Two Suggestions for a Better World (Don’t Hold Your Breath)

First, the NFL. (I hate football, by the way, and have never been a consumer of the NFL’s product.) Certain conscientious players will don black armbands prior to the raising of the flag. The anthem completed, they will remove the signs of mourning and go on about their business. When a svelte female sticks a microphone in their face after the game (funny how women seem so eager to assert their presence in the most brutal of all our sports), they will explain that they wish to honor their nation–but also to grieve publicly the loss of well over a million defenseless babies annually to abortion. (“They are fetuses,” snarks Answers.com if you use the “b” word.)

Then let’s see how the NFL reacts. Care to place a bet?

Now for health care. The abortionist’s comeback is always, “Well, you don’t care what happens to the fetus after it becomes a child…” which is correct, in a way–because it’s Mom and Dad who are supposed to care about the “fetus” both before and after it “becomes a child”, and too often neither cares at either time. Implicit in the comeback, you see, is the assumption that Mom will give her new baby one hell of a life. She already has six or eight other babies, and she hasn’t bothered to care for any of them. (Needless to say, Dad–or the dads–is/are nowhere in sight.) We, on the other hand, are supposed to care–meaning that we’re expected to keep ponying up tax dollars to buy every new child food, clothing, health care, and education. Mom doesn’t even trouble herself to look for a job: her job is to have babies and collect monthly checks for them. If one of the dads should decide to marry Mom, and if he should have a job other than sharing in the baby-bonanza, he chooses to keep the kids on Medicaid rather than buy into the group policy offered at work. So we continue paying…

If my wife and I had been able to keep more of our own money over the years, we could have adopted one or more children. We wanted to… but the process is costly and lengthy. Women are either aborting their unwanted babies (excuse me: fetuses) or else consigning them to Grandma and collecting Uncle Sam’s check. So… yeah, maybe some of us begin not to care much for this situation.

Here’s my suggestion: how about a box on the income tax return that you could check and then designate X dollars for the health care of babies born to parents illegally resident in the US, legally resident but unmarried and unwilling to practice birth control, or married and gainfully employed but unwilling to take the insurance offered at work? If “caring” in such circumstances appeals to you, then you can donate however many thousands you wish. Nancy Pellosi could easily manage six figures a year out of the millions she has garnered from marginally legal but patently unethical insider trading.

As I say… don’t hold your breath.

Finally, a stray thought: why is it that evidence of brilliance in our far-distant ancestors can only be explained by hypothesizing visits from extraterrestrials, yet the current generation is styled the most brilliant ever because its young use smartphones–the assumption being that all of them could assemble the circuitry or write the code for the software? Can any of them even average his grades without using the Math Ap or logging onto Blackboard? But, hey… we don’t build campfires, and we have nice teeth!

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Sayonara, Glenn Beck (Part Two)

I will think of a dozen utterances from the mike of Glenn Beck that really irritated me after I have posted these pieces; and, too, I will probably feel guilty about having given the man so little credit for his principled positions, such as his daring to resist the Trump Train on behalf of Ted Cruz. But the people you once thought trustworthy are the ones you least trust after a rupture, for the old habit of trust lurks a while and must be broken.

My point of no return arrived when Confederate monuments started being defaced. Beck has never so much put me in mind of the old saw, “With friends like you… who needs enemies?” We must keep those monuments, he argued, because they remind us of the Nazi stormtroopers in our own history—and Confederates, to Beck, were all hood-wearing, torch-waving KKK members. They allowed his uncle of some remove to starve in one of their concentration camps, so let no one suppose that he hates the South any less than the next man. (This might have been a great-great uncle, or more probably a great-great-great uncle: someone, in short, that even Beck’s grandfather likely wouldn’t remember had the man survived; and the cause behind the starvation, O Mighty Historian of the Fruited Plain, was that Union ships had blockaded all Southern ports and laid waste to the South’s most fertile farmland… yet the Beckster very nearly teared up when remembering hungry old, old uncle-to-the-third-power Chester or Phineas.)

