Monday, February 22, 2010

The Rage of Quiet Men

A long time ago I read a quote that might fit some events of the past week, “Beware the rage of quiet men.”

We saw the rage of a quiet man when a middle-aged software geek who played country western music flew his plane into an IRS building. Then there was the man who bulldozed the house he had built rather than let the bank own it. Apparently, his house was in foreclosure and he offered the bank $170,000 to pay off a $160,000 mortgage. They had refused telling him that they could make more money by selling it. So out came the dozer.

From what I understand Internet message boards have been burning up in support of Joe Stack, the IRS attacker. I read his long suicide “note” before the FBI requested that it be taken down. This man was not insane by any accepted definition of the term. He was filled with rage and bitterness at what he believed was the injustice of his country. I’m afraid we’re going to see much more of this. Those in power want to marginalize these violent acts by trying to convince themselves that the perpetrators and their supporters are “just extremists.” We are living in a culture of crushing bureaucracy where more and more people feel threatened and disenfranchised by every level of government. Rather than deal with the systemic problems that generate such attitudes, our leaders continue with business as usual… except in one area. There are increasing indications that federal law enforcement is preparing for the possibility of massive civil unrest.

Let’s pray that we don’t get to that place, but I think it’s highly likely. For generations American citizens have been increasingly acculturated toward selfishness and dependence. We hear a lot about protests these days. Various groups are rising up. They proclaim that they want freedom. I don’t think that’s what it’s about at all. It’s about wanting our comforts and being angry at the possibility of losing them. I am not a Tea Partier or a member of any political organization, because, as a Christian, I see no organization that represents what I believe. I distrust “bigness” in any form whether it is government, business, unions, political parties or churches. Once any organization grows large enough it becomes an organism with an inherent desire to maintain its life at all costs which means feeding and growing.

Our huge churches are a good example. In the United States we have churches with many thousands of members. Almost always these are focused on a single individual in the pulpit. The leaders of these churches know that it’s impossible to “do church” with this size of a congregation. So they try to make up for the inability by the establishment of “small groups.” The systems to manage the multitudes of small groups become very complex. How many churches choose instead to divide and start new smaller congregations? Almost none. We’d rather build bigger buildings. Why? Because we like the feeling of being in a large crowd where everyone agrees with us. It makes us feel safe. (Ever been in a large crowd where you knew that everyone hated people like you?)

Almost all of our institutions need to shrink. Especially is this true of Hollywood and the media. But the opposite is happening. One corporation eats up another in an endless orgy of consumption that consolidates power in fewer and fewer hands. Our institutions could shrink, but not without great pain. Nothing large ever shrunk without pain. I know this from dieting and credit card bills.

Carel and I live in the mountains down two miles of semi-paved and unpaved road. It’s really dark here at night and the closest neighbor is forty acres away. The lights of their house aren’t visible. In the past, city people who have visited us have gotten a little freaked. At night the frogs are too noisy and in the isolation some guests feel vulnerable. One couple got so paranoid that they had to get a room at a motel in town. The truth is that we are far safer here than in any city. But being safe and feeling safe are not necessarily the same thing.

When our country was founded almost all families lived in rural solitude. The fact that we don’t anymore has had the profoundest psychological impact on citizenship. A hundred years ago if you wanted to be in any kind of a crowd you had to go somewhere. Before you reached the crowd you had time to consider your actions. Think of the difference between the American and the French revolutions. One was based in the countryside and the other in the city. Those aren’t the only differences, but I think they are significant. Out of one came an army, out of the other came a mob. Of course, even in the mountains we don’t live in the solitude of our ancestors. We have Internet and satellite television. There is a passage in the Old Testament book of Isaiah that says, woe to those who build houses with no land in between.

I am not one who believes that the United States was founded as a “Christian” nation. But there were shared principles of virtue and morality that came largely from historic Christianity. Though filtered through the so-called Enlightenment, Deism and Freemasonry those shared principles were strong enough to give our leaders the unity they needed to found a nation. All of that is ancient history. Long gone even from our churches is a shared concept of morality. What has replaced it is a cacophony of commercialized selfishness under-girded by a vague, eclectic neo-paganism which we have convinced ourselves is Christian. Such chaos in the moral heart of our culture is a recipe for tyranny.

So watch the days ahead. Loosed from the constraints of shared virtue and morality, beware the rage of quiet men.