These are my own views and thoughts, if you are interested (there is no reason why you should be, I suppose). They are subjects that do not require treatment in ARG. These are not for the general public, but for people already considered “friends” or people who want to get to know me better (I hope they are not disappointed).
Private Editorials for Friends by Donald Vroon (Revisions 2010)
A Political Manifesto
I don’t think I’ve changed much, but over the last 40 years what I thought of as liberal, even radical, has become somewhat conservative. I am regularly accused of being a conservative, by liberals and conservatives alike.
Well, I have always voted Democratic, never Republican. My favorite presidents were people like Roosevelt, Truman, even Jimmy Carter—people I could respect. I despised Mr Nixon and had no use for Ronald Reagan. I am convinced he validated and encouraged national attitudes that set us back many decades. I have always supported and voted for the more liberal candidate for anything. I am disgusted by the rancid “Christian right”. And I am convinced that “the market” is a false god, that government has the absolute duty to correct the injustices of capitalism and the “free market” and to punish its crimes against the people and the environment.
But I’m not a “textbook” liberal, because I am a serious Christian. I believe human nature is depraved and inclined to sin. I believe people are very bad at knowing what is good for them and will usually make the wrong choice, left to their own devices. People are certainly easily deceived—Americans are known all over the world as notoriously gullible people. I believe people need strong intellectual leadership. I am suspicious of simple solutions to human problems. I reject, for example, the “liberal” notion that crime is caused by poverty and lack of opportunity. I reject the nonsense about “self-esteem”; I believe shame is a legitimate social tool to keep people in line. I reject the victimology that seems to come from so many sources. I don’t believe the problems of the poor can be solved by money. Nor do I believe we will ever fairly eliminate a poverty class in any society.
I was always annoyed by liberal propaganda on racial problems. I did not even like Dr King; his speeches made me angry, while all my liberal friends felt guilty. He created lots of trouble and violence. The position of blacks in our society today has very little to do with white racism. I can’t support affirmative action or “diversity” initiatives. I’m inclined to think labor unions killed the goose that laid the golden eggs and reduced us to a second-rate industrial power and a permanent depression in the rust belt cities. We are still feeling the results in lower and lower typical wages (where are all the decent jobs?). I think the gap between rich and poor in this country is obscene and must be bridged if we are not to end up like Brazil.
I think feminism went off the rails 20 years ago. I think “progressive” ideas in education have proved themselves disastrous. I am against relativism and the idea that everything is a matter of opinion and that everyone’s opinion is worth the same. In culture and in affairs of the mind, equality is an illusion.
But still, I believe we should have universal health care, underwritten by the government. It is the only solution to an outrageous situation. And I am sure government must take the side of the poor and the oppressed, just as it must protect all of us from the rapacious power of the big corporations,and just as it must be a force for equality. I am disgusted with the Republicans, who seem to consider the current mess perfectly acceptable when it is obviously unjust.
A Religious Manifesto
I believe in God the Creator.
I am not credulous enough to believe that a cold, mindless, chance process like natural selection can explain the miracles of design I see everywhere—or the subtleties of the human mind, with its ethical and aesthetic sensitivities.
I believe in Jesus—in what he taught and did. He taught that the Creator God loves us like a father. Nature could never have taught us that. Nature is cold and unfeeling. He spent his life undoing the baleful deeds of nature—mostly healing the sick, but eventually triumphing over death itself. If Jesus was a fraud, there is no hope.
I believe in the Holy Spirit but wonder if he has abandoned us. Certainly he has mostly abandoned the churches. Nor does God’s Spirit seem to be inspiring our leaders, our artists, our writers and composers. But where people seek the truth and turn away from childish rebellion and fads as well as tired customs, perhaps there, in his own quiet way, the Spirit of God is present—because the Spirit of God is a free spirit and fills our lives with truth, beauty, and love. When you have God’s Spirit within you, you have a nose for truth, a lively aesthetic sense, and feeling for all creatures.
All my life I have been thought of as “evangelical” by liberals and “liberal” by evangelicals. I have not consciously walked the middle of the road, but neither have I followed any party line. I suppose I considered everything afresh, so I ended up on different sides for different issues. I have no group identity or loyalties—in fact, I have no conception of belonging to a group. I never “belonged” or even wanted to. I think for myself. So I might be considered part pietist and part anti-pietist, part Lutheran, part Calvinist, part Methodist, part Episcopalian. I think I’m quite liberal on most social and moral issues; I’m certainly not a capitalist or a patriot, and I have never even married, so I am hardly interested in “family values”. But I believe the Bible and believe in Jesus. I may live like a liberal, but I pray (in private) like a true pietist, and I love the old hymns and gospel songs.
Well, why shouldn’t a Christian be a bundle of contradictions? Jesus was, and his influence seems to enhance our individuality—certainly our freedom. Christian conformity is a contradiction.
I might add that though they have some things in common—mostly ethical matters—the world’s religions are profoundly incompatible. To a serious Christian or Jew Hinduism and Buddhism are absolute nonsense. To a Muslim Christianity is almost incomprehensible. In spiritual matters you really have to stick with your tradition. Logical consistency does not allow for a blend of traditions that essentially contradict each other.
Sex must be the greatest pleasure our Creator gave us, but it is hard to imagine that he intended for us to become obsessed by it—as we surely are. One would assume that, like all the pleasures, it would have had its normal place in human life. We would not have been driven by it, lose control because of it, commit acts of aggression and make fools of ourselves over it. It would be one of the many pleasures God created us to enjoy: food, drink, sight, sounds, music, colors, even sleep.
Sex the way God created it hardly exists. It became an overpowering, obsessive, urgent need; and all attempts to rein it in and restore it to a reasonable place in our lives only seem to backfire. There is no unfallen sexuality. People who are relatively free of its “normal” urgency might even be considered lucky. They must certainly wonder why the rest of us make such fools of ourselves.
Because sex is so powerful today, it is used to sell everything, from self-image to clothing to toothpaste to automobiles. Women use it to manipulate men, because it is men who seem most unable to control it. Asexual men and homosexuals are blessedly immune to that kind of manipulation and may actually, therefore, be freer of the ubiquitous distortion of sex (so ubiquitous that everyone considers it “normal”) and actually more truly “normal”. CS Lewis draws the wonderful image of everyone slobbering over food (juicy steaks and such) to make us wonder how sex ever got so distorted.
Jesus said that in the kingdom of heaven there would be no marriage. Marriage is one of the devices we have been given to tame the wildness of sexuality in a fallen world. We will not be sexless beings in God’s kingdom; we will simply be able to control it instead of it controlling us. The Hebrew-Christian tradition should not be understood as anti-sexual (though that distortion has turned up from time to time) but as pro-sexual, with the utopian hope that we will someday not even need the controls of marriage and society but will be able to enjoy it without being obsessed by it. If you think hard about it, that’s even implied in the dogma of the Immaculate Conception (which I reject utterly). It teaches that Mary was born immaculate because her parents actually managed to have a sexual union—at least on the one occasion—that was not compulsive and distorted by the usual uncontrollable lust. Catholics have sometimes assumed that that means they didn’t enjoy it! But why should it mean that? The doctrine arose out of the realization that human sexuality is badly fallen, depraved, and distorted. An exception was felt necessary for the Mother of God. That strikes me as pure sentimentality, but the basic perception is true: there is no undistorted human sexuality. Its very urgency is a distortion.
Any gay or celibate person can see quite clearly the humongous distortion that passes for “normal” sexuality in our culture. It amazes me that people who call themselves Christians can be so blind to that and can even call the gay individual “perverted”. Do they really mean to tell us that this mess, this joke we call “normal” heterosexuality is NOT perverted? Don’t believe it! They are so caught up in the perversion—so pervaded by it—that they think it must be normal, must be what God created. And there’s safety in numbers: if everyone thinks so it must be so. But it isn’t so, and asking masses of heterosexuals what is sexually normal and natural is a lot like asking the teachers’ union if teachers should be paid more. How sleazy it is when laymen accuse celibate priests of not knowing enough about sexuality to be able to offer spiritual guidance! Because they are not caught up in the sexual rat race they are actually much better equipped to see its distortions! (Not that I would defend everything the priests say about sexuality!)
Another thought: gay sexuality is purer sex, because it is not mediated by piles of social conventions that have grown up around sexuality. Much of what heterosexuals feel they have been taught to feel, and the way they interpret sex is the way they have been taught to interpret it—by their peers, by television, the movies, the advice columns, and so on. Straight sex is a kind of conformity. Gays are pretty much on their own: no one offers any “guidance”, so they are often far more “natural” about it all (and sometimes pretty weird!). Heterosexual relations are anything but natural! They represent generations of fussing and interfering, because society has quite a stake in what happens between a male and a female.
There is a certain smugness to the common idolatry of The Family. These people seem to be saying, “we are righteous and you are not. We have channeled our sexuality the right, approved way. Unchanneled, it is mere lust.” The assumption is anti-sexual, I think. Sexual pleasure itself is suspect and has to be justified by and limited to an approved relationship.
Often “family” seems an excuse for a kind of selfishness that we would never excuse in a single individual. It also often justifies aggression and ambition, the chase after money, the consumer society. A family—especially a mere “nuclear” family—can be quite suffocating for a child. In the name of family many children are forced into a “togetherness” that feels like torture and amounts to totalitarian control. Maybe they don’t like their parents very much. There are often major differences in personality. In the past children had their own world and life; parents followed a policy of benign neglect. Some of us as children found those times the best times. I feel sorry for children now: the parents interfere in every corner of their lives—supposedly out of “concern”. “Family values” gives these control freaks the excuse they need. (And those children therefore find it hard to stand on their own two feet.)
“Family values” is also often a cover for the feeling parents have that they have lost control over their children. That is a power issue. American parents seem to think they should have almost dictatorial power over their children. Parents think they should mold their children as a potter molds the clay, and the children should turn out the way they as parents determine. Of course, that fails to take account of that messy little thing called freedom. Children are individuals, and why on earth should they have no say in how they “turn out”? In our kind of world a child is exposed to a wide range of values, and parents resent it. For example, the parents don’t want the child to even consider the possibility that he might be gay. They want that possibility hidden and not discussed, because they fear it and don’t want it for their child.
But the child will become familiar with the possibility long before he needs to figure out whether it fits him, and the parents are well aware that they have lost a lot of control over their children in such matters. They resent that, but I’m not sure that it’s a bad thing. I really feel sorry for children who are tyrannized by their parents and given no room to grow and discover.
One of the most disgusting things I see is the overprotection of children. In 1969 69% of children walked to school. Now it’s fewer than 10%. Go by any school at the time of day when school lets out and you’ll see traffic for blocks—mothers, one to a car, picking up their precious little angels, who apparently cannot walk. (Is that why kids are so fat now?) TV has terrified everyone into thinking walking is unsafe. But those families don’t need that extra car, and those children need to walk! If there’s a risk, then they need to learn to risk, too!
Children have no life! When I was young we disappeared for hours on end and found things to do, found friends, invented games, and so on. Now children’s lives are scheduled like adults’. How inappropriate! And the adults have become glorified chauffeurs to get the kids to all the things they are scheduled to do. Even technology is an enemy of childhood: how do you get away from the parents in the age of cell phones?
Children’s lives today are overcontrolled. That’s no childhood!
Everyone has to have a position on this, it seems. It has never concerned me very much, but it does concern many women who are friends and many religious friends.
Two facts must be borne in mind. At least one in every four pregnancies is aborted by Mother Nature, the chief abortionist; it’s called miscarriage. One of my own mother’s four pregnancies ended in miscarriage—she was typical. The second fact, little known, is that women frequently expel a fertilized egg in menstruation (in other words, though it is fertilized, the body refuses to allow it to implant and develop).
It is clear that at a certain stage the fetus is simply tissue that the woman’s body may reject (and often does). It should be added that many of the great Fathers of the Church declared that an unborn fetus has no “soul”. It was commonly held that the soul entered the baby as it was born, but some argued that it happened at “quickening”—a very late stage of pregnancy. It was not generally believed by Christians in the past that abortion was murder, and it is an outrageous accusation to make today.
Yet Christians were known to avoid abortion as much as possible. It was always considered a desperate act, even a shameful act. It should be rare and should never be viewed as a mere birth control device. But who should decide when it is necessary? Obviously the woman and her doctors, in consultation with the entire family. Why should such matters be legislated by a government? What knowledge or thinking can they bring to the decision, and why should any woman entrust such matters to such an impersonal and undependable judge?
The moderate position was stated by President Clinton: abortion should be rare, legal, and safe. And we might add that the churches should do everything in their power to discourage women and families from seeking abortion, but must not seek legislation to outlaw it and thus drive it underground and make it unsafe.
One final fact: the lowest rates of abortion in the world are in western Europe—and those countries also have the world’s most liberal abortion laws. Clearly, making it legal does not make it common.
I am old enough to start to ask myself what my life has been all about and what matters most to me in life.
I thought immediately “God, sex, and music”. Then I realized that the “sex” part is mostly friendship. There may be a sexual component in any friendship—I cannot imagine being close to a person who is physically repulsive to me—but friendship usually does not involve sex as such. But I do care a great deal about sex; it is one of life’s greatest joys. It is very rewarding and almost effortless—but I value friendship more.
Then we could broaden the inquiry. What are the great joys of my life—after God, sex and friends, and music?
Beer. I really love beer. I am happiest in a beer place, like Northern England and Scotland, Prague or Germany, Holland or Croatia. I don’t like the bitter ales of southern England or of many small American breweries (but I like IPAs in Scotland, Atlanta, and Baltimore). But almost everywhere I go in the world, nowadays, I can find beer I really like. It cheers the soul.
Wine. All my life I have searched for and found cheap wines that are very good. As in everything else, when you pay double you don’t get a wine that’s twice as good. A $9 wine can be almost as good as a $20 one, and even on a tight budget I have managed to drink a glass of red wine with dinner every evening.
Tobacco. Like my Dutch ancestors, I have always smoked a pipe and consider it a great pleasure.
Food. I have a strong sense of smell—and thus taste. I eat slowly and savor every bite—and thus stay thin. I am very fond of Asian food—especially Indian, Thai, and Korean. The best American food is barbeque. I also like to cook and only eat out once a week.
Reading. All my life I have read books for at least two hours a day. I dislike most fiction, except mysteries, so I read non-fiction in almost any area (except heavy science and mathematics!). It is easy to find time to read: stay up two or three hours after everyone else is in bed.
Travel. I have always travelled a lot—mostly in Europe and Mexico. I don’t care for most of the USA. I have made it my business to travel cheaply. At some periods in my life I have managed to spend a month in Europe or two weeks in Mexico for less than it would cost me to stay home. People think I must be wealthy because I travel so much, but travel is not a luxury for me: I’ll give up all kinds of things to do it. For example, most of the clothing I wear is at least 15 years old. I do not consider myself a consumer, because I buy so little of anything.
