The Legacy of Those of Who Disappoint Us

We are told to love the sinner, if not the sin. What about loving the creation, if not its creator?

Facts, or names, mentioned below were found on, unless otherwise noted, or where the allusion is particularly obscure.

I've lived long enough to have known my share of disappointments. I have disappointed myself. I have disappointed many people. I have been disappointed by a fair number. In the last case, I have had to reassess my previous reactions. I frame my argument this way, citing two well known scriptures from the Book of Mormon. Early in my life I was guided by 2 Nephi 4:34, which states:

O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.

I have always interpreted this to mean that, while people will disappoint you, or your own strength will fail you, God will not. As I have gotten older, while I do not think it wrong to invest in self-defense training, or learn how to safely own and use a gun, I realize that there are no guarantees that a weapon, or security system, invented by human beings can't be thwarted by other human beings. There are no guarantees that the same weapon won't be used against you, or that it won't malfunction in the clutch. One always needs to trust in God.

However, God works through people. By delegating responsibility to others, it gives them opportunities for personal growth, which is one of the intrinsic reasons for our being here in the first place. As successful entrepreneurs will tell us, however, they didn't win at everything they tried. I believe that it is the fear of failure that keeps people from reaching their potential, as clichéd as it may sound. It is resilience, not inexposure, which strengthens us. Great minds are distinguished not by how much they remember, but by what they remember, and what they filter out. Similarly, God wants us to succeed, but understands that we will likely fail at times along the way. He doesn't encourage us to fail, or set us up for failure. His system simply makes allowances for it. This will entail disappointment on our part, since we won't achieve our own expectations always, and others won't meet them, either. As to whether I will continue to confide in someone who betrays my trust, that can be a difficult decision, indeed. Coaches want to make all their players into stars, but sometimes have only their bench to work with.

This concept seems straightforward. Moroni 7:5-11 also seems cut-and-dried:

For I remember the word of God which saith by their works ye shall know them; for if their works be good, then they are good also.

For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing.

For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness.

For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God.

And likewise also is it counted evil unto a man, if he shall pray and not with real intent of heart; yea, and it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such.

10 Wherefore, a man being evil cannot do that which is good; neither will he give a good gift.

11 For behold, a bitter fountain cannot bring forth good water; neither can a good fountain bring forth bitter water; wherefore, a man being a servant of the devil cannot follow Christ; and if he follow Christ he cannot be a servant of the devil.

The pragmatist, cynic, or sinner in me says, "Why do anything if it is not with real intent? Will people suffer if they receive gifts from evil people? Are priesthood ordinances of null effect if performed by unworthy priesthood holders? What becomes of the good someone has done if he or she is publicly disgraced?" The answer to the first is, "Of course, we do a lot of things unwholeheartedly. Few give 100% to a particular task, and fewer can be said to have distinguished themselves in every capacity." If no one did anything until he or she really felt like it, no one would ever enter the swimming pool. Nothing would get done, people would die in droves, if only the sincere responded to the call. On the other hand, if more of us served with passion, more of us would be sanctified. To the second, and fourth questions, I will respond below. To the third, my answer is that it is an old issue, a controversy in Christianity going back at least to the Novatian heresy, when it was felt that Christians who had denied their faith under the Emperor Decius' persecution in 250 AD, shouldn't be readmitted to communion. The Donatist heresy of the Fourth and Fifth Centuries dealt with priests thought by some to be unworthy because they had surrendered their scriptures (all done by hand in those days) to pagan officials, in response to persecution. This was considered an act of denying the faith. As mentioned, these were regarded as heresies, and dismissed upon grounds of cruel practicality. There were only so many priests to go around, then. There are still issues regarding the ministrations of priests who are both sinful and criminal in today's society, who, like some nobles and political leaders, are thought above the laws of earthly governments. So far as I know, ordinances performed by unworthy people in our faith are still of efficacy for the recipient. What, however, does this mean for the unworthy person who, at least, is outwardly doing good? What does this mean for the faith of the person who is the receiver, especially if the evil behavior of the minister is only discovered afterwards?