I had noticed Beck’s tone to grow very short on earlier occasions when he would angrily chew some comment about viewers who write in to disparage Abraham Lincoln. Our Black Belt in American History wants nothing to do with the observation that Lincoln didn’t bother to emancipate slaves in Northern states where he might instantly have done so, or that Lincoln had printing presses destroyed and publishers imprisoned if his war effort were openly criticized, or that Lincoln had plans to pack the freedmen off to Panama lest they interbreed with American white folk. No counter-evidence, no reasoned and patient rebuttal: just a highly “pissed off” look (to use one of our luminary’s favorite descriptors) and a hasty transition to the next subject. Thank you for explaining your position, O Wise Mediator and Uniter of the Masses!

The “pissy” attitude was even more noticeable last week (my absolutely terminal moment of viewing) when Beck erupted in a by-the-way remark that became the shout, “Slavery was the cause of the Civil War [the italics a defiant nod at recalcitrant Tweeters and texters]—if you have any doubt, just read the Confederate Constitution!” Okay… so I read the Confederate Constitution. What leaps off the page is the authors’ effort to underscore at numerous points the states’ jurisdiction over matters not explicitly delegated to the central government. The emphasis—understandably—borders on fixation. As for slavery… the Confederate version of our founding document appears to eradicate instances in the original that were worded with sufficient vagueness to include indentured servants. The slaves referred to are definitely of the African variety. And… that’s about it. Did I miss something? Is this perhaps a bowdlerized version, Glenn, that Confederate apologists smuggled into the archive through the nefarious machinations of the KKK KGB?

In any case, the entire gesture in the direction of the Confederate Constitution is so patently irrelevant to the context in which Beck cites it that the maneuver suggests mental derangement. The farmboys who slipped on a gray uniform and grabbed a rifle neither read that document nor had any influence upon its drafting. The immense majority of them—over 95 percent—owned no slaves personally; and to defend the institution of slavery would, in their case, have been to extend the life of a system that deprived them of employment opportunities and created for them a gross disadvantage in the marketplace. Now, did their fighting on behalf of a Southern doctrine that included the preservation of slavery favor the institution’s survival? Obviously. That was the tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of young men lost arms, legs, eyesight, or life itself—good, long decades of life—to defend the principle of self-determination while it sat, contradictorily, on the rotten foundation of enforced servitude.

None of that even comes close to justifying the assertion that the war was fought on behalf of slavery, or that those who fought for the Southern side were proto-Nazis.

I don’t like Glenn Beck’s characterization of my ancestors. I’ve had to try to explain their position, as I heard it from my grandmother (and not from the ghost of Great-Great-Great Uncle Jebediah), throughout my adulthood to a society that increasingly considers my race, sex, and lineage sufficient reason to run me down on the streets. I have in fact been told in confidence on one occasion that I was eliminated from the applicants for a position because of my demographic profile. I’m not a laureated historian, or a multi-millionaire who has been able to buy up rare artifacts for “The Vault”; but I’ve read enough first-hand accounts of boys who wore the gray, like Tom Watkins’ Co. Aytch, that I know their motives from their own testimony. They were lauded as patriots as they went marching to what they presumed would be a month of hiking and camping… and then they were thrown into a fiery furnace—whipped, branded, or shot if they attempted to slip away after the year for which they had enlisted. And not a word about slaves ever appears in most of these testimonials, unless in a protest against the release from active duty of anyone who happened to own twenty or more slaves.

Yet beyond my extreme dislike of Beck’s riding roughshod over historical fact in order to indulge his ill-tempered impatience is a genuine astonishment at the ill temper. There appears to be something profoundly out of alignment in the psyche of Glenn Beck. His vitriolic hatred of certain groups that he has designated as free and clear of any restraint required by Christian scruples is a constant wonder to me. As if so much advertised and highly promoted reconciliation and sympathy had taxed his nature to the breaking point, he unleashes his rancor in specified “safe zones” the way he and his Blaze crew boast of burning hundreds of rounds on the target range. Apparently, if you invest something exceeding a critical mass of effort in publicly loving humanity far and wide, you have to compensate by keeping a bright red bull’s eye hidden away into which you can pump shotgun shells.

My ancestors are that bull’s eye for Glenn Beck. I wish him joy at his sniping. If I had a bronze of Stonewall Jackson, I’d send it to him for duty on an indoor, underground firing range. After all, I owe him something for years of occasionally informative programming.

