The Utopia of Relativism

The talk of the past week or so in political circles has been Barack Obama’s tour of Europe — in particular his non-political political speech in Berlin. Two of the better commentaries you will find on the event are the devastating critique by John Bolton, and the more humorous, but equally effective demolition by
James Lileks. I recommend you take a few minutes to digest these gems.

Now, I cannot hope to match the insight and wit of such as these — but nevertheless I hope to toss a few ideas and impressions into the arena of discussion on this subject. I rarely touch on politics on this blog, as others far more passionate and adept at such commentary abound. But there were some undercurrents in the speech which I found very emblematic of our current age, and very troubling, and perhaps I may offer a few insights of value.

First, the purely political: isn’t this man running for President of the United States? So, why on earth is he giving political speeches to the Europeans? I suppose it is a feeble attempt to burnish his anemic foreign-policy credentials — although I strain to understand why shaking a few foreign hands and giving a too-slick speech to our Germanic übermeisters somehow augments one’s foreign policy portfolio. Having your picture taken with a cow does not a dairy farmer make.

Then there was the heady libation of contemporary liberalism: the obligatory apologies to the rest of the world for America’s great failures. Shortcomings we have an abundance — but, apologizing to the Germans? To the Germans? The same Germans, who spent the first half of the 20th century — and no small part of the previous century — conquering Europe, slaughtering millions and wreaking untold havoc on an entire continent? The same Germans, who killed millions of our soldiers, 6 million Jews, and countless other political and social outcasts in their concentration camps and euthanasia centers? The same Germans for whom we, having crushed them at enormous cost of life and treasure, then rebuilt their country and defended them from another 40 years of horror under totalitarian communism?

Could someone please explain to me why, in any just and rational world, an American politician should apologize for our behavior, to the Germans?

I just had to get that off my chest. There, I feel better now.

But on to larger things: large swaths of the speech spoke in vaunted and eloquent terms of the hope and desire for world united, a world without walls. We heard repeatedly about how such walls — both actual and metaphorical — must be torn down, removing all divisions which confront and challenge us:

That is why the greatest danger of all is to allow new walls to divide us from one another.

The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand. The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down.

Now color me a contrarian, but I am not entirely convinced of the wisdom of this wall-breaching braggadocio. As Robert Frost once wisely said, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Should we really be about tearing down every barrier which divides us? Aren’t some of these fences, some divisions, critically important to our safety and integrity? After all, prison walls divide us from the criminals — should we not, if we want to live in peace, harmony, and new age oneness, tear these walls down as well? Is every division, whether existing between nations, or races, or tribes, or religions, by its very nature a candidate for dismantling?

Some divisions, it seems, exist for our protection: the division between freedom and tyranny; the division between nations which oppress and those who liberate; the division between good and evil itself. But to uphold and defend these necessary walls, there needs to be a conviction of the absolutes which form their ramparts. You cannot defend good from evil if “good” and “evil” are but fungible and flexible preferences, made near-meaningless with endless shades of gray obscuring their sharp contrasts and muting their colored brilliance. If right and wrong are detached from their transcendent mooring in absolute truth, and made mere preference or personal piety, then there is nothing left to defend. The walls which have kept the barbarians at bay now become broad promenades welcoming in regal splendor the very forces which will enslave us.

Our modern secular utopians, like their brethren throughout the ages, ignore the differences which matter while elevating the differences which do not. Hence the Christian who stands against the slaughter of the unborn innocents and the Muslim who slaughters the innocent through self-immolation become indistinguishable — both “extremists”, both “divisive” — and we must tear down these walls to live at peace. Such distinctions between religions and philosophies run to the core of their very nature: to dismantle the division is to destroy their unique character, to render meaningless any judgment about which worldview is better for the well-being of man and society. Be hot or be cold, as someone once said — but the lukewarm will be expectorated, with extreme prejudice.

