Wednesday, June 23, 2010
The 'good' Communist -- not
by Jeff Jacoby
IF JOSÉ SARAMAGO, the Portuguese writer who died on Friday at 87, had been an unrepentant Nazi for the last four decades, he would never have won international acclaim or received the 1998 Nobel Prize for Literature. Leading publishers would never have brought out his books, his works would not have been translated into more than 20 languages, and the head of Portugal's government would never have said on his death -- as Prime Minister José Sócrates did say last week -- that he was "one of our great cultural figures and his disappearance has left our culture poorer."
But Saramago wasn't a Nazi, he was a Communist. And not just a nominal Communist, as his obituaries pointed out, but an "unabashed" (Washington Post), "unflinching" (AP), "unfaltering" (New York Times) true believer. A member since 1969 of Portugal's hardline Communist Party, Saramago called himself a "hormonal Communist" who in all the years since joining the party had "found nothing better."
Yet far from rendering him a pariah, Saramago's Communist loyalties have been treated as little more than a roguish idiosyncrasy. Without a hint of irony, AP's obituary quoted a comment Saramago made in 1998: "People used to say about me, 'He's good but he's a Communist.' Now they say, 'He's a Communist but he's good.'"
But the idea that good people can be devoted Communists is grotesque. The two categories are mutually exclusive. There was a time, perhaps, when dedication to Communism could be absolved as misplaced idealism or naiveté, but that day is long past. After Auschwitz and Babi Yar, only a moral cripple could be a committed Nazi. By the same token, there are no good and decent Communists -- not after the Gulag Archipelago and the Cambodian killing fields and Mao's "Great Leap Forward." Not after the testimonies of Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Armando Valladares and Dith Pran.
In the decades since 1917, Communism has led to more slaughter and suffering than any other cause in human history. Communist regimes on four continents sent an estimated 100 million men, women, and children to their deaths -- not out of misplaced zeal in pursuit of a fundamentally beautiful theory, but out of utopian fanaticism and an unquenchable lust for power.
Mass murder and terror have always been intrinsic to Communism. "Many archives and witnesses prove conclusively," wrote Stéphane Courtois in his introduction to The Black Book of Communism, a magisterial compendium of Communist crimes first published in France in 1997, "that terror has always been one of the basic ingredients of modern Communism." The uniqueness of the Holocaust notwithstanding, the savageries of Communism and of Nazism are morally interchangeable -- except that the former began much earlier than the latter, lasted much longer, and shed far more blood.
In the decades since 1917, Communist regimes worldwide murdered an estimated 100 million people
At this late date, there is no excuse for regarding Communism and its defenders with one whit less revulsion than we regard neo-Nazis or white supremacists. Saramago's Communism should not have been indulged, it should have been despised. It should have been as great a blot on his reputation as if he had spent the last 41 years as an advocate of murderous repression and cruelty. For that, in a nutshell, is what it means to be an "unabashed" and "hormonal" Communist.
Anyone who imagines that the horrors of Communist rule is a thing of the past ought to spend a few minutes with, say, the State Department's latest human rights report on North Korea. (Sample passage: "Methods of torture . . . included severe beatings, electric shock, prolonged periods of exposure to the elements, humiliations such as public nakedness, confinement for up to several weeks in small 'punishment cells' in which prisoners were unable to stand upright or lie down . . . and forcing mothers recently repatriated from China to watch the infanticide of their newborn infants.")
Communism is not, as its champions like to claim, an appealing doctrine that has been perverted by monstrous regimes. It is a monstrous doctrine that hides behind appealing rhetoric. It is mass crime embodied in government. Nothing devised by human beings has caused more misery or proven more brutal.
José Saramago may have been a fine writer, but he was no exemplar of goodness. Good people do not embrace Communism, and Communists are not good.
Obama distancing himself from the Boy Scouts
Over the past few months, a widely circulated e-mail has reported that President Barack Obama is not signing Eagle Scout certificates, which only 4-5 percent of Boy Scouts attain.
Categorically, Internet watchdog sites, such as snopes.com, have classified the claims as "hogwash." But I have found a steady stream of White House whitewashing when it comes to the Boy Scouts of America.
A new entry on snopes.com defends that "President Obama's signature has been appearing on Eagle Scout certificates since late 2009," roughly one year into his presidency. But the Boy Scouts of America National Council confessed that Scout candidates who'd had board reviews before the spring of 2010 had received unsigned certificates.
"No Eagle recognition letters have been received this year from the president," said Richard Meyers, who attained his Eagle rank in 1957 -- during the Eisenhower presidency -- and is now assistant scoutmaster for Troop 162 in Arlington County, Va. Meyers made this clarification at a Chain Bridge District 2010 Life to Eagle seminar Jan. 30.
