The Normalization of Evil

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Can you hear the tablets breaking? Does it matter anymore?

As soon as [Moses] came near the camp and saw the [Golden] calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets from his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. — Book of Exodus 32:19 NRSV

Gustave Doré (1832-1883), Moses breaks the tablets of the Law – Exodus 32:19

The artist’s in the portrait below seems to be wondering how we will answer in this election: Can you still hear the shattering of common decency? Is it making you sick?

Port
Portrait of Gustave Doré (1832-1883),

You shall not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain ( Exodus 20:7) explained

According to Hebrew Bible scholar W. Gunther Plaut, the commandment against using the divine Name for vain purposes “forbids man [sic] in every respect to use God’s name wrongly or in vain. [M]urder, adultery and theft are circumscribed by opportunity and fear, but misuse of God’s name, once it becomes a habit will proliferate ‘and in the end one’s every assertion will be preceded by using the Name’. The result is a devaluation of awe and respect, and in time the holiness of God has no further meaning.

“On the whole… Jewish tradition treated the prohibition with utmost regard. It frowned on a all secular or self-serving use of the Name.” — The Torah: A Modern Commentary, Union of American Hebrew Congregations, NY, 1981.

President Donald Trump holding Bible in front of St. John’s Church after clearing clearing Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C. and declaring, “I am your law and order President.”

And hast thou sworn on every slight pretense,
Till perjuries are common like bad pence,
While thousands, careless of the damning sin,
Kiss the books outside, who never look’d within.

– W. Cowper (1731-1800 CE) cited by The Torah: A Modern Commentary

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (Ninth Commandment)

Michael Caputo

According to a report in Politico, Caputo, along with scientific adviser Paul Alexander, pressured officials to alter the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, a long-running weekly journal that features the latest science-based research and data on infectious diseases. Known as MMWR, the report has long been a sacred government information resource for doctors, scientists and researchers tracking outbreaks. Caputo has often publicly pushed back on CDC statements about the coronavirus and said falsely in a Facebook video on Sunday that the CDC has a “resistance unit” against Trump, according to The New York Times. His Facebook page has since been made private. The officials pressured CDC to change the reports, at times retroactively, to better align them with Trump’s often rosier public statements about the coronavirus, Politico reported. — Excerpts from article by Andrew O’Reilly, Fox News

Yesterday Mr. Caputo apologized to CDC staff for his accusations and disrespect for CDC scientists.

Attorney General Bill Barr

In Barr’s eyes . . . it’s the Democrats who are actually doing what Barr’s critics allege of him.

“You know [how] liberals project,” Barr told Kass. “All this bullshit about how the president is going to stay in office and seize power? I’ve never heard of any of that crap. I mean, I’m the attorney general. I would think I would have heard about it. They are projecting. They are creating an incendiary situation where there will be loss of confidence in the vote.” In a moment of supreme irony, Barr then immediately hypothesized a fanciful scenario where unnamed figures rigged the vote in a battleground state. —Matt Ford, The New Republic, “Bill Barr’s Titanic Lack of Self-Awareness, The New Republic, Sept. 17, 2020.

Human Nature and the Normalization of Wickedness: Wisdom from Hannah Arendt

Arendt considers one particularly pernicious breed of liars — “public-relations managers in government who learned their trade from the inventiveness of Madison Avenue.” In a sentiment arguably itself defeated by reality — a reality in which someone like Donald Trump sells enough of the public on enough falsehoods to get gobsmackingly close to the presidency — she writes:

“The only limitation to what the public-relations man does comes when he discovers that the same people who perhaps can be ‘manipulated to buy a certain kind of soap cannot be manipulated — though, of course, they can be forced by terror — to ‘buy’ opinions and political views. Therefore the psychological premise of human manipulability has become one of the chief wares that are sold on the market of common and learned opinion…

“The self-deceived deceiver loses all contact with not only his audience, but also the real world, which still will catch up with him, because he can remove his mind from it but not his body.”

