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P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
11.4 (Fall 2011)
FAITH AND CULTURAL MELTDOWN
courtesy of artrenewal.org
To Spend or Not to Spend: A Battle of Religious Faiths
Mr. Jones has a problem: he is addicted to spending money. Long ago, he began taking loans from the well-heeled Mr. Smith. Not only has he never paid off any of these IOU’s, however: he cannot pay the interest on them without borrowing yet more money—some from Mr. Smith again, and some from Mr. Brown, and some from Mr. Adams. Mrs. Jones is beside herself with anxiety. Recently, she insisted that the Jones household would borrow not one penny more—not a single penny! Jones was forced to summon every bit of rhetorical skill at his command to make her see reason. His reputation in the community, he said, would be ruined if he was delinquent in paying the interest due on his many loans—and this he could not do without still further loans. Mrs. Jones countered that he should go to his creditors, explain his situation fully, and give them a choice between taking $.75 on the dollar or simply waiting a little longer for full payment. Yet Jones waxed indignant at this disgraceful suggestion so convincingly (or acted out so well what he thought must be wounded honor), that his wife once more threw in the towel.
The next morning, Mr. Jones went to Mr. Smith (who had heard about the squabble in the Jones household through the grapevine and was very curious to know its consequences). Jones announced, “I am happy to tell you—for I know that you’re not wholly unaware of my recent struggles at home—that I have been cleared to borrow more money from you. If you will please just write me a check for the usual amount—or just a bit above it, for this time only, hopefully—then I can pay you the interest on the money you have loaned me so far.” Mr. Smith was aghast. He stared at Jones for a full minute as if having been turned to stone.
Well… at this writing, the events I have just allegorized are fresh from the garden—a garden of suicidal toxins. When this piece goes online in another month or two, who knows what ripples the “lifting of the debt ceiling” will have sent into the great global ocean? Most ripples diffuse energy, but these seem likely to build into a tsunami every bit as catastrophic financially as the real wave that crippled Japan last winter. Since I am recounting parables, let me add another to the sad tale of that incurable addict, Mr. Jones. This is less a story, however, than a vignette. It is also entirely true: nothing symbolized, allegorized, or otherwise reduced or condensed for poetic effect.
Let us say that in response to the story above, the following spirited remarks were volunteered by powerful sources all around the nation: not by the man on the street, I stress, but by hosts and commentators on radio and television newscasts, print journalists of major dailies (those that still survive), and politicians who have occupied public office for decades:
“People like this are insane! They’re out of their minds! They’re like terrorists! They’re lunatic-fringe terrorists!”
“These people don’t deserve to be heard! The media do [sorry—“does”: always singular among this lot] the public an immense disservice by even reporting their views. We’re fixated on this notion of balance… but what good does it do to give public exposure to views that are just plain stupid?”
“It’s the same old racism with these people! They’re a bunch of Nazis! They want to set us back to the days of Jim Crow.”
“They’re apt to get violent if they don’t have things just their way. They’ve always had all that they wanted in the past. Now that a little compromise is expected of them, they’re going ballistic. The mass murderer in Norway is just a sign of things to come—he’s what we can anticipate when this kind of psychotic doesn’t get what he wants.”
Now, at whom in my allegorical story would you assume these comments to be directed? Who strikes you as most likely to represent an insane person likely to go overboard, throwing bombs and spitting racial slurs, if he doesn’t have things just his way? Who seems least stable and most worrisome?
Why, Mrs. Jones, of course! The police should immediately put a tail on her—or perhaps take her into some kind of preemptive custody which our doughty legislators can write into the Constitution ex post facto.
Of all the many facets of our debt crisis that have infuriated me and deeply depressed me, this is perhaps the most unkindest cut of all. We, of course—you and I, the nation’s responsible and long-suffering taxpayers—are Mrs. Jones. Major figures in major news media and major political office believe that Mrs. Jones must be put on probation and fitted with an ankle-bracelet for opposing her husband’s depraved indifference to his family’s solvency. They really think we’re crazy. Though Mr. Jones meets any criterion for a person in desperate need of rehab, he—and his knock-offs, the millions of little Joneses at the head of the corporatist media-legislative complex—view us average Joes and Janes as lunatics for resisting their running leap into the abyss: the elite professional equivalent of an episode of Jackass.
It numbs me to the core to hear a senior senator who once ran for president saying not only that people of my common-sense persuasion are “stupid”, but that our folly licenses the abrogation of our First Amendment rights. Indeed, the man leaves me speechless: if I had to listen to him daily, his desire to still my tongue would be fulfilled. I can see wanting to shut somebody up who—say—is about to ruin my unprincipled hawking of a used car by adding his honest observations… but to leap up and denounce him as insane in high indignation? To call the police and insist that he be charged with disturbing the peace? When I could simply whisper some lie to him in order to get him off the lot, to fly into a holy fury, calling down hellfire on him as the devil’s spawn? Isn’t that a little… insane?
After much anguishing reflection on this species of “righteous indignation”, I have reached the inescapable conclusion that the authors of these remarks are religious zealots. It’s really an obvious connection once one gets past the smokescreen of their professed atheism (or, in the case of most elected officials, a theism so vague and flabby that solar worship and Wicca are interchangeable with its Christ or Buddha). Every adult of ordinary intelligence worships a god. Some worship Bacchus: they live for wine, for pot, for release into a haze without cares. Some worship Ploutos: they live for the acquisition of things and ever more things—and for the groveling admiration and sterile envy that lifts them in a sick fantasy. Young people may worship Aphrodite, burning to her an incense of youth and health at the rate of a five-alarm fire. Older people, especially academics, may worship Apollo, basking egotistically in their peerless wisdom about a very small sub-specialty in a very obscure discipline. To be the world’s foremost expert about anything will always attract votaries, even if the subject is worms that breed in dung.
