Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
--C.S. Lewis--

Monday, August 4, 2008

RIP Solzhenitsyn

In the aftermath of the widespread exposure of Jeremiah Wright's foul diatribes about America, many commentators seized on his first name to argue that he was simply following in the example of his namesake (i.e. the Biblical prophet who wrote the eponymous book of Jeremiah). As pointed out by the religion editor of the Kansas City Star (March 29, 2008, H.T. Dennis Prager) there are plenty of religious fools willing to defend Wright in this vein.
"Scholars and black clergy say Wright … simply reflects a heritage of prophetic preaching in the black church. Prophetic preaching 'is the trademark of the black church tradition, of which Jeremiah Wright is perhaps one of the most illustrious exemplars,' said Walter Earl Fluker of Morehouse College in Atlanta. "'Black prophetic preaching emerges from black slavery,' said the Rev. Angela Sims, instructor of Christian ethics and black church studies at St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City. 'Black prophetic preaching can be associated with Old Testament prophets, including Amos, Hosea, Jeremiah and Isaiah,' she said. "'The African-American church has always had a prophetic role in black life in America,' said the Rev. Donald D. Ford I of Second Missionary Baptist Church of Grandview. "'Wright fits in that tradition,' said Peter Paris, professor emeritus of Christian social ethics at Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey." The Chicago Tribune (March 28) reported that "Wright's preaching … is in the 'prophetic' tradition, one of many that have evolved in black pulpits. … 'Shocking words like 'God damn America' lie at the core of prophetic preaching,' said Rev. Bernard Richardson, dean of the chapel at Howard University." In the Wisconsin State Journal, Bill Wineke, a columnist and ordained clergyman of the United Church of Christ (UCC) wrote: "You see, you and I may look at the short clips of Wright sermons played almost endlessly on cable television and agree that they are filled with 'hate.' [Hillary] Clinton knows better. … She knows the tradition of prophetic preaching in the church. Every theologian I know who has actually attended Trinity United Church of Christ -- including Martin Marty, probably the most popular theologian in America today -- agrees Wright's sermons, taken in context, rest squarely in that tradition." Wineke then goes on to relate how another UCC minister, from a generation ago, also spoke from the prophetic tradition: "In Madison, the late Rev. Alfred W. Swan, minister of the First Congregational Church (now part of the UCC) from 1930 to 1965, was regularly denounced for his preaching. One Sunday in 1952, Swan mounted the pulpit to announce 'I am not a Communist, and I have no intention of being one.' That was after Swan had criticized the Korean War, urged the country to make peace with China and suggested that Russians were better off than they had been before the 1917 Revolution. Not surprisingly, Swan regularly faced calls for his dismissal." The Rev. Anthony B. "Tony" Robinson wrote in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (March 28), "After 9/11, Wright charged that 'America's chickens are coming home to roost' … he said 'God damn America.' … Sounds like what the Bible calls a prophet." The Dallas Morning News (March 29) reported, "More than two dozen well-known black preachers and scholars, in Dallas for a long-planned conference, offered unequivocal support Friday for one of their number who was not there. … Several of the scholars and preachers spoke at a news conference. They said that Dr. Wright's sermons fit into a long-standing black tradition of prophetic preaching." Warren Bolton, associate editor of Columbia's (S.C.) The State (March 26), compared the Rev. Wright with Jesus Christ. The Rev. Marshall Hatch, pastor of New Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago, wrote in the Austin Weekly News (March 26): "It is providential that this has come in the midst of Holy Week 2008, a season when we commemorate the crucifixion of Christ and the vindication of God for faithfulness to prophetic speech."

Among the many basic facts that this line of reasoning ignores, (such as the prophet Jeremiah, you know, telling the truth...) one seems vital. Any coward can "preach to the choir" by ranting against people who aren't present. The real Jeremiah instead spent his time criticizing God's people IN THEIR LAND, TO THEIR FACES. Wright meanwhile, spent his time blaming whitey to a cheering crowd of black parishioners who were gratified to hear that their problems were all the fault of someone else. Jeremiah showed God's people love by begging them to fix a situation rapidly careening out of control. Trying to save people from themselves was, in fact, the main purpose of his prophetic ministry. In contradistinction, Wright merely took advantage of his situation to exploit a cushy pulpit.

However, a man who was actually deserving of such a title has now passed away. Alexander Solzhenitsyn truly was "a Jeremiah", publicly criticizing the Soviets while still living within their system. Even more importantly though, was the fact that he did not stop there. Upon being thrown out of his homeland he could have become a comfortable celebrity in the West, resting on the laurels of his own brave stand against communism. Instead, he went on to criticize the West too, telling them exactly what they did not want to hear, and railing against the corrupting influence of secularism in a speech guaranteed to make sure he would never be invited to the right parties. The Scriptorium does a far better job than I can, so I'll let them write the rest of the eulogy. Just remember, if you ever need to understand the true bravery of a real Jeremiah, look no further.