The Pluralist Heart

“Purity of heart is to will one thing,” Kierkegaard famously proclaimed. He was right about purity but wrong to aspire to it. It is a common mistake, made all the more familiar to ordinary people because it is a quality that heroes and fanatics, the characters who spice religious liturgies, history books, novels, poetry, and Netflix often share. Even Dante, no stranger to the complications of life and character, endorses it: “One object, and one object only, is rightly to be loved  ‘with all my mind, with all my soul, and with all my strength.’” Purity is simplifying, and it is romantic, and in an existence as relentlessly variegated as ours it promises a great relief.   And so it is tempting to structure one’s life around a single, dominating idea or community, to be fanatically, singularly loyal. But like some of the most irresistible temptations, this one is false. Life will never be simple and people will never be pure. Perhaps it is our very impurity that engenders the myth that purity is a human achievement, medicine for the drabness that is a regular feature of living. But what if purity, were it even attainable, were instead a human failing? What if diversity, of kinds and of qualities, is an unalterable and enriching characteristic of individual and communal experience? It seems almost platitudinous to point out that the individual lives in many realms and has many loyalties. In a single day she may in one realm be a hero, in another a loser, and often just another body standing in line.  Our various realms are the settings for the various roles we all play. An individual engages different parts of herself in a museum than in a place of worship, and with her friends than with her family, and

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