Category Archives: True Believer

When the opinion is partly true and partly false.

 

John Stuart Mill in his classic book, On Liberty, considered free speech from one more perspective: namely beliefs that are partly true and partly false. Here too, he said, is another situation in which diversity of opinion is advantageous. In fact this is almost always the situation for invariably any opinion is not absolutely true. First, he considered the case of an opinion that might be false. The second was the case where the opinion is actually true, but a conflict with the opposite error is needed in order to clarify the opinion or preserve or create a deep feeling about that true opinion. In this case the contrary opinion can help immeasurably. Thirdly, Mill considers the case where neither opinion contains the whole truth and nothing but the truth. As Mill said,

 

“But there is a commoner case than either of these; when the conflicting doctrines, instead of being one true and the other false, share the truth between them; and the non-conforming opinion is needed to supply the remainder of the truth, of which the received doctrine embodies only a part  Popular opinions, on the subject not palpable to sense, are often true, but seldom or never the whole truth. They are a part of the truth; sometimes a greater, sometimes a smaller part, but exaggerated, distorted, and disjoined from the truths by which they ought to be accompanied and limited.   Heretical opinions, on the other hand, are generally some of these suppressed and neglected truths, bursting the bonds which kept them down, and either seeking reconciliation with the truth contained in the common opinion, or fronting it as enemies, and setting themselves up, with similar exclusiveness, as the whole truth. The latter case is hitherto the most frequent, as in the human mind one-sidedness has always been the rule, and many-sidedness the exception. Hence, even in revolutions of opinion, one part of the truth usually sets while another rises.”

 

We ought never to think in black and white. We should always think in colour or include many shades of gray. Even revolutions usually just add one partial and incomplete truth for another. Hopefully the new truth will be better adapted to the needs of the time than the opinion or doctrine that is replaced. This is the profound point that Mill made which is particularly relevant to the age of extremes in which we live.

It was the glory of English empiricism and liberalism that grew out of the great period after the Religious Wars of the 17th century that produced thinkers willing to acknowledge that truth was not always entirely confined to one side of a discussion. Nowadays, this attitude is sadly rare. Nowadays, both sides often think they have the entire truth and the other side is of the devil. We must recognize that pure truth and pure falsehood rarely find homes on opposite sides of a dispute. That’s why holy truth and pure evil can rarely be found either. We should never expect to find pure truth or pure falsehood. Life is always more complicated than that. Mill was a member of that great British tradition of empiricism and liberalism.

As John Stuart Mill said,

“Such being the partial character of prevailing opinions, even when resting on a true foundation, every opinion which embodies somewhat of the portion of the truth which the common opinion omits, ought to be considered precious, with whatever amount of error and confusion that truth may be blended. No sober judge of human affairs will feel bound to be indignant because those who force on our notice truths which we should otherwise have overlooked, overlook some of those which we see. Rather, we will think that so long as popular truth is one-sided, it is more desirable than otherwise that unpopular truth should have one-sided assertors too; such being usually the most energetic, and most likely to compel reluctant attention to the fragment of wisdom which they proclaim as if it were the whole.”

 

The thinkers of the Enlightenment were surprised that they did not have the entire truth in their minds. They were shocked because it did appear to them that all proponents of science and philosophy would ultimately agree with them. They thought they had the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but they were rudely awakened from their slumber by one lonely thinker. That thinker was Rousseau. He gave Mills an example of a thinker who opposed the gathering consensus and cut it down at the knees. Mills described this momentous event this way,

