Recently, on two separate occasions, I discussed our apostolate with a couple of members of the media. One had something of a grasp of our community’s purpose. The other was far less aware and seemed swayed by some of the more ridiculous criticisms leveled against us. The contrasting lines of questioning from each was a bit amusing.
It dawned on me in these conversations that the contemporary taxonomy by which people and organizations are labeled is excessively narrow. There seem to be two labels: Liberal and Islamofascist. The liberal may disagree with people, but his ideas on the subject under discussion (politics, religion, sports, the merits of microwave ovens, etc.) aren’t so important that the other guy should actually accept them. The Islamofascist imposes his views, with knives, guns, and bombs if necessary. He is brainwashed and must act as a brainwashing agent for others.
Here’s the problem: If you aren’t a liberal in the sense I just described (and this would include most who go by the name “conservative”), you are an Islamofascist. Or at least you may as well be, because there do not exist any other pre-printed labels to stick on you.
In order to resolve this dilemma for modern Americans, I propose a solution that depends on my sketchy and fading knowledge of the popular culture, as well as some recently cultivated literary interests. I propose two paradigms. The first is a popular version of the Islamofascist model. The second is a literary-mythical model, which approximates what we are, or what we try to be, at least.
We’re not the Borg; we’re the Shire.
According to Wikipedia, “The Borg are a race of cyborgs in the fictional Star Trek universe, first introduced in the Star Trek: The Next Generation TV series. They are characterized by relentless pursuit of targets for assimilation, their collective consciousness that enables rapid adaptability to almost any defense, and the ability to continue functioning properly despite seemingly devastating blows. They have become a powerful symbol in popular culture for any juggernaut against whom ‘resistance is futile.’ … The Borg are one of the more recognizable and popular Star Trek villains, and the term ‘Borg’ has been used to describe conformist individuals or organizations in the vernacular of science-fiction literates” (My emphasis).
The Borg form a perfect totalitarian society. Those assimilated become drones whose cyber-enhanced mental and physical powers are totally at the service of the “the Borg Collective” (personified, of course, by the unlovely “Borg Queen”). Here’s the rub: Nowadays, any organization can appear to be Borgish if it has concrete beliefs and ethical standards that all members are expected to accept and practice in their daily life. This is particularly true of religious organizations. Illiberal and dysfunctional educational systems, coupled with the thoroughgoing liberalism of the media, have produced this state of affairs. What we see as an adherence by all to a divine revelation given to mankind, many moderns see as the Borg: Walk in the door, let us slap on the cybernetics, get connected to the “hive mind” of the Collective, and you are a member! The Queen Borg will tell you all you need to know and you will conform because that’s the way you’re wired now.
The other paradigm is the Shire, J.R.R. Tolkien’s fictitious realm inhabited by peace-loving Hobits. OK, so some of us are taller than Hobits and we aren’t all farmers. The idea is that we have a society with shared values, a robust and vibrant outlook on life, and a resistance to whatever would compromise our cherished beliefs and our common good.
The different civilizations of Middle Earth (Gondor, Rohan, Rivendell, etc.) are each admirable cultures with worthy ambitions, values, and treasured customs. These diverse cultures of Middle Earth (compromised of Men, Hobits, Elves, Dwarves, and Wizards), form an alliance to combat evil. That this is clearly a mythical version of Christendom was recently advanced in the pages of The American Conservative. The cultural diversity of Middle Earth does not jeopardize the shared values of its inhabitants (just as good Spanish Catholics and good English Catholics can both produce martyrs for Christ the King). Neither does it prevent one among them (the Wizard, Gandalf) from having the interest of no one nation at heart, but, rather, the common good of all. Gandalf’s role in the Lord of the Rings books has been compared to the Pope’s role of maintaining order in Christendom.
The Borg is infecund, conformist in every way, dark, menacing, and destructive of personality. The Shire (and Tolkien’s Middle Earth cultures in general) is fertile, green, jovial, robust, lightsome, kindly, genteel, and productive of healthy, vibrant personalities.
For more on Tolkien’s Catholicity, see J.R.R. Tolkien and the Eucharist.