Sleeping. I really enjoy sleep and look forward to it, but I’m normally very alert and not a person who finds it easy to shut down the mind. But I have been strict about always sleeping the same hours and always getting at least 8 hours of sleep, so I always feel good.
Life is full of joy!
No one wants big government per se, but no one wants big business either; and government has to expand to protect us from big business and solve problems “the Market” cannot solve, even when it created them.
The number of rail passengers doubled in Europe from 1970 to 1988, while the USA was continuing to dismantle its system.
The average American supermarket has 49,000 different items. Less than one percent are worth bothering with.
All marketing seems to be mass marketing, shutting out people of taste and sensitivity.
How men dealt with being gay in the past:
1. Become a priest or a monk.
2. “Fall in love” with an utterly unobtainable woman (the romantics, the troubadours).
3. Plead delicate health.
4. Sublimate it in romantic friendships.
5. Fall in love with sports figures and disguise it as love of sports.
No. 4 was very common until maybe 50 years ago, but friendship is almost dead. No. 3 was common before that, but now most men enjoy robust health, at least in youth. No. 2 still shows up now and then. But 1 and 5 are going strong.
Your religious affiliation reflects, among other things, the amount of attention you need. People who need a lot of attention seldom belong to liturgical churches, where God is the center of attention rather than our feelings. They need informality, “friendliness”, a chance to dramatize their emotions and be noticed and fussed over.
Thoughts on Martin Luther King Day
This man taught black people to hate whites. His speeches were 90 percent hate. “The white man did this to you” over and over, so “the white man” became an object of hate—a monster—and was no longer admired and envied but reviled.
The riots that followed were caused by his speeches, though he conveniently left town and washed his hands of it. Decades of black crime and resistance to law and education trace back to his speeches. In many ways he made the situation of blacks worse, not better. He made race relations worse. He made black crime worse and made young black males turn away from the larger civilization—and to what did they turn? To barbarity.
And the guilt also led many whites to aspire downward—to admire black music, for example, which was inferior. In fact, American black culture has gotten a great deal worse since King’s day, and it has taken the mainstream culture down with it. White kids admire black “cool” (indifference, irresponsibility)—and the talk and attitude (and “music”) of the black teenage male, which is childish and “macho” and certainly savage and uncivilized.
He encouraged lawlessness—naturally many of them decided there was no reason to obey “white” laws that, they were told, were designed to keep them down. He encouraged provoking whites to wrath and excused all of them (and himself) from any responsibility when people were hurt. In fact, he generally blamed everything on “the white man” and diminished the black sense of responsibility—and that legacy lives on, too. What is the black community doing to solve these problems? Nothing, except to continue to blame “the white man”.
Mr King’s main tool was violence and the threat of further violence—and it worked, much of the time. Without the violence and the threats, it’s likely that nothing would have changed. And things did need to change!
Martyrdom has made him a hero and whitewashed his character, his thinking, his reputation. But intelligent people are not taken in. And why should he have a holiday every year? No president has a holiday to himself, and it is obvious that Lincoln and Jefferson and Washington did a lot more for the country—and probably a lot more for blacks, too. Intelligent people bristle when even our orchestras treat “ML King Day” as a major occasion. We don’t even celebrate Beethoven’s birthday! What has ML King to do with our music? Nothing at all. Why, then, this unseemly prostitution every year? To get black people into the concert hall? Ridiculous! They are not coming, and we’ve been fawning over Dr King for a long time.
Likes and Dislikes
I have been accused of not liking blacks, not liking women, not liking homosexuals, not liking children. Maybe I’m just a misanthrope. But I have tried to think honestly about that. First of all, one must distinguish different kinds of liking. If liking is preference, obviously one can’t prefer everyone! If liking is active emotional delight in, then it would get pretty exhausting to feel that toward very many people. If liking is simply caring about them, I deny all these accusations: I do care about human beings–and even some animals. I would never wish someone ill, never wish harm upon anyone. I care fiercely about kindness to people and animals–even cats!–and I don’t like cats!
The thing I dislike most is noise, and it seems to me that, apart from Canadians, Americans (north and south) are just too noisy.
Taking people in groups, let’s see: women. Women are suspicious and manipulative, self-centred and materialistic, and far too frantic to be good company. I don’t think that’s unfair as a generalization. I guess I don’t like most women. But I know some wonderful women. Men: I can’t stand the athletes and the macho males–the ones that when you talk to them or meet them seem to be daring you to offend them in some way, because nothing would please them more than to lose their temper and show how tough they are. Most cops are like that, most working class blokes in English-speaking countries, most of my neighbors–maybe most men. So I guess I don’t like most men. But I know some wonderful men.
Blacks often seem to fit their stereotypes, too: lazy, sloppy, noisy, inconsiderate, violent (at least the men). But, it’s an odd thing, the blacks I know personally don’t seem like that at all. Homosexuals can seem so shallow and frivolous; but I certainly know many excellent people who are gay. Children are noisy, bratty, cruel, uncivilized, unpredictable, and unpleasant to have around. But then my own nieces and nephews seldom seemed that way (notice: I didn’t say “never”). Teenagers seem empty-headed and lacking in convictions and values. But not all.
I think I really have to admit that I don’t much like people in general or classes of people. Instead I try to approach someone I meet as an exception; I keep hoping he will turn out that way, rather than disappoint me by turning out “normal” for his group.
I have had very good luck with one group of people: musicians. Now, musicians are not perfect. They can be touchy about competition and ego; they identify quite strongly with the music and the interpretations they believe in. Psychologists tell us that jealousy is their besetting vice. But I have never noticed that, perhaps because I just haven’t been in a position to see it. What I find in musicians is men who are kind and gentle, women who are warm and loving, blacks who have character and discipline, homosexuals with real emotional depth. There is something about mastering a musical instrument that breaks the stereotypes, assaults the prejudices, and even wipes out piles of potential character defects and raises a person above the common level. Nowhere else have I found this consistently. Musicians are closer to being saints than churchgoers are–and I say that as one who deplores making music a religion (and most musicians do!).
The reasons for this are probably obvious to any real music lover. I am grateful to musicians, because they give me a class of human being that I can love and admire almost without reservation. In fact, they and the music they play do a lot to prevent me from becoming a true misanthrope.
Life has been wonderful, and any list of the great joys in life would have to be quite long. But it is easy to list the miseries—the things we hate. Some are Mother Nature’s perversity—real evils—but most are human inventions—maybe just mistakes. Here is one man’s little list, they’d none of them be missed by me!
biting insects like mosquitoes and chiggers
diseases and death
TV—all of it
cops & the legal system
slow drivers—especially in the left lane
the dominance of the automobile in this country
four-way stop signs
supermarkets & superstores
music playing everywhere
light & low-fat foods & drinks
misplaced male aggression
silly female sentimentality
cruelty and hate
Sacred Principles of Bureaucrats
1. There is only one way to skin a cat: my way.
2. There is no such thing as a molehill.
3. The pyramid is sacred. Any other structure or anything outside the structure (or “channels”) is to be condemned.
4. “Superior” and “inferior” are defined strictly by the pyramid.
5. Never reason with an inferior or ask his advice when making policy. That would be a sign of weakness.
6. Shit goes in only one direction: down. Your superior may dump on you, and you may dump on your inferiors; but never, never may you give it back where it came from.
7. Thus you may lose your temper at will with inferiors, but you must be a LAMB with superiors.
8. Policy is holy. Exceptions to policy do not exist. Questioning policy is not permitted.
9. There is no room in the pyramid for human relations. We relate only by function. The function of employees is to obey policy. The function of superiors is to enforce policy.
10. Power is authority; there is no other authority.
Maturity is simply full development: a mature person is one whose humanity is fully developed and whose talents and capabilities are fully developed and expressed. (Perhaps a society or nation can also be discussed in terms of maturity and immaturity.) Maturity is not a moral category, so there’s no sense prescribing a pattern of life for people to live up to; but one can describe qualities that fully developed human beings seem to have in common. It’s a natural process, when it really happens; it’s not a matter of appearances or of conforming to some patterns of behavior.
Certainly age is no guarantee of maturity. Many people never mature, and we have all met immature people of all ages. Others mature early in life and keep maturing till the day they die. Still others mature at one stage in their life but never mature any further: maybe they were mature teenagers, but if they don’t continue to develop they will not become mature adults. Still others mature fast in one area but remain relatively undeveloped in other areas of their lives. One often sees mature minds connected with emotional immaturity, for example—though mature minds certainly help us mature in general. Perhaps we all mature at different rates in each of the different aspects that together constitute humanity.
But it is true that we all know a few people who are mature in the proper sense of the term: their humanity is fully developed. And it is a joy to see. That does not mean they have stopped growing. Maturity has a great deal to do with capacities. A fully developed capacity to love keeps driving us to love more people more fully. A fully developed capacity to learn certainly does not put an end to learning—it stimulates it. A fully developed capacity to appreciate beauty just leads us to more music or art or literature, and that in turn keeps enlarging our capacity. It’s a wondrous thing. Mature people really do keep growing. In fact, that capacity to keep growing is one of the fruits of maturity.
Since maturity is the opposite of childishness (the child is by definition undeveloped—a human being in the making), one way to understand maturity is to look at childish traits that we outgrow as we mature. It has been suggested that “childish” and “childlike” are not the same—and that a mature person can often be “childlike” in a positive and endearing way. It is childlike to trust other people readily; it is childlike to be open to new experiences, to be surprised by joy and wonder. A musician’s delight in a new piece of music can often seem delightfully childlike. Perhaps maturity means, among other things, outgrowing the childish without losing the best childlike qualities (think of innocence and spontaneity).
Childish Things to Outgrow
1. Greed above all. Children are notoriously greedy and demanding—and how few people ever really outgrow it!
2. Self-indulgence, lack of self-control (appetites, temper, violence). A consumer society tries to keep us in this immature state.
3. The fears and hostility that are so natural to children must be banished for the sake of maturity. Sometimes it seems our whole society connives at preventing this from happening. TV “news” promotes fear all the time. People who watch it are much more fearful.
4. The need for flattery and protection of the developing (and fragile) ego. Adult egos should not be so fragile. It should not be necessary to sweet-talk them into things or to protect their egos. Adults who insist on that are immature (and they are many).
5. Inconsiderateness. Simple lack of regard for others—self-absorption—is normal for children, and parents are supposed to help them overcome it. But we live in inconsiderate times. Adults don’t seem very far ahead of their children on this one.
6. The power ethic—the bully mentality—might makes right. This is major ethical immaturity, and whole nations sometimes act this way. And adults even compete with their children—as if it weren’t bad enough that they are always competing with each other. An immature boss, parent, or leader is always “showing muscle”. We’ve even had people like this in the White House! Maybe our national sports mania keeps people immature.
7. Concern over name-calling. Again, fragile egos. A child learns who he is by what people call him. It is terrible to insult a child. A mature adult with healthy self-esteem doesn’t care. Yet adults still come to blows over such things!
8. Narcissism, delicate ego, easily hurt feelings. Natural for children, sad in adults.
9. Inability to accept criticism. This prevents growth and forestalls maturity.
10. Emotionalism. Everything becomes a big deal, an emotional issue. A child cannot see the larger view. Some things matter; other things hardly matter at all. Maturity involves the wisdom to know the difference.
11. Conformity. Children are the greatest conformists. Adults are supposed to be individuals, but conformity is still a powerful motivator among adults—who are immature to that degree.
The Marks of Maturity
A. The Self
1. Identity: a sense of who I am and how I differ from others.
2. Ego integrity: the ability to maintain my “wholeness” in the midst of change, challenge, and conflict. Order and meaning in the depths of my being.
3. At homeness with one’s body—and emotions, spirit, etc. This becomes more difficult as we age. But people who do not age gracefully are not mature. Americans in our time seem to want to live forever in adolescence—always exploring and experimenting and reappraising, always uncertain and unformed and unsettled, and unable to shoulder full responsibility for one’s life.
4. Acceptance of self, others, reality, and the unknown. Trust. Such a person is comfortable with life, including his own limitations. He is not frantic and insecure. There is a noticeable serenity in mature people.
5. A sense of autonomy—a certain amount of independence from my culture and environment (individuality).
6. The ability to maintain my dignity in all circumstances and in light of provocations—to stay calm. (Inner peace?)
7. The need for privacy. A certain reserve.
8. Living according to my convictions without undue reliance on external authority or society. Inner-directedness.
9. Respect for authority coupled with a strong sense of freedom.
10. A sense of responsibility (to oneself and others).
11. Integration of the intellect and the emotions, not letting one tyrannize the other. Harmony between the physical, sensual, sexual, spiritual, and intellectual. (There is great deprivation in separating the conscious mental life from the unconscious depths. It is often called—or can result in—mental illness.)
12. Humility. I can accept myself for what I am without ever becoming self-satisfied or smug or proud. I must know my shortcomings and be able to laugh at them. A person with no sense of humor about himself is immature.
B. Sensitivities (capacities)
13. Ethical sensitivity: consideration for others, for the general welfare. Kindness. Openness. Understanding of the positive and negative sides of life. Suspicious of simple answers, black-and-white thinking, flattery, and easy optimism. Aware that despair is destructive and unnecessary.
14. Aesthetic sensitivity: appreciation of beauty. A utilitarian or managerial view of life is impoverished. Moralism is destructive. Joy in the advanced pleasures as well as the simple pleasures. Even the poorest people can have a well-developed sense of beauty. This is closely related to spirituality.
15. Spirituality: capacity for ecstasy, awe, and wonder.
16. Emotional sensitivity—gentleness.
17. Intellectual sensitivity: open-mindedness; willingness to learn. But no one should be as open-minded at 60 as at 20, because we DO learn. Knowing what is useful and helpful and not becoming overburdened with useless knowledge, as so many people are in our “information” society. Not trying to get water from dry wells. Respect for the continuity of life and thought and culture: gratefully accepting and appropriating the heritage of the past, yet not closing our minds to change and development. Ignorance is willful and therefore culpable. Knowledge is a great aid to maturity. Making the best use of knowledge requires wisdom—another aspect of intellectual maturity.
18. Balance. The balanced development and use of all these capacities.
19. Flexibility: awareness of the dynamic nature of life—not clinging unreasonably to static principles or taking rigid stances.
C. The Cognitive: mental capacities
20. Curiosity: a childlike, almost naive orientation that allows you to be surprised by joy in art, music, nature, and people. The joy of discovery. Straightforwardness.
21. Humor: especially about oneself. Humorless people are often condemned to immaturity.
22. A broad view: to see and live in a broad frame of reference—a cosmic rather than a parochial outlook. Never narrowing life’s great variety down to one thing; never reducing complexity to simplistic categories (eg, the “moral”).
23. Synthesis: the process of bringing together, harvesting and harmonizing, integrating all experience and knowledge so it becomes a part of myself and my worldview—and my arsenal in life’s struggles.
