I Am Not A Nationalist – Part 2


“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. To be your own man is hard business. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”
― Rudyard Kipling

Nationalism is never humble. Like a mob, it has no real conscience. Only the individual has a conscience, and even then you have to fight for it.

Nationalism tells us that we are better than everyone else. We should be proud of our glorious empire. We are morally superior. It is especially insidious because it starts out by just making us feel good about ourselves. Celebratory, and unified with one another. It creeps in unrecognized. But countless horrors have been its product.

It is still incredible to me how many Americans will look you straight in the eye, and justify the “unintended” drone bombing of children in Yemen. Iraq. Afghanistan. Syria. They will do this while sitting in church. They won’t even realize that they believe we are superior to others. Oh, it might make them uncomfortable, but they will tell themselves what the government and media have been telling them for years; “They hate us for our freedom. They want to kill us. We’re keeping ourselves safe. The world needs us.” They will feel a slight disgust with the few people that have contrary views. I know it, because once I was them.

We could all use a little enlightenment now and then.

Individuals, you know, are the real sung and unsung heroes of the past. Take the Jewish holocaust for example. You’ve heard the names… Oskar Schindler, Corrie Ten Boom, Raoul Wallenberg, Irena Sendler. A multitude of others that we’ll never know. They hid Jews in their homes, they forged passports, they did all manner of things that put their own lives, and the lives of their families at risk. Because they weren’t superior, they cared. They exercised conscience instead of stifling it. Maintained humility. I bet they felt alone, and scared. What were the majority of other people doing at the same time?  Sieg Heil.

I’ve heard Niemoller’s quote so many times, that it has almost lost meaning. Inevitably it is shared by those who are waiting for some “obvious” conflict that they’ll need to resist. You know, like a train full of humans going down the track to that place with the smoke coming out. Because of course they would never let that happen. But it never starts out that way. Then, as always, it started out much less obviously to most. I think it started with a little celebratory flag waving.

I Am Not A Nationalist – Part 1


In response to an article shared with me today, I happened to mention to a friend that I am not a huge fan of Memorial Day. Our brief conversation birthed this blog entry.

I have started to detest flag waving. It seems like such a harmless little thing, but to me it is a representation of how completely indoctrinated we all are. Every spring my town holds an armed services torchlight parade. I have traditionally always gone to the parade with my family. This year I just couldn’t do it. You stand and clap when the various branches go by, the veterans of foreign wars, etc. But the family members of recently fallen also go by, with their big memorial pictures of loved ones – mostly very young – that they have lost.

And that group just keeps getting bigger.

I was really impacted, last year, by how big that group was. And while they were walking by, I was thinking that those young servicemen/women are always told they are “fighting for their country,” and how we are told – and tell ourselves – that they are “fighting for our freedom.” And it’s all a load of crap. If they were, actually, fighting for their country, then the fact that we have not gone to war constitutionally since WWII, would matter. The fact that war has been a huge tool to expand the already out-of-control executive branch, would matter. The usurpation of rights, and the heavy hand of government that falls ever harder while they are deployed, would matter.

If military personnel were fighting these many wars for our freedom, then there should be more freedom! Not so much less! It’s not the case. I wonder, do they know? Do they care that each conflict that takes their lives, also subverts our own rule of law? Maybe they are figuring it out, and that’s part of why the suicide rate amongst returning military is scandalous. That and the fact that nobody wants to think about their potential troubles once they are home, parades or no. Many are loved though, and so nobody wants to say the truth: most of them are dying for nothing good. Fodder for our increasingly careless government. I will grieve for them in my heart, but don’t ask me to wave a flag with the crowd. There is nothing here to celebrate.

The Blind Lead The Blind

Earlier I was involved in a conversation regarding a very large church here in Washington. I won’t go into the details. I’m sure it’s all over the Internet and if you are interested you can certainly seek it out. I feel nothing but grief for everyone involved and can’t offer anything constructive to that conversation, only my sincere wishes that there is resolution and healing.

However, the situation there, and the subsequent conversation with my friends, did bring up a very important issue that I think about fairly often, and which concerns me deeply. I think it can best be summed up by the word submission.

