Saturday, August 16, 2008

Truth Not Up for Election

In the slow and seemingly inexorable build up to Election Day, November 4, 2008, one already perceives the nimble and subtle "luciferian logic" (Bailie) being engaged by the men - and women - in the backrooms/war rooms of the Democratic and Republican parties.

It will feel - feel, mind you - to concerned women and men of the Catholic faith that worldly powers vaster and more powerful than the Church are at work swaying massive voting blocks with this and that set of carefully chosen messages and sound bytes gleaned from focus groups and PR "experts". The existential dread involved in this is very real and very present. Epistemological and ontological certainty has nothing to do with it. The outlines of what is going on can be read with great insight in the classic study by Elias Canetti, Crowds and Power.

But at the heart of each person within earshot of the political ads and massive demonstrations of support for presidential candidates is hard-wired our default awareness of the primitive sacred involved in this cultural ordering of power. And for one to understand fully what is happening in the soul of the United States, one must delve into the cultural anthropology of René Girard.

But one must also be conscious of the fact that by trying to set oneself apart from the cultural structures of the sacred, one "marks" oneself as an outsider and, as such, one becomes a potential victim of the crowd. William Golding aptly depicted this "outside-ness" in his character of Simon in Lord of the Flies.

As the ostensibly political process becomes more polarized, it becomes more dangerous to seem aloof from it, or to appear to try to understand the mimetic details involved. This is particularly so if one shares such info with a staunch supporter of one candidate or other. Being caught in a doubling rivalry with a supporter of the other candidate "makes sense". But to stand outside the fray can invite the accusatory gesture from one or other or both supporters of opposing rival parties, as Girard points out is already understood by the New Testament (cf. Matthew 22:21 and Luke 23:12).

The mystifying power of the primitive sacred contains various degrees of understanding, however. In other words, of course there is hypocrisy up and down the spectrum of seeing through the façade, and the making use of its power. The cleverest politicians know that people fear being victimized as they simultaneously promote this or that victim de jour who fits the bill to insure their successfully getting into office. But unseen by these strategists - or uncared about - is the number of victims created by championing this or that victim.

Since we know all this is going to take place regardless of whether we like it or not, given the fallen nature of humanity collectively and the mimetic contagion/fear of being victimized by individuals, here is a solution:

Reach out for the One Source of epistemological, anthropological, and ontological certitude: the Catholic Church. Yes, it makes astonishing truth claims. Yes, it says there is sin and indeed all of us are sinners. Yes, it assumes that it is hard becoming and remaining a follower of Jesus Christ, whom it claims is the Savior of the world. And yes, there are hard and fast walls separating truth from falsehood.

But wouldn't you really, truly like to know that truth is not up for grabs by the "winner" of the November election? Or the next? Or any election?

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