24. The ability to make good use of criticism and conflict.
D. The Creative
25: Creativity: contributing something of my own, something unique.
26. Initiative: not leaving it all to someone else. Acting, not just reacting.
27. The ability to commit myself and my energies to fundamental and long-range concerns beyond my own life—social problems, civilization, the progress of the arts.
E. The Relational
28. The capacity to receive love, to be loved—and the joy and gratitude that naturally result.
29. Compassion. Agape. Ability to give of oneself for others.
30. Warmth in close relationships—capacity for friendship, affection, sexual attraction (erotic love). Balancing the four loves in one’s life.
Now look back at all this. It is by no means exhaustive, but it seems fair to say that where any ONE of these is lacking there is a lack of maturity—even a lack of humanity. Maturity is simply the fullest measure of humanity. I think people today are missing a lot.
[This was written in 1975 and certainly reflects my reading at the time. But I cannot remember what I was reading. I hope there is no plagiarism.]
Have you ever read a brief summary of why Americans are so fat?
It’s really quite easy to list the reasons. There is only one reason people are fat: they eat too much for the amount of exercise they get. But there are many reasons for all that.
1. They are sedentary. They spend most of their lives sitting around. They won’t walk–not even a few blocks. They go everywhere in their gas-guzzling cars, burning energy that is not theirs and polluting the environment. They take elevators rather than walk up a few stories.
2. They are passive. Popular culture promotes passivity. It’s all entertainment. Sit back and watch “sports”, and the exercise is vicarious. You do nothing; you watch someone else do it all. TV also promotes passivity; your only place is as a recipient of its messages–in fact, passivity is encouraged by the medium and makes it a gold mine for advertisers, because it makes people suggestible, gullible. (Sitting at a computer is not much better; the only difference is finger exercise.) Harvard Medical School estimates that “The risk of obesity jumps almost 25% with each two-hour increase in daily television watching”. Other studies associate television watching and weight gain.
Another word for passive is “lazy”. Americans are the laziest people I know. It is surprising they even get out of their chairs to eat the sugary snacks that TV talks them into. The inertia is amazing. Well, what do you expect? These people have spent their whole lives being coddled, flattered, and entertained. They are told every day that their life should be effortless and easy. They even do very little work at work–almost every other Western country is more productive per hour worked. Most of us seem to dislike work, so most of the work is done by a few of us. The old standby, the 80-20 rule, applies: 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the useful work–the work that keeps a civilization going. A recent study showed that only 20% are involved in their jobs and attentive.
By the way, it is worth noting here that the poorest people are the fattest in this country (unlike, say, India). That is partly because those people can’t control their impulses and appetites–and that’s part of why they are “poor”. And also they are the people who watch the most television and are the target of the most advertising–precisely because they are impulsive and not careful with money. The poor are also more inclined to fatten up while there’s plenty to eat, because they remember (or their bodies remember) that sometimes there isn’t (or wasn’t). And there is a connection between poverty and laziness and between poverty and inability to postpone gratification (self-indulgence).
3. Some people eat to counteract depression–and depression is far more common in this country now than it was a few decades back. Tasty food can be a great comfort, but that is not what food is for. That is what friends are for–but friendship is a lost art. And maybe that is why people are so depressed!
4. Advertising talks people into eating far more than they should–and the wrong kind of “food”. Empty calories like sugary drinks are not satisfying and leave you hungry. It has been proved that even diet drinks lead to weight gain: “diet” beverages are no help at all in losing weight. Yet in any restaurant you can hear most of the diners ordering a diet beverage. How stupid and gullible people are to believe that “diet” beverages prevent weight gain or help them lose weight. It is simply not true. Such beverages just stimulate the appetite and lead to overconsumption of food. Ice cream and candy are also shots of sugar without much nourishment.
5. People are out of touch with their bodies. They eat a big dinner and then go to the movies and buy popcorn or candy and soda, as they are programmed to do. If they could hear their bodies, they would know that they are not hungry, and no one should eat when he is not hungry. But Americans eat and snack so much that they probably wouldn’t recognize hunger if it came along. Desire is not hunger. Desires are wants; hunger is need. The food industry manipulates desires. Hunger means you need food; your body demands it because your cells need nourishment. You can want food even when you don’t need it, and big corporations are getting rich by jerking our desires around. All those images and smells can make you want food, but you are either hungry or you are not–and most of the time we are not, so we should not be eating.
People have no self-awareness in this matter and no self-control. I have watched many fat people snacking on chocolate an hour or two after eating a big meal. They are taught to think that is normal–and if they are a little ashamed of themselves (as they should be) they are taught to excuse it as “normal” self-indulgence. (Of course; advertisers don’t want any guilt over self-indulgence–it would eat into their profits.) It’s too bad, but self-indulgence actually has become normal in this country. People are programmed by the media to indulge. That’s what a market economy is all about. Since people make money on greed and self-indulgence, they will make sure it is considered normal–guilt-free. We are rich. Even the “poor” are rich in this country. We have gone in one century from a culture of self-restraint, self-mastery, self-discipline to a culture of pure self-indulgence. We are unable to deny ourselves anything. This is a serious moral flaw!
6. Another cause of fat is lack of sleep. It has been proved that lack of sleep prevents your natural appetite mechanism from working properly and disrupts your metabolism. Most people need 8 hours of sleep a night, and if they get only 6 their whole body gets out of whack. Weight gain has paralleled reduced sleep across our whole society. 30 years ago people were thinner and also got more sleep. The relationship has been proved–it’s chemical. When deprived of sleep people crave sweets and carbohydrates–and only partly because they mistake the weariness for lack of fuel, or think that a snack will perk them up. Lack of sleep itself boosts people’s desire for junk food.
7. Many Americans gave up smoking in the last 30 years. Anyone who has done so will tell you that weight gain is almost inevitable. Perhaps smoking satisfied some oral cravings (without calories!).
8. We eat too fast. You can get a great deal of pleasure out of small portions if you eat slowly and attentively (savor every bite). When you eat fast you get less pleasure out of each bite so you want more. (The food goes flying past your taste buds and you think, “that was good. I’ll have more.”) Also, if you eat slowly your body will tell you when you’ve had enough. Traditional meals were leisurely for a good reason. It has always been a rule in this household that dinner may not be rushed. We won’t even eat out the evening of a concert, because the early start times (which I hate) would force us to rush the meal. One reason, by the way, that people eat so fast is that our food is too refined and requires very little chewing. The food industry calls all this over-refined stuff “adult baby food”. You get lots of calories for very little effort. Another example of our laziness.
9. Restaurant portions are way too big. Fast food places even brag about the size and make it ever bigger to make you think you are getting a bargain. My doctor asked me once if I ever eat fast food. I could answer quite honestly that I never do. He immediately said, “that explains why you are in such good shape”. As I’ve said again and again, almost everything that’s popular is bad for you. Someone is getting rich over your gullibility.
Restaurants can charge more for bigger portions, and they claim to need that money. So you are not going to see smaller portions soon. Even some better restaurants have huge portions; only the most expensive ones have small (but artistic) portions. Another doctor told me that he and his wife routinely split a main dish when they eat out, because one serving in American restaurants is almost exactly twice what any one mature adult should eat. (This same doctor–a cousin–told me that if he could control what his patients eat, he could practically guarantee their good health.) It has been proved that people think they are getting more of a bargain with huge servings. It has also been proved that most people try to finish them, because they paid for them. The bigger the servings the more most people will eat–like animals. People are either greedy or stupid or don’t apply their intelligence to eating. It’s a shame to waste food, but to be fat is even more shameful.
One nutritionist has said, “the calories in restaurant foods are obscene”–and people are eating out much more than they did 30 years ago, so they have less control over what they eat. And huge portions at restaurants warp your portion size expectations–even for home-cooked meals. A four-ounce hamburger is big enough, but it seems puny when the restaurants are serving eight-ounce hamburgers (half-pounders).
10. Another reason is “low-fat” (or -calorie) and “no-fat” foods. No other country on earth would put up with all that low-fat, no-fat crap (the worst by far is “light beer”); but Americans have been deluded into thinking that eating that stuff will help them lose weight–or at least keep them from gaining. And they overdo it–since it’s “low-fat” they think they can get away with eating more of it. Most people are fat because they eat way too much–any doctor will tell you that. Too much low-fat food is still too much food! And people eat more because “low-fat” is not very satisfying. Swear off all low-fat and no-fat foods and you may eat less and find what you do eat more satisfying. Fat and protein calories are more satisfying. Food that has a lot of subtle flavors (like Asian foods of all kinds) is also more satisfying in smaller quantities.
I should note here that the culprit in American diets is not fat. The culprit is sugar (and its equivalents, like corn syrup). Even we who are intelligent enough to prefer whole grain breads are still victims of the powerful sugar-corn syrup interests. Just try to reduce the sugar in what you eat. It is almost impossible–salad dressings, ketchup, breads: it’s everywhere. And if you have no taste for sweet things, all readily available food is disgusting. The food industry knows it has addicted almost everybody to sugar, so why should they cater to the few who read and think about these things?
Empty calories like soft drinks add weight but leave you unsatisfied. Even no-calorie soft drinks stimulate appetite and lead to weight gain and obesity. Americans have substituted soda-pop for water–a terrible mistake. They go around sipping those disgusting sweet beverages everywhere–walking and driving, even. (No one needs to drink anything while driving; nor does any adult need snacks in the car.) Sometime in my 20s I substituted beer and wine, iced tea and water for soft drinks–one of the smartest things I ever did. A lot of low-fat foods are higher in sweeteners–the substitutes for natural satisfiers. And the food industry in this country has a lot to answer for, because they have addicted Americans to sweetness. Everything is too sweet! I can’t even stand the national brands of ketchup. Why do Americans want their bread to be sweet? Why can’t people like me find bread that isn’t sweetened? Salad dressings are mostly obscene–and again, people are so stupid they seem to think that salads are good for them but don’t realize that they are pouring high fructose corn syrup (a disgusting invention!) all over those greens. Almost nothing my high-class butcher prepares seems edible to me, because it’s all too sweet. I can’t buy his barbeque or his stuffed pork chops–or any stuffing. He knows that Americans are addicted to “sweet”. A pizza place opened here recently announcing a “secret ingredient” that made their pizza better. As you have probably guessed, it was sugar (or corn syrup); their pizza is sweeter. Why should pizza be sweet?
11. As we age we have to eat less. I ate twice as much at age 25 as I do now. All my portions except fruit and vegetables are much smaller now. People between the ages of 20 and 40 gain one or two pounds every year and end up fat at 40. If you plow thru life eating what you did when you were young and vigorous, that’s what happens. One of the secrets of aging well–one that we should tell all our children–is that you must eat less every year. It’s not a great sacrifice: about 100 calories a day is what puts on that extra pound or two a year. And you can eat less and enjoy it more, if you choose your food carefully–don’t just treat it as fuel, but enjoy it–and take your time.
12. The offspring of older mothers are more inclined to be obese. Women are waiting longer and longer these days to have children.
13. There is some evidence that birth-control drugs encourage weight gain.
14. It takes energy to keep warm in the winter and cool in the summer, but keeping your environment the same temperature all year round keeps you from needing that energy–and we all spend far too little time outdoors. We should get out more, yes; but we should also save energy and use our own energy by air conditioning less–keep your house warmer in the summer and cooler in the winter. (In my case it’s 81 in summer and 68 in winter.)
15. Social pressure and shame used to make people feel embarrassed when they were gluttonous or ate a lot. When I was a child fat children were considered greedy and disgusting. But we are losing the power of social shame. We accept people who are fat pigs the way we accept single mothers–there’s no shame left. Shame is a very important social tool to help people behave! Most people need that help, because they have no will power–they are slaves of their appetites.
16. A few studies have concluded that eating after dark puts on more weight than eating in the daytime.
17. A 2016 scientific study argues that long exposure to polluted air adds to the risk of obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol.
18. The price of food is kept artificially low. Factory farms that treat animals like meat machines are a serious ethical issue. Our meat is wildly underpriced, because we don’t take the trouble to raise our animals humanely. The prices of fruits and vegetables are low (as is the flavor–you cannot buy a tasty apple in a supermarket) because they are grown in the desert in California and shipped across country (wasting water and energy–you want to save energy? Buy local produce when you can). Those fruits and vegetables have almost no flavor, because they are blown up with water (irrigation) and have to be picked before they are ripe. And that’s one reason we don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. If American fruits and vegetables had decent flavor–if they weren’t so bland–people might be more willing to substitute them for sweet snacks. It is very difficult to find good produce in a supermarket. It is almost impossible in the winter. (And if you find it in the winter–say, grapes from Chile–the shipping of it is adding to global warming.) No wonder people eat so badly.
Huge mechanized farms keep other prices low–farming hardly supports any families anymore. Almost every country on earth spends a larger portion of the family income on food than we do.
19. Food is everywhere in this country–on TV, on billboards, in magazines. Huge quantities of it are thrown away (something like 40%). The tempters are always after us in this land of plenty. Abundance is itself a temptation: there are far more tasty things to eat than I can possibly fit into a healthy diet. Because it is cheap, and because it is everywhere, we don’t hesitate–we eat more than we should, we eat whenever we feel like it (not appetite but the power of suggestion and advertising). We snack all the time. In the 1950s people ate meals; only growing children had “snacks”. But snacking is now the norm, and almost any meeting or social gathering has to have food. (Europeans think that is bizarre.) I never eat anything at those gatherings, and everyone thinks I’m anti-social. If they ask, I tell them I’m just not hungry–or “it’s not my mealtime”.
We don’t ask whether we can really afford to eat steak all the time. And that question is not personal, but social above all: it’s not a matter of can you afford the best but a matter of should you so shamelessly indulge yourself all the time. Is that good for our world? It’s certainly not good for you. And it is obvious that if you save steak and lobster for very special occasions you will enjoy them more! And fewer animals will die, there will be less waste, and the oceans will not be overfished.
Fat and Cholesterol
For a long time it was believed that eating fat made you fat–and that cholesterol levels had to be kept down, partly by eating a low-fat diet. We were all told that by our doctors. Another villain was salt: people were told to cut out salt. None of these ideas is true, and in the last 30 years there have been many articles that called them false.
It started in June of 1984, when the journal called Science published University of Oregon research based on more than 10,000 people that showed that people with the highest salt consumption had the lowest rate of high blood pressure. (I realize that there could be a chicken-and-egg problem here: people like me who have never had high blood pressure consume more salt because we know we have nothing to fear. It is also possible that a small percentage of the population is salt-sensitive and should go light on salt. But no one should try to eliminate salt from his diet–it’s an essential nutrient.)
As for low-fat diets, the extreme of cutting out fats is obviously foolish, since the body needs fats. And we all know by now that the fats in olive oil and nuts are good for you. But The New England Journal of Medicine reported not very long ago that dairy products, low-fat or not, have “little or no effect on weight”. Science News, in reporting that, suggests that too little sleep and too much TV watching have a much bigger effect.
