Memorial Day (and other days like it) dredge up deep ambiguity in me. On the one hand, I am grateful for all the men and women who gave everything to preserve a country that affords me great privilege. I am grateful for their families that have suffered great loss. Their sacrifice should not go unnoticed.
At the same time, and again there is a bit of ambivalence here, I see the great harm that our military has caused in the world and I am not convinced that our causes are just. I enjoy the privileges of being an American citizen but those privileges come at great cost to many innocents.
These holidays could be problematized in many other ways. How do you deal with the tensions? What other factors influence your thinking?
On Good Friday, some 55 days ago, I argued (quite effectively, I think) that God is dead. The dark post seemed fitting for the day. And then it just lingered. I promised myself that I would follow up with a strong affirmation of Easter faith. I even put the promise in writing. My parents began to fret. My priest began to pray (and maybe my bishop too–I learned a couple weeks back that he too had read it. Good thing they passed over me for that high profile position in the diocese…). For some reason I have struggled to write this post; perhaps that struggle will be a topic for another day. But today, with the flame of Pentecost still burning, the Spirit is moving (or at least I am motivated enough to try to write something halfway faithful).
To start, I will affirm that I think the issues that I raised in the previous post are very real problems that cannot be easily explained away. This post is not an attempt to reply to those concerns because I have no answer for them. You may have an answer, and I welcome your insight. I wish that the questions did not haunt me. I continue to seek in spite of the text, the tradition, and reason , not because of them.
One way around the problems is to follow Karl Barth as he takes a Kierkegaardian leap into the void. As Barth writes in his Epistle to the Romans (which is very useful for understanding Barth but not so useful for understanding Romans), “Faith is not a foundation upon which [human beings] can emplace themselves; not an atmosphere in which they can breathe; not a system under which they can arrange their lives.” (ER, 110) The very discomfort I express is the place where faith can happen. It is only after the system has been completely dismantled that we can see clearly that faith “for all alike it is a scandal, a hazard, a ‘Nevertheless’; to all it presents the same embarrassment and the same promise; for all it is a leap into the void. And it is possible for all, only because for all it is equally impossible.” (ER, 99). Kierkegaard writes similarly, “Without risk, there is no faith. Faith is precisely the contradiction between the infinite passion of the individual’s inwardness and the objective uncertainty. If I am capable of grasping God objectively, I do not believe, but precisely because I cannot do this I must believe. If I wish to preserve myself in faith I must constantly be intent upon holding fast the objective uncertainty, so that in the objective uncertainty I am out ‘upon seventy thousand fathoms of water,’ and yet believe.” (Unscientific Postscript)
I am curious how you deal with the tensions. Have you, dear reader, found a better way?
In the wake of Mark Sanford’s (re) election to congress I hastily tweeted that conservatives have no credibility when it comes to moral questions. I was (and still am) disgusted that men like Sanford can be so blatantly hypocritical about the “sanctity of marriage” or “family values” and yet still be popularly elected. It is embarrassing (and maddening).
I also find it annoying that his “redemption” is framed in some sort of Christian piety. Sanford humbly proclaimed at his victory party, “I am one imperfect man saved by God’s grace.” This morning he compared his return the Lazarus rising from the grave. And this is somehow OK? Patriarchal and misogynist religious institutions are so quick to decry the evils of same sex marriage and equally quick to forgive men who shatter lives (I’m looking at you, Roman Catholic Bishops) and wreck marriages (hello Mr. Sanford and Mr. Gingrich) with their penises.
My immediate reaction was to make this a conservative problem. Then I started thinking about my own political leanings and the people who represent them. It is true that liberals have similar indiscretions and recover from them (Anthony Weiner for Mayor!). The difference is that they don’t run on a platform to protect marriage or decry the evils of our secular world. What they do focus on is the need to strengthen social networks to protect poor, marginalized, and vulnerable people. Here’s the rub–liberal leaders suck at that too. The recent scandals that have rocked Albany, New York, the incredible dysfunction and cronyism of the Chicago machine (and Illinois in general), the failure of the Senate to pass background check legislation, and on.
This is how I see it–conservatives focus on individual responsibility and thus by definition flout social responsibility. But it is not like they are living individually responsible lives either. Liberals, on the other hand, focus on social responsibility and therefore pay less attention to individual culpability. And at the same time they behave in ways that wreak havoc on social support systems. Both sides blatantly disregard all forms of morality, all the while pointing out the flaws in the other sides’ values. What. The. Fuck.
I am sure that this needs to be more carefully nuanced. I also think that this critique could be extended non-political folk (I already mentioned the church). Why do we struggle so deeply to live in healthy, constructive relationships with one another? Why is it so hard to do the right thing, whether as individuals or as a society? Finally, in the midst of all this, is there such a thing as transformative grace?
There really is nothing new under the sun. Exhibit A: The opening paragraph to Abraham Heschel’s God in Search of Man, written in 1955 (!).
It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion–its message becomes meaningless.
I think I am going to like this book.