Adventus

"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

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

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

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Somethin's happenin' here....

Remington 750 semiautomatic hunting rifle. Remington's marketing material promises "super-fast cycling.... Rapid follow-ups are its specialty, but famed Remington one-shot accuracy comes standard."
When the political becomes the personal, it suddenly becomes very hard to continue to be "political":

Senators who voted against a bipartisan amendment expanding background checks for firearm purchased at gun shows and online refused this week to meet with families impacted by gun violence, citing scheduling conflicts or ignoring requests altogether.
Read the entire post; I don't want to quote it all here.  Clearly politicians are finding it awkward and uncomfortable to vote on abstract issues like "gun rights" and then face real people who suffer the real consequences of a nation awash in guns 'n' ammo.  "Big Ideas" meet human life, and once again, human life loses, and the only way to maintain the sanctity of the Big Idea is to keep human life away from it.

If I rail against ideas and knowledge for its own sake, this is a small part of the reason why.  We have fed to satiety on abstraction.  We have learned, begrudgingly, to not look upon others as members of a "race", and to attribute behaviors and characteristics to that "race" that then tar individuals.  We have learned, at least, to realize we really shouldn't do that, or cover it up with degrees, from "racism" to "prejudice" to simply "I just wouldn't want my daughter to marry one."

But we have not yet learned to place people above ideas; to do the hard work of discerning what is good for society, or just for others, rather than the easy work of serving the Big Idea.  There is a tension there, too, because without an Idea, even a Big Idea, society ceases to function.  But we've turned too hard toward the Idea, and too easily away from the person:  the grieving spouse, the parents of a dead child, the victims of too much violence too easily explained away or simply ignored (how many families from Chicago are traveling to Washington to beard Senators in their offices?  How many of those families would be listened to if they could make that journey?  How many Senators and Representatives are instead seeking them out, as servants of the public?)

Something's happening here; what it is, ain't exactly clear.  But persons are reaching out to persons, telling them not "Beware," but "Listen."  That the persons being addressed don't want to listen, illustrates just how compelling the message is.

Maybe a Big Idea is about to give way to reality.  A consummation devoutly to be wished. And no, the concept of public officials reaching out to the least among us is not a wild abstraction or a fond wish:

6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Big Ideas" meet human life, and once again, human life loses, and the only way to maintain the sanctity of the Big Idea is to keep human life away from it.

So true. This is the only way that cruel and callous regimes or governments or businesses or organizations can exist, by hiding the human suffering that arises from their actions as best they can and justifying the rest in the name of an ideal..

Windhorse

6:36 PM  
Blogger rick allen said...

I don't know if I can really blame the "Big Idea" in general. If we could know all particulars, as God does, we could do without them. But I don't know how their Big Idea of The Right to Bear Arms is any less big than mine of Gun Control. And of course I hold a large number of Big Ideas myself: Freedom of Speech, Due Process, The Right not to Self-Incriminate, and any number of others than I think worth defending, even as many think me an impossible idealist because I refuse to look at the facts on the ground and see how my Big Ideas are keeping us from winning against the terrorists.

Of course our Big Ideas need to be tested in their concrete application. But so long as our poor minds have such limited capacity for comprehensive consciousness of the individual, we have to rely on them.

3:14 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

The "Big Idea" is of no service to a grieving widow, or the mother of a child shot dead in a schoolroom.

I've been at the sides of such persons; children dead from disease or traffic accident; people dying of cancer, Alzheimer's, "old age."

"Big Ideas" are of no comfort to them at all. Making the Big Idea your idol is as egregious a sin as making one of precious metal. And any idea you cling to, even an idea of God, is a Big Idea if you insist it has innate validity.

The parables of Jesus can be read as comforting tales of humble people; the widow and the lost coin; the prodigal son, humbled by the world; the merchant who buys the pearl of great price because he recognizes "true value."

Or they can be read as they are stated: as visions of truth which upend every human value you hold dear, every "Big Idea" you insist gives life meaning and order. And that, IMHO, is the right way to read them.

"Big Ideas" force people to stop treating other human beings as human beings. There really isn't a "Big Idea" in "Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me." There is a statement of truth, however; but I wouldn't even capitalize the "t" in that assertion. Perhaps it is merely a matter of careful definition, but "Big Ideas" come from humankind, not from God.

As St. Aquinas understood, after he finished his magnum opus, the biggest of Big Ideas (which doesn't mean they are bad, by the way). He had a vision of God which, he said, made all his writings seem like straw. And he never wrote again.

And even freedom of speech and due process become idols if they are held too severely. Or we simply say it is the price of freedom that the guilty go free to commit crimes again; but again, that's cold comfort to the next set of victims. Better, though much harder, to turn your heart toward seeing God in everyone, and serving God in everyone; whatever the cost to you.

That isn't really rational enough to become a Big Idea.

3:28 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

I realize our disagreement is intellectual, not personal (let the reader understand). And that it's based on my insistence on the primacy of the living individual over the abstract concept.

And it comes down to a fine matter of definition, and a finer matter of degree. Which, ultimately, is an abstract idea.

But not, I think, a Big Idea.

Which makes this a useful conversation, indeed; thoughts are only clarified by critique (which mostly, on the intertoobs, is stated as personal criticism).

I take Rick's position, IOW, as valid. I'm searching to a way to make mine valid, too.

3:33 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

I'm in danger of taking myself too seriously.

"Big Idea" is a pejorative bit of satire, not a serious category of discernment. A "Big Idea" is one that can only be served, and which cannot be altered, changed, amended, or challenged, because it is pure and holy and sacrosanct. So the 2nd Amendment is a holy grant of authority in itself, not a limitation on governmental control of firearms. It can only be understood as making guns holy objects; it can never be understood as subject to limitations and other interpretations. So "austerity" is a proof of the inherent laziness of the common person, who must learn pain in order to purge the corruption from the economic system (holy be its name!), a system which never fails but is only failed. Big Ideas are all like that: they cannot fail, they can only be failed.

It's that kind of blinkered thinking I mean to criticize. A legal concept like due process cannot be a Big Idea because law recognizes that due process is subject to change and re-validation.

A Big Idea validates itself. Its only error is in those who fail to implement it properly, fully, or with all necessary purity. Due process, like all legal concepts, engages in the muck of human existence. Big Ideas purify the muck of human existence, and kind of like "Nomad" in ST:TOS, will purify human existence right out of existence, if allowed to.

So when I write of "Big Ideas," I have something particular, and satirical, in mind.

10:53 AM  
Anonymous JCF said...

"And of course I hold a large number of Big Ideas myself: Freedom of Speech, Due Process, The Right not to Self-Incriminate, and any number of others than I think worth defending"

Maybe including the Freedom-to-Marry (civilly) the single, consenting adult of one's choice, Rick? [Sorry, couldn't resist]

***

It would be one thing, if the competing Big Ideas were "Unfettered Right to Own Guns" vs "Fettered Right [aka Privilege] to Own Guns". But the unspoken part of the debate, is the "...or else!" part. So I'll speak it: "I have the unfettered right to own any guns I want, and I'll SHOOT anyone who tries to say (governmentally) I don't." It's Waco all over again: "They're coming for our guns, so we had shoot them---because they were coming for our guns."

Kyrie eleison!

8:26 PM  

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