Cholesterol is a type of fat, but two-thirds of the cholesterol in our bodies is manufactured by the liver (because we need it!) and is not a result of diet. A study of 520,000 men showed that there is no difference at all in survival rates between men with readings over 200 and readings below that. There is no relation, the researchers said, between cholesterol levels and any cause of death. In fact, the study (published in 1992 in the journal Circulation) showed that men who cut down on foods that were thought at the time to increase cholesterol had many more heart attacks than men who ate “normally” (no restrictions).
The Health and Science section of The Week reports what researchers from the Cleveland Clinic said: “For decades health experts have issued stark warnings that foods high in fat and cholesterol cause heart disease and other illnesses…. those guidelines, which prompted millions to shun red meat and eggs, were not supported by good evidence and were, in fact, in error.” A team of British scientists concluded that there was never any evidence that eating less fat would help reduce the risk of heart disease.
“The obesity epidemic began with the first dietary guidelines”, because people replaced fat with sugar and carbs. Dr Steven Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic said, “We got the dietary guidelines wrong. They’ve been wrong for decades.” The US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee no longer classifies cholesterol as “a nutrient of concern”, thus reversing four decades of government advice. “Eating foods high in cholesterol does not significantly raise cholesterol in the blood or increase the risk of heart disease.”
In December of 2012 Economist had a section on obesity. Among other things they said “a rush to low-fat foods in the 1980s did not bring a decline in obesity. Sugary drinks, which have no nutritional value, are a better target. It is clear that sugar is the culprit. Americans are fat because they eat and drink way too much sugar. “Low-fat” foods are often higher in sugar than normal foods; and because they are less satisfying and have been presented as “safer”, people eat too much of them. It’s even true of “light” and “low-calorie” beverages. And recent research shows that artificial sweeteners (replacing sugar) are just as deadly, because the body treats them as sugar. That’s how the food industry operates: get people to buy and consume more–far more than is good for them!
When I am accused of “racism” because I am critical of black “culture”, I answer something like this:
Ever since the Salem witch trials, Americans have been enthusiastic heresy hunters, despite our lip-service to freedom of thought and speech. And, as always, the heresy hunters are the ones who define what constitutes heresy. As the hysteria grows, guilt by association takes over. I said something that Karl Marx once said, so I am a communist. (But Karl Marx was sometimes right! And, by the way, I am old enough to remember that witch-hunt. I was told I was on an FBI list!) Or I said something that a racist once said, so that makes me a racist. (But there are many true facts that can be (ab)used to promote racism—and have been.)
I write a lot about the depravity of the mainstream American popular culture. Is it surprising that I don’t exempt the black subculture from such criticism? I write pages about marketing classical music. Is it surprising that I mock the condescending way it is marketed to blacks? Above all, I tell the truth and do not bother with “political correctness”. The truth is not flattering to the main culture, and it is not flattering to the black subculture. Most of what was quoted (out of context) is undeniable, even if, like so many Americans, you consider it nasty to point out that the emperor has no clothes. Much less flattering things could be said—and are true—but I have never dealt with “the racial problem” in my writing.
I wanted to say to my friends something that explains my whole basis for living—something that I am deeply committed to all my life, as long as it lasts.
I believe that where God’s spirit is in them, people have two things that no one else really has: a nose for truth and liberal love.
A nose for truth means we can see thru the propaganda that most of our fellow human beings swallow and believe in. We can certainly see thru the people in power at any given moment. We are not taken in by the mountains of advertising and political propaganda that this country produces. We will never be nationalists or obedient consumers.
Everything in my life should be captive to love, determined by love. Love must be in charge of every relationship. Love is not only the source of sexuality and the basis for real joy; love is even the key to all knowledge and understanding—a secret only a few people ever figure out. Love is necessary for full and essential knowledge—of music, of people, of great ideas.
Liberal love is love that is generous, as God’s love is. Of course, we can never be as generous and liberal with our love as God is. But we know that sharing and dividing love never weakens it but rather strengthens it. The more you love, the more love you have to give. God recharges your batteries. Love is his business. The more people I love, the more love I have for each of them. God sees to that; the expansion of love is the major divine activity.
This is a basic conviction I have lived by all my life. Love wants to be spread around—demands it. Love everyone you can (some people make it really hard). Strict monogamy—investing all your love in one person—is as foolish as investing all your money in one place. “Cast your bread upon the waters…”
Love is of God, so it is infinite. It only expands as it spreads to new people. It is not limited; love by its very nature is not limited—because it is of God. When you love you are drawing on something infinite and endless. It never runs out, never runs down, never runs thin. It is always full and rich, from a limitless supply. It enlarges itself constantly, expands gladly—forever.
PS: There is no tactful way to tell people what they don’t want to hear, and frankness is always better than dissembling. I decided long ago to live by that, and I do. The best people are not hurt by it but strengthened by it. People who need their egos coddled are weak people, and it is not my place to be their psychologist.
I don’t believe I am by nature hard or insensitive, but by golly I know this is one of the important lessons I learned in life.
If you try to cloak what people don’t want to hear in pleasant garb they will take the pleasant garb and not hear what they don’t want to hear. That is ALWAYS what happens. If you want criticism to be effective, it has to be blunt. I have seen this again and again. The “tactful” people are better liked but ineffective. I have never needed to be liked.
Why I Consider the USA Perverse.
1. We know so much, but we don’t act on what we know.
For example, we know that individuals in automobiles is the stupidest and least efficient form of transportation and kills thousands every year (about 40,000 in this country). We know that millions of our drivers should not be driving—including most of the elderly. We know that it is wrong to force them—and everyone, really—to buy and drive cars, but we do. We know that dependable public transport at frequent intervals works really well (you don’t have to consult a schedule). But we don’t have it except in a handful of cities.
2. We know that SUVs are inexcusable and unethical, but our laws still give SUVs a loophole so they can avoid gas mileage requirements, and people still buy them. The roads are full of them, and they are a menace.
3. We know that driving while talking on the phone is as dangerous as driving drunk—and a hands-free phone still takes the attention off the road. But unless they are forced to, people won’t give up talking on the phone while they drive. Americans have to be made to do the right thing; that’s why this country has so many laws. The people are too infantile to do the right thing without being forced.
4. We know that slow drivers are the worst drivers, but our police spend all their time persecuting faster drivers.
5. Four-way stop signs are the height of stupidity, and no other country on earth has them.
6. American beer is tasteless, and the beers with the least taste completely dominate the market. That may be because
7. Americans are gullible and believe their advertising.
8. Or because this is the land of the bland. Americans don’t like anything with strong flavor except salt and sugar.
9. Americans won’t use the word “toilet” and insist on “rest room”, which it is not.
10. Americans tend to worship their flag, which strikes everyone else in the world as very silly. The same for the way we trot out that dreadful song about the flag on all occasions (`Star-Spangled Banner’).
11. Our sex laws are ridiculous—especially our assumption that anyone under 18 is completely innocent and unable to give consent. The age of reason was set at 14 in most of human history. That’s the age when people may be held responsible for their actions.
12. Our prudishness about the body is legendary. Would any other country consider the nude body pornographic? (not counting Muslims)
13. Even religious people from other countries find religion in the USA pretty dreadful—and TV religion worst of all. Intellectuals have always had a hard time understanding why America is one of the world’s most religious countries. They look at popular culture and see something almost wholly secularized and sex-obsessed. That hardly seems compatible with or encouraging to religion. They look at religion itself in the USA: televangelists, scandals, cheesy music, and endless sleaze.
But what they miss is that the very cheapening of religion that turns them off attracts the masses of Americans. If religion is sleazy and racy and full of hype and scandal, so are the TV shows people love to watch (even “the news”). Where else in the world has religion popularized itself more completely than here?—from its moral assumptions and obsessions to its blind patriotism and its music? American religion is wildly successful because it is a dumbed-down, raunchy version of the real thing. It appeals to people because it talks their language and reduces everything in Christianity to the “popular” level.
14. We know that the vast majority of crimes in this country are committed by young black males, but we are not allowed to say so—let alone consider its implications.
15. We know that television promotes violence and fear, but we do nothing about it. We are so afraid of “censorship” that we tolerate criminal irresponsibility on the part of broadcasters (radio too).
16. It is a fact that lack of sleep disrupts learning, but we still start our school days as early as 7 AM, even in high schools. No one is rested, everyone is restless and brain-dead, and we wonder why we have discipline problems and why our students learn so little.
17. We also know that lack of sleep promotes obesity, but we are all sleeping less than we did 20 years ago, and obesity is epidemic, even among high schoolers.
18. “Swing Shift” work hours are clearly detrimental to the health of anyone who has to work them—even cancer rates are higher—but we still force them on workers.
19. We know that many foods are bad for us, but we allow companies to get rich promoting those foods, even to our children.
20. We know that fruits and vegetables are good for us, but we eat very little of either. That is partly because they taste terrible, because they are not locally or naturally grown. Tomatoes are a good example—most healthful, but in the USA they are all grown artificially and “ripened” artificially (picked raw) and shipped for thousands of miles, so what is for sale everywhere is unripe tomatoes colored red. How can anyone eat them? I suppose that’s why people pour piles of gooey sweet dressing on their salads. Our supposedly advanced civilization has brought us the worst-tasting fruits and vegetables in history.
21. We know that we have to cut back on petroleum consumption, but we continue to ship most of the nation’s produce across the whole country from California by truck. Asinine.
22. We know that exercise is good for us, but we won’t walk anywhere. We won’t even let our children walk home from school. We have to have two cars in every family so we can pick them up at school. (Watch any school at closing time. It’s so stupid!)
23. We have a winner-takes-all approach to marketing. Unless almost everyone wants something it is hard—almost impossible—to find. And what “everyone” wants is what advertising has taught them to want. Everyone buys “low-fat” products, to the point where you cannot find such things as normal yogurt—it’s all “low-fat” or “no fat”. Of course, all these low-fat products are unsatisfying, so people eat more of them, excusing it because they are low fat! The supermarkets are crammed with low-fat junk, and everyone who eats it just gets fatter and fatter, because they have not learned to curb their appetite. “Low-fat” becomes another excuse for self-indulgence and is presented that way to the consumer.
Similar is the stupid “low-calorie” and “sugar-free” business. Since items of that sort are so unsatisfying, they make people eat more. It has been proved that they stimulate the appetite and that people who buy them actually gain weight.
The corporations would rather sell more of fewer products, so they spend a lot of effort on getting everyone to buy the same things. If they can talk 80 or 90% of the public into buying it, they can ignore the rest of us—and they do. I have found that almost everything I prefer has become impossible to find, because I am completely isolated from “the media” and advertising, so what I want is what I really want, not what I have been taught to think I want. Even in clothing, I cannot find what I want. Someone decides for us what colors we can wear (for years no American could wear brown—there was nothing brown available) and what styles. I hate floppy bathing suits, but they are the only kind around. I like yellow corn, but even local farmers are all growing white, in response to popular taste (sweeter and blander). Most of the population has been habituated to junk in every field. They have made addicts out of most of the people. For example, “high fructose corn syrup” is less satisfying and more addictive than sugar; and it has replaced sugar in almost everything you buy. There was always too much sugar and salt in everything, but sugar is at least natural.
24. We say we believe in the humane treatment of animals, but the nation’s meat and poultry is mostly raised in inhumane factory farms that we should all be deeply ashamed of.
25. We say we are a free country, but at the slightest threat we give up our freedoms. We have often been close to a police state. Our police are notorious for police-state tactics. We are a culture ruled by fear, not love of freedom. Fear rules the media and determines the laws and the way we live.
26. We worship size. Corporations and retail chains get bigger and bigger. And what do we gain? We lose. We lose any influence we once had on what they carry, on their policies. They are too big to care about us as individuals. The big record companies put almost all the small record stores out of business. It was deliberate. That left us with the equivalent of Walmart record stores, and naturally sooner or later they will stop carrying the music we care about, because their entire business model is based on selling millions of the same items. So what advantage is size to the consumer? There is no advantage to us—only to the corporations. The more we see the loss of small stores and middle men between the consumer and the corporation, the more power we know the corporation has accrued. While we were irrationally worried about the power of big government, the country was taken over by big corporations—who are much more powerful than any government and were certainly not elected. So much for democracy—a big joke!
27. Our popular culture is utterly superficial, vulgar, and obnoxious. American television is the cheesiest. So is the American Christmas. Americans resent intellectuals and tend to vote for people that strike them as “like me”—that is, as stupid as they are—people who are not intelligent enough to make them feel inferior. So our political life has become as shabby as our culture in general. We are ruled by liars and incompetents.
28. Americans have the illusion that this is the freest country on earth and the richest. We are certainly not the freest—not by a long shot—and our per capita income makes us eighth richest. International ratings put us 13th to 16th in freedom indexes (behind almost all of Europe), and no American city ranks among the best in the world for quality of life.
29. And we are 49th in literacy—49th! Maybe that’s why most Americans don’t know the simplest facts and are easily led and made afraid. We are a fearful and timid people, mentally slow, having been robbed of our mental acuity by sitting passively in front of a television set for most of our lives.
30. Beauty has no importance here; it’s America the Ugly. Americans look like slobs, live like slobs. Our streets are ugly, and every view is seen thru wires and poles. Our buildings are almost all strictly utilitarian and have no human or aesthetic value. This is an ugly country because the way it looks is determined almost entirely by commercial interests, and they don’t care about aesthetics. Americans have to travel to Europe to see beautiful cities and towns.
Our “decorations” (when we have them) are gaudy and garish. As a people we have no taste, no sense of beauty. Visit a poor country like Mexico or India and marvel at the countless touches of beauty that you’ll never see at home. The people are even far better dressed.
31. We are becoming third world in many ways. Many a writer has commented how advanced Europe and much of Asia is technically compared to the USA. Much of our public technology is primitive, from toilets to traffic lights. Our cities seem old and in disrepair. There are miles of ruins and abandoned buildings. We are getting as loud as third world countries: blasting auto horns at all hours and people yelling rather than talking—well, we are getting lower class, and loudmouths give away their class right away. Class has little to do with money; even Americans with plenty of money strike the rest of the world as low class. Our rudeness and lack of consideration for others is becoming legendary.
32. We have always thought we could bully the rest of the world, so of course we are not any better liked than the average bully. Why does this surprise us? What’s more, we are so convinced of our greatness and righteousness that we think people should be grateful to be bullied by us.
All my life it has bothered me to be an American, and all my life I have hoped to get out of this country for good; but I seem stuck here. I am extremely grateful for the wonderful friends who make it bearable.
