The Hollow Men

  • Posted: August 3, 2020
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The last few months have been a lengthy sojourn in the wilderness of a strange and empty land, a season of my discontent. In mood, I alternate between despair and anger against a background of what can only be called shame. I was once so proud to be an American. I remain proud of what we once were, even more proud of what we once aspired to, but as our latest Nobel Laureate of the Privileged, Bob Dylan, wrote, “Things Have Changed”.

In this empty simulacrum of what was, it is hard to see a future that does not echo the unhappy endings of Man’s previous experiments in living free. We were once risk takers. We once aspired to greatness. We once believed in freedom and inalienable rights rather than adjudicated quotas – “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as the despised oppressor Thomas Jefferson once phrased it.

How quaint that! In my own little corner of the world, Jefferson County’s Human Services, in keeping with The Science, The latest research and expert advice, has the final word on what limits might be put on my inalienable rights. Perhaps V.I. Lenin’s perceptive thought on “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” might be used as JeffCo Human Service’s Mission Statement, emblazoned on their stationery:

“It is true that liberty is precious; so precious that it must be rationed”

Perhaps we, those of us well cossetted in the Red States – both thankful at our remove yet envious of our Blue cousins’ dashing good looks – looking up at contrails of barely visible jets carrying those cousins from one Blue shore to another, were foolish in our assumption that we were different. The accumulation of power by central governments, wielded by the petite bourgeois clerks who are its lackeys, appear as sure as gravity – all in the interests of those governed of course. The scene is of a great white shark with its attendant remoras feasting on the bloody remains of their latest kill.

Our own Republic seems destined to follow in the paths of those once free. In the prosperity that is cultivated by freedom, we raise children, ignorant of tyranny and the truth of men’s souls. Untested and strangely fearful, our credulous children grow to love security at the price of the freedom now seemingly threatening to their Disney-like view of reality.

It is painful to realize that America may not live up to Lincoln’s stirring words as he called Congress to stand behind his soon to be announced Emancipation Proclamation. He called us “the last best hope of Earth”. His words stirred the hearts of those who heard and of generations who followed. But alas, his words were simply hyperbole – “ad speak” in the service of a sale.

But we know there is truly a “last best hope of Earth”, and it is in the earthly representatives of that hope in which I admit a greater disappointment, a profound sense of opportunity lost. Among the many freedoms lost to the Coronavirus War, our freedom to worship has been overwhelmed by experts, professional pedants – a proud lion taken down by a troop of monkeys. We turn to our shepherds and are greeted by silence. Do they even know what is at stake?

The princes of this world have decreed absolute safety the standard by which our actions must be measured. But warnings against putting faith in princes are numerous and as recent events have suggested – well founded. Princes, Presidents or Governors – even the petite bourgeois of JeffCo Human Services – are only human beings. They are surrounded by voices competing for their favor. Never forget, they too are prey to the common failings of men, perhaps even more so as they have so many more opportunities to indulge their failings.

One is reminded of that vignette in the Book of Acts. The Jewish leaders of Jerusalem have ordered the Christians in the city, on pain of imprisonment, to cease their teaching, to stop proclaiming the name of Jesus. The Jewish leaders concern was understandable. Jerusalem was a powder keg, full of angry Jews, Roman troops and young radicals eager for revolution. The Jewish leaders were frightened of the fires that might be unleashed unless all these radicals just “cooled it”.

One of those radicals, the Apostle Peter backed by his fellows, stood before the assembled Sanhedrin and memorably said,

“We must obey God rather than men.”

It must be said that the Jewish leaders followed up on their threat and Peter saw the inside of a Jerusalem jail. Worthy present day heirs of Peter and his fellows seem notably lacking. Our leaders preach the same old sermons, our worship leaders sing the same old songs, our elders give us the same old reassurances; but they do it in isolation. It is one thing to broadcast from the basement of a patisserie in Occupied France, but in the ordered suburbs of 21st Century America? Somehow web-based worship just doesn’t cut it.

There are those who call the decades of the 1970’s & 80’s The Fourth Great Awakening, the Age of the Evangelicals. Billy Graham is the archetype of this Awakening and its face. At least in America, the Spirit manifested itself in the Evangelical Church, a new fire blazing up from the cooling embers of older confessions.

Yet it was precisely during these years that Christianity evaporated from civil culture. It is a conundrum that such an intense spiritual fire had so little impact. The West prospered materially, but families withered – and with that withering the West wasted away in spirit. I am an Evangelical and in the words of my Mother, “This is my pew and they’re going to have to carry me out of here, not going anywhere else.” Yet I cannot but reflect on the contribution of the Evangelical Church’s narrow focus to the great damage done the families and institutions of our great nation.

