by Bill Nugent
In 1986 I had the pleasure of touring Ernest Hemingway’s Key West, Florida home. It was a gorgeous home just across the street from a lighthouse. I like old houses and this one was restored to perfection and was filled with Hemingway memorabilia.
Being a writer, I think of Hemingway often. He is perhaps America’s most famous writer and his name itself has become part of our vocabulary. A hack writer is scolded: “You’re no Hemingway!” A young writer is encouraged to become a “future Hemingway.”
To say Hemingway was a renaissance man with a thirst for adventure is to put it mildly. In 1918, just out of high school and working as a reporter in Kansas City, he signed up to be an ambulance driver on the Italian front in World War One. He was seriously wounded by mortar fire. Shortly after his return from the war, he married and took his new wife to Paris.
In Paris he hooked up with the “lost generation” of American and British expatriate writers and artists. He worked with or was mentored by writers such as Gertrude Stein, John Dos Passos and the extremely influential Irish writer, James Joyce. Still in his twenties, he published the famous novel, The Sun Also Rises, which is about a group of American and British expatriates who travel to Spain to watch bullfights. It has never been out of print since it was published in 1926 and has been translated into more languages than probably any other American novel.
He relocated to the US in Key West in the late twenties but didn’t stay in one place very long. His adventures continued with his travels to Spain to report on the Spanish Civil War.
He was an avid sport fisherman (Marlin) and went on several African safaris. He was involved in two plane crashes in the 1950s that left him in severe pain. In the late 50s Playboy magazine published a glowing piece about Hemingway as a man who mastered life and was the epitome of a worldly life well lived.
Hemingway was a product of his time. His boyhood was in the optimistic Progressive era of American politics in which the Republican party was the liberal party of the time. America was bringing about reforms like establishing the Food and Drug Administration and the US National Park system under Theodore Roosevelt, and revolutionizing education.
Darwinian evolution was brought into science curriculum in the high schools in the early 1900s despite vigorous opposition. Darwinism became the anti-religious backdrop of the new optimism of the secular intellectuals who rejected God and the afterlife. Science, medicine and engineering were progressing to the point where, in their view, man would conquer nature and bring about a brave new world of shared prosperity.
Hemingway, the sensitive, deep, articulate man was a searcher for meaning and purpose in a secular faith that offered no promise of life after death. He crammed every shred of adventure he could into his fleeting years.
The American secular materialistic religion, of which Darwinism is the origins myth, claims that there is no ultimate future for any person. Secularism has abolished the future. That may sound like a bold, rather cynical claim but it is a fair representation of secularism. Secular materialism claims that we evolved from animals and the lights go out at death. All of the learning, personal growth, love, relationships and experience of each person ceases at death. It’s a total loss of hope. In their view, no person has a future existence in either heaven or hell. Secularism doesn’t openly flaunt its contempt for the afterlife. The claim that consciousness ceases at death is not emphasized and it’s something that only the initiated fully grasp. Hemingway was an initiate and it led him to despair.
The secularism that dogged Hemingway has since become the overwhelming philosophical colossus of our time. Hemingway was quoted as saying “There’s no one thing that is true. They’re all true.” That pretty much sums up postmodernism with its denial of absolute truth.
Absolute truth is the concept that the truth about man’s purpose and morals is given by divine revelation and is recorded in the Bible. Postmodernism rejects any objective moral standard. If all things are true, should we say that murder is truly a good thing? Abortion, which is murder of the preborn, was illegal during Hemingway’s time but the early proponents of abortion were the postmodernists of Hemingway’s generation.
Those who stand for traditional Christian values are often accused of trying to turn the clock back to the 1950s or some other era of American “good old days.” The secular progressives, however, are the real clock spinners. The secularists want to remove all restraint and take us back to prechristian Europe. Aborting your young in the womb is very similar to the ancient Roman custom of infanticide of unwanted babies. The political move to legalize gay marriage evokes comparisons to the rampant, open homosexuality of ancient Greece and Rome, to say nothing of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Hemingway was a consummate searcher for philosophical meaning yet he embraced the superficial wild things of life. It’s been said that searching for meaning apart from God is like a blind man in a black closet, at midnight, searching for a black cat that isn’t even there!
His first novel, The Sun also Rises, is also his most famous. The title was taken from a verse in the Bible, from the book of Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes is a kind of notebook of king Solomon of ancient Israel. In this book Solomon meanders through worldly philosophies and fleshly pleasures. Solomon came to the conclusion that when all has been heard, serving God should be one’s purpose. I wish Ernest Hemingway had also come to that conclusion.
Hemingway was a lover of the American West. He and his family moved to Ketchum Idaho in 1959. By that time he was in severe mental depression and his end was in a shotgun suicide in 1961.
What can be learned from the life of Ernest Hemingway? I pity Hemingway but he does teach us many things. He teaches us that worldly adventure is in the end unfulfilling. As a hero of the new American religion of secularism he shows the shallowness and inconsistency of that faith. The notion that we are descendants of apes and our end is oblivion rings so tragically hollow. The Bible is confirmed to be God’s word by the Bible’s many fulfilled prophecies and by the miracles that occur in answer to prayer. Secularism has no miracles and offers only despair. That’s the tragic lesson of Ernest Hemingway.