Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Greatest Generation

Not only was he the first Japanese soldier I had ever shot at, he was the only one I had seen at close quarters.  He was a robin-fat, moon-faced, roly-poly little man with his thick, stubby, trunklike legs sheathed in faded khaki puttees and the rest of him squeezed into a uniform that was much too tight.  Unlike me, he was wearing a tin hat, dressed to kill.  But I was quite safe from him.. His Arisaka rifle was strapped on in a sniper's harness, and though he had heard me, and was trying to turn toward me, the harness sling had him trapped.  He couldn't disentangle himself from it.  His eyes were rolling in panic.  Realizing that he couldn't extricate his arms and defend himself, he was backing toward a corner with a curious, crablike motion.
My first shot had missed him, embedding itself in the straw wall, but the second caught him dead-on in the femoral artery.  His left thigh blossomed, swiftly turning to mush.  A wave of blood gushed from the wound; then another boiled out, sheeting across his legs, pooling on the earthen floor.  Mutely he looked down at it.  He dipped a hand in it and listlessly smeared his cheek red.  His shoulders gave a little spasmodic jerk, as though someone had whacked him on the back; then he emitted a tremendous, raspy fart, slumped down, and died.  I kept firing, wasting government property. . . .
Jerking my head to shake off the stupor, I slipped a new, fully loaded magazine into the butt of my .45.  Then I began to tremble, and next to shake, all over.  I sobbed, in a voice still grainy with fear: "I'm sorry."  Then I threw up all over myself.  . . . At the same time I noticed another odor; I had urinated in my skivvies. . . . Then Barney burst in on me, his carbine at the ready, his face gray, as though he, not I, had just become a partner in the firm of death.  He ran over to the Nip's body, grabbed its stacking swivel - its neck - and let go, satisfied that it was a cadaver.  I marveled at his courage; I couldn't have taken a step toward that corner.  He approached me and then backed away, in revulsion, from my foul stench.  He said: "Slim, you stink."  I said nothing.  I knew I had become a thing of tears and twitchings and dirtied pants.  I remember wondering dumbly: Is this what they mean by "conspicuous gallantry"? - William Manchester, Goodbye Darkness, pp. 6-7
It was autumn, 1988.  I was working at the country club in my hometown for a season, trying to figure out my life.   While taking care of a set of clubs, I overheard a conversation among a foursome, local men my father's age.  They had been talking of their experiences in the service in what I grew up calling "the War", as if it had ever been the only such thing that occurred.  One of the men, a local real estate developer of some note, was talking about his time in the Navy, serving in the Pacific in the 1944 and 1945.  After a battle in which the Japanese sent wave after wave of planes to die in the face of the steel from our ships and planes, he spoke of a young man who had been in an anti-aircraft turret on board the same ship.  "It took an hour to pry his fingers off the gun.  He didn't say anything, ever, as far as I know."

Four years before, when I had just begun my endless search about which I wrote earlier this year, I read Godfrey Hodgson's America In Our Time, one of the best analyses of post-World War II America I have ever encountered.  A few years later I would read William Manchester's The Glory and The Dream, a magesterial attempt to tell 40 years of our national life, with the question implicit in the title always out in front.  From these in particular, although there are many, many others that tell much the same tale, I learned one indispensable fact: the millions of men who served in the military in the Second World War returned from their service, put on civilian clothes, and got busy creating safe lives and worlds.  They went to college on the GI Bill.  They married and their wives starting turning out babies in much the same way the factories to which they returned were turning out refrigerators and ovens and washing machines and cars.  They moved from the cities to new suburbs, settling for what amounted to barracks housing built on the cheap, designs and yard plans dictated from above with no room for deviation.  They became, as the title of one book noted, the men in gray flannel suits.

When the children of these veterans were called upon to go to their own war, the veterans of North Africa and Italy, of France and Germany, of Burma and China, of Guadalcanal and Tarawa insisted they go, just as they had.  There were too few stories, too few words of advice, too little information other than, "Answer the call.  We did."

