceptive images of a vague happiness hover before us in our dreams, and we search in vain for their original. Much would have been gained if, through timely advice and instruction, young people could have had eradicated from their minds the erroneous notion that the world has a great deal to offer them.
What Schopenhauer failed to acknowledge was that this erroneous notion is eradicated from the minds of the young when they are catechized in church. Life is emptiness and vanity. The rich man in his splendor is little better than the poor man in his suffering. Or, as I like to put it, excrement smells no better by being placed in a golden bowl. If we are to know happiness, it must come from a place beyond this world. Don't ever think you missed out on the good things in this life because there are no good things.

4. Most people go to Hell.

This is the most bitter truth I know. If you doubt this truth, I recommend reading St. Leonard on the matter. If people actually knew what Hell was, they would do anything and everything to not go there. Yet, most people are going to end up there for eternity, and it will be by their own volition. As such, it should not ever surprise us or disturb us when people spurn the opportunity and means to avoid this terrible fate. People are damned because they refuse to love God. God loves them, but they do not love Him back. Because of this, this world resembles Hell already because of the wickedness of these people.

5. There is a Heaven, but you will go through hell to get there.

Heaven exists, and Jesus has provided the way for us to get there. But this is no easy path as we see from the lives of saints and martyrs who endured a great deal of suffering to arrive in the abode of eternal happiness. The alternative is to endure Purgatory which is no picnic either. In fact, Purgatory is worse than being fed to the lions or crucified in this life. Either way you slice it, the price of Heaven is suffering.

6. The good times never last.

In this world, there are times that are better than others. It may be a period of prosperity, peace, health, cultural and spiritual renewal, and on and on. They always end. When you are at the party, remember to keep some cash in reserve for the cab ride home because the party will end inevitably. Feasts are followed by famines. Drunkenness is followed by hangovers. Prosperity gives way to poverty. Birth leads to death. People want to forget that good times end because there is momentary bliss in ignorance. Conversely, wisdom makes suffering more acute such that all good times empty themselves for the wise. They build an immunity to the good times and remain sour faced at the party.

The best view of life is the bleak one. This is because it is the honest view of life. With the sobriety that comes from pessimism, we can see more clearly that happiness and joy can only be found in God. Schopenhauer refused to acknowledge this one pleasant truth. As a former atheist, I can attest that there is a rebellion in failing to acknowledge the ugliest truth. This is the truth that things didn't have to be this way. Permanent darkness is to be committed to never being beguiled by the vanities of this life. But permanent darkness is not perpetual darkness. This would be life apart from God. As bleak as life can be, it is not hopeless. As such, we must be pessimists in the short term of this life, but we can be optimists in the long run of eternity. The darkness only becomes perpetual when we close our eyes to the light forever.