Friday, August 03, 2007

Academia-Created Skeptic?

I would not generally call myself a skeptic. I tend to believe in concepts and embrace ideas easily, if they appeal to something in my head and my heart.

However, as I was telling Lance yesterday, the more I read, the more skeptical I get of certain trends. The biggest one is the tendency of dividing the world neatly into two halves: good/bad, right/wrong, black/white, etc. This dichotomous labeling of the world makes me nervous and makes me skeptical of anything related to it.

This skepticism is directly related to my growth and development as an academic. In literature especially, the interesting questions are not in dividing the work into neat labeled pieces; the "good stuff", the most intriguing ideas reside in the bits of a novel or poem where ideas are messy, mixed up, and a little uncertain. Milton's Satan isn't interesting because he is purely evil against God's purely goodness. He's interesting because he's a fallen creature, a tragic hero; he's someone the reader can sympathize with even while we are supposed to be loathing him. That's more interesting than a Satan who is so positively evil that his character only elicits hatred from the reader instead of sympathy.

I think this suspicion of pure dichotomies is why I stopped believing in God as my parents do, or practicing their brand of Christianity. At the risk of sounding heretical, I don't think good and evil can be so neatly divided, nor can be people be lumped easily into groups. The world should not be filled with people who are either moral or immoral, going to heaven or going to hell, devils or saints. The world is full of both beauty and pain, in all its messy gloriousness. And that messiness, that inability to be easily classifiable is what makes life so interesting, and the pursuit of the divine and spiritual so meaningful.

I was reading The Slacktivist's weekly exploration of really crappy literature, and his snide comment about the evangelical's negative, anti-intellectual attitude really made me laugh:

That last sentence is again, the major theme of the LB series: You may think you're intelligent and educated, but you're a fool if you don't realize that Tim LaHaye's "biblical" prophecies are the Most Important Thing Ever. You'll see. You're all like, "Oh, la-di-da, I'm an intellectual and I think the Bible is all about like, loving the Lord your God and loving your neighbor as yourself," when you should be all like, "Tell me, Rev. LaHaye, sir, do you perhaps have some study tools for sale that might help me to prepare for the coming apocalypse, the coded foretelling of which is the primary purpose of scripture?" Your failure to appreciate my genius will be punished. You just wait.
His post today got me to thinking about the simplistic interpretations of both the world and the not-so-neatly-interpretable-Bible. Too easy, folks. Maybe that's why Bush scares me so much with all his talk of our "evil" enemies, and Americans as the knights in shining white, ridding the world of this evil. I think there's as much that could be labeled such in our own country that we could focus on righting, were we not so busy pointing our fingers at the Jews, the Muslims, or those damned intellectuals.


the secret knitter said...

While it's easier to see things in terms of this or that--no doubt means no need to expend energy thinking--it isn't a practical way to live or how the world works. If the choices were that simple, don't you think that collectively we'd make better ones?

I've written and erased several other thoughts, but I'll leave it by saying that I'm sympathetic to what you've written. Not everything is scientifically quantifiable, and thank God for that.

The Aimful Wanderer said...

I think some things are black and white. But I'm sick of America having appointed itself the ultimate 'decider' of what's white and what's black. If it benefits US, it must be good because we've decided God loves us best. If it hurts us, it must be the ultimate evil for the same reason. Nevermind the atrocities we carry out every day on our own turf and abroad. It's ok. We're Americans. The Jews just thought God was talking about them when He called them His chosen people.

Kerry said...

Sometimes I wonder if people choose to see life in black-and-white because it's easier to live that way. Takes less effort, to love completely or hate completely. Or even, to remain apathetic. It is somewhere between those two extremes where we must aim. Somwhere in the realm of the open mind and the empathetic soul.

Justin Ray said...

I hardly ever use the words good and evil in relation to one another. They seem to me to be totally unrelated things, so why place them on the same set of scales?

I think we have an obsession with setting things up as opposites and putting them on graphs that separate them by degrees. Sometimes it makes sense, but other times it is just silly. Good and evil. Cats and dogs. Apples and oranges. Liberals and Conservatives. Some of them aren't really that different and some are just completely unrelated. What's up?

Kerry said...

Happy birthday, Jenn -- I'm thinking of you too.