As I observe our government and society, so obviously slipping into decline, as a historian, I cannot help but be reminded of the demise of the Roman Empire. Yes, I know; everyone and their mother tends to compare us to the Roman Empire when they are talking about our possible demise. But, for me (again, as a historian), it’s different. You see, I know the details; the things that most people are not even remotely aware of, which makes their comparison superficial at best. They are right to compare, but they don’t understand why they are right, exactly because they don’t know the details. And that is really the danger here – to know just enough history to make the comparison, while not being able to really answer why the comparison is valid.
The real truth is that we have three options at this moment in time as a nation; (1) continue as a republic, which will require that we fully censure the current occupant of the White House; (2) become an empire or dictatorship, which means that we would no longer be a republic because we failed to censure our current president; or (3) decline and fall, because we allowed the various forces and factions that are today present to tear us apart. Those are our options, period.
It is my sad belief that we will choose one of the latter two. Why? Because there are so many in this great nation who are actually advocating and agitating for exactly one or the other. When certain lawmakers, media personnel, and others so slovenly cast what little is left of their integrity before the altar of Trump and religious fanaticism – these are advocating for the second choice. When these same people, especially so-called religious “leaders”, call for a civil war (and what they really mean is a “holy war”) – these are agitating for the third option.
I can confidently state that, in neither case are any of these people remaining true to the ideals, ethics, and morals that they were taught growing up, and which were supposedly instilled within them by their parents, grandparents, teachers, preachers, and others. They have abandoned their principles for temporal gain. And THAT is a tragedy!
I remember when I was in high school, having first been truly introduced to the world by taking a world history class. I emphasize that it opened up the entire world for me. I learned things that I would have never learned anywhere else. And not just world history, but ancient history and just enough ancient philosophy so that the seed was planted and the understanding that an entirely different world than our present one once existed, which is something I was never able to forget. My teacher even wrote in my annual for that year that if I remained true to my ideals (as partly developed from this very class), I would go far. That resonated with me, and is also something that I never forgot.
Don’t get me wrong. Many of my ideals also stemmed from my understanding of the Christian religion, into which I was brought up and carefully nurtured. Yes, ideals such as “love thy neighbor” and “turn the other cheek” and “do not judge, lest ye be judged”, etc. And, perhaps most of all, not to keep company with those who refuse to live moral and ethical lives. For, to do so would only invite their influence upon myself.
The frank fact of the matter is that I still adhere to these principles – both religious and philosophical – even as a Pagan. I dare say that I adhere to them somewhat better than most Christians do, which is an indictment of the fanatical religious in and of itself. Yes, there was also a time when I strayed into religious fanaticism. I am thankful that being reminded of these principles was, in part, what pulled me back out of it. That reminder taking the form of studying once again ancient Roma and the destructive, fanatical, forces that caused her demise. I realized that I was just like them, and I could not condone continuing in that mode.
Today, I watch with great sadness as so many others, who do not have the benefit of my particular education, take themselves and others down a path toward potential national oblivion, as they are led by religious fanatics and political conservatives, who care nothing for this great nation, but only for themselves. Personal gain is their goal, whether one wishes to wake up to this or not.
In my observation, over many years, the side of “good” almost always plays the weakest hand, and it is often somewhat of a miracle when it wins. The forces of evil always have more than enough resources and support – that is just the truth. And the laws always, somehow, allow them to promote their agenda.
We, as a nation, are presently in danger of allowing the religious fanatics, allied with conservative politicians, to take over everything. We are in danger of setting up a dictatorship – establishing an “emperor” or a “king”, to rule over us, supported by his religious minions.
I am also trained in theology, and I know a misuse of religion when I see it. Religion is misused when part of the people are told that they are of the devil when they don’t support the current president. Religion is misused when some people are told that they have to adhere to the ethics and morals of the supposed “majority” religion. Religion is misused when it is utilized in support of war, especially so-called “holy war”. I could go on and on. The point being that this is exactly what our founders sought to keep us from having to endure. They saw how medieval “God-supported” monarchs functioned, and how they treated their subjects. They sought to spare us from this type of tyranny. Yet, here we are, essentially asking for a king!
Do we want a Byzantine king/emperor, with his courts of eunuchs? Do we want to destroy all traces of our past heritage – statues and other art, as well as architecture, so that we can say that there was no history prior to the present religious/political movement. That is where we are literally headed, if we don’t stop the cancer right here, right now.
I do fear that it is already too late – with so-called religious “leaders” fomenting a civil war if Trump is not reelected; with so called “historians” distorting our history, twisting it into the history of Israel; and with conservative politicians spouting ethics that they certainly do not adhere to themselves, in many cases. None of our founders would have acquiesced to any of this.
What that means, for people like me, is that we have to watch our nation crumble or transform itself into something hideous and unlike what the founders intended, while doggedly remaining true to the ideals that were implanted within us all those years ago. Yes, that happened in ancient times too. Oh, people adjusted to the new reality, but they retained themselves, their own souls, regardless.
I remember reading long ago (the source of this has long been forgotten, and I have not been able to find it again) about an ancient Roman aristocrat in Gaul during the time when barbarian invasions were sweeping across the empire. This important Roman citizen received a letter one day from a Germanic chieftain, explaining that he was on his way to take the Roman’s property as his own. There would be no debate or resistance. Either submit, or die. If the Roman submitted, he would be allowed to remain on “his” property there as a serf, and, thus, would be allowed to live. Otherwise, he would be executed. The Roman considered the proposal carefully, as Romans were accustomed to doing. He reasoned, in the end, that it would be best to welcome the chieftain when he arrived and submit to his authority. After all, what would be the point of dying, since he would still be allowed to remain on “his” property, even under servitude. He saw which way the wind was blowing, and chose life. But, he didn’t have to give up his integrity, nor his ethics, in so doing – just some of his dignity. It was a fair trade, he thought.
But, that was in the West. In the East, things took an entirely different turn, with emperors who foisted their will upon everyone, fashioning laws calling for the torture and execution of anyone who followed the old religions – and even worse. Here, practically everything that even hinted at the past was systematically destroyed. And if it could not be destroyed, it was transformed into something useful to the new religion – Christianity. And there could be no real compromise.
THIS – one or the other, or both at the same time – culminating into the stagnation of medievalism, with the whole world potentially splitting up again into petty states, always squabbling with and warring against one another, until the light of knowledge and reason once again comes to the fore, may well be our fate – our future. But, what a price to pay! Not a fair trade; not at all.