Human Error, Dilemma, Hope

“Of hasty marriage, wasted time, false hopes, and misjudged powers the race of men must ever exclaim, ‘If only I had known!’  But we do not know.  If you doubt this dark ignorance, listen to the average man discussing politics.  You will be appalled that each vote counts one; and you will recall that men choose demagogues, not merely through wickedness, though that ingredient is always present, but through ignorance.”  — George Arthur Buttrick, Christ & Man’s Dilemma, Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1946.

Astonishing cynicism, or a way to insight?  Bear in mind Buttrick wrote right after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and a world war had darkened things already for many years (consider the Asian and African experiences, not just the period between 7DEC41 and VJ Day).  And he focused his discussion on the dilemma of our ignorance, our inability to generate Light for life.

Of the demagoguery he mentions there are examples held fast in memory, the “Kingfish” Huey Long of Louisiana who was murdered at the capitol in Baton Rouge in 1935.  Without forgetting his populist devotion to Louisianans, I associate Long’s remarkable saga with Sinclair Lewis’ fascistic Berzilius “Buzz” Windrip in It Can’t Happen Here (1935).  “Berzilius” rings as “Beelzebub” in my ears; but, well, it was a satire, though with plenty of American referents.  Others have suggested other loose parallels — among the worst Hitler comes to mind.

It is not that people are “bad” or that they choose demagogues – and what American politicians can rise to the top unless they can “draw the people together” unto themselves to some degree?  No, “bad” doesn’t get it.  Says Buttrick, our known burden of ignorance pales before the “worse burden and deeper need” – that we are wicked.  We know that, too, and mostly deny it.  Though in admitting it we cannot help ourselves, we need a deliverer.  A demagogue?  No, but someone who can also take our mortality to task and assure us of Life.  So, Buttrick ended his chapter on these themes this way:

  • Man is constitutionally ignorant, endemically wicked, irrevocably mortal; but he knows it, and is therefore above his ignorance, sin, and mortality; yet he is not delivered from his lower life by his own power, but remains helpless without the Great Companion.
  • There is no book logic to uphold, or refute, these contentions.  There is only the logic of life: the reader must ask himself if this description of the paradox of human nature is true or untrue of his human nature.
  • If he finds any truth in the description, he may be willing to ask further if the new-old words of the creed have an answering truth:  “God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God; . . . who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, . . . and was made man.”  (from the Nicene Creed)

True Patriots — Tecumseh, Oklahoma, April 2007

The Crossroads Academy and V-5 Institute Board has had little help from me recently, but I haven’t “quit” either, especially when I get opportunities to meet with some of God’s good men and women. So I and mine did this past weekend at the Rominger home in Tecumseh. The occasion was filled with conversation, board business (redefining, reorganizing), spiritual devotion, some great meals (thanks Janelle) and a good dose of Oklahoma history courtesy of Dr. Don Rominger. It is a rich history, and none are more aware of it than the numerous American Indians who in the twisting course of events had much befall them in Anglo-America. Yet they–and the rest of us–are part of a much more complex America that includes everyone (not always happily) but still permits special identities. That is no more so than with Indian identity, tribal belonging.

This past weekend our board president received, in absentia, a token, a totem of unity and patriotism, a gift in honor of his own military service, patriotism, and love of the United States and what our nation best represents, a ceremonial working/battle axe. It was also in honor of his sons, one of whom, a Marine lieutenant, still is recovering from burn injuries received in Iraq from a roadside bomb that killed most of his brothers-in-arms. Those injuries will force his retirement, which he must accept, though reluctantly, and earlier than he wished.

The giver? An elder representing the Citizen Pottawatomie tribe of Oklahoma. The recipient and his son? Members via Mexican ancestry, in part, of the Yaqui tribe. Yet all are citizens of the United States, heirs to a tradition of patriotism based not in what some consider a threatening militarism but in their convictions that they can best serve their country as members of a proud, distinguished service branch of the American Armed Forces. And these Marines have served well.

The United States includes many amazing people, humans whose backgrounds, convictions, and accomplishments can only evoke encouragement and admiration. I learned this past weekend about the long tradition of military service among the Cheyenne of the Middle and Northern Plains. Where in the social histories do we learn that the Indians are more than just a formerly oppressed group? Where do we learn that among them, always, have been individuals and groups who transcended the difficulties of accommodation and integration to the larger Anglo-European society, who came to share fully in it, yet who, paradoxically, retained their traditions as best they could? I am interested to learn more about the American Plains warriors whose love of country is a lesson for all Americans — not to glorify war, though some surely might, but to be reminded that in a world where wars will occur, there are patriots whose best response is to take part.

Deeper than Originally Specified

On the one hand, it is getting easier now to sway some people toward the view that before the Iraq War no degree of diplomacy could be too much. We are into it far enough to have many people shift their views, thinking, saying, in effect: were there no other ways to deal with what our leaders considered a crisis, requiring imminent intervention? We will never know. Historical reflection suggests it has always been so. Continue reading “Deeper than Originally Specified”

Civic Being and Doing

In one of my blogweb associations I found the link to the National Priorities Project. At the least NPP is informative, proving interesting, even provocative reports. Yes, even information can be quite provocative. Their “cost of the Iraq war” ticker alone prompts questions, but that’s good. An informed, curious citizenry is a national asset. I’ll be watching for other such web presences and making comparisons.