Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Roger Morris' Richard Milhous Nixon 4

In my latest reading of Richard Milhous Nixon: The Rise of an American Politician, Roger Morris talks about an oratorical contest that the teenage Richard Nixon won in 1929.

The aim of these oratorical contests was to extol the U.S. Constitution.  One of the contestants looking back at these contests, Merton Wray, said that they "were seeking to promulgate this philosophy of the American Constitution demonstrating that it came down from Mt. Sinai along with the Decalogue...whereby all the Founding Fathers were saints and especially ordained by God and had connections with Him".  Wray's speech was a little too liberal for two out of three of the judges' taste, however, for Wray proposed making the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights worldwide.  Because two of the judges didn't care for Wray's promotion of a one-world government, Wray came in last place.  "I never realized that I was stepping on a sore point," Wray would reflect years later.

Nixon in his speech, however, criticized those who were using the Constitution's rights to undermine the Constitution.  Personally, I much preferred how Morris discussed this to how Stephen Ambrose handled it in volume 1 of his Nixon trilogy.  Ambrose simply said on page 47: "One struggles to imagine who 'some' and 'those' were.  The year was 1929, conservative Republicanism was at its zenith, and there certainly were no labor agitators in Whittier, much less people going around denouncing the Constitution."  Morris, however, interprets Nixon's speech in light of the Red Scare, the union agitation, and the fear of unions that were gripping parts of California in the early 1920's.  According to Morris, Nixon's speech "spoke unmistakably to the inbred fear of leftist or alien forces among the small businessmen and merchants of Southern California enclaves like Whittier" (page 105), people who thought that leftists were using the Constitution to undermine the Constitution.  Labor agitation had even impacted Nixon's own family, on some level: "Over the musty school auditoriums where he spoke there was still the specter of the Wobblies who had left their initials so ominously scrawled that night on the Yorba Linda packinghouse where he and his mother worked" (page 106).

Wray's characterization of the view of the Constitution held by the sponsors of the contests stood out to me because it resembled how a political science professor of mine characterized Ronald Reagan's conception of the Constitution: that a dove descended upon the Founding Fathers, and they wrote our most holy document, the U.S. Constitution!  A teacher who would say such a thing in an elementary school, a junior high school, a middle school, or a high school would probably be criticized by the religious right, at least if he lived in the sort of area that I did!  But a college professor can have a bit more leeway (depending on where he teaches).  I'm not sure if Ronald Reagan actually believed all that about the U.S. Constitution.  But I did find my professor's mockery of that concept to be quite refreshing, for, while I appreciate the rights that I have under the Constitution, I don't think that the Constitution is perfect, nor that the men who framed it were perfect.

I'd like to turn now to the essay and oratorical contests that I participated in when I was in junior high and high school.  In junior high school, I won the local level of an oratorical contest, then I went on to come in third at the next level (third out of four boys----I feel sorry for the guy who didn't even place!).  The next year, I won at the local level, then I won at the next level, and then I lost at the level after that.  On the essay contests, I never got too far.  I won an essay contest two years in a row at the local level because I was the only one participating, but then I apparently lost at the subsequent level (since I never heard back about my essays).  I also lost other essay contests.

There may have been a variety of reasons that I lost the contests that I did: my ideas not being fresh enough, or others being able to communicate their ideas in more effective, profound ways.  Some of you may be thinking that, if I wrote my essays like I write my blog, then it's no wonder that I lost!  Okay, ha ha, you had your laugh!  But what I'd like to focus on is the role of ideology in these contests.  Morris talks about how the local judges of the essay contests in which Nixon participated were largely conservative: Wray lost due to his promotion of world federalism, whereas Nixon won after giving a speech that spoke to conservative fears about those who would supposedly use the Constitution to undermine the Constitution.  What was the ideology of those judging the contests in which I participated, and how could that have worked for or against me?

Well, I think that ideology may have helped me at the local level of the oratorical contests, the ones that I won.  People there were more conservative and religious, and I was talking about the importance of religious values and patriotism.  I don't think that giving a conservative speech was enough to win these contests, for a fellow contestant who gave a dry speech about the dangers of the national debt did not do too well.  But I managed to give a fairly decent delivery, while also saying things that resonated with my rather conservative audience.

At the next level, though, my hunch is that the judges were a bit more liberal, since that was an urban area and a college city.  In the first year that I participated in the oratorical contest, the guy who won at the second level gave a speech extolling the United Nations.  That poor guy who did not even place, however, gave a speech denouncing the bias of the media.  How I won at this level the next year, with my faith and country speech, I have no idea!  Maybe the judges were less ideological in that year, or there were pastors who were judging the event.  (I was later invited to give my speech at the church of a pastor who was at the contest.)

On the essay contests, I lost whether the judges were liberal or conservative.  I participated in one essay contest about the family, and I wrote about the importance of Christian devotion in maintaining a healthy family life.  I watched some of the essays that won on TV, and one of them was praising gay and lesbian families----and this was during the early 1990's, when homosexuality was not as widely accepted as it is now.  The judges of that contest may have been more to the left.  But I also lost essay contests that were sponsored by groups that probably leaned to the right.  There were essay contests about how freedom is America's most precious heritage, or about how we have a responsibility to preserve freedom.  I participated in these contests, but I had a difficult time writing these essays.  The reason probably was that I didn't know how to reconcile "freedom" with my own right-wing beliefs.  Freedom is our most precious heritage?  I didn't think that our right to do what we wanted was our most precious heritage!  For one, I didn't believe that we should always have the right to do what we wanted, for I supported the government banning certain things that I considered immoral, plus I looked with favor on the times that the government restricted freedom in an alleged attempt to preserve the country (i.e., the Palmer raids).  Second, I believed that devotion to God was a more precious aspect of our national heritage than freedom!  But I also managed to lose by going the other extreme.  In one essay contest, which was sponsored by conservatives, I criticized the American Legion for wanting to force Jehovah's Witnesses to say the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools in the 1940's.  I viewed that as an attack on religious freedom.  In all of these cases, I may have lost because I wasn't profound or eloquent enough, or because there were others who were more profound or eloquent than I was.  But I do believe that there was an additional factor to my losing: I was an oddball!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Roger Morris' Richard Milhous Nixon 3

On page 87 of Richard Milhous Nixon: The Rise of an American Politician, Roger Morris narrates Richard Nixon's public conversion to Christ at the age of thirteen:

"On a sultry night after he began high school in September 1926, his father drove Richard, Harold, and Don to Los Angeles to hear Paul Rader.  There, with his mother absent but in an episode something like her own a quarter century before in small Whittier First Friends, Richard solemnly and emotionally went through his public conversion and reawakening.  On Rader's command, the wide-eyed, sometimes wailing, and almost frantic crowd leapt to its feet and surged in the aisles and about the platform for the cleansing rebirth.  'We joined hundreds of others that night,' he recounted, 'in making our personal commitments to Christ and Christian service.'"

I should note two things.  First of all, Richard's conversion came during a particularly difficult time in his family's life, for Richard's little brother, Arthur, had passed away, and Richard's father Frank was becoming more religious in response to that.  Frank thought that God was punishing him for keeping his grocery store open on Sundays, so, after Arthur's death, Frank closed his store on Sundays, became more vocal in church about the need for revival, and took his family to hear such evangelists as Aimee Semple McPherson, Bob Shuler, and Paul Rader.  Moreover, concerned that Richard's brother Harold was getting out of control, and that the Quaker school that Harold was attending was too permissive, Hannah Nixon sent Harold to Dwight Moody's Mount Hermon School, which was in Massachusetts.  There, Morris narrates on page 88, the boys "took cold showers at five-thirty in the morning, coming back upstairs outside in New England winter temperatures that plunged to twenty below zero, appearing at breakfast after prayers with icicles in their hair."  That reminds me of the Waltons episode, "The Sinner," in which John Ritter plays a pastor who says that cold showers can guard the male against fleshly temptation.  In fact, an evangelical once told me that one way to deal with sexual temptation is to take a cold shower, do push-ups, and fall on my knees in prayer!
Second, the Quakerism of the Nixon family was heavily influenced by evangelicalism.  Morris quotes someone who remarked that their Quakerism was similar to Methodism.

Although there are many ways in which I am anti-evangelical, I still feel a nostalgia and coziness (if you will) about the evangelical subculture: the idea of feeling a deep need for God and for a change in my life, and coming to the front of the church to make that formal commitment; the people I have known who were trying to cope, and they turned to God for security; the idea of a God who would save us from a hell that we deserve on account of our sins.  Does the doctrine hell put me into a cozy state of mind?  Not particularly, but I can still enjoy a sermon about God's wrath, as long as I don't take the part about hell overly seriously.  A sermon about God's wrath highlights that God cares about right and wrong, and that all of us have done (even do) what is wrong.  Even if I have problems accepting that God would torture someone forever and ever for not saying the sinner's prayer before he died, I can still appreciate the evangelical notions of a moral God and our fallible humanity.

