Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

One of the memorable songs of the 1980s is ” Living on a Thin Line “ by the Kinks. Largely unknown, it underwent something of a revival after it was used, of all things, for an episode on The Sopranos .

Click here for more posts on the Pope's UK visit The song has been interpreted many ways ; some think its about the fragility of life and how our best-laid designs can unravel at any moment. Others think it’s a statement against politics and war, especially the Falklands War (which occurred shortly before its release), but that may be too narrow a description. I think it has larger dimensions. Living on a Thin Line is an elegiac ode to a Britain that no longer exists—or perhaps (as cynics might say), never really did exist.

Whatever its intended meaning, the song, admittedly very secular, is paradoxically—and perhaps unintentionally—a warning against secularism. Its lyrics are revealing, even haunting:

Living this way, each day is a dream.
What am I, what are we supposed to do?
Living on a thin line,
Tell me now, what are we supposed to do?

Now another century nearly gone
What are we gonna leave for the young?
What we couldn’t do, what we wouldn’t do,
It’s a crime, but does it matter?
Does it matter much, does it matter much to you?
Does it ever really matter?
Yes, it really, really matters.

Listening to these lyrics, one can’t help think of the aimlessness of modern society, not just in Britain but throughout Europe (and increasingly, the United States). Many people, especially those who assail the Church, have absolutely no idea how to order their lives, much less improve the lives of others. They are very passionate about pointing out the sins of Churchmen (real and imagined); and explaining why Christianity is supposedly a blight upon the world. But when it comes to answering the great metaphysical questions—Why is there not nothing? Why is there anything at all?—most are left speechless; and the clumsy efforts of a few celebrity agnostics and atheists to eliminate God from the universe on “scientific” grounds hasn’t helped .

If you ask secularists what the meaning of life is, and what they are living for, you’re likely to get a quizzical look, a secular platitude (“to each his own”) or a confused, hesitant response: “We’re not really sure. We’re just kind of going with the flow.” The problem with “going with the flow,” however, is that it isn’t leading anywhere—at least nowhere healthy—spiritually, mentally, or emotionally. Theologian Henri de Lubac dealt with this issue at length in his masterful book, The Drama of Atheist Humanism : “If man takes himself as a god, he can, for a time, cherish the illusion that he has raised and freed himself. But it is a fleeting exaltation! In reality, he has merely abased God, and it isn’t long before he finds that in doing so, he has abased himself.”

Modern, secularized man is in a state spiritual and emotional eclipse; if he is not stricken with what the French call ennui —a boredom and philosophical listlessness—he is often overcome with anger, even paranoia, which is increasing all the time .

Desperate for guidance, desperate for leadership, wanting something more than the world can offer, he doesn’t know where to turn; and so his heart cries out in a whimper, like the song quoted above, “What am I, what are we supposed to do?”

Pope Benedict, like all great Christian leaders, understands that longing and knows that it exists even among rebels. Watching secularists chant “We don’t need God!” brings to mind the brash teenager who says he resents his parents setting a curfew—all the time secretly appreciating that parental guidance and love.

Benedict will be going to Britain to offer that love and guidance. He won’t be aiming to elevate himself, but instead turn peoples thoughts and hearts toward the One who created us and from whom we draw our daily sustenance.

Those looking for answers to life’s greatest questions will be given them for the listening. Benedict’s recent Message for World Youth Day spoke to these ongoing anxieties : “To some extent, this urge to break out of the ordinary is present in every generation. Part of being young is desiring something beyond everyday life and a secure job, a yearning for something really truly greater. Is this simply an empty dream that fades away as we become older? No! Men and women were created for something great, for infinity. Nothing else will ever be enough.”

Read more here .

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles