Does This Great Nation Need A Giant Pacifier?

May 27, 2010

Culture

by Chuck Redfern, first published on http://www.creedible.com on May 27, 2010

I wonder: What would the Lord of the Universe say to America if Uncle Sam crawled to a mountain top, Moses-like, with gale-force winds ripping through his white hair?  Maybe this: “From now on, I will only allow you to exercise your freedom of speech after your mother changes your diapers, wipes your mouth, and plunks you into your high chair so you can scream, bang your spoon, and drool on your bib.” 

To put it another way: What does God think of a nation whose citizens yowl like babies? 

The question came when a friend and I were driving through bucolic New England.  We rounded a corner and saw frowning demonstrators standing on freshly mowed grass in a tranquil, upper-middle class neighborhood.  They were hollering beneath their signs: Dump this congressman; dump that senator; America is descending into the abyss; there’s chaos, anarchy, and mayhem; everything is in ruins; the current unpatriotic administration is taxing us to death (the lead paragraph on an April 14 Associated Press story: “You wouldn’t know it by the Tax Day rhetoric, but Americans are paying lower taxes this year, even with increases passed by many states to balance their budgets,” and a May 12 USA Today headline: “Tax bills in 2009 at lowest level since 1950.”).  I think some sipped cool lemonade between rants. 

I couldn’t help it.  The word flashed before I could suppress it: “Babies.” 

It flashed again when I remembered a biblical passage: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).  

Does America Need A Mother? 

More flashes came as I remembered an incident when I was seven.  My harried mother asked me for a favor.  I knew it.  This was my moment.  All I needed was courage and initiative. The timing was right; the weather was fair; the sun and the moon were aligned for excellent tides; and I had just performed a herculean engineering feat: I built my very own fort (actually, Mom did all the work and, typical of mothers, congratulated me on a job well done).  I was ready to do the paper work so I could hang out a shingle as a construction consultant.  It was obvious that my kowtowing days were over – we entrepreneurs have no time to pencil in nuisance requests – so I did it.  I said no.  I turned away and walked toward the door, satisfied with my tactful assertiveness. 

My mother fell back on a parental technique used through the millennia and across civilizations.  She transformed into a cheetah and was on me at lightning speed (don’t let them fool you: those normally slumbering adults can prance like cats) and spanked me.  I got whupped, to use the era’s lingo (it was two hard swats with the hand – maybe three, at most – but understatement is boring).  Shocked child-rearing experts might cry: “Mrs. Redfern!  You’ll demolish your son’s self esteem!”  If my mother was in a conversational mood (which she emphatically was not), she might have replied: “The little stinker’s self-esteem could use some demolishing!”    

I couldn’t help but think:  Those demonstrators – who were hollering infantile harangues worthy of babies in a crib – could use my mom.  They thought themselves so mature that they could condemn everyone else; if anything, they were showing the very opposite of maturity when viewed through the prism of the passage in Philippians.  Babies are selfish, the mature give; babies scream, the mature are patient; babies assert themselves no mater what, the mature show humility … 

Were those demonstrators guilty of too much self esteem?  

The Big Picture 

Then I thought of our entire society.  The ranting talk-radio and television hosts are easy targets (oh mothers of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Keith Olberman: Please change your sons’ diapers; they’re smelling up the kitchen).  So are many political figures.  James Carville must have been sucking on a pacifier when he called Republicans “snakes” in a recent Democratic fund-raising e-mail, and I can just see Alabama Senator Richard Shelby wearing a bonnet when he put a “blanket hold” on 70 nominations in February because he didn’t get earmarked funding for two pork projects.  Shelby often toddles around the talk-show circuit and argues for more efficient, stream-lined government.  Only a baby could do that with a straight face. 

But the real emblems of infancy are those who ask for trust while violating their most solemn vow.  There’s Newt Gingrich, who hailed family values even as he served divorce papers on his dying wife – and John Edwards, the presidential candidate who cheated on Elizabeth while she struggled through chemotherapy.  And don’t forget Elliot Spitzer, the scandal-riddled ex-New York governor who humiliated himself and his wife, spawning a television series called, The Good Wife.  Any grown-up would be embarrassed to the core, but Spitzer now says he wants to re-enter politics.  Elliott!  You’re reading from the wrong script!  Lemme help.  Here’s your lines: “I feel humiliated because I am worthy of such humiliation.  I will crawl under a rock and stay there for twenty years.  After emerging from my dark crevice, I will travel to Calcutta, incognito, to help the untouchables.  I will remain in Calcutta.  Forever.” 

