The Counsel of Trent

writing is thinking

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Evil in my Head or "Gratitude, Chance, and Providence"

Note to Reader: You may want to skip this one as it turns neurosis onto paradox and ends in mystery. It is maddeningly logical and does not have a happy ending. However, if you want a glimpse into my bizarre and somewhat tortured psyche, then, having been warned, read on.
My life is utterly idyllic. Here's just a glimpse from today. I wake up in my freshly remodeled three-bedroom bungalow and am greeted by the smiling faces of two beautiful, happy, healthy little red-haired girls. We get dressed and get on our bikes and go to Mass, just short ride away, not far from Campus (where I'm paid tens of thousands of dollars to read and talk and given a big office with amenities). After mass we ride over to the Pasta Factory and eat our fill of stuffed tortellini alfredo. Do we want dessert? Sure, why not. The afternoon is spent picking wild blackberries among yellow, white, and purple wildflowers in Grindstone Natural Area. Little lavender pails swing from pink fists as little girls run to the next trail indicating more blackberry bushes beyond. The sun is literally upon my face, the wind literally at my Irish life is the incarnation of the old Irish blessing!! Yet...I'm haunted by evil. Even in observing the perfect blessedness of my life, I'm struck with how different it is for most people. My feelings go right past gratitude to guilt. There are many routes from this to the Problem of Evil. Right now I want to explore this dilemma. Now either the guilt is appropriate or it is not. If it is appropriate, then it either has a point or it does not. Surely guilt is not pointless, just an end-in-itself meant to spoil the effect of blessing. If guilt has a point, however, then, surely it is to spur me out of complacency. Now this could be intended for either purely theoretical change--I feel more grateful for my position but don't change it substantially--or for practical change--leave my life of riches and work in solidarity with the poor. It might seem that there's a middle way out of this dilemma: give just enough to alleviate the guilt but keep the blessed life. But given that my life is over-the-top blessed giving up just a little wouldn't work. But then where's that magic line? It's probably far enough down the line to cease being a middle way out. So that leaves us with the two options: the theoretical, where I just feel more grateful and the practical where I give up my riches and live in solidarity with the poor. Before moving on to the central dilemma let's just note that the theoretical approach operates on the assumption that what I'm feeling guilty for is ingratitude, but that's just not the case. I feel guilty for not sacrificing till it hurts. So then I really *shouldn't* be picking berries amongst wildflowers, I should be living in solidarity with the poor. But then it seems I shouldn't be grateful for all the "blessings" because I shouldn't have them. Whatever I've been given has been given to me merely as a conduit for others. It's like someone gives you $100 bucks to give to a friend and you say "Gee, thanks! You're so nice!" It doesn't make any sense.


At Thursday, February 02, 2006 11:59:00 PM, Blogger Keith said...

My confessor would say that you are plagued with the diabolical doctrine of Calvinism.

I'm a convert who wrestles with such things, but the Church tells us that we don't all have to be St. Francis. That's what Chesterton said in his book about St. Francis. And what drew me to the Church was jolly men like Chesterton who enjoyed life. Your vocation is to be a father and a teacher...not a Franciscan. But if it'll make you feel better, wear a hairshirt or something :-)

At Friday, February 03, 2006 11:14:00 AM, Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

Calvinism has got nothing to do with it. Calvinism would have the same result as Hinduism: let them rot, it's divine will/karma/whatever.

I'm a very jolly person and like jollity generally, but it would be a sin to play the fiddle while Rome burned. My problem is that it seems to me that the world is on fire while I fiddle away.

No, I'm not called to be St. Francis or even a Franciscan, but I can forego fancy feasts. That's my point. When this post was on my old blog it got the most response and it was usually the same thing: it assumed I thought the only option to opulence is voluntary poverty. My point is rather that the American lifestyle is pervaded by pork barrel spending. And I'm in the fourth quintile from the top!

The fact is that I can discharge my duties as a dad without all the luxuries in my life--and lets face it: the average American has luxuries known only to the kings of the past.

Let me bring it into focus: I eat large meals and buy things I don't need to survive while other people starve to death: how can that *not* be wrong?

At Monday, March 06, 2006 11:07:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How were the blackberries?

Most folks prefer palm pilots, but do as you do, my mentor and blood brother.

At Monday, March 06, 2006 11:13:00 PM, Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

As delicious as Augustine's pear Mikey.


At Tuesday, January 29, 2008 1:17:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not going to tell you how I know you, but the read on guilt was quite a lively read. How about, grace? It could be the greatest discovery of your life. I believe God's grace is sufficient for all those thoughts that create guilt - try Max Lucado's " In the Grip of Grace" You have a fabulous mind, a gifted mind, you have a purpose even beyond what you have now, which is a plenty already. Once you tap into the real meaning of grace, the freedom you will find will be a source of great joy for you and those around you.