Of course, the great silence that cast its shadow over the intervening years needed filling.  Societies dread vacuum.  While there were some stories and memoirs that attempted an honest description of war and its madness - The Naked and The Dead, which introduced the word "fug" to the English language because the publishers were wary of printing the actual dialogue too many soldiers and Marines used; Catch-22, describing perfectly the insanity of war as Yosarian struggles to come to terms with his own fear - the vast bulk of the empty space was filled by popular culture.  Films with the Second World War as their setting were huge, telling a generation of young people what war was like, sometimes featuring actors who became heroes to a generation of young boys eager to learn what their father's refused to tell them.

Sometime in the 1990's, Life magazine published a list of "American Heroes".  Lists like this are useful only as far as we get a sense of what our elite think we should think.  Among the top ten "American Heroes" was the actor John Wayne.  It would be a few years before I learned something about Wayne's life that I have cherished in all the years since.  The man who would make a career playing soldiers and sailors, pilots and Marines, killing Germans and Japanese and even in his later years Vietnamese, was so terrified of the prospect of serving in the military after Pearl Harbor, he urged and begged his mentor and friend John Ford to intervene to keep him from military service.  While Clark Gable and James Stewart and others volunteered, spending their war years in combat (Jimmy Stewart was so hurt in his soul by his years as a bomber pilot, he almost gave up acting), Wayne had every possible string pulled for him to keep him from ever wearing a uniform or seeing combat.  When the war was over, however, he thought nothing of putting on a fake uniform and firing blanks at hordes of extras who would pretend to die so Wayne's status as an "American Hero" would be assured.

It wasn't just popular culture that grew fat on American victory in the Second World War.  Policy planners were no less susceptible to hubris.  When the first American troops landed in Korea in 1950, most were garrison troops, stationed in occupied Japan.  Few had seen combat in the Second World War, but, flush with American superiority and given the weapons their older brothers had used to defeat the two greatest military forces ever amassed, they were confident of easy victory.  As John Toland reminds readers in his In Mortal Combat,  one of the first signs of trouble was the utter uselessness of WWII-vintage anti-tank weaponry.  The North Koreans were using the latest Soviet-built tanks (and if there was one thing Soviet industry was good at producing, it was their tanks).  The charges being used by the Americans were quite literally bouncing off the thick-skinned tanks as they rolled over the American troops.  In the course of the war, American troops were nearly pushed off the peninsula completely; then, the First Marine Division suffered its worst defeat in history, having to march the length of the peninsula during a typical, brutal Korean winter while legendary Marine Col. Lewis "Chesty" Puller tried to keep up morale telling them they weren't retreating but advancing to the rear.

I got thinking about all this when I read Charles Durning's obituary in The New York Times.
Mr. Durning was also remembered for his combat service, which he avoided discussing publicly until later in life. He spoke at memorial ceremonies in Washington, and in 2008 France awarded him the National Order of the Legion of Honor.
In the Parade interview, he recalled the hand-to-hand combat. “I was crossing a field somewhere in Belgium,” he said. “A German soldier ran toward me carrying a bayonet. He couldn’t have been more than 14 or 15. I didn’t see a soldier. I saw a boy. Even though he was coming at me, I couldn’t shoot.”
They grappled, he recounted later — he was stabbed seven or eight times — until finally he grasped a rock and made it a weapon. After killing the youth, he said, he held him in his arms and wept.
That's just part of Durning's incredible story.  Not just of his service during the Second World War; reading his obituary, I realized what a remarkable man we have lost, a man out of time, whose whole life seems to echo "America" as I read it.

