I've been trying to pay attention, to see if this whole "snapped" thing is going to take. Have I crossed some threshold, or is this more of a momentary lapse of obsession? I'm not depressed, which would be a red flag (depression tends to interfere with things like sober, rational judgment and honest and accurate self-appraisal). In fact, I'm more relaxed and happy in general, tempted to use phrases like, "I'm just really in a good place right now," though I do have my dignity to maintain. I'm busy, but not terribly anxious. Life seems charmed but not particularly magical. I have a hard time believing in a theistic god and almost as hard a time believing in nothing. In other words, I seem to be myself.
If I'm really more of a liberal than a cutting-edge radical, this is due not so much to the things I can't take literally and my distaste for metaphysical speculation -- that's part of it, of course -- but to my suspicion that religion, if it is to have any value, must serve the common good. That there is some broader, if somewhat nebulous, notion of the Good, the Beautiful and the True that is not the purview of any particular religion or ideology and against which any such manifestation might be measured in some way. That sounds hopeless Platonic, but it's all I've got. The thing that is galling, I think, even to really open-minded, social justice-oriented radical types, is that I don't think my religion -- or yours, or anybody else's -- gets to decide what the common good is.
Look, I'm not kowtowing to the spectre of objectivity. I just think we collectively have a notion of something beyond ourselves that no one of us -- and no group of us -- can lay claim to, and that it is both the possibility of this larger perspective and our failure to fully apprehend it that ought to keep us humble. And so it's not just that I'm skeptical or cynical or too full of myself or that I fancy myself too smart for God (though I am guilty of all of these things from time to time), but also that I believe in something else, in some greater possibility, in something always frustratingly beyond our grasp but tantalizingly within our reach.
The circumstances of my life conspire against any plans I might have to go apostate. I've tried this before, thinking it was the honest and honorable thing to do, and it doesn't work out so well. I think the truth -- and I really don't mean this in quite the cynical way it sounds -- is that my Christian friends don't want me to be honest. They want me to be, maybe even need me to be, that quirky musical guy they see on stage from time to time, banging away on his "protestant guitar" and leading them in songs of comfort and affirmation. They're willing to live with the brooding intellectual side of me as long as they get those songs. I'm no , but if you were paying attention at all you know that the evangelical world put up with a lot from Mullins -- he was definitely a misfit -- because they loved his music.
I'm telling the tale, so I have the prerogative of casting myself as the guy who breaks free from Plato's cave and sees the clear light of day. Call me uncharitable, but that's what it feels like. And I know what happens when you rush back in to tell the others what you've seen. It's not pretty. They're not ready for that.
There's a kind of postmodern cop-out that says there is no clear light of day, no outside to the cave, just an endless labyrinth of more caves, none closer to the light than any others. So learn to love your own cave, or find another if you must, but give up any notion of outside. The light is an illusion, and any claims to see it are just manifestations of your own arrogance and hubris.
This is a bunch of crap.
Please: I get the whole postmodern thing. The landscape has changed -- I don't deny that. And I like the changes. I know the real definition of "deconstruction." I drink lattes. I use the word "narrate" a lot. I think it's cool that the scenes in Pulp Fiction are out of order. I read Douglas Coupland, and I've used the word pastiche in an academic paper. I have pomo street cred. But I'm also something of a dissenter: all narratives are not created equal. Some are life-affirming; some are dangerous. And we get to decide which is which, we have to decide. If there are no inherent, objective criteria then we make them up, and if what we made up doesn't seem to be working we make different stuff up. This is our lot. We can't just give up and say to hell with it.
Maybe Plato's allegory is too simple; there's not just a cave and the light. There are lots of caves, and some of them spill out into what is probably an infinite regress of larger caverns. Maybe we never reach the light. But some are bigger than others. Some people have an expansive, embracing view of the world. Others have a narrow, constricting view of the world. Some of them want to foist their narrow, constricted view on everyone. Some of these people are from Alaska.
If I've snapped, it's not because I'm a defective believer. It's because I see more than I ever used to, and I've been seeing it for a long time, and it's not going away. I've got a goddamned bigger cave, and I like it. I'm thinking about roasting some marshmallows. You can come.