Desacralizing Cuba’s National Hero

Religious allegory may be dwarfing José Martí’s true stature.

Fundamentalism since 9/11 reacts by attempting to re-institute its original state of affairs. Dozed hearts awake. Heretics chime in by clutching the chance to scrutinize and thwart all blind beliefs. Crimes chafed against the clergy in United States, as those recently novelized by Ray Mouton (In God’s House), also sully the most influential Church in Latin America, from which yet another layer of regressive sects breed like mad rabbits.

An irony ensues: The early bullet-ridden death of Cuba’s National Hero José Martí (1853-95) whilst repelling the last yoking Spaniards in the Americas lit him halos proper to Christendom’s hagiography. Today worldwide admirers also liken his deeds to those learned by rote from Bronze-Age legends. Can one in all fairness fuse his virtues with those fashioned by the illiterate herders that once roamed the wastelands of the Middle East?

The Barbarous State

Cuba’s pontiff thought so decades after Martí’s death on the battlefield. Relaxing the proverbially diehard resistance the Holy Father had leveled against the now politically trendy National Hero bore a profitable outlook. Martí had feared United States’ protestant-prone hegemony over Latin America, but failed to guess the evils that loomed ahead in the Vatican’s shrewdness. When “attacked for its olden fortitudes,” had observed Martí, “the Church migrates to the modern camp, evolves with humanity, updates its form and attitude, and in the current modern world, assumes a position and reengages in the struggle.”

More than a century later, the hurried scours in the Holy See would not dupe him. All religions veil a juggernaut behind felicitous smiles, and those who vitiate or suffer their censure often flee from it via masked hatred or lust. No wonder the biblical Paul himself, notes University of Chicago’s Margaret M. Mitchell, sensed his message was “unthinkable” and “utterly foolish”: Improbable claims are bound to fasten the authoritarian society. Or as Martí defined it, a society “based on the concept, sincere or feigned, of human inequality, from which it demands the fulfillment of social duties to those whose rights it denies, for the main benefit of the denier’s power and pleasure: mere leftover of the barbarous state.”

Still many endowed with the highest of urbane manners often dodge that the moral referent of the dogmas in question has long phased out. Just to cite a handful of (now-again) potentially explosive observances glossed by Raymond D. Bradley in “A Moral Argument for Atheism,” the Bible exemplifies merciless killings of innocent men, women, and children. It induces the sexual enslavement of young girls taken as war booty, and forces cannibalism, human sacrifice, and unlimited torture upon those who dare to withhold a disagreeable tenet. Even today, the most belligerent regimes solemnize and exploit the deep-rooted fears of our species either by legislating straight from a holy book, or through the secular osmosis of its laws.

Darwin’s Foremost Poetry

Mystical exegesis short-changes the magnificence of what it means to be human. “No, my friend, there is another God!” warns Martí—the “idea of goodness” that “assays and merges all religions to form and crown with harmonies, and dress with hymns, the most beautiful of them all—Nature!” He has seen how Charles Darwin’s “foremost poetry” strives to confirm “the analogy of all the forces of nature.” In other words, how science in the end bridges dissimilar attributes that lead toward a general understanding before the inexplicable.

The ostensibly poetic language of the Bible, in turn, remains swamped in the first millennium. Interpretive gymnastics will not do. A morality of mutual benefit today requires “in-depth critics” capable of crumbling “ignorance’s dynasties and undertakings.” Poetry borne out of “world-based knowledge,” concludes Martí, silences dogmatic drivels and furnishes the “religion that confusingly waits since it acknowledged the hollowness and insufficiency of its ancient creeds.”

The Nature-Equals-Goodness Fallacy

Eighteenth-century deism, though, clamped Cuba’s master writer and thinker to the notion according to which Nature equals Goodness. In his life, a mother paradox surfaces from this inheritance the Enlightenment fostered, for it also begot Manifest Destiny. Hours before his death, Martí wrote about the daily danger of giving his life to halt that exclusive expansionist venture predicated on the “natural” superiority God grants United States in the Western hemisphere.

Verbatim buffs of the gospels disambiguate themselves from this ambivalence in their worship of the scaffold built out of the now ubiquitous two crossed logs. Betterment supervenes by torture and bloodshed in Jesus. Christians as a frenzied subdivided knot must suspect kindness that does not emanate from their own chief Kingdom. As of late, the massive recurrence of wrongs harbored over centuries by the ecclesiastic coterie were simply played-down by blaming the few exceptional rotten apples.

Martí the Sinner

Could Martí have dismissed without further ado how much sappiness, coercion, or sheer corporate opportunism weighs in the “fundamental truths” espoused by the Carpenter from Nazareth? If sweet-sounding propensities such as empathy or sacrifice for the good of our neighbor represent one of those truths in the Modern Age, many who flag it as a religious universal value contribute instead to hinder and fraught their fellow humans with anxieties no different from those suffered during the Dark Ages.

According to Martí, high religiosity held proportion with the high level of freedom churches allowed their parishioners to enjoy, hence insuring at par the “natural and ample” exercise of their faculties. Wherever that freedom has lacked, “hatred toward religion has been one of the natural ways to love liberty.” Martí lived most of his adult life in New York City and witnessed at close range how pure Puritan nutrients early in the nineteenth century had invigorated democracy in the new Promissory Land by sidestepping somewhat its fief of immutable rituals and superstitions.

A recent study by Gregory S. Paul entitled “The Chronic Dependence of Popular Religiosity upon Dysfunctional Psychosociological Conditions” reveals that denying evolutionary science, for instance, averts improvement on the quality of life. Here the United States stands out again for its high religiosity as well as for ranking last nowadays among the seventeen most prosperous and comforted nations. The maladaptive flock harks back. Creationists adhere word for word to the inerrancy of the Scriptures and intensify their stagnating wraths against the “foremost poetry.”

Martí’s once hopeful prediction of a modernized Church committed to the progressive well-being of our civilization stomachs a trivial blow to the overall currency of his thought. Contrariwise, any attempt to anoint his too-humanness risks misaiming goodness to the dubious prize of a non-appealable magistrate in the blues. His loving imperfection was indeed certain, and only such sinning, as George Orwell wanted, redeems the gloomy and irreversible dismemberment of his death.

[December 27, 2013]

PD: The allusion above to Orwell refers to a noteworthy passage from his “Reflections on Gandhi," 1949: “The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection, that one is sometimes willing to commit sins for the sake of loyalty, that one does not push asceticism to the point where it makes friendly intercourse impossible, and that one is prepared in the end to be defeated and broken up by life, which is the inevitable price of fastening one's love upon other human individuals.”

Image: Angel in the Making by Paul Klee, 1932