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At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Friedrich Nietzsche and Our Age

posted by Jack Kerwick

When I was a teenager, there was a guy from my old neighborhood who had developed an addiction to crack cocaine.  Given that he didn’t have much in the way of steady employment, to support his habit, he acquired another: he became hooked on thievery.

Not before long, this junkie and thief was known by everyone for who and what he was, for there wasn’t a single person among his family, friends, and acquaintances upon whom he didn’t set his sights.  He stole, or at least tried to steal, from everyone.  

One night, he tried to steal from me.

As was our way, a group of us—including the junkie and thief—was gathered at our neighborhood park.  He decided that it was about that time for him to get high.  Being without any cash of his own, he tried to prevail upon me to “lend” him some funds.  When I refused, he persisted.  “Don’t be greedy,” he admonished me.

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Don’t be greedy.

My cousin is currently married to a good woman with whom he shares a nice home and two beautiful children.  But before he met her, he was married for a brief time (not briefly enough) to another woman who wasn’t all that good.  On more than one occasion, she was unfaithful to him.  He discovered her last indiscretion by either reading her diary or tracking her down, I don’t recall which.  The point, though, is this:

When he confronted her, she castigated him for “violating her privacy.”

Both my selfish, dishonest friend and my cousin’s selfish and dishonest ex-wife sought to cloak their selfishness and dishonesty behind a veil of objectivity. Both sought to advance their subjective interests by invoking the language of right and wrong: greed is wrong, violating another’s privacy is wrong, etc.

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But it isn’t just thieves and whores who seek refuge in the rhetoric of moral objectivity.  This is the tried and true strategy of everyone.  This, at any rate, is the verdict of the nineteenth century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

Nietzsche insisted that, the declarations of such venerable Western philosophers as Plato and Aristotle aside, human beings do not want happiness.  The claim that they do want happiness is itself just another illustration of this universal predilection to advance one’s interests without detection.  The philosophers who posit happiness as man’s ultimate end are guilty of deception, for their hearts’ desire is that of every other. 

What human beings ultimately want, Nietzsche tells us, is power.  Things can’t be otherwise, for “life is precisely Will to Power.”  What this means is that in spite of “the disparaging purpose” with which “ages” have associated these activities, life is “appropriation, injury, conquest of the strange and weak, suppression, severity, obtrusion of peculiar forms, incorporation, and at the least, putting it mildest, exploitation (emphasis original)[.]”  The Will to Power is nothing more or less than the Will to Life.

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Our moralizing to the contrary notwithstanding, “‘exploitation’ does not belong to a depraved, or imperfect and primitive society: it belongs to the nature of the living being as a primary organic function; it is a consequence of the intrinsic Will to Power, which is precisely the Will to Life (emphasis original) [.]” 

Nietzsche concedes that “as a theory,” this concept is “a novelty.”  However, “as a reality it is the fundamental fact of all history (emphasis original).” 

Upon canvassing the history of morals, two tolerably distinct visions of morality emerge.  The one originated with aristocrats.  Nietzsche calls this “the master-morality.”  The other belonged to the masses.  This he refers to as “the slave-morality.”  The differences between the two couldn’t be more glaring.

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The master-morality springs from “the noble type of man.” The latter is honest, brutally honest, inasmuch as he recognizes in himself the wellspring of all values.  Seeing himself as a “creator” and “determiner” of worth, he looks to no one for self-affirmation.  For the noble man, those things like power, cunning, intelligence, hardness, and severity are deserving of honor because and only because he decrees them as such. The master-morality is the morality of “self-glorification.”

The slave-morality, in stark contrast, takes flight from “the resentment” of the masses of human beings who are too weak and too stupid to get along without the assistance of others—particularly the assistance of the aristocrats.  It is designed to subvert the master scheme of value while advancing the interests of the masses.

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Everything that is deemed “good” within the master-morality is regarded within the slave-morality as, not just “bad,” but “evil.”  Nietzsche writes that according to “the morality of resentment,” the evil man is none other than “the good man of the other morality [.]”  The evil one is “the aristocrat, the powerful one, the one who rules” who has been “distorted by the venomous eye of resentfulness, into a new color, a new signification, a new appearance.” 

The slave-morality affirms just those qualities that promise to alleviate its proponents’ suffering: “sympathy, the kind, helping hand, the warm heart, patience, diligence, humility, and friendliness [.]”  Because these are the characteristics that supply “the only means of supporting the burden of existence,” they are elevated to the stature of universal human excellences.

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Nietzsche identifies two versions of slave-morality: Christianity and socialism.  As we would expect from any species of the slave-morality, both promote altruism or selflessness—a “way of valuing” that arises from “a consciousness of the fact that one is botched and bungled.”  This consciousness, in turn, engenders an aching need to assign blame for one’s condition.