Did Nixon's conversion last, if you will?  Well, he did maintain some religiosity throughout the course of his life, for he read verses from the Bible every night before he went to bed.  As President, he established a church service within the White House.  But my impression from reading Morris was that Nixon was roughly the same throughout his life, in terms of his good and bad qualities: responsible, rather insecure, a good speaker and debater, quiet.  Morris talks about Richard's favorite books as a child, which were about "A shrewd, thrifty, achieving young Yankee who craftily pretends to a certain ingeniousness [and] invariably triumphed over evil or folly" (page 74).  Nixon was concerned as a child about the Teapot Dome scandal and wanted to become a lawyer who would stop such things from happening, and people may argue that this reflects a youthful innocence that Nixon departed from when he became an adult.  But Nixon in his memoirs seems to indicate that he had not departed from his loathing of the Teapot Dome scandal, that he hated when politicians were on the take, and that he took care not to be such a politician.  There are many critics, however, who maintain that Nixon was that kind of politician.

When Nixon was in college, he struggled with how to reconcile his faith with science.  His theology at that stage became more liberal than what he probably held when he was younger, for Nixon says in volume 1 of his memoirs that he "thought that Jesus was the Son of God, but not necessarily in the physical sense of the term", and that "I wrote that the literal accuracy of the story of the resurrection was not as important as its profound symbolism": that Jesus' influence went on, and that people "who achieve the highest values in their lives may gain immortality" (pages 19-20).  In becoming more theologically liberal, however, Nixon probably still held on to the values that he learned in his evangelical Quaker upbringing, even if he did not believe the exact same way anymore.

Can we escape who we are, the influences of our childhood, our temperament?  Can one truly convert, when one can easily become pulled back by who one is, or have one's Christian faith challenged as one learns new things?  There are people who have conversions that are lasting.  Some may convert, stray a bit, and then come back to the altar.  There are some people who come to the altar every week!  Something good about altar calls, in my opinion, is that they remind us that we should make a periodic evaluation of our life along with a firm decision to be and to do good; for me personally, it's important to remember that I don't have to do this alone, for there is a loving God looking out for me.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Roger Morris' Richard Milhous Nixon 2

For my blog post today about Roger Morris' Richard Milhous Nixon: The Rise of an American Politician, I'll use as my starting-point something that Morris says on page 56.  Essentially, Morris expresses skepticism of Richard Nixon's claim that he grew up poor:

"...the well-dressed Nixon children, the tractor and car, the hired help, the china closet----all belied the later, well-publicized images of poverty, and bespoke, for those who knew, both Milhous subsidies and pride.  Richard Nixon had not been born or left to the grim impoverishment depicted in his political mythology.  The reality seemed very different to others nearby who lived much the same existence, and even in the same larger family.  'We had our own good small happy life,' Jessamyn West once said of her comparable childhood in Yorba Linda, separated from the Nixons by the irrigation ditch.  Measured against the poor-boy origins Richard seemed to claim later, against genuine poverty in the basin and elsewhere, she concluded, 'We were the landed gentry.'"

Jessamyn West was one of Richard Nixon's cousins, and she became an author.  Nixon in one of his books that I read (I forget which one) referred to a conversation that he had with her.

Morris may be right that the Nixons were not as poor as many of their neighbors.  Some may say that Nixon fabricated the whole story about his childhood poverty for political purposes----so he could portray himself as someone who understands people's problems, or so he could glory in his rise from humble roots.  But, while Nixon may very well have appealed to his alleged humble roots for political purposes, I don't think that's the whole story.  Perhaps Nixon looked back and thought that he was poor in his childhood, in comparison to his affluent lifestyle and all of the money that he made as an adult.  Moreover, while his immediate family of origin may not have been as poor as others, it also was not rich.  It struggled.

What's interesting is that Morris himself narrates that Richard Nixon's mother, Hannah, thought that she was poor.  Morris quotes a family friend who said that Hannah "seemed sometimes overwhelmed by the poverty."  Morris also quotes Hannah herself as saying: "While we were there, the lemon grove only kept us poor.  Many days I had nothing to serve but corn meal.  I'd bring it to the table and exclaim, 'See what we have tonight----wonderful corn meal!'  And they would gobble it up as if it were the most delectable of dishes."  Morris also narrates that one reason that the Milhous family did not care for Frank Nixon (Hannah's husband, and Richard's father) was "Frank Nixon's failure to do more than scratch a living from the tract" (page 56, the Milhous family provided the Nixons with financial assistance, though).  But Morris also quotes the Nixons' neighbors, who didn't think that the Nixons were particularly poor.  While Morris does appear to have his own opinions and conclusions about this issue, one reason that I am liking his book so far is that he includes different perspectives.  Not only on this issue, but also on the question of whether Nixon was introverted as a child, Morris includes different views from eyewitnesses: he quotes Jessamyn West, who says that Nixon was not the sort of child you'd want to hug, but he also quotes someone who related that the young Nixon jumped on her lap and told her he would grow up to hunt wild animals!

On the issue of Nixon's discussions of his alleged childhood poverty, I'd like to relate to you a story that Stephen Ambrose told in volume 3 of his Nixon trilogy----a story that I enjoyed but did not get an opportunity to write about.  Nixon liked to tell the story about how he wanted a pony when he was a child, but did not get one.  On page 586, Ambrose talks about what Hugh Sidey said happened when Nixon tried to tell his pony story to Yugoslavian Communist leader, Marshal Tito:

"Nixon overdid his boyhood experiences to elicit sympathy.  He told the story of the pony he wanted but never got so often that reporters turned it into a joke.  Hugh Sidey relished the time he watched Marshal Tito and President Nixon in the tiny bedroom of Tito's boyhood home.  Nixon got going on the pony story; Tito cut him off: 'We had eleven kids who were in this room.'"

Review of the Apologetics of West and Littleton (and Rogers)

I've said a couple of times that I would do a write-up about the Christian apologetic works of Gilbert West and George Littleton (see my posts here and here).  Gilbert West was an eighteenth century thinker who attempted to disprove Jesus' resurrection, and he ended up believing in it and becoming a Christian.  George Littleton lived at the same time and sought to disprove the miraculous conversion of Saul of Tarsus, who became the apostle Paul, but Littleton came to accept it and himself converted to Christianity.  My pastor told the stories of these two men, and I have read their stories on Christian sites on the Internet.  What I did not see, however, was a summary of these men's arguments.  But I did find these men's writings online, I read them, and now I will write about them.  First, I'll write about West's argument for Jesus' resurrection. Then, I'll discuss Littleton's book about the conversion of Saul of Tarsus.  Finally, I'll offer my own evaluation of their work.  I did not take notes on these books, so I'm writing largely from memory.  But I've linked to the books here so that you can read them for yourself, if you so choose.

1.  Let's start with West's book.  For a long time, I was getting really frustrated in reading it.  It just seemed to me that West was assuming the historicity of the biblical text, without actually defending that historicity.  He made a case that the resurrection stories in the Gospels are not contradictory but can be harmonized, but that, in my opinion, did not prove their historicity, only that one can harmonize all sorts of things if one works hard enough.  Then West was arguing on the basis of the text that Mary could not have been hallucinating the risen Jesus, since the Gospel story does not present her as someone who was in a hallucinatory sort of condition.  I was ready to throw my hands up into the air!  How could West defend Jesus' resurrection by just assuming the Gospels' historicity?  Isn't that begging the question?

But West eventually did start to mount a defense of the Gospels' historicity.  I'll list a sample of arguments that West made.  First, West said that the differences in the accounts about Jesus' resurrection demonstrate that there was no collusion, and thus we can trust them.  Second, against those who claimed that there were writings in the New Testament that were not written by the authors to whom they are attributed, West essentially argues that such a fraud could not have been pulled off.  Usually, West argues, the person delivering the letter was someone who knew the author, and the church receiving the letter was aware that he knew the author.  Moreover, West wonders how a congregation would accept a pseudonymous letter years after the alleged author has died.  For West, the authors to whom the New Testament books are attributed actually wrote those books, and they were eyewitnesses to the risen Jesus.

Third, against those who say that the story of Jesus' resurrection was invented years after the lifetime of Jesus and was not based on the testimony of eyewitnesses, West inquires why anyone would invent that kind of story.  West notes that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was unpopular----for it was a stumblingblock to many Jews and foolishness to many Greeks (I Corinthians 1:23).  For West, it's more likely that Jesus rose from the dead, and that Jesus' resurrection inspired early eyewitnesses to proclaim the Gospel amidst opposition.  West also notes that early Christianity was discontinuous with the Jewish heritage of the apostles, as the Gospels and Acts narrate, and West's point here may be that the resurrection of Jesus was what contributed to the dramatic change in their mindset.