So much of our secular society runs on faith. In spite of the pervasiveness of fake news these days, we presume that government data give us an accurate view of the world. We like to assume our stock exchanges aren't skewed by insider trading, that our doctors, engineers, teachers, accountants and lawyers are competent; that sports teams don't conspire to fix games or scores, that esteemed artworks come from the time period and the artists to which they're attributed, that sacred relics have some sort of divine efficacy. We believe our vehicle will be safe to drive after our mechanic looks at it. We assume our financial institutions aren't misusing our savings and investments with them, that they won't be embezzled, misappropriated, laundered, etc. We hope the government will back up the currency it issues for our daily transactions, because it puts its name on it. We assume the structures housing our businesses, our homes, our public facilities, won't leak, flood, collapse or burn to the ground with the first onslaught of nature. We like to think that our public safety officials will keep us safe from lawbreakers and that the courts will ensure that justice is served. Regardless of the layers of contract law we deal with everyday--even when we just download a new app, or sign up for a service--we want to assume the person, or entity, we are dealing with isn't a shyster. If any of these are found to be counterfeit, fraudulent, deceitful, or bogus, our empire of trust is all the weaker. In some countries, where there has been a general implosion of government and services, power outages, collapsing buildings, bridges, and streets; breakdowns, and bribes are so commonplace as to seem de rigueur. Perhaps it is American exceptionalism to think this won't happen to us, so long as we aren't hit by tornadoes, volcanoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods or wildfires all over the country, at once.

In response to the second question, we receive gifts from evil people all the time. Disreputable persons on the fringes of society may volunteer their bodies for medical research. We acquire goods grown, processed, manufactured or shipped by the non-saintly on an almost daily basis. Or, the goods may originate from farms and factories where the help is mistreated. If we invest in mutual funds, do we have guarantees that we aren't profiting from human vices like alcohol, tobacco, gambling, or sexual license? It does seem like the Nobels, Rockefellers, Mellons, Fords, Gateses, Carnegies, Turners, Kochs and Sacklers can be forgiven for dubious business practices and politics once they prove themselves generous philanthropists. While Rupert Murdoch and George Soros are lightning rods for the selective indignation of liberals and conservatives, few would argue that they also haven't done good with their ill-gotten gain.

To our third question, I wish to expand it a bit. What do we do when an individual proves untrue, whom one admires as an artist, humanitarian, or spiritual leader? Or, what if that person just happened to hold beliefs which one finds abhorrent? Growing up, I developed a shine for William F. Buckley, Jr. and Bill Cosby. Buckley I admired because he was an erudite contrarian, at a time when my San Francisco Bay Area peers were fashionably liberal, and conservatism was something found more in the Bible Belt, or among Latter-Day Saints. Cosby, I thought, was a very funny comedian, whom kids could relate to, and who wasn't vulgar like most comedians were getting to be back then, following in the wake of Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor. While I will admit that my adolescent boy mind wasn't focused upon the purest of topics, I did become prudishly reactive to some things, like swearing. When I heard that Buckley included sex scenes in his Blackford Oakes novels, I lost interest in him. This was before I found out about his apologizing for white supremacy during the Civil Rights Era (which, given today's news, didn't really finish in 1964). While I identified with Buckley's conservatism in the early 70s, I could never quite accept the John Birch Society version (which Fred Koch espoused). It seemed too conspiratorial, too anti-intellectual, too downright ugly to me. At the same time, I wish I had leaned more left then, since I was attracted to hippie-ish girls (even if I was too afraid to date them).

I still admire William F. Buckley, though I don't follow National Review very often. I consider myself more of a liberal, though I strive to follow church teachings, in spite of some reservations. It is easier for me not to condone abortion, drinking, smoking, drug abuse, gambling, or sexual license on moral grounds, if I may tolerate vice on legal grounds, so long as it doesn't endanger the public, or cause harm to the non-consenting. Since fetuses and young children can't consent to what is done to them, these remain issues. Social and moral costs are another matter, but I also live, and work, around people whose lifestyle choices I disagree with. I also question whether law enforcement should be burdened with such matters, instead of violent and property crimes. Being trained as a librarian, I also have some antipathy to censorship. I am reminded of my early student days at BYU in the 70s, where one could freely obtain the latest issue of White Power in the Periodicals Room, but had to sign out sexual materials from Locked Case at the reference desks. I do wonder whether people aren't wasting their time listening to hate speech or indulging in pornography, along with other mind-rotting activities. I don't question their right to exist at all, but I can question the platforms being given for their dissemination. I also wonder whether legislation like FOSTA-SESTA isn't doing more harm than good, by pushing independent sex workers out into the streets, again. If something is legal, but monitored, like abortion, at least you have some idea of its occurrence, and fewer unexplained deaths. As any firefighter will tell you, it's better to know where and what toxic materials are being stored, than to get a nasty surprise when it's too late.

