Thursday, February 28, 2013

Six Crises 14

My latest reading of Richard Nixon's 1962 book, Six Crises, focused on Nixon's response to losing the 1960 Presidential election.

Nixon tries to be a good loser.  Well, actually, he says that he hates losing, and he also has a passage about how women are even more upset when their men lose than the men themselves are!  But Nixon tries to follow the advice of his football coach at Whittier College, Chief Newman, who said that we should hate losing but should blame ourselves when we lose, not others.  Nixon blames himself for not communicating his message adequately----to African-Americans, to the press, etc.  While Nixon believes that newspaper-writers should leave their opinions out of their news stories, he says that he'd rather have that than for freedom of the press to be lost, and he notes that he (unlike Kennedy) did not exert pressure on writers when he considered their coverage of him to be biased.  Nixon also explains why he chose not to demand a recount in certain counties, after he has related some pretty shady details about ghost-votes going to Kennedy!  Essentially, Nixon wanted for there to be a smooth and speedy transition of power, and he did not want to make the system of free elections look bad to the rest of the world, especially the countries that were trying elections out.  Consequently, Nixon accepted Kennedy's victory.

Nixon does not express regrets about some of the moves that he made.  He is glad that he did not inflame the issue of Kennedy's religion (Catholicism).  Nixon also did not attack Kennedy's family, such as the fact that one of the companies owned by JFK's father, Joseph Kennedy, only hired African-Americans for low-level or menial positions.  Nixon is proud of the fact that he focused only on JFK's qualifications and his ideology.

Speaking of JFK's ideology, it was interesting to me that Kennedy was much more honest when he met personally with Nixon after the election than he was during his campaign (and I'm basing this observation on Nixon's description of the meeting).  I'm not saying that Kennedy was dishonest during the campaign, mind you, but you know how politics are: You always have to look good, as if you have your act together, plus you have to try not to alienate people.  When Kennedy met with Nixon privately, however, Kennedy appeared to express some reservations about his own farm policy (Nixon during the election thought that Kennedy was making farmers some pretty outlandish promises), as well as discusses the challenges of working with the new Congress, since it was hard to get liberal policies out of a body where Republicans could unite with conservative Democrats from the South.  Kennedy in his private meeting with Nixon was much more honest about the challenges of governing.

While I'm on the topic of Kennedy's meeting with Nixon, the topic of social skills stood out to me.  Nixon talks about Herbert Hoover calling him after the 1960 election, and Nixon says that Hoover, like former Eisenhower aide Sherman Adams, was not big on small talk: Hoover preferred to cut to the chase rather than spending time on amenities.  Kennedy, by contrast, was much better at small talk: when Kennedy called Nixon, he asked how the weather was, and if Nixon was getting some rest after the election.  Small talk is something that I need to work on.  It seems that some people could advance without it----I think of Herbert Hoover----and perhaps that's because it's easier on some jobs to bypass small talk and to focus primarily on tasks.  Or maybe Hoover could do small talk whenever he had to do so, but he avoided it when he did not deem it necessary.  One thing to note about Sherman Adams is that, according to Stephen Ambrose, Adams did not have many friends during the scandal that led to his departure from office (namely, he accepted a gift), and that could have been because of his off-putting social mannerisms.

Nixon also talks about friendship and how a number of people in politics are fair-weather friends.  He mentions his friend, Bebe Rebozo, as an example of someone who remained his friend, during highs and lows.  This stood out to me on account of Ambrose's narration that Nixon himself tended to leave friends behind when he moved to a different setting, focusing instead on those he was currently working with.  But there were exceptions to that, such as Bebe Rebozo.

Nixon closes his book by saying that he may return to public life.  Nixon refers to the Greek poet Sophocles, who said that "One must wait until the evening to see how splendid the day has been."  Nixon says that the evening of his life has not yet come, yet his life up to that point has been splendid.  Of course, this book was written a little over a decade before Watergate and Nixon resigning from the Presidency in disgrace.  But perhaps Nixon in the evening of his life still thought that his life was splendid.  He had gotten to travel to a lot of places, and he wrote thoughtful books on foreign policy after his resignation.  There were good things in his life, notwithstanding his scandal.

Accountability, Seeing Miracles, and the Israelites in the Wilderness

As I've done my daily quiet time in the Book of Deuteronomy, I've thought about a view that one of my relatives has.  According to my relative, people in this day and age can be saved, but they cannot be lost.  Why?  Because there is not enough unassailable evidence that Christianity is the one true religion for God to judge people according to their response to it.  In the Bible, particularly the New Testament, my relative notes, miracles accompany the proclamation of the Gospel in order to attest to the Gospel's truth (see John 15:24; Hebrews 2:4).  When miracles do not accompany the preaching of the Gospel, however, how can God judge people for rejecting it?  On what basis should people believe in the Gospel as opposed to other religions and philosophies, if God does not prove to them beyond a reasonable doubt that the Gospel is true?

A number of my evangelical friends say that the people who reject the Gospel would probably reject it even if they saw a miracle (see Luke 16:31), but I have issues with that claim.  So people should be judged according to a hypothetical----according to what they would have done?  That makes no sense to me.
So what's this have to do with Deuteronomy?  I read Deuteronomy 1, and it talks about how the Israelites were barred from the Promised Land because of their unbelief.  They were intimidated by the walls of Canaan and the size of the Amorites, and thus they did not want to attempt to conquer Canaan.  I wondered if God likewise judges me when I am afraid, but then I saw that the Israelites in Deuteronomy 1 had advantages that I myself do not have.  As Deuteronomy 1:30-33 indicates, the Israelites had seen and experienced God's power: God's deliverance of Israel from Egypt, God taking care of the Israelites in the wilderness, and God guiding the Israelites by cloud and by fire.  I haven't seen miracles at that level, so, while I can understand God judging the Israelites of that time for being afraid, I have a hard time believing that God judges me for my fear.

Some may argue that God does judge people in the here and now, as God judged the Israelites in the wilderness, for the wilderness generation are paraded before New Testament Christians as an example.  After all, does not the Epistle to the Hebrews warn its Christian audience not to be unbelieving, as were the Israelites in the wilderness, lest they fail to enter God's rest?  And does not Paul in I Corinthians 10 exhort the Corinthians not to be like the sexually-immoral Israelites in the wilderness?  Does not that imply that the lessons of Deuteronomy 1 are for all time, and apply even to those who have not seen God's miracles?

But it can be argued that the Hebrews and the Corinthians, too, saw and experienced miracles.  Hebrews 6:10 refers to people who have tasted the powers of the World to Come.  And I Corinthians 12:28 mentions miracles and the gift of healing.

So is the Bible irrelevant, if people are not held accountable over whether or not they believe in it?  I don't think so.  It has good principles.  I think of the hyper-dispensationalist saying that I've heard that parts of the Bible are for us, but they were not written to us.  For example, I know of hyper-dispensationalists who do not believe that (say) all of the Gospel of Matthew is normative for Christians today, for they maintain that the Gospel of Matthew teaches a works-salvation, whereas Christians are saved by grace through faith.  But they still study the Gospel of Matthew because they believe that it has edifying stuff, even for them.  Similarly, while I am not in the same position as the Israelites in the wilderness or even the early church, I can still be edified by lessons pertaining to them: how we can trust God because he loves us and wants to take care of us, for example.

I should say this about accountability: I do not want to imply that human beings in the here-and-now are not accountable to God for what they do.  The issue that I'm addressing is salvation: when does God hold people accountable for how they respond to the Gospel?  How much knowledge do they need before they indeed are held accountable?  Of course, one can point out that morality and salvation are intertwined issues, for salvation is God saving us from the punishment that we deserve for our immorality.  So things are thornier than I may think.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

James H. Job, Sr.: I Can't Help It: Do We Do What We Must Do?

I was in Indiana from February 16-25, attending my sister's wedding and visiting with family.  I stayed for some time at my Grandpa and Grandma's house.  For years at that house, I've noticed a pamphlet on one of the shelves.  It dates to 1925 (though there was an earlier edition in 1924), and it's by James H. Job, Sr., a pastor, who also was my great-great grandfather (not that he was alive when I was born).  It's entitled I Can't Help It: Do We Do What We Must Do? 

The title long intrigued me.  I had heard that James Job, Sr. was a rather cold and hard man, and I thought that his pamphlet might be about our human struggle to fulfill our moral obligations to God and to our neighbors.  I tend to gravitate towards the theme of people who have weaknesses, and yet deep inside of them there is a humanity, love, and a desire to do what is right.  How many times have I felt that underneath my cold and aloof exterior is someone who genuinely cares for other human beings, but who struggles to express that care in his day-to-day life?  I can easily exclaim at times that "I can't help it", while asking if I do what I must, and, if not, why?  I thought that Job's pamphlet would wrestle with those kinds of issues.

