Monday, December 17, 2012

The Lottery

The individual's right to bear arms is apparently of the highest priority.  Many are so committed to this principle that they're prepared to regularly sacrifice innocent citizens to gun violence--at least 10,000 people a year, not including suicides and accidents. Even the slaughter of first-graders doesn't make these people pause.  Even if a shooter marched into a hospital nursery and hosed out the bassinets with his precious Bushmaster, reducing the newborns to so much unrecognizable blood and bone and tissue and gore, the only answer for those for whom the only amendment is the second would be always more guns, and more people with more guns, preferably more lethal, always.  No other developed western nation pays such a high price for this freedom, at the expense of all others. Never mind that an armed but law-abiding civilian has never halted a mass shooting, or that a collective of arm-bearing individuals has never been needed to counter a coup.  Never mind, also, the most fundamental purpose of organized society under a government of laws--to safeguard its citizens from arbitrary violence.

Never mind to all that.  These armed citizens have rights!  Your right to not be endangered by a "well-meaning" self-deputized citizen wielding a Glock to save the wallet that you were gladly surrendering to the thief in order to shield yourself and your children from violence is of no consequence.  The worshipers of the second amendment are tired of being pushed around, and what's more, they're not going to let you get pushed around either--whether you like it or not.  It's better for you to die on your feet than for them to live on their knees. Body counts simply don't matter to these people; for them, the only measures that matter are the number of guns in their domestic armories, the size of their mega-clips, the rate of fire of their rifles, and the increasing ease with which all these death-machines can be gotten. The grief-shrieking mothers from the hospital would be pouring the liquid remains of their infants into little white coffins, and these righteous citizens would attempt to assure them that their infants had died to preserve the most sacred of our rights. The tree of liberty, they will tell you in the most sober and self-important of tones, needs to be watered occasionally with the blood of tyrants, but if they're short a tyrant anyone's blood will do.  They do not hold their manhoods cheap, and all too often it's the rest of us who pay the price.

Since this freedom is sacrosanct and preeminent to all others, we now live in the middle of an unofficial but increasingly deadly lottery, whereby this right exacts its toll.  Like all fair lotteries its selections are random, so there should be no cause for complaint. Every year, the lottery reaches in and plucks out several thousand lives, and these lives are paid with reverence to the angry death-god of the second amendment, so men can walk about armed to the teeth in the midst of civilized society. No one knows at the start of the year who will be chosen, and no one knows when it will happen, or even if it will happen at all. It can happen anywhere: on the street, at home, at work, in a store, at a theater, in schools, even in places of worship. Almost none of the sacrifices know in the morning that they will die that day, and if fate is kind their life will leave them as quickly as light leaves the room at the flick of a switch.  If fate is more fickle, death is long, searing, and excruciating, like white-hot coals lodged in the viscera. The lottery is funny that way, but it doesn't discriminate. It takes the old and young, men and women, all creeds and colors. Last week was just a bad week for first-graders. 

The steely-eyed men who so vigilantly safeguard their sacred right to collect deadly steel and deal death if they so choose never flinch at the carnage produced by the annual lottery. It's the "price of freedom." The freedom to do what, we're never told; most often it seems like a narrow, self-perpetuating, ever-expanding freedom to deliver death at a distance. It seems to have become an end in itself, but we're told there is no other way. So hold your loved ones tightly today, because today they could be chosen. After all, it's only 10,000 annual homicides out of a country of over 300 million.  That's really not so bad. This is "freedom" had cheap, really.  And really, what are the chances? What are the odds that you'll be touched by the lottery?  Isn't this "freedom" worth this price?

But if it were to happen that one day someone came to the door of one of these steely-eyed men and told him that one of his children had been chosen, we'd quickly see a man unmanned.  If someone had turned out the light in his child, it wouldn't matter who had done it, be it a bad man, or a crazy man, or a lawman, or some foolish man who thought he had a right to execute the law from the barrel of his gun and had just aimed badly. The abstract multiplicity of ten thousand would quickly dissolve to the sharp and terrifying and concrete singularity of one. The one that was loved. The one that was there. The one that is gone. The one eternal moment of horror and want and absence that will stay with him forever. 