And what of destroying the “division” between rich and poor, the West and East? Is not one more wealthy, more free, more successful, more propitious to its citizens exactly because of the differences which divide us — specifically, respect for human life and property, for rule of law, for individuality, for a spirit of generosity and sacrifice arising out of Judeo-Christian principles instilled at its founding? Shall we instead denigrate a nation which, for all its flaws, has sacrificed countless lives and expended endless lucre throughout its history to free the enslaved and crush the tyrant; shall we become the object of self-loathing and shame which must grovel for its sins before the sinister, the enslaver, and the slothful? Is this the price of such world unity? We have seemingly arrived at a place where we are unable to proclaim the good without the ridicule of the glib; we cannot call an act evil but to the catcalls of the cynics.

In our utopian zealotry, we attack the divisions of substance while elevating the divisions of appearance. The unity which is our strength — a common culture, and language, and shared set of moral values — must now give way to the triumph of the superficial: we categorize by color rather than by character; we talk of freedom while enforcing speech codes and pursuing thought crimes. Religion is our enemy while conformity becomes our religion. Science becomes truth and truth becomes myth; We are overcome by evil because we refuse to call it by name.

The gnostic hubris which is our modern foolishness boasts in what it knows, while knowing not what it does not know. Our ignorance of human nature cripples us; we believe that if we reason with evil, evil will change, charmed by the magic of our words and soothed by the sincerity of our childish desires. Like some love-maddened missionary, we sleep with the strumpet to save her soul, then find ourselves amazed when we become as lost as she.

There is, in truth, but two ways to unity: the way of inner submission, and the way of outer coercion. Within the limits of the frailty of our fallen nature, we achieve a measure of unity by common compliance to inner morals, arising from the recognition of a transcending set of absolutes which dictates such standards for both the individual and the common good. We acknowledge a standard of behavior and restraint which arises from the divine — though we often fall short of this standard, and may differ in some measure on its particulars. We become one — imperfectly to be sure — because we submit to and follow One, whose perfect moral standards and ethical precepts are held as the highest ideal and a noble pursuit.

When such an overarching absolute standard is rejected — as it has been by aggressive secularism, atheistic, reductionist, and materialistic to the core — we can only enforce a form of unity through coercion and power. Inner moral dictates must be subjugated to coerced conformity. It is “acceptable” to hold “values” which are at odds with the secular societal standard — as long as these “values” are never acted upon in speech or behavior. We may believe abortion to be morally abhorrent — but must never act to restrain it; we may hold homosexuality to be morally wrong and believe gay marriage to be a threat to a core foundational institution of society — but to verbalize thus is “hate speech”, and “intolerance”, and “ignorance.” Our unity is the unity of the gag, a multicultural muzzle which celebrates the superficial, elevates the insignificant, tolerates the intolerable — and punishes the moral. Our unity is the unity of relativism, a superficial solidarity where everything is acceptable but absolutes, where anything is tolerated but truth. Such unity strives for the lowest common denominator, maintaining its forced cohesion by the will to power, destroying in its enslaving solidarity the very soul of freedom and the heart of true human harmony.

It is no small irony that Obama proclaimed his utopian tome to the Hun — they of the fertile ground which brought forth Nietzsche and Hegel, and a National Socialism which crushed the dividing walls of Old Europe with an iron fist and a broken cross. Our modern nihilism is far more appealing, wrapped in soothing bromides of hope and change — but no less corrupt and empty at its core.

Beware the man who brings unity at the cost of individuality. Beneath the sheep’s clothing lies something far more ominous than smooth words and glib promises betray.

Welcoming the Hypocrites

fishDonald Sensing has a good post about the all-too-common accusation against Christians, that they are hypocrites:

The hypocrisy excuse for staying away from church has got to be the oldest there is. Which only proves what Mark Twain observed, “When you don’t want to do something, any excuse will do.” And to borrow one of Yogi Berra’s malapropisms, If people don’t want to come to church, nobody’s going to stop them.
 