Because I wasn't going to church when I was in Indiana, I decided to read James H. Job's pamphlet and to blog about that on Sunday, in place of my usual Sunday post of blogging about the morning's church service that I attended.  But, because the Internet connection was slow where I was staying, I decided to postpone my blogging for when I would return to upstate New York.  Well, I have returned, and this is my post on James H. Job, Sr.'s pamphlet!

It turned out that the message of the pamphlet was not what I anticipated.  It wasn't about the human struggle to be good.  Rather, it was a defense of Calvinism.  It's not that Job explicitly mentioned Calvinism or predestination, but his essential argument was that human free will is an illusion, which is why we need God to transform us unilaterally by God's grace.  In certain respects, Job's argument overlapped with that of Jonathan Edwards in Freedom of the Will.  Job contended that we have desires inside of us, and we follow the desire that is strongest at any given time.  We did not choose those desires, but they are just there, and we cannot help but to follow the stronger desire.  This is true of fallen human beings.  It is true of converted people, who have good and sinful desires inside of them.  It is true of God and of Satan.  It is even true of plants, which gravitate towards the sunlight.  We cannot act otherwise.

So, according to Job, how can we be held morally accountable, when we cannot help what we do?  And what is the basis for society to enact laws, if people's acts are essentially determined?  For Job, we're accountable when we know that something is wrong and do it anyway, though, on some level, we're also accountable if we sin out of ignorance (since Luke 12:48 says that the one who does not know his master's will and violates it will be beaten with a few stripes).  The reason for laws, according to Job, is to maintain societal order.  But how can laws maintain societal order, if we can't help what we do?  According to Job, if I understood him correctly, laws can essentially influence our desires, strengthening some at the expense of others.  Remember that Job said that we follow the stronger desire.  Suppose that (say) Ralph desires to rob the bank.  Ralph has a desire for money.  But the law against theft means that Ralph could go to jail if he is caught.  That reality brings another desire into play: Ralph may want money, but he may also want his freedom.  If Ralph's desire for freedom is stronger than his desire for money, Ralph would be discouraged from robbing the bank.  The law throws another desire into the mix, and that could dissuade Ralph from doing wrong.  Job is deterministic, but he realizes that the desires that we have come from a variety of factors, including the impact of other people upon us: we, as we are, are shaped by our environment, and we also have an influence on others.

That's Job's overall argument.  But there were a variety of side issues in his pamphlet that intrigued me.  Here are some examples:

----When Job was comparing humans with vegetables and animals, I wondered if he was open to evolution.  It turned out that he was not, for he said that evolution was unable to explain the existence of the male and female sexes, whereas the Bible was, and that evolution could not account for the variety of organisms in certain environments.  Actually, my understanding is that evolution does explain why there are certain organisms in particular environments.  I don't know how evolutionists would account for the existence of the two sexes, however, but I'm open to learning about this.

----Many biblical scholars contend that Genesis 1-2 has two different creation accounts, by at least two authors.  Those who don't accept that have to deal with a problem: God creates human beings in Genesis 1, and God creates human beings in Genesis 2.  So did God create human beings twice?  Some say that Genesis 2 is a microscopic elaboration on the creation that occurred in Genesis 1: Genesis 1 says that God created human beings, and Genesis 2 shows how God did so.  Arnold Murray (if I understand him correctly) maintains that Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 present two acts of creation: the people whom God creates in Genesis 1 are not the same as the people whom God creates in Genesis 2 (which, according to Murray, would explain where Cain got his wife!).  Job has another proposal: Genesis 1 is about the creation of the soul, whereas God in Genesis 2 places that soul in a body.

----I appreciated Job's discussion of how we often act according to the knowledge that we have at the time.  When we make a mistake, we can learn from its consequences, but, unfortunately, we can't go back in time and tell our earlier selves about the wisdom that we have gained.  We can advise others right now, however.  Again, Job is talking about how we are shaped by our environment, and how we shape our environment.  There is a determinism in Job's scenario, but that determinism is consistent with human interaction and the messiness of life.

----Job says that people should disobey unjust laws, and he cites Prohibition as an example of an unjust law.  Job says that, under Prohibition, Jesus Christ would be thrown into jail for turning water into wine!  This surprised me because my Grandma said that Job was a Baptist.  This would be consistent with his Calvinism, since there are Baptists who are Calvinistic.  (They're called primitive Baptists.)  But why would a Baptist think that Jesus turned water into alcohol?  My reading of Job, on some level, was predictable, but there were a few surprises!     

Six Crises 13

On pages 367-368 of his 1962 book Six Crises, Richard Nixon talks about the religion issue in the 1960 Presidential election, specifically the fears that a number of Americans had that John F. Kennedy, who was a Roman Catholic, would be subservient to the pope were he to become President.  Kennedy gave a speech in which he attempted to dispel that fear.

From what Nixon narrates on pages 367-368 of Six Crises, Nixon, who was Kennedy's opponent, chose not to touch the religion issue.  This, even though Nixon himself was criticized by some for being a Quaker.  Governor Luther Hodges of North Carolina, for example, said that, the last time that America preferred a Quaker over a Catholic in a Presidential election, it regretted its decision!  Hodges was referring to Herbert Hoover's defeat of Catholic Al Smith in the 1928 Presidential election.

Nixon says that he did not give his own speech on the religion issue because he did not want to inflame it.  Nixon feared that, if he were to give a speech about religion in which he said that people should not consider Kennedy's religion when they voted----either for or against Kennedy----people would accuse him of being a bigot and of inflaming the religion controversy by reminding voters that Kennedy was a Catholic.  If Nixon won the election, detractors would attribute his victory to his exploitation of the religion issue, and Nixon did not want to set back religious tolerance.  Nixon states that he "felt a responsibility to keep a lid on the boiling cauldron of embittered anti-Catholicism", and Nixon does not regret not giving a speech on the religion issue.

One passage that stood out to me on pages 367-368 was the following: "Also, from a personal point of view, I could not dismiss from my mind the persistent thought that, in fact, Kennedy was a member of a minority religion to which the presidency had been denied throughout the history of our nation and that perhaps I, as a Protestant who had never felt the slings of discrimination, could not understand his feelings----that, in short, he had every right to speak out against even possible and potential bigotry."
I admired Nixon for this observation.  Nixon recognized his own status of privilege, at least in the sense that he had never experienced religious discrimination, and so he sought to sympathize with Kennedy and to keep quiet when he felt that his (meaning Nixon's) knowledge and experience were limited.  Nixon instead focused his attacks on Kennedy's lack of executive experience and spendthrift proposals on government spending.

On Seeking a Better Fit

For my write-up today on Circle of Life: Traditional Teachings of Native American Elders, I'll highlight something that James David Audlin says on page 61:

"If you perceive a problem in your relationship with someone, then there is a problem.  It is a modern question, not a traditional question, to wonder if there 'really' is a problem or if 'I'm just perceiving one.'  Let's say you're married to someone you think is lazy.  A traditional person married to this individual would realize that the problem is real simply because he or she perceives it.  If another person were married to this individual, the other person might not perceive this individual as lazy.  But that only means the laziness wouldn't be a real problem for the other person.  All there is is perception, so the very fact that you perceive a problem makes the problem real."

I think that it's a good idea for one to search for people, places, and jobs with which he or she is compatible.  Does that mean that a person should bail at the first signs of trouble, however?  I wouldn't go that far, for there is no perfect person, place, or situation, and so everyone would have to bend or adapt at least a little bit, even in good situations.  In determining whether or not one should bail, one would have to decide what he or she can take, if he or she can work things out, if he or she has any viable alternatives, and if he or she would hurt others by bailing.  Moreover, while it's not beneficial to one's mental health to conclude that he or she will never find friends, a significant other, or a decent job because he or she has botched things up in the past, and it is beneficial to remember that some people, places, and situations may be better fits than others, I think that it's also a good idea to try to learn from your mistakes: What did you do wrong that you could have done better?  Granted, it's possible for some of you to look back at certain people and conclude that you would have never been able to please them, regardless of what you would have done or wouldn't have done.  Fine.  That's their problem.  But look at your side of the street.  Was there anything that you could have done differently or better?

Also, if you do find a good fit, be sure to be appreciative!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Six Crises 12

For my write-up today on Richard Nixon's 1962 book Six Crises, I'll quote what Nixon says on page 344 about his preparation for the 1960 Presidential debates:

"I followed my usual practice of reading as widely as possible and of listening to as much advice as I could cram into my crowded schedule.  But in the final analysis, I knew that what was most important was that I must be myself.  I have seen so-called public relations experts ruin many a candidate by trying to make him over into an 'image' of something he can never be.  I went into the second debate determined to do my best to convey three basic impressions to the television audience----knowledge in depth of the subjects discussed, sincerity, and confidence.  If I succeeded in this, I felt my 'image' would take care of itself."

Do I buy into the notion that people will like me if I just be myself?  Well, yes and no.  Perhaps there are areas in which I should not just be myself, but should behave according to what is considered to be socially appropriate.  But there are also areas in which I can't be anyone other than myself.  In my opinion, there is a place for me being at peace with myself, for me being comfortable with who I am and how I am, and for me capitalizing on my strengths.

I also thought of Sarah Palin when I read that passage in Six Crises.  Nixon was good at facts and figures, but he was not as good in terms of personal skills (or such is my understanding).  Palin, however, was not as good at facts and figures, but she had charisma.  Should she have crammed her head with facts and figures in preparing for the 2008 Vice-Presidential debate?  That may not have helped her, for she wouldn't have come across as glib and as confident as she did.  It would have been nice had she conveyed a deeper understanding of the issues, however.  And, if she did not have that, she probably shouldn't have been picked to be John McCain's VP candidate.  Sure, people should not be expected to be something that they're not.  But jobs should have qualifications, for people do jobs better when they are qualified for them.

The Don Juan Man, and the Shy Man

For my write-up today on Circle of Life: Traditional Teachings of Native American Elders, I'll quote something that James David Audlin says on page 37.  The context is a story about a Messenger from the Creator who appears as a beautiful woman, and a Don Juan sort of man and a shy man respond to her in different ways.

"Both boys in this definitive moment went to the extremes of their wonted behavior.  The one, overly bold with women to the point of turning them into objects for Conquest, here treats a Messenger from the Creator in a most dehumanizing way.  The other, overly shy with women to the point of denying the humanity they share with him, fails to see the essential goodness of this Beautiful Woman.  There's a particular lesson in all this for men: we men should treat woman in all her individual varieties as if she were the Beautiful One herself, and we also should attempt to get past the outer appearance of a woman to see her essential goodness, her essential humanity."

Monday, February 25, 2013

Six Crises 11

I have three items for my write-up today on Richard Nixon's 1962 book, Six Crises.

1.  On page 300, Nixon responds to the charge that, at the 1952 Republican National Convention, he agreed to deliver the California delegates to Dwight Eisenhower in exchange for receiving the Vice-Presidential nomination:

"Despite the success of my New York speech and [Thomas] Dewey's unexpected reaction to it, I did not consider myself a serious contender for the vice presidential nomination when I attended the Chicago Convention in July 1952.  And this is perhaps as good a place as any to lay to rest one of the many myths regarding my selection as General Eisenhower's running mate in 1952.  It has been alleged that there was a 'deal' between Dewey and myself under which I was to receive the vice presidential nomination in return for 'delivering' the California delegation to Eisenhower.  There are two facts which completely demolish this allegation.  In the first place, I was for Eisenhower long before I met Dewey at the New York dinner in May.  And in the second place, the California delegation was pledged to Governor Earl Warren and stayed with him to the finish.  It did not shift to Eisenhower until after he had already been assured the nomination by reason of the switch to him, over Harold Stassen's objection, of the Minnesota delegation."

Earlier in the book, on page 75, Nixon says that he did not expect to be nominated as the Republican candidate for Vice-President.  He states that he was aware that his name was "mentioned as one of a number of possible candidates for Vice President", but he thought that his chance of actually being nominated was "remote".  Nixon narrates, "I had not even bothered to pack a dark suit for the trip since I did not expect to have an opportunity to speak in Convention Hall."  Two days prior to Eisenhower's nomination, when the Chicago Daily News speculated on the front page that the ticket would be Eisenhower-Nixon, Nixon told a member of his staff to purchase a half-dozen copies, saying, "That will probably be the last time we see that headline and I want to be able to show it to my grandchildren."  In Nixon's narration, his selection to be the Vice-Presidential nominee was a surprise to him, perhaps implying that he was not angling to get the slot through shady maneuvers.

In a post on Irwin Gellman's The Contender, I say the following:

"One narrative that Gellman seeks to refute says that, in 1952, Nixon was waffling in whom he was supporting to be the Republican nominee for President because he was trying to position himself to be selected as the running mate.  Did Nixon support California Governor Earl Warren, only to stab him in the back and support Dwight Eisenhower?  Gellman contends that Nixon continued to support Warren, in the face of conservatives who felt that Warren was as much of a spendthrift as the Democrats!  Gellman also disputes Stephen Ambrose’s claim that Nixon 'worked for Eisenhower within the California delegation by weakening Warren’s hold on its members' (Gellman’s words on page 457), for Gellman states that 'Warren had absolute control over how the delegation would vote; Nixon had no ability to change that' (page 457)... The thing is, on page 433, Gellman says that Warren himself felt that Nixon was betraying him and was working for Eisenhower, something that Eisenhower denied."

As I look again at Gellman's discussion of the 1952 Republican National Convention, I see things that I missed, and that was probably because that was the first time that I had read a discussion of Nixon's role in the 1952 Republican National Convention, so I was reading a lot of details without any familiarity with the topic.  Gellman states on page 447 that Nixon supported Eisenhower, but Nixon also pledged to go with how the delegation voted, which was for Warren, and thus he was committed to Warren until Warren would release his (Warren's) hold on the delegates.  According to Gellman, Nixon did not have the votes to undermine the delegation's support for Warren, so he was not trying to do so.  Then why did Warren distrust Nixon?  Nixon sent out a questionnaire to his constituents, mainly those who supported him in his race for Senate in 1950, asking whom they'd support as the Republican nominee for President.  A majority of those who responded said Eisenhower.  Supporters of Warren contended that Nixon was portraying Warren as unelectable, but Nixon responded that he sent out the questionnaire so he could make an informed decision about whom to support were Warren to withdraw from the race.
 
2.  But back to Six Crises!  On page 306, Nixon talks about Democrat Hubert Humphrey's chances for the 1960 Democratic nomination for President:

"Hubert Humphrey was a tireless campaigner, a good speaker, and had strong support among the liberal elements of the Democratic Party in the North and the West.  But while he had become more restrained and moderate in recent years, some of his more radical and irresponsible positions of the early days in Washington could not be lived down.  The Southerners and the big city bosses of the party would never take him."

I don't think that Nixon is suggesting that a candidate should pander to the South, for Nixon later in the book talks about how he (Nixon) endorsed civil rights even when he campaigned in the South.

In any case, I could somewhat identify with Nixon's characterization of Humphrey.  It's hard to live an image down after people have already defined you.  When I was in college, I established a reputation as a right-winger, through articles and letters-to-the-editor that I wrote as well as my contributions to message boards.  I thought that I made some decent arguments, but I also said some outlandish things and took extreme stances.  Later in my college career, when I tried to become more reasonable and moderate, I felt that people did not respond to what I actually said, but rather to their stereotypes of what I believed.  Like Humphrey, I could not live down my image!

But Humphrey eventually may have lived down his liberal image.  I don't know much about him, but he did run in 1968 as the Democratic nominee for President, and my impression is that he was considered to be one of the more conservative candidates for the Democratic nomination because he had been the Vice-President under Lyndon Johnson, and thus Johnson's policies in Vietnam were attached to him.  Meanwhile, there were other Democratic candidates who were against the Vietnam War.  So it is possible to get a new image.  Humphrey's new image did not exactly help him in 1968, however!

3.  On page 323, Nixon says, "my view is that debates between the major party candidates will be a feature of all future presidential campaigns, regardless of the candidates' own desires."

The reason that this stood out to me was that there actually were no Presidential debates in 1968 and 1972, years that Nixon was running for President.  I wonder why, since debates were such a prominent aspect of Nixon's life, not only in 1960, but even prior to that.  I think of Nixon's debate as a child over whether it's better to own or to rent a house, his debate with Democrat Jerry Voorhis in his race to become a Congressman, his debate with John F. Kennedy over Taft-Hartley, and the list goes on.  Was Nixon tired of debates by 1968?  Did he reflect that they did not really help him in 1960, and so he figured that he could win in 1968 without them?  I don't know.  I will say, though, that, had John F. Kennedy not been assassinated, there probably would have been Presidential debates in the 1964 Presidential election, for Kennedy and Republican Barry Goldwater both hoped that the 1964 election would contain a reasonable discussion of ideas (see here).

Festival! Festival!

For my write-up today on Circle of Life: Traditional Teachings of Native American Elders, I'll use as my starting-point something that James David Audlin says on page 12:

"Among many nations, including the Hodenasaunee and Tsalagi (Cherokee), these [New Year] ceremonies were times of sacred chaos, of completely unrestrained behavior, and cleansing.  At the New Year itself, the usual patterns of appropriate behavior were suspended.  All debts were forgiven.  All those punished were released from punishment.  Inebriation, sexual activity, and other bawdy behavior were the 'rule' rather than the exception.  The purpose of the chaos was to cleanse the psychological detritus from the previous year, so the new year could begin with a clean slate.  The newcomers to this continent still have a lingering cultural memory of this ancient worldwide tribal tradition in the exuberant behavior they exhibit on New Year's Eve and Mardi Gras----though it is, ironically, now limited by law and custom, forbidding the healthiest and most purgative kinds of chaotic behavior, such as sexuality, and limiting revelers to the most unhealthy kinds of license, such as drunkenness and rowdy behavior."

Are there any parallels between this and what we see in the Pentateuch?  I'd say yes, on some level.  The Pentateuch has Yom Kippur, which takes place soon after the Fall New Year, and it is a time of new beginnings, as the Israelites' sins are forgiven and the sanctuary is cleansed (Leviticus 16).  At the same time, in contrast to certain other cultures' New Year's festivals (as Audlin describes them), Yom Kippur is not a day of license and partying for the purpose of purgation, for what accompanies the atonement on that day is the Israelites' affliction of their own souls (Leviticus 16:29, 31; 23:27, 32; Numbers 29:7).

But the Feast of Tabernacles is a time of rejoicing and partying, when the Israelites can use their second tithe for "whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth" (Deuteronomy 14:26, in the KJV).  And the Feast of Tabernacles may have been the original new year's festival, since Exodus 34:22 says that the Feast of Ingathering occurs at the coming around (the NRSV renders it "turn") of the year.  Do we see in the Feast of Tabernacles a remnant of the ancient tribal tradition that Audlin talks about?  Perhaps, but it's worth noting that there is no explicit indication in the Pentateuch that the rejoicing on the Feast of Tabernacles has a purgative purpose; rather, its purpose could have been to celebrate God's role in providing Israel with a bountiful harvest.

On that note, what I thought about when I read that passage in Audlin's book was the festival in the Star Trek episode "The Return of the Archons", though I doubt that the cultures that Audlin talked about had a festival as chaotic as what is on that episode (see here)!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Six Crises 10

On pages 296-297 of Six Crises, Richard Nixon discusses the importance of a liberal arts education in college, and how that prepared him for public life:

"The small Quaker college I attended----Whittier...did not offer a course in political science in the years I spent there.  But looking back, I think the limited quantity of courses offered was offset by the high quality of the group of dedicated teachers unto whom it was my privilege to study.  History, literature, philosophy, and the classics----taught by inspirational men----is the best foundation for a career in politics.  There will be plenty of time later to learn firsthand the intricacies of political strategy and tactics by working in the precincts.  There will be little time later for gaining indispensable knowledge in depth about the nature of man and the institutions he has created...I hasten to add that this is not a case against courses in political science...I can only express my opinion that if a choice has to be made, the college years----when the mind is quicker, more receptive, and more retentive than it will ever be again----can best be used to develop the whole man rather than the specialist...It is not that people do not 'grow' after they finish their formal education and enter public life.  But the capacity to grow will be determined by the breadth and depth of the intellectual base which is acquired during the college years.  If a man comes out of college with only the narrow and thin background of the highly trained political specialist, he may win elections----but he will serve neither his country nor himself as well as he should."

I minored in political science as an undergraduate, but I did not learn much (if anything) in my courses about political strategy.  Rather, I read political classics, such as Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau, and others.  I also studied the governments of foreign countries.  And I took a class in which we discussed articles that we read about current events.  I think that Nixon would probably approve of my college's political science program (though some of its professors most likely didn't approve of Nixon!).

I've often wondered how practical my education has been in terms of giving me skills for the "real world".  Perhaps I should have audited more courses on business!  But I don't regret reading the works of those who have been classified as great thinkers.  When I was in college, a friend of mine was debating someone in the college newspaper about whether learning can take place without reading great thinkers.  Someone wrote an article lamenting that a number of students he knew did not do the readings for their classes, but preferred instead to party.  My friend responded that who qualifies as a great thinker is rather subjective, that learning can take place through discussion with other people without consideration of the thoughts of the "great thinkers", and that socializing itself prepares students for the real world.  I can see merit in both sides.  I think that people miss out when they do not read the writings of great thinkers, for a number of these writings can feed the soul, and familiarity with them also enables people to understand the world around them a lot better.  But, in my opinion, it's also important to learn social skills.

What should the canon be, however?  I see merit in the writings of dead white males (and females).  But I'm also all for people reading the writings of minorities.  I am hesitant to say that, say, rap music should replace T.S. Elliott in school curricula.  But reading Frederick Douglas or Martin Luther King or Malcolm X or W.E.B. Du Bois, or others, can be quite profitable.  This can familiarize students with the world around them, and it can also give them background for wrestling with the big issues----what are human beings like?  What should a political system be like, and why?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Six Crises 9

On page 272 of Six Crises, Richard Nixon says the following about Nikita Khrushchev of the Soviet Union:

"As I look back over my conversations with Khrushchev, I could see how right my friend had been.  A picture of Khrushchev, the man, began to form in my mind.  Intelligence, a quick-hitting sense of humor, always on the offensive, colorful in action and words, a tendency to be a show-off, particularly where he had any kind of gallery to play to, a steel-like determination coupled with an almost compulsive tendency to press an advantage----to take a mile where his opponent gives an inch----to run over anyone who shows any sign of timidity or weakness----this was Khrushchev.  A man who does his homework, prides himself on knowing as much about his opponent's position as he does his own, particularly effective in debate because of his resourcefulness, his ability to twist and turn, to change the subject when he is forced into a corner or an untenable position."

The friend Nixon refers to was a diplomat who disagreed with press observers who considered Khrushchev to be a light-weight and lacking in intelligence in comparison with Joseph Stalin.  The press observers did not expect for Khrushchev to last that long!  But this diplomat said regarding Khrushchev that "No man could have fought his way up through the jungle of Communist intrigue, through purges, exile, and disgrace, during the period of Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, and Malenkov, without having not only iron determination and unlimited stamina, but also intelligence and extraordinary all-round ability."  And he's probably right on that!

When I was reading Stephen Ambrose's Nixon: The Education of a Politician, Nixon's comments on Khrushchev's ability as a debater stood out to me, and I was thinking of blogging about that subject and relating it to the topic of effective debating in general.  But I blogged about something else in my reading of Ambrose instead.  And yet, as has happened before, my reading of Six Crises has given me an opportunity to blog about something that I was going to blog about when I read Ambrose's book, but did not.

On the one hand, I can think of reasons that Khrushchev could be characterized as a poor debater.  When he was backed into a corner, he did not answer his opponent's argument, but rather he changed the subject and asked a question that put his opponent on the defensive.  That doesn't particularly impress me because, whenever I am reading or listening to a debate, my main interest is in seeing whether or not a debater addresses and effectively answers his opponent's arguments. 

On the other hand, I can see why Khrushchev could be characterized as a good debater.  Projecting a strong presence and oratory do go a long way.  A person can weakly make a good point and end up losing the debate in the eyes of many in the audience because the other person's style was better.  One has to make a good point effectively----in a manner that enables it to stand out to the audience----in order to do well in a debate.  

This works when the debates are spoken.  How about when we're dealing with written debates----such as political or religious discussions on blogs or on social-networking sites?  In that case, arguments and facts do matter a lot more.  Whereas Khrushchev could dominate a discussion and prevent his opponent from getting a word in edgewise (though Nixon did manage to get his arguments out in a timely and an effective manner), that's not really possible when the format is online, for everyone who wants to contribute to the discussion can do so And yet, my impression is that style matters even online.  To be effective in online debates, one has to write his or her argument clearly, and in a manner that gets people's attention and resonates with them. 

What sorts of comments get attention and what ones do not, I don't entirely know, but I will guess, based on my observations.  Comments that are extremely short can easily be overlooked.  "On the one hand" and "on the other hand" comments may not resonate with readers because they find them to be too complicated.  I think that readers like comments that have a thesis and that provide an actual argument, from a certain perspective, especially if that perspective agrees with what they already believe, though one can also be impressed by the other side's argument.  Are those the kinds of comments that I usually contribute to online discussions?  Not really.

Psalm 117

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 117, which is the shortest Psalm (and, if I'm not mistaken, the shortest chapter in the entire Bible).  Psalm 117 states the following, in the King James Version:
"1. O praise the LORD, all ye nations: praise him, all ye people.   2. For his merciful kindness is great toward us: and the truth of the LORD endureth for ever. Praise ye the LORD."

A question that is asked within the Jewish sources that I read is this: Why would the other nations praise the LORD for his kindness towards Israel, the presumed "us" of v 2? 

The Jewish exegete Radak said that, in the times of the Messiah, the nations will praise God for delivering Israel from their control and for God's faithfulness to Israel throughout the Diaspora.  I do not know why Radak thinks that the nations would praise God for these things.  Perhaps the nations admire God for sticking by his people through thick and thin, the same way that many of us may emotionally respond to examples of love and faithfulness that are for the benefit of others besides ourselves----examples in stories and in real life.  Many of us also like a good underdog story, and God, in exalting Israel, has lifted up a people that was despised for many years in the eyes of many.  Maybe the nations are impressed that the God of Israel was powerful enough to deliver Israel from their hands.

The thing is, although God in Psalm 117 may have a special love for Israel, there is a sense in which certain Jewish interpreters may hold that God's exaltation of Israel benefits the nations as well.  According to Artscroll, Radak said that the reason that Psalm 117 is so short is that it is about the "simplicity of the world order" that will exist under the reign of the Messiah.  Even the Gentile nations would benefit from an era of simplicity----of peace and righteousness!  Moreover, the Artscroll cites Yaavetz Hadoresh, which suggested that Israel will merit God's deliverance of her on account of her service to God, and the nations will recognize this and will actually be happy that they will be subservient to God's chosen people.  Many would probably like the concept of people being rewarded for their devotion, and they would prefer to be ruled by those who are good rather than by those who are bad.

