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True & False Paths to Happiness - XX

Nausea of Normalcy & Thirst for the Absolute

Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
Contemporary life no longer dazzles mankind as it used to in the past. Some years ago it began to appear with its burdens, disappointments and prosaicism. Contemporary daily life – frayed and tedious, without charm or dignity – started to produce boredom or confusion.

drugs

Bored with normalcy, the Woodstock generation; below, modern youth still seeking sensations

Teens vaping
There are many causes for this change. One of them lies in the fact that the newer generations have been educated with no notion of the absolute. For them, everything is relative. However, there is in man an innate thirst for the absolute. The new generations seek to quench this thirst with a high intensity of sensations. Persons today either abandon themselves to the delusion of vices or throw themselves into extravagances of all kinds in order to escap normalcy. From this point to drugs is a short step.

Why are so many looking for drugs today?

It is a timely question. This step into drugs is usually preceded, consciously or not, by a certain feeling of the boredom that afflicts modern life. Youths and adults alike today sense the insipidness of the modern world and they want something to jolt or shake them.

If the person takes refuge in normality, he may encounter tedium there also. He can have a real nausea for a normal normalcy of everyday life, of common things as they are, of experiencing normalcy without feeling anything intense.

The nausea of normality ends up being one of the characteristics of our time. It is a feature so marked that, even among people who lead a moderate lifestyle, you can find characteristic signs of it.

Is there a solution?

The innate sense of the absolute

The solution to this nausea can only be found in the search for true absolutes. The ever increasing frustrations of these new generations is caused by not having any view of the absolute. Just as the thirsty man yearns for water, Man – who is a contingent being – naturally asks for the absolute: Anima mea sicut terra sine aqua tibi – My soul thirsts for Thee like arid land for water. (Ps 143: 6)

bird

A little bird unsuccessfully trying its wings

The new generation man is like a baby bird that wants to fly but doesn't have sufficient wings for flight. Then, all his feathers stand up with the wind and he stands high on his tiptoes; he wants to jump, but when he jumps, he falls.

He is a delightful little bird that makes an engaging first start. He is called to fly, he feels he will fly, he grows in the desire to fly. With that desire his capacity to fly also grows. And yet, he still does not fly. At a certain moment, something happens and then he flies.

Natural elements that are symbols of the absolute

Only God is Absolute. The beings He created, each with its own characteristics, are called to symbolize the absolute. And, by means of them, one can have thoughts that lead to the contemplation of God.

Is the thirst for the absolute, then, essentially religious?

The correct answer is highly nuanced:

* Yes, it is, and above all when the man knows that there is a being who personifies all these values in an eternal, immutable and necessary way, which is God. Since grace provides a precious and continuous assistance to all initiatives that lead to God, this thirst for the absolute may not be purely natural, and, in these cases, it has a religious backdrop.

* Yes, to some degree, because natural elements can make up part of this thirst for other partial absolutes in greater proportion than those existing in acts of worship that lead directly to the supernatural. A simple mug of draft beer, for example, can be used in the search for an absolute, and, in such case, more natural elements obviously enter than in an act of worship.

perfect beer

The search for the absolute in the perfect draft of beer

Let me explain a bit more how a beer can participate in the search for the absolute.

The draft beer, like everything that exists, is a kind of sketch, or outline, of a more perfect ideal being.

Being perfect means two things: first, having no defects; and second, taking its qualities to the maximum of what it can be.

I will not have understood beer if I cannot imagine the perfect beer. After imagining it, this imperfect draft makes me understand a possible being that is the joy of my life.

The color of the draft beer is very beautiful, there is no doubt, but if it were tinged with a more consistent gold it would be better... It lacks a little gold.

On the other hand, the draft beer is a beautiful residence for light. The light that enters it and remains in it is more beautiful than the light that exists in the water. Now then, water, from a certain point of view, is an ideal home for light. But the draft beer can be a more beautiful home.

belgium beer mugs

The Belgian taste for distinction in beers led them to make a different mug for each beer

The beer mug can also be a part of the commentary, which is not made by an individual person, but by an ambience. A group of people feel the same way about the draft beer, and a craftsman, with more capacity to translate what everyone feels, expresses it through a particular style of mug.

This is not but one example of many other contemplations we can do about almost everyhting that surrounds us.

A life lived like this in contemplation is much more entertaining. In the draft beer, I see the possibility of it being much more than it is, and this possibility speaks to me of God.

It is necessary to habituate the spirit to taste many things in this way. A person who only likes draft beer, who only knows how to interpret draft beer, ends up drunk. One must learn to make this operation of ascent to the marvelous with respect to a large number of things, which better insurances temperance.

It is clear that the specific end of the religious sphere is to lead man to God, who is the Absolute. But it is possible to go to other partial absolutes also through the temporal world, because God is the author of both worlds. To deny this would be to adhere to "a certain spiritualism" which Pius XII expressly reproved. Thus, except for some special vocations, it is not correct to leave out the temporal sphere.

medieval symbols

The medievals had a tremendous understanding for the symbol

Continued

Posted November 4, 2020