It’s the End of the Modern World as We Know It, and I Feel Fine

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Trading personal visions of the apocalypse and comparing constantly evolving lists of bug-out survival items have become as casual and normal as discussing the TV shows that we are currently watching, especially shows about the apocalypse, or our favorite Thai restaurant. The “end times” no longer remains primarily the conversational fodder of Dispensationalist Protestants (Come, glorious rapture, come!), traditional Catholics (More rosaries and blessed candles!), and preppers (Can openers and ammo!); in quite a development, such discussions have gone mainstream. However, what interests me more than the discussions themselves is the manner in which such topics are discussed—with an underlying sense of anticipation. This reminds me of a statement by Walker Percy, one of the South’s and of Catholicism’s finest contemporary writers. He used to comment (and one might make the argument that every novel of his was an exploration of this idea) that modern man’s big fear is not whether the bomb will drop, but the listlessness and ennui that will follow if the bomb does not drop. What? You mean that I will have to go back to worrying about mowing my lawn? After all, as Percy was fond of saying, the most depressing time, the time when suicidal thoughts start to creep out of the dark recesses is around 3 P.M. on a Wednesday afternoon, but a bomb would change all of that.

Why? Why this secret, or not-so-secret, desire to see everything fall apart? We live in a time of unprecedented prosperity and innovation. I am typing the rough draft of this essay on my laptop computer, which makes editing a near-effortless breeze. I will soon prepare for Mass—a Mass at which I will face no legal repercussions in assisting and one which I will reach in my Honda Fit, a car with sporty suspension and great gas mileage. After church, I will come back home and reheat yesterday’s leftovers in a microwave—space age technology in a box. Later today I hope to submit this article via the Internet, thus making it available to anyone who has an Internet connection anywhere in the world. Selah. If it dries up this afternoon, I will consider going for a walk on a nature trail, i.e., land not needed for shelter or the growth of crops and, thus, set aside solely for recreation. Later this evening I fully intend on enjoying a glass (or two) of Johnnie Walker Red Label Scotch and a cigar, one shipped over two thousand miles, over both land and sea, just so that I may enjoy one on a Sunday evening. The events of today might very well have made a king of only a hundred years ago froth at the mouth with envy. Yet. Yet, a subversive part of me still hankers after the collapse of this utterly and thoroughly corrupt modern order. Why?

Father Romano Guardini, a professor of philosophy and theology at the University of Munich in the first half of the twentieth century, writes in his sobering The End of the Modern World that with the onset of greater autonomy and freedom to actualize our desires, we lost an understanding of our place in the cosmos: “While gaining infinite scope for movement man lost his own position in the realm of being.” Further on, he elaborates, “Modern anxiety…arises from man’s deep-seated consciousness that he lacks either a ‘real’ or a symbolic place in reality.” With the radical autonomy that has come by way of a philosophical deviation from Revelation and has been aided by the unprincipled technological triumph over nature, we have unmoored ourselves as creatures made in the image of God, creatures who occupy a place a little lower than the angels but higher still than all the other beasts in the created order. This free-floating metaphysical conception is the root of modern anxiety. Fr. Guardini goes on to state that “[i]n an almost inverse proportion to the medieval attempt to place man at the heart of reality, the modern consciousness has tried to tear him from the center of the world.” Talk about the perverse irony at play with this one: in seeking to free ourselves from the constraints of God’s law and our own created nature, we have divorced ourselves from that which is transcendental and from that which we find our dignity and value.

Perhaps this lusting after societal collapse can be attributed to an unavoidable reaction of the spirit, even with—if not especially in—those who do not believe that man has an immaterial component to him. As taught in Chapter One of the Catechism of the Catholic Church,“[t]he desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God…”, for we have been “[c]reated in God’s image and [are] called to know and love him….” Whether we are aware of this teaching, the truth remains: we have been created for greatness. To hearken back to an older catechism, the answer to Question Three of the Baltimore Catechism gently reminds us that we have been created in order to share in God’s everlasting happiness in heaven. Of course, none of us can claim a right to the beatific vision. In fact, according to the Main Man Himself, the road to salvation is distressingly narrow. (Interesting etymological excursion: the Latin adjective angustus/-a/-um, from which we get anguish and anxious, means narrow.) Thus, the central drama of our lives is to make it to heaven via that narrow road. Because nothing is more important, this drama should rightfully occupy the majority of our attention, cares, concerns, and efforts. Remove this drama from our lives, and we are left with only amusements and distractions. Thus, a desire to reinvest our lives with drama, with excitement, with life-and-death decisions (a secular equivalent to decisions that may have mortally sinful ramifications?) through an apocalypse might be a confused, though powerful and telling, movement away from the deadening secularism that cannot truly inspire in the least.

Granted, I do not intend for this to be an end-all explanation; rather, this is more of a thought exploration on a leisurely Sunday (the only true kind) afternoon while listening to the soft rain. One cannot ignore that culprits such as mindless consumerism, fanatical egalitarianism, urban rootlessness, widespread criminalization of displays of masculinity, etc. may all play their respective roles in this end times-fascination caper. Thanks be to God, though, that once I finish this essay, I will pour that aforementioned glass of Johnnie Walker, light that cigar, and relax on my front porch, knowing that only a few hours ago I witnessed the central drama of all creation—the sacrifice of the Mass. Because of this, not only does a sinful man such as I have hope, I also have the most exciting, most thrilling, most dangerous life one could have: to seek all the necessary graces so that I may be found worthy on that day. Also, if I am lucky, I will not have to worry about any zombies along the way.

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