Monday, April 11, 2016

Despising the First Commandment

Here in America, as we move closer to the critical presidential and congressional elections of the year of our Lord twenty sixteen, after the fourth of July, of the year of our independence two hundred and forty, it seems we are closer than ever to the social and political catastrophe of civil war. It has been building, this animosity that’s taken hold of many Americans, in the special form we now see it, since the start of the presidency of the incumbent, Barack Obama. Though I wasn’t alive a century and a half ago to be able to personally compare the year of Abraham Lincoln’s election to the current year in which we will see a new occupant of the White House, from my study of history it seems we have entered a period just as dangerous. History never exactly repeats itself. There won’t be gunships firing on Fort Sumter a year and a day from today as the next President of the United States begins his (or her) first term, but already the twenty-first century equivalent of sabre-rattling is already more than common in the streets.

Tin Grand National Jubilee [1809]
Obverse: Conjoined busts of the King and Queen, left,
Reverse: Grand National Jubilee inscriptions and date Oct 25, 1809
Ah, how I love revolutions! The late eighteenth century subjects of his Majesty the King had certainly had enough. At least, that’s what they’d been told by those ‘in the know.’ The man in the street (today, the woman in the street, even the child in the street) has always been easy prey to emotional speeches, either making them, or hearing them. Our last God-anointed monarch, George, the Third of that name, was probably the innocentest (yes, I know, but I’m using it for effect) king ever to reign over the islands of the Three Crowns, and us, and the reward of his patience was mental illness and the longest reign in British history so far. Looking at their Majesties’ profile portraits on an old medal in my collection cabinet, I can’t help but feel sad that such a good-hearted, simple couple should have had to deal with, not only our revolution, but the naughtiness of their own two eldest sons, George and his brother William, both kings the Fourth of their names. Our revolution, though, was tame enough.

Copper halfpenny token, 1794, Middlesex
Obverse: HONOR trodden underfoot, throne overturned, FRA-NCE divided, RE/LI/GI/ON cut in pieces, GLORY defaced, FIRE in every corner, Daggers on every side, bloodshed all over, A MAP OF FRANCE 1794 around
Reverse: MAY GREAT BRITAIN EVER REMAIN THE REVERSE in a starburst and wreath
No heads rolled. There was never a question of us killing our king. We just wanted to be rid of him. His other subjects might feel the same way on a bad day, but by and large their love covered all, or most, of his and his government’s offenses. You see, unlike France, by then the British king had already been turned into a tame lion, and his people, most of them anyway, were Christians. Those at the top who pulled the strings were Deists; since God had created the world of men and then gone away to amuse Himself, it fell to them to make sure the rest of us were kept busy and out of trouble. Those at the bottom, the rest of us, were Theists; since God had placed our betters over us for our own good, to obey them was to obey Him. It took the experience of trying to live that way in a savage, new world thousands of miles from the Tower of London that finally broke the faith of the colonists with their king. His only fault was not growing up fast enough to keep up with us. The world changes faster than kings.

The Loyalists, those who kept faith with the British monarchy, have had plenty of opportunities to say ‘we told you so’ to the founders and heirs of the American Republic. They have had a better record of being progressive than us whose revolution proclaimed the rights of men, while boldly denying the rights we won for ourselves from others whom we deemed below us. Our democracy was not flawless, but it was always defended as being necessary. In the history of the world few nations have been able to survive as long as we have, using the same constitution to guide us, even though many of its original tenets have been outgrown and discarded legislatively. We have survived more than our share of presidential assassinations and one grisly civil war ignited over the right of white men to enslave black. It surprises me that when a century later the descendants of those slaves actually acquired their civil rights, that it did not ignite another civil war. We came close, I know, I was alive, but today we are even closer.

I am a Christian. My creed, what I believe in doctrinally, is contained in the Symbol of Nicaea, and in the Orthodox service books. That’s only half of it. The other half of my creed, what I do, is contained in the Holy Gospels, and in the rest of the Bible. I have to keep telling myself, believe it or not, that despite assertions by many to the contrary, I live in a Christian nation, Christian in the sense that, whatever the ‘founding fathers’ personal religious and social beliefs were, they acknowledged the influence of Christ and of Christianity in the formation of the Republic, and they were willing to support each other in a spirit of at least ‘live and let live,’ but even more when called upon to do so, ‘that a man should give up his life for his friends.’ In spite of what it looks like today, at street level, I still believe in this kind of America, and yes, though I’ve never been to the United Kingdom or the great European democracies, I feel this must be true of them also, in spite of the declarations made by many of their political leaders.

I still believe in this kind of America, and in this kind of Christian West, but ‘a fierce, merciless force’ has been invoked by many who believe more in their personal causes, regardless of whatever they may be, than in the welfare of our common humanity, people who are willing to kill for their beliefs, instead of giving up their lives for their friends. What is going on in the Near East with the self-declared caliphate and the other fundamentalist Islamic warlords or states is possible anywhere, even here, and need not be tied into a religiously Islamic world view. It need not be inspired by right wing fundamentalisms, usually called fascism or neo-Nazi. It is just as often inspired by left wing totalitarianisms, social movements that have exceeded their mandates to become self-perpetuating political cancers. The labels right wing and left wing are now completely meaningless, because the aim of every political faction is victory, no matter what the cost. This has now begun to appear on the streets, alarmingly.

The United States, say our enemies, are close to collapse, morally, economically, socially, politically, you name it. This is nowhere near true, but what is true, is that factions have taken over the political arena. There seems to be few ‘unity’ candidates. The only unity most of them want, is for others to see things their way. The spirit of give and take and interpersonal respect seems to have vanished from those who want to be the victors, and they are not a few. Christian fundamentalism, possibly America’s foremost contribution to the world of totalitarian philosophies, has jumped the fence and found fertile ground in those who explicitly and implicitly reject Christ. This has unmasked the nature of both ‘Christian’ and secular fundamentalisms. The one is not really Christian, but bibliolatrous ‘for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life’ (2 Corinthians 3:6 KJV), and the other is not irreligious, but idolatrous ‘worshiping what their hands have made’ (Isaiah 2:8). This is what comes of despising the First Commandment (Exodus 20:3).

This is my hope… what’s yours?

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