Posts Tagged ‘Patriotism’

Natural Law in an Age of Nihilism (pt. 5)

June 16, 2019

Interestingly (to me at least) the very nihilism at the heart of the Republican administration which is putting together this panel actually suggests an argument that something like this is actually necessary.[i] According to Alasdair MacIntyre, it was inevitable that Western culture would collapse into Nietzschean nihilism once it ceased to base morality in the values of a particular culture. The Enlightenment dream of a universal ethics valid for all persons qua persons was a fantasy from the start. All morality has to be rooted in and derived from some vision of human flourishing. The virtues recommended by that ethics are the character traits that aid in living the sort of “good life” embraced by that particular culture. Outside of any social context, those virtues are arbitrary and unsustainable. Unless you embrace the sort of eudaimonia prized by Athenian gentlemen, the Aristotelian virtues such as bravery, self-control and pride won’t make any sense. An Augustinian Christian’s virtues such as humility and universal love would seem absurd to Aristotle, just as some of his virtues would seem to be nothing more than “glittering vices.” In MacIntyre’s understanding of the history of Western thought, the Enlightenment project of basing ethics on universal reason alone apart from all religious, national or other communal standards was doomed from the start, and in fact cut the foundation out from under human moral thought. The result was emotivism, where moral language simply collapsed into a contest of wills, each individual attempting to get everyone else to feel the way he or she felt about whatever point was being debated. From this point of view (sometimes called “communitarian ethics”), the moral nihilism of Donald Trump and the Republican Party is simply an open acknowledgment of the fact that God is dead and has been for a long time, and all the lofty claims by liberalism to seek universal ethical standards has simply been a fraudulent attempt to impose the standards of their group on everyone else through trickery and persuasion. The notion of “human rights,” from MacIntyre’s perspective, would be rights as defined by a certain group using a certain understanding of human nature, but using language that asserts their view to be the only legitimate one. Conservatives, in this view, are simply more honest in relying on political and physical force rather than sophistical argument.

If MacIntyre offers a reason to doubt the common notion of “human rights” as a culturally and religiously neutral, universal ethical standard, then MacIntyre also offers a solution that would cast more doubt on the legitimacy of the State Departmet’s human rights panel as presented in the press. In his essay, “Is Patriotism a Virtue?” MacIntyre argues that loyalty to one’s own group is the cardinal virtue, the one essential quality for any further moral life.[ii] The virtues stem from one’s vision of the good, fulfilled, “happy” human life; and that vision of human flourishing is conveyed to one by one’s particular culture. Without a particular culture, one has no human ideal to seek to live out, hence no virtues as habits enabling that good life (or vices to lead away from it), no moral roots, and one’s moral life simply withers away. Each of us are products of our culture, and our vision of the good life comes from that culture. However, MacIntyre says, that does not mean that everyone in the culture agrees on everything. For example, he points to Adam von Trott, who was involved in a plot to kill Hitler.[iii] Trott did not act out of commitment to some abstract universal morality; he acted because he felt the Nazi leadership of Germany had betrayed German values and German culture and had to be stopped. On this view of patriotism, “dissent is patriotic,” if it is rooted in core values of the community itself and aims to perfect the community as a project. To discover those core values in any community, one would have to look not only at its explicit claims but at its overall history and trajectory, what that society valued as shown in its deeds and its aspirations and what it seemed to be striving towards.

