Stigmata

21 02 2011

I watched Stigmata again.

It’s a dumb movie, but I find it irresistible. I used to watch it whenever it showed up on t.v., and now that it’s streaming on Netflix, I watch it every few or six months or so.

Okay, so there’s Gabriel Byrne, who is always watchable, with those dark eyes and. . . well, I’ve gone on about Mr. Byrne before, so there’s no need to repeat myself.

Anyway, irresistible: It opens with an old man writing in a notebook, then cuts to Andrew Kiernan (GB) walking through the town of Bel Quinto, Brazil, on the way to a church with a statue weeping blood. The church itself is holding a funeral for the old man we saw in the opening scene: Father Alameida. A kid swipes Alameida’s rosary from the coffin, then sells it the street to an American tourist, who then sends it to her daughter, Frankie.

Frankie (Patricia Arquette) is 23, lives in Pittsburgh, cuts hair, and parties. After receiving the rosary, however, she begins receiving the stigmata: puncture wounds through her wrists, then lashes across her back. A local priest witnesses the lashings and contacts the Vatican. Andrew Kiernan—Father Andrew Kiernan—is sent by his Cardinal (Jonathan Pryce in full evil mode) to investigate, even though Fr. Andrew would prefer to go back to Brazil. No dice; Pittsburgh.

He meets Frankie, finds out she’s an atheist, says whatever it is she has, it can’t be the stigmata, sorry, see ya. Frankie is like, yeah, whatever, screw you, goes out to her clubbing, and ends up collapsing on the dance floor as she bleeds from a crown of thorns. She runs out of the club, pursued by her best friend (Nia Long), nears her apartment, sees Fr Andrew (come to make nice), then takes off. Her friend and Andrew find her scratching something on the hood of a car, then bring her to the church of the priest who first notified Rome.

And on and on. More stigmata, more scratchings and speeches (in Aramaic, natch), more machinations by the cardinal, brief discourses on the non-canonical gospels, and. . . well, watch it yourself to see how it all turns out. Like a said, not a great movie, not by a long shot. Good priest, bad church, gnosticism, gnostic sayings, candles, dripping water, doves, wind—you know, the works. I should be laughing as I watch it.

I don’t.

I don’t believe it. Oh, I mean, I don’t have any problem believing that the Church has gone to extraordinary lengths to protect its power nor that it would suppress any documents which threatened its standing. But I’m not a religious person, and am not particularly inclined to believe in the power of faith.

Actually, it’s better to state that I lack faith. I actually do find it easier to believe in a god of some sort than I do to have faith in that god; I like to joke that on the days I believe, I tend to think of god in nominalist terms: the great and powerful Other who doesn’t have much to do with us. No personal Jesus, no angels, no love. Just god, who does whatever he or she or it sees fit.

When, then, the draw of this movie (besides Gabriel Byrne, I mean)? It’s the gnosticism, the hidden knowledge, the secret sayings of Jesus:

The kingdom of God is inside you and all around you. . . .

Split a piece of wood, and I am there. . . .

These are both from and variations on a theme found in the gnostic Gospel of Thomas (although, it should be said, that not all scholars agree that all non-canonical texts ought to be categorized as gnostic gospels—but that’s another issue). This was among the gospels found in an earthen pot in Nag Hammadi in the mid-1950s; some of the scrolls were burned, but others made their way to market, where they were scooped up and translated.

Elaine Pagels, probably the most well-known of the scholars of these gospels, has written two books on them: The Gnostic Gospels and The Gospel of Thomas. The Nag Hammadi Library, as edited by James Robinson, contains translations of all those surviving Nag Hammadi scrolls: 12 codices, a fragment of a thirteenth, and 52 separate tracts. The Catholic Church and most Christian institutions tend to discount the importance of these texts; as a result, they have not had much of an impact in the institutional church, bible study, or seminaries.

So. The two sayings, as mentioned, are from the Gospel of Thomas (sections 3 and 77, if you want to look them up). More famous, perhaps, is the saying (as translated by Pagels) from sec. 70:

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.

