He who controls the present controls the past. He who controls the past controls the future.George Orwell, 1984
(Image credit – Wikipedia)
In this pithy, punchy statement, Orwell’s insight is extraordinary. For any reader who has not yet read 1984, Orwell’s great masterpiece, one of the greatest works of literature in any language, I can only say emphatically, “YOU SHOULD!” All the more as we watch the current world, including the democratic nations, sliding ever closer to the downward spiral into creeping totalitarianism.
Although the actual calendar date 1984 is now long past, the book is not about the historical year 1984. Rather, it is an extended parable about living under totalitarianism, whether of the left or the right. As such, it is as relevant today as it was when he first published it in 1949. Along with the rest of the world, Orwell had just watched humanity almost annihilate itself in the hecatomb of World War II. He had first had the idea for the book in the 1930s when he had seen his great hopes of a true revolution liberating the ordinary people dissolve in both the Fascist and Soviet versions of utopia-cum-nightmare. With Nazism and Fascism vanquished, in 1949 the world of East vs West stood on the brink of “Mutually Assured [nuclear] Destruction,” as the sobering phrase of the 1970s put it. Russia now had “the Bomb” and China had been taken over by Mao and the “People’s Liberation [Enslavement] Army”. The West was reluctantly accepting rearmament and forming NATO.
One of the chief characteristics of the 1984 dystopia was “Newspeak” – taking old words and assigning them new meanings, often diametrically opposed to the original signification. Newspeak’s twin was “Newthink”. Ideology was the key component of both these and to inculcate them, education had been completely coopted for indoctrination. Penalties for daring to think or speak differently involved what we would now term erasing the faulty algorithms – brainwashing, which in the novel involved chemical reprogramming.
A close understanding shows us that as a society and culture we have certainly been moving along the Orwellian trajectory with many of the laws, regulations, and policies governments and courts today have been implementing to reform (as in form over) the societies they control so that they conform to (as in line up with) the accepted ideology of the putatively wise people telling the politicians and their closest advisers the proper ways to think and act progressively.
This is not conspiracy theory. It has been and is observable across the whole gamut of culture and society, at least in Western civilization, over the last fifty years and more. It is phrased in language designed to appeal to the voters as “the right way to think; the right way to act; the right way to speak; the right way to educate; the right things to accept”, such as unlimited abortion, unlimited access to euthanasia [now a big push in Canada, the battle over abortion having long since been decisively won by the ultra-progressives], restrictions on unacceptable ideas which right-thinking people should now find objectionable in any form (and therefore they are hate-speech), no-fault criminal behaviour, exclusion of “retrogressives” from positions of influence, elimination of “outmoded” traditions from public life [mainly Christianity and its symbols and vocabulary in the West], and the demonization of just about everything built upon the traditional foundations of what was once called “Christendom” – and we could go on.
Which brings us once more, at this time of year, to Christmas and its irreplaceable place in the West, and the world.
Christmas is primarily about a birth. Not just any birth, but, according to the Christian story, the most important birth, human or of any other sort, in all of history. In fact, the big context of the story declares that this specific and extraordinary birth of a human baby boy had universal, Cosmic significance.
How is such a thing even possible – that a human baby’s birth should be connected to the outworking of something infinitely significant? The majority of modern-post-modern Christians in the 21st Century themselves struggle greatly with this notion, and many are actually embarrassed if asked to explain it, let alone defend it.
I confess to such feelings on occasion, especially around people who clearly message me that I am out of my league among “my betters”. However, in my curmudgeonly aging, I am no longer (much) intimidated by such vacuous pretentions and am willing to take up the challenge that the Apostle Peter put forward almost two thousand years ago: “But in your hearts, set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience…” (New Testament, First Letter of Peter, chapter 3, vss 15-16a, New International Version.)
“Keeping a clear conscience” is perhaps the big sticking point for most of us. After all, who ever has a 100% clear conscience? Especially in a culture which tells us that, individually, right and wrong are personal choices. But the same culture tells us, almost daily, about all the sins of commission and omission which past generations of Westerners have ever perpetrated on an otherwise innocent, defenseless world. Two contradictory standards in clear sight, but who’s noticing? Personally, I decide for myself what is really wrong. But collectively, those nasty ancestors of ours were terrible people because they didn’t adhere to our new morality.
In our individual lives we are well-enough aware of our failings and faults (sins, if you like). Religious or not, everyone haa a conscience to remind them of those, unless they are sociopaths, psychopaths, and narcissists. (The first two on this short list are usually the last one as well.) And, when we scratch deep enough, we discover that even supposed liberated Wokers know pretty clearly that at least some things are just plain wrong. But no absolutism please!?!
For our individual sins/faults/failings, the remedy is straight forward enough – repentance, confession, asking for forgiveness from God and anyone we have offended against (cf. the Jesus strategy in “The Lord’s Prayer”), then making restitution where possible. Agnostics and Atheists may leave God out, but the formula remains the same otherwise.
But how can we be absolved of all that Christians and nominal Christians and Western oppressors have supposedly, and too often really, done against so many others, both Christian and non-Christian, over the last millennium and more?
In the powerful Civil War film “Glory”, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw has a conversation with Trip, one of his ex-slave recruits in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, the first all-black regiment, albeit officered by whites, in the United States Army. The setting is July 1863, the decisive month in the war. The conversation is fictionalized but probable.