Christianity, and I here think specifically of the Epistles of Paul, appeared to have a different idea, however.  It did not seem to envision the Messianic age as a time when the Gentiles would be subordinate to the Jews.  Rather, its idea was that the Gentiles would join the community of God and there they would be equal with the Jews, without having to be circumcised and keep the Torah.  Was this idea faithful to the Hebrew Bible?  Well, Isaiah 56 does, in some sense, portray Gentiles joining the people of Israel, taking hold of God's covenant, and keeping the Sabbath; I don't think that this goes as far as what Paul advocated, but it's sort of a step in that direction.  But, overall, when the Hebrew Bible talks about the Gentiles praising God, it does not seem to suggest that the Gentiles would do so as co-equals with Jews in God's covenant community, Israel.  Rather, Israel is God's chosen people, and the nations praise her God because they recognize his divine power as a result of his activity on Israel's behalf.

At the Bible study that I attend, I recently made the statement that there really is no evidence that the Bible is true.  Someone then responded that we can look at fulfilled prophecy and see that the Bible is divinely-inspired.  He referred to Hosea, which (according to him) says that Gentiles would become a part of God's people.  He noted that Hosea made this prophecy back when God's covenant was with Israel alone, and that the prophecy came true with the church.  He may have been implying that Hosea was ahead of his own time----that Hosea had to have gotten his vision from divine revelation because he by himself, within his own historical context, would not have come up with the idea that God would include the Gentiles in God's covenant people, for at that time the Israelites were God's covenant people.  And the fact that this prophecy was fulfilled, in his mind, is evidence that the Bible is God's word.

I did not entirely agree with this gentleman, but I did not argue with him, for I try not to be argumentative in my Bible study group.  The reason that I said that there is no evidence that the Bible is true was because people in the group were saying that we're saved by faith, and they were talking about how that's so much easier than salvation by works.  But I, and someone else in the group, was doubtful that even faith is all that easy!

I disagree with this gentleman for two reasons.  First of all, the passage in Hosea that is supposedly about the Gentiles becoming part of God's people----which Paul in Romans 9:25-26 cites as having this message----actually in its original context says no such thing.  Rather, the point of Hosea 1:9-10 and 2:23 is that God will re-embrace Israel after a period of rejecting her.  According to Hosea, God had called Israel "not my people" on account of her sins, but God will restore Israel and she will be God's people once again.  Second, I don't think that it would be a stretch within the time periods in which the Hebrew Bible was composed that an Israelite writer would have a favorable view towards Gentiles----that he would conclude that God is concerned for the Gentiles, as well as Israel.  Maybe he wouldn't go so far as to say that the Gentiles would join Israel and be co-equals with the Jews, without having to be circumcised or keep the law.  But he could arrive at the conclusion that Israel had some sort of mission to the Gentiles, and that Israel should welcome Gentiles who want to worship the LORD.  Within the Hebrew Bible, there are exclusivist voices, and there are inclusivist voices.  How did the inclusivist voices originate?  That's a good question.  Perhaps it occurred within exile, as Israelites were seeking an identity and encountered a variety of different peoples, and they concluded that they had a mission to the nations.  In any case, I don't see the inclusion of the Gentiles within the early Christian church to be solid evidence of fulfilled prophecy, as if that proves that God inspired the Bible; rather, I see it as taking a trend that had already existed within the Hebrew Bible a step further.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Six Crises 8

In my latest reading of Richard Nixon's 1962 book Six Crises, Nixon addresses the question of whether or not Nikita Khrushchev of the Soviet Union sincerely desired peace.

On the one hand, the answer was "yes".  A former Ambassador to Moscow told Nixon: "Khrushchev wants the world.  But he knows the consequences of modern war as well as we do.  He wants to accomplish his objective without war.  In that sense, he wants peace."  Chancellor Konrad Adenauer of Germany expressed a similar sentiment, only more graphically: "There's no question but that Khrushchev wants to rule the world.  But he does not want war.  He does not want to rule a world of ruined cities and dead bodies."

On the other hand, Khrushchev did brag to Nixon about the Soviet Union's military capabilities.  According to Nixon, Khrushchev said that he preferred missiles to bombs because "missiles were much more accurate and because humans were sometimes incapable of dropping bombs on targets because of emotional revulsion, a factor which was not present where missiles were concerned" (Nixon's words on page 265).  Khrushchev also justified Communist revolutions in other countries.

And yet, my impression was that Khrushchev was trying to deny that the Soviet Union was an aggressor, but rather was portraying the Soviets as building up their military for defensive purposes: because the United States might act aggressively in the future.  Nixon did not seem to buy that Khrushchev seriously saw the U.S. as an aggressor.

Do the leaders of nations in the world want war, or do they desire peace?  A relatives of mine is skeptical when leaders talk about "peace".  One passage that he cites is Isaiah 59:8, which states (King James Version): "The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace."  Another is I Thessalonians 5:3, which says: "For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape."

I wouldn't be surprised if a number of leaders would like to have the sort of peace that Nixon's acquaintances said that Khrushchev desired: they get their way, and others peacefully comply with that.  But are there leaders who desire war?  I think of X's statement in the movie JFK that there are major corporations in the U.S. that desire war because that helps them economically, or M. Scott Peck's point that the prosperity of the military is, in some sense, dependent on war.  X's statement about the corporations may be outdated, since my understanding is that the U.S. outsources several aspects of its war production; there are corporations in the U.S. that may want war because they desire other countries' resources (in which case, like Khrushchev, they'd probably be open to peace if the other countries would simply do what they wanted them to do, voluntarily), but I don't think that they're profiting from producing materials for warfare.  It might be the case, however, that, when there is peace and little threat of war, the government is more inclined to cut back on the military----in terms of the number of soldiers, the number of bases, etc.----and there are people in the military who probably would not like that.

In my opinion, it would be much better for everyone involved----even people in the military----if there were a lot of jobs that were committed to creation rather than destruction, jobs in infrastructure, green energy, etc.  And it would probably be better if people around the world could share their resources peacefully, through trade, allowing many countries to benefit rather than for one country to exploit another.  But does such a vision rest on an overly-optimistic view of human nature?

Here's another thought: maybe war-hawks are open to peace, as long as the peace is consistent with a strong military.  If the U.S. military is enforcing the peace throughout the world, giving the impression that peace is dependent on the U.S. military's existence, then that could be the sort of peace that war-hawks like!
These are just my reflections, and some may find them simplistic or inaccurate.  But I don't claim that my reflections are the final word on any subject!

Primeval Religion

I'm having a hard time getting into Milton Steinberg's As a Driven Leaf, so I may save my reading of that for another time.  Instead, I'll be blogging through another book: James David Audlin's Circle of Life: Traditional Teachings of Native American Elders.

In this post, I'll use as my starting-point something that Audlin says on page ix:

"Another elder, despite growing up poor in the rural Ozarks, educated himself magnificently and became an expert on the religions of the world, studies that convinced him that Native American spirituality is but one expression of the true faith of all the Original Peoples."

This reminded me of the scholar Edward Causaubon's attempt in George Eliott's Middlemarch to find the original religion that is behind all of the world's religions.  Is this even possible?  Was there really a primeval religion----"the true faith of all the Original Peoples"?  I remember a professor telling us what she believed was the difference between the University of Chicago's approach to religion and Yale's approach.  Yale, according to her, looked at the distinct manifestations of religion throughout history, whereas the University of Chicago sought a primeval religion.  I'm not sure how true this is.  My impression (from looking at catalogs and the writings of faculty from those institutions) is that both schools look at the distinct manifestations of religion within their historical contexts.  It was interesting to me, however, that a professor of mine who got his degree from the University of Chicago began his class on religion by seeking to define what religion was, and by looking at terms that apply to a number of religions.  It's like we were going from general to specific rather than focusing primarily on the specific (which was what my Yale-educated professor did----focused on the specific), or at least that we were seeking what various religions had in common.

In terms of primeval religion, I suppose that scholars can look at evidences for the earliest religions that were in the world.  There was cave-man spirituality, for example.  It was probably very rudimentary, though, in terms of lacking the moral advancement that later religions attained.  That being the case, would we even want to embrace the "true faith of all the Original Peoples"?