In the case of the Christian, the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the botched himself, i.e. the sinner.  The socialist, on the other hand, holds “society” responsible for his plight.  Whatever their differences, though, it is “the instinct of revenge and resentment” that animates Christian and socialist alike.

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Man, like every other type of living organism, strives to dominate his surroundings.  Some forms of domination, like war, say, are overt.  But even when we are not conquering one another via violence, we nevertheless continue the quest for domination through more subtle means—like invocations of objectivity.  Appeals to Reason, the Bible, the will of God, Equality, Liberty, Truth, Justice, Natural Law, the Moral Law, the Principle of Utility, the Categorical Imperative, the Form of the Good, Natural Rights, Human Rights, Democracy, Happiness, and so forth and so on, are just some of the examples of the instruments that have been enlisted in the service of advancing partisan and individual interests. If Nietzsche is correct, these are smokescreens intended to hide that which drives every living thing: the Will to Power.

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Even if there is much to criticize in Nietzsche’s thought, there is also much from which to learn. He is a provocative and bold thinker who seldom fails to leave an indelible impact upon his readers.

Given the recent reelection of President Obama and his fellow partisans, this just might not be a bad time to acquaint ourselves with Nietzsche’s writings.  Socialist rhetoric is in the air, and the air is thick. Rather than be burdened with guilt (and taxes) for our “lack of compassion” for “the disadvantaged,” we would be better served to call to mind Nietzsche’s contention that the socialists (or welfare-statists or “liberals”) among us are motivated first and foremost by their aching need for ever greater power.  

To those who will object that this is too much to accept, Nietzsche responds bluntly and succinctly: “the truth is hard.”  Then, as if to scream from the top of his lungs, he implores us to be “honest towards ourselves!”

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Is the Catholic Church Opposed to Abortion or Not?

posted by Jack Kerwick

On the Sunday before Election Day, a relatively small group of demonstrators gathered outside my church in Moorestown,New Jersey.  They were demonstrating against abortion, and to this end, they had assembled a number of ghastly photographs of this practice’s principal victims: the aborted.

Given that the Roman Catholic Church opposes abortion in every instance, one wouldn’t think that the demonstrators—Christians all of them—would have been met with the anger that some of the parishioners, as well as my pastor, visited upon them.

One mass attendee screamed at them, another informed them that she was “pro-choice,” and, at the following Sunday Mass, my pastor—a good and godly man and an exceptional priest—disavowed the pro-life demonstrators from the pulpit: “The ends,” my pastor declared, “do not justify the means.” 

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As a general principle, this last is sound enough.  But, I continue to wonder, to what exactly does my pastor object so fiercely?   

Presumably, the means in this case are the horrific images of aborted babies that the protesters exhibited.  Assuming that I am correct, does my pastor have a problem with the fact that these demonstrators flashed these images in between Masses?  In other words, is it that he thinks that this was neither the place nor the time for them?

Perhaps he objects to the fact that the demonstrators exposed the children in attendance at church to these hideous photos while engendering discomfort in their parents.  But the latter, being Christians, know and hate evil as much as anyone.  And inasmuch as they are self-avowedly “pro-life,” they regard abortion as a particularly detestable evil. 

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Furthermore, more so than at any other time, it is while in church that Christians should call to mind their divine vocation to, as their baptismal vow goes, renounce Satan and his works.  In fact, each and every week in my church the congregation prays for “social” or “economic justice,” and it is regularly admonished to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, tend to the sick, etc.

And, yes, we are continually told to pray for the unborn.

Jesus said that it is those who are sick, not those who are healthy, who are in need of a physician.  The church is not like a health spa or Disney World.  It is and should be about as pleasant as a hospital: a place racked with pain, its patients nevertheless take comfort in knowing that their condition is not terminable.

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As for unsuspecting children, it makes sense that parents should want to shield them from pictures of the sort on display at this anti-abortion demonstration.  Still, I have questions.

Elementary school textbooks include pictures of blacks from the antebellum and Jim Crow eras who have been beaten and lynched.  These same textbooks also include photographs of both those emaciated Jews who scarcely survived Hitler’s concentration camps as well as the corpses of those who didn’t.  The ostensible objective of such images is to supply children with historical instruction.

Do the ends justify the means in this case?

School children from a very early age are taught about the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., John and Robert Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, etc. When taught about the civil rights era, they are also treated to pictures of black protesters who were at the mercy of police officers armed with fire hoses and German Shepherds. 

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Is all of this unacceptable?

