Dean Cardno: You write . . . ‘I can report that not only will President Clinton not resign – Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.’ Hmmm…. So, just to make sure I understand this correctly, one has not inhaled, and the other has not exhaled.’
This is my last column of the first year of the third millennium, inasmuch as I probably will give myself Monday off, and inasmuch as we Americans all pretty much happily go by the Christian calendar. And that leads me into today’s topic, perhaps appropriate only once every thousand years or so: Religion.
I’m for it, even though I don’t believe in it; but with a couple of reservations.
The first is simply to echo a friend of mine who laments that God – in Whom he does believe – ‘has been hijacked by organized religion.’ This is not to knock all organized religion. But the more organized it gets, the less allowing of dissent and individual interpretation it seems to become, until . . . well, you get my drift.
Religion has been used – never by you, but by some – as an excuse for power grabbing.
‘I have caused great calamities,’ proclaimed Queen Isabella of Spain about 500 years ago. ‘I have depopulated provinces and kingdoms. But I did it for the love of Christ and his Holy Mother.’
So it was OK.
Religion – faith – has been used to brainwash folks into committing mass murder, thinking they were doing good. One need not look back 500 years or even 500 days for a heart-breaking example.
The Bible was used to justify slavery (‘Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling’ – Ephesians 6:5) . . . to justify a lesser status for women (‘Women should be silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate’ – Corinthians 14:34) . . . and to justify gay bashing (‘Blessed are the meek; but if they appear effeminate, whack ’em’ – Apocrypha 0:0).
This was all called to mind by an e-mail from Mike Koltak. ‘In case anyone starts to argue about our country getting back to ‘our Christian roots,” he wrote me, ‘remind them of the Treaty of Tripoli. Click here.’
Ah, the Treaty of Tripoli. How could I resist? I clicked.
It’s a pretty long article from a 1997 issue of The Early American Review, but I urge you to click also if you find time this weekend – not because it is meant (or I mean) to diminish the importance of Christianity in American life. But because it tells you things you may not have known about the religiosity of our Founding Fathers. (Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli, ratified by the Senate and signed by John Adams in 1797, begins: ‘As the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion . . . ‘)
Take Thomas Jefferson. ‘Although Jefferson did admire the morality of Jesus, Jefferson did not think him divine.’ Or John Adams, a Unitarian, who ‘flatly denied the doctrine of eternal damnation.’ Or James Madison, who wrote: ‘During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.’ Ben Franklin would not have fared well as a guest on ‘the 700 Club,’ and Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense, wrote: ‘I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my church.’
In fact, the article suggests that fewer than 10% of the early Americans belonged to congregations. George Washington never once wrote the word ‘Jesus’ in the thousands of his letters that survive (according to this article) and none of our founding fathers was remotely an evangelist.
What they did seem to agree on was that everyone should just learn to get along together, each worshipping – or not – in his or her own way.
This is not the view of some Muslims. Here is a second thing you might click sometime this weekend. It’s from Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal, and it reminds us how scary fundamentalism can be.
My own view is that religion works best when it stops short of complete, unquestioning faith. You find it comforting, and you sort of believe – especially when there’s engine trouble at 37,000 feet or you’ve run off a deserted road into a snow drift and are pinned inside the car. But you don’t fully, really, absolutely, literally believe.
Without meaning to trivialize any of this, the analogy I would use is school spirit. Say you went to West Point and now you’re in the stands at the Army/Navy game (or maybe you’re still at West Point, in uniform down on the field). Go Army! Pulverize those Navy bastards! Truly! Nothing is more important. You are Army through and through. You love the ritual and the traditions (the smells and bells, as the Episcopalians have it). You are awed by the sacrifice and heroism of those who’ve gone before you; immensely – and rightly – proud to be a part of this tradition. It calls out the best in you, helps you find your bearings when confronted with difficulty, adds meaning to your life. But of course you don’t really mean ‘pulverize those Navy bastards.’ Someplace way in the back of your brain you do realize that it’s a football game, and that Annapolis has some pretty fair graduates and traditions of its own. No few Navy men do you count among your close friends.
Wouldn’t it be nice if Osama had been training children to feel roughly the same way about, say, Islam and Judaism?
This Judaism thing is particularly troubling, because every time you turn around – historically speaking – the Jews are getting creamed. The Holocaust was cataclysmically the worst, but there are lots of other examples. And if the world does not keep its head screwed on straight, bad things could happen again.
Which brings me to the last of the things I read this week that I wanted to share, an e-mail from Boston’s top-rated talk-show host, David Brudnoy:
In case you missed it [David writes a few friends], the honorable Daniel Bernard, France’s ambassador to the Court of St. James’s – aka Britain – let fly at a posh dinner party in London the other day his anti-Israel venom. The New York Times (December 22, page A9), referred to it as a ‘vulgar term’ but I’ve read elsewhere that it was one of the most vulgar of terms. And he said, ‘Why should the world be in danger of World War III because of these people?’
The hostess is Lady Black, whose husband owns the Daily Telegraph and The Spectator, and who writes a gossip column under her maiden name, Barbara Amiel, in which she reported the event from her own dinner party and said also that anti-Semitic remarks are now fashionable in London.
