Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Multiplication of the... (debt, loaves, fishes, words, coins, you fill in...)

I spent this weekend at a family reunion. My husband's family.
Lucky us, Monday was Pentecost Monday, another one of those wonderful holidays that STILL exist in France, a country that has managed to add on the Republican holidays to the already existing religious holidays, in a particularly... CATHOLIC spirit, which holds that... hard work will not replace grace in that almost full time occupation of SAVING YOUR SOUL, that our generation has now translated into "being happy". (That was a long sentence, I will try to do better, promise...)
Remember, somebody way back there when said "man does not live by bread alone". Nor does he live by "hard work", nor... retirement pensions, nor gambling in the stock market, nor by zipping all over the planet in package tours. All that may be "fun" (what a trite word...), but "it" will not get you up in the morning day after day. 'Specially not when you get older, and your body starts falling apart in bits and pieces.
My husband's family, like most French so called "liberals" has been almost rabidly anti clerical for many years, if not generations. A year ago, I deeply upset my father in law's wife by defending the Catholic faith, and holding that vacuous proclamations of "equality for women, children, cats, dogs, you name it" being the SOVEREIGN good had some... serious disadvantages that we are beginning to reap as a society these days. And that... a LEGALIST society is just NOT the utopia that our republican (no, not Rush Limbaugh and company, I'm talking about those who are busy defending OUR French republic) fathers imagined way back when, when they decided in a fit of rabid fury to overturn the Catholic Church's privileges, battering, and destroying its buildings and images at the same time. (They had some pretty legitimate gripes, too, but few of us really know much about this, because so much... propaganda inevitably fills our history manuals to justify our own social choices that we blithely trot out our ignorance at every chance we get.)
So... imagine my amazement this weekend to hear... religion as a subject of discussion in one form or another at almost every meal.
Questions from one generation to the previous about what such and such meant... Where it came from. Why it existed.
(By the way, in France the priest drinks white wine at Communion, not red. Nobody in MY crowd knows why..)
I tell them that growing up a Presbyterian Protestant in the U.S. meant drinking... GRAPE JUICE at Communion. (Protestantism in France has always been, and will probably remain a MARGINAL sect. It's not for nothing that France at one time earned the nickname, "the elder daughter of the (Catholic) Church. (Marginal) Protestantism in France doesn't look very much like (mainstream) Protestantism in the U.S.)
Better than nothing, maybe (because I'm not sure that the Catholics get a shot at the wine anyway...) but... rather Disneyland next to the real McCoy.
For the time being, this talking is being done in a rather disparaging and sarcastic manner, but GUESS WHAT ???
When you are REALLY indifferent about something YOU DON'T TALK ABOUT IT AT ALL..
Words are like money.
They multiply and disseminate. THEY are behind monetary speculation, making and breaking economies. They sow, and perpetuate ideas. You know... ideas that people are sometimes ready to die for, AND to kill for. Because we are not Caspar Milquetoast animals at all. Never have been, either.
Talking about something IN WHATEVER MANNER helps keep it alive.
Thus ensuring... THAT THE NEXT GENERATION WILL BE ABLE TO LATCH ON TO IT when the time comes, for example.
The next generation which will INVARIABLY be defining itself at least partially IN OPPOSITION to the previous (remember my last exposé ?...).
I used to get all worked up when people made disparaging remarks about the Church, Jesus, etc.
Now I sit back and listen. I bide my time...
To my friends who confidently (but out of a form of mysterious naiveté that is so common in people cynical in this domain) proclaim that organized religion is dead, I say :
We'll see, won't we ??
(And guess what ? I found out while working as a shrink that..INTENTIONALLY NOT TALKING about something (i.e. keeping secrets) sometimes was an incredible GUARANTEE that IT would be transmitted. Really, it's a clear case of damned if you do (talk about it) AND damned if you don't... LOL. This comment goes right back to what I wrote here about "what you receive from your fathers, inherit it in order to possess it", OTHERWISE IT WILL POSSESS YOU.)
In the meantime, I dream of a Communion ceremony where we could ALL drink FREE millésimé Bordeaux wine (for example) and sink our teeth into good, crusty bread.
Tear away at it.
For our bodies. AND for our souls.


