Instead, Consciousness III was just one early iteration of the anything-goes, post-reason, post-factual America enabled by the tsunami. Granted complete freedom of thought, Thomas Jefferson and company assumed, most people would follow the path of reason. I remember when fantastical beliefs went fully mainstream, in the s.
In came a sensational autobiography by the young spoon bender and mind reader Uri Geller as well as Life After Life , by Raymond Moody, a philosophy Ph. The book sold many millions of copies; before long the International Association for Near Death Studies formed and held its first conference, at Yale. Many of the pioneers were thoughtful, their work fine antidotes to postwar complacency.
The problem was the nature and extent of their influence at that particular time, when all premises and paradigms seemed up for grabs. Reality itself is a purely social construction, a tableau of useful or wishful myths that members of a society or tribe have been persuaded to believe. The borders between fiction and nonfiction are permeable, maybe nonexistent. The delusions of the insane, superstitions, and magical thinking? Any of those may be as legitimate as the supposed truths contrived by Western reason and science. The takeaway: Believe whatever you want, because pretty much everything is equally true and false.
These ideas percolated across multiple academic fields. Meanwhile, over in sociology, in a pair of professors published The Social Construction of Reality , one of the most influential works in their field. Not only were sanity and insanity and scientific truth somewhat dubious concoctions by elites, Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann explained—so was everything else. When I first read that, at age 18, I loved the quotation marks.
The book was timed perfectly to become a foundational text in academia and beyond. A more extreme academic evangelist for the idea of all truths being equal was a UC Berkeley philosophy professor named Paul Feyerabend. Science, he insisted, is just another form of belief. It is the principle: anything goes. This was understandable, given the times: colonialism ending, genocide of American Indians confessed, U. Who were we to roll our eyes or deny what these people believed? If all understandings of reality are socially constructed, those of Kalabari tribesmen in Nigeria are no more arbitrary or faith-based than those of college professors.
Her assigned task was to send her mind or soul out of her body while she was asleep and read a five-digit number Tart had written on a piece of paper placed on a shelf above the bed. He reported that she succeeded. Other scientists considered the experiments and the results bogus, but Tart proceeded to devote his academic career to proving that attempts at objectivity are a sham and magic is real. The rules of the scientific method had to be revised.
Later he abandoned the pretense of neutrality and started calling it the consensus trance —people committed to reason and rationality were the deluded dupes, not he and his tribe. They had so well learned that … research is subsidized and conducted for the benefit of the ruling class that they did not believe there was such a thing as simple truth. Ever since, the American right has insistently decried the spread of relativism, the idea that nothing is any more correct or true than anything else.
Conservatives hated how relativism undercut various venerable and comfortable ruling ideas—certain notions of entitlement according to race and gender and aesthetic beauty and metaphysical and moral certainty. Yet once the intellectual mainstream thoroughly accepted that there are many equally valid realities and truths, once the idea of gates and gatekeeping was discredited not just on campuses but throughout the culture, all American barbarians could have their claims taken seriously.
The term useful idiot was originally deployed to accuse liberals of serving the interests of true believers further on the left. In this instance, however, postmodern intellectuals—post-positivists, poststructuralists, social constructivists, post-empiricists, epistemic relativists, cognitive relativists, descriptive relativists—turned out to be useful idiots most consequentially for the American right. Neither side has noticed, but large factions of the elite left and the populist right have been on the same team.
As the Vietnam War escalated and careened, antirationalism flowered. In his book about the remarkable protests in Washington, D. At that point the war in Vietnam would end. In , Students for a Democratic Society adopted its founding document, drafted by year-old Tom Hayden. Then, kaboom , the big bang. Anything and everything became believable. Reason was chucked. Dystopian and utopian fantasies seemed plausible. Its members believed that they and other young white Americans, aligned with black insurgents, would be the vanguard in a new civil war.
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Officials at the FBI, the CIA, and military intelligence agencies, as well as in urban police departments, convinced themselves that peaceful antiwar protesters and campus lefties in general were dangerous militants, and expanded secret programs to spy on, infiltrate, and besmirch their organizations. This furiously, elaborately suspicious way of understanding the world started spreading across the political spectrum after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Surely the Communists or the CIA or the Birchers or the Mafia or some conspiratorial combination must have arranged it all, right?
Elaborate paranoia was an established tic of the Bircherite far right, but the left needed a little time to catch up. In , a left-wing American writer published the first book about a JFK conspiracy, claiming that a Texas oilman had been the mastermind, and soon many books were arguing that the official government inquiry had ignored the hidden conspiracies. Kennedy complicit in the cover-up. The notion of an immense and awful JFK-assassination conspiracy became conventional wisdom in America.
