28 November 2008

Leave Reality Out of This

Per a friend's recommendation, I recently watched director Luc Besson's latest effort, Angel-A (pictured). I liked his other movie, The Fifth Element, which I watched during a time of spiritual wandering (an extended outback expedition for sure). That film stirred up inklings of sehnsucht, most probably due to the aesthetic produced by Besson's heroine (played by Milla Jovovich), which was, for this man, at that time, a beguiling synergism of strength, beauty, eroticism, and otherworldly innocence.

I found myself enjoying this unique aesthetic of Besson's in Angel-A...which was just about the only thing enjoyable in the film, and even that barely, due to less innocence and more vulgarity. The plot, about a leggy, chain-smoking blond angel who comes to rescue a down and out loser named André, charming though it could be, didn't work that well. But what sealed my disappointment in the film was the final scene [SPOILER ALERT] where André tries to keep Angela from returning to the other world and to, instead, stay and make a life with him on earth. Angela is torn. She cries out, "What do I do? My God! . . . What should I do?" To which André replies, "Angela, leave him out of it for once." She smiles and kisses him.

Ugh. This is a pet peeve of mine, this narrow, anthropomorphic view of God. If God is God and not some god, then He is the author of reality, the metaphysical ultimate, the cause and sustainer of all that is. This means that whatever is, derives its being from Him...and not just material things, but "things" of value also. Something is true, good, or beautiful precisely because it mediates Him who is Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. (Evil, then, is merely a subtraction or privation from what is. It is, therefore, no-thing in itself, and so a kind of un-reality. See C. S. Lewis' The Great Divorce for more along this line of thought.)

So when Angela calls on God to help her find a good and meaningful conclusion to her dilemma, and André tells her to leave God out of it, he, in effect, tells her to seek for the real outside of reality; to seek something good outside of Goodness...to seek meaning in what is, by definition, meaningless. This is absurd. If one thinks he has found something real outside of reality or something good outside of Goodness, then he is making one of two errors. (i) He has indeed found something real or good. But if that's the case, it always was real and good, because God is eternal perfection. He doesn't change the boundaries or the playbook. (ii) He has not found something real or good, he just thinks that he has.

The only time it makes sense to leave God "out of it" is when one seeks to turn away from reality, from truth, goodness, and beauty...true Joy. That is the way of Hell and God respects our choices if we choose that. (Again, see The Great Divorce.) But if one is seeking reality and real meaning found in real things, it only makes sense to call on God; for, if God is God and not some god, His solution is the best of all possibilities. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: "God displays not only his kindness, goodness, grace, and steadfast love, but also his trustworthiness, constancy, faithfulness, and truth... He is Truth, for 'God is light and in him there is no darkness'; 'God is love,' as the apostle John teaches. (1 John 1:5; 4:8)...this is why God’s promises always come true. God is Truth itself, whose words cannot deceive. This is why one can abandon oneself in full trust to the truth and faithfulness of his word in all things" (214-215).

That there is an all perfect being means that all the beauty, the love, the goodness that lift the heart of a man out of himself are but the shadows of the infinite on the pool of life, vague hints of the ineffable that lies at the beginning and end of life. . . . The conclusion that all reality is godlike is quite true. What we see in the world of existence, of beauty, of goodness, of grace and all the rest is had from God Who is overflowing with perfection. These creatures share, participate in the perfection of God. This was a truth close to the heart of Francis of Assisi and Martin de Porres, a truth that made all irrational creation and the whole world of men a lover's note to be read slowly, tenderly, repeatedly, to be treasured caressingly until the writer in person made plain all the beauties that could not be squeezed between the lines. It is right that the strength of a storm at sea, the innocence of a child, the calm of a country twilight should stir us to the depths of our being for these are shadows of divinity passing by... The notion of goodness adds nothing to being but the smack of desirability, that is, a thing can be good, desirable, only insofar as it is possible or thought to be possible; it can be pursued and enjoyed only insofar as it has being.... Bluff, defect, incapacity have nothing desirable about them because there is nothing real about them. But He Who is, the cause of all reality, the perfect Being, is the highest goodness for He is the most real Being. Not that He has goodness; rather He is goodness, as He is reality. On His goodness all other goodness is modeled, from His goodness all other goodness proceeds; all other goodness is a similitude, a participation, a limited miniature of the limitless goodness of God. Because of the smack of desirability which goodness adds to being, God is most desirable, most lovable. So true is this that everything in the universe hustles eagerly to this goal of goodness, each in its own way: man with alert steps along the dangerous road of knowledge and love, brutes with the unerring aim of instinct, the inanimate world with the blind, plodding step of physical necessity devoid of all knowledge. For each creature in the universe is spurred on to action by the goal of its own perfection, a goal which is nothing but a similitude, an image, a mirroring of the goodness of God... In a very real sense, this utterly limitless God overflows the limits of the universe. He is everywhere within it, yet not contained by it. Everything in the universe comes from God; existence is His proper effect. Where anything exists, there is God. Understand, now, this is not merely a matter of God first giving existence and then abandoning the universe to its fate; He does not give us a pat on the back as we leave the corner of nothingness to jump into the ring of life, leaving us to take the blows while He shouts advice that takes none of the sting out of the blows. Existence belongs to God; as long as existence endures, there is the hand of God sustaining it as a mother supports her infant or the throat of a singer sustains his song. God is everywhere, and only God; for only God is the infinite, the first cause explaining every existent thing. The ubiquity of God, in common with all the divine perfections, is not a cold, abstract thing meaningless to men. Its significance for human living is inexhaustible. In the concrete, it means, for instance, that God is in the surge of the sea, the quiet peace of hills and valleys, the cool refreshment of rain, the hard drive of wind-driven snow. In the cities He is in the bustling of crowds, the roar of traffic, the struggle for pleasure, for life, for happiness, in the majesty of towering buildings. In homes He is not to be excluded from the tired, drowsy hours of night, the hurried activity of morning, from the love and quarrels, the secret worries and unquestioning devotion, the sacrifice and peace that saturate a home. In every individual one of us God is more intimately present than we are to ourselves. Every existing thing within us demands not only the existence of God but also His constant presence, from every rush of blood from our hearts to every wish, every thought, every act. In other words, everything that is real must have God there as the explanation, the foundation, the cause of every moment of its reality.
--Walter Farrell, OP, The Companion to the Summa, Vol. I