Thanksgiving Is Ruined

The Personal is Political. The Political is Personal.

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May 13, 2004
you see he feels like Ivan

Actually I feel more like Alyosha. But I think Cambone, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, et al. feel like Ivan:

"Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature -- that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance -- and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth."

"No, I wouldn't consent," said Alyosha softly.

"And can you admit the idea that men for whom you are building it would agree to accept their happiness on the foundation of the unexpiated blood of a little victim? And accepting it would remain happy for ever?"

"No, I can't admit it. Brother," said Alyosha suddenly, with flashing eyes.

from The Brothers Karamazov.

[update 5/13: I am proud to report that, as I have just now learned, Ariel Dorfman in The Guardian beat me to the above association by 4 days, in a very thoughtful essay. I expected to see the connection made first by an Tom Friedmanesque American pundit who, after a show of moral agonizing, would come down in favor of torture as a "necessary evil," given the importance of the War on Terra, while invoking 9/11.]

as in Heaven as in Hell

The above passage from Dostoevsky of course leads directly into the famous "Grand Inquisitor" chapter. It feels uncannily contemporary, reading it today, although it perhaps applies more to the likes of Ashcroft, Cheney, Tom Ridge and Michael Powell.

For fifteen centuries we have been wrestling with Thy freedom, but now it is ended and over for good. Dost Thou not believe that it's over for good? . . .

But let me tell Thee that now, to-day, people are more persuaded than ever that they have perfect freedom, yet they have brought their freedom to us and laid it humbly at our feet. But that has been our doing. . . .

We shall show them that they are weak, that they are only pitiful children, but that childlike happiness is the sweetest of all. They will become timid and will look to us and huddle close to us in fear, as chicks to the hen.

They will marvel at us and will be awe-stricken before us, and will be proud at our being so powerful and clever that we have been able to subdue such a turbulent flock of thousands of millions.

They will tremble impotently before our wrath, their minds will grow fearful, they will be quick to shed tears like women and children, but they will be just as ready at a sign from us to pass to laughter and rejoicing, to happy mirth and childish song. . . .

And they will be glad to believe our answer, for it will save them from the great anxiety and terrible agony they endure at present in making a free decision for themselves.

Today's best line

"You think Arabs are dumb? Try doing long division with Roman numerals."

Kurt Vonnegut, naturally.

Would it be too bloggish to say, "Go read the whole thing"? Of course it would.

[6/10/04 update: I now see that, when Vonnegut's piece was republished, one day before Memorial Day, in Allentown, PA's The Morning Call (Tribune Publishing), the "best line" was the only line (by my reading) omitted. Odd.]

"The Passion of THE" reaction roundup



Matthew Fox

Worthy words in the above-linked issue of Tikkun were also contributed by Susannah Heschel (daughter of this great man), whose essay is not on-line. It reads in part:

The torment of Jesus in Gibson's film (a detailed account of the torture found nowhere in the Scriptures, an account that Gibson allegedly holds as sacred as Scripture) sanctifies the right-wing memory of the horrific events of September 11 -- the Passion of America -- as innocent, defenseless Americans, were attacked over and over in a most brutal fashion, in an unthinkable, unprecedented, unwarranted assault that killed thousands of innocent people, and left thousands of families bereft.

Think of the wars, massacres, crusades, and burnings that have been committed in the name of Jesus's crucifiction and imagine what we Americans might do with our Passion if it is elevated from an unconscionable political assault to an act of religious martyrdom. . . .

The film is possessed by Holocaust-envy, seeking to outdo in horror and suffering the many Holocaust films that Jews hope will inspire compassion for Jewish suffering. . . .

The Jesus of Gibson is not new. He reiterates the fascist myth of the "Aryan Jesus."

Invented in Germany long before Hitler came to power, that myth is marked by three motifs: Jesus was no lamb of God but a macho man; he was racially Aryan and not Jewish; and he liberated himself from the constraints of Jewish doctrine.

"Since the Taliban, anyway."

The above is a stray line in just about the most intelligent piece of commentary about the USA that I read, amidst much intelligent journalism in general, in the Canadian press while happily severed from the internet for a week.

The piece was written by Bill O'Reilly's apparent nemesis, one Rick Salutin of the Globe and Mail. An excerpt:

I realized that in the United States, the main political divide now runs between Christian fundamentalism and "secularists." I said I was grateful for this insight: that the U.S. may be the only nation that defines politics in such religious terms.

If you read Salutin's piece, you will see how he deftly draws a direct line from American religious fundamentalism to the pronographic undercurrent of the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal:

It is never surprising when sex gets entangled with faith, patriotism, and everything else in this context.

OK, no more religion-related posts tonight.