Vertical Stretch?

(Soundtrack: The Distillers — Sing Sing Death House)

You can always count on Turnabout for the finest in reactionary sophistry. In Mr. Kalb’s world, academic liberals are children playing in the simplistic theoretical toybox of the Enlightenment, while the grown-ups (who understand the world in the more “complex” terms furnished by feudal mysticism and ancient prejudice–prejudice is a good thing for Kalb, as it was for Edmund Burke) get stuck with the disagreeable task of cleaning up after the “godless”.

But, you know, I live in America now, and, when I hear the voices of the people who are planning to vote for Bush on the radio, I don’t detect any hint of the “complex” worldview that Jim Kalb attributes to them. Instead, I hear things like: “I think the President knows what’s best. I’m afraid, and he makes me feel better. He’s a man. He reminds me of my daddy.”

So where’s the complexity? All I see there is the deferral of moral authority. Jim hates the idea that “man is the measure of all things”, but what does he substitute for it. Well, God, of course. But the problem, as always, is–whose God? And, what, tha fuck, is meant by the term “the godly”.

I don’t believe in an anthropomorphized God, capable of writing on tablets and telling Jim Kalb that women should rest their dizzy heads on patriarchal hulks like himself and that gay people are sick–but I’ll tell you this: I do consider myself a moral person–and maybe even a “godly” one. Furthermore, I actually wouldn’t hesitate to label a political Catholic like Jim Kalb a blasphemer. If “God” is a completely alien thing (and I firmly agree–in good Calvinist fashion–consistent Calvinism is, after all, indistinguishable from “atheism”), where does Jim Kalb get off claiming to know anything about his/her/its relationship to people and the affairs of state?

But I’ll submit it to you: whose “God” is more “complex”? Mine–a force (call it love/respect for the Other) which both undergirds and makes intersubjectivity possible; or Jim’s–a big guy in the sky that looks and talks exactly like Jim… I readily accept Kalb’s description of liberalism as an “horizontal” philosophy–I would simply contend that a universe full of infinitely discrete essences and clashing subjectivities is a lot more complex than Jim’s (wildly mystical/theoretical) “great chain of being”.

Good Afternoon Friends!



  1. Welcome to the mindless fear-reaction of the fundamentalist: who recognizes the inevitable uncontrollable, unpredictable, grand and vast sweep of life and knows he cannot control it, and so instead of embracing the unknowable expansiveness recoils in horror and imagines a God so petty as to spend his time tabulating what shellfish you eat.

    – Matt Rossi

  2. agreed Matt–these people need counselling, not a Mass… Life is a Sublime and terrifying thing–but instead of facing/loving the unknowable, these “worshippers” would prefer to ingest it… and once you’ve fooled yourself into “identifying” with God/the Other, you’ve actually killed everything that makes life worth living… Amen!


  3. I love you, Dave.

    When thinking of deities, it sometimes helps to realize that, if ancient peoples had been much more consumer-oriented, that we’d see Apollo lunchboxes and Jesus Air Sandals and whatnot.


  4. Dave,

    I think you’re on target w/r/t the Jim Kalb-style reactionary, but I don’t know if a Barthian/Calvinist “wholly other” God gets you the love for the Other either. For me, it’s precisely Jesus as the revelation of God that undergirds the respect for your “discrete essences” and motivates us to see others (including animals!) as ends in themselves (“a brother for whom Christ died”) rather than as raw material at our disposal or competitors in the Hobbesian struggle for existence.

  5. you may be right Lee–in re: the importance of a sensitivity to the incarnation of “God”/”radical Other” in the persons of all of the beings we share the earth with in fostering a respect for those beings… the “Word of God” is gibberish until you learn to read it in the subjectivity of the people and animals in your neighborhood!


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