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

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

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!”

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.

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

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

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

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

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