Ashley Sanders continues her guest stint at BCC.
King Theseus comes closest to articulating the predicament when he tells his new wife (with shining condescension) that “The lunatic, the lover and the poet/ Are of imagination all compact.” These three perspectives are similar because they all see more than mere reason can; the first two are similar because they are capable of great deception and great insight. The poet, however, is a chronicler of deception: aware enough of his own to see others’. Poetry is the desired state of imagination because it is a fiction that makes the world more real; it is true enough to life that it becomes greater than it, out-perspectiving life in its awareness of perspective. But, interestingly, poetry is not the means to poetic perspective. Love is. And that is why Shakespeare has so much to teach us about Mormonism (or any religion) and that is why both religion and poetry, in their proper state, have so much to teach us about self-deception.
Good religion teaches us to be madmen and lovers, and then to write good poetry. It is impossible to do the latter before you have been the former. That is a secret. But, as Shakespeare and Mormonism both show us, love and lunacy have dangerous bellies. Both can persuade one to ignore facts, to be selfish, jealous, to speak one’s own insular language. Both are deeply capable of idiotic or egotistic self-deception—an impassioned refusal not just to be criticized, but to acknowledge that there are even critics or reasons for critique. The lunatic can create a universe of one; the lover, of two.
We can see love’s deception all over in Midsummer Night’s Dream. Helena loves Demetrius despite the fact that he abandoned and despises her. Demetrius loves Hermia more each time she snubs him, and Hermia loves Lysander because he dotes on her. Lysander, for his part, loves Hermia because . . . because . . . because? And then, just as suddenly and with as little logic, Puck mis-hexes them and Lysander hates Hermia to love Helena and Demetrius follows suit, Hermia hates Helena and Helena hates them all for (she thinks) playing a trick on her. The new love-spell isn’t that much more confusing than the original state of affairs—both seem motivated by delusion and selfishness, and both lack reasons at the bottom.
It is for these same reasons that Mormon critics often critique Mormonism. Compelled by God-love, Mormonism can dismiss both fact and detractor to persist in certain unreasonable perspectives. Like a lover, it can love an idea for very little reason and, simplifying it through worship, can cause great harm. It often communicates in an insular language of defense (provided it knows that there is an audience to defend against at all). These are real and important reasons to critique Mormonism and—like Shakespeare’s courtiers—we should. We should critique anything that harms truth and infantilizes people.
Too often, however, critics recognize the danger of love and lunacy and reject it, replacing the danger with a rationality just as deluded. They recognize the danger of love, yes, but they also forget its power to see more than what appears, and so they hunker down in an impoverished rationality that—far from transcending the limitations of perspective—simply ignores it. In place of love and lunacy, critics venerate ethics. Truth, in turn, becomes a way to ensure ethics—a factual accounting that keeps us from doing harm. But these kinds of critics are just as deceived as lovers, perhaps even more so. They have replaced the view from somewhere with a view from nowhere and traded devotion for ‘objectivity.’ They do not understand that they are, or have been, or will someday be implicated in the very swooning they reject, and that they are constantly implicated anyway by having a perspective. Because they rarely acknowledge their hypocrisy and perspective, they reject poetry in favor of law. They have judgment, yes, but it is punitive and blind, unable to acknowledge self, hypocrisy, and circumstance.
So love has its dangers, but both Shakespeare and religion champion the danger. It isn’t that either is oblivious to love’s shortcomings; both plainly see love’s failings, the abuse it causes, and the likelihood that people will abuse it. And yet both Shakespeare and religion seem to suggest it is our only way out—the way out that leads perpetually back in.