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Posts Tagged ‘Decline of America’

The Liberty Bell

Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.

  • Leviticus 25:10

“Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” That passage from Leviticus 25:10 is inscribed around the top of the famous Liberty Bell, a bell that hung in what was then known as the Pennsylvania State House, which we now know as Independence Hall, the place of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. 

Although the bell was cast, or, more precisely, recast in 1753, some 23 years before the Declaration was signed, the inscription from Leviticus reflects the colonists’ understanding of the intimate connection between political and economic liberty and Word of God.   Many Americans, including many American church goers, would be surprised to hear that there is any connection between the Bible and political and economic liberty, but the colonists of the 18th century were not so ignorant as we are today.     

In his introduction to Democracy in America, Alexis De Tocqueville wrote, “Among the new object that attracted my attention during my stay in the United States, none struck my eye more vividly than the equality of conditions” (1). Later in the Introduction, De Tocqueville observed, “Christianity, which has rendered all men equal before God, will not be loath to see all citizens equal before the law.” It was the Reformed Christianity of the colonists and early Americans applied to politics that served as the philosophical basis for Americans’ remarkable equality before the law.

The idea of equality before the law was not some idea hatched in the New World either.  Rather, it was a product of the Protestant Reformation brought to America by the Puritans, whose arrival in America, not the American Revolution, De Tocqueville viewed as America’s point of departure.  Writing in the introduction of their translation of Democracy in America, Harvey C. Mansfield and Delba Winthrop wrote, “Americans did not make themselves democrats but came to America as democrats.”

The American republic is a product, not of Greece and Rome, but of the Biblical Christianity preached and believed by the Protestant Reformers and their spiritual descendants. 

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Detail from The Tower of Babel by Peter Brugel, 1563.

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

  • Genesis 1:1

On March 24, 2021, ABC News ran the headline “Rachel Levine confirmed by Senate, become highest ranking openly transgender official.“ 

It wasn’t many years ago that such a thing – the Senate confirmation of a transgendered person for high government office – would have been impossible.  But in 2021 America, Levine’s confirmation was inevitable. 

A month earlier, the conservative website Revolver ran an article correctly predicting Levine’s confirmation.  The piece stated that, “Rachel Levine’s imminent confirmation proves Transgenderism is America’s new state religion.   The article went on to note,

Fifty years ago, the cult of transgenderism didn’t even exist. Merely ten years ago, it was still so obscure most Americans knew nothing about it. But over the past decade, transgenderism has been accepted en masse by the centers of power in America, which are now imposing them on the whole country. The core parts of its doctrine are easy to list:

  • Physical sex and “gender identity” are completely unrelated to one another.
  • Being “cisgender” and “transgender” are equally ordinary.
  • Gender is “fluid” and there are far more genders than merely “male” and “female.” In fact, there may be infinite genders.
  • Gender roles are socially constructed, and there is no biological basis for behavioral differences between males and females.
  • Despite the above, a person can also innately know that they were assigned the “wrong” gender, even if this is based on their failure to conform to gender norms that are, supposedly, only social constructs.
  • A person can know he is transgender at any age. It is completely normal for teenagers, preteens, and even toddlers to become “transgender,” with potentially invasive treatments like puberty-blocking pills and even surgery.
  • A person has the right to choose their own pronouns, to demand that others “state their pronouns,” and to demand punishment when their pronouns are not respected.
  • Not only may a person change his name at any time, but it is “deadnaming” to use or even mention a prior name.

By this time, you may be wondering why, in a post about the Biblical account of the creation of man, I’m writing about transgenderism.  My reason for doing so stems from the stated purpose of this series.  As I wrote in Part 1, “It is my intention in this series to apply the revealed history found in Genesis to the current moral, political, scientific, and economic problems of our day, refuting the contemporary confusion and setting forth the mind of God on these issues.” 

Nowhere is the confusion of our age more evident than in the matter of transgenderism, and nowhere is the mind of God in more desperate need of application. 

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The Titanic sinks, April 15,1912.

For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the LORD his God, as was the heart of his father David.

