The American Revolution remains incomplete. The bitter fruit of the Sins of the Fathers are still being visited on a nation still embroiled at its tortured heart. The original racist infection festers and has metastasized in numerous tendrils of intolerance. Unhappily, some of the most ardent and bitter rival factions claim that they stand for the true values of the God Lincoln had come to believe was intimately concerned with bringing America through its great crisis. Lincoln had aimed to guide America into a true and final understanding of its place in the world as a beacon of hope and liberty and true equality among all its peoples from all their origins. It would be fair to say that Mr. Lincoln would be very hard-pressed to recognize much of his vision still living among significant portions of the zealots now calling themselves “true American patriots”.
In the short term, the race to subdue, dominate, and exploit a whole continent rapidly made the United States an economic and territorial phenomenon which all could quickly recognize would transform the “land of the free” into a global great power and a regional superpower. However, the innate internal contradictions which lay in its foundations because of the “Unfinished Revolution” would one day rise to the surface. Many predicted just such an outcome. But as long as the rush to gain the continent’s enormous potential for development could keep them buried, one way or another the problems could be brushed aside for the sake of power, money, and personal fulfillment.
In our modern age in the West, ideology now largely replaces religion. The God-shaped void in the human soul must and will be filled with something. With Christianity now largely treated as irrelevant, ideology readily steps into the vacuum. Often, the ideology just slithers into the emptiness via materialist rewards, peer pressure, educational indoctrination, and popular culture. With the modern doctrine of the separation of Church and State cemented in place, even many professing Christians leave their religion inside the Church door, then lock in a set of ideological constructs, sometimes sprinkled with Holy Water or, in the Fundamentalist formulation, with the “Blood of Jesus”, to salve their consciences.
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.
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 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.
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.”
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.
What the US brand of ultra-Evangelicalism most resembles historically is the fanatical Crusaders who believed that killing those who refused to accept Christ or opposed the preaching of His message was both just and essential if His Kingdom is ever to be brought into the world. There is none of the humility and self-understanding of being a fallible sinner that might even betray the Master that we find in the Apostles or the Apostolic and Post-Apostolic Fathers (and Mothers) of the ancient Church. There is no hint of the first believers who “turned the whole world upside down” and shook the foundations of the Empire itself by turning the other cheek, turning back to be crucified with his people, as Peter did, or heading to Rome to face the Emperor himself even if it meant death, as Paul did. There is no hint of “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you and persecute you, and so you will prove yourselves to be the children of your Heavenly Father”.
until the American nation as a substantial whole repents and renounces these sins and their continuing deep racist and elitist class roots and their blatant current manifestations from the heart , forgiveness cannot be asked and given, and true healing cannot begin. The Southern myth of the noble “Lost Cause” must die. it remains a deep poison. Northern complicity in that myth must be repented. We could say the same about the terrible and repeated genocides of American First Nations.