(Timely, and unedited from a 2010 essay at RedState.com. Since then, they’ve changed, I haven’t.)
A caution to the non-religious:
In what follows I use religious references from the Old Testament. They are intended as metaphors, or teaching tools. Still, this may be a turn-off to some people, since, these days, the merest showcasing of religion (except Islam) is often viewed as being judgmental and exclusivist; and therefore a trespass of one’s personal space not to have to hear or see religious booshway. This is perhaps out of fear, or maybe just a little jealousy, as we often see when someone is grinning ear to ear because they have something we don’t have…rubbing our noses in it, I think is the expression. I can’t say. Liberals and other Don’t Give-a-Damns have been conditioned to think this way. Maybe some Christians as well.
But there was a time in America when critical thinking (common sense) was more in fashion. In those times, people sometimes simply gave Bibles away. They didn’t preach, didn’t teach, but only said, “Here, read this.” I saw this in Russia and East Europe.
And some did, starting at the front, and not near the end where all the “hard choices” and “behold a pale rider” stuff crops up. And what many of those people read, without the help of any Elmer Gantry preaching hell fire and damnation, or without soft come-hither music whispering, “Come, Come, Come”, followed by a fellow passing the plate to keep the preacher’s wife in make-up…what they read was a book of wise sayings and stories, common sense rules for living peaceably among their neighbors…some of it told straight up (thou shalt’s), and some it told through allegory, which, even to a crusty old fur trapper, was the best way to tell a story around the campfire, from way back when the Irish first invented storytelling.
My simpler point is that the Bible contains all the elements of what anthropologists call “survival enhancing” traits for a society…common sense, wisdom and insights which even more secular societies need to survive. Much can be learned from it (by the unafraid), so it is not a thing to dismiss outright because of its religious themes.
But neither is it a place the vain man should tread too heavily.
Man’s Vanity …
In an opening scene of the 1960s Civil War film Shenandoah, a well-to-do Virginia farmer (James Stewart) surrounded by his children at the dinner table, begins saying grace, in which he details to God all the things he’d done to carve that farm out of the wilderness, then finishes by saying, “But we thank You just the same, Lord.”
That got quite a laugh at the time, but I’ve just identified what probably is Man’s most dangerous vanity, for here we see the type of strong, independent person who accepts God because God agrees with him and not the other way around. In the 17th Century Rene Descartes tried to prove the existence of God through Reason, for the same purpose, to bring God to men who admired and respected logic more. (As lawyers would say, you may have the wrong moving party there.)
That’s a risky venture, and C S Lewis warns us away from this path of inquiry in his several writings, for it can lead to where the pseudo-religionist Left now wishes to take us, moving toward rather than away from our vanities, with their current myth of collective salvation. This is secularism’s fatal flaw, for no matter how deeply felt the modern humanist’s ideal of justice or right and wrong may be, it always come with a price tag that reads, “Price Subject to Change Without Notice”…and each and every one of those price changes will represent a dilution, not a strengthening of the belief. So, within no more than three generations the beliefs must drift closer to Harry Reid and Barack Obama.
So I won’t go where Lewis warns us to stay away, for we are soon to see public expressions in America, as Lewis did in Anglican London in 1940, where religion becomes “good” …but only if it makes society better…according to some man-made criteria…whose price tag can change any day. When I can go to Orbitz and find special package deals to Paradise on PelosiAir I will know Hitler’s Germany is just around the corner.
Still, for over 30 years I’ve debated CS Lewis on some tiny, finer points of his thesis, for a religious society is a major component of that survival enhancing society. It keeps the ground fertile for future generations. Our Republic simply cannot stand, the Constitution cannot survive, Liberty cannot exist unless we are at least wrestling with the Devil. It comes down to millions of personal choices, in the aggregate, as when say 75% of us are either locked in toe-to-toe personal combat with Ol’ Clootie, or have already whupped him, while the rest are Don’t-Give-A-Damns standing over on the sidelines waiting for a hand out. I don’t know the cut-off but believe that Europe has already thrown in the towel. Reverse those ratios, and free society, not to mention generations of millions of unborn souls, are doomed. This is the lesson learned from Communism in Europe for 45 years and this is the crux of my argument with Lewis.
…and Man’s War With Himself
So here, I’m trying to use Biblical metaphor to describe Man’s struggle he has within himself, and how it figures in with this other struggle, our current “wahr”, we often identify as the battle between Good and Evil or Liberty versus Tyranny .
