Much has been made about the era of "new atheism", a label that has generally been attributed to the likes of Charles Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens who have gone on the offensive against organized religion in their books (The God Delusion and God is Not Great, respectively), but today I'd like to argue that the labelized movement is being propelled in popular culture by a cache of far humbler players.
No part of my being yearns to be waded down and enveloped in the actual fires of philosophical debate and proclamation. The world of the philosophers tends to skew towards the linguistical underpinings of words and their diagnoses of our reality drifts away from what the everyman is content to consider. This is not to say that philosophy is not important (or boring), by no means -- rather, I simply mean to say that there is not always a direct correlation between where archetypal philosophical thought dwells, and where the mainstay of cultural thought and understanding reside. Make sense? Sure it does.
If my statement is a true reflection of where society stands, then unless philosophical change occurs, institutions like Catholicism and Marriage (not necessarily by divorce, but a wider breath of those who choose to cohabitate without tying-the-knot) will continue to weaken.
I would like to submit to the council, one Mr. Louis Szekely, aka Louie C.K. He is a balding, overweight, freckled comedian. Despite is ginger looks, his mother was Irish Catholic and his father is a native Mexican of Hungarian-Jewish descent. That's multiculturism, baby! Mr. C.K. writes, directs, and stars in an autobiographical t.v. show called Louie. It features his stand-up routines much in the same manner as Seinfeld, in which a certain stand-up topic is extrapolated and explored through comedy.
Louie is a crude show. It is so not (particularly) because its creator is trying to leverage shock value for laughs, but rather, because Louie simply breaks everything around him down into its most base components. And in such a way the world is debased.
Another tangent: have you noticed the rise of cursing on television and film? Perhaps it's only in my mind, or perhaps because as I age, I allow myself to indulge in seedier programming, but I do reckon that there is more accepted cursing from all branches of entertainment than ever before. Why would that be so? What would cause this to occur? The most conservative voices might point to an overall decline in morality, particularly in Hollywood, over the past 50 odd years. I would argue against such a statement. I don't think that is demonstrably evident. People have always acted ungodly. I don't necessarily think we are collectively becoming ungodlier as a culture. We just like to switch out our old idols for new ones.
What is a curse? Is it intrinsically evil? Probably not. From a Biblical perspective, I think while it is easy to say that one should be sensitive about the usage of our Lord's name, simply spouting out a four-letter word does not a blasphemer necessarily make. So what does a curse-word represent? That's a bit of a silly rhetorical question, as cussing is used in a litany of forms and formats. But I think the most consistent definition is to simply say a curse word = an interjection... or perhaps even, a grammatical ejaculation, which sounds itself like something profane, but indeed has historic precedence.
Wikipedia's definition of interjection: In grammar, an interjection or exclamation is a lexical categoryemotion or sentiment on the part of the speaker... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interjection
So then, if I am Mister Authenticity, if you stub your toe and exclaim, "Darnnit!", I will look at you much more suspiciously than a congenial ol' "Dammit!" Dammit for the win!
Most of the time, for Louie, authenticity means deconstruction which leads to empathy. I would imagine that Louis C.K. would argue that this is not only the most correct way to live, but ultimately, the most loving, as it involves a level of empathy that dogmatic philosophies cannot reach.
Somewhat surprisingly, it took eleven episodes for Louie to tackle religion. The result is the least funny episode of the season -- and the most profound.
After the traumatizing experience, young Louie can't sleep at night. He keeps thinking of his own sins, particularly of stealing candy bars from the store, and how these particular actions were killing Jesus. The boy, unable to carry the weight of his sin, runs to the church -- to the cross. And in a stunningly poignant moment, literally takes the nails off of the crucifix, all the while profusely apologizing. Louie wants to be guilt free, wants to make amends with the slaughtered lamb.
As the script goes, the boys' motives are completely overlooked as the head stern nun lady speaks of how the boy must be punished for his defaming crime.
