Monday, January 19, 2015

MLK Day: A reflection on fragmentation

It seems that Western society is breaking apart fast. It seems to me like much of the progress we made 45-50 years ago is being been rolled back. Rather than building a civilization of love, which, by its nature brings people together, we've become more broken up than ever before, largely due to the identity politics that followed closely on the heels on the Civil Rights movement in the United States. I think it's a grave error to assert that our current state-of-affairs is the logical outcome of the Civil Rights movement. On the contrary, the breaking up of our society into various identity groups, which often falsely claim to be "communities," is the anti-thesis of what courageous people like Rosa Parks and Dr Martin Luther King, Jr were about.

Rosa Parks, mugshot 1955

In his magnificent "I have a dream" speech, Dr King said, "With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood." Human brotherhood, solidarity, the breaking down of what separates us one from another, these are the goals. Nonetheless, for the better part of the past 40 years we have been busy doing the opposite, especially as we exalt the individual, seeking to free her from all bonds, especially those of family, thus denying not only the importance, but the necessity of the common good for human flourishing.

Take for example the terroristic murders of 12 people in Paris and the reaction to it, which was nothing if not ironic. In the wake of this evil many people rallied in solidarity with those who were gunned down, even as the surviving contributors to Charlie Hebdo publicly despised people who claimed Je suis Charlie. While violence is never a justifiable response to the crude provocations routinely published in magazines like Charlie Hebdo we must recognize that such people scoff at the idea of the common good, at solidarity, at societal responsibility, and have little or no interest in building a harmonious society, which does not preclude the public discussion and debate of important matters, like the influence of religion on society, especially in a pluralistic society.

Let's not be blinded by ideology. It is possible, at one and the same time, to denounce and strongly oppose violence as the solution to pointless provocation and point out the puerile and destructive nature of certain kinds of discourse. In other words, let's be smarter than merely resorting to the employment of slogans. For me, Je ne suis pas Charlie. During his in-flight press conference on the way to the Philippines, Pope Francis said this about the Paris attacks, "There are so many people who speak badly about religions or other religions, who make fun of them, who make a game out of the religions of others. They are provocateurs."

Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.

Most people who reflexively buy into all the "I am Charlie" nonsense have no idea the level debasement Charlie Hebdo engages in, it is offensive to anyone with a civic sense whether they believe or not, whether they adhere to a religion or not. What they do facilitates nothing, it is not in the service of the common good, the reality of which they actively deny. Rather, it is all done in the service chimerical "individual liberty," which, at root, is nihilistic. As Pope Francis went on to say, violence is never an appropriate reaction to such provocations, but, as his example of someone making fun of his mother (i.e., our reflex is to punch), provoke people enough in terms of what really matters to them, seek to alienate, despise, dis-empower, and who knows what will happen?

The long and short of it is that you can't really pine away for a lost sense of community and human solidarity while actively supporting those whose self-determined mission it is to destroy community and exalt the individual. Somehow, I think the late editor of Charlie Hebdo could've managed not to live like a dog without publishing a cover of the Blessed Trinity sodomizing each other, or depicting the prophet Muhammad as a phallus. If what it means not to live like a dog is to treat those with whom you disagree in an inhuman manner, then you're simply confused.

Good Samaritan, by Aimé Nicolas Morot, 1880

All of this without even touching on Ferguson or New York City, which have been flashpoints of racial tension in the U.S. recently. Given all of the recent violence and racial tension here in the U.S. and abroad, given the atomization and fragmentation of Western society in general, given our natural propensity to stick with those who are like us in most every way, let's heed Jesus' healthy provocation, given in His parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), and truly embrace the spirit of this day in honor of all those who, often at great sacrifice, sought to break down these barriers.

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