Maria Popova, Lying in Politics, Hannah Arendt on Deception, Self-Deception, and the Psychology of Defactualization.

Election 2020: Who are we? What shall become of us? Who is “us”?

November 3, 2020 is about who we have become and who we choose to be.

The sound of Moses’ tablets breaking was heard again within minutes of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death. Justice Ginsburg’s dying wish was that her seat on the Court remain empty until after January 2021 — after the inauguration of 46th President.

Before prayers could be offered for the dead, we could see a vulture swooping to prey on a fresh corpse before the family had time to offer prayers for the dead and for themselves. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell broke the respectful silence most Americans observe following a death, no matter your differences. You show respect for the dead and for the grieving.

McConnell immediately announced his disagreement with a dying wish that her seat on the Court remain empty until after inauguration of the 46th President in January 2021. Justice Ginsburg’s request had precedent. The Majority Leader had prevented President Obama from appointing a successor to Justice Scalia on the grounds that no SCOTUS vacancy should be filled during the last year of a president’s term. In the waning days of President Trump’s term of office, McConnell announced he would welcome an appointment and put it on the Senate floor for a vote.

There are no principles. Not even a trace of common decency, not a moment of silence that normal follows death –in this case, a momentary suspension of the politics of deceit and the worship of power.

With a crassness that breaks the common observance of respectful silence following a death in the community, practice Senator Mitch McConnell Senate and President Trump immediately declared his disagreement with Justice Ginsburg’s last wish. Her desire has precedent. The Senate will welcome a nomination during the remainder of President Trump’s term of office — an “about face” from his refusal to honor the nomination of President Barack Obama 11 months before the next President would take office.

There are no principles. Not even a trace of common decency that shows compassion for those who grieve and that respect for the deceased — a momentary suspension of the politics of deceit and the worship of power.

“@GOP We were put in this position of power and importance to make decisions for the people who so proudly elected us, the most important of which has long been considered to be the selection of United States Supreme Court Justices. We have this obligation, without delay!”

– DJP tweet

VOTE on or before November 3. It matters. Our character and this experiment in democracy are on the ballot as never before.


Before the gods I will sing

Many gods? More than one?

Why does the psalmist speak of ‘gods’ — “before the gods I will sing Your praise” (Ps.138:1) –as though there is more than the One the psalmist proclaims? Why does the First Commandment of the Ten Commandments say, “You shall have no other gods before Me”?

These ‘gods’ are real. They do not exist only in our imagination. They make their appeals to our human need and aspirations in the midst of time. Like the First Commandment, Psalm 138 recognizes the ‘gods as contenders with the One God of heaven and earth. It goes to the heart of the human longing for closer-at-hand gods, the imposters of God that charm us with their melodies and promises.

...before the gods I will sing Your praise.” (Ps. 138:1 NIV)

We live among the ‘gods’. We see them with our own eyes. We hear them with our own ears.

