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The Uses of History, 8 – From France, 1812 to Russia, 1917, 5 – 1848

Man is born free but is everywhere in chains. –

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origins of Inequality, 1754.

An epic heroism has shone forth in the personal struggles of Socrates, of Paul and Augustine, of Luther and Galileo, and in that larger cultural struggle, borne by these and by many less visible protagonists, which has moved the West on its extraordinary course. There is high tragedy here. And there is something beyond tragedy.

Richard Tarnas, Preface to The Passion of the Western Mind, 1991

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free; stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be bound again by a yoke of slavery.

– Paul the Apostle, Letter to the Galatians, 5:1 (New International Translation), ca 50 CE

(Photo credit – Wikipedia – a Paris street barricade on June 25, 1848 before the Army assault)

The situation of the world in the closing weeks of 2021 would require none of the thinkers quoted above to change a word of what they wrote.

The earliest of them, the Apostle Paul, St. Paul to many Christians, was writing to a group of recent converts to Christianity (a term with which they would not yet be familiar) in the Roman province of Galatia, which was in what is now central Turkey. The freedom he was urging them to preserve was not political in any immediate sense, but spiritual and social. The slavery he referred to was slavery to old habits of sin and dependence on moral-religious legalism defined by many constraining practices that had little to do with living in relationship with their Risen Lord.

1700 years later, Rousseau lamented that so little had changed, despite the passage of many centuries since Christianity had become the dominant cultural and religious paradigm of the West. The bright hope and promise of what Paul had so earnestly striven to both demonstrate and inculcate among the first generation of Jesus-followers had long given way to the stultification of another regime of laws and rules and penalties to control people’s religious, political, social, economic, and cultural behaviour.

Rousseau had himself grown up in ultra-Calvinist Geneva, been mentored by a priest in Italy, then corrupted by an older rich Italian patroness. He had fled to France to find his way among the smart set of the rising philosophe­s who were challenging all the old dogmas and social restrictions justified by the “Divine Order” of Church and State whose nabobs jointly ruled the most powerful nation in Europe.

This is perhaps part of what Tarnas’ 1991 diagnosis of the whole saga of the West’s intellectual and cultural heritage as “beyond tragedy” may refer to. A deep spiritual, social, and cultural PTSD underpins the West’s long and winding road to its present soul-crisis, which we now also see manifesting as acute socio-economic-political turmoil. As Tarnas says, it is indeed “high tragedy” and even “beyond tragedy”. As an ancient proverb says, “Hope deferred sickens the heart.”

Many would say that the root of it all is the bitterness of the continual failure of the West’s quest for the Holy Grail of “freedom”. As we survey the long tale of the emergence, ascent to hegemony, and now precipitate decline of the “high civilization” of the West, once called “Christendom”, there is certainly no lack of tragedy – high hopes, bright promise, tragic loss and bitter disappointment. The brief moment of what appeared to be the sublime triumph of Western-style liberal democracy in the 1990s did not last for more than a decade before ominous dark clouds appeared again. Today, those clouds are bringing forth truly alarming major thunder.

An apocalyptic ending is not necessarily inevitable, at least not yet. But, as Yeshua-Jesus once said, we need to be alert and awake and reading the signs. “When the Son of Man” (a title he often used in reference to himself) “returns, will he find faith in the earth?” In his riddle, faith refers to trust, trust in a living relationship with the central figure that stands at the heart of the West’s long story. Many now resent the fact that the central figure of the West’s story remains, to this day, Yeshua/Jesus of Nazareth. They would rather say that it is anyone or anything other than the “Son of Man” who still haunts our dreams through a tremendous legacy of now dashed high hopes.

For Jesus said “If the Son [of Man] sets you free, you shall be free indeed.” The deepest desire of every living human, bred in the bone, is to “be free indeed” and no longer held “by a yoke of slavery.” Just because we have left the ultimate source of these sublime hopes and ideals behind doesn’t mean we have abandoned the ideal. But left to ourselves it seems we cannot get there.

That is what Rousseau passionately understood. He had left behind allegiance to the religion that professed Jesus as Saviour, but was wise and passionate enough to mourn for his own and the whole of humanity’s loss. His own ultimate failure to find another center to fill the void made him a bitter and lonely man for the rest of his life. His brilliant mind and passionate heart could not create another core by its own strength of will. Rousseau is indeed the archetype of so much of the modern and post-modern West’s tortured psyche and tumultuous story.

Contemporaneously with Rousseau, “Freedom” is what the American Revolutionaries of 1775-83 knew they wanted. At least they thought so within the limits of a carefully crafted and limited rational version of it. Many of them based this core-passion of their lives on Rationalism, Reason, and Science, the new substitutes for the old Holy Trinity. They held that these great gifts could be enjoyed without relationship to the Giver, having satisfactorily and “reasonably” shunted the Creator to a minor role in this world.

Freedom (Liberté) is what the Girondins, Jacobins, Hébertistes and other ideologues of the French Revolution declared as their great goal. They set out to build it into their new Republic in 1792, even as they overthrew the French Monarchy and executed its King in January 1793. To ensure Liberty, they then launched the Terror to expunge the relics of the Royal regime. Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité quickly became another rationalization of vengeance and purification by blood-letting à outrance. To highlight their new truth they even created a quasi-religious pageant dedicated to the Goddess Reason, dressing a Paris prostitute in classic robes and derisively crowning her in Notre Dame Cathedral.

The problem with successful revolutions (as with battles and wars) is what the victors decide to do with their victory. All the high passion and strident rhetoric about freedom all too often disappear in an orgy of violent retribution upon the former oppressors. Between 1793-4, the Terror in France is said to have beheaded 30 000 “traitors” before it was ended by its chief perpetrator, Robespierre, taking his turn at the guillotine. The “Terror Phase” of revolution is usually followed by new sets of restrictions and limitations to control embittered losers and other dissidents, and firmly entrench the new definers of freedom in control with their hands on the machinery of State and jurisprudence. The Church is either cowed into official acquiescence or driven underground by persecution.[i]

Thus, as we turn our attention to France once more following the successful July Revolution of 1830, the beneficiaries of the new regime were not principally the workers and artisans or even the regular Middle Class, but the rich and powerful untitled class who controlled the national finances and business establishment. While concessions such as freedom of the press, religion, and some forms of association were permitted, most of the hopes for moderate reform were disappointed. The vote remained limited to a miniscule one-percent minority of the wealthiest.

In 1847, after seventeen years of this oligarchy headed by King Louis-Philippe, it began to unravel. The thirst for freedom could not be squelched forever. Political assemblies had been banned as the economy went sour and the always brooding and frustrated reformers had become more and more vocal in calling for an end to a blatantly anti-democratic regime. When meetings were banned, they began holding banquets where all the speakers advocated for political and social liberalization such as had been advancing in England since the Reform Act of 1830. England’s relative gradual success in shedding the worst aspects of reactionary repression following the Napoleonic era spared it from what exploded on the Continent in the late winter of 1848.

Once more, France led the way. On February 24, 1848, after three days of street fighting, marching, and violent protests, coupled with the refusal of the Middle-Class National Guard to obey orders to suppress the rebels and the steady desertion of the regular troops who were ordered to suppress the mobs, Louis Philippe’s government fell and he abdicated in favour of his son. But the provisional government which seized control was dominated by Republican reformers. Before long, the Provisional government declared its new regime to be the Second French Republic.

The tocsin sounded all across Europe as liberal reformers and a rising socialist wave took to the streets in all the major capitals and many minor ones from Berlin to Rome and Vienna.

By summer much of the fever-mist of the “Spring of Hope”, as 1848 was dubbed, was giving way to less sanguine outcomes from the revolutionary perspective. (Similar to what happened in the recent “Arab Spring” of 2011-12.) The liberal middle-class in most of the venues where uprisings occurred against reactionary absolutism did not have “the killer instinct” to push their advantage home. In Austria, a new Emperor named Franz-Josef took power. He proved to have much more steel in his spine than his predecessor. The military was ordered to end the rebellion, and, apart from a year-long desultory civil war with the Hungarians who sought equality with or independence from Austria, the rebellion swiftly faded out from Lombardy to Croatia to Vienna to Prague.

By contrast, King Frederick-William of Prussia did not want to spill blood. Instead, he simply waited for the liberals to demonstrate their inability to organize the new unified Germany they were calling for, then dismissed their convention. He did however grant significant concessions and reforms within his own territory. He was warned by resurgent Austria not to accept the offer of the Crown of a united Germany or face war with them.

The last word once more went to France. By late April, the dissatisfied Socialist radicals saw the new republic being suborned by the business and middle classes once more, although with a much wider franchise and more freedoms. What was on offer by June under the proposed new constitution proved a bitter disappointment to the labouring classes and those with socialist ideals. By this point Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto was circulating with great effect, and the old Jacobin ideas had been renewed with greater clarity. They wanted a “Social Republic”. In June, the National Workshops which provided a bare minimum to unemployed workers were closed by the Constituent Assembly. The failure to produce meaningful recognition of workers’ rights and needs resulted in a mass revolt in Paris where a Commune was proclaimed and barricades went up all over the city.

This time, the newly-minted “legitimate” administration did not hesitate and the National Guard obeyed orders to contain the spread of anarchy while the regular troops under the ruthless General Cavaignac moved into the city en masse with artillery batteries. The “June Days” (June 23-26) saw Paris turned into a battlefield and the streets of whole arrondissements literally flowing with blood. An estimated 3000 insurgents and 1500 soldiers died before the revolt was ruthlessly crushed. Refugees and fugitives that could fled to Germany, and many made their way to England. 4000 were deported to Algeria, which was becoming France’s penal colony, as Australia was for the United Kingdom. Queen Victoria’s stable realm was by this point seen as the richest, safest, freest, and sanest nation in Europe.

Unlike what happened in Austria, the slaughter in France was not the work of an oligarchy or a Royal tyranny. This was full-on class war in what was then considered the greatest city in Europe and perhaps the world. A republican regime had done this to fellow citizens in the name of liberté, égalité, fraternité! Karl Marx looked like a true prophet, but, no longer welcome in France, he eventually made his way to England to write articles and, eventually, his masterpiece, Das Kapital.

Nevertheless, 1848 had deep, far-reaching consequences, despite what looked largely like another victory for the reactionaries. Some real steps toward that elusive ideal of freedom seemed to have been made.

TO BE CONTINUED


[i] The same pattern can be observed over and over in the corporate world – without the bloodshed of course, unless it be in a “Family” firm such as the Mafia. The pattern is a universal phenomenon of human behaviour. Even religious zealots indulge in it in the name of “love” or “truth”.

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The Uses of History, 7 – From France 1812 to Russia, 1917, 4

(Image credit: Web Gallery of Art)

Following the failure of the Decembrist Revolt in 1825 and the accession of Tsar Nicholas I, the vast Russian Empire was locked into extreme reactionarianism. The reformist elements were suppressed and no license was permitted in expressing contrary views to Divine Right for the Tsar under God’s anointing, aristocratic privilege as its corollary, as well as the complete lock on religious life of the Russian Orthodox Church. Dissidents were dealt with harshly, and many went into voluntary exile in Central and Western Europe, where the favourite refuge was, naturally, France, with scattered enclaves in parts of Germany (preferably not Prussia) and Switzerland. For those who did not leave of their own accord, penal settlements in Siberia provided limitless space in which to accommodate them. Let them fulminate among themselves there and contaminate no one else. Isolation in a harsh environment for years might well pacify them, or kill them as they struggled to survive with only pitiful resources and no bully-pulpit to spew forth their poison.

In France, by contrast, as long as the Russian émigrés stayed out of French politics, they were free to meet, discuss, and come and go as they pleased. Charles X, the reactionary King of France (1824-30), concerned himself little with them. They could even publish their own Russian-language news sheet and print books, as long as they did not begin to disseminate unwelcome radical notions among the French citizenry. France had its own radical set to do that. Thus began the long-standing presence of a sizable Russian émigré community in France. Such exists to this very day.

France was no longer a hospitable environment for old-style Absolutism, despite the relapse into something similar under Napoleon. But, as we have previously indicated in this series, there were real differences. Napoleon did not renounce aristocracy per se. He transformed the idea to an aristocracy of merit based on talent and service to the nation (which, as long as he held power, meant himself as the embodiment of France’s greatness). But the principle was not one of hereditary status based on unearned right to rule (Divine Right in the old formulation), but allegiance to the nation, and therefore to the people under the holy Trinity of liberté, égalité, fraternité.

The more reflective and aware of France’s intellectuals and the socially, politically, and economically active citizens understood this and could not support or accept Charles’ foolish and increasingly repressive attempt to turn back the clock. Charles began to face increasingly serious opposition even among the more savvy aristocracy who understood that, unless Charles relented and ceased whittling away the even limited liberal policies of his dead brother, Louis XVIII, another revolution was brewing. And if it erupted, uncontrolled, Royal rule in France might be over for good.

Meanwhile, Charles had attempted to create a distraction by sending an expeditionary force to Algeria in 1828. Isn’t a nice little war always a good distraction for a dissatisfied people? Wouldn’t it be like a pressure relief valve on one of those new-fangled steam-engines that were invading the industrial world?

The Algerian tribes proved a tougher nut to crack than anticipated. The expeditionary force had to be repeatedly reinforced, and losses mounted. The justification was the elimination of pirates from the western Mediterranean, but the real objective was to lend some military glory to an increasingly unpopular regime, and, nominally, to bring Christianity (Roman Catholicism) to the Islamic infidels by showing that the Christian God was superior. Doesn’t lending a bit of crusading élan to naked aggression palliate otherwise base oppression? We don’t have to look to the past to see this in action in many places even in the 21st Century, and not only among the nominally once-Christian nations of the West or Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In the spring of 1830, with things bogged down both at home and abroad, the economy stagnating, and new repressive measures at hand to ban all criticism of the government and reduce even further the voting franchise, the reformists decided it was time to get rid of this hated monarchy. On July 27, with the King’s agents seeking to snuff out the opposition and purify Paris of the increasingly restive populace’s growing protests, the shades of Jacobinism resurfaced. Mobs took to the streets and barricades went up. (For readers of Les Misérables, this is the background of the famous odyssey of Jean Valjean carrying Mario on his back through the sewers of Paris.)

But what, or who, should replace the hated Bourbons? Another republic? God forbid! For the haute bourgeoisie of Paris and France, who were now the real power-élite, a return to Jacobinism (the term for the most radical socialist and egalitarian ideology of the Revolution) with its anarchy and chaos was unthinkable! Jacobin elements were not hard to find in the shadows of Paris’ salons and clubs, disguised under many names. To preserve France they had to be nipped in the bud.

Should they return to Bonapartism? Bonapartists could be found around every corner in France. The dead Emperor haunted the national soul. But to have an avowed Bonapartist in power would mean almost instant war with the old foes of Austria and Prussia, and very likely Russia. England would probably take a wait-and-see approach, but the continental Great Powers would not have great difficulty in subduing an unprepared France in 1830.

The voting Middle Class and many others aspiring to access the franchise found a compromise that might just convince France’s wary old enemies to accept a major change of regime. His name was Louis-Philippe, and he was the scion of the Orléaniste branch of the Bourbons. He had been a vocal critic of his cousin, King Charles X. He had many moderate contacts and solid credentials. He was an avowed advocate of moderate reforms and an expanded franchise, freedom of the press and religion, and the new government of meritocracy rather than hereditary privilege.

In late July 1830 things came to a head. The King ordered the disbandment of the Paris National Guard, which was largely made up of the male citizens of Paris’ Middle Class, who were calling for Charles to abdicate. He also ordered the closing of or severe restrictions on almost all the newspapers, who were also calling for an end to Charles’ mounting tyranny. Riots and demonstrations followed almost every day for weeks.

Maréchal Marmont, the commander of the Army in Paris and one of Napoleon’s Marshals who had turned against his former Emperor in March 1814, now tacitly turned against the King. A liberal, without actually sending troops to aid the revolutionaries, he simply refused to call in the necessary reinforcements to quell the cascading revolt. He did not want the streets of Paris running with blood. Blood nevertheless flowed as troops at first mostly followed orders. But gradually the enlisted men and field officers began to desert in droves rather than massacre the populace. When the King’s last loyal troops, ironically another Swiss Guard (King Louis XVI’s last loyal troops in 1792 had been a previous Swiss Guard incarnation and had died to the last man), deserted rather than repeat the fate of their national forebears, Charles was forced to abdicate in favour of his cousin, Louis-Philippe.

While this upheaval has been labelled the “bourgeois revolution”, for the French Middle Class were the big winners, the lessons were not lost on the underclasses still waiting for their fair share of liberté, égalité, fraternité.

Louis-Philippe was granted a throne with more limited powers under a reinforced constitutional monarchy, leaving much more power for the new ruling class to enjoy. His reign was recognized as based on popular sovereignty, the will of the people, rather than any sort of inherited or pre-ordained right.

Louis-Philippe was titled “King of France”, but he sat a shaky throne. He escaped several assassination attempts – both from ultra-Royalists and radical Republicans who were unhappy, declaring that the 1830 Revolution was hardly worthy of the name. Much unfinished business remained. Revolts against his rule failed in 1831,1840, and 1841. The bourgeois National Guard helped crush all of them.

A period of prosperity and rapid economic growth followed, but by late 1847 the embers of Revolution were once more glowing bright. The growing Russian émigré community in exile was watching closely and learning.

On the continent of Europe, France was the key to everything that had happened since 1789, and would be once more in 1848, an unforgettable year by any measure.

NEXT TIME: 1848, a Workshop in Revolution.

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The Uses of History, 6 – From France 1812 to Russia, 1917, 3

“The English are the only people upon earth who have been able to prescribe limits to the power of Kings by resisting them, and who, by a series of struggles, have at last established … that wise government where the prince is all powerful to do good, and at the same time is restrained from committing evil … and where the people share in the government without confusion.”

Voltaire in Letters Concerning the English Nation.

(Rousseau – Image credit – Wikipedia)

The use of the term “revolution” to describe a great turn-about in some area of culture and society has been devalued and banalized by hyperbole in commercial and technological advertising. Even normal political “evolution” has been denigrated in this way of describing almost any notable change of policy as “revolutionary”.

However, the true “Age of Revolutions” began with the English Civil Wars of 1642-49. Without rehearsing the long lead-up to that seminal event, we cannot neglect its significance as a deep root of all the political revolutions that have followed in European and World History since then. Yet this event is now almost invisible in our overview of the most important events of Western and World History.

The events in England in those years settled a very basic question in one of the world’s major monarchies. The foremost reason the British Monarchy has endured to this day is because it was settled then, once and for all, that Parliament, the elected representatives of the English people (although it was then selected by a small minority of English adult male voters), could and did prescribe specific limits to the authority and reach of the Monarch and his agents. Once the principle was established and enshrined constitutionally, the rights of the people must increase and gain ascendancy over time, and increasingly so over generations.

This was confirmed by “the Glorious Revolution of 1688” when the last of the Stuart Kings attempted to restore absolutism and was driven out of Britain for good for his arrogant presumption. His successors, King William and Queen Mary, swore to respect and uphold the authority and rights of Parliament henceforth and forever.

Thus it was that several of France’s key philosophes (the intellectual ancestors of the French Revolution, such as Voltaire, Rousseau, and Montesquieu) extolled the example of England as a balanced approach to limiting (de-absolutizing) absolute monarchy and deconstructing feudalism while elevating the educated populace to a position of near, if not then complete, equality under law and in social, political, and economic status.

However, it is a fallacy to think of the Enlightenment Progressives as “democrats” in the way we use that term today. The preferred Enlightenment model of government, at least on the European continent, was “Enlightened Despotism”. Even Voltaire, who had lived in England and come to admire it, and was himself a multi-millionaire if his income were calculated in current equivalents, strove to promote Enlightened Despotism by corresponding and even visiting monarchs such as Frederick II of Prussia, whom he saw as a hopeful exemplar. Apparently, to his thinking, the English example was a peculiar aberration that could not be emulated elsewhere. Inevitably he was disillusioned by Frederick, for a “Despot” is an absolute monarch by definition. For a pragmatist such as Frederick II, restraint is a matter of the exigencies of present political, social, and economic need. When Voltaire’s “great hope” launched calculated aggressive war on his neighbours to gain territories and other advantages, his disillusionment was great indeed.

Montesquieu admired Great Britain’s balance of power in the political, social, and economic spheres. We may justly call him the “Father of Political Science”, and his laser-like insights were collected in The Spirit of Laws” in which he outlined the fine division of powers among the three “branches of government” in England – Parliament, the Legislative, or law-making, Branch, the Monarchy, or Executive Branch, and the Courts, or Judiciary Branch. Montesquieu posited that such a division was essential to avoid the abuses of Absolutism and the onset of Despotism, no matter how “enlightened” a specific sovereign might prove to be. Divine Right, if it existed at all, was with the people, not an individual claiming a sort of demi-god status anointed by the Deity.

Neither Voltaire nor Montesquieu named France’s monarchy and bloated aristocratic elite as the chief object of their eloquent criticism of Absolutism in all its forms, but their writings were perilously close to seditious in the climate of the times before the revolution broke out.

In the long run, the most influential of all the “Big Three” thinkers of the French Enlightenment was Rousseau. Rousseau stands apart. As a brilliant thinker and writer in his own right, he shocked even the trendy, progressive “salon set” with his radicalism between 1754 and his death in 1778. He further scandalized the elite social set by deliberately affronting the ethical and moral standards of the day. He was an iconoclast par excellence. Having made the fashionable rounds and enjoyed extensive patronage to gain fame and even notoriety, he refused to conform to expectations to settle down as a well-mannered participant in the theoretical discussions about how things ought to change in the proper proportion and desired direction. He wrote extensively and his books were best-sellers. His caustic style spared no one, but whatever he wrote gained a wide audience. He even dared critique the Enlightenment`s new ultimate idol, Reason, as the only source of wisdom and knowledge and the only way to understand any great issue.

Rousseau has been labeled many things – the Great-Grandfather of Communism, the Great-Grandfather of Fascism, the Grandfather of Romanticism. Such contradictory epithets almost beggar comprehension – unless you read him closely and extensively!

He was a divergent thinker and actor, not easy to categorize; he was a proto-revolutionary!

The primary radical movers of the French Revolution (especially the Jacobins) saw Rousseau, not Voltaire or any of the others, as their real inspiration. Rousseau despised the aristocrats. He saw the King as their dupe. He considered most of the mainstream philosophes as compromised – ready to do business with the old noblesse, to enjoy the privileges of special status in the intellectual salon-clubs while telling everyone else how to fix the nation. He roundly criticized the smart-set as enemies of true equality, mainly concerned with widening the circle of privilege and expanding the sharing of social and economic advantage with the most worthy, up-and-coming nouveaux-riches and practitioners of Reason (themselves) who could guide the future of the State and society. Even though he had lived in exile, Voltaire fell into this pit in Rousseau’s mind, although a little less. The famous Voltaire quip, “I may not agree with what your say but I will defend your right to say it to the death,” may well have been aimed at Rousseau.

When we seek to understand why, above all the other nations and peoples of Europe, France became the pilot-house, the cock-pit of Revolution, we must see it as the birthplace of most of the radical strains of ideology that later emerged as modern Socialism, Communism, and the laboratory where such things were tested in proto-type. As we have pointed out previously, the incredible tidal wave of fervent political and social activism that swept out of France from 1789 forward and surged into every nook and cranny of Europe would penetrate deep into Russia.

But the most toxic fruit of those seed would not emerge until 1917. The growth of that tree and its shoots is still with us in 2022.

TO BE CONTINUED

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The Uses of History, 5 – From France to Russia, 1812-1917, 2

(Image credit – Wikipedia)

Napoleon died in exile in 1821 on the small British-held island of St. Helena in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean.

The Emperor was dead, but his legend was not, nor were the enormous repercussions of his revolutionary legacy. Napoleon had self-servingly but not entirely wrongly advertised himself as the stabilizer of Europe and its liberator all at the same time. To a considerable degree, he was what he claimed to be while he held power. The “liberation” was heavily tempered by militarism and the constant danger of secret-police arrest for sedition against the Emperor, but European culture and society were in rapid reformation and were, by and large, experiencing a significant advance in the recognition of personal liberties, constitutional rights, uniform and more equitable laws and social conditions, and economic opportunities. The ideals these pointed to were spread all over Europe as the French shakos marched everywhere from Portugal to Poland, and French bureaucrats and judicial officials followed in their wake, rewriting constitutions and legal systems.

Like any great conqueror and dictator, the Emperor sought to institutionalize and legitimize his rule and actions. His self-justifying memoirs were a best-seller in France and Europe when posthumously published, despite the desire of the reactionary Bourbon Kings Louis 18 and Charles 10 to repress them. Louis enjoyed a relatively peaceful, if rather short reign (1815-24). He had the good sense to allow a small minority of well-to-do middle-class and prosperous businessmen to elect a Legislative Assembly, even if it had very limited powers. He allowed a modicum of freedom of the press and assembly. Louis did not abolish all Napoleon’s reforms, for he understood that it was impossible to turn back the clock to pre-revolutionary days and hand back all the old aristocratic estates, prerogatives, and privileges, or to restore all the immense property and influence which the Roman Catholic Church had enjoyed until 1791.

Besides, Louis had intelligent advisers reminding him that the Napoleonic system had really unified France and given the central government, which was now the Royal Government, an efficient professional bureaucracy, effective control of education and finance, a universally applicable legal system not bounded by long-outmoded old feudal boundaries and traditions, and a truly effective centralized police establishment. The national constabulary was still run by Napoleon’s architect, Fouché, who, like Napoleon’s Machiavellian Foreign Minister, Talleyrand, knew which side his bread was buttered on and smoothly switched allegiances at the right time by demonstrating his own indispensability.

Louis even allowed some of the Napoleon-created Imperial nobility to retain their titles, although not respecting all the land-grants the Emperor had made to his aristocracy of merit (or nepotism). He told many of the old nobility seeking redress and revenge that to undo the last thirty years was simply impossible, and, while he would not revoke their old titles if they chose to identify themselves by them, he would not award them compensation either – although he usually gave them a lump-sum or perhaps a stipend to tide them over while they found their way in the new social and economic reality of post-1815 France. Most of the revolutionary and Napoleonic reforms stood.

But his successor and younger brother Charles X (1824-30) was a reactionary fool who had disagreed vehemently with his brother’s policies even while he lived, and declared that he meant to undo most of the Revolution’s and the “Monster’s” [Napoleon] work of modernization, despite the clear historical proof that it had made France a European super-power. He also intended to restore all the glory of the old noblesse and the Roman Catholic Church.

What was the connection to Russia in all this? In December 1825, a group of young, idealistic Russian army officers decided it was time to force the lumbering, backward apparatus of Tsarism into the modern age. While the Great Patriotic War against the Emperor of the French had galvanized the Russian Empire led by the heroic Tsar Alexander 1 in a herculean effort that led to Napoleon’s ultimate downfall, the virus of Revolution had already spread to Russia in four successive waves (shades of COVID!).

The first wave was in the first Russian intervention in the wars of Central and Western Europe at the turn of the 19th Century. Russian troops were sent to help bring down the revolution and restore “legitimate” sovereignty. The new Tsar, Alexander 1, sought to prove himself a worthy successor of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great and a serious role-player in greater European (and world) affairs, not a mere regional power in Eastern Europe and northern Asia.

In alliance with Austria, in 1800 a Russian Army had penetrated all the way to Switzerland and was poised to invade France. It was at this critical juncture that “Bonaparte” returned to France from Egypt and saved the Republic and all the gains and reforms won for the French nation and people (especially the politically dominant middle class) since 1789. It was the first time Napoleon’s armies defeated Russian troops, driving them deep back into Austrian territory, although the French Army in Switzerland was commanded by another of France’s best generals. When Napoleon forced Austria into a humiliating peace after his great victory at Marengo, Alexander called his troops home.

This was the first major exposure of young Russian intelligentsia and officers (mostly recruited from Russia’s minor aristocracy and the boyar-class who were similar to the English gentleman-class) to the wide gap in culture and progress between Russia’s enshrined and immovable aristocratic stranglehold on any advance and reform and that of the rest of Europe. The Tsar, seen as a quasi-demigod in his own right, was sacred and untouchable, but he was surrounded by a wall of intransigent, immovable relics bearing high titles, immense wealth, and holding the mass of the Russian population in the almost slavish conditions of serfdom with little to no hope of change.

When Alexander had acceded to power in 1801, the idealists had placed high hopes that he, a young man himself, could be shown and persuaded that things had to change for the sake of the Russian people and the Empire itself. By 1825, the lower-grade officers (ranks below general – Generals and Marshals could only be upper-level nobles) had lost hope in Alexander or any of the established authorities of ever being willing or able to allow even the most modest reforms.

This second Russian intervention in Central Europe came in 1805. Subsidized by British money, a large Russian forced once more joined with Austria (also financed by Britain) to move rapidly into Germany to threaten Napoleon’s rear as he prepared to invade England. (This threat ended with British Admiral Horatio Nelson’s famous utter smashing of the combined French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar in October 1805.)

While the young Russian officers did their duty and the rank-and-file stolidly did what they were told, in a combined campaign with the Austrians they were completely out-manoeuvred and suffered one of the most crushing defeats in military history at Austerlitz in December 1805. Once more, Austria was defeated and occupied by triumphant French forces. Napoleon wintered his “Grand Armée” in Vienna and the core territory of Austria to drive home his power. Austria was forced into the French orb for the next eight years, while the remnant of the Russian army withdrew to the newly annexed Russian part of Poland with Alexander still refusing to make peace with “the Monster” and “the Usurper”.

However, the moderate Francophile elements in Russia’s middle-class and minor nobility could not avoid being powerfully impressed by the evidence of change and progress they had met and kept meeting in foreign lands to the West of Mother Russia. They could not help thinking that Russia must accept such new ways too if it were not to be left behind. It was evident that the power of these changes and new perspectives had turned France into Europe’s super-power with the whole nation behind its supremacy in the political, social, and cultural realms. Alexander eventually made peace with Napoleon in 1807 after another defeat, and in the wake of Napoleon’s complete crushing and humiliation of Prussia in 1806. Prussia had been the only other major land-power still standing until then. Like Austria, it was completely humiliated and forced to ally with Napoleon, giving up huge tracts of territory and submitting to severe limitations on its army and political independence.

The third “wave” of exposure to the revolutionary virus for the Russian minor nobility and gentry was during the “Great Patriotic War” of 1812-14 when Napoleon sought to invade and coerce Russia to adhere to his “Continental System”, but failed. We have already discussed this, but during that war the virus penetrated to the very heart of Mother Russia. It did not retire with Napoleon’s beaten army as 1812 drew to a close.

The fourth wave was during the Russian occupation of Paris and parts of France following Napoleon’s abdication in 1815. The Russian army and swarms of Russian civilians followed the army into the heart of “revolutiondom”. Despite the Bourbon dynasty’s return to France, all the ferment and undertow of the revolutionary-Napoleonic tsunami were still pulsating and swirling. The example of so much exposure to new ideas and perspectives journeyed home with the last withdrawing Russian contingents in 1818.

In 1818, the Tsar joined with the Emperor of Austria and the King of Prussia to assume the role of arbiters of legitimacy in all of Europe east of France. All revolts and insurrections aiming for greater rights and liberties for the common people were ruthlessly crushed henceforward, and Poland and Italy in particular felt the wrath of “the League of Three Emperors” and “their Most Christian Majesties”, although King Frederick-William of Prussia was technically not an emperor. This was the clincher for the fading hopes of the Russian reformists. It confirmed the hopelessness of Russia’s fossilization symbolized by Alexander’s now ossified “delusion”, in their minds, of being God’s anointed instrument in crushing the godless French Emperor.

In December 1825 the Tsar died unexpectedly of typhus. The desperate wannabe Russian proto-revolutionaries decided to act before the still more reactionary successor, Nicholas I, could consolidate his rule, revolted, and briefly threatened the whole Tsarist system with chaos and overthrow. They failed. The seeds of all this had been long-before sown in and from and through France.

The wind had been sown; the whirlwind would follow.

TO BE CONTINUED

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The Uses of History, 4 – From France to Russia, 1812-1917, 1

(Image credit Wikipedia)

On June 22, 1812, Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of the French, sent his massed armies into the immense expanse of the Russian Empire. Never before in history had anything like it been seen: 650 000 French and French allied troops representing most of the peoples of Europe invaded the last European land-power still daring to oppose “the Emperor”, as Bonaparte had now become known.

Those Napoleonic armies stood for much more than the overreach of the most successful military commander in European History up to that time. They stood for the essence of the new kind of modern state arising, willy-nilly, out of the crumbling debris of the old feudal order which had held European society in its grip since the last previous great pan-European Emperor, Charlemagne (768-814 CE), 1000 years before.

Napoleon was well aware of the parallels. He loved to exploit the symbolism of the new order supplanting the old. His aristocracy was merit-based, not inherited regardless of merit. The French Republic he had overthrown had given him the basic tools, but he had honed them into the well-oiled, administratively efficient modern state aiming to bring Europe into being the next great age in its evolution – a United States of Europe under the incarnation of the Enlightened Despot ideal of the philosophes. Needless to say, he was that incarnation.

Napoleon’s Grand Armée had a mission everywhere it went – to plant not only the French flag but the French Enlightenment ­à la [mode de] Napoléon. All this can be read from Napoleon’s memoirs, written from his final exile on St. Helena in the mid-South Atlantic Ocean between 1815 and 1821.

Now, over 210 years later, we live in the all-but-invisible shadow of everything that ensued from the whirlwind epoch of France’s nearly complete conquest of Europe.

If we are conscious of any of this as we historically sleepwalk towards our own version of Armageddon in the 21st Century CE, it is usually with only the vaguest notions. “Napoleon? O yeah, wasn’t he some guy from France who tried to conquer Europe? When was that again? Couldn’t have been that big a deal, could it? After all, those people were still using single-shot smooth-bore muskets and wonky cannons that couldn’t shoot farther than a couple of kilometers.”

With two horrendous World Wars under our belts since then, and some very nasty revolutions that killed more tens of millions, the events of those far-off days pale in comparison – don’t they? The ten million dead of the European wars fought from 1792-1815 wouldn’t think so.

In all overall sense, if we just want a crude body-count, it would seem that that far-off first “total war” in world-history was not so impressive. But its human cost was half of that of World War One inflicted on a much smaller population. Furthermore, major battles of that time lasted a single day or perhaps two, or at most three, not weeks. Yet they left proportionately far higher body counts than most combats in either World War – even using the “crude” weapons of that day. Borodino, fought on September 7, 1812 over about 14 hours, about 100 km west of Moscow, at the height of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, inflicted almost 100 000 casualties out of approximately 270 000 combatants. Waterloo, the last battle of the Napoleonic wars on June 18, 1815, inflicted 58 000 casualties on approximately 155 000 combatants in the space of seven hours of relentless slaughter – more than the casualties for the three-day Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-2, 1863).

Following Borodino, Napoleon captured Moscow, something Hitler’s armies failed to do following the German invasion of Russia which began on June 22, 1941. Yes, Hitler launched his attack on the same day Napoleon had! At length, after almost four years, Hitler’s war on Russia had the same result – a disastrous defeat resulting in the collapse of the French/German hegemony in Europe, with a consequent enormous expansion of Russian power.

It is unknowable how long the influence of the French Revolution would have endured outside of France without Napoleon as its self-appointed Apostle. When he seized power in 1799, Napoleon literally saved a corrupt and crumbling state from sliding into collapse and an orgy of retribution at the hands of its numerous enemies. France’s foes were then closing in on the pre-revolutionary borders of 1789, having stripped away almost all the territory the Republic’s sometimes rag-tag armies had wrested from the various monarchies opposing her.

Napoleon had been away leading an army in Egypt and Palestine, trying, and failing, to establish a base to move on India, the jewel of the British Empire. When he returned, eluding the British blockade of Egypt, he found enough collaborators to claim power and launch a ruthless campaign to eject the corrupt administration then in place and reform the army. He then personally led it to a series of rapid victories that cemented his role as the indispensable saviour of the Revolution. He owned the battlefields of Europe for the next twelve years.

Our previous episode outlined some of the long-term legacy left by the Revolutionary and Napoleonic era, and thus of the Emperor himself, in Europe and the world at large. Our object is now to draw out the direct line from France in 1812 to Russia in 1917, when another revolutionary tsunami shattered much of the residual imperialistic monarchical world-order that had been carried forward from Napoleon’s incomplete vision.

One may well wonder what kind of causality flows from Imperial France in 1812 to Imperial Russia in 1917. Were not both monarchies and imperially bloated mega-states which collapsed via war?

Indeed they were. But that is a mere superficial connection. The roots run much deeper.

Although Napoleon took control of the French state, and despite his severe censorship and his efficient secret police, he did not succeed in muting those who clung to the most radical elements of the French revolutionary intelligentsia. His moderate reforms were designed to calm the masses, not stir up disorder about failed hopes and expectations. These included universal male suffrage, although only exercised in periodic referenda to ratify his authority, or to elect the rubber-stamp National Assembly and Senate and various local authorities. These were radical by the standard of what existed elsewhere in Europe, or the world for that matter. Slavery had been abolished in the French Empire. Education had been generalized and centralized under state control. The Roman Catholic Church no longer directed education or could collect tithes and force the populace to adhere to its dogmas. Public office was open to all to apply and win by merit of ability, as were all rankings in the armed forces. The Legion of Honour was created to award contributors to the well-being of the nation from every class. Sadly, women were not yet included in most advances.

The ideologies of the original Revolutionaries had run the gamut from extreme socialism (embryonic communism), anarchism, to progressive capitalism and middle-class conservatism. What won out was a very modest bourgeois democracy, with a large dollop of agrarian equality thrown in.

The whole vocabulary of the political spectrum as we know it in our “Left vs Right” with all its intermediary factions formulation stems directly from the original French National and Constituent Assemblies seating arrangements, with the more radical elements, such as the Jacobins and Girondins sitting to the left of the Speaker/Chair and the moderates and monarchist seated to the right of the Chair.

These were the seeds that were paid forward into the next hundred plus years (and right to our time) along with the hope awakened among ordinary folks and citizens for better days and more equal distribution of resources and opportunities. The shoots which sprouted would feed forward both openly where they could, and under the surface in states which maintained repressive, anti-democratic governments. These were the streams that would run forward to Karl Marx, Bukharin, and a host of others to engender the Socialist International, the trade unions movement, the powerful thrust by the bourgeoisie (middle class) to win its way to power and open the doors for all to be free and to fairly try their chance.

The regimes which repressed and oppressed and practiced brutal suppression would all crumble away over time. This was prophesied, and the prophets proved true over the next decades. For Russia, progress was delayed and stone-walled until 1917 when the economic, social, spiritual, and political bankruptcy of the Tsarist regime collapsed in the wake of catastrophic defeat in World War One and national bankruptcy, opening the door for Bolshevism, which coopted the term Communism to its exclusive use.

There were a number of intermediary stops along the road from 1812 to 1917, but we cannot name or deal with them all here. France eventually went full circle, from “Progressive” Empire to a short-lived rebirth of the old aristocratic regime between 1815 and 1830, then went through three more revolutions, the last of which, in 1871, gave birth to the Third Republic, which fell to Hitler in 1940. Russia’s autocrats, blinded by privilege and class to the growing ferment beneath, and living in its bubble of ultra-rich oligarchism sanctioned by the Russian Orthodox Church as their Divine Right, were deaf to everything and so vanished in the ashes of their burning regime and World War.

All this sounds eerily familiar, except today we have a post-modern narcissistic and nihilistic Dictator à la Dostoyevsky, or perhaps Nietzsche, in charge of the biggest nuclear arsenal in the world instead of a foolish Tsar living under a spell cast by a mad self-proclaimed monk.

TO BE CONTINUED

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The Uses of History, 3 – The French Revolution, 1789-99, 2

 Between 1789-99, France experienced more turmoil than at any other time in its history, save perhaps the stunning catastrophe of the German conquest of 1940.

The Revolution which erupted in 1789 began fairly benignly as an honest attempt by Louis XVI to find a way out of France’s economic crisis of governmental bankruptcy. It rapidly became apparent that the original arrangements closed the door to any meaningful reform with the representatives of the Three Estates meeting separately and each Estate holding a single vote in determining which, if any measures, would be passed.

The collusion between the clergy of the First Estate, dominated by scions of the aristocracy, and the almost completely self-serving Second Estate, composed of the aristocracy in its own right, frustrated every attempt by the Third Estate, the commoners, dominated by the Bourgeoisie, or Middle Class, to put forward meaningful measures to more fairly distribute the tax burden and hold the Royal administration to real account for its expenditures.

Having been threatened with dismissal by the King and locked out of its own meeting hall, in June the Third Estate locked itself in the Royal Tennis Court of Versailles and refused to disburse or go home. Instead, they took an oath (the “Tennis Court Oath”) to continue sitting until they gave France a constitution limiting the King’s powers and holding the other Estates liable for all the ensuing consequences. They then declared themselves “the National Assembly” and the only body entitled to claim to represent the people of France.

We will not rehearse all the peregrinations of France’s tumultuous evolution into the First Republic in 1793, with the execution of its King, and the Queen months later. By that point France was at war with Prussia (the most powerful German state before the unification of Germany in 1871) and Austria (an Empire then encompassing large territory now found on the map of Europe as numerous smaller nations such as Austria, Hungary, the Czech and Slovak republics, Croatia, Slovenia, and part of Romania) the two European monarchies most directly affected by its overthrow. Great Britain joined France’s enemies later in 1793 and would remain at war with France for almost the entirety of the following 22 years.

In 1799, the wars and semi-chaos of the French Revolution in European affairs gave way to the advent of a military tyrant and phenomenon named Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon insisted he was a true son of the Revolution, and in some ways he was. He could never have gained power without the Revolution opening the door for him to rise to greatness as a military commander. Once in power as a stabilizing force he ended France’s internal turmoil, then, following each of his successive military triumphs, he set about exporting many of the major characteristics of the new French model of the state.

Several very important consequences of France’ transformation and European hegemony for the better part of two decades took deep root and eventually overthrew the ancien régime all across Europe. From Europe these effects have gone into the wide world:

  1. The emergence of nationalism as a potent defining force in geopolitics;
  2. The creation of a centralized bureaucratic form of government to administer the affairs of the much-expanded role and reach of government in society and the economy;
  3. The beginning of the merit system as the best method of directing most political and social functions;
  4. The direct intervention of the state in education, in determining its form, its role in society, and much of its content;
  5. The displacement of religion as the primary ruler of basic personal loyalties and allegiance;
  6. The politicization of almost all aspects of public life.

This list could be much longer, but we will leave it there.

It is not that such things had never been seen or suggested before, but nowhere else before had they been purposely and systematically instituted on a nationwide basis. The new French bureaucracy was ruthless, often arbitrary, and efficient – far more than any other nation or empire’s had been before. It also gave the Emperor (Napoleon assumed the title of Emperor of the French in 1804) the resources to overrun Europe and maintain his hegemony for almost fifteen years.

The links from the United States and France were close and multiple, including inspiration at the beginning and ongoing sympathy, as the USA hoped to see a sister republic emerge as a great power in Europe, and thus challenge the British so that Britain would not consider attempting to restore its old empire. The War of 1812-14 between the United States and Britain was a direct offshoot of the long struggle between Britain and France in Europe.

Perhaps far more momentous were the consequences of France’s explosive exportation of its newfound ideology of liberté, fraternité, égalité across Europe in the wake of its victorious armies. The establishment of French puppet regimes inculcated many of the new values in the subjected territories – not least, if nevertheless unintended, was the sleeping giant of nationalism.

If the French people could arise and sweep away the remnants of feudalism and the old order of duties and God-ordained “place”, it became clearer as time went on and the French example awakened other peoples, that the ancien regime of any state could be as justly challenged as that which had been torn down in France, Europe’s primary trend-setter and military power.

It would take decades for the full force of such things to take root and produce fruit. But by the 1830s and 1840s, Europe was experiencing the definite tremors of an oncoming earthquake.

Farther down that road lay the complete shattering of the old order which would merge into World War One and the Russian Revolution.

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The Uses of History, 2 – The French Revolution, 1789-99, 1

History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are who we are.

David McCullough

(Image credit: Britannica.com)

I might modify our opening citation by David McCullough to say, “History ought to be a guide in perilous times”. Why we do what we do brings us to the old debate about nature versus nurture, heredity versus environment. But it is a false dichotomy, for we are who we are as a result of both.

Yet there is a third element – our actual choices. Choices may actually run quite counter to both heredity and nurture. For some people, their most fervent desire is to escape the chains of heredity and nurture. That is one of the strong motivations for emigration.

The escape can never be total. Chromosome-splicing aside, I cannot escape the genes I was given at conception, and those genes set certain limits on what I can become both physically and in the realm of personality. By hard work I may overcome or at least diminish innate weaknesses, as well as adverse circumstances. Indeed, the “American Dream” is founded on that very notion and it still exercises a powerful attraction to millions of immigrants. Nevertheless, I can train my body and work to keep it healthy, but who can naturally add one inch to his height? Who can change the innate disposition of their personality? Character can be developed, but personality must be worked with, not against.