But I say, “Hooray for hypocrites!” If you’re a hypocrite, you’re just my guy or gal.

Yes, the accusation of hypocrisy is freely administered by those who, in their righteous indignation, would never darken the door of their nearest church. To be sure, there is no shortage of hypocrisy in Christianity; in fact, there seems to be a rather large supply well-distributed across the human race, religious or not. I’ve had a few thoughts of my own on the subject, contained in a long-winded riff on refrigerator magnets, here.

Sensing nails the issue beautifully:

Because hypocrisy requires the hypocrite to believe in something or someone outside himself. Hypocrisy requires an aspiration to something higher or better than oneself. That is the meaning of the folk saying, “Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue.” Hypocrisy is an imperfect, deficient attempt to be better…

It is deceit that makes hypocrisy what it is. The true hypocrite wants others to think better of him/her than is actually justified. Absent this deceit, there is no hypocrisy, just error or human frailty. That’s what the hypocrisy-excuse people don’t understand – or pretend not to understand – about church people. What may appear to be church people’s hypocrisy is almost always just simple failure to meet the standards of our faith rather than deceit. Why? Because the standard is so high:

But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Mt. 5:28).

But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual transgression, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery (Mt. 5:32).

There are many such examples. So I say that if our churches are filled with such “hypocrites,” then let’s have many more. Vice is easy, virtue is hard. It’s no hypocrisy to fall short of a very high standard and such an excellent goal. And I would suggest that the hypocrisy-excuse people have largely chosen the easy way over the hard way, and choose to call that virtue. So who are the hypocrites? Well, we always have room for one more.

The irony in this situation is that the accusation of hypocrisy often comes from someone incapable of hypocrisy — for the simple reason that you cannot fall short of a standard which you do not have:

Thankfully I have known very few non-hypocritical people. They were insufferable. They were entirely self centered, self directed, self oriented, self focused and just plain purely selfish. They recognized no cause, entity or belief higher than themselves, their own desires, wants or needs. You can see, I’m sure, that it is impossible for such people to act hypocritically because they are always looking out for No. 1 in every situation. They never pretend they are acting in someone else’s interests. They don’t seek others’ approval because they don’t fundamentally care about others or what they think.

So don’t be a hypocrite — Check it out.

Two Sides of the Same Coin


The context of Mark Steyn’s trial by the British Columbia Human Rights Commission prompts The Belmont Club to ponder the standards by which we judge good and evil. In Nor iron bars a cage, he asks,

Is there a fundamental definition of evil? Are there things which objectively possess this property independent of the perception of man?

He then draws upon C.S Lewis, who as an atheist struggled with this dilemma:

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. … Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too — for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist — in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless — I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality — namely my idea of justice — was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.

C.S. Lewis found the soft underbelly of atheism, its irreconcilable logical flaw: it judges belief in God to be foolish, even evil, and life thereby accidental and meaningless — but does so by referencing a transcendent standard outside of itself against which good and evil, or meaning and meaninglessness, are measured. It judges transcendence to be non-existent by appealing to — transcendence.

Lewis’ logic is then brilliantly applied to our current multicultural “human rights” jihad, by zeroing in on the heart of human freedom, choice:

The inescapability of having to choose a standard or axioms — even provisionally — is the fracture line at the base of moral relativism and multiculturalism. … [If] it is true that no one can judge “who’s right or wrong” then who can judge the truth of that assertion itself?
 
It is this illusory attempt to escape from the need to believe in something — even provisionally — that explains why all attempts to enforce an equivalency among all ideas and cultures inevitably creates a fascistic kind of monoculture itself. Belief, denied the front entrance as principle, often smuggles itself in via the back door as fascism ….

