Are We Keeping It?

Michael Metzger

Events of this past week remind us of Benjamin Franklin’s cautionary reply to a good question.

Legend has it a woman asked Benjamin Franklin a question as he exited Independence Hall after the Constitutional Convention in 1787. “Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?” Franklin supposedly replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

Franklin hit the nail on the head. The storming of the US Capital this past week calls into question whether Americans are capable of keeping our republic. Or if we even understand what it means that America is a republic.

A “republic” is a form of government in which the people hold power, but elect representatives to exercise that power. America is a republic, a representative democracy. The founders, steeped in history, feared direct democracy, as it often led to mob rule. Representative democracy isn’t supposed to, as it’s designed to cool the “passions of the people.”

Hence, George Washington in his fatherly Farewell Address, described our nation as a “great experiment.” Can a people be self-governed? The founders said yes, creating a Constitution that established a separation of powers. This was to dampen the passions and “prevent the rabble from passing sweeping new legislation in response to some passion of the moment.”

Our experiment in self-governance required a measure of freedom, or liberty, that had to be won (our War of Independence), ordered (the Constitution and our separation of powers), and sustained (i.e. kept alive). Hence, we have a republic… if we can keep it.

I’m less sure we can, given what happened last Wednesday. “This is how election results are disputed in a banana republic,” former President George W. Bush said in a statement. For the first time in our republic’s history, we witnessed the executive branch incite a crowd to march on the legislative branch. Then, when some in the crowd turned violent and stormed the Capitol, the President hedged his plea for calm with praise for the mob – all while continuing his plaintive (and appalling) cry that the election was rigged. Sure looked like mob rule.

So what can be done, especially if you’re a Christian? I suggest the following.

Become familiar with the great experiment. Augustine wrote that Christians ought to be the “best of citizens.” This requires what Thomas Jefferson called an “educated electorate.” Too much of American Christianity is an uneducated electorate. For example, we tout “passion” as an unalloyed good. Scripture disagrees. Passion ought to be limited. Madison agreed, writing how “passions” are “sown in the nature of man” and to be limited.

Become familiar with the golden triangle driving our experiment. The founders felt religion was vital, for it yields virtuous citizens. Only a virtuous citizenry can sustain liberty. Yet most American Christians are not virtuous according to Dallas Willard. Our levels of “unethical actions, crime, mental distress and disorder, family failures, addictions, and financial misdealings” are equivalent to those who don’t attend church.[1]

Finally, do a digital declutter. We know the news makes us dumb. The explosion of news on social media makes us dumb and dumber, for while the cacophony of information has increased, the brain’s capacity to absorb it has not. Overload makes us opt for the familiar, leaving us operating in echo chambers. The only way out of the cacophony is to do a digital declutter, whether it be Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tik-Tok – you name it. Do it.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was right on point when he said: “If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral.” We might already be in one. I’ll leave it for you to decide whether we can keep our hard-won and rightly-ordered republic.

 

[1] Dallas Willard, Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge (HarperCollins, 1998), 209.

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6 thoughts on “Are We Keeping It?”

  1. What I am seeing is a division of this country into “echo chambers”. News sources which people read or listen to which feed them what they already believe and, worse yet, disparage other news sources as biased. This causes a feedback loop which inflames the passions. “I know what’s REALLY going on.”

    We have reaped what we have sown and no appeal from the pulpit about sharing the gospel with our neighbors is going to change our attitudes. We must fall on our knees and repent of our anger towards others and deliberately refrain from doing things which stoke our self righteousness.

    You can imagine now what it must have been like leading up to the Civil war and the subject of slavery in this country. We can’t let this happen again.

  2. Michael Metzger

    Tom: Interesting that you note we reap what we sow. It raises a question I’ve never fully considered. It goes like this: Before Israel went into the Assyrian exile, God warned the people that they had sown the wind (i.e. idolatry) and would reap the whirlwind (i.e. disaster) (c.f. Hosea 8:7). The reason is they had “made idols for their own destruction” (Hosea 8:4). As we know, the ten tribes of Israel were sent into exile in Assyria and never returned.

    Game over.

    Which raises a question: Many cultural analysts liken our current situation as similar to the nation of Judah as she was sent into exile in Babylon. The Babylonian exile, not the Assyrian exile. What if we (I) have the wrong exile in view? Herbert Schlossberg might say we do. His book, “Idols for Destruction,” cites the verses above to describe our present day. It’s a pretty compelling book.

    https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01771SQ6Y/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

    My point, and I do have a point, is that assuming the Babylonian exile is our precedent means the possibility of our returning to the ancient paths is still before us. If the Assyrian exile is a better precedent, our returning to the ancient paths is unlikely. Our western version of the faith will disappear over the next, say, 100 years.

    Food for thought…

    1. Mike, very interesting thoughts about comparing the two exiles. I’ll do my home work if you insist, but are you willing to offer: how does the text detail Israel’s idolatry? Do the prophets narrow it down to false dealings like in trade exchanges (false weights, etc., which may be a metaphor but idolatry all the same) or is it false religion, or is it neglect of the poor? Second, this crowd, and you, tend to do your homework. I’m reading Trump’s speech, I’m 1/3rd thru it. I’m no Trump fan, but I have yet to read that he incited violence. Can anyone jump in and quote the lines? Has anyone actually read the speech? (It takes a lot of time to read!) “If we can keep it” also has to do with not having a herd mentality (that discomforting type of passion) but being individualistic enough to learn the facts. Anyway, if no one reads this and reports in, I’ll report in myself. I’d hate to say I believed the media just because I preferred what “they/it” said than knowing the facts.

  3. Michael Metzger

    Dave, It seems to me that better minds than ours’, conservative as well as liberal, are considering at least a month of Trump tweets and speeches inciting followers to violence to understand why his January 6 speech is understood this way.

    As for Schlossberg, his book was written in 1990, noting the general deterioration of western society, identifying it as nothing short of idolatry. The chief idol of the West, he says, is secularization. Since this idol is often manifested in and through ideas that gradually translate themselves into action, “Idols for Destruction” deals mostly with ideas that Schlossberg says are evident in specific kinds of idols manifesting secularization: the idols of history, humanity, mammon, nature, power, and religion. The book reads like it’s 2021, but you have to read it to grasp the complex ways each idol appears today.

    1. Mike, better minds than ours were, are, and will continue to be beat down by politically correct hyperbole to suppress the truth. And let’s be clear: you saw the pictures and the tape: these people were the farthest thing from insurrectionists. They’re hicks on a joy ride amped on Trump’s hyperbole which did NOT include ANY incitement to violence. Actual insurrectionists have leadership, planning, they play a long hand before they act, and they play for keeps: they kill in cold blood. These people? Some were probably armed but they didn’t fire a single bullet. When YOU don’t mention that, then you participate in the lie that these people were anything more than an impulse protest that intended to scare people – but nothing more. Arrest them for that, but don’t arrest them for treason. Good grief. I’m surprised that you’re succumbing to a narrative that insults intelligence. I’ll email you a thoughtful fact-based piece from New Boston Post that proves that it’s a fiction that Trump incited violence. No one dares compare the DC event with BLM events. But they should. A BLACK comedian chided the DC people for leaving without taking any flat screen TVs – “You guys need to read the brothers’ manual on rioting!” Humor relieves the insanity by seeing above a distorted narrative. What else is your often talked about court jester for, Mike?

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