3.18.2009

RoC Fragment 2: A Theory Of Recent History

Marx once said that "history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce." I have been thinking about this saying in the context of the death of religion, and, although my thoughts don't quite match the structure of Marx's, here is the outline from what I was working on. Probably a lot more writing would turn this into a truly insightful essay...

If we cite, either in deference to Nietzsche or purely for the convenience of this theory, this death as having happened sometime in the late 19th century, then what followed was the massive transferring of religious energies into other social realms. Looking back, it is easy to see how art and music, and certainly politics, replaced religion as the "organizing force" around which the same modes of religious discourse were repeated. There were the same talks of purity and impurity, the same fervor, the same willingness to kill for something greater than a life, and the same intellectual zeal that early Catholics must have felt while enumerating the various types of sins, etc., and writing on the nature of belief. 

The tragedy of this era is apparent, of course. First, for the religious person, the tragedy of a language developed for holy concerns now quotidian, secondly, the tragedy of death, of how all of these modes of belief played themselves out in an era of mass murder, and lastly, the tragedy that, in the end, it all failed. The twentieth century left us with nothing but an unwillingness or fear of ever feeling that way again. Which brings us to the farce.

Sometimes it seems to me there is nothing quite as foolish now as conviction. Look behind the critiques of religion made everywhere from academic circles to late-night comedians to certain sectors of the worlds of art and music, and what seems to mocked is not just the particularities of religious belief, ie that the earth was created in six days, etc., but belief itself, the idea that anyone could hold anything to be true at all. In fact an infamous London bus campaign invites us all to "stop worrying"and "enjoy" our lives.

But what is worrying if not, at least in an intellectual sense, the attempt to reconcile what is with what could be? Do these seemingly progressive atheists understand the nihilism behind their statement?  

While it is true that there are better gods than God or Hitler, certainly it is not me.

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