The brotherhood of atheism and multiculturalism are often portrayed as the route to true human freedom, bringing the promise of deliverance from superstition and judgmentalism, thus leading to the fulfillment of true human potential. But the harsh reality is that they are two sides of the same coin, both leading down the path to totalitarianism and fascism. There are no absolutes — except the absolute hatred of those who believe in them. All things are tolerated — except those judged “intolerant” for believing and acting on moral absolutes. We see this trend everywhere, from the exclusion of religion from the public square, to the PC speech codes and suppression of “hate speech” (i.e., conservative or religious thought and opinion) on college campuses, to the Kafka-esque absurdity of the British Columbia Human Rights Commission’s show trials, protecting human rights by suppressing them.

Fortunately Lewis’ framework for making sense of a universe populated by both good and evil can shed light on our more limited problem of figuring out the relationship between freedom and anti-freedom within the framework of freedom itself. The key concept Lewis introduces is one of choice. Not the notion of choice as the fictional ability to do anything without paying a price or suffering the consequences: that is a counterfeit idea of choice composed of the shadows of multiculturalism. But of choice as inherent human ability to select between right and wrong and face the consequences…

It’s not necessary to dwell on Lewis’ idea of good and evil as a kind of broken symmetry to arrive at the counterintuitive idea that freedom is the outcome of a willingness to assume the consequences for choices. This relationship between consequence and choice is at the kernel of the commonplace expression that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”. Western society is free to allow every manner of expression only for so long as it is willing to pay the price of doing so …

Consider for a moment why Mark Steyn is a “free” man. It is only partly because he is a citizen of Canada but mostly due to his willingness to write without fear; or perhaps more accurately, in spite of it. Anyone who has struggled against tyranny understands this relationship intuitively. Whether you are in the Warsaw Ghetto, the French underground, or in safe house in Sampaloc district in Manila, freedom is always within your reach, if you are willing to pay the price.

Brilliant essay — as they say, read the whole thing.

Drinking the Kool-AIDS

Threat of world Aids pandemic among heterosexuals is over, report admits:

A quarter of a century after the outbreak of AIDS, the World Health Organization (WHO) has accepted that the threat of a global heterosexual pandemic has disappeared.

In the first official admission that the universal prevention strategy promoted by the major Aids organizations may have been misdirected, Kevin de Cock, the head of the WHO’s department of HIV/AIDS said there will be no generalized epidemic of AIDS in the heterosexual population outside Africa.

Dr. de Cock, an epidemiologist who has spent much of his career leading the battle against the disease, said understanding of the threat posed by the virus had changed. Whereas once it was seen as a risk to populations everywhere, it was now recognized that, outside sub-Saharan Africa, it was confined to high-risk groups including men who have sex with men, injecting drug users, and sex workers and their clients.

There was never very much evidence of the threat of AIDS to low-risk, heterosexual populations — a threat which was nevertheless widely hyped to drum up massive research and public education funding for a disease whose risk has always been extremely low in heterosexuals who did not use IV drugs or visit prostitutes.

While medical treatment of AIDS has advanced greatly — mostly through the breakthrough of protease inhibitor therapy (enormously expensive drugs with a host of serious side effects) — prevention efforts designed to change high-risk behavior have failed dismally. No surprise there — you can’t cure addictions — sexual, drug, or otherwise — with education.

But, hey, our schools taught several generations of kids to use condoms rather than study math, so it was worth it, no?

And Dr. de Cock?? Sometimes life is funnier than fiction …

Liberalism & Gnosticism

Sorry to go dark for so long — more on that later. Hope to have some time for new stuff soon. In the meantime, here’s another repost from the past.

 
Sunset SkyIt takes only a brief review of conservative web sites, print media, and pundit blogs to be left with the impression of a deep frustration with liberalism. Not merely the disagreement with their beliefs and priorities, mind you — that is a given — but rather with their peculiar unresponsiveness to arguments of reason and logic. The scenario goes something like this: Some Democrat in Congress or liberal pundit makes an outrageous charge about Bush, or Iraq, or Republicans, or Christians, or whatever. The conservative blogs explode with the news, followed shortly by detailed rebuttal of the charges, or ample testimony to prior events proving the hypocrisy of the attack. Well-reasoned, factual defense is the rule rather than the exception. Yet all to no avail. Those on the Left either shrug, or respond with even more outrageous accusations, or go ad hominem. I often wonder whether all this energy and effort has accomplished anything beyond making us feel better about ourselves and venting our frustration.

