At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

In Defense of Superman: Learning Virtue throught Popular Fiction

posted by Jack Kerwick

For centuries and millennia, the inhabitants of the Western world have recognized the indispensable role that stories play in shaping moral character. 

Human beings are born neither virtuous nor vicious, as Aristotle correctly noted.  Rather, both excellence and vice are habits that we acquire by way of imitating others—whether these others are flesh-and-blood beings or works of fiction.

The superhero comic or—as it is more commonly, and accurately, called today, “the graphic novel”—is especially illustrative in this regard.  

Today, untold numbers of people from across the country (and the world) forgo all to pack themselves into movie theaters to enjoy cinematic adaptations of these graphic novels. Unfortunately, though, relatively few people look beyond the action and the glitzy special effects to discern the provocative moral insights supplied by the films’ protagonists. 

Let’s take Superman. 

The Man of Steel is the prototypical superhero, the Babe Ruth of superheroes, as it were. Yet not infrequently, and especially as of late, commentators of one sort or other have demeaned this perennial symbol of “Truth, Justice, and the American Way,” comparing him unfavorably with, say, Batman. 

Batman, as anyone who is at all familiar with DC Comics lore knows, has no super powers, and yet he tirelessly wages war against all manner of evil doers.  This, the Superman detractors contend, renders him more admirable than the god-like Man of Steel who is virtually invulnerable.

To look at Superman and see only an immovable object whose campaign to rid the world of evil must be easy and, thus, less than fully admirable, is like looking at the Grand Canyon and seeing only a big hole in the Earth.   

Far from detracting from his goodness, that Superman possesses enormous power actually accentuates it. 

The historical record is a depressing one on this score, but it is abundantly clear: the greater the power that is concentrated in the hands of a person or group, the greater the danger they pose to others.  Lord Acton famously summarized this point when he said that, “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.”

Superman, though, in spite of having at his disposal far more power than the Earthlings among who he lives, chooses to use that power to serve, not his own selfish interests, but the well being of others—meaning the entire population of the planet.  His gifts—his awesome strength; his heat, x-ray, telescopic, and microscopic modes of vision; his “super” hearing; his ability to move at the speed of light; his “super” cool breath; and, of course, his ability to fly—he employs inexhaustibly to save strangers.

Like Jesus Christ, with whom he has been long compared, Superman voluntarily assumes to himself the incredible, and incredibly selfless, responsibility of serving as a beacon of hope, justice, and goodness to the world.  Both Christ and Superman could have deployed the enormity of their resources toward the same end—self-aggrandizement—upon which the powerful have been preoccupied from time immemorial.

Yet they refused to do so, instead ordering their very lives as a standing rebuke to oppressors the world over.

What this means, however, is that if Superman is insufficiently heroic or admirable because he is like a god, then Jesus—who Christendom affirms is none other than God—should resonate even less with us.

It will do no good to object that Christian theology also recognizes that Jesus is fully man.  Superman too is fully a man (even if he isn’t an Earthling by birth). 

Interestingly, there are Christians who seek to re-imagine the Person of Christ by emphasizing His humanity at the cost of de-emphasizing His divinity. This tendency has been particularly acute among contemporary Biblical scholars.  Some of these scholars—like those who compose “the Jesus Seminar”—deny that Jesus was divine at all. On the other hand, there are others who concede His divinity while all the same concurring with their unbelieving colleagues that unless we opt for a “lower Christology”—a more human-centered depiction of Jesus—we will not be able to relate to Him.

That our heroes must be relatable and, thus, human, no reasonable person would dare to deny.  But what both the detractors of Superman and the proponents of “lower Christologies” fail to notice is that the objects of their critiques are that much more human because of their unimaginable powers and the purposes that they elect to serve with those powers.     

Just as the deity of Jesus compliments and enhances His humanity, so too does the awesome power of Superman and his selfless use of it distinguish him as the finest of human beings.

Contrary to their critics, in choosing to devote themselves to serving others, Jesus and Superman do indeed render themselves vulnerable.  How could things be otherwise?  After all, the readiness with which Christ and Superman surrender themselves for the good of others is a function of their boundless love, and as anyone who has ever loved knows all too well, the price of love—any love—is pain.  But the greater the love, the greater does the pain promise to be.

Superman is a fictional character.  Jesus is real.  Still, there are crucial insights that this analysis yields.

First, neither the power of Superman nor that of Jesus makes them less heroic and worthy of imitation.  Quite the contrary, given what they have chosen to do with this power, they are actually the finest specimens of humanity.