I would like to dismiss this, but do not. Perhaps I could call this a koan and thus regain my a-gnostic philosophical cred, but, as koan-like as many of the sayings in the G of T are, I don’t think this one is particularly paradoxical.

I think it’s quite clear, and, to me, quite powerful. And I am chagrined that I do find it powerful.

But there it is. I came across this in my endless avoidance of my dissertation, and while losing a battle to despair. This made sense to me then and it makes sense to me now: if I am to live, live, and if I am to die, die.

It doesn’t mean just that to me anymore, but that was and remains the essence of this saying: there is life, and there is not.

This saying didn’t save me, any more than a Beth Orton song or my therapist saved me, but it was with me when I saved myself, and I’ve kept it with me ever since.

Does it matter that the saying begins Jesus said? Perhaps, perhaps not (here’s where my agnosticism comes in handy). Perhaps the kingdom of God was within me that night ten years—oh, man, it was ten years ago this month—that I sighed and said, Okay, I’ll live; perhaps it was just me. I think it was just me, but if not, then. . . okay.

I’m fine with the not-knowing. I prefer the not-knowing—that is kind of the definition of agnosticism, after all—which leaves open the possibility that there is something beyond knowledge, as well as the sense that it’s all right if there is not.

I feel a little silly for admitting this possibility, the possibility of, I guess, faith. Belief, to me, is not necessarily problematic, but faith? I wrinkle my nose; it makes no sense.

This movie, Stigmata, doesn’t really make sense, either. But it doesn’t make sense in a way I understand. I don’t understand why, that night ten years ago, the leaf blew this way rather than that; I see no miracle.

But I am here. Sense or not, I am here. If I am to live, live.

And so I live.





God sometimes you just don’t come through

27 10 2009

Goddammit. Time to write the goddamned God post.

Bad way to start? Too. . . insulting? Too glib-without-being-funny?

Look: Two lines in and already I’ve succumbed to the meta!

Okay. Let this post be born again. . . . All right, all right, I’ll stop.

Long discussion over at TNC’s joint on atheism and belief and who’s better and worse and why [not] believe, et cetera. As Emmylou sang, Yet another battle in the losing fight/Out along the great divide, tonight.

Ta-Nahisi Coates writes a great blog, and he attracts great commentators, but this thread follows the usual  progression:

  • God kills!
  • No He doesn’t!
  • Yes he does!
  • Well, okay, maybe, but so does Hitler/Stalin/Mao
  • It’s about ideology
  • It’s about human nature
  • It makes no sense to talk about atheists as a group
  • Then why are there atheist groups?
  • Those are activist groups. Atheism is simply a-theist, i.e., without god(s)
  • To not believe requires faith
  • ????
  • ‘Lack of belief is not a belief. True. But belief in a lack is.’
  • ????
  • Religious people are mean
  • Atheists are mean
  • Mean people suck
  • Flying Spaghetti Monster!
  • Faeries!
  • Unicorns!
  • [sigh]
  • You need to read more
  • No, you need to read more
  • You’re dumb
  • If I’m dumb, you’re super-dumb [Oh, wait, that was a couplet from The Brady Bunch, Jan to Peter]
  • Can’t we all just get along?

In other words, same as it ever was.

[Tho’ as an aside, can I vent a wee? To state that ‘is’ and ‘is-not’ are, in fact, the same, is a kind of infuriatingly useless word game. If you don’t believe in God, then you believe in a no-thing, which is itself belief, which means atheism is a form of religion. If all you’re doing is engaging a Wittgensteinian wit—for which that actual Wittgenstein would probably eviscerate you—fine; but if you think you’re making a serious point, you’re not. These arguments are not simply about the formal structure of language, but the content contained, however unsteadily, within that language. And yes, at some point, I’ll probably bore you with another post about why this distinction matters.]

Ahem.

So. I’m a-gnostic (lack knowledge), which may have a-theist (lack god) implications, but I’m not particularly dogmatic about it.

I doubt, and I’m fine with my doubt.