  • Children held in squalid ‘detention’ camps in the name of national security. Parents whose children have been kidnapped and lost in the name of national security. The multitudes walking on blistered feet in hopes of crossing the Rio Grande to safety. The asylum-seekers fleeing cruel regimes. They are all living under the siege of the ‘gods’, resistance to which is commanded the First Commandment.
  • I will sing Your praise before the gods. I will not sing in silence. I will not praise You in hiding. I will publicly defy the ‘gods’ that solicit my praise and obedience. I will place my hope and trust where it belongs. Before the gods that divide and terrorize I will sing Your praise.
  • I will sing Your praise before the gods of national security that kidnap babies, separate families, and stereotype those seeking safety as criminals, drug runners, rapists and terrorists.
  • I will sing Your praise before the gods and not be silent when my president deceives the public, announcing that asylum-seekers may now apply for asylum in Guatemala, one of the nations from which the poor flee for safety because of human rights violations, whose military we train and whose arms we supply.
  • I will sing Your praise before the gods of homophily that erase the American aspiration of e pluribus from e pluribus unum, leaving the unum of whiteness.
  • I will sing Your praise before the gods of my country’s original sins: stealing the continent from its indigenous peoples’, and stealing African men, women, and children to become slaves.
  • I will sing Your praise before the gods under which the constitutional checks and balances that protect a democratic republic from totalitarian rule are eroded.
  • I will sing Your praise before the gods of fossil fuel profiteers and a government that denies climate change, removes restraints protecting clean air and water, and scorns international cooperation necessary for responsible action in the face of climate change.
  • I will sing Your praise before the gods of greed that amass wealth, consolidate power, and skirt Congress to proved arms to Saudi Arabia in spite of an American journalist’s dismemberment and supplying arms for continuance of a proxy war in Yemen.
  • I will sing Your praise before the gods of racist nationalism that excite the masses — Mein Kampf, the speeches of Hitler, and strategies for the seizure of power — now echoing from the Oval Office and campaign rallies.
  • I will sing Your praise before the gods that divert attention from atrocities at the Southern border with tweets describing the congressional district represented by the Chair of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Oversight and Government Reform as a “disgusting rat and rodent infested mess” immediately following the Rep. Elijah Cummingspointed criticism of inhumane conditions for which the Trump Administration is responsible.
I will praise You, LORD, with all my heart;
      before the gods I will sing Your praise. (Ps/ 138:1 NIV)
 For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly,
      but the haughty he knows from afar. (Ps. 138:6 NRSV)

Before the gods: Jesus of Nazareth

One of them . . . tested [Jesus] with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:35-40 NIV)

Before these ‘gods’ — and so many more — I will sing Your praise.

  • So help me God, in the name of Jesus, Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, July 28, 2019

Grandpa, I can’t take it anymore!

 

Elijah_9146What can’t you take, Elijah?

You-Know-Who!

No, I don’t. You said you can’t take “it” anymore. Not “who”. What are you talking about?

Grandpa, I can’t take “it” anymore because You-Know-Who is making me cry!

I’m sorry, but I still don’t know who “who” is. Who’s “who”?

Grandpa, you’re supposed to know this stuff!!!

Well, communication’s a very tricky thing, Elijah, as you’re finding out. You can”t assume other people know what you mean by “it” and “You-Know-Who”. They don’t unless you spell it out. Clear communication depends on you.

No. Depends are for adults, Grandpa; we discussed this yesterday. Huggies are for us. Your generation wears Depends; my generation wears Huggies. And President You-Know-Who is taking away all the huggies your generation is supposed to give the next generation.

Ah, so now you’re speaking more clearly! You-Know-Who is President You-Know-Who, the president whose name your babysitter refuses to say out loud like all the curse words she’s teaching you not to use. So now I know who “who” is. But I still don’t know what “it” is? What is “it” you can’t take anymore, Elijah?

Grandpa, you know! “Who” and “it” are the same thing. You-Know-Who just made an announcement in Utah — something about cutting bears’ ears and shrinking grand staircases. He thinks they’re too big. How big can bears ears be? He just keeps wrecking stuff. And he’s all in for that guy from Alabama! What’s with that?

Oh, you mean Roy Moore?

Yeah, Roy Moore, the 10 Commandments guy.

Bill Day Moore cartoon

Bill Day cartoon – The 10 Commandments and Roy Moore

He’s not a 10 Commandments guy, Elijah. Neither is You-Know-Who. They only know one commandment and they think it’s about them: “I am the LORD, your God. You shall have no other gods before me.” That’s the First Commandment.

Yeah! “Love yourself only, and feel free to abuse women, teenage girls, and Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Monuments in Utah.”

171203220157-bears-ears-hoodoos-large-169

Bears Ears National Monument

I’m glad we had this talk, Elijah. You’ve made yourself clear. I can’t take “it” or You-Know-Who anymore either. “It” seems to get worse every day.

But remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy, Elijah. We all need to take a break and remember who’s God.

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, Dec. 5, 2017.