All Hallows’ Eve
I’m writing this on All Hallows’—that is, All Saints’—Eve. Tomorrow begins the traditional Christian month of praying for the dead.
I had an especially vivid and disturbing dream of death a few nights ago which has left the subject very much on my mind. I can’t describe the dream in detail, but I remember very clearly the emotion it provoked, which was something close to panic. It was not a dream about the pain and fear of the process of dying, but about the state of death itself. In the dream this state was one of disorientation, helplessness, and disconnection. I could not think or perceive clearly and could not act at all. I was aware of other souls around me but could not in any way commune with them. I think it was very much like the state which C.S. Lewis somewhere describes as possibly being what it might be like to be a ghost. And it made me think of the scene in Perelandra where the hell-bound spirit of Weston returns briefly to his body and begs Ransom to help him: what Weston describes is somewhat similar to what I dreamed, and he is in pure panic to escape it.
Somehow in my dream I did pull (or was pulled) away from this state, but only to find myself in a state of dread similar to Weston’s and feeling that it must be possible somehow to escape the inevitability of re-entering what I had just left. I felt the full horror of that inevitability and the hopelessness of escape. I saw the world as a sort of ever-narrowing tunnel through which all the human race must proceed, and as it narrowed we would lose more and more of life—our bodies, our memories, our ability to think clearly and to use language—but never lose everything, that is, never entirely cease to exist or to have some kind of broken and fragmentary consciousness—a sort of permanent burial alive.
I awoke feeling certain of the inevitability of death and simultaneously that the certainty was perfectly intolerable. Most especially, I couldn’t bear the fact that we don’t really know what death will bring. I can face the idea of extinction well enough, but not the idea of permanent living death. I felt a need to know what would happen after death with an intensity that I can only compare to the need for air one feels after holding one’s breath for thirty seconds or more. How, I thought—I was still half asleep and in the grip of the dream—could it be possible that we must all face such a thing without knowing what will happen? How can it be that no one has ever returned to tell us?
And then, of course, coming fully awake, I realized that someone has done so, or claims to have, and moreover claims to be able to tell us what we must do in order to escape a condition which is perhaps something like what I had dreamed. And I remembered that his claim is not merely his own but one well attested by eye-witnesses. Why should we not believe it? I have been a Christian for many years but I think this was the first time I experienced viscerally the intense relief and joy and release from dread with which many pagans have received the Gospel.
O Death, where is thy victory?
A Followup from Last Week
Moving rather abruptly into the mundane: the following questions and comments are ones which might have been, but were not, directed to me about to my last journal entry.
You’ve used an inversion of the Fox News slogan “Fair and Balanced” as part of the title for your attack on CBS and implicitly the other established TV networks. This is a low blow, since Fox is just as biased. Besides, its mere existence with its Republican bias contradicts your claim that a monolithic left-wing media bias has distorted public perception of the issues surrounding the war in Iraq.
Fox is indeed biased. For the record, I don’t particularly admire its news programs (and on the basis of its own advertising have a very low opinion of most of its entertainment programming). Fox news tends to be hasty and superficial compared to, say, CNN. And its bias is arguably more blatant. But I don’t think it’s worse—in fact I think I prefer an open bias to a sneaky one. And in any case I’m glad Fox is there. If we can’t have a reasonably non-partisan press, at least we can have a multiplicity of partisan views.
I also think it’s interesting and amusing that so many on the left are beside themselves about Fox on the grounds that it does not report objectively. This tells me that either they cannot see the bias of a network like CBS, probably because they share it, or that they’re not being honest—presumably the former.
Many on the left think the mainstream media are corporate shills for right-wing forces. Doesn’t the fact that both extremes are offended prove that the media are balanced?
Not at all. First, what constitutes “extreme”? Obviously that’s a relative and somewhat subjective term. I can locate the extremes and the center of a yardstick fairly accurately and in a way with which most people would agree. But the political spectrum is not so well defined. If you think the Republican Party or even the Christian Coalition represent the extreme right, you probably resist even naming the extreme left. Perhaps you’d accept the Shining Path movement? So you’re saying that conservative American evangelicals are comparable to an armed guerrilla force? To that, all I can say is “snap out of it,” because I don’t think I can reach you with reason.
No, the right-wing counterpart to the Shining Path would be something like the Aryan Nations (ideologically speaking—in actual deeds the Aryan Nation has done very little, while Shining Path once seemed to have a fair shot at taking control of Peru). Show me where the media gives the Aryan Nations favorable treatment. The left-wing counterpart to the Christian Coalition would be, say, MoveOn.org . Which is more likely to get sympathetic treatment from the media?
But let’s drop this language of extremes and middle. The point is that the mainstream media do have a pretty definite political point of view and that they report the news in such a way as to reinforce it. The fact that people of other views than mine also believe this does not mean that we are both wrong. And my specific complaint is that by reporting and editorializing on the war so as to reinforce their belief that it was unjustified, they have seriously exacerbated the divisions within our society. This is a serious accusation and I believe it is true.
How can you dismiss Fahrenheit 911 without having seen it?
I haven’t read the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, either. Sometimes reputation is enough.
I once had a very educational conversation with a Seventh Day Adventist fanatic who believed that the Catholic Church is a satanic conspiracy controlled by the Anti-Christ himself, the Pope. It was educational for me, not for him; as far as I could tell he was entirely unchanged. What I learned was the power of maneuvering someone into trying to prove a negative. I cannot prove that the Pope is not the Anti-Christ, George Bush cannot prove that he did not go to war for Halliburton, and Michael Moore cannot prove that his baseball cap is not the receiver through which he obtains his orders from the Daleks.
One can construct from facts a web of false inferences which do not admit of disproof. Here’s how:
First you select any actions on the part of your subject which reflect badly on him. Discard all other facts which cannot be made to serve this purpose. Interpret the ones you keep in the worst possible light, and reject out of hand all possible alternative interpretations. Freely dispense with the distinction between correlation and causation. Insert as many unfalsifiable assertions as needed (the motives of your subject and any other participants are always a nice blank slate for this, as you can impute any content you want to another’s unknown thoughts). If assertions are too risky, innuendo will usually serve the purpose. Finally—and this may be the most important part—stick with monomaniacal perseverance to your core conviction that your subject is evil through and through; this will protect you from dropping your guard against other views.
Michael Moore is telling the truth and you just can’t face it.
Snap out of it.
Seriously. Say the war was immoral, say it was a strategic blunder, and give your rational account of why you believe these to be true, but come out of the shadows and fog of Mooreism. Give the administration credit for acting in good faith. Besides what should be the crippling defect of being incorrect, the Moore account of current events makes it impossible for political opponents to have a dialogue, because it is based on the imputation of bad faith to the other. The country’s divisions are dangerous enough already.
And with that I am swearing off political commentary for at least the next four weeks, no matter who wins on Tuesday.