Smart people saying smart things

Albert Einstein, from Ideas and Opinions

Everybody has certain ideals which determine the direction of his endeavors and his judgments. In this sense I have never looked upon ease and happiness as ends in themselves — such an ethical basis I call more proper for a herd of swine. The ideals which have lighted me on my way and time after time given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Without the sense of fellowship with men of like mind, of preoccupation with the objective, the eternally unattainable in the field of art and scientific research, life would have seemed to me empty.

Elizabeth Drescher: “Mark Driscoll Hate-Tweets as Pope Benedict Flip-Flops”

Driscoll has long been an especially obnoxiously “resounding gong or clanging cymbal” (1 Cor. 13:1) in the face of Christian scriptural teachings on radical love and compassion, and it’s easy to dismiss him as a megalomaniac with a new self-pornographizing book to sell every six months. But the string of replies to the tweet as well as a number of pained blog posts, make clear that Driscoll’s rhetoric is at least as alienating to thoughtful Christians across the ideological spectrum as it is titillating to his followers.

For those Christians often straining to sustain their identification and affiliation with one or another branch of the Christian family, Driscoll comes off like the ranting, half drunk cousin who shows up to the dinner to which you’ve happened to bring your newest love. He’s embarrassing. He’s humiliating. And your new squeeze has to wonder if that particular kind of hate-filled crazy is somewhere in your gene pool. “How exactly are you related to him?” she asks.

Amy Mitchell: “Anger is not hate”

That said, I want to talk again about one of the ways in which the system contributes to the muting of so many people across Christianity. I like to call it “Be-Niceism.” There is a school of thought that equates non-violence with non-anger. It dictates that we must never use harsh words or direct criticism. In fact, even we who are willing to push forcefully against the system have resorted to using the word “critique” rather than criticism because the latter word has become so connotation-laden.

Andrew Sullivan: “Christianism and Violence”

I just read a post on National Review arguing that Christianity is in part about armed self-defense and the Second Amendment. I kid you not. Christianity is now apparently compatible with the gun lobby.

… The whole point of Christianity, on a personal level, is a refusal to use violence even in self-defense and even when one’s own life is threatened. For centuries, this radical nonviolence was celebrated by the church in its canonization of martyrs who chose to be mauled alive by animals than submit to the civil order’s paganism. Martyrdom was the first and ultimate form of nonviolent resistance to injustice and, like the Christian-rooted civil rights movement or Gandhi’s campaign for independence, it was precisely this staggering refusal to defend oneself, the insistence on being completely disarmed, that changed global consciousness. It was what made Christians different. It’s what made Martin Luther King Jr different. To use Jesus as an advocate of armed self-defense is almost comical if it were not so despicable.

Alisa Harris: “The Violence in New Mexico”

During my time growing up in a tiny church of 10 or so homeschooled families, I saw emotional, sexual, and physical violence again and again. A stepfather went to prison for raping his stepdaughter, a landlord was arrested for child pornography, and more than one wife fled her husband in terror. I’ve seen the homeschool community draw a type of family that craves isolation and doesn’t want the authorities intruding into their lives. They would prefer not to have a watchful school official notice a bruise and would rather deal with a troubled child in secret instead of under the scrutiny of the state. This type of community can especially draw violent and abusive men who quote scriptures about wives obeying their husbands and take those scriptures as a license to abuse.

  • aunursa

    It’s Super Bowl Sunday here in the U.S.A.  Go 49ers!

  • LoneWolf343

    From Sullivan’s link: “Machiavelli went even further – but there is a reason he is associated with evil, and remains one of Christianity’s greatest intellectual foes.”

    Apparently, he doesn’t know “The Prince” was a satire, and not a manual.

  • Münchner Kindl

    That said, I want to talk again about one of the ways in which the
    system contributes to the muting of so many people across Christianity. I
    like to call it “Be-Niceism.”