“Thus, in the eighteenth century, when nearly all the instructed, and all those of the uninstructed who were led by them, were lost in admiration of what is called civilization, and of the marvels of modern science, literature, and philosophy, and while greatly overrating the amount of unlikeness between the men of modern and those of ancient times, indulged in the belief that the whole of the difference was in their own favour; with what salutary shock did the paradoxes of Rousseau explode like bombshells in the midst, dislocating the compact mass of one-sided opinion, and forcing its elements to recombine in a better form and with additional ingredients.  Not that the current opinions were on the whole farther from the truth than Rousseau’s were; on the contrary, they were nearer to it; they contained more of the positive truth, and very less of error.  Nevertheless there lay in Rousseau’s doctrine, and has floated down the stream of opinion along with it, a considerable amount of exactly those truths which popular opinion wanted; and these are the deposit which was left behind when the flood subsided. The superior worth of simplicity of life, the enervating and demoralizing effect of the trammels and hypocrisies of artificial society, minds since Rousseau wrote; and they will in time produce their due effect, though at present needing to be asserted as much as ever, and to be asserted by deeds, for words, on this subject have nearly exhausted their power.”

 

This was an outstanding example of what Mill was talking about. One side rarely has the whole truth. Mill, like me, had a lot of sympathy for the thinkers of the Enlightenment who brought reason and critical thought to the problems of the times. This was desperately needed. Mill accepts almost everything the Enlightenment thinkers stood for. So do I. But that does not mean they had the whole truth to themselves and their opponents had nothing good on their side. Rousseau was the outstanding example of exactly thought. He added truth to the other side and hence made both sides richer.

In fact, this phenomenon is extremely common. You can see it clearly in contemporary politics where each side thinks it has the whole truth, when both sides would benefit from a dose of truth from the other side, but is very reluctant to accept such a heretical possibility. Instead of that each sides tries to shut the other down.  Each should be listening to the free speech of the other. Once again, I come down on the side of heresy.

 

 

Thoughtlessness

 Hannah Arendt also wrote a book about the trial of Adolf Eichmann. She used that famous expression “the banality of evil” to describe him and his kind.  He was a man who facilitated horrid acts of violence against the Jews.  But Arendt said what set him apart was his “thoughtlessness.” To her he looked and acted like a boring accountant.

She had been shocked by how glib he was in court. He talked about exterminating millions of Jews as if it was nothing. What was there for him to admit to, he asked. He suggested, as did Himmler, that they could be reconciled with the Jews.  They had a sense of elation when they considered this possibility. But the feelings were not real. It was, in Arendt’s phrase, “an outrageous cliché.”  She said, “it was a self-fabricated stock phrase, as devoid of reality as those clichés by which people had lived for twelve years.”  As Carol Brightman said, “Clichés and conventional sentiments functioned as armor blocking the consciousness of the accused at just those painful junctures where painful intrusions of reality threatened.” These are some of the enemies of thought. In fact, during the trial Arendt had noticed how Eichmann was not perturbed by his starling contradictions. He was certainly not engaged in thinking. He was not stupid. He was just completely thoughtless.

Arendt was stunned that such horrific crimes could be committed without consciousness. She said she disagreed with Kant, who, according to her believed that stupidity was caused by a wicked heart. She contended instead that “absence of thought is not stupidity, it can be found in highly intelligent people, and a wicked heart is not its cause, it is probably the other way around, that wickedness may be caused by absence of thought.”

According to her teaching assistant Kohn, Arendt believed, as I believe, that “thinking conditions people to resist evildoing.”  Most ethicists do not accept this, but I find it profoundly compelling. I believe, like the American novelist Henry James, that ethics is high reason. Where there is no reason there is no ethics. this is what the sleep of reason is all about.

Arendt was clear when she said that everyone could think. Of course, that does not mean that everyone will think. You didn’t have to have an education to think. She was not elitist.

Arendt got mad when Jews accused her of being self-hating and anti-Jewish as a result of her book on Eichmann. She said that all she wanted to do was to think about what he had done. She wanted to understand him and that was not the same as forgiving him or being soft on the Nazis. It was her job as a philosopher to think about these things. And she thought that was very important. In the film about her, Arendt summed up her thinking this way,