I believe the problem is that we don’t understand liberals.

Now, before you start thinking I’m having a kumbaya moment, hear me out: we don’t understand liberals because contemporary liberalism is the new Gnosticism.

Gnosticism as a religion is ancient — predating Christianity by at least several centuries, and coexisting with it for several more before dying out. It was in many ways a syncretic belief system, drawing elements from virtually every religion it touched: Buddhism, Indian pantheism, Greek philosophy and myth, Jewish mysticism, and Christianity.

Gnosticism (from the Greek gnosis, to know, or knowledge) was manifested in many forms and sects, but all shared common core beliefs: dualism, wherein the world was evil and the immaterial good; the importance of secret knowledge, magical in nature, by which those possessing such knowledge could overcome the evil of the material world; and pantheism. It was also a profoundly pessimistic belief system. As J.P. Arendzen, in his excellent summary of Gnosticism, explains:

This utter pessimism, bemoaning the existence of the whole universe as a corruption and a calamity, with a feverish craving to be freed from the body of this death and a mad hope that, if we only knew, we could by some mystic words undo the cursed spell of this existence — this is the foundation of all Gnostic thought … Gnosticism is pseudo-intellectual, and trusts exclusively to magical knowledge.

So in what ways is modern liberalism Gnostic in nature?

First and foremost, in modern liberalism, what you believe is more important than how you act. Gnostic sects were often hedonistic — after all, since you possess special knowledge of the truth, and the physical world is evil, why pursue noble behavior with an inherently wicked material body? While not all – or even most – liberals are hedonistic (although Hollywood does come to mind…), contemporary liberalism has enshrined tolerance of hedonism as a core belief.

More fundamentally, there is a disconnect in liberalism between belief and action. As a result, there is no such thing as hypocrisy. So the National Organization of Women, tireless in its campaign on violence against women, sexual harassment, and the tyranny of men in the workplace and in society, stands wholeheartedly behind Bill Clinton, who used a dim-witted intern for sex (in the workplace, moreover!) and who was credibly charged with sexual assault on Juanita Brodderick. Hypocrisy? No, Bill Clinton “understood” women and women’s issues — his knowledge trumped his behavior, no matter how despicable.

There are many such similar examples, once you start looking for them. I recall a gay activist on NPR instructing Terry Gross that the solution to “anti-gay intolerance” (i.e., anyone who had qualms about homosexuality, either in its morality or social agenda) was “education”. If we religious or socially conservative cretins were only properly “educated”–if and when we finally “got it” — then all of our opposition to homosexuality would melt away like an ice sculpture in August.

It is no accident that many of our most liberal intellectuals reside in the universities, in the rarefied atmosphere where ideas are everything and their practical application moot. We conservatives often marvel at the naivety of the peace movement, where World Peace can be achieved if only we “visualize” it. Like the magic formulas used by the Gnostics to dispel evil spirits and emanations, simply believing that peace can be achieved by “loving one another”, and mutual understanding is sufficient to transform those intent on evil, destruction, and domination. Human shields defend tyrannical monsters who would shred them in a heartbeat were they not so useful, in order to “put an end to war.” Judges implement rulings based on higher Sophia rather than the law, blissfully dismissing their profound impact on the Great Unknowing Masses below.

