Dreher’s Dante

I started reading Rod Dreher’s “How Dante Can Save Your Life” the other day and am really enjoying it so far. It’s a book in some senses about a man’s mid life crisis in modern America. It’s also a book about how literature and the solace that so much of great writing like Dante’s Divine Comedy provides can “save your life.”

“In our secular age, we no longer believe we are part of any universal story. We are free to choose our own narratives, which means we can follow our hearts. If there is no story except the one we write for ourselves, we are liberated to do whatever we like.

The trouble with this is that to be free from the imposition of someone else’s story means we become slaves to our own passions. If there is no story that is objectively true, how can we know when we’ve chosen correctly? If it feels good, do it; if it feels right, believe it, may strike you as the only sensible guide to conduct. This is how many people think today.

When you are the captain of your own soul, though, and have cast aside all the maritime charts showing you the safe route through dark waters, navigating only by your own stars, it’s easy to make a shipwreck of your life. You wake up one day and wonder, Where am I? How did I get here? How do I get home? This is where Dante, the pilgrim, finds himself in the opening lines of the Inferno:

“Midway in the journey of our life
I came to myself in a dark wood,
For the straight way was lost.
[Inferno I:1–3]”

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