I just read an article by Roger Cohen about a recent visit to Guatanamo and his subsequent observation of a Catholic Mass. His words struck me at several places:
"A surprise awaited me. The church was full."
"I am a stranger to faith. Yet . . ."
He quotes the author of the novel The Power and the Glory: "When you visualized a man or woman carefully, you could always begin to feel pity - that was a quality God's image carried with it."
"I wondered, but preferred mystery to answers."
"I'd seen America's Guantánamo prison. I'd felt the suffering of the woman in the car. I'd left New York's financial disaster, based on greed for multiplying assets, for the economic ravages of Cuba's head-in-the-ground communism."
"And if this priest had the power to turn the wafer into the flesh and blood of God, and if the people gathered here believed that and were consoled, I was ready to bow my head in silence."
It seems that there is something very representative of American/Western thought in this article. There is a combination of incredulity towards those who practice some kind of faith in the supernatural, a need to respond to the power presented, and an inability to do anything besides attempt a respectful, though empty, posture. What screams out to me as I read this article is the synthesis of intelligent articulations with a complete vacancy when it comes to genuine solutions. We lack the courage, as a culture, to engage on a deep level with really difficult problems that require more than an understanding of economics. Unless we can speak in terms of numbers and statistics, we can offer a car ride or a bowed head, but nothing more.
This is not to say that there are not those who are attempting to reveal and confront injustices. But as a culture, we are too timid. Perhaps it is merely a current natural reaction to the fact that our current president has espoused so much confidence in himself and thus come across as presumptuous. My thought is that the problem runs deeper. My thought is that the problem is apparent in the article mentioned above. My thought is that in our secular sophistication we have lost the ability to claim moral authority and with it the stomach for unpopular positions. Despite the fact that I could not in good conscience vote for President Bush in 2004 (I sat the election out) and have been glad of the fact whenever I have met strangers while travelling in Europe, I have grown severely tired of the fact that courage is currently being defined by so many as simply protesting American foreign policy or throwing shoes at a press conference. Because the preferred alternative to Bush's swagger is the dumbfounded silence of the Western journalist in a Cuban church. And that to me, is ridiculous, sad, and extremely disturbing.
Our alleged respect for "mystery" is too often a cloak for cowardice. We want to ask the questions, but we do not want to provide answers because people may disagree with us or not like us as a result. Therefore, we prefer the dull and shallow beauty of an empty gesture. There was One who did more. The nativity scene is not a sentimental gesture of some cosmic positive force, nor is the cross simply a symbol of the struggle between good and evil. That life was the Act of love: an act of love that asked questions that needed to be asked, provided answers that no one was looking for but everyone needed, and then climbed onto a tree and gave up His life in love.
He came and defeated evil. We don't even want to believe that 'evil' exists, or if we do acknowledge its existence, we diminish its meaning by simply labeling an unpopular world leader as such. I read articles such as the one by Cohen this morning and I don't see a respectful and intelligent journalist. I see the product of a culture that is unwilling and unable to do anything genuinely and deeply good, and I am saddened by it. I prefer the beauty that is more deeply true than anything else. I prefer the beauty that has the power to vanquish evil. I prefer the beauty that never is satisfied by a gesture.