For they are virtually the same, you know. For one, both are eternal. The choices Man must make between his pride and vanity (which I consider to be innate) and humbling himself (a choice) before the exclusive sovereignty of an Order in the Universe, however you wish to conceive That to be…defines the central theme of almost all chaos in man’s history, and Chaos I believe to be the sole domain of Satan. God vs anti-God. We all have this inside us, some of us just deny it altogether, while others ‘rassle with it all the time. And when we eventually win…Pascal said in his Pensees that if we even bother to get into the fight, we will win…that’s the nice thing about it…we come out on the other side with this big ear-to-ear grin on our face. We can’t help it. We just whomped the Debbil! And some people hate us for it.
Man’s Natural Thirst for Liberty
Moses Sands first rule of Liberty was that “it is the desire of every Man (and woman) in the world to be able to build and own their House, and to be able to pass it on peaceably…and in order to do that, to be able to create reciprocal arrangements with their neighbors, protecting all their rights to do this.” (As we will see, this desire is conditional, depending on where people stand on the scale of Liberty.) You can see the wisdom in this for it entails a whole series of blueprints for the strong House, from the union of a man and a woman, two being better than one, especially since each are hardwired for specific skills and duties the other doesn’t normally have, to a list of understandings between neighbors so that, while pursuing their own ends with the talents they have, neither can attain power over the other. Governments don’t (can’t) pass this sort of thing out. It can only be accomplished through a handshake between citizens. The US Constitution serves as the basis for that handshake.
Moses went on to say it takes about three generations to unload all the old baggage (bad habits)“from the old World” they knew. In that context, he and I used to talk a lot about the early history of the children of Israel, and how quickly they seemed to dismiss God once they’d found a certain level of security in the new world He’d given them, and how that sense of security always turned out to be false.
Moses was never very religious in the sense of trying to divine God’s intentions. He just knew what worked, and generally figured that if it worked, there was a Design to it…and if it didn’t, and chaos ensued, Ol’ Clootie was behind it. He considered the desire for the House to be one of the four corners of a working free republic, alongside the Rule of Law, Free Markets and the Constitution….insisting ours is a system that works, and can work in every culture of the world, and for all time…”if the people can just hold onto a couple of simple personal practices”…he was speaking of gratitude…”which always work best when passed from parent to child, from father to son and mother to daughter.” Only then would institutional rites, such as the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem…or saying Grace, Passover, and other religious observances of thanksgiving have any enduring meaning.(My words)
But standing athwart Man’s desire to be free is his vanity. They are usually at odds with one another, sort of like that little angel on one shoulder and that little devil on the other, each whispering in your ear.
What we learn, early on in the Old Testament is that this thirst to be free is conditional. It’s a lot stronger when freedom is denied, and a lot less strong when freedom is literally there for the plucking, like fruit off a tree. (On that, Jefferson was right about the Tree of Liberty.) When God sent Moses to free the Children of Israel from bondage, they were rarin’ to go. Remember? And God displayed Himself in ways He never did again, with miracles so fantastical as to defy belief, from parting a sea, to dropping tons of unleavened bread to keep them fed in the Wilderness. Still, so set were the Children in their old ways from the plantation, where life apparently wasn’t all that bad after all, you know, houses, beds, once they had to camp out in tents with skeeters and bugs and wild animals, every time Moses would turn his back they’d start melting down their gold watches and designer glasses, and start building graven images to the old gods back in Detroit, and adopting a “Yeah, but what have You done for us lately?” attitude toward God. They disrespected God pretty quickly if you stop to think about it, yet He hung with them…or so the metaphor goes.
But, God, just like a good German social engineer, decided that you just can’t teach old dogs new tricks, and decided to keep the entire original cast of Exodus in a wilderness for forty years. You can call it punishment if you want to, but He also knew that when they finally marched into that new world of milk and honey, he couldn’t allow any of the old stock that had lived a comfortable life of slavery under Pharaoh to go along. They’d just mess things up. Too much old baggage. He wanted a clean slate going in.
So, when they finally did go out and enter the Promised Land, they went in with a different kind of hunger for freedom. Gone were the memories of slavery. Theirs was the hunger to build that House, just as Moses Sands said, only I don’t think this hunger lasted as long as God originally planned. Something was still missing.
