Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Thursday, October 15, 2009

God's Waiting Room

It's all Roy's fault that I was sucked into reading Rod Dreher. Dreher is so eager for Judgement that he has skipped living and gone straight to Purgatory, where he impatiently waits for the real suffering to begin.

Dreher waits for a financial Apocalypse. That'll teach the sinners. He does not mention how he and his fellow fundamentalists cheered Bush's every move, including the ones that set this apocalypse into motion.

Dreher is always concerned that everyone else isn't religious enough, so he can't rejoice that the US is more religious than Europeans without fretting that it isn't as religious as he is.
I mentioned in an earlier blog post how little I really know about megachurch Christianity, which is huge where I live, North Texas. If you don't live in Dallas or its environs, that's probably your stereotypical idea of what religion is like here. But unlike every other place I've lived, the Protestant mainline churches are still pretty vigorous, and well-attended. The gay MCC church is big. The largest mosque in Texas is here. And so on. Going to religious services is mainstream in the Dallas area in a way I've never seen elsewhere in America. Mind you, Dallas isn't representative of America, but I wonder if, on religious matters, it's true that Dallas is to America as America is to Europe.

Moving along, I think there may be less to this Godly America/Godless Europe thing. If it's true that the religion of America's tomorrow is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, how much better off are we, anyway?


Oh, we're all super-Jesus-y in the Dallas area, but the impression one is left with is that despite the megachurch religiosity regnant in the 'burbs, there's a deep hole people keep trying to fill with stuff, and with the manic pursuit of success.

Question: From a Christian point of view, is it better to live in a society where Christianity is virtually dead, replaced by secular materialism, or in a society where Christianity has been hollowed out by an emotionally satisfying but largely counterfeit version of the faith? Is it better to have nominal Christianity, or no Christianity at all? I don't think this is an easy question to answer. On the one hand, I was deeply impressed by Kierkegaard's "Attack Upon Christendom," in which he denounced the state Lutheran church as antithetical to real Christianity. His point, more or less, was that insofar as institutionalized Christianity leads people to believe that by going through the motions of a social Christianity, they have become true Christians, the experience of Christianity inoculates the individual against the real thing. On the other hand, the thought of raising my children in a place in which the Christian faith, or any religious faith, is largely alien to the community is troubling to me.

I'm utterly astonished that people like Dreher who use the Church to fill up the hole in their lives still feel a hole in their lives. You'd think that they were using the church to gain God's imaginary unconditional love, love they should have received from their parents but didn't. Or that imaginary unconditional love is not satisfying, and people come up with strange and bizarre (and deadly) ways to prove their own love in the hopes of getting love back. Such as finding ever-more restrictive religious practices and spending your life in a froth of fear that God will smite you dead any second for your sins, while haranguing everyone else for fear their sins will slop over onto you and you'll get killed in one of God's merciful acts of mass murder.

Then Dreher quotes Camile Paglia, which is two horrors in one paragraph.
You'll want to read Paglia's response, which ends with the line: "We're in a horrendous cultural vacuum because our status-besotted education industry is geared toward producing not original thinkers but docile creatures of the system."

This reminds me of something two childhood friends who went to the Ivies, but who spent a semester at LSU with me to qualify for a cheaper year-abroad program, said about going to the state school versus their Ivy (from which both graduated): that they got a lot more out of class at LSU because you actually got to interact with professors, and because the students didn't seem to have a sense of entitlement about being there.

Anyway, I liked this letter because what the letter-writer says is true, and because it also explains why so many people identify with Sarah Palin, despite everything. Understand me clearly: I think Sarah Palin is a fatally flawed vessel, and would be a terrible national leader. But please separate your thoughts and feelings about Palin long enough to understand why someone like Dave Livingston would identify with her, and come to loathe at least some of her critics. The Palin populist discerns, probably correctly, that much of the Palin hate is not only spite towards Palin herself, but spite towards a certain kind of American, and his tastes, his dreams, and his experiences. It is too bad, and maybe even a kind of tragedy, that Palin is personally not capable of sustaining the hope ordinary people put in her. Anyway, I know people can't talk about Palin anymore without going crazy, but Dave Livingston is worth listening to. I know a lot of people like him. He's why I wanted Sarah Palin so badly to be good, and was so disappointed when she wasn't.
Palin is stupid, greedy and superstitious. That is the basis of her tastes, dreams and experiences. Those who value superstition naturally want a leader like themselves, and unconsciously find reasons to ignore the stupid and greedy part of the equation. It's spite and elitist vanity that make liberals claim Palin is stupid and greedy, therefore conservatives can ignore everything they don't want to hear. (If they can't find a reason to ignore reality they just invent one, like socialism.)

