Thursday, January 27, 2005

President Kreon and his White House of Tragedy

I think that everyone who is concerned about the wisdom (or lack thereof) shown by this President should send him a copy of the great tragedy written by Sophocles: Antigone.

I know, you're thinking, "He's got other things on his plate, he probably doesn't think reading something by a heathen who has been dead since before Christ was alive is worth the effort."

But maybe he'd read it if he were swamped by hundreds of copies of the book...well, OK, maybe you better send the audio version.

If you haven't read it either, you should. It is an easy, good read and poses some very important questions for our time. The central question of the play is whether it is right to choose divine law over secular law when the two come into conflict. This is a pretty common theme in this adminsitration, or at least most of its confirmation hearings. We all know where the Bushies fall.

Obey Secular Law.

Don't think so? Just because they claim piety and have kidnapped Jesus doesn't mean that they are interested in what Antigone calls "the immortal unrecorded laws of God." Far from it.

Don't be fooled by the moral values posturing and how they are trying to prevent opposition to their new secular laws by crafting them in the guise of divinely inspired doctrine. God doesn't need to expand wire-tapping authority and he already knows what books you're reading at the Library. These "fake Christians" are not interested in advancing the cause of God, they are interested in their own power and the absolute control of any opposition.

This is what they call the "March to Freedom." Pretty much what they mean is the Freedom to obey them and to give a good thumping to any dissenters with impunity.

Besides the divine law/secular law schism, at the heart of the play is a question of pride vs. wisdom. This is where Sophocles really hits a home run. The last line of the play is what the author is really getting at: "There is no happiness where there is no wisdom; No wisdom but in submission to the gods. Big words are always punished, and proud men in old age learn to be wise."

Bush might think of himself as being like Antigone, a strong figure willing to stand up for what he believes is right in the face of all opposition....but he is far more like Kreon....and every bit as much in need of wisdom. Like Kreon he is proud to the point of fault, quick to anger, and intolerant of any questioning of his decisions or his authority to act on them.

Let's pray Bush doesn't pay an equally tragic cost for his hubris. Because when the king pays...everybody pays.

I was reading this play again this week, and several lines struck me as relevant.

Kreon is filled with exactly the same kind of absolutism George W. Bush reflects in the "You are either with us or against us" posture he assumes in the War on Terror.

When Antigone says that there are honors due all the dead, Kreon retorts, "But not the same for the wicked as the just."

(Well, Bush stays away from the funerals of both the just and the unjust, but that is somewhat beside the point. He's made it clear there are patriots and there are traitors who give comfort to the enemy. No gray area. If you don't know which is which, ask Anne Coulter.)

To this, Antigone replies, "Ah, Kreon, Kreon, which of us can say what the gods hold wicked?"

That answer shows wisdom, it shows the truth of the Christian proverb not to lean to your own understanding...or as God put it to Job, "Where were you when the foundations of the Earth were laid and measured?"

But Kreon, like Georgie, will have none of anyone's wisdom but his own, and he replies, "An enemy is an enemy, even dead."

One can imagine that as a slogan on a bumper sticker with Osama bin Laden's face next to it as an answer to anyone wondering if the leader of Al Quaida is even still alive. Right next to the "WWJD" sticker. This line shows the depth of both Kreon's paranoia and his hatred of anyone whom he considers a threat to his authority.

The scene between Kreon and Haimon is the most instructive for purposes of comparison. Kreon's admonitions are reflective of what must certainly be Bush's thoughts on how to be a good leader:

"Do you want me to show myself weak before the people? Or to break my sworn word? No. I will not."

The one and only time we have heard Bush admit a mistake, or at least come close to it, is when he admitted that "Bring it on" might have been "blunt" and have "different meanings for others”.

Ok, that isn't really so much admitting a mistake as it is shifting blame for a misunderstanding on the people who misunderstood...the Iraqi insurgents.

This, the closest we have come to an admission of misjudgement came onlyon the heels of an Iraqi Sunni resistance fighter saying: "And to George W Bush, we say, 'You have asked us to bring it on, and so have we. Like never expected. Have you another challenge'?"

"Gulp." Bush must have thought, "I better do a little pre-emptive rhetoricizing, huh, Condi?" And bang, a mildly repentent George Bush on Barbara Walters for prime time viewing.

Another Kreon passage later in the same scene is also alarmingly Bush-like:

"I'll have no dealings with lawbreakers, critics of the government: Whoever is chosen to govern should be obeyed -- Must be obeyed, in all things, great and small, just and unjust!"

Ah, George, George....if only I could speak in your ear the way Haimon did his father's:

"Your temper terrifies -- Everyone will tell you only what you like to hear....I beg you, do not be unchangeable: Do not believe that you alone can be right. The man who thinks that, the man who maintains that only he has the power to reason correctly, the gift to speak, the soul -- A man like that, when you know him, turns out empty. It is not reason never to yield to reason."

Think of Colin Powell with his "Pottery Barn" warning and caution about the war as Blind Teiresias speaking to George these words:

"Think: all men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong and repairs the evil. The only crime is pride."

But unlike Kreon, Bush's thoughts are not yet brought to dust.

That is the fear in my heart.

I'm terrified that this great tragedy in which we find George Bush starring and ourselves minor players--sentries carrying out orders in the far flung field, members of a chorus too frightened to speak real wisdom to our king, or dissenting Antigones led to secret detention centers to be held until moved to take our own lives--will not end until Bush meets the fate Teiresias warned of.

I'm afraid that we, no more than the ancient greeks, can escape our fate when wrong acts call out for justice from the gods. I am worried that our Kreon must, in a time not far off, pay back coprse for corpse, flesh of his own flesh, and the Furies and the Dark Gods of Hell will come swiftly with their terrible punishment. Our houses filled with men and women weeping, curses hurled at our king from afar, cities grieving for sons unburied, left to rot before the walls of Thebes.

But, maybe it isn't too late. Perhaps the play indeed is the thing to win the concience of the King. You know the address. Send the President something to read besides the last book of the NIV.

1 Comments:

Blogger The Master said...

How about some quotes from Bush which sound like Kreon?

"I'm a proud man to be the nation based upon such wonderful values." (Bush, July 4th, 2001)

"There's only one person responsible for making that decision, and that's me." (concerning the war to Bob Woodward in 2002)

"See, I don't need to explain--I do not need to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being the president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why the say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody and explanation." (ibid)

"If I weaken, the whole team weakens. If I'm doubtful, I can assure you there will be a lot of doubt." (ibid)

"I believe what I believe is right." (to journalists in Rome, summer of 2001)

yes, Kreonic indeed. You ought to mount a production of this play with contemporary figures in the roles, like that controversial Nativity Scene in England.

6:13 AM  

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