All my life I have also been ideologically an anarchist. I wish there were no police, for example. I don’t want to be policed, and I’ll take my chances with my neighbors. Never have the police been of any use to me whatsoever—just trouble. Any contact I have ever had with them has been distasteful. But the anarchist’s dilemma is that very few of his fellow citizens are capable of intelligent thought and wise decisions. In this country, at least, they are like children, and they must be forced to do the right thing. (On the other hand, since we are treated like children, we never learn to grow up—it’s a vicious circle.) We have far too many laws, but the American people may have brought this upon themselves because they cannot control themselves. They cannot control their foolishness, their self-indulgence, their rebellion. They can’t even control their most basic animal appetites. So how can we have a society without laws and cops? I’m pretty sure that most northern European countries can come closer to the anarchist’s goal than we can in the USA. The police are almost invisible in many of those places. They are not needed. To me those countries are utopias that make this country look like hell.
Americans are a people of uneducated, unsophisticated tastes, as is obvious from:
the music they listen to
the art they like
the books they read & don’t
the food they eat—and the quantity
the beer they drink
the people they vote for (generally)
the cars they drive
the way they drive
the movies they watch
their TV and other entertainment
their religious practices
the way they dress
the way their cities and buildings look
Letter to a Friend in his mid-90s
February 9, 2008
You are still there, and I am glad to get a Christmas letter from you every year. As you know, my parents died at the age of 80 in 1996 and 97; yet you have always been a bit older than they were, and you go right on. Of course I’m glad. Just your presence in this world makes it a little more tolerable—a little nicer—for me.
I often wonder whether “whom the gods love die young” and it’s only the tough who survive—or whether, since the Old Testament patriarchs viewed a long life as a special blessing from God, we should too. I have a cockatiel who just turned 26. Normal life span for such a bird is 10-15 years—less out in nature, of course. But this little bird, though he has probably had a stroke and he doesn’t fly anymore, seems very pleased with life—with sounds,with us, with food, with the other bird. We were urged four years ago to put him to death (after all, a bird who can’t fly must be
miserable?) but we are glad we did not. He is still enjoying life, despite some handicaps. I believe you are too. Despite the shadows you mentioned so briefly I can read the gratitude to God in your letter.
I recently told a close friend that I thought gratitude the driving motive of the Christian life. He is of Pilgrim Holiness background and immediately said, “you’ve always read too much Calvin”. Ha! Calvin read too much Paul, maybe. Anyway, you are one of the people I am grateful to God for.
Donald R Vroon
This wonderful man waited patiently for release from his worn-out body and finally found it in September 2010 at the age of 96.
In 2006 on a trip to Scotland the combination of jet lag and swollen prostate became a problem. In a restaurant in Edinburgh my Scottish cousins wondered about me because I kept going back to the men’s room. In August of 2009 I was flying home from Santa Fe, and there were airport delays and uncomfortable flights. By the time I got back to Cincinnati I was simply unable to urinate, though I really had to, and the pain was unbearable. A trip to the Emergency Room of a hospital was the only solution.
I began the usual prostate drugs. I hated Finasteride and refused to take it. I continued for many years on Uroxatrol, an alpha blocker. All drugs have side effects, but no one admits that Uroxatrol, by loosening sphincter muscles, eventually leads to acid reflux. (The only place I found this acknowledged was the Harvard Medical School website. There seemed to be a conspiracy of silence.) In April of 2013 a doctor determined I had acid reflux and suggested that an alpha blocker was the reason. Then I decided that I must get off the drug.
But it is not easy getting off of any drug; the industry wants your business. It took until December to get a procedure done that might allow me to live without the drug. The December 2 TUNA was a spectacular failure—my doctor’s word. It made everything much worse. It can take 3 months to “work”, but it never did. For the next 4 months I was a slave of catheters. I had to insert a catheter two to four times a day, because I could not empty my bladder in the usual way. I had to carry catheters to restaurants and concerts, to church and in the car. I had infections, pain, and fevers. In the spring of 2014 I tried to find a place that would perform a HOLEP, the ideal solution—instant relief and no recovery period. The only place that had an opening before late June (and I WOULD NOT wait until then) would not accept Medicare or even cash, but demanded a Cadillac-style insurance that I could never afford. (That was the Mayo Clinic.)
So I decided on a simple, traditional prostatectomy: a removal of essentially the whole gland. After all, like some people’s appendixes, this had become nothing but a liability to me—and like the appendix, one can live very well without it. It’s a drastic procedure but probably the best for a very large prostate. It requires real surgery and a hospital stay and, like most surgery, an extended recovery period. But, as the doctor (University of Cincinnati head of Urology Surgery) said to me, “After this, you’ll never need to worry about your prostate again—for the rest of your life.” I had been worrying about the prostate for at least 8 years, and it had limited me a lot. I had a father, uncles, and grandfather who had suffered prostate cancer; and there was always the nagging thought that I might be next, though doctors assured me that I had no cancer.
But March 31, 2014 that was all lifted from me and I was set free from my prostate. True, I had my first hospital stay—a prisoner for 4 days, with nothing to do but sleep. (I would never resort to television.) But the day I left the hospital I immediately returned to the life I love—and the food, beer, wine, and pipe tobacco that make it so pleasant. I took no pain medication, because I hate the way that makes me feel. I bounced back naturally.
If you have BPH (swollen prostate), here are some things I learned in those years that just might help you.
1. Exercise makes it worse. On the days I swam, I got up more often to urinate that night. Maybe the body simply wants to flush out the (waste) byproducts of exercise? I am thirsty for hours after exercise, no matter how much I drink. The amount that I drink makes no difference to how often I urinate. It just adds quantity each time. Maybe swimming stimulates (massages) the prostate, causing it to act up? Maybe it prevents it from relaxing? That is, when exercizing one tightens the muscles.
2. Yet circulation is a key thing. If I could not urinate, running in place helped. (Exercise earlier in the day is no help.) Trouble is, that wakes you up.
3. Antacids make it worse. They act as diuretics, and when you take them late at night you will get up more often.
4. Antihistamines make it worse. The worst is Benadryl, but Dimenhydrinate is also bad (Dramamine—a drug I really like). Least problem for me was chlorpheniramine maleate. Just one of those (4 mg) makes me sleep like a baby, but it also dries me out, so it’s less useful in winter.
5. I always used to take an antihistamine to sleep. I do not naturally want to sleep—could easily go all night, any night. I need something to make me drowsy. But I found that almost anything that made me drowsy also worsened the prostate problem (for example, valerian root). Perhaps it dulled my awareness of having to urinate until the pressure made it difficult.
6. My brother and I both think beer helps—does not worsen the problem, even if one urinates a bit more.
7. Saw palmetto was no help to me and dulled my sensitivity.
8. Melatonin is a wonderful natural hormone. It helps us sleep and promotes good sex and offers some prostate relief. I have always thought that prostate swelling is a function of reduced testosterone as we age (only some doctors agree). Melatonin helps regulate the other hormones, including testosterone. The sleep it promotes encourages production of many helpful hormones that seem to decline with age.
9. Many ads for bladder and prostate remedies (and the Johns Hopkins men’s health bulletin) tell us there are trigger foods to avoid—foods that stimulate the bladder or prostate. But I have never seen a list of such foods or found it to be true.
10. Still, I was more liable to have prostate problems in the night after I had eaten out. When I eat at home, I know what I eat. Could there be something in some food that makes it worse?
11. Prostate problems are definitely fewer in warm weather, worse in cold. It could be because we are more relaxed in warm weather, less “tight”. Cold weather makes one tense up. Cold is itself a kind of “stress”. It is also true that prostate cancer is highest in northern areas—in the US in the northern tier states (as well as where blacks are most of the population). From Ohio to Florida the incidence is much lower. In tropical countries it is lower yet.
12. Uroxatral is very helpful up to a point—and the best of the alpha-blockers, with the fewest side effects—but all alpha blockers have the side effect noted above.
13. Finasteride (Proscar) and Avodart help shrink the prostate. Proscar also reduces hair loss on your scalp—and it’s generic and cheap. But both put a huge damper on your sex life, because they interfere with testosterone. I would rather have an operation than take either drug.
14. The most common mechanical procedure that really helps is TURP. But you are almost guaranteed abnormal ejaculations, and impotence is also very common. It also requires a hospital stay, and it’s not ideal for a very big prostate.
15. Never scratch an anal itch; it aggravates prostate problems.
You are more likely to develop prostate cancer if you have male pattern baldness, less likely if your prostate is big and swollen. Sunshine definitely prevents prostate cancer. Take Vitamin D in winter.
Secrets of Looking Much Younger than You Are
1. Never wear a suit and tie, but don’t look like a slob.
2. Don’t cut your hair too short or wear it too long. Long hair tends to split and look greyer.
3. Always get 8 hours of sleep a night.
4. Never use an alarm clock or device. Wake up naturally.
5. Wash seldom. Never wash your face. Take one or two showers a week but never with hot water. Don’t use normal soaps and shampoos. Don’t wash your hair apart from the showers (or less).
6. Eat a little less at every meal every year. Never gain weight.
7. Move fast; don’t be lazy and slow. Don’t be sedentary. Avoid TV.
8. Read every day to keep your mind young.
9. Stay healthy. Sickness ages you—as do drunkenness and debauchery.
10. Have youthful parents—or at least one. Maybe this should be No. 1, but it’s not really in your control. You can at least live and associate with youthful people. (And, of course, to be “youthful” it is not enough—and not even required—that they be young.)
What’s Wrong with Evangelicalism?
by Donald Vroon
1. Perhaps the core failure is the failure to understand justification by faith. “Simul justus et peccator” (Luther) and “sin boldly” (Augustine) make no sense to American Christians.
Life was not meant to be a bitter struggle. We are not meant to live in “fear” of God, always worried about offending him. That constricts life and makes it narrow and obsessive. Also, if you live so as to avoid sin—if that is your supreme goal—you are living a very selfish and self-centered life. If your good conscience is all-important, you will never love others as you could if you became more self-forgetful.
If you always need to justify yourself—to be “right”—you have fallen into Phariseeism (a failure to understand grace). And you will live by rigid rules (law) rather than by love. Nothing could be farther from the spirit of Jesus. So this failure leads to a kind of legalism.
2. A Docetism that implies that the physical realm is expendable and only the spiritual realm counts. Eating, sleeping, and sex become major matters of conscience instead of natural acts that bodily creatures take part in. They have misunderstood the apostle Paul’s “make no provision for the flesh” and treat the body as if its needs were illegitimate. They are incapable of living naturally; life never flows for them. They are always morbidly introspective; because the body has its needs and demands, and they don’t know how to “overcome” them, so they are afraid of them, and they often “fall”. That results in more rigid rules and disciplines. As I’ve said often, people get the religion they think they need. Evangelicals think they need a pretty strict religion. Of course, they think that’s just human nature, so that everyone needs a strict religion. But oddly enough, Jesus gave us quite the opposite! They misunderstand him because of their own needs. They create a religion to serve their needs—people always do.
3. Exaggerated piety. The piety of serious American Christians is grossly exaggerated, and they seem in competition to win the “I’m a better Christian than you” prize. Who can sacrifice the most? Who can “keep his mind on Christ” the most? Who can “witness” the most? Who has overcome the most problems solely with the help of Jesus? “Jesus” is the all-powerful answer to every problem, and almost all the newer “Christian music” gushes with “Jesus, I love you”. Maybe we should call this “distorted piety”; it is exaggerated well into the distortion range! It is weird and irrational, this need to conjure up great spiritual experiences and dedication. It is also self-centered, self-righteous, self-justifying, and the opposite of justification by faith.
4. Sentimentality and subjectivism. Exaggerated piety and Docetism naturally leads to this kind of “me and Jesus” and “personal relationship” stuff. There’s a whiff of suppressed sexuality in it, too—more than a whiff in the many hymns by Victorian women (intimacy with “precious Jesus”). We can’t really have that kind of “personal relationship” with Jesus. What he accomplished made a huge change in our formal relationship with God, and we can follow his teachings, but we can’t “know” God or Jesus as we know our family or friends—that involves immense self-deception.
And, by the way, there is not an ounce of sentimentality in the Bible! How then did American religion get so dreadfully sentimental?
5. Ideological thinking. Evangelicals think like Marxists—ideologically. Everything they read or see is interpreted thru the one ideology, and everything is judged by that. They wear tinted glasses. This results in such nonsense as the Christian Yellow Pages. You wouldn’t trust a butcher, a doctor, or a psychologist who wasn’t a “Christian”; and such a person wouldn’t interpret everything by the ideology. One evangelical assured me that we must elect as president a “true believer” or the country will go astray.
Martin Luther once said that if you want to buy a good pair of shoes you simply look for a good shoemaker—you don’t ask about his religious beliefs.
And where you have ideology you have propaganda. Most of what is said in evangelical churches is propaganda. It leads people away from serious thought and critical evaluation of ideas into the realm of cheerleading and sloganeering.
6. Patriotism. This is one of the oddest things, and I can figure out no possible way to arrive at gung-ho Americanism from Christianity. It must just be another case of religion baptising what people like and approve of—religion as self-justification. Nor can I imagine any possible way to justify the consumer society, capitalism, and individualism on a Christian basis. And why have evangelicals been republicans and conservatives when Jesus was obviously a liberal?
7. Idolatry of the family. Jesus never married; neither did St Paul and most of the other apostles. King David loved Jonathan more than any of his wives. Jesus knew that the family could be a distraction and that concern for your family can even be a refined form of selfishness. It is impossible to find this idolatry of the family in the Bible.
8. Conformity. American Christianity seeks to make everyone conform to a pattern of life that is more a product of American culture than of Christianity. Christianity itself posits freedom and questions whether one Christian can legitimately judge the decisions and life of another. God does not lead us all alike—after all, he did not make us all alike.
9. Arrogance about God’s will. It’s this arrogance that produces the conformity. How can these people be so sure that they know what God wants? If God is anything like what the Bible pictures, he is pretty much beyond human comprehension—and the smarmy false prophets who presume to speak for him are fakes and are actually serving other gods. Evangelicals, like Catholics, claim to know God much better than a mere human being can. That is not because they are saints; it is because they are arrogant—or insecure. That is, they cannot live with uncertainty. That is sad, because life is full of uncertainty.
10. Worship. Evangelical worship is a disaster. It is all designed to make people feel good (sentimentality and subjectivism again). The attempt to make worship friendly, informal, and intimate is misbegotten. That is not what worship is for. Nothing is gained by attempts to update and personalize worship. Subjective sentiments do not validate worship. Centuries of Christian tradition are far more important. In a terminally chatty culture we need to be saved from all that is chatty—even from the magnetic personality of the great preacher. Worship must be based on the nature of God, not on our preferences and tastes. We must offer him the best that humanity has produced in language, prayer, and music—not the garbage of American popular culture.
