Sunday Tourist Miscellany
One of the good things about being a Christian is that you’re continually getting owned by events. You try to set up little spiritual-ethical-aesthetic rules of thumb and they work so brilliantly and then they stop working. You say something like, “The aesthetics of Protestant fundamentalist churches are so fundamentally barren, so ruined by America, that nothing good can happen in them,” and then a friend who struggles with addiction turns his life around at one of those places, for a while at least. (Addiction doesn’t always have a happy ending and, in this life, I don’t think we can infer much about the realness of someone’s encounter with God from whether they got a final W over it or not. One of the problems with the narratology of American revivalism is the fact that it sometimes seems to equate these things. I turned to Jesus and I kicked heroin and I never went back and now I am the proud owner of a roofing business and a smokin’ hot wife.) Or you get dragged to some church that takes place in a mall (which seems like the same thing but worse—they didn’t even bother to build a place that looks like a mall, they just sacralized the mall) and the earnest local celebrity behind the mic actually says something true that might also be controversial, such as that there is something evil about the country that killed Michael Brown, and then you find out that the place is basically defined by its homelessness ministry. It’s not quite as simple as “Your prejudices turn out to be wrong”; it’s more the feeling that as soon as you’ve formulated a rule of thumb, you’ve simply defined an area where you can get proved wrong again. I don’t know whether it’s like what Marxists mean by “dialectic,” a term that seems to have whatever meaning people want it to mean in context but that, in its more disciplined usages, seems to me to mean “The way that your observations are always one or two bends in the road behind events, such that there will already be important counterexamples by the time you’ve formulated them.” Is that right? I’ve read Hegel but I forgot to do mushrooms first.
Apparently some seminary somewhere is having a big charismatic revival. Immediately, one thinks of the many hours that were spent praying in tongues to ensure that Bolsonaro would get to finish off the Brazilian rainforest, for Jesus, and also that Trump would win in 2020, etc. Immediately, one also thinks of the book of Acts, people living communally, etc. One thinks of the close links between northern evangelicalism and the abolitionist movement. One shrugs and goes about one’s day, if one has any sense. As soon as news surfaced about the thing, I saw theology professors of a radical bent saying, basically, “Nothing good can come out of Nazareth,” swapping in “white Amerikkka” for “Nazareth.” The suspicions that would lead someone to say this are totally and completely justified. The United States is a hegemonically Christian country, in at least some senses of the word Christian, that is also a devourer of human life, a deeply spiritually polluted place. If I don’t think there’s anything unique about our evil except the scale of it — the biggest empire is going to be the worst empire almost by definition — and if I think that some of the “America is the great Satan” language we find on the Christian left is just American exceptionalism inverted, it’s still a pretty bad place. To the extent that I don’t find racism intrinsic to my very being — to the extent that I no longer feel it as an ontological stain that I must purge through personal self-hatred or neurotic ally-speak or, God help us, “bodywork,” it is partly because, emotionally, I distanced myself from a lot of the country’s founding stories and self-justifying myths a while ago; my value in my own eyes comes from being human, not being American or white. (It’s also because I read Racecraft, the argument of which indicates, at least as I read it, that that exact sort of personalization is itself another operation of racism.) It’s still, all that said, very very justified to doubt spiritual expression that comes out of this empire, right off the bat.
Then it emerged that queer students were fully included in … whatever is happening at this particular seminary, and the sorts of people who love to turn the Bible into one of those fandom canon guides, shouting “No!” in their nasal nerd voices at anything that breaks with some established precedent: now they’re complaining about … whatever is happening at this particular seminary.
Well, here is a rule of thumb, and we already know what those are worth. If God exists, then God is beyond our categories. God will act through things that are tasteless, silly, and against even what we took to be God’s rules. God will make miracles happen in a Pizza Hut if God wants to. America will name its children after Game of Thrones characters and send them to business school and God will still act upon and through them.
Further thoughts. (I’ve got to stop writing Twitter threads; it’s like carefully screwing a new towel bar into the wall of an apartment you’re moving out of.)