This is a word that often gets me into trouble.

On the one hand, most of the people I align with politically, are also wary of – if not outright hostile towards – the very concept. On the other hand, most of the people I associate with in a church setting, support it fervently, and seemingly without skepticism. Note that I did say *most*. I am aware that I’m generalizing a bit here, and that not quite everyone lands so firmly on one side or the other.

I personally understand the idea of submission in a positive, if generally difficult light. A child submits to a parent because there are rules that help us grow. One spouse submits to the other because we can’t always agree 100% of the time, and somebody has to lay their preference down (also true in friendship). And, we submit to leadership when we have entered into a beneficial relationship that we have come to learn from. In each case there is often struggle, and that my friends, is healthy. The meaningful issue is overcoming the struggle, and making a decision to submit; for the sake of the relationship, or in order to learn and grow.

You’ll notice that nowhere on my list does any kind of political figurehead appear. Neither, does any person without whom we have a relationship. And yes, I consider myself to have a relationship with God, so he would land on my list. Whether he lands on yours or not is your prerogative.

So here’s the problem…

I firmly believe that the church at large has damaged the concept it is so passionate about. It makes sense really. Regardless of arena, people are fallible, act wrongly, and will abuse power. The thing is, the church is supposed to be leading people in compassion, grace, humility, love, and freedom. They are supposed to be concerned with teaching people how to walk with and communicate with God for themselves. That means using the heart and mind that God gave YOU, people! Without that, Luther pretty much hung his thesis for nothing, and why bother continuing to print bibles for personal use?

Unfortunately, just like any bully anywhere, we sometimes brow beat people into going our way. I know, it’s a human failing, but one to which we should pay much more attention in ourselves. Often, we do this with the best intentions, without even meaning to. We do it by being sure that we know what is best for people, and expecting them to go along. I also think we do it out of fear. If we can just help people stay within right boundaries, we can somehow keep them from stumbling and crashing on their faces, which we are often afraid is going to happen in that big bad world out there.

When we raise people up and train them to have a posture of submission, not before God, but to man, regardless of relationship, and promote the idea that leadership should generally not be questioned (as they are ordained by God), we are telling people that leaders know better than them, and that they should trust the conscience (and divine witness) of their leaders, more than they trust their own.

So dangerous.

When combined with the overly fervent, unwaveringly patriotic mentality of most conservative churches, you are just asking for disaster. We have too many unquestioning idealists, who don’t want to be critical of other believers – because that’s not very spiritual of us. Of course George W. Bush could do no wrong. Heellloo?! He loves Jesus, don’t you know? What do you mean the Patriot Act was bad? Safety, people! And God, after all, ordained him to be president. Of course, God ordained Obama too, but apparently he does not love Jesus, so it’s far more acceptable to question his activities. Which, of course just means we can blame any ills on Obama, when really the problem is so much deeper.

It is impossible to fix a problem without the truth. The Bible exhorts us to see deeper truths. Ron Paul, quoting George Orwell, has said many times that “truth is treason in the empire of lies.” I find this so sadly the truth in the church today. It grieves me, deeply. We need to take back the idea of godly submission, and stop using it to train people to be lead by the nose.

In America, we snub our noses at history. We are modern and smarter than those who have gone before. We certainly cannot have been misled, and especially not by people we like. We do not conceive that we could have been those German citizens, in their church next to the railroad, singing louder as the trains went by. The truth is, we are those people. Flawed humanity. My sincere hope is that the American church at large will see the truth – very soon – and will start to lead the way by teaching people what freedom really looks like. Learning when it is appropriate to submit, and being skeptical of doing so too easily, is going to be a very important step.



Live Not By Lies

I find myself often challenged by the writing of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. This essay appeared in The Washington Post on February 18th, 1974.  I find it quite relevant for the times in which we live, and especially poignant considering the many and various scandals going on presently, not the least of which being the “lost” IRS emails. The main challenge found herein is this: what would it look like if we refused to take part in lies? All things considered, I found this made it an appropriate first post for this blog.