The profound pessimism of the Gnostic world view is seen in contemporary liberalism as well. If ever there was a gentle giant in history — a nation overwhelmingly dominant yet benign in its use of power — it is the United States of the 20th and 21st century. Yet we are treated to an endless litany of tirades about our racist, sexist, imperialist ways, which will only end when the Left “takes America back” — ignoring that a nation so administered would cease to exist in short order. American liberalism was not always so. As recently as twenty years ago, it was optimistic, hopeful and other-oriented, albeit with misconceptions about human nature which proved the undoing of its policies and programs. Only at its farthest fringes did pessimism reign, but today this dark view is increasingly the dominant one.

Analogies have their limits, as does this one. Ancient Gnosticism was deeply religious, although pantheistic, whereas modern liberal thinking is profoundly secular and agnostic, for example. But even here similarities persist: how many New Age conservatives do you know? Modern secular liberalism is far more religion than political philosophy, and therefore largely resistant to confrontation or compromise based on logic and reason.

Gnosticism as a religious force collapsed of its own weight, crippled by its internal inconsistencies and the lack of power sufficient to transform and ennoble the human spirit. Yet failed ideas die hard, given the intransigence of human pride. How very odd that our predominant postmodern political philosophy is so ancient in origin.

Grace 4 U2

This is a re-post from several years ago, to quell the restless masses until time permits me to write something afresh.

 
Bono of U2After seemingly endless weeks recently of watching Tom Cruise air-box, jump on chairs, pontificate on depression, and talk about the idiocy of Scientology, it’s definitely refreshing — yea, one might even say a veritable antidepressant — to have some sanity expressed by another celebrity who appears to have a more rational cerebrum (although, granted, not as much of a pretty boy). Swiftly and with Style (HT: In the Agora) finds an intriguing quote from Bono, of U2 fame, in his book Bono in Conversation:

It \'s a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the Universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma. . . .You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics --in physical laws --every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It \'s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the Universe. I \'m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “as you reap, so will you sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I \'ve done a lot of stupid stuff. . . .

I \'d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I \'d be in deep sh-t. It doesn \'t excuse my mistakes, but I \'m holding out for Grace. I \'m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don \'t have to depend on my own religiosity.

I love the idea that God says: Look, you cretins, there are certain results to the way we are, to selfishness, and there \'s mortality as part of your very sinful nature, and let \'s face it, you \'re not living a very good life, are you? There are consequences to actions. The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That \'s the point. It should keep us humbled… It \'s not our own good works that get us through the gates of Heaven.

It’s a little scary when Karma and Christ get mentioned in the same breath — from a rock star never seen without his wrap-around shades and so-cool demeanor — in a literary aside laced with the appropriate profanities, moreover — and it’s one of the clearest expressions of how the world works you’ve heard in months. God’s a very funny guy sometimes, and uses rather peculiar mouthpieces — which gives me great hope indeed.
Continue reading “Grace 4 U2”

The Slavery of Deceit

The blogs are all abuzz about Obama and his mentor-cum-pariah Jeremiah Wright, who through weekend comments espousing his crazy conspiracy theories and bizarre anthropology have thrust them both into the headlines and into the headlights of an oncoming freight train. I have written previously about Jeremiah Wright, and so have little to add to the millions of words already written on his theology, social philosophy, pseudo-Christianity, and his influence on Barack Obama.

One of the more interesting angles to this controversy has been a question raised about whether Pastor Wright is in fact trying to undermine the presidential campaign Senator Obama. At first glance, such a turnabout is confusing, and the best rationale offered to date is that the good Pastor is a bit frosted about being straight-armed by his young protégé. While this may well be true, allow me to put forth another possibility, one which I believe to be far more plausible.

Jeremiah Wright cannot allow Obama to succeed.

Say what?

Yes, you heard me right. Consider this:

Jeremiah Wright lives, breathes, and exists to proclaim that Western civilization in general, and America specifically, are intractably racist and evil, and have been so ever since their foundation. We have all heard and read the sermons and the church bulletins, talking about how white men go to church on Sunday and lynch black men on Monday; how we are a terrorist nation bent on killing people of color and the poor; how the U. S. government created the AIDS virus for the purpose eradicating the black community. In Pastor Wright’s dark world, American society is incorrigibly racist, incapable of change, and the source of all problems in the black community and the world. The black man is a victim, oppressed, and the society in which he lives irredeemable.