When others lose the lottery it's easy to play the game; but on this day we would see a man flinch and, torn loose from his world of simple certainties, try to recall why this freedom had been so important. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

I'm Tired

I'm tired of weeping over silent lips.  I'm tired of praying over the bodies of the innocent.  I'm tired of the fruitless discourse that takes place after every random slaughter, which always fades back to the status quo.  Even Reagan was shot down like a dog, and it didn't change a thing.  I'm exhausted, drained, so much so that I can't even find the strength to light a candle for the grieving.  I'm weary of arguing with people whose frontal lobes seem to have been removed by the NRA and replaced with endless loops of nonsense, straw men, red herrings, and slippery slopes.  I'm worn out from living alongside those so fearful of their neighbors that they won't even entertain a reasonable compromise to stop the arbitrary slaughter via weapons of mass destruction that can fit inside a duffle bag or less.   I can't bear to listen again to their tired, old, senseless rejoinder: "Freedom!"  I want to close my eyes, but then I risk a vision of the next set of victims being hauled out of a school, or a mall, or a theater, in so many small body bags.  If this is the price of your freedom, then there is something depraved in the way you've defined it. If this is the price of your freedom, then sacrifice your own children on the altar of your second amendment; don't presume to tell me to hug my own children and be thankful that they weren't butchered--this time.  And don't you dare tell me that this is not a time for politics.  Because if there's a way out of our nation's long obsession with ever more lethal guns and bullets, the only solution is political.

Friday, November 30, 2012

We Should Then See the Multitude Oppressed

We should then see the multitude oppressed from within, in consequence of the very precautions it had taken to guard against foreign tyranny. We should see oppression continually gain ground without it being possible for the oppressed to know where it would stop, or what legitimate means was left them of checking its progress. We should see the rights of citizens, and the freedom of nations slowly extinguished, and the complaints, protests and appeals of the weak treated as seditious murmurings. We should see the honour of defending the common cause confined by statecraft to a mercenary part of the people. We should see taxes made necessary by such means, and the disheartened husbandman deserting his fields even in the midst of peace, and leaving the plough to gird on the sword. We should see fatal and capricious codes of honour established; and the champions of their country sooner or later becoming its enemies, and for ever holding their daggers to the breasts of their fellow-citizens.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Discourse on the Origin on Inequality (1754)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Missive to the Republican House

It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonored by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice.  

Ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government.

Ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money.

Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess?

Ye have no more religion than my horse. Gold is your God. Which of you have not bartered your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth?

Ye sordid prostitutes have you not defiled this sacred place, and turned the Lord's temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices?

Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation. You were deputed here by the people to get grievances redressed, are yourselves become the greatest grievance. 

Your country therefore calls upon me to cleanse this Augean stable, by putting a final period to your iniquitous proceedings in this House; and which by God's help, and the strength he has given me, I am now come to do.

I command ye therefore, upon the peril of your lives, to depart immediately out of this place.

Go, get you out! Make haste! Ye venal slaves be gone! So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors. 

In the name of God, go!

Oliver Cromwell
"Dismissal of the Rump Parliament" (1650)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Vulture Capitalism and Its Apologists

Some simply cannot accept the reality of a vulturous brand of capitalism that strips assets and destroys jobs, even when the evidence is abundantly there, right before their eyes. These people are like the old-style Bolsheviks, who defended the revolution even as the muzzle touched the back of their necks. Lemming-like ideologues, they'll work their whole lives long on shrinking wages and lost benefits, and in the end it won't be their god that failed them, but rather specters of "over-regulation, unions," etc. They'll die never knowing what really killed them.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Pity Your Elders

If you can't respect your elders, at least have the decency to pity them.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Vote In This Election, But Look Beyond Elections