These basic facts of existence apply to whole peoples and nations as much as to individuals. France is a salient historical model of this. The French Revolution of 1789-99 was a socio-political earthquake in Europe, and eventually changed the world through its “trickle-down effects”. The old debate among historians about whether the Revolution was inevitable or avoidable is rather beside the point. It happened. While its long-term and immediate causes can still be debated, its consequences reverberate more than ever even in the 21st Century.

Just as both nature and nurture play into our own lives and choices, so they did in France in 1789. In France during the decade leading up to 1789, the snowball of the people’s misery had been growing steadily for the 90% of the populace living in or close to the edge of poverty. In fact the load of debt and deprivation had been accumulating for more than a hundred years as the Royal government fossilized in its extravagance and the ruling classes ignored the pleas of the growing middle class and peasantry to divest themselves of the medieval trappings that stifled the nation’s prospects of becoming all it could be. Self-interest and the belief in a divine order [or at least an ordained hereditary order] made the “ultras” of the aristocracy and the religious establishment deaf to all attempts to open society and rationalize the nation’s immense economic potential.

Hindsight allows us to look with disdain at the old aristocracy of France’s ancien régime. The divide between the ultra rich and everyone else had grown into a chasm, and the privileges accorded to the aristocrats included virtually no taxation. Many of the great nobles held an almost feudal control over the lives of the tenants and peasants who lived on and around their enormous estates. Numbering 130 000 (0.5% of the population), they held title to between 25-30% of all the land. he Roman Catholic Church also enjoyed total exemption from taxation even as it held title to as much as 10% of all the lands in France. The great clerics were all of the nobility and lived as richly in the Church as any Count or Duke.

The laborers and peasants bore most of the tax burden, and the business class groaned under the limitations and politically motivated preferences and monopolies of the financial and economic infrastructure within France’s borders. All commoners were subject to pay tithes to the Church and fees and duties to the nobles for the use of their lands. Peasants often still paid a significant proportion of the produce of their farms even in bad years.

Hope sprang up during the early reign of the well-meaning King Louis XVI, but his Queen [Marie-Antoinette] and the powerful aristocratic coterie around her thwarted all his attempts to bring in modest fiscal and administrative reforms by engineering the dismissal of the ministers such as Necker who were appointed to implement them. Louis did not have the iron character of his great-grandfather, Louis XIV, to carry out his program and reign in the nobility’s avarice and arrogance. When Louis did finally overrule the willfully blind anti-reformers and call the long-dormant Estates-General to meet in May 1789, there was so much pent-up bitterness and frustration that there was no way he or any minister would be able to control what would ensue.

By that point, France had a living model of successful revolution to look to from across the Atlantic Ocean in the newly founded United States of America (see previous post). Furthermore, France had substantially helped this new nation come into being. With the American rebels struggling to find the resources and wherewithal to push the British out of the thirteen southern-most American colonies (they had several more to the north in what is now Canada), France’s declaration of war on Britain in 1778 (along with Spain and, later, the Netherlands) proved a great drain on British resources, especially the Royal Navy. Elite French army units came across the Atlantic and provided crucial assistance in several important engagements. They played a key role in the American victory on the final campaign of 1781.

The French government’s motivation for this intervention was not simple altruism. It was revenge for France’s devastating defeat in the Seven Years War of 1756-63. It was pay-back, meant to weaken the British by tearing away the jewel of their empire. The gamble succeeded. In 1783 the British recognized American independence, but in the meantime had wreaked further havoc upon the empires of America’s European allies. In North America, Canada remained British, despite an American attempt to conquer it during the Revolutionary war.

The French who had gone to help the Americans could not but be influenced by what they had seen. Some of the new American idealism for liberty and democracy and equality (among the white population at least) inevitably rubbed off, both among the ordinary soldiers and sailors and the officers, many of whom were middle class and even of noble extraction, such as the Marquis de Lafayette. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. The first American ambassador to France was Benjamin Franklin, one of the key founding fathers of the USA.

Six years later, as the Estates-General gathered at Versailles in May 1789, none of this could be lost on the representatives of the Three Estates to consider how to change France’s obviously broken social, political, and economic machinery. For the First Estate, the Church, there was some sympathy for the Third Estate, the Commons, but the main leaders of Church had much more in common with the Second Estate, the Aristocracy. The First and Second Estates, who made up 2% of the population, stood to lose greatly in the wake of any change to the established order, in which they enjoyed enormous privileges and little responsibility to contribute to the nation’s general welfare.

The Third Estate saw the American example as their inspiration and model. As a symbol of this, Thomas Paine, the celebrated author of Common Sense, which, in 1776 had become the de facto manifesto of the American revolution, crossed the Atlantic to come to Paris and become the darling of the political and salon set. His message to the French citizenry was to seize the moment and make change happen, tearing away the apparatus of social and economic oppression like the American colonists had done.

TO BE CONTINUED

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The Queen

If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous [upright] do?

Book of Psalms, The Hebrew Bible,chapter 11, verse 3.

(Photo credit – Alamy)

The passing of Queen Elizabeth, Queen of England, the United Kingdom, and 13 other countries, including Canada, my home, after an extraordinary reign of 701/2 years certainly is worthy of reflection. Even many of the most cynical and sworn foes of monarchy find themselves affected. Only the most hardened mockers and cynical ultra-progressives can just spitefully grunt, “Good riddance!”

Regardless of one’s views on the continuation of monarchy anywhere, let alone in the most famous venue where it still exists, the United Kingdom, Elizabeth Windsor filled the role she inherited with amazing grace, real wisdom, and genuine concern for the peoples of whom she was the acknowledged sovereign. She visited all her non-British realms multiple times, and of those, Canada more than any, on 22 occasions as monarch. She called this vast land “my second home”.

A little-known fact buried in the obscure details of World War 2 is that she, with the royal family of King George VI, almost moved here in the dark days of 1940. This possibility was seriously discussed with the King by Prime Minister Churchill as the threat of Nazi invasion loomed large. After some consideration, King George decided he could not abandon his people in their darkest hour, although he might send his wife and children to Canada. His strong-willed Queen, also named Elizabeth, staunchly declared she would have none it. She and the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret would stay and share the fate of the King and the country.

The young Princess Elizabeth became the only female member of the Royals to serve in the Armed Services late in the war. This was a sign of how she would fulfill her later role as Queen Elizabeth II, whom some are now calling the greatest of all British monarchs. Perhaps this is melodramatic emotionalism at the end of the “Second Elizabethan Age” and the longest reign in British History, as well as one of the longest in world history. In Canadian (and World) History, only one reign surpasses hers in sheer length: King Louis XIV of France, 1642-1714. But we must qualify Louis’ record by saying that he was an infant when he succeeded, and only took over personal power from his Regent, Cardinal Mazarin, in 1661. Thus, Elizabeth II reigned in her own right with full sovereignty longer than anyone ever recorded.

The First Elizabethan Age was during the reign of England’s Queen Elizabeth I, 1558-1603. To attempt a comparison of the two Elizabeths is rather like comparing apples and oranges. However, there are some points to consider.

Both Elizabeths lived through times of great social upheaval and seriously threatened invasions of England (the Spanish Armada for Elizabeth I in 1588), although Elizabeth II was the heir to the throne in 1940-41, not the sovereign. Both lived with high expectations placed upon them, and great doubt as to how they could stand up to the challenge. For the first Elizabeth, she could not avoid knowing that a male monarch would have been the preferred choice. If, perhaps for some, that sentiment still existed in 1952, it had become irrelevant, even though the sexist law of male primogeniture still applied. Eventually, it was Elizabeth II who abolished it (via Parliament, of course). That step was long overdue, as everyone then knew.

Other than longevity, what might be offered as evidence that Elizabeth II is the greatest of all British monarchs?

Perhaps saving the monarchy itself is her great legacy. Certainly, there is some reason to grant this. A great many changes to the venerable institution of the British monarchy have occurred since 1952, not least because Elizabeth was open-minded and willing to allow them and even forward them.

She was not alone in this. Her husband Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh stimulated much of the change, but she was receptive and gave him the latitude to begin the process of bringing in a modernized, “open” monarchy. The goal was to let the public see the Royals as real people with lives, not just isolated figures remote from reality. Against stiff opposition from the “Old Guard”, Philip taught Elizabeth and the family that allowing the media to determine public perceptions via scandal-mongering and negative criticism had to be countered by positive action. One might say that that lesson finally took permanent root following the tragic fate of Princess Diana in 1997 and the strong public indignation at the apparent coldness of the Queen’s and the Royals’ reaction. The Queen’s slowness to react was restrained more than cold because of the highly dubious circumstances. She felt it and its tragedy deeply, with not a little personal regret about how painful Diana’s life had been made by her family’s, and her son’s, treatment of her.

Elizabeth was no wall-flower ready to simply follow old traditions and died-in-the-wool advisers. She frequently overruled such traditions, even over the objections of her grandmother, Queen Mary, the widow of King George V, her own mother, and Lord Mountbatten, her cousin and close friend. Unfortunately, she did not always make the right choices when it came to the happiness of her children or her sister in marriage, despite the inclination of her heart to let them be as happy as they could. The cloud of the scandal of what had happened to King Edward VIII, her father’s older brother, when he chose to marry a divorcee and abdicate in 1936 because of the strictures regarding divorce in the Royal family, still hung heavy. As we now see, that too has all changed, not least because Elizabeth said it must.

Some might argue that a sovereign who presided over the dissolution of the British Empire following World War 2 can hardly qualify to greatness, but is rather a sad remnant of an old imperialistic heritage that is best forgotten. Canada’s indigenous peoples consider the monarchy a paternalistic institution that robbed their ancestors of their liberties and subjected them to generations of oppression and abuse and neglect. The expressions some have made about Elizabeth’s death have not all been graceful. By contrast, those of many other colonized peoples have applauded her for promoting their liberation and advocating their full inclusion, with substantial support for their advancement, in the Commonwealth of Nations, the group of countries who once belonged to vast the British Empire. She was noted as calling for an end to racism and discrimination everywhere in the Commonwealth and was known as showing no trace of prejudice towards anyone of any colour or gender.

We could go on at length about her wisdom and her sure touch in handling people and steering through often very murky waters and political booby traps. Virtually everyone who spent any personal time with her had only high praise for her friendliness, her approachability, her ease with people which in turn put them at their ease, and her very strong sense of humour and irony. If she disliked someone she had to deal with, such as a few of Britain’s Prime Ministers or some other Heads of State she sometimes had to relate to, she succeeded in remaining thoroughly professional. She was a shrewd and diligent administrator and had excellent judgment in choosing the right people for the right tasks.

As a person, Elizabeth Windsor could not be separated from her monarchical role. She was every inch a queen, but also a genuinely caring, compassionate person who did not put on airs of superiority or make others feel less important. Behind all of the rest, she always attributed a very great part of the strength she displayed year after year and decade after decade to her personal faith. That faith was not ostentatiously foisted on others in private or in public, but she was never reticent about its source. Her sense of duty and obligation to serve stemmed from it, as she affirmed.

As the official Head of the Church of England (the Anglican Church, and the world-wide Communion of Anglican Churches), she was a Christian. But, unlike many who have preceded her in that role, to her being a Christian was not just a function of formal title. It was very real and part of the very fabric of her being. To anyone who listened objectively to her public declarations during feasts such as Christmas and New Year’s, the complete sincerity and conviction of her statements came strongly through. She avowed being a praying person during her whole life, as well as a Bible reader, taking much inspiration from the “Book of Books” since her youth. Certainly, the way she lived and the grace and compassion she showed are strong evidence of this foundation.

Our opening citation is a warning. It certainly seems apparent that much of “the foundations” that Queen Elizabeth II stood so strongly on have been seriously eroded, and some are in ruins across many of the nations of whom she was Head of State. For example, Canada seems to be increasingly one of those. If you are from another of those states, you can speak to conditions in your own homeland.

If we are willing to look at Elizabeth R.’s life as a parable and a portrait, she has much to teach. Would to God that some of the myriads of leaders and supposedly wise observers and commentators would see what she really has to teach them and take it to heart. At the very least, one can hope and pray that her son and successor, King Charles III, will do so, as will the extended Windsor Family.

We conclude not with “God save the Queen!” but, in the Christian hope that Elizabeth herself professed, “God has saved the Queen! Now God save the King!”

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Cold Love, 6 – Enduring to the End

Those who endure to the end will be saved … –

Yeshua/Jesus of Nazareth

(Image credit – Pinterest)

As we navigate the uncharted cultural, social, economic, and political waters we are now in, it is harder than ever to find truth. Despite our lip-service to liberal democracy, there is little for public input at any level of government. Climate alarmism trumps policy, as we now see in living technicolor with the totally artificially generated energy crisis while an incredibly energy rich nation like Canada turns a deliberate blind eye and deaf ear, even to the interests of its own citizens. Misinformation, disinformation, deliberate obfuscation and falsification predominate in the public forum. The screamology of extremism drowns out reason and rational discussion of almost any subject of significance.

As mentioned in a previous post, ideology trumps fact in the name of saving the planet and even having a future for the human race. Actual reality versus virtual reality is more and more confused in people’s minds. Rumor and inuendo take the place of investigation and verification. Doctor Goebbels and Vladimir Lenin would have been thrilled to have had the means to mold the popular psyche now available. Foucault and the progenitors of postmodernism can be proud of their achievement in creating universal doubt in the possibility of knowing anything for sure. Accept, by faith, the chosen “truth” of your ideological dogma.

Ordinary folks do not, of course, consciously and constantly live with this awareness. Life interferes; the pressure of “getting through” blocks out most of the big questions most of the time. There is a gnawing, deep-seated sense of gloom and perhaps even dread that, perhaps, all our bickering, striving, and quarreling is futile in the long run. The best we can do is make the best life we can now and for our children and grandchildren in the near to mid-term. After that, all bets are off, especially if the various doom-scenarios which gather so much attention are correct. Choose your doom; there are plenty of candidates out there from climate catastrophe to nuclear holocaust, or even a meteoric extinction event as per the dinosaur era long ago. Fantasy and post-apocalyptic science-fiction sell big.

As in every era of history, the ultra-privileged classes at the top, live in the illusion of their safety while the rest can all suffer so they can keep their privileges and their hold on the leavers of power. They cannot fathom that the increasingly alienated and desperate under-classes may just be being driven to a level of desperation that will actually hold them to account and overthrow them. If this is no longer possible within a rigged system, history teaches that violence will be the last resort.

Most of us struggle to find hope. We don’t often say it out loud, but the question of hope is constant beneath and behind much of what we do, especially as life moves us from adolescence to young adulthood and to the inevitable “mid-life crisis”. I meet more and more couples who have chosen or are choosing not to have children – many more than the occasional ones I met 40-50 years ago. (I betray my age.)

As for you, what do you hope in? and why?

Do you hope for some sort of life after death? Or is your hope solely aimed at something for this world’s sojourn for what remains of it for yourself, and, if you have any, your descendants?

These are not, of course, new questions. As long as humans have consciously considered their own existence, most have hoped that death is not the end. But most of the scenarios for something beyond the grave were not attractive as something to be desired, unless it was just as a hope to escape total oblivion.

For we moderns and post-moderns with our scientific approach to almost every problem, there is no way to validate any such hope. The best that can be said about any and every answer to the big questions that science cannot and will never be able to answer is that it boils down to faith. And faith, in its simplest terms, is a matter of trust. Thus, as you ponder your own answer to the ultimate nature of reality and your own existence, you must recognize that, whatever answer you choose, it is the one you have chosen because you trust it is the truest, based on some sort of evidence that you trust. What you believe reflects the nature of reality as you experience it and what you’ve been taught about its meaning. You interpret it according to that experience and that of other people whose input you find trustworthy.

Everyone who lives to the age of Reason and Accountability adopts basic beliefs based on trust, based on faith. There are no exceptions; the Noble Prize Winner and the humblest unknown labourer are on exactly the same footing in this. The politicians running your governments and the ultra-rich tycoons are the same as the factory workers and computer geeks.

Our faith convictions determine the kinds of choices we make, especially on the most important decisions, both individually, as in the choice of career and life-partner, having children or preferring a dog, and as social influencers and directors, as in the kinds of rules for society are to be set, and the limits to be placed on dissenting groups.

Underneath all of that, there is the issue of God. Everyone in all the categories we have mentioned and any others you care to consider sooner or later wonders whether the Cosmos came from nothing for no reason, or from the action of a Being, a Power who/which willed it into existence and imbued it with all the properties we have since been striving to understand.

When it comes to ultimate hope, there are really only two relevant answers: God made it, or it just happened somehow, sometime, we know not how or why. All protestations and appeals to the scientific arguments about the Big Bang and inevitable evolution aside, both positions are really and truly faith-based. The Big-Banger deftly dancing past and around the questions of WHY? and HOW? must know that their firm insistence that no Deity is necessary really means “No God is wanted or need apply. Some day we’ll find the magic bullet, the one original micro-particle that, somehow, jumped out of nothing and started everything.” Even such a particle appearing out of nothing just begs the question, “But what made it appear?”

To reconnect all this to the question of Hope versus Futility seems fairly obvious. If God did it, (S)He would have a reason. We, by extension as reasoning beings coming from His/Her creative hand, should be able to discover some part of that reason. And, even more hopefully, some of our kind and species have already made some progress on that front.

On the other hand, if no Creator is responsible, there is ultimately no reason, despite all the illusion of design and purpose. The only purpose in biological Evolution is survival. But if all is ultimately just heading for extinction after however many eons shall pass until entropy extinguishes it, or cosmic implosion annihilates it, then futility is your hopeless answer.

Where does that leave the Theists?

Christians recall what Jesus declares in our opening citation: “Those who endure to the end will be rescued/saved.” Hope is in His faithfulness, which is certified by His resurrection from the dead, and His followers are assured they will likewise rise transformed for life eternal.

For Muslims, hope in Allah’s mercy and your efforts to live by Muhammad’s revelations to get you admitted to Paradise.

For Jews, hope in Yahweh’s mercy and favour, and perhaps to some degree, your efforts will make the world a better place. Anything beyond that remains to be seen.

For Hindus, keep on trying as you go round the cycle of existence until you graduate to nirvana because your good karma has finally erased your bad karma. Buddhists have a similar view with slight nuances.

But for atheists, hope is an illusion, except, as we said above, to leave something positive for the future, as far as there may be one.

While science tends to negate “faith” as a religious notion, it holds fast to its own creed, with little beyond affirmation that its methodology will someday solve all the mysteries – even the ultimate ones. If that is not as great a religious faith as the Theist’s, I don’t know what is! But as to hope for something beyond the here and now, it will all be futile in the end.

Christianity offers the hard evidence of thousands of years of results in changing lives, making great advances in improving the human condition, and providing the hopeless with hope and comfort. The wrongs done by people using Jesus’ name does not and cannot cancel its legacy of making the present better for billions, and offering a brilliant future to all who apply to Jesus. As its foundation, it points to this Jesus, a man who lived and died in history and convinced thousands of people of his own time that he was not just a “mere” man, but the embodiment in flesh and blood of the eternal Creator Himself. To seal the deal, He came alive three days after his murder-execution in a renewed physical form which can no longer die. He thus confirmed that there is a real, living hope that the Creator loves the Creation and chooses to save it, to rescue it, from the futility of death and meaninglessness. And we humans, who can know this loving Creator, can enter into this eternal, deathless, and absolutely purposeful ultimate reality through Jesus.

Enduring to the end means two things: (1) the end of your sojourn on earth in this age, and (2) the chosen time of Jesus’ return to transform the mortal and time-limited Cosmos into a sublime, immortal one which Creator is preparing for us right now.

If you are a follower of Jesus, be of good hope; He will be true to His promise. If not, consider the source of your hope and whether it can endure to the end and rescue you from futility.

For, in the end, Cold Love will be annihilated in the light and flame of God’s all-consuming agape.

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Cold Love, 5 – Ideology

ideology – science of ideas; visionary speculation; manner of thinking characteristic of a class or individual; ideas at the basis of some economic or political theory or system.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary, 1964

(Photo credit – Time)

Ideology is a product of the mind, as our definitions above clearly indicate. Love is born in the heart, whatever form it takes. Very often, if not always, ideology and love are divided by a wide chasm – in practice if not in theory. Nevertheless, the two must coexist, and no mature human can function without having both present, however unconsciously and informally held.

We can intellectualize love, conceptualize love, analyze love, psychologize love, but we cannot create it by any exercise which originates primarily in the intellect. The heart may remain untouched despite all the most careful thought. The one emotion that ideology seems all too readily and too often to generate in abundance is hate. It may, however, also generate a pseudo-love, a counterfeit to stand in the place of what love, by its nature, is meant to be. Ideologically bred “love” is obsession, fanaticism, a sort of veneration of national, class, social, or economic identity. This pseudo-love is usually an amalgam of more than one of the above, and it absorbs the “lover’s” sense of self in the process.

Let us consider this paradox for a moment.

English and many other modern languages are not very supple in communicating the many shades and nuances of what real love entails. English is a poor vehicle in this respect, although eminently pliable in creating terminology and abundant expressions to convey technological and behavioural subtleties. Of the other modern languages of which I have some understanding, the same lack of nuance regarding love is true.

In contrast, the subtle ancient Greeks had four words for love to express nuance and context: eros indicated sexual love, erotic love; phileo – companionate or friendship love, sibling love, “brotherly” love; storge – parental, guardian, protective love; agape – self-denying, self-sacrificing, selfless love, characterized by God’s love for humanity in Jesus Christ. All of these are real forms of love, but the first three are incomplete without the last, which therefore governs them. For example, Jesus once said, “No one has greater love than this – laying down his life for a friend.” Phileo thus reaches its highest expression by giving oneself for the benefit of another without seeking a return. So too with eros and storge, as immediately becomes evident with a moment’s consideration. Parents know this instinctively in their love for their children, and mothers more readily than fathers, even if, these days, saying so is frowned upon as an old stereotype. Romantic love based on sexual attraction must develop beyond this if the relationship is to endure.

One of the greatest delusions of our arrogant claim to be a scientific society is to turn everything into ideology. For ideology, “love” must be captured, weaponized, and made into a commercial and economic commodity as a weapon in the arsenal of the social and cultural engineers claiming to know what we all need most.

Because of love’s universality in human experience, when directed by these careful social manipulators it automatically creates empathy and sympathy for whatever cause or target has been selected in the current program of “progress”. It is powerful in generating zeal on the one hand and shame, blame, and guilt on the other. It takes no prisoners, leaving all those confronted with its demands (whether reasonable or not) sensing their failure. This opens the path for the next demand for the latest newly discovered worthy recipients of official compassion – “rights”. Engineered, ideological “love” is the most potent marginalizing force we know, as well as the most pliable for manipulating well-disposed, fair-minded people to climb aboard the train to the destination the engineers have indicated is where all right-hearted people will want a just society to go. By nature it leaves those who don’t subscribe to its dictates out in the cold, literally and figuratively.

Canada is one of the most open societies on the planet. It has become a progressivist haven for much of the increasingly active and militant Woke agenda. With firmly ensconced ideologues presently in office, or acting as close advisers to those who are, the current government is more than slightly well-disposed to its claims. In addition, for many years the courts have consistently favoured the extension of basic human rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to redesign Canadian society in the image of Progressive Utopia.

One of the latest signs of this is in the allocation of resources to favoured groups by the National Government. The latest example is in special funding for the development and strengthening of 2SLGBTQI+ community and life.

Statistics Canada has recently released the first solid statistical data regarding population breakdown according to type of household based on gender affiliation and orientation as of 2021. “Rainbow” self-identified households make up less than 2% of the population (about 700 000 individuals). Presumably, the thinking is that the Rainbow elements of society are in danger of re-exclusion, which may be arguable, although recent cultural trends would place that notion in grave doubt. The intent is certainly to make it fully mainstream and accepted as normal.

It may be argued that the government is supporting a specific set of lifestyle choices and ideological values. But it has become almost impossible to engage in any such discussion because of the immediate challenge that basic rights are being threatened.

By contrast, Canada has a very large disabled population which includes people of all ages, genders, orientations, and ethnic origins. This is the same sort of situation raised in terms of gender and sexual orientation identity. In 2017, 22% of the population, 6.2 million, were identified as suffering from one or more significant disabilities. The measure of consistent government neglect, both Federal and Provincial, of this huge population segment has been monumental and perennial for decades.

In government policy, 20% of the population with special needs far more urgent and basic than strengthening their cohesiveness and cultural presence are virtually invisible. During COVID-19 and its variants, almost nothing has been offered to help the large number of these sufferers living on barely enough to eat and find shelter. Tens of millions of dollars have been wasted on bogus claims for support by healthy citizens who found themselves temporarily unemployed or simply able to pass through the flimsy screening process to receive benefits. In comparison, what pittances were offered to the disabled were obscure and hard-to-find and apply for, with the result that few even knew they were available. Those that found what was offered were given meager one-time only payments that amounted to 25% of what was given to other applicants for one month. Elitist ideology creates a hierarchy of worth that these people do not fit into. Instead, we change laws to offer “medically assisted death” for those whose suffering has become intolerable while we offer next to nothing to alleviate their suffering or improve their quality of life.

The intent of this story is not to provoke anger, although indignation is not out of order. Rather, it is a very real and current illustration of the role of ideology in one of the most “advanced and progressive” nations on earth. We clearly see how implemented ideology in power designates what is valued according to our socio-cultural elites. In this case, compassion, which is one form of the expression of love, is granted to a quite small preferred minority which primarily self-identifies and is granted status almost without question. They enjoy strong, positive, official cultural recognition with increasingly well-entrenched rights bolstered by very public celebrations of their diversity and cultural identity. The disabled remain invisible and are offered no encouragement to be valued for who they are.

We could easy find other illustrations of the current, divisive cultural ideology now largely entrenched throughout the West. History offers numerous examples of the rampages misguided ideological cold love generates. The 20th Century was full of them and documents all their worst features in their extreme nationalism, racism, and favoritism. Let us hope that we are not heading to a new variation of such horrors as we watch the growing disaffection and alienation of a large segment of the West’s less-favoured and less valued groups and classes beginning to seethe with anger over their new exclusion. While those rising may see the exclusion of formerly favoured (or seen to have been favoured) classes as only just, we can only warn that pendula always swing two ways. Breaking the law of backlash will not occur as long as those on the upside ram their values and status down the throat of those on the downside.

I am not advocating the withdrawal of rights and recognition to anyone. We must realize that ideology is a potent force too often prone to be abused and misused when it turns on the shame, guilt, and blame switches in people in order to manipulate them into compliance with a chosen agenda, shutting down any public discussion and dialogue.

Ideology cuts both ways. As Newton long ago observed, “To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” In metaphysics the rule is parallel: “Karma always returns to bite you in the butt”, or, more refined, “You reap what you sow; if your sow the wind, you will reap the whirlwind.” When it comes to legislating values and shaming opponents into submission, rather than leaving the avenue open to have a healthy discussion and debate in the appropriate forums for this, the resistance will not go away. If dialogue is suppressed, it will find its way out in uglier and angrier ways. These will not be any more open to change than the opposite which drove them underground in the first place.

Ideology is another manifestation of the rampant “cold love” plaguing the modern West and, by extension, the whole world. Its fruits betray it – anger, resentment, fanaticism, violent explosions, and, at worst when left to fester, war, revolt, and revolution.

No society yet devised by humans has yet proven immune to these evils.

The only way out of them is to rediscover agape. Whether we remain capable of that at a societal level we shall probably soon see.

For those who still profess Jesus Christ, agape must begin at home and within our own communities of family, faith, and local community. To rant and rave about its absence in the wide world is not helpful when it is not practiced right where we are with those who are right here with us – regardless of ideology, class, ethnicity, or gender identification.

NEXT TIME – COLD LOVE, 6 – CONCLUSION: ENDURING TO THE END

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Cold Love, 4 – The Quality of Mercy

mercy – compassion or forbearance shown to a powerless person, especially an offender or one with no claim to kindness.

The Canadian Compact Oxford Dictionary, 2002.

The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the earth beneath.

William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

(Image credit – Vectorstock)

Mercy. Every convicted criminal hopes for it. Every school child “sent to the Office” appeals for it.

Mercy – most death-bed patients earnestly pray for it before they cross the final frontier.

 For the 60-70% or so of Westerners (depending on the nation and even the region within a nation) still professing belief in some sort of God resembling the traditional Judeo-Christian idea of an infinite personal Being and Creator, the standard logic on the mercy of God goes something like this:

‘God is love. Therefore, He must be merciful, because really loving people are merciful and forgiving, right? A loving God will therefore not banish anyone to exile/hell or whatever other nasty place there might be. So when I die, I will automatically be accepted by God and live forever in a nice place filled with love. As to hell, God’s love would never have created such a thing in the first place. So mercy is automatic; all my nasty deeds and selfishness will be erased and forgotten, and, like in the Disney world, we all get to live happily ever after regardless of what we’ve done and how we’ve chosen to live here on earth.’

Many an atheist has been repulsed from the idea of God’s existence, let alone the religions that profess and uphold it, by the whole notion of judgment by a Maker who assesses our lives pronounces “Pass!” or “Fail!” Their revulsion is confirmed for them by every hell-fire and brimstone sermon they’ve (n)ever heard (mostly never in our current society), or even heard of, and by the record of God’s over-zealous human proselytizers condemning heretics and infidels to eternal damnation and temporal torture and repression. Too often, when it comes to how a “merciful God” is presented to doubters and sinners here in our flawed and suffering world, the “quality of mercy” has been strained indeed, in fact all but relegated to the back-room where only a select few seem to qualify to merit it.

No surprise that Jesus warned that, before his Second Coming, which his saying about cold love refers to, that “agape-love”, which demonstrates and embodies the unqualified mercy of God, would become a rare jewel even among those claiming to be his fervent followers.

In the original context of the words coming straight from Jesus, cold love refers to the fading away, the diminishing of agape in humankind. Besides relegating God to the last-ditch reserve bench in life, this includes how humankind behaves among themselves and towards the rest of creation. As we have noted before, agape is the highest form love takes: self-denying and sacrificial in its care and compassion, seeking no benefit from the object of the sacrificial caring. It rises above mere sentiment and mushy feelings of affection. In fact, it does not depend on them even being present, although if they are to some degree it helps make the giving and caring easier. Even the passion of sexual love cannot endure and overcome the tests and stresses that arise without agape to help the lovers get over the inevitable hurts and disappointments that come into every meaningful relationship.

The ultimate origin of agape is the Creator, who created all that exists purely out of His/Her own infinite agape. Creator did not have to make anything. Yahweh-Creator-God chose to create out of agape. God’s agape is His/Her desire to love and give love in infinite measure outside His/Her own self-sufficiency. At the height of the Creator’s creative activity, He/She created Humans to bear His/Her very image and likeness as a living, walking representative, a creating entity able to manifest the kind of nature the Creator has stamped within the very Cosmos itself, saturating it, putting the testimony of its origin everywhere.

Since the ancient rebellion of the first humans against the Creator’s intent, the presence of agape has often been lost, distorted, even forgotten. Hence, much of our energy has been wasted and twisted into destruction and misappropriation of the Creator’s good gifts. The rebellion was aimed at establishing human mastery over creation apart from serving the Creator. It has proven a tawdry substitute for the richness of enabling and enhancing the Creator’s goal to cause the Earth to flourish and reach its full potential to show the wonder and beauty of the Creator’s. (Glory means the full manifestation of the Creator’s intention brought into expression by the Creator’s commissioned stewards – us.) If God’s plan were adhered to, the humans would reach their own full potential as Creator’s appointed image-bearers, God’s living icons, so to speak.

Instead, in our self-proclaimed godhood, we have reaped destruction, decay, death, and alienation among ourselves, and have inflicted these same blights on the whole world.

The Christian Story says that the Creator-God did not sit back and shrug. Instead, speaking anthropomorphically, (S)He is deeply grieved, even distressed, and even angry. However, God’s ultimate response is mercy rather than wrath, although wrath has been allowed to fall. If we are willing to face our rebellion and defiance of God, we must see that, just as with human offenders in human society, there is an inevitable day when judgment finds the unrepentant transgressor. This is called “natural consequences”, and it applies in both the physical and metaphysical realm. It also comes as a legal requirement.

Without engaging in theological debate, history demonstrates that, with regard to respect for God and God’s creation, as well as for one another, we have justly deserved judgment more often than mercy. Most of the time, the Creator has just let us experience some more or less severe consequences of our actions. This can approximate Divine wrath in the hope that we may yet, even if only for a time, come mostly to our senses. But, if we are able to wrap our minds around it, we are also given Divine mercy even in the midst of what may well seem like wrath and judgment.

Consider how, all through our hegemony over this one and only Gem of a world we have been gifted with, we have chosen to rape and pillage it and slaughter one another to gain both group and personal ascendancy. Consider what this looks like from Creator’s perspective, especially when compared to what He/She made us for and intended us and all the rest of His/Her works here on Mother Earth to be. If any of us usurped our neighbour’s home and ransacked and destroyed all they had built, would we not cry out for redress, justice, and appropriate punishment? As politically and culturally incorrect the whole notion of “punishment” seems to have become in our burgeoning “Wokism”, punishment is sometimes the only recourse left.

As the one who made this wondrous world, the Creator planted us here in this “Garden” to “till and tend” it and make it flourish. Yahweh-I AM has every right to insist on justice – not only for what has been and is still being done to it all, but perhaps even more for what we have done and continue to do to one another.

The Christian Story says that, instead of just wiping us out, Yahweh the Creator sent Yeshua (Jesus), His/Her Son, the incarnation in human form of the Creator, to take the judgment on our behalf. That is why Yeshua commented that “mercy triumphs over justice”.

Thus, we have never yet been subjected to the full, terrible consequences of all the evil and wrong we have inflicted and continue to inflict upon one another and on our fellow creatures. It may not look like mercy at first glance, but imagine if God had never intervened to “cut those days short”, as Jesus once phrased it. We are told that “No flesh would have survived” if the Creator had not taken a hand to restrain the diabolical fury of humanity’s dark side run wild. That remains true.

Mercy triumphs over judgment. Imagine if the Nazis had won World War 2. “Impossible!”, you say. Not at all! It was a very near-run thing. Read Winston Churchill’ History of the Second World War sometime to get an inside picture. D-Day could very well have gone sidewise. Hitler’s armies came within a hair of taking down the Soviet Union in 1941. Etc. Tens of millions died, a toll so terrible that we forget that it could have been many millions more. It was Divine mercy that it was not. In 1940, Churchill publicly called it a “war to save Christian civilization” and he meant it. The Nazis intended to extinguish Christianity, as well as Judaism. It was not just Churchillian rhetorical flourish to rally the people.

Time and again this has been so. The Book of Genesis tells the stories of Noah and Sodom and Gomorrah as two examples. The Book of Exodus tells the same story of deliverance from rebellion and its consequences in the context of Israel, followed by the multiple episodes recounted in Judges.

The other side of this oft-repeated story is that, at some point, even the infinite Creator’s patience seems to run out. Thus, ancient Israel and Judah (the two Kingdoms set up by the Israelites following their liberations from Egypt and then from the numerous oppressors from neighbouring kingdoms – see the Book of Judges in the Bible) eventually must reap the final consequences and are wiped out by the neighbouring superpowers of Assyria and Babylon.

Mercy is always to be hoped for, but judgment will also fall on the day when mercy can no longer find a perch.

Paradoxically, agape demands it because agape is always married not only to mercy, but to justice. God’s agape is given freely, but it is granted at great cost.

TO BE CONTINUED

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Cold Love, 3 – A Case Study

“All you need is love,

Love is all you need.”

– The Beatles, 1968

(Image credit – Pinterest)

The Counterrevolution of the 1960s captivated much of the West’s imagination for a few years in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I grew up during that time, and was myself drawn into it, like many of my contemporaries trying to find a new path to peace in the midst of a conflicted world teetering on the edge of annihilation. I tried the experiment of living with urban wannabe hippies, and, when that evaporated, living with a few “cool dudes” who, we hoped, could support one another in maintaining some separation from the Establishment grind of conforming to the system.

As the Sixties departed, the true Hippies retreated to their communes to let the system and its oppressive culture “go f— itself” amid the ugliness of race riots, horrible Indochina atrocities, the turmoil of Middle-East affairs, Superpower proxy wars in Africa, and nuclear war near-misses. The millions of Hippie-imitators and wannabes who had held onto the Counterculture coat-tails to enjoy its more hedonistic aspects began to face the truth that they had to actually begin to work for a living. That meant making a pretense of “conforming to the Man and his demands”.

Some, like myself, tried to hang onto the some of the threads of our old illusions, but found we were mostly deluding ourselves. Young as we were, this called for some serious reflection about who we really are and what we are here for on Planet Earth. It seemed that love is not all you need. It requires something strong to bolster it and keep it, and the hope it gives, alive.

This great social and cultural crisis thus dove-tailed with personal crisis for many of the somewhat more idealistic millions of young adults of the early boomer cohort. The resolution of this great identity search seems, to a great extent, to have depended on how we had been raised. Many reverted to the values and expectations, although usually not the religion, of their upbringing – go get a job, settle down, contribute a bit to society, and raise a family. Or: go get a good education, find a career, climb the ladder, get your share of the rewards, raise a family, contribute a bit to the community, then retire and enjoy what was beginning to be euphemistically called “The Golden Years”. Our views on love had become much more prosaic and less “heavenly”.

There is no doubt that we all need love. All through life we all need to be loved, and to love, to receive it and to give it. This transaction is the most validating part of life. This is what makes every human being “belong” and feel valued.

One of the earliest justifications for abortion, which had then become so “pregnant” an issue all across the West, was “every child a wanted [read loved] child”. We will not rehash the abortion debate in this space. Suffice it to say that the root cause of that still virulently corrosive issue that has driven such deep wedges in all nations across the world in the last fifty years is cold love – or no love.

Abortion has been selectively and somewhat surreptitiously practiced for thousands of years, but only in the last century has it become a world-wide ideological and metaphysical pandemic. Obviously, it is not a “pandemic” in the same sense as our latest exemplar, COVID-19 and its variants. But it is far more deadly if we want to be honest about running an actual body-count over the last fifty-odd years or so. If we were to do so, its only rival would be the Bubonic Plague, the “Black Death”, which has been guesstimated to have killed at least 100-million in the space of 10-15 years as it swept across Central Asia and into Europe in the mid-14th Century. But on a sheer numbers-basis, abortion dwarfs the Black Death.

It is a measure of our collective shame and guilt that many nations (of which Canada, my homeland, is one) are no longer honestly reporting or even collecting accurate abortion statistics. Canada has become the only nation on Earth without any law on the books governing abortion. In 1988 the Supreme Court struck down the existing law and told Parliament to make a new one that conformed to its evolving interpretation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The politicians attempted this over the next several years and, failing to find a consensus, then failed in moral courage, all the while blaming one another. However, lest we blame them too much, they merely reflected the state of agonized public division and wishing the whole thing would somehow just go away. Nevertheless, reputable statistical extrapolations can be and have been done to approximate both the local and global impact of abortion on population.

Once more, we can use Canada as our exemplar in the question of statistical impact on society. Canada has had legal abortion since 1969. For thirty plus years, statistics were kept and collected from the Provinces by the Federal Government. In the last 10 years when they (we) still kept track of these “procedures”, the annual number of documented abortions in both public and private hospitals and clinics was between 90,000-110,000. We also knew that reported statistics were probably not complete, so the numbers were probably a little higher, meaning we should probably add another 5,000 or so.

If we assign a conservative average of 80,000 over the 53 years of legalized abortion in Canada, we arrive at a reasonable estimate of 4,240,000 abortions. If we allow a “fudge factor” of 10% for under-reporting, which we know has been the case, we arrive at almost five million future contributing citizens having been eliminated.

All we need is love? Where was the love for five million human beings not allowed to be born and live a normal life-span because they were “not a wanted (loved) child”? This makes an utter mockery of this maudlin cliché that “every child should be a wanted child”.

The purpose of this reality-check is not to assign blame. It is not to make the women who felt/feel compelled or desperate enough to choose abortion feel ashamed and guilty and terrible. Let us be frank that many of them did and do not really have true liberty to choose (so much for freedom of choice!) when surrounded by insistent and indignant parents, bullying male partners, and well-meaning peers and friends, all the while fighting their own internal maternal instinct. What options were/are given them besides, “If you have the baby and keep it, you will be ruining your (and my/our) life?”

Who was/is there for them to offer them another road, amid the often unsympathetic and vehemently righteous pro-life/anti-abortion advocates and the carping, oppressing, bullying unsupportive significant others, not to speak of the frequently strident ideological and uncompassionate militancy of the pro-choicers?

Love was/is desperately needed, but has gone into the deep freeze on both ideological sides, and, sadly, at the personal level where these forlorn women live. The pregnant and vulnerable woman is still pretty much left alone and abandoned, the victim of cold love, even while protests of “We’re only telling you this because we love you,” are drummed into her ears.

Let us also be clear that governments, churches, and other charitable organizations were/are not disinterested bystanders during all this. Almost the whole old-fashioned support system of orphanages and homes for single mothers has been defunded and gutted, whether by design or neglect.  Much cheaper to erase the problem than fund assistance to a young woman trying to raise a child and still have a life for ten-to-twenty years, or whatever time it may take for her to find a husband/partner who will help support her and her child. And the religious institutions who used to do most of this sort of thing are largely in disgrace for reported scandals of abuse of various kinds. “Shut ‘em down!” runs the Greek tragedy chorale.

This is but one flaming example of the utter failure or our society to demonstrate real love to so many segments of the population who have been marginalized, ostracized, victimized, vilified, etc. For more examples, we can look at how we neglect and shove the disabled and mentally ill out of the way. We can consider how we warehouse our inconvenient seniors because we can’t, or won’t, provide funded assistance to the many who could still live at home if we bothered to pay care-givers a living wage. This would be far cheaper and, for many, far more compassionate than funding long-term beds at $40-70,000 per annum in impersonal institutions.

Consider how we still cheat the indigenous of what they are entitled to after 200 years of racism. The parallels with the abortion issue in all these cases is striking. In similar fashion, all the old-fashioned but at least partially effective institutions have been defunded and gutted, leaving these underclasses isolated, unsupported, and driven to the brink of despair.

Agape where are you? Where have you gone?

Agape is the highest form of love which God exampled in Jesus. He commissioned a community of followers which became known as the Church, to continue to spread it and bring it into every part of human life and society. It is sad to watch and lamentable to admit that cold love has all too often and too much crept into the Churches of the West, not to speak of the secular, godless ideologies which have supplanted them here in the rich and comfortable First World.

TO BE CONTINUED

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Cold Love, 2

You have heard it that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: love your enemies! Pray for people who persecute you! That way, you’ll be children of your faither in heaven! After all, he makes his sun to rise on bad and good alike, and sends rain upon both the upright and on the unjust.

Yeshua/Jesus of Nazareth, ca 30 CE in Galilee, northern Israel, cited in The Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5, verses 43-45 as translated in The Kingdom New Testament, trans. by N.T. Wright.

(Slide credit – Etsy)

In the statement above, Yeshua/Jesus transforms the normal human understanding of relating to friends and enemies. In another teaching in The Gospel of Luke chapter 10, he explains whom he means by “neighbor”; he declares that everyone becomes my “neighbor” in times of crisis and need, not just those I am related to by blood, affinity, and proximity. (See The Gospel of Luke, chapter 10 in the parable of Good Samaritan.)

In a teaching parallel to the one cited in our opening quote Yeshua pushes the “pray for people who persecute you” command even further:

“… love your enemies! Do good to people who hate you! Bless people who curse you! Pray for those who treat you badly! If someone hits you on the cheek—offer him the other one! If someone takes away your coat—don’t stop him taking your shirt! Give to everyone who asks you, and don’t ask for things back when people have taken them. Whatever you want people to do to you, do that to them. If you love [only] those who love you, what credit is that to you? Think about it, even sinners love people who love them. Or again, if you do good only to people who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Sinners do that too.”

Luke 6:27b-33

These are among the best known but most difficult of Jesus’ sayings to put into practice. Even great “saints” find them very hard and sometimes fail to do them, let alone hot zealots who revel in fulminating about God’s doom hanging over sinners to strike down those who mock God and despise Christ, Christians, and Christianity. After all, loving and blessing (which implies demonstrating what you say) an enemy or opponent is much harder than damning them to perdition and walking away from them.

Hot zeal for God’s judgment to fall on sinners can be a shield protecting the zealot from actually having to practice the harder things such as agape-love (agape being the Greek word used for love in all of these citations) which Jesus is talking about. As pointed out in Cold Love, 1, Jesus is talking about the highest form of love (agape) which governs all others. It is this kind of love which we need to live by, and this can only happen in constant relationship with its giver – Yahweh-Adonai, the Creator and Author of all that is.

Let us recall that Yeshua said that it was precisely this kind of love which would become increasingly scarcer as the times grow darker and we approach the Great Finale. It is one of the sure signs of what is called in the New Testament Greek text the Parousia, loosely translated as “the Royal Appearing” – the “Second Coming” in modern-day popular theological jargon.