Fourth, West appeals to what non-Christians said about Jesus in ancient times.  He notes that Celsus and the Talmud acknowledged that Jesus performed miracles.  Why West thinks that means that Jesus did perform miracles, I am not entirely certain.  Perhaps West thinks that Jesus performed miracles, people told stories about those miracles for years, and these stories got passed down to Celsus and the rabbis whose views are recorded in the Talmud, such that even they could not deny the miracles' historicity.  West also appeals to Matthew 28:11-15, which states that the chief priests of Jesus' day and Jews of Matthew's day explained away the empty tomb by claiming that the apostles stole Jesus' body while the Roman guards at the tomb were asleep.  For West, this shows that even non-Christians accepted that Jesus' tomb was empty.  But couldn't Matthew have made up that story?  West does not think so, for West says that, had Matthew made that up, chief priests and Jews could have simply come forward and denied that they were claiming that Jesus' body was stolen, thereby stopping Matthew's story in its tracks.  West may think that Matthew would not have written the story if Matthew realized it could be easily refuted.  Fifth, West makes a big deal about Old Testament prophecy being fulfilled in Jesus.

West also addresses the question of why the risen Jesus only appeared to his followers, when he could have appeared to non-believing Jews and thereby convinced them that he was who he said he was.  My impression is that West's answer is that Jesus chose to appear only to his disciples so that people would believe on the basis of their transformed lives, not his flashy appearance.  But West does believe that God confirmed the testimony of the early witnesses to Jesus through signs and wonders, so those early Christian witnesses were not simply offering their unsubstantiated accounts.

2.  We'll turn now to Littleton's book on the conversion of Paul.  A man named Henry Rogers wrote an interesting introductory essay to Littleton's book (and Littleton's book was also a letter to West, I should add), and I want to highlight two things about it.  For one, Rogers says that Littleton did a lot of things, including writing poetry, and yet all Littleton is remembered for is his treatise on the conversion of Paul.  Rogers says that this demonstrates the relevance of the topic from generation to generation.  Second, Rogers criticizes such scholars as Paulus and Renan, who (according to him) dismissed what the Bible said about Paul's conversion and substituted their own rationalistic attempts to explain what happened to Paul.  One such idea was that Paul converted to Christ out of a sense of guilt.  Rogers counters, however, that there is no basis for this explanation, and also that it contradicts what the Bible itself indicates: that Saul of Tarsus was not feeling guilty when Jesus appeared to him, but thought himself blameless and was prosecuting his mission against the Christians with great zeal.

Going on to Littleton's treatise, I'd like to highlight four arguments that Littleton makes.  First of all, Littleton argues that the miracles that Paul performed attested to the truth of his conversion and his Gospel.  These miracles appear in Acts, and Paul refers to them in some of his letters.  Against the charge that the world was pretty gullible back then, Littleton responds that Paul was performing his miracles before those who opposed his message, people who were not particularly gullible or easily fooled by any trick Paul may perform (not that Littleton thinks Paul wanted to perform any tricks), and also that some of the miracles Paul did could not be simulated through trickery.  Littleton acknowledges that there were people who performed fake miracles in the ancient world, but he does not think that Paul was one of them.  That brings me to another point that Littleton makes: Second, Littleton says that Paul was not the sort of person who would claim to have had a miraculous conversion to augment his own power and influence.  Paul did not exercise authoritarian power over churches, Littleton argues, and (if I recall correctly) Littleton may have said that Christianity was a fairly marginalized movement.  For Littleton, we can deduce from Paul's character that he had a genuine religious experience that changed him, that the risen Christ really did appear to him.

Third, Littleton says that, if Paul's story about seeing the risen Christ had been fraudulent, his companions on the road to Damascus (who were non-Christians) would have stepped forward to dispute Paul's claim.  This is similar to West's argument that we can know that Matthew was telling the truth about the chief priests' acknowledgment of Jesus' empty tomb because the chief priests were not publicly disputing Matthew's story, thereby stopping it in its tracks.  Fourth, Littleton maintains that Paul could only have done the spectacular things that he did----the conversion of so many Gentiles to Christianity, amidst opposition----through the assistance of God.

3.  Okay, these are the arguments of West and Littleton (and also Rogers), as I remember them.  What, now, is my assessment of them?

I respect that West, Littleton, and Rogers are moved by certain biblical stories.  But do they prove that these stories happened in history?  Here are some points that I want to make, and these points include questions that I have.

----I can see Rogers' point that there are scholars who reject what the Bible says about an event, only to substitute their own unsubstantiated narratives.  I would say that the narratives of the scholars Rogers criticizes may have some merit, however: Paul may very well have converted out of some sense of guilt, for Acts 9:5 says it was hard for Saul to kick against the goads.  But my point is that I'm not for dismissing the biblical narratives wholesale and substituting something that is foreign to what the biblical narratives say.  At the same time, I believe that Littleton goes to the other extreme and accepts biblical narratives uncritically, more so than does West (who makes more of an attempt to substantiate them).  For example, whereas there are many scholars today who would point to discrepancies between Paul's account and what we see in Acts, Littleton does not have any sensitivity to that issue, sensitivity enough at least to try to refute it. 

----I believe that Paul had a religious experience that changed his life.  I doubt that he was making it up so he could attain money and power, for he did have a hard life after his conversion.  I wouldn't say that Paul refused to exercise power, however, for he did appeal to his own authority a couple of times in his letters to the Corinthians.  But would I say that Paul was power-hungry, or faked his conversion out of a desire for power, money, and influence?  No.  The thing is, though, all sorts of people, inside and outside of the Christian religion, have religious or mystical experiences.  Littleton may come back and say that these were people who were looking for such an experience, but we can know that Saul's experience was truly miraculous and from Christ because he was not looking for it----Christ had to strike Saul with blindness to get Saul's attention!  Perhaps.  I don't know.  There are many people who talk about having conversions, and I doubt that all of these conversions were to religions that would meet the approval of conservative Christians.  Moreover, I do recall reading as an undergraduate at least one tale about someone converting to Islam after opposing it.

----West seems to dispute that pseudonymous letters could have been pulled off.  While I believe that he asks good questions about this, the fact is that they were pulled off.  We know about them.  I'm not saying that every, or even most, of the New Testament books are forgeries, for I accept the authenticity of many of the letters attributed to Paul.  But I don't think that West was sensitive enough to the existence of forgery in the ancient world, whereas Rogers actually was sensitive to this. 

----Why would the early Christians invent an unpopular Gospel, which brought them persecution (or prosecution, if you accept Candida Moss' thesis)?  That's a good question.  I doubt that they were consciously lying, but I also don't think that our only choice is either to see them as liars or to accept their beliefs as unvarnished historical truth.  There are many scholars who say that the empty tomb stories came later, but that the earlier Christians believed Jesus was still alive for other reasons (i.e., visions).  Moreover, I doubt that Christianity is the only unpopular, revolutionary religion that emerged throughout history.  Muhammad encountered his share of resistance.  So did Joseph Smith.
----While Littleton asks how Paul could have had his spectacular missionary success without God's backing, I ask if a similar question could be asked of Muhammad, who conquered a lot of lands and subordinated them to Islam.  Couldn't one argue that Muhammad had divine backing?  And, if a Christian wants to attribute Muhammad's success to naturalistic causes, I ask why the same can't be done with Paul's success as a missionary.  There were many Gentiles in ancient times who were attracted to Judaism, but they did not want to undergo circumcision.  Would it be so out of the ordinary that they would accept Christianity, a religion that was like Judaism, yet lacked the circumcision requirement?

----I'm not sure what to make of the argument that, if certain Christian accounts were not true, non-Christians at the events discussed in the accounts would have come forward to refute them, stopping them in their tracks.  I recently read a largely negative review of Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ, and its argument was that detractors wouldn't have tried to refute early Christians' claims for the simple reason that Christianity was too marginal for anyone to address its claims.  Maybe.  I think that we can tell from the Gospels and Paul's letters that there were disputes between believers in Jesus and Jewish communities, and thus that Christians were at some point considered a force to be reckoned with, but this was decades after the time of the historical Jesus.  I guess that my problem with the argument is that it presumes that life was neater than it probably was.  Even today, people spread things that are not true, and this happens even though detractors can refute those things on the web----in a public form, where anybody with internet access can see it.  And even these refuttals don't always stop the ideas in their tracks, for there are people who go on believing them.  Why should we presume that detractors in ancient days would have had an easier time in stopping ideas in their tracks?

----Why would non-Christians acknowledge that Jesus did miracles?  That's a good question, but I don't think that fact proves the truth of Christianity.  Maybe non-Christians thought that Jesus performed miracles because they knew of others who did miracles, and so why would they dismiss the possibility that Jesus did them, too?  Moreover, just because there may have been Jews who sought to explain away the stories about Jesus' empty tomb, or there were rabbis who accepted that Jesus did miracles but attributed them to sorcery, that doesn't mean there was an empty tomb or that Jesus did miracles, does it?  I suppose that Jewish detractors could have simply claimed that the empty tomb story lacked proof, but I don't think it's too extraordinary that they went another route in their polemics. 

