In a Tocquevillean reflection on the flattening of American religion, Ross Douthat concludes:
Most religious believers will never be great mystics, of course, and the American way of faith is kinder than many earlier eras to those of us who won't. But maybe it's become too kind, and too accommodating. Even ordinary belief -- the kind that seeks epiphanies between deadlines, and struggles even with the meager self-discipline required to get through Lent -- depends on extraordinary examples, whether they're embedded in our communities or cloistered in the great silence of a monastery. Without them, faith can become just another form of worldliness, therapeutic rather than transcendent, and shorn of any claim to stand in judgment over our everyday choices and concerns.
Without them, too, we give up on what's supposed to be the deep promise of religious practice: that at any time, in any place, it's possible to encounter the divine, the revolutionary and the impossible -- and have your life completely shattered and remade.
A good Lenten practice (for believer and non-believer alike) might be to reread Tocqueville on religion and Solzhentisyn, among others. And, with Douthat, tunafish sandwiches for lunch.
And in the spirit of
democratized Americanized religion, this looks like appropriate reading too, Robert Alter, Pen of Iron: American Prose and the King James Bible, reviewed by Stephen Miller. Alter's editions of Old Testament books and his biblical interpretations are spectacular.
Is it possible that there is just no other way for God to get at us but through revelation? Once, we could gain understanding of God through all sorts of cultural and societal and even educational means. Now, God has no other way to get at us but through the spiritual. Hence, people see through the glass even more darkly than they did before, having so little other illumination. Is the great Truth smaller because our understanding is smaller, more personal?