The End of The Enlightenment
I haven’t been able to write for a week and now I know why. I have been watching the events in the U.S. and abroad with increasing concern over the survivability of the enlightenment. You know, the philosophy that says we have the ability to make decisions for ourselves based on one’s reason, objective observation and mutual decision making.
The Declaration of Independence was clear about the influence that common men should have over their own lives. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” These thoughts are based directly in the thinking of the Enlightenment that reason should prevail over office, privilege or brute power.
Unfortunately when we review history we realize that the battle for enlightened thought is a constant battle against those who would control the lives of others. We fail to realize most of the time that we have been living in a small microcosm of history that has more downs than ups, more devastation and war then peace, more exploitation the elevation of mankind. And that our current run at moving up the evolutionary scale has stopped and we are headed down for a while, if not forever.
The selection of Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI disheartened me greatly. Any sign that the church was going to come down on the side of humanity rather then authority has vanished. One of the last chances for a moral voice to salvage mankind from his own hand will not be there. Indeed we may see the end of the Age of Enlightenment in my time. Am I not overreacting you say? I think not.
This is a 78 year old man who claims a purity and knowledge of God and his will, but has never held a women he loves in his arms lost in passion or ever held his child in his arms right after its birth, still speckled with its mother’s blood. He also has never lost his job to an immigrant, or to “outsourcing”, or found himself with an unexpected pregnancy he can’t afford without hurting the other children because his new job with Wal-Mart makes him just enough money to deny him public assistance with food, healthcare and childcare but not enough to afford the company plan. He has never found himself, 15 and pregnant by his father or found himself with HIV because the church told him artificial contraception was a sin. He seems to have never found himself in the situation of a young trusting altar boy molested by his priest or what felt what it is like to be rejected as a homosexual.
This is a man who is proud to have crushed the “heresy” of liberation theology, as leading to upheaval and empowerment of the masses, reflecting the familiar fear of loss of authority in Benedict’s history. A man who has never had to go home and tell that woman he loves that he has to move his family into the slums of a giant city because cheap corn has flooded the market and they cannot live on the land at those prices. Who never has to send his 13 year old daughter to work in a maquiladora for $1.75 a day for long shifts where the workload is increased constantly so they won’t lose the job to slave labor in China. Who has never had to leave his family to migrate across the border to try and get a job working for a contractor who steals half his wage to work in the fields all day, living in a crowded room so he can send money home.
Conservatives like to point out his intellect, but the problem is that Benedict’s intellect is limited to his experience, almost all in top down institutions, a policeman father, the Nazi Youth Corps, a German boot camp, the seminary, academia, Vatican service. He has not even had the experience of pastoral ministry, caring directly for the needs of a flock and the conflicts of life with dogma. So his intellect is limited by a perspective based on limited experience.
This is a man who we know was raised in Hitler’s Germany. Even though he denies any affiliation with it he expresses through his history of dogma driven authoritarianism an obvious affinity for his experience with Nazism. It is said that he was turned from a moderate liberal (whatever the that is) to a conservative by student demands for equality and the right to question authority while on the faculty of University of Tübingen. His reaction appears to be a fear based view that saw the disorder of change in the sixties as comparable to the conditions of economic and cultural chaos feared by the establishment with the rise of Bolshevism. Much of the justification for the barbarism of the Nazis was the threat that the Bolshevik driven tide of trade unionism posed to the established order of wealth. While denying any affiliation with Nazism, he reflects that same reactionary dictatorial style to the concept of the masses having a voice in their own fate.
From 1981 - 2005, Ratzinger was appointed by John Paul VI as the head of the Doctrine of Faith. As his pro George Bush Cardinal Ratzinger Fan Club (yes there is such a thing www.ratzingerfanclub.com ) gleefully states: “As “Grand Inquisitor” for Mother Rome, Ratzinger kept himself busy in service to the Truth: correcting theological error, silencing dissenting theologians, and stomping down heresy wherever it may rear its ugly head—and, consequently, had received somewhat of a notorious reputation among the liberal media and ‘enlightened’ intellegensia (ironically sic) of pseudo-Catholic universities.” The truth it seems is only available to theologians and American Presidents. His criticism of modernity, atheism, other forms of Christianity (“deficient”), let alone other world religions demonstrates a fear of things outside of his experience as inferior and to be feared as threats to authority. This prejudice is made of fear of the unknown, the uncontrollable, like the human spirit. Benedict’s view is to pluck out the offending eye, to make the church smaller, more orthodox, exclusionary and to fight the heretical ideas of free thought and action. If he was an isolated anachronism in the world that would be one thing, but he represents another converging river of power concentrated on authoritarianism in the world.