Anyway, some of you may think that West, Littleton, and Rogers offer good arguments, whereas my responses are merely stretches.  I respect your opinion, for, even if I may not regard their arguments as air-tight, I think that I can see why one would find them powerful and convincing.  Some of you may be agnostics and atheists and think that my responses are not adequate.  That's fine, too.  I'm writing based on what I think and know, and I'm open to learning.  Whichever perspective you hold, feel free to comment, but please refrain from any put-downs.  We're all on a journey. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Chronicler's God: A Loving Father?

At church this morning, the pastor was preaching about the Lord's prayer.  He noted that it starts with "Our Father."  The pastor talked about how our image of God will influence how we interact with God.  If we see God as a strict Santa Claus sort of being, who grades us by our performance, then we won't particularly like God's knowledge of all of our ways.  But if we see God as a loving Father, then we will welcome God's omniscience, seeing it as caring.

I agree with the pastor on this, at least when it comes to my own spirituality.  The thing is, when I read the Bible, I wonder at times if I am truly reading about a loving Father.  I'm reading I Chronicles right now, and I recently went through the Chronicler's telling of the story of how God struck Uzzah dead for reaching out his hand to balance the ark.  The Chronicler actually seems to be more explicit than II Samuel about why God did this: because God wanted for the Levites to carry the ark, and the Levites were to be sanctified before they could do so.  On some level, I can respect the Chronicler's high regard for the holiness, transcendence, and majesty of God.  When I read the Chronicler or the priestly writer (P), I get the impression that God is above and beyond me, or any one of us.  But is this God a loving Father?  I have difficulty characterizing him as such.  The God of the Chronicler does do good things for people, such as David and Israel.  But this God also seems to exclude others: God may bless David such that David wins battles and gets land, but where is God's love for those who are dispossessed?

Roger Morris' Richard Milhous Nixon 1

I started Roger Morris' tome, Richard Milhous Nixon: The Rise of an American Politician.  Morris' book covers Richard Nixon's life up to and including 1952.  It also talks about people, places, and events prior to Richard Nixon's birth.

I was initially reluctant to include Morris' book in My Year (or More) of Nixon, since I don't have a desire to read every single book about Richard Nixon that was ever written.  Eventually, I want for my Year (or More) of Nixon to come to an end, so that I can move on to other books that I want to read!  But I decided to include Morris' book for a variety of reasons.  First, I was intrigued by Morris' story when I found out who Morris was.  Morris served under Henry Kissinger in Richard Nixon's National Security Council, and Morris resigned because he disagreed with Nixon's invasion of Cambodia.  In both volume 2 of his memoirs and In the Arena, Nixon appears to take some whacks at Morris, without mentioning Morris' name.  Second, I was interested in an alternative view on key events in Nixon's early political career, such as the Alger Hiss case and Nixon's controversial fund.  By and large, the books that I have read assume that Alger Hiss was a Communist spy, and Morris seems to disagree with that.  I'd like to read what Morris has to say.  Third, the book was really cheap on Amazon.  Of course, there are a lot of books that are cheap on Amazon, and I don't necessarily want to buy them.  But Morris has been cited so often in some of the books about Nixon that I have read, that I just have to give him a read.

A while back, I was reading a New York Times' review of Irwin Gellman's book about Richard Nixon's early political career, entitled The Contender, and the review praised Morris for his eloquence.  Personally, I find that I'll have to get used to Morris' writing-style.  As I look through the book, however, I have a hunch that I will enjoy reading it.  What stands out most to me is Morris' extensive research (which he gained through interviews and other sources), as well as his attention to detail.  While Morris will undoubtedly cover ground that I have already read in other books, I believe that I will learn things about Nixon from Morris' book that I have not learned from other sources.

Morris' discussion of events prior to Nixon's life also impressed me.  It gives me a cozy feeling when Morris goes into aspects of the history of the state of California, as well as discusses Quakerism and Richard Nixon's grandparents.  I do not entirely know what effect Morris believes these factors had on Richard Nixon himself, but I found something on the inside jacket of the book to be intriguing: "The story begins with the false promise of boomtime California during the early days of the century.  The second son of a Quaker family beset by tragedies large and small, Richard Nixon is first seen as the earnest boy pledged to success in a small town riven by hypocrisy and class division."  Reading this reminded me of Stephen King's IT in that the passage seemed to be implying that a town could have a certain character, if you will.

Something else that stood out to me was the quote that introduced the book.  Morris quotes Nixon's grandmother, Almira Burdg Milhous, who said, "If thee had gone up as thee came down, thee would have come down as thee went up."  I have to really ponder this to understand what Morris is getting at when he introduces the book with this quote.  Morris' book is essentially about how Nixon went up----his rise as a politician.  My impression from reading others is that Morris' book will be rather critical of Nixon: it will present Nixon as ambitious, as one who did not hesitate to destroy others, even as shady.  Morris may believe that these character flaws would contribute to Nixon's downfall in Watergate.  Perhaps Morris' point is that, had Nixon started his political career with the sort of humility that he had attained in the aftermath of Watergate, his outcome would not have been as bad.  But that's just my guess.

I'm not entirely sure how I will proceed in terms of my write-ups on this book.  I don't really want to get into the weeds of Nixon's 1946 congressional race, the Hiss case, Nixon's 1950 Senate race, what Nixon did and did not do at the 1952 Republican National Convention, and the fund, comparing what Morris says with what other authors have said.  I may do some of that, but I don't want it to turn out to be a consuming research project.  I could just write about the passages that stood out to me, whether or not that allows my posts to capture the essence of Morris' arguments.  In any case, we'll see how my posts turn out!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

In the Arena 7

I finished Richard Nixon's In the Arena.  I have four items.

1.  On page 325, Nixon talks about the use of linkage when negotiating with the Soviets:

"How we structure and approach talks with Moscow will largely determine our success in them.  Gorbachev will take us to the cleaners in negotiations unless we use the tactic of linkage.  The two sides do not have the same degree of interest in progress on all issues.  Moscow has a greater interest in some areas, such as trade, and the United States has a greater interest in others, such as conventional arms control.  If we let him do so, Gorbachev will gladly negotiate solely on the former.  If we acquiesce to that unbalanced approach----if we fail to link the two sets of issues----he will dominate the negotiating agenda, conclude agreements on his top priorities, and defer resolution of our issues to the indefinite future."

This appears to be common sense: when you negotiate with people, you identify what they want and what you want, and you link the two, offering to do such-and-such for them if they do such-and-such for you.  The reason that I am referring to this passage is that it exemplifies what strikes me as the topic of much of In the Arena: How do you play the political game?  How do you persuade people to do what you want them to do?  A while back, when I was blogging through Richard Nixon's Six Crises, blogger ConsiderAgain said that Six Crises "Sounds like a good book to think about if I ever run for office" (see here).  Nixon would most likely heartily agree that ConsiderAgain should read Six Crises, since it was Nixon's favorite book that he wrote, and Nixon often recommended it to people and gave out copies!  But, in terms of a book that addresses what politics is like----the good and the bad, how to negotiate, how to lead, the players involved, etc.----In the Arena is an excellent book to read, in my opinion.

But why would anyone consult Nixon on how to play the political game, with all of his blunders?  Would Nixon be the person to consult on how to relate to the media, when he tended to alienate the media?  Would he be the one to consult on how to deal with Congress, when he as President arguably did not work well with Congress, such that it went against his agenda and, ultimately, him?  And Nixon himself complains that there were times when he had difficulty getting bureaucrats to do what he wanted!  Maybe one could be edified by what he says about foreign policy, since he did achieve progress in that area. 

That said, I still think that In the Arena is a good book to read.  Nixon may have succeeded in areas, and he may have failed in areas.  In addition, perhaps he magnified certain problems, such as the media (not that the media are a problem, but they can be, at times).  But he still had decades of political experience, and he's a good source to read about the players and motivations that are part of the political game, as well as ways to navigate through that game.

2.  On page 342, Nixon discusses civilian casualties in the Vietnam War:

"Those who opposed our involvement in Vietnam also argued that our tactics indiscriminately killed civilians.  In fact, our forces operated under strict rules of engagement designed to prevent such casualties.  Many American bomber pilots were shot down, ending up dead or as POWs, because their paths across North Vietnam were chosen to minimize the risk of civilian casualties.  In the two weeks of intense bombing in December 1972, only 1,500 civilians----according to Hanoi's own count----were killed, compared with over 35,000 civilians killed in one night of fire-bombing of Dresden in World War II.  Civilians accounted for a much smaller proportion of casualties in the Vietnam War than they did in either World War II or the Korean War."

I was thinking of not including this item in this blog post.  I've already blogged about the topic of civilian casualties in the Vietnam War (see here, here, here, here, and here), and I'll come across the topic again in my future reading for My Year (or More) of Nixon, since Nixon discusses it in his book, No More Vietnams.  But I decided to include this quote of what Nixon says on page 342 because it does strike me as a fairly reasonable argument, especially the part about how American bomber pilots were shot down because they were in areas where their bombing would not result in too many civilian casualties.  At the same time, there is another side to the debate.  At the library, I saw a book that I may read sometime in the future: Nick Turse's Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam.  The title of this article in The Nation says what the book is about: "The US Military Regularly Killed Civilians in Vietnam.

