Good Christian men
14 August 2017
A family friend of my parents’ generation, a lawyer and a solid Presbyterian churchman long in Maryland (where he worked, during the years I knew him best, on behalf of people requiring government income assistance because of disabilities), posted a link to this article published in Texas, where he now lives: ‘Dallas Can Learn from Others As It Considers How to Address Its Confederate Monuments.’ The Dallas article and my friend’s Facebook post came on Saturday, as marches and violent clashes between white nationalists and anti-fascist activists were happening in Charlottesville, Virginia — events whose original cause is supposed to be the city’s decision to remove a prominent equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate states’ commanding general in the American Civil War, 1860–64.
As I did a couple of weeks ago, I’m making this a little record of my own comments left on someone else’s Facebook post. In this case, my comments, written yesterday, were not a little florid and wordy — they were a rant, in short. So far they’ve had no response from my generally wise and dignified older friend.
My comments react rather to the timing of his post than to the content of the article, which I don’t think I read before jumping in. It’s an interesting article, and maybe deserves discussion somewhere. But that won’t be here for the moment. My comments’ turn owes mostly to his appending to the link these adapted lines from Abraham Lincoln:
I say this about preserving or removing monuments to Southern heroes: “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy [monuments to Southern heroes]. If I could save the Union without [removing any monuments] I would do it, and if I could save it by [removing all the monuments] I would do it; and if I could save it by [removing] some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I [would] do about [monuments to Southern heroes], and [people offended by them], I [would] do because I believe it helps to save the Union …”
[Please forgive me borrowing a lot of your language Mr. President.]
With what degree of seriousness and what degree of humor my friend meant that, it’s not clear to me. I don’t think it’s necessary to read it as if being pronounced by a sorrowful, saintly President Lincoln, the figure of cruder national legend. At any rate, my response has its own mix of seriousness and humor without consideration for whatever irony, say, my friend may have intended (if any) in calling Lincoln forth. I wrote:
I don’t know whether Lincoln was right to regard preserving the Union as a matter of highest principle, worthy of so much loss, his own life one of thousands upon thousands in the bargain. My forebears of the time all fought against him according to their own principles; they, I’m fairly confident, were wrong at least in their principles, if not in fighting. What I do know with clarity is that those statues of Lee et al. aren’t just monuments to men (who may indeed have been great in the ways we like men of storied pasts to have been great), they’re monuments to the long bloody defense of an order that had come to depend utterly for its prosperity, through the course of a couple of centuries, on maintenance of the useful idea that a whole class of men and women made in God’s image were something less than that and could be handled — bred, barned, traded — accordingly, under the law, an extraordinary flourishing of post-Enlightenment, proto-industrial-society American state and national law, a great crooked civilizational pinnacle on which we look back now, you and I, and sigh. In my own judgment there isn’t and never has been much Christianity in America, so I’m only daydreaming here, but Christians have always known that idols must be overthrown: if we were Christians, we wouldn’t tolerate monuments to that twisted civilization to which we’re heirs, that idol thrown up as affront to and announcement of independence from our Maker, another day. — Me, though, I love them, and would be deeply saddened to see them go. Maybe Abraham Lincoln is the prophet-martyr I really want, too, in the end.
An hour later I came back and added this:
What does Paul say he regards anything he has to be worth losing for the sake of? To know Christ, to be united to him, to have a share in his life. What have we at our most pious and courageous, in our time and place, with holy martyr Abraham, learned to say by recitation that everything — our own lives and others’, especially perhaps less-fortunate others’ but for some of us our very children’s lives — should be considered expendable in order to gain? Why, the preservation of this civilizational package created out of the contest of European trading empires in the 18th and 19th centuries, with all the terrible crimes against humanity entailed, which we call a republic (without really remembering where the word came from) and believe to be the guarantee of the driving, consuming prosperity we can’t imagine waking without and of a form of freedom that serves to keep us from being overwhelmed by any sense of responsibility for the effects of chaotic, highly mobile individual lives. Well, whatever we are, we aren’t Christians.
No surprise that this friend hasn’t responded. My mood yesterday (as I confess to another relatively conservative friend whom I offended) was fighting. It’s a perfectly reasonable thing if he ignores me. My comments, though, while they’re reactive and extemporaneous and, alright, make leaps that are hard to follow and might read as something composed by someone just shy of fully hinged, weren’t thoughtless. They’ll bear further considering here, maybe, if not there where originally offered.