Navel Gazing

It has always struck me as very strange that navel gazing has a bad reputation. The first thing that should occur to a person looking at his navel—other than perhaps gratitude to his mother—is that it is obvious that he did not create himself. From there, it should be obvious that his parents—having navels—didn’t create themselves either, and so on back until one comes to a necessary being. That is, something that is uncreated, utterly different from us, existing outside of time and space, and which was the sufficient condition for us. That is, gazing at one’s navel should lead pretty directly to contemplating God.

Consider this passage about Hank Rearden from Atlas Shrugged (italics mine):

He had burned everything there was to burn within him; he had scattered so many sparks to start so many things—and he wondered whether someone could give him now the spark he needed, now when he felt unable ever to rise again. He asked himself who had started him and kept him going. Then he raised his head. Slowly, with the greatest effort of his life, he made his body rise until he was able to sit upright with only one hand pressed to the desk and a trembling arm to support him. He never asked that question again.

I’m pretty sure that the fool in this passage actually answered his question, “me.” Had he just looked at his navel, he’d have realized that he did not start himself, nor in the early part of his life keep himself going. Looking at his navel should have told him in three seconds that all that he is was a gift others which is impossible to repay. It should have made him realize that he can’t earn what he was freely given; the best he can do is to be worthy of what he was given, to safeguard it and keep it from harm, because sin is the privation of being.

Incidentally, he might also have ceased to be an objectivist because it is not our nature to exist on our own, but in community. Objectivists see clearly enough that the individual has worth that the community must respect and may not trample upon, but they miss that it is not good for man to be alone. We find our highest good in the fulfillment of the entirety of our nature, and that includes being in community with other creatures. We will never be happy if we lose sight either of the individual or the community.

Where Objectivists really go wrong is a problem common to all secularists: we have a nature, and therefore a highest good, but we are fallen creatures, so we will never attain our highest good on this side of death. This is a contradiction, and one that can only be resolved by something unfallen which can repair our fallen world. We can’t fix ourselves, for the simple reason that we can’t give ourselves what we haven’t got. Trying to build an ideal society under conditions in which it is impossible to build an ideal society will always result not just in failure, but in spectacular failure.

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