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
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
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