Ever since high school, I’ve been keeping a journal of at least occasional thoughts, as well as some other minor writing. Sometime during the summer of what I think was 1984, I threw away all my collected writing to date – with the exception of a small set of poetry that was the lyrical content of some music I was composing at the time.
I’ve often since regretted that action, thinking that, in my rashness, I’ve deprived myself of a good source of knowledge and insight into myself as a person. I’m not sure I still regret it, though, as I don’t know how keen I would be to encounter the young man behind those ten years worth of missing documents. I’m not entirely certain of the reason for this, but I have some ideas.
I still possess what is now over twenty years of the document record of my life, often recorded at low moments of melancholy bellyaching, yet also including a fair amount of constructive thought, in one form or another. Occasionally, I go back through it to recollect the way I have traveled. The bellyaching tends to be pretty repetitive – I’ve been struggling against more or less the same demons for most of my life, even if my footing in that struggle has changed radically over time – but I’ve always found it at least entertaining, and at times even inspiring, to re-enter the thinking of my younger self.
Lately, though, I’ve been finding myself less comfortable with what (or who) I encounter when I dig into my past. I’m not referring to the record of my struggles – I understand what that’s all about, regardless of how frustrating it might be to see the evidence of sin’s tenacious perseverance, and my own characteristic feebleness – but rather to the record of my ideas about things that were important to me. Where once I would have found my younger self’s thinking to be at least a good jumping off point for considering some matter, I now find myself, more and more, rolling my eyes at the narrowness and shallowness of what I once thought.
p>It’s not necessarily a bad thing to be able to say that I’ve moved on, but I’m beginning to not recognize myself in my own history, if I can say that without undue melodrama. It’s not that I’ve ever been completely satisfied with the way I’d put things ten or fifteen years prior, and I’ve certainly always felt there was room for improvement and development, but I’m beginning to consider my youthful thinking less in terms of development (of at least certain strands of thought), and more in terms of correction – even repudiation. It seems I was, in some matters, right out to lunch.
The net result of this has been a loss of confidence in myself, and in my ability to perceive reality with sufficient and appropriate clarity. It’s great to learn from one’s mistakes, to grow, to overcome deficiencies. But what should this suggest my current life might look like to me in another fifteen or twenty or thirty years? Would I discover (or at least surmise, for how could I say with certainty even then?) that my ideas, today, had been not only immature and unrefined (which would be par for the course), but even at cross-purposes with reality (that is: lies)?
Multiply this problem by, not a few decades, but the infinite shadow of eternity, and it becomes easy to fall prey to the conceits of the relativists, and their confounded coupling of skepticism and progressivism. At the least, it does seem to raise a valid question about the limits of human knowledge, and of what it means to be coming to know the truth. If we are growing in wisdom, we should always have the luxury of looking back with a certain bemusement, but it seems illogical to me that the path to truth should ever look, in retrospect, to have been just plain wrong – leading me to wonder exactly what path I’m actually on.
As I write this, it occurs to me that I must sound like I am complaining of a lack of personal infallibility. So many people have such trouble with the concept even of the infallibility of the Bride of Christ, and here I am grousing about how inconsistent it seems with life in the Spirit of Truth for an individual to fall into error. It sounds silly when I put it like this. But, still, wrong-headedness must be seen, it seems to me, to be rooted in resistance to the Spirit.
In reality, some of the Protestant theories of revelation tread down this same path – I’m thinking of the doctrines of soul competence and the perspicuity of Scripture. They’re not identical to what I’m talking about, but they likewise assume that error can be known (or avoided), not through the faculty of reason, but through grace, somehow. And that this is available to individuals through the Spirit. When you examine them, these are really much more radical doctrines than the Catholic dogma of infallibility, which grace is attributed only to the Church as a whole – including, in some circumstances, the Pope speaking for the entire Church.
So I really can’t go there, as tempting as it is. In the end, I suppose I simply cannot know just how misguided I may be at any particular time. That’s the inherent danger of opinion, isn’t it?
What’s frustrating is the stubborn obscurity of the distinction between opinion and understanding – not that I’ve ever witnessed understanding attempting to masquerade as opinion, but opinion certainly strives mightily to be passed off as understanding. It’s very easy to walk away with an ignorant opinion from an encounter with a genuine source of knowledge. Isn’t that, in a nutshell, the basis of faithlessness?
As for whether my younger self had any real clue whatsoever, or what my older self would make of my current self, I suppose I just need to be at peace with myself, and cultivate hope. And it wouldn’t huty to consider the significance of the fact that the areas of my youthful thought I now see the need to renounce are exactly those areas where I had trouble, as a youth, with Catholic Church teaching.