Sayonara, Glenn Beck (Part One)

A few people are just plain wicked. Even fewer are genuine saints. The rest of us live in the vast middle space. It’s not permitted to such a one as I to judge the spiritual worth of other human beings, nor is it what I intend to play at in these paragraphs. But there comes a time when you have to make adjustments in the people whose essential skills you trust to make fair, stable, wide-angled estimates of worldly affairs. Glenn Beck is no longer on my list of such people.

I’ve tuned into Beck off and on for years. I liked many of his guests. Where else do you get to hear commentators as keen as Michelle Malkin and Ben Shapiro, or men as honest as Louie Gohmert and Burgess Owens? Yet I vividly recall being shaken by the treatment Debra Medina received on Beck’s radio show when she was challenging Rick Perry for governor of Texas. The year escapes me—perhaps 2008; but the interview ended when either Beck or his point man, Pat Gray, blindsided Medina with a question about one of her staffers being a “truther”. Like Medina, I had never heard a definition of this ragged, patched-up word. Struggling after clarity as her final seconds ticked away, Debra offered an entirely reasonable generalization to the effect that everything our government does at any level should be subject to public scrutiny. Her line of communication once severed, Beck and Co. went on the attack. They immediately began an indignant, derisive, and contemptuous assault upon all such people as dare to believe that George Bush and Dick Cheney would have planned the slaughter of 3,000 Americans on 9/11. Medina was now one of these… and her candidacy tanked irretrievably.

Personally, I have no doubt that we haven’t been told the full truth about the collapse of the World Trade Towers (and particularly about the accordion-plunge of the squat WTT 7). That doesn’t amount to my accusing the Bush Administration of mass murder—a supposition grotesque to the point of clinical paranoia. It means I want the full truth. Why do people like Debra Medina and me deserve to be designated “truthers” the way a playground bully might designate a child with asthma a “gasper”? Especially when Beck devotes so much of his airtime to ferreting out forgotten or suppressed historical details and constructs his professional persona so meticulously around honoring neglected artifacts, dancing around the new girl with his buddies at recess and chanting “truther” doesn’t suit the dignity of the desired image.

The “dignity deficit” has been a recurrent problem with me. Talk-show hosts, to be sure, enjoy a license to engage in buffoonery… but not so much a host who lays special claim to being a devout Christian and the one reliable adult in the room. Inappropriate are the endless permutations of the word “butt”, the eighth-grade flights of sarcasm, and the occasional too-intimate details of the host’s personal life. Even the musical overture (lately discarded) to the televised version of Beck’s show on The Blaze morphed from a tasteful collage of real-life sequences to a very odd comic strip featuring heads of major historical figures yapping out the lyrics like PAC Man eating up dots. Was the subliminal message here that Beck considers himself history’s puppeteer, able to pair any two politicians (and there were some bizarre pairings) and make them mouth his little ditty of togetherness?

Ah, yes… the “togetherness” thing. Beck the Preacher will alternately grow choked up in his appeals for unity and resonant in a prophetic lather as he scolds, “Wake up, America!” For a week or two, he wants to greet illegally entering children with teddy bears and soccer balls along our border; then it’s back to warning gullible stiffs like me that the economy can’t make it to Christmas. (I’m grateful for the warning, and I believe the economy may very well “accordion” like the Trade Towers: but you can’t stay on high alert for a decade running.) If we are at rest, we should snap to attention: if we have our finger on the trigger, we should chill out. We are to stop fighting with each other over such meaningless trivia as the propriety of the gay lifestyle and rising for the Anthem at NFL games… but those of us who feel uncomfortable with the ostentation of public prayer must nonetheless sit through the itemization of the host’s prayer life and even through a benediction concluding his nightly newsroom discussion-group. I pray, too—in my closet, as Jesus recommends. Perhaps these televised prayers, with Beck himself the hub around which the wheel spins, are supposed to make us bond… and since such unifying endeavors require a stage and an audience, the Good Shepherd can’t afford to be bashful.

