Sunday, 13 August 2017

Love in a Season of Hate

I'm violating my own policy here by a third consecutive post on contemporary politics, but as I reflect upon our current situation I cannot help but feel that with the Charlottesville riot (interesting how that word is avoided) perhaps we've crossed some sort of Rubicon. Every generation, it seems, faces a defining moment, a "Nothing will be the same after this" moment. Sometimes they are obvious: the assassination of JFK, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the events of 9/11. Sometimes they are perhaps less obvious, and that might be the case with Charlottesville. But just as 9/11 forced the world to confront the reality of terrorism enabled by a distorted Islam, so is Charlottesville forcing at least the US to face the reality of terrorism enabled by a distorted Christianity. And like it or not, that is precisely what is happening here. Since 9/11, we've lived in fear of a distorted Islam enabled by Muslim-ish leaders who represent something very far from the best of the tradition. Now, we have to live in fear of a distorted Christianity enabled by Christian-ish leaders who represent something very far from the best of the tradition. This is the distorted Christianity of the George Wallaces, the Jerry Falwells, the Franklin Grahams: a Christianity that rose to prominence through the effort to maintain segregation, that cynically exploited the AIDS epidemic in order to depict LGBT persons in the harshest possible terms, that abetted the raise of virulent xenophobia in the post-9/11 era, and that now is quite happily getting in bed with the so-called "Alt-Right." It is to Christianity as Al-Qaeda is to Islam.

It's in this context that I find myself increasingly persuaded of Lonergan's wisdom in placing such emphasis in his understanding of human flourishing upon religious conversion. As I've mentioned in this space before, religious conversion for Lonergan is the conversion to ultimate meaning. It entails grounding one's being not in parochial group interests or narcissistic individualism but rather in something that allows one to see all of humanity, and increasingly all of the cosmos, as valuable and beautiful. In a word, it is conversion to love. It is what distinguishes between distorted religiosity and authentic religiosity, and thus why it can be described as religious conversion. Distorted Islam, distorted Christianity, are distorted precisely due to the absence of this religious conversion. It is the inability of these "Christian" leaders to love--to truly love, in a way that touches and lightens the soul--that drives their hatred and fear of others. Being so far from the best that humanity can be, they suppose that the values of everyone around them are equally decrepit. When you are the worst, you assume the worst.

With the assistance of David Bowie, Queen reminded us that although love is such an old-fashioned word it is still the one thing that makes all the difference. As we live through a season of hate, the necessity of love is all the more evident. If we are to oppose hate we must rediscover love as a civic virtue. In fact, that seems to be the real dividing line today. Not between Right and Left, or between Christian and Muslim, or between religious and irreligious, but rather between love and hate. Those who have been converted to love, whether Christian or Muslim or Buddhist or Jewish or atheist, whether female or male, trans or cis, gay or straight, will stand strong on one side, while those who have not will stand shrieking on the other. And I do believe that in the end the gentle strength of love will win over the violent weakness of hate.

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