Friday, December 30, 2011

The Admiration of Dictators: A growing phenomenon

The Eulogy of Kim Jong-Il:

It startles the average person that intellectuals, celebrities and politicians in America are sympathetic to ruthless dictators. In fact, many of the have given public expression of their support and admiration for political leaders like Mao Tse-tung, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez and North Korea’s recently deceased Communist leader, Kim Jong-Il. As regards to Kim Jong-Il, the media and politicians recently eulogized this North Korean leader as “smart and ruthless,” “shrewd and calculating,” “tactically brilliant,” and “profoundly important around the world.” Former Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, in a surprising tone of sympathy, said that “[H]e would really have loved to have been a movie director… It was possible to talk with him. He's not a nut. I think that's the main kind of point.”

Viva Castro and Mao:

Certainly this troubling kind of admiration is nothing new. Actor Danny Glover has made his affections known for Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. Movie producer Oliver Stone said that Castro is, in his own words, "Very selfless and moral. One of the world's wisest men." Another celebrated movie producer, Steven Spielberg, once spoke in glowing terms of the Communist leader of Cuba: “Meeting Fidel Castro was the eight most important hours of my life." And Jesse Jackson took his admiration for the Cuban dictator a step further: “Viva Fidel! Viva Che! Castro is the most honest and courageous politician I've ever met."

It is also important to note that the admiration for dictators found its way into the White House in recent years. Anita Dunn, former Social Communications Director of the Obama administration, referred to Mao Tse-tung, former Communist leader of China, as one of her two “favorite political philosophers.” Keep in mind that Mao, Castro and Kim Jong-Il, put together, have killed millions of innocent civilians.

The Bigger Picture:

Talk radio commentators and political pundits rightly criticize this peculiar trend among intellectuals, celebrities and politicians. However, if Catholics only consider the admiration for dictators in a political context and therefore dismiss it as a mere annoyance to some conservatives, then I am afraid they are missing the bigger picture. In fact, they would be turning a blind eye to a looming threat that will, sooner or later, cause the Church in America much suffering. This goes beyond what any Republican or conservative might find offensive. No doubt, this is a spiritual and moral matter which concerns the mission of the Catholic Church. It is important to remember history: Dictators have never been friends of Christ’s nor have they been friendly to the proclamation of the Gospel. What they are known for doing is turning faithful Catholics in martyrs and using repressive measures to silence preaching. And to find that university professors, actors and elected officials in our country are becoming increasingly sympathetic to dictators should be a cause for concern.

A Costly Gullibility:

What we have observed so far begs the question: Why do some prominent intellectuals, celebrities and politicians admire dictators who have been known for killing scores of people? Mind you, this is not just a twenty-first century phenomenon. This demographic of elites have been duped by Stalin, Hitler and other ruthless regimes in the twentieth century too (read the “Liberal Death Wish” by Malcom Muggeridge). Wasn’t it Stalin who called liberals useful idiots? It is amazing how secular-liberalism can render intelligent minds and accomplished individuals to be so gullible.

Take for instance the Catholic and the Jewish voting bloc. The majority of Catholics and Jews voted for President Barak Obama in 2008. But needless to say his administration has initiated policies that have challenged the Church’s religious liberty in America (i.e. the federal mandate to have Catholic agencies cover birth control and abortifacients in their healthcare coverage) and Israel’s national security (i.e. his call for the return to the 1967 borders). However, orthodox Catholics and Jews knew beforehand this would be the case if Obama were to be elected. His current policies are no surprise to them! Yes, people are quite capable of admiring those who would do them harm.

The Causes of Unfounded Admiration:

In any case, the admiration for dictators goes beyond the day to day scrimmage between liberals and conservatives. It has profound spiritual and moral implications for society. Today this sympathy for evil among intellectuals, celebrities and politicians is more effectively communicated to the people than, let’s say, a hundred years ago. This is why Catholic Church should have something to say about this growing phenomenon.

As for the reasons behind this troubling admiration, there are at least three:

1. Traditionally, the secular-liberal strain has been strong among intellectuals, celebrities and politicians. As such, moral absolutes have never been well received by them. Hollywood celebrities in particular are not known for their chastity, marital fidelity and long marriages. That’s why they rarely make movies which hallmark these virtues. Even Tim Allen’s rendition of Santa Clause is divorced and remarried. Imagine that!

Is it any surprise then that personal sin is not a topic of emphasis in Hollywood or even Washington? If actors or even politicians cannot see themselves as faithful spouses; if they opt in favor of an abortion because of an unwanted pregnancy; and if their personal sins go unresolved and therefore unforgiven, then human guilt must be atoned for through something. And that something- that substitute -is usually their investment in social causes like environmentalism, animal rights activism and anti-capitalism protests. Perhaps, this is why they tend to see people more in groups rather than as individuals. Hate crimes against homosexuals or ethnic groups take on great importance under such an ideology. But a high price often comes at the expense of the dignity of individual. Unfortunately, the violation of human rights as it pertains to the individual person is overlooked. After all, isn't homicide wrong because a human being has been murdered and not because the victim was black or white, or homosexual or heterosexual?

The point to be had is this: When we are blind to personal sin then social sin and political causes takes on an exaggerated importance; so much so that we become blind to the moral evil dictators are guilty of. If the plank (personal sin) is left lodged in our eye, then not only will we not be able to remove the speck from our neighbor’s eye as our Lord commanded, but the much bigger planks in the eyes of political leaders will go unnoticed too.

2. Secondly, when we dethrone the true and benevolent God of the universe from our hearts, the idols that we replace him with are never as kind. The Jews of the first century found this out when they rejected Christ as their King. “And he [Pilate] said to the Jews, ‘Behold, your king!’ They cried out, ‘Take him away, take him away! Crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your king?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’” (John 19:14-15) It just so happened that forty years later, Titus, the general of the Roman army, under Caesar's leadership, destroyed Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple. This changed the Jewish worship and way of life for centuries to come. The words, "We have no king but Caesar" came back to haunt them in a formidable fashion. "Their king" eventually betrayed their trust.

In our day, prominent supporters of secular-liberalism give the impression that they would rather be slaves of an all-powerful State, or even a ruthless Islamic theocracy, than be free in a Christian society. Hatred can have this effect on the soul. Moreover, hatred among people can be so strong that it can drive them to embrace that which is positively harmful to them. As Bishop Sheen said regarding Communists, “Those who feel individually impotent to vent their hate upon a person or a class or an institution feel that if they joined Communism they could find a corporate expression for their pent-up animosities and their dammed-up hate.” Some even unknowingly forge alliances with the devil in order to team up against Christianity. Little do they know that sooner or later the devil will turn on them.

3. The third reason behind the admiration of dictators is more practical in nature. The fascination with celebrities or high profile people may be attractive at first but it gets old after a while. When you have throngs of people always taking your picture, wanting your autograph or stalking you, then the crowds of people become an annoyance. Those who enjoy the luxuries of power, fame and fortune begin to see people as sheep who are groping for a shepherd. And it also happens that politicians and celebrities begin to see themselves as their shepherd. When this illusion of grandeur kicks in, then the sheep can easily be regarded as cattle to be manipulated. After all, people in the spotlight instinctively know that they do not deserve the adulation they receive on a day to day basis. As such, the multitude who fawn over them are perceived to be dupes; and annoying ones at that. Perhaps this explains why intellectuals, celebrities and politicians often set out to impose standards and rules for people they themselves would not subject themselves to.

The admiration for dictators and the moral and spiritual reasons which lend to it, speak to an age old truth about God. In Proverbs he said, "For he who finds me finds life, and wins favor from the LORD; But he who misses me harms himself; all who hate me love death." (Proverbs 8:35-36)