  • 1 Kings 11:4

Just yesterday, I watched a video – confession, I binge watched several videos – about the sinking of the Titanic.  It’s remarkable after well over a century – this April will mark the 109th anniversary of the sinking of the great ocean liner – the fame of the ship and of its disastrous end show no sign of abating.  Doubtless, it’s the most famous maritime disaster ever. 

Some years ago, I listened to a classroom lecture by Gordon Clark, dating, if I recall correctly, from sometime in the 1950’s.  Clark, remarking on the youth of his students, commented that they hadn’t even been born at the time the Titanic sank. Clark himself was a few months shy of his 10th birthday when Titanic went down in the icy waters of the north Atlantic on that fateful morning of April 15, 1912.       

Shipwrecks have always had a certain fascination for me.  Were you to press me for why that is, I suppose I would have to answer that it’s not so much the shipwreck itself that I find fascinating, but the reaction of the people involved in it.  Life and death situations have a way of revealing the true character of those on board.  And shipwrecks, because they tend to play out over longer periods of time than some other types of disasters, give greater opportunity for the faith, bravery, good judgment, foolishness, and cowardice of people to show themselves.

One of the Titanic videos I watched was titled “Titanic History/What caused the Titanic to Break Up?” Years ago, when I first heard about the Titanic, no one talked about the ship splitting in two.  Maybe this was something known to those who studied the disaster closely, I don’t know.  But for decades, it was not generally known to the public that, before sinking, the ship split in two. . 

One of the points that the presenter made in the video was that, although the breakup came suddenly and visibly, there was a lot happening to the structure of the ship on the inside as it went down.  It was these unseen stresses on the ship’s structure ultimately resulted in the breakup, even if the forces at work were not obvious to onlookers before it happened. 

In reflecting on this idea – the notion that powerful, unseen forces can be at work for some time before producing very visible results – it’s easy to see how it can have a wider application.  In this case, I’m thinking how unseen, yet powerful forces can put stresses on the structure of a nation for years, decades, maybe even longer, prior to their resulting in a major and visible catastrophe of some sort.

Take the nation of Israel, for example.  The kingdom hit its peak under the Solomon.  But even while Israel was at the height of its wealth and power, forces were at work which would split the nation shortly after Solomon’s death. 

Solomon’s policy of forced labor and heavy taxation to pay for his public works projects was very much resented by the people.  He also split the nation into administrative districts that paid little heed to traditional tribal boundaries.  There was the longstanding north-south rivalry that, while remaining subdued during the reigns of David and Solomon, nevertheless was present and which would reassert itself under Solomon’s successor Rehoboam.

There was a fourth, and most important, factor in the breakup of Israel after the reign of Solomon: idolatry.  In 1 Kings 11 we read,

But King Solomon loved many foreign women, as well as the daughter of Pharaoh: women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites – from the nations of whom the LORD had said to the children of Israel, “You shall not intermarry with them, nor they with you.  Surely they will turn away your hearts after their gods.”  Solomon clung to these in love.  And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart.  For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the LORD his God, as was the heart of his father David.

As a result of Solomon’s sin, his lack of faith in the Lord and his turning to idols, God told him that he would tear the kingdom from him.   

Scripture doesn’t record for us what the Israelite public thought of Solomon’s idolatry.  If I were forced to conjecture what the public’s attitude was toward Solomon as his idolatry become more and more obvious, it seems to me that most people probably paid it little heed.  There was no public outcry against it that I am aware of noted in Scripture.  This is not surprising.  After all, Israel’s prospects had never looked brighter in the 500 or so years since Joshua had led them into the promised land.  The nation was numerous, economically prosperous, and militarily powerful.  It must has looked to most Israelites as if the future was even brighter.  And if there was a little idolatry going on in high places, well, no one is perfect. 

Let’s fast forward to our own time.  Do any of the lessons from Titanic or Israel – hidden forces at work for a period of time which result in big, visible breakups – apply to America? The answer, I think, is yes.

Our nation traces its roots to Puritan settlers from England in the 17th century.  Although at the time of the American Revolution, the colonists were remarkably homogenous – 98% of the population was Protestant – there were still significant divisions present.  The most obvious of these was – in an interesting recapitulation of the fault lines found in ancient Israel – the north/south split over slavery. 

