“Not to Speak Is to Speak. Not to Act Is to Act.” - July 14, 2014

The quote is from the inimitable Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The full quote is:

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Last week, I wrote about what I call the gratefulness of gratefulness, the notion that it is not only that we benefit from giving to others but that the benefit itself must be enshrined in gratefulness.

Now this seemingly impossible combination of living in the face of evil and enshrining our gifts in gratefulness lies before us. Lies and distortions are thrown upon us with such alacrity that we may be forgiven for thinking we are being hypercritical to be indignant over mere criminality. We are told that such accusations are untrue or unimportant or both. What does it have to do with our lives, our meager lives, our unheralded and negligible lives? Greater things are happening all about us, and, like any omelet, require broken eggs.

After a while, we find ourselves sloughing off this or that detail in favor of a larger, less descriptive circumstance. It is no longer this week’s scandal that grates us, but the scandal of scandal itself. When this happens we lose our “right” to complain, since complaints must be about specific acts, and speaking in generalities about an immense series of scandals may aid you in your breathing, but not in your argument.

It is not easy to come up with one scenario to give clarity to the scandal of scandal. Just as it is easier to understand gratefulness than it is to understand the gratefulness of gratefulness, so too is it easier to deal with one scandal than the scandal of scandal.

For myself, I am beginning to think that the most important determinative factor for a government that has shocked us has less to do than we think with ideology, honesty, or integrity. A look into our history will show we have already had very awful ideologues (think Wilson), men of no honesty (more than a few here), and as for integrity, it is used so little in discussion that I fear we may well be in an era when people do not really know what integrity means when it comes to government.

None of these problems are new to us. What is new, and therefore what might be the most important characteristic failing of the present is that there seems to be no grown-ups in the White House. It is, I think, the principal reason people cannot talk to one another, much less come to compromises with one another. Have you ever tried to compromise with a ten-year old? While being a child is not the worst thing for the man, it may be the worst thing for the country.

For children not to speak or not to act leads to no consequences; in the real world of men and women, not to speak is to speak, not to act is to act.