Collect for the Ascension

Grant, we beseech thee, Almight God: that like as we do believe thy Only Begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens; so we may also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with him continually dwell; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Viva la Revolucion

The inauguration approaches. Quick, everyone care. We Americans are very good at caring about things, until we forget about them. We worked ourselves into a passion over drones, until we were done. We were outraged with the Democrats, or the Republicans, about the fiscal cliff, until we weren't any more.

I've washed my hands of the GOP and the Democratic Party alike. Studying history, especially the history of the twentieth century, can do that to you. Christianity can do that to you too (though there are plenty of intelligent and devout Christians who, with whatever reservations, still account themselves members of one party or the other); for the final loyalty of a Christian is -- or rather, ought to be -- to God. Party loyalty begins to seem a little petty, grotesque even, when set beside His claims, which have a somewhat monarchist flavor.

I've washed my hands of the parties, indeed of political parties in general, because I don't believe any of them can get anything done that's worth doing. Think about that, because it isn't just a cynical, humorous turn of phrase -- I really believe that the things in life that are most worth doing are things that cannot be accomplished through our current political system. It's on the cards that they can't be done by any political system. For the thing we have forgotten is that politics exists, or should exist, in order to serve human life, and not the other way around.

It is the dim memory of that that makes both the liberal and the conservative points of view plausible: the conservative, seeing the government's power to intrude upon and interfere with the business of life, attempts to limit it in every respect; while the liberal sees the dispossessed and the disfranchised, and therefore tries to find some way of ensuring that a real shot at human life is really available to everybody, and seeks the alliance of the government in so doing. Neither view is manifestly ridiculous. But both have fallen -- not in themselves, but in our time and place -- for the nonsense that politics are one of the purposes of life; like a homeowner who devotes all his energy to keeping his home in good repair. A well-kept home is good, but is good to live in, not as an end in itself. Otherwise it's only a haunted house.

So what is this business of life? The pointless things. Again, that is not mere flippancy, it is a real and vibrant truth. We do most things to obtain a result: you go to your job because you need the paycheck; you need the paycheck to pay your bills, and so forth. Politics is one of those types of things: we make laws and pay taxes in order to have a functioning society (in theory, anyway), not because these things are fun. (If anyone cares to defend the thesis that American politics are fun, I wish first to be told why they have gone off their meds.)

But there are a handful of things in life -- God, romance, philosophy, friendship, art -- that are beautifully pointless. To put it another way, they're things we do simply because we want to do them; because, in some mysterious sense, we care about the things themselves, and not what they get us. And notice that it is these pointless things that are alive, that are real expressions of and impulses to life. Practical things always have a scent of death to them; which is not surprising, when you think that practical things usually have survival, in one form or another, as their purpose. I defy anyone to sit through even half an hour of the discussion of a bill in a legislature (as I once had to do, for several hours) and not wish for the death of all present, including oneself.

Peter Maurin, one of the founders of the Catholic Worker movement, used to say to workers who told him that their bosses would never espouse his ideas, "Fire the bosses." In politics, I say the same. I say this partly in the sense that I do espouse political ideas not unlike those of Peter Maurin, Dorothy Day, and their companions; but more than that, I refuse to accept that bureaucracy and demagogic posturing are really the important things in life. They openly profess practicality. They will not reign over me. I will be ruled by pointless things; they shall be my constitutional monarchs. Long live the kings -- long live the revolution.

In short, the problem I have with drones is not only that they kill people; the problem with drones is that they are dead; and dead things are easily remote controlled. Pursue the pointless things. Be alive. Revolt.

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