Living the American Nightmare

The crying woke me up again.

With that classic newborn sound, working itself into a cadence, my son’s callow voice finally punched through my snoring to tell me he wants breakfast. I reached over for my phone to check the time — oh, a news update — a bomb in Baghdad has just killed dozens.

I wiped the sleep from my eyes. Time to enter back into the nightmare.

But it’s not the nightmare of violence in the Middle East, or the generic nightmare of life in a fallen world. I’m talking specifically about the American Nightmare — the one where millions of us are murdered, and their body parts are sold for profit, all by an organization our government keeps saying we should appreciate.

We know ISIS is sadistic, but at least it’s “over there” — we embarrassingly assure ourselves. Nightmares, on the other hand, have proximity. Nightmares are horrors brought home, in our heads, at our doors, standing by our kitchen sinks.

It’s possible, I suppose, that I could doze off and have a bad dream of a middle-aged abortionist, as wide-eyed as Cruella de Vil, driving a yellow Lamborghini packed tight with the severed limbs and organs of aborted babies. I suppose I could imagine her speeding recklessly through my hometown, weaving down a well-worn road I never knew existed, her hands stained with blood as she grips the steering wheel and laughs at how stupid the rest of us are.

I suppose I could fall into a terror like that in my sleep, but I haven’t, and I don’t have to.

We can find enough horror like that when we’re awake, here in the American Nightmare.

What Was That?

Humanity has long seen depravity, but we’ve not all seen nightmares like this — the Millennial generation hasn’t anyway. Worldwide atrocities abound, but none are this appalling and socially defended. None are this close; none this loud. It’s the difference between watching fireworks on the Fourth of July, and then suddenly hearing an explosion in our backyards. One is to be expected, if we’re paying attention, but the other makes us all jump and ask in a panic, “What in the world was that?”

So we tiptoe around for a bit, and then carefully crack the blinds to see who’s there. But that’s when we see an image of ourselves standing in our backyards, loving what we love, doing what we do, or not loving and doing what we don’t love and do. That’s when we figure out we’re actually living in this nightmare, which is partly what makes it a nightmare, and partly what confuses us about what to do next.

We may share a few articles on Facebook. We may drop a few outrage tweets, sign a couple petitions, perhaps even email a government official. We get angry, scratch our heads, and then, well, just do those same things all over again. Meanwhile, blood is still spilt and an intact liver just went for $75.

Our Own Gods

Now we have seven videos, and in case you haven’t figured it out, most people don’t seem to care.

We still want them to care, and we still take immediate action. Keep reading, sharing, tweeting, and emailing. Keep calling this what it is. And get ready for the long-haul, because nightmares like this don’t change overnight.

Beyond our immediate actions, which are necessary, there is the upstream warfare for the human soul, which is also necessary. In fact, it’s our abdication — or past incompetence — in that part of the river which has led to this trickling down of sewage, recognized in part as our general ambivalence toward butchered babies. Something else, at some other point, has captured the American soul, and therefore, something else has formed our imaginations.

Secularism is the all-caps title for what that something is. It means life reconstructed with the contrived absence of God. More specifically, it’s what Charles Taylor calls “expressive individualism,” and most of us have bought in, to some degree. It’s that way of seeing the world which believes, as Taylor writes,

each one of us has his/her own way of realizing our humanity, and that it is important to find and live out one’s own, as against surrendering to conformity with a model imposed on us from the outside, by society, or the previous generation, or religious or political authority. (A Secular Age, 475)

In other words, we are our own gods, and we want everyone to know it. Whether it means our sexuality, or our sense of fashion, or the stickers we put on the back of our cars, we get to define who we are. Everyone is screaming at everyone else to take notice at how different they are from the others screaming. That’s the Kool-aid we’ve been served, and everybody’s been drinking.

If We’re Awake

We have mistaken this kind of individualism — or underdetermined personhood, you might call it — as freedom. No restrictions. Optional responsibility. Endless choices. I do what I want to do — which includes, of course, the right for a woman to execute another human being growing inside her. We are our own gods, remember, and that means we decide the kind of selves we want to be, which sometimes requires a little murder here or a little murder there.

Saddest of all is that, as a society, we thought this was the ticket to happiness. We thought this kind of autonomy meant living the good life. But it’s not, and eventually everyone will know it’s not.

And that’s what we must keep saying.

We must keep pointing out the absurdity of it all, and we must expose this empty promise of pleasure for the sham that it is. Trying to be our own gods is pandemonium, literally, and killing our children won’t bring the happiness we crave, no matter what Molech says.

We must speak the light of truth into the darkness, and then hold up a better way. We must return upstream and fight again for the soul. This is a hedonistic war, after all, and there is a happiness deeper than what we can manufacture for ourselves, a happiness of which far too many have yet to hear.

So we have work to do in this American Nightmare, and if we’re awake, the crying won’t let us sleep for long.