The eyes are like a lamp for the body; therefore if your eyes are OK, your whole body will enjoy the light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be plunged into darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is obscured, what deep shadows you will find yourself in! — Matthew 6:22-23
The world is full of great criminals with enormous power, and they are in a death struggle with each other. It is a huge gang battle, using well-meaning lawyers and policemen and clergymen as their front, controlling papers, means of communication, and enrolling everybody in their armies. — Ernesto Cardenal in a 1959 letter to Thomas Merton
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It was fun to read George Will’s column in yesterday’s Springfield Republican, which headlined it “Where the GOP and the Framers disagree.” * For one thing, it’s always fun to get out my pocket-size copy of the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence to look things up. Makes me feel like a regular citizen.
It was on the Census. But as a truther, the first half of column’s first sentence piqued my interest right away: “This nation’s empirical and inquisitive Founders considered information conducive to improvement… .” *
Information. Where do we get it in these here United States? Traditionally (even before the nation existed), from newspapers, which in the Framers’ time included political pamphlets representing various perspectives. In the hinterlands they came on horseback (think the pony express and its predecessors), horse-drawn stagecoach, covered and uncovered wagons, and later trains. In cities, they could be delivered on foot directly from whatever printer (like Ben Franklin) with a point of view or servicing someone else with one—no horses or trains required.
Literate colonists, citizens, citizens-to-be read them, critically, and passed them around, within families and beyond. Then they discussed and argued over the news, opinion and analysis—on town greens, in taverns, at work.
Information. There’s plenty of it even today, including misinfo, slanted info, disinfo, gaslighting, and who knows what else. It’s all there, it’s all here. In the Internet age, anyone with a keyboard who wants to pipe up can do so including this typist, Yr. Hmbl. Svt. We bloggers abound. List-servers do, including some like the News From Underground crew. Emailers, Tweeters and Facebook and YouTube correspondents are so numerous that they are considered time sucks. Junk mail on screens, including TV screens. Not to mention radio, including “public” radio. A glut. A mess—like this paragraph.
Americans, though (and this probably pertains to people in other countries), are less equipped than they (we) used to be to handle their responsibilities as would-be participants in a democracy or as responsible participants in a livable world.
One may legitimately ask whether they’re (we’re) intended to be any more. Or whether they (we) ever were, any more than the slaves or “Indians” of the Framers’ time.
Americans are not supposed to think. An American should not be alone with her or his thoughts, not even in a car. “Please connect your mobile device,” a voice may instruct when one turns on the ignition. (For now, it’s still OK to decline. Some cars don’t even ask.)
Rather, good Americans let anointed scribblers and pundits do their thinking for them—preferably ones commanding audiences across print, TV, and radio, which leads to these anointeds’ authorship of best-selling—and prize-winning—books heavily promoted across print, TV, and radio. Booksellers depend on them. They sell.
Good Americans are sports fans from birth, cultivated as such through print, TV, and radio. Many declare their allegiance to professisonal teams by flying team flags outside their houses, wearing team-theme articles of clothing, and affixing team decals on cars and trucks. Will will occasionally devote a column to some esoterica of professional sports to nail down his credibility as a real American. (Just as—Americanly—he engages in Sunday morning TV food fights.)
(Good Americans might consider some of the above to be propounded by a Russian asset, one who is knowingly or unknowingly so.) Yikes! What is to be done? (Didn’t Lenin say that?)
Jesus is supposed to have said nearly two thousand years ago what Matthew says he said in the quote up top.** (I read mention of it in another opinion column in the same newspaper last week and looked it up.) The passage fittingly describes the press (a.k.a. media) in a body politic. If the press (a.k.a. media) is healthy, that’s great for a society. If it’s not, the whole society is plunged into darkness and will find itself in deep shadows, whether its members know it or not.
In Matthew, this passage comes Just before before Jesus saying you can’t serve God and mammon (or money), “for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.”
The society where Jesus was a renegade inhabitant was no high-tech alleged democracy with mostly literate people such as we Americans are; it was a theocracy whose leaders collaborated with heathen occupiers from across the Mediterranean. Most people got around on foot, had or were slaves, and were informed by “media” that was word of mouth. (All food was organic and locally grown.)
“Where are you going with this?” one might ask. Here’s where: Those people were less likely to be fooled or distracted or entertained or amused than people in “our democracy,” as our system is sometimes called. “Our democracy” is media-led, with the other three branches of government subservient at all levels. All four branches of “our democracy” are paid for by and answerable to … mammon.
For that matter, today’s system might be called a theocracy of mammon, which pays for the sports, arts and entertainment and Sunday-morning food fights. Today’s heathens are people paying more than token attention to the remnants of the traditional Abrahamic religions.
“A republic, if you can keep it,” Ben Franklin is supposed to have replied one fine day in Philadelphia to a woman who asked, out on the sidewalk, what kind of government he and the others had cooked up. (As Will points out, this government was not for the slaves or “Indians.” Come to think of it, Will is a framer, being paid to help frame American discourse.)
Ernesto Cardenal, in the other passage up top, was writing more than sixty years ago to Thomas Merton (one priest to another, both at least somewhat on the outs with their own Church). He gives the press and other communications media their due as instruments of great criminals. Less than a decade later Merton, unwilling to contain his views, died under suspicious circumstances at age 53.
What does this have to do with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001? Everything.
— Mark Channing Miller
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* The link is to the same column as it appeared online in the Journal-Star of Lincoln, Nebraska, under the headline “George Will: Founders, GOP Diverge.”
**There is a version in Luke.