Thursday, November 16, 2006

EVANGELICAL FURY FLAMES

David Rosen discusses whether Ted Haggard’s travails herald “the eclipse of evangelical fury” (www.counterpunch.com/rosen11152006.html). Such an eclipse is certainly a consummation devoutly to be wished.

But then again so is the eclipse of the fury of the Identities. Its Democrat-fueled excesses and the myriad violences it has wrought upon society, community, culture and law, have done quite a number on the Republic; its revolutionary zeal as intense – if more pretentiously insidious – than the flaming-sword, bible-thumping carryings-on of the Fundoozies, That some of the damage was unintended is consoling but beside the point. It’s true that for any omelet eggs must be broken, but it’s also true that on a long voyage you don’t provide fuel to roast hot dogs by ripping out hull planks. You are well advised not even to rip out the planks to warm up baby formula. Life is not easy nor is it cheap; neither is ‘clarity’.

It isn’t bad enough that the National Security State requires citizens who are obedient, unthinking automatons; that the corporate-strength consumer society requires citizens who are impulsive and ‘loyal’ to a brand; that the feminist revolution sought to replace (‘male’) Reason not even with Emotion but with Feeling while simultaneously deconstructing the bedrock assumption that there was anything beyond Feeling worth living for anyway; that the primary mode of non-work activity for most of the citizenry is some form of spectator-ing: passive, unthinking, emotive, self-indulgent. On top of all this, we are bethumped by the mother of all conundrums (var. conundra): a civilization must be based on belief, but multiple belief systems in the same civilization will either tear it apart or will have to betray their own integrity. Prevail over the others or be unfaithful. Which so often in the multiplex reactions heated by conflicting passions precipitates out to: Kill or be unfaithful. Such choice.

And of course, the more intense and complicated the conundrum’s consequences become, the less capable the citizenry (hardly any longer The People) is of dealing with it. And so we will meanly lose the Republic in a fit of absence of Self, perhaps raising up some Uber-Self who will ride in to dictate benevolently, restoring the flow of power to the TV and gas for the SUV. And the poor will remain poor, while becoming more numerous (as much by immigration from the former working and middle-classes as by procreation). Until the day when France ‘asks’ for the Purchase back, offering the sum of twenty-five million, less clean-up for New Orleans. And we accept. And the Mexican and Canadian ambassadors are impatiently on hold for a conference call. And the tribes have lawyered up.And why not?

But we’re not there yet. And the Dems are baaack. That, like Dorothy, they have learned something is also a consummation devoutly to be wished. But if we are rightly advised not to put our trust in princes, we are equally well advised not to leave it to politicians. We The People will have to roll up our sleeves; save our own ballgame – that sort of thing. It’s going to take a lot of work. But I digress.

The Founding cohort were equally well-aware of the unreliability of princes (or any form of government) and the conundrum of belief (the Wars of Religion were still fresh in minds unbesotted by the gratifications of a cluttered Present). Their solution was the same as that formulated for the new nation’s role in the world: America would be a beacon and a model of Democracy, but not an agent of Democracy. We would reserve our ‘agency’ for our domestic realm (which at the time included Native Americans and slaves). As for the other countries and peoples of the world, let those who had eyes to see, see what we were doing, and follow if they wished or if they could.

All religions being – in theory – welcome to set up shop, they were only required to modulate their presence within the public square, remaining respectful of the rights of other religions and all citizens. They too would reserve their ‘agency’ for their own faithful, and on their own property. And this – in theory – created two crises.

First, if any religion was ‘true’ then it gave a solid grounding in Reality and in Truth, that is to say in the Capital Letter World, the Beyond. And when one’s life was thus Grounded, well then one could face the slings and arrows and get on with it. Like a spaceship’s core computer that has the Primary Coordinates duly entered, it could now navigate itself anywhere in the universe. Lacking those Coordinates, it couldn’t even back itself out of space-dock. But then if your religion was ‘true’ how could you respect somebody else’s that was logically not-true? Why would you even want to? Or: if that other religion was as ‘true’ as yours, then just how solidly did your religion Ground you in the True and the Real? Was this religious duel simply showing up the fact that you were caught in a conflict of dueling fantasies? The Founders’ plan was that you would respect the different religions simply because you respected the rights of your fellow citizens: each one had a right to believe as s/he saw fit and as an American and a Citizen then you wanted to respect their freedom as you wanted them to respect your freedom. This didn’t quite resolve all the questions inherent in the problem, but it was good enough to let the country get on with things. It would remain so until the sheer number of religions in the country, or the demands for change one or several made upon society and culture, or both, started to break the thin but serviceable ice upon which the whole show had been skating.

