I get the feeling America is just lost.
Jim Geraghty writes at length about the sad state of satire in our comedy. This is a great piece and worthy of attention. Just one quote:
When everybody’s getting mocked, there’s not much consequence to the mockery. The audience becomes conditioned to just letting the microwave-worthy instant satire wash over them and moving on to the next topic, because they intuitively sense that the figure wasn’t chosen for any particular trait that deserves the mockery.
The older notion of satire as a tool for addressing some wrongdoing or social ill may be falling apart before us. We don’t hold many of our national political or cultural leaders in high regard,….
Think about that for a minute. Nothing and no one is held in high regard. I would look at this from a slightly different angle. It’s not that there is no particular trait that warrants the mockery. but rather it is simply fame that warrants it. But fame, as it seems like everyone knows to the point of triteness, is valueless. Serial killer/cannibal Jeffery Dahmer is as famous as soon-to-be-saint Mother Theresa. Without value, there is no basis for mockery.
Michael Gerson and Pete Wehner make the point this way in this month’s Commentary: if the country’s demographic composition were the same last year as it was in 2000, Romney would now be president. If it were still the same as it was in 1992, Romney would have won in a rout. If he had merely secured 42 percent of the Hispanic vote—rather than his pathetic 27 percent—Romney would have won the popular vote and carried Florida, Colorado, and New Mexico. They conclude that Republicans have a winning message for an electorate that no longer exists.
Something is happening in terms of how Americans view dependence on government, too. Beyond Social Security and Medicare, we have the continued growth of Medicaid, food stamps, Social Security disability, welfare, and, just over the horizon, Obamacare. The political economist and demographer Nicholas Eberstadt has observed has observed a growing dependence on government support despite declining unemployment rates. Although we’re entering the fourth year of recovery from the recession, the number of Americans seeking entitlement benefits from the government continues to increase.
We appear to be undergoing a “fundamental transformation” that goes deep into our character. As we can see in The Life of Julia, President Obama promotes it as a positive good.
One must wonder why this shift occurs now when it did not occur in the Depression of the 1920′s? Well, I think the demography is the key though I don’t think it is ethnic or language demography, but religious. In the ’20′s religion was influential enough that most people did not want to be dependent, on government or anyone else. Which is what makes this story about Jim Wallis pleading to avoid the sequester, on religious grounds for the sake of the poor, so sad.
You know its funny really. Christianity in all its expressions is indeed about charity. But this seems a particularly narcissistic form of charity. “I am supposed to be charitable so I will do whatever it takes to make sure there are lots of people that need charity.” I wonder if people realize how utterly self-absorbed that is? Is it not more deeply charitable to raise them to the point where charity is no longer necessary? Is that not in fact the true mission of Christ? (“I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.”)
Before we move on, some related good news.
Finally, here’s the transcript of an NPR discussion on who gets religious exemptions with John Witte, director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion, Emory University and Richard Garnett, professor, University of Notre Dame Law School. Lengthy and tall weeds stuff, but very interesting. One quote I found most informative about why there are religious exemptions:
WITTE: Part of it is I think the number of regulations and rules that now govern daily life are much denser than they were in the 19th century, and what the courts have done and what Congress and state legislatures have done is try to find a way of easing the tension when a general law, which is otherwise good, falls – creates a burden on the exercise of religion by a particular party or by a particular group.
So it’s good to have general laws dealing with unemployment compensation, and you can’t get unemployment compensation unless you will work when your employer wants you to work. But if your employer wants you to work on your Sabbath and you can’t be accommodated, you should be able to get unemployment compensation.
It’s fine to have a general dress code that’s available, but if the general dress code does not accommodate your wearing your yarmulke or your head scarf, the thought is is that a court can provide the vehicle for a person to be able to wear their religious dress.
We use the legislature or we use the courts to create exemptions from general laws, otherwise good, that happen to fall afoul of the claims of conscience of an individual or ask them to do something that their faith does not allow them to do.
And the increase is, I think, a function just of the density of laws in the 20th century, and it’s also a function of a growing understanding of our First Amendment requirement that we protect the free exercise rights of all parties. And the thought is, is that that free exercise right, constitutional right, can now be claimed by an individual when the legislature does not accommodate him or accommodate that group.
I get that legally, but here’s the thing. Another way of looking at that is that regulation has increasingly intruded into spaces that were ostensibly “regulated” by religion and culture. The religious exemption therefore kicks in because not all religions agree on everything in that space. Maybe that is indicative of the fact that the government should not be sticking its nose in that space to begin with? I mean think about it, if the government is having to grant religious exemptions, did it not therefore implicitly impede religion?
This also goes back to narcissism. There are individuals that do not practice religion therefore the government is free to regulate in that area for them, but that is such a highly individualistic view both religion and government that it becomes virtually untenable.
I am currently reading a history of the city of Jerusalem. One of the things that it makes apparent is that there must be a reasonable, but not necessarily absolute, degree of religious/value homogeneity to a place for it to be governable. But when the government forces such homogeneity it is tantamount to an act of war and revolt almost universally erupts. The only way things can settle down in when the homogeneity occurs in an “organic” fashion.
We see in this post a number of signs that the homogeneity is slipping from this nation. It will not be restored through edict and regulation. It is up to more “organic” forces (like religion) to bring it about. That means a couple of things. One the one hand it means people like Wallis should spend more time getting churches to donate to the needy than they do lobbying Congress to do so.
But most importantly it means the church has to get straight what it means to build that homogeneity – it is not about theological purity. It is about character, values and judgement. It s not about which church wins. Frankly, it is not even about God winning. (About that I have no concern, He is God after all He can manage that much better than I can.) It is about society winning.
Society is not winning right now – it is just lost. Like the boys in Lord of the Flies, we are beginning to turn on each other. Only the church can fix that. But we have to let go of some stuff before we can.