“Trying to understand is not the same as forgiveness. It is my responsibility to try to understand. It is the responsibility of anyone who tries to put pen to paper on this subject. Since Socrates and Plato we have understood thinking to be a silent dialogue between me and myself. In refusing to be a person Eichmann utterly surrendered that single most defining human quality, that of being able to think. And consequently he was no longer capable of making moral judgments. This inability to think created the possibility for many ordinary men to commit evil deeds on a gigantic scale, the like of which one had never seen before. It is true I have considered these questions in a philosophical way. The manifestation of the mind of thought is not knowledge, but the ability to tell right from wrong; beautiful from ugly. And I hope that thinking gives people the strength to prevent catastrophes in these rare moments when the chips are down.  ”

 

For Hannah Arendt, what thinking meant was to train the mind to go wandering.  I love that concept. It brings me back to my concept of meandering.  I love to meander–physically and mentally. That is the essence of free thinking (and there is really no other kind) to meander through thoughts without regard to preconceived ideas, ideologies, or prejudices. Only the free mind can think. I said that. But that is a concept directly inspired by Arendt.

Arendt’s first major book was On the Origins of Totalitarianism. She thought there was something new or modern about totalitarianism. It was not like anything we had seen before. It presented profound change from everything that preceded it. It was much more than tyranny or dictatorship. It cut at individual will. It cut at our individual identity. In fact, according to one of Arendt’s most profound insights, totalitarianism cuts at our capacity to think.

As always, I ask myself how this is relevant to our times. There are not many totalitarian regimes around right now, but there are movements—various forms of populist movements—that tend in the same direction. I think often of the American near fascists—i.e. the Trumpsters, the insurrectionists on Capitol Hill that were looking to hang Mike Pence only because their leader told them that he had been betrayed by Pence.  That was enough to set off ordinary people looking to hang the vice-president of their country! Had they lost the capacity to think? To me it seemed that way.

Mutual Respect of Tyrants

 

 

To many it seems strange that Stalin and Hitler respected each other. One was a left-wing Communist, and the other supposedly a right wing fascist. They were mortal enemies weren’t they? Well yes, but also no. According to Hannah Arendt, in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism,  the only man for whom Hitler had unqualified respect was ‘Stalin the genius.” She also pointed out, “Hitler recognized in the early twenties the affinity between the Nazi and the Communist movements: ‘In our movement the two extremes come together, the Communists from the left and the officers and students from the right.” Khrushchev in his speech before the twentieth Party Congress said  Stalin trusted only one man, Hitler.

Trump made it clear that the politicians he loved the most were the dictators around the world. He had little use for democratically elected leaders. Like likes like.

 

It is interesting that all 3, Stalin, Hitler, and Trump, found their supporters growing in the same fertile soil. Arendt described this as follows,

“Totalitarian movements are possible wherever there are masses who for one reason or another have acquired the appetite for political organization. Masses are not held together by a consciousness of common interest and they lack that specific articulateness which is expressed in determined, limited, and obtainable goals. The term masses applies only where we deal with people who either because of sheer numbers, or indifference, or a combination of both, cannot be integrated into any organization based on common interest into political parties or municipal governments or professional organizations or trade unions. Potentially, they exist in every country and form the majority of those large numbers of neutral, politically indifferent people who never join a party and hardly ever go to the polls.

 

It was characteristic of the rise of the Nazi movement in Germany and of the Communist movements in Europe after 1930 that they recruited their numbers from this mass of apparently indifferent people whom all other parties had given up as too apathetic or too stupid for their attention.”

 

Isn’t this a perfect description of Trump’s supporters whom Hillary Clinton most unwisely dismissively called a “basket of deplorables” 60 years later? Dismissing these people is outlandishly unwise. It is from such soil that fanatical followers can be found, precisely what political leaders with totalitarian tendencies need. These were “people who had reason to be equally hostile to all parties.”  They particularly despise elites like Hillary Clinton as we saw in the 2016 US presidential election. These are people who are ripe for a “strong man,” to whom they can give undying, fanatical and absolute, loyalty.

And therein lies the danger. Dismissing them is a big mistake.

 

The Attraction of Evil

 

The Nazis “were convinced that evil-doing in our time has a morbid force of attraction.” Arendt here quoted Franz Borkenau, who said the Nazis “were convinced that evil-doing in our time has a morbid force of attraction.” It seemed to me I saw this attraction in the rioters on Capitol Hill.  They seemed to relish the evil.

