by ProfDave, ©2022

(Aug. 24, 2022) — When I wrote on “Guns and People,” I concluded that gun violence was a people problem, not a gun problem.  Unfortunately, “the people” are a lot harder to address than guns.  Banning guns looks as if you are doing something, even though its effect on illegal gun usage would be negligible.  But banning people is absurd; we have to change them.  Can anyone but God do that?  Can We the People Recover?

I do not mean to imply that this is the “twilight of the gods” and all hope is gone.  The 70% of the nation that think we are headed in the wrong direction may be right, but a U-turn may still be possible.  Indeed, something happened after we started writing “Guns and People” that could signal a change in direction in one small corner of value.  We did not arrive in our contemporary malaise by one sweeping tsunami, but by incremental drops of rain – gradual shifts of attitude, one man, one woman, one child at a time.  Healing must come the same way.

The first stage in recovery is to recognize that something is wrong and it is ourselves, not someone else.  Circumstances and other people may have a part, but we can only fix ourselves.  If enough of us fix our own side of the street amazing things could be accomplished.  We need to recapture truth and reality, we need to repent of the wrongs that we have done and forgive the wrongs done to us, we need to substitute humility and good will for pride and contempt, and we need to find the moral strength to do the right thing.

Can the People Recover?  Any recovery program begins with coming out of denial and dealing with truth.  But what in tarnation is truth?  Three generations of students have been gleefully taught by their university professors that there is no such thing as truth.  1) Truth is unknowable – you can always argue it away; 2) truth is biased – your truth is not my truth; and 3) truth is subjective, what you will it to be; therefore, there is no such thing as truth.  Q.E.D.  How is that working for us?  Earth continues to revolve around the sun, we continue to breathe O2, and school children still add 2+2 and get 4 (as do banks).

To make any progress in solving our national and cultural problems we need to return to a belief in truth.  There must be a right way.  1) Truth (with a capital T) exists whether we know it or not and all of us should be seeking it.  2) The real and the true exist whether we agree or not.  You and I need to be humble enough to distinguish between our opinions and wishes and reality as it actually is.  Only thus can we negotiate a way forward.  3) Your ideals may be important – even more important than things as they currently are – but not to be confused with current reality unless you are God.  Sane people know they are not God and deal with reality rationally, building the future on the present.  Imagining does not make it so.  Successful vision – such as created this nation – works with things and people as they really are.  Yes, Virginia, Truth exists and we need to honestly seek it.

Can we recover Truth?  We must believe that the truth, aka reality, actually exists beyond ourselves.  Then we must honestly seek it.  Honestly?  That is another facet of truth, isn’t it?  If we know the truth and lie about it, is it still truth?  If we say we know the truth when we do not, is it still truth?  Am I just guessing?  Not only do we need people who tell the truth, but we need people who are honest about the state of their own ignorance.  When we are honest, we can recover from our addictions, our hurts and our delusions.  When the people become honest, they can begin to recover their greatness.  Hate to quote you-know-who, but we could really “make America great again.”

Perhaps the hardest truth to recover is the truth about ourselves.  Not the least of the mistakes of our modern education system is its obsession with self-esteem.  How did that work for you?  It taught you to feel bad about not feeling good about yourself, right? But it did not teach you how to actually be good. Fortunately, biblical faith counteracts some of the poison.  If you think you are the captain of your fate you will end – predictably – on the rocks.  You need a pilot who knows the channel.  You need a foundation in other people and in your Maker.  The true truth: you are not God, you are fallible, you are mortal and you have a tendency to do the wrong thing – for which you need discipline and forgiveness.  The greatest honesty of all is honesty with ourselves.

Recovery of our nation, our society, our culture begins one part, one person at a time.  Renewal will not come of Air Force One.  If the nation is not ready for it, the right President or the right Supreme Court will only stir up trouble.  Nevertheless, every one of us has the duty to do the next right thing – yes, vote for best – and make ourselves as ready as we can.

Once again, our society will not be revived on the basis of virtual reality or wistful thinking. Renewal will depend on men and women who refused to live by lies, who speak the truth in love despite being “persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” They will be ridiculed, shouted down, and canceled. But they will be true. They will be faithful to their wives, their children, their God and their country. They will teach truth to their children and their neighbors. And little by little they will change the future.

For Western civilization to survive, it needs to recognize and deal with its wrongs.  You and I need to deal with ours, too.  We have all been hurt – and “hurt people hurt people.”  Probably every people on earth has been, at one time or another, oppressed – and has oppressed others.  Dividing the world into victims and oppressors is moral nonsense – the line between good and evil runs through the heart of each of us.  We all have blood on our hands.  Making endless lists of grievances for reciprocal revenge can only end in our own destruction.  Recovery comes only through repentance and forgiveness.  We must identify and confess the ways in which we have harmed each other, ask forgiveness and take steps to do better.  Simultaneously we need to forgive those who have offended us – unconditionally.  Resentment and revenge are destructive; repentance and forgiveness are constructive.  Will we be a living or a dying society?

