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Faith and Myths: Reflections on JFK's Assassination

This post attempts to begin to bring together a few lines of thought from previous posts and current events. A couple of future posts will spend more time on some of those lines of thought, but this one focuses primarily on JFK's assassination, the 50th anniversary of which has just passed.

Apparently there is a huge intellectual community that vigorously explores myriad theories surrounding the events of that fateful day that saw the last successful assassination attempt of an American president. I know almost nothing of that community, much less the facts and theories of the JFK assassination. In the absence of knowledge, I ask myself, probably naively, why one man's death should so obsess us and whether it could ever have nearly as much significance and impact on the subsequent 50 (or more) years as we like to think. There are a lot of myths to unpack here, and of course the biggest obstacle is identifying what the myths are.

For example, 1) who really killed Kennedy and why (answers to both questions would explode all of the other well-documented theories as myths).

2) Also, is it a myth that Kennedy really would have had nearly as big an impact, positive or negative, on American history as people like to think had he survived November 22, 1963?

3) If the early 1960s were full of sociopolitical myths that had the standing of truth (the existential threat of communism, the accompanying omnipresence of covert communist agents, the existential threat of racial integration), what myths have become American truth in 2013?

In sorting out these questions, I stumbled across a profound reminder in an article by David von Drehle on the assassination, in this week's TIME magazine. Speaking of the bewildering (in number and content) conspiracy theories, he mentions the inevitability of faith, which he defines as "that set of beliefs that frames our approach to data and mystery. Each of us must have some sort of faith because we can never have perfect knowledge, no matter how much information we accumulate. Faith fills in the gaps" (emphasis added).

That reflection on faith brings to mind Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians that "knowledge puffs up" and yet how foolish that pride is, because that human knowledge is certainly never complete. In the pride-fraught endeavor of critiquing others' myths, and trying to tease out our own, then requires the constant recognition of those gaps in our own knowledge, and that they will always be filled with something until we have perfect knowledge one day.


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