There are a number of Jews and Christians who believe that the commonalities among certain religions of the world indicate descent from a common religion.  If you were to point out the similarities between themes in the Hebrew Bible and themes that appear in ancient Near Eastern religions, for example, many of them would tell you that this is not evidence that the Hebrew Bible merely copied stuff from other religions at the time.  Rather, they'd contend, there was a primeval religion, and it got corrupted in the other nations, while the Hebrew Bible preserves it in its purity.  I can't really disprove that claim.  I wouldn't be surprised if ancient Near Eastern religions had commonalities because they descended from a common source.  But I also wouldn't preclude the possibility that there were times when one culture influenced another, and vice-versa.  Life can get pretty messy.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Six Crises 7

In my latest reading of Richard Nixon's 1962 book Six Crises, Nixon talks about his visit as Vice-President to Latin America, where he was attacked by Communist-inspired mobs.  I'd like to comment on two items:

1. On page 204, Nixon talks about a time when he was in Peru and a person in the mob spit in Nixon's face.  Nixon relates that he wanted to tear the man's face to pieces, but someone restrained Nixon "from handling the man personally."  Nixon states, however, that he still got to give the person who had spit in his face "a healthy kick on his shins", and Nixon goes on to say that "Nothing I did all day made me feel better."

Don Fulsom, in his anti-Nixon book Nixon's Darkest Secrets (which I will read and blog about at some point in the future), says on page 205 that "probably no other American politician [than Nixon] actually punched, slapped, shouldered, shoved or upended as many folks who'd ignited----usually without malicious intent----his volcanic temper."  On page 204 of Six Crises, we see an example of Nixon kicking in the shins someone who (actually with malicious intent) had spit in Nixon's face, and getting satisfaction out of doing so.  On page 568 of Nixon: The Education of a Politician, Stephen Ambrose tells a story about Nixon during the 1960 Presidential election.  Nixon was upset because John Ehrlichman made a blunder that caused Nixon to waste a whole day of campaigning, plus Nixon was probably still sick with the flu and was very tired.  Nixon lost his temper in the back-seat of the car and was repeatedly kicking the back of campaign-aide Don Hughes' seat, leading Hughes to leave the car angrily.  Moreover, on a note that's unrelated to violence but which may pertain to Nixon's temper, Ambrose states on page 652 that "few people managed to stay on Nixon's staff for very long" because people tended to fall out of Nixon's favor pretty quickly.

In Six Crises, we see Nixon losing his temper more than once, and Nixon acknowledges this, attributing it to being tired or frustration.  The incident on page 204 of Six Crises is the only time in the book (at least in what I have read so far) when Nixon refers to an act of violence that he committed.  Overall, Nixon narrates that he was quite restrained when he was attacked by mobs in Latin America.  Nixon chose to continue standing for the Venezuelan national anthem rather than attacking back, for example, because he wanted to show that he respected the anthem.  And Nixon sought to identify and to respect the humanity of the protesters: he said that they were teens around the age of his daughter Tricia, and that he hated that they were being exploited by the Communists.

Nixon was someone who could be quite measured and reflective----who could reasonably look at situations from different angles.  Yet, Nixon had a temper, which sometimes (or, if Fulsom is correct, more than sometimes) was expressed through violence.

2.  On pages 190-191, Nixon favorably refers to an Argentinian leader who devised "a formula for the development of Argentina's vast oil resources by privately-owned companies while retaining 'ownership' of the oil by the people..."  This sounds like a combination of privatization with nationalization.  I'm not sure how exactly that worked, but I admire Nixon's apparent openness to the idea.  Overall, Nixon appears in Six Crises to be sensitive to the problems of poverty and inequality of wealth in Latin America.  I respect that, and I hope that he had that sensitivity when he was President.

A Goal and a Mission

I read the itinerary in Numbers 33 for my daily quiet time.  What I'd like to write about today is the goal of life.

I started by thinking about the broad-sweeping history in the Hebrew Bible.  When did it come to be, and why?  At what time would a people develop a broad-sweeping history that would assert that she as a nation had a significant mission or goal as a people?  As far as I know, you don't see too many other nations in the ancient Near East that believed that they had a divine mission.  (Or did they?  The king of Egypt, to use an example, thought that he was supposed to uphold the stability of the cosmos.)

In my opinion, Israel developed a sense of divine mission in exile, as she was searching for something to keep her as a people together, when her national institutions had collapsed.  Israelites were now among Gentiles and were even ruled by other countries.  In the midst of this, I think, Israel embraced the view that God had a plan for her even in this situation----to bring the Gentiles to the worship of God.

Before the exile, Israel probably had a cult and worshiped a national God, like other nations.  Israel may have even had stories about her ancestors and her God, as other nations had stories about their gods.  Israel could have even believed that her God rewarded her for obedience and punished her for disobedience, as other nations thought about their gods.  But would Israel before exile have developed a large-scale narrative about her having a mission to bring the nations to the worship of God and a state of blessedness?  I'm rather skeptical, but I'm open to different ideas on this.

Then I thought about the goal of life.  Israel in Numbers 33 had a goal, the Promised Land.  That sort of story may have developed in exile, when there were a number of Jews who were away from their country and wanted to return to it.  Early Christianity, specifically the Epistle to the Hebrews, offered a spiritualized interpretation of the Promised Land, seeing it as a post-mortem rest that believers will enter (or so I understand Hebrews). 

What is the goal of life?  Is it to go to heaven or the good afterlife?  If that were the case, then why are we even here?  Why didn't God put us in heaven at the outset?   In my opinion, the goal of life is for us to become like Christ----to have a good character.  And I agree with something that C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity: that God wants to make us perfect, and he will spend as much time as it takes----in this life and, if necessary, the next----to realize this goal.

But do things work out that way?  There are many people with character defects even when they become old and die.  And there are people who don't even get a chance to develop character because they die early on in life.  And yet, in terms of coming up with a goal that can get me out of bed each morning----a goal beyond mere survival----I'd say that becoming like Christ is a worthy goal.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Six Crises 6

In the chapter on President Dwight Eisenhower's heart attack in his 1962 book, Six Crises, Richard Nixon lambastes some of the press for its treatment of Eisenhower after Eisenhower had a stroke.  Eisenhower after his stroke had difficulty expressing his thoughts, as he mixed up words and had problems coming up with the word that he wanted.  Ordinarily, even before the stroke, Eisenhower's mind tended to outrun his speech (and Nixon told Eisenhower that, in the case of many politicians, the exact opposite is the case!), which was why Eisenhower's thoughts sometimes appeared garbled.  But Eisenhower's stroke exasperated his struggle with words.

Regarding the press, Nixon says on page 175: "I thought that some of the press coverage of the President's difficulties in this period was unnecessarily savage and sadistic.  Some reporters insisted on counting up and duly reporting the exact number of 'fluffs'----actual or imagined----the President might make in a speech or press conference.  Knowing what agony he was going through, I would become so infuriated on reading such reports that on more than one occasion I slammed the paper or magazine into the fireplace."

Stephen Ambrose speculated in Nixon: The Education of a Politician that, had Nixon become President in 1960, he wouldn't have felt as under assault as he did in 1969, and his relations with the press would have probably been better.  I have my doubts about this, for I think that Nixon's ill-feelings towards the press were long building up, until they culminated in Nixon's 1962 statement to reporters that "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore".  In Six Crises, Nixon notes that a lot of the press was against him on the Alger Hiss case in the 1940's, that the press tended to highlight the sensational charges against Nixon in his 1952 race for Vice-President while not highlighting when those charges were disproved, and that there were people in the press who mocked Eisenhower after his stroke.  There are times when Nixon in Six Crises manifests a nuanced view of the press: when Nixon says that the press highlighted the charges against Nixon rather than the refutation of those charges because it was pursuing sensationalism in order to sell papers, when Nixon refers to reporters who treated him with respect when Eisenhower had a heart attack, and when Nixon acknowledges that there were newspapers that favored Republicans (Nixon's point being that he wasn't surprised when the liberal Washington Post was attacking him in 1952 for having a fund from the donations of private interests, but he realized that the situation was serious when Republican papers started attacking him, too).  But, in a number of cases in Six Crises, Nixon appears quite jaded when it comes to the press.

Perhaps the reporters who mocked Eisenhower after his stroke were themselves jaded.  The world of politics can easily harden people and make them cynical, sucking out of them (to a certain extent) important pieces of their humanity, such as compassion.

Going Out on Your Own

I recently read Numbers 32, in which the tribes of Reuben and Gad prefer to settle in the Transjordan rather than the land of Canaan.  They agree, however, to assist the rest of Israel in conquering Canaan.

The first time that this story became solidified in my mind was when I was a student at Harvard Divinity School.  I did a lot of private quiet times while I was there, and there was a time when I was going through the Book of Numbers.  But I think that I might have heard the story before, when I was a child.  If so, then it was probably in a sermon by David Antion or Ron Dart, because they actually touched on some of the lesser known stories in the Hebrew Bible.

But, as a child, if my memory serves me correctly, I didn't know exactly what to do with the story.  Why's that?  Because it's not entirely clear what is right and what is wrong within it.  In many of the Bible stories that I heard as a child, there were good guys and there were bad guys, or (since the good guys didn't always do good) there was at least God's standard about what was right and what was wrong.  But my vague recollection is that the story in Numbers 32 struck me as different.  We're not explicitly told what God thinks about the desire of Reuben and Gad to locate in the Transjordan.  Reuben and Gad don't seem to be malicious in their request: they just like the Transjordan for its pastureland.  But I had the impression that there was something wrong with what they were doing, only I wasn't being told what that was.  And, as a child with Asperger's (though Asperger's wasn't exactly on my family's radar at the time), I liked to be told things explicitly rather than shown.