    I think this is less a problem of Christianity and more of US culture. Miss Manners and other behaviour books drill it into people that you don’t bring up controversial topics at conversations (no politics or religion), that “if you don’t have anything nice to say, you better don’t say anything at all”, movies like “My friend Harvey” stress that it’s better to be nice and dumb than smart or right.

    Since Tannen was just mentioned: she compared US culture of avoiding debates with Greek culture, where people were upset when you agreed with them – they wanted a real debate.

    The Catholic charity Miseror had some years ago the motto of their yearly ad campaign as “Mit Zorn und Zärtlichkeit für die Armen” – With Anger and tenderness for the poor: Anger at the system, to change it, Tenderness for those suffering from the injustice.

    Of course, the deep trenches of tribalism in current US culture make a reasonable debate very difficult. You would have to teach people anew how a discussio looks like: with media who care about reporting the truth not “fair and balanced” – and with High School debate teams who care about teaching the right techniques for fair discussion, not how to win a debate with underhand tricks.

  • P J Evans

     Most people don’t think it’s satire.

  • LoneWolf343

     It doesn’t match up with the rest of his work, and he only circulated it among friends. It wasn’t published until five years after he died.

  • Water_Bear

    Wow, you know, I never had any idea how tribal US culture was. It’s like we Americans have such a deep sense of superiority that we feel the need to constantly put down other nations which we feel threatened by, making scores and scores of posts in dozens of threads painting them in the most negative possible light even when the connection between the topic and nation only exists in our own fevered minds. It’s that kind of nakedly ethnocentric posturing which makes me wish that those kinds of posters would wake up and realize how hypocritical and ridiculous they sound.

    …wait, now that I think about it, all of that applies to you doesn’t it?

  • Nomuse

    Wow.  The comments on the Alisa Harris blog post.  There’s enough “No true Scottsmen” there to hold the Annual Scottish Games with.

  • http://twitter.com/shutsumon Becka Sutton

     The biggest reason that we know it was not meant to be taken at face value is that it only makes sense that way because while seeming to be a manual for someone wanting to be a Prince it emphasises the benefits of a republic over a tyranny consistantly (while claiming to do the opposite).

    Also Machiavelli must have known that some of the advice was just plain wrong (not just morally wrong – it wouldn’t even work). Take these exampled (filched from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Prince#Interpretation_of_The_Prince_as_political_satire_or_as_deceit ).

    * He discourages liberality and favors deceit to guarantee support
    from the people. Yet Machiavelli is keenly aware of the fact that an
    earlier pro-republican coup had been thwarted by the people’s inaction
    that itself stemmed from the prince’s liberality.* He supports arming the people despite the fact that he knows the
    Florentines are decidedly pro-democratic and would oppose the prince* He encourages the prince to live in the city he conquers. This
    opposes the Medicis’ habitual policy of living outside the city. It also
    makes it easier for rebels or a civilian militia to attack and
    overthrow the prince.

    Most importantly Machiavelli was staunch republican.

    The only logical explanation is either it’s a satire or it was advice intended to be taken thus enabling a revolution to take place. Either way people who take it at face value do so at their peril.

  • http://twitter.com/shutsumon Becka Sutton

    Buh, Disqus ate my formatting

  • Water_Bear

    The funny thing is, outside of the specific circumstances of Renaissance Florence, those are actually fairly solid tips.

    Throwing money around in public projects tends to work only when they have some potential to pay off in the long run; Caligula, Nero and countless other dictators have been undone by excessive spending which gains them short-term popularity but makes them an obvious target of public animus when things go wrong. On the other hand, frugal but cunning rulers have been able to deflect blame more easily; their sensible policies offer less foothold for rumours and the public moves on to less dangerous scapegoats.

    Arming the people is a poor move for a dictator, but arming the Citizens is an excellent one. People who rely on your reign for their livelihoods, who are comfortable with the status quo, tend to be good people to rely on in a pinch. Plus militias are cheap and disposable where standing armies tend to be fairly expensive.