By this standard, conservatives today seem to be going astray; they do not discover and live out their country’s values, but try to recreate it in terms of some other, smaller community’s project. For example, conservatives in America today do not study history; they rewrite it. Even in the communitarian view, facts are facts; what value one puts on those facts may be another matter. And the facts are that the leaders of the American Revolution, the “Founding Fathers,” studied and quoted Enlightenment philosophy, particularly social contract thinking inspired by Rousseau and Locke. They distrusted religious extremism, what we would call “fanaticism” and which they called “enthusiasm.” They embraced the scientific, empirical investigation of truth. Many (roughly half) were Freemasons, embracing a religious liberalism that rejected sectarian or what we would call “fundamentalist” spirituality; a good many were not even Christian, but rather Deists. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, the three men selected by the Continental Congress to write the nation’s Declaration of Independence, were religious liberals. Jefferson, who is credited with describing the “separation of Church and State” as a “wall” between the two, was the third president of the United States; yet in conservative circles he is treated as an outlier and unimportant fringe thinker compared to Aquinas despite the fact that only two Catholics signed the Declaration of Independence.[iv] In an attempt to undermine “liberal” and “Democratic” importance in American history, the Christian Reconstructionism or Christian Dominionism promoted by such religious conservatives as Rousas Rushdooney and Jerry Falwell has sought to present the American revolution as a conservative revolution against a liberal monarchy. In fact, it is no coincidence that both the British Conservative party and the Americans who supported King George III were called “Tories.” So when Pompeo says the State Department’s new panel on human rights will seek to express “our nation’s founding principles of natural law and natural rights,” this seems disingenuous. The overall thrust of conservative efforts, including those by some people on the panel, has been not to return to the principles of the Founding Fathers, but to rewrite them. A better way for such a committee to establish “our nation’s founding principles” would be to include historians who could review the personal views and public writings of our Founding Fathers, as well as seminal texts such as the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, MLK’s “I Have A Dream” speech and other documents that have contributed to the wider civil religion of the USA.

To be continued….

[i] Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue second edition (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984) pp. 1-78

[ii] Alasdair MacIntyre, “Is Patriotism a Virtue?” in Morality and Moral Controversies, ninth edition, ed. by John Arthur and Steven Scalet (Pearson Education Inc., NY 2014) pp. 405-410; originally presented in The Lindley Lecture, Department of Philosophy, University of Kansas (1984).

[iii] “Patriotism,” p. 408

[iv] For example, Brian Thevenot, “TribBlog: SBOE vs. the Media,” The Texas Tribune March 22, 2010 (https://www.texastribune.org/2010/03/22/sboe-removes-thomas-jefferson-blames-media/). The actions described here are by no means unique to Texas, but are representative of conservative rhetoric for at least the last several decades.

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Comey, James B., “Reinhold Niebuhr and Jerry Falwell: the Christian in politics” (1982). Undergraduate Honors Theses. Paper 1116.

December 21, 2017

I’ve been reading and discussing Comey’s thesis for awhile, mostly with the personal goal of understanding his mind a bit better and seeing how a theologian like Reinhold Niebuhr might have played a pivotal role in our nation’s history.  I’m posting a link to the full thesis here, and would be happy to discuss it further.

Recommended Citation

Comey, James B., “Reinhold Niebuhr and Jerry Falwell: the Christian in politics” (1982). Undergraduate Honors Theses. Paper 1116.

https://publish.wm.edu/honorstheses/1116/

Sweden and Greece: A Tale of Two Socialisms

June 15, 2012

A Tale of Two Socialisms

            I used to be rather intrigued by the Sweden-bashing I saw going on in the U.S.  “This President wants to impose European-style socialism on us!”  “The Democrats want to turn us into Sweden!” and so on.  Aside from the fact that it’s bloody cold, Sweden always seemed like a pretty nice place.  According to polls, the overall level of happiness is higher in Sweden than it is in the U.S.[1] The average Swede is healthier, better educated and less anxious than the average American.  And what is worse, the Swedish economy is one of the strongest in the world, having rebounded from the crash suffered by the U.S. and the E.U.[2] It accomplished this without sacrificing its weakest members, but instead providing enough of a social safety net to keep almost everyone contributing to the economy.  It did this with a mix of capitalism and socialism; by U.S. standards it is not a very free economy, but it is by any measure a free and successful nation.[3]