At this point in time, almost every civic institution has failed the American people.  Congress has become the laughingstock of the world’s democracies, so filled with bumpkins and partisan know-nothings that in a time of serious crises most of the nation’s vital business remains undone or not even begun.  Our Supreme Court, in a set of perverse legal fictions, has deemed corporations to be people and money to be political speech, leading to an unprecedented flood of unregulated cash that has drowned the last vestiges of integrity in our electoral process.  Meanwhile, one major political party—the one that has been taken over by bigots, religious fundamentalists who disdain science, and Ayn Rand devotees—is in over thirty states attempting to purge the rolls of citizens likely to vote for the other major party.  The leadership of both parties are the creatures of an unaccountable financial elite that has overseen the decline of America’s postwar middle class over the past thirty-five years; as a result, the US has the most unequal distribution of wealth in the developed world.  This has come about through decades of intensive lobbying and deregulation that created a global and financialized economy completely detached from domestic productive activity, and which produced the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression.  Since 2007, millions of Americans have lost their jobs and homes, and the unemployment rate of new college graduates hovers at about 50%.  The bankers and financiers whose irresponsible and arguably fraudulent practices precipitated this crisis have not only gone unprosecuted; they were in fact rewarded for their malfeasance with an enormous taxpayer bailout, and their profits are as high as ever.  In the meantime, roughly 30% of the electorate suffers from a social pathology that sees incipient tyranny in a modest reform of our health care system, while ignoring the fact that two successive presidential administrations—one Republican and one Democratic—have presided over an unprecedented expansion of executive power, which now explicitly claims for itself the right to practice warrantless surveillance, to indefinitely detain (without charges) noncitizens and citizens alike, and to practice torture and extralegal, unilateral killing.  In sum, we no longer live in a functional democracy, but rather a kleptomaniacal oligarchy that serves the few, and which has grown adept at distracting the many.  War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.

Should you vote in this election, despite this pessimistic situation?  Yes.  Vote in this election, vote tactically, yes, vote for the perennial “lesser of two evils,” but look beyond elections if you’re at all serious about reversing these trends and reclaiming your future.  Consider this: our nation’s founders changed the world without casting a ballot.  Retrieve their daring, imagination, and courage, and hold fast to their notion that government ought to dedicate itself to the common welfare of us all.  On their account, government is to serve the people, as is the economy, and the moment the people are subordinated to either the people have a duty to revolt against both.  Do not fear government, because it rightfully belongs to us.  Rather, keep your eyes fixed firmly on those forces that have usurped our democracy; the time has come for these forces to fear us.  Remember that authentic dissent is often the highest form of patriotism, and that protest should be more than mere ritual.  Look not only to the past for inspiration, but also to the present—to the Arab Spring, to Greece, Spain, Portugal, Qu├ębec, and Iceland.  Look at what these peoples have done, and are doing.  Learn the democracy of the streets.  Become citizens in the fullest sense, and demand what is yours.  Reclaim your government and your nation from those who have taken them from you.  Dare to think outside the ballot box, as others have done before you, and as others are doing now.  Look and see, then imagine what a “more perfect union” would look like, and then act to make it a reality.  Don’t stop until this future is realized.  

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Paradox of Libertarianism

On the one hand, there is The Market--"natural," implacable, with its own ebbs and flows, and thus possessing the force and necessity of a physical law.  Understood this way, The Market cannot be obstructed, defied, or censured in any way.  We can complain about it, yes, in the same way that we complain about the weather, but in the end such complaints go unheard.  The Market, like the weather, is an objective and impersonal force; it has no ears.  Complaining about our diminished portfolios won't offset our losses, just like complaining about the rain won't dry the dampness of our clothes.  And should a recession cost us our homes and jobs, there's nothing to rail against.  After all, wouldn't it be absurd to blame a hurricane for the devastation it causes?  The dynamic of the offending storm is agentless, and hence blameless.  So it is for The Market, too.  We all live under it, just as we live under the skies that are mysteriously and alternately benevolent and destructive.  It is up there somewhere, impervious to our wishes, desires, resentments, and rants.  The Market speaks, in its own inscrutable way, and we are all subject to its inexplicable and unaccountable dictates.  If it bestows riches on us, we should treat these riches as the blessing of the sunny day we hoped for; if it lays ruin to our lives, we should bemoan this disaster as a result of the great storm we had always feared.  But in either case, The Market is blameless.  It has spoken, and there is nothing more to say about its seemingly arbitrary whims.