One of the interesting facts about supporters that Trump has ditched is that they still usually remain loyal. The same thing happened in Russia in the time of Stalin. Few Trump supporters have turned against him even when they were dumped. The most famous case is Mike Pence, but there are many others. For example, the abject loyalty of Jeff Sessions after he was dismissed from Trump’s cabinet was shocking. Their loyalty is often astounding. This is not unusual for tyrannical leaders. This happened glaringly in Stalinist Russia when the Stalinists turned against their own comrades. Again, as Hannah Arendt said,

“The disturbing factor in the success of totalitarianism is rather the true selflessness of its adherents: it may be understandable that a Nazi or a Bolshevik will not be shaken in his conviction by crimes against people who do not belong to the movement or are even hostile to it; but the amazing fact is neither is he likely to waver when the monster begins to devour its own children and not even if he becomes a victim of persecution himself, if he is framed himself and condemned, if he is purged from the party and sent to a forced-labor camp. On the contrary, to the wonder of the whole civilized world, he may even be willing to help in his own prosecution and frame his own death sentence if only his status as a member of the movement is not touched.”

 

Membership in the group can be more important than life itself. At the insurrection in the Capitol on January 6, 2021 there were Trump supporters who carried signs saying they would die for him. I believe them.

The loyalty of the true believer is an impossible loyalty. No less real for that. There are other parallels between Trump and Stalin and Hitler that suggest he is a totalitarian or at least a ‘wanna be’ totalitarian.  Fortunately, he was not smart enough to achieve his nefarious goals. Or at least most of them.

What we really must fear is a new authoritarian leader who is a smarter Trump.

 

Evil can be attractive. Authoritarian leaders understand that. And that is a problem.

 

 

Desire for Cruelty

 

Because of their incredibly strong desire to separate themselves from respectable society—the establishment as 1960s rebels would call it—the true believers of totalitarian movements of the 1930s and following in Europe, inculcated a desire for cruelty. They were driven by a desire for cruelty. That desire fueled their passion.

Lately I have been rewatching the mob of Trumpsters on Capitol Hill on January 6th and have noticed the same phenomenon. The similarities to the older totalitarian mobs are astonishing. As Hannah Arendt said in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism in which she described the insurrectionists of the 1930s and 1940s:

“They read not Darwin but the Marquis de Sade.  If they believed at all in universal laws, they certainly did not particularly care to conform to them. To them, violence, power, cruelty, power, were the supreme capacities of men who definitely lost their place in the universe and were much too proud to long for a power theory that would safely bring them back and reintegrate into the world. They were satisfied with blind partisanship in anything that respectable society had banned, regardless of theory or content, and they elevated cruelty to a major virtue because it contradicted society’s humanitarian and liberal hypocrisy.”

 

That applied to Nazi mobs and Communist mobs. I think it also applied to modern American Trump inspired mobs.

Watching the rioters on Capitol Hill on January 6th of 2021 I was struck by how much fun they were having.  It was obviously a blast for them. Literally a blast. It was probably one of the most exciting days of their lives. Running down the corridors of the Capitol in search of Mike Pence chanting that they would hang him and  Nancy Pelosi was incredibly exciting for them. They were filled with passion. Arendt mentioned in her book how the older rebels has a “yearning for violence.” Arendt had said how the revolutionaries experienced

the self-willed immersion in the suprahuman forces of destruction seemed to be a salvation from the automatic identification with pre-established functions in society and their utter banality…”

They were finally loosed from the chains of mediocrity. As Arendt said about the older rebellions,

“What proved so attractive was that terrorism had become a kind of philosophy through which to express frustration, resentment and blind hatred, a kind of political expressionism which used bombs to express oneself, which watched delightedly the publicity given to resounding deeds and was absolutely willing to pay the price of life for having succeeded in forcing the recognition of one’s existence on the normal strata of society. It was still the same spirit and the same game which made Goebbels, long before the eventual defeat of the Nazis, in case of defeat, would know how to slam the door behind them and not be forgotten for centuries.”   