When I visited Sweden, what struck me most about the country was how cooperative the country is.  Major decisions (like large urban development projects) are discussed openly and, by American standards, almost interminably, with virtually everyone having a chance to make comments.  I saw a model of Stockholm’s development plans for the future reconstructed in the cultural hall, where any citizen could come in and examine it.  It wasn’t one businessman, with the connivance of a coterie of politicians, ramming through a plan designed first to make a lot of money for a few people.  Sure, there were private developers making money, but the decision to go ahead was more based on social consensus. The developers had to convince most people that these plans really were a good idea; and the people were socially engaged enough to contribute to the discussion.  As a result, the citizens were willing to pay much higher taxes to support government/private partnerships; everyone had a voice, everyone saw a point in contributing, and everyone knew that in the end, society had their back and no one would end up living on the street.  Sure, I saw evidence of the government’s control of the economy:  it is much harder for an individual to start up an independent business, and if a business gets too large it falls under the greater government regulations that can choke hiring.  But Swedes are aware of these problems and work to fine tune the system.  Overall, Sweden is a great place to live.

Today, of course, we have a much more convincing bugaboo:  Greece.  Greece seems to have done everything wrong:  massive social benefits, massive debts, and the inevitable economic collapse.  As a result, Greece is significantly lower than the U.S. on most measures of citizen well-being.[4]  The Greeks invented democracy; why can’t they make it work?

A nation’s present is, of course, shaped by its past.  Of course we live with the economic decisions of past generations, paying the debts or even reaping the dividends; but more importantly, the decisions of the past can become the values of the present, tinting the cultural filter through which we view our reality.  I could try to trace the evolution of Sweden from its Viking past, and Greece from Homer through Alexander and Rome and Byzantium, but I don’t want to write a dissertation.  Let’s just skip to the last chapter:  The Cold War and its Aftermath.  Sweden stayed out of World War II, even as its Scandinavian neighbors were engulfed by it.  In this, it seems to have been uniquely fortunate; but this uniqueness does not seem to be the primary reason for its success today.  After all, the Scandinavian nations in general top the list of “happiest countries,” and have for years.  What makes Sweden successful is that it learns from its mistakes, and makes decisions based on the welfare of the nation.  It seeks to combine the innovative and entrepreneurial power of capitalism with the social justice and stability promised by socialism.  And it is able to do this largely because the majority of citizens have a sense of ownership and pride in their nation.  The natural beauty of the land is seen as a national treasure and a source of pride for everyone; so the citizens are willing to pay a little more to manage their natural resources without destroying their environment.  The overall health of the nation is a source of pride even for those who have not set foot in a hospital since they were born; so they are willing to pay taxes to support that.  They are willing to support the arts, so that Stockholm is a beautiful mix of old treasures and new creations.  They are willing to pay three times what we would pay for gasoline, because they are proud to have such fine mass transit systems that are affordable by everyone, efficient and clean and safe, supported by the gas taxes.  When I was a child in the 1960’s, there was a word for people who would voluntarily put their own interests behind those of the nation.  They were called “patriots.”  Sometimes this was a term of derision (or pity (equivalent to “suckers”) and other times high praise.  Usually, it was praise when it came from conservatives; and in many ways Sweden is a nation of socialist conservatives, or at any rate conformists, which was generally considered the same thing in the 1960’s.

Greece, on the other hand, had a very different experience.  After WWII, it fell into civil war between Communists and the NATO-backed government, a war that was only resolved by the establishment of a pro-US military junta.  Democracy was only established in Greece in 1974, twenty-five years after the civil war ended.  There were atrocities and terror on both sides, leaving a divided nation.  It is hardly surprising, therefore, that a culture of tax evasion grew up. Many Greeks had good reason not to feel any sense of ownership in their nation.  But it is the nature of a culture that the values which arose in the past may hang on far after the original circumstances which spawned them have vanished.  It may be almost forty years since the end of the junta, but that still means that there are a lot of people who remember the days, and others who inherited those divisions and suspicions from their parents.  Greece has as much as $56 billion in unpaid taxes, as much as $1.6 billion a year, and a quarter of the Greek commerce takes place in the untaxed “shadow economy.”[5]  Even as their country faces absolute ruin, Greeks continue to shirk the basic requirements of citizenship while fighting to preserve not only the social safety net, but a gilded down-stuffed social mattress.