    Living apart from the people in lavish defensible estates (*cough* Versailles, the Forbidden City, *cough*) projects a poor image. Tyrant, in the Greek, did originally mean populist demagogue after all. Not to mention it leaves you vulnerable to people trying to control your access to information and at the mercy of your bodyguards. Plus, any emergency which happens so quickly you can’t get out of town before it hits is probably not survivable anyway. 

    [/Tangent]

  • Lori

    But the string of replies to the tweet as well as a number of pained
    blog posts, make clear that Driscoll’s rhetoric is at least as
    alienating to thoughtful Christians across the ideological spectrum as
    it is titillating to his followers.  

    I’m pretty sure that this is part of the point. AFAICT Driscoll is running a cult. Alienating outsiders and drawing criticism from them useful when one is running a cult. That’s not to say that Christians shouldn’t criticize him, because they should. They just shouldn’t be surprised when he doesn’t change his behavior and his followers just love him more.

  • Lori

     

    movies like “My friend Harvey” stress that it’s better to be nice and dumb than smart or right.  

    You rather missed the point of Harvey. This doesn’t surprise me at all.

  • Sigaloenta

     If by “friends” you mean “local autocrats whom he desperately wanted to let him come back to Florence.”   I’m not sure why one would send a satire/critique of despotism the Medicis as a way to encourage a regime that had exiled you to give you a pardon and a recall.

    One problem with assuming “satire” or “secret subversive critique” in everything that we find discomforting is that it assumes that the apparently target reader (especially if he’s a tyrant) is too dumb to pick up on what everyone else will. The other problem is that it’s a lazy way of having to grapple with ideas that we find alien and problematic when they’re expressed by people we want to like.

    For me, personally, it’s hard to remember how different a thing The Prince was doing in treating the question of pragmatics and power without reference to morality.  Machiavelli was an ardent Republican: it doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have thoughts on how monarchies functioned — especially when they were increasingly all around him.

  • vsm

    He didn’t intend to have it published. It’s really one of the more brilliant job applications in world history, aiming to show the Medici just what they were missing by having him sit on his derriere in the Tuscan countryside. As for why a good republican like him would offer advise to a prince, he was writing during a period of extreme instability when the small Italian city states would constantly fight each other while also being invaded by the French. His main concern was saving Italy from constant warfare, even if it meant uniting the country under a prince. Also, if it’s really meant to be a satire, it’s a terrible example of the genre.

  • Amaryllis

     “go 49ers”?!?!

    Nevermore!

  • aunursa

    Heh! In six hours you’ll be pleading: “No more Gore.”

  • nakedanthropologist

    Wow, great reply. Instead of responding to the very legitimate points raised by the quotes above, you’re using another common silencing trope found in American Christianity: the log approach. Since no one is perfect, no one should criticize? To that I say: piss off. You know, maybe if Christians criticized themselves a little more, and owned up to their mistakes and bullshit, people would stop leaving the church in droves. Or, you know, we could embrace your approach by sticking our fingers in our ears while chanting “nuh – uh!”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ann-Unemori/100001112760232 Ann Unemori

    I’m not sure of the point of “Harvey”. It’s a great film, but I fear it does veer toward the “nice & dumb” side. 

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    So, which “World Champions” are going to win an American-team-only game?

  • Water_Bear

    a) Not a Christian, never have been, and don’t really like the religion or it’s effects on people. 
    b) This dude has been around for years and has a pretty serious anti-American agenda, coupled with a serious hypocrisy about lavishing praise on Germany and holding  it up as an ideal while denouncing American Exceptionalism. It gets old.

  • Amaryllis

     May the best Harbaugh win. (That’s our guy.)

  • ASeriesOfWords

    [...]denouncing American Exceptionalism.

    Um. Have youread the posts here?

  • Lori

    Munchner Kindl isn’t a guy. Other than that, I’m with ya.

  • Lori

    To that I say: piss off. You know, maybe if Christians criticized
    themselves a little more, and owned up to their mistakes and bullshit,
    people would stop leaving the church in droves. Or, you know, we could
    embrace your approach by sticking our fingers in our ears while chanting
    “nuh – uh!”. 

