Things That Glow in the Dark

Like many readers of this column, I suppose, I am often in a quandary about what I have read in the “media.”

This is not precisely the rage some report, but rather a kind of irritated perplexity. I genuinely want to know what is going on. And this, whether the news is good or bad. But I must ask myself such questions as, “Whom do I trust least?”

More serious than the violence on America’s streets (and Canada’s, and Britain’s, and Europe’s, &c), is the precipitous loss of good faith.

The violence could be ended, fairly quickly, if the authorities wished. They could bring out the National Guard, or whatever. Armed policemen generally get respect.

Methods of reducing crime in big cities have been known, since crime in big cities first became a “social problem” in the 18th century. Where the will is clear, the clean-ups usually work. We could go into the history, but not today.

But what if the authorities don’t want them to work? What if there is a political faction that thinks it can benefit from public disorder?

Worse, what if ALL political factions have something to gain, by arousing the public both for, and against, the violence? What if “no news is bad news” to ALL the political “stakeholders,” except the powerless who long for peace, quiet, and physical safety?

This seems to me to be the current situation. Both major parties in your country (I’m Canadian) are looking forward to a real conflagration, towards November 3rd.

My guess is that the principal beneficiary will be Trump; but as Republicans of my acquaintance suggest, all bets are off. Anything could happen in October.

So be it. This will not be the first time humans have lived through revolutionary events; or that many die in consequence. Millions could be reduced to destitution. The “law of the jungle” could prevail, and not only in “progressively-governed” cities.

One deals with what one is dealt. So what?

Before I am accused of hyperbole, let me ask whom gentle reader trusts? For every faction has an interest, not only in winning street fights, but in telling us what caused them, and how they turned out.

Can we even take for granted that something actually happened, now that rumors are reported for news, and the only thing a “fact checker” wants to know is, was there indeed a rumor?

Oddly, I am not protesting the media at the moment. Instead, I am focusing on the loss of good faith. While as a former writer in the “mainstream,” I take the lowest view of their credibility, I am too familiar with the causes to blame them all on biased management.

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We have, with the larger loss of common standards, lost even the aspiration to “objectivity,” or “impartiality.” Say ANYTHING, and your auditor will wonder what side you are on. Say two things, and he will make up his mind.

The relation between “faith” and “good faith” may be traced in English, and other Western languages. Without bona fides, there is no way forward, yet for centuries we believed that good faith was possible. Even affirmative action programs were founded on the assumption that it was.

But these in turn came out of a long tradition that recognized, explicitly, the Christian faith. Without a concept of God, the concept of Truth is put on mobile foundations, and the view that what is good is what will lead to the best result for one’s party is “natural,” once God slides away.

I don’t just mean “natural” for the Left, but for all parties. How often I have noticed, when chatting with “conservative” friends, that religious ideas are entirely discounted, and only political propositions are allowed.

Even the Christians assume we must appeal to non-Christian, or even anti-Christian allies. Only then can we “win,” whatever empty prize we are seeking.

We must watch what we say, even dissimulate, to keep this end in view. We must pretend to be “open minded” on matters that no Christian can entertain, for otherwise we’ll never get our sweet way. The Faith itself must be advanced in bad faith.

I may sound like I am accusing, but I find this motive also in myself. In a corner, I prioritize politics glibly. I think of questions like, “What if Trump should lose?” – or the equivalent in any other contest.

That the end does NOT justify the means, was a central Christian insight. It reached forward, too, out of Plato and Aristotle, and can be detected in wisps elsewhere. Among the Jews, in the Biblical accounts from their Prophets, this idea was pioneered. It made their religion shockingly different from what was common among all other Semitic tribes.

In Scripture, the sins of kings are frankly admitted. For me at least, the candor of the Old Testament was what first impressed me. It was what set the stage for the candor of the New.

Through the darkness of human history, this “exceptionalism” stood out. I could believe that these Prophets actually believed, without qualification, in what they said. The fact of this radical candor “changed everything.” And since, everything is changed.

Not only is there “a God,” but the proposition goes beyond the philosophical, and therefore infinitely beyond the political. For as we learn from the Gospels, this God really cares. And He does so, while laying down absolute standards, to which we will fall short, but with which we may not tinker.

“Politics cannot save us,” as I read in the headline of an intelligent blog. No political movement, however “well-intended,” has the capacity to rekindle, let alone restore good faith. In its absence, no advance in civility is possible. For whatever is proposed, is as easily confuted, and we are back to perpetual fighting in the mud.

In the darkness of which, we need things that glow.

 

*Image: The Fall of Troy by Daniel von Heil, c. 1650 [private collection]

David Warren

David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist in Canadian newspapers. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: davidwarrenonline.com.