Years later from my childhood, I heard plenty of preachers who would tell me (well, not me personally, but me as a listener or as someone in their audience) what they thought was wrong with the request by Reuben and Gad: that Reuben and Gad were pursuing an alternative to God's plan for Israel to inherit the Promised Land, or that Reuben and Gad were cutting themselves off from the larger body of God's people by striking out on their own.  Points of application for Christians were drawn from the story.  For example, one claim that preachers made was that, in the same way that Reuben was taken out early by Assyria, so Christians who cut themselves off from the church body are especially vulnerable to Satanic attack.  (Never mind the attacks that Christians may receive inside of the church walls----judgmentalism, authoritarianism, etc.)  Another claim made was that Reuben and Gad, by separating themselves from the larger body of Israel, were missing out on the glorious things that God was doing for his people.  Similarly, I was told, Christians who forsake the assembly of the brethren miss out on seeing and hearing about what God is doing in people's lives.  (This may be a valid point, but God is everywhere, not just in the church.)

The thing is, though, that God tolerated what Reuben and Gad did.  I don't think that it was considered to be ideal within the larger story of the Bible, for it's interesting to note that Ezekiel 48's prediction about the division of Israel gives Reuben and Gad land in the Cisjordan, not the Transjordan.  But God tolerated Reuben and Gad's preference for the Transjordan.  That didn't make much sense to my Aspie mind when I was a child: that there is not always black and white, but there is often better and worse.  Come to think of it, I'm not sure to what extent a number of religionists would be comfortable with shades of gray, as they seek in the Scriptures clear rules of what is right and what is wrong for all time.

I found that my latest reading of Numbers 32 was different from some of my previous readings, and I mean as an adult.  During my previous readings, I somewhat identified with Reuben and Gad because I myself was a lone-ranger Christian.  Even though I went to church and a small group in the past, I recoiled from Christian community, since I had a hard time fitting into social settings, plus I felt more at ease when I was reading the Bible by myself.  Part of this was my Asperger's, and part of it was my religious heritage, for I came from a family and associated with people who felt disconnected from church and decided to avoid the trap of organized religion by reading the Bible on their own, or with their families.  And that was considered to be all right.  It was mainly when I entered evangelicalism that I heard that it was not all right (though even evangelicalism had stories of people finding God alone in their hotel rooms as they read a Gideon's Bible, or similar occurrences).

But, this time around, when I read Numbers 32, I felt sad, especially by v 22, in which Moses tells Reuben and Gad that, after they fight the Conquest, they will be exempt from their obligations to the LORD and to Israel.  Moses may have meant that they didn't have to fight the Conquest anymore, but perhaps he meant that Reuben and Gad didn't have to serve the larger body of Israel at all after the Conquest, if they chose not to do so.  (And Judges 5:16-17 may suggest that Reuben didn't feel an obligation to Israel after the Conquest and sat out of Israel's war against Sisera.)  For some reason, it saddens me that Reuben felt so disconnected from the rest of Israel----as if it could care less about what happened to the LORD's people.

I wonder if Reuben and Gad felt marginalized within Israel even before they chose to settle in the Transjordan.  I can't really speak about Gad, for I don't know much about that tribe, but Reuben in the Hebrew Bible is criticized because Reuben slept with Jacob's servant-girl (Genesis 35:22; 49:3-4; I Chronicles 5:1), and Reubenites led a revolt against Moses and Aaron (Numbers 16:1).  The Reubenites were once a prominent tribe within Israel, for Reuben was called Jacob's firstborn, but Reuben declined in number, according to Numbers 26 (if one compares the census there and the census in Numbers 1) and perhaps Deuteronomy 33:6.  Did Reuben get to the point where it did not feel that it had a home within Israel----that it was not valued, and so it might as well go off on its own rather than have a second-class status within the larger Israelite community?

In terms of where I am now, I still value having an individual faith----of believing that God has a relationship with me personally and loves me, whether or not I fit into a Christian community (and, right now, I have an excellent church home).  For me, it's important for my faith to be my own, not something that group-think imposes on me.  But I also think that it's good to be connected with other people, on some level----to care about them, to be invested in them and their success, to care about the LORD's cause and whether or not people's lives are being improved for the better (as people come to know a loving God, or the poor are fed).  Unlike a number of evangelicals, I don't make this into some iron-clad rule about how to please God, for there are many people who have difficulty finding a church community where they fit in----and beating them up with self-righteous platitudes like "Well, you need to reach out to people, too" (when an outsider reaching out to people in church may then be looked on as a freak by the in-crowd) or "You need to be the change that you want to see" does not really help matters.  In my opinion, they can find comfort in a one-on-one relationship with God, and God does not look down on them for going that route.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Six Crises 5

When I was reading Stephen Ambrose's Nixon: The Education of a Politician, I wanted to write about the questions that President Dwight Eisenhower's heart attack raised in terms of who would run the Executive Branch when the President wasn't entirely able to perform his duties.  I thought that the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution handled such questions, but I was surprised to learn that this Amendment was not even in the Constitution prior to 1967.  Thus, there were questions about what to do when Eisenhower had his heart attack.

The topic of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment was also in my mind because I had watched the second season of the show 24, in which the Vice-President and the cabinet, under the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, decided that President David Palmer was unable to perform his duties, and therefore they removed him.  Palmer was able-bodied, but there was a conspiracy to frame him as incompetent so that Palmer would be removed and a war could be launched.  I wondered if the Vice-President and the cabinet were legally able to remove the President like that.

I didn't get around to writing about the Twenty-Fifth Amendment when I was reading Ambrose, for there were other topics that I wanted to cover at the time.  Fortunately, however, my reading of Richard Nixon's 1962 book Six Crises has given me a new opportunity to write about the Twenty-Fifth Amendment.
Before the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, people were left with Article II, Section 1, Clause 6 of the U.S. Constitution.  It states the following:

"In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what Officer shall then act as President, and such Officer shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected."

According to Nixon on page 139, this left questions unanswered.  The Vice-President could take over if the President died, resigned, or was unable to do his job.  But, as Nixon states, this does not stipulate who decides when the President is unable to do his job, whether the Vice-President merely assumes the office of the Presidency or also the Presidency's powers and duties, and how a President who "recovers his health can then recover his office" (page 139).  Moreover, Nixon states that a Vice-President during the President's temporary state of incapacity could not be Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, sign bills into law, nominate judges, or "decide high policies of government" (page 139). 

In short, prior to the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, there wasn't adequate constitutional guidance about what would happen to the Executive Branch were the President to be temporarily incapacitated.  And so people were confused about what to do.  When President Woodrow Wilson was incapacitated with a stroke and his Secretary of State conducted Cabinet meetings, Wilson was outraged and got the Secretary of State to resign.  My impression from my reading about Eisenhower is that nothing dramatic happened during Eisenhower's incapacity, but, after Eisenhower got well, he wrote out a policy of what would happen were the President to become sick and incapacitated, and it was up to his successors to either adopt his policy or to come up with one of their own.  In Six Crises, which was published five years before the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, Nixon urged for there to be a constitutional amendment that would handle this issue.  He thought that it would be best to propose it when the President was healthy and able, otherwise the discussion of the Amendment could get political (i.e., the President is sick, and such-and-such faction doesn't want that particular Vice-President to act as President!). 

From my reading of this article and some of the links that it provides, the Twenty-Fifth Amendment appears to establish the following procedures were the President to be temporarily incapacitated:

----The President would write to the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House, saying that he is unable to discharge the office of President.  While he is incapacitated, the Vice-President serves as Acting President, which means that the Vice-President has the office, powers, and duties of the Presidency.  The President can get his office and powers back by writing again to the President Pro Tempore and the Speaker of the House.

----Section 4 of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment states: "Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President."

This was what the Vice-President and the cabinet on 24 were following in removing President Palmer.  I think that one reason that Section 4 says what it does is that an incapacitated President may not be able to write to the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House, since he may be too incapacitated, and so the Vice-President and others can write to the President Pro Tempore and the Speaker, instead.

Numbers 31: God as Judge

I read Numbers 31 for my daily quiet time through the Book of Numbers.  God commanded the Israelites to go to war against Midian to execute God's wrath against her, for the Midianites, on the advice of Balaam, had sent Midianite women to seduce Israelite males and to influence them to worship the Midianite gods.  The Israelites defeated the Midianites and killed every human being of Midian, except for the female virgins.  The Israelites also took plunder, which Eleazar the priest (appealing to a law that God commanded to Moses) required to be purified.  The LORD also had requirements regarding the distribution of the plunder: the warriors were to get half of it and donate 1/500th of it to the LORD, while the other Israelites got the rest and donated 1/50th to the Levites.  In addition, Israelite commanders gave golden items to the LORD for the purpose of atonement.

