The Shaping of Our Destiny
I am not a believing man – or certainly not in the traditional sense of attending religious services, observing the holy days, studying theological texts (except for research purposes – I have a decent knowledge of the Bible, the Talmud, and the Koran), saying grace at table, or praying before bed. When it comes to a divinely ordained plan for the human drama, I recall Nobel physicist Richard Feynman's remark that the stage is too big for the play. The human presence on the planet strikes me as an evolutionary hiccup.
Nonetheless, when I regard the condition of the American Republic, it is hard not to believe that something like divine retribution, a force of cosmic or spiritual justice, has been slowly at work throughout its history, or at the very least since the middle of the last century. This is Jonathan Cahn's argument in his troubling volume treating the nature of the Shemitah, or sabbatical judgment (which I considered at length in a 2015 article for PJ Media).
A nation whose leaders, whose cultural elite, and a moiety of whose people have given themselves over to every conceivable form of corruption has been demonstrably faltering, its greatness, Ozymandias-like, a thing of the past. It is a nation that slaughters its unborn in an orgy of indifferent cruelty; that mercilessly extorts the living substance from those of its citizens who still struggle toward decency and the values of community; that sets bread and circuses over justice; that has invested its energies in raising a Tower of Babel rather than a Temple of Gratefulness; and that pays no heed to the noble intentions of its Founding Fathers. In his aptly titled book Coming Apart, Charles Murray concludes that "the American project is disintegrating." The four domains of happiness he identifies – family, vocation, community, and faith – "have all been enfeebled."
Is this plunge into the abyss merely a function of historical inevitability – all things human, great and small, must eventually decline? Or are Jonathan Cahn and those who share his thesis right? Is a devastating punishment being levied on a nation that has sold its soul, that has lost its way, that refuses to recognize an authority superior to itself and has sunk into a morass of pervasive immorality? What reasonable person cannot be troubled by the spectacle of shallowness, self-aggrandizement, utter ignorance, and sanctioned immorality that confronts and embraces us? These sound like quant notions that can appeal only to the naïve and the zealots. And yet what conscientious person can say with absolute assurance that such is not the case?
Broadly speaking, these two explanations for cultural, national, and civilizational decline – the evolutionary-historical and the moral-theological – are similar in the effects they postulate, but they differ insofar as the latter allows for the tempering of justice with mercy – that is, for the mollification of a vengeful deity. The reversal of decline, a stay of execution, remains possible, assuming a people rethinks itself at the eleventh hour, repudiating its penchant for pandemic depravity, and seeks to restore a lost courage, honor, humility, and fundamental decency. The downward path is effortless, a law of cultural gravity; the upward path is arduous and against the national grain but theoretically possible. In secular terms, following the upward path is called wisdom or prudence; in religious terms, it is known as grace or salvation, the gift of divine concern. True, Abraham may have lost his bargain, but God was willing to listen. And perhaps still is.
It is always tempting for those of a certain cast of mind to discern the hand of God operating in human affairs. "There's a divinity that shapes our ends / Rough-hew them how we will," says Hamlet. If an eminent thinker like Adam Smith can propose an "invisible hand" operating in the economic realm, why cannot a brilliant theologian like Karl Barth affirm that "the best proof of God's existence is the existence of the Jewish people"? Can we not say the same of the improbable ascent and unique political character of the American republic in the history of the world? Perhaps the two domains of the empirical and the spiritual are not as distinct as we have been led to believe. May not the election of Donald Trump, coupled with the defeat of the most corrupt and vindictive political figure in the country, represent the intervention of the numinous in the life of a once-great nation that can be made great again? Who can say?
The questions we now face are crucial. Has America truly changed course at the pivotal moment, whether by sheer accident or transcendent guidance? Will it last? The Edomites are still swarming, and the rift between a part of the nation committed to the values of work, family, and creative expenditure and a part of the nation mired in ignorance, pride, and destructive sentimentality – in effect, between heartland and coast, rural and urban, conservative and left-liberal – is permanent. The attempt to heal the chasm, however laudable, is doomed to fail.
Questions persist. Might the spirit of irony ultimately prevail? Will Trump revise his stated principles for national recovery and accede to some of his opponents' policies and demands? Will the Electoral College "flip" on December 19 when it casts its vote, allowing Hillary Clinton to eke out a marginal victory? As Mac Slavo writes in Freedom Outpost, "[w]e expect that within hours or days the push from the liberal media will be widespread and the thousands of protesters taking over major cities across America will be calling for recounts, faithless electoral votes and revolution." The devil always finds a way to work his mischief; alternatively, Edgar Allan Poe's "imp of the perverse" abides perpetually in the human soul.
The hope is that the best part of the nation can survive the burden of its parasites and drones and still manage to prosper. Yuval Levin in The Fractured Republic sees America as essentially a "creedal nation" animated by "a love of the ideal that we have always held out before ourselves as the American possibility ... put forward in the Declaration of Independence," a nation "built up out of communities." Similarly, James Piereson in Shattered Consensus, though agreeing with Charles Murray that America is in "a process of unravelling," remains hopeful of a future trajectory opening the way "for a new chapter in the unfolding history of the American idea."
Considering the totally implausible result of the recent election, and assuming that the worrisome events mentioned above fail to materialize, may we not suggest that there were a sufficient number of the just and deserving, a saving remnant, for a "new chapter" to be opened in the history of the republic, or to put it another way, for the Abrahamic bargain to be won? Is there more to this election than meets the skeptical eye?
Mere speculation, of course.