Tag Archives: anarchy

Differences that Make a Difference

Learning thoughtfulness amidst the overwhelming data around us is challenging. In our desires for peace and justice, we must refine our critical thinking capacities and recognize what is timeless truth and what are timely opinions.

Here are some differences that make a difference:

Legitimate outrage about racism vs. anarchy and destruction.

Repairing historic, systemic injustices vs. calls for ending the family and imposing Marxism.

Repentance of prejudices of class, gender, and race vs. hatred for anyone with traditional values.

Passionate, principled debate vs. a cancel culture of personal destruction.

Building a world with true toleration vs. fear of violence.

Serious journalistic inquiry and allowing real evidence to further investigation vs. repetition of talking points and allegations.

Repairing our environment vs. alarmism cloaking wealth redistribution.

Accepting history as a tapestry of beautiful and broken narratives vs. cherry picking for agendas.

Treating every person with dignity and respect and respecting cultural diversity vs. blanket categorizations and generalizations.

Freedom of conscience allowing us to bring our best selves to the public square vs. privatizing any moral and religious convictions.

Let’s help the world be more thoughtful.

July 14, 1789: Bastille Day and The French Revolution: So Much Promise; So Much Failure

Liberté, Égalité, et Fraternité!” This cry of the revolutionaries in Paris, started a process of change that began idealistically and ended in anarchy, totalitarian rule, and complete change in the map of Europe. Bastille Day is the moment that two handfuls of political prisoners were liberated from prison. It symbolizes the end of the old hierarchies of church and state and the dawn of a new era of secular citizenship and equality. Many Americans were excited about another nation (and their ally in the War for Independence) throwing off a corrupt monarchy and becoming democratic. But the joy was short-lived as France went to war with most of Europe, secularized every institution, and, after a decade of turmoil, found herself ruled by Napoleon. What happened? Why is this Revolution so different from the American one just a decade earlier?

There are three reasons these two revolutions are NOT the same and why the one in France turned out so poorly. First is the historical context. The American colonies were quite diverse culturally and religiously, though British and Protestant sensibilities were dominant. Jews, Quakers, Baptists, Roman Catholics, and even free thinkers could flourish to some extent. This diversity led to the phrase, “E Pluribus Unum” – Out of Many, One.” France’s cultural and religious history was much different. In 1598 the Edict of Nantes offered limited toleration for Protestants; however, it was revoked by King Louis XIV in 1685 and France lost hundreds of thousands of Protestant and Jewish citizens, leaving a polarization between a reactionary Roman Catholic church and a secularizing Enlightened elite.

The second difference is the vision of the revolutionaries. The 1789-1792 era has many similarities with the USA, but after the execution of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette, secular radicalism took over and imposed a new kind of intolerance. Soon there were all kinds of ideological and verbal litmus tests of how truly “revolutionary” one was…and over 40,000 died by the guillotine, most of them original supporters of the 1789 uprising!

Thirdly, anarchy and polarization left a vacuum for a totalitarian regime to fill…hence, the rise of Napoleon. At first his rule brought order and peace, new laws, and even religious toleration. Soon, however, he set about conquering much the European continent and battling Great Britain for dominance. Within a decade of coming to power, Napoleon was one more despot and military leader full of his own self-importance.

The legacy of 1776 and the birth of the USA is one of gradual toleration and democracy. The legacy of 1789 is more akin to the 1917-1922 Communist Revolution in Russia – another land without a history of religious diversity and representative governance. Though France is a strong republic today, she is still radically secular in her corridors of power. The USA remains a haven of religious freedom and diversity, enriching its communities and offering hope to a world.

A Call for Reformation, Not Anarchy and Totalitarianism

We are watching legitimate outrage and protest being co-opted by groups determined to destroy institutions and replace them with their own forms of oppression. History is replete with positive initial intentions being subverted: The French Revolution started with good intentions and ultimately imploded and yielded Napoleonic power. The Russian Revolution in 1917 began with democratic forces beginning to fashion a new future, and by 1922 Bolshevik Communists led by Lenin inaugurated one of the most repressive regimes in history. Millions were hopeful in 1949 when Mao led a Communist takeover…by 1970, millions of Chinese had perished in the “Cultural Revolution.”

I support millions protesting peacefully.

I support reforms for our criminal justice system.

I support serious changes in fostering access, equity, and opportunity of all, especially the African Americans living under generational oppression and poverty.

I support civil, passionate debate.

But looting and violence – especially destructive to the poor neighborhoods that need the most help – and calls to defund and even eradicate police forces will not yield the sustainable justice all people of conscience desire.

We need reform.

Reform is a powerful term that avoids mere “tweaking” and modification while retaining the goodness of the particular category. In addition to much needed reforms in the criminal justice and police systems, here are some more categories for reform. As I share these, please do not assume that I am implying Left or Right Ideologies for answers. We need wisdom that embraces personal dignity and systemic change, personal responsibility and the common good, and the humility to learn from history and embrace hope.

Here are more candidates for reform: Failed political machines in many cities. Educational systems. Mental health services deserve much more attention and financing. Ending the redlining and unspoken class and race prejudice in economic development. Our welfare systems need overhauling. Our military-industrial complex deserves careful scrutiny. And all religious and non-profit organizations must cease making excuses and papering over serious failures. 

Many more categories of reform are needed, but there is one more that is foundational to all others: The reformation of our own hearts and minds. I am asking God to remove prejudice and pretension and fill me with timeless truth and timely wisdom rooted in love. 

We must ask the hard questions and see how we might reform the very systems that are designed to empower and provide, protect and support our highest ideals. Charisma and competency matter, but character will be the difference between a moment of fame and enduring change.