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: The 10 Commandments in America (New York, London, Toronto, & Sydney: Free Press, 2005). Epigraph: Exodus 20:21: “And the people stood afar off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was” ([v]). The Ten Commandments. [World English Bible, with revisions?] Prologue. The Ten Commandments (1). Author’s renewed interest upon returning to live in New York (2). Krzysztof Kieslowski’s 10-part series, “The Decalogue” (3-4). Commonalities in other religions (4-5). Power of the Ten Commandments is “in the pathos of human life,” “when they are no longer abstractions” (5-6). “The commandments guide us toward relationships built on trust rather than fear” (6). “They protect us from committing evil. . . . The commandments hold community together. . . . The commandments show us how to avoid being enslaved, how to save us from ourselves. They lead us to love, the essence of life” (7). Decalogue I: Mystery. Breaking a bottle against the doors of the Gloucester Memorial Presbyterian Church in Roxbury (9-11). The effort to make sense of our lives; metaphor of candle flame against polished steel, the illusion of concentric circles [stolen from George Eliot’s Middlemarch !] (11-12). Job working with inner-city youth after graduation from Colgate leads to despair (12-18). Growing up in Schoharie, where his father was a Presbyterian minister (1819). Decision not to be ordained and to go to Latin America to “give a voice to those who battled for social and political justice” (19). Patrick and Tyrone, two ghetto teenagers (19-21). The YMCA gym; boxing (21-27). Concludes society is based on force (27-30). Stanley (30). Relationship with Patrick and Tyrone degenerates into murderous conflict; Hedges is saved by Stanley (30-36). “All of this was a long time ago. it was a time I dreamed of being good. But this was the idolatry of self, the worship not of God but of my own virtue. I had to learn my own complicity in oppression, my own sinfulness, how evil lurked within me, how when I was afraid I could turn on the weak and powerless. . . . The darkness I discovered in Roxbury was my darkness, our darkness. It is what I carried out of the ghetto . . . It is knowledge of this darkness that alone makes faith possible. The church was my last refuge from God. In the shattering of that moral certitude I looked for forgiveness. Idols promise us power. God does not. Before God we are all powerless. We are all afraid. It is in this fear, this darkness, that I found God, even as I thought I was fleeing God. I abandoned the institutions that claimed God’s authority. I walked down Parker Street the night I smashed that bottle on the church doors, leaving the light, and entering ‘the thick darkness where God was’” (36-37). Decalogue II: Idols. Beth Senturia and the devoted lives of Phish followers (3940). The danger of idolatry is fundamental (40-43). “Idols are always about self-worship” (42). Phish’s attractions are those of the crowd, “the tool all idols use to perpetuate themselves” (43-45). Supposed sophistication really a cynical “excuse for irresponsibility and self-centeredness” replicating “patterns within the larger society” (45-46). Dietrich Bonhoeffer on folly as “a more dangerous enemy to good than evil” (46-47). The retreat to “the little sanctuaries we build around idols” is futile; only “resistance defeats nihilism” (47). “Liberal theology, like its
nemesis in the evangelical church, is a form of self-exaltation” (48). For Hedges, such platitudes were “rendered hollow” “the first time I saw a human being die in combat” (48-50). “Idols consume us. Only the small, mundane acts of life . . . can save us” (50). “Idols keep us from God” (50). Idols are a response to fear of death and insignificance (51-52). Decalogue III: Lying. The Crystal Night Club in Hempstead, Long Island, a “whisky bar” where mostly illegal immigrant men spend their money to buy drinks for women who feign affection: “an old scam” (53-54). Comparable images “flash in front of our eyes as we plod through our day” (54-55). Rituals of “false courtship” (55-57). But sympathy and understanding cannot be provided by an institution, for “the goal of every institution is its own perpetuation” (5758). Encounter at the bar with a sergeant from the Atlacatl Battalion, which committed atrocities in El Salvador in 1981 (58-59). “War entails the greatest deception, the greatest lie” (59). Our weakness is our inability to face “our own powerlessness, our own insignificance, our own manipulation” (60). Thus we become “consumers of lies” (60). What men are willing to do merely for “the concept of having a girlfriend” (61-64). Auden, “September 1, 1939” (64). The men take revenge by smashing up the bathroom. Decalogue IV: The Sabbath. Boarding school experiences (67-73). Sunday as “the worst moment of the week” (73). The Sabbath is not about institutional practice, it is about “honoring relationships,” it is “time set aside to nurture all that gives us meaning in life, all that makes life worth living” (74). “The Sabbath is not about rules”; to truly honor the Sabbath often “requires us to break the rules” (75-76). Stephen Arpadi, a pediatrician working with children with HIV, Terry Marx, their return to Judaism, and “Shabbat TV” (76-79).
Decalogue V: The Family. Memories of Hedges’s father, who originally wanted to be a newspaper reporter, who upheld civil rights and opposed the Vietnam War in a small farm town in upstate New York, and who died of a heart attack while his son was covering the siege of Sarajevo (81-89). To honor a father “is not to become him, not to search for him” (89). It is “to honor yourself, honor the life force that created you, the good and the bad mingled within us” (90). It is about shaping “the forms [our] memories take” (Malraux) (91-92). Hedges’s May  2003 commencement speech at Rockford College in Illinois, denouncing the Iraq war, with interruptions (93-99). Scandal, reprimand by the New York Times (99100). “To be silent would be to betray my father, to turn my back on what he stood for, to deny his life, to dishonor his memory, to dishonor my own memory” (100). Decalogue VI: Murder. Bishop George Packard’s Vietnam memories (101-04). “[W]ar is a godless endeavor. . . . God is banished. Human beings, who have the freedom to choose good and evil, can not [sic] find within them the power of the divine when they embrace a world of sin. At that moment they shut out the divine” (104). “There was a part of him that liked to kill” (104). Packard’s post-war religious quest, unwelcome to others (104-06). The attractions of war from a distance, having to do with meaning (107). “But up close war is a soulless void. . . . [where] the hypocrisy of our social conventions are laid bare” (10708). The distinction between killing and murder (107-08). “The failure of religious institutions, whose texts are unequivocal about murder, to address in times of war the sinful state of war has left them unable to speak about the reality of war” (109). War brings the worst to the fore, and “exposes ‘original sin,’ or the ‘sin of the world’” (109). Leaders who make war “know nothing of war” (109-10). But
war ‘shatters’ the myth of war (110). “War is always about betrayal” (110). Robert Jay Lifton: “Ordinary men can all too readily be socialized to atrocity” (111). Repentance to be effective “has to be redirected outward” (112-13). Bishop Packard’s difficulties after the war; his hope is “to be forgiven” by God (113-14). Decalogue VII: Adultery. The life of H.R. Vargas: adultery’s broken promise includes implicit promises to unborn children (115-6). “We live in an adulterous age” (116). “Love is the most powerful force in human existence” (11719). War cultivates obscenity because it “works to blot out all love, affection and tenderness” (119-20). “Adultery, at its core, means unfaithfulness to the beloved, even if that beloved is the partner in the adulterous affair” (120). Love is subversive to convention and the state (121). Kieslowski’s film (121-22). Lack of love in modernity contributed to possibility of totalitarianism (Arendt) (122-23). Vargas’s broken existence (123-27). Decalogue VIII: Theft. R. Foster Winans was a financial reporter for the Wall Street Journal in 1983 when he used his “Heard on the Street” column for personal gain and went to prison; later he returned to his home town, Doylestown, PA, and became a ghost writer, aspiring to regain his dignity (12932; 134; 137-43). “America’s new oligarchy is creating a world that resembles the one shaped by the robber barons of the last century. . . . This oligarchy has fused political and economic power” (132). Dick Cheney (133). “Erosion of public trust” (134). “Rhetoric no longer has any link with reality” (135). “Unholy alliance” of corporations with repressive regimes (136). Decalogue IX: Envy. Dispute between owners of the Chess Shop and the Chess
Forum on Thompson St. in Greenwich Village, who were formerly partners (14555). “Life is easier as a crusade” (153). Decalogue X: Greed. Anthony J. Robbins, self-help guru, and those who follow his path (157-64, 167-69). The desire to be rich “is fueled by the curse that has plagued us since the Enlightenment. This curse places humankind at the center of creation” and makes individual greatness the goal of life; fear to achieve this causes “deep, burning insecurity” (158). “America’s most pervasive idolatry is the idolatry of the self” (161). But: “All lives, at their deepest level, are failures”; “sustaining joy and happiness require accepting “our failures and our ordinariness” (164). Meditation on Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov concludes with the observation that “It is the tragedy of secular belief . . . to place unbridled and total faith in the intellect” (165). But only through self-sacrifice and acceptance of suffering can happiness be achieved, says Dostoyevsky (166). Joseph Pieper in The Four Cardinal Virtues: “All neuroses seem to have as a common symptom an egocentric anxiety” (167). Thoughts of Moses, “But Moses does not appear. No one stands up to debunk the imposter . . . Robbins stokes the fear the yearn to escape. He polishes the shanks of the golden calf. He calls us to kneel before it” (168). Epilogue: Love. Reflections on family, on change: “My father is buried there. I am the father now. This too will change (171-72). “The game of life and death is a game we lose” (172). “Love means living for others” (173). “All the explosions and attacks in Iraq, symbols of our might and power, are steadily corrupting the soul of our nation” (173). Commandments vs. “false covenants” (173-74). “The commandments point us away from the city of man toward the city of God” (175). “The commandments are guideposts. They bring us back” (175). “We will never know what life is
about . . . We must do the best we can . . . for those around us. It is in this darkness, this mystery of experience, that we learn to trust” (175-76). Notes. 4 pp. (Sources only.) Bibliography. 170 books. Much more philosophy than in War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning; also theology, history, a few memoirs (mostly literary). Amounts to recommended reading; many are never mentioned in the text. Acknowledgments. Written at Princeton while Lecturer in the Council of the Humanities and the Ferris Professor of Journalism. A grant from the Ford Foundation. Based on a series on the commandments that ran in the New York Times, with backing of Jon Landman. “Colleagues” at Harper’s, the New York Review of Books, and the Nation. Special thanks to the Rev. Coleman Brown. Index. 10 pp. About the Author. Worked as foreign correspondent for 20 years for the New York Times, the Dallas Morning News, the Christian Science Monitor, and NPR. B.A. (English), Colgate U.; M.Div., Harvard U. Also wrote War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning and What Every Person Should Know about War. Lives near Princeton, teaches at Princeton Univ.
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