And when they went in, they went under a different system of “government”, which was to have been a kind of self-government, for the Judges (or governors) were to govern according to Mosaic laws, a theocratic constitution (from the Jerusalem Bible) but without the heavy hand of a Lawgiver always hanging over their heads. God didn’t really ask much of the Israelites in return for this new freedom, namely…to remember Him, keep to the Law and the Code, which you could almost write on the back of a MacDonald’s napkin, drive out the remaining tribes…and not to hang out with them. And for God’s sake (literally) don’t marry ‘em.
Well, Joshua, the first judge, was barely warm in his grave before the people took up the gods of those other tribes they were supposed to run out. You all have heard of Baal, (D-IL) I think. They pretty much turned their backs on God, only coming back to Him when there was a drought or a new invader on their doorsteps. Turning the Promised Land into a Biblical version of Tolkein’s Shire never seemed to work out. Still, through a lot of ups and downs God kept His end of the covenant with His people a lot better than they stayed with Him…or so the metaphor goes.
Man’s Natural Thirst for Kings
From the people’s rejection of God’s plan for them as laid out in Judges, you can already see where their vanity would lead them. Read I Samuel 8. From it you may ask why and how, from a history of miraculous rescue, and then, living in a land of milk and honey, where every man could finally build that House, all those miracles could so easily become old wives’ tales, and that good life to become a birthright, rather than a thing to be earned. We learn here that gratitude is the first thing to begin to slip away from memory, for by the time of Samuel, showing gratitude to God was surrounded by religious observances that had become little more than vain repetitions and hollow duties, overseen by a hereditary class of clergy; sort of like being an Episcopalian in Nottingham. If there was any genuine gratitude and piety shown to God, it was usually found out in the fields, among ordinary folks, people such as Ruth come to mind…or so the metaphor goes.
Short analysis: Freedom and self-governance had become borrrrring and in a world of relative ease and certainty it was only natural that the people would start patting themselves on the back instead of thanking God. We see this every day, so you know what I mean.
So the people asked Samuel to ask God for a king, and while Samuel agonized over this request, God said, “OK, Sam, give ‘em one… but by rejecting Me just let them know what they’re getting themselves into.”
What They Were Getting Into: Kings’ Natural Thirst for Dynasty and Dynasty’s Certainty of Self-Destruction
Now, I and II Kings are grand reads in many ways, for they are several tales about individual kings, their wives and consorts, each with a lesson, and always wrapped in an envelope that always ends with the comment that such-and such a king reigned for X years, did what was displeasing (for the most part) in God’s eyes and rests with his ancestors. (I’d like to see a bumper sticker to every Democrat candidate that says the same thing this fall.)
It’s the First l Law of Kings that kings like to keep their kingdoms in the family. That’s the general idea behind dynasty. The problem is, even as messy as democracy is, this kingly system is much worse for it insures a weakling along the way. My favorite Sunday morning (6 AM) radio preacher is Ronald Dart, from White House, Texas. His most recent sermon was about what can happen when a weak man…a genuinely weak man…takes control of the immense power of the state. (Wanna guess who he was talking about?) Check out I King 21, when King Ahab wanted a vineyard he thought particularly nice (for the view) and asked to buy it from a fellow named Naboth. Well, Naboth said no, but not because the price wasn’t fair, but because it was an heirloom, having been in his family for generations. (Kelo, anyone?) Well, Ahab just went all to pieces at being rejected this way, and took to his bed, pouting and sulking, almost as if someone had said something about his ears. In marched his girlfriend (consort), jezebel, who was just embarrassed as all get out that her main squeeze was such a puss. So, she went out, on her own, to the hometown of Naboth and told them to falsely accuse him of a crime, (sort of like the White House Travel office), so that he would be taken out and stoned…since they didn’t have labor-unions-for-hire in those days. And they did, and he was. And Ahab got his vineyard.
Now both Ahab and Jezebel got theirs in the end, and slept with their ancestors, etc, though Ahab was so weak you could have chalked his bad end up to most anything, God maybe not even having a hand in it at all, he was such a loser. It could’ve been Herm ibn Cain who smote Ahab. It could happen.