Every history of every people is coated, like a river bottom, with layer upon layer of sediment.  There are fossils buried in that sediment.  Along with cultural achievements are crimes and tragedies.  Forgetting that all peoples are fallen human beings, we can blame those ugly events and traditions on other peoples alive today.  This is prejudice, pure and simple.  To the extent that those crimes are still alive, like a crocodile hiding in the mud, the owner of that mud needs to kill it.  If it is dead, we need to forgive and to join in burying it properly.  No Anglo-American alive today holds slaves or has knowingly dispossessed a native American.  We need to stop hating each other over past matters. 

I cannot change what my ancestors may have done.  We cannot fully know their world and their hearts, but we can look to our own. We cannot change the past, but we can change the future.

Prejudice is still a problem.  Individuals we may like or dislike based on their observed character and behavior – that is not prejudice, but discernment.  Sub-cultural features may be agreeable or disagreeable, functional or dysfunctional, but “all men [and women] are created equal.”  Let “privilege” spread to all and the successful strategies of “supremacy” be adopted by people of color.  We must not allow ourselves to judge anyone by their skin tone, sex, origin or any other classification without knowing their character.  This is a personal and societal evil of which we need to repent whenever we become conscious of it – both white and black, male and female, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor.  Let that healing balm spread outward from those who practice this ethic.  Christian values demand it but can you do it without Jesus inside?

We all recognize that peace is better than conflict as love is better than hate. How can we defuse the conflict and hatred brewing in our society — and in ourselves? Social reconciliation is a multi-step process, but it begins with you and me. First, I need to examine myself. What are the resentments, fears and prejudices that are stirring within me? How have I offended or exploited others? Who? Never mind whose fault they are: I am the one who can do something about them. Second, I need to do my part — to clear my side of the street. I need to ask forgiveness of those I have harmed, doing what I can to make it right, and I need to forgive those who have harmed me. Important: their reaction is none of my affair. I find peace and good will on my own account. The opposite party may still be opposite, may never agree with me, nor may I be able to restore a safe relationship with them, but I will feel only good will towards them and my bit of America will be moving in the right direction.

Lincoln invoked the quoted words during the Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863

Shall “government of the people, by the people, for the people” perish from the earth?  Is it on the way out?  Can “the people” recover?  Somewhere along the line, if we are to recover our health and American liberties – as individuals and as a society – we will need to acknowledge that some things are right and some are wrong.  We all make mistakes.  Some are dangerous – like driving the wrong way on the freeway – some are just dumb.  We often make wrong choices, too.  Some are criminal, some ruin our lives and the lives of those who love us.  In a free society we must allow wrong choices – to a point – but we cannot pretend that they are right or without consequences.  Society needs to be kind to those who miss the optimum paths, but not to encourage destructive behavior.

Perhaps the most destructive attitude of all, glorified in our day, is pride – correctly identified by the church as a deadly sin.  “Black Pride,” “Pride Month,” “Proud Boys” and “self-esteem” are examples.  A “positive self-image” is a border-line trait that needs to be balanced by proper humility and regard for other people.  Pride makes us dismissive of others, envious, jealous and hateful.  Instead of boosting our own contribution to society, we seek to minimize those of others.  “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you” (Romans 12:3).  By tearing down others, we demean ourselves and soil our own nests.

The third stage, true social reconciliation, may or may not be possible.  It depends on two parties recognizing their own stuff and making amends to each other.  We may not agree, but we will understand better.  We may still hate the ideas, but we – at least some of us – can cease to hate the persons.  We can stop using sarcasm, personal attacks and invective.  We can stop taking out our internal bitterness on others.  Your father abused you, your mother abandoned you, you were bullied and raped?  Your ancestors were driven from their homes?  You can stop taking it out on the police.  Clearing away the poison gas of resentment, we have a better chance of real solutions.  When that happens, America will get a little better.

Instead of pride – demeaning one another – how much better to lift up one another, recognize the contributions of diverse classes and ethnicities, and learn from one another.  Humility means to take a realistic view of ourselves and of others.  As we honor one another as equal in the sight of our Creator, hatred and conflict will moderate.  We will find that we can, in fact, just get along.  Society, economy, politics and just about everything would go much better without pride!  We might actually become something to be proud of.  Ooops!