Babies.  Howling, breakfast-spitting infants.  

Our political leaders, however, are not the real problem. A Harris poll released in March shows, once again, that American politicians follow the populace.  John Avlon, the author of Wingnuts, described the tabulations:  Apparently, 67 percent of all Republicans and 40 percent of the US populace believe that President Obama is a socialist (not that facts matter, but the president’s policies are classically moderate-to-liberal); 45 percent of all Republicans agree he was not born in the United States (Will his Hawaiian birth certificate serve as evidence?  No!  Waaaa!); 38 percent believe he’s “doing many of the things that Hitler did;” and 24 percent speculate that he “may be the Antichrist.” 

Avlon, who wrote speeches for Republican Rudolph Giuliani, said the former New York mayor’s own party has fallen prey to the “Obama Derangement Syndrome – pathological hatred of the president posing as patriotism.”  The GOP once presented itself as the reasonable, moderate-to-conservative party who checked the unwise and spendthrift Democrats, but the poll reveals a psyche usually dominating fringe parties whose conventions meet in barns and bars.  Jacob Weisberg mourns the loss of the “Double-R” (Responsible Republican). Even Paul Krugman, a liberal economist, is worried: “If you care about America’s future, you can’t be happy as extremists take full control of one of our two great political parties.” 

Babies on the Right, Babies on the Left

Liberals must acknowledge their own narrow-minded whines even while they advocate openness — especially when it comes to understanding people of faith: I’ve heard that Evangelical Christians like me are always right wing, always bigoted, always spiteful, and always paranoid.  We cannot be pro-life out of sincere conviction; we must hate women (I would mention that women dominate our church boards; but, again, facts are irrelevant).  One educated, supposedly open-minded liberal recently told me that anyone whose religion even remotely informs his or her political beliefs is a potential ayatollah.  Which is flattering.  That makes me a very dangerous man.  Who woulda thunk it?  

I guess we’d better be on the look-out for followers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, and Jimmy Carter.  And, since the accusation included all faiths, keep an eye on admirers of Gandhi and King Ashoka, the ancient Indian monarch whose conversion to Buddhism prompted him to halt war.  The statement’s logic suggests we’ll be especially safe if we delegate government to atheists.  Will Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot re-up from beyond the grave?  Perhaps not, so put in a call to Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s “dear leader.”  He’ll keep would-be ayatollahs like me at bay. 

Mature people deal with facts, not fiction – and they befriend and understand those with whom they have fundamental disagreements.  It can be done.  

The Apostle Paul points to maturity’s ultimate example in Philippians 2, verses 10 and following.  Christ himself “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” God exalted Christ to the highest place after he had lowered himself.  

Perhaps it’s time we stop the rants.  Perhaps it’s time we demote ourselves instead of promote ourselves.  Perhaps it’s time we grow up.  Perhaps …

Perhaps I’ll call my mom.  She might have a thought or two about a society of babies that nurtures eternal infancy.   

For further reading: 

Avlon, John, “Scary New GOP Poll,” The Daily Beast, March 22, 2010, http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2010-03-22/scary-new-gop-poll/

“Tax Day rhetoric aside, Americans’ bills are lower,” Associated Press, April 14, 2010. http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Tax-Day-rhetoric-aside-apf-3276228499.html?x=0 

Cauchon, Dennis, “Tax bills in 2009 at lowest level since 1950,” USA Today,  May 12, 2010, http://www.usatoday.com/money/perfi/taxes/2010-05-10-taxes_N.htm

 Krugman, Paul, “Going to Extreme,” The New York Times, March 25, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/26/opinion/26krugman.html

Weisberg, Jacob, “Endangered Species: Responsible Republicans are nearly extinct,” Newsweek, April 26, 2010.  http://www.newsweek.com/2010/04/15/endangered-species.html

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About Charles Redfern

Charles Redfern is a writer, activist, and clergyman living in Connecticut with his wife and family. He's currently writing two books, with more in his head.

View all posts by Charles Redfern

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