Second, it created a crisis for any ‘faithful’ adherent, if s/he belonged to a religion that allowed the validity of no rivals a-n-d if that religion also required the extermination of any rivals. The Founders resolved such problems pre-emptively by taking advantage of the strong afterglow of Christendom in the Enlightenment age: citizens could ‘naturally’ tolerate the presence of all religions while retaining the Capital Letter Word anchor of their own beliefs that would ground and shape their lives. They could do that because – like the daylight in the first few minutes after actual sundown – in that Moment of history the moral and ethical values of old Christendom were still capable of illuminating the ‘average’ inhabitant of the new nation. Thus the Founders, wily sailors on History’s sea, steered between the Scylla of sectarian discord and the Charybdis of lives deranged by secularist non-belief. Either or both of which were capable of producing great violence, in large bursts or in small, continuous drips.

The mistake would be to assume that any persons in any age of History could thus be ‘naturally’ illuminated. The Founders’ assumption was an Enlightenment conceit, and a not-incomprehensible one, and in their era it was workable. But it was what it was: a self-serving fiction that masked a far more important reality: any human being may indeed have a spark of illumination, and with effort and skill (and the assistance of the Holy Spirit as a helpful Scoutmaster) s/he might fan that spark into a flame. But the timber of humanity is thick and damp. The life of the believer is fated to be a long twilight struggle to keep even a modest flame alight. The impatient might say The hell with it and pour on a can of gasoline, but good Scouts didn’t employ such artificial stimulants and anyway, the hotter and bigger the fire, the faster you burned through the wood supply. Nothing was free (except, irritatingly, the Scoutmaster’s advice).

So I don’t completely agree with Rosen when he says that “Sin came to North America with the first colonists four centuries ago”. This assertion too narrowly defines ‘sin’ as merely a conceptual construct of a particular religion (Judeo-Christianity in its variants and offshoots). But what the religions really did was to put a name on a phenomenon that any human community experienced, since it was present to some degree in each and every human being. Did the tribes experience no murder before the arrival of the Europeans? Granted that some tribal cultures took an indulgent view of monogamy, were there not individuals so utterly besotted by the pursuit of this or that ‘high’ – through the exercise of sex or violence or fill-in-the-blank – that they could not function within the tribal community? That as humans they were deranged, decalibrated? Like a broken musical instrument, unable to emit a humanly characteristic note or tone? The early Church didn’t call it Original Sin for nothing; it is the ever-present and omni-present tendency within each individual of our species to not-realize one’s self (to use capitals to break the spell of familiarity: to not-Realize one’s Self). The human being is like an aircraft aloft, ever subject to the pressure of some force that pulls it down, and – barring the interposition of a capable pilot and granted the quirks of this or that particular airframe – the aircraft will sooner or later yield to that pull and go down (so to speak).

So religion didn’t come to Eden and bring Sin with it. Religion gave some ancient awful Thing a name, but the Thing is older than any memory or history records. And it will outlive any revolutionary redemption that will purify this world and this life of Its presence, as even Lenin and Mao discovered.

And we cannot ignore the hugely serviceable Roman Catholic distinction between the Church as She and the Church as It. While one and the same Church, ordained by Christ, she can be seen in her spiritual aspect, or in the aspect of its human organization. In the former aspect, the Church embodies the aspirations of humankind seeking to work its way to God and to its own truest Identity; in the latter aspect, the Church resembles other earthly organizations, with its bureaucracy, apparatchiks (ecclesiatchiks?), paperwork, and the full panoplium of human weaknesses as they manifest themselves in individuals and in large organizations (like, say, megachurches and governments).

For such complicated calculations as trying to comprehend what’s going on in our society nowadays, the simple moniker ‘religion’ is almost unserviceable. The effort to short-cut the problem by simply declaring that this or that piece of the furniture is Absolute – be it a particular version of the Bible or the Emotion that demands satisfaction – is even less useful than the hoary strategy of declaring Victory and going home. If honestly done, it’s a child’s move. Or rather: the move characteristic of a child’s mentality: incapable of tolerating ambiguity, unable to delay gratification so as to consider possible alternatives or possible consequences. If dishonestly done, simply as a gambit for tactical advantage, it is a demonstration of great bad-faith, a trahison to the human spirit, to one’s own true Identity, to Truth itself.

In that sense, a possible eclipse of Fundamentalist or evangelical influence – to the extent that such influence fostered childish habits of thought and immature thought-processes – is certainly one less burden for the Republic to bear. But of course, Nature abhors a vacuum and what will replace such influence?