All the same, it is the whole "he avoided discussing publicly" that troubles me.  I can, I suppose, understand not wanting to talk about beating a 15-year-old kid to death, regardless of the circumstances.  Yet there is much more.  Durning survived, not once but twice, German ambushes that left much the rest of his comrades dead.  Like my oldest brother-in-law's father, Durning was in the first wave that landed in Normandy in June, 1944.  Unlike Rudy, Durning made it off the beach (my brother-in-law's father was so severely wounded,  like far too many he was left almost too long, festering in the rain among the dead; he was saved, however, and is still alive, God bless him).  The millions of soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen who returned from around the world need not have ripped open barely-healed wounds; they could, however, have reminded a victorious nation that victory came with a cost.  Not just the hundreds of thousands of dead Americans; the nearly 50 million dead around the globe, from the deserts of Africa and Mongolia through the jungles of the Pacific and Burma to the frozen waters off Murmansk and, of course, Flander's fields once again watered by the blood of too many young men.  We could have heard that, far from being something done with ease and without a care, William Manchester's story of his first confirmed kill in the Pacific could have reminded us the terrible moral cost that accompanies even the necessary taking of another human being's life.

Those whom Tom Brokaw mistakenly labeled The Greatest Generation, gave us war in Korea.  We sent troops to Indonesia and the Dominican Republic.  We almost blew up the world over Cuba.  Tens of thousands of American men and women died in the swamps and jungles of southeast Asia.  Ronald Reagan dragged outdated battleships out of mothballs to make the hills of Lebanon shake one last time from an American naval broadside.  Still, Americans died there, too.  Far from living the lessons taught by the acres of manicured cemeteries, The Greatest Generation thought its victory vaccinated it from failure in its plans.  Too many men and women, in too many places were forced to pay too high a price for our Greatest Generation's fundamental failure, not just of leadership, but of simple moral imagination.

Through it all, we started to hear stories that war, far from glorious, was horror beyond imagining.  We began to hear, over and over again, that only the dead are our heroes.  We began to learn that the enemy is too often viewed as a comrade, a fellow soldier doing his duty even as he lay dead at our feet.  Not someone to be hated or feared, the enemy is just another soldier, trapped in the brutality and insanity and horror of war.

We are, however, living in a different time.  We are slowly - far too slowly - emerging from over a decade of our own wars.  While our troops and veterans receive increasingly better care, we still read far too often of suicides and addiction, of domestic violence and depression, of the nightmares that bring on screaming fits and violence.  In an age when communication is almost instantaneous and our therapeutic culture demands sharing as much information as possible, we are learning from a new Greatest Generation that war is not a time and place of glory and heroes.  It is misery beyond reckoning, endless fear punctuated by seconds of sheer terror, followed by grief.  From the wounds our young men and women returning from our too-long wars of choice, we may yet learn that we should never again send our young men and women through the human meat grinder that is war; the price we pay for their sacrifices is so high, and we continually fail to make due the bill they present to us.  Perhaps now, as we begin the process of drawing down our combat forces in Afghanistan, we can listen for the stories our soldiers and sailors, our pilots and Marines tell us and give them the greatest honor any nation ever gave those who gave up so much: Vow to find a way to keep their sons and daughters from ever having to experience what they will carry with them.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Truly Deserving Of One Another

It's humbug still! - Ebeneezer Scrooge
Great video on how the existence of morality is evidence for the existence of God. - Neil Simpson
At this festive time of year, along with resurrecting the careers of Andy Williams and Johnny Mathis; putting trees in our homes; braving crowds in stores to purchase things we don't need, sometimes for people we would rather not have in our lives; eating too much; gathering with family only to be reminded why we don't gather with family too often; along with all these things, for some reason two sets of idiots square off in various cage matches, attempting to prove to the world who can be more dim.

It's the ridiculous Christians versus the ridiculous atheists.  Personally, I hope they kill one another off so the rest of us can go about our holiday festivities with some semblance of peace and good-will.

