Category Archives: conservatism

There’s Something to Say for Tedium!

DOLOR by Theodore Roethke

I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils,
Neat in their boxes, dolor of pad and paper weight,
All the misery of manila folders and mucilage,
Desolation in immaculate public places,
Lonely reception room, lavatory, switchboard,
The unalterable pathos of basin and pitcher,
Ritual of multigraph, paper-clip, comma,
Endless duplication of lives and objects.
And I have seen dust from the walls of institutions,
Finer than flour, alive, more dangerous than silica,
Sift, almost invisible, through long afternoons of tedium,
Dropping a fine film on nails and delicate eyebrows,
Glazing the pale hair, the duplicate grey standard faces. 

I’ve always liked this poem though it is so heavy-handed and grim, using mundane phenomena of day-to-day life to paint a picture of the relentless tedium of life.  Usually we don’t notice this tedium for we are acclimated to it and take it to be reality…and it is good that we do; for this “tedium” makes consensually-validated reality possible and we can trudge through the necessary pretenses of daily living.  But then Donald J. Trump stumbles onto center stage and we see just how “unnecessary” this sheep-like behavior is!  For example, why must we “make nice” every day, obeying rules of decorum and civility when we could easily just lay aside our inhibitions and say or do what we really are thinking?  Just one example comes to mind, last fall on the debate stage, when all but one of the presidential candidates were “making nice” with one another only to discover one of their members was playing by different rules.  Furthermore, Trump’s willingness to “tell it like it is” resonated with many voters who quickly fell in line with him, finding his disinhibition the perfect expression of their pent-up frustration which Roethke beautifully portrayed in his poem.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Thingsfall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.  (The Second Coming, by W. B. Yeats)

 

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Thomas Mann Offered Prophetic Word to the U.S. in 1947

Literature can be a portal into the human soul.  As the current political and cultural drama continues to unfold in my country, it has been so interesting to stumble across observations from ancient…and not so ancient…cultures whose insights were so relevant to what is unfolding now in the American psyche.  The human soul is constant.  It never changes.  Oh yes, the historical moment changes but the human response to circumstances of any moment always reveal common themes.  Here I wish to share a lengthy excerpt from Thomas Mann’s 1947 novel, “Dr. Faustus,” which is very relevant to present day America:

We are lost…the war is lost; but that means more than a lost campaign, it means that in very truth WE are lost: our character, our cause, our hope, our history.  It is all up with Germany, it will be all up with her.  She is marked down for collapse, economic, moral, political, spiritual, in short all-embracing, unparalleled, final collapse.  I suppose I have not wished for it, this that threatens, for it is madness and despair.  I suppose I have not wished for it because my pity is too deep, my grief and sympathy are with this unhappy nation, when I think of the exaltation and blind ardour of its uprising, the breaking out, the breaking up, the breaking down, the purifying and fresh start, the national new birth of ten years ago, that seemingly religious intoxication—which then betrayed itself to any intelligent person for what it was by its crudity, vulgarity, gangsterism, sadism, degradation, filthiness, ah how unmistakably it bore within itself the seeds of this whole war!  My heart contracts painfully at the thought of that enormous investment of faith, zeal, lofty historic emotion; all this we made, all this is now puffed away in a bankruptcy without compare.  No, I surely did not want it, and yet—I have been driven to want it, I wish for it today and will welcome it, out of hatred for the outrageous contempt of reason, the vicious violation of truth, the cheap, filthy backstairs mythology, the criminal degradation and confusion of standards, the abuse, corruption, and blackmail of all that was good, genuine, trusting, and trustworthy in our old Germany.  For liars and lickspittles mixed us a poisonous draft and took away our senses.  We drank—for we Germans perennially yearn for intoxication—and under its spell, through years of deluded high living, we committed a superfluity of shameful deeds, which now must be paid for…with with despair.  (Thomas Mann, “Dr. Faustus”)

Rebecca Solnit on Trump’s Maddening Solitude

This is the best “sermon” I’ve read yet about Trump and his minions.  Rebecca Solnit spares no punches and delivers a prophetic word, not just about Trump, but about our whole culture.  As they say, “Read it and weep.”  And weeping is in order as this is a very sad moment in our history and could get even sadder at any moment.

