I believe much of modern politics, philosophy, and science is constructed to make us forget this unbearable longing — to convince us it’s sex we’re after, or evolutionary advantage, or money, or some other kind of material self-interest. Scalia’s right. It’s love — it always has been, since creation. The fact that she builds her meditation on this simple but difficult truth gives her book substance and power.
For those of us both interested in and appalled by this moment in American politics — for those like me who sometimes look at decent people in political life and wonder how on earth they can do the things they do and say the things they say — Scalia’s chapter on what she calls Super Idols (ideologies) is a small revelation.
Determine that the opposition is not merely wrong but evil, and suddenly mere ideas become glittering certainties. These certainties give us permission to hate and tell us our hate is not just reasonable but pure. If simple idolatry blocks our view of God, the super idol — because it is so highly burnished — makes us think we are seeing God in our hatred.
It’s easy for me to see how such super-idolatry has led our left-leaning administration into tyrannical corruption and our left-leaning media into willful blindness and dishonesty. Not so easy is acknowledging the prevalence of this tendency in right wingers as well, even, on occasion, some who look uncannily like myself.
But this is what I mean by reorienting the spirit. When we are reminded of such all-too-human errors— in good prose, by a writer of assiduous humility and self-awareness — it dims the bright distractions of our righteous indignation for a little while at least and helps us get our hearts back on course.
This is what good religious writing can do. This is what Strange Gods does. Take time out from the latest all-consuming brouhaha and read it.