In praise of mediocrity

30 09 2008

We are not supposed to praise mediocrity. Modernity despises it, though it is its best purveyor. Nor are we supposed to be able to live with hypocrisy. These are things that in the Gospel and New Testament are explicitly condemned and despised. So any praise of hypocrisy and mediocrity would be borderline sacreligious in the eyes of some.

If we are in the moral and social mess that we are in now, it is because we have declared an all-out war on mediocrity. This began of course with the Reformation, which was followed by the Counter-Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the list could go from there. The society that we had found ourselves living in was never good enough. There was always something that needed to be changed, overturned, cleaned up, and improved. We expect improvement, we crave it. We are always avaricious when it comes to things getting better: spiritually, financially, socially, and personally. Christians are tolerant; we are supposed to love all people. Anti-Christians one up the Christians by being even more tolerant; towards homosexuals, women who want abortions, people who divorce, etc. And to add insult to injury, Christians can’t even follow the rules that make them so intolerant in the first place, and anyone with any cursory knowledge of the world knows it.

So the pursuit of perfection, the constant drive to “make things better” becomes the demise of institutions, the iconoclasm against the forms of the past, and the foundation of the eternal dictatorship of the present. Worship must be improved; the old prayers are too long, too complicated, too repetitive, and not rich enough with meaning. Old codes of theological formulation and moral behavior are not thorough enough, are too constricting, and fail to convince man, ever skeptical man, of why he should believe in the specters of the past and fear them.  Truth must spring from “in here”, in the warm bosom of good feeling, in the always certain knowledge that things are getting better all the time. All messes need to be cleaned up, all prejudices cast out. And if this is not possible, than why bother with any of it? Either life must be sanitized, predictable, and perfectly ordered, or it must not exist.

That is why I praise mediocrity. The rote catechisms and the old beaten-up novena pamphlets were created for mediocre people, people who were addicted to routine, who took the way of life for granted. Old moral codes had hypocrisy built into them; it may have not been possible to buy off God with good works, but that didn’t mean that you weren’t supposed to try. Instead of running the mad sprint of perfection, it preferred to run the labyrinthine marathon of rules, infractions, and very gradual, if non-existent, improvement. Things are not getting better all the time. They pretty much stay the same. You are not learning to behave yourself more and more, but only learning to better live with and cover up your imperfections. You are not growing in your spiritual and emotional life; you are always where you started, and any progress is purely illusory. But like a stone at the bottom of the stream, we imperceptibly are smoothed out by the flow of time. Simply try not to notice it, and perhaps, one day, you will be better.


30 09 2008


Esparce octubre, al blando movimiento
del sur, las hojas áureas y las rojas,
y, en la caída clara de sus hojas,
se lleva al infinito el pensamiento.

Qué noble paz en este alejamiento
de todo; oh prado bello que deshojas
tus flores; oh agua fría ya, que mojas
con tu cristal estremecido el viento!

¡Encantamiento de oro! Cárcel pura,
en que el cuerpo, hecho alma, se enternece,
echado en el verdor de una colina!

En una decadencia de hermosura,
la vida se desnuda, y resplandece
la excelsitud de su verdad divina.

-Juan Ramón Jiménez

October scatters, at the soft movement
Of south, leaves golden and red,
and, in the bright fall of its leaves,
It takes thought towards the infinite.

What noble peace in this distancing
Of all; oh beautiful meadow plucking
Your flowers; oh cold water even now wetting
The wind with your stirred glass!

Enchantment of gold! Pure prison 
in which the body, made soul, is softened, 
Cast into the the vibrancy of a hill!

In the decadence of loveliness,
Life sheds her garments, and lets shine
The splendor of her truth divine.