 

Many have been surprised by the fact that Donald Trump could attract support from elites as well as those who had been humbled by globalization. How was that possible?

First, as Hannah  Arendt said, “The members of the elite did not object at all to paying a price, the destruction of civilization, for the fun of seeing how those who had been excluded unjustly in past forced their way into it.” Next, Arendt also said this about earlier insurrectionists: “The temporary alliance between the elite and the mob rested largely on this genuine delight with which the former watched the latter destroy respectability.” The elite wanted to see the cruelty of the mob in action. It was the same on January 6th 2021. The lust for cruelty can be surprising powerful.

Anyone who unleashes these powerful and uncontrollable emotions must be prepared for the unholy explosion that is likely to follow. Trump was prepared for that. Some of his followers were not, for they abandoned him. It is now being determined how many others are prepared to enjoy the train wreck too.

Yearning to Belong

 

Hannah Arendt commented on how early supporters of Hitler in Germany demonstrated astonishing selflessness. She described that this way:

“The peculiar selflessness of the mass man appeared here as a yearning for anonymity, for being just a number and functioning cog, for every transformation, in brief, which would wipe out the spurious identification with specific types of predetermined functions within society. War had been experienced as that “mightiest of all mass action” which obliterated individual differences so that even suffering, which traditionally had marked off individuals through unique unexchangeable destinies could now be interpreted as “an instrument of historical progress.”

 

This desire to be part of a movement—to belong to a group—is of course of vital significance. Humans have strong desires to be part of groups.  Groups are desired to heal feelings of alienation and isolation. They are exhilarating. If you have any doubt about this go to an American football game. You will be convinced.  The feeling is that this is “us” against “them” and the excitement is palpable. These feelings are beyond reason. Cheering for your team has nothing to do with reason.  That is what the rapture must feel like.

Bakunin, the Russian anarchist expressed this feeling deeply. He said, “I do not want to be I, I want to be We.”

To us from afar this seems insane. It is insane. But it was real for those members of the movement. Will it be the same for modern authoritarians and their followers such Donald Trump’s Trumpsters? We cannot know that in advance, no matter what Arendt has told us about earlier mass movements, but it certainly must make us consider what comes next?

Zealotry

 

Hannah Arendt looked closely at the supporters of totalitarian movements of the 1930s and 1940s and many of the things she learned are applicable to the current authoritarian movements. She found that the enthusiasm of the true believers was stunning. This is what she said about the totalitarians of the 1930s and following decades:

“They shared with Lawrence of Arabia the yearning for “losing their selves in violent disgust with all existing standards, with every power that be. They all remembered the “golden age of security,” they also remembered how they had hated it and how real their enthusiasm had been at the outbreak of the first World War. Not only Hitler and not only the failures, thanked God on their knees when mobilization swept Europe in 1914. They did not even have to reproach themselves with having been an easy prey for chauvinist propaganda or lying explanations about the purely defensive character of the war. The elite went to war with an exultant hope that everything they knew, the whole culture and texture of life, might go down in its “storms of steel” (Ernst Jünger) In the carefully chosen words of Thomas Mann, war was “chastisement” and “purification”; “war in itself,” rather than victories, inspired the poet.” Or in the words of a student of the time, “what counts is always the readiness to make a sacrifice, not the object for which the sacrifice is made”; or in the words of a young worker, “it doesn’t matter whether one lives a few years longer or not. One would like to have something to show for one’s life.”

 

The true believers were truly zealots. And note the religious significance here. Sacrifice is of course a fundamental religious concept in virtually every religion. It is no accident that the words “sacred” and “sacrifice” come from the same root. You only have to look at that wonderful series, A History of Religious Ideas, in 3 volumes by the Master Mircea Eliade to see the similarities.