‘At a private lunch last month,’ she wrote, ‘the hostess – doyenne of London’s political salon scene – made a remark to the effect that she couldn’t stand Jews and everything happening to them was their own fault. When this was greeted with shocked silence, she chided her guests on what she assumed was their hypocrisy. `Oh, come on,’ she said, ‘you all feel like that.”
Ambassador Bernard acknowledges the quotation but claims it was distorted and is miffed that it was written about in the Daily Telegraph. His spokesman said ‘He does not deny the remarks. . . What he said was at a private dinner among friends and was not supposed to be put in the press the next day. . . The Ambassador has no intention whatsoever of apologizing, simply because he sees no reason to do so.’
The French press has rushed to Monsieur l’ambassador Bernard’s defense.
Point here – at least my point – is that if the US ambassador to Britain were accurately quoted as calling Israel a ‘shitty little country,’ Secretary of State Powell would have him home in about five minutes and President Bush would issue a formal apology to the Israeli government and would be having high level consultations with American Jewish leaders to see what other idiots are churning the waters of anti-Semitism among the notoriously anti-Israel and anti-Semitic State Department staffers. Worse has happened to other American political appointees who said stupid things – James Watt, for instance, in the Reagan era – for much less.
The French find nothing wrong with this, in part because the whole mood in Europe, in the EU, and in the press across the continent, is increasingly anti-Israel and anti-Jew. And increasingly pro- Arafat and pro-PLO (or whatever they’re calling Arafat’s little dictatorship these days).
The failure of Lady Black to regard a private remark at her own dinner party as off the record was, in the view of one friend to whom I told this yesterday, a serious breach of decorum.
But I think that if I were a journalist – hey, I am! – and the Canadian ambassador to the US told me at a party that he thought Mexico was “a stinking little sewer of a country,” I’d report it on my program and would think I was doing the right thing to violate the confidentiality of a cocktail party in favor of the significant news. The French ambassador felt impunity to utter this remark in a gathering of some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in Britain, assuming that no one would bat an eye. Fortunately, Lady Black did.
If more people, among them Colonel Charles Lindbergh, just to name one, had been less concerned with cordiality and not violating a private party’s attendees’ stupid remarks, and had reported to the American press, way back in the early 30s, what German high muckety mucks were saying about their vermin population – read: Jews, Slavs, gypsies, the handicapped, homosexuals – perhaps the world would have been more aware of the way things were going.
If the American press today would stop paying so much admiring attention to the semi-cozy, friendly-sounding babbling from Arafat in English and would instead publish what he says in Arabic to his shrieking masses of kill-the-Jews Palestinians – if you want translations from the Arabic into English from the Arab press and leading politicians, go to memri.org, and also log onto the almost daily dispatches from Daniel Pipes, whose web site is the most important, I think, in keeping us up to date on these things; and onto Jeff Jacoby‘s columns and Don Feder‘s columns – we might find Americans a little less prone to the kind of inanity that pervades the letters to editor columns in our newspapers. Today H.D.S. Greenway’s Boston Globe column faults Pipes for pointing out that there is an Islamist Fifth Column in America. Greenway faults Pipes, not the Fifth Column.
Maybe the three oh-so-progressive Episcopal bishops in the Diocese of Massachusetts would do well to pay some attention to what is actually going on, rather than to their appallingly naive and utterly predictable belief that somehow what is going on, vis a vis the Middle East, is all soluble if only Israel would roll over and play (or rather become) dead.
I could be wrong – I am often wrong, maybe usually wrong about maybe most things – but I think on this I’m right: revealing the truth about serious, consequence-laden hate remarks from people in power trumps dinner-party decorum when one has heard something that ought to chill the bones of anyone with a sense of history, including a knowledge of how casually remarks that were de rigueur in Europe in the 20s and early 30s prefigured what came later.
I say all the time on the air, and to my students: Believe what powerful people say when they preach hatred and murder. Don’t assume it’s just a pose. Don’t assume that ‘Mein Kampf’ and the ‘Palestine Liberation Front Charter’ and the mindless ramblings in ‘The Call’ (the newspaper of Farrakhan’s hate group, the so-called Nation of Islam), and the publications that come out of Dr. Wm. Pierce’s organization (he wrote ‘The Turner Diaries,’ and his group is the one that distributes anti-Semitic pamphlets in local Massachusetts communities) and the homo-hating screed, ‘The Massachusetts News,’ sent free to hundreds of thousands of Bay State residents each month, and such, are or were just folderol. These people mean what they say. I think the French ambassador, who is a close friend of President Chirac, means what he says, and he is likely not the only high-ranking member of his country’s diplomatic corps who means what he says and says things like this.
Anybody who thinks that the current crisis has not greatly enhanced the ability of the Jew-haters and the Israel-haters to say what’s on their mind is, I fear, deluded. Things, I am told by a close and trusted European friend, are getting very ugly. I hope you’ll give this issue a ponder.
I have every expectation that ‘right will out,’ and that young terrorists will sooner rather than later become disillusioned and start advocating for democracy (or that their big sisters will slap some sense into them, rather than submitting to oppressive fundamentalism) . . . and that somehow the Palestinians will be made to see that Arafat was offered by Barak 97% of what Arafat had demanded, yet lacked the courage to make peace.
But in the meantime, yes: this issue is worth a ponder.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
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Money, it turned out, was exactly like sex, you thought of nothing else if you didn't have it and thought of other things if you did.~James Baldwin
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