Wednesday, January 8, 2014

in the halls of rebellion

This is too damned long by half ... give it a bye.

Just because you raise hell does not mean you are somehow exempted from it.

Or anyway, that's what I think this morning.

I say this out loud in part because I too have raised a little hell in my time and been caught in the honey trap of imagining that the hell-raising assured my place in some more well-appointed heaven.

Mind you, I like hell-raising and hell-raisers. These are the guys and gals who gird up their loins and point out that the emperor is not wearing any clothes; who amass the facts and come to contrary conclusions; who speak to "the better angels of our nature;" and who refuse to be cowed. They are the ones who challenge the prevailing, comforting, group-hug tide. Where hypocrisy and unkindness are blithely adorned, they show a willingness and courage that lesser (wo)men fail to summon. They pay prices for which others lack the purse.

Yes, I like and admire them ... AND ...

John Dear
Yesterday, I got an email from a rebellious Roman Catholic priest friend. In the email, Emmett passed along the tale of a Jesuit who had, to all intents and purposes, been tossed out of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). Reading between the lines, it seemed that peace activist and priest John Dear had pissed off one too many of his superiors ... that his anti-militarism (and willingness to get arrested for it) rocked the church-state boat a little too much... so they kicked his ass out.

Here is Dear's lead paragraph in a column announcing his departure from the Jesuits:
This week, with a heavy heart, I am officially leaving the Jesuits after 32 years. After three years of discernment, I'm leaving because the Society of Jesus in the U.S. has changed so much since I entered in 1982 and because my Jesuit superiors have tried so hard over the decades to stop my work for peace -- most recently, when my provincial ordered me to Baltimore but gave me no assignment and, I felt, encouraged me to leave, as many other superiors have done in the past.
OK -- you get the drift: Rapscallion hell-raiser challenges the establishment to which he belongs. He challenges that establishment to live up to its stated principles and does so in very public and pronounced ways. The establishment gets tired of this gnat on its brow and finally brings down the fly-swatter. The concrete particulars of the Dear case are not entirely in evidence, but the broad outlines have been seen before and will be seen again ... it's one thing to talk a good game (be for peace and justice and all) and quite another to put those principles front-and-center. The liar-liar-pants-on-fire implications for the establishment become annoying to an establishment that wants to think well of itself.

There is one more aspect to the email that I received yesterday from Emmett. There is a possibility that Pope Francis, himself a Jesuit and a man who has received a lot of good press for pointing the Catholic Church back towards its roots of helping the poor instead of counting up its theological and literal treasure, will sign off on Dear's ouster. Not for sure, but it is possible the pope will give his support to the ouster. And even the suggestion that the pope might sign off on it led Emmett to conclude that all of the warm-fuzzy press about the pope was off the mark: This was a business-as-usual, mortar-the-establishment walls, brook-little-dissent pope. Same shit, different day. Given his years as a priest, and my own ignorance, I was willing to accept Emmett's assessment.

But that assessment brought to mind the fact that religion, of whatever ilk, is invariably dependent on the state where it sets up shop. Religion cannot flourish where there is no stability. The state -- good, bad and indifferent -- provides that stability. Religion is locked in a love-dance with a state that, among other things, embraces the use of force ... of militarism. Religion may speak the speech of peace, but its own systemic format puts it in a position where it supports war. Purists may holler "hypocrite!" but the facts remain unmoved. Supporting what you claim to abhor is just part of the package.

And it is here that the fly in the ointment of rebellion makes itself felt. Hell-raising is really a pretty good thing, but believing that that hell-raising is capable of purifying the establishment against which it rebels is largely a myth: Where the system is locked in a love-dance with what it claims to abhor, purification becomes a relative matter. Can we do better? You bet. Can we, in doing better, actually do best? No.

Conformists and establishment members may dance in glee at this observation. Their beloved realms are saved from the rebels. But this is just the delight of the lazy who can do no better than agree with others and imagine themselves "right."

But do the rebels have some of the same problem? I think so. Being "right" is so magnetic. Hell-raising is often tinged with the unspoken understanding that peace and justice would certainly flourish within a given establishment if only that establishment would change gears and revise its emphases. But when the establishment the rebels seek to purify is ipso facto a supporter of war and injustice ... how well do the rebellious hopes and actions pan out?

The rebels of the Catholic Church seek to preserve the church and its religious priciples. The rebels of Zen Buddhism seek to preserve Zen Buddhism ... without the nastiness that can evolve. By changing course, by acknowledging the naked emperor, things will be better, more ethical, and more in tune with original intentions. And I think perhaps they will, but ...

When the established format carries within it the very toxin anyone might seek to excise or reform, then I think it is time for responsibility. Not lip-synch, talk-the-virtuous-talk responsibility, but in-your-face, bathroom-mirror responsibility.

The military chaplain, for example, needs to know that whereas his or her actions may succor soldiers in need, still those soldiers would not be in need without the support religion gives to the activities of war. The military chaplain swears fealty to the state; the state makes war; the chaplain is a responsible enabler of war.

Does all of this endless argument suggest that rebellion should be set aside? I don't think so. I love the rebels who dig and delve and attempt to make things better, often by making them worse. But I think the potential for blind-spot virtue is a danger. There is something to be said for banking the fires of hell while recognizing that the fires of hell are a personal, no-joke responsibility: I am the establishment; I am the rebel. Improvements are possible and hell-raising is a good idea.

Not good enough or flawless enough to be called "good" or "unflawed," mind you. But pretty good.

My own take: Whether lackadaisical company man or firebrand rebel, don't be lazy; don't be irresponsible.

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