In this article, Ong gives readers a distilled version of the discussion presented in "Kafka's Castle in the West":  that the Western world is obsessed with imposing order on a world that cannot be ordered, explained, or completely understood.  While in "Kafka's Castle in the West" Ong presents this discussion by examining Kafka's writings alongside developments in the Catholic Church and Western psychiatry, in this article, he turns the discussion toward the special attention given to news reporting in the West, especially the reporting of war news.  Ong argues that particularly at the end of World War II, people are obsessed with receiving a "flux of news," a multitude of information that seems to "flow" over them and which fulfills a psychological need to feel as though they "know" something about the world.

In the West, Ong asserts, the dominant philosophy is one of focusing on "exterior" events rather than on the impact of those events on the "interior" being, a philosophy evidenced by the fact that the modern Western world is the only time period to have made history its own discipline.  While Ong acknowledges that knowing about the events of the world is important, he questions why Westerners have adopted such a narrow perspective on the world.  He concludes that if Westerners were to focus more on the interior being than on exterior events, the world as they know it would come to an end.

Like many of his other articles, here Ong combines an appeal to a specifically Catholic audience with a wholehearted engagement with and grounding in secular topics.  For the most part, this article seems aimed at a general audience, since the focus is on Western thought rather than solely on religious thought.  Yet Ong's discussion of Western thought is intimately linked Christianity (and specifically Catholicism).  For example, when Ong argues that Westerners are obsessed with exterior events, he directly links this obsession with a lack of religious spirit, for he notes that the anarchist focuses on the corruption of the world rather than the "interior citadel of his soul," the atheist looks so far outward that he cannot believe in God or a soul, and the agnostic concentrates on the disorder outside himself instead of acknowledging what is in his interior being.

Furthermore, at the end of the article, Ong connects the change Westerners would have to make if they wanted to abandon their obsession with exterior events to embracing religion, for he concludes with the Biblical passage where Christ tells the Pharisees that they cannot find the kingdom of God by looking only at surface events.  For Ong, the downfall of Western society seems to be its lack of meaningful, complex engagement with the Holy Spirit.
 

Return to Listings