Who doesn’t have them?
I suspect Lee Bollinger, president of Columbia University, has a few. While introducing the president of Iran – his special, invited guest – Bollinger spoke up forthrightly, succinctly, and intentionally offensively. Remember: the Iranian president was his invitee. I’m sure both men said things that night they’ll regret for a long time to come.
Luckily, I am superbly qualified to speak on this subject since I have a good many regrets of my own, though my faux pas have had slightly different foci. In my book New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide, I argued that the Byzantine text-type changed “in Isaiah the Prophet” to “in the prophets” because the following quotations are from both Isaiah and Malachi (Mark 1:2-3). But that’s far too simple an explanation. The “correction” could well have gone in the other direction, as my esteemed colleague Maurice Robinson has reminded us. I regret that I did not give my readers this other perspective.
Earlier, in my book Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek: A Practical Guide for Students and Pastors, I offended a good many people when I suggested that Welsh was doomed to extinction. Sociolinguists objected that I had no right to pen an obituary for any language, let alone Welsh. They were right, and I regret saying what I did. Since then I have discovered that my own family roots go back to the Blacks of Wales, so I am now rooting for the perpetuation of the language.
Politicians must have many regrets, even if they do not acknowledge them. I think Rudin’s Law may apply here: “In a crisis that forces a choice to be made between alternate courses of action, most people will choose the worst ones possible.” As a consequence, the U.S. has developed a reputation of getting bogged down in wars of its own making. One can only stand in awe of such creative Rudinship. Rudin’s Law may well prove pivotal in the development of a self-destructing American empire.
Speaking of empire, one of my greatest regrets has to do with the 2000 presidential election. I regret having helped to vote into office the current incumbents in Washington. I have come to detest the stand they have taken vis-à-vis the Constitution they swore an oath to uphold. I loathe their contempt for true democracy, their dismissal of elementary human rights, their commitment to global hegemony, their arrogance, militarism, and adventurism, their contempt for international law, their appeal to national security to justify the use of violence. Today the same war drums are beating to rouse public enthusiasm for an attack on Iran – all under the cloak of moralistic righteousness, of course. Acting preemptively has become the new norm in foreign relations. Force reigns supreme in America, and we will exercise that force whenever it is in the “national interest.” Even among my fellow evangelicals there is no shortage of elevated ideals to accompany the resort to violence, nor is there anything that resembles a faint moral objection to U.S. government-sponsored efforts at regime change in states deemed enemies of America.
Such hubris is inexcusable and can lead only to disaster. If the Body of Christ recognizes any form of state violence as anything but a desperate last resort when all else has been tried, the spiral of violence will only escalate until it is completely out of control, with unforeseeable consequences. If Iraq is the U.S. exemplar for countering Islamic fundamentalism, then heaven help us.
In my opinion, the current administration in Washington is a body whose doctrine of preemption and hegemony is in almost every respect a repudiation of the Constitution. The appropriate response to terrorism is police work, not nation building. You go after the bad guys who did the deed. Alas, Americans don’t seem to understand this. We are too blinded by might.
Of course, I may be wrong. Wrong for hating the idea of a foreign policy that seeks to advance by force American principles around the world. Wrong to oppose the Kulturkampf of our Leader. Wrong to grieve over a nation so motivated by fear that it is ready to lash out at any country it deems a threat. Maybe my disapprobation is misguided.
Instead of ruing my 2000 vote, perhaps I should be patting myself on the back. And, while I’m at it, I suppose I can get rid of my puerile regrets.
December 3, 2007
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.