The Parousia was a term used in the First Century Roman World to refer to the arrival of the Emperor, or perhaps a King, being heralded as a Savior, a Redeemer. There was a protocol for this as the Ruler approached the city he was coming to grace with his august (as in Caesar Augustus, First Emperor of Rome) presence. There was a great procession modelled after the Roman Triumph – the great and magnificent Victory Parade awarded to Rome’s greatest commanders and heroes after a major campaign had been completed with resounding success. Hundreds of thousands would turn out in their best robes, and the whole thing was carefully choreographed to display the full splendor and glory of the Victor. All the spoils of this latest enemy-obliterating campaign would be on display, with treasures aplenty, plundered statues of the new conquest’s gods, goddesses, and great rulers to show that Rome’s gods were greater, and the general or Emperor (who might also be the general – the Latin word for Emperor is “Imperator”, which, until Augustus had meant “Supreme Commander”, a military title) splendidly robed in a golden chariot – hordes of newly-minted war-captives-cum-slaves, the victorious legions, or at least one of them as representative, and, at the end, the most distinguished captives, who would be ceremonially executed by strangulation before the Emperor and Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, the Supreme Roman Deity, whose son the Emperor was tacitly proclaimed to be.

The Christian idea of Christ’s final triumph bears some relationship to this picture, just as does the Apostle Paul’s statement that only the Holy Spirit could bring someone to declare “Jesus is Lord”. To say this in any public way in such a culture could well mean death. That statement meant that Caesar, whose Parousia all must acclaim whenever he went on tour in each great center he visited, was ultimately not Lord (Dominus in Latin). With Jesus, there was one higher than any earthly ruler.

But the Kingdom of Jesus was “not of this world” – it was a Kingdom built on agape, and its citizens were/are all equal, regardless of sex, race or ethnicity, and social class or status. In that alternative Kingdom, an Emperor/Empress is no higher than a slave, a man is not higher than a woman, black-, brown-, yellow-, red-hued, and white humans are all equal. This was not intended to be mere pious rhetorical flourish, but reality in practice and effect. But the only way this could and can ever be a reality is by, through, and within the living presence of agape in each of the Kingdom citizens’ hearts and minds, and practiced day by day.

It is no wonder that, for the Roman state, this movement, which began to grow with alarming rapidity in the eastern half of the empire and then found its insidious way west across North Africa and into Europe, became more and more the target of suspicion, then growing concern, and finally outright persecution.

How attractive and compelling such a faith quickly became to the downtrodden and oppressed! It was, and is, a complete alternative worldview and lifestyle to that of that ancient world, and indeed to our own culture and society, if truly lived. Eventually, numbers of the jaded and sated ruling classes and wielders of power and influence could not help but begin to wonder and look at this powerful spiritual and metaphysical force themselves, and some of their own number began giving themselves to this alternate “Lord” named Jesus.

It was said of those first generations of Christian disciples that it was their agape that was “turning the world upside down”. It was said of them that they blessed their persecutors, and prayed for the rulers who sought to destroy them. It was said that they knew how to die even as well as they knew how to live. It was said that inexplicable wonders sometimes accompanied the declaration of their euangelion – Good News – another word borrowed from the Roman Imperium with its message of the beneficent rule of the “Imperatores” – Emperors.

Cold love was not the hallmark of that age within the people then called Christians.

Let us bear that in mind as, next time, we examine what Jesus therefore meant when he said cold love would be a sure mark of the nearing of his Parousia.

TO BE CONTINUED

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Cold Love, 1

“Because of the increase of lawless wickedness most people’s love will grow cold…”

The Gospel of Matthew, chapter 24, verse 12, in the New Testament, my rendering.

(Photo credit: Outreach Magazines)

In the blistering, record-shattering summer of 2022 in Earth’s Northern Hemisphere, few (? no?) rational people would say that we are heading towards a new Ice Age. On every side, from Academia to government agencies and para-government prognosticators, we hear the alarm bells of climate change and see the effects of global warming. For example, here in Canada we are witnessing a large increase in the severity of summer storm and tornado activity in the east and center.

In the region where I live, we experienced what, so far, has been a once-in-a-lifetime event called a derecho, a sort of straight-line tornado without the twisting funnels touching down, but with straight-line winds recorded at speeds up to 212 kph (130mph). It cut a wide swath (up to 100 kilometers in breadth and about 1000 km in length) through southern, central and eastern Ontario and western Quebec, leaving huge devastation in its path, and power outages from a natural cause on a scale never seen before in Ontario. The national capital area of Ottawa-Gatineau, with 1.43 million people Canada’s fourth largest urban area, was worst hit, with some areas out of power for almost two weeks as Hydro workers struggled to replace thousands of destroyed power poles and towers, transformers, and sub-stations. Overall insurable damage was $720 million, but add to that materials and labor costs to rebuild the infrastructure, and this does not speak to the devastation wrought on business, farming, industry, and commerce.

How much of climate change is due to human action over the last two hundred or so years may still be debated, but there seems little doubt that human pollution of the air and sea, and pillage of the land, particularly of the forests and sensitive ecosystems all over the world, have played and continue to play a significant role.

One of the premises of the West’s modern-postmodern culture and society is that we should keep our personal religious and spiritual convictions out of the public forum. This seems a fine ideal if we can live up to it and all are willing to participate in it equally. For people in power it is a very tough temptation to overcome, and disguising one’s metaphysical convictions as rational and scientific is a common ploy when effectuating change to the social fabric. For some decades, many Western nations seem to have made a real effort to be somewhat non-partisan in religion and metaphysical influences. However, one may be excused for suspecting that the veneer of civility and sincerity in not using power for the furtherance of favored values and morals with little regard for those of the mass of conscientious citizens has become threadbare.

In the West’s history over the last 1500 years or so since the demise of the Western Roman Empire, religion has too often been an instrument, a motivation, and a justification for some of the most terrible events in recorded history. Some of history’s most horrific and inhumane things done by humans to one another have been done in the name of Jesus Christ, to whom the perpetrators paid lip-service as the Prince of Peace and the ultimate manifestation of God’s boundless love for humanity and His creation. These failures and excesses by individual Christians holding positions of power, and by institutions claiming to act under Christ and according to His principles have provided great fodder for the secularization of the West.

Over the last hundred years, ideology has stepped into the moral vacuum, and continues to do so. The dismal record of the twentieth century amply illustrates that ideology is just secularized metaphysics with all the religious zeal and much of the sacramentalism of religion dressed up in other names. Without God, humanity creates its own form of religion and creates the kinds of laws, principles, and institutions the latest power-clique deems suited to anchor itself in place and manipulate the underclasses who must adhere to their orthodoxy or suffer the penalties for not doing so. Such penalties may be as mild as social pariah-ship and isolation, or as severe as death and mass extermination.

It is an education to consider the perception and role of love across the annals of recorded history. It would be a long and perhaps wearying tale to undertake it in detail. Books about love in all its aspects abound across the millennia and in numerous cultural expressions. We cannot do them justice here, and it is not my intent to try.

But we may consider what Jesus was talking about in the quote at the top of this post and see where it takes us.

When Jesus said that as things move towards the ultimate climax of human history (whenever that might be), “most people’s love will grow cold”, the word for “love” in the original Greek (which was actually already a translation of the Aramaic word “hooba” which Jesus would have used when talking to His disciples) was agape. This kind of love is different from sexual love (eros), parental love (storge), or friendship and sibling love (philia). It is the highest form of love, selfless, giving without expecting any return, reflecting God’s love for humanity and His creation.

Jesus was not saying that people would stop falling in love, stop having sex, or stop caring about family and friends. However, if those other kinds of love are to truly reach their highest potential, they must be ruled by something yet higher – agape. That is what Jesus was predicting would “grow cold” for most people.

What consequences ensue from the decline of selfless, giving love-commitment which does not impose some sort of controlling agenda or conditions in return? Surely it is not wrong to hope for and expect some reciprocation in relationships with one’s most significant others? Certainly not! And I am sure Jesus would concur. But when it fades away, when the beloved turn away and reject you, then what?

That is where agape emerges, if it is present and has been nurtured already.

What Jesus is saying is that in the “end-times” we will see (and it appears already that we are entering them, or are already well along the path towards them) is the strength of underlying and over-arching agape as the root strength of all love fading out of view.

The consequences of that are “the increase of lawless wickedness”, which is also one of the causes of the moral and ethical glaciation unto death of western (and world) culture and society. It is both cause and effect, like the snowdrift high on the mountainside that breaks loose and, when it catapults down the slope, brings a tremendous avalanche of devastation.

TO BE CONTINUED

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Psalm 73 – A Parable for Our Time, 3 – Strange Time, This Time

(Photo credit -Quotefancy)

This short series on “A Parable for Our Time” based on Psalm 73 of the Hebrew Scriptures will conclude in unorthodox fashion with a rather lengthy original poem. Although using poetry to convey complexity and perplexity may be a bit of a hurdle, I hope this will not put off the reader.

Given the maelstrom of complex issues and influences swirling around humanity and our role and place on Planet Earth, and the parallel perplexity many of us are experiencing in our souls about it all, perhaps poetry can be a more effective way in reflecting all this than the regular sort of narrative composition blog.

At any rate, should you choose to peruse this venture in poetic license, thank you for you indulgence and patience.

I leave readers to formulate their own interpretations. Each one will hopefully find soul-food somewhere along the way.

Shalom!

Strange time, this time

© V.J. Marquis, July 2022

Strange time, this time

we sojourn in

strange time, this time

of endless din

and silent noise

of ether sky

consumed with waves

particles fly

uncaptured ghosts

shooting through me

swirling ‘round me

photonic beams

in endless streams

screaming voices

I cannot hear

unless I use

the proper gear.

Strange times, these times

restless masses

seething classes

seen through glasses

darkened lenses

barely capture

fleeting senses

what might be seen

what might be heard

sublime, absurd

folly, wisdom

panic, boredom

everything from

wonders to slime

beauty to crime

chaotic brew

one may construe

just as you please

as lonely truth

goes to its knees.

Strange time, this time

rumors of war

lurk at the door

dire projections

dark shadows loom

rage breath of doom

heartless, soulless

glitzy nabobs

shun starving mobs

no qualms or guilt

can stick to them

rake it in now

choked with splendor

“let them eat cake”

we remember

a great queen said

then lost her head.

Strange time, this time

though not the first

there was Noah

of long ago

the story goes

that in his time

imaginations

of multitudes

teemed with evil

all the day long

to hell with good

just bring it on

power, pleasure

makes us all strong

just do as we like

no God to see

no God to hear

no God to care

or make us fear

robbers, killers

and all the rest

top of the heap

short-term bit-king

live by the sword

die by the sword

God may be slow

yet all will see

his dreadful wrath

bring them to dust.

Strange time, this time

hypocrisy reigns

mocking disdain

for any to claim

to yet sustain

moral virtues

old-time values

perhaps abstain

from urgent lusts

consider e’er

you put your trust

in brand-new fads

stranger theories

fresh-concocted

to ease the road

into unproved

notions of who

and what we are

why wait for proof

just go and do

and ridicule

the dinosaurs

who will not see

just shout them down.

Strange time, this time

the great divide

a chasm wide

from left to right

so far apart

with seething rage

a deadly stew

can it be true

conspiracy

that other side

no eyes to see

no ears to hear

no willingness

to listen or

to move aside

receive a word

let it be heard

that comes across

from those people

your truth, my truth

just what is truth

Pilate-Jesus

once exchanged

all truth, no truth

just yours or mine

with no God there

just who’s to say

all truths can change

from day to day.

Strange time, this time

no certainty

it has been said

except we all

will end up dead

“gotta serve somebody”

as we all know

deep in our gut

some rights and wrongs

some truths and lies

fake excuses

for ourselves

lay the blame game

the other guy

made me do it

but underneath

the still small voice

whispers “you know!”

you had a choice

persistent cuss

that little voice

leave me in peace

and if it won’t

I can kill it

I can still it

ignoring it

neglecting it

till I grow deaf

or it goes dead.

Strange time, this time

the deaf and blind

have taken charge

a rumor comes

and panic reigns

a storm streaks by

the ship is blown

now right now left

the course unknown.

Strange time, this time

the sages sitting

upon the heights

of their wisdom

can tell us all

we need to do

to claim our rights

to save ourselves

to practice what

has been approved

how next to move

to reach the goal

justice for all

a few freedoms

checked, withdrawn

more right for some

than other ones

trust us we know

we balance fair

flexible law

in swivel chair.

Strange times, these times

poor blessed ones

meek heirs of earth

pure-heart seekers

given small worth

grieving mourners

shoved to the side

collateral costs

of progress y’all

mercy is mocked

in victims’ case

villains pitied

while families weep

peacemakers called

God’s own blood kin

run to and fro

seeking that one

mucho peace-talk

running here, there

no reality

found anywhere

not in one heart

nor multitude

a rare jewel

so hard to find

sell all to get

no one knows how

it’s really found

hunger and thirst

for God abound

no one dares name

what’s really sought

no one dares kneel

dares breathe the Name.

Strange time, this time

beginning, end

the great trial

to weigh the soul

mene-tekel

moment-finger

Babylon-feast

orgy-garden

drunken stupor

steaming cauldron

drink it down dregs

consequences

consequences

always come home

all know deep down

all debts come due.

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Psalm 73 – A Parable for Our Time, 2

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
And you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’

Bob Dylan, 1964

Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A-Changin’ (Official Audio) https://www.youtube.com › watch

As much as it did in the day of King David and its author, Asaf, a worship leader in ancient Israel 3000 years ago, Psalm 73 speaks to how masses of ordinary folk see the world in this age. As such, it is true prophecy with a timeless message, as well as a poignant warning to all the arrogant who think they will never have to pay for their crimes against the poor, the downtrodden, the abused, and the oppressed of every kind and degree.

As Asaf observes, it seems as if the rich and evil just get richer and compound their evil depredations at the expense of people who just want to live a quiet normal life with a modicum of comfort and perhaps a measure of social recognition for themselves and their family. While the elites devise more and more methods of extracting everything they can take from them and their toil, the “folks” want reasonable security for their families and opportunities for their children to enjoy the good things they have worked for.

More and more regular citizens become aware that much of their work does not contribute to their own modest hopes and aspirations but is siphoned off by unscrupulous oligarchs, aristocrats, plutocrats, and downright criminals scheming to exploit every means possible to maximize profits and gain more wealth for themselves and their coterie. The plutocrats are seen as manipulating and even controlling the political oligarchs by giving them both a financial cut of the loot and a path to continued future power and influence once they have played out their political credit.

In our day in almost every state, the horrendous actions of the criminal sector are becoming more and more brazen and bold in directly challenging the “legitimate” sector for direct control of whole regions and sectors of the economy and society. They are often so deeply intertwined with the political authorities that their actions are almost indistinguishable. When the populace awakens to this reality, it becomes a mere matter of time until the exploited become so enraged and angry that they begin to rebel.  

What Psalm 73 and other Psalms and prophetic parts of the Bible, both Jewish and Christian, declare is, whatever may appear to be happening, the Creator is always aware and keeping tabs on all of this. Sooner or later, everything is paid for. Evil always reaps its own destruction if it is not ended by “repentance” – a true and sincere turning away from it with restoration and restitution.

“Those who live by the sword die by the sword.” When you drive people into the last corner where no hope is left, the courage of despair rises up with rage and fury to attack the oppressors, even if it seems hopeless. “Those who sow the wind will reap the whirlwind.” “Be sure that your sins will find you out.” “God cannot be mocked [with impunity].”

These are hopeful, sobering sayings, but the difficulty for the victims of the accumulating mountain of injustices and oppressions is in not readily seeing anything being done right now to put an end to them. Ordinary folks still want and hope for that quiet life for themselves and their children and grandchildren. Sometimes it takes generations for the oppression to become so unbearable that the explosion of wrath can no longer by prevented.

History has shown that what may happen is the emergence of someone even more subtle and ruthless than the brutal and callous coteries who have ensconced themselves in the castles with their garrisons of men-at-arms – the “forces of order. The castles of the 21st Century are the bastions of the socio-political-economic Powers of our day.

When the people’s apparent “great hope” emerges, they will usually be seen as “a man [woman if you prefer] of the long-suffering people”, “one of us”, with the power to articulate the spoken and half-understood grievances and outrage of those who have been, or see themselves as having been, disentitled, disenfranchised, used, fobbed off with hollow promises and empty rhetoric, etc.

There is no shortage of examples from history to demonstrate this phenomenon and what can happen when the oratorical, inspirational, motivational, and organizational genius emerges to give voice to and stimulate action from within “the masses”. Here are a few: Alcibiades in ancient Athens; the Gracchi brothers, Spartacus, and Julius Caesar in ancient Rome; “Jacques” and the Jacquerie in Medieval France, Watt Tyler in Medieval England, William Wallace in Medieval Scotland, Thomas Muntzer in Reformation Germany, The Jacobins (Murat and Robespierre, et. al.) in Revolutionary France, Lenin and the Soviets in Russia, the Taipei and Mao in China, Mussolini and Fascism in Italy, and, perhaps the “greatest” populist revolutionary exemplar, Hitler. There have been many smaller-scale models of this phenomenon as well.

As we survey human societies around the world in the 21st Century, we cannot avoid the question, “How close are we to such uprisings?” If such were to break out in this day, can they take on the scale of one of the massive events listed above?

Perhaps of some comfort to the entrenched powers of 21st Century society, most of the outbreaks of popular rage in history have failed in their ultimate aim of overthrowing the oligarchs, plutocrats, aristocratic oppressors, etc. The “forces of order” are often too strong for the poorly armed, amateurishly-led populace to uproot the “Establishment” without some inside help, perhaps some opportunistic or idealistic and repentant person or group from the ruling set who can swing some of his own sort, or at least some part of the military and police forces, to assist the rebels. We see this at the Fall of the Bastille in Paris in 1789, and in St. Petersburg in 1917 with the sailors’ revolt.

If we consider all of this from the perspective of Asaf, the ancient Israelite poet-prophet (in ancient societies poets often had the role of “prophet”), he does not seem to condone bloody revolution as a good solution to the massive injustices suffered by the underclasses. Instead, he seems to advise patience and trust in God, who sees and will, in his Providence, bring retribution upon the oppressors and exploiters.

From the perspective of an ordinary citizen of any age, this is a hard pill to swallow. Asaf is very aware of that. Read (again?) a good translation of the actual Biblical text or, if preferred, refer to my paraphrase in the post previous to this. Perhaps this “counsel of patience in the face of injustice and adversity” just seems too unrealistic to practice, especially to Westerners of the 21st Century CE. It is much more satisfying to take action, even violent action if things get too desperate. What can Asaf be thinking as he tells us to wait for God to settle with our abusers and oppressors?

“They wear their pride brazenly and move along openly using violence and intimidation when it suits them. They grow fat with ease in their rich lifestyle, while their minds always devise new evil which infests their hearts and oozes out into their actions. They speak with malice and scoffing while they spew out threats. They even mock God and heaven while they strut and swagger boastfully here on earth.

“Many people are taken in by them and their “success” and turn to them, swallowing their “how-to-get-rich” story whole and acting like them. Those arrogant swaggerers sneer, “I don’t see any evidence that there’s a God watching! Does he even exist?”

“There they are, those evil scourges of humanity, always at ease, getting rich, swelled with self-importance and power. It seems to me these days as if I’ve remained good and innocent of wrongdoing for nothing. I know nothing but trouble every day, as if I’m being punished the minute I get up in the morning.”

Psalm 73 paraphrase

How can I/you/we find the patience to go on enduring the burdens they heap on us so callously? What about the crushed, much-worse-off victims in so many other afflicted states in Africa, Asia, Latin America? Is it at all reasonable to suggest, “If you just wait patiently, God will give those despicable evil people their just desserts in due time?” How can that be seen as any kind of solution for people watching their children die and their humble hopes crushed as so much dung under the boots of ruthless semi-human killers?

The very earth calls out for redress and for just consequences for the very worst of these beings who look like humans but act like incarnate devils.

Here in Canada, perhaps more than in any other Western nation, we move as in a dream far removed from most of the turmoil. We are deceived, just as our leaders seem to be. They but reflect the somnolence of the people as we imagine that we shall escape what is happening far offshore. Our mighty southern neighbour is deep in internal turmoil, and its waves are lapping at our doorstep, even spilling over, although so far we have felt but ripples.

The point is that, far and wide, the world stage is set for some great emergence, some sort of great upheaval in human order and society. Nature itself seems to mirror this.

To borrow more Biblical imagery, we might say the “the whole earth is groaning in distress felt right in the gut [the old translations say “travail”] as it awaits the glorious revelation of the sons (children) of the Creator.” (St. Paul in Romans, chapter 8.)

It seems an appropriate time to be describing where things have come to in apocalyptic language. Read again the opening citation from Bob Dylan who might, with considerable justice, be called the “poet laureate” and greatest minstrel of this time in human history. For those who miss the allusions in the last verse of that great classic song of almost 60 years ago, they are firmly anchored in the teachings of Yeshua/Jesus who was referring to the elite of the society he was living in two thousand years ago.

“The times they are a-changin'” but, “plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose”!

TO BE CONTINUED

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Psalm 73 – A Parable for Our Time, 1

(Photo credit – wikipedia – shofar)

(The following is my rather liberal paraphrase of a literary gem from the Hebrew Bible. It is based on David Stern’s translation in The Complete Jewish Bible.I have eliminated the verse separations to facilitate the flow of this shockingly relevant 3000-year-old discourse on the nature of human society in the eyes of a citizen who also happens to still believe in God and His ultimate justice.)

God is very good to Israel, to those whose hearts are pure before Him.

But I lost my balance and my feet almost slipped away when I became jealous of arrogant rich and powerful people and saw how much evildoers prosper. For when their death comes it’s painless, and they stay healthy all their lives, never having the troubles of ordinary people and cruising along untouched by sickness and pain.

They wear their pride brazenly and move along openly using violence and intimidation when it suits them. They grow fat with ease in their rich lifestyle, while their minds always devise new evil which infests their hearts and oozes out into their actions. They speak with malice and scoffing while they spew out threats. They even mock God and heaven while they strut and swagger boastfully here on earth.

Many people are taken in by them and their “success” and turn to them, swallowing their “how-to-get-rich” story whole and acting like them. Those arrogant swaggerers sneer, “I don’t see any evidence that there’s a God watching! Does he even exist?”

There they are, those evil scourges of humanity, always at ease, getting rich, swelled with self-importance and power. It seems to me these days as if I’ve remained good and innocent of wrongdoing for nothing. I know nothing but trouble every day, as if I’m being punished the minute I get up in the morning.

But when I talk like this, I’m betraying my children and grandchildren. Nevertheless, it’s very troubling to think about.

Then, as I come before God to worship and stay in His presence, I see the truth about their fate. You, God, have put them on a slippery slope sliding straight into the pit of destruction. In an instant they are destroyed and swept away by sudden terrors. There is nothing left of them but dream-mist when an aroused God shows how He despises the way they live.

For a while I was angry and bitter and deeply wounded. In my anguish, I became an utterly ignorant fool myself, like one of the brute beasts you’ve made. But you did not leave me or forget me. You took me aside by the right hand and counseled and guided me. You showed me that when I die, you will receive me into your glorious realm.

So, Lord, whom do I have in heaven but you? And as to here on earth, when all is said and done, I want nothing else but you.

My body will fail and my heart may give out, but God is my real strength and my eternal home.

Those who have already gone too far and those who are even now heading far away from you will perish; the unfaithful to you are as good as destroyed already.

As for me, the nearness of God is my true good and is all that is truly desirable and good. I am making Yahweh-Adonai my refuge so that I can tell everyone who will listen of all your works.

——————————————————————————–

Lately, I feel as if I really connect to Psalm 73. Previously I have experienced trouble with this and other Psalms of similar sentiment because of what seems like God’s harsh attitude in categorically rejecting those who have gone astray from Him. I sometimes find the language of the Psalms towards rebels against God brutal and vengeful in my 21st Century years.

But there is a real dilemma for anyone who gets caught up in that semantic trap – for that is what it is, a semantic trap. It springs from our post-modern, enlightened, progressivist reinterpretation of what God should be like according to us rather than the reality of who God really is. We have remade God to suit our touchy-feely ideas.

Here is the internal dialogue we postmoderns typically recite along that route: “I want everyone who claims to be good to be nice and sensitive and forgiving of everything I do. Hmm – but that means we all need to be forgiving and non-judgmental of whatever anyone does. If I want that for me from everyone else, I guess I should be that way too. (But there are limits of course, especially when people mistreat me!)

“So, if God really exists, he/she/it/they would automatically have to be all-forgiving, no matter what!. (S)he would not harshly and brutally condemn people to hell, even if they do horrible things. In fact, hell shouldn’t exist at all – so let’s just declare it can’t, it doesn’t. If God is love, and hell is full of hate, well it just can’t be real! But heaven is a great place, or would be if we didn’t have to just do everything God says all the time. I mean, how much fun would that be? So, let’s just say that “heaven” will be perfectly adaptable, according to everyone’s idea of what it should be like to be heaven for them.”

The most economical postmodern solution to this disturbing dilemma of people actually doing for-real terrible deeds while we try to make sense of them in a universe that still has a God sitting above it, is to deny there is a God. Then we don’t have to deal with the moral conundrum the inconvenient Deity creates for us poor mortals living in a painfully unjust world. Without the Supreme Being, morality is just a social construct and not a real problem – unless, of course, you happen to be on the receiving end of the injustice. Then, it’s very hard to remember as you suffer that injustice doesn’t have a true reality, just the appearance and feel of it for the recipients. The random-chance universe of inanimate evolution is just a cruel, brutal place, so cruelty and brutality are just human attributions put on something that is not personal. But, oops! All that right and wrong talk still smacks of judgment and morality! So just where does that SO inconvenient apparently innate sense of justice and morality come from anyway if the universe is devoid of it. How moral are atoms and molecules?

This is the kind of semantic game philosophers who deny there is a God or say that God is irrelevant must play to escape the trap they’ve created for themselves and everyone else who ignores or excludes God, especially a Personal God, from their understanding of life and the Cosmos. Therefore, the denial of God, and of real (in)justice and actual good and evil in the Cosmos as it is, is nothing more or less than a semantic trap. It has no exit. Only God provides an exit, but we can no longer admit that exit into public discourse and polite society. As Stephen Hawking said about the best resolution for the enigmas of how evolution could ever have happened, and time come into being, “The simplest and most elegant solution is God. But we do not have need of that hypothesis.”

Hawking was of course dead wrong; we desperately need not only the “God-hypothesis” but the actual living, Personal God, Yahweh-Adonai, the One who identifies as “I AM WHO I AM: I WILL BE WHOM I WILL BE,” “The God Who Is There!” as Francis Schaeffer put it in a book of the same title.

In ancient times, the polytheists understood this when they began to consider the nature of the gods they had fallen into worshipping and appeasing. They realized that the way they attributed frivolous human moral ambivalence and pettiness to them simply would not do. Gods who could whimsically be benevolent one day and downright malicious the next could not be worthy of worship, except out of fear. But no amount of appeasement seemed to make them any more or less benevolent. So why bother?

But few ancients were willing to say that no such thing as morality and justice really existed. They needed to make the gods more just in order to hang onto truth, so gradually they did. There were a few open atheists, like the Roman Lucretius. But he was considered rather blasphemous and certainly impious by his contemporaries. To the chagrin of his great Medieval admirer, Thomas Aquinas, Aristotle, often considered the greatest ancient philosopher, if not the greatest of all time, was ambivalent about the God question. He rejected the Greek pantheon as unworthy of esteem, but, unlike his mentor Plato, was agnostic about there being a single Supreme Being. Plato concluded there must be such a Being.

In the ancient world, most everyone innately understood and accepted that there truly is good and evil at work, and that right and wrong are everyday choices to be made even in the most banal and certainly in the most significant issues in life. If we scratch enough below the surface of the regular John and Jane in the 21st-Century, I suspect the situation is little changed from our ancient progenitors. Such stubborn persistence of moral absolutism related to a belief in God may be the despair of the radical progressive set. They would dearly love to make morality as plastic and redefinable as possible in order to keep everyone moving towards full acceptance of the next crusade’s new value on the ever-morphing WOKE agenda. They can’t understand how, after setting the educational agenda for decades now in the West, ordinary folks still hold onto the “God-hypothesis” as the only logical answer to that most basic of all childhood questions, “WHY?”

This “stubborn persistence” is closely aligned to the deep malaise at work among hundreds of millions of unhappy regular citizens whose anger about fundamental inequalities and moral follies being ignored and even sanctioned as “good” is approaching boil-over temperature. John and Jane Doe see endless demands to stretch their lifestyles and values while removing their hope of economic betterment in order to suit the latest enlightenment revelations about “truth”. Outrage, we are discovering, is a two-way street. In the early 2000s, the left seemed to be the righteous outraged faction. Now the right has their own version of righteous anger. Neither faction likes it when the other takes to the streets and the barricades in wrathful outpourings. Shades of Germany in the early 1930s!

Psalm 73 is actually remarkably close to what we are discussing here, yet it was composed (as a song!) 3000 or so years ago by an Israelite worship leader named Asaf. As King Shlomo (Solomon) (an Israelite ruler close to Asaf in time) observed, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

Before we close this episode, and to prepare for our next one, let us briefly set up the discussion Asaf is embarking on in his 3000-year-old “protest” song (shades of Barry Maguire, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Neil Young!). He wasn’t a hard-swearing rapper, but he is scathing nonetheless!

Asaph, our ancient Protester (Protestant?) is talking about the conscienceless ultra-rich and powerful oppressors of the underclasses of his time. He asks all the sorts of question which any person with a still functioning conscience and sense of justice and right and wrong would ask today. He might even have been looking at the oppressive rule of Israelite Kings as he wrote this, or at least at some of his oppressive officials who, like the bloatedly opulent Kings, were using their high offices and trade and business connections to grow richer and richer while oppressing, over-taxing, and gouging the poor farmers and laborers.

Sounds like the obscene plutocratic system we see in this age, eh?

TO BE CONTINUED

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Outliers, 8– Profile of the Ultimate Outlier, 2

Even if someone [meaning himself] were to rise from the dead, still they would not believe. –

Jesus/Yeshua, in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man in the afterlife. – ca 32 CE

There is no God but Allah, and I am the Prophet of Allah.

Muhammad to the Meccans in 610 CE.

The Buddha is not to be worshipped, nor is he himself the way; the Buddha is but the one who shows the way.

Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha) to the Sanghya (the order of monks who followed him), ca. 500 BCE

Last time, we concluded that only three persons in human history qualify for the designation “Ultimate Outlier” or “Super-Outlier”: in chronological order, they are Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama – 563-483 BCE), Yeshua ben-Yosef of Nazareth in Israel (Jesus – 4 BCE-33 CE), and Muhammad of Mecca (570 CE – 632 CE). There have been almost innumerable other prominent outliers in human history down through the last five recorded millennia, but previously we rather conclusively demonstrated that none of them approach the caliber of the three named above.

Furthermore, these three are all well-established, documentable historical persons, not vague legendary individuals of whose real lives we know very little or next to nothing. As we found previously, the legacies of these three are so gigantic and durable that they bear no comparison with any other famous personage in any field of achievement we could name. They surpass any temporal empire based on conquest and national ambition, as well as any other great achievements in any category of historical renown.

When considering the issue “Who is the greatest person who has ever lived?” Western materialists are inevitably prone to reduce it to some sort of quantifiable criteria. As tempting as this may be, it simply will not do for these three. What sort of quantifiers could be used? Numbers of followers over time and in the present? A mugs game at best. How about numbers of ethnicities or nations whose populace by-and-large today name each of them as their religious icon or Messiah? Once more, there are so many variables as to render such a comparison mute. Using such crude indices will render no meaningful result.

When answering the burning question, “Who is the greatest of all?” Mohammed Ali (Cassius Clay), the world heavyweight boxing legend, brazenly and unabashedly replied, “I AM THE GREATEST!” Similarly, the adherents of one or the other of the three great faiths named above would doubtless nominate their own founder to the title.

No human, living or dead, is capable of objectively deciding who is THE Ultimate Outlier in human history. I will not pretend to be objective either. For any regular reader of this blog, you will already know that I am an affirmed Christian, so my answer is obvious. Yeshua ben-Yosef/Jesus, son of Joseph, of Nazareth IS THAT ONE.

That does not mean that I cannot admire the other nominees, at least to some degree. For example, Buddha’s teachings are among the most sublime on record, and those who practice them consistently may well succeed in living harmonious lives and doing far less harm to others, their world, and themselves than those who do not. “Good” Buddhists are among the least offensive and aggressive people on Earth.

Muhammad faced and overcame great adversity. He was ready to die for his mission and message and was a great teacher, inspirer of men, organizer, recruiter, and unifier of previously hostile tribes. But the harshness of parts of his message, once he had gained power in Yatrib (Medina), and the thrust of his revelations underwent a profound change. Its application by both himself and subsequent Caliphs towards those who did (and do) not voluntarily accept it has led to enormous injustice against those named “infidels” for their refusal, including wholesale massacres and mass forced conversions. The justification for this kind of “evangelism” counterbalances subsequent attempts to create more equitable conditions. Too often these have failed and continue to fail in the face of stubborn insistence on holding fast to Medieval cruelties and inequalities in the name of “preserving the faith”. For example, by and large in Islamic societies, women are still kept in abject suppression to men at every stage of their lives.

Neither can the reprehensible behavior of people claiming to be sincere followers and adherents of Jesus be excused, either in the past or in the present. Horrors committed on millions in the name of Jesus and “Christian civilization” are an inexcusable blot on the legacy of the Lord of lords and Prince of Peace. Those who condoned and continue to condone such blasphemies will have much to answer for standing before the Judgment Seat of the One they profess to serve. They also have much to answer for right now in the court of human esteem and justice itself.

Diametrically opposite to the above kind of behaviors, and like Buddha, Jesus taught and exampled peace, respect for all regardless of any sort of categorization extant in the prevalent society, forgiveness, and open acceptance of all, male and female, slave and free, regardless of race (there is only the human race, not several) and ethnicities. For him, all can come to him as equal inheritors of God’s offer of a new Kingdom here on earth and in “the age to come”. No evidence can be advanced from any legitimate historically vetted source to show that Jesus ever preached taking power by force, overthrowing established powers and societies by subversive revolution, or advancing the idea of any sort of racial or cultural mastery of one people, tribe, or nation over others. On the country, when on trial for his life before the Roman Superpower’s governor in his homeland of Israel, Jesus told Pontius Pilatus, “My Kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my followers would fight for me, and I could ask my Father [he claimed God as his Father] for ten legions of angels [60 000 angels!] and He would send them.”

Instead, he declared that he had come to bring an end to the dominion of sin on Earth, and that he would do this by voluntarily sacrificing his own life as the price to bring reconciliation between forlorn and lost humanity and our broken-hearted Creator. In turn, that would open the road to mutual reconciliation among the warring peoples of earth, among individuals, and even with the wider creation itself.

Instead of launching a violent revolutionary crusade to overthrow the military Superpowers of the world who crush and oppress the suffering masses, he would send a bunch of ordinary people to teach and live by example God’s message that the way out of the same-old millennial pattern of ambitious, unscrupulous, and downright wicked people taking over and ruling using a lot of helping soldiers and bureaucrats and accomplices who benefit from the system was to turn the value system and heart commitment upside down.

“You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, but I tell you love your enemies, forgive those who persecute you, do good to those who hate you, and you will be children of your heavenly Father.” Jesus said that real change could only happen when heart-and-soul inner change took place and enough people started living by a whole other set of criteria.

The usual response to this very hard message is that it is all very nice in theory, but can never work in practice in the dog-eat-dog, only-the-fittest-survive universe we have seen extant since human history has been recorded.

Ending war, mutual hatred, and group-to-group animosity and fear has long been recognized as the great quest for bringing peace on earth and true goodwill to all humans. All of us know that this must happen or we are doomed – and perhaps life on Earth itself is doomed if we fail.

But, despite all the understanding of the need for such a great utopian breakthrough, we continue to see that “the beat goes on” as it ever has. Every great Golden Age of every society and civilization has come crashing down in ruins as one kingdom has risen up against another and people beat their ploughshares into swords and their pruning-hooks into spears and shields, and once more the chariots of war rumble out.

Once more we live in a time of wars and rumors or wars. Once more we hear the trumpet blast to rally the armies for another time of slaughter. And we now also sea the seas being turned to wormwood, and the heavens becoming as brass, burning up the very ground. The very skies can now rain down fire and brimstone.

Buddha’s offer of peace is for personal extinction in nirvana. Muhammad’s offer is that everyone submit to Allah or the might of his wrath will smite all the infidels until all who are left bow to him or burn in hell forever. Jesus’ offer is, through confessing your need to God to be forgiven through the sacrifice of Jesus, to receive forgiveness for all your sins and then become an ambassador of peace and God’s love to any who will hear.

In simplified form, these are the three basic choices the three Ultimate Outliers of human history have left for us.

But there are four choices, not just three.

The fourth choice is to refuse all of them and keep hoping we humans can still find a way out of our deepening crisis for ourselves. That is the choice actually at work for a great many, if not most people in the West right now. It is also the choice at work in non-Western nations which have taken on a largely Western approach to living and dealing with socio-economic-political realities.

Making war to end war has never brought an end to war. Karma is as true now as it ever was. “If you live by the sword, you will die by the sword,” another one of those straight-to-the-heart Jesus sayings. Biblically speaking, “The wages of sin is [always] death” – and, “Those who sow the wind reap the whirlwind”.

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Outliers, 7 – Profile of the Ultimate Outlier, 1

No one has ever spoken like this man! –

The Temple Guards Captain to the High Priest when he returned without arresting Jesus, ca. 33 CE

It is harder for a rich person to enter God`s family than it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.

– Yeshua/Jesus of Nazareth

The typical individualistic Westerner wants to express who “I really am underneath”; to make a statement and stand up for his/her own special uniqueness. The quintessential launching point for this ideal in recent memory was in the 1960s, the era of “Flower Power”, long hair for guys, newly approved birth-control pills, adaptable morality, and Rock Festivals. However, it must be recognized that the genesis of this movement had begun long before, reaching as far back as the Renaissance and Reformation in the 14th-16th centuries. What we saw emerge in the 1960s was the fruit of a long process of shedding traditions based on God and religious institutions.

The Beatniks of the ‘50s and Hippies of the ‘60s spawned millions of wannabe imitators growing long hair, reciting often bad poetry, singing folk- and protest-songs, wearing headbands, talking “cool” new lingo, sporting tie-dye T-shirts and pastel dresses and robes, marching in antiwar and Ban-the-Bomb protests, and flashing the Peace-sign as they jumped on the “All you need is love” bandwagon. They defied their parents and found their validation with their peers, asserting they did not have to conform to the “Man’s” (the System’s/the “Establishment’s”) expectations, while imitating the music, the clothing styles, and the talk of their “Counterculture” idols.

Many of these “cool” and “groovy” “dudes and chicks” were mostly aiming to hop into as many beds as possible while the hopping was hot. They could also sample some other groovy stuff like smoking joints, toking hashish, and trying out the psychedelic fast-track to spiritual enlightenment. But when real disapproval with real consequences began to assert themselves and “the Establishment” began to shut down a lot of their cultural mirages, “giving the Man the finger” went underground and external conformity to the Rat Race set in.

Since then, when the Western individual vaunts his/her dedication to unique individuality and personal expression, Western Capitalism quickly adapts and graphically markets the proper fashions and parameters by which to be your own unique person. Given the now great capacity to micro-market, any trend can be rapidly commercialized. The Counterculture Movement of 1963-75 was eventually massively coopted by smart entrepreneurs and its idols were brought mainstream by slick entertainment and business agents offering deals that could not be refused to people who were addicted seeking personal pleasure. The music idols of that generation all signed on to cash in. Many former real, and most pseudo-, Hippies headed back to school or got jobs to get a rich life once the hangover set in.

The West continues its admiration of everyone’s striving to be an Outlier in their own way while showing and telling via many cultural products what ways are actually acceptable to pursue modest individualistic distinction while advising, “Don’t get too far carried away by it.” After all, aspiration to self-expression via commercial stylism is extremely good for business.

No other culture in recorded history has idolized the appearance of individuality and pseudo-Outliership so avidly. It is no longer just the fashionable “stars” of entertainment and sport who aspire to be noticed. Imitate your preferred petty-gods and you gain a sort of proxy-Outliership. Not so different from the ancients with their domestic deities and ancestor-busts (a Roman custom) set up on little altar-shrines in their homes.

Historically, until the modern and post-modern, post-Christian West emerged, an excess of individuality had always been seen as presumption and even arrogance. It was also a threat to the social equilibrium. Some allowance was made for a few really fringe cases, but too many would eventually bring out the heretic hunters to deal with the order-disturbing elements. This pattern is still seen in many non-Western cultures, particularly among Muslim and Oriental nations. There are remnants of this even in the West.

In honor-and-shame cultures, fulfilling one’s role, keeping traditions, honoring one’s ancestors and relations, and avoiding bringing shame on one’s family and personal reputation weigh too heavily to allow Outliers a lot of leeway. In these cultures, the obsession of Westerners with self-expression, often at the expense of the very values so honored in the Middle East, the Orient, much of Africa, and, to a lesser extent, Latin America, is seen as decadent and irresponsible.

Cultural pendula swing back and forth, like Western clothing and hair styles. The degree of unorthodoxy a culture is willing to sustain without seeking to suppress it usually depends on the elite controllers’ sense of security in holding onto their sway and keeping their ability to maintain compliance among the generality of the populace for the benefit of those at the social, economic, and political summit. Thus, if the arbitrators of the key areas of conformity to orthodoxy feel secure in the mass of the people’s compliance to the “Establishment’s” set forms and rules and standards, they will allow the occasional outrageous manifestation to play itself out as long as it does not become a blatant challenge to fundamental official values or the culture’s general worldview.

In the ancient world, non-violent insanity was often viewed as “an affliction of the gods”, and the insane were not locked up but tolerated lest the god whose work the insanity signaled be offended. The European Medieval world took the view that the devil might be to blame and exorcism might be in order. Some examples needed to be made, and this might mean a few show-trails and heretic-burnings. If the affliction was of only mild effect on the family and community, the afflicted might be cared for in the home or an institution for the “mad”. Dementia was not understood. If the disorder became widespread, out came the heavy hitters of Church and State to root out the heretics, the witches, and the demonized. Perhaps a Crusade might be deemed necessary.

The problem has always been how to deal with anyone whose Outliership is so sane and well-developed that it remains within the boundaries of cultural, theological, and ideological orthodoxy but challenges the abuses of the system and some of its most fundamental interpretations of long-held Truth right to the core.

Enter Buddha, Muhammad, and, most outstanding of all, Yeshua/Jesus of Nazareth.

When someone of this caliber appears, the whole established order and the system itself can and will be challenged. The usual response of killing the interloper cannot erase the effect they have. Of the Big Three, only Jesus was executed, but He then proved His ultra-ultimate Outliership by refusing to stay dead and actually physically resurrecting! At least so say the Christians, and there is pretty solid historical evidence for His really having done this. Pretty hard (actually … IMPOSSIBLE! …) to get rid of Him after that!

There is no one else who matches the overall impact of the Big Three in recorded history. These three individuals stand out as the Ultimate Outliers. They are head and shoulders above other great leaders, teachers, and moral examples – and certainly far above famous military and political “heroes” such as Cyrus of Persia, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, or more modern figures such as George Washington, Catherine the Great, or Napoleon Bonaparte, to name a few. Neither do scientific “heroes” like Newton, Madame Curie, and Einstein belong in such a discussion, as great and revolutionary as they are for science. And as to entertainment and sports superstars staking a claim to supreme Outliership, the less said the better.

There is an abyss separating the “Big Three” from the rest of the ranks of “Great Outliership”. Here are some similarities among the Super-Outliers: all three taught and established one of great religions of the world, leaving an immense legacy that endures to this day. All three continue to inspire and create disciples in the millions even today. All three did not themselves leave writings and authoritative documents with instructions for successors to follow in establishing institutions and systems to propagate and regulate the work their disciples would carry on in their name. That was all left to the disciples to work out along the road into future. What they left were stories, actions, discourses, examples, and moral authority to carry on and extend their message and example of how to live. The disciples set about collecting and regularizing the accounts of what they said and did so that followers would know how to follow.

All three left an embryonic sort of organization, a living, morphing movement rather than a set-in-stone system and institution. The followers would have to work out how to create a lasting organism to preserve and grow the founder’s message and mission. This sort of legacy was genius, for it left a flexible, organic, adaptable movement able to live and grow in different times, places, and cultures and so become “universal” rather than time-limited, parochial, national, or merely ethnic.

TO BE CONTINUED

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Outliers, 6 – Consequences

Whoever undertakes to set himself up in the field of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.

– Albert Einstein

There is no error so monstrous that it fails to find its defenders among the ablest men [and women].

– John Dalberg (Lord Acton)

Today we set out to explore how choices always create consequences. In the previous episode, we discussed the greatest, most consequential choice we can ever make – that of our dance partner in the “Great Dance” and our individual part in it. We noted that everyone must dance. When we boil it all down, we will dance with one, or perhaps, over the course of our lives, with a succession or combination of the following partners: (1) the gods/idols of our ancestors, (2) the gods/idols of the present time, (3) ourselves as our own god/idol, or (4) Yahweh the Creator, the One, the Ultimate Partner. As Bob Dylan said “You gotta serve somebody.”

