Saturday, October 24, 2009

Anxiety

In his extraordinary little book The Courage to Be, the great Protestant theologian Paul Tillich describes anxiety as "the existential awareness of nonbeing." Another way of putting it is to describe anxiety as "finitude, experienced as one's own finitude." Anxiety is common to all humans who realize their own limits, their own finitude, their own mortality. Anxiety, furthermore, is to be distinguished from fear. Whereas anxiety is the general threat of non-being, fear as a specific target or "a definite object, which can be faced, analyzed, attacked, endured."

I have experienced two bouts of anxiety and fear this week. The first I would associate with hitting the big "3-0" birthday. One of my seniors kindly - and jestingly, I hope! - graciously offered to organize a birthday gathering for me, and said that he'd be happy to bring "a handle" as a gift. I declined, of course, and it has taken me some time to sort out exactly what "a handle" is: I'm not much of a liquor drinker (I prefer a good beer or a glass of wine). [note: wiki answers indicates that 'a handle' is 1.75 liters while a regular bottle is 0.75 liters. Apparently, my student was being inordinately generous in his offer.]

So I'm older and I discourage any and all forms of under-age drinking. That's a good thing.

My second bout with anxiety came from a horrifying exchange I witnessed on a number of so-called Catholic blogs. I do not wish to go into the specifics of the issue, but I will say that the 'facts' that the various bloggers offered do give reason for pause. By pause I mean that these facts should be investigated and the person with whom they are associated ought to be given the opportunity to bring clarity and light to the situation.

What actually took place was a despicable mob scene. Commentators impugned not only the man, rendering judgments that were both hurtful and libelous, but the organization with which he is involved. Some individuals bragged about "bringing down" this man and making it impossible for him to work or to serve others. I entered into the fray and tried to bring down the temperature of the proceedings, but I was maligned and attacked as well: it's been a long time since I was told I was 'ignorant' or that I needed to 'return to the Gospel.'

The reason behind my anxiety is this: I have no idea who, each day, reads my blog and who may be lying in wait for me to publish something the least bit scandalous or offensive to his or her sensibilities. There are hundreds of things that I would like to write about, but I will admit that I am afraid to do so: I have seen so many people maligned on blogs and websites that I don't know that I want to put myself in the position to have it done to me.

What is most terrifying is that there is no one to fear: internet anonymity does not give us a focal point, or target for our fear. Making matters worse in the militancy with which these anonymous individuals adhere to their own sense of self-righteousness: so convinced are they of their being right, they lose any and all willingness to dialogue. These individuals feel it their duty not only to try but to punish those with whom they take issue. Their absolute certitude, they claim, is a distinctive trait of their orthodoxy. I'd add that their absolute certitude is also a trait common to terrorists.

Thus there is no one to fear; there is only an anxiety wrought by anonymity, an ever-present threat that someone is waiting to malign me and my reputation. And while I'm not quite concerned about losing my life thanks to my blog, I do have to worry that something could be said that would jeopardize my life within the Jesuits. Over the last five years of my blog, I have become far more cautious in what I post...and I try, very hard, to remain "fair and balanced" in my assessments of issues.

I apologize for the semi-dour post. I have a cold and I'm crabby this morning. Ailments notwithstanding, this has been something that has been on my heart for some time and the events of the last week have brought it to the surface. Once I feel better I'm sure I'll have a post with greater levity!

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