Revelations, Revolutions, and Reconciliations
As I mentioned the other day, if a religion doesn't meet man where he is, it's not going to be particularly effective. In other words, if I have to pretend I'm someone else in order to fit into a particular religious view of the world, then something is wrong.
Now, this is not to say that when there is a conflict between the way I would like for things to be vs. the way revelation says they are, that I should reject the latter. I'm talking about much more fundamental issues. In particular, I'm thinking of two things: personal identity and modernity, both of which I am rather attached to. I don't want to go back to neolithic, or ancient, or premodern times.
Hell, I don't even want to go back to the 20th century. Or to 2009. I like it here. Unlike the traditionalists, I don't think that any period of history is intrinsically privileged over any other, because they're all insane. For one thing, man is man, both everywhere and everywhen. If you find yourself idealizing some previous period of history, it's likely that you're just projecting paradise -- which is interior, archetypal, and vertical -- somewhere else. But at the very least, wherever you go, you have to go there too, which exiles you from paradise all over again.
For example, as much as I revere the Founders, it's amazing how quickly the wheels came off their revolutionary idealism after the war for independence was won and it came time to actually put their ideals into practice. In reading Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815, it's been quite instructive for me to learn more about the ruptures and divisions, the personal hatreds and paranoia, that erupted after 1783.
It seems that passions were temporarily dampened with the adoption of the Constitution in 1787, but so intense were the conflicts thereafter, that it is something of a miracle that such a man as George Washington existed at that time, because he, and only he, had sufficient stature to serve as the living source of unity in the country.
Rather fascinatingly, as sophisticated as these men were, it wasn't just abstract respect for the rule of law or reverence for the Constitution that got them through, but the concrete love of a man who was the living embodiment of the ideals they cherished -- honor, virtue, courage, selflessness, and disinterested wisdom.
I think you can see the same forces at play in figures as diverse as Lincoln, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Reagan, all of whom became much more than their ideas. I hate to make such an odious comparison, but it really is the inverse of the "Führerprinzip." Obviously, something so powerful can have a dark side, so the same principle that explains how a person can become an embodiment of the good explains how they can become an embodiment of evil. Indeed, demagogues and cult leaders from Jim Jones to Obama cynically rely upon this collective human longing for a living messiah.
Not sure how I ended up here. I had wanted to continue with our discussion of the medieval Raccoon Petrarch, who attempted to forge a Christian humanism that steered a middle course between the Catholic establishment and the Protestant revolutionaries. But again, once the battle started, positions immediately polarized and hardened, to such an extent that the middle was eliminated. You were either on one side or the other. For the Raccoon, it was something like a choice between Crips, Bloods, or Dead.
For just as in the case of the Founders, their abstract ideals were not sufficient to shield them from their all-too-human tendencies. I mean, so intense were the hatreds and rivalries of some of the Founders, that Alexander Hamilton tried to bait President Adams into a duel! The President! No, he didn't want to assassinate him outright. That would be dishonorable in the extreme, hardly befitting a gentleman. Rather, he wanted to kill him in a fair fight.
Just so, all the Christian love in the world was unable to prevent the bloody religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries. Or, to put it another way, if we stipulate that both sides were equally fervent in their love of God, then something wasn't right.
In the little transhistorical space that briefly opened up before things turned ugly, Petrarch had the idea that "individual human beings and their goals matter, that they have an inherent dignity and worth. This assertion was revolutionary and stood in stark opposition to the regnant doctrine of original sin and the Fall, which denied that individuals had either an intrinsic value or a capacity for self-perfection" (Gillespie).
Fortunately, these ideals eventually triumphed in some places -- most notably, in the American Revolution -- but it was still a struggle to demonstrate in practice how democracy, individualism, and self-interest were concretely linked to religious ideals.
For one of the central conflicts that opened up immediately after Washington's inauguration was the question of whether human beings really are qualified to rule themselves in the absence of a more "evolved," learned, and dispassionate aristocracy. The bitter hatred between Jefferson, who was the most passionate (to the point of irrational utopianism) advocate for the former, and the Federalist Hamilton, who stood for the latter, could hardly have been more intense and personal (it makes me think that Hamilton knew about Jefferson's baby mama situation).
But here again, you see the same archetypal pattern that split the Christian world, which really came down to hierarchy vs. radical democracy, verticality vs. horizontality, One vs. many, Father vs. Son. However, the Raccoon takes neither side in this false dispute, since he realizes that this is an irreducible complementarity, and that to insist that only one side of a complementarity is true, is to internalize the Cosmic Divorce.