There are no doubt some who will argue that the sort of statement made above is based on the false and thoroughly discredited notion of belief in a Divinity, a Creator, and its corollary that there is such a thing as Absolute Truth. [For the remainder of this discussion we will use “Truth”, capital T, to mean Absolute Truth and “truth” for its opposite – relative truth based on personal conviction.]

To say that there is no such thing as Truth is an inherent contradiction. The declarer is in fact saying there is at least one Truth – that there is no Truth. Simply affirming or denying one’s personal conviction about Truth cannot prove or disprove its actual existence. Just as the denier of Truth will doubtless appeal to science and mathematics to “prove” that there is no “Truth” because there is no scientific way to demonstrate its reality, it is equally accurate to say there is no scientific way to disprove its reality. In each case, the affirmer must weigh the evidence and the probabilities, choose to believe, and accept the ensuing consequences based on the life one lives in accordance with one’s “faith” – for both are faith-based decisions about what is ultimately true.

If I cannot or will not live by the truth/Truth I declare to be reality, I am perhaps an unconscious deceiver of myself and others, or a self-deluded hypocrite, or an outright scoundrel who is deliberately misleading others, or a fool who does not even know what my true convictions are.

Perhaps my delusion is based on my desire to impress others, to be seen as someone I am not. Perhaps I think that, if I profess certain convictions, I may gain recognition, acclaim, position as a road to power and influence, wealth and immunity from consequences – with a secret aim of being able to indulge my baser passions without giving an account. Or perhaps this is what happens as a by-product of the underlying quest disguised by the nobler-sounding aims designed to fool oneself and the others I have used along the way. All too often we see this on vivid display among tycoons, states-people, and high-profile big names in all sectors from religion to entertainment.

The old saw about religion and science not mixing and being completely incompatible was never true and is wearing thinner and thinner. We suffer every day from its Goebbelsian (Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Minister or Propaganda) Big-Lie repetition from on high in Academia. In public oratory and decreed public policy about all the new values that must be unquestioningly bought into, we are lectured about all kinds of censure and other opprobrium which will be the consequences upon transgressors of the New Enlightenment discoveries about Nature, Human Nature, and the Cosmos itself. [These are spelled with capitals to designate their status as gods/idols of this age.]

The Truth is that faith and science have always been intimately connected. There is in fact now a very large minority of serious “real” scientists who quietly recognize both their own individual spirituality, and that it is not a contradiction for them to believe that there is deep mystery in the Cosmos – both macro and micro. They understand and see up close that life in all its inexplicable, intricate, and mind-blowing complexity, which hangs on a razor’s edge, bears a profound impression of deliberate purpose and design which no amount of infinite evolutionary regress can erase. One micro-deviation at any number of infinitesimal micro-instants would have aborted and still could abort it all.

This brings us to “probabilities”. In brutally brief clarity, the odds are virtually infinitely against anything being here, let along what actually is with all its mind-blowing wonder. And then we add in the even much less probable emergence of a highly sentient, self-aware entity called humanity, complete with innate moral and ethical sensibilities and a capacity to conceive the infinite and the Ultimate Source of all that is or ever could be.

Admittedly, understanding probabilities does not constitute “Truth”; it only points overwhelmingly towards its probability. The choice whether to accept this gigantic probability remains with the perceiver. Regardless of saying “yes” or “no” to the Great Partner in the dance, we humans are certainly, absolutely the most extreme of Outliers in the great Cosmos.

The absurd paradox of it all is that in the most scientifically advanced society in the history of Earth, most of its denizens are desperately choosing to deny who and what we are and what we were made for, and by Whom. The consequences of this flight from reality are akin to a Berchtold Brecht Theatre of the Absurd drama – Waiting for Godot, Reprise to the nth degree. [Apologies to Brecht fans; this “title” is my invention, not a real play.]

By all rights, the most scientific and mathematically honest perspective should be that there is a virtual certainty that, even if we poor humans can’t fully perceive it, absolute Truth exists because a Creator-Designer exists to give True meaning to the Cosmos and to us. Whether the Creator worked this wonder by fiat decree or gradual, guided processes is not the debate at this point.

As to consequences, for 300 or so years the West’s most influential Intelligentsia have striven with grit, determination, and even some rudimentary design, to deconstruct the “old regime” based on the existence of the Creator to give order and meaning to all things. This work has been carried on with great ingenuity in undermining all the extant influences of tradition and meaning founded on the Creator – whether by discrediting the Scriptures or the Church as institution, or the intellectuals who have opposed their work. Humans have been reduced to sophisticated animals. All in all, this long culture war has brought victory to the Enlightenment ideas of relativistic truth, relativistic morality and ethics, and plastic, every-morphing concepts of human nature – even while “Nature” has been idolized and humanity largely vilified.

In the 2020s, we find ourselves swimming in the social, moral, ethical, environmental, industrial, cultural, and economic swamp which is the consequence of this deconstruction. The swamp is filled with the increasingly murky waters of personalized, politicized “truth” seeking to drown and smother Truth in the muck of “everything is OK, as long as you’re not intolerant (oops! how did that new “Truth” slip in there?), except of those we declare to be intolerant because they tell us there really is Truth and right and wrong and good and bad in the world.”

The Big Lie says that there are no consequences for all the lunacy we can indulge in in the name of Freedom (another modern idol) and Self-Expression. There are always consequences. Science tells us with absolute certainty that “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction; what goes up, will come down; what goes around, comes around.” Karma tells us, “Every action has an outcome; good actions beget good outcomes; bad/foolish/self-deluding/wicked actions beget bad and even disastrous consequences.” We can deny what nature (both Cosmic and human)/the Creator has designed into everything and us only until we reach the limits of what the design can absorb before it and our own beings will suffer brutal and terrible consequences. We are on the cusp of judgment. Whether it be the Last Judgment remains to be seen and is known only to the Creator.

Saying this is not “judgmental”. It is not a personal attack on any individual or group. Take it to heart as appropriate. Ignore it at your peril – individual and collective. It is the judgment of consequences which we largely inflict on ourselves. It is not accusatory to declare what is patent and ought to be totally obvious Truth. Running away from it hiding our eyes and blocking our ears while screaming “You have no right to tell me this! I don’t have to listen to your holier-than-thou diatribe!” will not stop any of the consequences which are coming as ineluctably down the mountainside as an avalanche. It is as sure as Bob Dylan’s “Slow Train Coming’” told us several decades ago.

Choices! We all have them! We can’t avoid them. Small ones lead to big ones. I can avoid and ignore warnings and signs of what’s coming until I become oblivious and even morally comatose.  But I have no one to blame but myself for the consequences.

There is always a choice. Even now, you can choose to be an Outlier willing to give up your other god/gods and turn to the only Dance Partner who can set you free from the ultimate consequences of denying who He/She is and who you are and are really meant to be.

Absolutely!

TO BE CONTINUED

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Outliers, 5 – Choices

The key to good decision-making is not knowledge. It is understanding. We are swimming in the former. We are desperately lacking in the latter.

– Malcolm Gladwell

… the man [woman] of firm decisions fashions the universe.

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Life puts no greater burden upon a man [woman] than the necessity of making decisions.

Frank Yerby

Choose today whom you are going to serve; if Adonai (the One Creator-God) is God, serve Him. Or if the gods of your ancestors from centuries past are gods, or the idols of the people among whom you live today are gods, serve them. But as for me and mine, we will serve Adonai. –

Y’hoshua/Joshua – Book of Joshua in the Bible, chapter 24: 15,16 (my partial paraphrase)

You gotta serve somebody.

– Bob Dylan

(Photo credit FUMC Allen)

From infancy to the grave, life is choice. Almost everything we do and experience involves choice in one form or another.

There are a few exceptions: we don’t get to choose our parents; or our siblings; or when and where we are born. We don’t get to design our basic anatomical specifications, or even many of the details such as hair and eye and skin colour, or how tall we can grow. And as young children, we don’t get any (direct) say in major decisions within our families, or much of our early life. Our parents or some other adult authorities make those choices.

The question of choice always raises the issue of predestination, determinism, fate, heredity versus nurture, etc., versus freedom. Perhaps freedom is mostly an illusion, but I doubt that my choice to wear blue socks today has been predestined in any meaningful way, and will likely have no significant effect on the course of my or anyone else’s existence. The Big Bang 14 billion years ago did not ordain me to wear blue socks on a particular day in May 2022.

Did God? Setting aside the most abstruse, obscure, divisive, and ultimately sterile kind of theological debate about God’s interventions (if any) in time and space, let alone my or anyone’s private affairs, the practical answer remains, “No! God does not weigh the fate of the universe, or even my personal well-being or that of anyone else, on my choice of which socks to wear on a particular day.” Does this exclude the possibility that God may choose to intervene directly on rare occasions in the realm of time-space? As the Creator, that is His/Her prerogative and He/She is answerable to no one else for such sovereign action. Your liking or disliking the Creator’s decision to change the course of an event every so often will have no bearing on His/Her action or inaction. Your disbelief in His/Her existence affects nothing as to its reality, it simply blinds you from seeing what is sometimes staring you in the face!

Our wise opening commentators concur with this. We have to choose day by day in big and small things, philosophy and theology aside. Believe what you want about God’s final sovereignty and predestination, but you must still live day by day as if you have real choices to make with real consequences ensuing – from blue socks to “popping the Question” to the love of your life. And in answer, she/he will also have to make a real choice with lifelong consequences.

Choice is real for other sentient life-forms as well. Instinct does not govern every decision your dog or cat or horse, or the wild creature nearby, makes. A little aside: in French you “take”, not “make” a decision – an interesting little twist in cultural perspective among different peoples.

Some decisions, like the question of wearing socks, are frivolous. Some, like choosing a mate, a fraught with serious repercussions. All are made with both micro and macro contexts leading us to them – hence the argument about ultimate predestination or determinism. After all is said and done, could we make any other choices than the ones we make? But we return once more to the practicality of our lives. No psychological analysis can “deterministically” tell me if I was compelled to marry this one person and no other.

When we look at choosing to believe in a personal Creator, we face the same questions. Theology is of little real help even here. Whether God “sovereignly chooses and draws to Him-Her-self whom He/She will” or not, doesn’t release me from, to all appearances and in personal application, making/taking the Yes-No choice. What is for certain is that your answer to this central question will have a profound impact on the rest of your life-journey.

Which brings us back to Dylan’s famous and excellent song, “Gotta Serve Somebody”. This “gotta” is one more for our list of things we don’t get to choose. You get to choose whom you will serve, but not whether you have to choose. The choice of words is not that we ultimately get to choose “what” we will serve – regardless of making a commitment to some noble or ignoble cause, some selfless or quite selfish goal and ambition, — but, ultimately, that we “gotta”, HAVE TO, serve somebody, a personal being.

This is the point at which most of we Westerners consciously tune out. Serving the Creator-God is not very much on the radar for a huge majority of 21st-Century Westerners. Let alone the idea that if we don’t choose the Creator, we are actually choosing to serve another personal being in place of Him/Her.

Why does Dylan use this language; is it all poetic license? He is saying something profound, as any great artist does at her/his best. The universe is not dead. It is not an impersonal, accidental kaleidoscope which has totally improbably emerged from nothing into the big Something. It has come from the choice of SomeOne! The Ultimate Someone. The Alpha and Omega Someone. The Beginner and Final Destination of all beings and things that ever have been and can be and will be.

Only the blind, whether from ignorance or from willful, deliberate decision, can fail to see that the choice not to serve the SOMEONE is a choice to serve someone else – not something else, but someone else. For when we get deep down inside it all, at its most profound depth, beyond all possible sub-atomic particles, whether known or not-yet-known, beyond great galaxies dancing with one another in almost infinite space, the signature of THE PERSON is everywhere, in and on everything and everyone and every possible thing and being.

We are all in the dance, and we must all choose a partner. If I will not choose THE PARTNER, I still cannot avoid the dance. I must dance. If not with HIM/HER, then with another I put in HIS/HER place, even if it is, to my mind, a choice to dance alone to my own tune according to my own rules – or what I believe to be my own rules.

But, underneath that chimera, my rules, or those of anyone else than THE ONE’s rules, do not exist except in my arrogant hubris substitute for the real thing. Thus, in the final analysis, I can do the dance (Evan Almighty anyone?) with the ONE AND ONLY PARTNER Who matters, or as a shadow-dance, or with a substitute other partner (shudder at what some of those choices can be and have been in history) I set in the ONE’s place.

By this point, the reader may be wondering what this rabbit-trail has to do with the whole subject of “Outliers”. Simply that to choose to dance with the ONE as your partner in life, will make you an Outlier, especially now in the West in 2022 and henceforward. And, whether you think so or not, your choice about partnership with the ONE, matters even more than the one who has answered or will answer “Yes” to “the Question” and with whom you will also dance for a long time.

Therefore, be warned before you say that even bigger “Yes” to Adonai, the One Creator. A yes to Him/Her is an eternal decision. He/She does not take it lightly, nor will He/She ever let you take it lightly from this day forward, or from whatever other day it was or will be when you answer Y’hoshua’s momentous question, “Choose today whom you will serve – Adonai, the idols of your ancestors, or the idols of the world you live in now.”

Among the idols of today, put yourself. For, believe it or not, a refusal to serve any of the three choices Y’hoshua laid out is the choice to be my own sovereign god.

NEXT TIME: CONSEQUENCES

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Outliers, 4 – Losing Our Salt

If the salt loses its savor, what good is it except to be thrown out on the trash heap?

Jesus – Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 5, verse 13a

(Photo credit – aero)

How does salt lose its potency? If you leave it alone in its natural state, it is almost impossible for that to happen. The only way to disarm salt is to dilute it, wash it away, or combine it with another substance that neutralizes it by another chemical reaction that breaks its bond.

While the ancients may not have known the specific chemistry involved in making and destroying salt, they knew the practical method of rendering it ineffective. Dump it into water, or wash it away with water. Pollute it and dilute it by mixing with something else. Some of their more knowledgeable scientists even understood about using another substance to wipe it out.

Salt was a valuable commodity. It had to be mined. We still have to mine it. Effective, large-scale evaporation techniques had not been developed to render it from sea-water in enough quantity to make that a practical alternative.

Salt-mining was a deadly and dirty business performed by criminals and recalcitrant slaves condemned to a slow death. The Roman state kept a tight control on who could operate salt-mines. The average life-span of a slave or criminal in the salt-mines was three years. Salt was an imperial monopoly, although its mining was contracted to entrepreneurs willing to foot the production bill and pay hefty annual fees to the Imperial treasury. Profits margins were high, as were the risks of losing shipments by shipwreck, or to pirates, raiders, and bandits.

Salt was used in preserving food, cooking, cleaning, and medicine. The ancients understood quite well that it was essential for good health. As did Jesus, which is why he referred to it in his teaching. To run out of salt was a serious issue.

Therefore, when Jesus told his disciples and listeners, “You are the salt of the earth,” they understood implicitly what he meant. It wasn’t just that they added some zest to life or helped a bit in making the world a better, more interesting, and healthier (tastier) place. It included those nuances, but it also meant that they were essential to the world’s preservation, cleansing, and healing. It was a commission to become world-changers, difference-makers, genuine Outliers who challenge the status quo and bring metanoia (see previous post) and shalom (true peace).

Two thousand years in, we’ve lost most of the urgency and immediacy of what Jesus was saying. Here in the West, the old heartland of Christendom, we’ve also lost our way, living for generations now as we do in so much abundance and wealth and inherited power. To us, salt is a condiment in our diet. It’s incorporated in our prepared foods and restaurant servings to the point we are incapable of understanding Jesus’ metaphor about salt. With rare exceptions, we don’t use it to clean or even very much in medical applications.

The Ekklesia, the God-family Jesus founded two thousand years ago and told to be “the salt of the earth”, the God-family which once upon a time wielded immense influence and power in the West, and, by imperial extension, the world, has largely lost its preservative power, its cleansing and healing power. These days, it certainly appears to have lost its ability to add “savor” – joy and happiness to life.

We cannot say such things about the Church (non-denominational sense) without applying them to ourselves as individuals and local expressions of God’s family on earth. When people look at us – at me – do they see anything that looks like metanoia, joy, and a healing presence? Do they see and hear the voice of a comforter, an Outlier pointing beyond my personal goals and desires and towards the presence of the Creator among us and within me?

Do my neighbors, near and far, known and strangers, only hear a wrathful message of “You’re all damned!” even while they watch me/us play out the old hunger and thirst for lost political power and social control manifesting as self-righteousness? Do they ever hear about the mercy and grace of God brought by the Prince of Peace and the sacrificial lamb instead of a proclamation of Jesus’ coming wrath and his warrior return as the arm of God’s avenging justice? Far too often this generation sees and hears a militant crusade to take back the lost levers of power and access to the top echelons of decision-making over society, rather than the servant-way of reaching out past the great rift through our culture and society to offer a road to reconciliation and mutual forgiveness,

Jesus did not give the example of the truly humble, suffering servant to His disciples so they (and we) could shrug it off as some sort of time-limited one-off performance so we could all move into triumphalist militant preparation for the Second Coming. To those who wanted to outdo the Romans by overthrowing the Empire and taking over the reins of power as His right- and left-hand wielders of justice and vengeance on all the infidels, He said things like the following (a little paraphrased): “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword. Do good to those who persecute you. Rejoice if you are persecuted and killed for bearing My name. Your reward will be great in My Father’s Kingdom. The servant is not above the Master. It is enough that the servant be like (Greek implies “just like/the same as”) the Master.”

The kind of deeply militant representation of the Gospel we have seen and continue to see in some North American manifestations as “real-man Christianity” is an aberration bordering on a heresy. It is dangerously close to blasphemy in refashioning Jesus as the “ultimate manly Man” inspiring an imperial state which operates with an acute sense of being God’s anointed nation in the earth with its own special “Manifest Destiny”. Into this theologically justified ideology have been grafted all kinds of special doctrines (some of which are used to soft-peddle the continuation of repression of racial minorities and the definite subordination of women) in a kind of blind, or even deliberate, syncretism justified as the true will of Jesus for today. Forget the original sense of the “Great Commission” and the methodology of love and compassion and inclusion passed from the Master to His Messengers [Apostles] in carrying it out.

The analysis presented here may be offensive to some readers of this episode of this series. If so, I would ask them to seriously ask themselves why they are offended. I would suggest that they honestly review the Gospel Jesus preached and the way He treated people as the living, breathing, human (as He still is even as the resurrected One) Messiah, including minorities and women, and instructed His first disciples to treat them and serve them and be light and salt in the world. That is the standard, not the ideological reinterpretation of cherry-picked aspects of things Jesus and the Apostles said, did, and taught to fit an extra-Biblical ideology needing baptism or holy-water sprinkling.

Recovering our salt means recovering our true calling and doing a reset to once more become the heart, soul, and hands and feet of our Master for the world of today, rather than shouting at the darkness and launching imprecations at the things we find ugly and reprehensible.

TO BE CONTINUED

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Outliers, 3 – Metanoia

The usual English translation of the Greek word which is this episode’s title is “repentance”. As is often the case in translating ancient words, and as with the art of translation at all times, the English (or other modern languages of your choice) does not do it full justice.

The first problem with automatically translating it as “repentance” whenever this word shows up in the original language is that the English (French, Spanish, German, etc.) term now carries such enormous cultural and religious baggage that most secular people simply tune it out as “Uh-oh! Here comes a self-righteous Christian to rant about sin and everyone needing to get saved by Jesus!”

The Greek word is much more descriptive and much less compartmentalized. It was perfectly acceptable 2000 years ago in the eastern regions of the Roman Empire where Greek was the universal language (it was Latin in the West) to use the term in a completely non-religious way. For example, you are going somewhere and get lost. You stop to ask directions. The local villager tells you, “Whoa, friend! You’re way off track! You’ve got to turn around (metanoeō)and head back to _______ and take a different route.”

The English word is from penitire, poenitere, via Old (and modern) French (se) repentir (cf. Concise Oxford Dictionary), which was the Latin translation from the Greek New Testament in the late 4th Century by St. Jerome. The emphasis in the Latin is more specifically moralistic and punitive. In the English and Romance-language translations, we are using a sort of derivative which has conceptually robbed us of the interpretive possibilities found in the original Greek New Testament. Latin is the major root language of Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and French – and through French has contributed heavily to the evolution of English. Thus the narrow moral sense of metanoia is heavily biased in a secondary transference of meaning.

One level of interpretation can be applied to morality and ethics – taking the wrong road in life, doing bad stuff to other people and deciding to stop and turn over a new leaf. However, the holistic concept is about radically changing the road your life is on, seeing it as a bad one, and making a new start. It is much richer than having a momentary revelation of remorse and regret, making a few apologies and some gestures of recompense and moving on feeling better about yourself.

Real metanoia is not primarily about a religious exercise or experience, although it is profoundly spiritual. It is about restoration, correcting and re-forming as in forming anew, not just revamping something obsolete to make it work better. Metanoia-change is a total life commitment, a radical (axe-to-the-root) turn-about and dedication to set wrongs right, bring justice as far as possible, restore broken things, remake relationships on a new foundation of love, respect, and real equality within the Creator’s intention.

Want to be different? To be a real world-changer? To become a true radical and Outlier? It starts with metanoia, not just religious-formula repentance. Metanoia takes us outside religion, turns us off that old highway of “do the right stuff and God will love you and reward you; do the wrong stuff and you’ll be rejected and sent to hell.”

Metanoia turns us away from the fixation and need to be esteemed and approved and judged as “righteous” by the people by whom we want to be accepted. Instead, we turn off the old road that leads to more servitude and condemnation and needing to be seen and even raised up by our superiors before our peers.

Metanoia turns us directly to Jesus/Yeshua the Messiah, the only one who can bring us to and take us down the true way; He said, “I am the way/road, the truth and the life. You can only come to the Father/learn to know the Creator/ by/through Me.” Every other road, however religiously appealing it may seem, is the wrong road, a road to metanoeō.

In the end, the only Outliership that will amount to anything really new, true and everlasting is one based on metanoia. Here is how Jesus described the paradox of being a big-time Outlier according to our general cultural worldview and being a metanoia Outlier (liberally paraphrased): “The road to destruction is a wide highway which multitudes take. The road to eternal life is a narrow track which few find.”

The most radical, greatest Outlier who ever lived is Jesus. He is the only human being who died but rose from death and is still alive today. Even if He had not done this, He would still rank at the top of the list in terms of his impact on history, culture, and society over the last two thousand years. To conform all He claimed we have His real resurrection. It is both a faith and historical fact.

It is easy to be cynical as we consider the West’s rejection of so much of what its history and cultural and social development have owed to this man. Before the West’s intellectual and socio-cultural engineers could dismantle so much of that heritage, they had to dismantle the main faith that underlies all of that. The originators of this centuries-long campaign knew full well what they were about. It was deliberate, although not orchestrated by any sort of central authority. This is not conspiracy theory. It is documented and documentable, wide-open to verification.

The great underlying mystery is how a relative few anti-Christian radicals, often disingenuously disclaiming their real intentions, could succeed against what appeared to be a deeply rooted, monolithic system called Christendom, a system dominated by various manifestations of its primary social and cultural institution, the Christian Church. It was a process that took centuries. The tale of that deconstruction is a long one which we will not embark on here. Much of it was self-inflicted by the very people holding authority and influence within Christianity.

The seeds of decay were sown early in the history of the West’s emergence as a distinct society. The first major step was a leadership choice to turn off the path of metanoia in order to access the levers of power and centralized social and political control. It was the sin of hubris.

The Ekklesia’s leaders began thinking and believing that the Servant-Messiah who commanded that leaders be servants and practice humility and self-sacrifice would accept the Ekklesia’s (His metanoia community on the road back to a healed relationship with the Father-Creator) stepping into a partnership with the Imperial broad-highway power to hasten the process of cajoling the mass of recalcitrant unbelievers and Christian heretics to join up and “accept the truth”. Having more than a few of the perks of power and prestige as rewards to the hard-working, ambitious, and long-persecuted leaders of the Church didn’t hurt the decision to take the “high” road either.

Thus, the hybrid society called “Christendom” was born. Outwardly, everyone at the top said, “Jesus is Lord” while the top-dogs’ actions declared, “But we’re really in charge and are taking control in His name.” Many symbolic trappings from the non-Christian culture and world were sprinkled with Holy Water and re-consecrated so that the old ways of doing things and preserving distinctions and power-structures could carry on. Even gods and goddesses could be incorporated by granting them a new identity. Many individuals could and still did find the metanoia-road, and even some local institutional expressions of ekklesia found it from time to time. But on the whole, Lord Acton’s dictum, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” proved as true as ever.

Caution to all: It is always easier and simpler to take the religious highway than to live and travel the metanoia road. Religion allows us to develop, deploy, and pick and choose what sorts of practices, techniques and observances to prefer, and to switch them in and out according to rewards received or recognition for good performance achieved. Religion can be plugged into our lives according to time, place, and context as desired. It allows us to shift our allegiances and preferences according to the standards and precepts of impressive personalities and groups which align with our personal tendencies and character. We are speaking of religion here in its particular influences in our daily life (rites, rituals, ceremonies, strictures and prescriptions, religious imperialism in all its guises, etc.), not in its etymological sense of our overall binding worldview.

Metanoia is primarily relational, based on walking a path with and towards Jesus. It includes essential elements of living and staying on the narrow track that leads to life, such as disciplines and practices, being a servant member of ekklesia, and taking one’s place in Creator’s family. It also keeps us alert to discern the siren-song and allure of seeking the trappings of worldly-style outliership, even in its churchly disguises.

Our next episode in this discussion will focus on how Ekklesia has wandered so far off the path of Metanoia, its true calling to Outliership. We will attempt some reflections on what to do about it.

Pax vobiscum! Kyrie eleison!

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Outliers, 2 – Little People

I don’t think I realized that the cost of fame is that it’s open season on every moment of your life. – Julia Roberts

The internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had. – Eric Schmidt

… the little places, where I can more easily be close to God, should be my preference …. Quietness and peace before God are more important than any influence a position may seem to give … – Francis A. Schaeffer, No Little People, 1974, chapter 1.

(Photo image – Yelena Bonner – Quotefancy)

Our three opening citations cover enormous ground, but give insight on the phenomenon of outliers, the present subject of discussion in World.V.You.

Julia Roberts reminds us that stardom and fame make it extremely difficult to live anything approaching a “normal” life. Media and social-media scrutiny to find “stories” to gossip about are unending. Being a “Super-Outlier” puts you on continuous display before all the millions of voyeurs who care to look. We live in a peeping-Tom society because we can. It’s a sort of sneaky compulsion, a “harmless” venial sin we excuse ourselves for indulging in.

Schmidt points out that in the virtual world, anyone can assert and seek just about anything without much accountability, despite the best efforts of public and industry police and regulators to gain some sort of control over the worst elements who are exploiting it for all kinds of malignant purposes. Wannabe and actual negative outliers abound in this “Wild-Wild-West” virtual universe.

Francis Schaeffer, a Christian thinker who wrote well before the Internet took form and computer use was still embryonic in its application to personal uses, offers a perspective that any God/Creator seeker should heed, and all the more if they are hungering and thirsting for recognition and, as he puts it, a position of influence, no matter how modest it may be.

Outliers exist from the humblest to the grandest social settings. Every family has its weird uncle/aunt, its black sheep and wayward son/daughter, its over-achieving acquisitor, its relentless zealot, its hyper-intelligent know-it-all with a chip on her/his shoulder, etc. I’m sure you can put names on these roles right now in your own sphere.

Every level of community has them – the local celebrities whom everyone talks and gossips about, the town troublemakers, the glitzy, trendy set – whether in the local service and social clubs, businesses of any size, churches/religious institutions, political affairs, the cultural influencers who arbitrate what art and literature it’s cool to accept and boost in the area.

You, dear reader, may be one of them.

Then there are the quieter sorts of outliers – people more in tune with the spirit of Schaeffer’s observation. These stand out because they don’t go after the local, or any, version of fame and acclaim. Their priorities are different, and this makes them stand out, “weird”, out of tune with the normal ways of people seeking a voice. The curious, the sceptical, and the cynical mockers find them strangely attractive or repulsive because they are somehow a threat.

Among these idealists, the abilities that lead to outliership are used to walk “the road less traveled”. They do not seek the same sort of recognition most people who want it go after. Idealist outliers choose to keep remote from the mainstream frenzy because of conviction and principle, because their view of the world and its underlying reality is out of step with what the general culture declares is of first importance.

Mostly, power and acquiring it are far down their list of what is really important. It may come to them despite their unconcern for such things, but living in a fashion consistent with their convictions is foremost. To that end they may well choose to forego the pursuit of the wealth, position, and recognition most of our society admires so much. If any of it comes to them, they turn it towards furthering their idealistic goals. (Think Mother Teresa.)

Withdrawing from society altogether is one way to become an outlier. Hermits and recluses still exist, and a few may even become well-known local “characters”. However, short of living a hundred kilometers out in the wilderness with no neighbours except the birds and local fauna, total withdrawal has become a near impossibility.

The life-road based on firm principles and consistently seeking to live by them can be a costly one. Becoming an outlier in this way can lead to just as much outside scrutiny as the road to celebrity and fame which Julia Roberts represents and deliberately chose to withdraw from. The sceptics, critics, and cynics are just as prepared to exploit the failures and inconsistencies of the idealist as those of the deliberate ladder-climber, perhaps even moreso. To the media and other salacious voyeurs who lurk everywhere, it seems more delicious to revel in the fall of the “goody-two-shoes” than the tortured angst of the hoi-polloi. The fall of the pursuers of good and social betterment lets the rest of us off the hook. Then we can all smugly declare, “See! There’s no use in being overzealous about making yourself and the world a better place! Even the saints just fall into sin, and, when they fall, they leave behind a huge mess of disillusionment, broken hopes and shattered dreams!”

However, these humbler, meeker outliers of whom we are speaking now are very often the true world-changers. Most of what leads to peace and hope and joy comes from them. They are almost all “simple folk” who want to raise good kids and do more than fill their lives with glitz and bling and silly pursuits that add little of value to their own or other lives.

It is not the demigods of business, entertainment, politics, and sport who have raised the poor from the slums, ended slavery, fought for workers’ rights, brought in universal healthcare (at least in the nations which have it), fought to end discrimination of every sort, and poured out their blood to defeat the horrors of Nazism, Fascism and other tyrannies. And it will not be the Superstar Outliers who will continue to lead the defense of freedom, liberty, and what is left of morality.

Over the last century, we have been defrauded of much of our heritage. We have been taught that traditional beliefs and values are destructive of our personal freedoms and rights. We have been and are bombarded daily with propaganda about truth being strictly “scientific” and “rational”. We have been instructed that scientific methodology shows us “objectively” that spirituality is largely for chumps and losers when deciding how to create a better tomorrow. Our educational, social, financial, and political institutions have been cajoled and indoctrinated en masse into a worldview where moral values and categories are plastic and entirely transmutable according preference, context and current social needs/wants. Like drugged spectators, we have watched and continue to watch the systematic deconstruction of that heritage of 1500 years which laid the foundations of who and what the West became, and, to a large extent, still is.

We are told that our past and its creations are almost entirely reprehensible, despicable for our oppressions, repressions, persecutions, imperialistic colonialism, and acquisitive greed and exploitation. It is now the established and ensconced ideology in Big Academia to renounce and denounce all of it. Instead, it seems that all the other cultures and heritages of every other origin are superior and, apparently, even innocent of the kinds of terrible crimes against humanity we here in the West have perpetrated on all the other races and peoples of Earth. Lastly, it is we who have devastated this planet’s biome and should pay the price of making all that right.

There is truth in much of what we are accused of. But, there is an enormous paradox in it all, as well as not just a little blind and even deliberate hypocrisy. We are quick to excoriate our own ancestors and look upon their monumental handiwork with dripping disdain. Yet the virulent critics of our life continue to function within and exploit the very structures and institutions created by those same forebears they despise, glad to have the bully-pulpit of learned prestige their foremothers and forefathers earned for them.

And as they paint the West as a terrible blight upon the world, the rest of the world nods in agreement while lusting to adopt and adapt all the West’s major methods and models to surpass the West in its own game and move into the vacuum the West’s self-deconstruction is creating. Racial and ethnic superiority complexes will not disappear from the earth just because the West hates its own manifestations of them. Imperialism and colonialism and ethnic cleansing and genocide have never been the exclusive purview of the West. Honesty about history is as applicable to Asia and Africa as it is to the West.

Somehow, ironically (could it actually be because of the kind of built-in conscience our despised archaic values and morals still saddle us with?), the West has grown an acute case of moral shame and guilt for all its sins, but most of the rest of the world seems not to suffer the same kind of remorse about their equivalent forays into horrific inflictions on their neighbors. Thus, they nod and accuse and point their fingers to push the West’s self-flagellation along while preparing to step in and sweep up the shambles.

Even now, most of the charity and real aid for the world’s most desperate flows generously from the nations once known as Christendom.

Food for thought!

TO BE CONTINUED

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Outliers, 1 – Big-Shots

(Image credit – Pinnacle)

Perhaps ten years ago, I read a very thought-provoking book entitled Outliers, the Story of Success (2008), by Malcolm Cladwell.  The author presented examples across many domains demonstrating how important “outliers” are in virtually every area of natural and human history and experience.

An outlier is an anomaly, an oddball, a misfit, or, as per the Oxford Dictionary “[an] outlying part or member”. In context, an outlier is something or someone situated far from the center, something or someone remote from the norm. The outlier is not excluded from the set or subset of whichever category or group they are identified with, but they “differ” from almost everyone else by a high degree of non-conformity.

With a little reflection, it does not take long to understand that outliers can take many forms, both positive and negative. High achievers of whatever sort are almost always outliers, as are serious criminals on the negative side. Billionaires are, by definition, outliers on the scale of income and net worth, and very probably in business and management acumen. Most entrepreneurs may be talented and inventive, but their endeavours fold within the first few years. Thus they do not achieve the sort of outlier status we are speaking of.

Not so long ago, millionaires would have been placed in the financial outlier category, but given the ballooning worth of property values, stock portfolios, and inflationary pressures, most of our newly minted millionaires would better fit a “high-normal” status, at least here in the capitalist West.

Great villains and great heroes are doubtless outliers. Their courage or audacity exceeds almost everyone else’s and they do what seems impossible to the rest of us. Stars and superstars in the sports and entertainment world are usually outliers in native talent and certainly in achieving recognition of that talent. That being said, many of equal talent may not rise to the top because of factors out of their control, or by preference for a more quiet, stable, less public existence. I have known some incredibly gifted musicians who prefer anonymity.

We could expand almost endlessly on who would qualify as an outlier in any domain we can think of, but today we are considering the rich, famous, notorious, and glamorous.

To be considered a “success” does not necessarily require “outliership”. Many people are successful at what they do, and their success stems from their ability to meet expectations in most of the areas relevant to their chosen path. Outliers far exceed the normal sets of criteria for “success”.

One of the common factors for entering the celebrity outlier category is ambition. Another is determination, and yet another is persistence in the face of frustration and even failure. Edison’s lightbulb only succeeded after 1000 failures. Most great musicians only play flawlessly in their pinnacle performances after tens of thousands of hours of hard work and previous appearances in which they learned to overcome the jitters and faux-pas.

Besides a high degree of innate ability, and perhaps even genius, outliers usually have an aptitude to combine their primary gift with subsidiary abilities. At least a few of these seem to be necessary in rising to “great outlier” status. Wayne Gretzky is an outstanding example of the innate necessary talents plus the persistence required to become “the Great One” in Ice Hockey History. The same could be said of Maradona for football (soccer).  

Opportunity also plays a role in becoming élite in one’s chosen field. Many people of genius and outstanding talent never become well known. Their talents and abilities may well be in the outlier (exceptional) category, but the “breaks” and recognition never come their way, at least during their lifetime. Perhaps they lack some of the subsidiary abilities, or the ambition, that would raise them to the pinnacle. Vincent van Gogh is an example. His artistic genius was crippled by his personal problems during his lifetime. His work is now valued as almost priceless by great art aficionados.

While opportunity can be sought and created (as in a carefully orchestrated campaign), it may also fall across one’s path. “Great ones” are also opportunists who seize the moment to make a breakthrough into the next level. Some outliers arrive in the Himalayan air of extreme outliership seemingly by accident. They had not sought it, had not planned it, and did nothing to chase the recognition and acclaim, but were “discovered” and set upon high by their “fans”, their followers, their disciples, and finally by a broad recognition.

This sort of “fortuitously-born” outlier is much rarer than your “regular” (an oxymoron?) outlier who runs after a big name by exploiting their talent and ability and orchestrating a path to the top.

If someone deliberately sets their aim at achieving high-level outliership, they often recruit or attract helpers to open the way, set up opportunities, plan campaigns, and even create their own legend. Thus, publicity and propaganda can be important tools in becoming one the great outliers of history. Alexander the Great is one such from the ancient world.

There are hundreds of examples of this in today’s celebrity-worshipping culture where professional agents and promoters loom large. There are now many means and variations for getting yourself “out there” for people to know and admire you. This can even be done by adopting the “bad-boy/bad-girl” ploy to gain extra attention. The anti-hero image has become a major “thing” for entertainers, although not-so-much if you just want to live a regular life. A normal-life practitioner of anti-heroism is probably heading for prison.

Who are true Superstars of Outliership in history? Does the momentary éclat of a Rock Band or pulp-fiction author, or a movie starlet, etc., qualify? Who still knows who Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were, outside Hollywood old-time movie buffs? Who still recalls Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, or Janice Joplin outside devotees of old-time Rock’nRoll? Should we put John Grisham [apologies to Grisham fans; I read his books too] alongside Jane Austen in literary annals? And who can ever stand beside Homer, William Shakespeare, Rumi, or Dante Alighieri in the annals of world-class literature? Who can match Michelangelo in art?

While we can recognize the undoubted outliership of some historical rulers such as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and Napoleon Bonaparte, should they even be mentioned in the same breath as Francis of Assisi or Mother Teresa, let alone Siddhartha Gautama or Jesus of Nazareth? (Napoleon didn’t think so!) Where do we fit the “great monsters” of history – Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Idi Amin, and, maybe now Putin? They are certainly outliers, but more like human Satan figures than anything else.

It really comes down to whom we choose to admit to the pantheon according to which criteria. Our personal choices of whom to admire and emulate go a very long way to betray our real values and worldviews rather than the ones we profess with our mouths.

Whom do we choose to a rank above we lesser mortals? Why have we elevated them on high? As Bob Dylan (a potential all-timer in folk-music history) once wrote and sang, “You Gotta Serve Somebody”. We are hard-wired to look beyond ourselves, to find a higher realm and greater reality than the mundane grind of daily existence. Even the Exalted Outliers discover this about themselves once they “arrive”. The old inner emptiness is unfulfilled. There must be more.

The ancients were more forthright about this business than we are now. They thought about the stories and legends of their great ancestors and heroes, then granted demi-godhood, or maybe even full godhood status if the “great one” was deemed worthy of it.

In contrast, we are downright disingenuous and double-minded about the whole business. Now social media catapults all sorts of aspirants to outliership into a comet-moment that grants them their Andy Warhol 15 minutes of fame/infamy and acclaim/disdain. As with most meteors, their turn in the limelight burns out almost as soon as it appears. Even so, many are still desperate to grasp even this tiny sliver of immortality, only to discover how ephemeral and vain it all is. You got there, were noticed, wowed or appalled a bunch of people for a bit – then what? Your soul is still lost and you still don’t know who you really are.

If they survived into a more contemplative old age or phase of life after their rocket-ride to the top, almost all the Outlier Superstar cohort down through the ages have testified to coming to the end knowing the truth of what Saint Augustine once wrote, “Our hearts, O God, can find no rest till we find our rest in You.”

It is not wrong to be or become an Outlier. After all, “Someone has to do it.” We seem to need saints and great sinners to understand ourselves. Some people end up on the heights despite themselves because others insist on putting them there. The ancients used to call this “Destiny”. We seem to need outliers or, as Cladwell very ably illustrates, we’d still be living in caves and building monuments using thousands of slaves for decades.

Even as we go about the business of life choosing whether to pursue the kind of goals that may take us into celebrity outliership, we must never lose sight of the greater truth that that too is pointing us to what is much greater than ourselves.

Ultimately, what all of us are seeking is immortality, and that comes only from the Ultimate, Almighty Outlier.

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Freedom, 7 – The Ongoing Quest

An important point of freedom is not having to make sacrifices for people who don’t make sacrifices for you.

Sebastien Junger, Freedom. (HarperCollins, 2021), p. 116

While I understand the sentiment expressed by Sebastien Junger above, it has an equally valid flipside: One of the qualities of freedom is freely choosing to make sacrifices for people who don’t, or can’t, make sacrifices for you. As Jesus once said (paraphrasing), “What credit is it to you if you love only those who love you back?”

If we have paid any attention to what we have seen manifested across the world over the last several years of Pandemic restrictions, demonstrations invoking freedom from government control of our personal lives, attempted insurrections in several flagship nations of democracy (e.g., the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Germany, France), and now a terrible war of naked aggression in Europe against an aspiring democratic Ukraine, we may have awakened to the precarious fulcrum on which the whole treasure of freedom is centered.

A few things should have come into focus by this point:

  1. This side of Paradise, there is no such thing as “pure”, “absolute” freedom. Even in Paradise/Heaven, God defines what can and cannot be included and permitted. And if you’re not fond of having God tell you what you’re allowed to do, try the Dragon with the red tights on as a democrat!
  2. Freedom is always relative and counterpoised by the obligations and responsibilities of its possessors towards all others who have equal rights to enjoy its benefits. Asian people seem to have less problem with this point than we “free-wheeling” Western types.
  3. Legal and political freedoms do not equate to economic and social equality or treatment in the warp and woof of life.
  4. No matter how “free” they may be in other respects, everyone is a slave to something: an addiction – even if just “trivial”, like caffeine – their own failings and limitations, and inescapable spiritual brokenness,
  5. Even in the freest society imaginable, human and physical nature circumscribe all freedoms of whatever sort in this world;
  6. Death ends all freedoms and holds everyone in its thrall;
  7. God alone is truly free and independent of all limitations, except those He/She imposes on Him/Herself.

Being the sort of essentially self-absorbed creatures we are, most of us experience heightened awareness of what restricts and constrains us only when someone (government, some group, some oppressive individual) impinges on our personal sphere and puts the screws to what we have learned or decided are our “rights” and comfort zones. Where the boundaries are for this is largely dependent on our worldview and our social environment – what our significant others (family, friends, communities of association), tell us is a violation, what our community informs us are our rights and obligations, despite personal wishes and preferences. Few of us have the desire, will, and strength to set ourselves apart from this context in deciding when to take action to resist impingements.

Simply put, our society and community inform us about what freedom is and when we are gaining or losing it. This alone should dispel the nonsense we hear so often about “you can do anything you want”, or “you can choose to be/become anyone/anything you want”. No one has ever been able to enjoy that kind of liberty. Let us accept this and give up fantasized “freedoms” to create “a new me” independent of psychology, heredity, and biology. Too many have created and attempted to inflict their fantasies on everyone else by guilt and shame about their resistance. In our fragile hold on reality, we confuse the issues and pollute our legal and educational institutions with spurious, destructive, counter-productive, clumsy, absurd, and highly expensive attempts at social-engineering. 

No amount of this, no matter if it is advocated by the most “enlightened” and vociferous elements of Ultra-Progressive ideology, and then legislated in fear or misguided magnanimity, will change the fundamentals of who and what human beings are and are meant to be according the Creator’s design. At some point, regular folks just get worn out by it and will react and reject the denial of Nature itself. If the offence has been strong and long enough, the “deniers” may be so offended and worn out that violence may erupt.

Certainly, people are “free” to live as they choose, describe themselves as they choose, as long as they respect others’ freedom to do likewise and treat them with the same circumspection as they so vehemently and loudly declare they expect to be treated. Certainly, they should not be treated as minorities have so often and wrongly been treated, suffering legal, social, and political ostracism and persecution. But on the other side, it is wrong to reverse the standards of the whole to please a very small part and begin to exclude and offend and persecute those who openly object and hold contrary views. “If you live by the sword, you will die by the sword” – the literal sword, the legal sword, the economic sword, the social-engineering sword. “To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” – sooner or later. This is true in the physical, the emotional, and the spiritual realms. Newton’s Law is not just about Physics.

How then are we to move forward in this crisis of Freedom we as a global society face at this now critical point in the tumultuous 21st Century? Will Freedom convoys and occupations by angry proletarians who have come to the conclusion they are being oppressed and driven out of the few points advantage they feel they have enjoyed restore lost freedoms, or force new ones to be accepted? Is the path forward via massive government programs promising improvements to social benefits and whole new sets of government expenditures to appease the restless masses? Will these change the sense of disentitlement and disenfranchisement of those who see their living standards being swallowed by masses of debt, both old and new – all the while watching the rich grow ever richer and the powerful becoming ever more arrogant as they decreed to the lesser classes, “Trust us! We know just what you need”?

