Fear Itself

This is not the time for posting. I'm at work and should be thinking about books of Hours, but I haven't been able to sleep properly for days now, and I don't know what else to do but write. If I seem incoherent with fear, I am.

What is going to happen to our country? I've been turning various post titles around in my mind--"My Fellow Americans", "Bread & Circuses", "Apocalypse", "WWJD"--and none of them seems to have an answer. I am afraid of how my country is going to vote. I am afraid of what I see in the comments that viewers have left on the video of the Alfred E. Smith roast on YouTube. Such anger, such lack of decency. Are these really the people whom I pass on the road every day? My fellow Americans?

It's hard being a Christian and believing two impossible things at once. On the one hand, these creatures, these animals who snarl at each other and hurl insults like "Racist" and "Terrorist", "Heretic" and "Witch", "Communist" and "Papist" so as to try to rouse a mob to destroy the targets of their hatred, are all made in the image and likeness of God, and God loves them. On the other hand, these blessed beings, capable of such compassion and altruism, caring for others regardless of skin color, religious practice, social status, or nationality, are all fallen, subject to original sin and incapable of good works without the grace of God. Which vision is true? Are we just nasty animals, ready to fall upon each other at the slightest provocation? Or are we the pinnacle of nature, capable of caring not only for ourselves, but for the whole world? Beasts or angels? Thugs or gentlemen?

I read an essay in Harper's last night (it's at home, where I should have written this post) about why the Democrats continue to lose despite the disasters that the Republicans have brought upon our country over the past forty years. It's because, unlike the Republicans, they believe in the decency of the American citizenry and so refuse to descend to the level of personal insult in order to sway the vote. If only Obama would call out McCain for his fear-mongering; if only Obama's campaign would stoop to the sort of misrepresentations that have become the heart of McCain's, then, perhaps, the Democrats could scare enough people into voting for them. Look at how lily-livered I am. I can't even come up with decent insults (how's that for an oxymoron?) myself, and I am terrified of McCain, even more so of Palin. Where is the hatred? Where is the anger that I need to counter the lies that McCain's campaign is spreading? Is it simply the case that nice guys finish last and we're doomed?

My husband says to be more optimistic. The polls are still strong; Obama could still win. Think of what the world would look like if he did: we would have as the leader of our country someone willing to talk to the world with respect, who would listen to the grievances that have built up against us over the past eight years and work to alleviate them. We would have as the leader of our country someone capable of taking advice from those who have been studying the complexities of our foreign relations and domestic policy and, yes, if necessary, changing his mind when the facts became clear. We would have someone whom the whole world could look up to: a gentleman and a scholar, who was born into obscurity and made of himself a leader willing to risk himself--both his reputation and his life--for our good.

Now, if there are any Republicans reading this, perhaps you are saying, "But McCain is all those things, too." I don't think so. (See how mild that is? Not, "You're idiots, go die!" Just "I don't think so.") I see in McCain a man who has fought hard his whole life for what he believes in, but who cannot let go of a fight that is no longer there. My father served for the Air Force as a surgeon in Thailand from 1971 to 1972. He was horrified at the way in which he and his fellow service men were "greeted" on their way home in 1972, and he cared for the veterans who suffered in that war until the day he died three years ago. He would doubtless argue with me that McCain was a hero, never surrendering, never allowing himself to be used as a political pawn, but suffering along with his men until all could be released at the same time.

And I would agree: McCain was a hero, in that war. But that war is not the one we are fighting now, nor, in the end, did we "win" the war against communism by fighting. I do not hear Obama saying that we are just going to curl up and make nice. I hear him saying we need to recognize our real enemies--al Quaeda--and go after them, not make enemies of everyone in the world by, for example, picking a fight with Russia. Again. Is it possible for America to exist without having an Enemy? Sometimes I wonder. That, after all, is what all this fear-mongering is about: defining the Enemy so that we can defeat him. Perhaps I am too optimistic. After all, this country was founded by men and women convinced that Satan worked his way by making pacts with human beings (a.k.a. witches) and that the Pope was the leader of the forces of Satan. It survived for decades with the conviction that Communists were everywhere, just like witches, plotting to take down our world. How likely is it that this country can find a way to fulfill its ideals without labeling someone else as our Enemy?

See how frightened I am? I'm talking in labels myself, failing to nuance the contributions that the Puritans made to our intellectual and political life; failing to acknowledge that, yes, the Soviet Union really was our enemy and did seek, ideologically and industrially, to overcome us. Saddam Hussein was a tyrant--of our making, by the by. And Osama bin Laden will do everything he can to humiliate and terrify us. Why then are we fighting this way among ourselves when there are real enemies out there? Hunger, poverty, torture, slavery, genocide, economic exploitation, war, famine, plague, death: are these not apocalyptic terrors enough? Is the only way to win the election to participate in this escalation of fear, trying to convince each other that the other side's candidate is, in fact, the Antichrist, come to deceive us all?