If you get to know Christianity in its more mature forms—as in Europe, where it penetrates deep into everything—you will find none of these American heresies. I was fortunate as a child to grow up among Dutch immigrants. They were Calvinists, and thus they were protected from the shallowness and errors of American evangelicalism. Today, most of their descendants have melted into the American way, I’m sad to say. But there are still some “classical Christians” (as I call them) in the USA—mostly Lutherans (German and Scandinavian roots), Episcopalians (Anglophiles), the Eastern Orthodox groups, and a tiny few of the Reformed (Dutch, mostly).
Jesus was a liberal
Issues of social justice are ethical issues and thus issues for Christian ethics. The Bible is full of discussions and references to social ethics. Politics should also be concerned with these matters, if it is to be just and ethical. But it is not mixing in politics for a Christian or a Christian leader to think about these matters and how our faith leads us. Anything can be made a political issue. The fact that someone makes the way we treat people who are different from us a political matter doesn’t change the fact that it’s a religious matter—something we must be concerned about for religious reasons.
Here’s a partial list of social-ethical-religious issues:
health care and its cost
welfare: support for people who are unable to work
crime and punishment
the severity or leniency of laws
sex laws and standards
the control of wealth
checks on the power of corporations
stewardship of the earth
war and peace
the education of children
It is the religious person’s responsibility to think about all these matters in the spirit of his faith. He must do what he can to steer discussion and votes to the ethical side of these matters. It is the clear responsibility of religious leaders to teach their people how to think about these matters from a (Judeo-) Christian perspective. To avoid “talking politics”—to avoid something just because someone has made it political—is to refuse to follow Jesus (and if you’re Jewish, the Bible is deeply concerned with social justice).
So let’s have none of this nonsense about “I wish our clergy would steer clear of political issues”. They shouldn’t, and they can’t—and neither can you. And if you are a serious Christian it will make a real difference in your political beliefs if you let it.
Here’s something I wrote on the subject in 1972.
A recurring complaint in all the literature of the “religious right” is that the clergy and the national boards are too liberal. It is certainly true that the educated clergy are almost always more liberal than their congregations. Neither they nor the national boards represent the political mentality of most of their constituents. With this admission two questions arise: Should they? And why don’t they?
The religious right simply assumes that they should, presumably because (1) those who pay the piper have a right to call the tune, and (2) representative democracy demands it. The first is a very worldly, secular idea—one that cannot possibly arise from a Biblical conception of the ministry, but only from capitalism ( the world of business). Even in secular employment there is a limit to this: most of us have heard of integrity, and have little respect for the person who sells out to his employer and has no voice of his own.
As for (2), the only response is that there’s no reason on earth why a clergyman should represent his congregation. His job is to represent the word of God—to his congregation or denomination. American Christianity would be in far better shape if more ministers had the courage to do this! As things are, we continue to “accumulate teachers to suit our own likings” (1 Tim 4.3). Only the enemies of the word of God support the spineless prophets who say what they want to hear (see, for example, 1 Kgs 22). And as in Biblical times there are plenty of politically astute “prophets” around who actually reverse the whole idea of prophet and support (or refuse to challenge) the wishes and ideals of the people they are called to lead. Why are conservative churches growing? Largely, I’m afraid, because in the free market of churchianity people can easily find a nest that leaves their feathers unruffled.
But truth is not democratic. There is nothing Biblical about the assumption that the majority must be right—or even that the stance of the church should reflect the convictions of the majority. When I entered the ministry I became aware that one element of “the world” I most definitely had to leave behind to serve God was the success ethic. The last people I wanted to emulate were “successful ministers”, because it was all too obvious how almost all of them got that way: flattery. Flattery is soothing people, saying what they want to hear, making them feel virtuous and “right”. It is diametrically opposed to the word of God which cuts and slashes at our smug assumptions of righteousness—at our political system, our economics, our way of life. It is very sad to see how stiff-necked our people have become. They will not hear the word of God from his prophets. They will hear only what they want to hear. What a perfect recipe for complacency and spiritual disaster!
Back to our questions. Why are the clergy so liberal? Even this question must be examined for hidden assumptions before it can be answered. There is often the assumption that “liberal” and “conservative” are religiously indifferent, a matter of choice, equally viable for the Christian. Democracy has deceived us again: the marketplace approach to truth won’t hold water. Conservatives always want to separate Christianity and politics, because they know perfectly well that when the two are brought together the result is “liberal”. This is not the result of chance or perversity; it’s the only possible result.
Your “ultra-liberal” minister may share many of your political inclinations. He may very well wish that the racial problem would just go away. In moments of weakness he may take great comfort in America’s military might. He may secretly wish he didn’t have to pay so many tax dollars to support the welfare system. He may even feel resentment toward blacks because of affirmative action. His natural inclinations may be pretty much the same as his church members’.
But he also knows Christianity; it’s his life. The prophets, the New Testament, the “mind of Christ”, the Holy Spirit: all these gang up on him and refuse to let him accept his natural inclinations. He cannot baptize his resentment; he cannot justify it or nurture it. His loyalty to the Word means that he must pray for love to overcome all these feelings. This is exactly what Paul means by the conflict between the flesh and the Spirit. It is also precisely what many conservatives denounce as “soft-headed liberalism”. Sorry. Jesus demands that I exchange my (natural, fleshly) hard head (heart) for a soft one! He insists that I be motivated by compassion, not resentment. If he lives in me I cannot feed anyone’s resentments. He insists that instead of blaming people for their condition I feel for them; indeed, feel with them the pain of their condition.
The simplicity and clarity of truth is often a stumbling-block. The simple truth is that Jesus Christ was a liberal and those who follow him are bound to be as well. (Ernst Kasemann begins his book “Jesus Means Freedom” with a most convincing chapter: “Was Jesus a Liberal?”) The Bible is a liberal manifesto, and those who study it most and know it best end up thinking that way. Liberals themselves might prefer to say “sincere Christians differ” (relativism being a particularly serious danger of liberalism), but when pressed most of them would admit that they could never adopt a conservative stance in faithfulness to Jesus Christ. The American mind balks, but “liberal” and “conservative” are not equal options for the Christian; in the Bible almost all the good guys are liberal and the conservatives come off smelling pretty rancid.
To follow Christ is to deny our “natural”, self-interested way of thinking. It’s a process of repentance: revision, turning from what we naturally think and want to a new way of thinking and wanting. We cannot follow Jesus and think like everyone else. The American Way of Life is not the way of the cross! If we take him seriously, our thinking and our lives will be radically different (even “radical”). As Americans we were all raised with a fairly blind patriotism and a strong belief in works (the merit system, earning your way, etc). The natural man is no liberal! He finds it easy to mock the liberal, because so many of the liberal’s ideas and programs are not in his own self-interest. The liberal knows that; he just happens to believe in something beyond self-interest.
It won’t do to blame our “liberal” educational institutions for the clear evidence that education liberalizes people (to do so is to assume the noxious doctrine that people are only products of their environment). A simpler explanation comes to mind: “the truth will make you free”. Truth is liberating and liberalizing. Education is by nature pretty destructive of the authoritarian mentality; higher education is worthless if it doesn’t get us rethinking many of our cherished presuppositions. Besides, as George Buttrick used to say, the young conservative is an affront to nature”.
By the way, we are talking about mentalities. Obviously there is nothing in Christianity to force anyone to swallow the whole liberal agenda. There have been some colossally misguided liberal programs (though their heart was usually in the right Place), and actual politics becomes a terribly relative matter. Political expediency and appearances may have more to do with programs like affirmative action and bilingual education than any realistic assessment of the needs of the people involved.
Harvey Hornstein’s book “Cruelty and Kindness” reports a great deal of research shows that people who describe themselves as conservative are much less likely to help someone if that person is different in some way—e.g., black. The author shows that the “us vs, them” mentality is basic to the conservative mind-set, while an inclusive mentality (”we’re all in this together”) goes along with liberalism. After reading Hornstein’s book I sat down and made my own chart of the two mentalities and added in the Biblical mentality to see what correlations I could find (see box).
The most unholy alliance America has ever seen is that of “conservative” Christians who claim the Biblical tradition and the conservative political mentality, which is utterly unbiblical. There is no basis for such an alliance in the Biblical tradition. The only basis is the authoritarian attitudes of the people who hold to both traditions. Apparently they don’t realize how destructive the two traditions are of each other. At worst the devil has blinded their minds. At best, they are following Jesus only so far: as if he has nothing to say about our political views.
Conservatives have always held that their view is the only one that is realistic about human nature. Liberalism outside the Jewish Christian tradition may indeed seem sentimental, but that tradition gives it a strong basis in the greatest reality of all: God’s love and grace.
1. Every human being is of tremendous value. I must love and help my neighbor, even my enemy. Questions of race, class or nation do not affect this value.
2. Concern for the non-competitive (the poor and the weak) is an obsession in the Bible.
3. There is no interest in the survival of wealth or business; only in the common good.
4. The Biblical mind is certainly not individualist, though the effect of Biblical teaching is to give more value to the individual as such than ever before.
5. Social justice and compassion are the Biblical themes; the Bible refuses the idea that a free market system is in itself a just system.
6. The powerful New Testament emphasis on freedom rules out the authoritarian mind-set for believers and groups of believers. Jesus was not kind about people in authority! It is hard to imagine an early Christian – supporting police, military, and rulers the way some “Christians” do today.
7. Jesus certainly appeared soft to the leaders of his society; he constantly and consistently weakened the rigidity of the law, reduced its hardness, lightened the burden. He yielded all the absolutes before human need.
8. Property is downgraded, though not eliminated (as in communism). Persons and their needs are foremost.
9. To condemn sinners is to condemn ourselves. Jesus acted to help—to increase their self-respect, rather than to punish.
10. We are taught that the only value of money is the good we can do with it. It is a distortion to hoard it, to accumulate it, to find security in it.
11. Self-interest may be what moves most people, but it is unworthy in God’s people.
12. Jesus was certainly the least defensive and most open and accepting of human beings. He seemed to encourage the same in his followers, even if it leads to a cross.
13. Grace is free. Thank God he does not give us what we deserve!
Why Libertarian Views are Impossible for a Christian
1. People are not generally wise and do not generally think very far into the future. If we leave it to the individual to take care of things like hospital bills and retirement income, most people won’t. And when they face starvation or death from lack of health care, are we going to just let them (and maybe their children) die? “Too bad you didn’t think ahead.” Such a response is hard-hearted and impossible for a follower of Jesus.
2. Libertarianism is based on a false ideology: every man for himself—radical individualism. Christians are communalists. We care for each other and we believe that people must care for each other and help each other. Radical individualism is heartless and deadly. It leaves Lazarus sitting in the street, begging in vain.
3. People must be made to do the right thing. And most of them know it. They can’t even handle the obvious things that are in their own interest. They can’t control their appetites, they can’t resist advertising, they can’t lose weight, and they can’t save money. Social Security works because they have no choice in the matter. That’s a good thing. Health care can only work on that same basis. (The Medicare system is based on that.)
4. It is a basic Christian principle that we must all take responsibility for each other—that no man is an island. It is obvious that where the culture is profoundly and historically Christian (as in Europe) caring for one another is a normal part of life—and of government. We cannot leave people to “sink or swim”. Too many will sink. In a rich society that is unforgiveable.
A LETTER TO THE CINCINNATI LIBRARY
I have lived in Cincinnati since 1985, and in that time I have been in the library at least once a week and taken out over 6500 books. I read at least two hours a day. I am a hard-core library user and reader; I rather think libraries were invented for people like me.
I was not happy when the card catalog was dumped. I was even more unhappy when it became necessary to go “online” to look anything up. Even worse, one must now have a library card and password to look something up. How stupid! With the card catalog anyone could find out what was in the collection. Now you must have a card and password. Why shouldn’t the information be available to anyone? That’s what libraries are for! There is no need for “security” (the current American shibboleth that is ruining our society).
In the library itself you cannot simply go to the catalog; you have to go on the Internet. Why? And until recently you could never find a free computer. (There are now a few short-term computers—a step forward.) Nor are there any computers dedicated to the catalog (always already in the catalog) and therefore quicker and more convenient.
Now there are many more computers, but not where you need them. They are all in a teenager babysitting department on the second floor. Why should a library serve teenagers who want to play games? And why do so at the expense of the people who love and need the library because they read? What is a library for?
Why the huge expansion of the “popular” library? To serve more people? But a library exists to serve READERS. True, only 6% of Americans read even one book last year, so there are fewer and fewer readers. So much the better for us! Libraries are about books.
I have found it well-nigh impossible, by the way, to find CDs of classical music. They are not filed by composer but by a stupid “acquisition number”, which has no meaning and does not place recordings of the same thing together. Nor are they separate in the web catalog. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s a recording and what’s not (scores, etc). Fortunately I have a large collection of my own; but how difficult it is for those who do not!
I miss the departments and the experts that went with them. Most of the books I take out are in the stacks and must be sent for. It was easy and quick the old way: I handed the expert a library request form, all filled out. He sent it quickly to the stacks, and five minutes later there were my books. Now he must retype all that information into a computer—isn’t that dumb?—and wait for the person in the stacks to respond. Every trip to the library makes me late for something else nowadays, because everything takes a lot longer than it used to. It is pitiful the way Americans think they have to adopt the latest technology when what they had worked just fine (fixing what ain’t broke, it’s called). The computer stuff is newer, but the old vacuum system worked much better. You were crazy to remove it. I have 15 or 20 minutes to collect 8 or 10 books on a trip to the library. It has worked well for years. Now it takes me 25 or 30 minutes, and I emerge with fewer books, because I run out of time.
I wanted a book in music. I finally found someone on the third floor who helped me but warned me it would take a while and then sent me to the second floor to pick up the book! Another floor, another stop, another ten minutes. It’s miserably inconvenient.
Then there is the dehumanization of the whole experience. All those helpful people and useful conversations in the departments are gone. Even the checkout people—whom, of course, I got to know over the years—have been replaced by machines. And the machines demand a password, which the people did not (why should they?). The machines hate me, and so far I have wasted lots of time on them and failed to check out a thing; I have always had to find a human being after all—and would have preferred one in the first place. WHY are you doing this? People are what makes the library useful, and you seem to be thinning out the people. I have to wait behind other customers for the few who are left.
We need people partly because the computer answers no questions and misunderstands half of what we ask of it. I once looked for a book called Words About Words (I’m an editor by profession) and it gave me 3000 responses. That kind of thing happens all the time. The search engine is a pain, and only experienced employees seem to be able to get it to do what it should do—and even they often admit defeat.
I use two computers all day in my work—have for 20 years. I am not a computer idiot. But I have realized over the years that there are many things computers don’t do well. For example, it is faster and more accurate to invoice our advertisers by hand—yes, handwritten! Infatuation with computer technology strikes me as infantile. It results in blindness about how things are best done.
I could go on—I’m a writer! I just want you to know that the library is no longer a pleasure for me, but an ordeal. I’m sure my comments will change nothing, but over the last few months the irritation has made it necessary for me to express myself!