Neither path will resolve the restlessness and sense of encroaching oppression seething within. Not that real exterior injustice and oppression shouldn’t be called out and opposed. But that story is never done – there is always another infraction of rights, always more injustice. The illusion is that some sort of constant social tinkering or economic philandering will fix it. As Jesus once said, “You will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have Me.” This is not because He has abandoned us, but because we have abandoned Him, or choose not to listen.

As we pointed out previously in this series, the fundamental problem is the brokenness each one of us carries. This leads everyone, at some point, to act unjustly and abusively. If it becomes habitual, then you have real oppression. It is when the outrage is allowed to explode on a mass scale and take control of the agenda that societies are rocked and nations are thrown into turmoil.

The illusion we live with is that we can engineer a system according to some final set of enlightened principles, such as neo-Marxism or neo-liberal Capitalism, or the popular hybrid form of social democracy married to capitalist ideology in Western societies. None of these will end the incipient us—vs—them way of relating and keep the perpetual underclasses soporifically stable so the “better, right sort” of people who are ordained to lead or just enjoy the just fruits of their labor can get on with having their cake and eating it too.

The illusion is that by human-engendered wisdom we can create Utopia. It is an illusion because there is no final peace unless we are reconciled to the Creator, who made us with a hole in our soul that only He/She can fill. Peace within is reconciliation with the Supreme Person who alone can erase our brokenness which drives us to wage continual war upon one another and upon the creation itself. That primal reconciliation dispels the Big Lie that only I, or at most I and my special group, deserve to be really free. That primal reconciliation leads us to be reconciled to the Creation itself so that we can respect the rights and freedoms of all created things in their own nature and place within the Cosmos.

As we close this set of reflections on this unending topic, here are two thoughts to ponder:

“Our hearts, O God, can find no rest till we find our rest in You.” – Confessions, St. Augustine of Hippo, ca. 410 CE.

“Man is made with a God-shaped vacuum in his soul.” – Blaise Pascal, ca. 1650 CE

May you be ever vigilant in discerning the blind alleys that do not grant freedom, but only a reversal or replacement of oppressions.

May you learn how to protect the righteous, limited freedoms we are given to enjoy in our sojourn on planet earth.

May you find your way to the true freedom which only Yeshua Messiah brings.

And may we all remember that we must love our neighbors (even our ruler neighbors) as ourselves if we claim to be followers of Jesus and children of God,

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Freedom, 6 – The Truth Shall Set You Free

If you hold to my teaching …. you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

Jesus of Nazareth, John’s Gospel, Chapter 8, verses 31b, 32

Last time, we concluded that:

  1. All the freedom(s) we can know in our lives is/are partial and temporary;
  2. As good as these may be, real freedom cannot be achieved by self-improvement, self-immolation, group therapy, meditation, self-discipline, religious zealotry, or any similar practices;
  3. To enter the freedom we are created to know and abide in, we must go to the Son-of-God-Son-of-Man.

As quoted above, Jesus says “the truth will set you free”. A little later in this discourse (verse 36), he says “…the Son sets you free…indeed.” Is he contradicting himself?

Not at all! As we can see above, he tells his followers that they will know the truth by “holding to my teaching” and this will set them (and us) free.  But what is finally holding us in bondage? What do we really need to be set free from and to in order to abide (live continually in) true freedom, and not just some temporary feel-good substitute for it?

All liberation implies some form of slavery, bondage, captivity. Is humanity still fundamentally in bondage, even after some great liberation movement, such as Emancipation or a liberating revolution which overthrows some terrible tyrant? Entering into and abiding in the kind of freedom Jesus is referring to is not a just problem of “misunderstanding”, “misinformation”, false teaching, or fake news which can be corrected and eliminated by the right kind of education and social reform. Misunderstanding and misinformation are indeed major problems, but more and “better” education have yet to change the most basic problem behind all forms of bondage. The most basic issue is denial of the truth, that is, of the only truth whose knowing can open the mere possibility  of being set free, made free. This fundamental denial is both self-denial and general, society-wide denial.

As long as we are unwilling to see ourselves as we truly are, we cannot see the truth about our basic condition. Attribute this to evolution or to another origin, but history hands down the same verdict according to what our actions throughout all our history and current events tell us.

We are broken. Our souls and nature are divided; we are at war within ourselves. Call it good versus evil, light versus dark, right versus wrong, the desire to love and protect and nurture versus the lust to dominate, control, hate and destroy what impedes us from taking what we want, having what we see someone else has, and taking pleasure in what we want when we want however we want.

Most everyone is ready to admit that they are not perfect. Everyone readily says, “Sure I mess up; I get it wrong; I don’t always do what I know is right.” We resolve to do better, to turn over a new leaf, make some new resolutions and try harder (New Year’s or birthdays anyone?). And a while later, we, like the proverbial dog, “return to our vomit”.

Sometimes there are exceptions – like the alcoholic or drug addict who “goes straight” and “stays clean”, or the porn addict who, with therapy, stops. Even when we “beat” one of our big problems, we all know that (a) we’re still deeply flawed and broken, or we would never have been enslaved to whatever it was, and (b) we still have a bunch of messy stuff that’s screwing up our lives, our sense of wholeness, and our self-image. One drink can send us back into the pit; one fix can return us to hell.

Our Western, scientific answer to everything is more and better science and education, often applied through engineering a device, a method, a technique to fix the current critical problem. This has been tried repeatedly over the last three and more centuries since the “Scientific Revolution” was really kicked off by Isaac Newton, who provided the “mechanical universe” model by formulating the Laws of Motion and Gravity and, along with Leibnitz, providing the mathematical language – Calculus – to explain and formulate it. Reducing things to mechanics and mechanisms – even in biological systems – has even been tried in the domain of human psychology through behaviorism. The “stimulus-response” “mechanism” does nothing to address the underlying question of autonomous human choice to act destructively or altruistically, even against instinct and logic.

No matter how reductionist we want to be about chemistry and physics and quantum atomics manifesting as evolution in biology, we are still baffled by the stubborn human propensity and inborn need to function as moral and idealistic agents. We have always manifested an innate understanding of what could and should be in the moral side of who and what we are. We are plagued with a compulsion to see ourselves and our fellows, and even the rest of the living ecosystem, in the light of good and bad, right and wrong. In our gut we know that, like King Belshazzar in Babylon, the Invisible Hand writes on our heart’s wall, “Weighed in the balance and found wanting.” (The full story behind this allusion is found in the Biblical Book of Daniel, chapter 5.) Not one of us consistently lives up to the moral and ethical laws written in our own hearts, let alone to those proposed by both the great religious and great philosophical sages over the millennia.

We know that we are somehow broken, marred, off-balance. We “miss the mark” – even the ones we impose on ourselves – and too often that means we constantly hurt others, and perhaps do far worse things than “merely” hurting them.

It is just a step from this internal revelation of our own brokenness to understand that we cannot fix ourselves, and, by corollary, no one else can fix us either – at least no one else who is just like the rest of us.

Yet Jesus says, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” How can he make such an outrageous claim? It’s not about knowing by rote all the possible commandments some Divine Law codifies and then striving with all our might not to break any of them. Or about getting the deepest philosophical insight on morals and ethics the human mind can devise – like Aristotle, John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, and John Stuart Mill hypothesized. It’s not even about systematically removing all attachment to persons, places, things, experiences, or feelings so that you can enter “moksha” and achieve “nirvana”, having freed yourself from all karma. It’s about encountering a Person and coming into relationship and communion with “Him”.

And only one person in all of history has ever credibly made the singular and incredible claim to actually be that Person – the one who could and will set you free from the final and most fundamental form of bondage every human who has ever lived (and died) suffers from.

TO BE CONTINUED

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Freedom, 5 – Free Indeed

So, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Jesus of Nazareth, Gospel of John, chapter 8, verse 36

The “Son” Jesus refers to in this amazing statement is Jesus himself. He is claiming the authority of God, the One Creator, to set us free. He is saying that the freedom so coveted by multitudes from time immemorial can finally be found only in and through him, the Son of God, the Son of Man. Neither philosophy, theology, the deepest meditation, the most frenzied religious contortions, nor the most zealous self-immolation can bring us true freedom.

In the 21st Century, multitudes in the West seek freedom through personal self-betterment and self-advancement, only to find at last that it still eludes them. All across the world, multitudes seek it by conforming to a thicket of rules and regulations in their cultures and traditions, only to find that, no matter how closely they come to perfecting their practice of those things, they still come short of oneness with God, or knowing unity with and full acceptance by those whose love and solace they seek. And none of these strenuous pursuits result in final reconciliation within ourselves.

Of course, there are some pretty satisfying approximations of freedom here in this world. Deeply loving someone and giving of yourself can bring some measure. But all who have loved deeply know that there is still something unresolved, a hole still empty at the core of the soul. The beloved cannot free you from your internal chains of doubt, shame, and guilt still lurking in the basement of your psyche.

Another much vaunted form of “freedom” in this age is money. Enough of it will release us from fear about day-to-day provision and the wherewithal to get healthcare. And it’s pretty nice to have access to some of those “extras” like a decent holiday or two, a comfortable home, a good vehicle, etc.

All this is still far from the true freedom our souls seek. Money and material security do not free us from the inevitability of undergoing trials and troubles, pain and suffering. As Buddha said, “All life is suffering. All suffering is caused by desire.” “Desire” in this sense does not mean the crass lusting after things or for erotic contact with someone. It is the lifelong striving to be released from being bound by anything to the point that losing it or not attaining can cause deep pain.

In the end, none of any of this can free us from death, the final enemy.

If any of these ways of pursuing freedom were really successful, the rich, the physically and mentally healthy, the powerful and influential, etc., would never be jealous, never continue to covet more and more, never worry about missing out and not measuring up to Mr. or Ms. “X” who has more of whatever they think they are missing enough of. But of course, what is “enough”? There is always more money, another deal, a newer car, a fancier phone, and – when a relationship goes south – a “better” partner waiting out there.

For the more mystical and spiritually minded, there is always a deeper dive into the infinite to be pursued, another session of more severe self-deprivation, another conference to help you feel better, “more connected”, another guru to follow.

Study the biographies of the richest, greatest, most powerful, and most influential in any field of endeavour and you will see that, after a lifetime of seeking, all still had secret (or public) fears, unresolved issues that plagued them, failed relationships and miserable episodes that filled them with regret and remorse, a sense of not being good enough, unsatisfied lusts and even rage if they were sociopathic or psychopathic specimens of broken humanity.

Even the greatest saints demonstrate the universality of human brokenness and incompleteness within themselves. After all, what drove them into the desert for thirty or forty years, or into the hermitage, abandoning all the “normal” sources of comfort and little happinesses and tastes of freedom we can have in this life?

When we take the time to reflect honestly, we too know that we are all still slaves to the inner brokenness in our souls. What sins plague you? What holds you captive? What failures and betrayals haunt you in the night and your most lonely moments?

Great saints may overcome their sinful proclivities to a great degree, but many of them still have and demonstrate unresolved depths of brokenness. This is what drives them to extremes of self-abnegation in quest of supreme spiritual cleansing. They believed this will finally free them from the assaults of the demons which they testify as plaguing them. After more than thirty years of zealous service to Jesus, bringing thousands into the Kingdom of God, even Saint Paul said in his First Letter to his protégé Timothy (1,15), one of his last recorded statements, that he knew one thing to be “worthy of full acceptance, that Jesus Christ came into to world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.”

How could the greatest Evangelist of ancient, and perhaps all times still say such a thing?!

The lesson about this highly elliptical concept of freedom is that, as worthwhile as it is to live and die for, we are incapable of knowing its full meaning, let alone experiencing it, by any philosophical or theological meditation or cogitation. Neither can all the most fanatical self-denial and most desperate “worm theology” (as in “Oh God, I am but an unworthy worm. I am the worst … [you can fill in your own space]”) take us to it.

We must return to what Jesus said about all this to be released from this terrible burden to somehow “make ourselves worthy” of God’s mercy and pity. Somewhere, somehow along the road within just a few generations of His life, redeeming death, and regenerating resurrection, even the best-intentioned disciples started once more trying to make themselves pure and holy and worthy. When Jesus said the Son is the only way to “be free indeed”, he was trying to tell us that we are simply so broken in ourselves that, without him as our source and our center, humans can and will never know or experience freedom – not in any truly complete and healing sense that will last forever, or even in this, or any (if you hold with reincarnation [the Bible is clear that reincarnation is not a thing) lifetime on earth.

So here is the great paradox: by striving for freedom as the great goal with all our might and main, we are really striving to break all bonds of restraint. The quest for freedom without turning to its true Giver reduces us to abject slaves to our basest appetites and instincts. Then we create restraining social rules and customs to check the most pernicious aspects of this brokenness which will always turn us toward chaos. Thus, we must give up some portion of our theoretical right to total freedom in order to be able to enjoy some limited aspects lest we incur the wrath of our fellows and destroy ourselves in the process. For if we act as we might well wish at our worst, society will come against us to terminate all of our freedom, whether by killing us, excluding us, or severely restricting us (as in prison, for example). Even the Mafia has its Code of Omerta. NATO, the EU, and the UN are using sanctions against Russia in this sense at this very moment.

As the ancient Greeks long ago philosophized (Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle all agreed on this), total, perfect freedom cannot exist in any society. The debate then becomes: 1. How much may be safely permitted for the greater good of all? (2) Is this to be decided by the general body of citizens, or by an elite group of superior understanding and wisdom?

Down through the millennia of recorded history, we see both approaches attempted, although it would appear that the elitist solution holds the overall balance of power if we judge by the crude measure of domination over the last 5000 or so years. Democracy, the “rule of the general body of citizens”, however effected, is, in fact, very new, at least with regard to its extensive spread over the last century or so. Before that it showed up in isolated blips. For millennia, it was regarded with great suspicion even by many of the best philosophical and ideological minds of the societies in contact with it.

Let us conclude this episode by recapping:

  1. All the freedom(s) we can know in our lives are partial and temporary;
  2. As good as these may be, real freedom cannot be achieved by self-improvement, self-immolation, group therapy, meditation, self-discipline, or religious zealotry, or any similar practices;
  3. To know and enter the Freedom we are created to know and abide in, we must go to the Son-of-God-Son-of-Man.

Our next post will consider what abiding and true freedom means.

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Freedom, 4

Man is born free, but is everywhere in chains.

Jean Jacques Rousseau, Essay on the Origins of Inequality, 1754

(Photo credit – Flickr)

We usually hear that the West’s democratic tradition is rooted in ancient Greece, and particularly in Athens in its Golden and Silver Ages (the 5th – 4th Centuries BCE). It is intriguing to trace the genesis of this myth among the Enlightenment philosophes and their ingenious rewriting of the historical record to suit their purpose. They (e.g., Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire) propagandized that Christianity was incapable of generating any respect for human rights and freedoms. Rather, Christianity was “superstition and myth” fit only for the feeble-minded, unworthy of the Age of Reason and Science. It was the agent of oppression of ordinary people – especially the “better sort” of ordinary people who were educated enough to challenge Church orthodoxy and social control – keeping them in their allotted place as per God’s ordained order of “the Three Estates” or “Orders” among humanity – the Clergy, the Nobles, the Commoners.

It was to be forgotten that, for well over 1500 years, Christianity had been gradually transforming the West’s culture and soul towards placing all citizens on an equal footing before the law and in society. The Gospel proclaimed every Sunday in Church showed how Jesus treated all with respect and dignity – but especially the least esteemed in ancient (and, mostly, modern) society – women, children, the infirm and disabled, the outcasts, the rejected, and even the prisoners and slaves. The Book of Acts and the Epistles told the same story and even said “For in Christ there is no longer male or female, Jew or Gentile, slave or free.”

This gradual evolution towards effectual equality was based on the idea of every one being made in God’s image. In the Christian faith, all are equally objects of His love and mercy, as well as equally subject to His judgment, regardless of “Estate” (social and economic standing) in this world, or sex (gender, if you prefer) for that matter. But the Enlightenment declared that Reason and Science were ordained to supplant and replace the suppressive theological ideology which subjected human nature to God. Ergo, the centuries from 500-1500 were rebaptized as “the Dark Ages”, when superstition, ignorance, dogmatism, and the Inquisition supposedly ruled. Undeniably, there had been regrettable episodes of zealous fanaticism leading to witch-hunts and massacres of dissidents accused of heresy, but the slow movement continued just the same.

Ample new, meticulous research has shown that the Middle Ages were often, and on the whole, vastly different from the hoary standard story-line. Yet we still find it widely propagated as fact in textbooks and many a narrative uninformed by or deliberately ignoring the true historical facts. There were no “Dark Ages”, as so commonly described. There was a time when learning and knowledge retreated because of barbarians laying waste much of the old Greco-Roman world. But it did not disappear and did not even retreat underground. The new rulers quickly found they needed literate helpers to rule, make law, collect revenue, and keep order. Most of the literate class came from the one agency and institution that emerged still strong and independent from the wreck of the Western Roman Empire – the Catholic Church. Note that “Catholic” meant universal, and did not designate a denomination.

It was Catholicism which gradually softened the harshest edges of the new semi-barbarian kingdoms which emerged. It was Christianity which taught these choleric, volatile rulers to temper their tempers and begin to learn that they owed allegiance to a Greater King who would judge them and their rule.

We do not have time, and this is not the place, to set out the resounding refutation of the “Dark Ages” Enlightenment “old wives’ tale” in any detail. The point is that, even with its sometime blind dogmatism and unfortunate gaps in understanding, Medieval Christendom was already moving towards the open society that the West has become.

The biggest injury to that “Great Leap Forward” towards an open, egalitarian, universalist society (to borrow Mao’s phrase and put it to much better use) was actually the shattering of Christendom. This came via the triple hammer blows of (1) the Black Death and the tremendous socio-economic upheaval it produced [now there was the pandemic of pandemics!], (2) the Reformation followed by the Wars of Religion, and (3) the Enlightenment, which, despite all its protestations to be the Age of the coming of the great light of emancipation from superstition, opened the doors wide to the tsunami called the French Revolution.

That Revolution and its directly emergent military Messiah-figure, Napoleon Bonaparte, the prototype of all secular modern tyrants, were a firestorm which swept all the way across Europe from Madrid to Moscow between 1789 and 1815, leaving at least ten million dead in its wake. The Revolution and its whirlwind Messiah unleashed the full fury of the ideological nuclear force of nationalism into the world.

The cyclone of rampant nationalism would directly and inexorably lead to all the horrors we have known over the last 100 or so years, and of which we are now seeing a pernicious resurgence. As illustrated in our previous post, the dismal record is, conservatively estimated, 200 million dead sacrificed to the gods of virulent nationalism, socio-economic-political totalitarian ideologies (militant Communism and Fascism, in particular), hyper-imperialism, and cutthroat capitalism. So much for the noble Age of Freedom ensuing from the “Death of God”, as Nietzsche so aptly put it. “God is dead and we have killed Him,” is the ultimate presumptive and arrogant cry of triumph of the Philosophe. (God might justly quip in reply, “Contrary to rumor, I am still here. However, Nietzsche is dead, and he killed himself.”)

One is reminded of how, during the Roman Peace of over 200 years (Emperors Augustus to Marcus Aurelius, 27 BCE – 181 CE), the ancient Mediterranean and West European world thought it had outgrown the age of wars, save for those of self-defense against jealous foreign barbarians – the same guys who later took over the shop, as noted above.

Today, we seem no closer to our claim to merit the elusive prize called “Freedom” than our benighted forebears. As we used to say in the Sixties, “One man’s rebel is another’s Freedom Fighter.”

Consider the seminal conflict of US history, the Civil War of 1861-65. Both sides claimed to be fighting for Freedom and Rights. Both claimed that “right” and God were on their side. Abraham Lincoln famously observed in his inimitable fashion, “Both cannot be right, but both may be wrong.” His own much more sober assessment was that God had decreed that that terrible conflict would not end until “the last full measure” had been paid; that “every drop of blood shed by the overseer’s lash” would be paid for by the blood of the men mangled and dead on the battlefields. The total population of the USA in 1861 was 31 million. Over 650 000 American soldiers perished in that war, more than those who died in World Wars One and Two, the Korean War, and Vietnam combined. Another million and a half went home mangled and maimed in body and soul.

Is freedom a by-product of war? In his powerful little book Freedom, Sebastien Junger proposes that, in fact, it is! I do not know that the still struggling African-American minority in the USA would agree that they got true freedom coming out of the Civil War, or even since then.

Or is Freedom something much more subtle, surreal, even spiritual? Is it perhaps an innate, inherent quality one inherits at birth, like a gift from God? Or is it something earned or won by struggle and effort, rooted in much more primal origins, as Junger suggests?

If it is the first – innate and inherent at birth – then it is a universal right, an “inalienable right” bestowed by the Creator, as the authors and signers of the American Declaration of Independence proclaimed in 1776. If it is the second, then not everyone has it or deserves to acquire it or be given it. It becomes a privilege which may be earned, seized by brute force, revoked, and lost. Is the reality somewhere between these two extremes? Is it an innate potential that all must seek, but few will find, and, even then, only through struggle and sacrifice – akin to Jesus’ saying, “Seek and you will find; knock and it shall be opened to you?” If people are unwilling to struggle for it, to truly seek it, can they find it, even if someone attempts to hand it to them? Do they really merit such a priceless gift which, not having struggled to find it within themselves first, they will never really understand and value, let along know how to keep if it is threatened? As Joni Mitchell sang in Big Yellow Taxi, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

Perhaps we can say that everyone merits at least the offer of the gift, the opportunity to seek it and, perchance, to find it. Perhaps it is fair to say that a great many people really don’t want to put in the effort and sacrifices that are required to find it and hold onto it once they have it. The historical record can easily be interpreted to point to this conclusion. Maybe they are only willing to fight for it when it is taken away, or about to be.

Generally, most people seem to want a limited amount of personal freedom to be able to go about their personal lives mostly unhindered. But they prefer to avoid too much personal responsibility lest it become overwhelming. When forced to choose between comfort and security and freedom, most people seem to tend to default to comfort and security, most of the time. That is what we saw with Italy’s Fascism and Germany’s Nazism in the 1930s. Like the frog in the pot, we wake up too late to jump out!

On the whole, for all their vaunted regard for liberating people from the yoke of ignorance and superstition, the classical (late 17th, 18th, and early 19th Century) Enlightenment philosophes did not believe in democracy, except perhaps in a very limited fashion. In Athens, their highly esteemed model, less than one quarter of the population were politically entitled. Athens’ population was about 250 000 in 430 BCE. Half of them were slaves. Half of the non-slaves were unentitled females. That leaves 62 500 male citizens with potential rights. Remove another two thirds who were under-age. We are at 20 000 entitled males. Remove 8000 with insufficient property to qualify to vote and hold office. Athens’ vaunted democracy was in fact a small coterie of 12 000 male citizens – all men!

In fact, the Roman Republic was far more democratic in theory and practice than Athens ever was. It even had a rather effective system of checks and balances built into it at its best. Athens’ excuse for a check on tyranny was ostracism, and this was fairly easy to pervert if a good demagogue manipulated the 12 000 qualified voters. True, in Rome no slaves or women could vote, but among the male citizens, only the very poorest could not vote or, theoretically, at least, be nominated to hold the powerful office of Tribune of the Plebs.

However, the Philosophes vastly preferred enlightened absolute emperors such as Augustus, and most especially Marcus Aurelius, the archetypical Stoic Philosopher-King. Certainly, the Philosophes’ version of democracy, whenever they spoke of it, bore little to no resemblance to that which exists today. In fact, they would have been appalled by the modern social-democratic states of today. Their preferred form of government was “Benevolent Despotism”, and their term for the best of the quasi-absolutist rulers of the time was “Enlightened Despots”. Among them could be found Catherine the Great of Russia, Joseph II of Austria, and Frederick II (the Great) of Prussia (the largest of the German states outside of Austria’s domains). All of the above defaulted to despotism at need, dropping the “enlightened” adjective when necessary to “deal with intransigent elements”. The last King of France before the Revolution, Louis XVI, aspired to join this elite group, but was not accorded the dignity by French Philosophes (Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, d’Alembert, et al.). In January 1793, Poor Louis was simply guillotined by the new set of revolutionary despots who took his place (e.g. Robespierre) with much greater ruthlessness than any monarch had dared before that time. Thirty thousand more aristocrats and suspected close collaborators of the “aristos” rapidly lost their heads in similar fashion, as did even the Queen, Marie-Antoinette of “let them eat cake” fame.

Perhaps the great 18th-C Philosophes (mercifully [for them] dead by 1793) would have pointed out smugly that the revolutionaries had tried out a radical sort of democracy and found it wanting, just as they had predicted it would be. They may well have heartily endorsed the Corsican-turned-French-Emperor, Napoleon, perhaps the greatest proponent of Enlightened Despotism ever, with himself as its ultimate incarnation.

“Liberté! Égalité! Fraternité!” has ever since been the battle cry of modern warriors of freedom, equality, and universal brotherhood. Over the last 225 years, the musket, rifle, pistol, cannon, mortar, howitzer, bayonet, sword, bomb, shell, rocket, and hand grenade (yes, they had all those modern weapons in Napoleon’s time) seem to have been much used in emulation of the little Corsican’s evangelistic strategy.

TO BE CONTINUED

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Freedom, 3

“… a demand for unlimited revenge …. is what Nietzsche says is the very basis for the violence of nihilism.”

George Grant, Time as History. University of Toronto Press, 1995. p. 49.

“What the Messiah has freed us for is freedom! Therefore, stand firm, and don’t let yourselves be tied up again to a yoke of slavery.”

Galatians 5, verse 1, Complete Jewish Bible, trans. David Stern, 1998

For Vladimir Putin in March 2022, unlimited revenge on the West and the nasty world that has laid Mother Russia low since 1991 would be ultimate freedom. In that world, no blame or guilt lies on him or the band of ultra-rich oligarchs who have helped engineer Russia’s economic plight and political isolation. All is the fault of the Western Devil and its corrupt democratic tradition which dares raise the common masses to the level of full and equal citizenship (at least according to constitutional law) with the elites. If he can only get revenge by nihilistic total destruction including even of his own Motherland, he says he is prepared to venture it.

The West does bear some blame in this whole dreadful business on several counts. First, it sells a bogus dream of Utopia to itself and to outsiders wishing they could get in on the great prosperity train. Second, it engineers the game so that it is very hard to actually get in on anything like near-equal terms with the players already at the table. New players are expected to arrive with huge sums ready to ante to even sit in the game.

Beneath the West’s self-indulgent neon exterior, its cornerstone was once upon a time reputed to be Jesus and his first followers, notably Saul of Tarsus, better known as the Apostle Paul. Although the West has largely turned a deaf ear to its deep roots in Christianity, the ideal of freedom we are struggling to recover and renew stems directly from that source. Most Westerners no longer understand much of anything that that original call to freedom was really about-and it certainly wasn’t money or sitting on top of the power heap.

If Enlightenment disciples are miffed by my failure to extoll John Locke, Voltaire, John Stuart Mill, and all the other noted philosophes, sorry to give offence, but Jesus and Paul trump them all when we go to the main taproot of the West’s soul. Once upon a time the West was boldly called “Christendom” in open recognition of this historic fact. Even the esteemed original philosophes of the 17th and 18th Centuries did not ignore their debt to the Nazarene, although their modern disciples tend to conveniently ignore (either deliberately or in actual ignorance of) that fact.

In his letter to the Galatians, before the resounding declaration on freedom quoted above, Saul-Paul had said, “… with the Messiah [Jesus] … there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor freeman, neither male nor female; for in union with the Messiah Yeshua [Jesus], you are all one.” (Chapter 4, verse 27-28) Two thousand years ago, Paul, basing his understanding on the life and teaching of Yeshua/Jesus himself, declared that when you enter the community of Jesus’ family of followers, the major factors that create injustice, inequality, oppression, and all their concomitant evils are eliminated in God’s eyes, and are also meant to be erased lin actual practice here in this world among the ekklesia.

No one will deny that, over the last almost 2000 years, the Christian ekklesia (a word badly translated from Greek into English as “Church” but which really connotes the assembly of all citizens who belong to the united community) has too often failed to live by these most basic principles.  If the Christian ekklesia had substantially succeeded, I venture to say that the world we now live in would not be on the brink of World War Three, and would never have known Numbers One or Two either. But here we are.

The detractors of Christianity are zealous in their denigration of the long, difficult history of the uneasy symbiosis of Church and State in the West, perhaps rightly laying most of the blame at the door of the Church for the eventual divorce. However, secularist decrying of the “hypocrisy” of Church, Christian theology, and weak-willed Christians has grown old, tired, and as hypocritical as we are told the Churchified leadership of bygone ages always were denounced as being.

For the last two hundred years, the secular order, i.e., the “non-religious” social, economic, and political leaders claiming to operate and direct society and culture according the best Enlightenment principles, has held the reins across the West. They may still nod “Goodday, eh” at the Church occasionally in order not to scare too many regular folks off with their impiety. But the kingdom, the power and the glory have been theirs now for long enough to test the fruit of the new King-tree.

So let’s be completely honest about the historical record since 1789 and the French Revolution, the date when this new age of science and reason and ineluctable progress that was proclaimed to be ushered in by getting the Christians out of the way.

The record of war and revolution and mayhem and slaughter has not diminished in the least. In fact, it has been multiplied exponentially. Observe:

  • French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, 1792-1815 – estimated 5-10 million dead;
  • 19th Century Revolts and Revolutions (1824-30, 1830-1, 1848, 1861-65 [US Civil War], 1871) and wars of national unification (Italy and Germany) – 3-4 million dead
  • Colonial expansionist conquests, massacres, and rivalry wars of the 19th C – 3-5 million dead
  • Pre-World War 1 conflicts in the 20th C – 3 million dead
  • World War 1, 1914-1918 – estimates vary wildly from 20-40 million dead, including famine and starvation directly related to this hecatomb
  • Russian Revolution and later Sovietization – 10 million dead
  • Stalinist purges – Gulag – 20-30 million dead
  • World War 2 – 60-80 million dead (no real way to know given the immensity of scale and unaccounted massacres and slaughters)
  • Korean War – 2-3 million dead
  • Vietnam War – 3-4 million dead
  • Chinese Civil War and Communist purges, Maoist “Cultural Revolution” – 40-60 million dead
  • Khmer Rouge in Cambodia – 1.5 million dead
  • etc., etc.

All the most terrible internecine wars of 1300 years of Christendom from circa 384 CE (when the Roman Empire became officially “Christian”) to the end of the Thirty Years War in Europe in 1648, the last European “War of Religion”, cannot even hold a candle to the appalling record of the last two hundred years since the effectual demise of Christendom and its replacement with government according to illuminati principles (as in lighted up by the great light of scientific, rational truth, not as some sort of secret elite society controlling everything) issuing from Enlightenment standards of elevating human society. Christendom at least faintly attempted to use Christian principles to direct national and international concerns. Today we have Machiavellian Realpolitik in its place, with no residue of honour and mutual recognition of a higher duty before the Maker to blunt the worst instincts in the souls of power-mad power-brokers.

To compare apples with apples, let us take the two darkest chapters in Christendom’s war-waging – the Crusades between 1096 CE and about 1300 CE – and the Wars of Religion between 1530 and 1648.  There is no way to know with any real accuracy how many died in the multiple crusades launched by Medieval Europeans under Christ’s banner with the professed aim of reclaiming the Holy Land (Israel-Palestine) from Islam. It is fashionable to condemn these attacks on the Islamic world as unprovoked.  It is forgotten that Islam seized those lands after conquering them by naked aggression against Christian States. Untold millions died in those Muslim wars of conquest between 634 CE and 1080 CE. The best guestimate is that the Christian drive to retake those lands probably cost another 3-4 million lives over the course of two hundred years.

In the Thirty Years War and other European Wars of Religion following the Protestant Reformation, another 10 million or so died in what amounted to a Western Christian Civil War. If we generously round all this up to 20 million or so Christians massacring one another or Muslims and Jews as heretics over the course of about 1400 years, it does not take a mathematical genius to calculate whether Christendom or Enlightenment Secularism with its toll of around 200 million (10 times as many) in one seventh the time has the greatest bloodlust and blood-guilt.

I am not advocating a return to an old Christendom. I am not excusing crimes against humanity perpetrated by leaders misusing Christ’s name. We do not need more religious judgmentalism and sectarianism. This discussion is not even about Christianity being superior to Enlightenment principles for building a just and compassionate society. I suspect we need both.  It seems that when the two shun and despise each other, we end up in a terrible place. What we are both aiming for, so we say, is rediscovering the real sources of our ideals of freedom, and finding a sure foundation upon which to renew them.

Let us not falsely claim that we can be scientific about this. Let us have the courage to face our history and our real-life experience and find reconciliation and renewal together. Christians at their best have gifted the world with enormous benefits in compassion for the poor, the sick, the infirm, the oppressed, law reforms to care for the helpless and defenseless, education and health-care. The achievements of Christians and the ekklesia in these primary areas of building a real caring, compassionate culture and society far outstrip anything done by secular sources, setting aside direct government intervention. Even that has been largely done at the insistence and inspiration of the Ekklesia and voters inspired by the infinite compassion of Jesus.

But we also need the Enlightenment at its best to temper misbegotten religious zeal and spiritualized fanaticism and hold the Ekklesia and leaders, whether secular or Christian, at all levels and in all walks accountable. The Enlightenment points us to intelligent discovery of truth through God’s gifts of reason and science, based on the Creator’s order in Nature. However, these are crippled when separated from the Creator’s wisdom as to their true nature and purpose.

Stay tuned.

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Freedom, 2

Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose…

Me and Bobby McGee – Janis Joplin

(Photo credit – Outward Bound Canada)

Wilderness canoe-tripping has long been one of my absolute favourite summer-autumn things to do. I have done it almost every summer for 35 years. For me and those who come with me it is and has been one of the most freeing things we know.

Some sorts of head-knowledge are in the skill-set one needs to “succeed” in wilderness tripping – whether that be canoeing, serious back-packing (which I have also done), or some other kind of ‘in-the-deep-end’ wilderness journeying. But in this sort of adventure, the physical and practical skills decidedly outweigh most head-knowledge. And, unless you are a solo-tripper, such a journey is a social and relational adventure as much as it is physically challenging.

Before setting out, some sort of plan is required, even if only a rudimentary one. First thing to determine is “Where”? In other words, a route must be selected and agreed upon. The agreement may be a simple acceptance by the other group members, or an actual discussion of at least some of the details. For example, how much flexibility in changing it once begun will/should there be? How long will the trip be, both in distance and time? Where will the stops be? Is the distance estimated appropriate to the time allotted? How much food will be required? What gear does each member need to bring? Etc.

Once the basic plan is set, assignments need to be allotted to each tripper – who will bring what, how it will all be packed and divided into portageable loads. How will the canoeing partners be decided – who should be with whom, and can this be varied? It’s nice to change partners from day to day to get to know one another better. Sometimes, it might be better for certain pairs to spend more or less time together. In case of need to make important decisions, is someone the designated leader, or will consensus decide?

This potentially wonderfully freeing kind of activity is an allegory of how human beings function in even the smallest and simplest sort of extended social contact. What could happen if you don’t plan and just get a few like-minded people with similar interests together to just set out on a common adventure with each one preparing however he/she thinks appropriate? Even then they will need to agree on a common time and place to meet in order to go together.

An ad-libbed, ad-hoc trip might end up like this. On the chosen day at around the chosen time, Charlie, Pete, Samantha, and Noreen (our intrepid trippers) all show up with whatever they thought they needed for this wonderful idea of a wilderness canoe trip. At the canoe put-in on Lake Letztango, they begin to discover that not everyone even has the basics. Noreen has no paddle. Pete has no PFD (life-vest). Charlie brought two canoes, but only one of them is an actual tripping canoe with significant cargo capacity. No one bothered to acquire an actual map of the route they thought about following – not even an electronic one downloaded to their phone or tablet! As to food, what a hodgepodge, and who even considered that improperly stored food is an open invitation to bears, racoons, and pesky, ubiquitous squirrels to the feast within hours of setting up camp? Oops! Everyone thought the other people were bringing tents! On and on the sad tale goes.

We will leave this group of sad-sack travelers to their consequences. Does freedom have anything to do with all this? When is freedom not freedom? When are rules and limitations actually liberating? And when are they oppressive rather than liberating?

It becomes very quickly clear that for even the most elementary social arrangement to work, there is a careful balancing act that must be worked out. Not enough organization with responsibilities and duties defined, and the slide into chaos and blame-gaming is rapid and will quickly get nasty. Too much organization with overzealous application of controls and rules reduces people to ciphers, stifling their motivation to reach out and help one another. Over time it builds up anger and resentment for being disrespected and made to feel of no account.

The best wilderness experiences happen when people know their roles, are respected as people who can and will fulfill them, and learn how if they need to. Left with enough independence to initiate and even improve things for themselves and others, things become positively fun! There is a spirit of goodwill, happy cooperation, and genuine concern in case of a problem. Problems are met with steady practical solutions created when the need arises.  Sometimes, “stuff happens” even to the most experienced people, but when mutual freedoms within proper boundaries and mutual respect and esteem have been created and sustained within the group, the problems get solved far more smoothly and with far less strain, stress, blaming, and acrimony. Overcoming such things together strengthens the group’s cohesion and mutual respect.

A wilderness canoe-tripping expedition, whether as small as two or as large as ten, has no written rule-book. You can read up about skills and routes to prepare, you can practice canoeing techniques on calm water beforehand, try out your knot-tying and campfire building, and even practice pooping in the bush with no privy, but there is no comprehensive manual or “How-To” book.

Let’s apply our little parable about wilderness tripping to the macro level of running a club, a church, a town, a mega-city, a province or state and even a country. Is there some sort of “manual” for these bigger venues of social management?

Not really. Not even Robert’s Rules of Order or the well-designed Canadian Constitution Act can cover every situation, as helpful as they may be in giving general parameters.  They need to be supplemented by the infinitely fluid river called “History” backed up by a lot of written reflections, traditional ideas and principles, and “Here’s How I/We Did It Here at This Time” type writings (Memoirs, if you prefer). History has a ton of stuff for us to look over and consider, but it cannot tell us once and for all “Here’s what you need to do right now where you are with that bunch of people you’re traveling with.” It can tell us a lot about how our forebears solved many of the same problems we have to deal with – although the River of Time and place create variations that must be taken into account.

One thing we should have learned over the last two or three hundred years is that it is an awfully good idea to lay out a set of basic rules for solving big problems in big communities – both national and international. When you scratch beneath the surface, most of those problems revolve directly around the very issue we find ourselves struggling so mightily with worldwide at this very moment: FREEDOM! This humble set of articles is an attempt to make a small contribution to that very big discussion.

What, if anything, has our parable told us, besides how to avoid having our canoe go disastrously crashing into the first set of rapids it meets?

  • Freedom is not really freedom if there are no rules and responsibilities.
  • Freedom is an illusion if we have no plan, goal, and vision to set out for as a common destination and inspiration.
  • If each one of us just acts “freely”, i.e. autonomously, as “seems good in his/her own eyes” (an expression borrowed from the Biblical Book of Judges) our actual destination is chaos and destructive anarchy. Incidentally Judges is a good read for this period we find ourselves in. Even nature teaches us that laws exist and that they will insist on being respected and obeyed. We defy them at our own peril, and ultimately we defy them upon pain of death. You can whimsically decree that you can now fly or walk on water (without extra mechanical appendages) – until you try it for the first time and discover that you too are subject to the rule of law.
  • All of us, and all things, are subject to the rule of law. Such is the created order, or “Natural Law” in the old parlance. Even despots with a nuclear arsenal are finally subject to the rule of law. The greatest lawgiver of all once said, “If you live by the sword, you will die by the sword.” That’s a primary law in the way of human behaviour and natural consequences.  In the Old West, there was always a faster gunslinger somewhere who would eventually put you into Boot Hill.
  • By willingly cooperating together we can overcome many obstacles, and in fact we enhance one another’s real freedom when we excel in what we are really good at. Doing this and encouraging tripmates to do likewise gains their esteem and respect and empowers them to thrive as well.
  • The more we act arbitrarily and bully others into doing as we insist, the less they are likely to respect us, and the more resentful and angry they will become. Things will get done less and less willingly, and less and less thoroughly, increasing the risk of accident and harm for everyone. Eventually, order will disintegrate and the society will fail.

The slaves will overcome you too, King Louis, Tsar Nicholas, and Mr. Putin. Maybe not today, but count on it!

To Be Continued

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Freedom, 1

Freedom: Personal liberty, non-slavery; civil liberty, independence; liberty of action, right to do; power of self-determination, independence of fate or necessity; participation in privileges of citizenship; unrestricted use…

Concise Oxford Dictionary, 1964

(Map credit: 19FortyFive)

The above dictionary definition about covers what people generally mean, at one time or another, when they speak of the concept of freedom. These days in much of the West the term has become mostly focused on a very personalized notion of “personal liberty …, right to do [as I please, when I please, how I please], independence of fate or necessity … unrestricted use [and too bad if that runs you over]”.

Meanwhile, in Ukraine, the fundamental meaning of fighting for freedom is being graphically illustrated for the whole world to see.  This graphic live-streamed horror has put our petty quarrels here in Canada and elsewhere over COVID restrictions and governmental “overreach” into a humiliating display of moral infantility. How far we have fallen in our understanding of the most fundamental notions of living in a “free” society!

Winston Churchill once said that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Anyone who has come out of an anarchic free-for-all situation where law and order come down to the whim of the people with the biggest clubs (name your favorite failed state or inner-city “no-go” zone) can appreciate the brutal simplicity of it.

The vulgar fallacy and dreadful lie we in the West have progressively saddled ourselves with are that I am free to choose any outlandish form of acted-out self-discovery, self-expression, self-actualization (choose the moniker that you like to say it!) that suits me and you have no right to be offended or even express your disapproval. If you dare, I’ll sue the tights off you, or drag you before some tribunal that will. At the very least, they`ll humiliate you and make you a social pariah and maybe even put you in prison for “hate-speech”.

Besides actually going to Ukraine to see how real live defenders of freedom behave under real live-fire with thousands dying, how do we spoiled children of democracy regain a real sense of what life in human society and its future is really and truly about, or should be about? Is it really just about glutting my personal appetites to numb the pain of my instinctual sense of living a meaningless life – like the inhabitants of the Capital District in The Hunger Games? We in the West have become “the Capital”, and if we don’t truly wake up soon (and I don’t mean in the illusory sense of the WOKE-Folk, who are one of the prime symptoms of our chimeric mirage of “freedom”), the “Districts” will rise up in revolution.

To try to recover a rudimentary sense of the what democratic “freedom” is, many sources are available. First, I will suggest one very succinct and brilliant article recently published in The Globe and Mail, a prestigious Canadian newspaper. Its author is Justice Beverley McLachlin, now retired, 17th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada (2000-2017). https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-the-ottawa-truck-convoy-has-revealed-the-ugly-side-of-freedom/

Another I recommend is an eminently readable and brief personal account from a very different, non-academic approach: Freedom by Sebastian Junger, published by HarperCollins, 2021. This little book is only 147 pages and a far cry from didactic in the sense of “here are a bunch of theories and notions about freedom you need to learn and understand to pass the test”. Instead, Junger takes you on a walk, literally, across remote parts of the eastern USA, in the company of three like-minded companions who just want to escape the ubiquitous grip of The System and The Man. If you can’t learn something true and real about freedom from this journey (one with feet on the ground and your head cleared of all the BS, getting down to basics again), well – ‘nuff said! If you can’t make some sort of similar pilgrimage, this is a next-best-thing!

Freedom is never an isolated thing. And it is never an absolute thing. Even hermits are not totally free – as the ancient and medieval (and even modern) Christian hermits have said over and over again. Their bodily needs constrain them. Their minds imprison them. No matter where they take refuge, other people keep coming along to bug them and make demands on them. Buddhist monks, Hindu gurus, and Muslim dervishes all say the same thing. How have we in the West somehow bought into a completely delusional notion that freedom is all about me and what I “need” (when the real word is want) and to hell with you? As the Beatles once aptly phrased it “All through the years, I-me-my, I-me-my, I-me-my!” What a lie!

Deep down, you know that all your screaming about your rights and needs, however legitimate, cannot justify your taking what someone else equally needs or wants to appease your ego or sate your undisciplined will and appetites. Let’s be honest, much of this psychodrama is contrived by our own appetites and the delusion that we have some sort of “right” to have them satisfied regardless of the cost to other people.

That is what billionaires will rarely admit. Getting generates more wanting, more lusting. Being spoiled from toddlerhood up generates infantile adults who know only how to scream about freedom and demand it for their most outlandish interpretations of what “happiness” must be for them. As the old African story puts it, the Dog you feed will finally be the Dog who eats you when you run out of food to give it.

Which brings us around to our present World Crisis – notably, as in the bad old age of Colonialism, being generated from the old Imperialist homelands of Europe. The West emerged from there. Now, grown fat and rich and accustomed to be fed by the lesser Districts (returning to the The Hunger Games allegory)to satisfy all its most salacious and vicious appetites, it is facing a rebel mad-man’s will for vengeance and payback for having robbed his Motherland of her rightful place in the sunlit uplands of the elite nations.

