Sunday, October 28, 2012

for I come unto Thee

            Recently on speculum criticum traditionis, skholiast responded to a post by my most recent addition to the blogroll over on the right, Love of All Wisdom.  They are particularly dealing with some of C.S. Lewis's claims, which aren't my main point.  But they, and some of the comments following the posts, do resonate with my wrap-up of Bremer's Puritanism.
            To put it briefly, I am overwhelmed by how easy it is to put a spin on a belief.  I am neglecting the real point of his post, but on Love of All Wisdom, Amod Lele says,

            Christians ... can put you in jail for your choice of sexual partners. They can make it impossible for you to access abortion or even contraception. And they can fight for – and achieve – the equality of people of all races amid a society that denies it. In the past century, Christians of various sorts have done all these things many times, and done them because they were Christians: because they believed in, identified with and/or practised Christian tradition.

            The different ways of reading Christian scripture, and even of reading the practices people develop out of those scriptures, are what fascinate me here.
            Take my little trivia sheet from last week.  Puritans insisted that all believers have access to scripture, and that those scriptures be in their mother tongue.  How easy it is to read this not as a fact, but as a towards your own personal argument.  As a reader and writer and aspiring thinker, it is essential to me that I have access to books in my own language.  And yes, to insist on keeping any essential religious texts in a language with which religious participants have lost familiarity is an obvious power move.  Looked at from this angle, the Puritans look like honest and curious intellectuals who want to engage with their belief system personally and sincerely.  Sounds good.
            But I can just as easily see myself arguing that worrying too much about the meaning distracts from the beauty.  In the modern world, where beauty seems to be largely a consumer/erotic response that can be summed up in "I like/I don't like," I'm not sure we know what beauty means anymore.  But I am still hopeful that it can actually transform my heart and life.  When I sing an Ave Maria or Salve Regina, frankly I have no idea what I'm saying.  I know that I'm singing (gorgeous) music composed for the praise of the Holy Virgin.  Looked at from this angle, I am left to wonder why the churches didn't insist on teaching basic Latin to everyone.
            So we can engage in readings and cross-readings until we end up with a divided nation that constantly cites the same Constitution to support wildly different ideals.
            My own disposition is such that I like the readings and cross-readings so much I convince myself a decision can/should never be made.  The Puritans, however, and my own Huguenot ancestors, won't let me off the hook so easily.  By the end of the book, I realized what aroused so much empathy for them:  passion.  
            The Puritan passion and devout love are why I fell for The Pilgrim's Progress far more than I would have expected.  In fact, Bunyan may have given me what I'd like engraved on my tombstone:  Take me, for I come unto Thee.  These are the last words of Mr. Stand-fast, and also the last words of Bunyan himself.  These are not the words of a dogmatic prude.  They are the words of a man deeply in love, and though they may not call me to love in the same manner, they make me distinctly less inclined to remain (forever) my loosey-goosey, reading/cross-reading self.
            Whatever my personal inclination may be, how one reads the Bible has obvious and, at times, terrifying consequences.  My general stance is that people are people and they more often than not take religion as it suits them.  In other words, to take Lele's examples from above, I suspect that our attitudes towards sexual partners, abortion, racial equality, etc. precede our religious beliefs and that we tend to take religious beliefs which support what we already wanted to think anyway.  But again, the Puritans (and to give it some credit, Christianity in general) are always there to remind me that the beliefs themselves are capable of transforming the individual so radically that the preceding attitudes are threatened.
            Too often Christians (myself included) use religion as a towards:  we tell its stories as though they were our actual point, when we are actually telling the stories in a very certain way so as to align the religious doctrine with our own egos.  Whatever their shortcomings, I have to admire the Puritans for standing, in the face of death, for a truly passionate love of transformation.

1 comment:

  1. Once again, Leigh, you have hit upon some very interesting points. That people use their religious beliefs to justify pre-existing thoughts/feelings/visceral spasms is very true. It happened before the church itself was out of diapers, and can be seen today, sometimes very plainly, in people's selective fanaticism on pet issues. (They are not against homosexuality because Leviticus told them to be, they're against it because, EW, GROSS! And then they used Leviticus as backup.) This is another reason never to confuse God with the church, with Christians, even with one's own wishful thinking.

    I therefore defend your loosey-goosiness. It's quite an understandable solution (temporarily, at least) to distrust all single readings of the divine, including one's own. None of us are God. All of our views, even the best, most helpful ones, are held together with the alloy of human bias.

    Ah, but then there is love. When I speak to my many non-religious friends about my own religious experience (sometimes they are genuinely curious, and not just cynical), I run into a wall. And that wall is that some few precious things can only be experienced from the inside.

    Falling in love is like this. Loving God is like this.

    If you had never fallen in love, no one could describe it to you. No one could convert you to the correct doctrine of falling in love. It's not that it would be too complex, like explaining quantum physics to a snail; it's that it would just be so... OTHER.

    I think this ties in with your description of modern interpretations of beauty. It is very much a consumer/pleasure reaction. And what's one reason fewer and fewer people in our culture are connecting with Christianity: from a consumer framework, it doesn't work very well as a menu choice. People are not asking themselves what's TRUE, they are asking themselves which collection of ideas suits their taste, their lifestyle, their fashion. That's a horrible way of picking something so important. And even "picking" at all betrays a flawed approach. You can't get the answer right if you've got the question wrong.

    You will notice I have not yet used the word "Puritan." Well, there, I have now. One of the lovely things about this writing and thought experiment you have engaged in, and invited all of us to engage in with you, is that it's moving our minds to a different time, a different place, a different set of presumptions. We need that so badly. We need to get over ourselves.

    Taking the example of someone who was not bound by our consumer culture, who sought a pure relationship with God, who let himself fall in love with what IS... that is a tonic for our time.