Facts Don’t Care About Your Healings

Facts Don’t Care About Your Healings

Written by Samuel D. James |
Thursday, March 2, 2023

Feelings are what are leading a lot of people away from the presuppositions and certainties of progressivism. The notion that secular philosophies will always appeal better to people’s emotions than historic Christianity is just dead wrong. I am convinced that the coming years are going to be marked by people finding a meaningful peace and catharsis through Christianity and through traditional value systems: the ideas of human purpose, divine image-bearing, the importance of place, and the givennesss of truth. The mental health crisis in the West is ideologically coded precisely because it is ideological. And in the coming years, the most effective form of Christian or conservative argumentation will simply be the display of stability and compassion.

I would like to pioneer a new genre of personal essay. I call it: “My Parents Did Their Best Raising Me and Of Course They Got Some Things Wrong But I Don’t Blame My Problems on Them Because I Don’t Want My Kids to Blame All Their Problems on the Mistakes I Will Inevitably Make.” Basically this kind of essay would follow all the familiar patterns of a typical piece wherein the author awakens from the cruel hypnosis inflicted upon them by their strict/overbearing/religious/nosy parents. But instead of ending with the author being enlightened and the family being exposed, it would end with a terrifying realization: that even my parents’ mistakes were valuable, that my grown-up problems were not reducible to them, and that the most mentally and spiritually healthy attitude I could have toward my childhood is gratitude for the many good things, and forgiveness for the bad.

Even writing a sentence like that one is enough to elicit a near unbearable wave of anger and critique. If a thousand people read that opening paragraph, I promise that at least 100 will believe I have somehow suggested that abusive, traumatic experiences are irrelevant and trivial. There is no suggestion of the sort within a country mile of what I wrote, but the context of contemporary #discourse is so loaded that even talking about forgiveness can and will appear to some listeners as a kind of experience-negation.

Negating someone’s experience is a social sin that has become so totemic of the times that you have to go out of your way—and often say the opposite of what you mean—in order to avoid even giving the appearance of having committed it. But I’ve noticed that in many situations this dynamic only works one way. Negating someone’s experience may not be a sin if their experience is deemed to be the wrong kind. The opening paragraph of this post hints at one category of personal experience that often goes negated with impunity: the experience of realizing you don’t know as much as you thought and that the people around you actually don’t have as much ultimate power over your well-being as you might have been tempted to believe. In digital culture especially, this kind of memoir just feels backward, like a screenplay in which the Bad Guy actually wins. You’re not supposed to feel more outward-facing gratitude and less inward-facing certainty as you age. You’re supposed to see your enemies all the more clearly. This strikes me as a recipe for pathological mental anguish.

The tragic irony for many people my age is that the kind of mental health that we desperately need is almost always predicated on decentering the self, which is precisely the very thing we have been educated not to do in the interest of mental health. Our windows to the world are mirrors. Many of the most popular “self-care” techniques are really just analog-era recreations, which suggests what we really need is just one hour where we’re not staring at our own psychological state. Decentering the self is not just implausible in the Age of the Mirror, it’s actually condemned as immoral through the way we articulate which personal narratives matter and which ones don’t. The narratives that don’t matter include:

  • I realized how much I’d been given and how evil only living for myself would be.
  • I was miserable trying to curate my own identity and this was cured when I gave myself completely to this spouse and these children.
  • I thought me and my desires were the same thing, but then I realized that denying those desires gave me more joy.
  • I was convinced people who disagreed with my core convictions were wicked, but I was wrong.

These are personal narratives that happen every day! They’re true stories of genuine transformation. Yet they are far less likely to be published, promoted, or celebrated than stories of learning how to “care for myself” or of “throwing off” the stuff I was taught. The narratives that carry the most cultural weight all go in the same direction, outward → inward: “I thought X because other people told me X, but when I looked inside myself I realized Y, and now I’m free, both from X and from the people who told me X.”

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