Friday, February 16, 2007

Good comments, and answers

The 3 comments on my post about parallels to Germany and its Christians 70 years ago together raise such good points that I think they deserve their own post.

First, the consolation of faith. It's essential to understand that biblical faith is first about truth, not consolation. Religious people, represented in the Bible by the false prophets and their audiences, say in the words of Isaiah, "Speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions." As Jeremiah put it, they speak a vision of their own heart, expect the word to be fulfilled, and call that faith.

Faith is simply believing the truth. Jesus said, "If you continue in my word, you will indeed be my disciples, and you shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

This is more profound than it seems, because the truth can be pretty harsh, not in the least consoling in the short term, say if that cute little mole is actually a melanoma and that lumpy lymph node nearby is a metastasis. But the truth at that moment is still a whole lot better than continuing to kid yourself, which is what most people mean by faith.

The real good news is that truth really is always good news to those who receive it. The prophets almost always give us bad news and end up with great promises. In this the one message behind each particular message is that for those who permit their ears to be acid-washed with hard truth, and act upon it, there is consoling truth - but not otherwise. So faith does give consolation, so long as I believe the distressing truth that goes before - and never otherwise.

Mr Peligrano alluded to the urge to self-destruction evident in the behavior of our leaders, and I haven't considered this enough. The Bible alludes to this quite often. Wisdom says in the Proverbs, "All who hate me love death." Urging his stubborn people to repent, Ezekiel asks, "Why will you die, O Israel?" I have seen in myself and others that when we refuse to humble ourselves and repent we do indeed become suicidal. Like Walter Mitty, we would rather die than to admit we're wrong and abandon our illusions, which are more precious to us than life itself.

As Eric Hoffer observed, when Satan said, "Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life," he did no digress to tell all he knew. All that he has, a man will give up for his life, but for the fantasies he does not have, a man will give up everything, even his life.

It really is repentance or suicide. Suicide bombing in various forms is never far from the obstinate. The movie "Independence Day" demonstrated in 1998 that American audiences were very ready to admire the suicide bomber who flew his plane into the alien ship, just as they admired the Zionists in the movie Exodus who were ready to kill all the children on the ship Exodus in the movie of the same name back in 1960. I had not considered that the urge to destroy it all, the way Zimri burned his palace down on himself, is the result of hating wisdom and refusing to repent. "All who hate me love death."

Finally, it is of course true that there are important differences between the collapse of German democracy in the 1930s and the US today, but not all are reassuring. Germany was in real distress, worse than the US at the same time, while the US today really hasn't been. People were excited about the September 11 attacks, but these were a love tap compared to what others have endured, often at American hands without melting down as Americans have, and generally without the same hysterical vengefulness. This is the consequence of narcissism, the inability to know anyone's pain but our own - a very deceiving condition.

One especially disturbing parallel is how Hitler took care to shield his own people from the cost of war by plundering the occupied lands, because he knew that hardship would lead to his overthrow, as happened to the Kaiser in 1918. In the same way, the Bush regime has learned from Vietnam to take care to shield the American people from paying any price, charging it all to future generations and by selling off the economy to creditors like CHina, Japan, and South Korea - so far as outright plunder has failed.

They went into Iraq expecting to pay for it by plundering the Iraqi economy or by getting others to pay for it as in 1991, and they said so, but it hasn't worked out that way. That's why they have to go elsewhere.

Feeding the rich at the expense of everyone else is not only because, as Bush once put it, "You're my base - the haves and the have-mores." It's why Hitler and Mussolini needed to please the industrial magnates who, if they were unhappy, might turn against them to their ruin, as in fact happened to Johnson and Nixon when the business bosses saw that the Vietnam adventure was trouble for them.

Just as Mussolini's and Hitler's were very different regimes, the American equivalent will in many ways be different. For one thing, rather than being fascist and seeking to draw people into a mass movement, it seeks to instill apathy and apolitical self-absorbtion, like Pinochet's Chile and other Latin American dictatorships and Communist Czechoslovalia in the 1970s. Bush didn't call people to mass rallies and enthusiasm in September 2001 but to trust him, believe everything he said, and to go shopping.

Bush and Cheney's abuse of the Constitution has never been to respond to any real need. It has all been to conceal incompetence and to avoid accountability. When rulers trust in secrecy and refuse to be accountable, they're always protecting themselves, and never the rest of us - just like you and me when we hide our failures from others.

In no family, business, or any other enterprise has that ever contributed to the solution of any real problem - except one: for those in charge to stay that way no matter how badly they screw up, even if that ruins the rest of us.


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