Damn – you think you got it right but then they go and change things on you. Back in the fifties it was Sunday school, and then later sitting with the adults and listening to your grandfather – a pleasant and kind fellow – delivering the weekly sermon. Sure, it was in Slovak and sometimes Czech, but you got the general idea – all the talk of Jesus and love and being decent and honest and respectful of others. Yes, mankind wasn’t very good at such things, but that didn’t’ make any of it a bad idea. And even if you didn’t believe any of the supernatural stuff – which was the case – the idea of a Christian Gentleman was kind of cool. Those were the guys who, without much fuss and certainly no ostentation, stuck up for the little guy, the outcast, the oddball. A Christian Gentleman was the exact opposite of a bully, and it was an if-then thing. If we’re all God’s children then we should treat each other as such. You don’t go around sneering at others – you try to understand what’s up with them – and you keep righteous condemnation to a minimum.
It’s in John 7:53-8:11 – Jesus, the Mount of Olives, all those righteous folks who want to stone to death that women taken in adultery, and Jesus saying, yep, you could do that, as that’s the law handled down from Moses, but why don’t we let he who is without sin cast the first stone?
No one volunteers. They know better. They get it. Judging others is what we do – we all do it and it makes us feel all righteous and proud, and pleased with ourselves – and we think we’re favored by God because we know the rules in detail – but it’s a seductive trap, something that feeds our bloodthirsty egos.
And it’s just nastiness. Who the hell are you to judge? And humility isn’t such a bad thing, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Humility, and thoughtfulness, and decency, might just keep us from killing each other. There are no passages where Jesus says go kill others for me, in my name. He suggests you work on your own issues. Even to someone of no faith, that seems like a pretty good idea.
But that’s kind of fifties interpretation of Jesus, popular for a short time, in a sort of bubble. We’ve had religious wars for as long as we’ve had religion – you kill others for Christ, as in the Crusades and the Hundred Years War and all the rest. And for many decades in Northern Ireland many died over the issue of whether the Protestants or the Catholics had the God-given right to run the place. Many are still pissed at William of Orange, the import from the Netherlands, as after James II the Brits didn’t want a Catholic king and asked him if he wanted the job. He did, and the folks in Northern Ireland continue to fight the Battle of the Boyne. William of Orange won that, but he shouldn’t have, you see. It’s odd to an outsider. But it’s not that unusual. There are thousands of examples of religious wars. And we have the Middle East, of course.
That’s what made mainstream American religion so odd. No one was saying we should kill for Jesus, and naming names of just who should be put to a painful and shameful gruesome death. People might have been asking themselves the same question they do now – What would Jesus do? But they weren’t getting the same answer – kill, kill and kill some more. Back then we might have to kill all the commies – nuke them – but only if they attacked first, and we’d do that reluctantly. And it wasn’t a matter of religion, really. It was capitalism and freedom versus collectivism and a different concept of freedom. Sure, we put “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, but it seemed more like an afterthought, and somewhat beside the point. There was virtually no thought of delivering a Sunday sermon on killing others to make Jesus happy.
But something changed. And now it’s odd to be the de facto atheist – not militant about it, and not even mentioning it, but just not believing the God stuff – and listening to your born-again evangelical friends talk excitedly about who should die and how they should die, and how they really must die to make the world right again. It’s like listening to the Taliban. Something changed. But you don’t want to bring up the Mount of Olives story from John. Maybe you got it wrong. And you don’t want to talk about Obama as a man who seems to be an actual Christian Gentleman. They hate Obama. It’s best to just listen politely. The fifties were over a long time ago. And religion has always been like this.
But there is Jesus and the mob that really, really, really wanted to stone that woman to death. These folks now are righteous and proud, and pleased with themselves – and they do talk about doing God’s work. It’s a bit puzzling. The Bible text hasn’t changed. Something else has changed. Humility and thoughtfulness and decency, and humble faith, once seemed to be the main point of it all. Now only atheists believe in those things, minus the humble faith. What happened?
There’s a book in that question – maybe someone has written it – but something has overwhelmed what passed for mainstream religious thought in America not that very long ago. It’s now all calls for death. And it may be that we found something we love more than Jesus, or at least more than that humbling passage from John. It’s good to be a bully.
That would be something else that is key to the American character, or at least key to some American characters – love for authority, and if you don’t have any authority yourself, a love for submission to authority, and contempt for those who won’t join you in submitting to authority. That’s stronger than Jesus.
And that’s us. See Glenn Greenwald on The Wretched Mind of the American Authoritarian – with the thesis that “decadent governments often spawn a decadent citizenry.” And that’s not a matter of religion at call.
Greenwald does point to some odd stories, like the twenty-two-year-old fellow from Nebraska – the one who was arrested for waterboarding his girlfriend as she was tied to a couch. He wanted to know if she was cheating on him, and as Greenwald says, “I wonder where he learned that?” Everyone knows the answer to that question. It’s good to be a bully – no one messes with you. That was the Bush foreign policy for eight years, and led to the official and extensive use of what every other nation in the world calls torture. The guy in Nebraska was into that bullies-always-win thing.
But what Greenwald finds most odd is this column by Jonah Goldberg – “Why is Assange still alive?”
And that opens with this:
I’d like to ask a simple question: Why isn’t Julian Assange dead?
And that’s explained this way:
WikiLeaks is easily among the most significant and well-publicized breaches of American national security since the Rosenbergs gave the Soviets the bomb. …
So again, I ask: Why wasn’t Assange garroted in his hotel room years ago?
It’s a serious question.