Why the tardiness? The Boy Scouts of America says the primary reason is an administrative delay in authorizing the president's signature. But does anyone else find it strange that the president has sent out 13,000 letters of congratulations to Eagle Scouts since the beginning of his presidency (with his signature on them, to boot) yet, a year after Obama's inauguration, Eagle Scouts can't get a presidential signature on their certificates?
But the delay is even more peculiar because Obama became the honorary president of the Boy Scouts of America way back on March 3, 2009 -- an event that was done almost completely in secret in the Oval Office. Since President William Howard Taft in 1910, U.S. presidents have proudly fulfilled the position of honorary president of the BSA. But neither the honor nor the event was highlighted in any official White House communication. Nothing mentioned at the March 3 White House briefing. Nothing noted anywhere on the White House's official website. Obama simply accepted the honorary presidential position behind closed doors in the Oval Office with seven or so Boy Scouts present.
Could the secrecy of that meeting be a result of social pressure from, for example, the January 2009 letter from the American Humanist Association and 18 other nontheistic organizations, which pleaded with Obama to be the first president in 100 years not to serve as the BSA's honorary president? He's a progressive, so you can imagine the pickle Obama was in. But he is no political fool and was unwilling to deal with the collateral damage that would have happened had he denied the honorary post of one of the largest and oldest youth organizations in the U.S.
Interestingly, though the White House cloaked Obama's acceptance of the post in mystery, on that single day of March 3, 2009, the White House considered a host of other events as newsworthy enough to post on its official website, e.g., "President Obama Announces More Key Appointments," "Message to Congress from the President Regarding Export Certification," "Remarks by the President and Vice President on transportation infrastructure," "Remarks of President Obama to AFL-CIO Executive Council" and the "Remarks of the President to Commemorate the 160th Anniversary of the Department of Interior."
Yet not a peep mentioned about the president's acceptance of BSA's honorary presidency. Could it be that the 160th anniversary of the Department of the Interior ranked of higher importance than Obama's acceptance of the BSA's position in its 100th year?
I suppose it's also coincidental that Obama was unable to attend the 100th anniversary gala of the Boy Scouts of America in his own backyard (Washington, D.C.) Feb. 9, 2010. Why? Because that evening he had his first national news conference. Is it just me, or would you have delayed the news conference to any other evening in February to attend this unique centennial celebration of one of the oldest and most influential boys organizations in U.S. history? How about at least a quick shout-out at the news conference for the BSA's 100th anniversary? No such luck.
The president did, however, send a semi-congratulatory letter to the BSA on its centennial -- though at the same time, he subtly distanced himself from being a celebratory participant: "I send greetings to all those celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America. ... I wish you all the best." Seems like a rather flat centennial note for the honorary president of the BSA, wouldn't you say? Actually, he never even thanked the organization or mentioned that he's its honorary president in the body of his letter. But I'm sure that's just a minimalist coincidence, too!
To be frank, I think Obama's delay in signing Eagle Scout certificates has more to do with White House political correctness and establishing an arm's-length relationship with the BSA than it has to do with any simple "administrative delay," especially when lawsuits have been levied against the BSA because of its stand against atheists, agnostics and homosexuals.
For years, I've signed and sent out hundreds of Eagle Scout recognition letters. And I know a host of Boy Scouts, Eagle Scouts and Boy Scout leaders personally. These individuals epitomize the best of America. Indeed, the BSA is as integral a part of American life and culture as hot dogs, baseball and Grandma's apple pie.
I couldn't agree more with Bob Gates, former director of the CIA, when he explained: "I think that American leadership is vital to peace and prosperity and the advancement of democracy in the world, and that requires having strong leaders. And I don't think there's any organization in the world, certainly not in the United States, that better prepares young men for leadership in this country than the Boy Scouts of America -- in teaching leadership skills, in teaching values, in teaching importance of standing up for what's right."
Mr. President, do you agree?
Wishy washy Christianity
The Episcopalians are not alone. Mike Adams critiques Don Miller and "emergent" Christianity. Truth appears to be the first casualty of the phenomenon and sneers part of its stock in trade.
In the few years I’ve taught at Summit Ministries, there’s never been a problem with the more conservative Christians being intolerant of the less traditional Christians. In fact, there are a few kids who are forced to come here by their parents because, so far, they have refused to become believers. Those kids are often shocked by how welcoming Summit is and how well we listen to one another.
During our last session, for example, I really bonded with a 19 year old kid who is agnostic. He reminded me a lot of myself in years gone by. That’s one of the reasons I was shocked to hear Don Miller write about how intolerant we are here at Summit.
As I was reading Don Miller’s fictional biography Blue like Jazz, I found the following on page 79: “I was a fundamentalist Christian once. It lasted a summer. I was in that same phase of trying to discipline myself to ‘behave’ as if I loved light and not ‘behave’ as if I loved darkness.”