I learned of Bill Cosby's criminal behavior in the media. I thought of how much impact he's had on millions of kids who listened to his recordings, saw his many TV appearances or live shows, or heard his mostly positive exhortations towards youth to take responsibility, and get an education, like he did. How could this same person be a sexual predator, a serial rapist? Should I forget my favorite stories of his? How can I un-remember them? This remains a difficult question. In speaking of my children's earlier days, I admit we liked Pee-Wee's Playhouse. I still think it one of the funnier, more predictably oddball children's entertainments ever created. Maybe I liked it more than my kids. I was disheartened when Paul Reubens was arrested at a porn theater. I wondered if this was a deliberate act of self-sabotage, comparable to Rosanne Barr's racist tweets recently. 

Sometime in the 1970s, I read of all the good being done by Covenant House, which was addressing the needs of homeless youth in major cities. It was headed up by Father Bruce Ritter. While a student at BYU, I thought my social consciousness club, called Response, should invite him to speak on campus. While Covenant House is still around, Father Ritter is not. He resigned in 1990, after 15 cases of sexual misconduct were brought against him by young men who had been in his care. Did his wrongdoing negate the good done by his charity? Apparently not, since CH is still going, still doing good. This institutional argument might be applied in the case of the human frailties of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Martin Luther, John Calvin, the Bad Popes, or any other religious leaders. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa weren't perfect human beings, either, but their work in behalf of human rights and dignity continues. Rev. Jim Jones, Shoko Asahara (Aum Shinrikyo), David Koresh, Charles Manson's legacies? Tarnished. Rajneesh, TV exposés and crimes notwithstanding, is enjoying a revival of interest. Maybe bad publicity is better than none at all.

I liked Ronald Reagan, because my parents and Buckley liked him. He and people like San Francisco State University President (and later, US Senator) S. I. Hayakawa stood up to the campus rabble rousers during the Vietnam War. I voted for Reagan twice. With the Iran-Contra scandal, however, I felt pretty well done with him and the GOP. While today I feel that Reagan, Buckley and even Barry Goldwater wouldn't feel welcome in today's GOP (as Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake have already decided, and much of the Trump opposition, found at National Review, has articulated), I don't feel like I could go back to that party again. My own party of choice is flawed, too. I wish we had stronger third, fourth and other parties which could shake the stranglehold of the present duopoly. I support the Democrats because I feel it is unwholesome to invest the GOP here in Utah with so much power, even if they still like to claim adherence to LDS-friendly values. LDS Republicans have been badly bruised by Trumpery, social Darwinism, the prosperity gospel, and the Ayn Randian ethos of today, but keep coming back, like the proverbial battered spouse. It's like wishing for somebody instead of the Cavaliers and Warriors in the NBA finals, although they still had to compete hard to get there. The series matchup wasn't rigged, was it?

We deal with more and more public disappointments these days. Let's just remind ourselves that many celebrities wouldn't have obtained their fame without long-suffering subordinates, whom many of them abused. Harvey Weinstein produced some of my favorite movies. He is also a sexual predator, though he didn't drug his victims, like Bill Cosby. Horrible things have been said about the moguls of Hollywood's golden age, too. I can't dish on all the good movies made under their aegis because they were contemptible human beings, can I? I was more recently disheartened about Eric Greitens' fall from favor. The Missouri Governor recently resigned after being threatened with impeachment for blackmailing an ex-lover and illegally soliciting campaign contributions from donors to his charity, The Mission Continues. A Navy Seal, a Rhodes Scholar, a humanitarian, should have known better. I heard him speak, and got him to sign two motivational memoirs he wrote and published. What will become of his legacy? I believe he did a lot of good, was a courageous and thoughtful leader. Where did it go wrong?