    Munchner Kindl’s comments
    have nothing to do with Christians, Christianity or how
    Christians should respond to criticism. (That was right there in her comment. You should read more carefully before getting your undies in a bunch.) Munchner Kindl’s agenda is all
    anti-Americanism, all the time. Before you jump up on your high horse
    you probably ought to take a look at her (now long and very tiresome)
    string of posts and make sure she’s leading the parade you want to ride
    in. 

    If you actually bother to look you’ll see that pretty much all her comments follow the same pattern:

    -America is just horrible

    -Not like wonderful Germany

    -Here
    is an “example” that supposedly proves my point, but which actually
    demonstrates that I have a very limited and selectively interpreted
    understanding of the US and US culture.

    Her hypocrisy and the way she talks at us instead of with us got old quite a while ago and yet shows no signs of stopping. The fact that people have lost patience with it does not demonstrate a failing on their part.

    In short, to your “piss off” I say, right back at ya.

  • Lori

    Elwood is not dumb, he’s eccentric (and a bit of a drunk). The point of the film isn’t that dumb and nice is better than smart. The issue with the people around Elwood isn’t that they’re smart, it’s that they’re “normal” and, for their own comfort, they want to insist the Elwood be “normal” too, up to the point of drugging him to make that happen. The point of the film is that Elwood isn’t hurting anyone and people should bugger off with the “normal” shit and leave him be.

  • Rhubarbarian82

    According to Wikipedia, there are also apparently two German television adaptations of the play. Guess the Germans value being pleasant over being smart, as well.

    ETA: whoops, didn’t mean that as a reply to you, Lori.

  • Tricksterson

    If you read The Prince in the context of the times it can be seen as an attempt to bring sanity to a system of intinctive treachery.  If anything, compared to the Borgias, Medicis or Plantegenets Machiavelli comes across as almost naive.

  • Lori

    I was tempted to say that Munchner Kindl didn’t get the actual point of the story because everybody knows that Germans are all mindless conformists, willing to do injury to anyone who steps out of line, but I figured she wouldn’t get what I was doing there and I didn’t want other people to think I actually think that way.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I just read a post on National Review arguing that Christianity is in part about armed self-defense and the Second Amendment. I kid you not. Christianity is now apparently compatible with the gun lobby.

    I want to snort and dismiss this out of hand, but I can see a point in there.  One of the things that Christianity seems to be “about” from my reading of it is the empowerment of the weak against the strong, “The meek shall inherit the Earth” and all that.  I can see where guns can come into that, as a force-multiplier which renders differences in physical strength meaningless, a sling by which a David may slay a Goliath.  That part makes sense to me.  

    However, where I think I differ from the National Review writer is that differences in power are not limited to minor differences in physical strength, and that is where this falls apart.  It takes many forms, some subtle, and not all of them can be countered by guns.  However, when guns are used, implicitly or explicitly, to exert power over others, the people holding the guns are being un-Christian.  

    If one is attacked, turn the other cheek, sure, but if one sees others being attacked and one turns away then, one is being complicit in the attack.  This is especially true if the one who turns away has the power to stop the attack and the one being attacked lacks that power.  Heck, I would argue that what Jesus said about the rich and the poor was, at its core, about power, and its uneven distribution.  

  • stardreamer42

     Yeah, I noticed that too. And pointed it out, though not as wittily as you do here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    Plus militias are cheap and disposable where standing armies tend to be fairly expensive.

    Qaddafi had a system like that set up in Libya. Instead of a large, powerful military with centralized leadership and a power structure that would function independently of himself, he created a swarm of security brigades — essentially militias who were loyal directly to him and his family.

     It was the old “Lord Vetinari” trick of deliberately creating competing factions who were too busy biting each other to come after you, and a great to ensure that no other institution would be powerful enough to take over if anything happened to you. This is in contrast to Mubarak’s Egypt; once Mubarak’s power was gone, the military could (relatively easily) slide into power. 

  • LoneWolf343

     I read something similar about Draco recently, how the laws that were in his time so unfair that he seemed like a step up.

