Wednesday, March 25, 2009

It Must Have Been Love, But It's Over Now

Until this twilight of the idols, banks were deified, for all practical purposes: their "mysterious ways" wondered at, offerings made for their inscrutable pleasure, their benedictions needed to proceed with any investment larger than a pot pie or a plasma screen. The church may have blessed your marriage, but the bank blesses your starter home.

Also like their numinous antecedents, such institutions are immortal. Jupiter no more disappeared under Emperor Constantine than Was Mutual vanished into JPMorgan Chase. (Never mind that Jupiter was the Roman edition of Zeus.) Jupiter, like assets and acolytes, was merely converted.

I took the crapshot above with a cell phone in October 2008. (Please forgive my violation of prohibitions on portraying the divine. I don't think this one can fight back much anyway.) In times thought more primitive, its condition shown here could have been taken as an omen.

Oddly the artifacts of this bockety religion continue to have their power, even during the comas of their principals. One uses credit cards from nominally defunct institutions to buy groceries that are no less real. Bills continue to arrive and be paid, or not as the case may be. Most interestingly, you continue to live in your house/condo/apartment, operate your business, drive your careven though another Master's hand makes all that possible.

Take the Aya Sofia in Istanbul as an example of how a holy power's emblem changes, but its substance remains omnipresent. [Below: You can see the Byzantine relics in the dome above, the Muslim relics just below it and the museum's own prosaic artefact of scaffolding in the foreground right.] Originally built as a Byzantine church, this stunning edifice was convertedthat word againto a mosque with the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople. Subsequent to that it became a museum, removed from religious vicissitudes by the arch-secularizer Atatürk.

Yet his name, assumed as all of Turkey's surnames are, translates as "Father Turk." If "_________ [your god here]" is the father, then even this most awe-inspiring of buildings does not leave the Father's hand when it becomes a museum in a secular republic sired by the father to end all Fathers.

Lots of abstract things collapseempires, economies, ideals. But if they exert a power over our minds and lives comparable to that of the divine, what happens when we use their paraphernalia without knowing to whom we offer obsequies?

Maybe if you use a credit card to tithe to a church, both bank and church would explode. It would be like crossing the streams in "Ghostbusters."

It was mutual. Now it's homoiousian.