Live Not By Lies
Alexander Solzhenitsyn

At one time we dared not even to whisper. Now we write and read samizdat, and sometimes when we gather in the smoking room at the Science Institute we complain frankly to one another: What kind of tricks are they playing on us, and where are they dragging us? Gratuitous boasting of cosmic achievements while there is poverty and destruction at home. Propping up remote, uncivilized regimes. Fanning up civil war. And we recklessly fostered Mao Tse-tung at our expense — and it will be we who are sent to war against him, and will have to go. Is there any way out? And they put on trial anybody they want, and they put sane people in asylums — always they, and we are powerless.
Things have almost reached rock bottom. A universal spiritual death has already touched us all, and physical death will soon flare up and consume us both and our children — but as before we still smile in a cowardly way and mumble without tongues tied. But what can we do to stop it? We haven’t the strength.

We have been so hopelessly dehumanized that for today’s modest ration of food we are willing to abandon all our principles, our souls, and all the efforts of our predecessors and all the opportunities for our descendants — but just don’t disturb our fragile existence. We lack staunchness, pride and enthusiasm. We don’t even fear universal nuclear death, and we don’t fear a third world war. We have already taken refuge in the crevices. We just fear acts of civil courage.

We fear only to lag behind the herd and to take a step alone — and suddenly find ourselves without white bread, without heating gas and without a Moscow registration.

We have been indoctrinated in political courses, and in just the same way was fostered the idea to live comfortably, and all will be well for the rest of our lives: You can’t escape your environment and social conditions. Everyday life defines consciousness. What does it have to do with us? We can’t do anything about it.

But we can — everything. But we lie to ourselves for assurance. And it is not they who are to blame for everything — we ourselves, only we. One can object: But actually you can think anything you like. Gags have been stuffed into our mouths. Nobody wants to listen to us, and nobody asks us. How can we force them to listen? It is impossible to change their minds.

It would be natural to vote them out of office — but there are not elections in our country. In the West people know about strikes and protest demonstrations — but we are too oppressed, and it is a horrible prospect for us: How can one suddenly renounce a job and take to the streets? Yet the other fatal paths probed during the past century by our bitter Russian history are, nevertheless, not for us, and truly we don’t need them.

Now that the axes have done their work, when everything which was sown has sprouted anew, we can see that the young and presumptuous people who thought they would make our country just and happy through terror, bloody rebellion, and civil war were themselves misled. No thanks, fathers of education! Now we know that infamous methods breed infamous results. Let our hands be clean!

The circle — is it closed? And is there really no way out? And is there only one thing left for us to do, to wait without taking action? Maybe something will happen by itself? It will never happen as long as we daily acknowledge, extol, and strengthen — and do not sever ourselves from — the most perceptible of its aspects: Lies.
When violence intrudes into peaceful life, its face glows with self-confidence, as if it were carrying a banner and shouting: “I am violence. Run away, make way for me — I will crush you.” But violence quickly grows old. And it has lost confidence in itself, and in order to maintain a respectable face it summons falsehood as its ally — since violence can conceal itself with nothing except lies, and the lies can be maintained only by violence. And violence lays its ponderous paw not every day and not on every shoulder. It demands from us only obedience to lies and daily participation in lies — all loyalty lies in that.
And the simplest and most accessible key to our self-neglected liberation lies right here: Personal non-participation in lies. Though lies conceal everything, though lies embrace everything, we will be obstinate in this smallest of matters: Let them embrace everything, but not with any help from me.
This opens a breach in the imaginary encirclement caused by our inaction. It is the easiest thing to do for us, but the most devastating for the lies. Because when people renounce lies it simply cuts short their existence. Like an infection, they can exist only in a living organism.

We do not exhort ourselves. We have not sufficiently matured to march into the squares and shout the truth out loud or to express aloud what we think. It’s not necessary.
It’s dangerous. But let us refuse to say that which we do not think.

This is our path, the easiest and most accessible one, which takes into account our inherent cowardice, already well rooted. And it is much easier — it’s dangerous even to say this — than the sort of civil disobedience which Gandhi advocated.

Our path is not to give conscious support to lies about anything whatsoever! And once we realize where lie the perimeters of falsehood  each sees them in his own way.

