Growing up in a family that harbored no shortage of brothers yet merely a sister, I recall how I failed to grasp what demon drove her into playing with baby dolls day and night. The rest of the world was trains, trucks, planes, etc; baby dolls: no. Nevertheless, my world expanded to welcome this oddity. After the birth of one of my cousins, however, my mother brought her to visit my aunt and newborn child. According to my mother, upon seeing her baby cousin lying in a crib, she dropped the dolls she was carrying to the floor.
St. Thomas Aquinas, O.P. was among the greatest philosophers and Theologians ever to preserve his considerations in ink. His memory and logical acumen exceeded all but a few (if any), and he was known to keep even three secretaries working at once. By the conclusion of his short life (only 48 or 49 years), his work was prolific: one edition of his Opera Omnia weighs in at 90 pounds. Yet, after having a mystical experience during the celebration of Holy Mass, he exclaimed, "mihi videtur ut palea: it seems to me as straw." After this remark he wrote no more.
Such is our condition. Something occupies us from within, fixes our attention, drives us outwards towards some object before the intellect or sensory imagination manages to conjure even a foggy notion of what that object is. Prior to being seen, it is loved in some way. Its very obscurity, instead of banishing its lover into inattention or despair, compels some to develop or mull through their own representations of that object. It is the doll to the newborn child, Theology to God Himself, the painting to beauty or to a person.
Yet once the object is encountered, the representations are neglected: they fall to ground or by the wayside. Only a fool would reject the beloved for his own sub-creation. These objects are called ends, and acting for its proper ends is intrinsic to the essence of any substance. A substance cannot detract from seeking its end without violating its integrity, without loosing or distorting, in a sense, a part of itself.
These representations of ends foster a kind of illusion within the subject. He discovers the stirrings of hidden love buried within, integral to his being. In thinking about, creating, or playing with these representations, the lover clarifies and nurtures this hidden love and with it the illusion.
Here I do not mean delusion, as if he were deceived or some faculty of his were disordered. There is no room in illusion for falsities, for falsities and delusions hamper the illusion. On the other hand, an illusion can be lacking without hampering an agent's pursuit of the end.
Illusion lacking perfection involves the play of a child, a dance, a thinker when he becomes lost in thought, the rummaging of expectant parents through parenting books, setting up an unborn child's soon-to-be bedroom, or the flirtation of lovers. Perfected, illusion is the kiss or love-making of a married couple, the grasp of a newborn's tiny hand around your index finger as he rests peacefully in your arms, or the mystical vision of God. Illusion brings its possessor outside of himself. It plunges him into the world. It stirs in him a desire demanding satiation, a desire to burst through the prison of his own being so that he may be captive no more: no longer restrained from his love, that every fiber of his being might delight in it and rejoice!
If delusion is wayward or deceptive illusion, disillusion is the counterpart of illusion. Disillusion is a disinterested unbelief in the object. Such is the phenomenon experienced by the reader when he encounters inconsistencies in a story, an onlooker who sees the trick wielded by the magician, or the Philosopher who finds irresolvable problems in his philosophy: difficulties leading to contradiction. Such is discovery of a lover whose beloved merely feigned love. Disillusion is clearly a counteractive measure to delusion, but often with it comes despair as the subject retreats back into himself.
The subject who once was drawn outside of himself by illusion retreats back into the confines of his dark cell. He sees the child accompanied merely by the discomforts and the seeming superficialities that make them bearable. Romantic relationships and marriage are only maintenance and expenses: restrictions on personal freedom. Philosophy and Theology are circular and indefinite speculative endeavors deprived entirely of utility. Religion becomes superstition, merely the care of old women and gullible children, and a vehicle for intolerance and war.
Often disillusion shrouds herself in the garments of a false realism, citing as purely imaginative or helplessly fantastic the deluded optimism that surrounds her. The disillusioned take a numbing comfort in surface joys around them, working into silence and shutting within a vault the pangs seeking to drive them with fervor to their proper ends. Their prudence is a deductive cleverness, incorrectly termed reason, taking as its point of departure the futility of the most profound longings of the human spirit. In the place of ends are the lifeless mechanisms akin to manmade machines, which largely govern the way the modern populus sees evolution.
This is decidedly not the purpose of reason, though it may be in the rhetoric of Dawkins and the secular movements. Reason's purpose cannot be to vanish and treat as myths the various ends toward which the heart naturally inclines but rather to render them lucid. It may be that love is accompanied by various hormones and mechanistic chemical reactions within the body, but such a conclusion that replaces "accompanies" with "is reducible to" comes only from an investigation that has not ad terminum suum adusque processit.
Nor must the fears of self-discipline as a means to the acquisition of self-mastery hinder any into disillusion. We must stir ourselves on to what is most free and beautiful, what is best and most just. We must not be afraid to crush the distracting worries and concerns that stir within us, the wayward passions and malicious habits that seek to rob of our happiness and true delight. The will must seek the aid of reason by means of counsel, as any just ruler seeks the aid of counsel to save his people, or to parents seek counsel with one another for the benefit of their children. This must not crush its love, but bring it to fruition with greater urgency, mulling through difficult paths and warding of threats that seek to crush it.
Let us neither continue to dehumanize reason nor to empty it of its efficacy in human affairs. Let us cease using it to numb the wounds of error instead of remedying them. Let reason be a form of wisdom and a route to human flourishing, the healing of harmful divisions and violence, a cooling of pride that gives way to the generous outpouring of self that is charity or Divine Love. Only then are we free. Only then is there peace. Only then is there justice. Without these there is not love, nor its gifts that assume man into his true greatness as a creature of God.