Wars and Rumors

 But when ye shall hear of wars and commotions, be not terrified: for these things must first come to pass; but the end is not by and by. Then said he unto them, Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: And great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven. But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name's sake. Luke 21
This passage is used in many, perhaps most churches during Advent. On the internet these days, especially on FB and other outlets for American neurosis, videos are being shown in which a preacher declares that the end times are here. These are the worst of times, they howl, and mankind has never been so badly off as it is now.
More sensible people point out some of the virtually countless periods of human history and prehistory, when populations have been wiped out, people enslaved en masse, and traditions put down by fire and sword. All thing considered, we Americans, who are fond of the proverb "If you've got your health, you've got everything," are extraordinarily well off, especially if we add to "health" our other primary concerns which include comfort, tranqs, cable TV, highspeed internet access, and lots and lots of sports. We must be the only people in the world who have enjoyed such luxuries but nonethless whine unceasingly about our misery.
All the whining, it is true, is ineluctable evidence that we are a very sick people, but anyone with eyes to see is aware of this. Bean-counters might cite figures on divorce, depression, drug addiction (including prescription drugs), suicide, and rape even of children. Those who look beyond the surface might bring up the junk and filth on which billions of dollars are spent, from the Game of Thrones to Rap to Taylor Swift to virtually everything on the Times best-seller list, non-fiction as well as fiction. Anyone educated in another time, if he were to watch a few minutes of the History Channel or pick up a copy of The Smithsonian, would also conclude we were the dumbest and most ignorant po bukras who ever defaced the landscape. Pardon the dialect.
But the worst and most despicable foolishness is this habit of reading doom in the stars or blaming our troubles on those evil Democrats or those RINOs who let down their side. "The fault...lies not within the stars but in ourselves that we are underlings." Who said that? Some dead guy, probably.
Underlings is right, though not underlings to Julius "Dictator-for-Life" Caesar but to our own weakness and bad habits. Mental illness and sucidie are soaring. Why? Because we have to spend more time with our families? Kids and neighbors can be boring, but suicide seems a drastic measure, when you could study Chinese or Lithuanian, work on learning chess or GO, build a ship in a bottle--anything but sit around wringing our hands and feeling sorry for ourselves.
Instead of blaming Biden and the Democrats for our unhappiness, we'd do better to blame the devil, who is a far more real threat than a senile president or the party of crooks that will be pulling his strings. Of course, the devil and his ministers can't even enter your house, much less do you much mischief, unless you invite him in. And there--though I don't want to get too preachy about it--is the rub.
Men and women who are in charge of their own lives--people who are what ancient Greeks called "sophron"--have so many useful things to do they have no time or energy to waste in self-pity. I have had any number of dead-beat friends who played music or collected mushrooms or simply took pleasure in the little things. Some of them died of their excesses but they did not engage in that long slow trainwreck we call boredom and depression. Whenever my children said they were bored, I'd inform them that they got the word slightly wrong: They should have said "boring," because it was boring people who were easily bored and, in turn, bored others with their complaining.
I think of AE Housman, who was sent down from Oxford and went to work in the patent office. He was naturally of a melancholy disposition, but he went on with his life, all the time belieivng in human futility.  He did not have television, but he could have wasted away in pubs or read cheap fiction.. Instead, he made himself the finest Latin scholar in the English-speaking world and one of the best poets of the 20th century in any language.  
Christians have always been told to lead every day as if it were their last day, as if time itself would have a stop. That is one important aspect of Advent: We are celebrating the coming of the Son of God in human form over 2000 years ago, but we are also anticipating the tribulations that will precede his second coming.  Our Lord Himself told us not to be distracted by the bad things that happen in the world or by the false reports of them--wars and media gossip.  Paul goes straight to the point in Romans 13:
And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.  The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.
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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

7 Responses

  1. theAlabamian says:

    Excellent post !

  2. theAlabamian says:

    Well written, Dr. Fleming, you tackle the ills of society, practical and purposeful living and our blessed hope very well and concisely.

  3. Robert Reavis says:

    Guadete ! And Thank you Tom for giving us something and someone to rejoice about especially on this particular Sunday

  4. Dot says:

    Biden? Whining? It’s his program that I find objectionable. It’s about taking money out of my pocket and putting it in someone else’s. No wonder he scored so many electoral votes. It’s all about the money and who gets it. I don’t think anyone, I don’t care who it is, should be in any position to judge others when it is likely they are in a comfortable position themselves – a comfortable position that you take for granted.