By way of example, with a tip of the holly-crown to Sadly, No!, we have Rev. Michael Bresciani at Renew America.  The author CV under his picture on the sidebar says that Bresciani's "articles are now read in every country in the world."  Which sounds impressive until you realize he publishes his "articles" online.  By that logic, my articles are read in every country in the world; at the very least they're available in every country in the world.  Anyway, aside from tidying up his writer's cred a bit, the article is the kind of thing that makes me wish I had been brought up in some other religious tradition.
Anyone who celebrates the birth of Christ is never in need of a boost from a truly mythological person called Santa, merchandising barrages, office parties or tinsel draped conifers. The words, good tidingsgreat joypeace on earth and good will toward men are the phrases that we feel in our hearts because of his birth and we can never accept the fleshly substitute of making 'merry' and the practice of overspending, overindulgence, drunkenness and general partying on an unspecified holiday as a reasonable substitute. Our joy is 24/7, 365 days a year and follows us into eternity. The atheists have missed the point by a million miles.

If Christmas or Christianity was meant to produce only good feelings then we may as well dump both. Feelings may be part of the Christian experience along with celebrations that warm the heart, but it would be the saddest of all religions if it were based only on emotional responses. At the start and at the heart, real Christianity is based on a historical figure and on an actual historical event.
With a short aside to note that the parenthetical in the first paragraph might portend good news, as Rev Grasciani might well join in protests against the over-commercialization of Christmas by a capitalist class who has no need of religious celebration, but does have a need for profit, let us move on and realize what the final sentence of the second paragraph portends.  Yet, it's time for . . .  Let's prove how little we know about historical research, Christian doctrine, and the idiocy of "proof"!  If it weren't for Neil Simpson's continued presence on the internet, this guy would probably win the prize for wasting more space writing about stuff that he only wishes had something to do with being Christian.
New Testament Christianity and the Christmas story are not based on a preponderance of pure unmitigated belief; it is based on the historical record. Our faith in that record and the interaction of God's Holy Spirit with us (Which he promised) is an objective matter and does not rest on feelings, anecdotal experiences, or fellowship with others of like mind.

The atheists might want to save the unimaginable cost of buying billboard advertising on Times Square and use the money to send a contingent of their followers to Mecca or some other Muslim center of worship with the same message about myths. It is likely they would not come back alive, if at all, but we would have a little less bah-humbug for one Christmas season. Who coined the phrase, less is more? More so, just how seriously do they take their message, if it's good for the goose is it good for the 1.5 billion Muslims who haven't heard it as yet?
It's a two-fer.  You get nonsensical dribblings about "belief", with a hefty dose of anti-Muslim rhetoric (with a  bonus swipe at the Jews; since Adolf von Harnack a century ago, "New Testament Christianity" has been a code word for anti-Semitism).  God, save us from people who claim to believe in you!

