Mysticism, Religion

Weird Christians

Friday, 8th May 2020

Well, I have many thoughts about this article, most of which I won’t record here. Just a couple.

First, there’s an uptick in Western history, dating back at least a couple of thousand years, of retreat to particular kinds of mystical faith when social and cultural threats become intense. On the scale of things, of course, we’re not yet intense, but it’s a relative thing, not absolute, and given that, things are more intense now than they have been. There are no clear and easy answers for many people no matter how many times we say, trust the science. That’s just another white-robed elite authority for many, no more reliable than anyone else wearing a robe and claiming authority.

So, I look suspiciously at anything that claims that the “real” answers were there all along in a set of traditions that we’ve turned our backs on. Having said that, I do think that there’s something to be said for the muscle memory and bodily action of something like liturgy, whether that’s in a religious context or not. “One foot in front of the other foot”, as someone once told me. Keep moving, the body knows more than the mind realizes, and the habits of reflection and meditation are not nothing.

The heroes of this movement are people like Rod Dreher, whose account of civilization and faith I have little use for. That way lies mystical fascism, as far as I’m concerned. His recent book that people in this movement look to, The Benedict Option, tells a familiar tale of the decline of civilization, brought about by all the usual suspects in the conservative story – liberals, gays, uppity women, and the rest. He learns all the wrong lessons from the history of mysticism – but then, he’s not the first to do so.

So, how does one on the one hand recognize that it is something to be said for the habits of body, and on the other hand see the long history of dangers in retreating to faith in times of stress? The article here explicitly tries to recalibrate the return to traditional, pre-Protestant faith:

“But for plenty of Weird Christians, their faith is a call to a far more progressive politics. Like their reactionary counterparts, they see Christianity as a bulwark against the worst of modernity, but they are more likely to associate modernity’s ills with the excesses of capitalism or with a transactional culture that reduces human beings to budget line items, or anonymous figures on a dating app.”

In other words, it’s more complicated than just a justification of a quasi-mystical antidote to problems produced in the modern age by things like globalization, technology, and the rest. And maybe there are versions of this return that aren’t misogynist, anti-queer, anti-lots of other stuff, indifferent at best about other points of view that aren’t “on the way” to the realization of the true explanation of all things. Maybe. But I also know how quickly those openings get turned into tools of power. Don’t trust it. Don’t trust it.
But what this gets right: there are scant few things that have the power to bring us together anymore. We see that every day, when people are walking around during a pandemic with guns, as if they are going to shoot those damn viruses right between the eyes if they get too close. We see it as we look at countries other than the US, some of which are able to muster the collective will to lower infection rates, by all agreeing to isolate for the good of the public rather than only looking out for their own personal interests. Not happening here in the US, and despite the glowing predictions of an oblivious president, it will likely get worse before it gets better.

So yes, I get the need to find something that could bring us together again. Do we need an alien attack like in Independence Day? I hope not. But a pandemic clearly isn’t enough. And I also doubt that a return to traditional faith would do it either. Sure, it feels good. I just know where it leads, pretty much every time. Nowhere good.

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