Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Religious Optimism

Calling on Anderson’s notions of messianic time, I would say that for centuries, religion has served as a way to orient. Religion, and its numerous figureheads, are the centralizing force, providing calm in time of chaos, answer in the midst of crisis. For the philosophically inclined individual, and even for the non-believing, politically-correct nation, religion has been a refuge, a relief. It is where we turn when all hope is lost.

I want to suggest that religion provides the same overflow of optimism as any other problematic attachment that Lauren Berlant proposes in her book Cruel Optimism. God (all and any God/s) embody the promise. Without sounding overly secular, what more is the Bible, if not all religious texts, but a book of promises? If we look specifically at Christianity, for arguments sake, we see that the Bible tells us to put our trust and faith in a God we do not see with the understanding that if we ask (through prayer), we shall receive, that if we’re obedient, God will grant us the desires of our hearts. The Bible and Christian ideologies force us to indulge in the optimism. They force us to suspend logic, all the while knowing that failure/discontent is inevitable. But because God is moral and God is just, religion can’t be a “fantasy”. Religion can’t be destructive, right?

Religion, our attachment to the idea that everything happens for a reason and that good things come to good people because, sustains us. It sustains us in its omnipotence and universality, in its process of reality justification. And this could be tied back to Thrift’s analysis of causality as well. Existing in a religious realm allows you to rewrite the past with this informed sense of present. It’s quasi-causal and historically present and you can say that ‘this happened because of this’ and ‘if I hadn’t done this then xyz’. This is all sort of to say that our solace in the universality of God is the sustainability; it’s the therapeutic quality of ritual and tradition that Berlant discusses and it contributes to the feeling of circular continuum (impasse).

To make this argument fully, I have to counter religion’s sustainability and say that religion is an obstacle, but that’s not necessarily what I’m trying to say because I’m not interested in devaluing the work that religion does do. Obviously religion has had its fair share of involvement in world destruction and war, and in that regard religion does keep us from flourishing, but I’m more interested in looking at the ways that religion is a form of projection, a form of intimacy, and a form of loss anticipation. 

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