There is no way out of this. I am clearly going to have to live with the fear for another two weeks and pray that it is only another two weeks. Meanwhile, I must get back to the Middle Ages, when everyone knew that the Antichrist was about to come....


  1. "It's hard being a Christian and believing two impossible things at once"
    The two things things you're believing at once that are at odds with each other are: Christianity and liberalism. Liberalism is antithetical to Christianity.

    "I read an essay in Harper's"
    You would benefit by having a more ideologically diverse reading list. For instance, the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. I would advocate reading that for a month.

    "[Democrats] believe in the decency of the American citizenry and so refuse to descend to the level of personal insult in order to sway the vote"
    Having been a Democrat for years and then a Republican for years, I can say that Democrats are more likely to make personal insults.


  2. I think you would benefit from a more diverse reading list, too. I’ll tell you what, I’ll read the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal if you’ll read a bit more theology, starting with Augustine. Try Concerning the City of God against the Pagans, trans. Henry Bettenson (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1972, 1984. And for liberalism, try John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (1859).

    By the by, you haven’t answered my comment about what Christ said about caring for the poor and the sick and the stranger. Where exactly does Christ say that the rich deserve to be rich? Again, as I remember, he advises them, if they are to be his followers, to give all their possessions to the poor. This isn’t communism; it’s Christianity.

  3. "you would benefit from a more diverse reading list"
    Why do you say that? I have not mentioned what I read. You are making an inference.

    "I’ll read the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal"
    For at least a month? :)

    "if you’ll read a bit more theology"
    It's a deal.

    "you haven’t answered my comment"
    I have a hard time keeping up with someone as prolific as you. (Congratulations on that, by the way.)

    "about what Christ said about caring for the poor and the sick and the stranger"
    Jesus advocates personal charity. He didn't advocate government welfare.

    The difference between charity and welfare is that in the latter case, the govt takes from the citizenry in the form of taxes. So by definition, the govt can't give charity, only welfare.

    "Where exactly does Christ say that the rich deserve to be rich?"

    Related to that, there's the famous line: Render unto Caesar.

    But where did I say the rich deserver to be rich? Or are you making an inference?

    "give all their possessions to the poor. This isn’t communism; it’s Christianity"

    I haven't used the word communism.
    I think the word you are looking for is "socialism." I don't believe I used that word either, but it IS in the new lately with regard to Obama and Joe the Plumber.

    Some liberals are crying foul, saying that Obama is not a socialist for saying he wants to redistribute the wealth.

    My answer to that is: Whatever we call Obama (and I am all for a respectful tone), what he's advocating is a central tenet of socialism.

    "give all their possessions to the poor. This isn’t communism; it’s Christianity"

    Christianity, at its heart, is a personal faith relationship with Christ.

    Giving to the poor is something that individuals are shown as doing.

    The Good Samaritan was not a govt agency.

    That is the difference.

    (who is posting anonymously because he has been having trouble logging into his account)

  4. Sean,

    You were making an inference about my reading list, too, when you assumed I only read Harper's. Fair's fair.

    Jesus did not say how we were to help each other; he just said that we should.

    "Render unto Caesar" is about paying taxes, not deserving to be rich. Jesus said to pay taxes.

    See my "Family Matters" post on what liberals like Obama mean by "sharing the wealth": it's about public responsibility. I still don't see why this is a bad thing.

    Christianity is both personal and communal. It's not just about one's personal faith relationship with Christ; it's also about the faith of the Church, the community of believers. Some of us believers believe in helping our fellow citizens by way of governmental support. I don't know about you, but it's as much as I can do to hold down one job. I'd like people like my father to have the money to help others, as, for example, in the emergency room.

    Fencing Bear

  5. "You were making an inference about my reading list, too, when you assumed I only read Harper's"

    I don't assume you only read Harpers. What I assume is that you don't read any conservative material, other than the Bible.

    I assume this because you don't understand the conservative mindset.

    I'll also guess that you have never been conservative.

    I have been liberal, so I have a bit more perspective on this subject than you.

  6. I read an awful lot of P.J. O'Rourke when I was younger. Does that count? I don't think you're reading my posts closely enough. Does being the daughter of a Vietnam veteran not give me some insight into the conservative perspective? Oh, and my grandfather was a two-star general in the Air Force. Career military. A very strict father, indeed. I grew up arguing politics with them. You need to read "Competition, Morning of, Day Two" to get a sense of how much I miss my father. That's why I wish he were still alive to be having this argument with me.

    The Bible isn't conservative. It's beyond politics, as I have been trying to say. Again, as Christ said, "My kingdom is not of this world."

  7. "P.J. O'Rourke when I was younger. Does that count?"

    "Does being the daughter of a Vietnam veteran not give me some insight into the conservative perspective?"
    It makes it more likely.

    "Bible isn't conservative"
    We'll have to agree to disagree here. I think it is conservative.

    More later...


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