David Horowitz - Columnist
Horowitz is a noted author, commentator and columnist. His
is the founder of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture
and his opinions can be found at Front
Page Magazine. [go
to Horowitz index]
End Of Time
A letter to the young...
[David Horowitz] 5/26/05
I have just
published a new book called The
End of Time, which is
different from my other books. In the first place, its subject
is different, although I have written a memoir, Radical
Son, and The End
of Time is something of a memoir as well. In the second
place, its authorial voice is different. I have been engaged
in the political wars for so long that people perceive me as
someone perpetually engaged in combat. Like most perceptions
this is only partially correct. I actually have a soft side,
and a reflective one. This is a book of lessons about life,
from one man’s perspective.
Life. I didn’t
see it coming. That is a theme of this book. In fact none of
us see it coming when we start on our journeys. That is one
of the paradoxes of our existence. We are all so different
and unique. And yet in several crucial ways we are the same.
And this is one of them: None of us sees life coming. Or as
the Christian testament puts it: We see as through a glass
darkly, never face to face.
My book is
a kind of letter to the young, about what I have seen, about
what to expect. And it is a consolation for the old, in a sense,
because it is about what we all have been through.
More than three
hundred years ago a great scientist, a Catholic philosopher
and a poet of the soul named Blaise Pascal, outlined our predicament.
When he died at the age of thirty-nine, Pascal left a collection
of notes that he had stitched together with needle and thread
and which were published after his death. Known as Pascal’s Pensees, they
have become a classic of Western thought. This is the fragment
“When I consider
the short duration of my life, swallowed up in the eternity
before and after, … engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces
of which I am ignorant and which know me not, I am frightened
and astonished at being here rather than there. For there is
no reason why here rather than there, why now rather than then.
Who has put me here?”
like us there is no answer. In the words of St.
and non-believers stand in the same darkness. Neither sees
one of the greatest scientific minds that ever lived. He looked
into the eye of the universe and could not find an answer.
Without a Creator to make sense of it, he wrote, a human life
What then are
we to do? Pascal’s answer to this question was his famous “Wager.” Pascal
was a physical scientist but also a mathematician who pioneered
in the field of probability theory, devising formulas to calculate
the odds of winning at games of chance.
Look on life,
he said, as a game of chance. If you wager that there is a
God who will make sense of all this, who will give meaning
to our lives, who will provide us with a home in this infinite
expanse of unexplored space, then there are two possibilities:
If there is God, you win. If there is no God then you have
lost nothing by wagering that He exists. Therefore wager that
there is a God, and that life has meaning.
I am an agnostic.
I do not know if there is a God or not. But I have lived my
life as though what I do has meaning, and therefore I have,
in a way, taken Pascal’s advice.
As an agnostic
I have also seen that there are ways of believing and of demanding
meanings from life that are destructive and that are the source
of great human suffering and grief. I will return to these
thoughts in a moment.
Part of my
book is about death and how death affects the lives we live.
We live a great deal of our lives in denial of our end, as
though we will go on forever. At least young people do. When
you get to my age, you can see the horizon coming. Or rather,
you can’t avoid seeing the horizon coming.
and its impact on the purposes to which we devote ourselves,
informs the title of my book, The
End of Time. This title has two meanings. First that our
time has an end; and second, that knowledge of this fact should
shape our ends.
my book I refer to a story by Saul Bellow that provides an
image for this denial. “When there is too much going on,” Bellow
writes, “more than you can bear, you may choose to assume that
nothing in particular is happening, that your life is going
round and round like a turntable.”
doesn’t say whether this is a turntable like the ones you find
in playgrounds, or a turntable like those on which we used
to play our music on vinyl records. Which are gone now like
so much else.
the denial Bellow is referring to is larger than the moment
itself. Perhaps he is hinting that the music of your days can
lull you into an illusion that the present will go on and on,
and will never go anywhere else. Or perhaps, more simply, that
your life is in motion when you think you are just standing
is, until something happens. Until you get clobbered by events
and wake up to the fact that the stillness is an illusion.
