Disputes over Amy Coney Barrett’s Catholic faith — as her Supreme Court confirmation hearings unfold — obscure, more than anything, a dearth of discussion around the role of religion in the American national identity. While Barrett’s confirmation is out of our hands, the future of living in a multifaith community isn’t, and the fact that religion is often a site of political contestation in the United States urges us to reassess our assumptions about religious belonging, whether we identify as explicitly religious or not. Can a Supreme Court justice practically believe in a religious truth without imposing it on anyone else?
There’s a strange comfort in discovering that the bedtime stories my parents chose to tell me often came from one of the longest epics in the world: the “Mahabharata.” The “Mahabharata” is a fourth-century BCE Sanskrit poem traditionally attributed to Vyasa, and its stories permeate the Hindu tradition. It’s about a fratricidal war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas over the kingdom of Hastinapura, and narrates the intertwining fates of these clans and their successors. Part of the comfort is that the “Mahabharata” is long — about seven times the Iliad and Odyssey combined — and thus an endless ravine for a wandering mind.
More central, though, is the scale and texture of the epic’s violence and loss, and the fact that it always seems to engage with my contemporary predicaments. In the end, even in triumph, every insult, favor, disguise, and promise matters—sometimes with catastrophic consequences. When the war has run its course, the battlefield is described as a river of blood where pebbles are severed heads. The casualties are not just enormous; they are total.
What happens during a Zoom glitch? We’ve all experienced one. Maybe the video freezes and memorializes a hilarious gesture. Maybe the pitch drops and the audio slows to a comic crawl. When it ends, maybe we apologize for the terrible Wi-Fi. The glitch reminds us that technological shortcomings smother our social interactions. I’ve found few situations more frustrating, especially when I want nothing more than to be with people I cannot see without Zoom or the platform in question.
That assumption — that without Zoom, FaceTime, or Skribbl, I cannot be with others — is one I reinforce daily as the pandemic rages on. In a quiet, empty house while my family members work, I frequently brood over whether it’s worth expending the energy it takes to call or text someone for some liveliness and movement, or whether I should just bunker down and write my thesis. The fact that those are the only options often alarms me, because I’m actively buying into the illusion that other people are absent without my motivation to initiate the interaction and the technological media I have (or don’t) to access them.