 

Arendt also pointed out how

“the “front generation” in marked contrast to their own chosen spiritual fathers, were completely absorbed by their desire to see the ruin of this whole world of fake security, fake culture, and fake life. This desire was so great it outweighed in impact and articulateness all earlier attempts of a “transformation of values,” such as Nietzsche had attempted…Destruction without mitigation, chaos and ruin, as such assumed the dignity of supreme values.”

 

Arendt also pointed out in her book The Origins of Totalitariainism that willingness to go to war for the cause was in itself insufficient. This attitude had to survive the war, no matter how horrific it was:

“The genuineness of these feelings can be seen in the fact that very few of this generation were cured of their war enthusiasm by actual experience of its horrors. The survivors of the trenches did not become pacifists. They cherished an experience which, they thought, might serve to separate the definitively from the hated surroundings of respectability. They clung to their memories of four years of life in the trenches as though they constituted an objective criterion for the establishment of a new elite.”

 

So it is hardly surprising that Trumpsters were not done after the storming of the Capitol. They wanted more. I believe it is likely that. They want to follow their leader into the next battle.

Hannah Arendt said this about the totalitarian believers of Europe:

“This generation remembered the war as the great prelude to the breakdown of classes and their transformation into masses. War, with its constant murderous arbitrariness, became the symbol for death, the “great equalizer” and therefore the true father of a new world order. The passion for equality and justice, the longing to transcend narrow and meaningless class lines, to abandon stupid privileges and prejudices, seemed to find in war a way out of the old condescending attitudes of pity for the oppressed and disinherited. In times of growing misery and individual helplessness, it seems as difficult to resist pity when it grows into an all-devouring passion as it is not to resent its very boundlessness, which seems to kill human dignity with more deadly certainty than misery itself.”

 

Will the same be true of Trumpsters? We have no way of knowing. None of this is pre-ordained. I am not suggesting Arendt was a prophet. I am just saying her remarks about true believers of the totalitarians makes one look at the modern variants with deep trepidation. At the very least we have little justification for easy optimism or over confidence. We should not be quick to believe the troubles are over. It is more likely that they are just beginning. That is not a comforting thought.

In the Age of Anger loud Voices Prevail

 

Melissa Martin is a very good writer working for the Winnipeg Free Press.  Talking about Covid-19 and the antivaxxers and anti-mandaters, she said she found “Sadness amid the Madness.”  Why was that?

Specifically, she wrote an interesting piece about a man and woman with a child at one of the innumerable Covid-19 protest rallies in Winnipeg, who held a sign that read, “It’s my choice. Live with it. I will.” These people had gone to the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg, thinking there was protest rally there. One had been held there a few days earlier and the protesters disrupted health services. Some health workers were afraid to go to work to help others in desperate need. Not just Covid-19 patients either.  Not really the best place for a protest rally. So, organizers, sensing a lack of public support for a rally there, changed the location at the last minute and this man and his wife and young daughter were not aware of it. They were wandering around largely by themselves. Martin said it was sad.  She also said,  “Anti-vax protests point out a tragic societal fracture that seems beyond mending.”

I think she is right because this is no longer a health issue. It has probably never been a health issue. It is a political issue. In fact, it is a theological issue.  People hold anti-vax and anti-mandate views as they hold religious views.  They are held so tightly that no evidence and no reason can change minds anymore. Just like religion.

The family seemed lost and deflated. As Martin said,

“Imagine what led you there. Imagine what vicious rhetoric you’ve consumed that would allow you to see a hospital entrance as an appropriate place to make your stand. Imagine waking up that day ready to protest outside a hospital, only to find your family arriving alone, sign dangling from your hands.”

 

Martin also saw, what I have been seeing—the same type of people appear at anti-vax rallies as showed up at pro-Trump rallies and worse,  at places like the riot on Capitol Hill in Washington on January 6, 2021.  The people at the hospital rally, or the Winkler rally or the Steinbach rally, were not rioters, but they appeared angry. After all, as Pankaj Mishra said, “this is the age of anger.”  People are angry. When they get angry they get mean and nasty. And thoughtfulness flies out the window. Lately, we have seen this in Winkler and Steinbach as I blogged about earlier.