When I was a kid, I believed in God. I was an altar girl (the first, which somewhat discombobulated poor Father K., tho’ to his credit he brought me along) at the local Episcopal church, and, overall, I thought God was pretty cool.

Jesus was fine. I liked looking at the various crucifixes in the church, but, honestly, I thought more about God than Jesus. (I clearly lacked an understanding of the subtleties of the Trinity.)

I read a children’s bible. I wore a cross. I prayed. I mostly didn’t pay attention, but when I did, I thought it was all good.

Things changed, of course. Everyone has his or her own [de-]conversion story; mine has to the do with the rise of the Religious Right, and my disdain for any belief that could be connected in any way with the Moral Majority.

Have I ever mentioned that I started reading Ms. in the eighth grade?

Anyway, baby, bathwater: Out!

Things changed, again. I never really believed, again, but I did start to think about religion and belief, to learn more about its varieties—to pay attention.

Oh, so, so much more to this story, but let me, pace Lenin, telescope my history: I got to like hanging out in (empty) churches, a close friend and her husband became much more deeply involved in their faith (they don’t like the term ‘born again’), I read a grown-up bible, I had some good conversations with a local (NYC) Episcopal priest and. . .

. . . I still don’t believe.

Let me amend that: Some days I believe (in a non-specific way), some days I don’t, and some days the belief and unbelief is layered on top of one another.

Faith, however, I completely lack. That there may exist a God does not mean (S)He wants or has anything to do with us.

Faith seems to me far more dangerous than belief, tho’ I’m not sure why. Perhaps it seems more uncontrollable to me, or more personal, or that it is far more often deployed as a weapon than belief.

Okay, I know: stop making sense.

C. might argue that, insofar as I accept the information gleaned from scientific processes, I have faith—if only in the reliability and validity of those scientific processes. And Karl Popper (the great orthodox-science defender) admitted that one cannot use the logic of the sciences to defend the use of the logic of the sciences; at root, he noted, there is a leap.

A leap of faith? I dunno. Seems more like a jump-start to me: it’s up to the engine [science, reason] to actually move the vehicle along. If one’s methods don’t work—if they are neither verifiable nor reliable—then they are to be abandoned. Faith won’t see you through.

But religious faith, it seems to me, is itself the engine—the faith is itself the point. And while some might seek natural justifications for supernatural faith, such justifications are kind of beside the point. They might have a role, but, again, they won’t see you through.

A few weeks ago I blew out a bunch of words about Legos and coins—those of us who seek to put their lives in lock-step, and those of us who cobble bits together, precariously. As a coin-er, I’m not much troubled (there are exceptions) by gaps and inconsistencies, unknowns and uncertainties.

I can’t be, given how often my ground shifts.

Is it faith that keeps me going? Doubt? I don’t think it matters. I am no longer pained by the fact of my existence, by the justification of my self.

I just go.





Ghost in the machine

17 05 2009

She’s been gone two weeks and I don’t feel her anywhere.

I choked up as this photo loaded on to the page, but it’s been been awhile since tears could be prompted by the thought of her.

She’s slipped right through and away from me.

Grief may be about the recognition of absence, as I mentioned previously, but what of the absence of the absence?

I can tell people I mercy-killed my cat and move on. I pull FatCat close to me and wonder how she is as an only cat. I think about getting a kitten in July or August.

I don’t think about Chelsea.

There’s a photo of her propped on top of her empty food dish (a small pot I threw and glazed in her tiger-striped coloring; FatCat has a similar black-and-white dish), but I rarely slide my eyes over the shelf on which the dish sits, so I don’t see her. Out of sight, out of mind?

It’s a relief not always to be verging on tears, but I’m discomfitted by my relatively smooth transition to post-Chelsea life. I was worried about the grief taking me over, but now I wonder about the easy sequestration of that grief.

I thought she’d be here. Yeah, I know, I’m an agnostic about all things supernatural, but I liked the idea of her, somehow, hanging around. Ms. Blithe comforted me with the words ‘Travel well, Skinny Cat,’ and I like the image of her continuing on, somehow.