My use of words like “sermon” and “prophetic” bely my rage at the church culture of my origins.  Yes, “me doeth protest too much.”  I still think that “truth” can be found in spiritual traditions but very often spiritual traditions ossify and become merely “well-worn words and ready phrases that build walls against the wilderness.”  That leaves it to artists, writers, and even comedians to “speak truth to power” and Ms. Solnit here “knocks it out of the park.”

http://lithub.com/rebecca-solnit-the-loneliness-of-donald-trump/

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Two other blogs of mine are listed here which I invited you to check out:

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

A Prophetic Word from the NYT

I love Bill Maher and especially his emphasis of the “imaginary friend” of Christians.  I completely get and understand his point.  But I think there is a way in which Jesus must be our “imaginary friend” if He is to have any value to us, value other than mere rhetorical, dogmatic escapism.  Here is a link to an op-ed in the New York Times yesterday in which Nicholas Kristof used his imagination to apply the teachings of Jesus to the darkness that currently abounds in Washington D.C.  I don’t know anything about Kristof’s religious affiliation, and don’t care, but he took the teachings of Jesus and applied them to what is underway in our government and, in doing so, offered a prophetic word to a country that needs one.

The “Battle for Truth” in the U.S.

The Battle for Truth in the United States continues to amaze me, given that I grew up with the Superman TV series where the Man of Steel was the champion of, “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.”  Currently we see a daily display of the overt dishonesty of the Trump administration and the Republican Party and watch our nation flounder almost haplessly before this demonic presence. And, I’m not surprised that the “truth-telling” does not come from within the establishment.

I just stumbled across timely wisdom from Vaclav Havel, the former Czechoslovakian writer, playwright, turned political leader who in 1989 led the Velvet Revolution which toppled the Communist regime.  Listen to what he said about how the toppled authoritarian state had manipulated with overt dishonesty:

He states that ideology, “builds a world of appearances trying to pass for reality.”  The oppressive regime “touches people at every step but does so with its ideological gloves on. This is why life in the system is so thoroughly permeated with hypocrisy and lies…the lack of free expression becomes the highest form of freedom…the banning of independent thought becomes the most scientific of world views.  Because the regime is captive to its own lies, it must falsify everything.  It falsifies the past, it falsifies the present, and it falsifies the future.  It pretends to respect human rights.  It pretends to persecute no one.  It pretends to fear nothing.  It pretends to pretend nothing.”

It is no accident that this “truth-telling” in Czechoslovakia came from a voice from the artistic community.  Those within the political establishment are not capable of recognizing the truth, must less proclaiming it.  And those in religious circles are usually ensconced in the echo chamber of religious dogma and have no use for a voice from the outside, such a voice being intrinsically threatening to its established hierarchy.

In my country today it is not the church and certainly not the political establishment who is “speaking truth to power” like those in the arts and entertainment community.  Late night comedians like Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, Seth Myers, Samantha Bee and James Cordon are left with the task of vividly painting a picture of how our present “emperor” has no clothes on.  Evangelical and fundamentalist Christian leaders have completely fallen under the spell of Trump and will never dare to admit they have made a mistake.  For, they like Trump, cannot acknowledge making a mistake of the magnitude of the one they are making.  Oh, sure they can trot out a canned spiel of being “a sinner saved by God’s grace” but it is another thing to have to stare face to face with how your ego has led you to pledge your troth to the embodiment of everything that is anti-thetical to the cause of Christ.

ADDENDUM—This is one of three blogs that I now have up and running.  Please check the other two out sometime.  The three are: 

https://wordpress.com/stats/day/literarylew.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com

 

GOP Self-destruction and Its War on Truth

Several times during the Obama administration I listened to Republicans passionately declare, “President Obama is out to destroy the Republican Party.”  It was apparent that their collective unconscious was speaking as the seeds of self-destruction were obviously ravaging their party.  During the Tea Party hey-day, many GOP stalwarts from earlier Republican Presidential administrations would say such things as, “We’ve been hijacked” in recognition of the incipient catastrophe that was unfolding.  And as the Trump madness gained strength during the 2016 campaign, most of his party’s leadership actively opposed him until it became apparent he was going to win then they sheepishly came on board.

Donald Trump is the embodiment of the poison that has been seeking expression in the GOP for decades as the party’s leadership pointedly followed a pathway of dishonesty and fraud, featuring a conspicuous disdain for truth.  Their “war on reality” is now on the surface and finds expression almost daily with Trump’s overt and flagrant dishonesty.  Stephen Colbert introduced the term “truthiness” several years ago in reference to how media often was very manipulative and dishonest with the news.  But now the Trump administration has followed this practice that was so conspicuous in his campaign with an even more overt disavowal of basic standards of truth.  Trump and his staff now openly declared that he has the right to say whatever is on his mind regardless of whether or not it is valid according to prevailing standards of truth and non-truth.

The failure to respect truth in this self-destructive tendency of the GOP  puts on the table the over whelming support of evangelical Christians.  These purported champions of Jesus Christ, who claimed to be, “The Way, the Truth, and Life” are openly supporting this man who is the blatant antithesis to the fundamental tenets of the teachings of Jesus.  I suspect that many of them now see they’ve been duped but, suffering from the same spiritual malady of Trump, they cannot utter the simple words, “I made a mistake” even though their very valid faith permits them to do so if they have the humility to admit human flaw.

