“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Jesus's politics

Every oncet in a while, it is a good thing to think about Jesus.
I read a typically odious oped by that typically odious neo-con, Pascal Bruckner, in the Sunday Le Monde, and I thought of this post I wrote a while ago in my blog. This is the reason I like Jesus more than creepy Nouvelles Philosophes:

Jesus’ politics.

As the few who have actually read the Gospels know, Jesus said relatively little about sex. For him, it was a thing that occurred in the structure of families. Jesus didn’t much like families. He was only half joking when he said that he had no patience for him who didn’t hate his mother. He thought if you entered into a marriage, that was the end of it – no divorce for you. Of course, marriage, back in Jesus' day, wasn't the love match it is today, but an exchange between parents and clans in which the individuals exchanged had little say. So this is a hard saying to understand -- was it a way of warning men not to desert their wives and children?

In any case, he looked upon the marriage and family racket as hopelessly perverting -- there'd be no giving and taking of wives and husbands in the Kingdom of Heaven.

On the other hand, Jesus had numerous opinions about wealth. He unequivocally thought that the wealthy would not be in the kingdom of heaven. He thought that they were scanty in their sacrifices, and pushy in their lives, and in general a diabolical nuisance. Just getting wealthy, Jesus thought, probably entailed doing things that would send you to Hell. He had no hesitation about saying so. When a rich man came to him who had sacrificed much of his wealth, Jesus famously said that it was harder for the rich to get to heaven than for the camel to get through the eye of a needle. This saying is one that the most literal American fundamentalist suddenly gets all liberal about. But the meaning is made clear by what Jesus did before he made that comment – he clearly thought that the rich man hadn’t given enough. He hadn’t really destroyed his wealth.

While there is, currently, a great deal of kowtowing to a bunch of pissants who call themselves Christian in contemporary American culture, one can be confident that, if Jesus is within the ballpark of being right, most of the Christian right, from George Bush to Pat Robertson, are going straight to hell. It isn’t really even a close call. All are wealthy. All retain their wealth in the face of a world in which masses starve. All have let these people starve during the whole course of their lives. Some, such as Pat Robertson, have acquired their wealth through such bloody associations that they are obviously immoral. But Jesus really didn’t make a lot of distinctions here. Gays are never condemned by Jesus. The wealthy are, time and time again. As for the clergy that coddles the wealthy and themselves become rich, they are what Jesus called Whited Sepulcres, filthy on the inside. Among the certainly and for sure damned, one can spot some easy prey: the creators of the Left Behind series (sin against the holy ghost, wealth), Dr. James Dobson (wealth, refusal to visit those in prison, definitely on the left side of the Son when he judges the quick and the dead), Newt Gingrich (are you kidding me) and many others who are going to go where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. It is, of course, Limited Inc’s burden that, as an atheist, we are probably ending up spending the afterlife with a bunch of yahoo evangelical leaders. Just our luck. Many of these men are under the misapprehension that Jesus gives his unconditional approval to heterosexuality, confusing viagra with virtue. Jesus made know his contempt for the family whenever he got a chance; his contempt for the mere industriousness that leads to wealth (behold the lilies of the field), his contempt for profiteers on the poor (you have made my father’s house into a den of thieves), etc. As for the collectivity of Congress, they have as little chance of making it to heaven as a vampire bat has of winning best in show at your local kennel club. If there is one crowd that has beast written on their foreheads, it is this one. Hopeless, from the divine point of view.

However, as George Bernard Shaw pointed out long ago, hardly anybody believes Jesus anymore, especially Christians. Shaw said that Christians are, almost to a man, followers of Barabbas: worshippers of ostentatious power, self-pitying about their cruelties, absolutely unable to sympathize with those lower than them if they aren’t allowed, at the same time, to strip those lower than them of all dignity – in other words, cannibals and freaks and the usual good booboisie you see buying steaks in the grocery store. Shaw thought certain of Jesus’ communistic ideas might work in today’s society. We don’t. That is, as a majoritarian stance, what Jesus taught leads to chaos and cruelty. The Grand Inquisitor is right about that. But as a minority stance, here and there, it is an experiment well worth doing.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Kantian baby

The Kantian baby – imagine that there is such a thing for a moment – exemplifies corporeally the Critique of Pure Reason. Reason is, as anyone who has hung around babies knows, the mouth, which anything can enter that the baby can reach and pull. It obeys the purely formal law of its size.  If it were big enough, the baby would put a car, a street, its parents, the house, or the sky in it. But it isn’t that big, so the baby puts in, say, the tip of the tail of the cloth green cat, or – if the parent isn’t wary – the circular wooden bead, or the rounded end of the rectangular parental pinky. It is here that synthetic aprioris are born, and they will proceed to dance like fairies around the baby’s cradle, in a fusion of now and shape, lulling him to sleep. But as we have already mentioned, the supreme bliss of reason depends on reaching and pulling. On, in fact, picking – that supreme tool of understanding, analysis, which resides in the hand. Picking and grasping – this is what the hand does (English, in its genius, even makes grasping synonymous with understanding. Henry James’ characters may look like Edwardian adults, but they, like babies, are always “grasping” mentally; it is a word that he loves, as though the hand’s warmth were needed to fight through the verbal fog which his characters so often pull over themselves). Admittedly, the picking is hesitant at first, and what the eye and body seem to aim at – here’s the pacifier, here’s the squeaky toy – is often not what the hand lands on. Instead, the hand frankly stutters there as it is in the full force of its arc towards the object, and instead what do we have? We have the edge of the blanket, we have a pen, we have the ear of the green frog doll (or is it a frog? With that cat’s ear?). But gradually the hand and the incredibly delicate fingers get better at the whole hand eye coordination thing, and then we pick – we pick the little chain of links of the earring or necklace, we pick and grasp and pull the handle of the coffee cup (sending it on a fatal, romantic dive towards its one true love, the keyboard of your computer). These are picked out of the continuum, grasped, pulled. Oh insatiable fingers!
Of course, reason rules – the fingers pick in order to raise the thing picked to the mouth, which opens in all innocence, naively, hopefully. Reason is a dreamer. But as we  look back, we are amazed at all the picking we’ve done, our miner’s work on the continuum. The continuum, however, is vast, our equipment is disproportionate to the world it is set loose in, and in the end we have picked up so few things, even metaphorically, that we will probably die longing, our fingers wrapped about one more shape – a plastic tube, the fringe of a polyester/cotton coverlet. Still, I admire that instinct for picking and grasping. I honor it here, as much as I can, in these sentences.