|ESSAY: THEOLOGICAL CURRY|
June 27, 2000
RICHARD RODRIGUEZ: The other day, I saw the future on a movie screen at bargain matinee prices. The movie's called "east is east," and it's about a Pakistani immigrant in England and his British wife. To describe their marriage as a "mixed race" is to miss the movie's larger point. Papa in this case is Muslim and mama is Catholic; the results are comic and not.
WOMAN: Didn't know you had -
MAN: This is my friend. His daughters are going to be married
WOMAN: Gorgeous. You're a lucky you, two, aren't you?
RICHARD RODRIGUEZ: On this side of the Atlantic, we Americans have only lately grown publicly candid about miscegenation. The erotic secrets of Monticello and the old black-and-white racial descriptions of our country are giving way to the multiple choices on the current census form. Mixed blood may end up being the least of it. In cities across America, there are marriages that unite, or at least join ancient, often quarreling creeds. Mixed blood, our old preoccupation, is being replaced by mixed soul.
When I was a Catholic school kid, I remember my wonderful Irish nuns warning us away from the dangers of "mixed marriages." They meant, principally, the marriage of a Catholic and a Protestant. Nowadays, I meet hybrids that defy every known theological borders; one of my friends describes herself as a Baptist Buddhist, other days she's a Buddhist Baptist. In those newspapers that still publish wedding announcements, one can sometimes glimpse at a future that is already here. In the Sunday New York Times, for example, the marriage of the week invariably celebrates the talented and the rich and the beautiful. Routinely now the marriage is between religions, as this one-- Hindu Jewish. Our politicians do not yet have a grammar that keeps up with our racial complexity. Neither do our theologians know how to speak of the theological complexity is evidenced throughout the country. Demographers expect Islam to replace Christianity as the world's most populous religion within several decades.
In "East is East," we see lives on the borderline on this new Muslim century. The children are raised Muslim in a Christian neighborhood within the larger secular metropolis. Theological mixing has already given rise in the world to a hunger for orthodoxy. The other possibility is we are entering an age of astonishing ecumenism --religious traditions flowing into one another, deepening and enlivening one another, within the soul of a single child. The future could well belong to those religious traditions that can tolerate impurity. (Speaking in Spanish) In Latin America in the 16th century, the success of Spanish Catholicism among the Indians was its syncretism-- it was not afraid to absorb indigenous traditions to itself. No better example of this syncretism exists than the virgin of Guadalupe-- the Virgin Mary dressed as an Aztec princess.
Today, as evangelical Protestantism is converting Latin America, its success may similarly depend on Protestantism's ability to absorb a Catholic culture. But marriage can end in divorce. And children can end up rejecting the difficult theological balance between religious traditions, refusing both, longing for only one, loathing the theological confusion within themselves.
WOMAN: What the bleeding hell is that?
MAN: Bloody bargain.
WOMAN: It's an old barber's chair.
RICHARD RODRIGUEZ: "East is East" is a comedy but more-- a love story. It ends up with a family in turmoil. One son is an orthodox Muslim; another son is gay. Papa ends up bewildered by children who refuse his orthodoxy. His wife ends up bruised and battered, literally. Finally, the marriage survives. Christianity stays married to Islam -- which is only to say, this is a love story, more than it is a story of happy and clear endings.
MAN: You see, it's so relaxing.
WOMAN: A bleeding barber's chair to make me relax around you.
MAN: You're always relaxing with me because your my lovely.
RICHARD RODRIGUEZ: I'm Richard Rodriguez.