It cannot be the same-old same-old of Democratic-nurtured Advocacy, which in its hypertrophied form requires of the citizenry precisely the same un-matured mental and emotional characteristics, but justifies itself – to the extent it tries to explain itself at all – as being in a Good Cause (another piece of furniture Absolutized). The Advocacies have contributed far too much to the degradation of The People and of many of the most essential institutions of our society. A first-level or second-level Advocacy (see elsewhere on this site) is a fine contribution to civic life, and we can use a number of them. But the third or fourth-level versions of Advocacy are as detrimental to the Republic and The People as the current denizens of K-Street.

It cannot be the utter extinguishment of religion among the citizenry. Human beings are spirit-seeking beings, however awful a job they do of conducting their searchings. And without some help in shaping themselves (var. Shaping their Self) people become misshapen and deformed (var. misShapen and deFormed) within. And we return toward the tohu-bohu of Genesis, the chaos. The Revolution of the Identities, grounded in the postmodern spirit of deconstruction, proved more than capable of destructing, but is not going to be able to construct anything equally well-grounded, since it denies that there is any such thing as Ground in the first place. We cannot look to them to build or to strengthen what is already built. It’s not that a revolution can only destroy, but rather that a revolution that is so precisely aimed at destroying the very Ground of Reality cannot create constructively without betraying itself.

Can one propose a ‘maturity’ that tolerates? Or is ‘maturity’ as we currently understand it, as to some extent ‘tolerant’, a betrayal of faithfulness? Is ‘patience’ a virtue or a betrayal? Was John Brown a saint or a demon? Zealous for the Good or so immature as to be humanly deFormed? Or might one be so consumed by zeal that one’s ‘sanctity of zeal’ outweighs any considerations of immaturity? Or can this matter be tackled at all on a merely Horizontal, two-dimensional plane? Must we have a dimension of the Beyond, wherein dwelleth the Capital Letters and (I would say) God? Does God accept zeal as ‘sanctity’? Does God prefer ‘sanctity’ to ‘maturity’? And if so, is such acceptance universal or only granted in individual cases? And how do the rest of us figure out the difference? Or find it out?

Das Gottesreich has lasted just about twelve years, about the same time as another recent Reich. We may allow ourselves a moment of rejoicing, not for the passing of the ‘Gottes’ but for the forestalling of the ‘Reich’. And yet we cannot forget that the Gottesreich was only able to achieve take-off velocity because of the tremendous forces that fueled it, forces that were themselves generated by das Allesreich … the kingdom of anything goes, of whatever-you-want, presided over with the best of intentions (more or less) by the Democrats for decades.

The average American may not be overly familiar with postmodernism, but s/he damn well knew when Life was starting to feel unsolid, as if the bridge were coming loose from its foundations. And they were spot on: the whole structure was being deconstructed. Vigorously, deliberately, and in the Good Cause. Or Causes. When you frighten folks on so fundamental level, you’re gonna generate a response. That the Dems could claim that 1994 was some sort of unsuspected and mysterious turn of events, that they could ascribe it merely to ‘backlash’, that they are now trying to claim that this country’s only problem is ‘the war’ … nope. That they are now trying to have lunch even with White Males even if not they’re not yet so desperate as to try to do lunch with the Dead ones … well, they might want to consider that ejecting the Dead from the table fifteen or twenty years ago had a lot to do with getting them into this mess in the first place. Folks are mighty uneasy about the fundamental mushiness and squishiness deep down things nowadays, and I’m not referring to Lifetime miniseries. If the Dems can’t get that clear in their heads then they don’t have a prayer of making the present opportunity work for the Republic.

We are faced with serious business. Serious questions to be formulated and answered. Nor can we put our trust in the princes of the Democratic Party that they will stay up nights in lonely, dedicated vigil, hammering out maturely the mature answers that will restore the national dignity and save the national bacon. Pols and their hired advisors bring home the bacon; saving it is a riskier proposition, best left to Luck and/or God. This being America, there’s no need to get impractical, it will all work out, and no great harm done. Although a Party that can’t afford to be seen on too intimate terms with God, the Dems – true Americans – still expect that no matter how much they mess up Dad will bail them out. This is a classic scenario and is being played out in this country even unto this day.

The answer lies, I think, in a recovery of what we once had: a sense of a multi-dimensioned life – possessed of Interior and a Vertical, Shaped by aspiration toward Capital Letter Words, under the judgment of a Capital Letter World somewhere Beyond this one, mature enough to discuss differences and arrange them sufficiently for all concerned, respectful of our own dignity and the dignity of all, responsible to our identity as Citizens, as The People, as Individuals. We may need to do this – in its early stages – on our own, since most of the institutions of our society seem rather degraded; we’ll have to give the ole’ fire truck a tune-up before it will be in a position to help us. In fact, it may need a whole new motor. These are the fruits of neglect. We broke it; we fix it.

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