American mainstream politics is pretty dismal right now.
I know that the people who are reading this blog are left with the impression that is what I am focused on right now, but that hasn’t been true for several months. I’ve become much more interested in health and fitness, religion, philosophy and history. It is just easier for me to update the blog when I am exhausted at night with a daily post about politics or current events than these other topics.
Here’s an excerpt from Book II, Chapter 6 of St. Augustine’s City of God that struck me tonight:
“6. The pagan gods never sanctioned a doctrine of right living
This is the reason why those divinities have no concern for the morals of the cities and peoples by whom they were worshipped. Rather they allowed the most terrible and abominable evils to have free play, to the utmost detriment, not of land and vines, not of houses and property, not even of the body, which is the servant of the mind, but of the mind itself, the actual ruler of the flesh. They allowed this, they did not use their awful power to prevent it. Or if they did try to stop it, let us have the evidence. And we do not want to hear general assertions about whispers breathed into the ear of a chosen few, and handed down by a secret religious tradition, teaching integrity and purity of life. Let the pagans show, or even mention, places consecrated for such gatherings where what happens is not the performance of spectacles marked by lewd utterances and gestures on the part of the actors, with a free rein to every kind of depravity – not the celebration of The Flight of Kings (which is really the flight of all decency and morality) – but where the assembled people can hear the commands of the gods about the need to restrain avarice, to curb ambition, to put a check on lust, and where wretched men may learn the lesson that Persius teaches in a voice of sharp reproach:
Ye wretches, learn
What we men are, and for what life were born;
Find out your station in the race of life,
And how to turn your corners. Learn the limit
To be placed on wealth; and learn how much to pray for;
The good can be done with the crude coin;
How much to give to country, and to friends,
Find out the role that God would have you play,
The part assigned you, in the scheme of things.
Let us be told in what places those divine precepts are regularly proclaimed in the hearing of the people assembled for worship. We on our part can point to churches set up for this very purpose, wherever the Christian religion is spread.”
A few observations:
1.) First, the anything goes society that St. Augustine is condemning here as being synonymous with paganism, a society in which there is no sanctioned doctrine of right living, but where anyone is free to act on their most base impulses sounds like our society.
2.) Second, the Christianity that St. Augustine is describing here doesn’t really sound like the version presented in contemporary American churches. He condemns lust, avarice and ambition, not modern day sins like “racism” and “anti-Semitism” and “xenophobia.”
Here’s another excerpt from Book I, Chapter 9 of City of God that also resonated with me. It reminds me of our current predicament with the plague of political correctness:
“If anyone refrains from reproof and correction of ill-doers because he looks for a more suitable occasion, or because he fears that this will make them worse, or fears that they will hinder the instruction of others, who are weak, in a good and godly way of life, and that they will oppress them, and turn them away from the faith, in such a case the action seems to be prompted not by self-interest but by counsels of charity. What is culpable is when those whose life is different and who abhor the deeds of the wicked are nevertheless indulgent to the sins of others, which they ought to reprehend and reprove, because they are concerned to avoid giving offence to them, in case they should harm themselves in respect of things which may be rightly and innocently enjoyed by good men, but which they desire more than what is right for those who are strangers in this world and who fix hope on a heavenly country.
There are the weaker brothers, in the married state, who have children or look to have them, who are masters of houses and households; the Apostle addresses them in the churches, teaching them and warning them how they ought to live, wives with husbands and husbands with wives, children with parents and parents with children, servants with masters and masters with servants. Such men are eager to acquire many of this world’s temporal goods, and grieve to lose them, and for that reason they have not the heart to offend men whose lives of shame and crime they detest. But they are not alone.
Even those who have a higher standard of life, who are not entangled in the bonds of marriage, who are content with little food and scanty clothing, are often fearful of attacks by the wicked upon their reputation and their safety, and so refrain from reproaches. They are not so afraid of the wicked as to yield to their villainous threats to the extent of committing crimes like theirs; but though they do not commit them they too often fail to reprehend them, for although they might convert some by such rebuke they fear that, if the attempt failed, their safety and reputation might be endangered or destroyed. And this is not due to prudence, nor is it because they see their reputation and safety as essential means whereby mankind may receive the benefits of instruction; it is rather due to weakness – because they delight in flattery and popularity and because they dread the judgment of the mob, and the torture or death of the body. In fact, they are constrained by self-interest, not by the obligations of charity.
So this seems to me a major reason why the good are chastised along with the evil, when God decides to punish moral corruption with temporal calamities. Good and bad are chastised together, not because both alike live evil lives, but because both alike, though not in the same degree, love this temporal life. But the good ought to have despised it, so that the others might be reformed and corrected and might aim at life eternal; or, if they refused to be partners in this enterprise, so that they might be born with, and loved as Christians should love their enemies, since in this life it is always uncertain whether or not they are likely to experience a change of heart.
In this matter a uniquely heavy responsibility rests on those to whom this message is given by the prophet: ‘He indeed will die in his sin, but I will require his blood at the hand of the watchman.’ For ‘watchman’, that is, leaders of the people, have been appointed in the churches for this purpose, that they should be unsparing in their condemnation of sin. This does not mean a man is entirely free from blame in this regard if, without being a ‘watchman’, he recognizes, but ignores, opportunities of warning and admonishing those with whom the exigencies of life force him to associate – if he evades this duty for fear of offending them, because he is concerned for those worldly advantages, which are not in themselves discreditable, but to which he is unduly attached. There is a further reason for the infliction of temporal suffering on the good, as is seen in the case of Job – that the spirit of man may be tested, that he may learn for himself what is the degree of disinterested devotion that he offers to God.”
This makes perfect sense to me.
We live in a country where millions of our fellow citizens would rather kill a foreigner or allow their homeland to be overrun by aliens than break the dominant racial etiquette with an offensive, politically incorrect comment. I’m often told this could “ruin their lives.”