Dark Nights

  1. Dark nights of the soul
  2. Gaying away the Pray
  3. Welcome lies
  4. Charming naïvete

1

The Road to Character feels like an abrupt plunge that goes far deeper. Though not explicitly religious, Brooks’s language evokes theology: for example, he doesn’t shirk from using the word “sin”, not in a scolding sense, but to refer to the universal tendency to “get our loves out of order”, prioritising what doesn’t matter most. A friend in publishing, hearing him speak about the book while he was writing it, called Brooks and said: “Do not use that word ‘sin’ – it’s so off-putting!” But Brooks concluded that it was necessary. “Sin isn’t the Holocaust; sin is spending your life thinking more about how you’re coming across [in a conversation] than on what the other person’s saying. These kinds of small sins that we do every day.” His point is not simply that we’re too focused on money, fame or possessions. Even someone committed to doing good – working for good causes, raising children well, helping the community – can too easily end up skipping the internal work of confronting our weaknesses, our inherent “brokenness”, required to achieve the richest inner life.

He lights up when asked to discuss the course he teaches to Yale University undergraduates, one day a week, entitled Humility. (Cue more blogosphere jokes.) “To get into a place like Yale, you have to work so hard, and these students know they’ve not spent time on this other part of their lives – so like any normal person, they feel a dryness, or a shallowness.” After completing the set readings – Augustine, Homer, Montaigne, the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr– they have “a new set of categories, a new set of things to worry about”. Recently, one student told him that, since taking the course, he was much sadder than he used to be. “That’s a high compliment!” says Brooks. “He was a phenomenally bright and successful student. But, you know – you should be a little sadder, sometimes.”

(Oliver Burkeman in the Guardian, writing of David Brooks’ intriguing-sounding new book)

That first quoted paragraph, by the way, exhibits a sensibility about sin that’s akin to what seems to me (still) the Orthodox Christian view. That’s why, on the one hand, it’s no horrible insult to call some behavior “sinful.”

But the obverse is true, too: a lot of seemingly trivial pecadillos are “sin,” (hamartia in Greek, “missing the mark”), which gives a hint that salvation is more than just God getting over his anger at our occasional “real doozies” followed by an inheritance of golden streets, beyond pearly gates, that confirms what Splendid Fellows we narcissists were all along, despite a few unfortunate lapses. No, sin goes all the way to the self-absorbed bone.

Pre-Publication update: Rod Dreher is reading and loving the Brooks book, which will be released Tuesday along with Dreher’s “How Dante Can Save Your Life.” He finds them parallel and overlapping.

Both books sound like they describe a “dark night of the soul” rather than the more familiar, modern, and commercially-exploitable  “mid-life crisis,” that supposedly can be shopped away or fixed with a comely young mistress.

2

I haven’t made a big deal about “Memories Pizza” in Walkerton, Indiana. If you haven’t heard, you travel in way different circles than I do, but you can catch up with a Google news search. For now, this:

Some of their critics, including in this blog’s comments section, assured us that they staged the controversy to profit from the notoriety, and cited the $842,000 they were given by sympathetic donors as evidence that this was a get-rich-quick scheme.

People do come up with some odd, odd ideas. That the O’Connors, the pizzeria owners, could have predicted a massively successful GoFundMe campaign following their thrashing is a dogma professed only by a small fraction even of cynics. I can’t thank them enough for sharing their secret wisdom.

Anyway, O’Connors are giving it away, including to Christian causes, causing commenter thomas aquinas to quip “you can’t gay away the pray.”

3

There are those who know John Chrysostom said that “the image of God is not found in Woman.” (Actually, he said that “the image of God is not found in Man or Woman.”) There are those who know that Thomas Aquinas said that a woman is a defective male. (Actually, he explicitly denies this no fewer than five times.) There are those who know that Aristotle said that a woman is a deficient male—a description based on an appalling mistranslation.

And there are those who know that an early council of bishops, held at Macon in Burgundy, France in a.d. 585 decreed that women do not have a soul.

(Michael Nolan) The unraveling of these three yarns is entertaining enough, but it’s the perfect opener and closer that linger:

Josh Billings remarked profoundly that “the trouble with people is not that they don’t know but that they know so much as ain’t so.”

If the first casualty of war is the unwelcome truth, the first weapon of the discontented is the welcome lie.

I’m already starting to see mythical versions of the Battle of Indianapolis serving as the premise for the next round of mainstream media stories. Soon, the myth will be one of those thing everyone knows that just ain’t so.

Having also been dissatisfied with press comprehension of events I was directly involved in, I’m about convinced that we have three alternatives for understanding what’s happening in the world currently:

  1. Uninformed. You get this way by not paying any attention and not watching or reading the news.
  2. Ill-informed. You get this way by halfway paying attention and watching or reading the news.
  3. Well-informed. You get this way by setting aside all else, retiring or vowing poverty, watching or reading the news with your crap-detector armed, and keeping your crap-detector calibrated by reading (and maybe watching) widely beyond mainstream media.

I’ve never been able to remain uninformed for more than a few days of intense work on something-or-other, vacillating between ill- and semi-well-informed (or so I think). The American Conservative and its blogs are a good non-mainstream start, but I wouldn’t stop there. I learned a lot from Howard Zinn on the Left, too. Sorry Mitch.

4

But the opponents of [state RFRAs]… are faking it, too. They are scrambling to find differences between what Indiana and Arkansas have passed and the similar federal and state laws that have been on the books for years. That way the opponents can avoid saying what they actually believe: When it comes to same-sex marriage, the law should sometimes forbid people from acting even on their sincere religious beliefs.

That’s what this controversy is really about. It’s not a misunderstanding that can be “clarified” by some technical amendment, as Indiana attempted to do. It is a big and illuminating moment in history — a conflict between the demands of religion and the demands of society.

(David A. Strauss) It’s touching how confident Professor Strauss is that “society” is on the side of the angels this time. But if your impressions of the history of “religion” were as naïve as his, you, too, would find the need for its suppression almost axiomatic. Everybody knows the welcome lie about the violent, racist and misogynist history of “religion,” after all.

I put “religion” in scare quotes because of my doubt that it’s a useful term other than in sloppy rhetoric. Strauss is right, though, that much of mainstream Protestantism (one sort of religion) is officially signing onto the state’s new tolerance regime, and I fully expect much or most of Evangelicalism (another sort of religion) to follow.

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.