The artists get there first, one more time.
I am reading a manuscript, the galleys actually, which the publisher needs this next week. It is good work, but tedious. The chapter I was working on last night is principally a contrast between Adolph Eichmann and Gary Haugen—Eichmann the chief Nazi bureaucrat who never saw himself as guilty, protesting to his execution that “I never shot anyone,” Haugen the chief U.N. investigator for the Rwandan genocide who later started the International Justice Mission –asking why is that they “saw” their worlds so differently? Why did the one fail to see himself as implicated in the world around him, and why did the other conclude that the more he knew, the more responsible, for love’s sake, he was?
Before the chapter is finished, the novelist and essayist Walker Percy, one of my intellectual guides and heroes, is drawn in. In particular, his novel, “Love in the Ruins,” becomes the ground for my thinking about “knowing and doing.” Percy is brilliant, simply said, and there is much that could be written about him; our “American Camus,” as the New York reviewers called him. I was intrigued to reread the story of the Rev. Kev Kevin, a clergyman in the community in which the story is set. Yes, he is very hip in every way. Perhaps most intriguing though is that he is enamored with the book, “Christianity Without God.” And Percy skewers him, and his worldview, seeing it as a cultural dead-end.
In the spirit of “the artists get there first,” after reading this again last night I thought of the news this summer of the new dean at the Washington Cathedral, an Episcopal institution known for its paradoxical grandeur and soullessness. That that is true is truly heart-aching, tragically and terribly. The Washington Post had an article about the dean, explaining his social and political positions, as those of course matter most; they did for the Rev. Kev Kevin, and though do for the Rev. Gary Hall, the new dean, formerly a California comedian and surfer before he became “the rev.” But at the heart of his new vision for the Cathedral is his new theology, explaining himself as “a non-theistic Christian.”
Think that one through. Not so far at all from the Rev. Kev Kevin and his “Christianity Without God.” Percy wrote his novel in 1971.
Lord, have mercy.