Then along comes Obama.

This man, carefully mentored for 20 years under your tutelage, decides to run for President. And he starts winning — winning in part due to huge support from the black community, but winning in even larger part because of white voters. He becomes a rock star, the darling of the lily-white media, the heartthrob of the white intellectual elites, preaching a message of post-racial reconciliation and hope.

And he keeps on winning. In fact, he looks likely to be the democratic presidential nominee. And he looks highly competitive to become president of the United States.

By all measures, in a rational world, this should be a moment of enormous triumph for the black community, a testimony that America is finally beginning to move past race to the dream of Martin Luther King: to judge a man based on the content of this character rather than the color of his skin.

But if you are Jeremiah Wright, your world is falling apart.

You have preached for years that all white men are racists, and lynchers-in-waiting. You have talked for years that only black is good, and white is evil. You have maintained that the African-American is always a victim, always the target of racism, always doomed to fail in this system which, at its very core, hates him.

And now, the profound prevarication underlying all you have taught and believed in is embodied in the person of Barack Obama. Here is a black man widely viewed as bright, personable, and accomplished; whom large numbers of whites not only vote for, but enthusiastically support; whose success betrays the profound error of your entire worldview.

Whitey’s gonna elect a black man. And if he does, the gig is up.

In short, if Obama succeeds, Jeremiah Wright fails: Jeremiah Wright has deceived his congregation; Jeremiah Wright’s understanding of the world, his understanding of God, his understanding of Christianity, has been proven to be deceitful, hollow, and yes, racist.

If you are Jeremiah Wright, you are not amused. This is a man clearly obsessed with the adulation of his followers, who thrives on notoriety and outrageousness and racial demagoguery, who views himself as a prophet crying in the wilderness against a hopelessly bigoted white world.

But the scam has been exposed — if Obama succeeds. If he fails, however, sweet victory is yours: racist Amerikkka has lynched another black man, and the prophet will be honored in his own town.

The tragedy in all of this is not the now-unfolding public humiliation of Jeremiah Wright and all he stands for; it is instead with those who, like Obama, have sat in his pews for years, absorbing this hateful perversion of Christianity as truth. If it is certain, as Jesus said, that “the truth shall set you free”, then the corollary is most certainly true as well: that falsehood will enslave you. For those who feed and breed hatred in fact enslave those whom they teach, and bind them with enormous handicaps, as they try to come to terms and succeed in a world which in reality bears no resemblance to their imputed vision of it. If you believe that you are hated by every white man, and all your failures may be laid at his feet; if you are taught week after week that you are a victim; if you believe that you are poor only because of the greed of rich white men; if you believe that all-powerful forces of government and society are intractably evil and oppressive, then your chances of succeeding in a world where such things are simply not true will be dismal. The gospel of Jeremiah Wright is the gospel of failure, of hopelessness, of self-pity, of hatred; it is a most toxic stew which poisons the minds in the hearts of those who ingest it.

We may never know exactly how much of Jeremiah Wright’s bilious hatred Obama has absorbed. But the true tragedy must surely lie with those thousands who — unlike Obama — will never succeed because of the lies they have been fed. For them, it is not “Yes. We. Can.”, but rather “No, we can’t.” Whether Jeremiah Wright will succeed in destroying Obama’s candidacy remains to be seen; the story of the destruction of countless others who have imbibed his poison will, tragically, never be told.

The Pornography of Barbarism

I am not easily shocked anymore.

