Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Failed Experiment

"We are at the end of a tradition and a civilization which believed we could preserve Christianity without Christ, religion without a creed, meditation without sacrifice, family life without moral responsibility, sex without purity and economics without ethics.  We have completed our experiment of living without God." - Venerable Fulton J. Sheen

In a way, all of us are like scientists.  Our goal is to define, understand, and finally secure happiness in life.  Our lives are a continual process of experimentation; we form hypotheses about what we think will make us happy, and then we test the hypotheses.  Our laboratory is the entire world, and we have a wide variety of tools and instruments at our disposal.  There is great disagreement about which tools we should use, which methods we should employ, which hypothesis is correct, and how we should measure the success of our experiment.  The only thing that we all agree on is the goal of the experiment, happiness.  Can you imagine any other motive for doing something besides thinking that it will make you happy?  It's impossible – every good thing we can obtain or experience in life is considered good to the extent that it produces happiness.  We're familiar with the question, "What good are riches if they don't make you happy?" and, "Money can't buy you happiness," but nobody asks, "What good is happiness if it doesn't make you rich?"  This fact, that happiness is the end (purpose) of human life, is so deeply engrained in human nature that it seems unnecessary to even point it out.  And yet, acknowledging it is the first step in evaluating the choices we make in life.

Fulton Sheen said that "we have completed our experiment of living without God."  When he says "completed," he doesn't mean that we aren't still repeating the experiment, after all, he said that in 1933, and look how much further our culture has regressed since then!  Rather, he meant that we are fully aware of the results of our experiment – total failure.  Every time we try to root our happiness in something less than God, we are left disappointed.  "If I just made this much more money a year, if I could just afford this outfit, this phone, this car, this house, if I could just get this person to notice me, this person to like me, this person to respect me, if I could just change this one thing about myself, this one thing about my spouse...then I would be happy."  Sound familiar?  We all tell ourselves these things from time to time.  However, I believe that, in our deepest self, we all know they're not true.  How do we know?  Personal experience, along with the witness of the thousands of lives we encounter.  Regardless of whether or not Einstein actually said it, we're all familiar with the quote:  "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."  There is also the very similar:  "If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always got."  Everyone agrees with these ideas, so what does this mean?  We're insane!  Perhaps not logically insane, but at least practically insane.  Peter Kreeft said this insanity of ours is for him a proof of the Fall and Original Sin.  Saint Paul was perplexed by this insanity in himself, which he writes about in his letter to the Romans:
I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate...I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do (Romans 7:15,19).
Take a moment to reflect on a time when you managed to forget yourself and live completely for someone else, whether it was listening to a friend who was struggling with something, or volunteering as part of a charitable outreach, or just doing a random act of kindness.  Remember how liberating and satisfying that felt?  Now think of what is probably (if you're anything like me) the more common reality, the times when you've been completely selfish, when you've made a decision based solely on the consideration of "What's in it for me?"  How did that make you feel, and how did that feeling compare with what you felt in the first scenario?  In my experience, selflessness has always brought me authentic, lasting happiness, while selfishness has given me only disappointment, dissatisfaction, and frustration.  I've observed the same results in the life of every single person I've ever met.  And yet, fully aware of what works and what doesn't, we deceive ourselves so that we can perform the experiment "one more time."  And the cycle repeats...

But wait, what happened to "survival of the fittest?"  Why do the qualities and virtues that we admire the most in others, and strive hardest to possess ourselves (humility, self-sacrifice, altruism, etc.) seem to be in direct opposition to the ones that provide us with the best chances for survival and flourishing on a biological level (pride, selfishness, and domination)?  Why does human nature seem more excellent to us the further it diverges from the route of personal advantage?  Why do non-Christians and even many secular people find Christ's teachings so true, good, and beautiful, when He so blatantly contradicts everything our culture tells us we need to be happy?  Why do we admire the saints so much if most of them were, by every worldly standard, failures?  I think all of these questions have one answer – our happiness lies in God alone.  Why do we repeat the failed experiment?  Saint Augustine found the answer:

You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you (Confessions)

If you feel restless, anxious, scared, discontent, dissatisfied, broken, or unworthy, or all of the above, know that you don't have to keep wandering around in a hopeless search for happiness.  Happiness is waiting for you, and He has a name - Jesus Christ.  He is more willing to forgive you than you are to ask for His forgiveness, and more willing to find you than you are to be found by Him.  He knows you more than you know yourself, and He loves you more than you love yourself.  He is waiting patiently:
"Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:20).
You have to answer the door yourself, no one can answer the door of your soul for you, and Christ isn't going to kick it down.  He's not the policeman bashing on your door, he's the lover who throws pebbles at your window.

Thank you very much for reading and God Bless you!

Under the Mercy,
Chris Trummer


Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version,                Catholic Edition. New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, 1994.            Print.

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