Thursday, February 14, 2008

Interlude: Cuttin' Ron

I am being urged elsewhere to turn my audio-visual attention to YouTube clips of that malt shop cowboy, Ronald Reagan. Sorry, boys. Been there. Done that. Wouldn’t be prudent. Not gunna do it. It’s a nightmare best forgotten, though I vaguely remember a kind of greenish-orange pompadour, floating like a greasy cloud above an empty suit. In my nightmare, there were mobs of large, grinning men in tobacco-stained bib overalls and John Deere baseball caps, stomping their big, flat, shit-caked feet and making crude sounds like the bellowing of barnyard animals, as a mellow, reassuring voice carefully enunciated “There you go again…” You could almost smell the manure. Off in the distance, to the south, a repetitive cha-ching! cha-ching! drowned out the heart-wrenching screams of dying nuns. To the east, in the direction of Mecca, bearded Ayatollahs passed out their windfall Yanqui dollars to terrorist chieftains, while back down in Banana-land, strutting bean-fed and tassel-festooned colonels deployed jackbooted death squads to do the bidding of Grandees with lifetime passes to the White House. No-no-no-no. YouTube. Me no Tube. Homey don't play dat.

On a more positive note, I’m reading a collection of essays entitled Faith and Philosophy, edited by Alvin Plantinga. The one I’m currently working my way through is “The Ethics of Jonathan Edwards”, authored by Henry Stob. The name Jonathan Edwards has formerly brought to mind brilliant sermons of the hellfire and brimstone variety. I knew, of course, that he was a Puritan preacher—the greatest sermonizer that America ever produced. What I hadn’t realized is that Jonathan Edwards was also a world-class theologian whose writings on religious philosophy rival anything produced in Europe. This essay on Edwards has also taught me something about the role of Calvinism in the genesis of that characteristic optimism for which America is famous, and of which the play-acting piety of Cowboy Ron was but a Thespian echo. Here’s Stob on Edwards:

Behind the human society Edwards discerned the divine. Existing unchangeable in the eternal heavens he saw a goodness of which every earthly good was but the shadow and witness. Behind the society of men stood God, the absolute standard for all relationships between beings. The rules of right, the laws of conduct, and the principles of spiritual intercourse are not, he saw, provincialisms of this planet. They reign beyond the stars. Their seat and fountain is in God himself. Here lies the root of optimism. Whatever else the Puritan philosophy of life may have been it was neither petty nor pessimistic. The Puritan strode two worlds like a Colossus. He lived under the controlling conviction that the moral life had its source and issue in the eternal, and he was unafraid.

Yeah. That’s the real deal.