In the 19th century, the homogeneity of the nation began to change as waves of Roman Catholic, Eastern European and Jewish immigrants brought large numbers of people to America that did not share the history, religion or political and economic beliefs with the old-stock American’s descended from the nation’s founders.  The 20th and 21st century have seen the growth in the Muslim population in America.  As was the case with the Catholic and Jewish immigration in the 19th century, Muslim immigrants brought with them a religion with a philosophy of politics and economics that was at odds with a free constitutional republic.  It’s not that Roman Catholics, Jews Muslims – and, to be fair, one must add Orthodoxists – are inferior people, but their ideas are inferior and incompatible with republican government.  

In today’s world where diversity is become the pearl of great price and more to be prized that all other virtues, any suggestion that diversity may not automatically be a strength, but can, in fact, prove to be a weakness, is dismissed as unacceptable.  But look at Solomon’s wives.  They were a diverse lot, but they were not a source of strength, but rather one of weakness.  His Moabite, Hittite, Edomite and Egyptian wives “turned his heart after other gods,” the major factor in the breakup of the United Kingdom.    

At the same time waves of non-Protestant immigration was taking place, American Protestantism itself was succumbing to the forces of irrationalism, liberalism and feminism.  Had American Protestants remained true to the faith of their forefathers, perhaps they could have served as counterbalance to the increasing religious and ethnic diversity in American and kept the nation on an even keel. 

But just as Solomon’s unfaithfulness allowed once hidden divisions within Israel to rise to the surface after his death, so too has the faithlessness of American Protestants led the collapse of any basis for national unity in the United States. We’re no longer so much a nation with a shared history and set of beliefs as we are a warring mob of people that happen to live in the same geographical vicinity to one another.  In the Year of Our Lord 2021, it appears to this observer that the rule of law in America is, if not fully dead, very nearly so and that there is nothing to stop its ultimate demise. If and when that day comes, can America be long for this world?  Jesus said that a kingdom divided against itself will not stand.  If true, and it is, how can America survive?

Earlier I mentioned that what I find most compelling about shipwrecks is that they provide opportunity for people to reveal their true character.  On Titanic there were heroes and cowards.  Not often mentioned were the brave stokers and engineers who stayed at their posts in the bowels of the ship long after it was obvious that Titanic was going down.  Their actions helped keep the ship’s power on and wireless going to the very end. There were cowards, too.  One man dressed as a woman to secure a place on lifeboat he otherwise would not have been able to board.       

Faith was found among Titanic’s passengers as well. Well known is the account of the ship’s orchestra playing “Nearer My God to Thee.”  Then there’s the less well-known but very compelling account of Scottish evangelist John Harper, who preached the Gospel to his final convert just before drowning in the Atlantic’s icy waters.   

The metaphor “ship of state” dates all the way back to Plato’s Republic, and is certainly an apt turn of phrase for this post. Just as ships are large and powerful objects that require a steady hand to steer them, so to do states.  After a large disaster in either case, there can be a lot of second guessing of the people in charge.  You can play the “what if” game with Titanic just as you can with America. 

What if Titanic’s designers had extended the watertight compartments a deck or two higher?, what if the ship wasn’t traveling at top speed?, what if the lookouts had spotted the iceberg 30 seconds sooner?, what if the iceberg hadn’t just nicked the six and final compartment? 

What if slavery had never been established in the colonies?, what if American Protestants had not abandoned the Calvinism of their colonial forefathers?, what if America had a wiser immigration policy in the 19th and 20th centuries?

We can play “what if” all we want, but obviously none of that is going to change either the fate of the Titanic or the present reality of our nation. 

As did Titanic, America is taking on water, and fast.  As Christians, how do we respond?  Do we ignore what’s going on around us and seek to rearrange the deck chairs?  Do we panic?  Do we play the coward hoping to survive through dishonest means?  No to all that.  What we do is what we’re called to do, to walk in our present circumstances in a manner worthy of the Lord.  And what does that look like?  Read what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.”