I think there are lessons to be learned from these two countries, both true lessons and false ones.  The first false lesson is the one that seems most likely to be drawn:  that Greece shows that socialism can’t work.  If that were true, then Sweden should be suffering the same sort of meltdown that Greece is suffering.  The Greeks problem appears to not be so much socialism itself, but a lack of true patriotism.  Swedes take pride in the accomplishments of their nation, and the vast majority of citizens are willing to shoulder some of the costs of those accomplishments.  Greeks are very proud of their culture, but clearly have little commitment to their present nation, either to support it or to fix it so they would consider it worth supporting.  They are all looking out for Number One.  In the United States, it is becoming increasingly and depressingly common for politicians to call each other “Communists” or “Fascists.”  In Greece, today, this is often not mere invective; both actual Fascists and actual, card-carrying Communists serve in the parliament.  And having actual Fascists and Communists in government doesn’t work any better than having people who only think the other side are Fascists or Communist works.  The lessons of Greece are that deficits are bad, something Dick Cheney denied when he served as Vice President, and something which the Reagan administration thought they had proven wasn’t true.  But even more, having a large portion of your citizenry who think they should not have to pay taxes is even worse.  A deficit isn’t always bad; most families in the U.S. have some level of debt.  It just means you have to agree to pay the loan back.  In an emergency, you may run a deficit; in the good times, you should pay off your debts.  We in the U.S. imitated Greece.  When Clinton left office, we had a budget surplus.  We still owed a lot of money, but we were beginning to pay down the debt.  The Republicans put a stop to paying off the debt, and instead increased it dramatically.  Now we are in a fiscal crisis brought on by our profligate ways—two unfunded wars, an unfunded Medicare drug plan, etc.—-and we are reacting just as the Greeks are:  partisan polarization.  No one wants to pay taxes, particularly the people who have more money than they can usefully invest or possibly spend.  What’s in it for me, they ask, if my nation has a truly superior health care system, or an education system that’s #1 instead of #25 our of 34 industrialized nations in math? (http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5juGFSx9LiPaur6eO1KJAypB2ImVQ?docId=CNG.5337504e8f65acf16c57d5cac3cfe339.1c1) After all, we can always outsource our tech jobs to India, right?  True patriots would be ashamed to have such a mediocre education system, and proud to pay a few extra thousand of their billions to put us on top.  But for every one Bill Gates, there are two Koch Brothers looking to line their own pockets and the nation be damned.  And that’s fine, if they’re at least honest; but today it’s the greedy, selfish, and even the criminal and parasite who is praised as a “true patriot” because he is patriot enough to invest a few thousand dollars to contribute to politicians; the one who wants to actually improve the nation is called “socialist.”  We want to have all these things, a superior military and health care and education and airports and law courts and so on; we just don’t want to pay for them.  And as the Greeks have shown, a few decades of that will kill you.  But as the Swedes have shown, paying taxes won’t.

Sweden would seem to suggest that free markets don’t matter, as long as everyone agrees and is happy.  I think this is a false lesson, too.  Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize winning economist, argued that democracy is good for the nation’s economy and for individual citizens.  However, he said that you need true democracy, and this has four main pillars:  the rule of law, a free and vigorous press, the right to a meaningful vote, and free markets.  If laws are perverted by corruption or status, no other rights mean anything.  If people don’t know what’s going on, the right to vote is pointless.  If they can vote, they need to be able to vote freely and those votes need to actually count, so leaders have to respond to the will of the people.  And if individuals can’t pursue their own economic interests and chart their own destinies, they will always be dependent on those who control their livelihoods.  If Sen is right, then free markets are important.  Of course, “free markets” that are dominated by one or two monopolies are no freer than state-controlled markets; Sen says there will have to be government intervention to insure real opportunities for small businesses and legal protections for individual investors.  Sweden, too, seems to recognize that the free market is important.  They want to harness the energy of individual entrepreneurs and inventors.  They know there are things the free market can do more efficiently than any state agency.  And they know that a tax code that hobbles the growth of small businesses is no good for the nation’s future.  Sweden is not purely socialist; it is a mixed economy, and as a nation it is striving to adjust the balance of public and private sector to reach the balance that will give the best life to its people.

