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April 20, 2003
EasterIt seems the Lenten war is winding down, saving us the embarrassment of an Easter offensive.
Now for the pangs of rebirth.
War has a way of leveling our differences, when it doesn't exacerbate them. The nation is unified, rallying to the cause; the hesitant are carried along in the momentum, while those who would resist are ostracized into another sort of sameness.
Many of the DMTree pages have been preoccupied with the war, generally casting a critical eye on the means and motives of our government. Some of us have participated in the public demonstrations, but these also present individuals as a mass. The online discussions have perhaps been more rewarding, and they have been heard, to the point of eliciting anonymous hate mail from fellow Americans who have determined that we are not one of them.
And yet, we are.
So here I am, retreading the familiar theme: I don't want to write about the war; I've got other things to think about; I resent the obligation on my attentions,
but I can't escape it.
No, there is no escape.
And this is as true for the victors as it is for the vanquished.
Although I could not hope for America to experience disaster in Iraq, this easy war may prove too stingy in its lessons. At least in the short term. But looking down the road, I fear for the soul of this nation, if there is such a thing. Certainly the war enthusiasts believe in a veritable American Holy Spirit, possessed of an innate goodness. Today, on what is supposedly our highest holy day, I feel obliged to point out the eminently un-Christian nature of such self-justifying faith.
That we are sinners is the basic premise of the Christian. To be rescued from this condition is the concern of the individual, not the state, and salvation must be an ongoing proposition, not a matter of a single ceremonial "rebirth" or mere statement of faith. Easter is not a commemoration of an historical event; it is the observation of a mystical event which continues to occur. This is why the Holiday is coincident with the Springtide, for there must always be another Spring, and another birth. As soon as we are certain of our spiritual achievement it disappears; we do but hold a sinecure unwarranted.
Rebirth begins in doubt, not in the smug certainty and confidence of Power.
America, that little confederation of colonies that defied an empire, has always been a country that roots for the underdog. We have maintained a delicate balance of power between individual and community. Now it seems that we are to become the empire, and the individual must be subservient to some caricature of patriotism. Will we jettison all our cherished mythologies? Will we make movies where the Romans are the heroes? Where the corporation defeats the pesky whistleblower? Where the police bureaucracy outwits the lone detective? Or will we rely on hypocrisy to see us through a sea change?
Will we throw the lions to the Christians?
If we are to accept the notion that Christianity has found a special home here, then we should remember that the faith is particularly amenable to us because it was founded in opposition to empire. Most religions in the ancient world were associated with hereditary royal priesthoods, providing the premises and authority of governance. But Jesus preached to a defeated people. He offered them a gift no earthly ruler can bestow, but he did not offer, or choose to wield, earthly power. The irony of his ultimate success is that it was the cosmopolitan breadth of the Roman Empire that fostered the spread of the new religion beyond the typical bounds of ethnicity and geography.
Rome was reborn, in a strange new form, one that finds echoes in our age.
It is the nature of Rebirth that one cannot even imagine the experience beforehand, let alone the result. It is always a revelation. If we give ourselves over to it, even the familiar Springtime seems ineffably new. There is nothing new in the age-old human dream of comprehensive power, or the imposition of control in the false name of “security”. These are self-delusions; mistakes that have been made before. Today’s hope is that one day America, and all humanity, will move beyond these errors. Then we may be reborn in a form unrecognizable, yet necessary. We will abandon the empire of domination, and, as it was with Rome, the flowers of Spring will bloom among our ruins.