Sunday, March 12, 2006

Norman Mailer's Theory

I saw Norman Mailer on Book TV Saturday evening. He is now 83 years old and kept complaining that he could not hear the questions being put to him. But he had a theory about why America was behaving the way it was that I had not heard before and seems to explain more than the theories I had been entertaining.

Most Americans consider themselves to be Christian and a lot of what is happening in America is motivated by fear. Mailer’s theory is that the fear stems from the Christian belief in divine judgment. As everyone knows, when God judges a Christian he does not judge them by worldly standards. Unlike our fellow man, God is not be impressed by our beautiful house, car and clothes. Nor is he impressed by our career accomplishments or anything else that our society admires. God asks if we clothed the naked, tended the sick or gave money to the poor. And these things must have been done not in a way designed to gain our fellow man’s admiration and respect, but humbly and modestly.

But not many Americans today are seeking after humbleness or purposely avoiding the limelight. Instead they are ruthlessly trying to gain as much material advantage for themselves as possible. Being greedy and looking out for number one have become behaviors that are not only accepted as normal and natural but have been lauded as the essence of what makes America the greatest nation in the world.

I had pondered the curiosity of Americans considering themselves Christian while living lives that do not reflect Christian values but I had not connected it to the pervasive fear that underlies so much of what America is doing. There is a fear of terrorism that is totally out of proportion to the actual threat. This fear makes Americans willing to go to war, destroy the international reputation American had earned, create a debt that our children and grandchildren will struggle to repay, and surrender our freedoms to not have our phone calls listened to and our mail read by our own government.

Norman Mailer believes that the real cause of that fear is the Christian belief that we are subject to divine judgment. Although today’s American Christians have been persuaded to lead lives of selfish materialism they have not been convinced that the rules by which they will ultimately be judged have changed. The result is a sense of impending doom that leaves American Christians feeling insecure and threatened.

I don’t know if this theory is correct or not. If it is God’s judgment that we really fear of what use is our military, NSA or Department of Homeland Security? What do you think?


Anonymous said...

What way is America acting that it didn't used to I ask? This is what happens to people as they age. Things are never as good and the youth are always worse. Remember when you were young and the things you thought were OK compared to now. Well it only gets worse. And to let these old people get us worked up go out and meat the youth of today and spend time volenteering at their schools and community groups. Get off your duffs and interact with people. Sitting on the couch and watching TV is a much bigger crime than the youth of our day. Get out like people used to do and exchange ideas. Know your neighbors. Quit complaining. Positive attitude can be a good thing.

Dave Barrett said...

Ok, anonymous 7:30 AM.
Your response is that Norman Mailer's explanation is invalid because there is nothing new wrong with America that needs to be explained. Is that correct?

Anonymous said...

Yeah! The youth of America are better than they have ever been. Quit complaining and do something like the old people of our past. The elderly used to helpth youth not complain. The elderly have gotten selfish.

Anonymous said...

Like these are the only wars that we have ever been in. I agree with the post above. Older Americans do not get involved as they did even 30 years ago. Maybe Americans getting older is to blame. As they get 65 they don't feel old and want to get out and do their thing instead of helping out at schools and churchs. Lead by example would help get the youth of our day to a better place. I hope Mailer does give back to his community rather than stand back, watch and complain. Do you Dave.

Dave Barrett said...

So you see this as old people complaining about young people. I wonder where you get that. Do you see Christian as a code word old people use to describe young people? Or is it the description of people being fearful that you see as describing the young in this country as opposed to the old?
I don't get it. I don't think either Norman Mailer or I were thinking of either young or old people. Why did you feel attacked as a young person, rather than as a Christian or an American or as a selfish person who is not living Christian values?

Anonymous said...

Not an attack. People as they get older want to talk about how things are getting worse than they used to be. Whether it is about Christianity, Social Security, the crime rate, the school system, or immigration. Older people, which Mailer is one of, tend to talk negative about today and good about the good old day's as their grandfathers before them did. Saying things are falling apart as Mailer is doing here. So yes I guess you could call it a code word for I am old and the young are not as good as we were when we were young. That is what I am saying. Positive's is a better way of trying to make things better. I urge you to try and remember this. You tend to have a negative spin as this post had.

Dave Barrett said...

The ways in which I consider this country to be making big mistakes and very much going in the wrong direction are mostly my generation's fault. George W. Bush is about my age (and my 13th cousin, by the way).
I AM trying to do something about these problems. The only thing I can think of to do is to try to convince people to change the way they vote. This blog is an attempt to change things for the better by effecting the body politic.
There is absolutely nothing to be positive about the fact that this country is needlessly torturing and murdering innocent people in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. To try to put a positive spin on that would be immoral and indecent.
This country is piling up huge deficits which will have to be paid off by our children and grandchildren in order to give big tax breaks to the very rich.
You want me to say "Don't worry. Be happy." The only way these problems will be turned around is if an aroused public rises up and throw the bums out. People doing that are not doing it with a positive attitude.