The true lesson of Sweden, I think, is not the superiority of socialism over capitalism, even though at this moment they are doing better by almost every measure than we are.  After all, in the 1990’s they had major economic problems, too.  The lesson of Sweden is that if the national will is focused on solving problems and mutual cooperation, it is possible even for people with different interests and politics to work together to find solutions that give everyone what he or she really needs.  In the U.S. today, the notion that people should debate, talk out their disagreements, and find mutually agreeable solutions is considered treasonous; in fact, it is the only true patriotism.

 


[1]  Christopher Helman, “The World’s Happiest (and Saddest) Countries,” 12/7/2011 ( http://www.forbes.com/sites/christopherhelman/2011/12/07/the-worlds-happiest-and-saddest-countries/ ) last accessed 6/12/2012

[2] Neil Irwin, “Five Lessons from Sweden:  The Rock Star of the Recovery,” The Washington Post 6/24/2011 (http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/five-economic-lessons-from-sweden-the-rock-star-of-the-recovery/2011/06/21/AGyuJ3iH_story.html) accessed 6/12/2012

[3] The Heritage Foundation, http://www.heritage.org/index/country/sweden 6/12/2012

[4]   Myweku:  All Things African, “OECDs Happiest Nations League Table; 10/13/2011 (http://www.myweku.com/2011/10/oecds-happiest-nations-league-table/) accessed 6/12/2012

[5] Carol J. Williams, “Greeks Observe Preelection Ritual of Tax Dodging;” Los Angeles Times 6/12/2012 (http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/world_now/2012/06/greeks-tax-evasion-election.html) accessed June 12, 2012

My 9/11 Reflections (this is a long one)

September 9, 2011

My 9/11 Reflections

 

Good Lord, has it been ten years?

Ten years ago I was finishing up my doctoral thesis and the stay-home day parent for my kids while my wife worked days for the church.  At night it was her turn to be parent while I taught Religion in America and Introduction to Ethics at the local community college.  So I was mostly on a nocturnal schedule.  I had no idea what was going on until hours later, when I woke up and played the phone message from my sister assuring me that she was all right.  Why wouldn’t she be all right?  What could be wrong?  What was going on?  I found out as soon as I turned on the television, of course.  She was at the State Department, and everyone had been sent home after a plane hit the Pentagon a few miles away.  Now she was home with her husband waiting to see if any more planes would hit, if any of her friends would die.  And I still had children to care for that day, piano lessons and school buses and all the rest.  School was cancelled the next day, and we had a departmental meeting to determine how we could help our students.  Of course, I rewrote my syllabus:  we wouldn’t be waiting until the end of the course to discuss Islam this year.

I remember how even MTV, which pretty much has always glorified excess, self-indulgence and generally short-term thinking in all its forms, suddenly became one of the best sources explaining Islam to its viewers.  I remember Dan Rather on the Letterman show, nearly breaking down in tears.  I remember Jon Stewart saying that he used to look out his window and see the World Trade Center.  “Now,” he said, “I look out and see the Statue of Liberty.  You can’t beat that.”