That everything is changing about you, and that one day it
will come to an end.
own clobbering was the death of his mother through cancer when
he was seventeen.
the day this story takes place the young Bellow, who works
for a local florist, is sent to deliver flowers to the funeral
of a fifteen-year-old girl. Disoriented by the experience he
goes to his uncle’s office for comfort. But his uncle isn’t
in and while the young man is in the building he encounters
a sexual mystery woman. This woman lures him to an apartment
where she induces him to undress and then steals his money
and his clothes.
humiliated youngster is forced to return home in a dress he
has found in her closet. As he approaches his house, he fears
his father’s wrath. But then he remembers what he has forgotten
on his turntable -- that his mother is dying.
remembering this produces in him immediate feelings of relief.
He realizes that if his father is angry when he enters the
door, it will mean that his mother is still alive.
is how Bellow describes the experience of his mother’s death: “One
day you are aware that what you took to be a turntable, smooth,
flat and even, was in fact a whirlpool, a vortex.”
vortex of his mother’s death sucked some part of Saul Bellow
beneath the surface and it never came back. “My life was never
the same after my mother died,” Bellow said long after the
event. In the
story, he wrote: “I knew she was dying, and didn’t allow myself
to think about it there’s your turntable.”
are all kinds of turntables that draw us into life and lead
us to think it will go on without end.
I was in my fifties I fell in love with a younger woman, who
came to me as an unexpected blessing in middle-age. Her name
is April and this romance which blossomed into marriage became
for me a new lease on life.
bought a new house for us. It was perched like an eyrie on
the palisades overlooking the Pacific. Because it cost more
than my previous house I applied for a new insurance policy
that would cover the mortgage for my wife in the event of my
had to take a series of medical tests to qualify for the insurance.
When they were completed the company told me my application
was rejected because I had a psa of 6.0. PSA is an acronym
for prostate specific antigen. It is a number that can indicate
the presence of a prostate cancer, which is so common in men,
that it is almost a feature of age.
didn’t believe the test result. I had just had a check-up a
few months earlier and my PSA was only 4. How could it have
gone up so fast? Moreover, friends of mine had PSA’s of 9 and
no cancer. I demanded another test which came back with a similar
still was unconvinced. You could call this my turntable. I
as soon expected to get cancer in this life as to go on a voyage
to the moon. I called my doctor and he ordered a biopsy for
me. The biopsy showed that I did have a prostate cancer.
I hadn’t paid much attention to things like cancer or to my
body for that matter. Some of us are obsessed with our bodies
and their care and feeding. Others live in their heads and
consider time spent on their bodies as frivolous and time wasted.
It’s funny how we all have these gravities of our being that
determine who and what we are in such fundamental ways, yet
hardly think about them or how we came to have them in the
of us are optimists and expect good things to happen to us
and are surprised when they don’t. Others are pessimists who
expect the worst and are pleasantly surprised when things turn
out well. Obviously I was an optimist and a cockeyed one at
weeks later, I went into the hospital and had my prostate removed.
I was lucky. I had a brilliant surgeon and with a little radiation
afterwards, I was cancer free.
in and day out, during my illness, my wife prayed for me. She
prayed for my health and for my continued presence on this
earth. Her brother Joe and his wife Marta, who attended a Catholic
church, organized thirty Hispanic men, women and children,
including my nieces, to pray for me too. There were others.
morning these relatives and strangers whispered my name in
their intimate conversations with God, and implored him to
spare me. I was touched and strengthened by their love and
by their answered prayers. I had been saved and was grateful
for that. I would be able to share life with April again, to
be with my children and grandchildren, to rise in the morning
and greet the sea.