Except, alas, the folks who don't believe in God are almost as stupid.  Writing at Religion Dispatches, Anthony Pinn insists that, with the massacre at Newtown, CT, we now have definitive proof that God is now dead.  To help us slower types along, he even titles the piece, "God's Obituary: A Humanist Response To Mass Murder".
I am not describing the loss of faith, but rather the limits of faith in the face of tragedy. What is so important, what is so impressive, during this tragedy is not the faithful appeals to God but rather the collective human effort to comfort the suffering and to remember the value of human life.
Trying both to resolve such tragedies and keep God on the throne actually impedes our ability to process this misery. The appeal to God’s logic offers a type of cosmic cover that is difficult to remove. Looking to God and trying to grasp the workings of the divine mind actually arrests our ability to understand the deeply human nature of these acts of violence. There is no justification; there is no larger logic—no theologically exposed silver lining. This misery is all too human—the imposition of an individual’s twisted will on others with deadly consequences. Appeal to God doesn’t fix this; it doesn’t explain it. 
At best we might suggest that God “dropped the ball”—failed to do what a loving God is suppose to do. Instead, it seems to me, as we read the stories of the victims we are also reading God’s obituary. By this I mean that such extreme human tragedy makes it impossible to talk about God in any useful way.
Really?  It's only now occurring to Anthony Pinn, after a century that has seen evil on such a massive scale that to contemplate it could drive one mad, that many of the ways we try to speak about God in the face of such human misery are miserable failures?  Not to mention all the centuries before this, in which suffering, pain, oppression and death were such a feature of the human social landscape as to be invisible; surely Pinn  is not suggesting that only now, in the aftermath of this particular event, can we finally put paid to the Christian God, over a century after Nietzsche insisted the "we" had killed God.  Except, alas, that's precisely what he's saying.
These profound moments of tragedy slowly kill God, making it so difficult, if not useless, to speak of God in response to misery. Instead we are invited to silence. Deep silence, in which we struggle for human resolve to confront human problems. Please do not misunderstand me: I am not saying we should say nothing, that we should do nothing. I am not suggesting that complacency is the proper response, nor am I arguing that these events should be ignored. Rather, I am proposing silence concerning God, silence concerning efforts to make things better through theological twist and turns, and through the revamping of experience to fit religious categories and religious tradition. 
A humanistic or non-theistic response to the misery like that encountered in Newtown centers the loss of life’s integrity, is deeply sensitive to the damage done to the collective fabric of life. And, it holds humans accountable without the cosmic aid that never seems to come. This is not to say that humanists have all the answers. Rather, in light of human tragedy, humanists might offer better questions during these challenging times, as well as a space for wrestling with these questions free of cosmic justifications—and a God clearly missing in action. 
I write this not to deny comfort for those who have been directly and indirectly touched by this unspeakable act of violence. Mine is an effort to acknowledge and respect grief without so quickly pushing to find some reason behind such tragedy. This loss of life is really beyond our limited human language. The loss experienced by those families, by those associated with the school, and by the collective American and human family is so intense, so absurd, so real that it calls for our full humanity beyond any talk of God.
You want to know what I find really horrible about this particular piece?  It isn't the atheism, about which I couldn't care less.  It's exploiting the pain and suffering not just of the those living in Newtown but all Americans to push an idiotic agenda that has nothing at all to do with comforting those in pain or seeking to prevent others from suffering such pain in the future.  There's nothing constructive here, even less comfort.  All there is, really, is the confident announcement that human suffering disproves the existence of the Christian God so we should all just shut up and live like Anthony Pinn.  Who reminds me of many a college sophomore who suddenly discovers the world is a cruel place and that many of the responses of people of faith and earnest intent fall far short of adequate.

So, I'll leave them to it.  Let them argue it out.  Me, I'm going to continue to keep Christmas in my own way, while simultaneously working, again in my own way, to prevent not just future Newtowns, but future Websters and future corner-of-the-streets, and future husband/boyfriend-kills-wife/girlfriend-in-jealous-rage and future child-finds-Dad's-gun-and-kills-friend/sibling/self.  As St. Thomas said of his own work, stuff like that above  is all straw.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas II: It's Something New

So Lisa and I were watching the movie The Nativity Story yesterday.  Being who we are, we stopped it at several points and talked about things that occurred to us.  After Mary returns from Elizabeth's, obviously pregnant, she and her parents and Joseph are in an intense confrontation.  Mary sticks to her guns, that she has not had sex but is pregnant by Divine love.  I turned to Lisa and said, "Isn't it funny?"

"What's that?" she asked, stopping the movie.

"OK.  These people all say they believe in God, right?  And God says, 'I'm going to do stuff.'  Then, God comes along and does something and no one believes it."

"Isn't that the way it always is?" Lisa asks.

That's why she's the pastor and I'm not.

It goes all the way back to Moses, really.  Moses encounters the burning bush and, after hemming and hawing, demands a sign.  The answer from the bush is, to our later ears, a wonderful example of God getting more than a little impatient.  In essence, the answer is, "You want a sign?  I'll give you a sign.  Get busy doing what I told you to do, then come back here for more instructions."