That was what most of us felt:  pain, anger, fear, but also an immense love for our country, maybe deeper than we’d ever realized now that someone was trying to take it all away from us.  There were, however, stupid people.  I remember them too.  On the left, we had idiots like Ward Churchill, who said the terrorist attacks were because of our nation’s foreign policy.  On the right, we had idiots like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, saying the attacks were because God was punishing us for the feminists and liberals.  I’d already read enough about Islam, in seminary and as part of my teaching for five years, to know that both of these were wrong.  Way back before the Iranian Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini had complained that Muslims were “Westoxified:”  intoxicated on Western things and values, like MTV and women being allowed fully human status in society.  The only way to stop the rising and growing Muslim bourgeoisie from developing bourgeoisie values, he taught, was for Muslims to destroy the West, and in particular to destroy or at least neutralize the United States, which he saw as the leader of the industrialized, capitalist, democratic world he so hated.  And in the Sunni world, bin Laden had taken up that same line of reasoning:  that if the U.S. was the source of modern values around the world, the only way to keep Muslims in a truly primitive mindset was to eliminate that cultural influence.  So I knew it wasn’t God’s judgment on us; while the U.S. isn’t perfect, the idea that God would kill thousands of innocent people because there were liberals in the nation is just obscene.  And the thought that bin Laden had any specific motive for the attack is absurd; his gripe is that we breath the air Allah intended only for Salafi Muslims, and that our culture is so powerful and so inviting that the only way to keep the whole world from embracing it is to destroy it utterly.  It couldn’t possibly be the case that Muslims were even then becoming more prosperous and more politically aware, and their rising bourgeois expectations were completely natural and spontaneous!

So we had some American idiots on both sides of the Culture Wars, trying to say how the terrorist attacks were because of the other side.  But most of us, including me, were simply outraged that anyone would be in such a hurry to return to the partisanship, the shallowness, the shortsightedness and the selfishness of September 10, 2001.  We knew, even if Churchill and Falwell didn’t, that we had real enemies out there; we weren’t in a hurry to create or hold onto enemies at home.  We all felt a tremendous unity.  I have to go back now and check old news stories to verify that, so little is that feeling evident today.  At the time, Churchill and Falwell and all of those who were so eager to join the terrorists in trying to tear our country apart were vilified; Falwell apologized and Churchill was fired.  We were all in this together, we knew, and whether you like the guy on the seat next to you or not you all have to row together or the ship’s going down in the storm.

Dan Rather is known for many things; blind allegiance to the State isn’t one of them.  But that night on Letterman, he said, “George Bush is the president, he makes the decisions … wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where,” …… “He’ll make the call.”  And that’s how all of us felt.  As a Floridian who voted for Gore—-I think—–I had serious doubts about his legitimacy.  I didn’t base it on phony-baloney doubts about his birth certificate; I had real reasons to wonder whether the votes had been tallied properly.  But at that moment, I knew we had to put all that aside.  Gays, straights, religious, atheists, men, women, black, white, Christian, Muslim—-all Americans had to come together, and by and large most wanted to come together.

The other thing I remember is how much I wanted to help.  Again, I have to go back and look at news stories; these days selfishness is a virtue (literally; Ayn Rand is the most important philosopher to the Right, and she has a book titled The Virtue of Selfishness).  Today I am preparing my lesson for tomorrow in Introduction to Ethics, and we’re talking about altruism.  On Religion and Ethics Newsweekly there was a marvelous story on the subject some years ago.[1]  As one of the subjects of the interview put it:

 

The immediate response when people from all over the world just left their normal lives, got in cars, got on planes, and came to New York to say, “How can I help?”….. The way we were — people were running in to sacrifice themselves for others. It was like a huge revelation of how precious we are to each other, even total strangers. To me that is where God was in this.

 

 

That is what we were:  a nation wanting to help, to help total strangers, even people we would have scorned a day earlier.  My wife and I donated money to help the victims.  We were also, I think, just more caring in general.  And I wished I could do more, wished someone would ask me to do more.

But again, from the start there was the entrenched, pre-9/11 mentality at work.  While the partisanship and the finger-pointing and divisiveness came from both ends of the political spectrum, the push towards a return to selfishness came almost entirely from conservatives, and most troublingly, from our government.  Bush’s speech to Congress on September 21, 2001 was wonderful in recalling all of us, as Americans and even as civilized people around the world, to join together against the forces of violence and division and destruction.  But that speech, and the others from that time, never told us what we could do.  I was told to stay home, to buy things to revive the economy, to keep living my life as I always had, to accept a tax cut, and in short to just sit back and let the government take care of everything.  I really felt, and still feel, that the Bush administration thought we were all still too childish to accept a call to strive and do.  The Afghan war was to be fought almost risk-free, with very few Americans on the ground.  And really, that probably was for the best since the Afghans would have just seen a hundred thousand American troops as proof that we were planning to conquer and occupy them as the Soviets had tried.  But there was also that undercurrent that the American public couldn’t take casualties, and that it was better to fight a war by proxy than to risk even one casualty because we were too soft to endure it, too fickle to put up with it.  I think they sold us short on that; at that time I think we would have gladly fought as long as our grandfathers had fought the Japanese after Pearl Harbor.  As Yamamoto had said at that time, we could have said to the Taliban:  you have awakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve.  But our own government was afraid to test our resolve.

