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Friday, May 25, 2018
REFLECTION OF A THURSDAY
James R. Fisher, Jr., Ph.D.
© May 24, 2018
The chaos and consolations of the past still haunt us in the 21th century with the relationship between religious faith and public discourse differing with what it was even a generation ago.
With the “war on terror,” religion no longer is confined to history books, whatever millennials or others think, but on the front page of our minds.
Christian churches are in a state of ferment about sex, creationism, culture and the struggle between fundamentalism and liberalism, which is not new but no longer civil or just.
We live in a time of fragmentation. The Western world no longer aspires as it did in Martin Luther’s time to be a place of faith, much less belief in God. Nor is there a drive to find and preserve a common culture; in fact, the idea is repellent.
The world of popular culture has become a cage which jangles and sings off key in the background of our controlled lives with TV soap operas, pop music and 24/7 media bombast in an all-but-lost world of shared values.
There is no place in this world for courtly love as it has been superseded by a quest for social justice, a noble objective on the surface. But what if a Just Society had a place as well for the Ideal of Love and a Quest for God once found in the imagination?
For a century now we have been moving away from love and God and what do we have for it, but permissiveness, promiscuity, corruption, chicanery, war and nihilism?
Regardless of your religious belief, what if the links of our times could stretch unbroken with the origins of our Western culture where there once was room for such preferences?
Alas, being reared Irish Roman Catholic, I can recall in my maturing years the Papacy’s silence in the Holocaust, the slowness of the church’s admission of the scandal of priests’ abusing children in their care, and the church’s still stubborn policy on birth control in an already overcrowded planet.
Great cathedrals still pencil the landscape of Europe but there is a cultural collapse when it comes to love, God and a tolerance of peoples of differing than Western persuasion.
What happens to the culture of a civilization when it no longer relates to what is going on inside the heads of individual men, women and children; when there is constant subliminal agitation to think, feel and behave in a certain way; when ubiquitous conformity has little room for variance with its draconian norms; when people are so much on automatic pilot that they don’t recognize the absurdity of their lives?
It is a sign of the debasement and confusion of our times that pop music (e.g. Bob Dylan, 2016 Nobel Laureate for Literature) speaks to the many far more poignantly than academics, politicians, corporate leaders, and philosophers.
Our democratic republic offers us an opportunity to place a vote in a spirit of positive optimism for our candidates of choice, but what this process has devolved to is merely a chance to vote against the other party’s candidates whom we choose to hate because we are programmed by media to do so.
Mainstream Christian churches have become detached from the inner lives and inner concerns of ordinary mortals as have the two dominant political parties. On the one hand, there is an abject disillusionment with societal institutions; and on the other, the Church with its mission to provide safe haven for troubled souls has turned out to be corrupt and dysfunctional and no haven at all.
The quest for a Good Place and a Good Church detached from everyday life is not the unknown secret of the universe but evidence that we have lost our moral compass and our way.
This is the central dilemma of our times. We once assumed we shared the same language and the same inner life. That is no longer the case. We instead share the detritus of a world lost in its own confusion.
In checking Facebook, YouTube or surfing the Internet, we realize we no longer share a common culture but rather a common emptiness with millions if not billions of other souls. Human beings have never been as alone as they are today while they are constantly reassured that they are connected. But are they? And if so, what do they hold in common with anyone?
Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt (1818 – 1898) claims we are all conscious of our own secret life. But with the concatenations of dissonant noise, how can we tell?
Obviously, there is conflict today between nascent spiritualism and transparent materialism, but there should be room for both as complements rather than contradiction to everyday life.
Whether you are in the process of losing your Faith, whatever that may be; or are returning to a new version of your Faith; or whether you are utterly disillusioned with politics and politicians; or are hopeful of political solutions to the injustices in your community or about the world; or whether your deepest experience of love with a sense of belonging happened a long time ago when you were a child, and has never been successfully rekindled since, you can abort this common cage if you have but the will to recognize you have such a capacity.
The first step is to find the patience to have a long silent conversation with yourself, the person you carry about whenever you go. Then trust yourself in this exercise and that world you once knew in your innocence will reopen with such wonder that it will appear as if it has always been right outside your window.