February 27, 2013

I am bridging from Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods to a refreshing example of a man who represents, to untold thousands, a prototype we can all admire, look up to: Dr. Ben Carson, famed Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon and humanitarian.

I referenced him at the conclusion of last week’s blog, for he had just wowed the media by his insightful keynote at the National Prayer Breakfast. And not just the media, but the nation as a whole.

I’ve been an admirer of his for over a quarter of a century. During those years, Dr. Carson has written several very insightful books—such as his Gifted Hands. I’ve listened to a number of in-depth radio and TV interviews and have yet to find anything creating daylight between his talk and his walk.

During a recent hour-long interview on Fox News, Dr. Carson was asked if he was interested in running for president. He answered that he had no plans to do so—he only wanted to serve.

I’ve been privileged to speak one-on-one at length with him only once. Some years ago, traveling to a speaking engagement with my wife Connie, we were stranded by a blizzard in an airport; Dr. Carson, it turned out, was returning to Baltimore, with his wife, from a speaking engagement, and happened to be stranded in the same airport. So, with nothing else to do, we talked. And talked.

Dr. Carson is very understated in his speech (soft-spoken, another way to describe him). He is also refreshingly humble—and deeply spiritual. And caring. His patients have known that for decades, long before the country at large did.

As for his possibly running for the presidency, I’m not at all sure it would be good for him and his family: just the thought of this principled man having to face unsubstantiated attack ads, each geared to finding something in his past they could twist, distort, ridicule, disparage—sends chills up my spine. On the other hand, we’ve never needed a voice like his more than we do now.

It is enough for me to say, Thank God America is still producing men like him!


Part Two
February 20, 2013


Last week, I wrote about the leveling process of perceived greatness that is societally generated. Now, let’s turn to two other factors: adulation and inner erosion.

On April 5, 1887, Lord Acton famously postulated in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton, that “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” By extension, we might also conclude that adulation tends to destroy and excessive adulation destroys completely.

Few things in this journey we call life are more destructive than adulation—or more difficult to remain impervious to. One has to be almost superhuman to resist it for long. In the newspapers recently was a column that addressed this issue: the subject being an obsequious interview of retiring Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton and President Obama (perhaps the most powerful person in the world today, and Clinton, the person second in line to succeed him in case of death or incapacitation). The writer of the column felt that the interview imploded once it degenerated into fawning by the outgoing Secretary of State. Clinton perhaps didn’t realize at the time that there is a fine line between respect for the office of the President and obsequious overkill.

But who of us has not been guilty of the same sort of thing in our own interactions with those who are powerful and can, by a word or an act, strengthen or weaken our standing in the eyes of our peers? Nevertheless, just think of the impact of such adulation on the recipient—especially when such behavior is replicated in others, day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year. Could you remain unchanged were you the recipient of it? Could I?

Yesterday, a similar situation occurred on Fox Television when famed neurosurgeon Ben Carson of Johns Hopkins was “interviewed” in what turned out to be an overkill of adulation both by the interviewer and by the studio audience of VIPs. I’m not denying that Dr, Carson isn’t worthy of such obsequiousness, I’m just wondering what the effect was on him. And, as a sidebar, I wondered if I could have resisted it.

Where all this is leading to, I’m sure you’ve already figured out: the impact of continual—not just national but international—adulation on perceived superheroes such as Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong. Were they truly noble, how long could they have held out against it?


But the third leveling factor is by far the most significant of the three (deconstructing, adulation, and inner-erosion). Inner-erosion is insidious in that it tends to destroy the victim of it from inside, thus the person infected by this virus all too often remains unaware of what’s happening within. And since we all tend to view our actions through rose-tinted-glasses, it is very difficult for any of us to be objective about our own inter-deterioration. History—and Scripture—are full of prototypes of such inner-erosion. Just look at Saul, David, and Solomon (all three devoured from within by inner-erosion). Look at Nebuchadnezzer (“Is not this great Babylon that I have built?”); Napoleon, Henry VIII, Lord Byron, Louis XIV, Benedict Arnold, Richard Nixon—the list is endless.

America’s greatest poetess, Emily Dickinson, likens this inner-erosion to a work of art, a perfect piece of sculpture, that, ever so slowly (so gradually that the process is almost impossible to see with the naked eye) is chipped away in tiny almost invisible fragments—until, one fateful day, all the world can see is a ruined work of art.

Both Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong eroded from within, over long periods of time. The very first time each was false to what he knew was right was a first chip. The first time Lance doped in order to win was a chip, and then came chip, chip, chip, and chip. And to avoid losing his perceived cycling supremacy, the first time he viciously turned on, and sued, associates who dared to tell the truth about what it was that made all those Yellow Jersey victories possible—another chip and then, of course, a long succession of such chips. And then there it was for all the world to see: a ruined work of art.

* * * * *

But having said all this, who am I to cast the first stone? When I take off my own rose-tinted classes and look at my own journey, I see so many mistakes, so many failures, so many sins, that I would despair were it not for the good Lord, who in His great divine mercy, stoops down each time to help me get off the floor, forgives me once again, and encourages me to try harder to be true to the better self in me, next time—and next time.


February 13, 2013

Two weeks ago, I discussed the implosion of erstwhile superhero, Lance Armstrong. At its conclusion, I promised to return to the subject.

Heroes – we all have them. Boys especially. It is healthy to have in your mind a shining image, an idealized prototype one can grow towards. But it is not healthy when that ideal is shattered like The Picture of Dorian Gray. During the last couple of years, two of the world’s superheroes – Tiger Woods and now Lance Armstrong, have been toppled from their high pedestals, in the dust of the dramatic collapse of their reputations, leaving behind widespread disillusion and feelings of betrayal – not only in the young but in the older as well.

Heroism has always been with us, but the obsessive attempts to destroy heroes once they are perceived to have arrived at such status is relatively new.

This phenomenon has a long fuse, and was born (in a literary sense), in a French movement of prose fiction scholars label Naturalism, that flowered in the last third of the nineteenth century. Zola was its principal spokesman in Europe, and writers such as Dreiser in America. The novels that spread this philosophy were characterized by flawed heroes who, sooner or later, were destroyed by inner weaknesses and inherited tendencies. Generally, all their supposed heroes end up floundering in the muck in the midst of their shattered pedestals. God and spiritual values worth living by are noticeably absent in Naturalistic fiction.

All through the twentieth century, the moral slide continued, nudged down by Jacques Derrida’s deeply erosive movement (also begun in France) called Deconstruction; the net effect across the western world has been to undermine the foundations of all heroes and debunk anyone who is perceived to be noble or great in any way. Though the movement in America reached its “peak” in the 1960s and 1970s, it remains very much with us today. Its critics apparently have no life outside of character assassination – even of each other. No one, no matter how high, is safe from these intellectual harpies.

Parallel to Deconstructionism is the so-called Theatre of the Absurd movement, especially as portrayed in the dramas of playwrights such as Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, and Eugene Ionesco (all of which have been widely celebrated and performed in America). In essence, these plays exemplify the illogical and purposeless nature of contemporary existence. They are directly related to the DADA and Surrealistic movements in art.

None of these literary practitioners have much of a place in their works for religion or values worth living by. The net result of generations of debunkers is today’s widespread sense of disillusion, immersion into virtual reality rather than the real world, addiction to substance abuse of all kinds (liquor, drugs, pornography, sexuality, etc.), and an almost terrifying rise in suicide. Not to mention the fallout on the moral front (the nonstop assaults on the institution of marriage, Christianity, and traditional values). Half of all marriages ending in divorce, live-in relationships are becoming the norm, and half of all children are being born out of wedlock, 75-80% in African-American households.

The same is true for our national heroes. For over a century and a half, these preachers of negativity have done their utmost to strip Abraham Lincoln of his spirituality and all the ethical and moral qualities that made him a worldwide icon in the first place.

Even Great Books classics have become an endangered species. In a world where there are no absolutes, no right or wrong, no goodness, no bravery, no courage, no greatness of any kind, neither in the arts nor in real life, there can be no great anything!

Instead, no subject is permitted to rise above all others: spiritual values are removed from life, the Decalogue is trashed, and God is replaced by Relativism.

Nathan Harden, author of Sex and God at Yale: Porn, Political Correctness, and a Good Education Gone Bad, has this to say: “And the fact that Yale [a symbol for American higher education here] as an institution no longer understands the substantive meaning of academic freedom—which requires the ability to distinguish art from pornography, not to mention right from wrong—is a sign of its enslavement to the ideology of moral relativism, which denies any objective truth (except, of course, for the truth that there is no truth).

Under the dictates of moral relativism, no view is more valid than any other view, and no book is any greater or more worth reading than any other book. Thus the old idea of a liberal education—that each student would study the greatest books, books organized into a canon based on objective criteria that identify them as valuable, has given way to a hodgepodge of new disciplines—African-American Studies, Latino Studies, Native American Studies, Women’s Studies, Gay and Lesbian Studies—based on the assumption that there is no single way to describe the world that all serious and open-minded students can comprehend. . . .

Unfortunately, what’s happening at Yale is indicative of what is occurring at colleges and universities across the country. Sex Week, for example, is being replicated at Harvard, Brown, Duke, Northwestern, the University of Illinois, and the University of Wisconsin. . . . Our universities have lost touch with the purpose of liberal arts education, the pursuit of truth.”
–Man, Sex, God, and Yale, by Nathan Harden (Hillsdale, Michigan: Imprints, January 2013).

Truly, America is at the crossroads!

Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Club #17 – Hale’s “The Man Without a Country’

February 6, 2013

Since February is our shortest month, and since we’re already almost a week into it, I’m being merciful to our faithful readers and choosing one of the shortest books I know of as this month’s selection.


Since my book Abraham Lincoln Civil War Stories is due to come out in June, I felt it would be fitting for me to take the month we celebrate Lincoln’s birthday and weave in a small little book that so ties into that great war that it is inextricable.

Edward Everett Hale (1822 – 1909) was born in Boston of illustrious stock. His father was proprietor and editor of the Boston Daily Advertiser; his uncle, Edward Everett, was considered to be the nation’s leading orator (it was he who gave the main address at Gettysburg – Lincoln’s part was an afterthought); and his great uncle, Nathan Hale, was a Patriot spy during the Revolutionary War who, when captured by the British, just before he was hanged the following day), uttered those now immortal words, I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.

Edward Everett also had a distinguished career, graduating from Harvard in 1839, pastor of leading churches prior to becoming Chaplain of the United States Senate. A prolific author, he wrote for such journals as The North American Review, The Atlantic Monthly, and The Christian Examiner, besides penning or editing more than sixty books – fiction, travel, sermons, biography, and history.

But out of all his prodigious output, only one book has stood the test of time: The Man Without a Country, first published in The Atlantic Monthly. Though a work of fiction, there were certainly real-life prototypes to draw from, men who proved to be traitors to their nation while continuing to profess loyalty. One traitorous congressman, Lincoln, rather than having him executed, had him arrested and escorted by Union soldiers under a flag of truce into a Confederate army headquarters, where he was delivered into their care with the explanation that here is where he wished to be. The entire nation laughed. But the ex-congressman wasn’t happy there either. Hale wrote in such a realistic style that many readers assumed it to be factual. It did much to strengthen the Union cause and encourage more citizens to make love of country central to their lives.


It is an easy but poignant read, well worth the time and effort it till take you to track down a copy and read it:

The Man Without a Country, by Nathan E. Hale (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1888). It has been reprinted many many times.


Edward Everett Hale
The Man Without a Country
Edward Everett
Nathan Hale
Civil War