Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Status quo on the status quo

At the end of James Hall's series on philosophy of religion, he spent one or two sessions trying to justify religion's beneficial role in society. I think he was concerned that religious thought would be perceived as always being "the bad guy," the force of arbitrary authority that was always standing in the way of "progress" towards more enlightened ways of thinking. To counterbalance that impression, he discussed the "priestly" versus the "prophetic" traditions in religion: one tradition that tried to preserve the "one truth", and the other that overthrows the status quo and calls for renewal.

I was totally with Hall through most of this -- yes, obviously, you need a dynamic tension between the forces of stability and the forces of change. However, I found that he was giving away his own liberal bias by the way he was framing up the question. To hear him tell it, the prophetic voices were always the good guys, and the priestly traditionalists were always the bad guys. He never really commented on all those times that prophets called for change and were wrong. He doesn't comment on them, because of course he doesn't consider those people to be prophets; no, they are crackpots or charletans. He does not dare call it "heresy," because that would make him one of those bad, bad traditionalists who prevent progress. No, when someone proposes a new, bad thing in the name of religion, those people are just obviously wrong, don't you see?

In fact, there are no conservatives or progressives. Different people believe different things, and the labels conservative and liberal merely tell us what direction they happen to be pushing at the moment. Sometimes the political liberals are calling for change (e.g. gay marriage) and sometimes they are calling for things to stay exactly as they are (e.g. Roe vs. Wade, no school vouchers).

You can always tell what side people are on, just by seeing how they frame up the language of change. If you like the way things are, you call it "stability", "security", "order", "due process", "treasured traditions", "our way of life." If you don't like the way things are, you call it "the status quo", "repressive", "intractable", "hidebound". If you want things to change, you call change "progress." If you don't want things to change, you call change "anarchy".

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