As Martin said,

“It could have been worse. A lot worse. Since the start of the pandemic, one of the animating factors in resistance to public health orders and, now, vaccines has been rage, the same combustible rage that drove far-right protesters to storm the U.S. Capitol in January. It’s driven by many of the same players. It shares the same characteristics.

On Twitter, one woman responded to a video of an Ontarian People’s Party of Canada candidate firing a rifle, and said the candidate should “bring that bad boy to tomorrow’s raid on Toronto General Hospital,” because protesters would “get inside and show the world that COVID is fake.”

They didn’t go into the hospital. Yet while one shouldn’t put too much stock in the hot air a random person spews on Twitter, the naked aggression is alarming, and the threat has precedent. Last year, self-appointed “truth seekers” entered hospitals to “prove” the virus was a hoax; it’s entirely possible it will happen again.”

 

People are so angry that they feel it is legitimate to try to intimidate our over-worked health care workers who have not done anything to impose the mandates on them. They are just ordinary health care workers doing their heroic work to save lives during a pandemic. Anger directed at them is frankly much worse than sad. It is not surprising that some of them revolt. One frustrated hospital worker in a Calgary hospital put up a sign in a window that read, “Go intubate yourself.”

These protesters don’t believe science which they think is a hoax. Yet they believe  government officials are trying to impose health mandates to control us. again I have heard this personally. Others think doctors are hiding real cures like horse de-wormers. Yet as Martin said,

“When the numbers show that hospitals are in crisis and vaccines are both safe and effective, they are dismissed as “manipulated.” Everyone on Facebook anti-vaccine groups knows a guy who knows a guy whose cousin is a nurse and swears ICUs are empty; when ICU nurses speak about what they’ve endured, that information is disregarded.”

 

I know this too as I have been told the same thing. Martin acknowledged that there are reasonable questions about Covid-19. One of my cousins last week told me there is evidence that people who are vaccinated can spread Covid-19 as easily as those who are not vaccinated. If that is true it blows a major hole in the case against mandatory vaccinations. More on that later.  There is room for reasonable discussion. Science is not crystal clear. People are suffering from the restrictions in business and in mental health. But it is very difficult to have reasonable discussions when people harass health care workers. Or shout absurdities.

Martin summed up the problem this way:

“The problem is, none of those concerns can be given a fair hearing, when the loudest voices in opposition are tied up in threatening health-care workers, propagating conspiracy theories and potentially deadly misinformation, and thunderously insisting that the only relevant consideration is “personal choice.”

That’s the thing about a pandemic. It puts light on the error in the main ideological streak underpinning these most aggressive protests: the idea that anyone lives as an island, our choices not affecting others. A pandemic is a virus infecting society as one body; it requires the co-ordinated response of the whole body to fix it.

It’s my choice,” the man’s sign said. “Live with it.” That’s exactly the problem: we already are. What’s sad is, he cannot see it.”

 

As I have been saying, Goya is right, “the sleep of reason brings forth monsters.” And we have to fight them.

Christian Tribal Power

 

I am still trying to make sense of all those prayers and Christian symbols I saw at the Capitol the day of the insurrection. What do they mean and what do they tell us about the matrimony of politics and religion?

Paul D. Miller, a professor of international affairs at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, made these  claims in an email to Thomas Edsall of the New York Times:

“Christian nationalism is the pursuit of tribal power, not the common good; it is identity politics for right-wing (mostly white) Christians; it is the attempt to ‘own and operate the American brand,’ as someone else wrote; it is an attitude of entitlement among Christians that we have a presumptive right to define what America is. I oppose identity politics of all kinds, including the identity politics of my tribe.”

 

According to Benjamin Lynerd, a professor of Political Science at Christopher Newport University and the author of Republican Theology: The Civil Religion of American Evangelicals,” Christian Nationalism involves

“the tragedy of evangelical politics, a tragedy that the unrestrained loyalty to President Trump lays bare, but which stretches well beyond this moment in American history,” when “political theology serves merely as cover for the more pragmatic agenda of social empowerment.”

