“STUNG by a BULLET ANT”–What it Reveals about Us

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An entertaining YouTube video called “STUNG by a BULLET ANT” has gone viral: Its popularity is a symptom of a civilization that does not know what to do with pain.

In the video a brave young man–Coyote Peterson from the Brave Wilderness Channel on YouTube–undergoes tests of pain tolerance by seeking out ants that cause progressively more painful stings; these tests of nerve finally culminate in the horrific sting of the bullet ant, an ant which–you’ve guessed it–stings so painfully it feels as if a bullet has struck you. Peterson takes on the role of a scientist (giving us details about the creatures) and an adventurer (who spends days in the jungle looking for the elusive bullet ant which will carry out the sensational sting). Of course, after each sting, he is very gentle with the ants and places them back with their companions in the ant colony.  Peterson offers this explanation in theguardian:

“If I were to just take a bullet ant and let it walk around on my arm or look at it in a glass capsule you’d have more people saying: ‘Ah, that was interesting, but it would have been a lot more interesting if you’d let it sting you’, because that at the end of the day is what people really want to see and we’re aware of that,” he said.

“At the end of the day what we’re really hoping is these extreme episodes bring in the audience that then does find the episodes that are more conservation-based.”

So Peterson pulls people in with self-inflicted violence, so that he can teach people to interact more responsibly with the environment. The violence is a manipulative means to his end and caters to a voyeuristic audience’s thirst for spectacle.

I was both riveted by and revolted by the video, just as one might be when passing a massive car wreck on the freeway. The video has had over 17 million views in YouTube already; Peterson’s earlier videos after two years have had 525 million views. Pain is entertaining.

Interestingly, the pre-Christian culture of the Satere-Mawe tribe has had a custom of having boys undergo stings by multiple bullet ants in order to reach the status of manhood and to earn the designation of warrior.( Scroll down a bit on this link to access a video about it.)

In American society, we seem to have contradictory approaches to pain.

On the one hand, many people respect the ability to tolerate pain. We have Stoic elements in our own society. Complaining about every little thing is frowned upon. Consequently, there are comments on Peterson’s video such as the following: ‘And yet. He still didn’t swear.” And “I like how he teaches us while he’s in severe pain.” And “Wow he never once cussed wow.”

On the other hand, many Americans can’t tolerate even a small headache; they take Tylenol for it. They go to Pain Management clinics. They can’t tolerate boredom: they need to see movies repeatedly and watch sports nonstop for stimulation. They can’t bear the pain of abuse and loneliness  and despair–or boredom–and thus get addicted to drugs (or the Internet or video games) to anesthetize themselves. Academic and professional accomplishments are cut short because self-discipline is too difficult. Many go so far as to kill the unborn either to prevent a life of suffering for the children or to prevent a life of suffering for their mothers. Finally, American culture is heading more and more toward legalizing assisted suicide–and euthanasia–so that people can shorten anyone’s painful life at will. Pain and suffering is verboten. 

I think part of the attraction to Eastern thought, particularly Buddhism, in the United States, is because of its purported cure for suffering: Life is suffering; the cause of suffering is desire; the cure for suffering is the eradication of desire; and the Noble Eightfold Path is the method of erasing desire and, therefore, suffering.

Christianity’s sales pitch does not involve getting rid of suffering. The Cross is the corner stone which is at once the stumbling block–a stumbling block because it is hard to accept a Cross!

But the Cross involves meaningful suffering. It’s meaningful because Jesus’ death on the Cross serves as the paradigm for our suffering. When we intentionally unite our sufferings with Him through an act of will, we offer our sufferings up–sufferings patiently borne–for the good of our souls–as reparation for sin–and as reparation for the sins of others, in this way helping the spiritual state of all the people of the world.

In the Catholic Church, there is even discussion of “victim souls” willing to suffer to any extent God desires to carry out God’s work of reparation and redemption. Some of these victim souls develop the stigmata, i.e., bleeding wounds in the hands, feet, and side, in the  very locations in which Jesus was wounded. The Sunday Visitor sums up the approach to the suffering of victim souls and of Catholics with a more ordinary calling thus: “We can accept the pain and suffering of this life with patience and love for the intentions and benefit of ourselves and others in the Communion of Saints.”

Although Catholicism stresses that our personal suffering is to be borne well for spiritual benefit, we are not at all to be indifferent to the suffering of others. On the contrary: we are to be compassionate toward the pain of others: we are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, help the sick, visit the imprisoned, teach the ignorant, give hope to the despairing, and more . As Mother Theresa says, we are to treat other people in the way we would be treating Jesus himself–with love. Such complete outpouring of our love involves suffering on our part–meaningful suffering.

Suffering is not meaningful when we purposefully inflict pain on ourselves for attention or for thrills in risky, daredevil stunts. Aristotle tells us in the Nicomachean Ethics that the virtuous person deals with pleasure and pain appropriately–and for Aristotle that means rationally.  Reason alone should tell us the stunt with the ants (or similar such deeds) do not suit us as rational human beings. We should aspire to nobler deeds.