  • LoneWolf343

     Well, yeah. A Modest Proposal would be a better example.

  • reynard61

    “The whole point of Christianity, on a personal level, is a refusal to use violence even in self-defense and even when one’s own life is threatened. For centuries, this radical nonviolence was celebrated by the church in its canonization of martyrs who chose to be mauled alive by animals than submit to the civil order’s paganism. Martyrdom was the first and ultimate form of nonviolent resistance to injustice and, like the Christian-rooted civil rights movement or Gandhi’s campaign for independence, it was precisely this staggering refusal to defend oneself, the insistence on being completely disarmed, that changed global consciousness. It was what made Christians different. It’s what made Martin Luther King Jr different. To use Jesus as an advocate of armed self-defense is almost comical if it were not so despicable.”

    My question to Mr. French would be, “Who Would Jesus Shoot?”

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

     

    From
    Sullivan’s link: “Machiavelli went even further – but there is a reason
    he is associated with evil, and remains one of Christianity’s greatest
    intellectual foes.”

    Apparently, he doesn’t know “The Prince” was a satire, and not a manual.

    He wasn’t the only one who didn’t.  How many politicians and captains of industry have used Machiavelli as a how-to manual?  (Kind of like using Left Behind as a future history written in advance…  Or Frank Peretti spiritual-warfare novels as fact…)

  • http://www.nicolejleboeuf.com/index.php Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

     

    Apparently, he doesn’t know “The Prince” was a satire, and not a manual.

    Considering that the word “Machiavellian” has become a commonplace in the English language to describe political strategizing that falls in line with those proposed in “The Prince,” as though these were political strategies that Machiavelli genuinely supported, I think a whole heck of  a lot of generations of people have lost sight of that fact.

    It’s like saying “Swiftian” to reference a political strategy of literally eating the poor.

  • nakedanthropologist

    First of all, I was replying to Water Bear. That said, my comment was made in the proper context: this blog is about Christianity, and how it relates to various other issues. I did not assume anything, I merely responded to Water Bear’s comment as it relates to this post. Chill.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    “If Jesus had had a GUN, the Romans wouldn’t have been able to crucify him!”

    9_6

  • Lori

    First of all, I was replying to Water Bear.  

    Who was not talking to you.

    How do you figure that it’s OK for you to stick your nose into what Water_Bear said to Munchner Kindl and then complain about me commenting on what you said to Water_Bear? Are you just a big old hypocrite or did you not think that through at all?

    The fact is, this is not a private conversation. You were free to respond to Water_Bear’s comment. It would have been nice if your response had been less idiotic, but you were free to make it. I was free to respond to you. That’s how this works.

    That said, my comment was made in the proper context: this blog is about
    Christianity, and how it relates to various other issues. 

    Are you new here? If so, you might not want to try to make authoritative statements about proper context. The blog posts here are often, but not always, about Christianity and how it relates to various other issues. The comments section rarely is. A large percentage of posters here are not Christians. Failure to realize that is going to cause you nothing but problems.

    Chill.  

    You can just sit right down on that and spin.

    Having room to criticize others for not being Christian enough—Ur Doin It Wrong

  • EllieMurasaki

    nakedanthropologist, maybe you’re missing some context. Water_Bear is responding to Munchner Kindl. Munchner Kindl is famous in these parts for being exceedingly disparaging of the USA and its people. With that context in mind, reread what Water_Bear wrote, in full, and then reconsider your objection.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    So, who became “World Champions” of this US-only game? :P

  • LoneWolf343

     Guessing from what I’ve seen in the gospels, probably the self-righteously religious, like Mr. French.

  • Carstonio

    There is a school of thought that equates non-violence with non-anger.

    I would flip it around and say that it’s natural to fear that anger is a precursor to violence. If you get on someone’s bad side, it’s a spark that ignites dry timber.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Please tell me that isn’t a serious remark–gunpowder wasn’t a thing for several centuries afterwards. Also, Christian theology requires Jesus to die willingly.


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