Second, though none of us can ever become Superman or Jesus, we can learn from their example and aspire to use what power we have for similarly noble purposes. 

originally published at The New American







Obama: A Just Man?

posted by Jack Kerwick

President Barack Obama is not a “nice guy.”

From Republican campaign strategist Ed Rollins and Republican House Speaker John Boehner to Republican presidential contenders John McCain and Mitt Romney, far too many Republicans have fueled the popular perception that Obama is a nice guy.

This perception is an illusion.  But it is a most dangerous illusion, for it has permitted our President to advance his militantly leftist agenda. 

In The Republic, Socrates engages several friends in a discussion over the nature of justice and its relationship to the good life. The question to which they attend is: 

Which is more beneficial for its possessor, justice or injustice?

Glaucon, a brother of Plato, contends that the unjust man is actually better off than the just man—so long as he is not recognized as an unjust man.  Injustice is superior to justice, Glaucon reasons, because the unjust man knows no limits while the just man imposes constraints upon himself.  So, for example, the just person will abide by the terms of a contract even after he realizes that he may have more to gain by violating them.  The unjust man, in sharp contrast, will have no such reservations.

But if the unjust man is recognized as such, then others will not only deprive him of the opportunity to treat them unjustly; in addition to this social ostracism, he could as well face legal punishment.

To substantiate his position, Glaucon alludes to the legendary figure of Gyges.

Gyges was said to have been a poor, obscure shepherd who happens to stumble upon a magical ring, a ring that endows him with the ability to become invisible at will.  With his new found power, Gyges manages to have the King murdered, seduce his wife, and assume control over the kingdom.

Glaucon’s point is clear. As long as a person is thought by all to be just, his unjust character is essentially invisible.  He then has both the ability and the will to pursue his wants at all costs—including and particularly the cost of treating others unjustly.

Thus, injustice is better than justice, and the unjust person is better off than the just person—as long as injustice goes undetected.

This debate that transpired close to 2500 years ago assumes new significance in light of the rise of Barack Obama.

Obama became nationally recognized eight years ago when he gave the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention.  Immediately, something like a trans-partisan consensus emerged on the speech’s inspirational character, and both Democrat and non-Democrat alike began to view Obama as a rising star, a “new” kind of politician.

Even in 2008, when Obama became a presidential contender in the Democratic primaries, few and far between were those Republicans who were disposed to assail him with just a fraction of the aggression with which they attacked Hillary Clinton. In fact, Obama was regularly being depicted by Republican commentators as the beleaguered contestant in that race, the unsuspecting and undeserving victim of theClintonkilling machine.

Then Obama became the Democrats’ presidential nominee.

He became the focus of Republicans’ attacks, it is true, but even so, the tendency on the part of his opponents—including John McCain—to qualify their criticisms with assurances that Obama was a good and talented man persisted.

When Obama became the first black American president, it seemed that the entire planet erupted in rapture.

And Republicans went right along with it, joining the celebration of this “historic” election.

Obama’s election to the office of the presidency promised to redeemAmericaof her checkered racial history. He was going to be our first “post-racial” president, a bipartisan politician who would usher in a new millennium full of “hope and change.”

To this day—after four years of a disastrous first term comprised of effort after effort to fulfill his promise to “fundamentally transform” the country—Obama’s personal likeability numbers remain reasonably high.  And though it has been a couple of months since he has said as much, even the presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney had expressed on more than one occasion his admiration for Obama as a person: “He’s a nice guy; he’s just in over his head.”

Romney is no longer referring to Obama as a nice guy.  Indeed, he should not, for in doing so, he flatters no one while revealing himself to be astonishingly naïve. 

Given the relentless campaign that Obama is currently waging against him, and, specifically, the latest super PAC ad that implicates Romney in the death of the wife of a steel worker, it is no longer possible (if it ever was) to sustain either the claim that Obama is a nice guy or the claim that Romney really believes that he is a nice guy.

Obama is most emphatically not a nice guy.

 Some of us—those of us who actually looked into Obama’s past—have always known this.

In Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, the lead character’s love interest tells him: “It’s not who we are underneath, but what we do, that defines us.”   Nice guys, or good guys, do not do the sorts of things that Obama has done over the course of his career.

A nice guy does not ally himself with all manner of anti-Americans, from unrepentant domestic terrorists like Bill Ayers to self-avowed “Black Liberation” theologians like Jeremiah Wright.  

More tellingly, a nice guy doesn’t ally himself with anti-Americans while trying to convince voters that he is actually a great American patriot, let alone someone who deserves to become the President of the United States of America.

