I Feel Like Donald Trump Might


Conor P. Williams

Conor Williams on Twitter. More background here.

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  1. Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

    The Irony of American History: Reinhold Niebuhr’s quote in context:


    The Ironic Element in the American Situation
    Everybody understands the obvious meaning of the world struggle in which we are engaged. We are defending freedom against tyranny and are trying to preserve justice against a system which has, demonically, distilled injustice and cruelty out of its original promise of a higher justice. The obvious meaning is analyzed for us in every daily journal; and the various facets of this meaning are illumined for us in every banquet and commencement-day speech. The obvious meaning is not less true for having become trite. Nevertheless it is not the whole meaning.

    We also have some awareness of an element of tragedy in this struggle, which does not fit into the obvious pattern. Could there be a clearer tragic dilemma than that which faces our civilization? Though confident of its virtue, it must yet hold atomic bombs ready for use so as to prevent a possible world conflagration. It may actually make the conflict the more inevitable by this threat; and yet it cannot abandon the threat. Furthermore, if the conflict should break out, the non-communist world would be in danger of destroying itself as a moral culture in the process of defending itself physically. For no one can be sure that a war won by the use of the modern means of mass destruction would leave enough physical and social substance to rebuild a civilization among either victors or vanquished. The victors would also face the “imperial” problem of using power in global terms but from one particular center of authority, so preponderant and unchallenged that its world rule would almost certainly violate basic standards of justice.

    Such a tragic dilemma is an impressive aspect of our contemporary situation. But tragic elements in present history are not as significant as the ironic ones. Pure tragedy elicits tears of admiration and pity for the hero who is willing to brave death or incur guilt for the sake of some great good. Irony however prompts some laughter and a nod of comprehension beyond the laughter; for irony involves comic absurdities which cease to be altogether absurd when fully understood. Our age is involved in irony because so many dreams of our nation have been so cruelly refuted by history. Our dreams of a pure virtue are dissolved in a situation in which it is possible to exercise the virtue of responsibility toward a community of nations only by courting the prospective guilt of the atomic bomb. And the irony is increased by the frantic efforts of some of our idealists to escape this hard reality by dreaming up schemes of an ideal world order which have no relevance to either our present dangers or our urgent duties.

    Our dreams of bringing the whole of human history under the control of the human will are ironically refuted by the fact that no group of idealists can easily move the pattern of history toward the desired goal of peace and justice. The recalcitrant forces in the historical drama have a power and persistence beyond our reckoning. Our own nation, always a vivid symbol of the most characteristic attitudes of a bourgeois culture, is less potent to do what it wants in the hour of its greatest strength than it was in the days of its infancy. The infant is more secure in his world than the mature man is in his wider world. The pattern of the historical drama grows more quickly than the strength of even the most powerful man or nation.

    Our situation of historic frustration becomes doubly ironic through the fact that the power of recalcitrance against our fondest hopes is furnished by a demonic religio-political creed which had even simpler notions than we of finding an escape from the ambiguity of man’s strength and weakness. For communism believes that it is possible for man, at a particular moment in history, to take “the leap from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom.” The cruelty of communism is partly derived from the absurd pretension that the communist movement stands on the other side of this leap and has the whole of history in its grasp. Its cruelty is partly due to the frustration of the communist overlords of history when they discover that the “logic” of history does not conform to their delineation of it…

    [As the man often says, read the whole thing.]Report

  2. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Previously, I attempted to demonstrate why the Bible will never serve any politician’s ends. David Sessions tries to point out much the same.

    A bit of Matthew 12, my own translation from Greek.

    So the Pharisees (religious authorities) and the Herodians (local political authorities) were sent to [Jesus] that they should trap him in speaking.

    So they came and were saying this to him. Teacher, we are aware you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion (looking into someone’s face, literally) but you teach the truth of God. About the kenson kaisari, Caesar’s poll tax, should we pay it or should we not pay it? Yet having perceived in them hypocrisy, he said to them: what are any of you trying to do? Bring me a denarius, that I may see it.