I have two thoughts on this:

1.  My first thought will be rather negative.  My problem with this story is that the Israelites themselves were complicit in sin, for, while the Midianites tempted them with their women and their gods, the Israelites said "yes" to that temptation.  So how were the Israelites in any moral position to get high and mighty and to fight the Midianites, when the Israelites had a role in their own sin?  One could argue that the Israelites were not in any moral position to do so----that they were not fighting out of their own sense of outrage and self-righteousness, but rather to execute God's wrath on God's behalf.  They were instruments of God, who was in a moral position to punish the Midianites.  Okay, but the Israelites still got to profit off of the whole situation by taking plunder.  In my opinion, that (among other things) tends to sully the whole operation.  I think that the rituals of cleansing, donations, and atonement were intended in this case to add a measure of solemnity to the whole enterprise----so that the Israelites wouldn't pat themselves on the back as if they were righteous but would remember that they were fighting for God and that they themselves were guilty because they had acceded to the Midianites' temptations.  But I question whether the rituals were enough for that.  It reminds me of a person who robs the bank and tries to make himself feel better by giving some of the money to charity.  It just doesn't sit right with me, I'll say that!

2.  I do try to get something edifying from the text, and that's what I'll do in this second item.  Many of you may see my attempt as rather weak or a stretch from the text, and that's your right.

I feel that I need to remind myself on a continual basis of the importance of letting God be the judge.  I know that I often want to be the judge.  But the fact is that we're all imperfect, and God knows what we deserve and what we need.  I may want for God to punish certain people, but God knows where those people are coming from and what makes them tick, and God may choose to be merciful to them.  Meanwhile, I am aware that I myself am far from perfect, and there are people who love to sit in judgment of me.  In the case of Numbers 31, yes, Israel was guilty, but God realized that Midian put a stumblingblock in front of Israel's path, and God decided to avenge that.  Moreover, I find it rather comforting that, although Israel had made a serious mistake, she could still have a future before God.

I won't lie, though: I wish that God in the story also showed some degree of love and mercy towards Midian, since one could argue that Midian only did what she did because she was insecure and feared Israel, and it would have been nice had God recognized that.  But I still try to take comfort in the notion that God knows all of our hearts and shows us justice and mercy when they are needed.  For me, that's better than me being the judge of others.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Six Crises 4

My latest reading of Richard Nixon's 1962 book, Six Crises, was about Nixon's controversial fund, which became an issue in his 1952 run for Vice-President and inspired him to give the Checkers speech on national television.  While Nixon was accused of employing this fund (which came from business-people's donations) for his own personal use, Nixon insisted that the fund was purely for political purposes----for such things as travel to and from political events, and mass mailings in which Nixon informed constituents about the work that he was doing in Washington.

In this chapter, as in other parts of the book, Nixon reflects about how he and others deal with crisis.  Nixon states on page 105:

"...it has been my experience that, more often than not, 'taking a break' is actually an escape from the tough, grinding discipline that is absolutely necessary for superior performance.  Many times I have found that my best ideas have come when I thought I could not work for another minute and when I literally had to drive myself to finish the task before a deadline.  Sleepless nights, to the extent the body can take them, can stimulate creative mental activity."

Nixon acknowledges that taking a break and relaxing may be helpful after a "period of intense concentration and preparation [that] stretches into months rather than days" (page 105).  Indeed, as I read in Stephen Ambrose's Nixon: The Education of a Politician, Nixon sometimes took vacations, as when he spent time with his friend Bebe Rebozo.  But, in law school, in his work on the Hiss case, in his 1960 race for President, etc., Nixon worked hard, even sacrificing hours of sleep to his work.

On the issue of taking breaks, I think that there are times when I should discipline myself and keep on working----staying the course, if you will.  If I'm continually taking a break because I'm doing a task that I don't particularly want to do, then I'm not getting the task done, and that's not good, particularly if the task is important.  But there are also times when taking a short break----particularly a nap----can energize me for my work and can perhaps allow me to return to it with a fresh and creative perspective.

In terms of vacations, however, I find that I don't take them that often.  I prefer to set aside time each day to relax, rather than to set aside weeks for a vacation.  I don't like prolonged periods of not doing anything, in short.  I like to structure my days so that I'm accomplishing something.  But that's me.

Phinehas and Corpse Contamination

Phinehas was a son of Aaron, the High Priest.  In Numbers 25:7-8, Phinehas kills with a javelin an Israelite man who brazenly brought a Midianite woman into the presence of Moses and the congregation of Israel, along with the Midianite woman.  This was when God was particularly upset with Israel because Israelite men were getting together with Moabite women and were worshiping Moabite gods.  Later, in Numbers 31, Israel is battling against Midian under God's command to punish Midian because the Midianites tempted the Israelites to betray the LORD.  And who went out with Israel into battle?  According to Numbers 31:6, Phinehas did.

But I have a question.  In Leviticus 21, there are strict rules against the sons of Aaron defiling themselves with a corpse.  Leviticus 21:1-4 state (in the King James Version): "And the LORD said unto Moses, Speak unto the priests the sons of Aaron, and say unto them, There shall none be defiled for the dead among his people:  But for his kin, that is near unto him, [that is], for his mother, and for his father, and for his son, and for his daughter, and for his brother, And for his sister a virgin, that is nigh unto him, which hath had no husband; for her may he be defiled.  [But] he shall not defile himself, [being] a chief man among his people, to profane himself."  Did Phinehas defile himself with corpses by killing the Israelite man and the Midianite woman, and by going out to battle against Midian?  Would that have gone against the rules in Leviticus 21 against the sons of Aaron defiling themselves with a corpse (with a few exceptions)?

Perhaps one could argue that Phinehas killed the Israelite man and the Midianite woman but did not touch any corpses, and thus he escaped corpse contamination that way.  But, in Numbers 31:19, both the Israelites who killed Midianites in battle as well as the Israelites who touched a corpse had to purify themselves on the third and seventh days, which, incidentally, are the same days that people purify themselves of corpse contamination (Numbers 19:12, 19).  That tells me that one becomes contaminated by a corpse by killing someone.  

I have not yet found any Jewish explanations of this dilemma.  What I have read in rabbinic literature is that Phinehas in Numbers 31 was continuing the fight against Midian that he began in Numbers 25.  But I wouldn't be surprised if a Jewish source somewhere addressed it.  A while back, I wrote a post in which I asked how Samson, a Nazirite, could kill Philistines in battle, when Numbers 6:6 prohibits Nazarites from going near a corpse.  A commenter responded that, according to a Jewish tradition, Samson was a special type of Nazarite for whom that rule did not apply, and I later read that same point elsewhere.  Was there was a halakic way to justify what Phinehas did, within rabbinic (or later Jewish) literature?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Six Crises 3

I have two items for my write-up today on Richard Nixon's 1962 book, Six Crises.

1.  Something that stood out to me in Nixon's analysis of the Alger Hiss case was Nixon's criticism of elements of the political right.  For one, Nixon states that the recklessness of certain accusations from the political right about people's alleged Communist affiliations only advanced the cause of Communism.  Nixon did not explicitly mention Senator Joseph McCarthy, but I wouldn't be surprised if that's one of the right-wingers Nixon had in mind.  Second, on page 70, Nixon states: "Because I have consistently supported what some of them consider to be 'liberal' international policies----like foreign aid, reciprocal trade, collective security pacts, and adequate appropriations for our information and foreign service programs----the credentials I had gained as an anti-Communist because of my work in the Hiss case became somewhat tainted with a tinge of 'pink!'"  This was somewhat surprising to me because my impression is that Nixon prior to 1962 (when he had to fight off John Birchers in his race for Governor of California) was actually popular with the political right, notwithstanding his disagreement with it on foreign aid.  I base this on Stephen Ambrose's Nixon: The Education of a Politician.  Maybe there was more to the story than Ambrose portrays and Nixon had critics who considered him pink, or Nixon in Six Crises was merely saying that he had such critics in order to distance himself from the right-wing anti-Communists whom he considered to be irresponsible.

2.  In my reading of Six Crises so far, Nixon displays a sense of humor.  In talking about the unpopularity he gained for his role in the Alger Hiss case, Nixon refers to one elderly lady who said she didn't like Nixon because "he was mixed up with that awful Alger Hiss!", when Nixon actually challenged Alger Hiss and made a case against him!  When Nixon discussed the 1952 Presidential election and referred to a poll at the time that indicated that he wasn't well known, Nixon said that "This might have dampened my high spirits except that the same poll disclosed that only 32 per cent could identify the Democratic nominee" (page 76).  Then there was a story Nixon told about when he was campaigning for Eisenhower on a train and the train took off before he could finish his speech!  Nixon was upset, until he learned that it had a dramatic effect: when Nixon asked the crowd to "come along and join this crusade" while the train was moving away, and people were following it, that created "a sense of participation and excitement" with the audience (page 82).  Nixon relates that he learned from this experience to take his job, but not himself, too seriously!

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