In other words, a nice guy is not a person who is chronically deceptive.

A nice guy does not make promises—like the promise of a “transparent” administration—that he does not keep.

A nice guy does not seek, as Obama successfully sought to do in 1996 while running for a State Senate office in Illinois, to eliminate three of his Democratic rivals from the ballot while invalidating the legions of signatures that they accumulated in voters’ petitions.

A nice guy doesn’t use his position of power to bully the operators of businesses and coerce millions upon millions of people to acquiesce in “the fundamental transformation”—the destruction, as David Limbaugh more aptly puts it—of their homeland, their lives.

A nice guy doesn’t exacerbate racial tensions by availing himself of “the race card” whenever it suits his purposes to do so.

And a nice guy most certainly does not exploit the tragedy of a person’s death by baselessly accusing his competitor of being complicit in it.

Like Gyges, Obama has heretofore managed to preserve for himself the image of the just man.  But unlike Gyges, that façade is cracking. 

If we would only open our eyes and connect the dots, we will readily discover for ourselves that Obama is not a just man at all.

originally published at American Thinker as “Is Obama Just or Unjust?”

Black and Right: Forgotten Black Conservative, George S. Schuyler

posted by Jack Kerwick

That black Americans constitute the most reliable of Democratic voting blocs no one who knows anything at all about American politics would think to deny. 

On average, the Democratic Party receives the support of nine out of every ten blacks.  In the last presidential election, the Democratic challenger elicited over 95% of the black vote.

There are, however, black conservatives—however small a percentage of the black population they may be.  Some of them are so well known that they need no introduction.

There is, though, one black conservative with whose name, chances are, relatively few of us are aware.  This is a pity—to say nothing of a scandal—for George Samuel Schuyler was among the most impassioned and intelligent writers—black, white, or other—to which twentieth centuryAmerica had given rise.

For roughly half-of-a-century, from the 1920’s to his death in the 1970’s, Schuyler wrote for several publications, from the iconoclastic H.L. Mencken’s American Mercury to the Pittsburg Courier—the second largest “negro” newspaper in the country.  It was at the Courier that Schuyler served as assistant editor from 1922 to 1964.

Though he wrote for popular consumption, Schuyler was remarkably conversant in a plethora of literature.  In his autobiography, Black and Conservative—which even the black leftist academic Cornel West acknowledges as a “minor” classic in African American letters—Schuyler relays the laborious efforts he made to read all of Marx’s works, for instance. 

Indeed, Schuyler was as well read as he was prolific an author.  A distinguished member of the black cognoscenti who tirelessly argued on behalf of the legal and civil equality of blacks, Schuyler’s was among the most influential of black voices during the middle of the last century. He was regularly sought after to appear on radio and television where he would routinely decimate his opponents in panel discussions over the issues—typically racially related—of the day. 

So why is it that, in spite of the prominence that he once enjoyed, Schuyler is no longer mentioned these days?

One obvious reason, of course, is that Schuyler was a conservative.  And he was a black conservative.  But to know only this isn’t to know the full story.

You see, unlike most of today’s conservatives, black or white, Schuyler relished in taking a wrecking ball to just those persons and ideas that our generation has elevated into sacred cows.

For example, while few of our contemporaries who crave the company of “respectable society” would dare to publicly criticize Malcolm X or, more crucially, Martin Luther King, Jr., Schuyler repeatedly took both men to task.

He was particularly unyielding when it came to Malcolm, who he had debated on several occasions.

In 1973, eight years after Malcolm’s murder, Schuyler penned a piece entitled, “Malcolm X: Better to Memorialize Benedict Arnold.”  In it, he said of Malcolm that he was “a bold, outspoken, ignorant man of no occupation,” one of the many “mediocrities, criminals, plotters, and poseurs” that constitute “the past generation of…black ‘leaders’” who have been “afflicting the nation [.]”

But Schuyler wasn’t just insulting the memory of a dead man.  He confronted Malcolm face to face while the former was alive and “was initially astonished by his wide ignorance.”  Schuyler explains that when Malcolm “launched into an excoriation of white people in the name of Islam, I called his attention to the fact that the majority of Moslems were whites [.]”  Malcolm, he continued, was no better prepared to reply to this revelation than he was Schuyler’s assertion that Moslems were more involved in the African slave trade than were Europeans. “He was surprised to learn this,” Schuyler recalled.  

Schuyler also informed Malcolm that the Nation of Islam’s “anti-white” and “anti-Christian” ideology aside, American blacks are “the healthiest” and “the wealthiest” blacks anywhere in the world.  They “have the most property” and are “the best educated” and “best informed group of Negroes” on the planet.  This includes, Schuyler was quick to note, all of those blacks from “the Muslim countries.”