    So they brought one to him. Whose icon and epigraphy is this? Of Caesar, they replied. Therefore, said Jesus, you are commanded to give what is of Caesar unto him and unto God what is of God. And they admired his answer.

    Note carefully. These were not merely Jews. These were also Herodians, agents of Rome.

    Missionaries stay out of politics. The admixture tends to get people killed and not just the missionaries. It gets the people around them killed, too.

    Mark 12 specifically separates tax policy into two commandments: pay your taxes and give God his due. We may infer from these verses that all other political considerations are equally separate. Where politicians lie and cheat and commit other crimes, we ought to refer them to the prosecutors, not to the pastors.

    The farther we keep religion’s precepts from Congress and the courtroom, the happier we shall all be. I reserve a special hatred for religious people who would say atheists cannot be moral people. Truth is, they’re usually more moral than the religiously-minded. They don’t run cryin’ to Jesus and get re-forgiven over and over so they can go out and sin again. Same goes for all those other goofy Jedi Mind Tricks which infest the mind of the simplistic faithful.

    What you call a Dispositional Believer is guided at a personal level by two sets of commandments: those of his faith and those of the State. Reinhold Niebuhr was originally a pacifist whose ideals ran up onto the reef of Nazism. Oh how he ranted and roared about Christian Realism, then. But not a minute before. The USA did not acquit itself with any particular decency during WW2, when it bombed cities in violation of the Geneva Convention. As with Niebuhr himself, when push came to shove, America’s fine ethics went over the side and we did as our enemies did. They shoved millions of Jews into concentration camps and crematoria because they were Jews. We firebombed every German city because they were Germans. We saved Hiroshima and Nagasaki from ordinary explosives and firebombs for the express purpose of incinerating those civilians with nuclear weapons. Let us not attempt to justify any of it. Inter arma silent leges.

    We shall not be saved by hope. We shall be saved by mercy and loving kindness and the simple recognition of what we share in common, our humanity. If we are to be saved by faith, in this life, that faith must arise in the present, a faith in each other, not from any hope of heaven or fear of hell.Report

  3. Avatar James Hanley says:

    a theology that could do little more than direct you toward a “subset of possible answers” in politics, but was mostly about “identify[ing] shared common ground,” would have to be alienated and spectral.

    I disagree. Theology should be primarily about the nature of God and our relationship to God. Whatever political values may be derivable from that are purely secondary, perhaps even tertiary. But I don’t see how a theology that informs the individual’s relationship to god is necessarily either alienated or spectral.

    To suggest that outcome seems to make sense only if one sets the individual’s relationship with God on the backburner, and makes the politics of theology the primary focus, which is a perversion of theology, or at least certainly a great way to undermine true faith.Report

    • Avatar Katherine in reply to James Hanley says:

      A theology that tells us about our relationship with God should also have implications for our relationships with other human beings, and how we should treat them. And questions of values and how other human beings should be regarded and treated will always impinge on our political thought and philosophies.

      A theology that tells us nothing about how to relate to God is not a theology, but one which tells us nothing about how to relate to our fellow man cannot be Christian.Report

  4. Avatar David Sessions says:

    On the first point, I should I have flagged that I was not misreading your distinction, but disagreeing with it. I understood what you were saying, but I don’t think it’s a tenable divide; there is simply not as much of a difference between these two as you claim. What I was arguing is that, on the contrary, BOTH types of believers end up believing in/voting for very specific policies on the grounds of their faith. While some of those believers might be more concerned with sacred texts than others, very few of them actually think those sacred texts endorse specific policy preferences. Those who are less concerned about the specifics of the Bible or papal statements still end up believing their very specific political ideas are related to their faith.

    So my counterargument was this, to oversimplify: NO ONE thinks the Bible endorses specific policy preferences, and EVERYONE thinks that whatever they believe, however specific it is, is a tool for helping them decide which specific policies to support.Report