Tag Archives: totalitarian

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 In 1598 the Edict of Nantes offered limited toleration for Protestants; however, it was revoked by King Louis XIV in 1685 and France lost hundreds of thousands of Protestant and Jewish citizens, leaving a polarization between a reactionary Roman Catholic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.

Defending the West

I desire that all others enjoy the opportunities, privileges and rights I enjoy. “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is not a guarantee of outcomes, but a call for access and justice for all. Life is not a zero-sum game. There is room for all to fulfill their callings and develop their capacities.

Our deeply flawed President is correct when he challenges all lovers of freedom to consider the structures and values that contrast the best of the West with the totalitarian threats of Islamicism and radical global-secularists.

I am not defending the egregious actions and words of our leader(s).

I am asking that all of us look deeply into the first principles of virtue-based liberty and take responsibility for the moral and spiritual condition of America and Western Europe.

From the French Revolution to today, we see the tragic effects of removing reverence for the Almighty and replacing it with elitist scientism and technocracy.

I am NOT aiming to reify a prior age, but crying out for humility, reflection and renewal…and liberation from the anger, fear and hatred that spoils discourse and debate.

 

 

Pre-Election Insights and Prayers

Regardless of the outcome of the 2016 Presidential Election, our national experiment in virtue-based liberty is in a fragile and fraying state, with unprecedented private and public anger. Thoughtful women and men are distressed that the major parties offer two such deeply flawed candidates. Journalistic bias and agitation propaganda have replaced careful research and measured writing. Lost in all of the presidential chaos are the important local and state elections that immediately affect citizens where they live.

I offer these prayers and reflections as a cri de coeur – a cry of the heart – for divine mercy and decisive repentance and renewal in all of us. Underneath the public scandals focused on money, sex and power are deep moral and spiritual ambivalence, with various elites perverting ethical values for their own ideological agendas.

There are three insights and three prayers I invite all to consider and confess as we prepare the election and the aftermath.

Insight One: We are dehumanizing and disintegrating human identity and wholeness. When we ignore biological gender, separate sexual intimacy from marriage and fostering the next generation and reduce identity to current erotic impulses, we are not progressing past religious restrictions. We are actually regressing into primordial impulses that ruin health, oppress non-conforming people and hinder productive life. When we separate “personal morality” from “public policy”, arguing that one can be messed up in private and still lead effectively, we are destroying the foundations of the common good and true liberty. Everyone should bring their whole self to their work, and allow their values to inform their actions and policies. I am not advocating religious tests or totalitarian uniformity of adult relationships. I am asserting that healthy people make better leaders.

Our prayer: “O God, Creator of heaven and earth and fashioner of humankind, forgive our pride and rebellion. Forgive our attempts to improve on your design and destiny. Help us rediscover the dignity, equality and uniqueness of each person and desire for all others the responsibilities and rights we affirm for ourselves. By your grace, empower us for work that expresses neighborly love, creates value and helps generations yet unborn to flourish. Help us to realize that your moral precepts are for our good and any restrictions of our behaviors are for our protection and ultimate fulfillment. Amen.”

Insight Two: We are so ideologically polarized that we are often missing creative solutions for seemingly intractable problems. Economic growth and opportunity include private investments and wise public policies. Rapprochement with Islam and the West must engage both the historic mistakes of colonialism and the rapacious history of Islamic empires and jihadist movements. Peace in the Middle East will never come until Muslim leaders can say the words, “Israel in the national state of the Jewish people.” We can balance the budget and pay off our national debt in a generation, if we will stop seeing wise stewardship as “starving children” and insist on best practices for all that manage the public trust. Urban transformation requires mobilizing servant-leaders from all fields and includes personal transformation and systemic change. Will we roll up our sleeves and serve, or merely keep accusing others?

Our prayer: “O Lord, forgive our arrogance, thinking we could solve every problem with human engineering. You invite us to cry out for wisdom and you promise to bestow it generously, if we come with humility. The signs of divine wisdom include peace, justice, courage and love, fostering harmony and generating hope. Lord, we need the ‘wisdom to do justice’ that Solomon requested as we navigate so many difficult issues, most of which we have generated though our varied intentions and actions. Help us seek you, listen deeply to one another and discover new ways to help people and communities flourish. Amen.”

Insight Three: We need a fresh vision of what personal, local, and national flourishing look like, especially in a global world where we are blessed and informed by so many cultures. This is not wholesale abandonment of the first principles of America’s Declaration and Constitution. In fact, a reaffirmation of the deepest values that informed our founders will help us define citizenship, national identity and liberty in a rapidly changing world. We must reaffirm the virtues of personal responsibility, healthy families, hard work, civil and religious affiliation and local civic engagement. We will not always agree on every definition and policy, but shared vision helps us forge a preferred future.

Our prayer: “Gracious and loving God, you remind us that without vision we will lose restraint and without a sense of purpose, we often compromise our principles. Forgive us, merciful Lord, for all the competing fantasies, the dystopian and utopian visions that do not align with your kind and loving desires for us. Forgive our focus on momentary pleasures at the expense of the coming generations. Transform our shortsighted lusts into loving service. Help us strive for excellence without perfectionism, and principled living with true toleration for other perspectives. How we need your help as we find new common ground for the common good. Amen.”

Our presidents, governors and majors are not messiahs. The finest laws fail without personal and community virtue. The best of our human nature is often corrupted by the worst of our fallen state. All of these insights and prayers are mere words without a thorough spiritual awakening rooted in the good news of Jesus Christ. When confessing Christians repent of compromise and begin compassionate service for their neighbors, such integrity overflows and blesses those that do not have the same religious commitment. When the common good is understood, alliances are formed and people of conscience find ways to work together. Even while we (with civility) argue about our differences (and they do make a difference!), we can act sacrificially for our neighborhood and nation.

May God grant us courage, love and wisdom in these days. Today’s discipline is tomorrow’s destiny, for by divine design, our decisions matter.