Does Glenn, in his defense (if this could be a mitigation rather than an exacerbation), honestly believe himself to be a prophet touched by the One True God? His audio and video archives brim with oft-retrieved pronouncements he has made about the new millennium. Ever quick to remind the world that his prediction of a caliphate-seeking uprising in the Middle East was scoffed at by mainstream news media, he seems convinced that nobody else anywhere was sounding the alarm. At the same time, a convenient amnesia appears to settle over such forecasts as the one about Putin’s imminent takeover of Poland (imminent in… 2014). Personally, I have never sought—in Beck or anyone else—a prophet or a speaker-in-tongues: I seek someone who will tell the whole truth about events in the news (you know… a “truther”!) and perhaps provide some mature moral context to frightening trends. In this latter regard, where is the prophet, I wonder, when Beck marvels over the nanobot-ridden “transhuman” extolled by his friend Ray Kurzweil, then anguishes out loud over possible unfortunate consequences of the new robot-man? My own inner Jeremiah is lapping Beck’s every day on this track!

It’s almost as though that which we traditionalists have identified as clearly right or wrong needs to be reconsidered, in Beck’s eyes, as dividing the nation—and that which most of us would as soon allow to lapse into the background scenery needs to be center-staged. Why does a man who insists on praying over a panel discussing the day’s news express little interest in defending traditional marriage? Why were the details of Barack Obama’s thoroughly misty past not worth exploring, yet the world must stand up and take notice that a twenty-year-old line from the mouth or the pen of Newt Gingrich proves him to be a General Franco in waiting?

At these moments, Beck reminds me of the eponymous character in Gide’s Immoraliste (and our lion of historical research, I’ve no doubt, would mock me mercilessly for citing a Frenchman). Surrounded by wealthy, stuffy landowners who see poaching as a threat to the survival of civilization, the new arrival in their aristocratic midst blunders upon some malefactors one night and… and discovers that skulking around with them is one of life’s great pleasures. Glenn Beck seems to like to slip over to the other side just when you think he’s holding down your flank; and before you know it, he’s giving you a sermon on the evils of choosing sides. Tricky, that.

The Toxicity of Linear Time

A subject that has increasingly preoccupied me in recent years is time. This isn’t just because I’m getting older; or, rather, my aging probably is a major factor–but only because I begin to understand more of what’s happening around me, not because my own hour-glass is running short of sand.

I perceive, for instance, that people become less concerned about their moral duty as they become more convinced in the relentless linearity of time. Today is soon yesterday. You’re not the same person now as you were ten years ago (as cliché thinking would have it), and ten years from now you’ll be yet another being. Promises therefore fall by the wayside quite naturally–for how can a butterfly be held responsible for the commitments of a caterpillar? And you are supposed to grow wings, aren’t you? Isn’t that a good thing–to change and grow, to “evolve” in your thinking? You’re caught in a circle if you’re not moving in a line; but as long as you keep moving forward, there’s a chance that you’re also moving upward…

And so on, and so on. I’ve come to find these truisms very tiring. They’re excuses for so much duplicity, cowardice, and slovenly thinking that I’m near to declaring them void of any truth at all. That wouldn’t be fair, of course; but the “morally evolved” person, even when he sees that his perspective of yesterday was short-sighted, continues to stand by promises made yesterday upon which others depend–or else he accepts the penalty for not doing so without complaint. How many people of that sort do you see around you right now?

The linear/progressive view of time, by the way, hasn’t always been around. In fact, it’s a very recent arrival, characterizing none of human pre-history and perhaps one tenth of our recorded history. A far more natural perspective (to judge from its statistical dominance) has been that of conforming oneself to the values and examples of one’s ancestors. An ethos collects from the practices of several centuries; it has been refined by the process of trial and error and has withstood the “test of time”. Why should we assume that we can break with precedent and suffer no consequences? On the contrary, only a fool ignores the directions of those who have preceded him down the road of life.

For much of the Christian era, we of the West have adopted a fusion of the two views. We were no longer looking back over our collective shoulder at the Heroic Age, but forward, rather, to the end of earthly time and the fulfillment of our identity in a loving, purposeful god. We struggled to put the Old Man behind us and live in the New Man; yet that New Man was ascending to complete a circle whose first movements were embedded in our basic nature, not “boldly going where no man has gone before” in an indefinitely extending exploration of the physical universe.

Science has thrust us upon this Star Trek trajectory wherein change may either have little sense or may, indeed, end in disaster, since it is no longer magnetized to a transcending, metaphysical objective. We morph into multi-sexual beings who no longer reproduce: that’s “progress”. We fuse with robots to reduce our susceptibility to disease and prolong our material presence: that, too, is “progress”. We introduce our hybrid selves into solar systems far from our own but not endowed with any property that will prove more salutary to the soul than was Planet Earth; and that will be styled progress, as well… but I wonder if it might not be eternal Hell by any other name?

Linear time can become a toxic drug. We would do well not to pay too little attention to ourselves today as we await the new-and-improved beings we imagine ourselves becoming tomorrow.

True Slaves Are Self-Made

This past week, I happened to hear a bit of discussion on Michael Savage’s radio show that pertained to nineteenth-century painter Giulio Rosati’s work. The specific subject was a series of paintings sharing the title, “Choosing the Favorite”. Each work graphically portrays a white European slave girl being made to stand stark naked before some sheikh or caïd who is eyeing her critically to decide if she’s worth the oily dealer’s asking price. Savage remarked that the painting (and he spoke as if there were only one) induced him to look more deeply into Arab enslavement of European coastal populations depredated by piratical raids. An entire Irish village was once emptied of its inhabitants when these corsairs swooped in unexpectedly. The total number of white Europeans thus lost to the Arab slave trade–the men to find an early death toiling in galleys, the women and children to satisfy the voracious sexual appetite of wealthy grandees–exceeded one million from the early Renaissance to the first years of the nineteenth century. Jefferson’s war on the so-called Barbary Pirates finally ended these atrocities.

Surprisingly (to me), Savage professed ignorance of most of these historical facts. He is far from alone, apparently. Indeed, the prevailing opinion of the slave trade among contemporary Americans seems to be that white Southerners raided deep into Africa and bundled their captives off to plantations in the Carolinas and Mississippi. In fact, virtually all of the mercantile sea traffic that reached the South hailed from home ports far to the north or across the Atlantic; and as for the actual slave raids, these were conducted by Arab traders and their minions on the African mainland. That is to say, at the heart of some of the filthiest chapters of human history from the end of the Middle Ages to the beginning of the twentieth century stood imperious lechers like the sheikhs represented by Rosati: the sort of people whom Western civilization is now forbidden to revile and is, indeed, often to praise as superior figures unsoiled by our Western values.

In the canvas that I have reproduced above, especially, the sheikh looks down his nose at the shivering girl as if a maitre d’ were begging him to taste of a dish whose smell was a bit suspect. This is our beacon of true civilization!

I’m very much in step with Savage, as far as feeling indignant that Islam would so long tolerate such depravity; and I’m further indignant that the slave trade’s roots would be so neatly extracted from our history books. I’ll always remember my pity and disgust when, as a young man, I learned that Cassius Clay had transformed himself into Mohammed Ali in protest against the European Christian tradition responsible for enslaving his ancestors. Clay seemed a pretty cool guy: a lot of us were drawn to him. But come on, man! If you want to register outrage about the imposition of slavery upon your forefathers, why would you embrace Islam? Don’t you know that it was Christianity which eventually abolished slavery throughout the Western hemisphere? Didn’t you know that, in the days of our youth, slavery was ongoing in places like Ethiopia?

Now I find, having probed about the Internet in search of Rosati’s paintings, that certain people consider it “white supremicist” even to acknowledge the history of European enslavement by the Barbary Pirates. The reasoning seems to be that no slavery was anywhere near as prolific and brutal as the Southern enslavement of Africans, and that to remark the existence of any other slavery at any other time or place is thus a deliberate bid to understate the crime committed by Americans in the early nineteenth century.

I irresistibly remember a passage in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Citadelle when I read such folderol. The work’s fictitious speaker (a noble caïd, actually) is commenting upon a group of beggars as they compete to see who can get his open sores and tumors to run with the foulest puss and draw the most attention from prospective almsgivers. (Saint-Ex knew a thing or two about African slavery: he once bought a slave’s freedom from his Arab masters and flew him north to an area of temporary safety.)

