Beliefnet
At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Barack Obama’s second term is now officially underway.  His speech on Monday, in addition to his first term, makes it all too clear that his promise to “fundamentally transform”America is one promise that he’s determined to keep.

Sadly, and incredibly, far too many moderate and conservative-minded folks—including commentators!—still fail to grasp exactly what Obama meant when he made this now infamous pledge.  Not Rush Limbaugh, though.  Rush most certainly did grasp Obama’s meaning.  Moreover, he was one of a relatively small handful of prominent figures on the right who had the backbone to translate its meaning out loud.

Obama, Rush told his listeners, wants to ruin the country. This is why he hoped that Obama would fail.

Rush knew what those first Western philosophers from before the time of Socrates knew: fundamental transformation involves the extinction of one being and its replacement by another.

That which has been fundamentally transformed essentially ceases to be.

Rush, along with others, has repeatedly insisted that Obama wishes to destroy the country as we have always known it.  Not quite.  Obama, rather, wishes to destroy the country as he has always known it.  There is a huge difference between these two perceptions of America. 

Being the committed leftist that he is, the America of old as Obama sees it is a place mired in iniquity. It is a place that is and has always been too white, too Christian, too racist, too sexist, too homophobic, too xenophobic, and so forth.  The America of old, the pre-Obama America of the President’s leftist imagination, consists of “Second Amendment absolutists,”—John Wayne type gun nuts and knuckle dragging Bible thumpers.  This is the America that was founded in the genocide of America’s indigenous peoples and the enslavement of Africa’s.

And this is the America that must be, as Obama euphemistically puts it, “fundamentally transformed.”

This is the America that must be destroyed.

In its place, Obama seeks to replace it with another idea of America, the sort of utopian land for which leftists the world over have been longing for as long as leftist ideology has been with us. 

In this new America, the gross inequalities in income and wealth that arose courtesy of “the individualism,” “states’ rights,” and “capitalism”—i.e. constitutional government—of the pre-Obama America will be forever remedied.  The so-called “browning” of America that began in earnest nearly fifty years ago with the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 will be perfected as the new America becomes the first genuinely “multicultural” country on the planet, the country of which, as Time magazine put it in explaining why it chose to make him its Man of the Year, Obama is both “symbol and author.” 

But for all of this to occur, the old America must be fundamentally transformed.

The country’s “fundamentals”—the Constitution and the federalized structure of government that it delineates—must be destroyed.  

Note, change, even dramatic change, is not the same thing as a fundamental transformation. As even the great apostle of conservatism, Edmund Burke, observed over two centuries ago, not only is change inevitable.  Insofar as it is indispensable to the conservation of society, it is desirable.  Fundamental transformation, though, is something else entirely.

For instance, the Jack Kerwick of 2013 is dramatically different, in all sorts of respects, from the Jack Kerwick who was born almost forty-one years ago in 1972.  But I am still, ultimately, the same person today as I was then.  Thus, I am justified in describing these changes as changes that occurred to me, changes that I experienced over the course of my lifetime.   These changes have been gradual and continuous, not abrupt and radical. 

The example of marriage should suffice to show the chasm between change and fundamental transformation.  Anyone who has ever been married knows that unless spouses make changes in themselves, their marriage will be doomed. Similarly, anyone who has been married knows equally well that unless spouses refrain from even suggesting that their partners undergo a fundamental transformation, the marriage will be doomed.  

The desire on the part of one spouse that the other undergo a fundamental transformation is nothing less than the desire for a new spouse.

And the desire for one’s country to undergo a fundamental transformation is nothing less than the desire for a new country.

 

 

 

 

This is the second part of my interview with Dr. Leon Marlensky, as committed a leftist as any that I have ever encountered. In the interest of promoting the market place of free ideas that I always complain doesn’t exist, I thought it only right to provide Marlensky with this forum to express himself to people who he otherwise would have never been able to reach.

JK: Leon, you are not at all unlike any of your ideological ilk on the left insofar as you believe that racism, sexism, and classism are great evils and that, ultimately, they transcend even the best of intentions of individuals.  That is, these great evils are “structural” or “institutional,” correct?

