The Tyranny of the New

I just finished reading a short, indicative article from the Miami Herald’s Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, Leonard Pitts Jr., in which a very silly and commonplace assertion was repeated with almost every word and punctuation mark. I always enjoy Mr. Pitt’s articles, perhaps because they cause me so much grief, but I cannot say I enjoyed this article all that much, mostly because it repeated this assertion for the thousandth time when I could seemingly only endure hearing it, without cracking, nine hundred and ninety-nine times.

I say the article is “indicative” because of what it indicates, namely, the kind of “mood” which seems to have descended upon this land like a plague. The article is entitled, “Politicians Giving Faith a Bad Name” and, from what I can gather, its main premise (beside the obvious one laid bare in the title itself) is simply this: that what is new is what is right; and what is old is what is wrong.

This is the modern mindset which unquestionably prevails today. This “mood”, ubiquitous and hegemonic, simply asserts but never proves; it takes for granted but never questions. It is, at bottom, a superstition.

Pitts begins the article with these words:

“On Sunday, people all over the world will commemorate the morning when an itinerant rabbi, falsely convicted and cruelly executed, stood up and walked out of his own tomb. It is the foundation act for the world’s largest faith, a touchstone of hope for over 2 billion people.”

It is a sweet and hopeful start, like the aromatic fumes of blueberry muffins ascending to your nose upon awakening from a good night of sleep, but things quickly sour when a hint of vinegar is discovered in the muffin mix:

“But that faith has, in turn, been a source of ongoing friction between those adherents who feel it compels them to redeem tomorrow and those who feel it obligates them to restore yesterday.”

Setting aside the pure nonsense of an utterance such as “redeeming tomorrow” (how does one redeem what has quite literally not yet taken place?), notice how the juxtaposition is between tomorrow and yesterday, wherein even the present of today is altogether left out of the equation. But so it is, and so it must be, for those, like Mr. Pitts, who live by the creed of Progressivism – which must be, for them, a “living, breathing creed.” It [Progressivism] is a restless search for the new and the different; it is to bow before an idol not yet fashioned by human hands; it is the worship not even of the new, but what is, in all reality, the non-existent – such as tomorrow. For as anyone familiar with the Bond sagas will tell you: “Tomorrow Never Dies.” And the reason tomorrow never dies is simply because it never lives.

But one can intuit, from the overall thrust of the article, that the jettisoning of all things which carry the stench of yesterday is really only a ploy to shame those who obstinately hold onto the traditions which they have received, stubbornly refusing to “get with the program.” After all, “holding on” to something means to carry it over from one moment to the next, from the first moment in which it is received into every following moment by which that first reception fades into the past.

Hence, the real aim of the article is to isolate certain throwback politicians who dare challenge what is new and fashionable today – and presumably what will be new and fashionable tomorrow. And this, in Progressivism’s eyes, is the unforgiveable sin. To challenge the caliphate of the new is to make oneself a literal heretic.

Thus, first up on Grand Inquisitor Pitt’s list is Arizona’s Senator Sylvia Allen, whose supposed law proposing to make church attendance mandatory as a way to stem the tide of a decaying American culture is rightly repudiated (assuming it is true) by Pitts for the idiocy that it is. But I get the sense that the appearance of Senator Allen’s preposterous proposal is merely mentioned in the article in order to make the real target, Indiana’s Governor, Mike Pence, look all the more foolish and retrograde for the bill his name comes attached to – namely, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of Indiana. Indeed, Pitts not only insinuates that the two politicians belong side-by-side, since he himself places them side-by-side in the article, but he pours a little extra of that special sauce on poor Governor Pence – who has been under more than a little heat as of late – because Pence, it appears, has dared defend a bill (sort of, anyway) that would allow religious people to make a legal appeal before the courts of Indiana in hopes they might be permitted to opt out of certain transactions that would require them to violate their beliefs. Is there any level these right-wing extremists won’t stoop to?

Thus does Pitts offer us this penetrating analysis of what Governor Pence is really up to, after having informed us of the ludicrous law proposed by Senator Allen:

“In Indiana, meantime, the governor signed a law protecting businesses from anything that might infringe upon their “free exercise of religion.” In other words, it protects their right to discriminate against gay people.”

Acting in accordance with one’s conscience, which is a fundamental human right necessary to the functioning of any free society, is here placed in inverted commas, “free exercise of religion”, as though it is merely a cover for irrational hatred and bigotry on the part of religious individuals. And, though it is a bit of an aside, it never ceases to amaze me how intelligent men like Mr. Pitts fail to make the fundamental distinction between act and person. That is, how can they fail to see that one does not necessarily or automatically intend to discriminate against self-identified gay persons simply by refusing to bake them a wedding cake? Rather, the hypothetical baker with a religious qualm is refusing service not because of the sexual orientation of the person before him but rather the action that person is asking him to participate in – an action that would admittedly require him to violate a deeply-held religious conviction, as in that marriage is between one man and one woman. Is this basic distinction, which is seldom if ever made by the proponents of gay marriage, really that difficult to see?

