Thursday, August 19, 2010

True Believers

So Anne Rice—you know, the writer of those vampire novels—has announced on Facebook(!) that a dozen years after seeing the light and quitting being an atheist and becoming a Christian, she’s renounced being a Christian. Does that mean having presumably been born again, she’s been born again again? Keep going, Annie--a cat has nine lives; you can find out how many a human has. Though you have a way to go to catch the real master change artists, such as Eldridge Cleaver. Cleaver went from being a serial rapist {"rape was an insurrectionary act," he declared at one point) to becoming, in turn, a founder of the Black Panthers, a born-again Christian, a Mormon, a conservative Republican.

What I find particularly interesting about serial born-againers is that each time they change they need to announce it to the world. "Look, everybody, I'm no longer an A, I'm a B!" Presumably, their announcements are to garner admiration from the public (for someone who has found the truth) and to inspire the public to follow in their footsteps (because you want to find the truth too, don't you?). But what I see in serial born-againers are people for whom it is a almost a badge of honor to proclaim: "Look what a stupid ass I was--but you must now follow me as I march off in the direction opposite to which I was heading before--but I'm right this time!"

***

In Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Puck has mistakenly drugged the sleeping Lysander, the lover of Hermia, (rather than Demetrius) and he will fall in love with the first person he sees when he awakes. As it happens, that person is the rejected lover of Demetrius, Helena.

HELENA
But who is here? Lysander! on the ground!
Dead? or asleep? I see no blood, no wound.
Lysander if you live, good sir, awake.

LYSANDER
[Awaking] And run through fire I will for thy sweet sake.
Transparent Helena! Nature shows art,
That through thy bosom makes me see thy heart.

Lysander, of course, has no idea that his change of love object was caused by a drug. He proclaims that it was reason that instigated the change; after all, "The will of man is by his reason sway'd;/And reason says you are the worthier maid." And the rational fact that he produces? "Who will not change a raven (dark-compexioned, dark-haired Hermia) for a dove (fair-skinned, blond Helena)?" Thus, even the self-deluded will put in a claim for reason and produce a seemingly-logical explanation for his actions.

***

And so I ask with all sincerity those who appear before me hopping from one foot to the other in reverent ecstasy, hoping to convey to me the intelligence, reason, logic, and truth of their latest religious, philosophical, or political discovery: "Why should I believe what you believe today, which you didn't believe yesterday--and will not believe tomorrow?"

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