LM: Well, you are partially correct.

JK: Uh oh. 

LM: [Chuckles] Relax, Jack, relax.  Yes, it is true, that “the evils” to which you allude are systemic.  Yet it is not true that they are evils.

JK: What?  You have no moral objections to them?

LM: Now I didn’t say that. What I said is that they are not evil.  You see, as Nietzsche correctly noted, “evil” is a concept invented by the champions of the penultimate “slave morality”—Christianity.  In blasting this or that as evil, you act no differently than those Christians, like the Crusaders, say, of times past who converted unbelievers to their faith under pain of violence and death.  In fact, the continual usage of concepts like that of “evil” is a form of violence.

JK: Let me make sure that I understand you: it is actually immoral to use “evil” as a synonym for “immoral” because in doing so, I use a term coined by Christians and, hence, impose Christianity upon those who may not accept it.  Is this right?

LM: By Jack, now you’ve got it! 

JK: So, then, racism and the rest are immoral, not evil, correct?

LM: Well…not exactly.

JK: So racism and sexism and classism, etc. are morally permissible?!

LM: No, no.  Let’s make this simple by focusing on just one thing: say, racism.  And what applies to racism will apply to sexism, classism, homophobia, Christocentric bigotry, and so forth, ok? 

JK: Uh…ok.

LM: Why is it widely thought in contemporaryAmericathat racism is immoral?

JK: Well, racism is thought to be wrong because race is thought to be irrelevant to a person’s true worth, his character.  All human beings are created equal by God, we are all His creatures.  Ultimately, we are all members of one race, the human race.

LM: I think that you are right, that these are the sorts of reasons that people usually come up with to justify their belief that racism is immoral. What they don’t realize is that these reasons embody and, thus, perpetuate racism. And, for the record, they embody and perpetuate sexism and Christocentric bigotry as well.

JK: Wait…..what?!?!

LM:  You heard me rightly.  The idea that racism is immoral turns on the idea of a common humanity.  Agreed?

JK: That’s right.

LM: But the idea of a common or universal humanity, the idea that race, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic class, and religion are impertinent to the humanity that one shares with all other members of the human race is itself a Eurocentric, specifically Christian, construct. As a culturally-particular device posing as universal and neutral, it advances White, Christian, Male dominance while pretending to speak on behalf of all peoples.  

JK: I’m flabbergasted.  So, the belief that racism is immoral is itself immoral?!?!

LM: In short…yes. And, of course, the belief that sexism, classism, homophobia, and Christocentric bigotry are immoral is just as immoral, for it relies upon the Eurocentric idea that there is a common humanity that trumps considerations of race, sex, sexual orientation, socio-economic station, and religion.  To reiterate, this idea in turn perpetuates the oppression of women and minorities and the hegemony of white, heterosexual, Christian men.

JK: But the standard of living for women and minorities of all sorts in the West, and America especially, is far higher than it is for their counterparts elsewhere in the world. 

LM:  So?  This doesn’t negate anything that I’ve said. What it does show, however, is that women and minorities are just as complicit in the promotion of Eurocentrism as are white men.

JK: How so?

LM: America’s unprecedented standard of living derives from its economic system: capitalism.  Capitalism not only reduces all human beings to commodities or things.  It thrived because of its brutal exploitation of Africans [slavery] and its genocidal treatment of “the New World’s” indigenous peoples. 

Simply put, the opportunities and the riches to which Americans of all colors, sexual orientations, religions, and both sexes have access today are the equivalent of “blood money.”  If America is illegitimate because it was built on the backs of slaves and the corpses of indigenous peoples, then every single American who continues to benefit from these ghastly crimes is just as guilty as the original perpetrators.

The third and final part of my interview with Dr. Leon Marlensky will be published soon.   

 

 

 

 

Below is an excerpt of the first part of my interview with Dr. Leon Marlensky, the most rigorous-minded leftist of whom I have ever heard.  In the interest of promoting a genuinely free market place of ideas, I have decided provide Dr. Marlensky—or Leon, as he insists upon being called—with an opportunity to express himself to audiences—my readers—who he would otherwise never reach. 