Somehow. I was worried that my own disenchanted naturalism would dissipate into a cheap spiritualism, that I would be unable to deal forthrightly with Chelsea’s death and thus retreat into a moony ‘when-I-see-her-again’ wistfulness.

This is not a slam against belief. My friend and colleague J. is both ‘an orthodox Marxist and an orthodox Catholic’ (she pronounces this with her finger raised) says that ‘unlike those goddamned Protestants’ Catholics believe that animals have souls and I’ll see Chelsea in heaven. (Which is sweet, really, that she thinks I’ll make it to heaven.) I demurred and noted that some Protestants allow for this possibility, but, as with Ms. Blithe’s comment, I didn’t really take it in. It’s a nice idea that I don’t quite believe in.

I ought to be relieved: my agnosticism is not as blithe as I worried it might be! My beloved cat is gone and I don’t experience her as anything other than gone. She’s dead, as FatCat will one day be, as any other cats I take in will one day be, as my friends and family and I will someday be. Dead is dead.

Curiously, however, I am not eased by the fact that I am not eased by any post-death possibilities. I ought to be pleased with myself, insofar as I sometimes suspect that my agnosticism is little more than cover for lack of commitment. I am committed to doubt! I say, even as I think I am merely keeping all of my options open. Don’t want to be caught out a fool, doncha know.

So the unbelief side of my agnosticism holds. Whoopee.

Another stage of grief? Bargaining or whatever? ‘I want my cat back. I want her here, with me.’ And that she’s not, in any way, is a kind of small desolation which confirms the possibility of universal desolation. Is this the movement out of bargaining into acceptance? That death really does mean separation?

And then wrap this whole situation in the that whole over/underreaction dynamic I have going on, and it would make sense that I lurch from constant sorrow to a certain stoniness regarding her absence, and from there to a cosmic absence for everyone everywhere, forever.

I want to be clear-eyed. I want to remember. I want to keep open possibility. I want to commit. I want to make sense.

So Chelsea’s gone and I know that. I know that too well. I just want her here, as well.

I want something more.





What next Big Sky?

19 04 2009

I don’t Believe much, although I believe all kinds of things. And I don’t Dismiss much, although I dismiss all kinds of things.

Yes, the caps signify one of the Big Issues: Is there anybody out there? Or in here, or laying about. . . somewhere? Anybody?

I mostly don’t believe, although it’s a congenial, changeable kind of unbelief, one which ambles in no particular direction and avoids no particular consequences. There’s a god? Okay. No god? Okay.

Either way. It’s not as if I have much to do with the existence of God or gods, or that gods have much to do with me. Maybe they look in on us every once in awhile, beer in hand, munching nachos and commenting on those crazy Grabowskis or McFees or Olapundes. And then they go back to doing whatever godlike things they do over beer and nachos.

Okay, so that’s a bit cute. And I’m also fudging on the notion that any god(s)’ existence is separate from us: What if they only exist because we believe they exist?

That’s the conceit which underlies Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, a thoroughly enjoyable shamble through the back alleys of American beliefs and folkways. Some—many—of the old deities are nasty, and require a ritual of violence which, for the most part, has been smoothed away from contemporary religion. They’re not nice, and the people who invoke them aren’t always nice, but you nonetheless feel, along with the main character, Shadow, that the loss of these gods would, in fact, constitute a real loss. To forget the tricksters and warriors and shape-shifters would be to forget ways of being in this world, to lose mysteries and secrets and fortuna herself. And, in Gaiman’s world, the gods themselves are bereft, abandoned and small, trying not to disappear.

Even though I’m a big fan of reason, I’m not particularly surprised by my tender reaction to American Gods. As a child with an, mm, active imagination, my default position was that everything—and I mean everything—could think and feel. It wasn’t that I felt this way at all times, but that, when I wanted to, I could conjure up a sympathy with my favorite tree (an elm behind the garage, with a low branch for easy access) or cows in a field or the old cannon standing guard over the lagoon.

In fact, I don’t know that this was so much about my imagination as it was about childhood in general. Kids believe all kinds of nonsense—this is one of the delights and terrors of childhood—and readily share their stories with one another. And they learn not to share too much with adults, who at best indulge them and at worst tear their stories away and shred them. Grow up, they’re told.