3.  On page 347, Nixon argues that world government will not bring about perfect peace:

"The second myth is the idea that establishing a world government would produce perfect peace...While the UN has played an important role in facilitating the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan, the cease-fire in the Iran-Iraq War, and the pullout of Cuban forces from Angola and the independence of Namibia, it has not settled the underlying conflicts in any of those disputes.  Moreover, its contributions to these partial settlements were made possible only because the parties to those conflicts already reached the conclusion that they were better off engaging.

"As Winston Churchill pointed out to me the last time I saw him, in 1958, no nation will ever let an international organization make decisions affecting its vital interests.  That is why the suggestion that the UN arbitrate the Arab-Israeli conflict is a non-starter.  Given the UN's record of repeatedly trying to pass unbalanced resolutions condemning Israel while ignoring the aggressive actions of Arab states, we can hardly expect the Israelis to submit their fate to a stacked jury.  Only after a settlement has been reached by negotiations between the two sides could the UN play a possible peacekeeping role."

This passage brought several things to my mind.  First of all, I thought about Gary Allen's John Bircher-type narrative that Nixon wanted to create a one-world government (see here).  Nixon in In the Arena appears to suggest otherwise.  Second, Nixon seems to be rather critical of the United Nation's stance against Israel.  This stood out to me because Nixon himself says critical things about Israel in some of his books.  But Nixon may not have been gun-ho pro-Israel, per se, but rather one who could see both sides, and who recognized the importance of recognizing the desires of both sides in trying to effect negotiation.  Third, Winston Churchill's skepticism about international organizations surprised me somewhat, since the Worldwide Church of God (I grew up in an offshoot of that) liked to quote Churchill's statements in favor of world government.  (The WCG was arguing that the world needs Christ to rule it for there to be peace, and that Christ would do so after his second coming.)  Maybe Churchill believed different things about world government in the course of his life.  And fourth, this passage illustrates a point that Nixon makes in his chapter about peace: that peace does not mean utopianism.  Nixon acknowledges that human nature is what it is, and that countries have their own self-interests.  It may not be possible to get countries to like each other, Nixon argues, but we should try to encourage them to coexist peacefully. 

4.  On page 367, Nixon encourages young people to visit the elderly in retirement homes:

"I have visited several of the excellent retirement homes near our home in Saddle River.  The facilities could not be better...The staffs are understanding and compassionate...They have everything----good food, good medical care, television, and good people to look after their every need.  Everything, that is, except the one thing that matters most----love.  Nothing can substitute for the love of family or friends.  Only someone who is getting older can appreciate that.  Younger people could enrich their lives immeasurably by visiting, calling, or writing someone in a retirement home, whether they know the person or not.  Most such facilities will allow you to 'adopt' residents who have no friends or relatives to visit them."

Nixon's book offers advice to different kinds of people.  He encourages people to travel when they are still young and have the physical mobility to enjoy what's in other countries.  He provides guidelines about when older politicians should retire.  Nixon's statement on page 367 stood out to me, though, for a couple of reasons.  First, there are times when I fear being alone when I am elderly, since I'm not good at making friends.  But, second, I have thought about visiting retirement homes while I am still young.  I used to do so, either for an internship, or on my own time, and I think that the elderly people I visited appreciated that I took the time to keep them company.  I may do so again.  Of course, the challenge is talking to the right people within the bureaucracy so that I can arrange that, and also bringing theory into practice: not just having a thought to visit the elderly, but actually doing it. 

Psalm 119: Shin/Sin

I have three items for my write-up today on Psalm 119: Shin/Sin.

1.  Psalm 119:164 states (in the KJV): "Seven times a day do I praise thee because of thy righteous judgments."

Some believe that the Psalmist praised God seven literal times each day.  Rashi actually tries to map those times out: "In the morning, twice before the reading of 'Shema' and once after it, and in the evening, twice before it and twice after it" (see here).  Keil-Delitzsch say that Psalm 55:17 appears to suggest three times a day for prayer, and they contend that the Psalmist in Psalm 119:164 is saying that he has even gone beyond that!  

There are others, however, who do not interpret the seven times in a literal fashion.  The Jewish exegetes Radak and Ibn-Ezra interpret the seven times to mean constantly.  And W.O.E. Oesterley says that "seven was often used as an indefinite number of times..."

I don't try to make myself pray seven times a day.  I also can't say that I pray "constantly."  But I do believe that it is beneficial for me to make my relationship with God a part of my day, and to focus on the positive aspects of God's character (i.e., God's righteousness, God's love) rather than my discontent.  What is interesting in this section is that the Psalmist is continually praising God for his righteous judgments in a time when princes are persecuting him.  I've heard people talk about the importance of praising God in the midst of difficulties.  Sometimes, this is advertised as a path to a breakthrough, things becoming better.  Well, maybe things get better, or maybe they don't necessarily.  I can look back at times when I would sing praise songs, and that didn't exactly make my life go the way that I wanted!  Still, I can identify with clinging to God in the midst of problems.

2.  Psalm 119:165 is one of my favorite passages of Scripture.  It states: "Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them."

I am an easily offended person.  But suppose that I loved God's law and studied it more?  Would I be as offended by what people say or do, specifically when it's directed at me?  I am drawn to the concept of being so at peace that I am not offended by others.  That would strike some people as rather escapist: that I would study the Bible in an attempt to escape dealing with real life.  Well, we all should try to deal with real life!  But focusing one's attention on something positive can be a good coping mechanism.  In my opinion, a little escapism is not necessarily a bad thing!

Does the Psalmist's love for God's law lead him never to be offended, though?  In Psalm 119:163, he states: "I hate and abhor lying: but thy law do I love."  The Psalmist obviously is offended by something: lying.  When we draw closer to God, what can (or should) happen is that the things that break God's heart break our hearts, too.  Still, I'd like to think that occupation with God's law does not lead solely to discouragement about the state of the world, but allows one to elevate one's thoughts to something or someone higher.  Moreover, I would hope that occupation with God would lessen one's pettiness, especially when that pettiness does not relate to the grand battle between good and evil.

Augustine had an interesting interpretation of Psalm 119:165.  He said that its point is that the Psalmist loves God's law, and nothing in Scripture offends him.  When the law appears to be absurd, Augustine says, the Psalmist recognizes that his own understanding is limited, and that there is some "great meaning hidden" (see here).  I have long heard something similar within fundamentalist or conservative evangelical circles: that I should trust the Bible's inerrancy, even when a passage appears wrong or revolting to me, because that passage may be true or make sense in a way that I do not currently see.  Maybe there's something to this.  In the same way that I shouldn't make hasty judgments about people based on limited information, I shouldn't be quick to dismiss Scripture when it violates my sensibilities, for there may be something deeper.  But I have a question: How can the Bible benefit me right now, when my current understanding of it is imperfect?  Can an infallible Bible (assuming it is infallible) help those who read it so fallibly?

Psalm 119:165 may be about being offended, or it may be about something else.  I read interpreters who said that the message of Psalm 119:165 is that those who love God's law will avoid moral stumblingblocks, or the stumblingblock of divine punishment for sin.  The Hebrew word translated in Psalm 119:165 as "offend" can mean such things (i.e., Ezekiel 7:19; 14:3-4, 7; Jeremiah 6:21; etc.).  I do agree that adhering to a righteous path can enable one to avoid problems that unrighteousness can bring.  It doesn't mean a problem-free life, but I do have to admit that behaving in an unrighteous manner can result in steep consequences, which I would rather avoid.

3.  Psalm 119:168 says: "I have kept thy precepts and thy testimonies: for all my ways are before thee."

One interpretation of this that I read was that the Psalmist keeps God's law because God is omniscient.  I wonder if this portrays God as a sort of Santa Clause, who judges people according to their behavior: you better watch out, you better not cry, etc.  I'd like to think that the Psalmist's relationship with God goes beyond that, that the Psalmist sincerely loves God and God's laws, as opposed to obeying God because God is watching his every move and may strike him down if he does wrong.  Psalm 119 talks a lot, after all, about love for God's law.  Consider Psalm 119:162: "I rejoice at thy word, as one that findeth great spoil."

Another interpretation I read is that the Psalmist is saying to God that he has kept God's law, and he is appealing to God's omniscience to argue to God that God should know that he (the Psalmist) is keeping God's law.  I think of John 21:17: Jesus is asking Peter more than once if Peter loves him, and Peter eventually responds that Jesus knows that he loves him.

I'd like to see Psalm 119:168 more in light of a love-relationship with God, however: God knows my ways because he cares for me, and I in turn love God back and try to walk in God's ways.