If our government had called us to a real wartime effort, we would have done anything:  rebuild our infrastructure so we’d have an economy that would dominate the world for the next hundred years, paid taxes to buy more body armor for our troops and to support our soldiers adequately when they came home, anything. At the very least, we could have postponed the tax cut so we would all have felt like we were doing our part.  But as it turned out, the government didn’t have a part for us to do.  The only sacrifice we were asked to make was of our privacy, our civil liberties, and our rights as Americans to due process and habeas corpus and the other rights our Founding Fathers had fought, killed and died for.  They didn’t fight for lower taxes; they fought for the right to tax themselves, for a representative government, but not for an absence of government or of responsibility to it.  Today, if you talk about your “rights” you’re scorned as selfish, unpatriotic or at least naïve; but if you demand your taxes be cut even lower than the historically all-time low rate they already are, you’re a patriot like the ones at Boston Harbor.

Our leaders were afraid to call upon “the better angels of our nature;” instead they appealed to our basest instincts, fear and partisanship and selfishness.  When the call came for war against Iraq, I initially supported it; but it was obvious to me that again, our government was treating us like babies.  Any idiot could see that when Rumsfeld and Cheney told us the war would be over in six weeks and that Iraqi reconstruction would pay for itself, and that we might even make a profit out of the whole thing, that they were either liars or fools.  An eight-year old child could have seen that if the Iraqis chose to blow up their own oil, the oil profits would not be there to pay us back for rebuilding their country.  That’s what we would have done if some foreign occupier had come into our country; how could it have been a surprise to them?  Did they really think it would be like the U.S. Army marching into Paris in 1944?  Did they not see that it might be more like the welcome we got when we crossed the Rhine?  They aren’t that dumb.  They simply believed that the war against Iraq was a good idea, and that if we citizens knew the true costs likely to be demanded of us that we would refuse to do this important thing, so we needed to be lied to, and treated like silly children who won’t take their medicine unless they get a lollipop.

Is it any wonder that today, ten years later, the most amazing thing is how little has changed?  As one headline puts it, Post-9/11 ‘new normal’ looks much like old.”[2]  And in fact, it does: just as partisan, just as petty, just as selfish, just as cynical, just as depressing as it did before the shock and pain of those attacks taught us that we are all Americans, and that as Americans and just as decent human beings there are things that bind us together that matter more than the things that push us apart.

Looking back after ten years, I see that we had an opportunity to become the generation that our grandchildren would have called “The Greatest.”  We didn’t miss that opportunity.  We fled it at warp speed.  Too many of our pundits and political and religious leaders were terrified of giving up the Culture Wars.  They preferred the pre-9/11 mentality, which they were used to and which had rewarded them so well.  I didn’t vote for Obama in the primary; I voted Hillary.  I mention that just to emphasize that I was not and am not the empty-headed romantic that the cynical, selfish liars have tried to claim all Americans who don’t drink their tea are.  I am a true patriot; one thing 9/11 taught me is that I love this country and I am grateful for the opportunities I have had because of it.  It is worth fighting for, and it is worth paying for.  Somehow, being willing to pay for your country has become unpatriotic.  However, being willing to pay more in payroll taxes so the CEO of the bank that foreclosed on your house can have a tax cut—that is patriotic.  When I think of the past, when I listen to Bruce Springsteen’s “Into the Fire,” or watch my tape of the National Memorial Service, I still get choked up.  But when I look at today, I see a nation that has come through a culture war, and the culture lost.  Bin Laden attacked us because he thought he could bankrupt us, and that the fifty states would turn on each other and dissolve our Union.  That was insane.  But after eight years of tax cuts we couldn’t afford and still can’t, we seem much closer to realizing his dream.  We have the so-called patriots of Oklahoma openly discussing taking up arms against their own elected government.[3]  We have a candidate for President who has said that Texas has a right to secede and that if the government elected by the majority of Americans doesn’t suit Texans, they might do so.[4]  People who call themselves Christians ridicule “Kumbayah.”  Paul wrote, “These three things abide:  faith, hope and love”—–but today “hope” is a dirty word.  The Bible says, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” and “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”—-but today “change” is a dirty word (Isa 43:19;  2 Cor 5:17).

