As a preacher’s kid, I’m asked . . . was I surprised?
By the Jesus flags, by the senators, after the bloodshed they incurred, praying together like angels in a Giotto painting.
Intermittently I’ve wished for religion’s divestiture of three things––hell, salvation, lust for the world’s end. I know them all inside out. Throw in proselytizing for good measure. None enhance religion, certainly not the terror, and none of them are in step with our times, or are likely to be so ever again.
An old professor, exhaling his awful French cigarette smoke like a gnarled locomotive, would distinguish between the monophonic and #polyphonic. Single, plural. The tendency from the former toward the latter defined what secular #modernism meant.
This happens in any open society, this trend toward complexity, toward ambiguity. Who is Anna Karenina, after all? More daringly yet, who is Humbert Humbert? With Marxism, things flip, beauty is a veil; even an exquisite porcelain vase speaks of oppression. In utilitarian terms, all culture must be weaponized against that oppression. I entered graduate school, only to find myself sitting in the pew of a whole new orthodoxy. I left in despair.
Which begs the question, if plurality is here as a simple fact of an open, just and inventive society, how do we make it work beyond the bricks of fundamentalism and miasmas of political co-optation?
On the right stands an often irascible nostalgia for the single, the divine, the masculine, the supreme. The great strain here, as I know well, is living in a world you exploit, you enjoy, and yet that you incessantly condemn––in religious terms, a world that you wish would come to an end. It amounts to a neurosis. You profess to love democracy and yet go nuts when the vote doesn’t go your way, smashing furniture and human beings on behalf of a democracy that in fact you can’t accept. Small wonder that such insoluble disparities lead to the only comfort you have––delusion.
Diversification, I propose, is an apolitical inevitability in any modern, open society. It’s there, like it or not. Just is. Those who see it as a sinister left-wing stratagem meant to undermine American orthodoxy and the immovable truths of religion miss the point that pluralism grows like a child grows. By the same token, adding politics may not help. Militancy hardly ever does. Clear-minded activism, yes. Breaking cops’ noses, no.
Back to my question, how do we make plurality work? Rather than think tanks everywhere, bolstering sectarianism, how about an ongoing intellectual congress in which representatives of all points of view assemble, talk, try their best to meet in some big, swampy middle terrain?
I have a friend who grew up religious, is still innately so and would like to be actively so again. His heart is there, his philosophy pretty much in tune, but he can’t bring himself to say the creed. ‘I’m three miles away from being my old religious self. I could get there in half an hour.’
What would it take? Our natural plurality should be our strength. Recent events in Washington say, and emphatically so, so.
(image Hieronymous Bosch)