The Plague of Republican Ignorance
It never fails to amaze me that in almost every random encounter with a Lutheran, I have found that he knows nothing of Martin Luther's theology. Most glaringly, the Lutheran, as is often the case amongst mainstream Evangelicals, feels perfectly comfortable vilifying John Calvin. Yet when I mention that John Calvin's and Martin Luther's views on human depravity, predestination, and the like are practically identical, and that this can be proven by a casual reading of Luther's The Bondage of the Will and Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, these Lutherans almost always passionately deny the case, and leave with a sense of insult.
I do not say this to pick on Lutherans -- so-called Protestants who apparently do not know what they are protesting -- but rather to note that this general ignorance of founding principles and biblical doctrine has spread to almost every sect of American society. However uncomfortable it may be, we have to ask why it is that the American right so often touts the pilgrims, when nobody has ever read the Puritans; or why they talk proudly of the Great Awakening, when nobody has ever read Edwards or Whitefield; or why we claim to love the Reformation, when nobody has ever read Martin Luther. Why do they talk of Founding Fathers, without having read the Federalist, or Democracy in America, or Second Treatise of Government; of biblical justice, without knowing The Law; and of wisdom, without knowing the Proverbs? It would seem more reasonable, at least from my perspective, that if someone admires another, he would attempt to mimic that other: for unfeigned admiration espouses a sense of healthy jealousy, driving the watchful toward a series not simply of triumphs, but of the thoughts and habits and virtues which birthed them. But if we do not find a respectable imitation, it is only safe to call such admiration deceitful.
A sensible position would be that we cannot have what others have, or make what others make, unless we are what others are; yet Americans, like the Mexicans of centuries past, seem to believe themselves exempt from this law, wanting ends without the means. For Mexico at one time adopted the U.S. Federal Constitution almost identically; but, lacking the spirit of independence, the manners of civilization, and the religion most naturally inclining to republicanism -- which is biblical Protestantism -- they have to this very day remained in a barbaric state, blaming their own poverty and crime upon everyone except themselves, and upon everything except their own depravity.
The modern American's false infatuation with the Reformers and the Founding Fathers can be explained, I believe, the same way we explain a toddler throwing a tantrum when his toys are taken away. Both express frustration not because they are ashamed of being what they should not be, but rather because they find the sudden lack of power distasteful. Power tweaks the minds of those losing it -- dethroned descendants pining for glory days and bygone triumphs, claiming rights which belonged to worthier men, and never stopping to wonder whether perhaps they do not own, because they do not deserve.
We celebrate what others have made, but we do not want to know how they made it. We want the badge of worthiness, and the feeling of reclamation, of momentum, but we do not want the spirit, the wisdom, the challenge of profundity. We do not think new thoughts; we do not even think eternal thoughts. We believe we think the same great thoughts as our ancestors because we bear the same names, but we do not realize that names do not always signify the same things. We may call ourselves protestants, and yet be only a caricature, almost as those who call themselves liberals are something far more like a combination of the libertine, the old-school totalitarian mercantilist, and the aspiring Roman tyrant tossing out bread and funding circuses -- in other words, something entirely inappropriate.
We may say that certain names evolve without the knowledge of their bearers, just like great family names come to grace the unworthy, and at other times mar good characters. The very name "Edwards" belonged to the greatest theologian in American history, and now Edwards belongs to one of our sleaziest politicians. Likewise, the name Tarquin to the ancient Roman meant nothing less than violent dictatorship, and it later resulted in the unfair exile of a trustworthy and respectable champion. But ideologies and family names are different: a certain and particular sense of pride belongs to the former, ideological labels first intertwined with a series of values, but later existing by the simple will of association -- whether to values or power or faction. Yesterday's fundamentalist was a person who believed in the fundamentals of the Scriptures -- in other words, a Christian; yesterday's Evangelical was likewise one who preached the true Gospel. Now the former more accurately describes the modern Pharisee, and the latter those Christians most likely to vote Republican and listen to mom-rock. As the Apostle claimed, to be a Jew was a matter of the heart, not of birth; and if we may call some men patriots or protestants, we must learn first what the names mean, before we bestow glory upon men not only unworthy, but entirely delusional.
There is a certain kind of person who is going to take offense at this essay, but it is not the intent of this writer to simply insult: even God chastens those whom He loves. Rather, knowing that before any disease may be cured, it must be identified; and before any lack made full, we must acknowledge our poverty; and before every dream made real, we must call the present inferior, it is the intention of this writer to exhort every honest and humble American to the pursuit of virtues lost and misidentified. If we hurt, it is because something pains us -- and if we are in pain, nature dictates that if the suffering is unwarranted, or without worthy cause, then it should be relieved. Countrymen, America and the Church are hurting; it is time to find the remedy.
I do not deny that reading foundational documents is difficult: I am a blue-collar laborer without a college degree, and I admit, The Federalist, and Calvin, and Edwards took quite a bit of concentration -- reads which required six or seven passages over single paragraphs before the meaning became known, and understanding became easy (as with physical exercise, muscles must be trained to perform great feats easily). But what love may men have, which is proven without struggle? What nation was ever maintained without vigilance, diligence, the shedding of blood? What prophet delivered messages safely, and without violent unpopularity? What education was ever impressive, without laborious study? What historically renowned act has never proven sacrificial, a choice made between two alternatives -- the first, to do what's right; the second, to do what's easy? If Jesus Christ proved His love by a life of toilsome poverty followed by a torturous death, will we refuse to read, so that we may test the difference between wisdom and folly, between virtue and vice, between justice and injustice, between education and ignorance? If our Founding Fathers could think high thoughts, why shouldn't we?
If Americans choose to take the lower road, one for effeminate men and self-infatuated women, for belief without foundation and anger without Godly zeal, then so be it: but my family will not be a part of it. And if you are a good man or woman, then neither will yours.