Suppose it wasn’t pictures of unborn “fetuses” that the demonstrators flashed out in front of my church but pictures of three year-olds who were being routinely slaughtered on the very next block (or in the very next town, or state, etc.).  Or suppose it was pictures of Jews or blacks or Hispanic immigrants who, as a matter of policy, were suffering violent deaths at the current abortion rate that the demonstrators came to display. 

Would my pastor and fellow parishioners raise the same objections then as they now do when the pictures are of the unborn?

If not, why not?  The Church holds that abortion is immoral precisely because it consists in the deliberate destruction of an innocent human being, a human life with the same moral standing as that of any other. Thus, its reaction to the killing of an unborn human being should be no different than its response to the killing of any other innocent human life.

But this doesn’t seem to be the case. 

For the sake of the Church’s identity and that of the pro-life movement, it is imperative that questions of the forgoing type be addressed.

 

 

 

 

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Living Narratives, not Lifeless “Facts”: The Power of Story in Politics

posted by Jack Kerwick

Admittedly, I thought that Mitt Romney’s chances of defeating Barack Obama were greater than not, a point for which I argued on more than one occasion during the election season.  However, I also contended that Romney’s chances would be considerably weakened if he and the Republicans insisted upon limiting their campaign’s focus to the economy—i.e. Obama’s policies.

Well before Romney was the GOP nominee, Republican commentators derided those among the rank and file of their party who wanted to attack the President on a more personal basis.  We don’t need to do that, the pundits assured the rest of us; we need only center our attention on Obama’s policies in order to sail to victory.

All too predictably, this is the approach that Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, decided to take. 

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It failed.

As I argued not all that long ago, while the economy may be voters’ top concern, the endless litany of abstract zeroes with which they have been bombarded by their candidates were not likely to resonate with them.  Romney and Ryan undoubtedly know their numbers, but how can the average American be expected to identify with billions and trillions in debts and deficits?  Hell, how can the average voter relate to talk of millions

I also had observed at various times that Romney’s business experience was most definitely not the asset for the presidency that his supporters were making it out to be.  Corporate executive officers manage the corporations over which they preside.  The president of a free people, on the other hand, far from being a manager, is supposed to be a governor.  And he (or she) is supposed to govern in accordance with law.

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Yet now we know that there is another respect in which Romney’s success as a businessman may have been a political liability.  As a businessman, Romney was consumed with the bottom line.  He was, well, “all business,” as they say.  In politics, though, being well versed in dollars and cents isn’t going to connect a candidate with voters, for numbers don’t generally warm the heart. 

In fairness to Romney, whether it was Obama’s economic or other policies, as long as he, like John McCain before him, was resolved to speak to their opponent’s politics while ignoring his person, Romney made life more difficult for himself.

Neither the voter nor the country lives by policy alone.  As a community organizer, Obama recognizes this for the axiom that it is.

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Obama realizes that, when it comes to politics, at any rate, reason exerts little influence over the decision-making of most people.  His time as a community organizer has also taught him that while it is imagination that moves the average person, in most this faculty is not too terribly sophisticated.  Thus, community organizers—think Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, etc.—are extraordinarily adept at weaving moral melodramas.  Every issue they cast in terms of an epic struggle between the forces of good and evil: black versus white, rich versus poor, men versus women, gays versus straights, etc.

Republicans, then, were sorely mistaken when they explained away Obama’s “Kill Romney” strategy as a pathetic attempt on the President’s part to run from his record.  Obama knew then what he has always known: to win people over to your side you must convince them that you are on the side of the angels.  This, in turn, requires nothing less than the depiction of your opponent as the embodiment of villainy.    

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But the lionizing of oneself and the demonization of one’s rivals can occur only within the context of a story.  It is only within a narrative that each party can be personalized.

In other words, Republicans’ obsessive preoccupation with their opponents’ policies and equally pathological neglect of their characters is proving to be a losing strategy. Had Romney situated Obama’s policies within the context of the President’s long standing alliances with a variety of countercultural, anti-Americans—had he “gone negative” or, what amounts to the same thing, “gone truthful”—the evening of November 6th just may have ended differently.

We will never know for certain.  We can only hope that in future campaigns Republicans will prefer living narratives to lifeless facts as they spend at least as much time defining their opponents’ characters as they do their policies.   

 

 

 

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Tips for the GOP’s Outreach Efforts

posted by Jack Kerwick

Since Election Day (and well before it, truth be told), Republican commentators have declared the need to intensify their “outreach” efforts to racial minorities.

Thus, from Charles Krauthammer to Sean Hannity, amnesty for the 10 to 12 million or so Hispanic immigrants who live illegally within the United States is now the cause de jure for “the loyal opposition.” 