Neither was Schuyler a fan of Martin Luther King, Jr.

When it was announced that King would be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Schuyler was critical. In his article, “King: No Help to Peace,” he declared unabashedly that “neither directly nor indirectly has Dr. King made a contribution to the world (or even domestic) peace.”  Alluding to King’s alleged communist ties, Schuyler added: “Methinks the Lenin Prize would have been more appropriate for him [.]”

Schuyler stated: “Dr. King’s principal contribution to world peace has been to roam the country like some sable typhoid-Mary, infecting the mentally disturbed with the perversion of Christian doctrine, and grabbing lecture fees from the shallow-pated.”

Most tellingly, when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was still a bill, Schuyler came out as one of its most formidable opponents.

In “The Case Against the Civil Rights Bill,” Schuyler asserted that all such civil rights laws “are another typically American attempt to use the force of law to compel the public to drastically change it [sic] attitude to and treatment of a racial group, the so-called Negro [.]”

Although Schuyler finds this attitude to be “morally wrong, nonsensical, unfair, un-Christian and cruelly unjust,” the fact is that “it remains the majority attitude” (emphasis original).  Still, since 1865, he says, there have occurred “marked changes” in this arena, constructive changes, and “civil rights laws, state or federal, have had little to do with it [.]”

While by every conceivable standard, black Americans have made strides—irrespective of whatever civil rights legislation may have been on the books—more remarkable than any to which any other group can lay claim, “the principal case against a federal Civil Rights law is the dangerous purpose it may serve.” 

Such a law is but “another encroachment by the central government on the federalized structure of our society.”  What this means is that “armed with this law…to improve the lot of a tenth of the population, the way will be opened to enslave the rest of the populace.”  Schuyler denies that he is being hyperbolic on this score.  “Under such a law the individual everywhere is told what he must do and what he cannot do, regardless of the laws and ordinances of his state or community.” This can only be read as “a blow at the very basis of American society,” a society “founded on state sovereignty and individual liberty and preference.” 

Schuyler insisted on being even more graphic: “We are fifty separate countries, as it were, joined together for mutual advantage, security, advancement, and protection.  It was never intended that we should be bossed by a monarch, elected on born.  When this happens, the United States as a free land will cease to exist.”

Among the heroes of the past to whom we should turn as we approach this next election and reckon with those who would deprive of us of our liberty, George Samuel Schuyler must be placed at the top of the list.

originally published at American Thinker

Byron York’s Analysis of Romney Dismantled

posted by Jack Kerwick

Byron York is perplexed by what he perceives to be the glaring discrepancy between the Mitt Romney of the GOP primary season and the Mitt Romney who is the Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee.

Borrowing from the Star Wars mythos, York refers to the first Mitt as “the Death Star.”  In the primaries, Romney spared neither expense nor opportunity to eviscerate his opponents.  Though his ruthlessness vis-à-vis his rivals generally and Newt Gingrich particularly was off-putting to some of the party faithful, the optimists among them viewed it as a potentially promising sign of Romney’s ability to reckon with “the Obama killing machine,” as York puts it, that was waiting in the wings.   

Thus far, however, the second Mitt has dashed these expectations. York writes:

“Now, the general election campaign is here, and the talk is of the Obama killing machine, not the Romney death star.  By most accounts, the Romney campaign is not displaying the super-aggressive effectiveness it showed in the primaries.”

York identifies five reasons to account for this seemingly enigmatic phenomenon.

The first pertains to what he summarily calls “the facts”—i.e. Romney’s business record and taxes.  Simply put, while these were not an issue with Republican voters, they do matter with Democrats and independents.  This,York thinks, explains the effectiveness of President Obama’s relentless campaign against Romney’s time at Bain Capital.

The second reason for the lackluster performance of the second Mitt is “the media.”  Even in this age of “the new media,” the majority of the most influential media outlets remain under the dominance of Democratic-friendly journalists and commentators. So, while Romney had very little media scrutiny with which to contend during the primaries, he is bound to receive the lion’s share of it now that he is the Republican presidential nominee.

Third, both Romney aides as well as some Democrats—like James Carville—believe that the pro-Obama SuperPACs have so far managed to more effectively direct the course of the campaign.    

Fourth, campaign finance laws prevent Romney from spending one penny of the money that he has raised for the general election until the commencement of the Republican National Convention on August 27.  Hence, Obama—who didn’t have any competitors in a primary race—has been able to far and away outspend his rival.

