Conservatives and Liberals and Soccer and Religion

We live in societies that have lost the ability to clearly communicate across the divides we have created for ourselves. Or so I thought yesterday. Today, laid up with a bum back, I got to watch the American soccer team’s celebration in my home town, and I heard one of its captains, Megan Rapinoe, say this:

“We have to be better. We have to love more. Hate less. We got to listen more and talk less. We got to know that this is everybody’s responsibility. Every single person here. Every single person’s who’s not here. Every single person who doesn’t want to be here. Every single person who agrees and doesn’t agree. It’s our responsibility to make this world a better place.”

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Megan Rapinoe

I have been thinking a lot lately about how we have divided our nation into conservatives and liberals, with a ferocity you can feel by just looking at the labels. In truth, I think both sides want the same basic thing – to make this world a better place.

Conservatives main impulse is to preserve what they see as good in society. Liberals main impulse is to change what they see is bad in society. These are not antagonistic impulses. Good people of any political persuasion should aspire to both of those things. We can disagree about what is good and bad in society and we should honestly and constructively talk about those disagreements, but we should be careful not to demonize people and create straw creatures to argue with and set on fire.

One of the things that is seen as good and bad in society is religion. The number of horrors that have been committed in its name are beyond counting. The number of lives that have been saved, or fulfilled, or made kinder in its name are equally incalculable.

In the 19th Century, Victor Hugo said this:

Religion is undergoing a crisis. We are unlearning certain things, and that is good, provided that while unlearning one thing we are learning another. No vacuum in the human heart! Certain forms are torn down, and so they should be, but on condition that they are followed by reconstructions.

In the meantime let us study things that are no more. It is necessary to understand them, if only to avoid them. The counterfeits of the past take assumed names, and are fond of calling themselves the future. That eternally returning specter, the past, not infrequently falsifies its passport. Let us be ready for the snare. Let us beware. The past has a face, superstition, and a mask, hypocrisy. Let us denounce the face and tear off the mask.

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Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo and the French Aesthetic

I have long admired, even loved, the French but I don’t think I ever quite understood why until I read Victor Hugo. Their commitment to liberty inspired two revolutions – America’s and their own – that created the best of the world we live in today. They are more responsible than anyone for the evolution of government from hereditary monarchy to a system that exists to serve its people, not the other way around.

Their culture, their devotion to beauty, their appreciation of romance inspires artists and lovers everywhere. Their lust is not simple desire, but desires, eternally mingled with playful affection. In addition to their reverence for fine wine, cheese, and bread, they have an appreciation for the peculiar wonders of femininity and masculinity that aren’t chained to rigid concepts of gender. Makeup, wigs, and high heels were always for men as well as women.

Love is not a rigid concept either. It flows. It mutates. It entices. It satisfies a hunger that even the finest meals cannot. In this passage from Les Miserables, Victor Hugo produces a fine reduction of the love between an old blind bishop and his adoring sister that could easily translate into the love between parent and child, or between lovers:

To have continually at your side a woman, a girl, a sister, a charming being, who is there because you need her, and because she cannot do without you, to know you are indispensable to someone necessary to you, to be able at all times to measure her affection by the degree of her presence that she gives you, and to say to yourself: She dedicates all her time to me, because I possess her whole love; to see the thought if not the face; to be sure of the fidelity of one being in a total eclipse of the world; to imagine the rustling of her dress as the rustling of wings; to hear her moving to and fro, going out, coming in, talking, singing, and to think that you are the cause of those steps, those words, that song; to show your personal attraction at every moment; to feel even more powerful as your infirmity increases; to become in darkness, and by reason of darkness, the star around which this angel gravitates; few joys can equal that. The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves – say rather, loved in spite of ourselves; this conviction the blind have. Are they deprived of anything? No. Light is not lost where love enters. And what a love! A love wholly founded in purity. There is no blindness where there is certainty. The soul gropes in search of a soul, and finds it. And that soul, found and proven, is a woman. A hand sustains you, it is hers; lips lightly touch your forehead, they are her lips; you hear breathing near you, it is she. To have her wholly, from her devotion to her pity, never to be left alone, to have that sweet shyness as your aid, to lean on that unbending reed, to touch Providence with your hands and be able to grasp it in your arms; God made palpable, what transport!

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