Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Monday, March 8, 2010

Nearer My God To Thee

Ross Douthat worries about your soul.
Conservative believers fixate on the culture wars, religious liberals preach social justice, and neither leaves room for what should be a central focus of religion — the quest for the numinous, the pursuit of the unnamable, the tremor of bliss and the dark night of the soul.

Nice words, even if they are borrowed from everyone else, but what do they mean?
Numinous (pronounced /ˈnjuːmɨnəs/, from the Classical Latin numen) is an English adjective describing the power or presence of a divinity. The word was popularised in the early twentieth century by the German theologian Rudolf Otto in his influential book Das Heilige (1917; translated into English as The Idea of the Holy, 1923). According to Otto the numinous experience has two aspects: mysterium tremendum, which is the tendency to invoke fear and trembling; and mysterium fascinans, the tendency to attract, fascinate and compel. The numinous experience also has a personal quality to it, in that the person feels to be in communion with a wholly other. The numinous experience can lead in different cases to belief in deities, the supernatural, the sacred, the holy, and the transcendent.


It may be viewed as "the intense feeling of unknowingly knowing that there is something which cannot be seen." This "knowing" can "befall" or overcome a person at any time and in any place — in a cathedral; next to a silent stream; on a lonely road; early in the morning or in the face of a beautiful sunset. Similarly, unpleasant or frightening scenes or experiences can lead to a sense of an unseen presence of ghosts, evil spirits or a general sense of the presence of evil. Visions or hallucinations of god, gods, the devil or devils can also happen.

I get it now. Numinous means schizophrenic. You are overcome with feelings that you are not alone, you are being watched by someone or something either all good and holy or or all unimaginably evil. Because you are filled with terror at the thought of evil supernatural creatures or ecstasy at the thought of an all-powerful creator or supernatural spirit, you are full of fear and trembling or rapture and trembling.

Why on earth would anyone yearn to be filled with imaginary fears? Why would the sight of beauty and wonders inevitably lead to a sudden belief in supernatural creatures and events? What motivates someone to make the leap from natural beauty to supernatural Hand Of God? What is Douthat looking for?
Our kind of [Earth-bouond] mysticism is more likely to be a pleasant hobby than a transformative vocation.

Douthat doesn't like a religion that concentrates on the here-and-now, the human experience between fellow men and women. He wants a transformative experience that will change his entire world, as he is too weak to change it on his own.
Most religious believers will never be great mystics, of course, and the American way of faith is kinder than many earlier eras to those of us who won’t. But maybe it’s become too kind, and too accommodating. Even ordinary belief — the kind that seeks epiphanies between deadlines, and struggles even with the meager self-discipline required to get through Lent — depends on extraordinary examples, whether they’re embedded in our communities or cloistered in the great silence of a monastery.

Incredibly, with the ultimate example of Jesus's sacrifice constantly before him, Douthat can't find a reason to live by His example. The last sacrifice to end all sacrifices is not enough for him to feel God's presence. He needs more to summon up the fortitude to give up sandwiches for lunch or turn in his assignments to earn his generous paycheck. He needs-----transcendence!
Transcendence (religion), the concept of being entirely above the created universe.

Not for Master Ross Douthat is this too, too solid flesh. He must be above the entire world, like a balloon made of skin and filled with the gas of ecstasy, floating about everything, pure and unsoiled and untouched. But why? What drives Douthat to seek this magical, mystical state of existence?
Without them, faith can become just another form of worldliness, therapeutic rather than transcendent, and shorn of any claim to stand in judgment over our everyday choices and concerns.

Ah, we need transcendence to remind ourselves of sin and judgement. Speaking of Judgement Day, when we meet our Creator and are either admitted into God's Country Club or are rejected and tossed into God's Garbage Can, isn't Douthat forgetting something here? God still holds the whip hand, whether we transcend or not. He holds the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and there is no way through except through Him. What does Douthat want, an engraved invitation?

Are we sure that Douthat is Christian? He seems to frequently forget major aspects of his own religion and its teachings. That must be why he needs transcendence; he has developed Godnesia, the forgetting of most of the basic tenets of one's own faith.

What's the point of this transcendence anyway?
Without them, too, we give up on what’s supposed to be the deep promise of religious practice: that at any time, in any place, it’s possible to encounter the divine, the revolutionary and the impossible — and have your life completely shattered and remade.

Douthat wants a new world order. He wants to be broken down, his personality shattered and discarded, and remade in a purer, more perfect form. And he wants to do it all while sitting in his New York apartment or suburban split-level, surrounded by wealth, safety and abundance. He doesn't give everything up and follow Jesus. He doesn't renounce wealth, power, privilege or position. Douthat chooses to work and live in the wealthiest, most elite circle possible, as far as possible from the modest lives of ordinary men and women. His own life is anything but shattered, and he deliberately made it as far removed from Jesus's humble life as humanly possible. Perhaps that is why he feels so alienated from his Father and Savior. It's not that The Common Man lives a life that is bourgeois and aimless. It's just that Ross Douthat has too much money to actually live up to his own standards.

Get thee to a nunnery, Ross Douthat! Renounce your riches and save your soul! Who knows, fear, hunger and pain might even make him hallucinate that he is communing with God, just like he wants.


Anonymous said...

