Who You Gonna Believe: Hitler or Jefferson
Adolf Hitler and Thomas Jefferson
“If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.”
Do you judge an idea, argument, or opinion by who says it – authority -, or by the strength of the idea, – merit -? I believe we all hope we would judge ideas on their merits. The proponent of an idea might have some impact on our acceptance of a new way of thinking, but hopefully it would only be one of many factors we would take into consideration. This would seem to be a fair approach. My gut tells me that our openness to a new idea is probably indirectly related to how extreme the idea is compared to our preconceived notions. Wild ideas won’t be accepted no matter who articulates them. The balance falls on both sides of a continuum clustered around the middle, depending on your level of interest in the issue and “who you are.”
Below I list ten quotes. They are followed by a list of the authors of the quotes. See if you can match the quotes and the authors, but first determine which quotes you agree with and which ones you disagree with.
- “The man who has no sense of history, is like a man who has no ears or eyes.”
- “In the New Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills.”
- “Constant labor of one uniform kind destroys the intensity and flow of a man’s animal spirits, which find recreation and delight in mere change of activity.”
- “Sell a man a fish, he eats for a day, teach a man how to fish, you ruin a wonderful business opportunity.”
- “This human world of ours would be inconceivable without the practical existence of a religious belief.”
- “The remedy for what ails our democracy is not simply better education or civic education, but the reestablishment of a genuine democratic discourse in which individuals can participate in a meaningful way.”
- “The conservation of our natural resources and their proper use constitute the fundamental problem which underlies almost every other problem of our national life.”
- “If you’re sick and tired of the politics of cynicism and polls and principles, come and join this campaign.”
- “Nazism, fascism, and communism were belief systems adopted passionately by millions of well-educated men and women.”
- “I do not believe in the God of theology who rewards good and punishes evil.”
- Adolf Hitler, German Leader
- Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States, author of the Declaration of Independence
- Carl Marx, Philosopher and writer of The Communist Manifesto
- Albert Einstein, Scientist
- Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States
- Al Gore, 45th Vice President of United States
- George Bush, 43rd President of the United States
So how do you think you did? I am not exactly sure what this might prove since each of you probably learned a different lesson. But I think these points are valid.
First, even people who you deeply respect are capable of having radically different views on deeply felt and commonly held viewpoints. Quote #2 concerning the New Testament of the Bible was from Thomas Jefferson. This was very much representative of his feelings on the Bible. In fact, he edited the Bible coming up with what he thought were the authentic teachings of Jesus. Similarly, many of his contemporaries had equally harsh views of the Bible and Christianity. I hope this at least demonstrates that you can have large disagreements on issues that are fundamental to you and still have common cause on other issues of importance. The real irony is, if his views were expressed publically and he were running for office in our time, Jefferson could probably not get elected dogcatcher. Albert Einstein was responsible for Quote #10 another theological opinion that would not be well received among many, despite Einstein’s obvious genius and the high esteem he enjoys.
Second, Quote #1 and #5 were Hitler’s and Quotes #3 and #4 were Carl Marx’s. This suggests that even tyrants can say something that you agree with as Hitler did about religion and history. This should give all of us pause in assuming the words a political leader uses are always completely reliable in determining character or intent. The Carl Marx quotes illustrate that even a Communist Philosopher can have a sense of humor and can accurately describe the plight of workers. Nobody gets everything wrong.
Third, one position or idea shouldn’t necessarily define a person. We are all much more complex than a soundbite, photo, or an awkward video. Al Gore is responsible for quote #6 and #9. I had hoped the conservation language of Quote #7 would steer you toward Al Gore when in fact it was Theodore Roosevelt. Al Gore’s quote in #9 was meant to lead you to Carl Marx or maybe Hitler. However, while Gore did make that comment in #9, it is somewhat out of context, and doesn’t say as much as a person might infer into it. His discourse was not supportive of Fascism or Communism. Last but not least, if you didn’t see the mangled language of George Bush in Quote #8, then you are probably to young to remember his eloquence. Regrettably, I can make fun of him since I voted for him twice.
Hopefully, the point has been made that it is best to look at the idea you are examining and not who offers the idea. The idea must resonate and appeal to your values and judgments, but all of us should not dismiss a good idea or opinion if it has the ring of truth. So remember, as best you can, keep the question open.
As always, thou mayest.