“Clarion of Faith?!”: another unpublishable letter to the International Herald Tribune

The fact that this is unpublishable is, in my opinion, the problem.

5 March 2012

To whom it may concern:

In “From ‘Nominal Catholic’ to Clarion of Faith” (Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Laurie Goodstein, New York Times 3 March 2012) the article uncritically narrates Rick Santorum’s “spiritual journey” in a way that your choice of words implies is from “bad to good”.

This is serious bias. This is serious journalistic malpractice.

The notion of a “return” from an out of control Modernism (coexisting in Santorum’s case with religion at room temperature, as your article claims) to dat ole time religion originated almost one hundred years ago as an aesthetic gesture, linked to but distinct from Fascism. TS Eliot claimed to be an Anglo-Catholic and royalist in later life, and CS Lewis narrated a similar reverse journey in “Surprised by Joy”. In painting, Pablo Picasso “returned” to classicism although not to religion in the 1920s. In music, Serge Prokofiev made this gesture at the same time.

The narrative was that the Bright Young Things had found their former lives gay but empty whether they were agnostics, atheists, or in your word “nominal” in their faith. So they return to “faith” and “traditional values” in art and in life.

Dostoevsky’s comment on this is interesting. In The Tale of the Grand Inquisitor, in The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky writes: “But then the beast will crawl to us and lick our feet and spatter them with tears of blood. And we shall sit upon the beast and raise the cup, and on it will be written, ‘Mystery.’” Dostoevsky may have thought that the return might be hard to impossible, and involve something more than joining a wealthy parish, church or temple, and “adoring the Eucharist” for twenty four hours…such mitzvots, for Dostoevsky and Jesus himself, might be useful but also beside the point.

I realize youse guys got a paper to get out. But note that the very phrase “to clarion of faith” can hardly be parsed, and as your lack of objectivity and journalistic malpractice is beginning to generate nonsense. Is Rick Santorum a “clarion”? What is a clarion? A clarion call? But even if Rick Santorum were not a politician and is instead John the Baptist, he would not be a clarion call, he would be making a clarion call for all of us sinners to repent.

But that is not his message; conservative politicians do not call upon us to repent, thankfully; instead, they tell their constituents that they are a “remnant” fleeing the Pandaemonium brought about by liberalism.

No attempt at suasion is made. In the Founders vision, and American practice until recently, the general idea was that the political candidate would attempt, like Lincoln or Stephen Douglas, to convince voters of the justice and wisdom of their cause.

Modern, poll-driven politics assumes on the other hand that our views are autocthonic, somehow pre-formed somewhere, and the Republican politician’s job is to get us to vote those views, including religious views, by persuading us that he will best represent, not something so crude as our interests, but those views.

The voter is either one of the Elect who doesn’t believe in abortion or contraception, or one of Satan’s herd.

Therefore, Santorum claims that because he’s a conservative Christian, he will be a better President of all the right-thinking people, and the rest can go jump in the lake. There is no Constitutional basis for this claim: quite the opposite. The Republicans have created a religious test for high office.

What’s troubling in the article is your use of the word “faith”. First Amendment jurisprudence has long recognized world-views which dispense with religious faith as forms of “religion” deserving protection alongside orthodox religion. Language such as “politician x considers himself a man of faith” creates a divide and implicitly favor the man of faith, although our best Presidents probably had, in secret, a humanistic world view and little “faith”.

But such is the power of the TS Eliot/CS Lewis narrative as to make it fashionable, among people who can afford to be fashionable, to narrate their lives as being enhanced by a return to church or temple observance.

This is said to “ground” ordinary decency although Santorum’s Catholic church does not teach that “ordinary decency” flows from religious belief: instead, it acknowledges that prior to the Christian message, men have both the capability and duty to follow the natural law.

“Faith” becomes a monstrous combination of Blaise Pascal’s terroristic wager (that even if the Christian revelation is false, it’s too risky of eternal damnation not to have faith) and a reason for being a good person…an excuse, as it were.

We need excuses for being bad. Another drink would be good for my weary bones, and a little bit of adultery would help my marriage, so reasons the scamp.

But it is a strange sort of person who needs an excuse for being good. Indeed, Chinese philosophy takes, not a sky-god, but Benevolence itself as logically prior to everything, an enabler of coherence of life and thus, ordinary decency. This belief in the natural law, the order of things, is why multiconfessional societies are possible.

Santorum, and other self-proclaimed men of faith who in such an unseemly way wear their hearts on their sleeves for daws to peck at, project their constituency’s fear that their own lack of a super-ego, corroded as post-modern super-egos are, being systematically replaced over time with advertising, will cause them to do as they wilt. To lose control.

Lack of “faith” is interpreted as somehow less than “faith”, and your newspaper enables this nonsense.

Edward G. Nilges


2 Responses to ““Clarion of Faith?!”: another unpublishable letter to the International Herald Tribune”

  1. peddiebill Says:

    A thoughtful and considered response to a very worrying trend in Conservative US politics. The notion that only ultra rich representatives of narrow fundamentalism are fitted to make decisions on what is acceptable for the entire US and a good part of the rest of the world is troubling to say the least. You would have thought that having watched the 8 year destruction of the US and world economy and the political chaos and increase in terrorism under the policies of GW Bush et al there might be more caution.

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