Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Escape from Reality
Back in the Sixties, Dr. Francis Shaeffer's first book was published. It was entitled Escape from Reason, and while Shaeffer's style was not what you would call readily accessible, it was profoundly influential in the lives of many of us who were struggling to work out how to think Christianly -- and, as a result, live Christianly. If Shaeffer had been alive and writing today I suspect the content would have been significantly different and the title might have been Escape from Reality.
We live today in a culture that it seems will do almost anything to hide from reality. We entertain ourselves to death, and we think nothing of repackaging facts, notions, and ideas so that they will not disturb our illusions. We refuse to take words (or in the Christian world, the Word) at plain face value, and then we reinterpret and twist them to suit our own preferences and propensities. Our world is one that is much more comfortable with image rather than substance, and puts feelings before objectivities.
This came home to me afresh when talking recently with my younger daughter, who is a physician. As part of her residency in a gynecology rotation she was asked if she would be prepared to spend a morning observing abortions, something with which she found herself as a committed and biblical Christian struggling. Finally she decided that if she was to be able to give adequate advice in the future to her patients, then at least she should have some first hand knowledge of what happens in such unfortunate circumstances.
On that day there were two procedures. One was a gynecological necessity: something had gone so terribly wrong in the womb that the fertilized egg had died as a result of some unexplained deformity. This was, as she pointed out to me, little more than a D. and C. The other was the termination of a twelve-week pregnancy. My daughter told me that she put on a professional face while having to put her heart, head, and emotions on hold for a while.
As she explained to me what happened I realized that what was going on in that medical situation was akin to an escape from reality by means of being trying to cloud what was going on. Before the procedure began an ultrasound was taken, but the patient was discouraged from seeing it. No explanation was given, but the only reason must have been that at that point the fetus looked so much a baby that it might discourage the mother from going forward.
Then the procedure was completed and the pump had done its work, those working in the operating room had to go through the contents of the receptacle to make sure that nothing had been left behind. As it happened all the organs were there: tiny arms, legs, a head, and so forth. Yet all the time the fiction was being maintained that this was merely the removal of something unwanted that had invaded this woman's body.
Even the language that was used in this particular environment was framed to prevent an actual discussion of the mindset behind such medical events. Rather than talking of the options of pro-choice and pro-life, the appropriate terminology was pro-choice and anti-choice. I suspect that behind this was the fact that being able to choose from a vast array of possibilities is the ultimate good in the postmodern world, so language is configured to make it seem that those who believed that a child had been conceived and now discarded were standing in the way of what is best within our culture.
I tell this story not because I find abortion deeply repugnant (which I do), but because it is such a clear illustration of the manner in which we are willing to put up with the distortion of reality in so many areas and disciplines of life. I would go so far as saying that we live in a world that had an inbuilt determination to do its best hide its head in the sand rather than the sometimes uncomfortable and painful business of facing up to reality.
We see this syndrome working itself out in all sorts of settings and disciplines, and I suspect there are probably times when we catch ourselves doing it. Facing up to reality is not a lot of fun, whether it is the implications of climate change and the part each of us might play in it, to the pitiful messes that we make of our own individual lives and relationships -- yet there is a difference between attempting to cushion life's pressures and trying to avoid them.
At the heart of Christian discipleship is the task of facing and facing up to reality, for at its heart is the incarnation and the work of the Cross, which are God's way of enabling us to deal with the tragedies and hardships that reality engenders. Eugene Peterson recently wrote, "We can refuse to permit the culture to dictate the way we go about our lives" (The Jesus Way page 13) and so we should if we are serious about our faith. This means being willing to face up to reality and its consequences, rather than hiding ourselves away from it, and as they say around the part of the world where I grew up, 'calling a spade a spade.'