God really behind this good fortune? Had he intervened to rescue
an agnostic soul as a reward to the believers? Thankful as
I was for their concern, I didn’t like to think so. For if
he had saved me to answer their prayers then I would also have
to hold Him responsible for the others, the ones whose prayers
of the patients who came regularly to the cancer ward at my
appointed time was a young woman who seemed to be in her twenties.
She came in a wheelchair accompanied by a sad woman who appeared
to be her mother, and who had pushed her to the clinic from
one of the recesses of the vast hospital complex we were part
had barely begun life, but her eyes had already traveled to
a distant space, displaying a vacancy that could have been
equally the result of medications or resignation.
her this life had become a waiting room from which there was
no exit. I could not help thinking, each time I saw her of
the many lives I had been privileged to live in my span, and
those she would not.
was acutely conscious of the inhabitants of the cancer ward
whose prospects were worse than mine. Along with those who
loved them they had endured multiple operations, multiple setbacks,
years of a crippled existence, and a fate on hold.
is a hospital,” the poet T.S. Eliot wrote. I could appreciate
the metaphorical truth in the image, but it still felt like
a violence to the reality that confronted me. Not all life’s
hospitals were equal and not all God’s children were saved.
had my biopsy four years ago in September, 2001, exactly two
days before 9/11. Having spent the next four or five months
in a battle for life, alongside others some of whom would make
it and some who would not, ever conscious of the uncertainty
of my fate, ever more conscious of the end of time, I was struck
reading about the 9/11 attackers, when I came across this phrase: “Love
was a phrase that Mohammed Atta, the leader of the terrorists
wrote in his instructions to his team. “Prepare
for jihad and be lovers
can one love death? This is the enigma at the heart of
human history, which is a narrative moved by war between
tribes and nations. For how can men go to war unless they
love death, or a cause that is worth more than life itself?
of jihad have such
a cause. They believe they can redeem the world. This faith
is what gives their lives meaning, puts order in the universe
and restores justice to an unjust existence. By conquering
the infidel world and instituting the law of the Koran they
believe they can make the world holy and make it whole.
world we live in -- unjust, chaotic, and suffused with suffering
-- is full of earthly redeemers. They are both secular and
religious. These are people who cannot abide the life they
have been given or who cannot wait to see if the end of their
time on this earth will bring them a better in the next. These
are the radicals who believe that without a divine intervention
they can build a kingdom of heaven in this life, on this earth.
realize their mission, both secular and religious radicals
divide the world into two realms the realm of those who are
saved and the realm of those who are damned. Believers and
infidels, oppressors and oppressed.
radicals are permanently at war; their lives are a perpetual jihad.
fact is that we all long for a judgment that will make the
world right. A God who will reward virtue and punish the wicked.
Therefore, every God of Love is also a God of righteousness
and death. And that is why the radical belief in a redemption
in this world is the most destructive force in the heart of
once shared this radical faith. Life was intolerable to me
without a redemptive hope. This quest for a world transformed
brought tragedy to me as it has brought tragedy to the lives
of so many others. The Twentieth Century is a graveyard in
which millions of corpses were sacrificed to the illusion of
an earthly salvation.
they are secular or religious radicals, those who believe we
can become masters of our fate, think they know more than Pascal.
in their search for truth where do they imagine they have gone
that he did not go before them? In the end, their confidence
is only a mask for the inevitable defeat that is our common
lot, an inverse mirror of their human need.
understand Pascal’s religion. I understand his anxious bewilderment
at a life of no consequence. I understand his hope for a personal
redemption, and his search for an answer. But I no longer understand
the faith of radicals who think they can change the world.
