Generous Orthodoxy  

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Andy Rooney on the subject of torture

I thought we had made some progress on the torture issue, but it seems not. Recent disclosures about the Justice Department and the CIA have reminded us just how serious the situation is. It is hard to keep going when there is such silence from the pulpits and from the electorate, but here's one more voice--

Andy Rooney of "60 Minutes" (who is a friend) has been subjected to an unusual amount of cyberharassment in the form of collected "sayings" attributed to him that circulate via email by the millions. My husband and I have received numbers of these emails. Anybody who knows Andy's work (especially his extensive written work) would instantly recognize these as fakes.

Here is something that he really wrote (it's in a book of his collected essays Out of My Mind, a clever title to be taken literally, not figuratively) :

There is no justification for torture. The information elicited can never be trusted. It has been well established by military people who have held military people that torture, besides being uncivilized, is not an effective way of eliciting information...

The day the world learned that American soldiers had tortured Iraqi prisoners should be put high on the list of our country's worst [days]. It's a black mark on our record that will be in the history books in a hundred languages for a hundred years. It altered the world's perception of us...

In this same book there are four essays written before the invasion of Iraq, strenously opposing it. We forget how much opposition to the war there was before it began.

Rooney is a principled atheist, a rare breed. It is embarrassing that so few Christians have the courage or insight to raise their voices on these issues. If any one reading this would like to be more involved, check this link:

Friday, April 18, 2008

The redemptive themes of Richard Price

Richard Price's novel, Freedomland, is rich with hints of Christianity (as I noted in an earlier Rumination). I took up his highly praised new police-procedural book, Lush Life, with hopes of more of the same. For 432 pages I thought I had found nothing of the sort, and therefore was somewhat disappointed (though gripped by the book itself). I was on the verge of deciding that the black detective of Freedomland, having perhaps been brought up in the black church, was the missing ingredient. Matty Clark, the white detective in Lush Life, evinced no such turn of mind. However, after 432 pages, something suddenly happened. I hope I am not giving away too much of the plot by commenting on it.

The main character in the book, besides Matty the detective, is a screwed-up self-deluded 30-something man named Eric Cash. It is not necessary to know of his misadventures and misfortunes in order to grasp the point on page 432. Because the work I am currently doing has driven me to wonder if the contemporary American is capable of understanding sin in any form, I was electrified by a scene near the very end of the book. Eric, who manages a restaurant, confesses to his boss, Harry Steele, that he has been raking off large sums from the tip pool. The boss startles him by saying, essentially, that he'd suspected it all along. Eric is dumbfounded, not expecting this. He says he wants to pay back the money. The boss says that's ridiculous, how are they going to find every vanished busboy and waitress for the last five years? It isn't possible to make reparations.

Eric sank into a hopeless silence.

"You know why you're telling me? Because you feel bad about yourself…and you want somebody to punish you or forgive you or who the hell knows…You're a good guy, Eric, I've always known that….and you're my guy…As I am yours, right?."

Eric balked a tic, then, "Yeah," then just let go in a gush of gratitude, "Yes."

"You come to my home for some kind of exoneration or, or validation, and I can't even begin to give you enough…Years together, you and I. You're like family. You are family."

Harry gives him a new job at his new restaurant, trusting him, saying "It'll be a new start for you."

Steele rose, made the sign of the cross, Ego te absolvo, then disappeared behind a door.

Eric sat there, wondering what just happened.

There are problems here, of course—Harry is obviously no sterling character himself. He had no business allowing the lowly workers to go without their tips. Yet his action is a parable. It is reminiscent of the defining scene in Les Misérables (the book) when the bishop, knowing that Jean Valjean has stolen his candlesticks, tells the policeman that they were a gift, whereupon Valjean's life is changed. In the New Testament, it's logizomai (reckoned as righteous) and dikaiosune (being rectified, made righteous).

One more clue to what Price may be up to is on page 422. I missed it the first time. Eric, having been cleared of a crime but unstrung by all that has happened to him, begins to open up to Yolonda (that's the way it's spelled), the Puerto Rican detective who plays good cop to Matty's bad cop (she is an absolutely wonderful character). Eric reminds her of something she said early in their interrogation of him that turned him into "a bug" who cared nothing about his companion who had been shot:

…all it took was a few hours with you two and I turned into a bug. But I turned, you see what I'm saying? You couldn't have done it without me. You just brought it to the surface. I mean, what the shooter started, you finished, but it was in me, you see?"

…Yolonda turned to Eric and touched his arm. "I want to write this book when I retire, When Good Things Happen to Bad People," then reared back to get in his eyes. "Know what I mean?"

"Thank you," said Eric, barely able to get the words out.

Maybe you missed the key point here as I did the first time. If so, go back and read the title of Yolonda's book again.