Thursday, January 07, 2010

Faith, Literature and Easy Lives?

We had a priest friend over for dinner the other night, and I was talking about Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. I was summing up the ways in which the book seemed rather prophetic: the electronic entertainment, the way in which the characters were constantly plugged into sounds, music, and interactive-but-unreal reality tv, and the fact that no one -- but a brave few -- cared about reading or critical thinking in a book-burning world.

"And it was published in 1953!" I said, with admiration for Bradbury's foresight.

Father shrugged and smiled, shook his head and acted not a bit surprised.  He said (I'm paraphrasing, but it was something like), "People will always look for the easiest way."

He's right, of course.

It's not surprising that Bradbury could look at the world around him and figure out where it might be headed. It's always been true that one could examine just about any current trend (i.e., in the 1950s -- music, TV, mass market entertainment) and spin it out to the extreme.  With just a little knowledge of mankind and our fallen nature, one can assert with a fair amount of confidence the paths we will undoubtedly take. Bradbury didn't have to look very far to see people who didn't understand why poetry made them cry, who thought that children were "ruinous" and that politicians should be elected based on good looks and height.  He didn't have to stretch the imagination too far to predict relentless escapism consuming a culture. 

Nothing much has changed since the fall of Adam and Eve.

Our first parents had it all, didn't they?  Still, they wanted things to be easier. They wanted to make the rules, define the world, create their own reality show. And they left us their legacy, left us seeking, always, what's easiest.

And, what is faith?

Faith is an ongoing reaction against what is easy.

Our justification is initiated by God and His grace, of course. Our salvation is impossible without Him.  But,
Justification establishes cooperation between God's grace and man's freedom ... When God touches man's heart through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, man himself is not inactive while receiving that inspiration, since he could reject it; and yet, without God's grace, he cannot by his own free will move himself toward justice in God's sight. ~~ Catechism of the Catholic Church, (para. 1993-94)
We can't be saved by our own actions and free will, but God, having touched us with His grace, does then ask us to employ our free will in His service.

He loves us enough to give us the freedom to reject Him each and every day.

And rejecting a life of faith is easy, really. It's easy to follow trends, dig our heels into the world, avoid the pain of poetry and daily seek new ways to forget and escape.

Accepting a life of faith is hard. There is truth; there are rules. The humility of admitting that one doesn't have all the answers. There's obedience, sometimes to things with which one might disagree. There is suffering, and the knowledge that God works through pain for our good.

But, having lived a life without faith, and a life with it, I can say that what at first seemed easy -- making my own truth, my own rules, and avoiding the "bonds" of religion -- turned out to be a much harder (and unhappier) way to live. And the freedom that has come with obedience to my faith has been more freeing than anything I tried to create on my own.

Near the end of Fahrenheit 451, a man named Granger explains to Montag, the former fireman, what a phoenix is, and about the mythological creature dying and rising again. Civilization, the men know, has destroyed itself; the life that awaits this small band of people will not be an easy one. But, in another way, it will not be nearly as hard as the life they were living.

I think a life of faith is like that.

Like Granger's phoenix, we arise from the ashes of each day, to begin again to do what is hard. And what is easy.


Rochelle said...

Great post, very insightful, well worth sharing.
I love Ray Bradbury's writings, especially "Dandelion Wine", but somehow I've never gotten around to "Fahrenheit 451". Thank you for giving me the incentive to rectify that.

Karen E. said...

Thank you, Rochelle. I love Dandelion Wine, too.

RSH said...

Amazing!!! You are really good at this Karen.

Leonie said...

I enjoyed your thoughts Karen..and love Bradbury's book. It is always worth a re-read.Have also enjoyed your Rosary book, too!

Julie said...

Karen I've never read Fahrenheit 451 but after looking it up at my libary and reading an exerpt, I am planning to go pick up a copy today and read it. I'm determined in 2010 to do more reading and not wait until bedtime to pick up a book and fall asleep 10 minutes later. Thanks for the post and I will look to your blog for more book recommendations. Keep doing what you are doing. God Bless!

Karen E. said...

Julie, Leonie, and Renee, thanks so much!