The Feudal System existed in Europe for a thousand years because it was built on the forcible possession of land (“ownership” being a little too legalistic for me) and all European history, up to just lately, is written almost entirely about the various dynasties that were begun by a powerful man first seizing that land, then strapping a crown on their head, then holding it (whether ruthlessly or benignly almost doesn’t matter) than passing it on down the line where eventually that crown was passed onto a growing army of factotums and bureaucrats and one final little weasley weakling, who brought it all down on top of all their heads…to be replaced by the next ruthless tribe who would start the whole process all over again. For a millennium lands changed owners, dynasties rose and fell, but feudalism persisted…
…but for a few almost insignificant things occurring, such as a weakling king in England conceding some of his “divine” power to his barons, while almost parenthetically granting rights of land ownership to commoners, called free men, thus spawning an entire system of law, called the Common Law, which in turn spawned a gentry class of commoners who grew to be called “gentle men”, who in turn gave birth to men of thought who did little more than sit around and think about humanity from top to bottom, rather than just at the top, as the previous thousand years of thinkers had considered. Slowly, the common man had a voice, although it would be generations before he ever knew it, or could use it. God may have had a hand in all this. I can’t say for sure. CS hasn’t told me, but I think Moses Sands always figured He did.
This is world history in a nutshell, until America came along.
Back to I Samuel, God allowed this kind of doom to come down on the Israelites’ head in Chapter 8…not necessarily as Divine retribution, but possibly as a natural demonstration of what Man will invariable do when he tries to assume a position co-equal to God, and is then left to his own devices. (Captain Kirk would have invoked the Prime Objective and achieved the same result.)…or so the metaphor goes.
This fight is eternal, internally between Man’s vanity and his ability to humble himself before the supremacy of a Divine Order, externally between the forces of Good and Evil.
What we need to do is identify just who GOOD really is, for while God may appear to be a selfish God (Thou shalt have no other gods before me), He isn’t (wasn’t) especially persnickaty. He had a few rules, almost all of which, as I said in the beginning, had more to do with people and their communities getting along peaceably than picky rules for the sake of picky rules as you might find in the EPA or the Gulf clean up. They were rules of survival and safe arrival, paving the road for future generations to be able to have the same safeguards for their own future generations. Rules of orderly process…a thing the Left has yet to figure out.
All God ever really seemed to want (in my view) was an acknowledgement of His station and a show of gratitude, which to most of us can be displayed as quickly as a silent crossing of ourselves or a whispered prayer when we see something wonderful, such as the Grand Canyon, or a new baby grandson, or something humbling, as a grandmother teaching her grandchildren to genuflect, or a poor drunk in the gutter, or a kitten at the flea market. Remembering to say grace helps.
I say all this because the job of being a Good Citizen requires about as much time as is required to let God know you know He’s in charge…and that you’re glad about the arrangement. In some ways they are related. All Good Things begin with knowing where those Good Things come from.
I often think about the Dark Ages, and wonder why God didn’t abandon Man then, as that seemed like a sordid lot of barbarians to tolerate, especially as they matured to became preening popinjays. GK Chesterton has several good answers about the role of the Church amidst that barbarism, and I agree with him
But I think more of all those little people, serfs and commoners, who did remember God as the Source of all good things and kept their covenant with Him. They were just as nameless in 1000 AD as they were in 1000 BC, in the days of Israel’s kings. Or as they are now.
God is the Respecter of no man, while historians respect quite a few. So while those few more often as not basked in the reflection of their own edifices, through historians’ pens, I think God must have exulted more in the quite prayers of thanksgiving and petition from those unmentioned millions, the least of men and women, for why else would He tolerate our species at all? So while History is written by vain man about vain men, I am convinced it is defined by the anonymous but ever-grateful, least men standing.
Therefore, I’m one of those who believe that it is the silent of History who actually make it all happen, for it is those, in their private prayers who offer up the most humble of requests, for freedom or their daily bread, and not a Mercedes Benz, for God’s sake. We few are now a part of this latest epoch in that process, and I believe that God hears our prayers more than he pays attention to the vain…and small men…who still boast, and strut and build…nothing of value…just as they have for two thousand years.
I also think about the Dark Ages as a model for the Left, for I know these children of the Dark Side, the Enemy, Democrats, call them what you like, are searching for that perfect system that will finally hand over to them a foundation of “social feudalism”, on which they can build their dynasties, so that no matter how those dynasties may rise and fall, the foundation will remain for a thousand years.
They are almost there, for that new foundation will be built just as the old one, on the conquest of land…this time, all of it…and America is the “last tract standing”.
And standing naked against them are the least men standing…who I believe God has always favored most…
…if only we will remember in the deepest supplications of our hearts, to simply thank the Maker of this national treasure, this blessing of Liberty, and the makers of its blueprint, and insure that our children do so as well…
…then pass the ammunition…with a smile.