Perhaps it is my profession, where the constant exposure to human suffering and pain harden the spirit and keep emotions at a safe distance. Perhaps it is the almost imperceptible but relentless inoculation brought about by the constant stream of violence and vice which pour forth from the dazzling screen faced daily from the comfort of cottage and couch. Perhaps it is the cynicism and callousness from one too many movies showing gratuitous sex; one too many art exhibits with fecal creativity or blasphemous pretension; one too many headlines of school shootings or child rape. It all seems to blend together, like some Clockwork Orange deprogramming script shimmering on screen as we sit with eyes held open against our will, the beauty of Beethoven lulling us into the normalization of depravity.

Each scene, more horrid than the last, flashes by, horrifying in the moment but soon forgotten, our calloused souls no longer responding, our eyes transfixed in cold determination on money and the material, routine and ritual. We have swum in the cesspool so long we no longer notice the smell.

This week, some things broke through the indifferent haze. Like some unheralded emetic, the cynical disdain for a culture gone corrupt turned instead to nausea — physical, to be sure, yet far more: a nausea of the soul, a dyspepsia so deep in the spirit that no hardened defense could mask its rolling waves of disgust and dismay.

There was, at the first, the video: a teenage girl, lured into a trap, then brutally beaten by six other girls her age for thirty minutes continually, carefully recorded on video for upload to YouTube.

Then came the Yale “artist” who repeatedly impregnated herself by artificial insemination, then aborted the fetus with drugs, carefully saving the results for display wrapped in plastic and Vaseline for her senior art exhibit.

Then this morning, in the local paper: a man — a school bus driver — convicted for sexually assaulting a 4-year-old girl left alone on his bus.

One could multiply such incidents, ad nauseum, on almost any given day, in any part of the world — beheadings and genocide, ghoulish scenes of body parts and bloodied walls from yet another heroic martyr seeking virgins through hyperviolence. Yet these events, small on such a savage scale, in some way troubled me more than most.

One wants to rail at a society gone mad, at a civilization which has lost its bearings and moral compass, at a decadence fed by materialism and secularism, force-fed with the rotgut wine of postmodern relativism, drunk with the notion that ideas have no consequence and idols worshiped bring no destruction.

Yet the time for such anguished mourning seems long past, its passing but a point in a pitiful past history. We have, it seems, entered the post-human age.

Our secular prophets have heralded the Good News: there is no God; we are but accidental apes. We have been liberated from the bondage of religion and morals; we are, at last, in this twenty-first century, at the pinnacle of human achievement and potential. The shackles of superstition are broken, the potential of man unbounded, his glory unlimited but by the constraints of his imagination.

Yet as we celebrate our exalted humanity, the technology we worship brings glimpses of a darker reality, flashed in some subliminal message quickly dismissed as aberration or sideshow.

We may reflexly think of those who partake in such ghastly exhibitionism to be but beasts– but to think thus insults the animal, whose nobility far exceeds our own. For the animal kingdom is violent, brutish, and predatory — but it is so with purpose, its violence constrained by the drive to survive, or mate, or protect its territory. It is only the human animal who ventures into the subhuman, in glorification and gleeful pursuit of perversion for pleasure, of violence as theater. It is this theatrics of barbarism so prevalent in our age which bespeaks something far darker, more sinister, more terrifying. For to be human is to share the beautiful and the good with the hideous and evil; it has been so since the dawn of history. But to celebrate perdition, to promulgate a pornography of barbarism, to cast it abroad over media and message seems the unique and chilling characteristic of our current reckless age.

Civilization has always withstood the barbarians with low walls lightly guarded. It has depended far less on strength of force than strength of character, a consensus among the civilized that certain behavior and unrestrained license threaten its very existence. Laws and the power of enforcement cannot long resist the dark demons of depravity unleashed from within; the power of Rome proved feeble when there became no difference between the citizens within and the barbarians without. The Dark Ages which thus ensued seem now long forgotten, even as we arrogate the privileges of freedom while destroying the self-control and restraint on which it depends.

Our own Dark Ages seem soon upon us. The knowledge and technology which have brought us to such great heights will document in vivid color the breaching of the walls and the slaughter of the children.

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