Friday, June 17, 2005

It's a particular kind of religiosity

It's the American version of the same fundamentalist impluse that we see in Saudi Arabia, in Kashmir, in religions around the world: Hindu, Jewish, Christian, Muslim. They all have certain features in common. In a world of disconcerting change, when large and complex forces threaten familiar and comfortable guideposts, the natural impluse is to grab hold of the tree trunk that seems to have the deepest roots and hold on for dear life and never question the possibility that it's not going to be the source of your salvation. And the deepest roots are in philosophical and religious traditions that go way back. You don't hear very much about the Sermon on the Mount, or about the teachings of Jesus on giving to the poor, or the beatitudes. Today all I hear about is vengeance, the brimstone.

What's missing? I asked.

Families, the environment, communities, the beauty of life, the arts. Abraham Maslow, best known for his hierarchy of needs, had a dictum that if the only tool you use is a hammer, then every problem begins to look like a nail. Translating that into this discussion: If the only tool you use for measuring value is a price tag or monetization, then those values that are not easily monetized begin to look like they have no value. And so there's an easy contempt, which can be summoned on a moment's notice for tree-huggers or people concerned about global warming.