Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Geography of Law and Religion

The end of the year is, in a sense, about borders.  A large chunk of the human community has chosen to create borders to mark the passage of time--but those divisions become borders.  they assume a spatial dimension as well as a chronological one.  Tonight marks a passage through one of the more significant borderlands of time--we move from one year to another.  That passage acquires a symbolic dimension far greater than its temporal importance.  Time, then, has a great geographic dimension.  Its borders are a basis for the construction of human reality--and is essential to its organization.  All of this is well known.

Yet perhaps less well appreciated is the centrality of borders --the spacial dimension--to other fundamental conceptions that mark human organization. The close tie between language, geography and religious conceptions of behavior norms is a case in point. 
Anyone who indulges in profanity is irreverent and sacrilegious.  This word is based on the Latin profanum, from pro, "before", "outside", and farum, "temple".  Since the profane man is outside of the temple, he is unholy.  The fanatic, however, is in and out of the fanum, or temple.  In Latin fanaticus means "of the temple," and so "inspired by divinity."  Nowadays a fanatic is one who is moved by a frenzy of enthusiasm over something.  We moderns for our convenience have whittled fanatic down to the three letter word fan--a person who works himself into a frenzy of enthusiasm over, say, baseball. 
Wilfred Funk, Word Origins and their Romantic Stories 275 (New York: Bell Publishing, 1950). The human condition appears grounded in "drawing lines in the sand."  We suggest the creation or declaration of an artificial boundary and imply that crossing it will cause trouble; yet that boundary is neither artificial nor easily avoided. 

And thus the thought for year's end:  The problem of borders remains the central issue of human organization--in all of its aspects.  These borders are all intangible, though they appear symbolically rendered on land, and in religious, space, political and legal space.  The traditional borderlands of national territory have been overwhelmed by other boundaries.  These will reshape human organization in the coming decade as each strives for both autonomy and control within an increasingly leveled polycentric global communal space.   This will make singular efforts at order increasingly difficult even as the structures of a unified global communal space appear to gain form and function.  We are moving toward the day when we will be profane fanatics--divinely inspired to stand both within and outside the temple space.  Happy New Year.

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