Some may be confused about the derisive quotes around the word “behave.” Don Miller is using them here to remind us that Christianity is about a relationship, and not about rules. He continues: “I used to get ticked about preachers who talked too much about grace, because it tempted me to not be disciplined. I figured what people needed was a kick in the butt, and if I failed at godliness it was because those around me weren’t trying hard enough. I believed if word got out about grace, the whole church was going to turn into a brothel. I was a real jerk, I think.”
So when did Don hit his all-time peak of intolerance? It was when he arrived at Summit Ministries, according to his million-selling fictional biography: “I hit my self-righteous apex while working at a fundamentalist Christian camp in Colorado. I was living in a cabin in the Rockies with about seven other guys, and the whole lot of us fell into this militant Christianity that says you should live like a Navy SEAL for Jesus. I am absolutely ashamed to admit this now.”
The only problem with this story is that it isn’t true. Oddly, Don came back to visit that Christian camp just a few years ago. When he did, he was confronted with his very public and untruthful account his time at Summit Ministries.
In response, Don just said it wasn’t a big deal. He fabricated the story just to make a point. He was confronted privately but was unrepentant, which was not too surprising. Remember that Don thinks Christianity is not about rules. It’s about a relationship with God.
So I guess Don can bear false witness, in violation of the Ninth Commandment, if he thinks it will bring himself and others closer to God.
Don continues on Pages 79-80: “We would fast all the time, pray together twice a day, memorize Scripture, pat each other on the back and that sort of thing. Summer was coming to a close, and we were getting pretty proud of ourselves because we had read a great deal of Scripture and hadn’t gotten anybody pregnant.
“We were concerned, however, about what to do after we split up, thinking that if we didn’t have each other we’d fall apart and start selling drugs to children. One of us, and it was probably me, decided to create a contract that listed things we wouldn’t do for an entire year, like watch television or smoke pipes or listen to music. It was the constitution of our self-righteous individualism.”
Since Don Miller has admitted that he fabricated the story about his Summit co-workers, I think now is a very good time to talk about self-righteous individualism.
Don is right that if such a thing had actually occurred – that is, if his biography were true – this would be an example of self-righteous individualism. I, too, am sometimes annoyed by people who define their greatness in terms of what they do not do.
But the leaders of the Emergent Church are just as annoying. They want to be defined by what they do not believe. Brian McLaren insists that he really doesn’t have confidence in the things he believes. But Don Miller is even greater because he is willing to make even bigger claims of unbelief such as “Who knows anything anyway?”
The Emergent Churchgoer does not believe in propositions. He does not subscribe to doctrine. He does not believe in rules. Therefore, he is morally superior to the fundamentalist. In fact, he would be ashamed to be one of those people who would try to shame people. Or, in the case of Don Miller, he would be ashamed to be one again.
Don’s fictional biography resumes on page 80 with the following: “The contract stated we would read the Bible every day, pray, and memorize certain long passages of Scripture. We sat around one night with pen and paper and offered sacrifices, each of us trying to outman the other with bigger and brighter lambs for the slaughter. We were the direct opposite of a frat house; instead of funneling our testosterone into binge drinking and rowdy parties, we were manning up to Jesus, bumping Him chest to chest as it were, like Bible salesmen on steroids.”
Of course, none of that ever happened. Don manufactured the story to make a point. But I can almost imagine a roomful of Emergents manning up to Jesus by making a list of sins they would tolerate and even commit in the coming year in order to demonstrate their commit to a “relationship, not rules” form of Christianity. But I won’t claim such a thing actually happened in some Emergent camp somewhere - not even to make a point. That would violate the Ninth Commandment.
It is odd to read Don’s Blue like Jazz account of how miserable he was after he spent the summer of 1993 working on staff at Summit Ministries given that he came back again in the summer of 1994 and worked on staff at Summit Ministries. The jazz that Don Miller writes is free-form expression. And maybe it does come from the soul. But it is not true.
Don Miller’s book Blue like Jazz raises some serious questions. For example, if some of Blue like Jazz is fictional could it be that most of the book is fictional? And what about Don’s other biographies? Are they fictional, too?
Later in his book, Don says this: “By being true I am allowing people to get to know the real me, and it feels better to have people love the real me than the me I invented … So one of the things I had to do after God provided a church for me was to let go of any bad attitude I had against the other churches I’d gone to … It seemed to me that Paul did not want Christians to fight with one another … This was entirely freeing because when I told my heart to do this, my heart did it, and now I think very fondly of those wacko Republican fundamentalists, and I know that they love me, too … ”
Actually, the Don Miller in Blue like Jazz is not the real Don Miller. He is a contrived character. And the real Don Miller had not shaken his bad attitude towards “wacko Republican fundamentalists” when he wrote the best-seller that made him rich and famous. And that was long before he gave the opening prayer at the Democratic National Convention and asked Jesus for nationalized health care.
