Juan Cole:

But the Maher strategy is a little disturbing, as well, since that she was a religious seeker in her youth is not actually very relevant to her contemporary candidacy. O’Donnell’s story is a sad reminder that many religious seekers, who experiment with a number of traditions, are not actually so much open-minded as in search of a narrative about life that will give them certainty (the Society of Krishna Consciousness is as close as Hinduism gets to fundamentalism in its own right). Once O’Donnell settled on right wing Christianity, she became insufferable. And that is what should damn her politically– that she wants to impose her sectarian morality on all of us– not that she tried out other fundamentalisms when young.

On the one hand, the hypocrisy of fundamentalists is a mainstay of political humor. On the other hand, fundamentalist Christians loveloveLOVE them some redemption stories. The more depraved the former lifestyle, the sweeter the victory at the end when the sinner finally accepts Jesus’s love, and the more raucous the cheering. So I doubt these embarrassing video clips are really going to have much effect on O’Donnell’s candidacy beyond giving the blogosphere some cheap laffs. And I agree — I really don’t care at all what sort of crazy shit she said and did when she was young, whether she was earnest about it or not. I don’t want people like her near public policy, but their psychological issues are their own problem. All in all, none of this is very interesting.
Instead, this caught my eye because of its relevance to what I’ve discussed a few times with Noel and Shanna, Pillars of the Comment Section. Cole points out something that hadn’t occurred to me in so many words before, that the appearance of open-mindedness can be very different from the reality of it. The Huffington Post is glad to hear all and sundry variations on a New Age mysticism theme, but the editors aren’t accepting of criticism any more than most people are. And while many of those who partake of buffet-style spirituality are open to cosmetic diversity, the underlying themes of their world-bazaar beliefs are pretty predictable and uniform, as is their defensive reaction to being challenged and questioned.
Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with concluding that you agree with what so many philosophies have emphasized to varying degrees over the centuries: live and let live; we’re here to see each other through, not see through each other; all that good stuff. Novelty in one’s philosophical thinking isn’t necessarily a virtue here; it may just be a restless grasping for stimulation. But for some people, being comfortable and feeling reassurance isn’t necessarily enough. Occasionally, it isn’t even desirable. Some of the most valuable experiences of our lives come as a result of pain and stress that we would never have willingly chosen beforehand. And while John Gray may be right that the siren song of pursuing truth for its own sake is a secular holdover from Christianity, and possibly not good for one’s mental health at that, the quest to place one’s convictions upon the firmest possible ground seems a noble one to me; there are certainly worse ways to spend a life.
And some people see life as an ongoing work of art, where the important thing is to live as an intriguing character in a life that tells a compelling story. To the extent that I’ve managed to incorporate elements of this mindset into my own life, I’ve found that I can more easily appreciate the stark differences between others and myself without feeling any need to reconcile them. They don’t appear to me so much as threats to my way of being or insults to my way of seeing the world, they appear as useful provocations that allow me to enhance my own thoughts and character. We’re not all ultimately alike, and I’m glad for it. I don’t want to convert people. I don’t think everyone else could or should end up in agreement with me. I just want them to provide me with some good jousting.
A twofer from Nietzsche to close with:
A very popular error – having the courage of one’s convictions: Rather it is a matter of having the courage for an attack upon one’s convictions.
Even if we were mad enough to consider all our opinions true, we should still not want them alone to exist: I cannot see why it should be desirable that truth alone should rule and be omnipotent; it is enough for me that it should possess great power. But it must be able to struggle and have great opponents, and one must be able to find relief from it from time to time in untruth – otherwise, it will become boring, powerless and tasteless to us, and make us the same.