Posts Tagged ‘American politics’

I’ve left this blog unattended for too long! Frankly, I’ve been caught up in trying to figure out what it means that the American political system has produced two presidential candidates who are unpopular. At the least, it means that the United States is in a period of cultural bewilderment. And during such a time, those who represent the worst in society — people of hate and meanness and prejudice — are encouraged to yell their foolishness into the public forum. The chaos is emphasized when one of our two major political parties chooses a candidate who deliberately builds his campaign on the very hate which threatens the public order.

As I listen to the Republican candidate speak, my mind often goes to Bonhoeffer’s words on stupidity. There is nothing to be gained by arguing with stupidity, he asserts. The stupid are not those who simply lack intelligence but, far worse, those who have chosen to be mindless. Reasoning with them, we might say, is speaking a foreign language which they don’t even want to understand. And rational people cannot speak the native language of the willfully stupid because it truly makes no sense.

It is in this context that I now read Bonhoeffer’s paragraphs on “The Sense of Quality.” When we lack the courage to observe a genuine sense of boundaries, “we perish in an anarchy of human values.” We must ask immediately what boundaries Bonhoeffer has in mind. He leaves us no doubt: his uses of the words “rabble” and “nobility” say it all.

Is this some sort of snobbish elitism? Ordinarily, I would say Bonhoeffer is certainly in danger of that but now, with our chaotic and mean-spirited campaign fowling the spiritual air in America, I find myself saying Bonhoeffer is exactly right.

He writes of Germany in words that fit today’s American situation perfectly: “In other times it may have been the task of Christianity to testify to the equality of all human beings; today it is Christianity in particular that should passionately defend the respect for human boundaries and human qualities.”

Equality is an idea that is fundamental to the grand American experiment. We dare not let it go. To sustain a culture and a political system based on equality, however, requires a great deal of mutual trust. We must trust that each person is genuinely interested in furthering the common, equal good. Right now in the US, that trust is at a very low level. When hatred and meanness are unleashed and encouraged, the fabric of society which underlies our political system is in danger of being shredded.

What does Bonhoeffer mean by the nobility? And what difference does that make here in the US, where we have no class clearly demarked “nobility”? He writes,

“Nobility arises from and exists by sacrifice, courage, and a clear sense of what one owes oneself and others, by the self-evident expectation of the respect one is due, and by an equally self-evident observance of the same respect for those above and those below”

That’s not what we might have expected him to say. The first marks of nobility are sacrifice, courage, and a clear sense of what one owes oneself and others. True nobility is not self-serving but self-sacrificing, not cowardly but courageous, and not privileged but indebted. For the opposite qualities we have a good example: the Republican candidate.

In Bonhoeffer we see the best understanding of noblesse oblige, the sense that nobility (of status or character) brings with it an obligation both to oneself and to others.

Did Bonhoeffer really believe that he ought to be self-sacrificing? He risked and lost his life serving an ungrateful, willfully stupid people, when he could have stayed safe in America for the duration of the war. He was truly noble. . .


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After ten years of resisting Hitler and the Nazis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote an essay asking the question, “Who Stands Firm?” What kind of people have proven able to see and resist Hitler with patience and persistence? By this time, December 1942, he has seen nearly every resistor fall by the wayside: The reasonable people, the fanatics, folk of sensitive conscience, those with a high sense of duty, those who value freedom above all, people committed to a private, individual sense of virtue. None of these have been up to the long struggle.

Who stands firm? Dietrich answered, “Only the one whose ultimate standard is not his reason, his principles, conscience, freedom, or virtue; only the one who is prepared to sacrifice all of these when, in faith and in relationship to God alone, he is called to obedient and responsible action. Such a person is the responsible one, whose life is to be nothing but a response to God’s question and call.” This was not some sort of religious bias on his part. He had seen religious people by the thousands succumb to Hitler. No, this was plain old experience on Dietrich’s part..

He also spoke of some of the reasons why the struggle had been so hard. One such reason was that resisting Hitler meant resisting his many, many followers. A very highly thoughtful person himself, he had learned that the supporters of a tyrant are not thoughtful but are enslaved to their own gut-feelings. In conversation they seem truly stupid. “Stupidity,” Bonhoeffer noted, “is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force.”

That observation is true in today’s American political scene as much as in Germany of the 1930s. Bonhoeffer could well have pointed out, however, that evil on the part of the leaders is itself extremely stubborn. Hitler induced a certain stupidity among the German people and that stupidity provided something of a protective wall behind which he could carry out he evil work.

Now in America, as the GOP Convention gets underway with donald trump the inevitable nominee to emerge from the proceedings, we need to remember the lessons of the Nazi era. I’ve been listening with great care for more than a year. For a long time I thought he was an amazingly accomplished liar.

Now my mind has changed. I no longer believe that donald trump has “truth” anywhere on his list of virtues. He does not care about truth, does not think about it, does not even recognize any particular difference between truth and falsehood. He is one of the most profoundly amoral men I’ve ever observed. He is a man of zero moral concern.

He loves to point out moral flaws in others, of course, while brazenly demonstrating again and again that he does not believe there are any moral restraints on him. to anyone of any moral sensitivity at all, donald trump is deeply repulsive.

The law is to be used for his own personal gain. Judges are to be intimidated. Politicians are to be bought. Foreign nations are to be put at disadvantage in their relations with us.

His lack of a moral dimension makes him evil and very, very dangerous.

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