Trip: “We’s all in it up to our necks, Kuhnel. Ain’t nobody clean.”
Shaw: “How do we get clean?”
Trip, pausing: “Ah reckon we ante up and kick in like men.”
When we refuse to “ante up and kick in like men” the denigrators and deconstructionists win by default. Meekness does not mean weakness. It is possible to accept that great injustice and even horrors are part of our ancestors’ sins. It is necessary to denounce them and abhor them, dedicating ourselves not to repeat them and to make right what can be made right.
But the great fake-out, the enormous fallacy that paralyses the present generation, and will keep paralyzing future generations, is that everything that has come down to us from our Christian forebears and our two-millennial old roots and traditions is invalid and hence just mythological bunk by association, by some sort of collective contamination.
That would be a correct inference, if it were actually true. But it is patently and blatantly false. It is so false that it is a lie of Goebbelsian proportions (as in Josef Goebbels, Adolf Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda and master manipulator of truth, public sentiment, and opinion in Nazi Germany). Goebbels: “Tell the biggest lie possible as loudly as possible and as often as possible and people will believe it.” Hitler had written the same thing in Mein Kampf. Goebbels learned the lesson and the technique from its true master.
If the anti-Christian mythology is true, let us also give up the pursuit of reason, science, and higher learning. Let us forsake the quest to shed our ignorance and find the right path to truth, justice, real equality, real liberty, peace, and the very notion that some things are absolutely, not just relatively, right or wrong. Let us make mercy and compassion dependent on the whim of the present coterie of intellectual sages, rulers, law-makers and administrators. Let us renounce the supposed great leap forward in understanding and applying fair standards in human rights of the last two hundred years.
“But”, you say, “these things are our inheritance from the Enlightenment and are inherently opposite to the dogmas and superstition of the “Old-Time Religion” that kept people in darkness and fear for centuries.”
Ignorance is indeed a great enemy. It is now born of our collective amnesia and modern myth-making about the superstition and blind dogmatism of those presumably benighted forebears who had supposedly been duped and deceived by religion (Christianity).
When you study at a university or any institution of higher learning, you study at an institution which was born in and emerged out of the Christian culture of medieval and early modern Europe. When you enjoy the benefits of universal public education, you are reaping the benefits of the foundational work of many generations of churchmen and churchwomen who believed in the right of ordinary people to know how to read, write, and do basic mathematics – then extended that to the right of all who could and would seek it to pursue the knowledge and skills God had created them to understand and be able to develop.
When you go to a hospital and receive medical care dedicated to “doing no harm” and treating you with the respect you deserve whether young or old, rich or poor, male or female, of any religion or ethnicity, you are benefitting from the Christian view of human beings as being made in God’s image and worthy of all care and consideration because all lives are of equal and infinite value in God’s eyes. That is the whole basis of universal public health care, of universal public education, of universal human rights.
If you don’t believe it, do the hard research to trace the origins of all these wonderful modern benefits we enjoy but which are once more being threatened, eroded, and devalued by outrageous claims and arbitrary limitations being imposed by truly ignorant, or perhaps willfully ignorant, people who “know better” and, we are to believe, are wiser than all the predecessors who fought for these things and discovered what they meant.
The very notion of modern science as an ordered, disciplined, verifiable pursuit of knowledge about the natural world is based on the order and beauty and wondrous complexity that demonstrates the nature of the Creator. And because the Creator made the Cosmos with order and design, it can be discovered and explored to reliably enrich human life and the very quality of existence for both humans and all creatures.
It is only later that unscrupulous exploiters of the new science and technology sought to justify their rampaging and ever-expanding pillaging of the creation. They used decontextualized Scriptures to say that God had given humankind dominion over all the world to use it as they wished. Humans, they claimed, have carte blanche to do with it what we will. Leaders of all kinds, in government or business, and even in religion, are always tempted away from the true order and proper boundaries the Creator intends for all His works. They are bewitched by the allure of more wealth, more influence, and more control at their disposal, and therefore more power and luxury to display their prowess.
The fallacy of blaming this exploitation on the corrupting influence of Christianity in particular is, or should be, virtually transparent to any fair-minded person with the most rudimentary understanding of history and human nature. It is not a peculiar failing of professing (or nominal) Christians to give in to greed, to seize control, to exploit people and the planet for selfish gain, fame, wealth, power, and prestige. Pagans did it extensively in antiquity. People in power and authority have done it and still do it in China, India, Africa, Asia, among the indigenous in every continent, since time immemorial. If “Christians” have done it and still do, so too Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Shintoists, Animists, Agnostics, and Atheists.
Injustice and oppression are, sadly, a universal condition of human societies, whether in huge empires or in tiny enclaves. While religion can play into this is as a tool to control and exploit, it is certainly not the cause. That is in the heart of humankind as it is, as far back as we can see, and as far-wide as we can look, regardless of time or place or social structure, regardless of believing in God or any number of divinities or demi-gods.
The birth of Jesus is not a myth. It is historical fact. The events and meaning of his life and his legacy are the exact opposite and the only antidote to all of the preposterous myths which have more and more captivated the public discourse about Christianity since the later 18th Century. This same Jesus is the only real hope that the human race has of staving off its growing danger of destroying itself.