The air transportation system in this country is essentially broken. Every flight between major cities is delayed. The time scheduled often includes an hour or two on the ground. All the major airports and “hubs” are over-scheduled and congested. I have not had any flight at all in the last four years that took off and arrived on time, even considering that “on time” includes far more time than it used to.
I used to fly Cincinnati to Philadelphia quite regularly; my parents lived in Philadelphia, and a brother still does. It’s a 55-minute flight, but it is now scheduled for 2 hours and 15 to 30 minutes. Still, never has one of those flights been on time. The last time I flew it (in June) we were held on the ground in Cincinnati: congestion in Philadelphia. Notice that they load up the plane to get the passengers out of the terminal and clear the gate for the next plane, even though they know they cannot take off. The passengers would be far more comfortable waiting in the airport, but the passengers no longer matter. When we arrived in Philadelphia it was discovered that the jetway at the gate could not be used for such a small plane. (Everything is small planes now; the big ones are all parked in the desert in Arizona.) No one was smart enough to match the plane to the gate. It’s a wonder they can even fly the planes! But these small planes have built-in stairways. True, but it is against their rules to use that stairway where all the passenger traffic is by “jetway”, since there may be”security issues”. (The whole system is paralysed by insane”security issues”.) While the crew agonized over that we all missed our connections and transportation, sitting there on the ground ten feet from the gate. Passengers are just cattle.
Returning from Philadelphia I discovered the whole airline was running 4 hours late out of Philadelphia. (That’s pretty normal in the horrid Atlanta airport, but it seems extreme for Philadelphia.Probably it was traceable to Atlanta, Delta’s hub. Delays there routinely affect the whole Delta system.) In fact, when I added up the hours from since I left my brother’s house to when I walked in my door in Cincinnati, it turned out that I could have driven it in less time than it took to fly it. And that is usual now.That’s why I say the system is broken. You fly to save time, but flying now doesn’t save any time! Because it takes so much time—usually a whole day to go anywhere at all—flying is no longer worth the trouble.
I have had two other 4-hour delays in the last few years, and for both I was stuck in the plane! Pure torture! The idiot stewardesses nag you to obey their stupid rules (Americans love rules—whatever happened to the spirit of freedom? Ride a plane with a bunch of Italians or Spaniards if you want to know what freedom is like). One told me I could not leave my seat for the whole 4 hours. I ignored her; she shouted at me; I continued to ignore her and went to the toilet. In both 4-hour delays we were 50 feet from the gate,but they don’t want us back in the terminal or at the gate, because all the hub airports are over-scheduled; there are too many people in the terminal, and there are too many planes waiting for gates.So they herd all us cattle into dungeons (metal tubes with no view and lousy ventilation and very little space to move) and they try to make us sit perfectly still while they thus abuse us. Yes, it is a form of torture.
We were already abused from the beginning. I refuse to fly in the morning, so I booked my flight to Albuquerque for 4 PM. The airline took the booking but changed it a week later to 11 AM to suit their schedule. The extra five hours will be spent sitting in their hub airport. If I don’t accept that change (which essentially ruins my day, and maybe the next day too) they will charge me a fortune to back out of the arrangement. I also felt abused having to arrive at the airport long hours before the flight: an airport is a rotten place to spend any time (only a plane is worse), and you can’t have friends with you anymore. Then there’s the stupidest thing of all: it’s called “security” checking, and it has nothing to do with security, and I don’t care about security anyway. I flew for years with no security checks, and it is no safer now with them. The security system at American airports is stupid and infantile. It’s also theatre, and Americans are gullible enough to believe it’s necessary and efficacious. It delays things a lot, and it’s insulting. Did you ever have a teacher who made the whole class stay after school because one or two kids acted up? Didn’t you hate that teacher? Then you should hate the security system. Millions of people are insulted and inconvenienced every day, and treated like we live in a totalitarian state—AND become used to people in uniform pushing them around—because once some fanatics hijacked and crashed a few planes. Don’t you resent being punished for what they did? Isn’t that a perfectly asinine way to deal with the fact that there’s nothing we could do about it and no way we could have prevented it?
I haven’t been thru any major airport in years where I was not delayed. And the reason is simple: there are too many planes trying to take off and land. In Atlanta there are more than 3000 takeoffs and landings every day (something like 1500 planes use the airport in a day). There are not enough gates to handle them. There are not enough runways. Often in Atlanta you will wait up to an hour after landing to get a gate—and I’ve seen it much worse than that. For one thing, like LaGuardia (which at least has the excuse of being very old and built out into the bay) Atlanta has a situation where after you land you must cross a live runway to get to the gates. Who designed that? You usually wait quite some time after landing to cross that runway, because it is busy with takeoffs. One small thunderstorm can throw Atlanta many hours behind, because it’s all scheduled too tight, and no one seems to have thought of thunderstorms (which are, of course, perfectly normal). And when a storm has delayed takeoffs, the late takeoffs delay the arrivals by preventing the runway crossing. Dumb, isn’t it?
The same thing happened in Houston in August: a thunderstorm after we landed made every plane going out at least two hours late. They call it a “weather delay”, but why would any thinking person accept that? How gullible do they think we are? Isn’t it really stupid NOT to expect thunderstorms in Houston in August? Not to plan on them, work around them? It’s not the weather; it’s the badly-run airlines and airports. Note also that hundreds of planes were delayed most of the evening, and the airport was jammed with people, yet all the restaurants (except McDonald’s) closed before 9 PM, and there was no food, only drinks. Another example of American mismanagement. (In Albuquerque at lunch we were told that the food would take at least half an hour. You would think that an airport restaurant would be better managed than that. In most countries it would be.)
If you get on the plane at JFK you will soon find out that your plane is Number 40 or 45 for takeoff, in other words, you will spend at least the next hour on the ground. That is built into the schedule; you didn’t really think that to fly from New York to LosAngeles now takes two hours longer than it did five years ago, did you? After an hour or more of delay in New York and an hour or more at the other end, the airline will claim an “on-time arrival”. Flying was really nice in the 60s and 70s, even the 80s. Flying is now torture, and everything the airlines do to stay in business only makes it worse. Do you think they feed you or give you drinks during those delays? Not a chance. One of my 4-hour delays was a transatlantic flight, and the crew explained that they couldn’t feed us because there would be nothing left for later on. And we couldn’t drink because alcohol cannot be served on the ground but only in the air. I demanded tea, and got it, but you have to demand. The things they get away with are a disgrace. They now charge you a lot for everything, from a beer to a checked bag. They fly the smallest planes they can fly to save money, so you are always cramped. Well into the 90s, maybe past, Delta flew wide-body jets between Cincinnati and New York. Now they are 50-seaters. Continental flies 35-seaters to their Houston hub, and almost everywhere else. Business is bad, but that’s partly because flying has become such a bad experience. Which came first? Does it help business to make the passengers miserable? Is there a well-run airline, where the passengers are treated decently?
On those tiny planes they often simply don’t turn off the seat belt sign. It’s supposed to be a safety matter, but it is definitely not. It is crowd control (that’s what most “safety” regulations are all about). Often it is because the stewardess wants clear aisles to serve the drinks (such as they are). The hell with your comfort; they just don’t want you to be able to get up and walk around. On at least a third of my flights in recent years the sign was never turned off, and Americans are so damned obedient that I was often the only one (or one of two or three) who ignored the stupid sign.
On one flight I had a real prostate attack (no wonder, with all the stress of flying these days) and could not stay in my seat. They don’t care; they want us to be obedient. They threaten legal action if you don’t utterly obey crew members. The only actual value of the seat belts is for ten minutes around take-off and landing. Otherwise they are useless, except for crowd control. Just another example of how you can manipulate Americans by claiming safety and security. (They mumble something about “unexpected turbulence”!) Most people can’t think enough to realize that safety and security have nothing to do with it. When picture IDs were first required I pointed out that they had absolutely no security value, but Americans swallowed it, as they swallow all the propaganda they are fed. They are timid and fearful people, and therefore gullible. They deserve to lose their freedom, and they have.
I might add that the last two times I returned to Cincinnati, after the usual gross delays, we were so late the airport was closed when we arrived. In one case the airline had assigned an employee to greet us, but she didn’t know where the light switch was, so we entered the airport in the dark. The jetway was completely dark, the lounge mostly dark, but the corridors had their dim overnight lights on. The airline is so badly run that they can’t even be sure their employees can find a light switch. My last flight was from Albuquerque to Cincinnati. It can’t be done non-stop anymore, so I went thru Houston. It used to take 2 hours nonstop, and on a nice-sized plane. It was a pleasure in 1998. This time it took me 11 hours, and it was a nightmare. But nightmares are routine now. The plane was tiny, the service bad, the Houston airport miserably overcrowded and way behind schedule. But if it’s going to take a whole day I will never do it again. I am unable to deal with such an ordeal. I can fly to Paris in less time, way less. (Air France flies from Cincinnati.) The US system is broken and rotten. Next time I will drive to Albuquerque (two short days) or take a train (two days, and very restful). Both are far better than the airlines. I have said “never again” so many times in the last few years that I think I must keep my word and give up flying. I refuse to reward the wretched airlines with my business. They don’t deserve it, and like so many big businesses in our country I hope they all go bankrupt and get replaced by something better. I am very sorry to see so many business bailouts. We even had a chance to get rid of General Motors, and we didn’t! I find that hard to forgive. What is good for General Motors is invariably bad for the country. Ten years ago even, flying was far better. But the real culprit is the “hub” system and its recent concentration. It funnels millions of people thru a handful of overcrowded airports and guarantees that everywhere you go it will take you about four times as long to get there as it did 20 years ago. And for whose convenience? Strictly for the convenience (and profit) of the airlines, who serve themselves a lot better than they serve their customers. In fact, in this area as everywhere else in our society, service is practically dead, a mere memory. Note that most airlines are now charging you $20 to check a bag. As a result, everyone is trying to carry everything on to these little planes they are flying, and the planes are already too tiny and overcrowded. People bring food on, because they won’t be fed. People probably take tranquilizers in order to face the ordeal. I should have. Flying is horrible, and along with many of our writersI have decided not to do it again if I can possibly help it. My traveling years are over, as they are for so many people, because the airlines have made it such a miserable experience to fly. (And they are wondering why business is so bad!) If only we had a decent train system!
A note about IPAs:
I have been drinking IPAs for many, many years, starting with Pyramid Thunderhead, then Sierra Nevada Torpedo, then Deuchar’s in Scotland–and that remains my favorite. IPA has become trendy, so every small brewery in America throws a pile of hops in their beer and calls it an IPA. That doesn’t always work. A beer must be balanced between hops, grains (malts), and yeast. If you throw more hops in, you must strengthen the other ingredients. Double IPAs, for some reason, are milder in flavor but often more alcoholic.
Some IPAs are bottle-conditioned (krausened). Then it is often wise to pour carefully and leave the sediment at the bottom. Otherwise they can become fierce–and beer should not be fierce.
It is worth noting that ale is beer. Americans are used to lager beer, which is cold-brewed and bottom-fermented over a longer period. Ale is a type of beer that is warmer brewed and top-fermented, and it takes much less time. Pale ales are often indistinguishable from pale lagers. For example, Boddington’s (available in pint cans) should appeal to anyone who likes a lager with character.
The German purity law generally produces better beers. Some American beers have used rice or corn or wheat, but the proper grain for beer malt is barley. Some beers (even in France) have added sugar–not good. The latest trend in this country is to add fruit flavors–ugh! But you expect that in a country where sales are more important than quality. American companies continue to try to sell beer to people who don’t like beer–that’s where the numbers are, and that explains “light beer”, too (partly–the rest is the whole industry of “light”; anything, which deceives people into thinking that they can indulge without gaining weight).
In December of 2011 I had flown to Florida and rented a car. I fell for a bargain rate and got a gas-gusler, a Mustang. I had never driven one. It was so powerful that at every stop or light I spun the wheels. I couldn’t find the gas tank when it needed gas; I had to get help from an attendant. I couldn’t read the speedometer, because I hadn’t seen an analogue one in years and couldn’t figure out what the little lines meant. Also, I couldn’t figure out how to turn up the dashboard lights. The car was a mystery to me.
I was pulled over on a deserted stretch of 4-lane divided highway at around 11 PM. I was the only car on the road, so I was a natural victim. The cop had his radar reading, and nothing I said made any difference. Ticket cost (under 65 mph!) was $352.
Cops are highway robbers, of course, and I hate them. And they make all their money on fast drivers, who are almost invariably better drivers. The timid, slow drivers are the problem. We penalize skilled driving and reward dullness and timidity. That’s bad enough.
But it is not enough that the police routinely victimize people. The hated insurance companies add insult to injury. Because I had not had a speeding ticket in 20 years, this one added $150 a year to my auto insurance bill for the next 3 years: $450 on top of that already outrageous $352. More than $800 that rented Mustang has cost me. The insurance companies join the cops in robbing the public. I hate insurance companies as much as I hate cops. I am sick and tired of being a victim. I hate the USA, where insurance companies get rich on our health problems—where my sicknesses become opportunities for them to make money. Why should that be so? It is obviously unethical and outrageous—just as it is outrageous that cops have become the robbers. (They were supposed to protect us from robbers!)
Why do people put up with this distorted mess? I decided that day in 2011 that I would never live in Florida. I had seen too many cases of this kind of police nastiness there. Florida cops can get away with anything. Florida even has cameras at intersections! But most of the USA is going this way—a legacy of TV, of our irrational fears of crime, our insecurities. Americans are such wimps; it would be great to escape this country once and for all.
The Great English Mystery Writers
I have long been a fan of English mysteries. Unlike American ones, they usually involve more brains than brawn, and they are often ingeniously plotted. The following list (alphabetical) is of writers I know very well. In fact, in most cases I have read everything they ever wrote — and a few of them did write some duds.
John Dickson Carr (US)
R Austin Freeman
Ellery Queen (USA)
Rex Stout (US)
(everyone seems to know Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, & Dorothy
One thing I like about the English mystery writers is their frankness.
Here’s an example: She could not be described as pretty. She had too much of (her family’s) blood in her for that–and they were a notoriously ugly family.
The same author describes a family’s house as “hideous”.
–Miles Burton in 1947
In what does barbarism consist, if not in the failure to appreciate what is excellent?
The glory of God is man fully alive.
A day spent without the sight or sound of beauty, the contemplation of mystery, or the search for truth and perfection, is a poverty-stricken day; and a succession of such days is fatal to human life.
The spiritual is a quality perceived as other than physical or purely intellectual. It is not opposed to the natural; it is a natural part of life.
Technology makes all kinds of things possible, but how many of those things are necessary—and how many would we not have bothered with if technology had not made them so easy. The tail wags the dog, and we can do without a great many new technologies.
The invasion of one’s mind by ready-made phrases can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one’s brain.
A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.
Modern churches have lost intelligent believers by going either liberal or literal.
Habits of the mind literally become structures of the brain.