God have mercy, and may there arise some farsighted prophets of peace even now in the West and other lands who can steer us out of this Valley of the Shadow of Death (Psalm 23, if you are not familiar with the expression). And may the sobering of a near-death experience wake up the West to its moral slavery and a will to recover the spiritual heritage of the knowledge of real Freedom.

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Fascism, 3

(Photo credit – Wikipedia)

No state currently assumes a Fascist identity by being run by a Fascist or National Socialist (the official name of the Nazi Party in Germany) Party. Nevertheless, there are perhaps as many as a dozen de facto Fascist states in the world in 2022, depending on how rigorously we want to apply our criteria.

First and foremost, there is Putin’s Russia. The brief summer of hope following Gorbachev’s tenure in the crumbling Soviet Union rapidly slid into near anarchy, and was only redeemed by the advent of the Strong Man of charisma, Vladimir Putin, backed by an underworld oligarchy willing to invest enormous amounts to propel him into and keep him in power. 

The invasion of Ukraine now underway is the “great unmasking” on the world stage of Putin Russia as the predatory fascist eagle.  Fascist states in Europe have had an historical fascination with the eagle in all its emblematic forms.  It is the quintessential bird of prey, king of the sky.  Mussolini’s Italy turned to the Roman eagle and the consular “fasces” for symbolism.  Hitler’s Third Reich adopted its own near-Aztec form of the great bird.  Russia has long had a two-headed eagle as a national icon – facing east (Asia) and west (Europe) at the same time.

As noted in a previous post, Fascism is adaptable to the particular milieu in which its proponents operate. It has taken on a distinct Russian tinge by adopting Russia’s historic self-identification as the lords and guardians of all Slavdom. The collapse of the Soviet Empire has never been truly accepted by Mr. Putin and the hardliners who held sway there.  They are on a quest to reassert Panslavism, bit by bit. Hitler’s playbook of making piece by piece claims while disavowing the true agenda of total annexation has so far worked well to lull the materialist and comfort-addicted West into somnolence, just as Hitler knew it would for the Western democracies in the 1930s until it was nearly to late to recover.

Only yesterday did I finally hear a prominent European leader openly call Putin a “Fascist Dictator”.

Let us compare President Putin’s remade Russia with Signor Mussolini’s eight Native Characteristics of Fascism:

  1. Strong nationalism/Sense of special national mission: Ask Ukraine and Russia’s other nervous neighbours. Russia has historically seen itself for centuries as “The Third Rome” and the anointed (imperial) protector (Lord) of all Slavs.
  2. Centralized and exclusive political authority = Putin as a life-term President.  Main method of eliminating tiresome and really challenging opponents – assassination. We are witnessing in live-stream the arrest of masses of Russian opponents of Putin demonstrating their outrage to Russia’s blatant aggression.  Over the years there have been a number of (not-so) mysterious deaths of key opposition leaders since Mr. Putin took over the Kremlin permanently. We are still waiting for his “Fuhrer”-style moniker, though.
  3. Police State, arbitrary justice: those who defy the regimes have little chance of getting off once taken before a kangaroo court. The KGB (of which Putin was once the Director) has re-emerged with new (and greatly feared) initials – the FSB for internal affairs and the GRU for foreign spying.
  4. Centrally controlled economy: There is a translucent façade of Capitalism covering massive corruption and underworld collusion with enormous kickbacks to the government and many top insiders. The West has known about this for decades and done nothing to stop the enormous exportation of robbed state funds to money-laundering bank accounts and property investments. Only with the Ukraine crisis is there talk of freezing these proceeds of massive crime at the expense of the long-suffering Russian people.  Putin is as personally rich as any Tsar ever was, and his henchmen and their families are as rich as any of the old Tsarist princelings and archdukes.
  5. Racism and xenophobia (can be manifested in various ways): once more, ask Russia’s neighbours.  NATO is the Big Bad Wolf, but ask internal dissident religious groups, or independent writers and thinkers, or militants on the LGBTQ2+ spectrum about the scorn and abuse directed their way.
  6. Militarism: the whole world can see this one on massive and horrific display. Even the nuclear sabre is being rattled to intimidate the soft-bellied West.
  7. Persecution and oppression of excluded minorities, however defined: see above, and doubtless more to come.
  8. The elimination of individual rights and constitutional protections of the lives and property of both non-citizens and citizens who forfeit the tolerance of the government for any reason: As noted.

Nominal opposition groups are closely watched. They are allowed to continue on sufferance for show. Elections are completely rigged.

(References – https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/is-putin’s-russia-fascist/

Our second extant case is the People’s Republic of (Red) China, an ally of Putin’s. Still nominally a Communist state, the reality is that China stopped being such an entity thirty years ago.  Instead, it has moved remorselessly into an operating Fascist system, while still seeking to fool the rest of the world and its own people that it can continue to plausibly claim to be a great Socialist “People’s Democracy”. While there is still a tightly run state system of social programs and benefits, Nazi Germany also did all that very well for citizens in good graces with the government.

Key economic sectors are still run by close government supervision and sometimes very heavy direct government funding – just like Mussolini’s “Corporate State” and Nazi Germany’s closely monitored supervision of Germany’s major corporations. But the management and oversight are contracted out to carefully licenced entrepreneurs whose job is to corner markets and channel huge profit-shares back to the State. The parallels to Hitlerian Germany and Il Duce’s Italy are startling.

Chairman-President Xi has become less and less accountable to any controlling body and more and more independent in control and power to decide on his own what will be done and by whom. “Red” China has become more and more like a model Signor Mussolini and Herr Hitler would recognize as kin.

Reference: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/is-china-fascist-state/

Taiwan is on China’s radar, and the course of events in Ukraine will be closely watched to see the extent of the West’s will to resist flagrant aggression with open war.  Taiwan has made it clear that if attacked it will fight.  The West (and Japan, South Korea, and Australia) will be sorely tried when this happens, just as they are now being greatly tested in Europe.

China’s historical national identity is that of the “Middle Kingdom” and the “Kingdom of Heaven” (its Emperors were “Sons of Heaven”) – in Western theological terms, “the elect of God”. More prosaically, China sees itself as the natural overlord of Asia. Over the centuries, China has periodically attempted to assert this assumed sovereign right.  Although overrun by outside barbarians several times, China has always absorbed its conquerors and re-emerged culturally stronger than ever.

Since the Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War in 1949, the only real check on Chinese expansionism has been the presence of the United States in Japan, South Korea, and South-East Asia – notably Taiwan and the Philippines.  With China’s emergence as the #2 World Superpower, some sort of showdown over South-East Asia will come.

China plays a wily long game, counting on the gradual wearying of Western (US) resolve to pay the price to sustain democratic regimes so far from their home shores. The transformation of the Chinese state-run economy and political scene from any real form of Marxism to a unique form of Fascism geared to their culture has been carefully managed to reinforce the nation’s long-term goals of obtaining regional hegemony and global dominance.

Fascism is always a dangerous ideology, remarkably flexible so as to play into the specific environments where its ambitious power-seekers hope to win control.  For this reason, vigilance is required in detecting it for what it is, and for knowing when it is not really there despite wannabe imitators who are just dabbling with particular parts of its appealing racial and supremacist dogmas. Wisdom is found in knowing the major typical characteristics of the system and watching for their coalescing around a charismatic populist demagogue with a tight coterie of fanatical followers who have a talent for stirring up unrest among the disaffected and disenchanted segments of the population, especially when those segments become a major force because of bad and weak government and oppressive circumstances.

To see the patterns, read and study the history of the pre-World War 2 twentieth century.

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Fascism, 2

“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government [Plato is one great thinker who thought this – VJM] except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time….”

Sir Winston S. Churchill, 11 November, 1947, speaking at a Remembrance Day ceremony two years after the end of WW2.

(Photo Credit – The Well Project)

If any statesman of the last one hundred years understood something about how democracy, and especially the British model of democracy through a Parliamentary system (are you listening Canada?), must function in order to remain healthy and viable, it was Sir Winston Churchill.  Churchill also won the right to be considered one of the greatest Statesman in world history by inspiring the Allies, under the name of “the United Nations” – a term he coined, by the way – to forge a great international alliance and adopt a winning strategy to bring down the greatest menace to freedom ever faced, the Axis Alliance of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial (Military Fascist) Japan in World War 2 (1939-45).  The three major “Axis” powers, as they called themselves, were the original and greatest “Axis of Evil”.

The farther removed we become from the horrors of war and tyranny faced by our forebears, the easier it is to forget how those times really were and the more possible to whitewash, romanticize, and idealize the great Dictators. History amply demonstrates that forgetting its lessons usually takes about two generations.  War, denounced in its immediate aftermath as horrific and sloganized as “never again”, once more becomes palatable and somehow noble and heroic the farther we get from it, at least to those who love the idea of settling accounts by swift, decisive, and “necessary” violence.

For any who think romanticization of the “great nobility” of heroic deeds of daring-do is passé in our age of instant spectatorship of live-stream murder and mayhem and even real-time massacre, think again.  How do ISIS and crime gangs recruit? Why are military strike-forces always full-up? Why are mercenaries so readily available to para-national super-organizations?

If you have a taste for such reading, and want to see what goes on in a young-man’s head before, during, and after taking up arms even for a truly noble cause, read about young Henry Fleming in The Red Badge of Courage, considered the finest true-to-life war novel about a young recruit, certainly of the 19th Century, and perhaps of all time.

Likewise, it is just as easy to forget the great, risky, temporary sacrifices the free nations made to achieve their victory over the Fascist Dictatorships between 1939 and 1945. That is really not so long ago. For six years Canada and Great Britain, which were in the war from start to finish, sacrificed the most fundamental things of a democracy, rights such as habeas corpus. Many other basic liberties and human rights were also suspended with eyes wide open. They were returned after it was all over.

We truly have little idea of what giving up such basic rights means, Canada’s little blip with “The War Measures Act” in 1970 under PM Pierre Elliot Trudeau (father of our present PM) notwithstanding. As WW2 got under way, there was serious debate about needing to so severely curtail people’s personal liberties, including severely limiting access to the most basic consumer goods considered necessities by most homemakers. To compare the limitations the world has faced over the last two years with those years demonstrates a frightful historical ignorance, as does comparing both our Mssrs. Trudeaus’ “authoritarianism” with what Canadians accepted and got through under Mackenzie-King and the Liberals of those days.

To deem a convergence of difficult factors beyond any one government or combination of governments’ ability to control into a super-sinister global conspiracy to rope us all into socialist conformity like obedient soviet proletarians is a desperately far reach. With our culture’s deep aversion to viewing the times we live in through the intensely clarifying lens of history, we drift into seeing Hitler’s moustache on persons in power who have not one hundredth of that demonic genius’ malevolence.  We are watching live real-life performances of Berchtold Brecht’s Theatre of the Absurd.

None of this does any of us proud.

Friends, hurling anathemas upon the current crop of perceived “agents of the Devil” is not a road to reaching the great majority of “the lost”. Breaking a whole slew of laws and seriously impinging on the rights and liberties of our neighbours is not going to dispose them to listen to your voices, or to lead anyone to believe that this is the way to amend a hobbling and wobbling but still legally functioning and elected democratic government in a nation built on usually sagacious, even if often self-interested compromise.

As Dickens wrote, “These are the [sort of times] that try men’s [human] souls”.  What comes out of us through the wine-press of testing proves more than anything else what we have truly put our trust in.

Free, democratic societies cannot operate without restrictions on the rights and liberties their citizens enjoy. Our World War ancestors knew this and, very largely, accepted it and lived through it. Rights come with equally important responsibilities.  They have limits, such as where they impinge on other people’s equally important rights and liberties.

The Fascists of old knew how to play the game to the hilt. They were intimidation demonstrators par excellence. They were coup d’état opportunistic specialists.  Democracy was what they hated, and its subversion by every means till people were fed up trying was their methodology. That is how Mussolini took Italy with only 30% of popular support.  That is how Hitler wheedled his way into the Chancellery in January 1933 with only 32% of Germany’s popular vote.

The neo-Fascists we see coming out of the closet today are reading from the same hymn-book. Use fear and misinformation to whip up discontent and conviction that the system cannot work, until it really does quit working. While a great many listening in to them are hearing the song they want to hear, they miss the Horst Wessel Liede (the Nazi Party anthem) thrumming in the background.

As the living witnesses to all the terrible things done in World War 2 and the Gulag (and its facsimiles in China and North Korea even today) pass on, it becomes more possible to deny much of the evil and to excuse what the enemies of freedom and democracy did as legitimate efforts to “set things right”.  In Mein Kampf Hitler boldly described what he intended to do and how. He also said flat-out that the basic technique to win the public to your goals was by retelling the Big Lie over and over again, louder and louder. He commissioned the all-time greatest propagandist, Dr. Joseph Goebbels, to drum the message home by every means available. Goebbels took Hitler’s demonically inspired methodology and perfected it. He is still much studied to this day, with adaptations to our latest technological refinements for getting the story out there.

One can admire the undeniable efficiency and straightforward solutions to serious issues achieved by dictatorships. In a lamentable and staggeringly foolish pronouncement, our own present Prime Minister once expressed admiration for Red China’s efficient methods of becoming a leading super-power.

By downplaying or simply denying the dark evil that emerges so quickly and at last destroys everyone’s right to everything, and up-playing the superficial resolution of chronic problems such as unemployment and abject poverty of whole underclasses, admirers of authoritarian rule can plausibly propose to address the sense of disenfranchisement of disillusioned sectors of the population. Ultimately, you just disenfranchise everyone (except the right people who belong to your limited ideological religion) and you (nominally) eliminate inequality! Voilà “National Socialism” – everyone socialized to be the right cog in the right slot of national glory!

Neither the Right nor the Left has a monopoly on undemocratic dehumanization and demonization of its adversaries.  If you are of the Right, the demons-in-human-form are any number of possible undesirables – those blasted Commies/Socialists/Jews/inferior races/immigrants, etc, etc. If you are of the Left, those demons are those Neanderthal throwbacks to the Dark Ages a.k.a. as “Religious Fanatics” (usually Christian here in the West)/pro-Lifers (preferably disparaged as “Anti-Choice”/Creationists (caricaturized as mindless Bible-thumpers who are anti-science/”Climate-Deniers” (a term which is nonsensical, everyone knows we live in a climate of some sort and that, over time, climates change)/ and, the newest one, Anti-Vaxxers – who are supposedly just another version of any of the above, etc., etc.

Screamers and Yellers of both Right and Left are guilty of the same offences and of equally undermining democracy.  Pushed to their logical ends (as Mr. Spock would have it), both roads end up in the darkness of tyranny and slaughter of all who stand in their way. As Spock tells us, “It is illogical to say that an illegal occupation by the forces of the Right is better or worse than an equally illegal occupation by the forces of the Left.”

Even anarchy has its Left and Right. The usual characterization of anarchism is as the most “out-in-left-field” application of Marxism. But, for six years before he took power, Hitler’s Brown-Shirts were masters of creating anarchy as a road to their ultimate goal. Their main street-fighting opponents were the Communist Black-Shirts who savoured the anarchy as much as their foes.

The incipient and thus far rather mild-mannered anarchy invading our streets is not even remotely like a Kropotkin book about the anarchy ideal. All versions of anarchy seen in history operate first by disregard for the law. This is justified by appealing to ”a higher law” (choose your religious or ideological filter for the text) which overrules the “bad law” foisted on the victimized ordinary folks. The anarchic saviours are the agents of the people who know better (the all-but-invisible wire-pullers firing out the propaganda and doing the e-transfers).

Fascism and Communism, like other ideological systems, morph according to the ground they grow in. The Marxist ideal of Communism morphed into Marxism-Leninism in the Soviet Union, then moved into murderous Stalinism – a very long stretch from anything either Marx or Engels had imagined.  In China it became Maoism, which was really a sort of ideological hunchback of Notre-Dame as far as its being Communist.

The original Fascism in Mussolini’s Italy appeared with new shades when adopted in the other European Fascist small-fry such as Spain under Franco, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Croatia, and Bulgaria.  Thus, Fascism can, does, and will present itself with many faces, just as it did “back in (great) grandpa’s day” (my parents’ day), wearing the national colours of its chosen targets, but sporting black and brown when doing its real business.

Failure to look and see and hear and understand bodes very ill for the trembling Western liberal democracies, some of which are under serious strain as we speak.  It would seem that unless there is some significant awakening to the signs of what Churchill called The Gathering Storm (the title of the first volume of his monumental and Nobel Prize-Winning six-volume history of the Second World War), we, like the West of the 1930s Churchill describes with such resonant clarity, may be sleep-walking on top of a Vesuvius which will spew deadly ash and lava from and to both the Right and Left.

TO BE CONTINUED

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Fascism, 1

(Photo credit – Wikipedia)

On January 6, 2021, in our (Canada’s) great southern neighbour, the now notorious “Capitol Riot”, or attempted coup, as many now view it, shook the democratic world.  As is well known, it is currently under investigation in the US Congress and a number of criminal trials.  One of the frequent terms used in connection with those events is “Fascism”. Many upholders of constitutional government have taken the view that the January 6 uprising was an attempted Fascist coup.

Are there Fascist elements at work in the present political scene in America?  Most assuredly.  Are there Fascist elements seeking to make inroads in other Western nations?  Certainly.  Do we have Fascists in Canada?  Of course!  But in every case, let us tread carefully before we assume we are headed for concentration camps!

In most cases, active Fascists will not openly adopt labels that too readily identify that that is who they really are.  It is becoming increasingly clear that many ordinary and well-meaning citizens are sympathetic to elements of Fascist thinking and tactics for gaining influence and even political power.  Nevertheless, I would suggest that most Western nation citizens really know next to nothing about what Fascism actually is in the flesh.

There is a real danger in too readily throwing this inflammatory political term around to label all kinds of disparate movements, groups, and provocative behaviours. There is enough frustration and anger abroad among the populace to create fertile ground for the spread of real Fascism to be a real concern, and many groups and causes have begun to latch on to Fascist-appearing ideological strains and tactics to make themselves heard. Careless, angry language just obscures the truth.

All of this is contributing to the palpable growth of the “Right vs. Left” divide in many countries as large numbers of people, especially among the less-financially secure parts of the population, feel increasingly forgotten, ignored, disenfranchised, and scorned by the actions and neglect of the sitting governments and regulators whom they perceive to be elitist while claiming to have the progressive enlightenment needed to guide (coerce?) everyone into the new society they envision.

The use of loaded language by these leaders in demeaning and minimizing the concerns, feelings, and convictions of the “ordinary folks” they seem to have less and less ability or desire to relate to does nothing to improve this sense of a yawning “great social divide” and downright disenfranchisement.  For example, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pejoratively calling people who disagree with his government “anti-vaccers”, “unpatriotic Canadians” and that their opinions and views are “unacceptable” and “un-Canadian” only pours gasoline on the smouldering fires of anger and resentment.  He regularly alienates a significant segment of the population who often don’t support his party (the Liberals) and agenda. He demeans them as second-class, morally and intellectually inferior citizens.

At the time of this writing Ottawa, the national capital of Canada, which is 30 minutes drive from my home, is experiencing a “Freedom Demonstration” of individuals and groups identifying with disenfranchisement and disentitlement.  The participants are from every region of the country, originally led by truckers who have felt persecuted by certain policies supposedly designed to reduce COVID exposure at their expense. From their perspective, all kinds of other, potentially much more effective measures have been either lifted or never implemented. Many of them subscribe to a conspiratorial suspicion of a hidden agenda being connived at by big Corporations (Pharma, etc.) and deceitful politicians and their regulatory toadies. To their mind, the fact that no representative of the government or regulatory officials has deigned to recognize the legitimacy of their concerns or even speak to them confirms their convictions.  Throughout the two-year COVID crisis, this has remained a constant.

While I do not subscribe to these notions, I believe I understand where they come from.

The demonstrators have effectively subverted their own cause by letting extremist fringe elements take over the demonstrations and dialogue, allowing the manifestation of Swastikas, Confederate flags, and defacing of national monuments and private property.

We need to understand some basics about Fascism before we can sort out what we are really witnessing. We need to quit being run by our emotional responses to the extreme tactics and verbiage of the rival factions saying horrible things about the other side while being totally closed to any kind of discussion.

Standard dictionary definitions of Fascism are not very helpful in determining if we really dealing with a serious return of Fascism.

Real, ideological Fascism is the only major socio-political-economic ideology to emerge in the 20th Century. It was born at the end of the First World War. It flourished in the 1920s but especially the 1930s, which were years of upheaval and tumult ensuing from the calamitous aftermath of “the Great War” (1914-18).  It thrived in countries where the people felt betrayed by what had happened in and as a result of the war. To many at the time, Fascism seemed far more effective in dealing with the terrible economic collapse of the Great Depression and social and political chaos in the Western nations. The only alternative seemed to be Communism, which had been revealed in Russia to have been completely brutal.

The first country to be taken over by Fascism was Italy, in October 1922, when Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Party orchestrated a daring coup.  The Fascists did not represent anything like a majority of the population, but, endorsed by the King and with little coherent opposition to stop his para-military militia from marching on and occupying Rome, “Musso” soon had taken control of the machinery of government. He set about converting Italy from a nominal liberal democracy teetering on the brink of becoming Communist to an authoritarian state with only one authorized political party and movement.

Mussolini’s success inspired other groups and parties to undertake similar coups, some successful, some not so much.  When the 1930s rolled in with the terrible effects of the Great Depression sweeping the world and even further undermining faith in liberal democracy as a system capable of answering the desperate needs of masses of unemployed and poverty-stricken citizens, the Fascist model assumed enormous appeal.  For some years, Italy suffered less than most countries, and the Fascist system seemed to help explain why.  A strong, centralized, nationalistic government led by a single supreme leader (“Il Duce”) did not need to deal with rival political forces to take measures to provide people with basic necessities and launch new assistance and employment programs.

The 1930s saw Fascism move into government in several more European states, such as Romania, Hungary, and Austria.  But its greatest victory was on January 30, 1933 in Deutschland – Germany – with a peculiar brand of Fascist ideology called Nazism (National Socialism).

Here are some generally accepted characteristics of Fascism as it has been seen in history:

  1. Strong nationalism with a sense of the nation’s special mission in the world;
  2. Centralized and exclusive political authority.  Dictatorship is the usual format coupled with a single party State. The Dictator often takes a title other than “President” to denote his/her unique position above all others, e.g. Italy – Il Duce, Germany – Der Führer, Spain – El Caudillo;
  3. Police state: arbitrary “justice”, with regular violations of human rights;
  4. Centrally controlled economy, although still nominally Capitalist and Private Corporate;
  5. Racism and xenophobia (can be manifested in various ways); other forms of discrimination as well – oppression of homosexuals (the LGBTQ+ “spectrum” was not recognized) and repression of women’s rights being among the most flagrant;
  6. Militarism;
  7. Persecution and oppression of excluded minorities, frequently sending them to special facilities (concentration/re-education/labour-penal camps). The Nazi Third Reich also practiced wholesale extermination;
  8. Removal of individual rights and constitutional protections.

Most of these characteristics are found together when Fascism gains control.  Others are subsets of these, such as censorship and tight control of media and education.

The discussion of Fascism current today in the social and mainstream media usually ignores and is largely ignorant of the real, historical experience of Fascism.  This is deplorable when these examples are still within living memory of our oldest citizens, many of whom are survivors of the terror of having lived under real fascist governments and persecution.

It is even worse when the political and academic leadership of nations and major influential institutions so blithely and flippantly trot out and resort to name-calling, using labels such as “neo-Nazi, Fascist, extreme rightist”, or various forms of “—-phobe”, etc., to demonize their opponents who dare question the rationale of controversial decisions and measures, including some taken to silence adversaries and unwelcome opinions.

Personal denigration and demonization of opponents has, historically, been the typical tactic of both extreme right and left when preparing to push for oppressive measures to silence opposition.  We need to remember that the lowest form of “argument” is personal attack on an opponent. Labelling and name-calling really demonstrate the blatant poverty and weakness of the attacker’s case, not its rightness.

Sadly, here in Canada and in much of the West, vicious personal attack has now become the usual way of dismissing opponents who are or, until recently, would have been considered in the moderate middle, and who are voicing objections to views and measures which, in a true democracy, should be subject to free and open debate.   

TO BE CONTINUED

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Difference Makers, 3 – George Brown

One of the least remembered Canadian “Fathers of Confederation” is a man named George Brown.  For English Canadians, the “main man” in the formation of the “Dominion of Canada” – the original name for this enormous country occupying the northern half of Turtle Island – was and remains Sir John A. Macdonald.

Despite a recently diminished esteem, Macdonald remains a fixture in Canadian History.  His reputation has been tarnished under the onslaught of denunciations for the government’s historic abuse, neglect, and disregard for Indigenous rights.  There is certainly more than enough guilt to go round in that sorry tale, and Macdonald deserves his share for his cavalier dismissal of the concerns of the Indigenous peoples and the Métis during the years of his service as Canada’s first Prime Minister.

Before the unification of the original four provinces of British North America into Canada in 1867, Macdonald was not much of a believer in federal union.  He was too concerned with gaining and holding power in the old United Province of Canada.  This was an artificial “shot-gun” marriage of the French province of Lower Canada (Quebec) and the English province of Upper Canada (Ontario).  This Union had a dual purpose of (1) calming the currents of rebellion against the Empire to prevent the two Canadas from rushing into the arms of the Great Republic to the south and (2) assimilating those pertinacious French-Canadians into the ever-expanding British sea as the population grew.

British Governor-General Lord Durham’s scheme half worked, for a time.  By opening the door to limited representative democracy in British North America, he obviated most of the rebellious tendencies, giving opposition Reform groups access to political influence and, eventually, power.  But those stubborn French Canadians learned how to play the game and would simply not become English! 

It was in this environment that Macdonald cut his rather unscrupulous political teeth, learning to wheel and deal and compromise with Upper Canadian (Canada West) and Lower Canadian (Canada East) players of the political game of ever-changing alliances of convenience.  From 1848 on, John A. was almost always an important office-holder no matter what combo held the reins.  Eventually his opportunistic faction demonstrated its flexible principles by calling itself the “Liberal-Conservative Party of Upper Canada”.  Their name indicated their openness to any program that could give them power by adjusting to whatever the majority of voters (propertied males) in Ontario fancied at the moment.  Those standing on a program of strong principles could be readily labelled as fanatics of one stripe or another whose ravings were dangerous to law, order, and good government.

Enter a young Scot named George Brown.  The Browns immigrated to Toronto, Canada West in 1843.  The United Province was three years old.

Brown came with both business and journalistic experience.  He quickly established an unaffiliated Reform newspaper called the Banner.  Its main base was among Presbyterians, but Brown, while remaining a staunch Presbyterian all his life, quickly saw that to have real influence he must set up a secular press organ that could become representative of the wider Reform principles for all of Canada West.  The Toronto Globe was born in 1844.  It survives to this day as the Globe and Mail, one of Canada’s premier news publications, still highly respected.  (How remarkable this is in our age of digital journalism the reader can judge.)

Reform was in Brown’s blood.  His faith principles informed his journalism.  The Globe rapidly outstripped all its competitors in Canada West, and Brown became a man who could not be ignored.  In addition, he was non-partisan in his zeal to hold politicians’ feet to the fire, whether they were “Liberal-Conservative” like Macdonald or nominally Reform, like George Hincks, another prominent Upper Canadian.

Eventually Brown felt compelled to “put his money where his mouth (pen) was” and run for office.  He won on his second attempt in 1854.  He was Independent Reform, but the Reformers gradually turned to him for inspiration and leadership.

Meanwhile, bad blood on a personal level had grown up between Macdonald and Brown when Brown had uncovered corruption and abuse at work in the Kingston Penitentiary, which was in Macdonald’s constituency.  The warden and his son were Macdonald’s supporters and friends and were convicted.  Macdonald attempted to have this quashed and denounced Brown for falsifying evidence.  An independent inquiry vindicated Brown’s investigation.  Macdonald attempted to have Brown censured in the legislature for falsifying the inquiry’s findings.  When Brown produced irrefutable documentary proof, Macdonald was completely humiliated.  The grudge would endure long. 

To Macdonald, Brown was “a covenanting old gentleman” (although Brown was younger than he) whom fun had forgotten, while Brown regularly and publicly denounced Macdonald as a man without scruple or principle.

For Macdonald, politics was his life and his legal practice a sideshow he spent little time on.  For Brown, his zeal and passion were all for making Canada, his adopted home, a better place according to his understanding of bringing Biblical principles to bear on law, society and government.

In that respect, he stood squarely in line with the legacy of William Wilberforce, whom we discussed in a previous post.  Brown took the plight of refugee slaves arriving in Canada to heart.  As his success grew, he used his new-found wealth to develop a settlement for these new arrivals.  He set up schools and businesses to employ them.  The objective was to enable them to live as free, independent citizens of Canada.  The effort was noble, but had only moderate success before Brown could no longer support it due to financial troubles.

Brown always stood against injustice and discrimination, as he understood it.  His causes were many, and he took them up with the pen and the wallet.  He had his blind spots, and perhaps the biggest one was his antipathy for what he termed “French-Canadianism”, which he twinned with “Papism”.  To understand this, without in any way agreeing with his notions, we need to recall that Protestant-Catholic hostility was still pretty hot back then.  In Canada, it did not take violent form, but it had a strong influence in politics and society.  As we reach the apogee of this story’s trajectory, this needs to be borne in mind.

All the main players on the stage of Canadian unification in the period leading up to and beyond 1867 were part of this dynamic.  French-Canadian politicians were Roman Catholic.  Almost all Anglo-Canadians were Protestant, mostly Presbyterian or Anglican.  There were some Irish Catholics in play too, for example the ex-Fenian Thomas Darcy McGee from Montreal.

It is spring, 1864.  After a two-year absence from the political scene Brown has returned to Parliament, which is sitting in Quebec City.  He has quickly been chosen leader of the “Pure Grits” – the Reformers who have taken up the new program of Federal Union for Canada.  It is the alternative proposal (Brown’s and the Globe’s)to the perpetually stalemated United Province where nothing ever gets done because of rival interests for Canada East and West always blocking one another. 

Through the Globe and now in Parliament, Brown has been relentlessly flogging three propositions as the only way forward: (1) representation by population, (2) Federal Government with each province having its own Assembly for its own affairs and a federal government for joint affairs, and (3) expansion of Canada into Rupert’s Land, the vast domain of the Hudson’s Bay Company stretching across the West to British Columbia. 

For Macdonald, these propositions are theoretical pipe-dreams, but even John A. is beginning to see that the old system is paralyzed.

The newly-elected Parliament has a shaky administration led by Macdonald for Canada West and Taché for Canada East.  Brown proposes a committee to study the idea of Federal Union.  Miraculously, against Macdonald’s opposition, it is approved.  Brown drafts all the leaders of all the parties into it.  Five weeks later, its report is almost unanimously in favour.  Macdonald’s is one of only three dissenting voices.

Just after the report is submitted, the shaky coalition collapses.  It looks like another futile election will produce nothing new.  Canada will go on spinning its wheels unless something amazing happens, but this seems impossible given the entrenched interests and obvious animosities of the parties and leaders.  Time is pressing to forestall American expansionism as the Civil War winds down.

Alone in his hotel room, Brown prays.  He has an epiphany.  He later relates it as a flash of insight and inspiration which does not originate from his own will.  It was “Providence” – an old-fashioned euphemism for God intervening.

That evening in mid-June 1864, George senses that a once-in-a-lifetime moment has come.  It is time to set aside personal hostility and old grudges for the greater good, for the country, for the future of all British North America.  He doesn’t call together advisors whom he knows will try to argue him out of his conviction.  He calls in a member of Macdonald’s party he respects and asks him to tell Mr. Macdonald that he wants to offer him a way forward.  He tells him he must bring M. Cartier of Canada East into it from the get-go to make it work.  Brown already knows, respects, and likes Cartier, contrary to his supposed firm dislike of French Catholics.  Cartier likes Brown.  Thet became fast friends for life.  Throughout the sleepless night, the messages go back and forth until the two rivals finally meet and agree to work together.  They exchange their first handshake in fifteen years.

In “The Great Coalition” of 1864, Brown stakes his whole prestige and career on forming an alliance with his nemesis and working under his Premiership in order to break the impasse and change the constitution of Canada to a Federal State.

At the time, this incredible act was labelled “miraculous”, “incredible”, and even “heroic”.  Some members of the House were in tears when it was announced with the effect of a lightning bolt.  The huzzahs and applause were thunderous!  “It was pandemonium!” said one report.  One diminutive French-Canadian member rushed across the floor of the House in tears and leapt onto the huge, stately figure of Brown (well over six feet) to hug him and kiss him on both cheeks! 

The new Canadian government soon learned that three Atlantic provinces were to meet in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, in September for a very similar purpose – to form a Maritime Federation.  The Canadians invited themselves.  At Charlottetown, a union of all the British North American provinces was proposed and accepted in principle.  A second conference in Quebec in October hammered out many details.  Brown played a masterful role in laying out the financial background of how it could all work.

In 1867, four provinces initiate the new nation.  In 1870, it becomes five.  In 1871, it becomes six.  In 1873 it becomes seven.  In 1905, two more make the nation nine provinces.  In 1949, Newfoundland joins to make it ten.

Once committed to the great project he had long remained so sceptical about, John A. Macdonald spear-headed it very ably and overcame all the obstacles.  He deservedly became its first Prime Minister.  He and a host of other “Fathers” were knighted by Queen Victoria in 1867.

George Brown retired from politics in 1867, his task done.  He was shamefully left off the list of new knights.  He has largely been forgotten.  But it is fair to say that without his momentous, inspired and daring move (his party could have disowned him as a traitor rather than follow him), Confederation would have been long delayed and perhaps would never have occurred.  The Stars and Stripes might have been flying across the West and much else right now.

George Brown of the Globe remains one of the key difference-makers in Canadian history.  Besides laying the cornerstone of Federal Union, Brown left an enormous legacy in journalism which endures to this day.  He also founded the Liberal Party of Canada, which governs Canada right now and has ruled Canada for 90 of the 154 ½ years since July 1, 1867.

Further reading:

Marquis, Vincent.  A Truly Loyal Subject: an Account of the Life of George Brown and the

Founding of Canada.  Copyright: 1997, 2006, 2017, 2020.  Available through Amazon in print and Kindle e-book editions.

For other sources, both primary and secondary, consult the lists at the back of A Truly Loyal Subject

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Truth and Reconciliation

Canada is a strange country these days, even going by the “weirder and weirder” contortions most Western nations perform to “correct” their history in our revisionist mania in the recording and (re)writing of our history.  Before the last 70 years, the Roman formula for recording history was followed for centuries all across Europe and its offspring across Terra Gaia.  This formula stated quite simply, “History is written by the victors,” like a corollary to another of their pithy adages, “To the victors go the spoils.”

Sympathy for the losers?  Certainly not!  Victims’ rights?  Victims have no rights; they lost!  They can submit or die.  As one of the great Roman historians sardonically expressed his final assessment of the genocide of the Carthaginians, “They [we] created a desert and called it peace.”

The typical 21st-Century perspective on Euro-imperialism and colonialism is that the Europeans were (and largely remain) evil and guilty of enormous crimes all across the world.  We anachronistically judge our Euro ancestors for not having known better, as we now do, than to use their 300-year-long global military and economic hegemony to subdue most of the rest of the world’s population to their empires.  Those Euro conquerors called themselves “Christian states”.  Their imperial and colonial conquests were patently violent and totally contrary to the dictates of Jesus’ teaching about compassion and love.  By rights, they should have had the wisdom and will to act contrary to the thrust of history’s imperial ideology from the time of Sargon 1 of Akkad to Wilhelm II of Germany. 

“The white man’s burden” to civilize the world according to the mixture of Christian and Enlightenment ideology the 19th Century imperial European states had concocted was a delusional rationalization to cover blatant exploitation.  Sadly, thousands of utterly sincere missionaries aided and abetted in the effort.  By the grace of Providence, some good even crept into some of what happened.

A thousand “if only” scenarios raise their heads.  Passing to the Great Beyond, many of those imperialist ancestors may well have stood quaking before Jesus in great repentance and bitter remorse for failing so miserably to represent Him and His Kingdom and inflicting untold misery on vast multitudes of people they had taken little account of as also being fully and equally made in His image and called to be His sisters and brothers.  Fortunately, He is merciful and all-wise.  “There but for the grace of God…” as the saying goes.

In our new enlightenment about the sins of our forefathers and foremothers, we accept our (as the children and heirs of their actions) guilt and shame.  We profess the need and duty to somehow compensate the descendants of the victims, somehow find a road to reconciliation.  Here in Canada this means most especially finding resolution with our indigenous peoples while not forgetting the descendants of Africans transported as slaves from their homes.

We cannot undo what was done.  A million ongoing acknowledgements of Canadian governments (federal, provincial, municipal, and even ecclesiastical) and private entities and individuals that we are on unceded indigenous territory will not be enough.  Countless billions of dollars of compensation cannot restore what was taken, stolen, wrecked and ruined by both deliberate and unheeding seizures, removals, kidnappings of children to assimilate them, and occupations of lands once promised in perpetuity.  Some lands can probably be at least partially restored, but far too much is simply not restorable – having become the sites of major cities and towns, or having been ravaged beyond repair by industrial and commercial exploitation.

And enormous swaths of territory have been overrun and occupied by “settlers” and their descendants who now regard these lands as their home.  To dispossess these millions is unthinkable and undoable.

Vocabulary is a two-edged sword.  It is certainly offensive to our indigenous brothers and sisters to continue to call them “Indians” (although some of them still call themselves that in conversations among themselves, or with more trusted non-indigenous friends, as I have seen firsthand among my own indigenous friends).  No one of any discernment would call Métis “half-breeds” any more.  Neither is “Eskimo” an acceptable term for Inuit (although some Inuit still call themselves that!)  Such terms are rightfully banished from proper communication. 

On the other side, I do not find the term “Settler” to refer to “everyone else” now living on Turtle Island (an indigenous name for North America) at all helpful.  If “Indian” is a loaded pejorative on the one side, “Settler” is equally loaded and pejorative on the other.  I am not a settler.  My ancestors came to Canada over 350 years ago.  I too am now “indigenous” to Canada, although I will not use that term out of respect for my First Nations neighbours.

“Neighbours”.  As a wise local Algonquin Elder says, we will go much farther in accepting and being reconciled to one another as neighbours now, rather than continuing to perpetuate the old wounds with unnecessarily divisive language.

This is also deep spiritual wisdom.  It accords with both Indigenous and Christian spirituality.  We are all children of the Great Spirit, wherever we were born and our ancestors came from.  It is as true for the newest immigrant as for the aboriginal person whose first ancestors crossed from Asia to Turtle Island ten, twenty, or thirty thousand years ago – also as immigrants, even if very long ago.  To recognize one another as neighbours is the language of respect and equality, not of division and animosity.  Neighbours can have their differences, but they have to learn to get along and live together.

Being a neighbour means having an ongoing relationship with mutually recognized rights, privileges, duties, and obligations.  It means communicating and negotiating, setting out parameters by mutual agreement.  It means resolving conflicts without resorting to violence, deceit, aggression, intimidation, or exploitation – on both sides.  Not all the aggression, violence, and intimidation in recent years has been from the “Settlers”.  Justification of it through calling on the old wrongs of history is no better or higher than, let’s say, a “Settler” reverting to the old Roman principles referred to at the beginning of this discussion.  As Jesus said with universal application to all the children of the Great Spirit, “Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword.”

Two hundred or so years ago, our “settler” ancestors lost sight of all that, although these kinds of notions had not been entirely absent when Canada was New France and Acadia.

It is well past the time for us to begin to truly remember how to learn to live together.  Reconciliation is many-sided.  It includes at least the following aspects:

  1. Reconciliation in our own hearts and minds with our own part in the wrongs of the past and the present;
  2. Reconciliation of Indigenous with one another for wrongs done to one another, and a real desire to make amends as can be done;
  3. Reconciliation of Euro neighbours with one another for wrongs done to one another here in Turtle Island;
  4. Reconciliation of Euro-neighbours with more recent arrivals whom they have wronged in a variety of ways;
  5. Reconciliation of Indigenous and Euro-people first by accepting one another as neighbours and then as partners in caring for Turtle Island;
  6. Inclusion of all other neighbours in #5.

Perhaps #6 appears as if it should be part of #5, but the most recently arrived neighbours do not carry the guilt and shame of the earlier Euro-immigrants.  That is why they are separated.

There is very much more about this subject that has been said and will be said than these few comments.  The interested reader can seek out a rapidly growing body of Canadian input of all kinds from a wide variety of reputable sources – academic, institutional, judicial, governmental, ecclesiastical, Indigenous.

The greatest wish we can have for this process of reconciliation is that it will bring true Shalom[i] to the northern half of Turtle Island now called Canada.


[i] Shalom is a Hebrew word usually translated as “peace”.  It means a great deal more – as the kind of peace coming from God in His intention for all things being set in order according to his Good Will.  As in the Christmas story “Peace on earth to people of good will” – Shalom on earth…

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Difference Makers, 2: The Greatest Englishman of the 19th Century

If asked who the greatest citizen of your homeland is or was for a given century or period, how would you pick such a person?  Would you automatically exclude some people on the basis of gender, political affiliation, or religious affiliation, for example?  Would certain sorts of life-time achievements place some individuals at the head of your list of candidates?  Would such indicative achievements be in politics, social and economic reform, generation of wealth and economic growth, or artistic and entertainment inspiration?

I suspect that few Englishmen alive today, let alone over the last century, would (have) pick(ed) the person selected by the leading figures of British society and life at the end of the nineteenth century for greatest English/British person of their century.  It is likely that many 21st Century British would barely recognize his name, let alone why he was so honoured, both at the time of his death in 1833 and why he was still so remembered and honoured half a century and more later.  Here in Canada and elsewhere in the West, outside of some narrow circles this man’s recognition factor would be close to zero.  We have made ourselves abysmally parochial despite our ready access to vast quantities of (mis)information which is 99+% of no consequence in making better people of ourselves.

Here is my question for you: “Have you ever heard of William Wilberforce?”  If so, I commend your historical knowledge.  Next question: “What do you know about his legacy and why he was once and still is considered by some to be the greatest Englishman/British citizen of his time and possible ever?”  Greater than Sir Winston Churchill, recognized as the greatest statesman in the world during the 20th Century?  Greater than revered Queen Victoria, his contemporary for a short time?  Greater than Queen Elizabeth II, our reigning monarch and current “Good Queen Bess”, and the longest reigning monarch in British history?  There are no lack of potential “Great Ones” to put on the candidates’ list.

After all the votes are in, it would most likely come down to Wilberforce and Churchill.  It would be a tight race.  Both of them had an impact far beyond the British Isles, as well as one that has far outlasted their lifetimes. 

Churchill himself called Wilberforce a much greater man than he, and perhaps the greatest Parliamentarian and finest Parliamentary orator in British history.  As vain as he could be at times, Churchill did not think he should even be on the same podium with Wilberforce.  Other great orators of Wilberforce’s own time, including men such as Burke and Fox and the inimitable William Pitt himself, conceded the honours to Wilberforce, who was called “the man with the golden tongue” by his peers.  Even his numerous enemies were spellbound by his “golden tongue and angelic voice”.  Coming from Churchill, the incarnation of the British bulldog spirit and last truly great master of the spoken English word, naming Wilberforce as his Master in the House [of Commons] is high praise indeed.

Historically literate people around the world are likely to know that Wilberforce played some role in ending African slavery globally, and more specifically the African slave trade in the British Empire and, by extension, around the world.  If you know that, you are half-way there.

The second half of his legacy is, to most of us, more obscure if not entirely unknown.  To understand it, you would need to look pretty closely at British society (and, by extension, the society of Britain’s vast empire) in about 1790 and then look as closely again a hundred years later.  Most of us would rather yawn, but, even superficially, the changes would be (and indeed were) staggering.

The observations we are looking for do not concern Britain’s status as a world super-power or economic prowess.  From end to end of those hundred years, Britain was the acknowledged world super-power and a financial and economic powerhouse.  What we are really looking for is a sea-change, a paradigm shift, in society itself – its general tenor and temperament.  The other notable point is that the United Kingdom was the only major European nation not to undergo violent socio-political revolution or upheaval during all that tumultuous period.  By comparison, France, Britain’s traditional main competitor until Germany knocked it off the pedestal in 1870-71, underwent violent upheavals and governmental and social mayhem in 1789-1815, 1830, 1848-53, and 1870-71.  Germany was not a united nation until 1871, and only became so through three aggressive wars.  Ditto for Italy, 1849-70.

Halévy, a prominent French historian of the 19th Century, fascinated and puzzled by this phenomenon, set out to determine why.  After meticulous research and minute analysis, he boiled it down to the great good fortune of the British to forge a moral and ethical revolution coupled with a gradual social and political revolution that forestalled many of the worst grievances of the underclasses.  He attributed much of the inspiration and leadership for this extraordinary and singular development to a group of British reformers known as the Clapham Sect, whose acknowledged founder and leader was William Wilberforce.  Their foes acidly mocked them as “the Saints” and dubbed them a hypocritical “set of Evangelical fanatics” supposedly in the pocket of the up-and-coming nouveau-riche industrialists and financiers.