Our path is to walk away from the gangrenous boundary. If we did not paste together the dead bones and scales of ideology, if we did not sew together the rotting rags, we would be astonished how quickly the lies would be rendered helpless and subside.

That which should be naked would then really appear naked before the whole world.

So in our timidity, let each of us make a choice: Whether consciously, to remain a servant of falsehood — of course, it is not out of inclination, but to feed one’s family, that one raises his children in the spirit of lies — or to shrug off the lies and become an honest man worthy of respect both by one’s children and contemporaries.

And from that day onward he:

• Will not henceforth write, sign, or print in any way a single phrase which in his opinion distorts the truth.

  • Will utter such a phrase neither in private conversation nor in the presence of many people, neither on his own behalf nor at the prompting of someone else, neither in the role of agitator, teacher, educator, nor in a theatrical role.
  • Will not depict, foster or broadcast a single idea which he can see is false or a distortion of the truth, whether it be in painting, sculpture, photography, technical science or music.
  • Will not cite out of context, either orally or written, a single quotation so as to please someone, to feather his own nest, to achieve success in his work, if he does not share completely the idea which is quoted, or if it does not accurately reflect the matter at issue.
  • Will not allow himself to be compelled to attend demonstrations or meetings if they are contrary to his desire or will, will neither take into hand nor raise into the air a poster or slogan which he does not completely accept.
  • Will not raise his hand to vote for a proposal with which he does not sincerely sympathize, will vote neither openly nor secretly for a person whom he considers unworthy or of doubtful abilities.
  • Will not allow himself to be dragged to a meeting where there can be expected a forced or distorted discussion of a question.
  • Will immediately walk out of a meeting, session, lecture, performance or film showing if he hears a speaker tell lies, or purvey ideological nonsense or shameless propaganda.
  • Will not subscribe to or buy a newspaper or magazine in which information is distorted and primary facts are concealed.

Of course, we have not listed all of the possible and necessary deviations from falsehood. But a person who purifies himself will easily distinguish other instances with his purified outlook.

No, it will not be the same for everybody at first. Some, at first, will lose their jobs. For young people who want to live with truth, this will, in the beginning, complicate their young lives very much, because the required recitations are stuffed with lies, and it is necessary to make a choice.

But there are no loopholes for anybody who wants to be honest: On any given day any one of us will be confronted with at least one of the above-mentioned choices even in the most secure of the technical sciences. Either truth or falsehood: Toward spiritual independence, or toward spiritual servitude.

And he who is not sufficiently courageous even to defend his soul — don’t let him be proud of his “progressive” views, and don’t let him boast that he is an academician or a people’s artist, a merited figure, or a general –let him say to himself: I am in the herd, and a coward. It’s all the same to me as long as I’m fed and warm.
Even this path, which is the most modest of all paths of resistance, will not be easy for us. But it is much easier than self-immolation or a hunger strike: The flames will not envelope your body, your eyeballs, will not burst from the heat, and brown bread and clean water will always be available to your family.
A great people of Europe, the Czhechoslovaks, whom we betrayed and deceived: Haven’t they shown us how a vulnerable breast can stand up even against tanks if there is a worthy heart within it?

You say it will not be easy? But it will be easiest of all possible resources. It will not be an easy choice for a body, but it is only one for a soul. No, it is not an easy path. But there are already people, even dozens of them, who over the years have maintained all these points and live by the truth.
So you will not be the first to take this path, but will join those who have already taken it. This path will be easier and shorter for all of us if we take it by mutual efforts and in close rank. If there are thousands of us, they will not be able to do anything with us. If there are tens of thousands of us, then we would not even recognize our country.

If we are too frightened, then we should stop complaining that someone is suffocating us. We ourselves are doing it. Let us then bow down even more, let us wait, and our brothers the biologists will help to bring nearer the day when they are able to read our thoughts are worthless and hopeless.

And if we get cold feet, even taking this step, then we are worthless and hopeless, and the scorn of Pushkin should be directed to us:

“Why should cattle have the gifts of freedom?

“Their heritage from generation to generation is the belled yoke and the lash.”

The revelation of thought takes men out of servitude into freedom. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson