Friday, November 22, 2013

Oswald is to Kennedy as Conspiracy Theories are to Theology

I have been reading and watching TV shows about JFK conspiracy theories. I tend to agree with those who say that Oswald definitely killed Kennedy, and he probably did it alone. He was a loner. Everything fits his acting alone as much as anything can be made to fit a conspiracy necessary to understand the act. What we struggle to accept is that a nobody could get away with killing a somebody, that someone with no power (other than what comes out of the barrel of a gun) can kill the most powerful leader in the world.  We don’t want to accept that this Oswald was a leftist, who killed Kennedy in Dallas, the center of the right wing world at the time. The FBI and the CIA did not want us to know that they were incompetent, or at least had missed something really important. We did not want to know that our politicians, the best and the brightest, were merely human and unable to protect the President, and unable to make sense of what had happened, and at a loss like the rest of us about the meaning of it all, or the lack of it. We learned not to trust politicians, media people, and experts. Fear of nuclear war, anxiety about Viet Nam and communist threats, concern about or for greater civil rights for Negroes had put us on edge. We didn’t know that the insubstantial charisma of the Kennedys was the only substance of our hope. (Then, Lyndon Johnson gave substance to both our hopes and fears.)

Believing in conspiracy theories was and is necessary for many, in order to make sense of the senseless and to force order on the essential randomness of the universe. That leads me to think of theology. Today I read in The Christian Century a creative interpretation of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians by N.T. Wright (who I think of as NT Wrong). He thinks it wonderful that Paul gave new meaning to the Schema (“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is One”). He thinks it logical that Paul was defending monotheism by reading Jesus into the Schema as “Lord.” Sorry NT, you are making Jesus more than the revealer of God’s just reign; you are making Jesus divine. But hey, maybe that is no different than declaring him to be the unexpected expected Messiah. My point is that all theology, while it tries to put order on our thinking about what we know least about, is essentially speculation. It is reason applied to unreason and resulting mostly in continued discussion about the supernatural. Every conspiracy theory is talk about what might be. Coincidences are collected to prop it up. People will continue to believe in conspiracies as long as there are alternative ways to understand what happened, no matter how forced. People will continue to speak of deities as long as we remain in ignorance of total reality.

Auden said it well. It has yet to be said best, because he lived in a time supportive of belief as our own time is not. I understand that he disowned this poem; we cannot: September 1, 1939

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
"I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

------ We are human, and that implies a great deal about our capabilities for good but also for ill, and it describes also our limitations. We can learn a lot about ourselves in reviewing the Kennedy assassination. We had reason to be shocked by that event, but we should not have been surprised by 911. Nor should we have responded by seeking revenge. If any of the conspiracy theories is accepted in truth, then retribution against someone or some group would be required. It would not be justified.

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