A Journal of the Plague Year–chapter 270

Sunny times.

Wednesday, July 20

The days are hot…and empty.

Here, there’s nothing like the heat in Britain or parts of France, where temps are soaring above 100F. But it is supposed to be 90 degrees on Long Island this afternoon and in the 80s for the rest of the week.

Meanwhile, as befits such weather, there’s little to do other than get a haircut and go to a farm stand. Alarmingly, no tomatoes at the stand in Amagansett!

We’ve been watching a fascinating series of films by the Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski, who died in 1996 but not before making some of the most heralded films ever. His 1994 Three Colors: Red (which features a late-career performance by Jean-Louis Trintignant) is at times puzzling but never less than engrossing. And viewers of Camera Buff (1979), one of Kieslowski’s earliest non-documentary offerings, will find themselves duplicating the main character’s predicament—they will be unable to turn away.

The shattering No End (1985) captures the depressed public mood of General Wojciech Jaruzelski’s martial-law era, during which the astounding, path-breaking Solidarność labor union seemed to have been tamed and become part of the establishment. At the film’s end, we watch as one of the primary characters gives in to despair and commits suicide.

I also hope to watch A Short Film About Killing (1988), which considers many forms of societal violence, and the much admired The Double Life of Veronique (1991), in which two characters (both played by the same actress, Irene Jacob) “share an emotional bond,” in the words of Criterion Channel.

What would we watch without Criterion? Most of the offerings on BritBox are either silly or dramatically flawed. Netflix, too, is largely junk; that said, we are occasionally tuning in to the suspenseful (but probably formulaic) Behind Her Eyes, in which several characters seem to have dark secrets but everyone lives in upper-middle-class splendor. We also subscribe to Mubi (very, very fringe independent features) and Topic (Euro TV, often very gory). But not to HBO—enough is, after all, enough.

Dinner: A small steak salad and pasta with basil pesto.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2022–chapter 269

Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Monday, July 4

In a 1990s political science study that I have now mislaid, researchers found that the U.S. population was inordinately religious—that the American people subscribed to religion at a level far exceeding that of other developed countries and similar to that of people in such places as Mexico and India.

Religion by and large opposes Enlightenment rationality, indulging instead in magical thinking. This is the case across sectarian divides: There’s the virgin birth, Jesus walking on water, God speaking to Moses via a burning bush, Gautama Buddha experiencing “the bliss of deliverance” via asceticism and meditation, and Mohammad’s receipt of the word of God from the archangel Gabriel.

Such a non-rational mindset likely afflicts a majority of U.S. citizens, even though polls show that organized religion is on the wane, particularly among young people. According to the Pew Research Center, 26% of the public identifies as “nothing in particular”—a figure that jumps to 36% of people between the ages of 24 and 30. (Sex-abuse scandals in the Catholic Church have prompted a steady desertion: 13% of Americans today self-identify as “former Catholics.”)  Instead of church, people are likely finding religious inspiration and guidance via the Internet. As Christian Smith, a sociology and religion professor at the University of Notre Dame, told The Atlantic: It is easy for anxious people “to build their own spiritualities from ideas and practices they find online.” Salvation a la carte, if you will.

Meanwhile, we have a Supreme Court majority composed of Roman Catholic fundamentalists including Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Amy Coney Barrett. At the turn of the 20th century, the Protestant majority worried that, due to Irish and Italian immigration, Catholics might take over. (How things have changed: The Republican Party back then smeared the Democrats as the party of “rum, Romanism, and rebellion.”) Now, it seems, the Catholics have taken power—with unfortunate consequences for women’s health, majoritarian politics, and it seems, even gun-carry restrictions.

Coming soon to a venue near you: the Spanish Inquisition.

Can such a state of affairs continue in a would-be democracy? Certainly. The broad public may even feel that the religious minority who are calling the shots are more moral than they themselves are. Moreover, as the psychologist William James asserted in his classic The Varieties of Religious Experience, humans are more persuaded irrationally and emotionally than they are by reason. Hey, if you want to live in a rational society, move to Denmark! The U.S.A.—home to Cotton Mather, Stonewall Jackson, William Jennings Bryan, Mary Baker Eddy, and Jerry Lee Lewis—was never about the cold light of reason.

Dinner: cornbread tamale pie and a kale and apple salad.

Entertainment: more episodes of the shysterish Better Call Saul and its Brit counterpoint, Silk.