As a child who experience the full range of delight and terror, I don’t particularly care to romanticize childhood. I like reason and explanation and science and the whole notion of demonstrable cause-and-effect. And I’m quite taken with the notion of chance and physics combining to form canyons, camels, and the cosmos.

But chance isn’t the same as fortuna, and the indifferent universe can disappoint as well as exhilarate. Most of the time I think, Well, we’re here for 70 or 80 years, and that’s it. If your life is to have any meaning, it’s up to you to make it, and even then, you might fail. Don’t count on anything beyond this world to bail you out of your sorrows, or let anything beyond this world to get in the way of your joys. Anything you have, anything you feel, anything you become is all here, is all you have.

And yet. And yet I think What if? I close my eyes and summon that child-sense of Isn’t there something more? You can see that in my writings today, that semi-constant questionof Is there something more? Wasn’t there something more?

I can’t put that there into words beyond the more; it is in fact beyond me, around me, running ahead and pulling up behind me. I walk under ladders and step on cracks and wish that there were ghosts and spirits and hope that not everything can be explained.





Complicated

23 09 2008

Still workin’ on the question Lucretia asked, regarding respect/no respect.

Still workin’ on Rawls, for that matter. I paused to re-read Mary Ann Glendon’s Rights Talk, and I’m taking Chantal Mouffe’s The Return of the Political to Jobs1&2 tomorrow, but I don’t think any of these folk are going to get me where I need to go.

Why? The focus on procedure. ‘Here is how you set up a system of justice in a liberal society’ (Rawls); ‘we need to more nuanced understanding of rights vis-a-vis other values’ (Glendon). Neither is wrong, but neither gets to the guts of Lucretia’s question:

How do you deal with someone who can’t deal with you? That is, how do you deal with someone who won’t accept that you’re someone else? Who insists that you respect her but she won’t respect you? (I suppose the flip side of this question would be: How do you deal with someone who persists in error? Hm. More on that later?)

This is where I ended, last time (in the Ain’t no love post): I think I’m still missing a piece of a response to Lucretia. I’ve talked about a kind of constitutional or generic respect for persons, and about intimates, but what about those strangers or acquaintances with whom we interact in the social sphere? More acutely, what about those demands from citizens for respect for their views? Not generic persons, not friends, but fellow-travellers in the polity, in the social sphere? How do we meet demands for respect for mutually-exclusive beliefs? Ah. I thought I captured this in the idea of creating space against an overlord, but I didn’t: this is how we treat one another within that space. . . .It may be a matter of reiterating respect for you, but signalling disagreement with your beliefs. But I don’t think that’s sufficient, either.

It’s insufficient, I think, because respect is being overworked: I’m trying to stretch it to cover all of these different situations and levels, and it’s shredding. I gotta let it go. Yes, keep it at the procedural and constitutional levels, and even, perhaps, have it frame discussions, as a minimal condition for that discussion, but as to content: done.

This means, of course, that one may in fact not respect the other person’s views and, as a consequence, not respect the other person. That sounds harsh—it is harsh—but it gets at how we actually do respond to one another.

I think there’s a parallel to this in my reaction to ‘love-the-sinner/hate-the-sin’ argument: it seems a cop-out to pronounce one’s love even as one proclaims hatred for what the loved one does. It sounds simple to separate out who you are from what you do, but that sound is wrong. (I’ve gone too far in the other direction, hoping that doing could overcome being, but that’s another story.) We are beings who do, so even when it is possible to make such a separation, it’s rarely simple to, erm, do so.

Consider how you respond to someone who you truly do love who does something awful. Well, maybe just lousy: Your partner is arrested for drunk driving, say. You love this person, but you’re also angry that he behaved recklessly toward both himself and others. So what do you do with this love and anger? It depends: on you, on him, on his behavior after the arrest, whether he’s done this before, whether you’ve done this before, . . . Not simple, in other words. Even if you do get past it, you still have to get past it.