On the other hand, there are the libertarians, who worship at the feet of The Market in the same way that the ancients groveled before their nature gods.  Here we glimpse the leading edge of the paradox.  If The Market is an impersonal and "natural" force, like the law of gravity, how can it possibly be subject to placation?  Upon stepping off a precipice, we wouldn't then pray to gravity to save ourselves.  Again--absurd.  So why this constant singing of The Market's praises?  On the libertarian's account, they are just describing the way The Market works, in the same way that physicists show us how the physical world works.  But you never hear a physicist praising or condemning the second law of thermodynamics; this wouldn't make any sense.  Facts such as these are morally neutral.  Laws of nature simply are what they are.  They are deaf to our opinions.  That libertarians feel the need to constantly praise the "facts" of "economic reality" should give us pause.

The only way to make sense of the libertarians' instinct for genuflection is that despite their claims to the contrary, they know at some level that The Market is nothing at all like a law of nature--though they wish it to be regarded as such.  This suggests that when the libertarians proclaim The Market to be an objective and impersonal force, this is a statement of belief, not a statement of fact.  And this, in turn, makes the libertarians not scientists describing an objective reality, but rather more like priests, prophets, seers, and prosthelytizers propagating a creed.

What scientists and prosthelytizers have in common is a claim to insight.  But whereas scientists claim insight into the natural world, prosthelytizers claim insight into a supernatural world.  While the former can lend weight to their insights through empirical observation and the scientific method, the latter depend on subtle and far more elusive theological distinctions.  It is precisely for this reason that economics, alone among the human sciences, is labeled not just "soft" but downright dismal.  Though all the evidence suggests that belief in a mysterious, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving supreme being is infinitely more rational than faith in a beneficent invisible hand, in most American universities you will meet, with very few exceptions, economists as dogmatic as any pope.  It's important to note, however, that these high priests of The Sacred Market rarely venture beyond the safe bosom of tenure and their generous, guaranteed stipends to preach and actually practice the creed in the larger world.  That dangerous job is left to others.

This is where the libertarians come in--the true believers, the real propagators of the faith, most of them as mad as prophets.  We're not talking about people like the brothers Koch; they're not true libertarians.  The brothers Koch, and people like them, understand that to the extent that the purchase of a stable of senators is a sound investment to insure the profit of their bottom line, government is good, insofar as it provides a veneer of legality to to protect their economic activities.  No, the Kochs are more akin to cardinals of the church, sheltered high up in the far reaches of the hierarchy, far away from the members of the missionary orders.

These missionaries are the small businessmen who imagine themselves completely self-made, the self-styled entrepreneurs--the libertarians.  And with them, the paradox emerges full-blown.  For while the creed teaches them that The Market never errs, that its laws are ironclad, that these laws play no favorites, and that whatever The Market dictates must be borne as we bear the weather, they nevertheless believe that they themselves are immune to this dynamic. They truly believe, as truly as any believer has ever believed in his god, that their devotion and insight into The Market will spare them from its harshest judgments.  They believe that they alone are smart enough or industrious enough or prudent enough or bold enough that The Market will inevitably smile on them.  Never mind that The Market has for countless decades consumed as human sacrifices legions of the most wise, the most industrious, the most judicious, and the most boldly innovative of their number; the libertarians will just claim that these were not members of the Chosen.  Those who incur the wrath of The Market are rightfully fallen, hubristic, false prophets, justly punished.  They, on the other hand, truly know the mind of their god, and will rise with its blessings to stand at its right hand.

