Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests

Fathers, Sons & Torture Memos

As I mentioned in my post on Christopher Buckley’s unkind portrait of his parents, Bill and Pat Buckley, great fathers have a way of producing sons who go off the track. Maybe they don’t give them enough attention. That’s not really the point. What is? Let me offer a theory while, as promised, explaining why the alternatively pious fathers and rebellious sons in 1 and 2 Kings fascinate me.

In American life, it seems to me, there are two streams of political consciousness. There are the Fathers and the Sons. At their worst, Fathers can be dopey, out of touch, neglectful, indifferent, even cruel in an absent-minded way. At their worst, Sons can be resentful, angry, self-righteous, vindictive, prosecutorial — to whom? To their Fathers of course.
The whole business going on now about prosecuting Bush Administration officials over the torture memos is precisely the kind of vindictiveness I have in mind. It’s what you expect from Sons. David Frum sagely points out that the Bush Administration never tried to blame President Clinton for sparing Osama’s life:

After the 9/11 attacks, President Bush drew a curtain of oblivion against all the errors and mistakes that had led up to the attacks. There was accusation and counter-accusation in the media, but at the official level there was no recrimination against President Clinton’s decision not to kill bin Laden when he had the chance, no action against those who had failed to stop the 9/11 hijackers from entering the country.


“Drawing a curtain of oblivion” around Dad’s faults is something Sons have a hard time doing. The Bush presidency was a Father administration.
I’ve pondered for years the puzzle of the different personality types that seem to go with different political orientations. There are nice and not nice individuals of all philosophies and worldviews. However, I am particularly interested in a particular style of political engagement, full of anger and self-righteousness, sometimes smugness and self-satisfaction.
Frankly, many people who leave comments on blogs fit the characterization. You know who you are. The really angry, contemptuous, insulting, hissing, anonymous commenters, I mean. Or consider the self-satisfied voices you hear on National Public Radio, not angry but smugly disdainful, who rejoice in bashing Americans of past generations, or of past presidential administrations.


It’s a story as old as the Bible. It’s an archetype. The Son of the somehow inadequate Father is full of rage and contempt at his dad.
In that earlier post I wrote about King Hezekiah and his son, King Manasseh. What kind of dad was Hezekiah? Well, he doesn’t sound like a laid back character:
“He clung to the Lord and did not turn aside from [following] after Him; he observed His commandments, which the Lord had commanded Moses. The Lord was with him; wherever he ventured he was successful” (2 Kings 18:6-7).
That sounds a little like Chris Buckley on his father, in a favorable passage among other, unfavorable ones: “Pup never plunged into a bad mood or became grouchy if things didn’t go his way, perhaps for the reason that they always went his way.”
When the Bible calls Manasseh “evil,” it doesn’t mean he enjoyed beating up people in wheelchairs. It means he rejected his father’s commitment to God: “He rebuilt the high places that his father Hezekiah had destroyed. He erected altars to Baal. He made an Asherah [idol] as Ahab king of Israel had done; he bowed down to the entire host of the heaven and worshiped them” (ibid. 21:3).
Is it not clear that in rebuilding the idolatrous altars that his father had destroyed, he was specifically expressing contempt for his father?
Don’t misunderstand. Chris Buckley is only the occasion that sets me to writing this. His love for his parents come through clearly in his excerpted memoir — as wells as his past resentments of them. I’m talking here about archetypes. Not about Christopher Buckley.
Isn’t the smug contempt for authority, for the past, for tradition, especially for religious tradition — aren’t these things typical of a style of political and cultural engagement? The other morning I was listening to our local NPR station and there was an interview with documentary filmmaker Ken Burns. He’s got a new project now that’s about the history of the National Parks system.
He loves the parks — who doesn’t? — but he was going on about how terrific a thing it is that the park system also creates monuments to our national “mistakes.” He kept talking about how important it is that history teaches us about wars that didn’t have to be fought. He spoke about being honest with ourselves about our past national failures. He praised Obama for being on the same wavelength as he is about this.
I got somewhat irritated by the conversation till I realized why I was annoyed. Burns wasn’t talking about being honest about “mistakes” that Ken Burns has made. He was talking about wars that other people, some alive, some dead — all Dads — have waged.
He and the NPR interviewer were chatting cozily about all this and it just struck me as so smug, like a couple of Sons enjoying raking over their Father’s faults. The larger political and cultural project of constantly confronting us with America’s historical and present-day faults is right in line with this.
So there it is, for your consideration. Father and Sons as political metaphor. Some of us gravitate to one, some to the other. You’ll tell me, I am sure, what you think of the theory.
Comments read comments(3)
post a comment
Mike Corum