At Tuesday, January 29, 2008 1:34:00 PM, Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

Dear Anon from Webster NY. I know grace like a sinner should. I left Max Lucado's coffee table books behind when I left Evangelicalism. I know my sins are forgiven because God says they are.

That leaves open the question of how it can be right to live like a prince while others starve to death. In the four years since this was written I haven't changed that, and I haven't been able to shake the feeling that I'm spending someone else's money.

Os the OT prophet told it--Nathan, right?--it is as if a rich man having a huge flock wanted to have lamb for dinner, but instead of taking one from his own flock took the sole pet lamb from a poor man and slaughtered it.

Am I that man?

At Friday, February 01, 2008 11:12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have a philosophical mind, seek adventure, and above average intelligence in many areas. I would guess by reading some of the pages you have, you do give back to earth in many ways, perhaps not monetarily; to paraphrase an author, "The adventure begins and your real strength is released when you no longer rely on formulas".

A brilliant mind, a happy family life, love of teaching. The guilt comes from mystery of the adventures of life - trying to make sense of the adventure?
I know you've read ecclesiastics. Could it be something as simple as you are waiting for the other shoe to drop? What tragedies or losses have you had to endure during your life?
You want the formula for why you feel guilty before you'll give up feeling guilty.
You probably have some issues you feel passionate about in life - that you haven't yet tapped into. Does it make you feel even more guilt for wanting to engage in things you are passionate about?
You know its Satan's favorite game, whispering in your ear you ought to feel shamed or guilty for having this or that or not having to go through this or the other.
What does one do? Continue your quest, connect with those your intuition says to connect with...there is something about you, and I cannot tell you what it is, but no, you are not that man - we all miss the mark, you know that. What can you do? Give where you can, its the daily things in life, the small things we fail to note have profound meaning -
We are mere mortals...and again, there is something you were meant for, perhaps its not guilt, its just the discovery of what the next adventure is that will take you on highs, and bring you to your lowest lows. Life. What is your longing? Do you actually think they've all been met? That's limiting...:)

At Monday, February 04, 2008 12:18:00 PM, Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

I know you're trying to be nice, but "above average intelligence in many areas"? Intelligence measures a general capacity of a person, not something relative to any area of study. And yes I'm "wild at heart" but Evangelical books just don't have enough categories to match the reality. I don't need formulas to find it unjust to live as I do. The only hope I have that it's not unjust rests in formulas though, formulas in Economics that show that my consumerist lifestyle does more harm than good because it provides jobs for those who produce and offer the goods and services I consume.

I said myself I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop. I've not only not had any tragedies in my life: I can count the number of times I've not got what I wanted on one hand (though as of this year that one hand is now full). That's right, about five times in my life I've wanted something and not got it. That can't last. There's no mystery in that. There's no mystery at all in my guilt. I perceive that a certain principle of justice is probably true. I perceive that my life does not accord with the principle. I don't bring my life in line with the principle because it would not be fun. No mystery.

The mystery is how we can all go on like this day after day ignoring those stricken by disaster.

At Monday, February 04, 2008 11:10:00 PM, Anonymous anonymous but not said...

I can be not nice. I can tell you what you already know; the day will come, on some Tuesday with a call at 4:00 PM that all the worry in the world you've had up til now, will not even come close to what that will feel like. And according to you, there's been little to worry over.
(yes I know, you also know where this phrase comes from college graduation letter turned to song)

I know, its happened to me. What then? Will formulas and philosophy do for you when 'why' becomes the mantra for months to come. And dang it, how come you know all the best books I pull some reasoning out of?

Problem is, you got to go crazy before you had real reason to go crazy.
In my life? I've had such tragedies that have made me ask myself, ' why am I not on coke or heroine or an alcoholic, etc.' I rather liked for a time the idea of not feeling anything.
What about guilt that you have no power, absolutely none to help someone who says they are going to take their own life, and do so? Or some other just as severe loss. I'm not trying to be nice or at least I didn't look at it that way. I can do conversation and coffee for hours, days, weeks, months. Be patient and gentle with yourself. And your intuition might be telling you long before hand, that you are in for something you never thought you could handle. Disasters will always be there, you don't have to become a monk to prove you are worthy of what you've been blessed with now. But will you sink to the lowest of lows IF a loss is suffered and blame it on being blessed with good things? Nonsense. He doesn't work like that. Didn't you watch City of Angels?

If you feel this much guilt, I know exactly what to do if you wish to donate funds for a just cause. :)

I enjoy reading the blogs - and I'm learning a lot. But there are those days that I think philosophers are their own worst enemies.

About the intelligence, let me change that too. Can I say in a nice way, you are a smart Aleck but in a totally fun way that I dig.

I've had people I cared for greatly take and take and take and never give back, you just don't strike me as that type of man.


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