How often do we use obscurantism without even knowing it? If you notice your spouses new hairstyle, do you comment on it asking how much it cost***? In reply your spouse, if female, will possibly use the term “the usual” or “same as last time.” It would be inappropriate to probe further without tension rising so the matter is dropped. When someone greets us and asks how you are? We don’t actually answer in detail no matter how down or joyous we are, “I’m grand”, “I’m fine.”
I was in Eason’s in a shopping centre somewhere in Ireland this week (obscurantism – not naming the place) and overheard a conversation about mainstream versus elitism. It was a mobile phone conversation in a public place so I transcribed the one sided conversation. I was intrigued, were we talking about government level doublethink, was some new explosive drama about to unfold in Leinster House. The topic was actually quite banal for at least half the population, plus for the other half those above and below a certain age group.
I had understood the concept of obscurantism from my early introduction to political and philosophical (non-Christian) thought, that of Wittgenstein and Hegel, and of course the anti-obscurantist, Marx. But that was a lifetime ago and so it was when I heard the terms mainstream and elitism that it all flooded back. As wikipedia is on speed button for me I looked it up and discovered that the person who taught me how bad obscurantism was, had lied. That the masses were entitled to hear the entire truth not selected soundbytes was true but it’s origins I was told was in the germanic philosophical line. What no one ever told me was it was a term coined from the satire ‘Letters of Obscure Men’ about the burning or not burning of the Talmud in the 1500’s.**
Bringing this concept back to today. There are times when vagueness seems to be the only answer, when you are living in a state of hysteresis and not sure how it is all going to pan out, when you have one foot over the wall but you have not yet committed to jump then using doublespeak, doublethink, obscurantism, obfuscation and polite fiction seem to be right thinking. I wonder sometimes if when someone asks “How are you?” if I answered truthfully and in the minutae of detail would they ever ask again.
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6 (NIV)
A year ago, if God asked me how I was, I would’ve answered I’m fine, even though I was anything but, because there was a whole gamut of people who needed his ear and I didn’t want him to know. It never occurred to me that he already knew I was in a bit of a fix, he already knew the minutae of detail, he was waiting for me to tell him, to spend those hours praying and being real.
That’s what he wants to hear, he wants to hear the good, the bad and everything in between. I have in my community a friend who asks a question, it is the same question posed in a gazillion different ways, she doesn’t just ask me, she flits from person to person, listening to the answer, which I suspect is the same answer and does nothing. There’s a time for doing nothing, there’s a time for human obsurantism but there is never a time to hide your true self from the One who knows everything. Be real, be truthful to Him and to yourself and then if you need to be vague to those around you for protection so be it, but to keep real and in the Truth, we need to let the Lord know so we don’t end up believing the doublespeak.
* Obscurantism in itself
**Did they burn it?
***The average cost of a female hairstyle is €150.00 depending on length, colour and the experience of the stylist.