He ultimately concludes that “it wouldn’t do any good to kill him, given the nature of the Web” – whatever that means – and reluctantly acknowledges: “That’s fine. And it’s the law. I don’t expect the U.S. government to kill Assange, but I do expect them to try to stop him.” What he wants the Government to do to “stop” Assange is left unsaid – tough-guy neocons love to beat their chest and demand action without having the courage to specify what they mean – but his question (“Why isn’t Julian Assange dead?”) was published in multiple newspapers around the country today.
And Greenwald notes that Christian Whiton, a former Bush State Department official, had a Fox News column on this:
Rather, this [the WikiLeaks disclosure] is an act of political warfare against the United States. … Here are some of the things the U.S. could do – Explore opportunities for the president to designate WikiLeaks and its officers as enemy combatants, paving the way for non-judicial actions against them.
Greenwald has questions about that:
I emailed Whiton and told him I’d like to do a podcast interview with him for Salon about his WikiLeaks proposal and he replied: “Thank you for the invitation, but I am starting a trip tomorrow and will be on a plane just about all day.” I replied that it didn’t have to be the next day – I’d be happy to do it any day that was convenient for him – and he then stopped answering.
As I said, the real objective is for them to beat their chest in public and show everyone how tough they are – take ’em out, Whiton roared – but they then scamper away when called upon to be specific about what they mean or to defend it (let alone to participate in the violence they relentlessly urge).
And Greenwald cites Marc Thiessen, who wrote this Washington Post column saying WikiLeaks must be stopped:
The government has a wide range of options for dealing with him. It can employ not only law enforcement but also intelligence and military assets to bring Assange to justice and put his criminal syndicate out of business.
“Military assets” – apparently, according to this brave and battle-tested warrior – Marc Thiessen – the U.S. can and should just send a drone over London or Stockholm and eradicate Assange, or just send some ground troops into Western Europe to abduct him.
And there’s Jeffrey Goldberg on all the talk that “Lincoln, and FDR as well, would have pretty much tried to hang the WikiLeaks founder for treason.” And Greenwald points out the obvious:
Apparently, the fact that Assange is not and never was an American citizen is no bar to hanging him for “treason” – when you wallow in self-centered, self-absorbed imperial exceptionalism, everyone on the planet has the overarching duty of loyalty to your own government, and you think everyone is under the auspices of American rule.
There are multiple common threads here: the cavalier call for people’s deaths, the demand for ultimate punishments without a shred of due process, the belief that the U.S. is entitled to do whatever it wants anywhere in the world without the slightest constraints, a wholesale rejection of basic Western liberties such as due process and a free press, the desire for the President to act as unconstrained monarch, and a bloodthirsty frenzy that has led all of them to cheerlead for brutal, criminal wars of aggression for a full decade without getting anywhere near the violence they cheer on, etc.
But that’s to be expected. We lived for eight years under a President who essentially asserted all of those powers and more, and now have a one who has embraced most of them and added some new ones, including the right to order even American citizens, far from any battlefield, assassinated without a shred of due process. Given that, it would be irrational to expect a citizenry other than the one that is being molded with this mentality.
But forget Julian Assange. If Glenn Beck criticizes you on air, certain people will threaten to kill you – even if you’re just the volunteer moderator at the October 21 debate in the Illinois’ 8th District:
The League of Women Voters has filed complaints with police in Evanston, IL and the FBI saying that one of their officials has been targeted by death threats relating to a candidates’ debate she moderated last week. Kathy Tate-Bradish was a volunteer moderator at the October 21 debate in the state’s 8th District and sparked conservative outrage when she expressed what was perceived as “lukewarm” support for reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
It seems that as the debate was about to begin, an audience member asked her whether the pledge would be recited. When she “explained the pledge was not scheduled to begin the event, the crowd stood and recited it anyway.” She also recited the pledge, but told the crowd at the debate that the Pledge is not typically recited at candidate debates moderated by the League.
And that set off Glenn Beck:
We wanted to look at the moderator, Kathy Tate-Bradish, from the League of Women Voters. Oh, she sounds so neutral and everything. I mean, she’s even neutral on the Pledge, apparently – just a typical woman voter trying to get the truth out. No, not so much – not so much.
She is on fire for Obama. She is a big-time Obama supporter.
And then the death threats rolled in – a lot of them – and the FBI says her complaint has been received and “is receiving due consideration.”
But it is what it is:
League of Women Voters Illinois Executive Director Jan Czarnik, who filed the complaint, told the FBI that Tate-Bradish had been “turned into a cause célèbre by Glenn Beck and Fox News.” Czarnik provided the FBI death threats posted on the Internet against Tate-Bradish, and “reported menacing posts on Fox News Channel’s Facebook page and Beck’s website, The Blaze.”
Joel Cheatwood, an executive who oversees Beck’s show, issued a statement yesterday saying, “We’re not going to comment on something that’s hypothetical as we have not heard about this complaint.”
The woman resisted reciting the Pledge was because it had not been included in the debate format, which the candidates had agreed to ahead of time. But she let it go on anyway – no big deal, but a little irritating. And she’s getting death threats. It didn’t use to be like this.
But in May 2005 Glenn Beck said this:
Hang on, let me just tell you what I’m thinking. I’m thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I’m wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it. No, I think I could. I think he could be looking me in the eye, you know, and I could just be choking the life out – is this wrong? I stopped wearing my What Would Jesus Do band, and I’ve lost all sense of right and wrong now. I used to be able to say, “Yeah, I’d kill Michael Moore,” and then I’d see the little band: What Would Jesus Do? And then I’d realize, “Oh, you wouldn’t kill Michael Moore. Or at least you wouldn’t choke him to death.” And you know, well, I’m not sure.
Moore discusses how what seemed odd back then now is what everyone expects in this item – he doesn’t feel so alone now.
So where are the Christian Gentlemen? It seems it falls to the quiet atheists to take up the slack. Fine, someone has to do it.