As to that charge, there has never been any credible evidence to substantiate it.  Some of them, Wilberforce among them, were wealthy, and a few very wealthy.  But, to a man (and woman) they were what was termed in those days “liberal to a fault” with their money.  Wilberforce never gave away less than half his annual income, and in his bachelor years, his charity sometimes hit the 80-90% bracket.  His best friend and far wealthier Henry Thornton imitated his example. Their profligate generosity was imitated by most of the others.

“The Saints” denied that they were any kind of “sect”.  They accepted with humour the title “Saints”, knowing full well their own and the others’ numerous faults.  As to saintliness, they worked very hard to find and do what they believed to be God’s will.  They were not above being angry and failing to act equitably at times.  But they were also not above asking forgiveness and publicly admitting their wrongs. 

They remained within the Anglican Communion, with a few exceptions who were mostly Quakers.  All were anti-slavery and committed to reforming British society and civil life from the ground up.  This meant raising the poor and oppressed out of the worst aspects of their desperate circumstances.  Thus, their program was two-fold. 

Many of them were more heavily involved with the slavery issue because it remained the most publicly visible part of their mission through four decades of constant campaigning.  But all were committed to the general goal and vision of transforming British society from “base and brutish” to one where normal life was carried on with courtesy and an understanding of and considerable commitment to what moral living entails.

It would be a very long tale to recount how such a lofty goal could be approached, let alone, by and large, achieved to a point far beyond any level the numerous scoffers (like the vituperous William Cobbett) ever conceived could happen.  We speak of the 19th Century as “Victorian” in tone and tenor, in Britain and its Empire, and even, to some extent, in the USA and some European states.  Extending a degree of “righteousness” to civil life across the Empire was already a huge achievement.  The Empire encompassed one quarter of the world and its population.

We who enjoy the benefits of liberal democratic and parliamentary government today largely take it for granted.  The expectation that morality should play an important part in public and private life is a gift of this quiet revolution.  (Sadly, this expectation is now eroding rapidly.)  The “Saints” set their sights on changing the expectations of what being a statesman should mean.  They eventually successfully moved the bar of acceptable behaviour among “men of state” and “gentlemen” from forming rival cliques of unscrupulous opportunists to one of becoming people of personal integrity and probity.  Political life changed from a road to gain advantage for oneself and others willing to “scratch one another’s backs” in the game to an ideal of “public service for the general welfare of the commonwealth”.

The whole notion of “being a proper gentleman” which we find in the literature of the era (from Jane Austen to Charles Dickens, where it was often mocked) emerged from the campaign of Wilberforce and the Saints, supported by King George III and Sir William Pitt, Jr.  This quiet “revolution in manners”, as Wilberforce described it, was waged relentlessly for thirty years by targeted legislation, by Royal Proclamation regarding the unabashed licentiousness of the nobility bringing shame upon all those purporting to lead the nation and teach the underclasses to respect “their betters”, and by educational reform and innovation, including the beginnings of publicly funded education.  Wilberforce reinforced this campaign with one of the all-time best-selling English books ever.  Its shortened title is A Practical View.  It appeared in 1797 and was an immediate surprise sell-out.  It remained a best-seller into the mid-19th Century as a sort of manual on how to live, think, and work as a Christian gentleman.

 Even the Church of England came within the reform purview.  Numbers of the Lords-Bishops were brought into the campaign to create a clergy that was not just time-serving and living by patronage (Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice anyone?), but truly living as examples and conscientiously pastoring their parishes.  Absentee holding of benefices was abolished.

Even as Wilberforce aged and retired, the next generation of committed reformers took up the torch to finish the job against slavery and further political and social reforms, often against serious opposition.  (Wilberforce had written in A Practical View that it was the duty of a Christian politician to further social reform.)  Wilberforce had never endorsed the notion of “equalizing” society, but the forces he unleashed and ideas he inspired naturally crossed the boundaries to aim at the full liberation of the labouring classes from the shackles of poverty, debt-slavery, oppressive social laws, and disenfranchisement.  Many of the earliest Labour leaders were back-door disciples of the principles first expounded by the Claphamites, applying them to the generalization of full rights for all males and, eventually, women.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert played a part in reinforcing rather than creating the impetus already well under way to remake the face and reform the soul of the United Kingdom.

The one who broke the dam was William Wilberforce, greatest Englishman of the 19th Century.

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Difference Makers, 1: a Beautiful, Humble Life

(Photo/Video credit – YouTube)

In December, 1920, in a small town in Quebec, Canada, Napoléon Trotier and Rose-Anna Gauthier had their first child, a daughter.  They named her Denise.  She was the oldest of fourteen children who were born into the family, twelve of whom survived into adulthood. 

Such a numerous progeny was large, if not too unusual, even in the very Roman-Catholic Québec of those years.  Church teaching extolled having many children as a duty to God, and in Québec, the only thoroughly French-speaking and heavily Catholic province of Canada, the culture’s defenders and ideologues preached la revanche du berceau (the revenge of the cradle) as the antidote to the heavy British immigration into the Dominion.

Girls were expected to grow up to be faithful mothers and wives, in their turn making good the next generation’s commitment to keep the flame of faith and la culture canadienne burning brightly.  There were not many other paths open to them.  Anything else was secondary and to be let go once a husband was found.

As the eldest Trotier girl, Denise learned to do her part in the home, to help with the chores and caring for her increasingly numerous younger siblings.  She went to school and did well and found solace in the teachings of the Faith there and at church.  Saying her prayers at home was not a chore to her, and neither was going to mass, taking the sacraments, or observing the feast-days.

As she became a young woman, the expectation grew that she would find her way out of the house as soon as practical.  That meant either finding a job, perhaps in a store or some other business, or becoming a teacher of young children, and finally getting married. Nursing was another possibility, but most hospitals were Church-operated in the Quebec of the 1930s.  That meant that the nurses were usually nuns, members of one of the Nursing Orders.  So too with teaching in the Catholic schools.  Nuns were preferred, because they would not marry and leave their jobs, which almost invariably happened with young “non-religious” (as in not belonging to an order of nuns) women.

At sixteen years of age, Denise could legally leave home to be on her own, or get a job and bring the money to help support the family.  With the Depression making life hard, she was expected to do so.  She faced a difficult decision.

At sixteen, marriage and establishing her own family held no immediate appeal, even if some her friends went that route so early in life.  She had spent her whole life thus far experiencing the hard lot of that condition.  She had never had time for romance, nor any inclination to any particular boy.  She had no illusions about where that led.

In those days, the religious life was preached as a higher calling, and those who “had a vocation” were placed in an exalted position, at least according to the social priorities of the Roman Catholic population of the day, and even moreso in Quebec.  Since her youngest years, she had loved the Church and felt the mystery of the spiritual life it pointed to.  She wanted to know Jesus and experience more of His love and God’s presence. 

Every Roman-Catholic French-Canadian family hoped at least one child would enter the religious life.  Such an event lent them significant social prestige and might incline God to bless them extra.  Nevertheless, her parents (especially her father) were not overjoyed when she informed them of her desire to enter the order of Les Soeurs Missionnaires du Christ-Roi (the Missionary Sisters of Christ the King).  They knew of her predilection in that direction, but Napoléon had hoped it would be delayed till later while she worked in a paid occupation for a few years.

Denise had visited the Order’s convent in Québec City in 1936.  She was accepted to begin her novitiate that year.  She devoted herself to Christ and learned to know His love in her life.  She was instructed beyond her Secondary education and given training for putting that love into practice through charitable outreach work, as the Order’s name signified.  She learned to play piano and organ, to read music and understand musical theory.  She had a beautiful voice and was encouraged to play and sing in services, then to become a teacher of music.  Her contributions were valued and she trained many others.  Her humble heart and evident love for God began to touch many.

Canada entered World War 2 on Sept. 10, 1939.  Les Soeurs du Christ-Roi were not a cloistered Order shut off from the world.  Many of them were trained to become nursing sisters, so as to better meet the needs of those most immediately affected by the devastation of the war.  Nursing outreach became one of their principal missions.  Sister Denise added nursing to her musical and teaching skills.

The war formally ended on Sept. 2, 1945 with the signing of the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay aboard the USS Missouri.    The American occupation regime under General Douglas MacArthur reopened Japan to Western influence.  MacArthur gave Japan a liberal-democratic, Parliamentary democracy with guarantees of religious and civil liberty.

Soeur Denise was sent to Japan as a nurse to help meet some of the worst medical and physical conditions in southern Japan, where there was a significant Christian and Roman Catholic population.  The needs of these people were desperate, as they had long been persecuted and oppressed by the Imperial regime as being suspected of disloyalty to the emperor, who had been considered a living god until MacArthur decreed an end to any such pretentions.  Over the centuries since the 1500s when Catholic missionaries had made rapid inroads into Japan, hundreds, perhaps thousands, had been martyred.  Christians had been relegated to only the most menial positions in Japanese society.

Arriving in 1947, Soeur Denise and the group she came with were first given a year-long immersion crash course in Japanese and navigating Japanese culture, then sent to a variety of assignments.  The teachers were Japanese Christians as well as doctors and nurses.  Soeur Denise learned quickly and emerged from her training fluent in Japanese, which she can still speak to this day.  She also saw first-hand the terrible devastation American bombing had wrought and the dreadful poverty and social disruption the war had cost.

Her first assignment was to a remote leper colony deep in southern Honshu, the main island.  Her polyvalent training and fluency in Japanese made her able to work well in that remote context.  She served there for twenty years.  She not only learned how to care for lepers, but was part of opening and teaching in schools there for the children of the lepers.  Her teaching and musical skills later took her elsewhere in Japan.

Few things were harder than watching the wasting away of a human life as the bodies of the disease’s victims literally disintegrated.  Medications and supplies were in short supply for a long time.  Gradually, as the sufferers died and the disease was contained, the leper communities were scaled back and eventually closed.

Soeur Denise returned to Canada a number of times over her long service as a missionary nurse and teacher in Japan.  On such visits, she renewed her contacts with family and did activities to encourage support for the mission.  On one such visit, she deeply impressed the young woman of twelve who became my life-partner.  Ever afterwards, my spouse has seen her aunt as a model of God’s love alive in the world.  I soon learned to see her the same way.  Soeur Denise returned to Canada for good after nearly forty years “in the field”.  

She is now over 101 years old, still very alert and full of light and life and love.  She is not one to make much of what she did for God.  She gives all the credit to Jesus, saying it was all through the love of “le bon Jésus” as she calls her Saviour with deep personal affection.

It is rare to meet someone who, immediately and without any self-awareness that she has this affect, so clearly exudes the light of God’s presence and the gentleness and sweetness of the love of Jesus, to whom she is utterly devoted.  When she speaks of Him, it is as one speaks of the most intimate relationship possible, yet there is absolutely nothing erotic at all involved.  It has struck me as one of the purest examples of the living Spirit of Jesus in someone’s life I have ever encountered.  It has been the same every time I have been blessed to spend time in her presence.

There is no doubt that Soeur Denise has touched many ordinary people for the better during more than a century of life.  I am very blessed to have been one of them. 

For more understanding: http://www.missionnairescr.org/

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The Ghosts of Christmas, 2

“Without Jesus, there is no Christmas.  It’s some other celebration, but it isn’t Christmas…. in the name of false respect for those who are not Christian, Christmas is being stripped of its true nature.”

Pope Francis, Dec. 27, 2017

(Photo credit: harmony-hill.org)

Imagine, as a first-generation Palestinian Jewish disciple of Yeshua in the First Century CE, being sent to India.  You are the Apostle Thomas (“Doubting Thomas” Didymus – the Twin).  Imagine the total newness and perplexity of such a mission, having to learn multiple unknown languages (the gift of tongues would be so useful!) and adjusting to a very alien culture, totally foreign to his own.  Imagine being alone (or perhaps with a few trusted companions, like the Apostle Paul travelled) in the midst of all that.

For the early disciples, things were much more difficult than anything we face here in the post-Christian West where the name of Jesus still has significant recognition.  The feelings of hopelessness and helplessness many western believers have are the result of centuries of holding a privileged position in society and a preponderance of cultural influence for over a millennium.  Now that is largely gone and we don’t know how to cope.  We’ve forgotten how to begin again.

The truth is that the only doors that have closed to Western Christians are those they have closed themselves.  No laws in Europe (perhaps Russia is an exception for Protestants and Catholics), Canada, or the USA have yet been made restricting Christians from accessing any profession, pursuing any career they choose, or engaging in any social activity or program.  Our courts and constitutions still guarantee freedom of conscience (religion), expression (speech), and mobility (the right to go and live anywhere within our borders without restriction).  There are some hindrances in some areas, such as belonging to some organizations or the ability to publicly express some views, but this is not persecution.  Not even all Christians agree on certain contentious issues.

Real oppression and persecution look like what happened to the Christians under Rome before Constantine, or what we see today in China and North Korea, and some Islamic countries. 

Real persecution looks like what happened to Jews and, to a much lesser degree, Christians in Nazi Germany after January 30, 1933, when Hitler became Chancellor.   Jews were barred from public life, from many professions and occupations, from economic life, and from citizenship.  These measures were ramped up over several years as the Nazis tested the waters of public response.  Eventually, persecution and oppression warped into full-blown mass extermination.

The Nazis went after many other groups too – Communists, Social Democrats, Christian Democrats, and eventually any other political organization but their own.  Trade Unions were abolished early on.  The Nazis created a State Protestant Church called the German Christians. 

The mass of Christian adherents stood meekly by in fear or, in many cases, silent consent as the other groups were brought under the hammer.  As Confessing Church Pastor Martin Niemöller put it:

“First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. 

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.   

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.                       

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Christians have always faced the choice to conform, to fit in to the prevailing culture and ethos, or to accept that belonging to Christ’s family, His ekklesia – the community and assembly of those called out of “the world” to be witnesses to God’s establishment of a new and different kind of Kingdom in the very midst of the Kosmos (the whole existing system of the broken creation) – means having different goals, different values, and a fundamentally different mission.  The Christians of the West have been immersed for long generations in a system that sought somehow to marry the new with the old.  Most believers sought to continue to fully enjoy and benefit from the comforts and pleasures of the system that declares “Caesar is Lord” while having the guarantee of God’s acceptance and His promise of eternal salvation from declaring that “Jesus is Lord”. 

I suspect that this mindset still very largely applies to the vast majority of Jesus-followers in the West.  Most of us never even think about it as we carry on our daily lives.

After all, historically most of our leaders have modelled this flawed and compromised model, and this told ordinary folks that they could too.  This regime was called “Christendom”.  Formally, Christ was recognized as “King of kings and Lord of lords” through doctrine and ceremonial while the religious, political, social, and economic leaders carried on business as usual, applying for God’s pardon after doing what they wanted or believed they were compelled to do.

Power is quite possibly the most potent intoxicant and addictive experience most people ever taste.  Even in small doses, it is deadly.  Basic physical drives (thirst, hunger, sex, need for shelter) always return once sated, but excesses stemming from them can be tamed by determined self-control and self-discipline.  They are straight-up kinds of things and not subtle.  Power is a far more serpentine force, subtly disguised in all sorts of devious permutations.  It lurks as a potential motive in almost all human interactions and relationships and lies beneath almost every conflict at every level of social intercourse, from family, to commerce, to government.  Even churches find themselves with often bitter internal politics, almost always based on disputes over control of who does what.

It is therefore no surprise at all to find the temptation of power very quickly raising its venomous serpent’s head from the very first moment of history in the Garden of Eden.  It landed even among Jesus’ most intimate group of first disciples.  Even there, when He was still physically walking among them, we find observations such as “As they walked along the road, they fell into arguing among themselves about who among them was the greatest.”  On their last long walk to Jerusalem before Jesus was crucified, James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, sidled up to Jesus to apply for the two best seats at the table – on His right and left hands – at the great Feast celebrating the inauguration of Messiah’s rulership over the whole world.  The others voiced their indignance in no uncertain terms!

Yeshua continually rebukes the disciples (and via them, us) for their (our) obsession with gaining greater position and recognition – greater power! – in the coming Kingdom of God.  He is sometimes very direct and sometimes more subtle.  He says that to be great in God’s Kingdom requires being the servant of all.  He says that rather than seeking to lord it over one another and outsiders and imitating the “rulers of this age”, we must have the same attitude and posture as a little child.  He tells us that “the first shall be last and the last shall be first”.  Finally, the day before he dies, he strips down to his undergarments and does the work of a slave, going to each of them with a basin of water and a towel to wash and dry their dirty feet.  He had to shame them to wake them up!  I suspect that we need the same wake-up call!

Jesus knew full well that his followers would still fail repeatedly at servant-leadership.  He knows that we still fail miserably at it most of the time.  The allure of power, the allure of Caesarian salvation through worldly political, military, and economic control and manipulation, is the most basic of all humanity’s hamartia (the Greek word usually translated as “sin”, which means “missing the mark, not measuring up”).  It was the original siren-song hissed by Satan to Eve and Adam (who stood by and listened but said nothing): “[If you eat that fruit] you most certainly won’t die!  You will become like God Himself [get ultimate power if you taste of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil].”

Given all this, the whole 1600-year misadventure of Christendom, from 312 CE (Constantine’s Edict of Milan) to 1914 CE (the outbreak of World War One) is no surprise.  It was an enormous blunder of monumental proportion, but no surprise. 

The Apostles still quarrelled even as they went out to carry out “the Great Commission” after Jesus’ ascension in or around the year 33-34 CE.  Peter quarreled with the elders in Jerusalem after he visited Cornelius’ (totally Gentile) household in Caesarea and launched the Gospel among the Gentiles.  Paul had a huge public spat with Peter in Antioch as Peter backtracked on what he had done in Caesarea.  Paul rebuked Barnabas over Barnabas’ nephew Mark’s abandonment of their mission in Galatia.  They parted ways for years thereafter.  Paul had innumerable difficulties with jealous rivals as he did his work among the new Gentile congregations.  The Corinthian church was torn apart by ugly factional quarrels over which of the various leaders was greatest.

Christians in Canada and the USA today have much to be thankful for!  To waste our time and energy lamenting the decline of Christmas and the Church’s influence totally misses the real point.  Seeking to regain lost power and prestige in politics and social agendas is also chasing a phantom, a “ghost of Christmas past”.  Such quests are doomed to fail.  It is good to know history and learn from it, but folly to try to recover it and repeat it.  This scheme failed all through 1600 years of Christendom. Today it remains a ghost-trail in seeking how the Kingdom of Jesus will come just as it was all through those many centuries.

The priority is and always has been, “The Kingdom of God is at hand/right here/among you now!  Metanoeite – (Turn around!  Repent!) and believe (trust in) the good news!”  Live as if it’s true now, today, with all the impact that will have in how you do life each day.

“If you seek to save your life [live it the way the “present age” says leads to success} you will lose it.  But if you lose [give] your life for My sake, you will find [really discover] it.”

Yeshua/Jesus.
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The Ghosts of Christmas, 1 (with Apologies to Charles Dickens)

(Photo credit: cinemafaith.com)

I love what Christmas represents at its best.  I confess to nostalgia at this time of year, but not just nostalgia about when times were simpler and Christmas was still really and recognizably about the birth of Jesus Christ and all he means in Bethlehem two thousand plus years ago. 

Since Samuel de Champlain founded the city of Quebec in 1608, Canada has been a land of many immigrants and continual cultural change.  Originally, this principally meant a mixing of three streams – the original aboriginal stream, the French settler stream, and the British settler mixture of English, Scottish, and Irish dating from 1763 (much earlier in Newfoundland and 1713 in the Maritimes).  All these streams are still immensely important in understanding who Canadians are and how Canada became what it is.

Since the early 1900s there has been a vast influx of many other ethnicities.  Until the 1970s and 1980s, the major contributories to this fourth stream were mostly of European origin.  There has always been a trickle of others along the way, but since roughly 1980 the non-European factor has become a great tide.

To turn away from and try to stem that tide would be folly.  Nor would I or most “Old Canadians” wish to.  It would also be to deny a vital, enriching part of who and what we now are and are becoming. 

For the most part, our First Nations graciously and generously received the early settlers from France and made room for them.  The coming of the English after the Seven Years War of 1756-63 (La Conquête to French-Canadians) radically changed the whole dynamic. 

Whenever possible, New France had largely dealt with the indigenous as both partners and allies.  The French sent missionaries and established schools and hospitals from which the indigenous were invited to benefit.  Things were not perfect, but there was a level of mutual respect.  Even the enemy Haudenosaunee (Iroquois to the Europeans) mostly knew what was what with the Canadiens habitants and the officers of New France.  Eventually, they made peace based on mutual acceptance and earned respect.

Following the bitter British Imperial Civil War known as the American Revolution (1775-83) came the arrival of a major influx of American-British refugees known in our history as “the Loyalists”.  Unfortunately, the arrogance and presumption of these settlers and their descendants too often repaid indigenous (and Canadien when it came to commerce and business) kindness and generosity with disdain, theft, usurpation, duplicity, and exploitation. This is not to whitewash abuses of the indigenous committed in Quebec as the spirit of assimilation began to set in there too. Today, the national and provincial governments, along with some of the worst offending institutions, are only now beginning to ‘fess up and make some serious moves to try to heal the terrible wounds and scars on the national soul.

The culture of Canada is no longer rooted in a formal Christian identity inherited from the European nations.  One symptom of this is an accelerating shift away from the ethos of an at least nominally Christ-centred Christmas season.  This is in no way the “fault” of the “Fourth Wave” of non-Euro ethnicities who have come and continue to come with all their own traditions. 

It is not a denial of the richness of this new cultural input to mourn the neglect and what strikes “Old Canadians” such as yours truly as a deliberate abandonment of the Christian heritage of this much-blessed nation.  I repeat: the neglect is not the fault of immigrants.  In fact, it is not even their desire on the basis of some sort of right to equality. 

It is a choice of the Euro-element to turn away from and shame its own ancient heritage in favour of a more “progressive”, secular one based on pseudo-Enlightenment values.  There is an assumption by the elite movers and shakers now ensconced in the seats of greatest cultural and educational power that ditching the Judeo-Christian ethos that so greatly influenced the original “Dominion of Canada” founded in 1867 has been essential to a complete makeover of Canada’s national identity.  That elite believes that their agenda must still be militantly pursued as an unfinished task as long as any of the old culture’s vestiges cling to the national psyche.  The open animosity to specifically Christian institutions and heritage contributions and the rewriting of our legal traditions and history to exclude them as of any importance blatantly demonstrate this.

The general population is likely little concerned about this culture-shift and the militant secularization and redefinition of Canada it signals.  Even most still-professing Christians have, like the proverbial frog in the pot, grown accustomed to this trend, and seldom discuss the issue, let alone what might be done to counter it.  It seems to them as inevitable and perhaps, somehow, for the best, or at least God’s will. 

At any rate, Christ has virtually disappeared or been consciously erased from both the public and domestic life of this country.  Strangely, the country’s national motto is still unchanged and remains inscribed over the main entrance of our Parliament Building, at least for the moment.  It reads: “He [the Messiah] shall have dominion from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth.” (Psalm 72, verse 8) To the Fathers of Confederation in 1867, this declared (in their still Christianized interpretation) God’s dominion from the Atlantic to the Pacific (and later the Artic) Oceans, and “the river” was the St. Lawrence – the highway into the very heart of the country.  The English version of the national anthem still has the line “God keep our land” – with allowance that “God” can mean whatever you like.  (The French version is unchanged from its original lyrics written in the late 19th Century, and it is blatantly religious!)

The post-Christian cultural revolution in the West I have been describing in its Canadian context is the same which has swept Europe, the United States, and Western outliers such as Australia and New Zealand.  Many of the European states have a barely breathing remembrance of Christendom, despite the appearance of oddities such as political parties calling themselves “Christian Democrats”.  Churches are largely museums and cultural artefacts, even those still kept open for religious functions among the remnant of Christians.  Such ceremonies are seen as living lessons in sociology and anthropology by their State benefactors.

In the USA, desperate manifestations such as the Far-Right’s mixture of radicalized Evangelicalism with demagogic populism only further prove how far things have gone.  The mixing of Christ’s name with very unchristian elements of demeaning sexism (anti-women’s rights ideologies), racism, and fear-driven exclusivism sometimes crossing the boundary into outright hatred betray the Christianity such demagogues and mega-Church leaders claim to champion.  People claiming to be motivated by love of Christ in fact exchange their allegiance to the Prince of Peace and Redeemer of all humanity for that of an imagined national identity which supposedly is rooted in God’s choice of that nation as His last best word as “the new Chosen People” who are destined to shine His light or the “light of liberty” to the rest of the world!

Last time I checked the Book of Books, there was already a Chosen People and they have not been replaced by any other.

Which brings us to the Ghosts of Christmas.  Mr. Dickens’ wonderful Christmas story, A Christmas Carol, named three ghosts (spirits) of Christmas – past, present, and future. 

First, I understand the futility of seeking to resurrect some past “Spirit of Christmas” as I like to remember it from my childhood and youth. 

Second, I will not pretend to have fully and clearly delineated the Spirit of Christmas Present, although I believe my observations above are largely just. 

As to the Spirit of Christmas future here in the West, and particularly in Canada, I see two possible paths.  The first is that the last whisps of the birth of the Christ-child fade into the category of myth as the radical cultural revisers hope it will.  What Christmas would signify would be massively insipid, cloying sentiment about being nice and kind and inclusive for at least a few days in the year, with a portion of romanticized surrealism about the ability of the human leopard to save itself by overcoming the innumerable spots of its general selfish behaviour and its cruelty and unconcern for the well-being of almost everyone else.

Hmm… come to think of it, we have pretty much reached that juncture now.  Watch some of the usual entertainment products for this time of year as per Hallmark and Netflix, et al.

It is not wrong to watch “nice” shows and listen to the continual rehashing of Santa, Frosty, White Christmas, Silver Bells, etc. etc. as the “usual suspect” Christmas songs are pumped out in the temples of commerce and mind-numbing emissions across our media.  It’s as if we expect to manufacture the appropriate Christmas spirit by shear volume of repetition without mentioning the name of the One the word CHRISTmas points to.  As an old friend put it so well some years ago, “We live with what we permit.”

The second possible Christmas future is a miracle that begins with the followers of Jesus.  I imagine this remnant as having their eyes opened and hearts quickened to break the spell of the fable about their powerlessness to do anything of any effect in our modern Western Babylon. 

Questions abound: How can this happen?  What would it require?  What would it cost?  How would it change lives?  What would it mean for relationships – personal, social, financial, and political?

More to come. 

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Little Things Make Big Things

“The Devil’s in the details.”

– Popular saying.

“For want of a nail, a shoe was lost.

For want of a shoe, a horse was lost.

For want of a horse, a rider was lost.

For want of a rider, a battle was lost.

For want of a battle, a kingdom was lost.”

Old proverb

Sub-atomic particles beget atomic particles; atomic particles beget atoms; atoms beget molecules; molecules beget elements; elements beget substances, substances beget organic material, which beget organisms, which beget living things.  So we are taught and given to reduce reality.

The progression from micro to macro seems universal.  Anything great can be reduced to its most basic parts by the expenditure of energy, but only energy directed and controlled could produce anything organized to begin with.  The mystery is why it should; what makes anything take that direction in a universe that functions as a quantum infinity?

The tiniest missing factor would leave it all dead and cold – but it is not.  What is defies all odds.  All the science and math we can concoct says it should not be, but here it is.  Here we are.

When we bring it into the realm of the living, we find an incredibly improbable development – DNA.  The universal Code of Life, the key to everything that moves and lives and reproduces itself and eventually becomes a conscious being even capable of knowing itself and its own existence.  By themselves, its molecules have no power or magic, but linked to one another in endless varieties and combinations they create almost endless variations of amazing and wondrous living organisms, and even intelligent beings.

Yet, take any molecule out of it and you destroy the power of the whole.  Take any molecule on its own, and it is a dead, static thing.  Take any atom from the molecule, and it destroys the element.  Take a particle from the atom, and the atom is gone, or perhaps made something else.

Universal Principle: all big things are an assembly of innumerable little things.

All great things are the product of a myriad of small things.

From galaxies to protozoa this holds true. 

In human affairs, it is no different. 

The king is nothing without the masses of peasants and subjects.

The dictator is nothing without the masses of adherents and zombified followers.

The mega-billionaire is nothing without the poor workers in their hundreds of thousands doing the work (s)he profits from.

And a human being does not exist without the union of a single sperm cell with a single egg cell. 

None of this explains any of the mystery of why it all is in the first place, and why the great ALL is brought into being by the seemingly random outcomes of illimitable coincidences.

And yet here we are.

We remain anchored to the conviction that it appears to have a meaning and purpose, despite all our fancy footwork and brain-work to reduce it to the Book of Ecclesiastes saying, “Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless.”

For it to have a meaning, do I have to know it all, to see it all, to understand it all?

You think it has a meaning because everyone is searching for it, so it is universal among us self-aware beings to innately know it is meaningful and we are built to discover what it means. 

Maybe it’s enough for me to find that meaning in love – love of special people, things, places – a sense of belonging and bonding to create something together – even if it’s only among us and for the lifetimes we share.  Every generation seeks that and does that.

But what if that is really a small part, an atom or molecule, of the great story of meaning that is bound up in the great Whole, what we are meant to portray – the Story of Love and Bonding and Creating?

The Ultimate Story.  The Story of Meaning.  The Story bound up in warp and woof to the One, the Originator who once upon a time spoke, saying, “Let there BE. . .”

And it all came to be.

But then it went a-wandering and lost its way – like we so often feel about it all in our souls, that we got lost somewhere along the way.

That we need to be found and brought home, home to the center where it all began.

Home to where the First Speaker is, to where the First Lover calls for the Lost to come back.

Here we are.  If we have ears, let us hear.  The Voice is still calling, still yearning for the Lost, us, and all the errant bits and pieces, atoms and molecules, to turn around and come back where love and hearth and home abide for all and always.

This season we call Christmas echoes our yearning.  It still carries the call of the Voice.  It answers our sense of having lost the deepest and most precious part of who and what we are meant to be.  In the form of a newborn-baby in a none-too-tidy stable manger, the smallest and least form of humanity that could be used to challenge our idols of greatness, power, and significance, the Voice and very being of the One reaches down to say, “Come home!  I love you and I miss you terribly!”

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This Jesus Business

I know men, and I tell you Jesus Christ was not a man.

Superficial minds see a resemblance between Christ and the founders of empires and the gods of other religions. That resemblance does not exist.

There is between Christianity and other religions the distance of infinity.

Jesus Christ alone founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men will die for Him.

Alexander, Cæsar, Charlemagne and myself founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon sheer force. Jesus Christ alone founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men will die for Him. In every other existence but that of Christ how many imperfections!

Napoleon Bonaparte

(Photo credit – Pinterest)

Hands down, the most controversial person who has ever lived is Yeshua ben-Yosef of Natzeret.  If that name is not familiar, he is better known as Jesus of Nazareth, or Jesus Christ.

 In the 21st Century, I would guess that fewer people than ever, over the last few centuries at least, would even think to nominate Jesus as “the most controversial person who has ever lived”.  This is a sure sign of how far the West has slipped its historical and traditional moorings since 1950.

In a German biography of Adolf Hitler (Hitler by Joachim C. Fest, 1973), the author immediately nominates the infamous dead “Fuhrer” as the most controversial and perhaps most impactful person, certainly in German, and, by implication in his manner of presenting his case, in modern if not all history!  He does not conclude that this makes Hitler “great”, but certainly immensely important and extraordinarily singular.  However, as he develops his case, it is clear that the author struggles greatly with avoiding actually calling Hitler “great”, although there is no difficulty in saying he is among the most controversial people of all time.

It is notable that Napoleon, another candidate for historical greatness at least as worthy as Hitler for consideration, did not deign to put himself anywhere on the same plane as the man from Galilee in ancient Israel.

For several centuries, Germany was the leading Christian intellectual nation in the world.  How is it possible, especially in the West, and even moreso in Germany, to supplant the greatest religious founder and leader of all history with a supremely evil tyrant who, instead of seeking to save humanity from itself and all its worst instincts, sought to enslave it and purge it of all the people who did no measure up to his warped version of the “Ubermensch”?

We have reached the point where, for many, Jesus is a sort of fairy-tale, a nostalgic memory of fantasies that used to haunt our less enlightened ancestors with tales of Utopia and a God of infinite love and goodness reaching out to offer us all paradise in the hereafter.  Grown wise and mature, we have either outgrown such things now or learned (as we suppose) that other religious claims are equally valid, or invalid, or perhaps merely all equally fanciful and irrelevant or downright destructive.

Perhaps a greater puzzle is how, in the last hundred years, the major world civilization called the “West”, which once claimed him as its greatest model and inspiration and even its god, could so massively turn its back on him to the point of a majority becoming largely indifferent to him, although perhaps still finding a few nice things to say about him.

Today, large numbers of even reasonably well-educated people (at least “well-educated in the 21st Century sense of having some competence in selective narrow fields of knowledge and skills qualifying them to do certain particular technical tasks in order to make a decent living) even question his actual historical existence.  It is astonishing to more and more often hear ridiculous but seriously believed statements among college and university students, and even some professors, that Jesus Christ is a mythical or, at best, a legendary character who never really lived, or whom we know nothing historically accurate about.  When offered real historical documentary evidence, the response is a shrug about that being made up after the fact.  “What fact, if you don’t believe he actually lived?” begets another shrug and mockery about charlatans seeking to deceive people to enrich themselves.

When told that there are ample reliable sources found among the enemies of the early Christians outside the Bible (which the mockers have almost never read and may never have even seen or encountered in all their years of education, despite its foundational role in Western civilization for two thousand years), this begets another shrug, or perhaps a very mild, “Oh.  I never knew/heard about that before.”  But there is no intent or interest in becoming better informed.

There is no doubt that the West is post-Christian.  It also professes to be non-religious, secular.  But, as this blog has discussed before, being “non-religious” is both an illusion and impossible for humans in the true, etymological sense of what “religion” means – that which binds/ties everything together.  People and cultures all function by “worldview” – a foundational set of faith-statements, a belief system, however intentionally or unintentionally cobbled together.  Call that another name if you prefer, but, it functions as the religion of that person or civilization.

As to Jesus, the mass of 21st-Century Westerners now stands indifferent, agnostic.  A minority still seriously hold him as a special person somehow directing us to God.  Another minority are downright hostile to him because he engendered the institution they most despise – the Church.  The mass moves through life as if who or what he is/was doesn’t matter anymore.

Lost in the cacophony of our age is any idea of the legacy of Jesus which, willing or not, weighs more heavily in the West’s soul than all of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Genghis Khan and any other monsters or genuine “greats” we could add to the list all combined together.

Jesus remains.  We cannot avoid him.  He will not go away.

Ironically, as the West turns its enlightened back to him, multitudes in the “non-Christian” world are flocking to him – even in Dar al-Islam, even in the murky depths of Red China and North Korea, and even more in the masses of the downtrodden of Africa and Latin America.

Why?  What do these masses of the underclasses see in him that we of the rich and self-sufficient Western uber-class cannot or choose to no longer see?  Jesus identified most profoundly with the weak, the poor, the oppressed, the down-trodden, the forgotten, those of no account.  He challenged the mighty and powerful of the elites of whatever sort.  The oppressed and hopeless and least esteemed are still those that flock to him, just as it was two thousand years ago.  And, just as it was two thousand years ago, the rich and “wise” despise him, mock him, and seek to kill him/get rid of him.

He is and never has been a respecter of persons, or rank, or ordained order, or of prescribed theologies and ideologies slotting everyone and everything into pre-ordained roles, classes, and status.  His actions and language towards all such were and are not just challenging, but downright revolutionary and inflammatory.  Paradoxically, he never called for violence in facing the persecutors.

He called for the overthrow of all the wrong and injustice by Love!  But such a love as exceeds any innate human capacity to exhibit or sustain on our own strength for any appreciable length of time.  He pledged himself as the one who could impart the power to love in such a way, for he pledged himself to be among us as God himself dwelling among us.

Such language sounds not just outlandish, but insane, at least to most people, even in our believe-whatever-claim-whatever, neo Tower-of-Babel world.

This is far more revolutionary than Hitler’s call to hate and destroy in Mein Kampf.  It is far more revolutionary than anything in Marx’s and Engels’ A Communist Manifesto.  If is beyond the idea of ending suffering by extinguishing desire, or losing oneself in the great personal extinction of Brahman.

This Jesus business is much more serious than any call to save Gaia from our human depredations, as important as that is.  For, without the kind of heart-change and internal paradigm shift Jesus called for and still calls for, humans cannot fully overcome the internal drive to manipulate, dominate, and exploit one another and the rest of the creation which our capacity to reign, rule, control, and change bestows upon us.

The Jesus call invites an end to all the angst about “finding my true self” and “discovering my true identity” by trying on various letters of the alphabet or other symbolic or even real signs and gestures to differentiate myself as a sort of personal, distinctive mini-god in my own version of the universe.

Jesus said – and did! – more controversial things than anyone else ever did or will. Most controversial of all were his claims to resolve all the conflicts in and through himself by calling you and me to find our final and primal identification in and through him!

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Bullies, 2 – The Jesus Treatment

(Photo credit: Got Questions)

I grew up in a time and place when bullying was just a part of regular life.  That didn’t make it right or OK.  It was just a fact.  It still is, despite all the good intentions, laudable efforts, and zero-tolerance policies.

For me, living in a “tough” neighbourhood exacerbated the presence and activities of bullies.  I have always have been small in stature, and, when it came to school, I was very early labelled as one of the smart kids.  While this was positive in some respects, it made me a target for the bully-types who resented and even hated “sucks” and “TPs” (Teacher’s Pets).  The last ingredient that fed into my target worthiness was that I came from a religious family. 

For some years at school, I had the protection of a tough and respected big brother.  In my last years of elementary school, big bro had gone to High School and I had to learn to hold my own.  “Fight or Flight” was front and center when confrontations happened.  Regardless of my pint-size, flight was rarely the choice I made.  Normally, sooner or later, the fight would have to happen anyway.

Two things happened: (1) I learned, with some helpful lessons from big brother and a friend who showed me a few self-defensive Judo moves, that I actually could fight.  (2) I learned that most bullies don’t like to be confronted by someone willing to call them out – especially when they’re not backed up by an admiring clique.  I didn’t fight often, but I never lost when I did.  “Reputation” set in and they left me alone.  At age 13 I beat the worst bully in the school, a 16-year-old who had been to reform school, in a very public fight in the school yard.  Thereafter, pint-size and all, and unknown to me, I became a lone alpha, a sort of rogue element.  I had no clique and wanted none, just a few good friends who, like me, just wanted to be left alone.

Contrary to those “bad old days” of the early and mid-sixties, it is not only bullying which is now frowned upon, but, in our inimitable ultra-progressive fashion, anyone who resorts to violence for any reason, even self-defense, must become a project for reform, a misguided soul.  Thus, self-defense is just another form of violence to be lumped in with the bully aggressor’s. 

The wisdom of this day says that the victim should not retaliate or adopt a combat defence, but go to the authorities and report the bully.  The bully/bullies are to be pitied at least as much as the victims.  Rehabilitation is the primary goal for both, regardless of the issue of justice.  Hopefully (and I share the hope), the bully can be redeemed and kept out of the dreadful land of prison, which, it is widely recognized, is too often really just Crime University.  However, victims need to give up the right of self-defense and rely on the protection of the authorities, of the big-brother State rather than the family or local community.  Unfortunately, the State authorities are rarely on site when the aggression occurs, so victims almost always just have to take their lumps, and occasionally much worse.  Learning by experience, most of them never report their woes for fear of reprisal.

God is all for rehabilitation and redemption.  While I am all for rehabilitation and redemption, I also understand the redemptive value of a good left jab and a solid right hook, or a surprise judo chop or flip when the situation requires it.  Sometimes the only language bullies finally understand is the one that answers them more strongly in their own dialect and perhaps gives them serious pause for reflection about where their path is taking them.   Admittedly, there is the danger of the escalating scale of retaliations, but that most often comes in group contexts.

Victims can always choose to grovel and plead with the bullies.  Many do.  The problem is that that response only leads to escalating episodes of the bullying wherein the bully needs to up the ante to get any thrill out of making the hapless victim grovel.  Once again, the victim is highly unlikely to resort to the progressive playbook of running to the authorities to get protection and have the bullies brought into the light for rehabilitation. More often, they run to hide and avoid rather than “squeal”.

Back in the ‘hood of my day, we understood that, in dealing with the bullies, the authorities were mostly useless to change much until something really serious happened.  Until that serious thing happened, we were better off learning to fend for ourselves.  Some accepted the groveling posture and gave in to being used and manipulated.  Some, like me, decided to “take up arms to resist the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” as Shakespeare once put it.  If you could pull it off, even moderately well, it often meant being left alone, especially if you had a few like-minded companions who would help you now and then.  I was fortunate enough to find such “a few good men”. We called ourselves “the Non-Gang” and refused to participate in anything untoward but watching one another’s backs. The local Bike-Gang President thought this was so original and “clean” that he ordered his toughs and enforcers to leave us strictly alone.

There is one more method.  It has been dubbed the “turn the other cheek” strategy.  Contrary to first impressions, it is not groveling.  Most everyone alive thinks it belongs in idealist la-la land.  Neither is it the same as run-to-the-authorities-and-hope-for-best.

I was once targeted by a new kid in the ‘hood who decided that, to be recognized and accepted, he needed to pick a fight with me because I had an established “reputation”.  I had never met this kid till a couple of weeks before the incident now to be described. 

He stopped me on the way home from school late one spring afternoon and proceeded to do all he could to provoke me into fighting.  I refused.  He insulted me and called me nasty names, and pushed me and taunted me.  I still refused.  He slapped me in the face.  I looked him straight in the eye and I told him I was not afraid of him, despite what he might think, but that I had no quarrel or grudge with him and felt no need to fight him to prove anything.  With a final insulting gesture, he shook his fist in my face, then wheeled and left, calling me more nasty names.  He declared that the next time I saw him he’d punch my face in whether I’d fight him or not.

We had had an audience for this display.  Those who knew me were incredulous of my out-of-character behaviour.  “Why didn’t you fight him?” said one.  “You could beat him with one hand tied behind your back.”

I replied, ‘I probably could, but I have no reason to.”

“Sure you do!  He insulted you and slapped you.”

“You won’t understand, but I’ve been thinking about what Jesus said.”

There were several looks of amazement.  “Jesus?  What’s he got to do with it?”

“Remember when he said, “If your enemy slaps you on one cheek, then turn the other for him to slap too”?  That’s what I was doing.”

They were speechless.  As I moved on with the shocked close friend with whom I had been walking, I explained to him that I was trying to be a better Christian.

Jesus seems to ignore our current wisdom about “how to deal with bullies”.  Jesus’ way seems to say that, on the one hand, you don’t stand up to them with force, and on the other he leaves out running to the authorities for protection.  Neither does he recommend or condone groveling. 

I suppose I could have groveled or said I’d report the kid to the school principal, but that was not how I was built. I was taught at home never to grovel. That was not how we resolved things.  At the time, having decided to actually try putting that particular verse of the New Testament into practice, I felt like a fool in a shark-tank. 

Fear had not blocked me from fighting, but momentary conviction.  I had resolved to try an experiment in doing something radical which Jesus had taught and seeing how it turned out.  In fact, I’d been thinking about it for quite some time before this event happened.  When the kid accosted me, it immediately entered my mind that this was the time to put it into practice.

For several weeks after, I suffered acutely from doubt about my conviction as having been secretly motivated by fear.  I hoped I wouldn’t meet the kid in the street to have this business renewed.  I also knew that my friends had talked about it and I wondered if they now secretly despised me, but no one accused me of fear and no bullies resurfaced to try to renew the effort to turn me into a victim.

Then one Saturday I was walking home from visiting s friend and I saw the new kid coming towards me.  I decided not to avoid him.  I resolved that if he tried to pick a fight this time, the experiment had failed and I would give him a hiding he would not forget.  To my surprise, as he drew near, he broke into a wide smile and came up to me in a most friendly fashion.  He then proceeded to apologize for his previous provocation and asked if I would forgive him.  I answered, “Of course!  What changed your mind?”

He looked sheepish, “Well, some of the guys around here told me how stupid I’d been in trying to pick a fight with you and said I had no idea how lucky I was not to got my butt kicked.  So, I just want to ask if we can be friends, OK?”  He offered his hand, and I shook it, saying, “No hard feelings, OK?”

“For sure!” he said.  “And if you ever need someone to back you up, just come and ask, OK?”  

We both went about our business.  We remained on friendly terms thereafter.

Obviously, any lessons that are found here are not universal truths.  Situations vary, and so will the necessary answers and actions, depending on the context and characters involved.

“Back in the day”, when the odds were too uneven, I was not beneath running.  I was fast and elusive enough to escape. Even now I prefer to avoid bullies.  Back then, when the odds were reasonably even, I usually confronted them.  After all, it would come to that sooner or later.  Confrontation usually meant calling a bluff, but it might, on occasion, mean actually resorting to battle.  On the occasion described above, I found that the Jesus method resulted in short-term anguish that later turned into long-term gain. 

