Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Tyranny of the Now

"Contempt for the past surely accounts for a consistent failure to consult it."
-Marilynne Robinson, Absence of Mind (p. 29)

In her latest book, Robinson notices how much the contemporary literature of ideas uses the "crossing the threshold" motif by toting a supposed great new insight that makes the past irrelevant. Of course, this mean only the contemporary writer is supreme (justifing a general ignorance of the past, since it was never important).

New Atheists
While she focuses on the New Atheists and their ilk, this is also true concerning the stock market in the 1990s ("The rules are different!") and the housing bubble ("It's not a bubble--it's been going on for 8 years!") & even politics (pick a candidate from almost any major election, and someone is the person who will "transform Washington."). Somehow, all this touting hasn't changed the rules of financial gravity or human behavior.

It's almost like Western society is proudly ahistorical until we can create a historical moment (as if transforming Washington was as simple as electing a non-white President, as if starting democracy in the Middle East was as simple as invading Iraq), thus validating our own importance to ourselves. Historical context is always ignored for the tyranny of the now.

Surprised By Church History
The church is not immune to contemporary blind spots--I learned this morning that the first Pentecostal missionary in almost every major Asian country in the early 1900s was a single woman. Is that something we've built on or largely ignored?--but that doesn't mean we can't rouse ourselves into understanding our past and the past to properly co-create the best future possible for everyone.

It'll be hard. Yet it'll be rewarding if we're brave enough.


John said...

May I offer a more cynical view.

The goal of life would appear to be to gain power and diminish the power of all others, at all costs. Therefor, all knowledge ether of things past or of things present and all reasoning serves only to support our opinions, justify our actions or to assault others when it is expedient. Since unnecessary knowledge or logic could be counter to our agenda it is discarded or quietened and ignorance glorified.

Maybe I have been listening to too many politicians, pendants and activists but it seams a hole lot of what hear is hyperbole.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if you're cynical or clear-sighted.