Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Protagonists or nobodies

The difference between a protagonist and an antagonist is how each approaches the agon (i.e., the struggle). The protagonist starts from a positive hypothesis. Conversely, the antagonist begins from a negative one. As George Wiegel observes, Pope Benedict, in his book Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, writes: "Even the one who does not succeed in finding the path to accepting the existence of God ought nevertheless to try and direct his life...as if God did exist." Positing this hypothesis is the only possible method of verification. This method comes from our Lord himself: "Whoever chooses to do [God's] will shall know whether my teaching is from God or whether I speak on my own" (Jn 7,17).

Being a protagonist and starting from a positive hypothesis, having affection for ourselves, convinced that life has meaning, that we have a both an origin and a destiny, and that every person is a direct relationship with Mystery, does not consist of somehow trying to maintain an abstraction (this positive hypothesis) despite our experience, which, not infrequently, includes suffering. Rather, a protagonist sees this positive hypothesis proven in and through his experiences, including- maybe even especially in- his sufferings. To paraphrase our Lord, being a protagonist means not resisting the struggle, but engaging in it wholly, convinced that it is the only way to destiny (Matt. 5,39). To be an antagonist means resisting the struggle and seeing it as worthless. A negative hypothesis causes us to be cynical, to close in on ourselves and to lash out at others. We see ourselves and others as nobodies, as passive before existence. Contra Eastern religions, life is not maya, an illusion, and Jesus does not beckon us to nirvana, but to the kingdom.

In order to see yourself as a nobody, which is "to entirely lose your attachment to yourself," to your humanity, according to Fr. Carrón, "[y]ou would need some kind of total anesthesia" (Faith: The Ultimate Expression of an Affection for Oneself, pg. 8). Sadly, Carrón goes on to point out, that we live in the kind milieu, the "type of society," that is capable of providing "this kind of total anesthesia" that detaches us from our humanity, from our need (ibid). I cannot imagine practicing a religion in which the point of practice is the annihilation of the self, the detachment of myself from reality, from my humanity. Dying to myself by loving others is what makes me fully myself because it is expressive of the fundamental fact of my existence; that I am a relationship with the Mystery. Often, it is suffering and woundedness that provides the consciousness necessary to bring us back to ourselves, back to our humanity, that is, our poverty, our need, which gives birth to our desire, our longing. This opens us to the fact that God became man for us. This fact changes everything because it doesn't deny, but affirms, reality!

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