 

Professor Lynerd asserts, that there is a difference,

“between searching out the implications of the Christian gospel for politics and leveraging this gospel to advance the social position of American Christians. When evangelicals disguise the latter in the robes of the former, not only do they engage in dishonesty, but they also give fuel to the cynical view that there really is no difference — that the theological is nothing more than a cloak for the political.”

 

When theology is used to cloak a grab for political power the religion is far from pure. Then it has jumped into the fray and got soiled by it.

As Robert Jones said in an email to Edsall:

“While many media outlets focused on decoding the myriad white supremacist signs and symbols, they too easily screened out the other most prominent displays: the numerous crosses, Bibles, and signs and flags with Christian symbols, such as the Jesus 2020 flag that was modeled on the Trump campaign flag.”

 

Jones also said, those religious symbols used on Capitol hill by the insurrectionists:

“reveal an unsettling reality that has been with us throughout our history: The power of White supremacy in America has always been its ability to flourish within and be baptized by white Christianity.”

Like I said before, the deep connections between anti-black racism in the United States are deeply disturbing. No mild words of religious comfort can gloss them over. The same is true of the religious trappings of the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Samuel Perry in his email to Edsall said that when white Americans are asked about taking the country back they mean that the Christian character of the country should be restored, and by that they mean “they want to take the country back to the days when they (white, native-born, conservatives) were in power.” But if you asked blacks the same question they would mean, a return to a ““civil religion” where there was a sacred obligation to be a “just” nation, characterized by fairness, equality, and liberty.

That mixture of religion and white supremacist politics is incredibly toxic and dangerous. That is what Trump tried to bring about and in that battle his greatest allies were Evangelical Christians. To the extent that this is true, the Evangelicals have been besmirched with their leader’s slime. By leader of course, I mean Donald Trump, not Jesus Christ. This is my conclusion: Those Evangelical Christians that followed Trump to the bitter end, gave up on Jesus a long time ago, in favour of their own bully in the White House. Trump became their Savior supplanting the one on the cross.

Blood and Apocalypse: Christian White Nationalism

 

Philip Gorski, a professor of sociology at Yale and the author of the book American Covenant: A History of Civil Religion From the Puritans to the Present, also noted that many of the insurrectionists at the Washington Capitol on January 6, 2021 made it clear by their actions and signs that they supported Christian nationalism. This is what he told Thomas Edsall of the New York Times in a personal email to him:

“Many observers commented on the jarring mixture of Christian, nationalist and racist symbolism amongst the insurrectionists: there were Christian crosses and Jesus Saves banners, Trump flags and American flags, fascist insignia and a ‘Camp Auschwitz’ hoodie. Some saw apples and oranges. But it was really a fruit cocktail: White Christian Nationalism.”

You put them all together and you get Christian Nationalism.

Professor Gorski did not claim that he could tell by watching that a majority of the insurrectionists were Christian nationalists. That would be very difficult to discern from a distance. Yet, there is no denying that they were a substantial presence. Professor Gorski told Edsall in his email that the Christian nationalist movement was a loose confederation of people and institutions that shared,

“a certain narrative about American history. In rough outline: America was founded as a Christian nation; the Founding Fathers were evangelical Christians; the Nation’s laws and founding documents were indirectly based on “biblical” principles, or even directly inspired by God, Himself. America’s power and prosperity are due to its piety and obedience.”

 

Professor Gorski had some disturbing things to say about Christian Nationalists. He distinguished them from more traditional Christians. As he said in his email to Edsall,

“Christian nationalists use a language of blood and apocalypse. They talk about blood conquest, blood sacrifice, and blood belonging, and also about cosmic battles between good and evil. The blood talk comes from the Old Testament; the apocalyptic talk from the Book of Revelation.”

Anyone who watched and listened to the Christians on the hill during the insurrection would, I think, find the above description apt. And disturbing. That sounds more like Christian Nationalists than Sunday school at the local Baptist Church.

Is that your kind of Christianity? I don’t know about you, but I find it disturbing.