The fifth and final reason that explains Romney’s lack of aggressiveness is his “complaining.”  The second Mitt ought to take the advice that the first Mitt offered to Newt Gingrich when the latter complained loudly about the negative attacks with which Mitt bombard him: “Just take it and hit back harder—that was the way they saw it,” as York says.  He concludes: “Romney is far more self-controlled than Gingrich, but the effect is the same; he’s whining about the other guy treating him badly.”

York’s analysis is not implausible, but, ultimately, it is wanting.  Let’s look at reasons (1)-(5).

Obama’s attacks against Romney’s business record and taxes have not been terribly effective at all.  Granted, they have had Romney on the defensive, but the thing of it is, the former governor of Massachusetts has had no small measure of support from a number of the least likely people—namely, Democrats, and prominent Democrats at that.  From former President Bill Clinton to former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, to present Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick to Newark Mayor Cory Booker, distinguished voices from the President’s own party have publicly denounced his attacks against Bain Capital and Romney’s record while presiding over it.

As for the media,York’s judgment is not wide of the mark.  Still, it overlooks the significant fact that even those who are otherwise Democratic sympathizers have taken their fellow partisans to task for the Bain Capital attacks.  CNN’s Candy Crawley and David Gergen are two examples.  ABC’s George Stephanopoulos is another.

For sure, there is anything but a level playing field for Republicans and Democrats when it comes to media coverage.  However, if media hostility toward Romney is a factor at all in accounting for his tame treatment of Obama, it shouldn’t be exaggerated. As the aforementioned examples establish, reasonably fair coverage is not impossible for a Republican to secure.

Maybe the Obama SuperPACs have been more “effective” than the Romney SuperPACs and maybe they haven’t been.  But if they have been, asYorkapparently believes, then this raises but another question: Why?  To this question, we will turn momentarily.

That Obama is outspending Romney in some places due to the restrictions that campaign finance laws impose upon the latter needn’t have anything to do with the problem under discussion—i.e. Romney’s lack of aggression.

First of all, though money is important in a campaign, as we saw in the 2008 GOP primaries, the guy with the most money—in that case, Romney—can’t always buy the prize.

Second, if it is Romney’s lack of aggression that we seek to explain, then it doesn’t matter who is spending what.  The real question should be: what is Romney doing with the money that he is spending?

Finally, Romney’s “complaining” or “whining” is irrelevant. 

For one, all politicians tend to cry foul when they are being assaulted by their opponents. In doing so, they hope to present themselves as the good guys and their attackers as the bad guys.  Furthermore, no one cares whether Romney is complaining or not. People no more care about this than they would care that he is spending his time playing chess or swimming. 

What they care about is that he is not spending his time hitting Obama as forcefully as Obama has been hitting him.

So, we are back to square one.

But, in all honesty, to some of us, there is nothing in the least mysterious about Romney’s refusal to unleash the same fury on Obama that he released on his fellow Republicans. 

We may call it the John McCain Syndrome (JMS).

Recall that the same things that York, myself, and others now say about Romney were said four years ago about 2008 Republican nominee, McCain: the Arizona Senator could be ruthless, even contemptible, toward other Republicans, but toward Democrats, especially his opponent, Senator Obama, he was remarkably restrained, even unduly deferential at times.

Yet McCain’s rival then is Romney’s rival now. 

To put it more clearly, then as now, it is a black politician against whom Republicans have to do battle. 

In 2008, it was a young black man who aspired to be the country’s “first black president.”

In 2012, it is America’s “first black president.”

And it is a black politician who has proven himself time and time again eager to play the race card in order to advance his interests.

Does Byron York, or any American who has been alive longer than five minutes, genuinely think that the paralyzing fear of being accused of “racism” doesn’t figure substantially in explaining Romney’s and the Republicans’ aversion to coming at Obama with guns blazing?   

A couple of months ago there was some talk about a Romney SuperPAC that was considering reintroducing America to Obama’s one-time “spiritual mentor,” as Obama characterized his pastor of over twenty years, Jeremiah Wright.  In light of the fact that this issue, courtesy of the media and McCain, was never explored to the extent that it should have been, and the fact that it now assumes new significance in view of Obama’s conduct since assuming the office of the presidency, the ad would have been highly germane to this election.

But as McCain ran from the topic four years ago, so too was Romney quick to renounce just the possibility of such an advertisement.

Until Romney relieves himself of the fear of being branded with the dreaded “R” word, he will not display the same aggression that he exhibited during the primaries.

This is what is missing fromYork’s analysis.

originally published at American Thinker


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