Friday, July 26, 2013

In the Arena 6

On page 233 of In the Arena, Richard Nixon quotes Senator Frank Carlson saying to him in 1952, "Dick, you're controversial, but everybody likes Pat."  Pat Nixon was Richard Nixon's wife.

In my blog posts thus far for My Year (or More) of Nixon, I have not blogged much about Pat Nixon's warmth, her hospitality, and her humanitarian activities.  I've blogged about such things as her introversion, her toughness and tenacity, her capabilities as a public speaker, her intelligence, and her sharp wit, but not really her kindness.  But her kindness does stand out to me in what I have read about her.  Not only did she open up the White House so that all kinds of people could tour it, and not only did she visit schools, orphanages, a leper colony, and a refugee camp in her travels abroad.  But, as I read Monica Crowley's narration in Nixon in Winter of her interactions with Mrs. Nixon, Pat's warmth and hospitality were salient to me.  They seemed to me to be genuine aspects of who she was.

There are two images of Pat Nixon that I've encountered in popular culture.  The first is that of Alex Keaton in Family Ties.  Pat Nixon was the sort of woman whom Alex wanted to marry: someone who was warm and supportive.  When Alex told Lauren, a psychology student who was interviewing him, about the type of woman he was looking for, Lauren's response was (if my memory is correct), "Are you looking for a woman, or a cocker-spaniel?"  Many see Pat Nixon as someone who stood by her man and did not have much of an identity of her own.

The second image of Pat that I've encountered in popular culture is Joan Allen's portrayal of her in Oliver Stone's Nixon.  That Pat was very bitter.  She did not care for being in public life, and she was not afraid to tell Nixon off.  She supported her husband, but it was a very reluctant, if not contemptible, support.  She was also tough.  She told her daughter Julie that they must not surrender to their enemies.

Alex's vision of Pat Nixon had warmth, but she did not have much toughness, intelligence, or even a mind of her own.  Oliver Stone's image of Pat was tough and had strong opinions, but she lacked warmth, hospitality, or compassion for those outside of her immediate family.  Both images, in my opinion, are incomplete.  My impression is that Pat Nixon was warm and hospitable, but that she was also strong-willed and tough.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

In the Arena 5

I have three items for my blog post today about Richard Nixon's In the Arena.

1.  On pages 147-148, Nixon talks about the importance of remembering people's names and their backgrounds.  Nixon refers to Jim Farley, who "remembered not only names and faces but, even more impressive, usually people's background, family, the places they lived, and jobs."  Nixon says that he himself, as a Congressman and later a Senator, "could almost unerringly remember the names of hundreds of county chairmen, city chairmen, precinct chairmen, volunteer workers, newspaper reporters and publishers, and prominent business people."  As President, Nixon relates, he was not as good at remembering names, since there were more names to remember.  But Nixon made an effort to study the guest list before a social event so that he could refresh his memory about "guests' names, occupations, family backgrounds, and hometowns."  Nixon says that people were pleased with this and probably wondered how Nixon could remember so many people's names and backgrounds.

I wrote a post over four years ago, What Is Your Name?, which was about how my therapist was teaching me social skills, and one skill that he taught me was the value of remembering people's names and using them in conversation.  Whenever I told my therapist that I had a conversation with a person and asked that person about something I remembered was going on in his or her life, the therapist thought that was a good thing.  Not only do people like for us to remember their names, but also some of the things that are going on in their lives.  Asking someone about that conveys that you care, and it also provides material for a conversation (which is not exactly easy for me to come up with).

What my therapist taught me about the importance of knowing and using people's names was a milestone for me, socially-speaking.  I'm certainly in a better place now than I was when I did not know many people's names, and really did not care.  But I still feel that there is much for me to learn in terms of social skills.  For example, I may know people's names, but I don't know much else about them, and that hinders me from doing the small-talk that is essential for forming connections with people. 

2.  On page 155, Nixon mentions Paul Getty (whom I presume is this guy).  Getty's secretary told Nixon that Getty would sit for an hour each afternoon doing nothing but thinking.  Nixon narrates that Getty then "would get up and place a phone call or two which might add several hundred million dollars to his estate."  Nixon says, "I don't know if that is a sure way to become a billionaire, but it would be worth a try."

I think that it's a good idea to set aside time to think----to get out of the hustle and bustle so that one can look at things from more distance.  I can't really testify that setting aside time for thinking has worked wonders for me.  In the past, as someone who walked to where I needed to go, my time walking was my thinking time.  But my mind usually degenerated into bitterness during those times----resentments about the past and present, fears about the future, etc.  At the same time, I can't rule out that I got ideas during those times thinking: ideas for papers or blog posts, or ideas on things I needed to do. 

3.  On page 188, Nixon says about his debates as a Congressional candidate against Congressman Jerry Voorhis that "The debates were not about communism, as some 'historians' have struggled to demonstrate, but about the economy."  This is not the first time in In the Arena that Nixon takes on what people say about his past.  On page 70, Nixon says: "I would not recognize my father from the grotesque caricatures that have appeared in some of the media.  They picture him as a crude, uneducated oaf who did not have the respect of his sons and was disliked by most who knew him.  If they had been privileged to know him as I did, they would have painted a very different picture."

On Nixon's 1946 Congressional race, the historians I read do narrate that the economy was an important issue in that election.  There were businesspeople who were tired of the New Deal's regulations, and they did not particularly care for the wage and price controls that Nixon goes on to criticize on page 188, since those hindered their business.  They wanted to support some viable candidate who would challenge Jerry Voorhis, a New Deal Democrat.  But historians also say that Nixon in that election used Communism as an issue: that Nixon accused Voorhis of having the endorsement of a union in which there were Communists.  Voorhis says that Nixon was unfairly using a Red-baiting strategy against him (see here).  Nixon in volume 1 of his memoirs himself says that he did not think that Voorhis was sensitive enough to the issue of Communist infiltration, since Voorhis had the support of the Los Angeles branch of NC-PAC, which had Communists within it (see here). 

On Nixon's father, I've not yet read anyone who claimed that Frank Nixon was a "crude, uneducated oaf who did not have the respect of his sons and was disliked by most who knew him."  Maybe I will encounter this caricature in the future, but I haven't so far.  I have read portrayals of Frank Nixon as rather abusive and as opinionated and confrontational.  Nixon himself, in his memoirs, narrates that his father's fights with Nixon's brothers made Nixon want peace.  But those whom I have read also portray Frank Nixon as an intelligent man, one who loved learning about politics and who had strong convictions about what went on in the world, one who could inspire people in his Sunday school class. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

In the Arena 4

I have two items for my blog post today on Richard Nixon's In the Arena.

1.  On page 125, Nixon talks about the importance of the President meeting with the Cabinet, the National Security Council, leaders within the legislature, and other groups.  Nixon states that meetings can waste time unless people come to them with an agenda, which was why he usually "had the other participants submit their ideas in writing before the meeting began."  Nixon did not want for meetings to be places where the President would have to consider a bunch of half-baked ideas.  Later in the book, on page 137, Nixon says that the process of writing can force an adviser submitting an idea to think through the idea "more carefully", that "Bad ideas and superficial thinking are almost always exposed in the stark black and white of the typewritten word", and that reading ideas on paper rather than listening to them can negate the impact of "spoken eloquence", presumably allowing the reader to focus more on substance.

While Nixon on pages 125 and 137 affirms that reading ideas takes less time than hearing them in an oral briefing, Nixon does not think that the President should "dispense with meetings altogether".  For one, Nixon says, "many executives retain information better when it is presented orally."  Second, Nixon states that officials need to "show and tell", and that Presidents themselves need to preside over Cabinet meetings rather than sending their Vice-Presidents to do so because Cabinet officers, whom Nixon says "have big egos", would not show up to the meeting if the President is not presiding over it, sending their deputies instead.  Third, meetings allow for free discussion and disagreement, and Nixon says that "Sometimes only the clash between two good ideas will produce a better one."  But Nixon also wants for meetings to follow a tight agenda, and he does not particularly find bull sessions to be productive uses of time: "A bull session generally produces precisely what you expect a bull to produce" (page 126).  And fourth, Nixon says that Cabinet meetings allow the staff and Cabinet to feel like they're on a team.  Nixon states: "It doesn't do any good for a quarterback to call a good play if the linemen don't know which way to block."

The reason that these discussions in In the Arena stood out to me is that I was thinking about where they overlapped with and where they conflicted with other things that Nixon and others say about the way that Nixon ran his Administration.  On the one hand, Nixon in his memoirs states that he thought a number of meetings were a waste of time, and he presents his attempts to circumvent meetings as a path to greater efficiency.  A number of Nixon's biographers contend that Nixon did not work that often with his Cabinet or with legislators.  Regarding his Cabinet, Nixon handled a lot of his foreign policy with Henry Kissinger while excluding his Secretary of State (something that Nixon in later years of his life would regret, if I remember Monica Crowley's Nixon in Winter correctly).  On domestic issues, Nixon allowed his Cabinet to have a relatively free hand, and that permitted his Cabinet to pursue a progressive agenda that has impressed many liberal revisionists who look back and praise the Nixon Administration.  On the other hand, Nixon did meet with people: Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Dean, Colson, others, etc.  Nixon also had people with different ideological persuasions among his advisers, and that allowed for there to be debate (see here).