George “silver spoon” Bush also suffers from the same lack of perspective, only the attempt at intellectual discipline is missing. Seemingly a concrete thinker, Bush believes everything he says, and believes in a simple right or wrong, black or white view of things unruffled by the nuances of real life. He sees himself as having a predetermined destiny to change history, a man to follow unquestioningly. His appeal is that he has such simple sounding answers for everything he appeals to average people who are scared of change in the world. But like Menken said “For every problem there is always a simple solution, and it is usually wrong”. But in a confusing, overwhelming world, simple seems good, and when you are scared you cling on to simple. The reality is that he doesn’t have the intellectual ability or moral boundaries to prevent him from justifying to himself any action.
The reality is he seems to have the vacuousness of a slightly dull fraternity brother that everyone puts up with because he’s got a really nice car. The fault of his enemies is that they “misunderestimate” him. The opposition doesn’t really think that he can be that stupid, that ego centric, that megalomaniacal. But they are wrong, his history would indicate that Bush is driven by the fear that he really is a failure, willing to do anything to avoid that prospect, driven to do anything to avoid that awful truth of his own incompetence. A very dangerous circumstance for the rest of us.
When all is said and done he is little more then a car salesman doing the advertisement for the big car companies. “Come on down, we’re practically giving these cars away”. The real power brokers don’t have to be elected. Cheney, Wolfowitz, Perle, Rumsfeld, Kristoff, the other Neo-Cons driven by a view of world domination, that believes the rest of us need to be fooled for our own good. They have no problem lying straight to our faces. Propaganda is just a tool to them to be used without the complications of moral compunction. After all these people visualize a corporate world government (the WTO) dominated by a nuclear space weaponry and mercenary armies as their “white man’s burden”.
Their willing assistants are thousands of corporate names that you have never heard. They are driven by greed or the need to make the next quarterly profit goals. Functionaries in a monstrous machine called the corporation, that has no problem subverting science, waging war, stripping resources, poisoning land, air and water, exploiting slave labor, destroying communities or anything else that stands in the way of profit. With corporate control of the press informing the public is secondary to selling product and manipulating public opinion. But, you say not everyone in business is unethical. You may be right, but let one of these men falter in his mission and he will soon be replaced by someone who will push the machine’s drive for short term profit.
Joining these power hunters to repress free thought, is James Dobson, Randall Terry, Ralph Reed, Pat Robertson and the other theocrats who are pursuing a “Christian Nation”. They want to have the FCC police public discussion to their acceptable subjects, information on birth control and abortion suppressed, to deny you a job based on not only your sexual orientation but also your religion. They have many allies in congress, as illustrated by James Frist, the Senate Majority Leader’s appearance at their national judge bashing event. These people believe that they should have dominion over this country including its laws, your thoughts and your actions. If you don’t think they are dangerous listen to some of their statements of belief:
“State Universities are breeding grounds, quite literally, for sexually transmitted diseases (including HIV), homosexual behavior, unwanted pregnancies, abortions, alcoholism, and drug abuse.” James Dobson
“I want to be invisible. I do guerrilla warfare. I paint my face and travel at night. You don’t know it’s over until you’re in a body bag. You don’t know until election night.”—Ralph Reed
“I hope…to see the day when…in…our country we won’t have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over and Christians will be running them. What a happy day that will be!”—Rev. Jerry Falwell
“Let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…. If a Christian voted for Clinton, he sinned against God. It’s that simple…. Our goal is a Christian Nation… we have a biblical duty, we are called by God to conquer this country. We don’t want equal time. We don’t want Pluralism. We want theocracy. Theocracy means God rules. I’ve got a hot flash. God rules.”—Randall Terry
“You say you’re supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense. I don’t have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist. I can love the people who hold false opinions but I don’t have to be nice to them (Pat Robertson, The 700 Club, January 14, 1991) The goal of all of these groups is like Ratzinger, to declare those who disagree with them as “heretical” and marginalize their participation in society, even if that means a majority of the people on the planet.
Most of these people including George Bush are products of experience that told them that they could always, bully or buy their way out of their mistakes, except this time they can’t and you and I are all going on the ride with them if we allow it. They all live in constant fear that the masses will rise up and take away their power and privilege so they prey on fear and hopelessness to gain more an more control. This is the real axis of evil, the one who wants us to return to what was called “the dark ages” when knowledge was suppressed, the lower classes excluded from education except that chosen by and for the hierarchy of the church, commerce was completely controlled by feudal lords and their mercenaries. They all want to limit your thinking, your discussion, your thoughts, your actions. But, don’t worry it only lasted about 1,000 years.
“Fear terrorism, outsourcing is good for America, there is no global warming, government is the problem, deficits don’t matter, don’t watch this, don’t read this, turn your head from Darfur, ignore AIDs in Africa, take Prozac, give your child Ritalin. Fill that empty hole in your soul with cheap goods from China you get at Wal-Mart and “reality” TV.”
The candle of enlightenment is in danger or flickering out and the dark ages again loom large on the horizon, indeed human survival itself is in the balance. Time is short. You think I exaggerate, I think not.
John M. Kelley is a teacher, writer and radio interview host in Corpus Christi, Texas who worries daily about the country he is leaving his grandchildren.
Originally published on the My Town website and reprinted with permission of the author.