I no longer share the belief that men by themselves and without
a divine hand can transform the world we live in and create
paradise on earth.
of my book is a memoir, the story of how I met April, how she
stood by me in my illness and nursed me through, and how I
began a new chapter in life. I will not spoil the love story
in this book by attempting to recount it here, but when April
and I had been together for ten years, she said this: “When
you die, I tell myself I’ll be seeing you spiritually some
day again. I don’t know how I would live with the thought of
you gone, if I didn’t believe that. I don’t know how people
who have no belief in God manage. It’s a sad way to carry your
heart through life.”
she knew I did just that. She said, “You need to respect God
more. He’s been good to you. When you came out of the operating
room you were so handsome and your skin was magical, there
was a glow on you. I knew that someone, maybe your Grandma,
or your mom was looking out for you.” And then she said, “You
have a mission. Most people are like me and don’t. But you
have a mission. God is protecting you.”
is a privilege to be loved. It can almost make you a believer,
even if believing is not in you from the beginning. You give,
and if you are lucky what you give comes back, and it comes
back in ways you would never have imagined.
could not so easily dismiss April’s idea of a grace unseen.
I knew I had taken risks others prudently avoided, and had
escaped unharmed. I had been felled by a cancer and was still
around to talk about it. But what was the mission that might
cause God to look out for me?
would the God of the Jews take a hand in the affairs of one
of His children in any case? The Biblical point was that God
gave us free will to determine our fates. Why would He intervene
to change mine?
had a mission once that tragedy altered and brought to an end.
I had given up this idea of an earthly redemption. I had come
to see the very dream as a vortex of destruction and had become
an adversary of such illusions in others. This was the mission
that April meant.
while I took pleasure in her romance I could not flatter myself
to think a providential eye was looking out for me because
of it. This was the very illusion I had escaped. The personal
dream of every radical is to be at the center of creation and
the renewal of the world. What I had learned in my life was
that we were not at the center of anything but our own insignificance.
There was nothing indispensable about us; about me, or anyone.
wars of the social redeemers were as old as the Tower of Babel and
would go on forever. With or without me. The dreamers would
go on building towers to heaven, and just as inexorably they
would come crashing to earth. Some would take to heart the
lessons of the Fall, but others would fail to even notice them,
by the dreamers who preceded them and innocent of their crimes,
an unending cycle of generations would repeat what they had
done. The suffering of the guilty and the innocent would
continue without end, and nothing I could do or say would
summons I had answered was more modest by far. I was a witness.
I needed not to forget what I had learned through pain, and
to pay my debt. I needed to warn whom I could and to protect
whom I might, even if it was only one individual or two.
If I had a mission to name, it was about wrestling with the
most powerful and pernicious of all human follies, which
is the desire to stifle truth in the name of hope.
is why you cannot change the world: Because we all
six billion of us -- create it. We do so individually and
relentlessly and in every generation. We shape the world
as monarchs in our own homes and as masters of others in
the world beyond, when we cannot even master ourselves.
breeder of new generations is a stranger to his mate and
a mystery to himself. Every offspring is a self-creator who
learns through rebellion and surrender, through injury and
error, and often not at all.
is the root cause that makes us who and what we are the
good, the bad, the demented, the wise, the benevolent and
brute. We are creatures blind and ignorant, stumbling helplessly
through a puff of time.
future is a work of prejudice and malice inextricably bound
with generosity and hope. Its fate is unalterably out of
our control. Insofar as this work is manageable at all, it
is carried out now and forever under the terrible anarchy
of freedom that God has imposed on his children and will
not take back.
by us each day at odds with each other and over and over,
the world can never be made whole. It is irrevocably broken
into billions of fragments, into microscopic bits of human
unhappiness and earthly frustration. And no one can fix it.
Pascal was an agnostic of the intellect, but a believer of
the heart. He recognized that his condition was hopeless: only
a divinity could heal his sickness and make him whole. Because
science provided no answers to his questions, he trusted in
the God of Abraham to provide what no mortal can. Pascal was
a realist of faith. He drew a line between the sacred and the
profane, and respected the gulf that separates this world from
the next. He did not presume to achieve his own salvation in
this world, or anyone else’s.
so the redeemers. They cannot live with themselves or the fault
in creation, and therefore are at war with both. This makes
them profoundly unhappy people. Because they are miserable
in their own lives they cannot abide the happiness of others.