Now, to ratchet up the complications, consider behavior which is more intimately connected to being, say, sexuality (this is where the whole love/hate/sinner/sin missile often gets deployed). You’re gay or bisexual or ambisexual or just plain sexual. Sex is something you do, but your sexuality is also a part of who you are. Furthermore, you like both the act of sex and your sexuality generally, and are not inclined to see it as something in need of either fixing or redemption. If someone says she loves you but not what you do, do you feel particularly loved? Do you think this person even sees you?

This can be flipped around with regard to respect: If you demand that I respect you just for having an opinion, how likely is it that I’ll actually respect the content of that opinion? How much do you think I’ll respect you? In each case, the formula gets in the way of the person, and in so doing, cheapens both respect and love.

Thus, in cutting back on respect-talk, we may actually get to—have to—deal with one another as human beings. By allowing each other the, hmm, courtesy? understanding? recognition? that who we are and what we say and how we act matters, we may allow for a fuller sense of the other.

This fuller sense, of course, may only be possible in particular circumstances: namely, in a free society in which one person does not have authority over or able to invoke power structures against another. And there are other objections to this conclusion, as well, including that ‘may allow’ is a damned slender reed, and that I, too, am eliding content in favor of process—this time of understanding rather than respect.

It’s late, so I can’t offer a full defense, but I want to get this down before I lose these thoughts: One, yeah, ‘may allow’ ain’t much, but maybe that’s all we’ve got. In other words, Arendt’s admonitions on the frailty of human [political] affairs may be spot on. Two, I’m trying to incorporate content into the conversation, and to recognize when content overwhelms or matters more than conversation.

Sketchy, I know. But I think there’s something here.





Ain’t no love

2 09 2008

Finally, a frame of mind in which to respond to a comment from Lucretia (about my last bit on Nussbaum).

BUT FIRST: I gotta say something about the whole Sarah/Bristol Palin thing. Damn! I feel bad for the girl. She’s seventeen, knocked up, and a week ago she was probably freaking out about what her classmates were going to say or were already saying about her pregnancy. Now, for reasons that have little to do with her, she’s worldwide news. That’s tough. I hope the people around her (and her boyfriend) are as supportive as they say they are.

As for her mom? I don’t like her politics. No need to say much beyond that.

Okay, on to the question of nonbeliever respect for the religious, especially when the religious show so little respect for the nonbeliever. On August 26, Lucretia asked

‘It’s such a common notion in our culture, probably in Western culture as a whole – maybe all human cultures? – that we have to respect people’s religious beliefs. I find I’ve absorbed this idea without quite knowing where it came from.

Why do we have to tiptoe around other people’s quirky, bizarre, or moronic ideas? Particularly when, if a religious nut knows you’re an atheist, he feels perfectly free to declare open season on us?’

I’ve been batting this question around for awhile, and I think I’ve got the beginnings of a response to it. And, ironically, Nussbaum, in Women and Human Development, helped shape part of my response.

The first part, that which to which Nussbaum’s discussion of political liberalism contributes, is the notion of respect for persons. One can reject or accept this notion, but it’s a pretty standard precept of modern philosophical-liberal thought. We are free and equal beings, individuals with distinct desires and personalities, and endowed with sufficient reason to pursue our own, individual ends. (This is a bit of a mash-up of liberal thought, but, again, not an unreasonable one; similar kinds of notions anchor many human rights declarations & charters, for example.)

Anyway, as free, equal, and distinct beings, the ends we choose for our lives ought to be left up to each of us. That is, whatever meaning we assign to our lives, including whether that assignment includes a supernatural element or not, is up to each of us.  Unsurprisingly, this means we are likely to choose different meanings, different ends. Some are so discomfitted by this plurality of outcomes that they seek to favor some meanings and outcomes over others, to say, in effect, that no rational person would choose these lesser ends.

Nussbaum argues, rightly, I think, that one can’t have it both ways: either you allow for respect for persons to choose their own lives, or you don’t. (There are issues about the conditions for choice, and choosing for others, especially children, but that’s a separate topic.) She distinguishes political liberalism from comprehensive liberalism, such that under conditions of political liberalism one creates the conditions for choice of ends, whereas under a regime of comprehensive liberalism, one seeks to shape those ends, to favor some over others.