Now, just as with Moses, so, too, with Mary and Joseph.  There aren't any details.  Mary, remember, is a single woman for whom becoming pregnant is not only a cultural and social disgrace but a crime.  As told in St. Matthew's Gospel, Joseph is well within his rights to accuse her of adultery and have her stoned, but demonstrating more character than most people then or now, decides not to do so.  He will quietly release her from the vows they shared.  Only then does an angel come in a dream and tell him the story we read in St. Luke's Gospel.  After that, he took her to his home.  In the film, Joseph comes to Mary and tells her of his dream and his decision to raise the child as his own.  Mary tells Joseph it won't endear him to the rest of Nazareth.  And, indeed, the rest of the townspeople look upon both of them with disgust.  You can almost see the thought-balloons above the women when they look at Mary: "Whore."  Joseph's friends and co-workers look at him like he's lost his mind, taking this tramp in to his house.  As they're leaving Nazareth for Bethlehem, the people in town watch with disgust as they travel together, and Joseph turns to Mary and he says, "They're going to miss us."

Like Moses, neither Joseph nor Mary get any instructions on dealing with the kinds of social opprobrium heaped upon them.  Like Moses, neither Joseph nor Mary are told how to raise this child, what kind of instruction he is to receive, or much of anything else.  In a place and time where many children died young, there aren't any guarantees he won't catch some dread illness and die.  In a place and time where children are taken from families for any number of reasons, there are no guarantees he won't be ripped from their home, sold to slavery perhaps or some other dread end.  All Mary and Joseph get is the notification the child Mary is carrying is the Son of God.

I've said it before and I'll say it again.  I'm no fan of the word "miracle".  I'm not even sure how anyone would define it, understand it, or recognize it if confronted by such an event.  There isn't much talk of "miracles" in the Bible.  There is, however, a whole lot of talk of God doing something new.  We are so used to the Christmas story I think it's easy to overlook the astounding new thing God is doing here.  I had an exchange with an old and dear friend yesterday.  He told me of St. Bernard's commentary upon the story in Luke, chapter 1, after the Annunciation, as we all wait for Mary's reply: "Let humility be bold!  Let modesty be confident!"

In the face of the astounding reality that she is to carry and bear the Son of God, the One promised and hoped for for centuries, St. Bernard calls for an act of faith that should be our own.  First and foremost - hear the Word from God and believe it.  It is real.  This thing that's happening, it isn't some weird or outlandish event.  A young woman is carrying a child.  How ordinary!  This young woman professes this child came to be through the power of the Spirit of God.  Let us celebrate what God is doing!

In the midst of all this ordinariness, God is doing something new.  We should be bold in our humility, confident in our humility, and even faithful in our materialism and hear the Word of God doing something new here and now in all the humdrum events of our everyday lives.  You want a sign?  You want a miracle?  Look at the pregnant lady.  Watch the folks in the stores and shopping malls.  See the crowds milling around the airports and bus terminals.  These are your signs.  Here are your miracles.  It is for this and these that Mary faced not just humiliation and rejection but death because she said, "Yes," to that most outlandish thing: God's messenger telling her she was to have a child.

A merry Christmas to all of you and each of you, your families and friends, and the whole world.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Advent IV: Hiding In Plain Sight

And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.-John 3:19-21
A great theme of our national life this past year has been the question of reality.  I realize that's hard to believe that a nation not well known for dwelling on metaphysical issues has spent quite a bit of time arguing about what is real and what is not real.  Yet, it's true.

In this election year in particular, although the discussion spread far beyond politics, we have spent almost as much time talking about what constitutes reality as we have our preference for particular policies.  In particular in the aftermath of the election, when it became clear that at least some partisans had not just bought but embraced a view of reality that was contrary to fact, we argued amongst ourselves over the whole question of fact and reality and perception and that poor, tired, overused truth.

Which is why I'm so fond of Richard Rorty.  Too often misunderstood - neo-metaphysician David Weissman once chided Rorty's claim of "anti-realism" by insisting the claim boiled down to pretending there is no snow while one is freezing to death; I have never quite known whether Weissman was being deliberately obtuse or really is that stupid - Rorty's position can be summed up in simple terms: common sense.  Why worry about the foundations of existence or the nature of how we know things or whether there's some deep connection between the way "things really are" and the way we human beings "know" them?  For Rorty, the provenance of the answers to these questions isn't philosophy, but science, a way of understanding the world that is remarkably successful in figuring out the answers to these questions in a practical way.  For Rorty, the only thing philosophy should concern itself with are questions of how we live with one another, and how to do that in a way that doesn't involve pain and suffering.

