I turned 18 on a Sunday. My mom knocked on my bedroom door that morning and asked if I wanted to go to church, and with little hesitation I replied, “No.” It was the first time I had ever been given the option not to go, and I seized it with glee. Christianity was something I had been raised with since birth. But, on that day, with the conflation of my legal maturity and moral maturity, I threw my faith to the wind and ran with the intellectually fashionable atheism of our time.
No doubt I thought myself a rebel and a trailblazer, despite the millennia of wear on the path I tread. Imbibing in drugs and drink and depravity had begun a few years earlier, but with the supposed liberation of my mind I began indulging in a far more dangerous experimentation; I began to doubt the fall. Mere vices can ruin a person, or a family or even a community, but delusions can ruin a nation, or a people or even a species.
The virulent seeds of this doubt are as old as Eden, but the particular strain I had been infected with has its roots in the 14th century thought of William of Ockham. As Richard Weaver explains in his aptly titled treatise, Ideas Have Consequences, Ockham developed the idea of nominalism, which claims that transcendental universals do not exist. Weaver demonstrates the implications of this theory: “The denial of everything transcending experience means inevitably — though ways are found to hedge on this — the denial of truth. With the denial of objective truth there is no escape from the relativism of ‘man is the measure of all things.’” And what a poor yardstick he is.
Rejecting the fall and the mephitic filth each human is born into, I came to believe that human nature was a fiction and that ethics was a sham. Naked hedonism became my sole concern. I realized that I will only live once, and in typical Millennial fashion this did not lead me to the conclusion that the fleeting gift of life should be cherished, but that it should be taken for granted. Only a morally crippled individual, as I was at the time, could come to admire the choice to live fast and die young.
Yet, I found that a life dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure is slavish and unsatisfying. This was not simply because of the low that followed the high, the hangover that followed the buzz, or the emptiness that followed the lust. My very enthusiasm for life began to falter. The paradox of a total lack of restraint is that it does not enflame passion, but extinguish it. Just as artistry requires the focus of craftsmanship and love requires the bond of commitment, so does fulfillment require the sacrifice of submission.
The modern world is replete with a limitless number of ideals to submit to. However, history stands as a testament to the folly of each one: Faith in one’s race leads to genocide, faith in revolt leads to oppression and faith in prosperity leads to poverty. All of the vessels into which humanity has poured its collective hopes have proven to be deformed and cracked because each of them has been fashioned by humanity itself. All are flawed, save for one.
It became readily apparent to me that only something that transcended our base and material existence, that had been revealed rather than created, could provide total solace for the restlessness of the human spirit. Only this could allow it to persevere and redeem itself in a dark world. In the words of G. K. Chesterton, “There are many, many angles at which one can fall but only one angle at which one can stand straight.”
Yes, there is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy in my journey, but the prodigal son’s road always curves back toward home. I find myself now facing the warm prospect of rediscovering that which is most familiar. It would be premature at this point to rebrand my column “Fear and Trembling,” but sometimes when it’s quiet and I lie still I can feel the beginnings of the tremors stirring within me.