Another, shorter, way to put this is to state that I will respect your ability to choose your own way, and you will respect my ability to choose my own way. Reciprocity.

This works, I think, as a formal model of respect, especially as regards respect among strangers, and as creating a kind of space against an overlord (government, religion) which seeks to choose our ends for us.

But while such formal or process-respect can help remind one not to trample on another’s ability to choose, it’s incomplete. It doesn’t get at that deep frustration over lack of respect for the choice of ends. In other words, while Nussbaum would like to bracket off discussions of ends (and which, in the context of her larger argument about constitutions and states, makes a great deal of sense), the issue of ends-respect remains.

And it is much harder to deal with, because we connect the ends a person has chosen with that person herself. In other words, it’s personal. So Lucretia’s question looms: why respect shitty ideas? why respect shitty beliefs which belittle the nonbeliever?

Don’t.

That, finally, after many years of trying to square my principled belief in respect for persons with the batshit things we believe in, is my answer. I will maintain my respect for you as a human being, but not so much for you, personally. If you believe menstruating women are polluting and to be avoided, if you think black people are inferior to white people, that Jews run the world, if you think anyone who doesn’t believe exactly as you do isn’t worth as much as you, then expect the ridicule you so richly deserve.

This sounds, hm, if not contradictory, at least, not right: Aren’t I, after all, expecting others to believe exactly as I do? Aren’t I saying dissenters to my view aren’t worth as much? No, and yes. No, insofar as I distinguish between the formal- or process-respect and personal- or ends-respect. I’m not saying you don’t get to believe what you do, or that you deserve less protection of the law than anyone else. You should never lose the respect owed to you as a human being, or, to put it more politically, as a citizen.

But we are not simply citizens, not simply occupants of the formal-human-being role. We are also individual personalities, with our own desires and flaws and beliefs, and to state that we can have whatever beliefs we want, but that we ought not take them so seriously that we form judgments in relation to them, is to miss something vital to our humanness.

You can go on and think I’m going to hell because I don’t pray or don’t pray to the right god or don’t pray to the right god in the right way—and you can say you condemn me out of love—but why on earth would you expect me to respect a position which denigrates me? If you judge me because of who I sleep with or how I sleep with that (consenting) person, why should I, who don’t think this matters to anyone but me and that other person, take your side against my own?

If the only way to respect your view is to belittle myself, well, I ain’t respectin’ your view.

I respect absolutely your right and ability to hold whatever views you choose, but I don’t necessarily respect those chosen views.

And this is where it gets funky, because we tie a person’s views to our own view of that person. If you hold to views I find abhorrent, I’m not going to respect you. And given that I think respect IS important, that bothers me a bit. But I also have a fairly wide range of views outside of my own which I find worthy of respect, so I’m not too worried that I’m going to whittle my interactions down to people who are just. like. me.

That could, and does, happen, of course: align with me, or be gone. And if that happens too often or infects too much of our civic life, that could be problematic. But on the personal level, well, who we want around us is going to vary from person to person. Some want family near, others, far. Some seek many friends and colleagues, and others choose to cultivate a few. Whatever. The point is, we use our judgment in determining who we want around, and, on a personal level, that’s as it should be.

Hm. I think I’m still missing a piece of a response to Lucretia. I’ve talked about a kind of constitutional or generic respect for persons, and about intimates, but what about those strangers or acquaintances with whom we interact in the social sphere? More acutely, what about those demands from citizens for respect for their views? Not generic persons, not friends, but fellow-travellers in the polity, in the social sphere? How do we meet demands for respect for mutually-exclusive beliefs? Ah. I thought I captured this in the idea of creating space against an overlord, but I didn’t: this is how we treat one another within that space.

Getting at that is gonna have to wait. It may be a matter of reiterating respect for you, but signalling disagreement with your beliefs. But I don’t think that’s sufficient, either.

Damn. And I thought I had a handle on this. Maybe not.