Nothing really matters
Anyone can see
Nothing really matters
Nothing really matters to me
(Any way the wind blows)
So sings Freddie Mercury at the end of Queen’s classic “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It is a silly little song, but this ending refrain seems to want to make a serious point. Nothing matters.
Freddie didn’t come up with this on his own. He is merely restating what has come to be the base philosophy of the modern world. The world runs on chance; humans are “meat machines;” if you want meaning in your life, make it up, but don’t fool yourself. Nothing really matters.
I don’t fault the artists who have sought to capture this in their work. It is their job, so to speak, to give voice (or vision, as their art form dictates) to the currents at work in the wider world. The artists of Hollywood are especially good at portraying this hopelessness. To take one example, Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven (1992) portrays a man seeking to escape his former violent life, only to discover that that escape is impossible.
I happen to like “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It has a catchy tune, and it is fun to try to sing the strange lyrics. But its organized nonsense — such as the combination of Scaramouche, a kind of operatic clown in many early modern Italian comedies, with Bismillah, part of an Arabic phrase meaning “in the name of God” — points to a sense of the deep meaninglessness of reality.
Hopelessness and meaninglessness are a strong corrosive. They eat away at the soul of the modern human. And the modern human has found many ways to try and protect himself or herself from the deterioration. Entertainment, food, drugs and alcohol, sex — these are a very short list of the medicines with which we treat ourselves. Nothing needs to be said about the destructive power these things have when used improperly.
Meaninglessness is like sand at the beach. If you go to visit the beach, you will track sand everywhere and into everything. And so the contemporary Church is not immune from getting this “sand” in its collective shoe. Our soul is eaten away by hopelessness, inasmuch as we have laid aside the source of meaning. Like the broader world, we look for ways to medicate ourselves. We have traded a meaning based on the plan and purpose of God, and we have replaced it, in the main, with “holy busyness.” We reduce our meaning down to what we can accomplish. But we intuit that these accomplishments are ephemeral. They blow away in the merest of life’s breezes. And they are powerless in the gales of life’s crises and tragedies.
Or we gather the hopeless community around, and encourage each other. This is another standard Hollywood trope: All we have is each other, so we had better stick together. And it is not that community is unimportant, but a community with no source of real meaning and hope is ultimately no better off than the lone individual with no meaning or hope. Misery may like company, but it is still misery.
If the Church loses its grasp of ultimate meaning, and therefore of hope, what will we have to give to the world, when the world has no idea where to find real hope, when it doubts that such hope even exists?
For the Church to hold on to (and, in some cases, recover) meaning and hope, the most important step is the recovery of the preeminence of theology. Every movement towards placing humanity at the center of reality must be fought tooth and nail.
Among other things, this means that every time we are tempted to make God into an emergent property of humanity, we must reject that idea as a product of post-Enlightenment naturalism. Any time we say the most important thing is that we do something for God, we must correct ourselves by saying the most important thing is what God has done for us.
We must know and worship this God, who is both imminent (right there with us) but also (this is what most often seems lost today) transcendent. This is a God that lies outside of us, that we did not and cannot manufacture or control. “Our hope comes from the Lord, who made Heaven and Earth.” We will demonstrate to the Freddies of the world that God is no operatic clown, but the Lord of the world. And that what matters is knowing that God and who he is: not a random wind that blows “anywhere,” but the God that purposefully breathes power and life and meaning and hope into the world he loves.
The featured image is “Masques et bouffons” (1860) by Maurice Sand. It is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.