Do you see the slippage, and the naked whole of the paradox?  The Market has morphed from an impersonal force effecting all without favor into a judgmental and unforgiving god that can nevertheless be placated by the devotion of those who claim the purest of faith.  And so the libertarians look out onto a ferocious sea whipped into a frenzy by The Market, and cleanse their minds of all the knowledge they should know as economic scientists--things such as the centralization of capital, the asymmetrical distribution of resources, economies of scale, etc.  As scientists, they would have been able to see quite clearly that while the behemoth vessels of the Kochs and their ilk would be able to weather this storm with ease, their own small boats would quickly founder and be swallowed up.  But, scientists no more, they stand on the shore, wave their staffs in grand gestures, and before them they imagine the sea parting.  Chanting their devotional incantations, they wade further and further into the tempest, their bodies battered by the ever rising waves, the water filling their open mouths, the fierce undertow pulling them rapidly out to sea, and then down, and deep.

And during the occasional calm, the officers of the most mammoth and seaworthy ships take their exercise on deck.  They gather on the bows of their magnificent vessels, masters of all before them. Sometimes they cock their ears toward the water, and joke to one another, "Do you hear, can you still hear them?"  After laughing quietly among themselves, they eventually return to their posts.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Rapacious Caste

In the Republic Plato speaks of three social castes: the desirous, the spirited, and the philosopher-kings.  On this account, the philosopher-kings should rule because their wisdom makes them the best qualified to lead.  He felt the spirited were unqualified because their indignation would lead the state to ruin.  As for the largest caste, the desirous, Plato felt that so long as it was allowed to sate its desires through its own productivity, it could be safely pacified while it contributed to society's needs.

Putting aside for the moment the plausibility of Plato's utopia, we can safely say that he never foresaw the possibility of a small rapacious caste arising from the caste of the desirous, a caste whose appetite far exceeds its actual numbers.  The rapacious caste wants all; it never gives, it only takes.  Its only guide is more--of everything in human experience.  Human lives, the abundance of the earth, society itself; all of these it considers a bounty to which it is intrinsically entitled, a feast for its mouth alone.  It knows no moderation, its appetite is insatiable, and even when it has eaten everything, even after it has carried off and consumed not only all of society can provide but also the whole earth, it will still want more even as our shared celestial orb flames out in a final orgasm of grasping depravity.  It eats the dead and the living, the present and the future, time itself.  It is the agent of death.

To which Plato offers the only plausible solution: those with incurably evil souls are to be executed (410a).

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Lesser of Two Evils

One might wonder why the "world's greatest democracy" offers only two choices, both of them evil.  Remember that the operative term here belongs to the exalted electorate, not mine.  And it's not a term I myself would choose.  "Evil" is freighted with unneeded metaphysical baggage, when I'm almost certain that what is meant here is simply that one choice is less harmful than the other.  But that the weighty term evil would be chosen to describe any part of this celebrated system of government--a government "for the people, by the people," etc.--is telling, a testimonial to the special social schizophrenia that belongs to the American tribe.

On the one hand, the United States is claimed to be the birthplace of the grandest political experiment in human history, but on the other hand this experiment has in recent years regularly generated substandard, evil political choices.  And since the evil govern with the consent of the governed, this makes the electorate complicit with the evil that it burdens itself with, and about which it complains incessantly.  This is a singular accomplishment in unconscious disjunctive thinking: the people create and command the very same government they disparage, hate, and loathe.  It never occurs to them that a grand political experiment might produce more than two choices, or at least a choice between the better of two goods. But this would require a political imagination, a spirit of daring, the will to begin the experiment anew, or at least the frankness to face the flaws that have evolved over the years--all of which are absent here. Because the electorate considers the nation's founders to have been demi-gods and the founding documents sacred, nothing essential can be touched, and no mere mortals are allowed to think outside the ossified cage of exceptionalism.

