Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 18, “The Will of the Father”

Dear friend of schooldays long ago,*

Cognitive dissonance is a state of mind in which a person must reconcile two conflicting perceptions, both of which seem certain.

I experienced cognitive dissonance late in the 1960s, when our generation protested the war in Vietnam. Many of us, I included, blamed our fathers’ generation for the horrors of that war. Our parents were accused of participating in the immense “military industrial complex” surrounding, supporting, and feeding off the tragedy of Vietnam.

Ironically, one of the great leaders of our fathers’ generation, President Eisenhower, had famously warned of this immense military-industrial establishment in his farewell address to the nation in January 1961. Then within a decade we smart children of the “greatest generation” had turned the term against Eisenhower and his soldiers, our dads. We were in open rebellion against their will.

Why then cognitive dissonance? Because I knew my father, a businessman of the older generation, and I knew that he was a good and honest man, who had fought bravely in the Second World War and now worked hard and honestly for his family. He was in business—the industry part of the military industrial complex—but he did not match the stereotype of the corrupt industrialist. Given time, and plenty of irony, Wall Streeters and entrepreneurs of our generation became far more rapacious than he or any of his business friends, at least those I knew personally, and I knew a few.

In other words, and I know I’m taking a long path to my central point, though I loved and even revered my father, I let myself become alienated from his will, his influence, even his best advice, which I seldom heeded during those confused years of the late 1960s. And I honestly think that this rebellion against our fathers—I was not alone, let’s face it—went hand in hand with a rejection of organized religion.

We no longer listened to our fathers, and so we could not listen to the Father. 

Which we must do if we ever want to imitate Christ. We are so fond of asking, “What would Jesus do?” We think we can be ethical, just like the Lord. But we lack the first building block of this ability—the willingness to listen to the will of God. The very idea is absurd to those of our generation, who, let’s face it, don’t take kindly to following anything or anyone except our own appetites and possibly a flexible sense of situational ethics oriented toward the individual conscience.

Follow “the will of the Father”? Ridiculous!

Yet that is what Jesus did, as Guardini notes, from his encounter with the wise men in the temple at age twelve (“Did you not know that I must be about my father’s business?”) to the road to Emmaus, when he is astonished to realize that his own followers do not comprehend “what for him is self-understood.”

And let’s not even talk about the absurd Latin term applied to our teachers at boarding school, in loco parentis. They were supposed to act in lieu of our fathers and mothers. Whether they did or not, and that’s highly debatable, did we listen? No, we lived, like Jesus’s relatives in John 7, “in the coldness of will and personal ability, not in the love of God, in which we accomplish what we never could alone . . . ”

You’re inspiring me to some strange and wonderful thoughts, my friend, and I thank you for it.

Best,
WB

This series of posts continues here with chapter 19.

* This post continues a series of open letters to an old friend about the chapters in Romano Guardini’s book The Lord.

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