Celebrities seem to rebound from their sins all the time. If an athlete is good enough, he or she seems to find a second life somewhere, even if it's not as a pro player or sportscaster. There are always teams abroad. We seem very forgiving of artists, musicians, and writers, though scholars, scientists and journalists could lose face irretrievably in professional circles. Perhaps it is a given that suffering poets are often sociopaths. If they were sex offenders or drug abusers, even murderers, their offenses might be rationalized away by understanding historical context. Surprising how much the public forgives people with such a past, as opposed to parolees. Maybe it's because the former class have a broader support system than the latter.

What, however, becomes of people whose work is admired, but whose politics repulse us? Over time, not much. After all, modern aesthetic theory tends to divorce an artist's work from the personal life of the same (though it is still fodder for biopics, with their crude Freudian obsessions). If you don't like someone who is long dead, you can still score points by dissing on his or her personal life. Picasso was a bounder, but his art keeps its value. Richard Wagner was an atrocious human being, for his adultery, abuse of friendship, and his anti-Semitism. However, he is forgiven, in most circles, for his sublime music. One would have thought ad hominem attacks the swiftest path to flunking Logic, Rhetoric or Debate 101, except it still passes for punditry among populist muckrakers and political muck feeders. In an age where just about any voice can claim validity (if not necessarily tenure), sloppy scholarship will find its forum.

So, film critics, can we still appreciate Leni Riefenstahl's oeuvre, as an actress and filmmaker, even if she did much of it under the patronage of the Nazi German government? So far as I know, she isn't universally banned, and she was an innovator. D. W. Griffith did glorify white supremacy in The Birth of a Nation, but is still admired as a pathbreaking auteur. May that be partially because so much of early cinema is lost to us forever? I personally am more impressed by his Intolerance. They can't make them like that anymore, not with real crowds and massive props.

Where would we be without the compositions of Richard Strauss and Carl Orff, even if created during the Third Reich? No more than we'd profit from disregarding Sergei Prokofiev, Aram Khachaturian, and Dmitri Shostakovich for composing under the rule of Josef Stalin. In fact, I won't hold it against anybody for backing Communism, even if they apologized for Stalin's, Mao's, Pol Pot's, Ceausescu's, Tito's, et al.'s crimes. One had to make a living under unbelievably paranoid, oppressive circumstances. Somehow, it must have been easier to excuse the widespread murder of people when some of them happened to be aristocrats, greedy landlords, "counter-revolutionaries", "reactionaries", "saboteurs", "spies", or "filthy capitalists" than it is now, to ameliorate mass shootings of, and death camps for, people who happened to be of the wrong ethnicity. Even today, the name of Mao or Stalin doesn't get the same visceral reaction as Hitler. Even the Emperor Hirohito gets a pass, as few understand how many atrocities were committed in his name, over a twenty-year period, especially in Asia.

In the realm of literature, the prominent Yale deconstruction theorist Paul de Man was found to have written pro-Nazi pieces for the press in occupied Belgium. His reputation is still undergoing review 35 years after his death. Martin Heidegger, P. G. Wodehouse, and Ezra Pound suffered some backlash for their pro-fascist activities during the war, but are still widely read. Knut Hamsun, like the last two, spent some time in a mental hospital after the war, which enabled all three to escape treason charges. Gabriele d'Annunzio and Julius Evola, in spite of their major influence upon fascist ideology, aren't officially proscribed, as of this writing. Filippo Marinetti, pioneer of Futurism, also threw in his lot with Mussolini's regime. Would you believe Gertrude Stein who, like Wodehouse, lived in Vichy France, also did some collaboration? Louis-Ferdinand Céline, pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic writer of acclaim, remains controversial to this day. They escaped execution, unlike writer Robert Brasillach. We read Evelyn Waugh, Joseph Campbell, T. S. Eliot, and Percy Wyndham Lewis in spite of their anti-Semitic views, right? We don't have to know of W. B. Yeats' sympathies for the Far Right, so-called Blueshirts of Ireland, to appreciate the his or D'Annunzio's works, right? E. M. Cioran's and Mircea Eliade's ties to the murderous, pro-fascist Iron Guard of wartime Romania shouldn't cloud our judgment of their literary and anthropological work, should they? 