I never won the 16-year-old’s friendship by humiliating him in public.  Some bullies will wait for another chance when they have back-up to even the score.  On that note, months later this guy threatened me with a switch-blade, but he had a more sensible friend with him who talked him out of using it on me by tugging him away and telling him, “It’s not worth it,” whatever “it” might be.

From some people, taking a stand won their respect and even admiration, but not friendship.  Looking back on it, I can see that some of those people were now afraid of me and what I might do to them.  But I had no desire at all to cross the line from victim to being a bully myself.

The Jesus way, was, overall, the most difficult one, but the one that changed something destructive into something positive and even downright good – not just for me and my new friend, but for my other friends who eventually saw and understood what had happened.

I am very far from a “saint”.  But one time back then, something amazing happened because of a saying of Jesus being planted in my heart, and a resolve and strength I didn’t know I could carry through on actually working out for me.

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Elephant Hunting

(Photo credit: Dreamstime)

Elephants are among the world’s most fascinating creatures.  Regardless of where they are born, most children will recognize their pictures from toddlerhood on.  As the largest of living land animals (5-7 tons in weight full-grown), they impress everyone by their immense size, strength, and power.  They are also quite intelligent.  Their memories are proverbial.  They have a powerful sense of community among themselves and cooperate in family and clan groups lifelong. 

Elephants mate for life and mourn their dead.  They have poor eyesight, but, as their appendages suggest, they have an incredibly delicate sense of smell and acutely good hearing.  Despite their great size, there are quite crafty and can move in almost complete silence, even becoming all but invisible to predators (humans mainly) in their chosen terrain.  They have been known to become the hunters themselves rather than remain the hunted when sufficiently provoked.

As a child, one of the books which most impressed me was written by an English big-game hunter and guide whose name I cannot recall.  The book described his adventures in Africa and India in pre-World-One days when such activities and subjects were not despised as they are now.  One of the tales in that book concerned a large bull elephant which had gone rogue after his family and clan had been totally killed off by poachers and trophy-hunters.  This male was reputedly legendary for his wiliness and hatred of hunters of every description.  He had killed a number of them, rather than falling victim to them. He had become a menace to the local populace, wreaking havoc upon their villages.

The local governor asked for a professional big-game hunter to be sent to deal with the beast.  Enter the renowned British hunter.

The beast had a limp which could be seen by a heavier print of its left front foot, and a broken left tusk.  It bore the scars of many battles, with other elephants, big cats, and human predators. Following the distinctive track, the hunter and his gun-bearer had no difficulty seeing where it had gone into its forest lair on one of the well-used elephant trails. 

Elephants can blend into forest almost seamlessly, camouflaged by their grey-brown colour and the propensity to mistake their legs for tree-trunks when glimpsed through the foliage.  Suddenly, the rogue surged upon them bellowing and in full battle-array.  The hunter fired both barrels of his .577 calibre gun.  The elephant was still coming.  Blinded by rage, it headed for his bearer.  The hunter managed to scramble up a large tree, adrenalin carrying him quickly aloft among its huge limbs.

The unfortunate native was caught in the elephant’s line of sight.  The elephant knocked him down, then picked up his limp form in its trunk and began slamming him against the nearest tree-trunk.  It then slammed him to the ground and sat on the now dead man, grinding his body into the earth till there was little but bloody pulp left.  The bull then found the hunter’s scent and came to the base of his tree of refuge.  He began pushing on it with all his might.  Fortunately for the hunter, the tree was of such size and solid roots that the massive beast’s best efforts were of no avail.  The wounded elephant brooded at the base of the tree till the next morning, then made off. The hunter survived to tell the tale.

Only poachers now hunt elephants, unless a local cull is necessary.  The great beasts are protected.  African elephants are symbolic of so much that has changed and is threatened in the 21st Century.  Like so many things, it is a question whether they can survive anywhere but in protected areas and zoological parks. 

Let us apply the lesson to two of our society’s rogue “elephants”, both in and outside the room. Presently, it seems the rogue elephant everyone wants to slay is climate change.  it is now “out” so no longer hidden in plain sight.

This is the beast the climate activist hunters have set most clearly in their sights.  We are told and lectured and cajoled constantly of its ravages, past, present, and future.  But almost all activists are still missing the more massive rogue elephant hiding in plain sight among the great trees of our global village’s habitat.

Elephants only charge when forced out into the open.  It is hard to charge inside the forest. Out in the open is also when we see them most clearly, no longer so well camouflaged by their great ability to hide or blend into the gullies and wadis of the veldt.  But the signs of this even more treacherous rogue are everywhere, in all nations, regardless of their technological prowess and economic sophistication.

Its huge trail markers can be found in mountainous landfills and enormous floating islands in the ocean.  All creatures great and small, from bacteria to whales, ingest this dung, willy-nilly, invisibly, despite best efforts avoid it.  There is very little indication that real efforts are being considered to hunt down this beast, despite all the fine rhetoric about protecting and preserving and reversing the destruction of Gaia’s environment.

One of the most insidious and silent footprints of the more deadly rogue is found, at this moment, among the wealthiest tribes on the planet.  It is the rapidly growing infertility among the hunters, who have almost completely missed the track of the rogue.  If the hunters cease to propagate, as the rapid decline of their birth-rates suggest they will, the first rogue will die a natural death – at least as far as its being driven mad by the human elements of its destructiveness – the notorious artificial human carbon footprint.

Perhaps the reader of my parable has now deduced that the Great Rogue is the universal sterilization of the human race (and many other species) by the (not-so) slow poison of plasticization.  As the present major narrative puts low value on human reproduction, its seems more important to chase the decoy rogue of climate change, which no one is really sure we can slay no matter how big the weapon we fire at it.

“Climate-deniers” are much ridiculed and despised, but the truth is that greatest “climate truth-tellers”, cannot or will not see and confess that (1) climate change is a fact on earth regardless of the presence of humans, and all the geological and climatological evidence demonstrates this has been so for billions of years, (2) the worst offender nations and individuals on the human side are not interested or willing to do anything about it, (3) the agenda is as much about punishment and retribution upon the wealthy nations and their frivolous denizens who still have a conscience that can be manipulated, and (4) the anointed enlightened can continue to enjoy most of the perks of being on top of the heap while the rest bear the burden and the cost of doing the marginal best they can be made to do, while achieving little real result on climate change for all the enormous energy and cost expended.  All the screaming, marching, ranting, and yelling will not change any of this.

Meanwhile, the Great Rogue continues to roam freely, barely irritated by the pop-guns aimed at it.  Soon, geologically speaking, the hunters will extinguish themselves as they cease having little-uns anyway.

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Bullies, 1

(Photo credit: Resilient Educator)

Every school board in Canada, public or private, has a well-defined policy regarding bullies and bullying.  Whether written in English, French, or one of the indigenous languages, they all say pretty much the same thing.  They all declare a no-tolerance approach (so far so good), and an “everyone is equal in every way” ideology that must be actively affirmed.

Here in Canada, those who dare to quarrel with such fine principles, regardless of their reasons, are quickly shamed and shouted down.  So much for open democratic discourse.  (Hmm – isn’t shouting down people you disagree with and don’t like a form of, ahem, bullying!!)

Perhaps one might still propose that the concept of full equality in everything does not hold up scientifically.  For example, we cannot simply decree that someone who is four-foot ten is physically equal to the giant who is seven feet tall, or other heights in between.  But that does not justify declaring the seven-footer a bully because he is so imposing in size that even upon entering a room some people feel intimidated.  For that matter, some midgets might so label the 4-10er if they are only 3ft.-8 inches.

What about the gap between the genius with an IQ of 180 and the less intellectually gifted person with an IQ of eighty?  Can we realistically legislate equality in school evaluations and in prospects for certain sorts of careers and activities?  Or, am I discriminated against and oppressed because, no matter how much I practice and strive to master the piano, I will never play a fraction as well as Glenn Gould?  Not being a genius financier or entrepreneur, how can I possibly claim equality of outcomes in wealth with Musk or Buffet or Bezos as my right?  

The craze to assert total equality regardless of the limitations of how the real-world works is delusional, regardless of how much regulation and legislation the ideological visionaries insist upon.  They themselves demonstrate the principle of innate inequality, being the elite of rationality and scientific social engineering by which they deem themselves qualified to enlighten the rest of us by their superior training, intellect, and insight and, dare we say, greater opportunity (often stemming from an inside track within their own specialized circles).

However, there is no doubt that true bullying should not be tolerated and everyone must be recognized as equally human and worthy of respect and equal treatment under the law.  As long as the law is not – as Clarence Darrow so eloquently put it a century ago “an ass”.

We must ask what truly constitutes bullying or should be encompassed in redressing the actual oppressive and unjust kinds of inequality which exist.  It does nothing to resolve such issues to say, in progressive “Woke”-speak, that the bully is barely if at all really responsible for his/her propensity to torment the victim.  It is similar to the line that criminals are first victims before they are criminals and so must not be victimized by punitive laws and penalties for their socially unacceptable misdeeds and predatory behaviours.  Following that track, the school bully is a victim him-herself before ever entering full-blown bullyhood.  After all, they have been socialized into bullyhood rather than having chosen it. 

The narrative says, “Perhaps the parents bare no blame either, or, if so, little.  For they too are victims of their own parents (etc. ad infinitum) and of the uncouth and unenlightened vestiges of the “old days” when intolerance and prejudice and racism were so openly manifested.  Everyone unfortunate enough to be born “back then” (whenever that was) is/was strongly inclined to be insensitive, judgmental (because of the old-time religion still afflicting the masses in those days), rough, and definitely more susceptible to become a bully.” (But there is no reciprocal judgmentalism in categorizing the laggards in fully accepting the latest and best forms of progressivism as “Neanderthals” and “Nazis” and “Fascists”?)

The pejorative use of “back then” and “back in the day” points to the (bad old) times when the Church still mattered, religion still had a toe-hold in the schools, and the Bible still got quoted as a source of helpful insight and even moral instruction.  It was still actually read by a large minority of the population, and many of its stories were at least vaguely familiar to a large segment of the Canadian (and Western) populace.

Assuredly, “back then” there was indeed racism lurking in the corner and sometimes staring you in the face.  Assuredly, there were still a lot of inequities and injustices in many aspects of the social, economic, and political life of Canadian and Western civilization.  Even now, for all our trying to escape this cycle, we still seem to harbor the same sort of issues lurking in our own corners.  But, circularly reasoned, “that must be because we are still victims of the eternal regression of wrongful parenting and superstitious indoctrination.”

Does anyone else hear Hamlet’s mutter to himself about Ophelia, “Methinks the lady doth protest too much” – to be at all convinced by this very unhelpful narrative?

The post-war WW2 evolution of Canada and the West has seen huge strides forward from many of the worst aspects of such inequities, (inequity is a much more useful term than inequality, by the way), but there is still doubtless much yet to do.  We have had fifty years of cumulative effort to undo many of the targeted wrongs and dig up their roots in order to remake many facets of our culture and society.  We have opened the doors to all kinds of corrective legislation and consequent programs to insert unheard of and novel rights into our constitutional and legal framework.  We have never seen so much guilt and shaming and accusing.  But we are still bound by our chains.

It is morally incumbent on us to do our best to right historic wrongs, unmask genuine malice and racism, and provide protection and redress to oppressed minorities and threatened individuals suffering from genuine persecution, torment, and intimidation.  What there is an issue with is the almost complete denial of individual choice and responsibility of the individuals and groups concerned.  At bottom, that means all of us.  For we have all bought into the “I’m not responsible” ideology wherein “the Devil made me do it” as Flip Wilson used to so comically say (except that 60% of us apparently no longer believe in the Devil).  One of the outcomes of that is a denial of the ability of the victims to do anything for themselves to confront the bullies because only the almighty state and its authorized agents can save them.  In fact, if you dare to stand up to a bully and pull it off, you may yourself even end up standing trial or facing a punitive tribunal.

I do not mean to ignore the sense of complete powerlessness and even of terror which often paralyses the victims of oppression when they are face to face with their oppressors.  That too is reality.  But that terror does not preclude or deny the victim’s possibility of acting on their own behalf to confront, expose, or, if possible, escape the bully.  Obviously, many victims have no opportunity or power to actively confront their bully and escape their situation; but many who could make such a choice choose to remain where they are from fear, denial, wishful thinking about some miraculous turn-around, or plain old bad advice from some trusted source.

At the macro level, it is completely unhelpful to automatically label groups in Western culture and society oppressors, intimidators, bullies, and abusers of others.  Recent extreme declarations such as “All whites/Euro-settler-descendants are automatically racists and oppressors whether they believe it or not, whether they have ever acted that way or not” serve no purpose but to heap guilt and shame on everyone.  This is really reverse-racism, no better than the white supremacists saying “all _______ are born _______ (insert your adjective of choice)”. Eventually, people just go deaf to this kind of hyperbole.

Euro-Canadians (“Settlers” in our current lingo regarding Canada’s indigenous issues) and Christians both stand out as the great historic bully-villains in the now received narrative in Canadian cultural life.  There is no denying the abuses and wrongs committed over several centuries by Europeans against other ethnicities.  Since Europeans and their almost wholly white descendants also happened to claim to be Christians in overwhelming majority, it is only natural to couple the two in the progressive narrative (ironically, also usually framed by Euro-settler descendants who now know better and can therefore mostly excuse themselves from the guilt and shame since they know better).

We shall continue to explore how all this connects to the issue of “Bullies” in our next instalment.

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Loving the World

“The world is going to hell in a handbasket!”

Popular saying

Heard that lately?  It’s a common refrain.  Apparently, climate change is going to wipe out most of the world we humans are used to over the next few decades.

Or perhaps the Super-Powers will finally bluff and bluster themselves into some terrible corner where to back down means such humiliation that the unthinkable becomes the probable.

If you’re of an apocalyptic persuasion, the end of the world is nigh, and the wheels of destruction are inexorably moving us to the verge of the abyss.  For some religious types, this may even be a back-door good thing.  After all, the rain of fire-and-brimstone ends with the return of the King of kings to bring final judgement upon the unrepentant and vindication and elevation to the righteous and redeemed.

I confess I am what some people would label a “religious” Christian.  I still actually go to church and read the Bible pretty regularly.  However, contrary to the typical stereotype of people like me which prevails among the “secular” majority in Canada and the West in general, I do not hate this world or yearn for the final fiery finale which seems to have been prophesied as looming over our heads since Yeshua took His physical leave of earth almost two thousand years ago.

On the contrary, I love this planet, this incredible world, and this amazing thing we call life in which we, the living, are enmeshed according to the Creator’s unfathomable wisdom, design, and intention.  I make no pretense to having a theology adequate to explain this illimitable universe and the depths of all its intricacy.  It is all so far above and beyond any human conception and ability to comprehend that I must perforce keep any effort to know anything to within quite humble and limited bounds.

What do I think I know?  There is a Creator.  The Creator is an eternal, unbounded Being (except insofar as He/She chooses to bound Him-Herself).  The Creator has acted and revealed Him-Herself as a Personal Being, as a relating Being, infinite yet choosing to relate directly to the finite – us and the created realm.  Person-to-person.  The Creator’s signature and stamp and brush-strokes are clear and distinctive in everything – every snowflake, every plant, every rock, every star, every planet, every individual entity from the least to the greatest.

And greatest mystery of all, the Creator chose to become an actual, living, breathing human being – two thousand years ago – to live here on this planet among ordinary folks like you and me, to share our sorrow, to know our pain, to heal our brokenness – or at least offer us the way to healing.  To give us a clear choice and possibility to return to the One from whom we had turned away, and may still turn away.

There was a beginning; there will be an end.

But there is also a NOW!  There is a call to be and to become, to accept or reject.  As some verses in the New Testament (and the Psalms) put it, “Today is the day of salvation.  Today is the acceptable time.  Do not put aside the call to return to Him-Her till tomorrow, for you do not know that you have tomorrow.  That is presumption.  Grace is here now, today.  The Creator’s hand is extended to us today.  Every new day while you breathe is “today”, a day when the Voice goes forth to us through all the works of His-Her hands.”

When I walk among the trees, down a path, over a field, through a garden; when I stand on a mountain- or hill-side, when I feel the gentle summer breeze and the cold snap of the winter wind on my face, when I plunge into the rushing water of the river or the rolling waves of the sea, when I gaze enrapt into the eyes of a newborn, or those of the one I specially love, when I stand awestruck under the starlit vault of the heavens, everywhere and in everything, from the least blade of grass to the most awesome, lofty white pine back of my home, from the weary face of the commuter on the bus to the happiest child with the best surprise in her hands, I see the Creator! (The Holy Spirit in both the Hebrew and Greek of the Bible is feminine, if you didn’t know!) 

Unwrap the grave-bindings imprisoning your souls and behold all the awesome wonders He-She has wrought.  Set aside your right to be offended by the quirky turns of phrase and jerky behaviours of those who make you uncomfortable. 

Look at the world of wonder that is everywhere around us all the time – even in the deepest ocean depths and hottest sands of Death Valley.  Read Psalm 139 to (re)meet the One with whom we have to do.  Even if you are not “a religious type” you cannot avoid that One.  He-She sees you all the time, everywhere, and knows everything about you, from first to last.  You are not alive by accident, whatever the laws of chance and natural selection may seem to say about it.

The call goes out every day and every second of every day.  As Psalm 19 (paraphrased) puts it, “Each day pours out speech, and each night transmits knowledge, without words, beyond words.”

Blaise Pascal once said, “The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing about.”  He was a brilliant scientist and mathematician few could outthink and outreason.  But he knew that no amount of reason and science could fill the void in the human heart.  He also said that the human heart was created with a God-shaped vacuum.  Only God can fill the emptiness at the core of each of our beings.  If we will not fill it by entering a personal communion with the One who made us for Him-Herself, the vacuum will still demand to be filled.  But nothing but the life of the Creator taken into oneself can bring it true peace, the “peace that surpasses all understanding” even in the midst of pain, sorrow, turmoil, and heartbreak.

The one who came to bring us that peace was the One the Creator sent two thousand years ago and who came to his first followers when they were utterly shattered and told them, “Peace be with you!” and breathed that peace into them.

That is when our eyes really begin to see the wonders of this world, its real beauties, its radiant testimony.  It is not gone, but we have gone blind and driven it afar off with our devastations and exploitations, both of the planet of one another. 

Even so, the light shines, the sun rises, the rain falls on the just and unjust, and will continue to do so until the Creator finally tells the Risen One, “It is enough.  Go back and reclaim Your own.”

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666 and all that, 6 – Conclusion

(Photo credit – One Mile at a Time)

How can the Christian world ever shed the broken model of the Imperial Church?  For 1700 years the siren-song of worldly power has lured prelates and zealots to the Circean Shore (see Homer’s Odyssey if you’re not sure what that is) of using the power of the sword and state to drag the unwilling into a phantom of the Kingdom of the Prince of Peace. 

It started with the Roman Caesars’ call to the pre-Schism Catholic clergy to bolster the Roman state in return for building it cathedrals and episcopal palaces, and granting extensive lands and benefactions.  After Rome fell, the various new kings discovered they also desperately needed the Church’s ministrations to help them rule and organize their fractious realms.

In the high Middle Ages Pope Innocent III (of ultra-ironic name and fame) claimed that the “Vicar of Christ on Earth” (a.k.a., himself, the Pope) had the power to anoint, even appoint, and dethrone monarchs of all ranks of power.  Popes called on princes to bring fire, sword and anathemas down upon Muslims and infidels of all sorts.  They authorized Inquisitors to flush out, hunt down, and eliminate dissidents, heretics, witches (sic.), and rogues of every description to force them to recant (under terrible torture) and all too often be consigned to the flames even after repenting as an example to any who might dare to question the anointed guardians of the Sacred Mysteries.  Sometimes even the greatest saints stood on the brink of condemnation. Too often they ended up bitterly disillusioned with the co-opting of their message and example to be channeled back into paths more readily manipulated by the ecclesiastical bureaucracy and office-holders.

During the Reformation, Master Reformers like Luther kept the old lie alive as they called on the princes to wipe out Anabaptists like wild dogs, root out and crush Jews as Christ-killers, and bring the wrath of God down upon the Harlot Papists. 

We will leave that tormented (and far from complete) record there.  

The great illusion is that somehow the old imperialist ways can be married to the Gospel of the Prince of Peace as “Christendom” and produce the Kingdom of God. In the New Testament that Kingdom is described as “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit”, the “peaceable Kingdom” where justice and mercy kiss each other and oppression and violence are banished for ever. The early Christian witness to their persecutors was “see how they love one another” not how they condemn and slaughter one another, let alone the unbelieving pagan masses.

Still, the light of hope has never departed.  Messiah has ever found little lights to fan into flame with new hope and to fulfill the call to go out into all the world and heal the sick, comfort the afflicted, teach and lift up the downtrodden, and defend the defenseless – even if it means going to die with them as Christ died with the criminals on his right and left hands and suffered the penalty of death for all who are alienated from their Maker.  Most of Christ’s light-bearers and truest witnesses are anonymous and unknown, even today, and as they ever have been.  Some come to wider notice and stand out so starkly that even the most brilliant high-flyers and loftiest and power-robe bedecked Church-leaders are made to see their own arrogant bankruptcy.  These humble ones no one can ignore come like Francis of Assisi or Mother Teresa.  Most have gladly died unrecognized. Many have been women, ignored and erased from notice by men who declared them out of place and outside God’s proper order.

An imperialist church seems primarily to be a Western phenomenon.  African Christians, as those in the Arab world, and those in hostile places like the People’s Republic of China, have never known this phenomenon of the church openly partnering in the molding of society alongside government in order to gain and hold onto the reins of power.  It is in the West, and perhaps now especially in the USA, that the allure of holding the levers of power for Christians still lingers.

In the West the general populace also most resists the claims of Christians to speak truth about the Creator and His desire to bring the Good News of peace and goodwill to all humanity regardless of gender, colour, language, tradition, and socio-political class.  For it is from the once “Christian” West that the most terrible offences against these very benchmarks in the quest of equality and equity have issued, or so it is commonly claimed and widely believed.

The paradox is that it is also from the much-maligned former leading nations of “Christendom” that all the greatest steps in progress towards actually achieving meaningful advances in these very things have issued.  It is from these same nations that the forward movement in snapping the chains of oppression against women, racialized oppressed peoples, and downtrodden impoverished classes has come.  It is from the West that modern medicine and science have emerged to alleviate so much suffering.

The Capitalist West did not invent oppression and slavery and exploiting the poor.   Crushing peasants, serfs, and labourers and keeping them in their “assigned places” has been universal to almost every culture in recorded history.  Slavery in its many guises has been found in every society ever discovered, from primitive to most civilized.  The impetus to actually end it has flowed almost exclusively from the Christian heritage of the West.

Rather than recoiling from hopelessness at the retreat of its influence (as Western Christians tend to lament), the Church (as the united community of followers of Jesus) needs to rejoice in its apparent powerlessness and impoverishment.  We need to wholeheartedly renounce all the old imperialist ways and to take up the enormous challenges of doing the things that our Founder and Master called us to do from the very beginning. 

Let us take to heart that taking up the sword leads only to dying by the sword; seeking power by the “world’s” (the usual broken human methods) means only leads to corruption and destruction because they violate the Master’s criteria of successfully advancing His Kingdom.  To be great in His Kingdom is primarily “being the servants of all” and shaming the captors and oppressors by standing up to them and showing what real freedom looks like, unshackled by the delusions of grandeur based on showy exhibitions of glitzy one-upmanship based on money and position in the socio-political hierarchy.

It is the deep paradox of simplicity defying complexity. Yet if is so deep it defies the nimblest scientific and economic calculations.

As we conclude this extended meditation, let us return briefly to the enigma of Revelation, that last trumpet-blast of the Bible.  The picture it ends with is of the New Jerusalem in the New Heavens and New Earth, the renewed and redeemed Kingdom of God brought in by the triumphant return of Yeshua Messiah – Jesus Christ.  In that book He appears as both the Slain Lamb who redeemed the world and the Lion of Judah who will judge all the nations, setting right all wrongs and ending all sin and rebellion against the Creator.

Some find the book too gory and bloody to accept as a legitimate picture of the Loving God’s final word.  Yet our culture’s narrative does not quibble about a tremendously violent beginning called the Big Bang.  “Yes, but no one was alive to die yet,” they reply.  And that is true as far as it goes.  But what ensued – billions of years of evolution with death upon death upon death until now – untold quantities of death so that we might live.  “Yes, but that’s just Nature’s way (with nature as a personified stand-in for God). It’s completely impersonal and without malice.”  But somehow it gives all the appearance of intentionality and has led to personality and individuality.

The paradox is that if it is all random and apparently impersonal (yet somehow intentional), it is OK.  But if there is a Creator who made things happen and gave us life, the whole thing is unjust and wicked.  Especially because, according to that narrative, the Creator dares to pronounce that some of His/Her creatures can and will live forever because they have accepted an offer to reconcile with Him/Her and join His/Her family.

On the one side, everything will cease to exist, forever, and everyone who has ever lived and will live dies and stays dead forever – but that is not evil because it is mere impersonal (?) Nature, although it appears personal and individual everywhere you look…

The alternative narrative says a Personal Creator has left His/Her signature everywhere and on everything and in everyone. He/She offers eternal life to anyone who chooses to accept it by coming into relationship with Him/Her through His/Her chosen representative Redeemer.  But since masses of people want no part of Him/Her and that offer, He/She is unloving and wicked for not adopting them all and saving them all anyway, dragging them into something they reject and abhor with no respect for their personal right to choose their own destiny.  So in the case God is condemned for not being a tyrant and oppressor and not respecting your rights.  Sounds like having your cake and eating too…  In philosophical terms for the logical hair-splitters out there, this is a basic logical fallacy, a tautology along the “Gotcha both ways and either way, buddy!”

The message of Revelation is that we have a choice to come into reconciliation with the Creator; that the way of power, riches, exploitation, abuse and all that have no place or role or position in the Creator’s order.  They are human contrivances that enslave us to dark powers personified as things like the Great Dragon and a lot of smaller versions of the Dragon. 

In the end, all these things will be wiped out by the Creator.

In the meantime, we have a choice to take the old Imperial Highway – like the ancient “King’s Highway” that ran from Egypt to Mesopotamia and like the remorseless Roman roads built primarily to facilitate the expeditious passage of Rome’s irresistible juggernaut from one end of its dominion to the other.  Or we have the choice to take the King of Heaven’s highway down through the Valley of the Shadow of Death (death to all the delusions and illusions the other road offers) and out and up into the brilliant light of the Resurrection City of the Creator’s full purpose for us and all His/Her creation.

Maranatha!   

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Mountain-tops and Dark Vales

(Photo credit – Lanark County Tourism)

I make no claim to be a mountain-climber.  I am more of a mountain-hiker – someone who has backpacked and hiked through a considerable variety of mountainous and hilly terrain since I was a young man.  These include the Canadian and American Rockies, the Pacific Coast Mountains and Cascades, the Alps, Mount Sinai in Egypt, the Appalachians and Laurentians in Eastern North America, and a variety of smaller heights elsewhere.  Some of the best are even close to home, such as Blueberry Mountain at this time of year with its sweeping panorama of orange and red and yellow and gold foliage stretching over at least two hundred square kilometers.

I am not laying claim to some sort of special status.  I’m just saying that, upon reflecting, I was actually quite surprised at the various places I’ve been, things I’ve done, and experiences I’ve had over seven decades of an all-too-brief and quickly passing lifetime.

God-willing, I may yet get to put a few more pips on my life-map, and even another hilltop or two.  I certainly hope so and have more on my bucket-list as long as my knees and other physical attributes hold out. 

For me, going up a mountain has always been as much about the trip up as the reward of the stupendous view from the top.  There are some peaks I would never consider attempting – Mount Everest, for example.  Or the Matterhorn, or Mount Logan, Canada’s highest mountain. 

I understand the tremendous allure of doing something above and beyond what the rest of the crowd have done.  It’s one way some gain the fifteen minutes of fame Andy Warhol talked about back in the 1960s.  But if the main goal of doing all that excruciating work and subjecting your body to often significantly life-shortening strain is to get some sort of recognition and public acclaim, a sort of flash of the next-best-thing to immortality with your name marked down as one of a select few who ever did A, B, or C, well, maybe you need to re-examine your perspective on what we are in this world for when there are simply so many other aims and goals we can choose to pursue. 

The thing about getting “up there” with all its thrill of “making it to the top” is that you discover when you get there that, even with all that amazing landscape or seascape spread out before you, the ground you are standing on is usually pretty barren.  It is very rarely a very propitious place to build a home and put down roots.  The paucity and special adaptation of any vegetation and resident critters to the generally inhospitable environment at the world’s rooftop graphically illustrates this truth.  After taking appropriate time to absorb the vast splendour down below and all around, and to bask in the thrill of having made a climb a relative few have made, it dawns on you that what goes up must come down.

Few if any humans can live on a mountain-top for any appreciable period of time.  The air above ten thousand feet is pretty thin, although some groups have been able to do it if there is enough plateau or valley terrain to allow them to glean or produce enough to survive on.  But even they do not live on the peaks.  Even they have to come down from them to get home where they can actually live and enjoy life from day to day.

There is a bit of a parable here, one of those succinct little stories based on real-life experience that illustrates a deeper, inner, even spiritual side of reality.

Think about any mountain-top or peak experience or achievement your have ever had.  Maybe it was finally breaking through in your career or chosen role in life and getting the recognition and reward you longed for and felt you justly deserved.  Maybe it was winning the heart of “the One” and believing your “live-happily-ever-after” dream was coming true.  Maybe it was winning a big competition, or the big championship, the gold medal, the highest individual honour in the that thing you are really passionate about!  Maybe it was an heroic act that wowed the people all around and astonished even yourself in the doing – and still does when you think back on it.  Maybe it was the “eureka” moment of your conversion to God when you decided to live to honour the Creator.

There have probably been several such moments.  How incredible, precious, even sublime it seemed then, and can still seem even now in its reflected glow down through the years.  Some have been higher and more intense than others.  Some you realize were one-off for all time and could never be recaptured. 

I have known people who have never gotten over some such moment or moments.  It’s like the tremendous rush a drug-addict gets on the first hit of cocaine or meth or opioids.  They are hooked on the high and run after it constantly.

There is nothing wrong about wanting to feel good and seeking a special sense of fulfillment, but life is lived mostly in the mundane, among ordinary people doing ordinary things.  An orgasm is a great thing in its time and place, but we cannot live in continual yearning for the rush and continual regret of what has been.

In doing that, we become blind and insensible to the beauty and wonder that lies just outside the door.  We also miss what lies inside the door as we discover each other and learn to enjoy what lies within as much as what lies without.  Inner space is as wondrous as outer space.

Continually lusting after the misty mountain-top splendour leaves us paralysed down in the valleys of life, especially when, as inevitably we must, we encounter Death Valley.  As Psalm 23, written 3000 years ago by one of the great poets and composers of antiquity, puts it, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” 

The poet has a secret for getting through the worst times, and it isn’t desperately trying to scramble up the steep slopes of darkness closing him in.  He knows he cannot escape the ordeal.  He must walk through, but not alone.  For he has learned that the key to everything in life is in recognizing and accepting that he is not just a heroic individual standing alone against a host of foes or fighting his way to the top of the heap by his own strength and valour.  He stands on and in a real, living relationship with his Creator.

In several of his Poem-Songs, of which we still have about seventy-five, this great writer, who was also a person of decisive action when the time called for it, describes this intimate relationship, based on total acceptance that he has not been made just to pursue his own appetites and purposes, but to submit to a greater purpose and calling, one he is discovering as he lives life from day to day and year to year.

We have other information about this extraordinary man in other parts of the Book we call the Bible.  He was far from perfect, and made many mistakes.  Some were real doozies which cost him, his family, and even his nation very dear.

He was no better, and sometimes definitely worse, at least in certain actions, than most of the rest of us.  But he gives us a vivid and true picture about Mountain-tops and dark valleys, things we all experience as we reach the heights and sink into the depths as we explore the adventure of life.

In case you haven’t heard of the Poet-Composer to whom I refer, his name is David and he rose to the heights of power as a shepherd-boy who became the King of ancient Israel.  He won everlasting fame as a teen-ager by single-handedly slaying a real-life giant named Goliath.  As to the rest of his story, including some real dismal valleys, I leave you to explore it in the Biblical record of the Books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles.

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666 and all that, 5 – The Imperial Church, 2

As long as the Christians faced—or feared—persecution by the Roman authorities…the book of Revelation provided consolation for their present sufferings, real or imagined, and the promise of a bloody revenge in the end-times.  But the contempt for imperial Rome that suffuses the book of Revelation was rendered suddenly and wholly obsolete when the Emperor Constantine (ca. 280-337) embraced Christianity in the early fourth century…. the Christian church was elevated from a marginalized and criminalized sect into the favored and protected faith of the imperial family, and, eventually, a kind of shadow government whose reach extended throughout the Roman Empire…. the condemnation of imperial Rome in the book of Revelation no longer made sense.  Indeed, the Christian church now styled itself as “the Church Militant and Triumphant.”

Jonathan Kirsch, A History of the End of the World.  (HarperSanFrancisco, 2006), p. 108

(Photo credit Wikipedia Pope Gregory 1)

The conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine to Christianity (traditionally dated in 312 CE) was indeed one of the most revolutionary events of history, ancient or modern.  Within a generation, the once hounded and persecuted Christian minority within the Roman world went from underdog to top dog.  As that world fractured and withered on the vine, the Church became more and more the one truly cohesive social force within the Roman state, and increasingly a political power supplementing and sometimes even replacing the broken ligaments of the imperial administration.  Bishops became as powerful as governors in some instances.  As Kirsch puts it — “a kind of shadow government”.

When Constantinople became the primary imperial capital, the Bishop of Rome began to exercise an increasingly assertive role of overall leader of the Christian world, thus providing a counter-point to the distant Emperor for the Christians of the Western Empire, as long as it continued.  When the Western Empire died with a whimper in 476 CE, the Pope still stood in Christianity’s western regions as the symbol of Roman leadership, although no longer in the political sphere.

From that point on the divergence of the East and West of the old Roman world in culture, faith, and politics became sharper and sharper as the centuries passed.  We cannot rehash the whole tale here.  Plenty of accounts—short or lengthy—are available to the curious.  What is of interest in our reflection is how the Church was henceforth haunted by the memory and the nostalgia of its first 200 years even as it became anchored in its imperial identity.

Henceforth the Christian Church suffered from a dual personality, an inner tension between those who longed for and strove to recover the early days of innocence and total devotion to the true King, Jesus the Messiah, whose Kingdom is “not of this world” (or this age), and those who adopted a posture of “realism”, employing methods and models long used in human affairs for exercising power and influence and gaining control of the social and political agenda.  Increasing economic power followed, sometimes through huge donations and bequests of the rich and powerful seeking to buy “fire insurance” as death raised its spectral head in their path.

The resultant tension and sometimes open conflict between the two personalities inevitably resulted in a pendulum of guilty attempts by the “realists” to find ways of appeasing and even accommodating the prophetic elements confronting them with their sell-outs and compromises, punctuated by occasional outright repressions and persecutions of the fanatics, who were usually officially excommunicated as heretics before force was called out to either bring them to heel or eliminate them altogether.

The earliest of these brutal episodes was the infamous Donatist suppression in the fifth century CE.  In that case, there was abuse and guilt enough to go round on both sides.  The interested reader is invited to consult any competent history of the Church, such as Kenneth Scott Latourette’s.

The tension was quite visible well before that, when the first hermits appeared and became best known as the Desert Fathers and Mothers.  Yes, Mothers too!  There were thousands of women who also adopted withdrawal from the world and its affairs.  [i]  The hermits and desert communities of disciples gave rise to the whole monastic movement, which was born out of the need to provide, for those wanting and needing it, a release from the increasingly compromised and syncretised lifestyle of the now “official” religion of the Empire.

Another clear signal of a growing hybridization was the adoption of an elevated view of the Church’s leaders from that of “servants” to “Clergy” – an elite class of persons called out and set apart to lead and direct from a position set above the rest of the believing congregation.  It is significant that the chief proponents of this kind of elitism were people like Ignatius of Antioch, Cyprian of Carthage, and Pope Gregory 1 (the “Great”), bishops recommending the veneration of bishops especially, but presbyters (local congregational leaders, or elders) as well.

All these changes, along with the early adoption of liturgy to formulize ceremonies and practices along with the selected “ministers” for these, created the “Church” as an institution sharing many of the same characteristics and ceremonial of the Jewish priesthood and even some pagan garb and titles.  When the priests of Jupiter in Rome ceased to carry the title “Pontifex Maximus” (greatest High Priest or ‘bridge-maker’ [between humans and the gods] the Bishop of Rome quickly lay claim to it as appropriate for the leading “Patriarch” (a Greek word meaning ‘father-ruler’) of the Christian world.  By that point the leading Bishops (Greek episkopoi) of the Church had adopted that title as appropriate for the highest-ranking prelates in a few of the great metropolitan centers (e.g., Rome, Alexandria, Ephesus, Corinth).  Not all “Metropolitans” were equal either.  Eventually it boiled down to a supreme rivalry between the Patriarch of Rome (affectionately styled ‘Papa’ – Daddy, now rendered ‘Pope’ in English, ‘Pape’ in French, but still “Papa” in Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese) by the Roman populace, and the Johnny-come-lately upstart Patriarch of Constantinople who only gained that dignity because of his close connection to the Emperor, now based in that city on the frontier between Europe and Asia.

Thus we see that by the end of the Fourth Century CE, the Imperial Church had emerged full-blooded, while the original sense of Jesus calling His followers apart to follow a different path was far from lost among millions of his followers who looked with alarm on this heavy-footed march into full-blown political and social involvement of the most injurious kind for a movement supposed to lead people into the peaceable and love-based Kingdom of God rather than a holy-water-sprinkled repurposing of “Caesar-is-Lord” (even of the Church) as per the Roman (morphing into Byzantine by that point) model.

TO BE CONTINUED


[i]  The very important and significant role of women in the early Church has been mostly buried since the 5th Century.  It is a tale which men have too often refused to admit took place and that their counterparts of those generations actively sought to suppress. 

The Uses of History, 1 – From Hannibal to the US Constitution

History is a gallery of pictures in which there are few originals and many copies.

Alexis de Tocqueville

(Photo credit – Wikipedia)

Early in the 1830s, following one of France’s many revolutions (the most recent one at the time had taken place in 1830), a wealthy French legislator and student of history, politics, and society crossed the Atlantic to study the new phenomenon in the world which the United States still was in those days. De Tocqueville recorded some of the most brilliant observations of a living society ever made. In 1835 he published Democracy in America, which is now considered an historical, political science, and sociological classic.

For anyone wishing to study and observe how a nation establishes an identity and develop its distinctive traditions and culture, Tocqueville’s two volumes of Democracy in America are a masterpiece. As a liberal aristocrat (he was a Count), and as the title implies, he was fascinated by the bourgeoning phenomenon of democracy, and especially its American permutation. What had emerged in the United States was democracy in a completely new form, not confined to a city-state such as Athens in ancient times, or to a very limited sort of enfranchisement such as existed in Great Britain or France in the 1830’s, but a democracy on a truly popular and national scale. Even though the franchise in America in 1830 applied only to white adult males, this was still revolutionary in its own right at that time.

The Roman Republic (510-27 BCE) had come closest to this in the ancient world. But the Roman republican system had left much of the power in the hands of the wealthy elite who sat in the unelected Senate. The writers of the American Constitution of 1787 had minutely studied the Roman example, and debates between the more radical reformers such as James Madison and the Conservatives, personified by Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist Papers demonstrated the underlying fear of the commercial, financial, and Southern planters of giving control to the “uneducated mob”. The solution to preserving control for the “better” and “more enlightened” elements of the population was to have a second assembly called the Senate, like the Romans. But unlike the Romans, the popular franchise (which was extended to include almost all adult white males by progressively lowering the property qualification over time) was direct and individual, except in the election of the President. The election of the President was diverted from a direct popular vote to a “College” of electors from each State who were mandated to apply their votes to the candidate who had won the majority of votes in their respective states. This is the system still in place today for the Presidential election, despite many calls to abolish it as undemocratic over the last century. Otherwise, American voters directly choose their local representatives to the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The point of this is not to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the American Constitution, but to observe that History (capitalized to indicate the discipline of studying the human past) has actually proven useful in determining important courses of action. The now famous and oft-repeated dictum that ignoring history condemns us to repeat its errors is still true, but the other side of it is that paying attention to it and drawing useful lessons from it can provide guidance and help avoid pitfalls.

Nevertheless, there is always a wild-card in play – the unpredictability of human behaviour and natural events. As Robbie Burns put it, “The best-laid plans of mice and men go oft agley.” But we also find that well-made plans based on astute observation and preparation, including past experiences, often succeed. Some plan is almost always better than none. “Failure to plan is planning to fail.”

An example from military history can be found in the great Carthaginian General Hannibal’s Cannae strategy (216 BCE) of double-envelopment. Many subsequent commanders over the centuries have attempted it, for Hannibal’s success was perhaps the greatest ever example of a battle of annihilation. The first exemplar of an emulator was actually Hannibal’s Roman nemesis, Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus. In 202 BCE at Zama, Scipio used Hannibal’s own strategy of double-envelopment to crush Carthage’s last defense and win the Second Punic War. The commanding Carthaginian general was Hannibal himself. his opponent’s turning the tables on him must have been a very bitter irony to swallow. What’s worse is that Hannibal intuitively knew what was about to happen and could not prevent it. While the two were deadly enemies, Scipio recognized that his opponent was the greatest battlefield master since Alexander the Great. Imitation, etc. Thus, he was not too proud to learn the lesson Hannibal had taught the Romans fourteen years before in administering the most crushing defeat of a Roman army ever seen.

Santayana’s famous adage about ignoring and repeating the lessons of history has been quoted so often that we now even ignore the current truth that we have forgotten history itself and are therefore, by default, doomed to keep on returning to the vomit of the worst mistakes of our past over and over. Our leaders seem to live by the classic definition of insanity as we keep on doing the same things over and over while expecting a different result.

The genius of the American experiment in the late 18th and early 19th centuries was to recognize that simply rebelling against the tyranny of the British King and Parliament (which was, after all, very soft as tyrannies go) to set up another monarchical system, as Hamilton advocated in a velvet glove form, however adumbrated by provisos and limitations on executive power, would only, in the long run, lead back to the point of departure. The first experiment, under the Articles of Confederation, proved so loose that within ten years it was on the verge of complete disintegration. In fact, the British were licking their chops at the prospect. Poised to the north in Canada, and with a naval stranglehold on the oceans of the world, they would reap the greatest benefits without having to engage in a massive campaign of reconquest.

The Federalist solution of creating national unity among the thirteen autonomous states jealously guarding their rights and identities was a masterful performance in jurisprudence and political compromise which has, by and large, stood the test of time. Its incipient weaknesses are now well-known, and many of them were noted early by astute observers, such as Abigail Adams and Tocqueville. Its greatest flaws were in its failure to live up to its own lofty proclamations that “all men are created equal” and that “men” includes women, as well as African- and Indigenous-Americans.

Imitation is said to be the highest form of flattery. The US Constitution and the American implementation of democratic government and personal responsibility has been admired and emulated with both good and poor success by many others. The American Founders believed they had found a universal model for national and even international social and political progress and security.

The American sense of being somehow Providentially chosen to lead the world by example has produced some unfortunate results as it morphed into a belief in their “mission” to take their form of democratic gospel into the world at large. There is a resulting sort of blindness to the identities, traditions, histories, and cultures of other peoples which, over the last two hundred years, has created as many problems as it has attempted to alleviate. The idea that many other peoples hold to and believe in their own traditions and national identity as firmly as they do to theirs has often baffled Americans at the failure of “foreigners” to grasp the superiority of the “American way”.

The United States and the American people are not alone in their sense of historical “chosenness” and Providential selection for a great mission. The American faith in their “Manifest Destiny” to rule over the Americas (hence their hubris in designating themselves as the “true” Americans, or just the “the Americans” over and above all the other inhabitants of the two American continents) is derived from their faith in Christianity, the religion of the colonists, as having supplanted Judaism as the only true way to worship God and follow His will.

Many other peoples have held to similar views since antiquity. The Romans firmly believed that they were the chosen of the gods to rule in perpetuity – “Eternal Rome”. To them, history proved it by their march not only to “world” dominion, but in the endurance of their rule for longer than any other “world-state” before or since. Russia has suffered from a Messiah complex since it emerged from the steppes forest fastnesses of Eastern Europe. China still holds to its own concept of being the land of the King of Heaven, although now it is the land that Mao made.

Imitation is the highest form of flattery. Since Rome, many others have seen themselves as ordained to step into the gigantic shoes of Rome. None has been able to do so for more than a comparative moment in history – cf. Napoleon and Adolf Hitler. In the last fifteen hundred years, the closest approximation to a “world-state” thusfar has been the British Empire which arose after the American Revolution. Its great dominion lasted about two centuries.

Next installment: The French Revolution, 1789-99