In the interest of altering the GOP’s lily white image, I offer some suggestions.

(1). Given that its party is a virtual oasis of whiteness, the Republican leadership and its media allies should inform its base of supporters that they are no longer welcome in the GOP.  It is the overwhelming concentration of whites in the latter that fuels the perception on the part of non-whites that the party is “racist.”  It is this perception, in turn, that accounts in no small measure for why non-whites gravitate in massive numbers to the other national party.

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However, if whites are to leave the GOP en masse, then it must render itself as undesirable as possible to this constituency.  This, of course, means that it must radically alter its party platform—both its rhetoric and its policies. 

White evangelical Christians, for example, flock to the GOP because of its affirmative stance on the questions of life, traditional marriage, and religious freedom.  All of this must now change. The surest way of repelling this bloc from its ranks is for the party of Lincoln to give enthusiastic support to abortion-on-demand, gay marriage, Obamacare, and the like. A not inconsiderable number of white working class Catholics, we can rest assured, will soon follow suit

This is how Republicans can rid themselves of “socially conservative” whites.  Fiscally conservative whites, on the other hand, require a different approach.

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If the Republican Party is to wash its hands once and for all of those whites from the middle and upper classes who are attracted to its business-friendly policies, then all that it has to do is abandon those policies.  Republicans should declare war on millionaires and billionaires by demanding that they pay their fair share of taxes.  However much the Democrats want to tax the wealthy, Republicans should up the ante.  Not only will this strategy insure that the Republican Party becomes less white, it is a stone that will drop another bird as it deflates the perception—pervasive among minorities—that it is a party of fabulously rich, exploitative, oppressive white businessmen.

(2). Republicans must give up their relentless support for the bombing of non-white Muslims in the Middle East.  George W. Bush’s “Freedom Agenda” resulted in unmitigated chaos and destruction for untold numbers of people of color.  His “hard line” stance on the issue of “Islamism” has provoked legions of people of color right here at home to recoil from the GOP. 

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But not only should Republicans resolutely refuse to comply with any more wars waged on Middle Eastern lands.  They should just as passionately encourage lots and lots of immigration from the Islamic world. 

Most Muslims are people of color, so in demanding a flood of Muslim immigrants, Republicans can prove to America that they aren’t racist.  And because Muslims aren’t Christian—because, that is, most Republicans aren’t Islamic—Republicans can also prove that they aren’t guilty of any religious bigotry toward Muslims (Another two-for-one!).

There is yet another benefit to be had from massive Islamic immigration courtesy of Republicans: with their strong family values, piety, and work ethic, Muslims are ripe to swell the ranks of the GOP!

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A cautionary note is in order here: in welcoming Islamic immigrants or immigrants of any other kind, Republicans should embrace them without qualification.  Translation: reject the concept of assimilation.  The latter is thought to be but a subtle form of imperialism, for in demanding of immigrants that they assimilate, it has been argued that we demand of them that they shed their ways and accept ours—or else. Republicans should seek to accommodate, not assimilate, immigrants.

(3). Republicans must begin to bear in mind that all of their pro-America talk is seen by non-whites as racist code language.  This means that appeals to the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and even the American flag, offend the sensibilities of non-whites generally, blacks and Native Americans especially. 

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Consider that the country’s founding documents were composed exclusively by white men, many of whom owned blacks as slaves (The Constitutional Convention was whiter than a Tea Party rally!).  All of them harbored views on race that no remotely respectable person today could even think about countenancing.  And under the American flag countless Native Americans were displaced from their homes and/or slaughtered while countless more Africans were wrenched from their lands and brought to North America for a life of toil and bondage.

John McCain was off to a good start some years ago when he spoke out against the Confederate flag waving at the Capital building in Charleston, South Carolina.  But Republicans must now speak out against the American flag, for its connotations for racial minorities are no less egregious than are those associated with the Confederate flag. 

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Republicans should become the new flag burners.  They should also spare no occasion to make a show of tearing to shreds copies of our racist Constitution and Declaration.

(4). Republicans should stop talking about America as a “Judeo-Christian” country.  At least they should stop emphasizing its Christian heritage.  This, in turn, implies that they should insist even more forcefully than their rivals upon “the separation” of church and state—and, preferably, the separation, as much as possible, between church and culture.  

For two millennia, Christianity was the religion of European civilization.  In other words, it was first and predominantly the religion of whites.  In describing America as a Christian nation, or in speaking approvingly of Christianity, Republicans are all too easily seen by non-whites as, once again, speaking in racist code.

(5). When this is all said and finished, Republicans should proclaim the death of their party—and the death of America.    

 

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