Thursday, November 19, 2009

Not All Deviance is Quixotism

A distinction needs to be made between deviant behaviors in general and quixotism as I am using the term with reference to Kiolkowski’s book of which I spoke in my last blog. A provocative article in the “Atlantic,” “Did Christianity Cause the Crash?” by Hanna Rosin (December 2009), discusses the “prosperity” church phenomenon. This, I want to make clear is not what I have in mind in using the term “quixotic.”

It is certainly deviant to believe, as dirt poor congregants in such churches are led to do, that if your faith is sufficient God will see that you get that expensive, luxurious home of your wildest dreams, even though reason tells you there is absolutely no way you can manage to afford it. God will open the way; you just have to take the leap of faith: dare to contact a loan officer in the sub-prime lending market, for instance, and God will see to it not only that you get a loan despite your lack of collateral but also that you will find the wherewithal to make the payments.

Never mind that your pastor is–or has been--in the sub prime lending business himself.

No, this is not what I have in mind in using the term quixotic. Don Quixote was not acquisitive. His motivation was chivalric service. Creature comforts were scanted, much to Sancho Panza’s dismay, in pursuit, not of wealth but of chivalric achievements. Christian Quixotism as treated by Ziolkowski involves doing good and holding to a standard that is deviant from the prevailing one and hence antithetical to prospering in the status quo. Don Quixote and spiritual heirs like Parson Adams in “Joseph Andrews,” Myshkin in “The Idiot,” and Father Quixote in Graham Greene’s novel by that name did not prosper in worldly terms and, indeed, suffered many afflictions and privations as a result of their quixotic behaviors.

The pattern for these protagonists, even Don Quixote himself to an extent, is Christ, who did not have a home of his own once he left the nest, who “went about doing good,” who put up with all sorts of abuse, except abuse of his Father’s house and business, who suffered even unto death when he could have called down legions of angels to rescue him, and who taught that “ he who saves his life shall lose it.” “Go and sell all that you have,” he counseled the rich young man, and give to the poor and [then] come and follow me.”

That is the pattern I have in mind in employing the word “quixotic.”

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