Michael Stafford, 5/16/2013 [Archive]

Are You Carrying the Fire?

Are You Carrying the Fire?

By Michael Stafford

Cormac McCarthy's novel "The Road" is about a man and his son living ten years after a cataclysmic event in a dark dystopian future.

In their world, the sky is filled with ash. The sun is blotted out, and the planet is growing colder and darker. Plants, animals and most people are dead. Civilization has fallen apart and, with food stocks exhausted, many of the survivors have turned to cannibalism and barbarity. In such circumstances, hope almost seems irrational.

The characters decide to travel toward the coast hoping it is warmer there and to see if they can find other "good guys" who are still "carrying the fire." In the face of terror and despair, they do not lose the last of their hope, nor their humanity.

The book is about love in the midst of crushing adversity, but it can also be viewed as a kind of Christian allegory. Indeed, the references to "carrying the fire" call to mind the imagery of Pentecost, as well as the story of Prometheus and the dawn of human civilization.

At a fundamental level, "The Road" speaks to the dilemma faced by people of good will, those of us trying to carry the fire, in modernity.

Today, we live in a blasted moral and ethical landscape that is growing progressively colder, where it is hard to find real sustenance- food for the soul. It is a dimming world where the light of the Son is obscured. Moreover, we are surrounded by functional cannibals, who survive figuratively by devouring us.

Ours is a world seemingly devoid of the sacred, in which human dignity and solidarity are under constant assault. And as the culture becomes coarser, we seem to grow ever more brutalized and cruel.

Unsurprisingly, our civilization is marked by increasing hopelessness, anomie and alienation.We are mere survivors scavenging and fighting over scraps.

As individuals carrying the fire, we have limited power to influence the direction of events.

The full might of mass culture is turned against us, negating the good, mocking the truth, demeaning the quest for knowledge and promoting a set of values and norms at odds with authentic human development. It erects false idols and summons us to worship. And to those it calls, it is as seductive as the Sirens.

Even more than that, it creates a spectacle so distracting, and a realm of illusion so inviting, that men and women are not even sensible to their peril and, in many ways, are made the instruments of their own debasement.

But it is as pointless to curse the times as it is to curse the tides. The task before us today is to carry the fire, to keep it lit, and to ensure that it is passed on to the next generation.

Under such circumstances, stepping out onto the road is an act of bravery- of real moral courage. But we are compelled to do it because the fire cannot be kept alight in isolation. It is a social thing. It requires community. And it must be lived.So we have to venture out and find each other in this world.

However, like the characters in McCarthy's novel, we face a terrible dilemma. It is impossible to live in the modern world, to walk the road today, and not be morally compromised in some way.It is difficult to keep our bearings, and to retain the ability to distinguish good from evil, right from wrong. In such circumstances, how can we be certain that we are still numbered among the "good guys" in the world?

The answer begins with human dignity - the recognition of the sacredness and the intrinsic value that each individual possesses. The sacred isn't hidden from us: we encounter the sacred in the concrete lives of our neighbors.

So, as you travel the road, be generous and compassionate, ever mindful of the weak, the poor and the marginalized.Expose and denounce inhumanity and injustice wherever you find them. Refuse to be complicit in the debasement or degradation of others, and take no pleasure in such spectacles. Comfort the sick and the weary. Be a good steward of creation, and tend life's common spaces.

If we do these things, then the truth will never be shorn of its referents in the world.

And the fire will warm us on this journey - reminding us that life has a purpose and meaning that transcends mere survival.

I'll see you on the road.

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©Copyright 2013 Michael Stafford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Michael Stafford is a former Republican Party officer and the author of "An Upward Calling." Michael can be reached at anupwardcalling@yahoo.com

This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.



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