Speaking for myself personally, I am mixed when it comes to how I like to absorb information.  As an introvert and as one who tends to be socially-awkward, I prefer to communicate with people through e-mail.  But do I absorb information better through listening or through reading?  My mind can easily wander through both, to tell you the truth, and that's something I'm working on.

2.  On page 140, Nixon states within his chapter on reading: "One of the most difficult questions to answer is to advise someone what to read.  I happen to prefer history, biography, and philosophy.  But I agree with columnist Murray Kempton, a prolific reader who recently told me that one should not rule out great novels.  You can learn more about the revolutionary forces that convulsed Russia in the nineteenth century from Tolstoy and Dostoevsky than from the turgid scholarly histories of the period.  And some of the better current novels are a more accurate portrayal of real life than most of the narrow and biased tomes emanating from the ivory towers of academia."

What should I read?  I read a lot nowadays, but do I read the right stuff?  You may remember the movie Good Will Hunting, in which the Matt Daimon character is telling his therapist, played by Robin Williams, that he (the therapist) is reading the wrong books.  The Daimon character goes on to say that the book People's History of the United States will really knock your socks off!  That phrase in the movie makes me think at times: What books have really knocked my socks off?

Some may look down on me reading books by and about Nixon.  After all, can we really trust Nixon to give us the true spiel of what actually happened, or to enlighten us about what the world is like?  And a couple of books that I have read make the point that Nixon's books on foreign policy did not exactly make an impact on the world of academia.

I remember a professor saying that a relative of hers was wondering if a book that she (the relative) had recently read had been worth the time.  To my surprise, the professor told us that her response to her relative was, "Well, did you like the book?"  My professor did not think that a book had to be on the list of New York Times bestsellers for a person to enjoy it and to get something out of it.

Do I enjoy reading books that are abstract, or books that truly probe the human condition?  For me, that depends on where I am at the time.  There are many times when I do not like dry, boring history books that don't really probe into the lives of real people.  At those times, I'd like to read a history book that is more like a story.  But there are also times when I am rather misanthropic and I prefer to read things that don't talk that much about people, but focus rather on ideas.

This discussion is about what I enjoy reading personally.  But reading can also be social: I have to read certain books to fit in within certain communities, or to gain knowledge that I need for professional development, or to get more readers on my blog, or to look smart.  Those are important considerations, too.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

In the Arena 3

I have two items for my blog post today about Richard Nixon's In the Arena.

1.  On page 91, Nixon states the following about churches: "It is significant that the sharp 35 percent decline in membership of mainline Protestant denominations associated with the National Council of Churches has occurred during the period when social and political crusading has increasingly taken the place of religious messages from the pulpits.  As one critic has observed, too many churches seem to have a 'political agenda masked with the veneer of spirituality.'  In the long term, whether a church is on the right or the left, the more political it becomes, the less appeal it has religiously.  In a pathetic attempt to be 'relevant' on current political issues, many churches have become irrelevant to their major mission of giving people inspiration and guidance on timeless moral and spiritual issues."

I believe in balance.  I think that it's important for churches to encourage and inspire people: to tell them that they are valuable in God's eyes, to offer them insight on how to address their personal problems, etc.  But people should also be told that others throughout the world are valuable in God's eyes, too, like people in the Third World.  How does my church do on this?  Well, we don't get political.  We do, however, give money to some charity each month, as someone from a charity comes to speak to us.  That's a good thing, in my opinion, for it reinforces that Christianity is about more than us feeling good.  Do I believe that my church is wrong for not getting political----for focusing on charity as opposed to the systemic nature of injustice?  I can understand such a critique, but I myself have am satisfied with how my church addresses charity.  We are a mixed group----we have Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives.  Why can't we focus on what we agree on----the importance of food being out there for the poor----rather than on political issues on which we disagree?  If any one of us wants to become politically involved, we can on our own time.

2.  On page 95, Nixon says in his chapter about teachers: "I have always found that the best teachers were those who graded the hardest, just as the best dentists are those who aren't afraid to hurt you in order to clean out the cavities."

Do I find this to be true?  I have had teachers who were hard graders and were good.  In retrospect, they made me a better writer and thinker----not necessarily in their classes (for I usually ended up with a B in their classes)----but in other classes.  For example, one professor continually gave me B's on my papers, saying that my papers weren't three-dimensional enough, or that I should have offered opinion and analysis.  I ended up with a B in her class, but I went into other classes sensitized to the importance of being three-dimensional and offering analysis, and I got A's in those classes.

Monday, July 22, 2013

In the Arena 2

I have two items for my blog post today about Richard Nixon's In the Arena.

1.  On page 44, Richard Nixon says: "What separates the men from the boys in politics is that the boys seek office to be somebody and the men seek office to do something."

A couple of posts ago, I was talking about Richard Nixon's statement in his book Leaders that a winning candidate is one who truly wants the job, not someone who is reluctant.  The reason is that the person who wants the office is the one who will endure the hard road that comes with it----the criticisms, the invasion of privacy that candidates experience, etc.  I wondered if that contrasted with how the Hebrew Bible depicts a number of good leaders: as initially reluctant.  Moses and Gideon, for example, were very reluctant to assume a leadership position, but they were chosen by God, and God used them significantly.  By contrast, there were people who desperately sought to be leaders, such as Abimelech in the Book of Judges, and they were not exactly the right people to lead Israel, for they were bad people.

I think that what Nixon says on page 44 is an important ingredient to this whole discussion: Why does the leader want to lead?  Does he want to lead to help people, or mainly to help himself?  The former characterizes good leaders, whereas the latter characterizes, well, not-so-good leaders.  I can't treat this as an absolute.  There are well-intentioned people who sincerely want to help people, but they are not effective at getting people to follow them and at doing the political work that is necessary to pass their agenda.  Moreover, there are many leaders who accomplish good, and yet they have some self-serving motive: they like the glory that comes with politics.  But, in my opinion, a person who is a good leader cares for the people he leads, or at least he tries to make things better.

I think of the movie, Oliver Stone's Nixon.  Stone depicts Nixon as one who was hungry for power, and yet as one who accomplished good.  Nixon in the movie tells anti-war protesters that he can ride the beast (meaning the power-system) and hopefully accomplish some good.  But Oliver Stone appeared in the movie to have had a New Left perspective.  According to David Greenberg in Nixon's Shadow, the New Left tended to lack faith in the American political system and the likelihood of genuine reform occurring through it.  Greenberg cites Oliver Stone's Nixon as an expression of much of the New Left's feelings about Richard Nixon.  Personally, I thought that Oliver Stone's depiction of Nixon was much more positive than Greenberg apparently believed, and yet I do see a New Left pessimism in more than one of Stone's movies.  In JFK, President John F. Kennedy tries to end the Vietnam War and the Cold War, and he is then assassinated by a conspiracy of dedicated Cold Warriors, inside and outside of the U.S. government.  In Nixon, Nixon accomplishes reforms in terms of the environment, civil rights, and foreign affairs (with detente), and he angers a powerful right-wing cabal.  When one of the cabal (played by Larry Hagman, of Dallas fame) tells Nixon to remember who put him into office, Nixon replies that the American people did.  The cabal-person responds, "Well, that can be changed," and another cabal-person then adds, "In a heartbeat."  In these movies, those who try to do good will likely be attacked by the beast, the powerful interests that do not want reform.

2.  In documentaries that I have seen about Ronald Reagan's Presidency during the Cold War, the message that I get is that the Soviets were really baffled by Star Wars (or SDI, the Strategic Defense Initiative), President Reagan's plan to set up a defense system in space that would destroy Soviet missiles.  According to this narrative, the Soviets thought that Star Wars was more of a reality than it actually was, that the U.S. was actually making real progress in constructing such a system, for the Americans come up with a lot of interesting things!  But, according to Nixon on pages 67-68 of In the Arena, Mikhail Gorbachev told him (meaning Nixon) that the Soviet Union was not against Star Wars "because it feared the huge cost to the economy or because it could not keep up technologically" (Nixon's narration).  After all, Gorbachev told Nixon, the Soviets were making progress on their own SDI program, plus Gorbachev expressed optimism that the Soviets could "evade and overcome any SDI system that the United States might eventually deploy" (Nixon's words).  Rather, Gorbachev said that he was against SDI because he thought that it would exasperate the arms race.

This reminds me of a variety of things.  First of all, I think of Lord John Marbury's argument against Leo McGarry in the West Wing against a missile-defense system: that, if one side constructs a missile-defense system, the other side will only construct a more powerful missile.  Second, I recall reading in a right-wing magazine as a child that the Soviets had their own SDI program, called the Red Shield.