Rorty's dismissal of so much of the Western philosophical project is rooted in a kind of silly, gesturing obviousness.  Of course the things we see and hear are real.  In an age after Darwin, we have the explanation to the hoary old problem of the "correspondence" between the world around us and our perception of it.  Of course human beings are constituted in such a way that they can figure out the world; how else could we have survived as a species?

Yet we have been living through a time when claims about the world become matters of contention.  We find ourselves as a people engaged in discussions involving the constitution of the world, what reality is and in not, and whether some choose to believe it possible to live in worlds that are, to put it in shorthand, self-constructed.  And the discussion continues, sad to say.  The refusal to grasp the common sense idea that the world is, and is as it is, certainly creates fodder for hilarious and frustrating internet dialogue.

There is, however, something more sinister at work.  There are those who would deliberately create confusion about the whole question of reality.  The "debate" over global warming is a marvelous case in point.  Most global warming deniers are, I am convinced, well aware they are snake-oil salesmen, handing out patent medicines to people desperately wanting to believe it really can't be true we are in need of radical action to make the world habitable for human communities.  There are, however, millions at least here in the United States, who firmly and honestly believe the whole thing is a hoax, a sinister plot being executed for any number of reasons.  That they are being lied to is obvious; that they accept the lie is sad, to say the least.

Like the people who insist that Pres. Obama is a socialist when socialists are more critical of the President - because their criticism is rooted in fact - than any on the right, your run-of-the-mill global warming denier is the victim not just of tendentious fraud.  They are buying a lie sold to them by people who know it's a lie.  Those who lie in this way, and then lie about their lying, are like those Jesus speaks about above.  They are people who love the darkness.  They run from the light, deny the world that surrounds them, a world that proves their lie again and again.  In the darkness, they tell one another they are in control.  In the darkness, they tell one another that it is possible to create confusion about things that should be obvious; by doing so, they gain power.

These folks were dragged in to the light the night of November 6, when the silky comfort of their alternate reality came crashing around them.  Having convinced millions of Americans not only that Mitt Romney would win, but win big, when the exact opposite occurred - an event whose probability had been tracked for months in public, in ways anyone could understand - many stood around and asked, "Why?"  So, too, as we watch event after event, whether it's drought or hurricane or record heat or whole communities swallowed by a rising ocean, people are starting to wake up and demand an answer to one simple question: Why?

The Jesus of the Fourth Gospel knew the answer: For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.  The light of the world, the Incarnate Son of God, is the same light, we are told in the Revelation to St. John, that will one day beam out of the new temple, filling the new heavens and new earth.  There is no hiding from this light.  I picture it as a light so all-pervasive there are not even shadows; it is everywhere, all at once, just as the God who creates and creates anew is.

Yet, we live in a time when it is still possible to hide in shadow.  If one is clever enough, one can move around, continuing to conceal oneself from the light of love that is the Son of God.  Like Adam in the garden, however, God demands to know why we are hiding.  We cannot hide forever; even less can we hide if we are pretending the world is other than the way it is.  It isn't divine intervention that brings to light the multifarious lies that do so much damage.  It's reality that dope-smacks the creators of unreality.

As we prepare ourselves for the blessed event of the Incarnation, we should remember that the light that shines from the manger of Bethlehem will one day fill all creation.  In faith, we can follow the light and see all the ways some wish to hide, refusing to come to the light because they know the things they are doing are wrong.  Let us gather together in Bethlehem knowing we too carry darkness within us.  Let us take it to the light so that the baby lying in the feeding trough can remind us that he came to this world not to condemn us, but that all of us, the whole world, would be saved through him.

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