JK: Dr. Leon Marlensky, I thank you for being with me here today.  

LM: The pleasure is mine, Jack.  However, I implore you: please, please call me Leon.  And I hope that you will not take offense at my insistence upon referring to you by your first name. 

Titles like “doctor,” signifying as they do distinctions of power and authority, belong to hierarchical modes of thought.  They serve to further the class oppression in which the Western world has been saturated since its inception.  This is why I don’t even call my parents “mom” and “dad.” Nor do I call my grandparents “grandmother” and “grandfather.”  I am equally determined to make sure that my children and grandchildren don’t call me “dad.”  There are only first names in my universe.         

JK: Please forgive me, sir, I only meant….

LM: Please, sir is even worse than doctor. Sir, like “mister,” not only allies itself with “doctor” and the like by furthering classism.  Titles like “sir” and “mister” perpetuate sexism as well.  And I know that you meant no ill will in addressing me as “doctor;” most people mean no ill will when they speak.  But this is the problem: it is not our individual intentions, but the social structures to which they collectively give rise, that matter.

JK: But “sir” is just a manner of speaking.

LM: I don’t mean to single you out here, Jack. You are no different from most people in thinking that speech is one thing, action another.  But speaking and acting are one and the same. Every phrase, every sentence, is a “speech-act” that takes its place in some discourse or another.  These discourses, in turn, structure the asymmetries of power that characterize the West.

JK: So our civilization is….

LM: With all due respect, there you go again. 

JK: What did I say now?

LM: You said not one, but two things that have done incalculable damage to humanity.  First, you said “our civilization.”  Second, you said “our civilization.” 

“Our” implies “not them.”  Next to “mine,” there is probably no other term that is more exclusive than “our.” Yet in the case of the West, things are even worse, because “our” has always referred to white Europeans.  That is, “our” has been an indispensable instrument in the promotion of White Supremacy.

“Civilization,” in turn, serves this same function.  If there are civilized people, then there are also uncivilized or primitive peoples.  The concept of civilization not only introduces a sharp divide between “the civilized” and everyone else, but it justifies the oppression of the latter by the former.

JK: So, the use of the term “civilization,” at least when it is used by white men and women, justifies racial oppression?

LM: Exactly right. 

JK:But Dr.Marlensky—

LM:Leon, please.

JK: Sorry.Leon, while no one would deny that blacks and other nonwhites, like American Indians—-

LM:  Excuse me, there is no such thing as an American Indian—-

JK: Once more, I apologize. Allow me to rephrase. While no one would deny that blacks and other nonwhites, like Native Americans

LM: Sorry Jack, but neither is there such a thing as a “Native American.”  The concept of a “Native American presupposes the concept of AmericaYet the latter is a Eurocentric invention, the creation of Europeans.  Come on Jack! America is named for Amerigo Vespucci, you know that!  And Vespucci, as you are equally well aware, is of European stock, a white man. 

JK: Ok. Fine. Let me begin my question again, but this time minus the allusion to any specific nonwhite group other than blacks.  While no one would deny that—-

LM: Wait! With all due respect, Jack, listen to what you’re saying. “Nonwhites?”  Have you ever met anyone who identified her or himself as a “nonwhite?”  The concept of a “nonwhite” is a negative concept, the negation or privation of the positive concept, the good, of whiteness.  “Nonwhite” stands in relation to “white” as disease stands in relation to health, or darkness relates to light.

“Nonwhite” is a racist category without which the system of White Supremacy couldn’t long survive.

JK: Just a minute,Leon.  Just a minute.  We also—

LM: What do you mean by “we,” Jack?  To whom does “we refer?  Though less explicitly exclusive than “our,” “we” too is a pronoun that has served to divide and conquer.

JK: By “we” I refer to us, to—-

LM: Us? Don’t you realize that “us” always implies a “them?”

JK: Leon! Please. In this culture, this country, we—the citizens of America—also use the term “nonblack.”  Is this an illegitimate concept too?

LM: For the purpose of facilitating this exchange, Jack, I’ll refrain, for the moment, of noting that the notion of “citizenship” is an intrinsically racist one.  For now, suffice it to say that, yes, “nonblack” is just as supportive of White Supremacy as is “nonwhite.”  Think about it: the concept of black is a social construction, a Eurocentric social construction.  It is a category that whites devised and then imposed upon a diverse array of peoples from the continent of Africa.  Prior to the invasion of Europeans, Africans didn’t regard themselves as “black.” They defined themselves in terms of their tribes—not the monolithic “black” that whites came up with to identify them.

JK: Oh, I get it.  You believe that a more suitable label is “African-American”—-

LM: Jack, Jack, Jack. As I said before with respect to the racism of “Native American”—

JK: Right, right.  I forgot: “African-American” is racist also, for it presupposes “America,” which in turn is the invention of whites.

LM: Now you are catching on.

The second part of my interview with Dr. Leon Marlensky will be published soon.   

 

     

 

 

On the front page of the January 18th-20th weekend edition of USA Today, one of the headlines reads: “Can You Forgive?” The article uses Lance Armstrong’s recent “confession” of “doping” to Oprah Winfrey as the point from which to segue into a discussion of the broader topic of Americans’ readiness to extend mercy to those celebrities who have veered from the straight and narrow path.

Rick Hampson writes: “From Bill Clinton (again toast of the Democratic Party) to Charlie Sheen (again a sitcom star) to Michael Vick (again an NFL quarterback), the bar for public redemption seems to have gotten lower and lower.”

This one article provides much food for thought. 

Unfortunately, it is all junk food.

USA Today expresses our culture’s conventional wisdom on this matter of forgiving those public figures who have fallen from grace. And this is exactly what we should expect would pass for wisdom within a culture that elevates celebrity status above that of every other station.

“Forgiveness” and “redemption” are concepts that originally emerged within a religious context—specifically, the context(s) of Judaism and Christianity.  Within this framework, they are preeminently meaningful.  Once they have been dislodged from this setting, though, they open themselves up to the worst sort of abuse.  Hampson’s USA Today piece is a classic case in point.

I cannot forgive Armstrong.  Neither can you.  Nor can either of us forgive Clinton, Vick, Sheen, Don Imus, Richard Nixon, or any other celebrity who throws himself at the mercy of the court of public opinion.

It isn’t that either of us is necessarily merciless.  Rather, we can no more forgive any of these famous penitents for their offenses for the same reason that neither of us would ever think to offer forgiveness to the other’s spouse for undermining his or her marriage.

In other words, neither you nor I can forgive the rich and famous for their transgressions because they didn’t transgress against us.

Real forgiveness is among the most painful things in the world for both the persons who ask and offer it.  The person who seeks it is pained by the acute realization that he has wronged another.  Yet he is also pained by the fear that his request will be rejected and he will be humiliated.  The person who is asked to forgive is pained by the transgression. But he too is afraid, for in forgiving, he will render himself vulnerable to being harmed once more.  Maybe he will even be thought weak, a sucker.

In the Christian tradition, forgiveness or mercy is a virtue, an excellence of character.  Like any other virtue—whether moral, intellectual, or physical—it comes about only as the result of the blood, sweat, and tears of those who make the point of practicing it.

To suggest that we can collectively “forgive” a person who hasn’t lent us any personal offense and about whom we could care less isn’t just to cheapen the concept of forgiveness; it is to cheapen it to the point of extinguishing it.  

In remarking that “the bar for public redemption seems to have gotten lower and lower,” it isn’t upon Americans’ ever growing capacity for forgiveness that USA Today comments.  It is, rather, their ever growing capacity to tolerate shameful conduct to which it speaks. 

A country that is indifferent to the most shameful, most dishonorable, sorts of conduct is itself shameless.  In conflating this most odious of vices with forgiveness, the noblest, the most divine of virtues, we convict ourselves of more than just an intellectual error.

We hurl ourselves into the depths of moral confusion.

The problem is that as long as we insist upon treating our vice as virtue, the less likely it is that we will recognize our shamelessness for what it is.

And the less likely it is that we will be able to practice forgiveness in our personal relationships—where it belongs.