  5. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    Now write something about the small businessmen who’s life’s work is being destroyed by uncaring, wealthy politicians and other bureaucrats.

  6. Vince Cornell says:

    It is somewhat sickening listening to the speakers at these various rallies try their best to pander to evangelical Christians (not that I listen to any of these speeches, but I do hear snippets). Now Alex Jones is preaching sermons about how Jesus will rule the country? Alex Jones? That’s as authentic as Joe Biden’s reference to “On Eagles’ Wing.”
    I’m curious out of the throngs that are gathering to protest the stolen election and demand Christ be crowned as King, how many of them watch disgusting, anti-Christian entertainment? endorse or use pornography? support sexual deviancy? are on their 2nd, 3rd, or 4th marriage? are given in to avarice and lust and sloth and wrath? have any idea who their children are? are actively engaged to raise their children as good Christians? . . . etc.? Now that popular sentiment has turned the Son of God into “My Buddy who makes no demands except that I acknowledge Him” everybody is happy to demand He come down and fix the election. Whenever the Son of God does actually choose to begin His reign over the World to Come, folks may find it differs dramatically from their expectations.
    Viva Cristo Rey! But remember where Miguel Pro was when he shouted that famous line. It wasn’t comfortably milling about in a crowd of like-minded folks enjoying some music in between speeches. These “Stop the Steal” rallies remind me an awful lot of the “Pro-Life” March, and I expect they’ll be just as effective. At least Donald Trump bothered to actually show up at the last “Pro-Life” March.

  7. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Mr. Van Sant is noticeably annoyed for reasons I do not understand. I have a son and daughter who are barely breaking even in a small business they started a year and a half ago, and several friends here in Rockford who own restaurants are facing ruin. I’ve known one of them for over 30 years, and the Governor is doing everything he can to destroy the economy of this already depressed city. Small businessmen are all facing economic annihilation, even as the fastfood chains are doing great business with their drive-throughs. If I really wanted to speak personally, I could quote a letter I got from a Charter Subscriber whose Covid-induced poverty was forcing him to cancel. I don’t take a salary from this website, but the prospects, if the economy continues to falter, are not encouraging. I can hardly blame Joe Biden for this, and those wonderful Republicans I voted for were in league with the Democrats on the response to COVID. What this has to do with a brief essay on Christian fortitude in a time of adversity, I do not know.

    In our continuing reading of Gibbon, we are in the midst of the First Crusade. Imagine being a Bulgarian peasant just barely scraping by when the lunatic hordes of Peter the Hermit came by looting everything, raping the women, burning houses, killing anyone who tried to hold onto what he had. Think of Northern Italy in the Lombard invasion. Or Europe in the invasion path of Atilla, or Poland and the Ukraine regularly assaulted by Mongol hordes seeking slaves. I once visited Rouen in Normandy, where they have rebuilt the cathedral. They have photographs of what the church and town looked like right after the Allied bombing. I’ve also toured German cities like Munster and studied photographs before and after. Or think of Southern people in the 1860’s.

    These are hard times, but hardly comparable to many periods of history. Biden is the enemy of all that is left in American society of any decency, but we know that already. What is the point of repeating it ad nauseam, especially when such sentiments only demoralize people at the very moment they need to gird up their loins.

    This morning, again reading Gibbon, we went over his rather partial account of the siege of Antioch in the First Crusade. They took the city but were then surrounded by a vast army. They had in victory imprudently used up much of their resources, and now, starving and plague-stricken, the end was in sight, when a monk of doubtful character had a vision of where to find the Holy Lance. When it was found and entrusted to Count Raymond of Toulouse, the spirits were revivified and, mirabile dictu, the Crusaders marshaled their troops and inflicted a stunning defeat on the Muslims. Afterwards, Bohemund the Norman, who was at odds with Count Raymond, arranged a debunking of the Lance so that Bohemund could be given Antioch. A typical Norman move–sacrifice everything to your own ambition. Even if the Lance was entirely bogus, the time to debunk the relic was not on the eve of the march to Jerusalem. Buck up.