The inevitable future of conservatism post is just funny. First Dreher sighs that he's been left out of the loop of a panel discussion on conservatism at Princeton. The panel worries that the rifts in conservatism have weakened it past repair. By "rifts" they mean that racism and religious fervor won't work anymore as demographics change, and conservative policy is no longer trusted. Dreher points to a "screed" by Freddie De Boer (is that Megan's Freddie?) that points out these inconvenient facts:
Everyone laments the Republican party's various failures, electoral or otherwise; no one is responsible for the Republican party. Everyone delights in the rank, unfocused and violent anger of the Tea Parties; no one will claim them as their own. What you have, ladies and gentlemen, is an ideology in a decaying orbit, an ideology that prides itself on insisting on personal responsibility as so many, thanks to their well-polished, phony individualisms, refuse to take any responsibility for the whole. Conservatism is drowning because so many say (as Conor Friedersdorf insists when I criticize him) "Hey, it's the OTHER conservatives who do THAT."

Dreher responds:
I have the sense that Freddie is kind of sort of onto something here, but I find it hard to say what, exactly, it is.

What a surprise. Dreher has a vague sense that there's a flaw in his own thinking, but can't quite pinpoint it.
I have said many times before that I was wrong about the Iraq War, and that I do feel responsible in some way for the failures of Republican governance, which I advocated for and voted for. Taking stock of those failures, and my failure of judgment, has made a big difference in my own politics. The extent to which I feel alienated from the conservative party in this country is the extent to which I don't believe its leaders and its mainstream have absorbed those lessons. But what does Freddie want from us? The mainstream GOP isn't interested in what conservative dissenters have to say; we're RINOs to them. We can't be liberals, because in the main, we don't believe what liberals do. What is "phony" about that? As someone who publicly broke with Bush over Katrina and Harriet Miers, I'm genuinely asking. Would Freddie have dissenting conservatives who backed Bush and the Bush-era GOP, but who now see the error of their (our) ways, spend the next few years doing nothing but atoning for our sins?

A devout Christian like Dreher will naturally think in terms of sin, confession and punishment. People like George Bush and Palin are sinners who failed Dreher and conservatism. Religion and conservatism didn't fail Dreher. He will not rethink any of his positions or assumptions and he immediately casts about for an excuse to change the subject.
Do liberals spend much time taking responsibility for the bad things that liberalism has wrought? I don't see it. If Freddie is saying that conservative writing and analysis today has to be done with the failures of conservative governance in front of mind, I've got no problem with that. Awareness of limitations and frailties makes for a more prudent and realistic politics. But surely he would expect the same thing from the left. On, for example, the gay marriage issue...[blah blah blah I'll spare you the rest].

He has confessed so what do you want, perpetual atonement? Don't be ridiculous. The matter is settled and over, the sin confessed and dismissed.
One of the things that finally got through to me, and turned me to the right, was realizing that the liberal ideals I prized had proved rather less successful in actuality, because liberals misunderstood human nature. I had to confront the unpleasant truth that actual human beings putting into practice what I believed to be true had not worked out so well.

Human nature is bad, people sin and fail, and God is necessary to maintain order and provide guard duty, punishment and reward. All Dreher needs to do is find another human who will never sin and fail him. And then another, and another, and another. It never even occurs to him that he could find what he's looking for within himself.


satch said...

Well, I'd say ol' Rod has some big problems. Rod sez: "Do liberals spend much time taking responsibility for the bad things liberalism has wrought? I don't see it." That's only because at this point in his sad life, Rod can't separate liberalism's actual beliefs and accomplishments from the straw-man version of them that he and his fellow conservatives have spent a lifetime constructing. And when Rod sobs: "The mainstream GOP isn't interested in what conservative dissenters have to say; we're RINOs to them. We can't be liberals because in the main, we don't believe what liberals do. [see above]", the only retort I can come up with is: Tell your story to someone who cares, jagoff.

Ken Houghton said...

Proofreading note: you have confused Rod Dreher and Ross Douchebag (apologies to semi-useful feminine hygiene product) in the first three paragraphs.

Dreher has always been insane. Some people (most notably Brad DeLong) claim Douthat was sane before he was required to write 750 words a week.

Susan of Texas said...

Aaargh! I need to take a blogging vacation; I've been blogging very steadily since April 2008, and I'm getting blogger fatigue.

Susan of Texas said...

I'm curious about what liberals do that turns off Dreher. Tolerate differences? Think for themsleves?

Downpuppy said...

You still have some Douthats in there.

Anyhow, here's Shorter Dreher:

I'm a loser
And I'm not what I appear to be
Although I laugh and I act like a clown
Beneath this mask I am wearing a frown

Susan of Texas said...

Damn Douthat. He needs to change his name, or at least his initials.

bill said...

"Dreher is so eager for Judgement that he has skipped living and gone straight to Purgatory, where he impatiently waits for the real suffering to begin."

Well said. See ya on the mountain, idiot.