When one is also aware of Jack Kerouac's and e. e. cummings' conservative sympathies, doesn't it strike you that some of the most influential writers and thinkers of twentieth century modernism backed non-progressive causes? How could that be possible? Some want to argue that the ideology of a writer shows through, even if his or her theme doesn't seem to involve anything political. With psychoanalytic, deconstructive, semiotic, Marxist, post-modernist and other methodologies still in vogue, anything is possible. Can one enjoy a work without any of this orientation? Can one be informed about other matters, such as prosody conventions and rhetorical tropes, and appreciate a work better? Is a less-informed critique still valid, in our age of relativism and porous canons?

While there are no easy answers to these (hence, the persistence of aesthetics as a field of study), I want to add another perspective. What about whole systems of belief, which might have a tainted past? One can find plenty to quibble with any faith today because of the violence, sexism, slavery, ethnocentrism, or genocide associated with their respective foundational myths, scriptures, and recorded histories. Historians see fallacies in imposing modern mores retroactively, especially as our forebears would be justifiably shocked at our moral laxity, or so-called political correctness, today. Rather than argue about traditional faiths, I want to look at what could be called the religions of a post-faith era. This would include animal rights, eco-consciousness, and our frequent plundering of the Mystical East.

Did you know that Nazi Germany championed animal rights, even while it systematically stripped people of human rights? That the first organic farming (called biodynamic farming by the followers of Rudolf Steiner) were implemented in Germany before World War II? One may have heard of National Socialism's liberal borrowings from other traditions, including its strange Indo-Aryan cult, Heinrich Himmler's Eastern obsessions, the appropriation of the swastika from other cultures, and the creation of the Ahnenerbe (inspiration for Raiders of the Lost Ark). Vegetarianism was, as is well known, a practice adopted by Der Führer, which undoubtedly encouraged others to emulate. Or, that an early proponent of animal rights, vegetarianism, and deep ecology, Savitri Devi Mukherji, was, in fact, of Greek, Italian, and English, extraction named Maximiani Portas, a citizen of France and spy for Nazi Germany? Or that she remained an unrepentant apologist for the Third Reich? Like Evola, she is something of a celebrity for the Alt-Right today.

So, we can forgive wicked people for their sacerdotal performance, if they aren't also grounded in wickedness? We can recognize the good people do otherwise, even if they also do something heinous? We can appreciate artistic, philosophical, scholarly, or religious creativity, even if originated by those whose politics tacitly abetted mass murder? Movements like organic farming, animal rights, or ecological protection aren't discredited by association with those who also promoted the aims of National Socialism?

Ultimately, I bring all of this up to suggest that we not be purists when it comes to evaluating ideas, no matter their source. The Right has produced some profound thinkers who, like Niall Ferguson and John Gray, aren't that easily pigeonholed. The Left, which generated so many apologists for Communism during the early 20th Century (some of whom had a change of heart, as Ignazio Silone chronicled in The God That Failed), has been forgiven by many, especially when they've leapt into the camp of the Right (as Buckley did, when he recruited people like James Burnham, Max Eastman, and Frank S. Meyer). Think of people like David J. Horowitz and Christopher Hitchens, the latter never comfortable with the faith community. Some went over to the Left or liberal center (like David Brock, or Kevin Phillips).  The Democratic Party holds an annual dinner in honor of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. Talk about people with historical baggage! Compared to some of Jackson's wickedness, John D. Lee comes off looking pretty good. People complain about whom Joseph Smith took to wife? How about Jefferson's siring of illegitimate children with Sally Hemings? Or his being a slaveholder until his dying day, in spite of his apparent efforts to oppose its extension? Still, they are remembered for the good they did, less so for the bad. Jefferson did make it to Mt. Rushmore, after all, the result of Gutzon Borglum's decades-long vision and persistence. (Borglum was the unbaptized son of Danish converts to Mormonism). We also have to be more forgiving of our forebears, and our present-day leaders, religious and secular. We may say we believe in due process, but our rush to judgment does smack of the witchcraze of 400 years ago. Why are we so quick to forgive celebrities, and not ordinary citizens, who have actually done time? While public shaming seems to be more efficient, I don't know if it is more just. We make up our minds too easily. We are all manipulated by hype. We are all susceptible to fake news. It is my hope that we are more susceptible to thoughtful, balanced perspectives, and forgiving hearts. As I will tell anybody, though, just because you love and forgive all people, doesn't mean you have to live with all people under the same roof.















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