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All the light we cannot see

Who or what should be the arbiter of desires that may be indulged and those that should be resisted?

(Image: Cherry Laithang/

Some years ago, I read a novel entitled All The Light We Cannot See (2014) by Anthony Doerr, a title with multiple meanings: scientific, cultural, and moral. This was a story of a blind French girl, Marie Laure, who grew into a young woman during World War II. It was a frightening read in places while eloquently portraying what we miss when our vision is limited by nature, how we’ve been conditioned to see things, or by the choices we make.

All the light we cannot see. Today, many passionate and outraged voices denounce anyone and any institution that will not embrace the current secular narrative about gender, race, and abortion. Jobs are forfeit, public criticism is heaped, views and voices canceled, even legal measures might be taken to punish the offender or offending institution.

In response to this relentless movement, a question might be posed to one and all: “Do you believe that any human desire, urge, inclination, orientation, choice—whatever word you want to use—should be resisted, even when such resistance is very hard?” Even today, I’m convinced the overwhelming majority would answer yes—some desires should be resisted—while disagreeing as to the desires, etc., that may be indulged and those that ought to be resisted.

But who or what should be the arbiter of desires that may be indulged and those that should be resisted?

The individual—each person? Should indulging or resisting desires be self-defined? History, experience, and evidence demonstrate that when indulging or resisting desires is self-defined every imaginable behavior will be practiced.

Should indulging or resisting desires be determined by the prevailing norms or laws of a society? Again, history, experience, and evidence demonstrate that when indulging or resisting desires is defined by societies and cultures every imaginable behavior will be practiced, including mass murder, genocide, slavery, the abuse and sacrifice of children.

Is “love” an appropriate arbiter of desires that may be indulged and those that should be resisted? What of the “love” of a middle-aged person for their neighbor’s teenager? What of the “love” for sexual intimacy no matter how many are used to satisfy such a desire? What of “love” for a way of life or nation that relies on slavery to sustain it? What of “love” for one’s race, ethnicity, or religion that puts other races, ethnicities, or religions in a lower place? What of “love” for a political philosophy that demonizes other political philosophies? What of the “love” for gods that coerce human sacrifice?

Should a higher law that is above personal choices and prevailing norms decide what desires may be indulged or should be resisted? If so, this higher law might be judged by examining the lives of people who have striven to live these principles. Were they exemplars—or no better than the rest? Where this higher law has been practiced, have depravities been prevented, or at least restrained? More specifically, in times, places, refuges, towns, where the higher law defined in the Gospels and the moral law of the Catholic Church were actually practiced, albeit imperfectly, haven’t justice, generosity, and fraternity taken root, and even flowered? Yes, in spades, even in that Auschwitz hell-on-Earth where heroic individuals lived this higher law to the end.

And yet, many are convinced that the Catholic Church is a bigoted, misogynistic, predatory, racist institution. Surely, such an institution cannot produce the fruits of a higher law that deserve to be universally observed. Aren’t we fed a steady diet of such views, “news”, and “entertainment”? The “logic”, or twisted syllogism, of attacking and canceling Saint Junipero Serra was well established in the old Soviet Union who used such “logic” to do away with anyone who opposed their control of Everything, and many moderns of like mind have embraced this “logic”—”the Catholic Church is racist, Saint Junipero Serra was a prominent Catholic missionary; ipso facto, the saint was a racist and deserves to be canceled.”

Imagine that you’re confined to a house where all the windows filter the outside light so you only see a small portion of the visible light. Doesn’t that small portion of visible light soon become your reality, notwithstanding the full spectrum of visible light outside the house?

The light that those inside this house—including many self-professed Catholics—cannot see is that every news forum/broadcast, on every single day, in every town, in every country in the world, could be filled from front to back, from first word to last, with stories of Catholic individuals and organizations practicing heroic self-sacrifice, heroic generosity, heroic love, including toward complete strangers and adversaries. Every day, front to back, first word to last. Don’t Catholics know this, don’t they observe this for themselves in the small corner of the world they inhabit?

Because secular news organizations, the K-PhD oxymoronic education system, and the “entertainment” industry ignore these heroic acts, because they intentionally filter the full spectrum of visible light, don’t we have a highly distorted view of the world as it truly is?

Therefore, we shouldn’t make excuses for bad behavior in the Church and we shouldn’t allow people who are looking at a small spectrum of the Church’s behavior and actions to dominate conversations and put us on the defensive. We must be prepared with all available truth to enter the Coliseum.

Though Marie Laure was physically blind, with the aid of her father and uncle she perceived more of the full spectrum of reality than her sighted French neighbors and the technologically advanced German invaders. All the light we cannot see has conditioned the Church and Catholics to be reactive and to play a defensive game rather than using all modern means to replace those filtering windows so the full spectrum of reality can be more clearly seen.

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About Thomas M. Doran 84 Articles
Thomas M. Doran is the author of the Tolkien-inspired Toward the Gleam (Ignatius Press, 2011), The Lucifer Ego, and Kataklusmos (2020). He has worked on hundreds of environmental and infrastructure projects, was president of Tetra Tech/MPS, was an adjunct professor of engineering at Lawrence Technological University, and is a member of the College of Fellows of The Engineering Society of Detroit.

1 Comment

  1. I have NEVER read an article like this. It speaks to my deepest frustration of “Why can’t everybody see things as I see them?”

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