posted April 24, 2009 at 8:24 pm

Having just read through I and II Kings on my way through the Bible, the whole roller-coaster ride of the Hebrew kings is fresh in my mind. It has reminded me of my own roller-coaster relationship wtih God. I’m at first amazed at Israel/Judah, then examine my own life and see similar mountain tops of closeness to God followed by valleys of drifting away.
I have seen in one of my own sons some of the same reactions as you have enumerated. Thankfully, after a time when it seemed he was holding everything I stood for in disdain, he has now returned to the roots of faith which he was taught as a child. “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
I’m not so sure it’s a father/son issue. I think it is more the eternal battle of Good versus evil. There seem to be many more today who would love to rewrite history to remove our national foundation on the Judeo-Christian ethic. Many today like to thumb their noses at God. I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes 1 second after their last heart beat.
Don’t know that this was what you were expecting, but it’s what came from my poor old brain.

report abuse

Your Name

posted April 25, 2009 at 10:42 pm

Reading this brings to mind the Isaiah 3 curses – “I will make boys their princes…A man will seize one of his brothers at his father’s home, and say, “You have a cloak, you be our leader; take charge of this heap of ruins!” Doesn’t our time seem much more like Amos 5:13. The prudent men keep quiet. Everywhere we have little children yacking away, and the truth right in front of our noses is never even debated. Maybe there is an father/son cycle to administrations, but can anyone really look at Bush 43 vs. say Eisenhower and say Bush 43 was a “Father” administration?

report abuse

Christian Socialist

posted April 26, 2009 at 9:31 pm

What USA needs is a United Socialist Front for poor people, based on moral and christian principles. Face it The Demcorats and Republicans are satanic mafia cartels !!

report abuse

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

Another Blog To Enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Kingdom of Priests. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here is another blog you may also enjoy: Kabballah Counseling Happy Reading! ...

posted 11:24:22am Aug. 16, 2012 | read full post »

Animal Wisdom: The Voice of the Serpent
Our family watched Jaws together the other evening -- which, in case you're wondering, I regard as responsible parenting since our kids are basically too young to be genuinely scared by the film. The whole rest of the next day, two-year-old Saul ...

posted 3:56:33pm Mar. 16, 2010 | read full post »

Reading Wesley Smith: Why the Darwin Debate Matters
If the intelligent-design side in the evolution debate doesn't receive the support you might expect from people who should be allies, that may be because they haven't grasped why the whole thing matters so urgently. I got an email recently from ...

posted 5:07:12pm Mar. 15, 2010 | read full post »

The Mission of the Jews
Don't miss my essay over at First Things on the mission of the Jews to the world. This, I think, the key idea that the Jewish community needs to absorb at this very unusual cultural moment, for the time is so, so right. Non-Jews are waiting for ...

posted 6:14:16pm Mar. 05, 2010 | read full post »

Darwin at the Mountains of Madness: Evolution & the Occult
Of all the regrettable cultural forces that Darwinism helped unleash, perhaps the most surprising and seemingly unlikely is its role in sparking the creation of modern occultism. Charles Darwin himself could not have been less interested in the ...

posted 2:04:11pm Mar. 04, 2010 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.