To escape their suffering they seek Judgment, the rectification
that will take them home.
they do not believe in a God, they summon other men to act
as gods. If they believe in God, they do not trust His justice
but arrange their own. In either case, the consequence of their
passion is the same catastrophe. This is because the devil
they hate is in themselves and the sword of their vengeance
is wielded by inhabitants of the very hell they wish to escape.
is no redemption in this life. Generation after generation,
we transmit our faults and pass on our sins. From parents to
children, we create the world in our own image. And no power
can stop us. Every life is an injustice. And no one can fix
it. We are born and we die. If there is no God to rescue us,
we are nothing.
my time, I have found a solace and consolation in the written
word. The universe I inhabit remains a mystery but I go on
living and writing, nonetheless, as though there were a reason
for both. Almost every day I create an order on the page, which
reflects the order I see in the world. Whether it actually
is one or not doesn’t matter as much as the fact that the quest
moves me forward as though I am headed somewhere, and rescues
me from the despair that would overwhelm me if I were not.
I did not believe there was an order, I suppose I would not
be able to pursue one at all. The pursuit is my comfort and
the order my personal line of faith. They put oxygen into the
air around me and allow me to breathe.
the halfway mark of the last century, which to me does not
seem so long ago, the gifted American writer William Faulkner
won the Nobel Prize for Literature -- an award, like every
other human vanity, bestowed on the undeserving and the deserving
most famous novel, The Sound and the Fury, is a title
he took from Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth. In pursuit
of worldly gain, Macbeth betrays every human value and relationship
that is meaningful to him. In the process he is stripped of
all human companionship and respect, until he is only an empty
and embittered shell.
emptied his own life of its spiritual supports, he turns against
life itself: “It
is a tale told by an idiot,” he proclaims, “full of sound and
fury, signifying nothing.”
when Faulkner mounted the podium in Oslo to
receive his Nobel Prize and felt as though he was speaking
to the world, he struck a very different note. The year was
1950, the dawn of the nuclear era. Faulkner looked into the
eye of its darkest prospect and declared, “I refuse to accept
this. I believe that … when the last ding-dong of doom has
clanged and faded … in the last dying red evening… man will
not merely endure: he will prevail.”
criticized Faulkner’s pronouncement as mere bravado. What basis
could he have for such a claim? But this faith was not his
wisdom. It was the oxygen he needed to breathe.
and I acquired a little Mexican dog with black and white markings,
whose improbable name was Jacob and whose brain is smaller
than my fist. When Jacob wags his tail for joy he does not
hide his pleasure as we, burdened with consciousness, often
do. Instead, his whole frame is swept into the movement as
though life had no reality but this. Jacob is one of the myriad
creatures on this earth, ridiculous and also beautiful, whose
origin is a mystery and who do not worry the significance of
who or why or what they are.
the morning when I step out of my shower this little self comes
to me unbidden to lick the glistening drops from my feet. This
is not a ritual of submission; it does not have any meaning
for him at all. It is merely his pleasure. What is interesting
is that I, a creature who lives by meanings, am also affected
by this action. When he does not come, I feel the absence and
is a microcosm of all the visits and vacancies that bring misery
and happiness to our lives. We can embrace them or not. This
is a choice we freely make that determines whether life will
hollow us out and embitter us, or provide us oxygen to breathe.
is ahead of us? Like Pascal, we don’t know. “Believers and
non-believers stand in the same darkness. Neither sees God.”
like Pascal we should wager on life. We should bear ourselves
in this world as though we have seen God, be kind to each other,
love wisely, and give to our children what we would have wished
for ourselves. tOR
opinion piece first appeared at FrontPageMagazine.com reprinted
by permission of David Horowitz. Copyright 2005