"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"...doesn't philosophy amount to the sum of all thinkable and unthinkable errors, ceaselessly repeated?"--Jean-Luc Marion

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Friday, April 02, 2010

Good Friday 2010

Oh, life is bigger
It's bigger than you
And you are not me
The lengths that I will go to
The distance in your eyes
Oh no, I've said too much
I set it up

That's me in the corner
That's me in the spotlight, I'm
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don't know if I can do it
Oh no, I've said too much
I haven't said enough
I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

Every whisper
Of every waking hour I'm
Choosing my confessions
Trying to keep an eye on you
Like a hurt lost and blinded fool, fool
Oh no, I've said too much
I set it up
Consider this
Consider this
The hint of the century
Consider this
The slip that brought me
To my knees failed
What if all these fantasies
Come flailing around
Now I've said too much
I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

But that was just a dream
That was just a dream

(repeat chorus)

But that was just a dream
Try, cry, why try?
That was just a dream
Just a dream, just a dream

I've been rolling that chorus over and over in my mind, probing it like a sore tooth, wondering why it fascinated me so and wanting to figure it out and not figure it out, at the same time. It's not fun knowing everything, as the Monty Python "Penguin on the Telly" sketch points out; it takes all the mystery out of life.

But lately I've begun to consider that the line is true, and that's why it attracts me, and annoys me at the same time. That in the spotlight, in the public glare, in the examination of the individual by the crowd, one does lose one's religion. That religion is, in fact, a private matter; but not at all in the ways that phrase is usually used; and losing one's religion because of public scrutiny is not at all a good thing for the individual, or for the public.

Religion is personal, which is to say it is internal. It is not personal in the sense that it is peculiar or particular, nor in the sense that it is wholly subjective and not subject to review by a community. Indeed, solipsism is the very opposite of religion. All religious claims must be of and from a community, or they are by definition not religious claims at all. The religious community claims a confession to the God of Abraham, for example. The individual claims an insight, a message, a communication, from that God. The community judges whether this is valid, or madness; whether it is a prophecy, or a heresy; whether it is true and can be trusted by the community, or is a plea for attention or the result of delusion. Religion is internal, but it must be shared in order to be actual.

In the sharing arises the problem. The religious community makes a claim the non-religious community does not share, does not participate in, cannot evaluate, or cannot accept. But the religious claim without a community is simply madness, or self-deception, or rank hypocrisy. Without the community to bear witness and assess the truth, the claim is nothing. With the community, comes judgment. Still, the claim must be internal, must be important to the individual, or it is purposeless and empty. Without being internal, it is false.

Other things, accepted by the non-religious as well as the religious community, are internal as well. Love; food preferences; tastes in art or music. These are personal, but shared with a community. One individual cannot know love, or art, or the varieties of foods, in isolation; anymore than language can be the province of one speaker. But who among us wants to put such preferences in the spotlight, present them for public display and approval? If we truly love, do we want our love examined and subject to approval by those who don't share our love? Do we want to explain our love, defend it, justify it, to strangers who may even be hostile to it? Would our love survive such examination? Would be expect it to? And why would we do that?

Our love is personal, is internal; but is it not shared with a community? Do we not marry in public, with friends and family? Do we not share our love with them, to make it more real? And yet we don't subject it to their scrutiny, examination, re-approval, re-assessment. We establish that it is real, but we never establish the reasons our love has reality, merit, worth. If our friends and family don't accept it, perhaps our love is false. But if it is true, they honor our love, they don't belittle it.

Our love is personal, it is internal. It is ours, but ours only when it is shared. It is protected, too, though. We don't wear it on our sleeves, lest the daws peck at it. We don't put it in the spotlight, lest we demean it and destroy it by our abuse, by our neglect of its value. Love put on display for approval and attention is not love at all; or it is, at best, self-love; excessive self-love.

