"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Demise Of Communitarian Idealism–Finally!

“Who made you?”, asked Sister Mary Joseph.

“God made me”, Cicely answered.

“Why did God make you?”, Sister continued.

“Because God loves me”, Cicely replied.

And so it went in every Sunday’s Catechism class. There was no room for interpretation, questions, or doubt.  Sister Mary Joseph made sure of that.  Of course Cicely and her classmates were very young, too young in fact to entertain any of the questions that more mature adults had. Who or what is God? for example; or Why did he make me?; but the good nun made sure that she hammered the ecclesiastical nails in so tight that they never would come loose.  The decks of the Holy Vessel would always be shipshape.

Catechism

Early childhood, after all, is the one period of a person’s of life when everything from Christian dogma to proper manners is taken as a matter of faith. Children don’t wonder why “Keep your elbows off the table” has to be followed any more than “Keep your hands to yourself” or “Hail, Mary full of grace:. Childhood is a time for primary instruction and the foundations of faith; which is why issues of abuse are taken so seriously. Adults rule the roost; and it is only years later that children begin to question the received wisdom of their elders.

Cicely Roberts was a gifted child, not so much for her rational, cognitive intelligence; but for her uncanny intuition.  In her mind the categorical statements of Sister Mary Joseph were way off base. As far as she could see, God didn’t love anyone; or if he did, he sure picked favorites; and as far as manners were concerned, food was sustenance; and the quicker and more efficiently you delivered it, the better. Which is why she ran so afoul of Sister Mary Joseph. It was a match of wills, the two of them on Sunday morning. Sister’s recital of do’s and don’ts  and Cecily’s raised eyebrows.

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“Is something wrong?”, Sister Mary Joseph asked Cicely.

“No, Sister. Why should there be?”; and thus the gauntlet between Church disciplinarian and uppity smart alecky girl was thrown. Cicely had no idea that she was challenging the authority of Aquinas, Augustine, Paul, and the Pope; and Sister Mary Joseph, who had always hated little children despite what Jesus Christ said, and who wanted to squish pissy little Cicely like a bug, had all she could do to remain calm and tutorial.

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Cicely grew up to be a confident, independent-minded woman.  She had little patience for feminism which assumed the inferiority of her sex when in fact women had ruled the roost since time immemorial.  What about Dionyza, Tamora, Volumnia, Rosalind, Cleopatra, and Lady Macbeth to name just a few of the women Shakespeare immortalized as dominant Alpha-females? Had feminists not read Hedda Gabler, The Father, or Mourning Becomes Electra?

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Cicely always said that she never left the Church because she never belonged to it. God gave man free will, after all; but Sister Joseph, Father Brophy, and the Catholic claques of St. Maurice Church did their best to see that congregants never exercised the option. How could Cicely be a good Catholic when religion had been only a matter of indoctrination and coercion?

“Who says?” was Cicely’s mantra. She never took anything for granted.  There was no such thing as received wisdom or settled science.  She remained skeptical in her opinions and critical of all those who thought otherwise. Parents, teachers, advisors, and deans all subscribed to the same prescriptive text; and no matter how much they preached intellectual or academic freedom, they were part of cabal of believers whose purpose was to gain adherents and to corral the high-spirited.

The older she got, the more astounded she was at the group-think of her cohorts.  The need for belonging had long ago replaced the need for individual identity. Her friends increasingly slept in the big tent of environmentalism, prayed at the altar of liberalism, and worshipped the selfless, the mindful, and the poor.

She, as anyone who knew her would have predicted, veered right – Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and Kierkegaard were her intellectual companions.  Individualism trumped compassion any day because as Tolstoy – another hero – said, “We die alone”.

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Accurately, although a bit cruelly, Cicely paraphrased the great Russian author.  As the flame is extinguished, she said, we do not think of those we have helped but those we have fucked.

Environmentalism, for example, was the best example of communitarian idealism. Anyone who has given even a cursory look at the past understood that history was not purposeful but random. We all are billiard balls on a smooth felt table, banged and ricocheted at determinate angles, but which have no fixed end point. There is no meaning to the game.

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How, then, could progressive environmentalists assume that the alterations in climate, no matter how produced, were either good nor bad? Who could possibly predict the infinite social, economic changes that would result from any geo-physical phenomena? The world, forced temporarily into a high-temperature environment might be better off thanks to the productivity of new agricultural zones, greater urban integrity, and the expansion of virtual worlds?

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Cicely was often criticized by her liberal friends as morally derelict.  How could she dare sit on the fence when society was in such crisis? Had she no empathy at least for the impoverished, disadvantaged, and marginalized?

Her infuriating response was of course “No”. One could always determine causes, but never assess either value or blame.  The glass ceiling, black alienation, religious zealotry? Nothing to get exercised about because they, like all social phenomenon had definable antecedents.  Of course inner city neighborhoods are persistently dysfunctional. What do you expect? A hundred-and-fifty years is nothing; and no one expects former slaves to become Athenian philosophers in so short a time. 

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Of course radical Islamists are ascendant. How could a religious faith based on anti-intellectualism, Holy War against The Infidel, and brutal moral rectitude produce anything but murderous zealotry? How could Christian fundamentalists not be mortally wounded by buggery and secular blasphemy?

Many former Catholics have been deeply wounded by the likes of Sister Mary Joseph and Father Brophy.  Cecily Roberts, however, could have been the poster child for such a peremptory and authoritarian religious upbringing. She turned out fine, held no grudges, and because of her rebellion against pigheaded priests, honed her defiant individualism.

Nietzsche were right. The  fullest realization of the individual is the expression of will, said Nietzsche; and oppression is the best greenhouse for rebellion. Bourgeois society and middle-class values dampen individual spirit; and prevent the individual from realizing his potential as part of a whole. The individual was the be-all and end-all of both ideologies.

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Cicely, needless to say, was not a joiner; and was dismissive of those who were. ‘Progressive’ militancy over issues of race, gender, and ethnicity was a circus sideshow – all dwarves, midgets, bearded ladies, and babies with two heads. It was no more than an exhibitionist melodrama.

Soon, Cicely thought, all these misdirected idealists would get old; and facing the flickering candle at the end of the tunnel would turn inward, like Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilyich.  After years of currying favor, doing the right thing, and being a model of social probity and respectful bourgeois rectitude, Ivan Ilyich realized that he had missed the boat. Here he was facing eternity with only a little gregariousness to show for it. 

Despite what one might think, Cicely Roberts was neither a misanthrope nor a cynic.  Thanks to Sister Mary Joseph, she had been able to set her compass to her own true North, and never once had any doubts about her course.  This awarded her a captaincy of her life, a purposeful direction that few others have.

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