As a result, more Americans than ever became reflexive conspiracy theorists. Of course, real life made such stories plausible. The infiltration by the FBI and intelligence agencies of left-wing groups was then being revealed, and the Watergate break-in and its cover-up were an actual criminal conspiracy. Within a few decades, the belief that a web of villainous elites was covertly seeking to impose a malevolent global regime made its way from the lunatic right to the mainstream. Each camp, conspiracists on the right and on the left, was ostensibly the enemy of the other, but they began operating as de facto allies.
Conspiracy theories were more of a modern right-wing habit before people on the left signed on. A mericans felt newly entitled to believe absolutely anything. We wanted to believe in extraterrestrials, so we did. What made the UFO mania historically significant rather than just amusing, however, was the web of elaborate stories that were now being spun: not just of sightings but of landings and abductions—and of government cover-ups and secret alliances with interplanetary beings. Those earnest beliefs planted more seeds for the extravagant American conspiracy thinking that by the turn of the century would be rampant and seriously toxic.
The first big nonfiction abduction tale appeared around the same time, in a best-selling book about a married couple in New Hampshire who believed that while driving their Chevy sedan late one night, they saw a bright object in the sky that the wife, a UFO buff already, figured might be a spacecraft.
She began having nightmares about being abducted by aliens, and both of them underwent hypnosis. The details of the abducting aliens and their spacecraft that each described were different, and changed over time. Thereafter, hypnosis became the standard way for people who believed that they had been abducted or that they had past lives, or that they were the victims of satanic abuse to recall the supposed experience. The husband and wife were undoubtedly sincere believers.
That book and its many sequels sold tens of millions of copies, and the documentary based on it had a huge box-office take in By the s, things appeared to have returned more or less to normal. Civil rights seemed like a done deal, the war in Vietnam was over, young people were no longer telling grown-ups they were worthless because they were grown-ups.
Revolution did not loom. Sex and drugs and rock and roll were regular parts of life. The sense of cultural and political upheaval and chaos dissipated—which lulled us into ignoring all the ways that everything had changed, that Fantasyland was now scaling and spreading and becoming the new normal. What had seemed strange and amazing in or became normal and ubiquitous. Relativism became entrenched in academia—tenured, you could say. This kind of thinking was by no means limited to the ivory tower.
The distinction between opinion and fact was crumbling on many fronts. Belief in gigantic secret conspiracies thrived, ranging from the highly improbable to the impossible, and moved from the crackpot periphery to the mainstream. Parts of the establishment—psychology and psychiatry, academia, religion, law enforcement—encouraged people to believe that all sorts of imaginary traumas were real.
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We had defined every sort of deviancy down. And as the cultural critic Neil Postman put it in his jeremiad about how TV was replacing meaningful public discourse with entertainment, we were in the process of amusing ourselves to death. The Reagan presidency was famously a triumph of truthiness and entertainment, and in the s, as problematically batty beliefs kept going mainstream, presidential politics continued merging with the fantasy-industrial complex. In , as soon as we learned that President Bill Clinton had been fellated by an intern in the West Wing, his popularity spiked.
Which was baffling only to those who still thought of politics as an autonomous realm, existing apart from entertainment. American politics happened on television; it was a TV series, a reality show just before TV became glutted with reality shows. A titillating new story line that goosed the ratings of an existing series was an established scripted-TV gimmick. The audience had started getting bored with The Clinton Administration , but the Monica Lewinsky subplot got people interested again.
Just before the Clintons arrived in Washington, the right had managed to do away with the federal Fairness Doctrine, which had been enacted to keep radio and TV shows from being ideologically one-sided. Until then, big-time conservative opinion media had consisted of two magazines, William F. Buckley Jr. For most of the 20th century, national news media had felt obliged to pursue and present some rough approximation of the truth rather than to promote a truth, let alone fictions.
With the elimination of the Fairness Doctrine, a new American laissez-faire had been officially declared. If lots more incorrect and preposterous assertions circulated in our mass media, that was a price of freedom. If splenetic commentators could now, as never before, keep believers perpetually riled up and feeling the excitement of being in a mob, so be it.
Instead of relying on an occasional magazine or newsletter to confirm your gnarly view of the world, now you had talk radio drilling it into your head for hours every day. Fox News brought the Limbaughvian talk-radio version of the world to national TV, offering viewers an unending and immersive propaganda experience of a kind that had never existed before. For Americans, this was a new condition.
Over the course of the century, electronic mass media had come to serve an important democratic function: presenting Americans with a single shared set of facts. And there was also the internet, which eventually would have mooted the Fairness Doctrine anyhow. In , the first modern spam message was sent, visible to everyone on Usenet: global alert for all: jesus is coming soon.