The irony is that challenges to Trump’s moral and spiritual integrity have come, not from these evangelicals, but from those who do not wear their faith on their sleeve or who are not even Christian.  For example, Kazir Khan was the first to openly question the moral character of Trump.  And more recently, Congressman Mark Sanford (see yesterday’s blog) and Senator John McCain have boldly stated the obvious that Trump has trouble separating “truth from lies.” (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/feb/18/john-mccain-savages-donald-trump-administration-inability-separate-truth-from-lies

Though no longer an evangelical, I still have a passionate conviction that life is a spiritual enterprise.  As someone said, and I paraphrase, “Mankind is a spirit having an earthly moment.”  In the words of Teilhard de Chardin, the “Cosmic Christ’ is seeking expression in the whole of this cosmic enterprise that we are inextricably caught up in.  It is important that men and women of spiritual sensitivity be present to speak “truth to power” on occasion and that can’t be done when one’s “spirituality” consists primarily of sterile dogma and rhetoric.  I am very impressed with people such as Mark Sanford and John McCain who have faith of an “uncanned” variety and who aren’t wearing their “faith” on their sleeve.  Those who do carry only this simplistic faith Shakespeare described with the following keen wisdom:

When love (i.e. “faith”) begins to sicken and decay,/It useth an enforced ceremony./There are no tricks in plain and simple faith./But hollowmen, like horses hot at hand,/Make gallant show and promise of their mettle.

When “Truth” is not given reverence and allowed to permeate the whole of our being, individually and collectively, self-destruction is encouraged as illustrated by the Republicans.  Again, as Shakespeare put it, we then begin to “feed even on the pith of life.”

 

Ta-Nehesi Coates: “Thinking They are White”

Ta-nehesi Coates’s book on racism was one of the most provocative books I read last year. Mr. Coates grew up an impoverished black child in Baltimore, Maryland, managed to escape with an education, and wrote this very revealing book about what it is like to grow up under the tyranny of racism in ’70’s and 80’s America.  One line that really grabbed me a class of people who learned to “think they are white” and the power that comes with that understanding.  For, being white in America did carry, and still does to a large degree, implicit assumptions of power, i.e. prerogative.  Growing up a poor white boy in Arkansas I clearly remember discovering early the “black-white” distinction in my culture, the blacks being known, of course, as “N…….s” and viewed with great scorn and contempt.  Looking back I now recall distinctly how important this was as a poor white, having a class of people who were lower on the totem pole than we were though we were very low socio-economically.  Learning to “think I was white” was one of the most important early discoveries of my life, very much a formative part of my identity the early stages of which involves drawing distinctions between self and others, including between my group and other groups.

But Mr. Coates’ observation, “thinking they are white” really cut to the quick with me, conveying to me what he had seen about the smug observations we make early in our childhood which become solid bedrock in our cognitive grasp of the world.  And with my grasp of my “whiteness” I knew that though I lacked many things, no one could take away from me my “whiteness” and with that status came the power of eating on the right side of the diner, using the nicer bathrooms, drinking at the white water fountains, and going to the better white schools.  It was nothing I thought about…consciously.  It was a given, a basic assumption, an implicit part of the template through which I viewed the world.  I had a power that many others did not have, regardless of how powerlessness I might feel otherwise in my life.

Though I have long since gone beyond this racist view of the world, I know the template is still there in the depths of my heart thought quite faint.  In the past decade as I’ve aged I have recognized faint racist imagery and thoughts creep into my consciousness, an experience which has not alarmed me because I see them for what they are.  The earliest imprints from our culture, even those “burned in” on our pre-conscious soul, never leave us.   People may vehemently deny being racist but very often their behavior and passing thoughts betray them.  For example, note the Republican Party which is quick to deny racism but has systematically and persistently sought to deny blacks the right to vote in recent years.

Racism is only the surface of a deeper problem, an intrinsic dimension of identity formulation already alluded to.  For an identity to begin to organize and to escape the matrix in which it first existed, that “blooming, buzzing, confusing world of sense experience” spoken of by William James…it must draw distinctions between it and the “other”.  Blacks in my early life, and in most of my generation, was one of the earliest “others” that we found and when we “othered” them it was done with great emotional intensity.

So racism is merely an essential part of American identity and all cultures and tribes have some similar process at the bedrock of their collective psyche.  But I’ve discoursed here only as an introduction to my next blog post, the Christian faith utilized as a contrivance for identity formulation and, devoid of maturation, serving only to “other” masses of people.