And so every four years the electorate trundles off with hunched shoulders to perform what they take to be their sole duty as heirs of this political arrangement: to cast a ballot, with great, mournful sighs, for the "lesser of two evils."  It has been said, and this is obviously true, that such a choice is still a choice of evil. But what is often overlooked is that when political decisions are made on the basis of the relative absence of evil, this in effect makes evil the standard by which political choices are made.  Thus evil becomes the field within which the electorate and its leaders move, and is it any wonder that in such a politico-moral context the relative difference in evil between any two candidates or parties will inevitably shrink?  If this is so, it must be asked, after performing the appropriate calculations and calibrations, and upon determining that the "gap" of evil between two political choices has grown so minuscule that neither choice yields significant benefits to the electorate, doesn't this system nullify itself as a mechanism of rational choice?  This is the logic of "the lesser of two evils," internalized as a political philosophy.  How great of a betrayal is this philosophy to the founders, who, after all, regularly spoke the language of morality and virtue?  Would they be content to move exclusively in the sphere of evil?  Can greater treachery be done to their courage, their grand experiment, their utopianism?  Isn't this a grand negation of everything they thought, wrote, put their names to, and risked their lives for?

In the few single-party states that still survive, citizens are compelled, in a perverse pantomime of democracy, to report to the polls and cast their ballots for the only political choice available to them. Here, we have a similar democracy of drudges, dutifully engaging in a similar performance, though it is infinitely more perverse because it is performed not out of coercion but out of a combination of self-delusion, a crippling fatalism, a denial of political agency, and a lack of imagination.  Our "democracy," driven by the philosophy of the "lesser of two evils," is not long for this earth.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

On True Christians

How much harder, how much more demanding it must be, to be a Christian of love, as opposed to a Christian of judgement and condemnation, a Christian who would forcibly bend the knees of others for the sake of their obedience.  And how much more truly Christian.

What is a Philosophical Id?

A philosophical id is the part of the philosopher's psyche that powerfully manifests its indignation towards falsity, stupidity, dogma, duplicity, deception, and all human idiocy, expressed in a harsh and unvarnished fashion, leaving behind all sober, evenhanded decorum.  A philosophical id attacks the disingenuine, the fool, the willfully ignorant, and the deliberately simpleminded without pause or quarter, because sometimes--all too often, in fact--reason by itself is not equal to the task at hand, especially when employed with cloying irony.  A philosophical id understands this; it still uses reason, but not in the way of the typical lover of wisdom.  It is not interested in seduction, but rather destruction--the destruction of those who blithely profane the true and the good.  Thus, a philosophical id is embittered and resentful, and it wields reason to cut, to burn, to bruise.  In a word, a philosophical id wants to once again make stupidity something shameful.  In times like the present, is there any work more noble?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Orthodoxy is Unconsciousness

"Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? . . . By the year 2050, at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand such a conversation as we are having now? . . . The whole climate of thought will be different.  In fact, there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking--not needing to think.  Orthodoxy is unconsciousness."
- George Orwell (1903-1950)

To Posterity (1939)

. . . 
You, who shall emerge from the flood
In which we are sinking,
Think --
When you speak of our weaknesses,
Also of the dark time
That brought them forth.
. . .
For we knew only too well:
Even the hatred of squalor
Makes the brow grow stern.
Even anger against injustice
Makes the voice grow harsh.  Alas, we
Who wished to lay the foundations of kindness
Could not ourselves be kind.

But you, when at last it comes to pass
That man can help his fellow man,
Do not judge us
Too harshly.                                                                         
- Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956)

Against All Dogmas

History is awash with cases of cruelty and absurdity in the service of a dogma or orthodoxy—the mutual slaughter of Catholics and Protestants during the Thirty Years War, the denial of heliocentrism by the Church hierarchy, the Holocaust, the imposition of historical materialism onto Soviet science, the killing fields of Pol Pot—the list is endless. Behind every great indecency and base idiocy is a dogma waiting to be exposed by truly liberated minds.  Contra omnia dogmatia—against all dogmas—and against all dogmatists!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