Do you think that pride is a good thing? Proud people think they are better than other people — or at least pretend they are. This makes them imperious (dictators and demagogues). Big brother knows best. They give orders, not take them. They give instructions, not take them. Proud people don’t need to listen. Pride makes us unteachable — thus stupid. We do not discuss or debate, we trade slogans. We don’t need to listen to reason or facts. We are superior. Where our case is weak, we yell louder, mob the courthouse (or the judge’s home), censor or cancel the “deplorables.” Lesser folk who disagree with us do not deserve a place at the table, much less to be heard. We know better than the ash heap of history. To that point, pride makes us think we are wiser than the collective wisdom of mankind. We repeat their mistakes and reject their lessons. We think we are smarter than God. Hmmm. Is that a good thing?

Perhaps we should build on the past instead of burning it? For four millennia successful civilizations have followed roughly the Ten Commandments. Whether spoken by the Almighty Maker of Heaven and Earth or evolved by collective experience, it behooves us to pay attention lest we be cursed to repeat past failures. For one thing, we need to revisit the concept of right and wrong. We tend to use the words in two ways: practical and moral. Some things work and some things do not. There is a right orbit for earth, a right tilt and a right rotation. Only one end of the cord will go in the socket. That is objective/practical right and wrong. In Narnia there was a “deep magic” that undergirded that world. Is there perhaps a “deep magic” — a moral law — that holds together human society? Could it be that the two sorts of right and dysfunctional, good and evil, are related? Perhaps, just perhaps, we are not wiser than our ancestors?

Can “the People” Recover? The difficulty, of course, is discerning right and wrong in a pluralistic society. Was it easier when we held a Judeo-Christian consensus? Perhaps. Minorities and “wrongdoers” may have been unfairly stigmatized. In a pure democracy, the majority always wins. Our mixed democracy constitution takes elaborate measures to protect the rights of the minority. Do traffic lights discriminate against the color-blind? Should we take them down? In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. Should we put out everyone’s eyes to make us all equal? Silly examples, perhaps, but they may apply to current controversy. It is one thing to permit departure from what is “right”; it is another thing to discourage what is “right.” In a land of moral chaos, we need to protect those who still have morals — even if we disagree with them.

For example, someone suggested doing away with the nuclear family as an instrument of white privilege and supremacy.  It seems that intact nuclear families are relatively more common among the European-American than the African-American population (the opposite was true in the 50’s).  The only “white” thing about it is that it works – raising relatively healthy and productive children in any population.  Why not admit that it is the right way to do family and teach it to our children of all colors as a life objective?  True, many children are not in intact families, or may be unable to build one, but every fifth-grader needs to know what right and healthy is – and what choices lead away from it.  An instrument of white supremacy?  Baloney.  But those who pursue it will be supreme regardless of their color.

Optimum human flourishing can be objectively known. Moral law, in its broadest outlines, is consistent across culture and religion — whether received by revelation, found in nature, recorded in history or “discovered” by social science. All sorts of sexual relationships are possible but only one safely continues the species. Different kinds of marriage have been tried but permanent, exclusive monogamy has the best record for women’s rights. We have experienced a variety of family structures, but social science has found that children thrive best when raised to adulthood by the biological pair who gave them birth. Not everyone lives in an ideal relationship, marriage or family — whether intentionally or unintentionally, by choice or by tragedy. But we can know what is good.

The Giver of moral law is good by definition – whether you accept His existence and authority or not.  Nature and human experience agree in equating the good with what the Giver calls good.  It just is.  Are the Ten Commandments right because God said so or did God say so because they are right?  Yes.  Again, alternatives have been tried but they do not work well.  “Thou shalt not kill” or murder, war, genocide, infanticide, human sacrifice?  “Thou shalt not commit adultery” or unfaithfulness, rape, incest, trafficking, prostitution?  “Thou shalt not steal” or robbery, looting, confiscation?  “Thou shalt not bear false witness” or fraud, scamming, deceit, slander?  “Thou shalt not covet” or lust, envy, greed, oppression?  Good or evil?  

David W. Heughins (“ProfDave”) is Adjunct Professor of History at Nazarene Bible College. He holds a BA from Eastern Nazarene College and a PhD in history from the University of Minnesota. He is the author of (2020). He is a Vietnam veteran and is retired, living with his daughter and three grandchildren in Connecticut.

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  1. Good article…
    PRIDE… goeth before a fall… (Scripture)
    TRUTH… The first article or item of the “whole armor of God” in fighting “Spiritual Warfare” is to have “your loins girt about with TRUTH…” (Ephesians 6:10 – 18)
    Without TRUTH… you are naked before your enemy… without TRUTH… you have chosen the Father of Lies as your master… without TRUTH… there is no standard; therefore anything goes… until we stand in “His Presence…”