Over the next year or two, the masses learned of the World Wide Web. Before the web, cockamamy ideas and outright falsehoods could not spread nearly as fast or as widely, so it was much easier for reason and reasonableness to prevail. Before the web, institutionalizing any one alternate reality required the long, hard work of hundreds of full-time militants. In the digital age, however, every tribe and fiefdom and principality and region of Fantasyland—every screwball with a computer and an internet connection—suddenly had an unprecedented way to instruct and rile up and mobilize believers, and to recruit more.
False beliefs were rendered both more real-seeming and more contagious, creating a kind of fantasy cascade in which millions of bedoozled Americans surfed and swam. Because until then, that had not been necessary to say. Reason remains free to combat unreason, but the internet entitles and equips all the proponents of unreason and error to a previously unimaginable degree.
Particularly for a people with our history and propensities, the downside of the internet seems at least as profound as the upside. On the internet, the prominence granted to any factual assertion or belief or theory depends on the preferences of billions of individual searchers. Each click on a link is effectively a vote pushing that version of the truth toward the top of the pile of results. Exciting falsehoods tend to do well in the perpetual referenda, and become self-validating. When I Googled chemtrails proof , the first seven results offered so-called evidence of the nonexistent conspiracy.
Academic research shows that religious and supernatural thinking leads people to believe that almost no big life events are accidental or random. Eric Oliver and Thomas J. Wood, confirmed this special American connection. As a year-old, I watched William F. Today I disagree about political issues with friends and relatives to my right, but we agree on the essential contours of reality. People on the left are by no means all scrupulously reasonable. Many give themselves over to the appealingly dubious and the untrue.
But fantastical politics have become highly asymmetrical. There is no real left-wing equivalent of Sean Hannity, let alone Alex Jones. Moreover, the far right now has unprecedented political power; it controls much of the U. Why did the grown-ups and designated drivers on the political left manage to remain basically in charge of their followers, while the reality-based right lost out to fantasy-prone true believers? One reason, I think, is religion.
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The GOP is now quite explicitly Christian. The party is the American coalition of white Christians, papering over doctrinal and class differences—and now led, weirdly, by one of the least religious presidents ever. I doubt the GOP elite deliberately engineered the synergies between the economic and religious sides of their contemporary coalition. But as the incomes of middle- and working-class people flatlined, Republicans pooh-poohed rising economic inequality and insecurity. Economic insecurity correlates with greater religiosity, and among white Americans, greater religiosity correlates with voting Republican.
Religion aside, America simply has many more fervid conspiracists on the right, as research about belief in particular conspiracies confirms again and again. Only the American right has had a large and organized faction based on paranoid conspiracism for the past six decades. As the pioneer vehicle, the John Birch Society zoomed along and then sputtered out, but its fantastical paradigm and belligerent temperament has endured in other forms and under other brand names. Yes, say 34 percent of Republican voters, according to Public Policy Polling.
But then the right wanted its turn to win. It pretty much accepted racial and gender equality and had to live with social welfare and regulation and bigger government, but it insisted on slowing things down. We still seemed to be in the midst of the normal cyclical seesawing of American politics. After Reagan, his hopped-up true-believer faction began insisting on total victory. But in a democracy, of course, total victory by any faction is a dangerous fantasy.
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Another way the GOP got loopy was by overdoing libertarianism. Libertarianism, remember, is an ideology whose most widely read and influential texts are explicitly fiction. For a while, Republican leaders effectively encouraged and exploited the predispositions of their variously fantastical and extreme partisans. Keeping those people angry and frightened won them elections. But over the past few decades, a lot of the rabble they roused came to believe all the untruths.
But conservatism to them also meant conserving the natural environment and allowing people to make their own choices, including about abortion. Clarence Thomas, who considered Richard Nixon suspiciously leftish. My parents never belonged to a church. Until about , the Christian right was not a phrase in American politics. In , my widowed mom, having voted for 14 Republican presidential nominees in a row, quit a party that had become too Christian for her.
So important is this that, in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, he tells the exercistant to always distinguish carefully between the activity of the good and the evil spirits. We can honestly say that we are never thinking alone. Our mind is always being influenced either by the spirits of evil whom God allows to try to seduce us into sin, or by the good spirits who are divine agents in leading us to God.
We call this Discernment of Spirits. It could just as well be called Discernment of the Guiding Angels of heaven from the Misguiding Angels of hell. There is a history of angelic ministry to the human race. The angels are called angels precisely because they are messengers sent from God to assist the children of men.
The first of these ministrations of the guardian angels is to bring us peace. In the Eastern tradition, St. How are the guardian angels messengers of peace? The first meaning of peace is the experience of knowing the truth. How many people in our day are in deep internal conflict because their minds are not in possession of the truth. Instinctively we ask ourselves: Is there a God?
