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Monday, February 23, 2015

Jerks–A Challenge To Christian Charity And Progressive Diversity

Elmer Rudolph was a jerk. There was no doubt about it, and everyone realized it but him.  Dinner parties were ruined because of his ignorance about convention, good taste, social courtesy, and intelligence.  Beach time was spoiled because of his banging on about some minor esoteric and very academic point no one cared about but showed – or so he thought – his intellectual fluency. “In the 18th Century”, he would begin; and everyone turned away as quickly as if he had laid a fart.  No one waited for the argument, the denouement, or the coda. They ran for cover from his preposterous self-importance before it was too late. Unwitting newcomers could be caught for hours in his ponderous musings, nodding politely until a crack showed – a passing tray of canapés; a spilled drink.

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How did he get so clueless?  Where did the wildly exaggerated sense of self-importance come from?  He had a minor degree from a second-tier college in the Midwest, and a PhD from an even lesser university in the South.  He was on the faculty of an even lesser-known institution in the Northeast, one always on the cusp of demotion to Junior College status, and one for which tenure was never an issue. Candidates who were lucky enough to find teaching jobs at the school dug in and never left; so as long as the administrators ducked the Accreditation Commission and kept above water, they never had to fuss.

The usual suspects of course are his parents; but they were devout Iowa Christians who took Jesus and the gospels to heart. Grace was indeed all that mattered, and the Rudolph household was one of prayer, devotion, and piety.  Never one to wear his faith on his sleeve, Elmer’s father went quietly about his business as a Vice President at the Ames First National Bank.  He never proselytized nor even referred to his faith.  While he always was tempted to share the word of God with his colleagues, a sense of social propriety and respectful deference held him back.

Elmer’s mother was devout and sincere in her faith, and because she took Paul’s instruction seriously – good works are incidental to salvation, not recorded on any celestial balance sheet, but can still show one’s pursuit of the ideal Jesus – she was an active community volunteer.

The most important thing about the Rudolphs was their quiet rectitude.  They had correctly appraised their abilities, personal values, and self-worth. They never boasted or inflated their accomplishments.

“It must be genes”, said Elmer’s aunt who was not spared his disquisitions on Robespierre or Cromwell.  Only because she was family did she put up with his lectures. “It’s painful”, she admitted, “like being trapped in a closet with a bad song. You want to get out more because of the horrible music than the smell of moth balls; but you can’t.”

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The oddest thing about Elmer was that he was married – and to a lovely woman at that. Thanks to that one unexplained and obviously felicitous aspect of Elmer Rudolph’s existence, we all kept our counsel longer than we would have with anyone else.  If sweet Martha Rudolph put up with him then we might be missing something.

“She married him because she was on the bounciest rebound ever. She would have married anyone to get away from Dickie Thorpe; and Elmer was far more civilized than Dickie ever was.  Dickie pulled the wings off fireflies to watch them do a sick insect dance of death and insulted Chinese waiters.  What do you expect?”

Can a jerk have good qualities? Does one off-color joke make a racist? Should I not read the anti-Semite H.L.Mencken? Yet it was hard to find any redeeming qualities in Elmer Rudolph. Perhaps there was one – he was not an asshole.  A lot of people make the mistake of confusing the two; but jerks are harmless while assholes can make life miserable. Elmer Rudolph was simply a clueless dummy who wouldn’t hurt a fly.  Assholes are mean-spirited dummies who survived abusive childhoods and who spent their lives taking out their pain and suffering on others. Faint praise to be sure, but Elmer Rudolph was not an asshole.

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At the same time none of us could forgive his total, ignorant sense of self importance.  In the summer he sat by the pool sipping his Chardonnay, reading Proust and scanning for unsuspecting guests he could corral. “Did you know that Proust was gay?”, was his opening line.  It was provocative, intellectual, and decidedly politically correct.  No one gets through A La Recherche du Temps Perdu in any language; but if anyone was around to notice him, Elmer would parse the French original and take notes.  He was insufferable.

A good Christian would in principle welcome Elmer Rudolph.  Jesus welcomed all comers, offered them grace, the forgiveness of their sins, redemption, and eternal salvation.  Even jerks would be welcomed into heaven if they lost their stubborn will and self-importance.

The point is moot, however, for jerks, being what they are, could never surrender their egos to anyone, let alone Jesus Christ.  Elmer Rudolph could no sooner go down on his knees, beg forgiveness, and swear eternal fealty to Our Lord and Savior than an aboriginal heathen in Borneo. Christ might be willing to open the gates of heaven for him, but Elmer would have to make an effort.  No such luck.  The man was so ignorant that not even the promise of the salvation of his soul could budge him off his solitary outcrop.

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The problem for ‘progressives’ is a lot trickier.  Theoretically jerks are part of ‘diversity’, no different than any other classification of social uniqueness. The flap of the big tent should be open to them just like trannies, blacks, Latinos, and women.  Yet jerks are so full of themselves that they cannot empathize with the less advantaged.  They are so sexually ignorant and unaware that bondage, dirt-tracking, and water sports are as alien to them as Sumatran rites of initiation.  They have little sensitivity to the environment, little fear of the specter of nuclear war, and no idea whatsoever about the treachery of Wall Street and Exxon Mobil. They are useless; and although ‘diversity’ should include them, it cannot.  There are some categories of human society that are simply not de rigeur.

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He means well”, said my mother a number of years ago.  He doesn’t tomcat or beat his wife”.  Faint praise again, distinguishing him from assholes is all. 

No one can find anything good to say about Elmer Rudolph, poor bastard. He inherited his obtuse cluelessness.  His parents tried their best; but some wayward bits of long-forgotten ancestors found their way into his DNA.  Occasionally I run into him at some social event or other; and the amazing thing is that his motor never runs down. He still bangs away at all who will listen despite his advancing age.  One would think that he would turn inward at some point, reflect on his coming extinction, and prepare to meet his maker; but no, he rattles on about Archduke Ferdinand, Ambrose, and Wittgenstein as though he will live forever.

He is a nuisance and a pain in the ass; and hardly worth the effort put into avoiding him.  I wish I had more of the Christian charity he totally lacks; for then I could at least nod politely and listen to him for a few minutes.  But I can’t.

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