le premier jour(ney)

Journeying to France is over! I’m here! Or am I? Jack Whitman (Owen Wilson) would disagree.

The Darjeeling Limited was simply the best traveling movie. In no way do I intend to dull the gem of cinematic and performance cut of beauty that the movie is to a “spiritual journey” cliche that happens to fit traveling to a foreign country. Because it really is beyond me. But it’s because it is beyond me I found it perfect.

I had a very interesting conversation on my connecting flight to Houston. For about two hours a businessman from Phoenix casually yet seriously questioned the validity of Catholicism in an empiricist world. In a world of war and forceful conquering in the name of God, in a world where human fetuses appear identical to quail fetuses. In a world where we can study the physics that hold a spider’s web up just so. In a world where instinct has been convoluted into guilty conscience. He was a friendly Nietzschian. And the conversation began because I smiled at him.

His points about religion being a facade for political and economic dominance, about the modern American population’s general apathy for believing in spiritual beliefs, about religion being just another facet of manipulation to persuade people to join their side, and about the ultimate lack of reason for spiritual beliefs summed up the points of my spring semester philosophy course, Morality and Modernity. Alsdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue notes that the incommensurable characteristics of modern moral debate stem from a culture of emotivism, in which personal preferences are purported to be objective statements. We cannot even find the premises with which to begin a rational argument. The argument as a medium of rational “progressive” debate gets us nowhere, so manipulation is used instead of rationality. Hence an apathetic culture where choice is the self-defining characteristic of identity in both the private and public sphere, and there is a lack of understanding of why there are rules of morality anyway.

Maybe I’m getting this wrong, combining Charles Taylor’s Ethics of Authenticity with Dr. Solomon’s general points, Peter’s excellently articulated arguments, and my own misconstrued opinions about the course. But it’s true- the businessman felt defeated by the culture of manipulation, the falsity of religion, and the falsity of our culture’s belief that faith really means something. Instead he purported Creationism- that everything stemmed from an ultimate creative source – and that nature is really simple when you think of it in terms of evolutionary processes.

But to his empirical explanation, I proposed Benedict’s Regensberg Address thesis: We presuppose a system of rationality when we make scientific progress. In other words, we assume that there is an explanatory cause-and-effect relationship between everything in the universe. So what we really need to ask is, why is the universe rational? And this is a question only theology – faith and reason – can answer.

There was a lot of personal anecdotes thrown in the unfolding of questioning the big stuff back and forth. After explaining my transfer from Tulane to Notre Dame, he really started off by asking me what my favorite points of the Catholic faith were. I said it was the sacraments, the Catholic belief of forgiveness (though this is poorly worded and needs further research), and the Catholic Social Teaching that encompasses corporeal works of mercy. Of course this led to my relating my experience in Honduras – how the people were the freest and holiest people I have ever met. How their faith was central to communal life. Absolutely essential.

And even though they have a life without many material amenities, without the convenience and “luxury” of choice we seem to make our right in the US, they are pure and living beyond well as we Americans know it.

So the businessman asked, “Why is it that the Catholic church needs the luxuries of the Vatican? When they could feed the poorest of the poor seven times over if they were to sell the treasures of the Vatican?” And “Why can we not sacrifice our time as Mother Theresa did?”

To which I responded, “We live in a material world. We need the institution of the Church to outreach to the entire world, with the connections that they have, with the means that they have, in order to give the poor the spiritual sustenance they need. Not everyone can be a Mother Theresa- we all have our own vocational calling.”

To which he agreed: “Everyone has their own journey.”

And further, I added, if the Catholic Church didn’t have its institution in the US… If the Spanish hadn’t sold the Louisiana land to the French, who colonized and ‘infiltrated’ the land with Catholic institutions… There would’ve been no parish community, no catholic high school for me to have been introduced to the basic foundation of my faith. And without that, I wouldn’t have been able to question the foundation to have an even deeper understanding about what it is I believe.

Because embracing the Catholic faith is not just blindly accepting its “rules” – It’s delving into more deeply the mysteries which are beyond me. The mysteries that I continually find all over the world- even celebrated most brilliantly in the most remote mountains of Honduras.

So I sort of expected to find Paris richly mysterious in its own way.

And so Darjeeling Limited was perfect.

And they are beyond me.

Boulevarde Brune (the street where I live)

“So you’ve been where I’ve just come
From the land that brings losers on
So we will share this road we walk
And mind our mouths and beware our talk
‘Till peace we find tell you what I’ll do
All the things I own I will share with you
If I feel tomorrow like I feel today
We’ll take what we want and give the rest away
Strangers on this road we are on
We are not two we are one.” –The Kinks, “Strangers”

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