Jeezus Christ (sic) and mother Theresa, gandhi etc... What makes this overgrown nematode of a man unable to grasp that social justice is an aspect of the divine? "verily I say to you whatever you do for the least of these..."?? Others have experienced the orgiastic, joyful, transcendant moment in giving birth, washing the bodies of the dead, contemplating the structure of beetles. Douthat seems to be hoping that his long touted religious purity is specifically something that will take him by force, even unawares, perhaps because all the ordinary pathways to god, through service to others or just plain lovingkindness, are at once too hard and not exclusive enough. I imagine that if douthat were to actually read his own sacred text(rather than using it primarily as a bar to women's vajayjays) he would be shocked to discover Jesus advocating that a rich man should give everything away. That's clearly both too hard and too easy! Anyone could do it. And then, he'd be poor. ThT sounds quite unpleasant and riffraffy.


bulbul said...

Asshat sez:
Our religious leaders no longer preach the renunciation of the world

Y'all remember Reverend Wright and his "God damn America", don't you? One particular reaction to that whole brohaha that stuck with me was that asshole Sowell asking "In just what context does 'God damn America' mean something different?" Well, here it is - the good old Christian renunciation of the world, and, more specifically, of worldly political power; the condemnation of an empire in the best apocalyptic tradition. Look at rev. Wright if you want to see what happens to a religious leader who preaches it nowadays.
Also, to elaborate on Susan's brilliantly deliver'd point:
central focus of religion — the quest for the numinous, the pursuit of the unnamable, the tremor of bliss and the dark night of the soul.
I remember a man once summing up his religion(s), referring something on which hangs all the law and the prophets. Yet somehow His definition didn't include any of the items on Asshat's list.

It would serve us well to be reminded that Asshat is a Catholic. And as one myself, and one modestly versed in theology, I am quite certain that what he describes is not Catholicism. Is it perhaps time to rehabilitate the H word?

Unknown said...

I don't know why two zen things come to mind but - I'm reminded of a Zen teacher who receving a visitor who was in important professor come to learn about Zen kept pouring tea even after the cup was ful. "Stop!" the professor said. "How can I teach you anything if your mind is already full."
In Ross's case it's full of bs but the point stands.
Also someone who is constatly seaking this cosmic vision is said to have the "stink of enlightement" about them and is usually sent to go sweep the yard.

Substance McGravitas said...

the quest for the numinous, the pursuit of the unnamable, the tremor of bliss and the dark night of the soul.

Sounds like frenzied whacking off by someone who feels guilty about it.

Kathy said...

".. the quest for the numinous, the pursuit of the unnamable..."

But Ross isn't questing or pursuing the numinous unnamable ... he wants it to come to him, or just Happen some day. Know what? He wouldn't recognize it if he had such an experience; his mind just isn't open to such things.

Anyway, I had a transcendent experience while listening to a Beethoven violin & piano sonata. After discussing it with my brother we concluded it was Endorphins.

Batocchio said...

Well, Kant spent a lot of time on noumenon versus phenomenon - and wasn't nearly as dippy.

The thing with Douthat is he doesn't want to focus on good works like helping the poor. He wants people to worship his Catholic God - in the way he wants them to worship. Basically, every column he writes is whiny concern trolling to that aim, and for restoring/creating his preferred social order - because having Douthat and his ilk in charge of everything will somehow be good for you. Logic and reason won't work, but if the un-converted have internalized his notions of Douthat Cultural Superiority, scolding guilt just might do the trick.

Lurking Canadian said...

Most religious believers will never be great mystics, of course, and the American way of faith is kinder than many earlier eras to those of us who won’t.

What does that bit even mean? Mystics have never been any kind of majority in the Christian tradition. Even among cloistered monks, mystics were not the majority.

The danger was always in being a heretic. I've never heard of anybody being mistreated for insufficient mysticism.

Though, to be fair, and tie it all together, the early Franciscans were mistreated for being too dedicated to social justice, so in that sense, Douthat is part of a fine Jesus-ignoring tradition that goes back centuries.

Susan of Texas said...

It's amazing what happens when you ignore the basic teachings of your faith yet are a believer. Evidently everyone else must pay for Douthat's sins, and if only those sluts would keep their legs shut, Douthat could experience Divine Ecstasy--the Reese Witherspoon type of ecstasy being beyond his understanding.

Mr. Wonderful said...

First, Susan, excellent stuff.

Next: Douchehat wants what everyone wants: transcendence of the prison that is the ego. But he's egotistical about it. He wants a gold star on his chart because he's a moralist, which means he's (sadly!) just a little bit better than most. Oh, it pains him. He's sympathetic to "humanity." But he sees himself as someone who calls 'em like he sees 'em, and the way he sees 'em is, he (and, therefor, "America") doesn't quite deserve redemption. Yet.

What a twerp. He wants to be teacher's pet while at the same time approving of teacher's egalitarianism. He's the kind of kid who inspires in his classmates the attitude, "Well, fuck. If that's what being smart means, I'll play football or learn the drums."

Kathy said...

Douthat is claiming to be the Best Type of Christian, the type who experiences, or hopes to experince
"The numinous", a state of holiness so rare and precious most of us can't spell the word, let alone know what it means.

"Social Justice?" Spfft! says Douthat. "Ministering to the poor?" huh- just encourages them to be poor. "Succoring the sick?" SOCIALISM! Hellllp! Mommy!

Bilejones said...

Sounds as if what he's really experiencing is bad acid.