Gorbachev may have been bluffing.  Nixon himself thought that Gobrachev, whatever he said, still feared the cost to the Soviet economy of keeping up with the United States.  Perhaps the Soviets were attempting to construct their own version of Star Wars, but they didn't make any more progress than we did, and they thought that we were making more progress than we were.  Still, I can understand Gorbachev's arguments against Star Wars.  And yet, I wonder: Would a missile-defense system have to lead to an escalation of the arms race?  Reagan offered to share the SDI technology with the Soviets.  Would that have resulted in mutual peace?  Perhaps.  Or perhaps Lord Marbury is right: both sides would then try to create more powerful missiles.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Church Picnic, Jeremiah 29:11, and the Dash

At church today, we had our annual church picnic.  We went to a park, had a church service there, and then ate, fellowshipped, and did a water-balloon toss.  My partner for the water-balloon toss and I did better this year than we did last year.  Last year, I threw the water-balloon over her head, since I had a hard time determining how hard I needed to throw it so it could reach her.  This year, we didn't have that problem.  Our water-balloon was leaking, though, which was odd, but we were still tossing it back and forth.  Eventually, we lost.  But it was still fun!

During the church service, the pastor talked about vocation.  The pastor quoted Jeremiah 29:11, which states (in the KJV): " For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end."  Not long back, a blogger was criticizing how many evangelicals like to use this verse to encourage people that God has a plan for their life----a plan that is good.  This blogger was saying that the passage was about the Jews in exile, not every single Christian on the planet, or anyone else.  Granted, I think that the notion that God has a good plan for everyone's life can be legitimately questioned.  But I also question that blogger's criticism of how evangelicals apply Jeremiah 29:11.  So it was for Israel.  Does it therefore contain nothing of relevance to others?  If so, aren't we severely restricting the applicability of Scripture?  I don't know.  One could perhaps argue that there are in Scripture laws, rules, and concepts that the authors believed applied to everyone.  But what exactly can Christians get out of God's covenant relationship with Israel?  Is that not relevant to Christians, since the covenant was with Israel?

The pastor also read from the book The Dash: Making a Difference with Your Life from Beginning to End.  The dash is the dash between our birth-date and our death-date.  The book's point was that we should make the most of that dash----the time in between.  We should reflect on the difference we made as well as love others.  I don't particularly like asking myself what people will say about me after I die.  That's a lot of pressure!  I do hope to make some difference, through my blogging.  But, because I'm shy and introverted, I'm not exactly going to be remembered as the encouraging, bubbly personality people enjoyed being around.  Maybe I'll be remembered for other qualities, though.  And yet, it's easy to become isolated in this world.  I can understand why some may feel that they wouldn't be remembered after their death.

I did appreciate, however, the story in the book about the executive who was flying in on a jet.  His daughters were looking forward to seeing him, but he ignored them when he got off the jet.  I like the lesson of taking the opportunity to show people love when one still can. 

In the Arena 1

I started Richard Nixon's In the Arena: A Memoir of Victory, Defeat and Renewal.  In this post, I'd like to highlight something that Nixon says on pages 32-33:

"I also relied on support from my friends.  When you win from politics, you hear from everyone.  When you lose, you hear from your friends.  After Watergate, it was a miracle that I had as many as I did.  Some came to see me, some called me on the telephone, others wrote encouraging letters.  As good friends, they did not dwell on the tragedy of the past.  Thankfully, they did not express sympathy, for the only thing worse than self-pity is to be the object of pity from others.  They talked only about the good times we had shared in the past and the even better times we could hope to share in the future.  And finally, the mail----the letters from tens of thousands of people from all over the country and the world, most of whom I had never met----played an indispensable role in bucking up my spirits during a difficult time.  I was, of course, unable to read and answer them all.  But it was heartwarming to know that while there was no longer a silent majority, at least the minority which was left was not silent."

I identified with what Nixon said about not liking to be the object of pity from others.  That passage reminded me of something that Nixon said on page 36 of another book that he wrote, Leaders:

"I saw Churchill for the last time in 1958 when I went to London for the dedication of the memorial to the American dead in World War II at St. Paul's Cathedral.  I hesitated to ask for an appointment with Churchill because I knew he had not been well.  But his aide felt that it would be good for him to talk to someone about problems other than his own physical condition.  I had learned long before never to ask a sick man how he feels, because he may tell you.  But many, and this is especially true of leaders, want to talk about the world rather than about themselves.  When I called on John Foster Dulles in his last months when he was dying of cancer at Walter Reed Hospital, I always asked him for his opinions on current foreign policy problems rather than dwelling on how he was feeling.  Mrs. Dulles, his nurse, and his secretary all told me that my visits gave him an enormous boost because they lifted him out of his own desperate troubles."

Speaking for myself, I don't have a great problem with people feeling sorry for me.  Of course I want for people to care about me and whatever I'm going through!  But I usually don't like for people to express their pity or sympathy for me within a social situation.  That may be because I find that to be depressing, or I'm not sure how exactly to respond.  When I am down, I often prefer to discuss topics----such as politics or TV shows----rather than to have to listen to people's sympathy.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Leaders 5

I finished Richard Nixon's Leaders.  In this blog post, I'd like to highlight something that Nixon says on page 331.  This occurs within the last chapter, in which Nixon discusses the characteristics of great leaders in the arena.

"He must also want the job, and he must be willing to pay the price.  There is a persistent myth that if only a person is well enough qualified, the office will----or should----somehow seek him.  It will not, and it should not.  The myth of the 'reluctant candidate' was, for much of the intellectual world, a part of Adlai Stevenson's attraction.  But show me a reluctant candidate and I will show you a losing candidate.  A reluctant candidate will not give a campaign the intensity of effort it requires, nor will he accept the sacrifices leadership itself requires: the ruthless invasion of privacy, the grueling schedule, the sting of unfair and often vicious criticism, the cruel caricatures.  Unless a person is prepared to accept this and still be ready to pursue the job with passion, he is not going to have the steel to stand it once he gets it."

Here are some thoughts:

1.  Nixon says "he," but one should not take that to mean that Nixon thinks that only men can be good leaders.  Nixon talks about women leaders in this book, namely, Golda Meier and Indira Gandhi.  And, on pages 340-341, Nixon speculates about whether more women will be in leadership roles in the future.  He lauds Clare Booth Luce's political abilities and says that "she would have turned in a stellar performance" had Dwight Eisenhower chosen her as his Vice-President rather than Nixon.  And Nixon forecasts that, before the end of the twentieth century, the United States "will probably elect a woman to the vice presidency and possibly to the presidency."  That didn't happen, but it still could happen in the twenty-first century.  Look at all the women governors in the United States!

2.  Nixon makes good points about the problems of the reluctant candidate, and I would say that his points can apply to the reluctant leader, as well: that one has to want an office seriously in order to throw oneself into its responsibilities and to take a lot of bull without giving up.  After reading this passage by Nixon, I can sympathize more with Toby Ziegler's angry reluctance to support Democratic candidate Matt Santos for President in the television series, The West Wing: Josh Lyman had to go to Texas and beg Santos to run, and Toby did not think that spoke well on Santos' part!

There is something attractive about the reluctant candidate, though: that reluctant candidates are humble and are not power-hungry, that they have small-time roots, that they have talents that they may not recognize but that others can see, etc.  In the Bible, there are a lot of reluctant candidates.  Gideon does not want to lead Israel against the Midianites, but that gives God a chance to show God's power.  Saul is reluctant to be king.  David has his share of political skills and is able to form important friendships, while fighting the enemies of Israel.  But the text goes out of its way to present David as someone who was not ambitious: the kingship just fell into his lap.  By contrast, it seems to me that those who crave power in the Bible are the ones you wouldn't want to exercise it: Abimelech agreed to be king, and he was likened to a thornbush (Judges 9).
On the other hand, perhaps some of the reluctant candidates in the Bible were not right for the job----in that their reluctance was a hindrance to them.  Saul was reluctant to be king, and he disobeyed God because he feared the people, and somehow his insignificance in his own eyes kept him from grasping the gravity of his office and performing what God considered to be Saul's duties (I Samuel 13; 15:17).

I agree with Nixon that one has to want an office in order to be a good leader.  At the same time, I don't think that everyone who craves power deserves it.  Moreover, I believe that even a reluctant candidate can surprise us, as long as the reluctant candidate becomes willing to be in the game for the long haul.

3.  Nixon in his last chapter seems to argue that a good leader is one who is impressive to people.  He has a point, for a leader needs to impress people to get them to follow him.  At the same time, Nixon does describe a wide variety of leaders.  Some are reserved, but others are outgoing.  Some work long hours, while others sleep in or take naps.  Some are powerful and charismatic speakers, while others are more cerebral (without getting overly theoretical that it stands in the way of practicality) or are good at forming coalitions.  There are arguably a variety of ways to impress people.  Charisma is one way, but showing people that one has what it takes to do the job (even if one doesn't have the flashiest personality in the world) is another way.

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