Truth in Bad Poetry

“When your mother has grown older,
When her dear, faithful eyes
No longer see life as they once did,
When her feet, grown tired,
No longer want to carry her as she walks –

Then lend her your arm in support,
Escort her with happy pleasure.
The hour will come when, weeping, you
Must accompany her on her final walk.

And if she asks you something,
Then give her an answer.
And if she asks again, then speak!
And if she asks yet again, respond to her,
Not impatiently, but with gentle calm.

And if she cannot understand you properly
Explain all to her happily.
The hour will come, the bitter hour,
When her mouth asks for nothing more.”

– Written circa 1923

Lovely poem, no? Well, no. It’s a clunky, melodramatic piece of tripe. But you have to remember that it was translated from its original German, where, arguably, it’s less clunky. Certainly the sentiment is a noble one, isn’t it? Love of mothers and all that?

All right, would it change your opinion of this poem if I told you that Adolf Hitler wrote it? Because he did, in 1923, long before he was, you know, Adolf Hitler.

On the Internet, Hitler is the gold standard of evil. Everyone trying to make a profound philosophical statement always harks back to Hitler as the worst of the worst. Ol’ Adolf even has his own Internet Axion: titled Godwin’s Law, it states the following:

GODWIN’S LAW: As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1 (100%).

So, at the risk of being trite, I invoke the Almightily Evil Adolf to make a fantastically brilliant online point, which is this:

Does that fact that Hitler once told us to love our mothers negate the need to love our mothers?

Allow me to elaborate. Imagine, if you will, a heated political discussion, perhaps on some noted Cable News Network or radio talk show, where some Tea Party weenie talks bout how important it is to love our mothers, because the day will come when they won’t be with us. And then some wannabe Keith Olbermann yells back, “You Nazi! That’s just what Hitler said!” And then it all goes downhill from there until the ad comes on telling you to buy gold and live in a bomb shelter.

This is one of the primary problems in discussing important issues, whether they be political or religious or about what kind of pizza we should order. The conversation always goes downhill when it turns its focus to the motives of the messenger instead of the substance of the message.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve said something about global warming, for instance, and the response is, “Oh, you got that from a stupid guy being paid a bajillion dollars by Big Oil.” On the flip side, Al Gore has said all kinds of nutty things on this subject, but rather than respond to him substantively, many conservatives cite Gore’s hypocrisy in his use of private jets and his own massive carbon footprint. And, in both cases, that’s essentially where the conversation ends, and the people who attack the messenger think they’ve accomplished something, when, in fact, they have not. The initial argument hasn’t been refuted; it’s simply been diverted to a far less interesting topic.

In other words, if Al Gore tells me the sky is green, the issue shouldn’t be whether or not Al Gore is a poophead. (He is.) The issue, it seems to me, should be whether or not the sky is green. And even if someone as vile as Hitler tells you to love your mom, it doesn’t mean that loving your mom isn’t a good idea. (It is.)

I recently ran into this in my discussions with my aforementioned cousin who no longer considers himself a member of the church. Many of the arguments he cites are brilliantly refuted in a 1961 book by Mormon apologist High Nibley titled The Myth Makers. When I pointed this out to him in an email exchange, he responded thusly:

The problem with Nibley [is that] he is 100% biased to defend the Church no matter what

And with that, he was relieved of having to respond to any of what Nibley actually said. By questioning motives, he gets to ignore the message. Suddenly the discussion is about Nibley himself, and the important stuff goes by the wayside.

So what if Hugh Nibley really was naught but a Mormon corporate stooge? What if he boiled puppies in pancake batter and served them as hams? What if he were – gasp – genocidal dictator and erstwhile obscure poet Adolf Hitler himself? If such a man tells you the sky is blue, do you prove him wrong by citing the horrors of concentration camps or the vileness of deep fried poodles?

There is a limit to this, obviously. When one is trying to find support for the love of motherhood, one will usually avoid citing Hitler as a reference, and Hitler’s atrocities do mitigate the amount of time most of us will spend culling through his wretched life for pearls of wisdom. But all truth stands independent of the person that passes it along.

The sky is, in fact, blue. You don’t get to ignore that even if Hitler believed it, too.

Asking the Question
The Goodly, The Badly, and the Uglily

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