Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Bodies Without Souls

Photo of a plaque I saw in Columbus, Ohio
"In 1941 at the age of twenty-six, [Thomas] Merton sought refuge in the Trappist monastery of Our Lady of Gethsemane. Kentucky, "in revolt against the meaningless confusion of a life in which there was so much activity, so much movement, so much useless talk, so much superficial and needless stimulation," that he could not remember who he was." ("Introduction," by James Finley. In Merton, A Book of Hours, 16)

I wonder what Merton might say were he alive today. The phenomenal explosion of media technology functions as a gigantic amplifier of ever-changing banality, ignorance, and shallow self-transformation. There's no more of this than when Merton lived. It's just more known. 

The result is that people no longer know who they are. This is why dictionary.com's word of the year in 2015 was "identity."  

Lacking knowledge of their identity, the wandering herd creates personas in whatever images they happen to like, and imagine their social media friends admiring. Huddles of self-congratulatory selfies text to applaud their life wisdom, little of which has been thought out. Never before in history has the meaning of non sequitur found so many instantiations. (See Grant McCracken, Transformations:) Identity Construction in Contemporary Culture) 

Thanks to the twin gods Google and Siri, everyone is a Renaissance polymath, an unreflective mass of omniscient beings lacking knowledge in precisely nothing, lacking wisdom in almost everything, to include who they are. All this, without being able to think critically. 

T.S. Eliot wrote:

  We are the hollow men

    We are the stuffed men

    Leaning together

    Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!

    Our dried voices, when

    We whisper together

    Are quiet and meaningless

    As wind in dry grass
    Or rats' feet over broken glass
    In our dry cellar
    Shape without form, shade without colour,
    Paralysed force, gesture without motion...

That was in 1925. Eliot's hollow men would be viewed today as seers. 

Merton and Eliot saw the total absence of identity coming. We have arrived. We have gone over the abyss and into the unhuman. Welcome to the Book of Revelation.

That's the point of the Zombie Apocalypse, right? Bodies without souls. Hopefully, there is a remnant left to revolt against the masses.


I am currently writing Leading the Presence-Driven Church, and How God Changes the Human Heart (A Phenomenology of Spiritual Transformation).