Is this really where we’ve come? I haven’t yet noticed any veterans with artificial limbs commanding, “Open that door for me! Get out of that chair and let me sit! And buy me some food, while you’re at it! Can’t you see I have an artificial leg?” What man possessed of a single ounce of pride could imagine saying such things? Where, then, is the manly pride of those eternally reciting their eternal grievances?

My Charitable Org Signs Off

(Below is the approximate text of the notice that I intend to send out for the final edition of an online journal that began seventeen years ago.)

The final issue of Praesidium has now been published. After seventeen years of struggle, the journal has failed, and more generally my vision for the Center for Literate Values has evaporated into pixie dust. The reasons for the collapse are detailed in my opening article for 17.4, and many have to do with my personal ineptitude as a Webmaster; but the ultimate and decisive reason is that our society is significantly, perhaps terminally post-literate, and that no amount of expertise could have salvaged the project. As I view the contemporary landscape, I see staggering evidence of a people that has taken progressive leave of reality.

Item: The Commanders in Chief who presided over the first sixteen years of the new millennium (almost precisely overlapping the lifespan of the Center) did nothing whatever to secure the nation’s power grid, thus neglecting their primary constitutional duty as they went merrily courting new venues of patronage and popularity. Their gross incompetence (and, in my mind, criminal negligence) is surely a prime reason why we cannot face down North Korea, any one of whose satellites drifting over our air space could be the platform for launching an Electro-Magnetic Pulse that would leave as many as ninety percent of us dead within a year.

Item: In the face of such crisis, our elected representatives continue to escalate our levels of debt to the point that national suicide of an economic variety is virtually inevitable.

Item: In the face of these accumulating crises, the base of one major party nominated a wooden sociopath to run for the nation’s highest office—a person constantly forced to imitate the reactions of her trusted entourage in the absence of any natural human affections and whose tone-deafness to the anguish and danger incurred by her fellows is directly implicated in the deaths of some under her authority. Meanwhile, the base of the other major party attempted to out-under-perform this selection by elevating a man who never reads and whose vocabulary consists only of hyperbolic clichés, his lifetime of exploiting legal loopholes and greasing the pumps of local political machines taken—incredibly—as proof of his “outsider” bona fides. As one after another of his bombastic promises crumples under the pressures of hard fact, we are now treated to the unsavory spectacle of these same boosters trying to fashion their Stump King into Charlemagne with feats of imagination reminiscent of children shaping castles out of clouds.

Item: Young people populating supposed institutions of higher learning are expensively protesting the free speech of those who might make them rethink their rigid programming, noisily insisting that they receive the fetal protections which they scorn to extend to genuine fetuses, and aggressively insulting everyone in whose casual utterances they can ferret out the unintended tinder of a faint slight.

Item: Descendants of slaves (but which of us is not one such, if only we knew our entire pre-history?) are defacing public property that may or may not commemorate men who actually owned slaves a century and a half ago, all on behalf of a political ideology that aspires to mire them—and the rest of us—in cradle-to-grave dependency.

Item: Among college students, probably a ninety percent majority (in my personal experience) is convinced to a pitch of quasi-cultic fervor that manmade climate change imminently threatens the survival of terrestrial life. An essential tenet of the cult is that only big government can save us, this despite the distinct possibility that the world’s most affluent governing elites have been playing at the manipulation of global weather systems for strategic purposes since the late twentieth century—a highly risky set of exercises about which our young bright things know absolutely nothing, but which might in fact be responsible for major damage to the natural weather cycle.

Item: University programs in the liberal arts continue at an accelerating rate to ascribe all the miseries implicit in the human condition to a) maleness and b) white racism. We have surpassed the kindergartner’s “Billy made me do it” defense, inasmuch as the charges now grow savagely vindictive and their consequences increasingly punitive. The Western literary canon, along the way, has become hopelessly shattered and scattered, its contents lost to the next generation and the entire spiritual discipline of speculating within reasonably objective boundaries forgotten for the duration.