Is faith a purely personal issue? No. Consider the position of Roman Catholics, some who love their church and faith, some who have wandered away from it, but are still hurt by the ongoing revelations of abuse, the assumption and appearance that every Roman priest everywhere in the world, was a pedophile. No one really thinks that's an absolute blanket truth, of course; not, at least, among the cohort named; but it's hard not to avoid the conclusion, even though the Roman church is particularly positioned to have a few priests affect many persons in many countries, seemingly simultaneously, and especially when the problem is not publicly acknowledged for a very long time. As I write, Rome is still resisting acknowledging the reality of the problem, still dismissing concerns and new stories and public anger, as "Catholic bashing." It isn't at all personal what happened, not to the victims or the priests or the priesthood or Rome or to Catholics. Then again, when you are put in that spotlight, when you are called upon, implicitly or explicitly, to defend the very grounds of your faith, the very why of your beliefs; that's precisely when you find that life is bigger than you, and you are not me.

What is faith, then? What does it mean to associate yourself with a church in trouble? Or a church that publicly pursues and proclaims the value of social justice? To wear ashes on your forehead on Ash Wednesday? To observe Good Friday? Were you there? Does it sometimes cause you to tremble (let the reader understand)? If faith is trust, then trust in what? And how can you be sure you trust it? What do you trust? Why? Here, stand in this spotlight and explain yourself....

So religion is a private matter; and when you have to defend it in public; when you are put in the spotlight and told to conform to an idea or explain why you cannot, when you are forced to choose between the world and your God, it is a choice of damnations. If the world decides your religious beliefs are the cause of your curious behavior, the world may decide it doesn't like your curious behavior, and so your religious beliefs are not worth retaining, and you should abide by the world and let them go. If the world decides your religious associations are subject to judgment, the world may decide those associations should be replaced. If the world decides your religion is personal, so you should behave in public like you don't really have one, the better to resemble the world.

When your religion, your faith, your beliefs, put you in the spotlight: that may be when you start losing your religion. How many religious public figures in history have disgraced themselves in the spotlight? The examples in America alone go back at least as far was the Great Awakening, and encompass public figures almost forgotten, their scandalous behavior lost to time. But the spotlight does that: it assumes the posture of life, and while it is bigger than you, it is not you. And life is bigger than you; "And I am happier than you are,/And they were happier than I am;And the fish swim in the lake/and do not even own clothing."

Oh, life.

The spotlight demands, but does not provide; takes, but does not give. And it's the perfect metaphor of our celebrity-besotted, Twitter and Facebook obsessed, age. The two are connected, you know, connected as surely as all are the outcome and consequence of Romanticism, a movement that ended in the 1820's, but hasn't ended yet, that was once a live wire of history and is now the dead hand we can't crawl out from under, whose clutch we cannot yet escape. We shine the spotlight on ourselves, convinced this is the highest and best purpose of human existence: to be noticed, to be particular, to be fulfilled, to achieve some measure, some tiny sliver, of what we think is fame. We worship celebrities as we worship ourselves, and our worship leaves no room for the worship of another, of a God, of something that is bigger than us, and that is not us. Because we aspire, in the spotlight, to be alive, and to be larger-than-life; and dream that if we achieve that, we will be fulfilled.

Oh, life. O machine. Oh no I've said too much. I haven't said enough.


Anonymous xan said...

Which "Great Awakening" did you refer to? I've seen citations for as many as three, not counting the current God-besotted mess we find ourselves in. I understand this is not a history essay but am curious.

nice piece though. First time I've ever seen the lyrics of that song written down, and as with most pop songs I never caught anything but the chorus with any accuracy. And a dig at Romanticism is always appreciated. :)

7:03 PM  
Blogger Phila said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:32 PM  
Blogger Phila said...

Let's try that again.

At the risk of ruining your weekend, Sam Harris has some Big New Ideas you should know about.

8:33 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

Indeed, Carroll appears to think that Hume's lazy analysis of facts and values is so compelling that he elevates it to the status of mathematical truth

I got this far before I started laughing. Harris isn't fit to shine Hume's shoes, and he calls Hume's analysis "lazy"?

This has entertainment value.

11:07 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

Which "Great Awakening" did you refer to?

Sorry, that was very clear in my head. The "first" is considered the only "real" Great Awakening by most scholars. The "second" is usually regarded as hype by those with an interest in promoting it, and the "third," which seems to be contemporary, is usually dismissed out of hand.

So I was dipping back as far as I could go, and still be in America.

11:09 PM  
Blogger Phila said...

I got this far before I started laughing. Harris isn't fit to shine Hume's shoes, and he calls Hume's analysis "lazy"?

This has entertainment value.

I've read it twice now. The entertainment value wears off pretty quickly.

12:06 AM  

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