Father Booth’s Weekly Reflection

The Illusion of Independence

We like to think that we are independent. We like to think that we are less vulnerable than we truly are. Much of our independence is more of an illusion than we might realize or care to admit. For example, how dependent are we on having various forms of merchandise delivered to our door? It is convenient. It offers us a wide spectrum of goods to which we might never otherwise have access. If you needed shoes, you once went to a shoe store or a department store and had to live with whatever they sold, and you might not be able to get what you wanted from the selection they offered because it was out of stock. Or that style of shoe just did not come in your size. Now, we have access to shoes of every shape, size, style, and color because of online shopping. If you wanted a particular dietary supplement, you had to go to the drug store or the supermarket. If you were looking for ashwagandha extract (whatever that is), the pharmacist would have said ‘do what?’ Now with online shopping you can get ashwagandha that is in capsule form or not, vegan or not, organic or not, from India or not, from the Himalayas or not, and so on. But what if some enviro-zealot politicians or bureaucrats outlaw home deliveries because of the carbon footprint of all of those delivery trucks? Or what if an online retailer chooses to refuse your business because you are a Christian, because you don’t seem to support the same causes they do, or because of the content of your social media? You might even be boycotted at local stores because of your beliefs. It is already happening that some people are being de-banked, having their bank accounts and credit cards cancelled because of what they believe. How independent are we without a credit card or a bank account?

And then there is our dependence on the various utilities we take for granted. When we lose power for a couple of hours, many of us are at a loss. No internet. No light. No computer. No cable. No heat or A/C. But what if the power is down even longer and not just in our neighborhood? No cell coverage, no landlines, no refrigeration and much spoiled food. Perhaps we would have only a barbecue for cooking so long as the charcoal or propane holds out. Many natural gas ovens and stoves won’t work without electrical power. Temporary power loss is inconvenient, but a permanent widespread loss would be devastating. That would translate into no running water and no natural gas since electrical pumps are necessary to deliver water and gas. Eventually there would be no food and other essentials in local stores nor would there be fuel for our cars.

The vast majority of Americans are hardly prepared for such a possibility. It is likely that preppers and survivalists are much less prepared than they think. Yes, they may have a stockpile of various essentials, but how long might they last? Early in the cold war, beginning in the late 1950s, some built fallout or even bomb shelters with the expectation of surviving a nuclear war. That trend faded out most likely because people realized that when they emerged from their bunker the world would be hardly recognizable and less than habitable. Remote regions would be spared the direct effects of the nuclear weapons, but widespread radioactive fallout might or might not be avoided. Even if the local area was spared, what are the odds that hunkering down for months in a confined space, which would likely be more or less dark for lack of electricity, that people would maintain their mental health and avoid killing one another?

Indeed, we really ought to know that any dependence we have on the things of the world is tenuous at best. Becoming preppers or survivalists is hardly the answer. No, everything we rely on in this world is ultimately built upon a foundation of sand. We want to be independent, we want to be masters of our own destiny, but those desires are ill-conceived. Wanting to be masters of our own fate is not much different than the desires of Adam and Eve that led to their downfall. They wanted to be like gods even though God had provided for their every need in the Garden.

Truly our most fundamental need is to be right with God, to have Jesus in our life that we might secure eternal life, that we “might have life and have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10) in heaven but also in this world despite the vast unreliability of all things temporal and mundane.

—Fr Booth