Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Making the days last

Or making the last days

Most people have forgotten Harold Hughes of Iowa, who served his state as governor (1963-69) and U.S. senator (1969-75). Hughes was a devout Christian who credited his born-again experience with saving him from alcoholism and suicidal depression. He was also a liberal Democrat and political ally of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. Today, of course, Christian leaders like James Dobson and Pat Robertson would question the faith of Sen. Hughes because Jesus became a card-carrying conservative Republican during the Reagan administration.

Hughes became known for his personal rectitude and stimulated a boomlet for his dark horse presidential candidacy in 1972. He was a long-shot, of course, but 1972 turned out to be a year of long-shot candidacies, culminating in George McGovern's nomination. Hughes, however, pulled the plug on his candidacy before it got very far. For one thing, Sen. Hughes felt his Christian faith was at odds with the responsibilities of the president. The conventional wisdom of the Cold War era was Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), a balance-of-terror doctrine based on the notion that nuclear war would have no survivors. Both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. had so many thermonuclear warheads that either nation could absorb the full impact of a first-strike nuclear attack and still retain sufficient weaponry to launch a devastating retaliatory strike. Two losers. No winners.

The United States discounted the possibility that it would ever launch a first strike, thus claiming the moral high ground, but it wanted the Soviet Union to rest assured that Americans were fully prepared to lay waste to its rival in the wake of a Soviet first strike. Upon reflection, Sen. Hughes decided he could not embrace the MAD doctrine. It required the president to order the deaths of millions of people in the Soviet Union after suffering similar domestic casualties. Hughes could not reconcile such a vengeful act with his Christian faith. Would it restore the lives of the American dead? Obviously it would not. Would the retaliatory strike destroy the Soviet leaders responsible for starting the conflict? Unlikely. Indeed, they would have enjoyed foreknowledge of the event and would certainly have hidden themselves away in hardened bunkers in remote locations. The burden of the retaliatory strike would fall upon mostly innocent bystanders. Such a response failed even the eye-for-an-eye standard of the Old Testament, let alone the turn-the-other cheek admonition of the New.

MAD put Hughes in an untenable situation. He calmly assessed the situation and probably heaved a sigh of relief as he announced his decision to retire from politics rather than run for president. He devoted the rest of his life to public service in a lower key, concentrating on Christian counseling and assisting those struggling with alcoholism.

It's too bad we've forgotten Sen. Hughes. We've actually grown accustomed to the most prominent Christian voices being among the most toxic in public discourse.
James Robison: “There will be no peace until Jesus comes! That is what the Anti-Christ promises. Any teaching of peace prior to his return is heresy. It is against the word of God—it is anti-Christ!”
Robison, by the way, was Ronald Reagan's choice to give the opening prayer at the 1984 Republican National Convention (where, mercifully, he decided to tone down his rhetoric for the occasion).
Jerry Falwell: “Nuclear war, and the second coming of Jesus Christ; Armageddon, and the coming war with Russia: what does all this have to do and say to you and me? It says this: ‘Prepare to meet thy God.’”
The late Rev. Falwell was one of Reagan's favorite religious counselors. No wonder President Reagan noted in his personal diary that he feared Armageddon was at hand. Would that thought have steadied his finger if the time came to push the big red button? Probably. Reagan was no Harold Hughes.

The era of Reagan and Falwell is over, but doomsday-mongering remains a popular right-wing sport. The Southwest Radio Church today broadcast a conversation with Avi Lipkin, an activist Israeli (who also goes by the name Victor Mordecai). Lipkin embraces a right-wing Christian America as the best protection for the state of Israel, especially if he can sell Christians on the notion that Bible prophecy insists on it. (“I am always going to support a strong Christian America, because without a Christian America there is no America, and without America there is no Israel.”) His shtick consists of providing a perfect neo-con scenario for the next stage in our feckless war on terrorism. It is time to attack Iran!
Iran is the cause of all the problems today in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran is the cause of the international terrorism; they're the backer of international terrorism. And, by the way, Syria is also a protégé of Iran and their extension, the Hezbollah, which is a protégé of Syria. So there will not be a successful democratic resolution in Iraq and in Afghanistan until Iran is pacified, until Iran is brought out of the Dark Ages and the Iranian people are given a democratic government.

By the way, the Iranians do want a democratic government; they want to get rid of these crazy ayatollahs. Iranians are wonderful, intelligent people and they don't know how to get rid of these crazy ayatollahs. And as in the case of Saddam Hussein, that the Iraqi people could not overthrow Saddam Hussein by themselves, and neither can the Iranians overthrow the mullahs and the [?], who are like the Gestapo SS Nazis of the Iranian mullahs. So I predict that there will be a showdown with Iran.

Now, you are going to ask me, of course, the next question is how, and I will give you the answer before you even ask. The president may be seen as a lame duck, legally, in American political terms, but you know the United States military and the Israeli military have been working together for almost thirty years now, since 1979 when the Shah of Iran fell, the Americans and the Israelis already understood that there was a problem with Iran, because it was the Israelis and the Americans who helped the Shah of Iran, an American ally, to start the nuclear program in Iran. And so the Israelis and the Americans have been preparing for the last three decades for this showdown with Iran, which is inevitable. It's going to happen very soon. I predict it's going to happen, you know, in the next few weeks or months.
George W. Bush is no more of a Harold Hughes than Ronald Reagan was. Bush is a lip-service Christian who calls Christ his favorite philosopher and—as we can tell from his policies—demonstrates a nice Protestant disdain for goods works (because redemption is God's free gift and cannot be earned, you know, contrary to the Catholics' emphasis on good works). If we're lucky, Bush's faith will not go so far as to persuade him that he is fated by Bible prophecy to touch off Armageddon and pave the way for the long-awaited Second Coming of Christ. Let's hope the president's religious devotion is as hollow as the rest of his administration. It would be a bad time to fall into the hands of the true believers.


PlatoisDerrida said...


Thank you for the insightful post about the dangers of zealotry and for showing that politics, religion, and ethical behavior are not always mutually exclusive.


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