Toby said...

“organized religion is dead” – there is almost only organized religion. Capitalism is, socialism is, religions (of course) are. Anything that unites a people under some common organizing set of principles is based on faith somewhere deep down. Only pure science which does not attempt to organise society can escape being defined in this way, depsite its universal reach and effectiveness.

Otherwise I find little to comment on here, except perhaps for your ambivalent attitude to change, Debra. You once described yourself as an anarchist, and you have also said you are a Rousseauian, but to my ears you seem conservative with a small “c” in your musings. Catholacism was once new and radical, as was Christianity, as was monotheism, as were homo sapiens, as were animals, and so on backwards. As humans learn ‘better’ how to apprehend and define the reality they are embedded in, so organized religions change their form and functioning to reflect these new perspectives. The process of change is painful and messy, and though some might have utopian dreams, all there really is is the solving of perceived problems which itself creates new problems to be solved. However, I truly believe there is improvement too. Yes we forget ourselves, and yes we follow unwise paths, but there is improvement. That said, such a judgement can only be subjective. From a deep ecological, non-humanist point of view ‘improvement’ has no particular meaning. But then, neither does ‘judgement.’ Since we are humans though, I’ll stick with my assessment.

(Great comments on Naked Capitalism by the way…)

Debra said...

Toby, I do NOT share your optimism about the species going anywhere BETTER.
For the simple reason that every generation has to learn ITSELF what it means to be... a man, a woman, a worker, a Christian, a Republican, all those labels that I avoid.
So that the crux of the matter for the species is transmission. HOW to transmit, WHAT to transmit.
Pure science is a belief system, too, Toby..
Everywhere we go, we cannot escape belief.
Perhaps the GREATEST illusion is that of having NO illusion.
My daddy, way back when, diagnosed melancolic episodes in the people who took themselves out, with their children, as a form of... delusional thinking. Craziness, for the layman.
As I mentioned over there on naked capitalism, scientific materialism is itself organized around an elaborate belief system. So... no escaping belief there either, is there ?
Baudelaire had a verse... "Anywhere out of this world".
THAT is where you will find a place without belief.
Now... faith is a different story entirely. Belief and faith are NOT THE SAME THING AT ALL...
You are right. I am a Conservative. But you will grant me that I do NOT sound like the majority of religious fundamentalists who are so decried in liberal circles, in great shows of irrational prejudice.
From MY viewpoint, it is rather pointless to drop shit on your tradition when you know NOTHING about it.
Now... when you KNOW something about where you come from, you are in a better position to make... FREER, and more informed choices.
I don't BELIEVE in "new" FOR "new". Or progress, either, really.

Toby said...

I didn't say that pure science was not a belief system, only that it is not an organized religion.

As to conservatism I have no problem with it, ditto liberalism; I always try to see the positives in all things, including organized religion and pure science. I recognize too the importance of faith.

But there is progress from some perspectives, like in health, literacy, longevity, art, just as there is also decay and rot as systems run out of juice. And words like 'better' or 'worse' are human judgements, as I said. When I see improvements over the course of humanity's time on earth, I mean from a human perspective. The ecosystem doesn't really care about us, one way or the other. However, Universe has, at least on this planet, found self-awareness through us. We are a part of Universe as much as plankton, or forests, or stars.

Anyway, this is an old discussion. And I most certainly don't think you are a fundamentalist at all.

Debra said...

As Thai would say... those advantages have disadvantages.
Does contemporary art represent "progress" compared to Renaissance art, or even Paleolithic cave painting ?
Some people think that our health care is much better than the non care that our ancestors got.
But... honestly, Toby, I started thinking about the Great Plague episode that scarred our ancestors...
Do you really think that if we had an infectious disease episode on the scale of the Great Plague RIGHT NOW that we would do any better than our ancestors did ?
Honestly, now...
I'm not sure. Not as sure as I used to be that our "progress" is REALLY progress.
And we have LOST a lot of knowledge through our arrogant prejudices. Knowledge about nature gleaned from empiric observation, for example.