Friends of Padre Steve’s World
As the inauguration of Donald Trump as President draws near it is important to remember the words of the late Adlai Stevenson who once wrote:
“Unreason and anti-intellectualism abominate thought. Thinking implies disagreement; and disagreement implies nonconformity; and nonconformity implies heresy; and heresy implies disloyalty. So, obviously, thinking must be stopped. But shouting is not a substitute for thinking and reason is not the subversion but the salvation of freedom.”
I have traveled to a lot of places, in this country and around the world where reason has been a scarce commodity and to me that has always been a frightening specter; a world where reason is all too often sacrificed on the altar of political, ideological or religious expediency. Over the past year, and more frighteningly over the past few weeks what was once a specter is beginning to look like reality.
But reason does matter, and those who ignore it do so at their own peril as Christopher Hitchens once said “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.” History shows us in times like this, where reason is tossed as primordial urges rise, that people all too often fall back on old hatreds and myth rather than seeking answers; instead of trying to figure out what is really important; instead of studying the details of the great questions; that frustrated people become intellectually lazy and gravitate towards angry demagogues who play to their often legitimate anger and frustration. As such we have entered an era where Facebook and Twitter memes with little truth but much emotion form the basic thoughts of many people.
But populist demagogues with authoritarian leanings like the President Elect do not need to appeal to reason. Instead they appeal to something more primal; they appeal to fear, anger, and the need of desperate people to find someone to blame.
Appealing to fear and loathing is so much easier than using reason. To call an opponent a Communist or Nazi, Fascist or imperialist, unbeliever, heretic or even a racist; and then connect them to the evil we want to demonize them is far easier than it is to actually engage them in a truthful debate and to see things in their historical context.
Too often we allow people of little learning but whose great charm and salesmanship ability, to sell us myth in place of fact and this happens across the political, social, economic and theological spectrum. That is a tragedy for all of us no matter what our political, ideological, or religious views.
Such salesmanship may comfort the true believer in whatever cause may be, and it may even make them feel superior to those that disagree with them. But it blinds them to reality and ensures that they never become aware of their own envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. The untruths they believe serve as protection against any thought, fact, presumption or doctrine that contradicts them. John F Kennedy said, “Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” Thus we are inundated with fake news, fake history, outright lies and propaganda that go unchallenged by people who should know better.
In times like ours, it is most important to take the time to learn from history, not just generalities that mix fact and myth but the little details that make up history and for that matter the sciences, philosophy, sociology, political thought and theology. As a society we have ceased to do this and until we take the time to return to such study, dialogue and put aside our blinders we will be doomed to remain as we are no matter what political party is in power or ideology dominates the airwaves and cyber space.
Reason, it is important, and the dangers that we face as a nation, society, and world demand that we return to it, no-matter what our occupation or station in life. If we do not stand for truth and the freedom of thought maintained in reason and objectivity we will see freedom die. George Orwell wrote something that we should not forget: “Threats to freedom of speech, writing and action, though often trivial in isolation, are cumulative in their effect and, unless checked, lead to a general disrespect for the rights of the citizen.”
Have a great day.