An Agnostic's Apology to His Christian Companions in Life, Easter Sunday, 2012

On this most holy day of the Christian calendar, it is my fervent hope that you accept this overdue apology from a nominal agnostic with only the most tangential, outsider’s appreciation for your creed.  A lapsed Catholic before even fully formed, my lack of spirituality is something I never explicitly chose for myself; rather, it was something I fell into passively, out of an amorphous cloud of sheer inertia.  From a childhood that lacked a truly religious upbringing, my attitude toward the transcendent eventually morphed into one of purely philosophical curiosity, and as I continued to evolve intellectually, my interests have turned to the richness of the concrete world I find myself immersed in, rather than the possibility of a world that might await me.  In the end, my present attitude towards religious faith lacks the spark required for initiating an authentic spiritual encounter.  I have a strictly academic interest in its metaphysical dimensions, but I remain monumentally indifferent to exploring these dimensions personally.  I hasten to add that it’s not that I inspected the conceptual framework of Christian metaphysics and, finding it deficient, rejected it; it’s more the case that my perpetually wandering mind simply wandered off, and ended up someplace else.

In other words, my interests in Christianity are incidental, and focused on the historical and cultural.  When I travel, I am always drawn to the churches and the architecture; when I read, I find the histories of the early church, the papacy, and the various sects and orders fascinating; when I mingle with those immersed in the faith, I feel as if I am visiting a different culture altogether.  And as a good visitor to any foreign land does, I try to behave myself, and respect the customs and rituals of those around me.

You might think that I have failed spectacularly here, given the tone and tenor of my recent posts, and these are the occasion for the present apology.  In these posts, which I often paste up as quickly as they come across my desktop, it might seem as if I have an indiscriminate hostility to all things Christian.  And I know that of late these posts have been appearing more and more frequently, which I worry you might mistake for a growing disrespect for you, and what you believe in.

It is important to me that you know this is not the case.  In these posts I mean to militate against a virulent distortion of what I understand Christianity to be, which over the past several months has loudly wounded our body politic.  What I do not mean to do is paint with an overly broad brush, and stain the whole of your faith with this rancid bile that, from my admittedly outsider’s perspective, does nothing but diminish the message of your Christ.  But unfortunately, at times I have done just that; too frequently, I have not taken care to distinguish between the heavy-handed fundamentalism that is once again sweeping over the land, and the more complicated but affirmative Christianity that you have taken into your lives.  And it is for this that I beg your forgiveness, for you are the last people I would want to offend.

What might not be apparent from my posts is that I have been surrounded by Christians since my earliest days in Detroit, over and beyond my teaching post at a Catholic university.  We settled into a neighborhood populated with a number of former Jesuit volunteers, who welcomed us warmly, and my Catholic wife found a well-established and wonderful parish just around the corner.  From these initial contacts we were drawn into a sprawling network of Christian communities, each doing Christ’s work in this most distressed of cities, without fire or fanfare.  A pastor here, a volunteer there, dinners and shelter for the homeless, a playground for a neighborhood’s children, mission work in Haiti, ice cream socials and block parties, the blessing of new children, and, speaking in the broadest sense, the cultivating of a community of love—the rarest of all commodities in our barren, atomized, egoistic culture.

And it was without hesitation that you took this agnostic into your community, inviting me to dinner and other gatherings, where I have broken bread and shared prayers with you, while observing you with an anthropologist’s eye.  Here I see no ego, experience no moral superiority, hear no unearned certitudes about the truths of your divinity.  Rather, I see those for whom faith is demanding, requiring a never-ending reaffirmation in a world of never-ceasing travails, struggles with occasional doubts, and vigorous but extremely thoughtful discussions of doctrinal matters, because, after all, for you this faith matters, and matters deeply.  But all of this is bound together by an unconditional love for all of creation, a simple attempt to live out the love of your Christ in every waking hour of your day, a quiet and unassuming love that is directed equally towards saints and sinners, Christians and non-Christians alike. 

How much harder, how much more demanding it must be, to be a Christian of love, as opposed to a Christian of judgment and condemnation, a Christian who would forcibly bend the knees of others for the sake of their obedience.  And how much more authentically Christian.

I dedicate this to you, my loving Christian companions, in the spirit of thanks, on the day of the rising of your Lord.