WHAT'S WRONG WITH A LITTLE RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION?
Well, friends, it is finally time for me to face the music and to answer a question that is being asked. Readers are wondering why I am not upbeat, why my commentary is negative, and why I always seem angry. I do not deny that my mood in these blogs is less than celebratory, although I don't regard myself as a curmudgeon. Allow me to explain.
The United States of America is unraveling. At the risk of sounding more acerbic than ever, let me add that those who disagree with this assessment are, in my opinion, either in deep, dark denial, or blind as a bat.
First, the nation is over-represented in Congress by the wealthy. Have you checked out lately how many members are millionaires? The last time I looked into the matter 123 elected officials in the 435-member House of Representatives earned at least one million dollars a year. In the Senate, one in three members was worth a million dollars or more. Please remember that the upper house of blue bloods is home to a Kennedy and a Rockefeller, not to say to beneficiaries by marriage of the Heinz (Kerry) and Hensley (McCain) fortunes. By comparison, less than one percent of Americans make seven-figure incomes. This may be your idea of a "representative democracy," but it is not mine.
Another related point. What kind of stroke do you think most citizens have with the plutocrats in Congress? Do you think these fat cats listen to and empathize with a couple who possess modest means and who are doing well to feed and to clothe themselves and their children? Or do you think the tendency of Congress is to do the bidding of those of monumental wealth and influence, like Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Boone Pickens? Three guesses, and the first two don't count.
Do not insist, please, that the situation has always been corrupt as it is now. President Eisenhower, above, forced the resignation of one of his leading aides, Sherman Adams, left, for accepting a vicuna coat and other gifts from a fellow who was in trouble with the Federal Trade Commission and looking for a favor. Some thought that the treatment Mr. Adams received was harsh, but President Eisenhower demanded that those in his administration keep a profile above even the appearance of impropriety.
Yet, now, we have a woman who is inches away from becoming Secretary of State, whose husband, a former President, has received huge contributions from foreign governments, including millions of dollars from the King of Saudi Arabia, plus millions more from the governments of Kuwait, Qatar, Brunei, and Oman, to name but a few. A politician from India and a business tycoon from the Ukraine have likewise contributed large sums. Might these donations constitute the smallest conflict of interest for her? An honest person might think so. But the matter has hardly made the radar screen of the media.
Secondly, aside from the corrupt state of government, how healthy do you think our national institutions really are? Are you favorably impressed with the state of public education? How about with the judicial system? American industry and manufacturing? Churches? Let me tell you what you already know: these are, each and all, in disarray. It did not take the Wall Street and Detroit debacles to teach us that!
I was summoned for jury duty recently. There were approximately a thousand people in the Central Jury Room. Many women appeared in tight, revealing clothing. The arms and backs of a considerable number of these women were tattooed, and the faces of others were pierced. I likewise observed men who looked as if they had just waked up and rushed to the courthouse in attire they had slept in the night before. One gentleman seated beside me who was surveying the situation mused, "The thought of these people sitting in judgment on me scares me to death. They are supposed to be my peers, but they are anything but." He had concluded, quite correctly I think, that the jury system is troubled way beyond the opportunistic lawyers who make a living exploiting it.
The times in which we live remind me of a few lines from James Russell Lowell's majestic hymn: "Though the cause of evil prosper, yet the truth alone is strong; though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong . . ." The cause of evil now prospers. There is no doubt about it. So here's a question for you: when was the last time you heard any reference in a sermon to the debilitated state of American culture? As I have attended various churches over the years and compared notes with other attendees, it is more than a fleeting impression that many clergy never leave the security of the first century. When they do, it is usually to mention "the great moral triumph over the evil of racism." What could be a safer observation than that one? Courage necessitates changing the subject. We are no longer living in 1955; the topic is now "reverse discrimination," not prejudice against African-Americans. Nor are we living in 1944; the issue is now the Iraqi War, not the one against Hitler. Likewise, we are no longer living in 1964; the problem is not the exclusion from America of immigrants of non-European extraction, but the viability of freedom and self-determination in a country the culture of which is being eroded by multiculturalism. Each of these matters has a vital theological dimension, which is seldom, if ever, explored on Sunday mornings. And those churches, which still have enough integrity not to think of themselves as in the entertainment business, wonder why people are not interested.
Were the ancient prophets of Israel negative? Yes. Were they angry? Yes. Did they cry out for reform? Yes. Is there a place today in America for those like Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Isaiah? I hope so. Enough said.
December 21, 2008