tisdag, januari 17, 2012

California smiling

Det är lätt att överväldigas av den kaliforniska trevligheten. Som nordbo är det inte utan att man känner sig lite socialt klumpig i jämförelse. Här dominerar de vita leendena och de smidiga fraserna, och expediten frågar så gott som alltid, "Did you find everything you were looking for, sir?" Till detta fenomen finns intressanta, teologiskt anstrukna, förklaringsansatser. Jag hittade till exempel följande utdrag ur en recension av en bok av John Murray Cuddihy:
Within the last decade, "civil religion" has had almost as many definitions as interpreters. John Murray Cuddihy, Associate Professor of Sociology at Hunter College, defines it as the "religion of civility": a tolerant, generalized "niceness" that sprang in this country from unitarianized Calvinism and has been widely institutionalized in our culture. Civil religion is the taste of inoffensiveness. It is symbolized by what Philip Rieff called the "smile of sociability," which has nothing to do with fraternity and everything to do with surface politeness and the unremitting demand for reciprocity. Standing on the principle of toleration embedded in the First Amendment and drawing sustenance from the modern process of "structural differentiation" (which reduces religion to a merely private aspect of the total social system), the religion of civility tames the religious traditions. It blunts the sharp, intolerant, offensive edges of Protestantism, Catholicism, and Judaism by turning them into three equally religious ways of maintaining civil "taste." 
Detta bländvita leende, som av Peter Berger kallats "the Protestant smile, kan alltså närmast betraktas som den amerikanska trevlighetens sakrament. Ben Myers skrev träffande om detta för en tid sedan:
In the Protestant West today, smiling has become a moral imperative. The smile is regarded as the objective externalisation of a well ordered life. Sadness is moral failure [...] 
The motif of late-capitalist society is the stylisation of happiness, the cultivation of lifestyles from which every trace of sadness has been expunged. Peter Berger identified ‘the Protestant smile’ as part of Protestantism’s cultural heritage in the West. In a Catholic country like France, it is still considered crass to smile too often, or at strangers. Evangelical churchliness is the ritualisation of bare-toothed crassness. Our cultural obsession with health, happiness, and positive thinking is a secularisation of the evangelical church service.  [...]
Why are clowns so frightening? Their demonic aura comes from the fact that they never stop smiling. Hell is the country of clowns, where tormented strangers smile at one another compulsively and forever. The devil is the name we give to the Cheshire Cat that is always vanishing just beneath the surface of our world, leaving everywhere sinister traces of a cosmic painted grin.

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