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From a fascinating and irascible post by Bad Catholic, offering a Kierkegaardian take on the culture war:

The dominant feeling associated with fighting the Culture Wars — whether over abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage, or any of those super-fantastic conversation starters — is not one of righteousness, zeal, passion, hope, or holiness. It’s one ofbleaugh. It’s a desperate attempt to feel anything but nausea over the prospect of defending “God’s plan for marriage!” or whatever slogan seems popular. There may be joy in the fight — for fights are fun — but beyond that we don’t care. To be perfectly clear, I don’t care. Traditional family values can go rot, as can traditional morality, good government, and all the rest.

Now stay with me for a while. If you, Christian, don’t believe you’re at least partiallyfeigning your disgust with the age, I hold you’re either holy or lying. If the former is true, leave the Internet and pray for us. For those of the latter bent, I’ve developed a quick self-help quiz for your answering pleasure. Please be honest:

1. When Obama announced the screw-religion-I’m-awesome HHS mandate were you (a) personally offended and disgusted (b) filled with deep sorrow or (c) oddly exhilarated. Discuss.

2. Defending traditional family values, like marriage over gay ‘marriage’, makes you feel (a) righteous (b) Christian or (c) slightly nauseated. If you answered (c), where does the nausea come from? Honest disgust over the proposition of natural marriage being redefined, or elsewhere?

3. The slogan “It’s a Child, not a Choice” (a) inspires you (b) has no effect on you or (c) vaguely annoys you.

4. True or false: Conversation becomes more animated when discussing the sinfulness of the modern world. (Discuss: Is the separation of the world from its Father a topic that should liven discussion?)

5. Would you rather read (a) a book on the rise of the culture of death or (b) The Little Flowers of St. Francis. Why? Alternatively, for you hardcore Catholics, which makes for a better conversation starter: (a) the fact of Nancy Pelosi or (b) the fact of Jesus Christ?

You see whither the blogger doth drive. Now allow me to ask you, is it at least possible that you’re feigning some of this Great Disgust at the sin of the world? I am, barring a few rare moments (like when I read philosophical defenses of infanticide).

Read the whole thing.  I’m afraid this hits awfully close to him for Your Working Boy.  I’m going to answer the quiz as honestly as I can.

1. When Obama announced the screw-religion-I’m-awesome HHS mandate were you (a) personally offended and disgusted (b) filled with deep sorrow or (c) oddly exhilarated. Discuss.

Somewhere between a) and b). I can’t say I was disgusted. I was alarmed that it had come to this, and what it portended for the future of religious liberty. It gave me blog fodder, true, but I can’t honestly say that I was exhilirated, oddly or not. But I see what the Bad Catholic blogger is getting at.

2. Defending traditional family values, like marriage over gay ‘marriage’, makes you feel (a) righteous (b) Christian or (c) slightly nauseated. If you answered (c), where does the nausea come from? Honest disgust over the proposition of natural marriage being redefined, or elsewhere?

Slightly nauseated. The nausea comes from the fact that the discussion is phony, and that very few people are taking the discussion seriously. To be passionate about it is not the same thing as taking it seriously. It all feels like an empty ritual, a liturgy for a church that nobody really believes in.

3. The slogan “It’s a Child, not a Choice” (a) inspires you (b) has no effect on you or (c) vaguely annoys you.

I’d say b) and c), emphasis on c). I actually believe the sentiment it expresses, but I hate how our culture has a habit of boiling down deep and powerful convictions into bumper-sticker slogans. It’s trivializing.

4. True or false: Conversation becomes more animated when discussing the sinfulness of the modern world. (Discuss: Is the separation of the world from its Father a topic that should liven discussion?)

Depends on the conversation partners, but yes, I would say it does. More on which in the next answer…

5. Would you rather read (a) a book on the rise of the culture of death or (b) The Little Flowers of St. Francis. Why? Alternatively, for you hardcore Catholics, which makes for a better conversation starter: (a) the fact of Nancy Pelosi or (b) the fact of Jesus Christ?

No question, a). And from when I was a Catholic, the answer to the second question is also a). One night years ago, after staying up late with some fellow Catholic friends agreeing with each other enthusiastically about the evils in the Church, Julie said to me, “You know, I think all of us would be better off if we talked less about Peter and more about Jesus.” Her point being that it was bad for our souls as Catholics to spend all our time talking about all the awful things going on in the Church and all the ways churchmen are failing, and no time talking about the joy and truth we find in the practice of our faith. She was completely right, but it changed me not one bit.

Aren’t we all like that? I’ve known religious liberals who expend as much effort on diagnosing everything that’s wrong with the Church too. And it’s not just church stuff. Why do we all spend so much time and energy bitching about what’s wrong with the world, and so little time thinking and talking about the joys we find there? Leave aside politics and religion, and tell me: Why is despair so much more pleasurable to talk about than hope?

Why do I spend most of my day-to-day writing identifying problems and tracking decline-and-fall stuff, but the writing of this book about my late sister’s life and death has been so strangely easy, even exhilarating? People keep saying, “This must be so hard for you,” and I say no, not at all; it’s been easy as pie. I think it’s because for once, I’m writing about the hard virtue of hope.

Anyway, again: Why is despair so much more pleasurable to talk about than hope? Serious question. Give me a serious answer.

UPDATE: Couple of things just occurred to me. One, a commenter below says that despair is easier to dissect — that is, it’s easier to tell what’s wrong with something than what’s right with it. When I was a film critic, it was much, much easier, and much more fun, to write a review of a bad film than a great one. I think Roger Ebert has a law holding that the better the film, the less pleasure the review will give the reader.

Second — and I think this gets closer to what Bad Catholic is saying — if things are bad enough, it gives weight to what we experience as weightless. I think about how weirdly magical things were in New York City in the days and weeks after 9/11. Everything seemed so … real. In the shadow of that horrible event, it was common for people to realize how precious everything we all took for granted was. It sounds like a terrible cliche to say so, but it really is true. A fire truck would pass by on the street, and people would stop. Some would bow their heads. Others would in some way salute. Everything seemed so concrete, not abstract. Everything seemed to matter in ways that it had not done before.

Walker Percy has a thought experiment in his 1980s book “Lost in the Cosmos,” in which he asks you to imagine seeing the Parthenon on a beautiful day, in the company of fellow tourists. Then he asks you to imagine it in the company of NATO troops fighting off a Soviet assault. Soviet rockets are landing all around the Parthenon. Any moment now, the Parthenon could be hit, and obliterated. You can see it in the glare from the fires and bombs. What does it look like now?

You see what he’s getting at? Perhaps we have to complain and catastrophize things as a way of convincing ourselves that these things matter, when secretly we don’t really think that they do.

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