H.Dean...Raaaaarrrrrhhhhggg said...

Why would you give any credence to a has-been novelist? Maybe if this was 1959 I'd listen to him - but he's a typical of the left-wing kookism that has permeated the Democrats. Remember - referring to the World Trade Center towers, Mailer declared: "Everything wrong with America led to the point where the country built that tower of Babel, which consequently had to be destroyed." And he wondered: "What if those perpetrators were right and we were not? We have long ago lost the capability to take a calm look at the enormity of our enemy's position."
Proving once again that he is nothing more thatn a woolly-minded pseudo-intellectual. Yes, you Bush-Hating, Republican loathing Dems should focus solely on Hillary - the true savior of the world, and forget about God...Oh, wait you've already done this - Libs don't allow God anywhere...never mind. Yes, Mr. Mav-Barrett, don't forget that it was George Bush who use "Neo-Con" wubby vibes to conjur up Hurricane Katrina - and his wonton neglect of relief so that he could "TORTURE" more Americans... Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, (place little pinkie in corner of mouth and give evil grin...GEORGE B. HAS RELEASED THE FLYING MONKEYS!!!)

paladin said...

I hate to say it, but the Flying Monkey guy has a point. Those who have memory beyond yesterday will recall that after the 9/11 attacks everyone (especially Democrats and their presspals) were shrieking about how GWB "should have known" about the attack, and produced, from a pile of memos the size of Mt. Everest, a briefing he had received in August '01. These same people, who claimed that Bush "should have known" are now the same people who claim Bush is blowing the terrorist threat out of proportion and threatening sacred civil liberties (which the likes of JFK, RFK, LBJ and Bill clinton abused with impunity). If there IS another terrorist attack in the USA, will you say "Bush should have known", or will you say" thank allah, no terrorists' civil rights were violated"? People who want to have it both ways disgust me.

Anonymous said...

George Bush II is the worst president this country has ever had. He took us from a surplus to a deficit. Bush moved us from a peacefull Nation to a war Nation. As any smart business man understands (that leaves you out Paldine) every dollare spent on private enterprise rolls over 7 times, but government spending on defense only rolls over 1 1/2 times. Republicans have lost their way. That's why newspapers like the D/A are heaping praise on young leaders like Big Mike Jacobs. After all these year they have finally seen the light!

Anonymous said...

Oh pluhleze! If you think the D/A endorsing Mike Jacobs is a sign of folks seeing the light and recognizing the GOP have gone astray, I have swampland in Nevada I want to sell you. The newspapers cravenly endorsed Jacobs because they figure he's going to win the race, and they don't want to piss him or his backers in the county Demo party off too much. Face it, the Dispatch/Argus editorial board and management drank of the GOP Kool-Aid a long time ago. That paper's so conservative Ann Coulter would probably read it!

Anonymous said...

As a Democrat, I'm astounded that so-called Christians who run on the fuel of hypocrisy spend their time attacking and smearing folks in the center and left of American politics. I think that's one point Mailer tries to make as well.
On the one hand, so-called Christian conservatives piously talk about family values and then back a political party run by Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff? What kind of values are these?

It's that kind of hypocrisy that disugsts me about the right-wing attack machine. They try to have it both ways, but that fail miserably.

I'm a Little League Coach, father of three who lives in a blue state.
I'm tired of getting smeared as somehow living a life of lesser values. Democrats had better wake up and fight back on mainstream values.

Dave Barrett said...

Judging from the comments this blog post received I believe that Norman Mailer and I have hit a very sensitive spot for the Christian right. Also, judging from these comments it appears that many young people today who consider themselves Christian are not aware that until very recently many devout Christians taught and were taught that to be a good Christian one should be humble and meek. They appear to not be aware that until very recently many Christian leaders taught that this world is not our home and that good Christians should seek to not get caught up in worldly fashions and fads. They are not aware that until very recently many Christians were reminded often about their appointment with St. Peter at the Pearly Gates and how their life and deeds would be judged.

Previous generations of Christians would have reacted very differently to Norman Mailer's theory. Many devout Christians in previous generations would have nodded their heads wisely at the suggestion that a subconscious dread of divine judgment was causing Christians to lead lives ruled by fear and a sense of insecurity and said, "Yes, some Christians have lost their way, gotten caught up in worldly notions and are paying the price."
Apparently now it left to outsiders like Norman Mailer and me to point this out and the Christian right seem very unprepared to deal with the idea when they encounter it.

I believe that this is a theme I should revisit often in this blog.