Being Emergent is pretty cool. It means you can attack fundamentalists and then shield yourself from criticism by saying that Paul didn't want Christians to criticize other Christians. Now I know what they mean by all this "relationships, not rules" talk. They mean the rules only apply to people who believe in rules.
Of course, I disagree with Don whenever he tries to gloss over the importance of following rules. I think this whole episode makes us aware that there is no wall between rules and relationships when it comes to Christianity. Don has broken the rules about telling the truth and it has damaged his relationships with other believers – people who thought they were Don’s friends.
It makes you wonder: If breaking the rules hurts our relationships with people, how much more damaging is it to our relationship with God?
Israel and the Surrender of the West
Israel announces it's partially lifting its land blockade of Gaza. The move follows international criticism of the Jewish state after last month's deadly raid on a Turkish aid ship bound for Palestinian territory.
This is now—figuratively in some quarters and literally in others—the moral template through which Israel is seen. It doesn't matter that much of the world may actually know better. This template has become propriety itself, a form of good manners, a political correctness. Thus it is good manners to be outraged at Israel's blockade of Gaza, and it is bad manners to be outraged at Hamas's recent attack on a school because it educated girls, or at the thousands of rockets Hamas has fired into Israeli towns—or even at the fact that Hamas is armed and funded by Iran. The world wants independent investigations of Israel, not of Hamas.
One reason for this is that the entire Western world has suffered from a deficit of moral authority for decades now. Today we in the West are reluctant to use our full military might in war lest we seem imperialistic; we hesitate to enforce our borders lest we seem racist; we are reluctant to ask for assimilation from new immigrants lest we seem xenophobic; and we are pained to give Western Civilization primacy in our educational curricula lest we seem supremacist. Today the West lives on the defensive, the very legitimacy of our modern societies requiring constant dissociation from the sins of the Western past—racism, economic exploitation, imperialism and so on.
When the Israeli commandos boarded that last boat in the flotilla and, after being attacked with metal rods, killed nine of their attackers, they were acting in a world without the moral authority to give them the benefit of the doubt. By appearances they were shock troopers from a largely white First World nation willing to slaughter even "peace activists" in order to enforce a blockade against the impoverished brown people of Gaza. Thus the irony: In the eyes of a morally compromised Western world, the Israelis looked like the Gestapo.
This, of course, is not the reality of modern Israel. Israel does not seek to oppress or occupy—and certainly not to annihilate—the Palestinians in the pursuit of some atavistic Jewish supremacy. But the merest echo of the shameful Western past is enough to chill support for Israel in the West.
The West also lacks the self-assurance to see the Palestinians accurately. Here again it is safer in the white West to see the Palestinians as they advertise themselves—as an "occupied" people denied sovereignty and simple human dignity by a white Western colonizer. The West is simply too vulnerable to the racist stigma to object to this "neo-colonial" characterization.
Our problem in the West is understandable. We don't want to lose more moral authority than we already have. So we choose not to see certain things that are right in front of us. For example, we ignore that the Palestinians—and for that matter much of the Middle East—are driven to militancy and war not by legitimate complaints against Israel or the West but by an internalized sense of inferiority. If the Palestinians got everything they want—a sovereign nation and even, let's say, a nuclear weapon—they would wake the next morning still hounded by a sense of inferiority. For better or for worse, modernity is now the measure of man.
And the quickest cover for inferiority is hatred. The problem is not me; it is them. And in my victimization I enjoy a moral and human grandiosity—no matter how smart and modern my enemy is, I have the innocence that defines victims. I may be poor but my hands are clean. Even my backwardness and poverty only reflect a moral superiority, while my enemy's wealth proves his inhumanity.
In other words, my hatred is my self-esteem. This must have much to do with why Yasser Arafat rejected Ehud Barak's famous Camp David offer of 2000 in which Israel offered more than 90% of what the Palestinians had demanded. To have accepted that offer would have been to forgo hatred as consolation and meaning. Thus it would have plunged the Palestinians—and by implication the broader Muslim world—into a confrontation with their inferiority relative to modernity. Arafat knew that without the Jews to hate an all-defining cohesion would leave the Muslim world. So he said no to peace.
And this recalcitrance in the Muslim world, this attraction to the consolations of hatred, is one of the world's great problems today—whether in the suburbs of Paris and London, or in Kabul and Karachi, or in Queens, N.Y., and Gaza. The fervor for hatred as deliverance may not define the Muslim world, but it has become a drug that consoles elements of that world in the larger competition with the West. This is the problem we in the West have no easy solution to, and we scapegoat Israel—admonish it to behave better—so as not to feel helpless. We see our own vulnerability there.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
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