That’s our job. Yours and mine.      

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Another week, another American city torched by “mostly peaceful protesters.” Police in riot gear clear a park during clashes with protesters outside the Kenosha County Courthouse late Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in Kenosha, Wis. | David Goldman/AP Photo

“In the second century of the Christian Era, the empire of Rome comprehended the fairest part of the earth, and the most civilized portion of mankind.” With this sentence did Edward Gibbon open his famous Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.  Gibbon’s work, first published in 1776, is a sweeping work of history, following the fortunes of the Roman Empire from its height in the second century AD to the fall of Constantinople in 1453.  

It may come as a surprise to some people to find that the Roman Empire lasted into the 15th century.  When we think about the fall of Rome, we tend to focus on the collapse of the Western Empire in AD 476 and forget that Rome had a vibrant eastern portion that did not fall until its capital, Constantinople, fell to the Turks nearly seven hundred years later.  We call this eastern empire Byzantium, but the Byzantines did not call themselves Byzantines.  The term “Byzantine Empire” did not come into use until well after the fall of Constantinople.  No, the people we call Byzantines did not use this term.  They called themselves Romans.   

After the spilling of much ink, Gibbon concludes his work with a chapter in which he discusses what he believes to be the four main causes of the fall of Rome.  He lists them as: 1) The injuries of nature, 2) the hostile attacks of the Barbarians and Christians, 3) the use and the abuse of the materials, and 4) the domestic quarrels of the Romans.  Was Gibbon right in his assessment?  That is for another time to discuss.

Although Gibbon’s work is likely the first to come to mind when people think about decline and fall histories, his was not the first work to describe the chain of events leading from civilizational greatness to civilizational collapse.  As this author has mentioned before in this space, the Old Testament can be viewed, at least in part, as the history of the decline and fall of ancient Israel, or the Hebrew Republic as the 19th century American Presbyterian writer E.C. Wines called it. 

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Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire; strangers devour your land in your presence; and it is desolate as overthrown by strangers. Isaiah 1:7

“…because of Western civilization’s love of material comforts, there is an unwillingness to face unpleasant realities.”

  • Gordon H. Clark, A Christian View of Men and Things, p.53

“‘How did you go bankrupt?’ Bill asked.  ‘Two ways,’ Mike said.  ‘Gradually and then suddenly.’“ So wrote Ernest Hemmingway in his novel The Sun Also Rises

Although Hemmingway’s book was a work fiction, what he said about bankruptcy is a phenomenon many of us have seen in real life.  Individuals and organizations that appear to be in robust financial health experience sudden financial collapse. 

Perhaps the poster child for sudden financial ruin is Lehman Brothers, a famous 150-year-old Wall Street investment bank.  Having earned record profits during the height of the real estate bubble from 2005-2007, early in the morning on Monday, September 15,2008, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy.   

The collapse of Lehman Brothers to this day is still the largest bankruptcy in American history. 

Gradually, then suddenly.  That same pattern can be seen in the Scriptures as well.  In Deuteronomy 32:35 we read, “Their foot shall slide in due time.”   Some will recognize this as the text on which Jonathan Edwards based his famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Wrote Edwards,

It [the saying “their foot shall slide in due time”] implies, that they were always exposed to sudden unexpected destruction.  As he that walks in slippery places is every moment liable to fall, he cannot foresee one moment whether he shall stand or fall the next; and when he does fall, he falls at once without warning: Which is also expressed in ‘Surely thou didst set them in slippery places; thou castedst them down into destruction:  How are they brought into desolation as in a moment? (Psalm 73:18-19).

Sodom and Gomorrah met with destruction in a single day. 

After centuries of rebellion against God, Jerusalem was sacked in a single day. 

In Daniel’s time, the mighty city of Babylon was overthrown in a single day. 

In Revelation, the voice from heaven prophesies that the destruction of Babylon the Great will come in a single day.  The kings of the earth are said to lament her destruction, crying out, “Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city!  For in one hour your judgment has come” (Revelation 18:10).  

In all of these cases, the sudden final destruction was really the end result of a process that had been going on for many years.   

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