Oh, you saint
America don’t love you
So I could never love you
In spite of everything
Vampire Weekend’s saint in question is Yahweh, the unutterable name of god. Makes sense that America don’t love Yahweh; this is no country for old gods. Contemporary American life has left little room for religion or even basic spirituality. We have our new gods (at least one of which would kindly like you to hurry up with his damn croissants). Modern religion is popular culture. And honestly, to that point, with all this talk of the old gods and the new, my first association is not with any sort of traditional theology but with that of Game of Thrones. In a time where all things are named, documented, and shared/distributed for our entertainment and consumption, how can we worship that which is nameless?
Through the fire and through the flames
You won’t even say your name
Only “I am that I am”
But who could ever live that way?
Ut Deo, Ya Hey, Ya Hey
Typical of Vampire Weekend, there are great pop culture references embedded in their larger lyrical pursuits. In this case, we’ve got an overt reference to Outkast’s “Hey Ya” as well as (admittedly a stretch) Dragonforce’s “Through the Fire and Flames.” The broader reference is to the biblical appearance of god to Moses through the burning bush. “I am that I am” was god’s response when Moses asked its name. This response became the basis for Western monotheistic concepts of god as a singular, all-loving intra-/supra-worldly entity. Yahweh cannot be defined in earthly terms. It’s impossible for humans–tethered to countless identifications–to know never mind truly love and/or worship that which has declared itself undefinable.
Maybe the development of language has had a constricting effect on our ability to think in abstractions. By defining things and establishing terministic screens, we strip things of their broader comprehension. It’s incredibly difficult, then, to conceive of something beyond its name. A tree is a tree. I know it when I see it. Humans identify most strongly with that which can be named. Countries, cities, cultures, whatever. It’s in our nature to associate tribally–even the original notion of Yahweh was that of a divine warrior leading an army of angels against Israel’s enemies. What a challenge, then, to conceive of god totally in the abstract, freed from all linguistic and symbolic associations. No wonder that we struggle to worship it. Instead we worship the things that tangibly define us and give us a sense of purpose and meaning and importance and association – where we come from, who we vote for, what sports team we root for, etc.
Tomorrow the NFL postseason kicks off with wild card weekend. As a Patriots fan, I’m approaching our hope of a Super Bowl with cautious optimism. The first round bye definitely helps. Our classically stoic and matter-of-fact coach Bill Belichick has regionally popularized the saying “It is what it is.” This phrase… I love it so much. It has this elegant meaninglessness that can shut down any debate or argument. It also has a near-religious reduction of essence which as far as I’m concerned is a perfect counterpoint that existential challenge “I am that I am”. It is what it is; a tree is a tree; define and dismiss. An ethos for a post-spiritual world. And another point: what is football, if not another manifestation of tribal worship, through which we can invoke the gods against our enemies?
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