So yes, I was excited when we had a President who called out for hope and change.  If the president before him had done that, we’d still have a Republican in the White House.  Instead, the party of hopelessness and inertia fought tooth and claw for its own power.   So now, after ten years, I still feel pain and loss when I think back to those days; but ten years later, I feel pain and loss now, too.  Bin Laden sought to divide and bankrupt this nation, and now thanks to the Tea Party we are closer than ever to that very thing happening.  I mourn the loss of what we could have been, what we should have become after 9/11.  It breaks my heart and it fills me with dread.  Once you were a terrorist if you suggested taking up arms against the government of the United States; now advocating the very things bin Laden did makes you a tea-party patriot.  I fear for my nation more deeply than I did then, since I fear treason more than any foreign enemy.  And I weep when I see how simple logical thought has died, how people can advocate treason and be thought patriots, can embrace the philosophies of atheists like Ayn Rand and be called Christians, or can drop out of college, mock Nobel Prize winning scientists and economists, and be thought wise and responsible.  Patriotism is dying, my country is bleeding out its life’s blood, and even the words that could cry alarm or give aid are turned inside-out and upside-down.  It’s as if our whole nation has aphasia, so no matter what anyone says at this point it won’t matter.  I wonder if this is the way Babel fell (Gen. 11:6-7)?

Well, what can I say?  I am worried for my country, and for the world, and for my Christian faith, all of which are perverted and imperiled by the elevation of selfishness and cowardliness and sloth to supreme virtues, while altruism and courage and the urge to do great things are mocked by the very people who claim to be “patriots” and to speak to and for God.  The Hell-spawn who dreamed up the 9/11 attacks must be delighted to see their plan at long last coming to fulfillment, thanks to those who claim to be the most fervent patriots and Christians.  Seriously, when Ayn Rand can say, “There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them;” and the Satanic Bible can say, “Satan represents kindness to those who deserve it instead of love wasted on ingrates!” and no one sees the parallel, but Rand’s philosophy and language (like calling the poor “moochers and leeches”) is taken up by those who claim to be the true patriots and true Christians (though Christ called the poor children of God)——how can any thinking, feeling person not mourn and worry?  If even the leaders of the Religious Right, the most influential pastors and preachers, embrace Rand’s philosophy though it resembles nothing so much as Satanism, then we should all weep—-for our nation, for our faith, and for the loss of our minds.


[1] Lucky Severson, “Altruism,” Religion and Ethics Newsweekly; first aired March 24, 2006 (http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week930/feature.html) episode 930; accessed September 7, 2011

[2] Calvin Woodward, “Post-9/11 ‘New Normal’ Looks Much Like Old;” Associated Press Sept. 5, 2011 (http://news.yahoo.com/essay-post-9-11-normal-looks-much-old-140032192.html)

[3] Sean Murphy and Tim Talley, “Oklahoma Tea Party Plans to Form Armed Militia,” The Huffington Post April 12, 2010 (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/13/oklahoma-tea-party-plans_n_535412.html) downloaded September 7, 2011

[4] Associated Press, “Gov. Rick Perry:  Texas Could Secede, Leave Union;”  The Huffington Post April 15, 2009 (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/04/15/gov-rick-perry-texas-coul_n_187490.html)