Item: Meanwhile, the Christian Church (including all of its denominations) has likewise slipped its moorings and gone adrift. The notion of tolerance was once understood as an acknowledgment that we are all impeded from realizing our identity in God by subjugation to various circumstantial factors: wealth, praise, fleshly pleasures, fear of physical pain or privation, and all the rest. Now those very chains are accepted from the pulpit as defining us (a specific race, an anomalous sexual preference, an eating disorder), and the utopian’s blueprint for the perfect society—built according to the aspirations of an elite few—is an overlay forced upon every Gospel passage. We are no longer kept from our true self in God by worldly interference; immersion in the world, rather, is the only path to this new god (who is at least as manmade as “climate change”).

So the Center for Literate Values failed. Of course it did. How do you make an omelet out of mud?

Martyrdom… or Blasphemy?

This is my farewell to Eusebius. I’ve now finished the Loeb edition of his Ecclesiastical History that was in my possession… and my sanity, which has taken so many hits in recent years, might not have remained intact if I’d had another twenty pages to go.

I had intended to type out a few paragraphs of my author’s pious bellyaching over the Montanist (or “Thracian”) bid to steal the A Team’s thunder by churning out its own prophets and chatterers-in-tongues. I find that I lack the spiritual stamina, however, to complete that scholarly exercise: I already feel a fit of psychic vomiting dangerously near.

The early church, you see, appears to have been riddled with such controversies as these even as a roomful of pre-schoolers bristles with fights over who gets first dibs on the Silly Putty. “My speakers-in-tongues did it before yours, and they’re not possessed by putrid diabolical vapors carrying noxious lies and blasphemous filth!” One would have hoped for more, especially at a time when those who professed the faith might truly be arrested, tortured, and brutally executed. Usually such treatment separates the wheat from the chaff. In this era, it seems to have brought the slag to the top.

For rival cells of Christians were competing even over who had the most martyrs and whose martyrs suffered the most hideously: if the printing press had been around, I’m sure we would have seen Martyr Bubblegum Cards with stats for number of hours on the rack and number of lions in the arena. Most of Eusebius’s evidence for this wrangling appears in Book 5; earlier books (some of which I mentioned in previous posts) portray the “faithful” vying to see who can starve himself the most, survive with the least sleep, and abstain from all forms of sex with the greatest fervor. (Some of these cultists went so far as to castrate themselves, though I do not recall any reference to them in Eusebius.)

One of the difficulties of getting old is the volume of disillusionment which you must absorb as you acquire a modicum of wisdom. I had always pictured the early church as illumined by genuinely devoted souls still close to the source of their spiritual ignition. Now I find it a miracle that the later church was able a) to survive the miasma of cultic fanaticism that immediately descended upon the faith, and b) to crystallize eventually into an uplifting belief system. Eusebius’s translator Kirsopp Lake appends a note to one of the final pages about how a glancing mention of Aristotle and the Platonists points the way to certain influences upon that crystallization. Of course, the mention in the Greek text was a sneer, charging the classically instructed with rank heresy.

Constant, inviolable honesty; fearlessness in advocating the truth paired with humility about one’s shortcomings as an advocate; imperviousness to worldly threats and applause alike; inexhaustible generosity to the weak sheathed in ringing denunciations of those who encourage weakness for selfish profit… such are the qualities (among others) of the ideal Christian. That this paradigm, within a few generations, should have decayed into verbal warfare about whose followers had thrown themselves before more freight trains is depressing on a colossal scale.

And my “freight train” metaphor is less tropological than you might think; by the merest of coincidences, I also happened to hear—for the first time in my life—of the “circumcellions” this past week. This Heaven’s Gate of yesteryear would send its followers out with blunt clubs to attack Roman soldiers, the objective being to irritate armed men of war sufficiently to get oneself impaled on spears or swords and “exit this life in martyrdom”.

It’s worse than lunacy: it’s blasphemy, of the real variety. To transform a holy message into the pretext for a suicidal ego trip… how loathsome. Again I say, Don’t show me how many pieces your martyrs were torn into before they expired: show me how you yourself handle the dreariness of earning your bread every day, the challenge of resisting advancement offered on condition of duplicity, and the fearful task of providing a model to young children. Show me how you live, not how you die.