We should to the last moment of our lives continue a settled intercourse with all the true examples of grandeur.
The beautiful teaches us to love without self-interest.
As long as we regard elitism
as a dirty word, and the superego as unadulterated repression, we cannot maintain a civilization; we can only watch it come apart.
—Morris Berman in The Twilight of American Culture
It is the audience that is failing classical music, being mostly ill-educated, conditioned to a short attention span, with a head full of none but current ideas and what appeals to a childish sense of humor.
—Jacques Barzun, 2005
Criticism is necessary if the culture is to be protected from decay.
So in the final analysis criticism is about the culture.
Good criticism requires style, enthusiasm, and discrimination.
In matters of art, music, politics, and literature the majority is always in the wrong.
Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.
It is not what people have in common that counts, but what makes them different—what individuates them.
The most expensive things are all overpriced, and they sell to people who are under the delusion that price means quality.
Song is the sweetest of all things.
Just as we have exercise for the body, for the soul we have music.
Music’s wordless gospel proclaims in a universal language what the thirsting human soul is seeking beyond this life.
The arts are not the pretty but irrelevant bits around the border of reality. They are highways into the center of a reality that cannot be glimpsed, let alone grasped, any other way.
—Bishop NT Wright
Anyone who understands reason understands its limits.
Music will get you thru times of no money better than money will get you thru times of no music.
What is remarkable about western music is that by its chosen scales, modified through equal temperament, and by developing complex forms and instruments, it has raised the expressive power of music to heights and depths unattained in other cultures.
—Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence
The only authentic performance is one that reflects our own time and the character of the musician playing. Nothing could be more unauthentic than a reconstruction of historical performance practice.
Make use of vibrato as often as possible.
—Geminiani to string players, 1751
The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenalin but rather the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity.
People do not like the warhorses merely because they are familiar; but they are familiar because people like them, and people like them because they are beautiful.
There is nothing particularly desirable about freshness per se. Works of art are not eggs.
There’s no reason why a new idea should be better than an old one.
If you are as open-minded at 60 as you were at 20, you haven’t learned anything in life.
The longer we live the more we realize that all the old stereotypes and cliches are essentially true.
Of all the minor dissipations in which temperate men indulge, there is none more alluring than the after-breakfast pipe.
—R Austin Freeman
All change must happen fast. Gradual change allows the opposition to develop and organize.
Research, like money, is a good servant but a bad master.
—Paul Henry Lang
The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it.
Geniuses so often seem melancholy because they have come to an early realization of how well busy fools do in the world.
I love the earth and hate the world. God made the one, man the other.
People who are self-taught are sometimes original but more commonly just eccentric, erratic, and bizarre.
Great men are pretty odd. Only small men seem “normal”.
The surest path to self-righteousness is an over-eager piety.
If it turns out that your god hates all the same people you do, it is obvious that you have created a god in your own image.
It is better to discuss a question without settling it than to settle a question without discussing it.
The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.
Any frontal attack on ignorance is bound to fail, because the masses are always ready to defend their most precious possession: their ignorance.
—Hendrik van Loon
Liberalism…means a generosity of spirit, a tolerance of others, a high ideal of the worth and dignity of man, a repugnance for authoritarianism, and a love of freedom.
—New York Times
The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercizes in moral philosophy: the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.
— JK Galbraith
A man who is tired of complaining is tired of life.
But antipathy is a trap; you never learn anything from it, and it never takes you out of yourself.
Stagnant ponds don’t cause floods, but neither do they grow fish.
Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one’s self-esteem. That is why young children (before self-importance comes upon them) learn so easily—and why older people, especially if vain or important, cannot learn a thing.
—Thomas Szasz (slightly edited)
Why should education be expected to “take” in a society where the qualities of intelligence and wisdom are classified not even as byproducts of its corporate life, but as waste products?
One of the primary aims of education is to teach us to like what is worthy and dislike what is unworthy.
—Aristotle & Augustine
The young think their follies are mistaken by the old for pleasures, and the old hope that their gravity is mistaken by the young for wisdom.
The world of youth is filled with novelties gone stale.
Only the old feel bad about the death of trees.
An animal that kills other animals is obviously a depraved and fallen creature.
“They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.”
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man keeps trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
Political correctness is shoved down people’s throats in totalitarian countries. Who would have thought that people in democratic countries would accept it voluntarily?
We learn from history that we do not learn from history.
History is the study of things that happened only once.
It is part of probability that many improbable things will happen.
Marriage teaches you loyalty, forbearance, self-restraint, meekness, and a lot of other qualities you wouldn’t need if you stayed single.
When a woman complains to a man, he tries to deal with the problem—tries to come up with a solution, offers advice and suggestions. But that is not what she is looking for at all. What she wants is sympathy and attention; she wants him to look at her, not the problem.
Among the smaller duties of life I hardly know any more important than that of not praising where praise is not due.
The man who is always worrying whether or not his soul would be damned generally has a soul that is not worth a damn.
—Oliver Wendell Holmes
If you try always to be sensitive to how people are reading you and receiving you, you lose your self-forgetfulness and have nothing to offer—or can’t offer it because you’ve become self-conscious.
It is better to go all the way half the time than to go half way all the time.
The simple want everyone else to be simple. The wise know that even the simple are complex. Yet there is a wise simplicity.
The proof of the padding is in the deleting.
There is an intimate relationship between thinking and talking. A good thinker is almost always a good talker—though the reverse is often not true. But talking helps thinkers think.
The bond of all companionship is conversation.
Pleasure shared greatly increases its worth.
Laws can be wrong, and laws can be cruel; and people who live only by laws are both wrong and cruel.
Laws do not persuade just because they threaten.
Distrust all men in whom the impulse to punish is powerful.
Public opinion is less tolerant than any system of law.
Few people can be happy unless they hate some other person, nation, or creed.
Every law is an infraction of liberty.
One of the greatest delusions in the world is that evils can be solved by passing laws.
—Thomas Reed, edited
It is nonsense to make any pretense of reconciling the state and liberty.
The form of government that most suits the artist is no government at all.
Resist much; obey little.
A little rebellion now and then is a good thing.
Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.
What good fortune for those in power that people do not think.
It is easy to fool most of the people most of the time.
It is as dangerous to believe nothing as it is to believe everything.
When you are certain you cannot be fooled, you become easy to fool.
He who says, “Rich men are fools, but when I am rich I will not be a fool” is already a fool.
Truth does not change because it is or is not believed by a majority of the people.
The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities.
A civilized society is one that tolerates eccentricity to the point of doubtful sanity.
The country is governed for the richest, for the corporations, the bankers, the land speculators, and the exploiters.
—Helen Keller, 1911
Capitalism isn’t just an unjust economic system. It’s a way of life that leads to a corruption of important values. Television is only one example.
Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few.
Success in almost any field depends more on energy and drive than on intelligence. This explains why we have so many stupid leaders.
Unless there is within us that which is above us we shall soon yield to that which is about us.
Everyone is looking for someone to make them do what they know they ought to do.
Learning teaches more in one year than experience in 20, and learning teaches safely, while experience makes you more miserable and cynical than wise.
We should honor our teachers more than our parents, because while our parents cause us to live, our teachers cause us to live well.
—A Greek philosopher
A man’s country is where the things he loves are most respected. Circumstances may have prevented his ever setting foot there, but it remains his country.
Carry from the past the fire not the ashes.
The compulsion to take ourselves seriously is in inverse proportion to our creativity. When the creative flow dries up, all we have left is our importance.
Most of the trouble in the world is caused by people wanting to be important.
If a man does not laugh when he is alone, his inner life must be barren.
Look upon every man who tries or vexes you as a means of grace to humble you.
The trouble with humility and meekness is that it isn’t good for other people to let them trample you.
A true master does not develop pupils but new masters.
Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all the others.
The gifts of God are there to be delighted in. To fall short of joy would be ingratitude.
The more we love our friends the less we flatter them.
It is by excusing nothing that pure love shows itself.
It takes a very long time to become young.
Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what happened.
He lives twice who enjoys both the past and the present.
Nothing in the world is inconsequential.
One of the marks of maturity is the ability to distinguish what matters from what doesn’t—and a great deal doesn’t!
The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.
The best measure of a person’s mentality is the importance of the things he will argue about.
The cult of the common man is a cult of mediocrity.
Beware of people who are always well dressed.
The sexual pleasure that pornography brings to some people is in itself a redeeming social value.
Remove prostitutes from human affairs, and you will destroy everything with lust.
The problem with romantic love is that sex should be a joyful release and a delightful distraction, not a morbid obsession.
Chastity is the most unnatural of the sexual perversions.
Many abstainers are an effective argument for a drink now and then.
The worst mistakes of judgement are made by people who believe that reason and the passions are opposites. Reason does not exist to oppose the passions but to mediate among them. The man who uses reason to repress his emotions will soon be as mad as the man who permits his emotions to override his reason.
Passions are the winds that fill the sails of the vessel. Sometimes they sink it, but without them it would be impossible to go ahead.
It is a fact that without our emotions making any decision is impossible. Nothing can be decided without the participation of the emotions.
We understand only what we love; and if we love we grow in understanding.
All genuine love comes from strength and is a kind of surplus energy in living. False love comes from weakness and tries to suck the vitality out of its object. Most popular songs, with their whining lyrics of self-pity, are embarrassing exhibitions of this false love.
No matter where you are, no matter what you are doing, there is always something to learn, and there is always someone to love.
The world is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those who feel.
You cannot play with cruelty without losing your sensitivity of mind. He who wants to keep his garden tidy doesn’t reserve a plot for the weeds.
By all means, let 1000 flowers bloom! But keep attacking the weeds.
After a while one becomes responsible for one’s face.
A man’s face is his autobiography; a woman’s face is her work of fiction.
Men are more vain than women but also more generous.
—Wilkie Collins in the 1850s
Women won’t leave men alone, and men like to be alone.
The artist must be partly male and partly female. Unfortunately, the female part is nearly always intolerable.
Women are possessive and insecure; they need far too much reassurance. They are also frantic, alarmist, and irrational. The average woman is a high-maintenance companion and spends money like water.
Women and people of low birth are very hard to deal with. If you are friendly with them they get out of hand, and if you keep your distance they resent it.
Nature has given women so much power that law has very wisely given them little.
Women govern America, because America is a land of boys who refuse to grow up.
—a Spanish philosopher
Eternal boyhood is the dream of a depressing percentage of American males, and the locker room is the temple where they worship arrested development.
The taste for violence is enhanced and sharpened by the spectacle of violence we call “sports”.
Claims for the educational value of sports are no more than a cynical cover for academic treason…pretending that games are of some benefit to the mind. The coach…is promoted to equality with the professor, and the stadium supplants the library. Intellectual life is devastated.
Football has the same relation to education that bullfighting has to agriculture.
Athletics are a symbol of a society whose values are bankrupt—not only a reinforcement of an unsound value system, but also one of the main ways young people are socialized into that system, coerced into conformity.
—from American Values
Sports serve as an opiate of the people, diverting the masses from their real problems with a “dream world” of glamour and excitement.
—Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism
The mere athlete becomes a savage.
Military service produces moral imbecility.
A weapon is an enemy even to its owner.
The desire for security stands against every great and noble enterprise.
Fear is the ruler’s best friend.
They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
The world has never been so good—and never will become so good—that the majority will desire the truth.
The more we study art the less we care for nature. What art really reveals to us is nature’s lack of design, her curious crudities, her extraordinary monotony, her absolutely unfinished condition.
Democratic institutions awaken and foster a passion for equality that they can never satisfy.
If democracy dies, it is always equality that kills it.
American life is a powerful solvent. It seems to neutralise every intellectual element, however tough and alien it may be, and to fuse it in the native good-will, complacency, thoughtlessness, and optimism.
If you suppress the things that make you unique, if you blur and dilute the qualities that make you different from others, then you have weakened the very benefits that it is in your power to confer upon the world.
—John Garlock, edited
Egalitarianism is the opiate of the masses.
If ever the free institutions of America are destroyed, it may be attributed to the unlimited authority of the majority.
Freedom of opinion does not exist in America.
Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of.
“Peace” is really an alien concept in an overstimulated, overcompetitive society.
I need to be quiet in order to be free.
The amount of noise a person makes—and can put up with—is in inverse proportion to his intellect. Stupid people love noise and make a lot of it. Intelligent people are quiet people and like silence. Especially in a democracy, intelligent people suffer much at the hands of stupid people.
Genius grasps instantly what mediocrity spends years learning.
Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius.
—A Conan Doyle
Mediocrity frustrates the more able and flatters the incompetent. This mediocrity is making Americans increasingly dull, standardized in opinions, fearful of argument, cliched in conversation.
—Crowd Culture, Bernard I Bell (1952)
A fanatic is someone who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.
Material abundance without character is the surest way to destruction.
If your income is greater than your expenses and you are spending all you want to spend, consider yourself rich.
—Gibbon (slightly edited)
The way to enjoy life is to accept all its necessary ordinary details and turn them into pleasures by taking an interest in them. Modern civilization has done them in a venal and slovenly manner till they become real drudgery.
We must be disappointed with the lesser things of life before we can comprehend the full value of the greater.
You become greater by a humility toward great things.
The learned have their superstitions, and prominent among them is the belief that superstition is evaporating.
Nothing is more immodest than religious immodesty.
Christianity is one beggar telling another that he has found bread.
We must be on guard against interpretations of scripture that are far-fetched or opposed to science, so exposing the word of God to the ridicule of unbelievers.
A valuable book has not been read if its pages are not marked and underlined.
—Sidney Harris (edited)
A society has already grown rotten when a person who simply speaks the truth is charged with committing an indiscretion.
It is foolish to use offensive terms when there is no necessity to do so. But it is also foolish to wrap hard facts in soft words.
The hottest place in hell is reserved for people who remain neutral in a crisis.
If you limit your actions to things that nobody could possibly find fault with, you will not accomplish much.
Never put yourself in a position that allows any man or institution to decide things that you know you must decide for yourself.
It is better to love and to sin than not to love and not to sin.
It is better yet to love and not to sin, but that isn’t always possible.
All truly wise thoughts have been thought already thousands of times; but to make them truly ours we must think them over again honestly, till they take root in our personal experience.
Experience isn’t everything. Intelligence is far more useful in almost any area. Intelligence prepares you for the new and the unknown, but experience alone cannot see beyond the old and the known. Experience often makes people timid.
The power to guess the unseen from the seen, to trace the implication of things, to judge the whole by the pattern—the condition of feeling life in general so completely that you are well on your way to knowing any particular corner of it—this cluster of gifts may be said to constitute experience.
—William James (edited)
Life is a battle. Evil is insolent and strong, beauty enchanting but rare, goodness very apt to be weak, folly very apt to be defiant, wickedness to carry the day, imbeciles to be in great places, people of sense in small, and mankind generally unhappy.
rev January 2012