The story resolves as Louie's mother admits her lack of faith in Jesus as a Messiah and her conviction that the practice of religion is silly.
And that's that.
The remarkable aspect of the episode is that it got so much of it right. It understood perfectly sin, understood Christ's innocence, understood repentance, but alas, missed the Gospel.
I could herein go on a diatribe of "Why I am Not a Catholic". I shall not. I say only this, if you do not tirelessly proclaim the truth that it is by grace man is saved, not by works, then you abandon the cause of our Christ.
Fighting a culture/religious war by slinging angry-ridden comments on an infowars.com article does not involve personal conflict. Telling your neighbor that his religion is a crock and he is an imbecile for following it is another. A truly authentic personal approach to such matters is that of tolerance, not because Louie and others believe that muslims, mormons, and evangelicals are worthy of being tolerated, but because it is too much of a hassle and daily downer to actively get into conflict with those of us who hold faith-based convictions. At the end of the day, this way-of-living will be a more devastating and seductive worldview than 'new atheism' because it lulls the individual by way of least resistance.
Another example: The Book of Mormon. Not the book, the play. Trey Parker and Matt Stone have been making cultural waves for years through their juggernaut baby, South Park. Now, South Park is a strange little beast. G.K. Chesterton once wrote about how fantasy is superior to superhero comics (or something of its ilk) because it puts ordinary people in extraordinary situations, rather than focusing on extraordinary people in a (basically) normal world. Well, under that flagstaff South Park reigns, as it focuses on a group of regular (well, Cartman is not-so regular) fourth graders in a dumbfoundingly idiotic and extreme world. These fellas have made an art at taking stupid aspects of our culture and exploding them to an exponential degree, leaving only a few mild mannered boys left to reason their way out of the situation. Anyway, I didn't mean to focus on South Park.
I reckon Dawkins and Hitchens (particularly Hitchens, I assume) feel that Parker and Stone gave those crazy Mormons a free pass... and they would be right to say so. But that's not the point now, is it?
At the end of the day, I find a lot to love about the current cultural climate. I think my soul would be heavy if I had to dwell in a place where it was more important to look proper than to be honest (those Mad Men were mad for a reason, eh?!). I reckon also that there is a lot going on inside the minds of Louie and the South Park dudes that resonates with Jesus. I think the rigid adherence to authenticity is something that Christ himself was/is about, as it always leads to folks realizing that they are messed up. And empathy has a close kinship with love, as we are moved to act when we are moved to empathize. I could be wrong here, but I also see a measure of forgiveness inherent in this movement. The recent Representative Weiner scandal went so poorly not because the phallically named and driven congressman was indecent, but because he lied about it. The ramifications for the cover-up are far worse in this day and age then the original crimes themselves (how former President Clinton got away with both is a bit strange to me, I confess).
Conversely, this age carries its demons. What Louie lacks is a sense of wonder, discovery and awe. Perhaps this is the most traditionally postmodern aspect of the culture: the intrinsic sense that there's nothing to be found out there. There's no meta-narrative to discuss. Ultimately, not only does this prevent the mind from engaging in the sublime and extraordinary (a gift I believe every human has been given the capacity to enjoy), but slowly erases the moral framework of the world, because it will inevitably slip into a slightly nihilistic disposition. If there is no meta-narrative, there is no point. If there is no point, if everything is ultimately meaningless, than there is neither right nor wrong. While this helps exploit the principles of empathy and forgiveness, it also raises their bastard counterparts: apathy and hedonism. So, you know, that's not too good.
|Drug sellers apparently are reptiles. Evil reptiles.|
Secondly, while tolerance can be a good thing, it doesn't hold a candle next to turning-the-other-cheek. That, I think, is the most controversial attitude that Christ calls us to. It goes so against what everyone in life tells us. We Christians, I think, fail most often and consistently at that one. In my mind, the other-cheek bit is taking tolerance to another standard. A higher plateau.
And now I end this unceremoniously.