Andrew Stuttaford, posting at Secular Right, links to this post about what Camille Paglia used to call “coercive compassion” and about those who, getting things exactly backwards, argue that religion used to be nice and tender and caring until it was coopted by belligerent, bloodthirsty types. We can, I suppose, recapture the state of grace enjoyed by our preliterate ancestors by rediscovering the joys of diffidence and nice-making:
Anyone who makes the mistake of clicking on the link to the Charter for Compassion [...] may suddenly find themselves sympathising with the idea of rage-fuelled violence, because it really is just the most awful – well, here, see for yourself:
If you’re not on your knees after that, praying to your God for the cleansing hellfire to engulf all the simpering cretins in that advert, you’re spiritually dead inside.
The video embedded above has to be seen to be believed. Actually, having seen it, I’m still not sure I believe it. No, seriously, if you like having a good, wicked laugh at the expense of the scintillatingly stupid, pour yourself a tall drink, gulp it, and then click “Play.” It’s mentioned by way of pissing on this opinion piece in The Guardian, which is the latest to insinuate that, well, really, we can’t expect terrorists to stop murdering Westerners if we’re going to keep acting so murderable, or something.
Like Mr. Eugenides, I have a few doubts about this. Real old-time religion consisted of spooky ritualistic magic forged from desperate attempts to get the elements to stop pulling the rug out from under fragile, nascent human communities. It was once resources were a little more secure that care for the aging, ill, insane, and others who weren’t productive through no fault of their own became possible.
You can see this very clearly when you look past the vaunted Japanese “love of nature” to the actual artifacts of Japanese literature and culture from long-gone eras. The much-tried Japanese, whose homeland pitches earthquake, typhoon, mudslide, blizzard, and tsunami at them on a regular basis, fear nature as much as they love it. You get candied, pretty-poo odes to nature in later phases when artistic forms have rigidified with time, but the older works have a fresh, raw numinousness and fierceness to them that comes of living with nature in all its unpredictable ferocity.
All of which is to say, the idea that we can repair to some compassion-based system of belief that is more fundamental than and existed prior to nasty violence is malarkey. It’s civilization that’s our buffer against primitive impulses toward brute assertions of power and vengefulness, but brute power and vengefulness will always be with us, and they require dealing with. An approach that couples an inexhaustible willingness to be guilt-tripped with an “All You Need Is Love” approach to miscreants seems unlikely to accomplish much besides making it clear what pushovers we are.