Friday, May 23, 2008

The 'Noble Disease'

Looks like it's been a bad month for fantasists who have befriended both McCain and Obama. It's hasn't been great for the politicians, either, for that matter.

As it happens, the post-modern short story writer Donald Barthelme had some entertaining insights on the craziness of pastors, nearly a generation ago. "January" was originally published in The New Yorker. It's a fictional interview with the fictional character of "Thomas Breaker," a deeply depressed man who spent his life -- wasted it, he now realizes -- studying and writing about and investing his belief in religion.

Here's an excerpt:
Heraclitus said that religion is a disease, but a noble disease. I like that.

Teaching of any kind is always open to error. Suppose I taught my children a little mnemonic for the days of the month and it went like this: "Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November, all the rest have thirty-one, except for January, which has none." And my children taught this to their children and other people, and it came to be the conventional way of thinking about the days of the month. Well, there'd be a little problem there, right?

I can do without certitude. I would have liked to have faith.

The point of my career is perhaps how little I achieved. We speak of someone as having had "a long career" and that's usually taken to be admiring, but what if it's thirty-five years of persistence in error? I don't know what value to place on what I've done, perhaps none at all is right. I wish I'd done something with soybeans, been able to increase the yield of an acre of soybeans, then I'd know I'd done something. I can't say that.
Marx had it right. Religion is not only the opiate of the people and the "sigh of the oppressed creature," but also the "heart of a heartless world." It's best to judge our politicians by how many soybeans they can reap.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Repeatedly citing a ridiculous quote doesn't make it any less ridiculous.
Marx also said that industrialization has robbed the common man of the highest ecstasies of religious experience. Most of what Marx says is a sickening use of rhetoric to spread his thinly veiled obsession with material gain which underpins everything he wrote.
But if it makes you feel better to assault religion, feel free to do so. But remember, it is the mark of an intellectual cripple who finds nothing of value to say but "RLIGIONS BAD K?"