Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Who Are You To Say Who I Am?

A bad precedent, perhaps, responding to a comment with an "open letter" post; but it's a conversation worth having:

So how did romanticism affect the concept of being in opposition with society, given that the sense of being in the world but not of it is basic to early Christianity?--Philalethes

The concept of the individual which comes from Romanticism (for simplicity's sake, think of Gray's eulogy to dead rural villagers, people he showed were as important, and perhaps more important, than kings and queens; that ain't Shakespeare's sociology!) corrupts easily into the individualism of Xian Fundamentalism.

Xian fundamentalists take as a given that the world is irredeemably corrupt and corrupting (thanks, Augustine!). So they have to stand against it, and the world has all the power (one more reason this "brand" appeals so to poor whites, especially. Whites, in America, are supposed to have the power. Imagine being poor and white, and so at the bottom of the food chain.) Fundamentalism not only gives them the unmediated access to God, but also says the whole world is wrong, and they are right. Which is but one short step away from the Byronic hero (okay, Christians don't have to be handsome, athletic, poetic, and rakes! I said it was a step away.).

For the Romantic hero, the opposition of the world is further proof of the rightness of the cause (all those starving artists in lonely garrets; unappreciated geniuses, every one), and the Philistinism of the world. For the Fundamentalist, the scorn of the world is proof of their righteousness, and the world's damnation.

This is greatly oversimplified, of course. I know some very thoughtful fundamentalists, who are not at all interested in my damnation, or that of the world. But the driving engine of the craziness the world is suffering now, has its roots there; at least in Western culture. Islamic fundamentalism has different roots altogether, but probably arising from the same clash with the industrialized world.

(Jacques Derrida had some interesting things to say about this, mostly around the convergence of technology and fundamentalist Christianity. He writes of the alliance of religion and "teletechnoscience." He means the rapprochement between two former opponents: technology (specifically communications technology, like the one you and I are using now) and religion. In fact, Derrida argues that fundamentalism, at least, cannot exist any longer with the technology it (still) despises.)

It's the reconciliation with that clash that produces all the issues. Romanticism was one response/reonciliation. Fundamentalism (especially as it is wed to teletechnoscience, something as true for Xian fundies as for Muslim radicals), is another. And both seem to branch from the same root.

But, as they say, nobody fights like family.

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