But I must admit, I often imagine the Evangelical Church to be God’s Marine Corps. We hit the beach and take the hill. We are ready to go and again quoting Peter, “We are ready to give a reason for the hope within us.” But as far as providing measured wisdom in the councils of the mighty or building intellectual infrastructure to guide and preserve a family, a nation, a culture – that is not our gift.

The past fifty years give strong evidence that just like the Marine Corps, Evangelicals win battles, but are not good at winning wars. The Evangelical Church is John Wayne as Sgt. Stryker in the Sands of Iwo Jima, hand raised looking over his shoulder, calling “Follow me!!” We raise the flag on Mt. Suribachi but the surrender ceremonies in Tokyo Bay elude us. We have greatly missed the presence of Christianity’s equivalents to the like of FDR, Chester Nimitz, Dwight Eisenhower, George Marshall and others of their ilk.

It is the great and deep institutions of the Faith, Catholicism, the Orthodox community, the pillars of the Protestant Church, the Jews who provide wisdom firmly grounded in the eternal, the generals, the logistics, the intellectual infrastructure upon which Western Civilization stands.

And they have failed. They have not even shown up for the fight. Along with our other organizations, political, civic and business, the great institutions of the faith have been manned for generations by an educated meritocracy, the Adorables. Indeed, there have seen great men of God, like Karol Wojtyla and Joseph Ratzinger, but endless armies of Adorable functionaries left them powerless in that sea of careerists.

Having taken the commanding heights of our culture, a total and complete victory, the Adorables have now lost faith, they have despaired over the future. There is no surer indicator of lost hope than a failure to form families and have children, to bring new life into the world. The great urban centers, the Blue coasts of America, bear mute witness to this lack of hope’s fruit.

One has only to look at the abdication of the great and good before the fancies of BLM, a dry cheese crumbling to bits as it is brought to the table. Our Adorable leaders have lost faith in themselves. But the greater tragedy is they have lost faith in us, the people they lead.

In recent times I have grown to greatly admire the thoughts of a Jewish rabbi, Jonathan Sacks. His words to leaders are insightful, ringing with truth:

“What matters is not whether they believe in you (leaders), but whether you believe in them. . . . If you do not believe in the people, eventually you will not even believe in God. You will think yourself superior to them, and that is a corruption of the soul.”

And so in a time of crisis we are left with the Army of God commanded by noncoms and junior lieutenants. Like Fort Zinderneuf in Beau Geste, God’s faithful are in isolated strongpoints, surrounded by a spiritual desert teeming with bands of raiding Tuaregs. Perhaps that is God’s plan, as His people have been here before. In the Book of Judges, He raised up Judges, in the Book of Acts, He raised up Peter and Paul. We wait – anxiously.

Perhaps I over dramatize. I am simply a Private in the rear lines. “What do I know as I sit peeling potatoes in the truck driver’s Mess Hall? Who am I to question the decisions of the Generals?” Civil disobedience is a weighty decision, not lightly taken. I can only ask – “Where do we stand? And why?” But I wait in both hope and fear for that someone, a someone of substance and character, to stand in front of the tanks.

There is an old bit of folklore about frogs and hot water. It is said that a frog will sit in a pan of tepid water, which is then heated on the stove. Since the water heats up slowly, the frog never realizes the danger and is simply cooked up.

At what point do we simply become another foolish frog dinner for “the ruler of this world”? One of the hallmarks of the Evangelical Church is its belief in a coming persecution. We can never forget that our Lord told us we would drink from His cup, that He said “Blessed are those who are persecuted”. Evangelicals have always been a ready audience for stories of Apocalypse and lions in the arena.

As I peel spuds in the Mess Hall kitchen, I hear what is said in the lunch line and around the tables. There is a great anger building, a questioning frustration goading us into action, perhaps foolish action. All of us enlisted men and women are losing confidence in those who lead. In the midst of a feckless persecution, we are being found wanting. In our mute frustration, we will soon begin to search for that man of charisma on a white horse, a man easily found, too easily found.

Perhaps that is the problem. One of the things about Covid is its relative weakness. There is a sense that being sensible is the proper response. The fear is muted. Covid is not the march of the Uruk-Hai upon Helm’s Deep, or Guderian’s Panzers racing across France but instead a fraught inconvenience – perhaps driving the Million Dollar Highway from Silverton to Ouray, CO during a winter snowstorm –something to be avoided but doable.

We have always imagined our day of testing to be a time of great danger, wars and rumors of wars. Instead T.S. Eliot’s aptly titled poem, “The Hollow Men”, might well be prophetic,

“This is the way the world ends,

This is the way the world ends,

This is the way the world ends,

Not with a bang but a whimper.”

 

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