It is difficult, if not impossible, for them to see this distinction, I maintain, precisely because of their invincible belief in the rightness of the new, or, in Pitt’s case, of what is not even yet. Pitts, like all those in the pro “gay marriage” camp, fail to make this rudimentary distinction between act and person because their minds are under the tyranny of the new, and thus are they blinded. Gay marriage, after all, is the “new civil rights issue of our day,” proponents claim, and because it is new and of today, not to mention a supposed ‘civil right,’ it is thereby beyond the sniff of questionability, nor can there be any deviation from it, as we increasingly discover – at least no deviation that isn’t utterly irrational and motivated above all else by hatred, fear and bigotry.

This mysticism of the “cult of the new”, which has been imbibed by so many on the lunatic left, explains why Pitts offers us this take next:

“Taken together, Allen and Pence exemplify a “faith” that has become all too common, a U-turn faith that seeks to return America to a mythic yesterday. Pence’s law would effectively allow businesses to give gay people the kind of mistreatment that was common 40 years ago, while Allen explicitly says she wants to go back to the way things were when she was a child. For the record: Allen turns 68 this week, according to Wikipedia.”

Again, Mr. Pitts seems to be under the impression that it is never a good thing to make one’s bed twice. It is never a good thing to reset the clock, so to speak, because what is behind us is always worse than what lies before us. But what is the reason for making such a claim? Is this sort of thinking not the epitome of “blind faith?” Indeed, he accuses those who would even wish not so much as to uphold traditional marriage but simply to have legal recourse to defend their position in court as “seeking a return to a mythic yesterday.” But if the shoe fits, Mr. Pitts, wear it. For are you not guilty, after all, of seeking to bring us to a “mythic tomorrow?” If not, then why the insistence that we must bow before the idol of the new and, once more, the as yet unseen? And what is the point, I wonder, of mentioning the fact that Senator Allen turns 68, if not to underscore the fact that she is kind of old and, therefore, a return to the way things were in her day would mean… well, what would it mean?

I confess to having scant little patience for this type of unthinking, uncritical nonsense. And yet, I lament noticing that this mood is predominant today. It is lamentable precisely because it makes rational discourse impossible. Debate is cutoff before it even begins simply because today is today and not yesterday, and, come to think of it, tomorrow is another day. To coin a new term, it is the opposite of an infinite regress: it is an infinite progress.

As if the point hasn’t been driven home already, Pitts ends his lecture accordingly:

“This week, Christians mark the long ago dawn when the Son rose. But if that faith means anything, it means the ability and imperative to face what is without fear. So faith ought not to pine for the old days.

After all, dawn is the breaking of the new.”

What I would wish to convey to Mr. Pitts, in closing, is an idea utterly antithetical to his way of thinking, no doubt, but one that he would do well to consider. And it is this: a faith that is always changing is no faith at all. Whatever else it is or is not, a faith that is one thing today and another thing tomorrow cannot be called “a faith”, but would have to be called “many faiths”, since it would always have to be a faith in something else. Faith is impossible without an object; but if the object of faith is ever-changing, then the faith itself is likewise ever-changing, which is the same as saying that it never really is.

To use his own words against him, “This week, Christians mark the long ago dawn when the Son rose.” And so we do. We mark something that happened long ago – that is, in the way, way past – as the pivotal event which changed history and, thereby, remains relevant even to this day. We still believe that Christ rose, and we still believe that it was Christ who rose and not someone else. We hold this belief two-thousand years old and it, above all else, still has the freshness of something new, like a blast of wind upon the world, while the new ideas are always the ones that turn stale even before they have the chance to remain fresh. So if we can be permitted by Mr. Pitts to cling to this tradition, this belief in the Resurrection, then why can’t we be permitted to believe in anything else which has its origin in the past?

You see, a faith in the new is quite literally a faith in nothing. As a rule, it must always be seeking some new object, namely, whatever is latest. This is nonsense: an impossible philosophy built on sand. And remember, it is the wise man who builds his house upon the rock; for rocks, unlike sand, keep their form. They are stubborn and inflexible things.

To paraphrase the great G.K. Chesterton, “What we want is not a faith that is right where we are right, but a faith that is right where we are wrong.”

Thus, Pitt’s depiction of what an acceptable faith looks like, namely that which inspires social justice, acts of charity and general good works, is not really what we are after here. No one, but a devil or a fool, will argue against that sort of faith, and hence why that sort of faith is inadequate. Indeed, one doesn’t have to have any sort of faith to engage in humanitarian work. No, we need a faith that can settle the hard questions, even if the answers to those questions are, for some, deeply unsettling.

The standard for faith, any faith, is Truth, Mr. Pitts. And Truth, unlike fashion, is timeless; and because it is timeless, it applies to all times – even when the times would rather have nothing to do with it.

Perhaps, then, Governor Pence is not really one of those politicians Pitts accuses of lending faith a bad name. Perhaps Governor Pence is right after all – precisely because so many think he is wrong. All of this presuming, of course, that he does not buckle to the tyranny of the new, which men like Mr. Pitts, who happily live under that tyranny, are desperately trying to pressure him to do.

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