Is there a purpose in life? Why are we here on earth at all? What is the meaning of suffering? What is the meaning of love?
All of these and an ocean of other questions keep coming to our minds from the dawn of reason until our last conscious moments here on earth. Only those who can answer these questions truthfully can be at peace.
Millions are in deep interior turmoil because they do not know the truth in their lives. But our guardian angels are also angels of peace because they are sent by God to tell us what is the will of God in our lives. If knowing the truth gives peace of mind, responding to the will of God gives peace of heart. It is here especially that our angels are both our guides and our guardians.
They guide us to know what God wants of us, and they guard us against the greatest danger in our lives, the risk of choosing our own will instead of the will of God. Being specially enlightened by God, whose face they constantly behold, the angels know what God expects of us and they are His principal agents in communicating this divine expectation to us.
If I choose to do His will I will share in the peace that you now enjoy in a blessed eternity. The last title by which most people would call their guardian angel is to speak of him as the angel of penance.
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But so he is. We have all offended the goodness of God. We have sinned by insisting on doing what we want instead of surrendering our wills to the divine majesty. This is where our guardian angel is our constant reminder, or shall I call him warner, that, having sinned we must do penance. There is no choice. How does our guardian angel serve as our angel of penance? In two ways. He knows far better than we that every sin we commit deprives us of the grace of God.
He knows what happened to the rebellious spirits, led by Lucifer, who refused to submit their wills to the Creator and have been suffering eternal punishment for their pride. But our angel is also an angel of penance in reminding us, dare I say every moment of the day, that the most effective penance we can perform is to make reparation for our failures in loving God by loving Him more deeply, more generously, more patiently than we would ever have done had we not sinned.
Ask our Lord to give me something of your great love for God, a repentant sinner, that I may join you in heavenly glory. There is no single angelic theme in biblical revelation that is more commonly described than the role of the angels as communicating our prayers to God. But our focus here is on the guardian angels as angels of our prayers. How, we may ask, is our guardian angel the angel of prayer? He is first of all the angel of prayer by enlightening our minds with holy thoughts, without which we could not pray.
Let me emphasize, the foundation of the spiritual life is in the mind. What we think, we desire. What we desire, we choose. What we do, makes us what we are. It all begins, I repeat, in the mind. How desperately we need the help of the angels to continually enlighten our minds with holy thoughts without which prayer would be a pious fantasy. Our natural tendency is to be so preoccupied with the things of this world that we have to, dare I say, do violence to ourselves to place ourselves in the spirit of prayer. We must lift up our minds and hearts beyond the perishable things of this world and raise them to the heavens above.
Who is better equipped to raise these earthly minds of ours to the thoughts of God and the heavens where He lives? Surely it is the angels who are inhabitants of that spiritual kingdom which they merited not long after their creation by their fidelity to their Creator. What do the saints and the angels mainly do in heaven? They pray! Needless to say, they enjoy the experience ecstatically. In so many ways, Christ tells us, reminds us, warns us to lift up our souls to the heaven in which He lives.
We might say this is the deepest spiritual struggle of our lives here on earth. It is the struggle of living physically in this world of noise and tinkling cymbals, and yet constantly raise our souls to the heavens where the angels dwell. They are not only inhabitants of heaven. Heaven is familiar to them. They enjoy their heavenly surroundings. They know what it means to be in the constant vision of God and experience the beatitude, which this vision provides.
Whatever we know about the theology of prayer, we know that we need the assistance of those experienced in prayer who can teach us what it really means to pray. It means to be in the presence of God, enjoy His intimacy and experience the nearness of His presence. The angels are experienced-prayers. We should therefore expect that, in many ways, the principal assistance they can give us as our guardians and guides is to train us in the art of prayer. Prayer is many things, and by now a library of volumes has been written on the theology and practice of prayer.
But one thing is certain, prayer here on earth is seeing the face of God by faith. We are to communicate with this God who we believe engages in conversation with us whenever we pray. That is what the angels are constantly doing in heaven, engaging in conversation with the Most High. We might say they are professionals in the practice of prayer and we are still little children who need to learn the rudiments of talking with our Heavenly Father. There is another profound sense in which our guardian angels are the angels of prayer. Strictly speaking whenever we pray, the principal object of our prayer is God Himself.
There are so many things that we need from the hands of God. So many things that only He can provide. But we need mediators between God and ourselves. We believe there is such a thing as praying directly to God. But there is too much in Scripture to remind us that we need persons who are closer to God than we are to be our intercessors with the Almighty. That is where the angels serve the function of mediating between the Almighty and ourselves. We define the Beatific Vision as the face-to-face, intuitive seeing of the Trinity.
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