Campbell Corner Language Exchange

Keeping the Promise

by Janna Turoff

The following essay was inspired by reading Elfie Raymond's essay Democratic Intimations of the Continental Reformation and by current global politics. All of the quotes are from Elfie Raymond's essay.

New voices improvise with the reverberating bass line from time before memory. The past, present and future are inextricably linked through this relationship. Though so much seems to have changed since September 10, 2001 the underlying tensions that we are struggling with are older than time.

Elfie Raymond's essay Democratic Intimations of the Continental Reformation looks through the lens of Heinrich Bullinger's work to explore the relationship between the covenantal partnership and democracy. This discussion, like Bullinger's work, attempts to assimilate classical pagan writings with those found in the Judeo-Christian tradition. From the outset, the relationship between the pursuit of democracy, "a just society, with liberty and prosperity for all" and "the Word's power of intelligent persuasion" is introduced and linked to Plato's Timaeus. Bullinger, possibly because of the specific time and place in which he lived, chose the language of the Bible rather then the pagan language of philosophy to shed light on these ideas. Throughout the essay we look at the unfolding relationship, in time, between God and man. The past, present and future are inextricably linked through this relationship.

There are many threads that spur the mind to further thought throughout Elfie Raymond's essay. Given the global politics of today, exploring the roots of democracy is a rather timely activity. After all, democracy sits precariously balanced between anarchy and tyranny. Heinrich Bullinger's work exemplifies how the powers of intelligent persuasion can be used to "forestall confrontations with blind chance and brute necessity, chaos and fatalistic determinism". The dance between the persuasive powers of intelligence and necessity can be a liberating force on many fronts.

What does this mean in terms of the immediate politics of today? It may be too early to really know, however for the sake of exploration let's play with these ideas and see what comes.

The nature of fundamentalism is tyrannical. As we see in the extreme example set by the Taliban in Afghanistan everything down to the length of a man's beard and how much of a woman's body can be displayed in public is legislated. There seems to be an all out attempt by the Taliban to control the body, mind and spirit of the Afghani people. Those who cannot be controlled, the thinking goes, must be destroyed in some other way, presumably by being put to death. Let us not forget that tyrannical control of the human mind, body and spirit is an attempt at destruction.

It is no surprise that when we talk about this case of tyranny the easiest examples for us to see are the effects of this brutal system on the body. The physical plane is the grossest and therefore most visible and accessible for discussion. When one's own body is controlled in such a brutal systematic fashion there can be no doubt that there is a parallel attempt to control the mind and spirit as well. Freedom does not thrive in isolation.

In Afghanistan there has been a clear attempt to control people and terrify them into isolation. Look at what has happened to women there since 1995. In the early 1990's women worked outside the home as members of parliament, judges and doctors. Today they are neither permitted to work outside the home in any capacity nor are females of any age allowed to be educated. The brutal effects of this practice are devastating.

Nevertheless, though their bodies are controlled, still the spirit lives. When the world looks at the example of the women of RAWA (The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan) we see that it takes even more than what the Taliban is dishing out to kill the spirit. These women risk their lives to meet with each other, to share dialogue and to take action. It is an astounding example of the power of the human spirit. These women refuse the tyrannical control and isolation that is thrust upon them.

In the language of Plato's Timaeus, necessity is calling for these women to surrender to the external tyranny and intelligence is persuading them to persevere in the pursuit of liberation. Bravery, courage of the highest order is evident in the actions of the women of RAWA. The girders of intelligent persuasion are enabling these women to maintain their integrity in the face of this brutal, tyrannical attempt to destroy them.

There is always tension between the eternal dance partners necessity and intelligent persuasion. Often in day to day life we don't pay much attention to the scales of balance between them. It is in times of crisis, when the tensions become great, that many of us find our wake up call. Some, like the people living in Afghanistan are on the front lines. They can no longer turn a blind eye. Others, believe themselves to be at a safe distance.

With the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by a group of terrorists the traditional front lines of war have been radically altered and expanded. The face of the enemy, the terrorist, is the face of the unknown. The front lines are no longer confined to a specific stated geographical locale. The front lines for this form of terrorism are beginning to emerge as free floating and global in nature. The larger implications are that there is no longer a safe distance from the front lines of a terrorist attack. The nature of the terrorists activity is that he can strike anyone, anywhere, anytime. By definition, terrorism is terrifying.

When it comes to fear, uninformed necessity calls on us to succumb. To give up everything in order to run and hide. The tendency is to look outside oneself for a caretaker who will protect us. In the madness of the moment we are willing to sacrifice whatever is asked in order to escape the fear and imagine that we are safe once again. This behavior begs the question: what is it that we believe we are protecting with this kind of behavior?

To succumb to fear is to succumb to the tyrant whose insatiable desires will never release those in his power from fear. To remain in such a state is to live as a slave. To find freedom one must do what the women of RAWA are doing. These women know that what they are protecting cannot be killed with a gun, a plane that is used as a bomb to kill people, or biological warfare.

When we look to our beginning in the essay on the Democratic Intimations of the Continental Reformation we are reminded of its leitmotif and thereby of necessity's partner intelligent persuasion. As Elfie Raymond points out, "the beneficial powers of intelligent persuasion, which is at the heart of classical rationalism, is arguably the enthymeme, i.e., underlying tacit premise, of the brave and precarious democratic interludes during classical and modern times." In the face of fear, bravery and intelligence are required. It is with intelligence that the destabilizing fear that is being unleashed by the latest set of unknowns can be neutralized. The guiding light of democracy is intelligence. For democracy to flourish individuals must act with intelligence, accept responsibility for their actions and rather than run to or from power, each person must remain neutral in relation to power.

To move to the biblical language that Bullinger preferred, what is being protected is the eternal covenant. (I'm not sure what Bullinger or the women of RAWA would make of this cross cultural metaphor. I know that what the women of RAWA are protecting is called by the Judeo-Christian tradition the eternal covenant, I am not sure what term the Islamic tradition uses. Perhaps there is a clue in the reference mentioned in note 9 regarding the Arabic notion of mithaq, the primordial covenant.) The contract of partnership between man and God. It is up to each individual to choose whether or not to renew this covenant and live in partnership with God. This choice is not of the ilk that is made once and then forgotten. This is a living covenant that is expressed anew daily by the choices we continuously make, in the very fabric of how each individual actively chooses to live. What is required to live in this partnership is to continuously breathe new life into this relationship. By its nature the covenant is democratic. It is open to each of us.

As we are reminded, time and again, in Democratic Intimations of the Continental Reformation, Bullinger and his colleagues worked ceaselessly to literally get the Word out and make it accessible to all people without middlemen or gatekeepers being permitted to get in the way. It was and is of prime importance to encourage intellectual independence and to provide access to great texts so that the necessary tools are available to create public forums for free discussion. To flourish, democracy requires a community that actively engages in dialogue.