G.K. Chesterton on the Metaphysics of Julianne Moore

I don’t tend to care much at all about the deep thoughts and philosophical utterances of movie stars, celebrities, and other bright lights in the silly secular sky, but I somehow ended up reading this recent Hollywood Reporter piece about actress Julianne Moore. It follows the same trajectory of so many other profiles of Hollywood types: bad childhood, finding one’s way, rise to fame, growing awareness of a deep inner void: “In her early 30s, Julianne Moore felt lost. Her professional life was soaring, her personal life shrinking.”

So, of course, the talented actress—and she certainly is talented—turned to religion. Sort of: “Unsure what to do, Moore turned to a therapist, who got straight to the point: She must give her private life its due.” And:

“The idea that you’re the center of your own narrative and that you can create your life is a great idea,” she says, referring to a notion in one of her favorite books, Little Women. “I totally believe it. I’ve been really lucky, but I feel I’ve completely created my own life.”

And, a bit later:

Turbulence is not unknown to her; she acknowledges that a peripatetic childhood left its share of instability, and she returns over and over to the theme of impermanence. She says she doesn’t believe in God and has a strong sense that meaning is imposed on a chaotic world.

“I learned when my mother died five years ago that there is no ‘there’ there,” she reflects. “Structure, it’s all imposed. We impose order and narrative on everything in order to understand it. Otherwise, there’s nothing but chaos.”

Moore’s need for therapy and subsequent claim that she has “created” her own life reminded me of a passage by G. K. Chesterton, in an essay titled, “Upon This Rock”:

The sacramental system is everywhere based on the idea that certain material acts are mystical acts; are events in the spiritual world. This mystical materialism does divide us from all those forms of idealism that hold all good to be inward and invisible and matter to be unworthy to express it. It is needless to note how this applies to the water of baptism, the oil of unction, and so on.

But I am deliberately taking the sacrament which our world has most misunderstood; and, strangely enough, it is that one which is least material and most spiritual, consisting of spoken words expressing the most secret thoughts. Of all the sacraments it is, in the modern jargon, the most psychological. And the proof of it is that even the people who abolished it a few centuries ago found that they had to invent a new imitation of it a few years ago. They told the people to go to a new priest, often without credentials, and make confession generally without absolution, and they called it psychoanalysis.

Catholicism would say that the lack of the confessional had produced a modern congestion and stagnation of secrets so morbid as to be reaching the verge of madness.

Part of the madness, it seems to me, is in the glaring inconsistency of Moore’s metaphysics, if you will. She says there “is no ‘there’ there” and that structure and meaning do not exist—there is only chaos until we “impose order and narrative on everything”. And where, I wonder, does that sense of “order and narrative” come from? If it’s not “out there,” it cannot be learned by observation. And since we are part of what is “there”, how could we, inexplicably, possess an innate sense of something that does not exist?

As the Super Bowl is nearly upon us, I’ll offer this analogy: this is like an NFL player saying, without any hint of irony at all: “I don’t care about the rules of the game. I don’t care about the refs. I just play the game. I play it the way I want to play it. Period.” Uh, really? (Mind you, some players probably do say or think this, but it is complete nonsense.) But that, really, is what Moore is saying: there is no meaning, only chaos, and so I create “meaning”—which logically is a concept that cannot exist since meaning doesn’t exist—and impose structure upon what is inherently chaotic.

In other words, she is a god. And, with apologies to Dr. Christian Smith, Moore practices what might be called “Moralistic Therapeutic Atheism”.

However, one cannot help but sympathize a bit: Moore desired meaning, and realized that is located in having “meaning,” getting married, and having a family. Don’t you wish that there was a religion and belief system out there that emphasized that life does, in fact, have real meaning, and that marriage and family are fundamental to that meaning, not just on an individual level, but just as much so on a social and cultural level? Don’t you?

Not to pick too much on celebrities, but the piece on Moore calls to mind an article I read last September about singer/songwriter, Alicia Keys, who had just released a new song, “We Are Here.” Keys, who is now thirty-five years old, reflected on her Facebook page about the genesis of the song:

The day I wrote this song, I was sitting in a circle of people of all ages and we were asked, “Why are you here.” Why am I here?? This really hit me on a deep level. I realized no one had ever asked me that question before.

Really? Really?? You are in your mid-thirties, and no one has ever asked you, “Why are you here? What is the meaning of life?”  Consider getting some new friends. Or reading a book. Or spending time in thought. She’s never once wondered, “What’s it all about?” But, hey, not to worry: once the question was posed (oh, thank goodness!), Keys was quick to pound out a tune that was filled with the sort of trite nothings and banal clichés one expects in the Age of Oprah and Obama:

We are here
We are here for all of us
We are here for all of us
It’s why we are here, why we are here
We are here

Keys also wrote this about the song:

I have a vision that I believe is more than a dream, that I know can be our reality. I believe in an empowered world community built on the true meaning of equality – where we are all considered one people, regardless of race, religion, gender, zip code, belief system or sexual orientation. … I believe in Peace & Love & Unity.
I believe that this vision can be a reality. 
And, it’s not about me. It’s about WE.

Which is why, I suppose, she continually writes, “I…. I…. I….” The bigger point, however, is this: upon what basis does Keys found and ground her beliefs? What is the deeper foundation of her faith? While it’s not clear whether or not Key believes in “God” or a “higher power” or something similar, her cognitive dissonance isn’t far removed from that embraced by Moore. Both would benefit from reading some Chesterton:

I suppose it is true in a sense that a man can be a fundamental sceptic, but he cannot be anything else: certainly not even a defender of fundamental scepticism. If a man feels that all the movements of his own mind are meaningless, then his mind is meaningless, and he is meaningless; and it does not mean anything to attempt to discover his meaning.

Most fundamental sceptics appear to survive, because they are not consistently sceptical and not at all fundamental. They will first deny everything and then admit something, if for the sake of argument–or often rather of attack without argument. I saw an almost startling example of this essential frivolity in a professor of final scepticism, in a paper the other day. A man wrote to say that he accepted nothing but Solipsism, and added that he had often wondered it was not a more common philosophy.

Now Solipsism simply means that a man believes in his own existence, but not in anybody or anything else. And it never struck this simple sophist, that if his philosophy was true, there obviously were no other philosophers to profess it.

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About Carl E. Olson 1207 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.