Historically, most people have worried a lot about demons. In fact, while we are accustomed to think of pre-modern history as an age characterized by belief in God, it may be more apt to think of it as an age characterized by fear of demons. Though people from different times and places obviously differ in a variety of ways, in general people who are not “modern” spend a great deal of time plotting against, warding off, looking out for demons. Modern people like us are spared this cumbersome waste of time and mental energy.
People like us are rare. There is so much pressure to conform, but we are willing to be different. We dare to face down any crowd armed with only what we know to be the truth. As the society drifts toward barbarism, we stand defiant. We risk public shaming and censure. We are on the wall. Each one of us in our own small way, in our homes or small communities, at work, or in public debate – we are the last line of defense for what is true, profound, and good.
Every morning I wake up with resentment about the fact that I have to shave my damn face. The ideas that grew gnarled and twisted in my mind by the end of the previous day have loosened over night. My mind is fresh and agile and I’m already working on new material silently in the shower. I’m ready to burst through the plastic shower curtain. I’ll do a couple of quick swipes with a towel to dry off, throw on a random pick of clothes, grab my coffee, which was prepared with a timer to be ready and waiting the night before, some cereal, and run over to my computer to pound out a few pages of my book proposal, or conference paper, or whatever.
The future is mysterious, but not entirely. It is tangible in the promises that a person makes and in the unspoken responsibility one has to others. However much a person may enjoy whimsical fantasies about the future or disinterested predictions, the future will inevitably weigh most heavily on the present as a moral concept.
Jeffrey Israel has taught religion and political philosophy at Northwestern
University and Rutgers University. He currently teaches Jewish history at Eugene
Lang College of The New School in New York City. He has a Ph.D. in religious ethics from the University of Chicago.