The Progressive Religion enjoys a vast following because it combines so many other varieties of paganism—and, indeed, it gives them a rational pedigree far more respectable than they could otherwise produce. Though members of the Progressive Church often know very little about science themselves, they have faith that science can solve any problem. Having wrested Creation out of the hands of a purposive designer, they have centered homo sapiens amid a sloppy debris pile of cosmic accident and given him complete authority to play Creator to his heart’s content. Must he die? Science can solve mortality. Must the sun blow up and vaporize the earth? Science can take us to another solar system, or even build one in an empty quadrant of the galaxy. Will he overpopulate if he ceases to die? Reproductive “revision” is an easy assignment for science, and one already well under way. Not only will the enlightened future produce humans on cue in needed numbers: it will produced genetically engineered and robotically hybridized super-humans.
As I implied, this is good news for the wino and the pot-head because “reality” can now be defined in terms of whimsy rather than hard fact (computer simulations already permit those so inclined to spend most of their waking hours living a fiction). It’s good news for the money-hound because, without transcendent spiritual truth, moral principle can now be defined only in the fluid materialist terms of communal benefit; and acquiring and spending vast wealth creates jobs and markets. The sybarite, too, hearkens to the Evangel of the Progressive; for since our roots are merely, purely animal, the instinct to maximize carnal pleasure has the sanction of being completely natural and wholesome.
It seems that everybody should want to be a Progressive! Not since early Islam swept across Africa and Asia on a bonus package of concubines, booty, revenge, and eternal salvation has a religion drawn in more people with its advantages.
The people who stand in the way of this City of God, this New Dawn, this Nirvana, are the morons and lunatics who do not—who will not—believe, despite the abundant miracles performed right before their eyes. Though they have seen heart transplants become routine, they refuse to allow stem-cell research. Though decipherment of both the fossil and the genetic record proves that humans are merely advanced primates, they refuse to allow hygienic control of reproduction. Though the triumphs of physical conditioning and nutrition appear with dazzling clarity in the contemporary super-athlete, they refuse to allow legislation to prescribe their diet and their exercise. They are not simply blasphemous infidels with souls too dull to envision our race’s ascent into the stars: they are intellectual pigmies—idiots who see the monuments of scientific success all around them (and enriching every facet of their personal lives) yet will not so much as cast a proper vote because of some ancient book of fairy tales. How could any sane, bright person not lose his patience with these evolutionary dregs? Why should they have the right to vote, in the first place—or even to speak in public, where others of their base kind might be misled? They still have the simian force, in their vast numbers, to flood the system, to jam the switchboard, to stone the Chairman’s motorcade. Soon we may be able to decimate their ranks with birth control—or with planned starvation, or with a carefully planted pandemic. But until then… how odious is their stupid stubbornness! How tedious is the animal threat of their bad temper!
Thanks to them, the world may overpopulate before we can point the species’ vector in the right direction. Thanks to them, our planet may blow up before we have created a new one. They may very well end up killing us all.
And this, I suggest, is why Mr. Jones wants the police to subdue Mrs. Jones in our system. The fear, resentment, frustration, and fury that motivate the New Dawn’s architects when we tell them not to begin building in mid-air is nothing less or other than the response of a devout believer to a soulless non-believer. If only we believed, we would see that our economic system is supposed to crash—is “destined” to crash as the planet takes one more huge step toward global interdependency. We would understand (if our deaf ears were capable of hearing prophecy) that when all concerned finally perceive and admit Mr. Jones’s utter incapacity to pay back his debts, the lion will lie down with the lamb: the rich will have to shrug and empty out their coffers. Here we are on the verge of creating ex nihilo one single world economy, driven by need rather than by greed… and all that the idiot infidels can say is, “It’s never worked before.”
OF COURSE it has never worked before! No cobblestone of the golden road into the Milky Way was ever laid before! Every day in the Progressive faith sparkles with novelty, full of opportunities to boldly go (= “go boldly” in the days before you could split infinitives) where no man (= “woman or man”) has ever gone before. Why should we all be condemned to die because a few lazy slugs cannot be bothered to move?
This, I propose, is the true divide in American society today: not the split between fiscal conservatives and deficit-spenders, but that between a faith in the abiding primacy of the individual human soul and a faith in the evolving glory of humanity’s collective soul. I leave it to you to determine how genuine any sort of compromise between these two metaphysical visions is likely to be. The former holds that human beings of all ages have always been profoundly same: suffered from the same temptations, fallen prey to the same ambitions, bowed beneath the same mortifications. What part of that vision might be surrendered in compromise? The latter holds that human beings must not be allowed to stay the same over any two ages—that a human age must be defined precisely in terms of the species’ progress to the next rung. In a compromise, commitments are made to honor certain stable positions. How does one bind Progressivism to any concept of truth at all, since it holds truth to be ever-changing (i.e., since one must often lie in the present to be true to the future)?
If we really want two such parties to find common ground, then perhaps we are idiots, after all. ~ Pancratistes
Jeronimus Bosch, Christ Bearing the Cross