The popularity of a manipulative approach to pain tells us something:
It is an indication that our society does not know what to do with pain.

Marianne  Bovée

 

 

 

The Meaning of the Magi: Catholicism is the Truth for Everyone

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On the Feast of the Epiphany, before breakfast, I opened the curtains in the kitchen and saw three mourning doves resting on the wires in our backyard. Usually, there are only two resting there, and usually it’s in a warmer season, not in the nine-degree cold of a Wisconsin winter.  Wisconsin doves apparently migrate south for the winter, but other doves, and in particular male doves, are wont to migrate from Canada and remain in Wisconsin during the frosty season.  In an imaginative leap I felt nature was in tune with the acknowledgement of the three Magi who had come from the East, and I was glad we had added the three Magi figures to the nativity set that marked the Christmas season in our  front yard.

I had not been in the habit of reflecting much on the Epiphany over the years.  Christmas and the meaning of the Incarnation had been my focus. However, this year was different, perhaps because we made a conscious effort to add the Magi figures to the nativity set to mark the arrival of the wise men at the appropriate time.  Remember, the Magi were not there on Christmas day itself, when Jesus was born. They came later.

So the importance of the Feast of the Epiphany, fittingly enough, came as an epiphany to me.

The teaching surrounding the Epiphany is plain enough. At first the birth of Jesus was revealed to the Jews. But with the coming of the wise men from the East, who represented all people, even to the far ends of the earth, Jesus, our Savior, was revealed not only to the Jews but to all people.  No one is left out of the Christian plan of salvation.

There are so many angles from which one can approach the significance of the Magi coming to acknowledge the Messiah, the anointed One.

I would like to emphasize this: Not only are all people included in the plan of salvation that Jesus brought into the world in the sense that no one is rejected, no one is left out, but beyond that, the Christian plan of salvation is the plan for all people.  The Magi came to Jesus from the far ends of the earth because Jesus had the truth for everyone.

Now to some that seems a rather presumptuous idea. We live in such a time of relativism, that some Christians will say that Christianity is the truth for us, but not for everyone.  Those Christians will say that some cultures prefer other views—such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Islam and Judaism– and that we cannot impose our view on them or even assume we are right and they are wrong, or at least that we are more right than they are.

The Catholic Church has taught that Catholicism has the fullness of the truth—which means that although other views may not be completely wrong, they are not completely right either.

I do believe Catholicism has the fullness of the truth. And I’m not saying that in the sense that someone might, for instance, root for one’s own football team as being the best.  One could rationally think all football teams should have equal respect but then in one’s heart of hearts, so to speak, still favor one’s own team and very much want it to win.

It’s not some sort of personal bias like that which results in my saying that I think Catholicism is right. I’m convinced from an intellectual and aesthetic and moral perspective.

I think the plan of sacrificial love that is at the heart of Christianity is indeed the truth that will save us.  When God who is almighty and powerful and magnificent beyond understanding deigns to allow Himself to become a little baby, vulnerable, at the mercy of those around Him, needing the assistance of others, He has made a sacrifice for us in that Incarnation in order to fully communicate with us. A God who is love wants to communicate with His creatures.  As all lovers know, one wants to be with and to communicate with the one who is loved.

When He takes upon Himself the suffering due to sin by dying on the Cross for us—in order to make up for our sins–he is carrying out sacrificial love. Imagine when someone hurts you: in order to forgive that person, one has to absorb the pain of the injury and love the offender despite the offense; it is a sacrifice to do that. Jesus’ dying on the Cross is that sacrifice that allows reconciliation between creature and Creator after sin has taken place. Mother Theresa said, “Love until it hurts.” God loved us so much, he sent His Son to die for us, so that we can be reconciled with Him in forgiveness.

In the Catholic Church’s teaching on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the beautiful idea continues.  Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross is not repeated but rather accessed and shared in when we offer ourselves, too, in sacrifice, in union with His sacrifice on the Cross, when we partake in the Holy Eucharist, which is bread and wine transformed into His body and blood and then consumed.  In consuming Him, who gives Himself in sacrifice to us in the most intimate way possible, we allow ourselves in turn to be consumed by others in service, in love, in a spiritual sacrifice.

The world needs sacrificial love and can only be saved through sacrificial love. Imagine, to use a mundane example, how it would be in traffic without sacrifice—without each person giving up his or her own desires, his or her own need to proceed on the road. Traffic would end up in chaos.

Many of our lives are in chaos.

What a healing balm it would be for the world to take up the idea of sacrificial love.  Feuds would stop. Families would heal. Wars would cease. Countries would be at peace.

The sacrificial love of Jesus comes as a revelation—is revealed—to all people.  Jesus—the Way, the  Truth and the Life—is not just the truth for some. As the epiphany to the Magi shows, He is the Truth for all.

Marianne  Bovée