The Roy Moore spectacle in Alabama is put a spin-off of the block-buster series now showing world-wide, The Trump Show. But like all spin-off tv shows and movies, the Roy Moore saga is cut from the same bolt of cloth as the “original series.” And each of these Shakespearean stage plays offer humankind the humor and the pathos that is endemic to the human predicament. As I say so often, quoting Auden, “We wage the war we are” and this war fare is spectacular as well as often tragic.
I’m going to focus here on Moore though he is but small-fry on the present stage, reduced to second-fiddle behind the greatest showman since Barnum and Bailey, Trump. Moore’s life long character flaws are now apparent to all and like all of us he does not like the experience of having them exposed. Just like you and I, he has lived in denial of them and now that they are apparent to all he merely “girds up his loins” and doubles-down with his hypocrisy and self-righteousness, avowing that Satan is attacking him because of his Christian piety. And, like is human nature, he readily finds other people with similar character flaws who are willing to line up in support and reassure him even though his deceit and dishonesty are apparent to all.
Shame is the root issue. Shame, and its kissing-cousin guilt, is what tyrannizes us into the human carnival in the first place and teaches us to “make nice.” And, that is not as bad as it sounds as the gods knew what they were doing in setting this carnival in motion and inducing us to value “making nice.” But, in an ideal situation, the shame-bind will not be imposed in such a heavy-handed fashion that with maturity we cannot begin to slough-off some of the superficies our social veneer and begin to “make nice” more sincerely without the compulsion of shame and guilt. Religion can facilitate this process as it teaches us that the gods…or, in my case “God”…is a dimension of our soul who empowers us with grace to acknowledge and even “confess” our shame and guilt from time to time. But when a soul is gravely impoverished, wallowing in a tenuous existential hell, this veneer cannot be daunted as the pain is too intense. We will then just resort to this “double-downing” and do so even to the point of looking foolish in the effort.
Roy Moore illustrates the impoverishment of a faith tradition that can take place over the generations. His evangelical tradition, with performances such as his and Trump’s are demonstrating how superficial and vapid “spirituality” can become, especially when it is seduced by the “letter of the law.” The shame and guilt is so intense that admitting one’s shallowness and insincerity is not possible even though this duplicity is intrinsic to the human situation and is the very thing that the gods (“God”) seeks to help us accept and find forgiveness for. But if we can’t humble ourselves to admit our short-comings then the Grace cannot be experienced. However, this would be to admit “making a mistake” and Trump and Moore demonstrate just how unwilling many conservatives…and evangelical Christians…are capable of doing.
T. S. Eliot intoned, “Oh the shame of motives late revealed, and the awareness of things ill done and done to others harm which once we took for exercise of virtue.” This is a gut-wrenching insight for all of us.