Archive for September, 2010

The Convocation of the Silver Rose & Golden Cross

September 28, 2010 1 comment

Please take a look at the blog/manifesto of the Convocation of the Silver Rose & Golden Cross. It is an evolving set of principles pointing toward cooperation between all those who seek or serve the Light in the midst of the darkness.

The Present Age: Some Political Comments

If a generation were given the diplomatic task of postponing any action in such a way as to make it seem as if something were just about to happen, then we should have to admit that our age had performed as remarkable a feat as the revolutionary age. (The Present Age by Søren Kierkegaard)

I don’t generally discuss politics here, and there is a very good reason for that. The purpose of this blog, successful or not, is to explore topics significantly deeper and more essential than politics. Political arguments of the past few years have taken quite the religious turn, though, and with some of the most popular mainstream political commentators being also religious commentators, I feel the need to make a few comments of my own, though my audience will certainly never equal theirs in number.

In the same essay from which the opening quotation has been extracted, Kierkegaard had the following to say:

A revolutionary age is an age of action; ours is the age of advertisement and publicity. Nothing ever happens but there is immediate publicity everywhere. In the present age a rebellion is, of all things, the most unthinkable. Such an expression of strength would seem ridiculous to the calculating intelligence of our times.

Writing in 1846, Kierkegaard couldn’t have been more wrong about his own age, given the bloody rebellions across Western Europe only two years later. Still, more apt words could not be written for America here at the end of the first decade of the 21st century. (Of course, Kierkegaard and I both can only write about what we have so far witnessed, making inductive projections into the future, so I can’t be too critical of Søren’s observations.) There is perhaps no area of our lives in which this is more true than in the political arena. We do not have far to look in order to see politicians and pundits making grandiose claims, compiling massive plans, and organizing sparkling rallies, but really to what end? Our eyes are dazzled, our ears left ringing, our brains confounded, our souls enlarged by the promises of HOPE and CHANGE, and declarations that “America today begins to turn back to God.” Where, then, is the hope? It seems to have died, because the change surely hasn’t made itself known. The fact is that the one needed to fuel the other, which would have then fed back into the first, and so on, but of course there was never any real chance for that to happen. Call it indolence.

Kierkegaard continues:

On the other hand a political virtuoso might bring off a feat almost as remarkable. He might write a manifesto suggesting a general assembly at which people should decide upon a rebellion, and it would be so carefully worded that even the censor would let it pass. At the meeting itself he would be able to create the impression that his audience had rebelled, after which they would all go quietly home—having spent a very pleasant evening.

Does this sound familiar? I can recall the excitement of Obama’s rallies, the enthusiasm of going to the polls to elect him, and the resulting ecstasies (perhaps “seizures”) upon the announcement of Obama’s election. And what happened immediately after? Immediately after sex, the warm, relaxed, “fuzzy” sensation which washes through the bodies of many men and women can serve to bring us closer together as individuals, or it can serve to make us lazy. Immediately after a “revolutionary” election, the warm, relaxed, fuzzy sensation which washes over us can serve to enliven us for our mission, or it can serve to put us to sleep. So much for the afterglow!

But the present generation, wearied by its chimerical efforts, relapses into complete indolence. Its condition is that of a man who has only fallen asleep towards morning: first of all come great dreams, then a feeling of laziness, and finally a witty or clever excuse for remaining in bed.

Now, I am not blaming President Barack Obama for this state of affairs; I am merely saying that he, like most politicians, took full advantage of it. I do not know if he and his speech-writers and aides did so on purpose, but it is rather bad in any case. Either our President did not understand the very forces and trends which brought him to power, or he did know and took advantage of the combined boredom, anxiety, and laziness of the American people. And Obama is certainly not the only politician to have taken such advantage! Look at the “anger” of the Tea Party movement, and you will see many politicians riding the coattails of that hollow sensationalism. Whether we dress it up as HOPE or RAGE, we are dealing with the same SUBSTANCE, in truth no substance at all.

Equally unthinkable among the young men of today is a truly religious renunciation of the world, adhered to with daily self-denial. On the other hand almost any theological student is capable of something far more wonderful. He could found a society with the sole object of saving all those who are lost. The age of great and good actions is past, the present is the age of anticipation when even recognition is received in advance.

Golden Age romanticism aside, Kierkegaard’s point here is clear, if stated somewhat sarcastically: it is easy, now, to found a society, what we today might call a “special interest group”, for anything at all, but nothing ever changes. The answer to this, which Kierkegaard also says in the same essay, is simply that such societies are worthless, without substance, unless they are made up exclusively of substantive individuals. In other words, as the old trope goes, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. When we are dealing with a “chain” as large as a social movement, a political party, or a nation, how many weak links must there be, and how weak must the weakest ones be?

And what of Glenn Beck and his ilk? It is common to place Obama, and those like him, at one end of the American political scale, and Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and so on, on the opposite end. But is this accurate? It depends, I suppose, on the metric. As far as how much good they do, we could safely place them both firmly in the “negative influence” side of the slider-bar. Are they evil people? Almost certainly no; evil is an extremely strong term, and I hesitate to apply it to flawed human beings, likely no better and certainly no worse than myself. Though likely not “evil”, there is a rather terrifying political messianism surrounding and vivifying both camps. Beck has gone so far as to actually place himself in the role of prophet, a role which traditionally is not assumed but rather imposed; we must always be careful of those who are glad to be God’s mouthpieces!

And so the whole thing comes down to one essential: American society has no essence. It is empty but unwilling to be filled. What can we do? I cannot answer for everybody, but my own intention is to work upon myself, rather to allow God to work within me; if only substantive individuals are of value for creating positive change, if only such individuals can profitably create and join organizations, we must become substantive individuals! Take Kierkegaard’s advice or no, but his vision for becoming such a one was simply

behold, all is in readiness, see how the cruelty of abstraction makes the true form of worldliness only too evident the abyss of eternity opens before you, the sharp scythe of the leveller makes it possible for every one individually to leap over the blade—and behold, it is God who waits. Leap, then, into the arms of God’.

(All quotations from The Present Age: On the Death of Rebellion by Søren Kierkegaard, translated by Alexander Dru, with an introduction by Walter Kaufman, 2010, Harper Perennial Modern Thought paperback edition.)