Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Future Holds Withdrawal

In my childhood I lived (among other grander places) in two small towns, one in Hungary (Sümeg) and one in Germany (Tirschenreuth). Both were deeply and unselfconsciously Catholic communities in which religious life was very much in the public square, the visible festivals were all religious, pilgrimages quite routine. The very environment was religious, you might say, and in each the most prominent structure was the centrally elevated church itself.

This sort of place certainly had huge influence on children—they could see, and couldn’t help seeing, large numbers of adult participating in the religious life in which children themselves were also being brought up and schooled. And my presumption is that it also influenced the aging, for whom the meaning of the lives they were completing was reaffirmed in a socially obvious way.

Both in Sümeg and in Tirschenreuth that life still continues dominantly—indeed with renewed energy. In Tirschenreuth, for instance, a miraculous event produced a series of pilgrimages beginning in 1719. These were later suppressed, in 1803, as Europe was forcibly secularized. But the pilgrimage came back and is, today, held on the 13th of every month. On a recent visit to Sümeg, my brother Baldy and Peggy (Baldy is my brother) and Tibor and Evelyn (Tibor is my cousin), witnessed an openly religious festival—and a pilgrimage—in Sümeg; the pilgrimage drew people from all over Europe.

The life in these places—which also host all the usual modern facilities, factories, and the like—is a remainder of an era when religious consciousness was the environment. The sea of faith was then, too, at the full. And, what with its persistence, it may expand again from settlements like that—places known as backward. But backward is also forward; just give it time.

In the land of the free and officially secular—where the public square may not even display the emblems of faith—the process is likely to take the form of a withdrawal rather than an expansion. I conclude this because, sooner or later, elements of the public will begin to recoil from a culture in which the First Amendment is interpreted as sanctioning violent computer games as “freedom of speech”—recently (2011) pronounced to be such by a 7:2 Supreme Court ruling in Brown, Governor of California et al. v. Entertainment Merchants Association et al. I have posted the text of the First Amendment in the last post to serve as a reference here. The Justices saw the legitimization of training youth in violence contained in those words?

What with the Newtown massacre and gun control to the fore, such matters are much in the news now, and we were entertained by news of a test in which we saw the pale image of a teenage boy playing such games—and taking (ridiculous) questionnaire tests afterwards to “measure” whether he felt more aggressive after slaughtering vividly rendered digital images of humans than he felt before. Watching such a story one truly feels extraordinary disgust; and to hear commentary in which such madness is taken seriously produces mirages of the future.

In these mirages I see communities withdrawing. The Amish, Mennonites, and Huetterites will soon have company. It will be barely noticeable at first, but it will be a genuine movement, and as it grows in numbers, it will eventually rule. No. These will not be utopian communities destined to fade away. They will be real. No amount of reform legislation will ever work, but voting with the feet will. It’s in the air. Something within us tells us to take up farming again. And in a handful of decades or so, the drain-away of fossil fuels will bring practical confirmation of the faint inner urges that rise as we contemplate the death of reason.

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