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I hope that my intellectual betters will either indulge or ignore a few thoughts from an unlettered gentile which have been feeding on themselves for several days now. I would not claim them to be either original or especially deep. Those of us with simple minds have to stay within the mental boundaries nature has given us and dwell on what should be patently obvious to even the dullest among us.
The region often referred to by we westerners as The Holy Land is a rugged stretch of dirt and rocks filled with high mesa tops, sweeping valleys, flat plains and endless history. Like most, I have yet to visit there but do have hopes. It lies at the eastern edge of a sea that was once the center of what was considered the civilized world. It is part of an expanse of land that connects three continents, offering gateways to them all.
At least four millennia ago, what was probably the second most politically powerful man in the world left his seat of power in Egypt to bury his father in a land divinely promised to his people, a land known by many of the time as Canaan. He was accompanied by royal officials of the Pharaoh, chariots and horsemen as well his brothers and their households.
At their destination, this great party buried the body of Jacob in the cave of the field of Machpelah which his grandfather had purchased more than a century ago for 400 shekels of silver. In this cave were now buried three of the patriarchs of the Hebrew nation and four of its matriarchs.
Joseph and his brothers then returned to Egypt but their purpose and destiny still lay in the rugged land in which their forebearers rested. On his death bed, Joseph knew an individual of his Egyptian status would be first buried in the country of the Nile. But he instructed that his bones be eventually taken to the land of his fathers for their final rest.
This death bed request would be honored a few centuries into the future when Moses led the Hebrews from Egypt toward Canaan. Joseph’s bones went with them to spend the forty years of wandering, to eventually cross the Jordan and to be finally entombed near Shechem on a parcel of land bought by Jacob for 100 pieces of silver. Today, the generally accepted site of the tomb is in the village of Balata sitting in the eastern entrance to the valley separating Mount Gerizim from Mount Ebal. There are recorded accounts of Christian pilgrims from Europe visiting this site as early as 333 A.D. (or 333 CE for those more modern minded than myself). Similar accounts continue on through the Middle Ages and into modern times.
From the time that Joseph’s bones were carried across the Jordan to the present day, the people chosen by God to bring his reflection and message to both all nations and all individuals have seemingly been in a constant state of conflict. Their mission and purpose has not shielded them from earthly trials, it has only assured them.
Yet, they constantly survived on this often hostile land once known as Canaan. They have survived foreign invasion and dominance, their own very human mistakes and being the object of a fierce and unreasoning hostility from those determined to avoid the scope and the implications of that mission and purpose. Certainly, many of their number spread through other regions of the world to be a small but steadfast reminder to all of a divine hand that was not just open to everyone but also instructed a way of life with both rewards and responsibilities.
But those people have always been on that land. Some have the impression that all Jewish people were removed from the region after the rebellion against Rome in 70 A.D. But that would have been a massive effort even for the Romans. They wanted enough removed to ensure peace and make a point about their dominance, especially around Jerusalem. When the Muslims finally was able to take the region from the crumbling Byzantine Empire, there were thousands of Jews south of Hebron and always large Jewish communities around the traditional sites of their faith. The combination of that land and those people have always been the visible reminder of a holy purpose intended for all. The hardships inflicted upon them speaks to how human hands and minds can be turned so as to resist that purpose and to attempt to silence its message to the entire world.
After that 70 A.D. rebellion, the Romans renamed the administrative region Palestine to de-emphasize its Jewish character but was little more than a renaming of Israel. The land, the people and the traditions of faith survived forced rule by Muslims, Christian Crusaders, Ottoman Turks and British mandated control following World War I. All of these had attempts at “colonizing” the region but were never able to wipe out either its native Jewish character or the central importance it held for all who were shaped by the Judeo/Christian tradition.
Today, the elements of that tradition are central to the culture and values of all free societies. Everywhere.
That tradition was blended with fragments of European thought to become the necessary cornerstone of Western Civilization. I contend that western thought and civilization as well as the American political system which grew from them would be impossible without Judeo/Christian tradition.
And, yes, these two terms belong together. The Torah and the rest of what is commonly known as the Old Testament form the gateway to both Christ and the world-changing movement that followed. Each chapter from Genesis through Malach helps to build on a divine vision and purpose for humanity. Each page can help to refine that vision, that purpose, in some way. Just as the Sermon on the Mount and Paul’s letters refined them in another time. The God of Moses is the God of Saint Paul.
The Judeo/Christian tradition which began to be forged in this land is very much about the individual freedom we treasure so much as well as the responsibility and accountability which accompanies it. Free will of conscience does not simply open the door for our more rebellious inclinations to present themselves. It is necessary for true wisdom in our moral decisions, both in personal and political matters as well as being the key to having an honest and deeper relationship with one’s Creator.
This tradition calls man to a higher accountability (authority) than himself or any other worldly power. There is a moral framework for the Liberty that all are entitled to. Without that framework, both evil and power play on the weakness in us all and what passes for pleasure or safety grows into tyranny. Throughout both Testaments of the Bible, it is clear that all were created to enjoy that Liberty. But as many of our Founders/Framers observed, that divinely prescribed moral framework is necessary for its practice. Morality and Liberty are intertwined. Because a moral vacuum invites authoritarianism, the moral code comes before government. A culture of Liberty must exist before self-governance will work.
Even the unreligious and unbelieving should easily agree that if everyone simply lived by the Ten Commandments, the world would be a much better place, safer and with a truer form of justice between us all. When man defines morality it will be inconsistent and self-serving and evil will flourish.
The Judeo/Christian tradition is one of not just growth but regrowth. The Jewish people and Christian people are hardly perfect. In fact, the record (both biblically and historically) is clear on the mistakes and weakness, the peaks and valleys, the victories and the setbacks. But when the basics of the faith traditions, the life traditions and their refinements are returned to, there is always what one American political figure called a “new birth of freedom”. There is accomplishment, superior accomplishment. And all of humanity moves forward.
Would the words “all men are created equal” have been written if their author had not first known that all were “created in God’s image”? Long before Montesquieu wrote of division of power and federalism, Moses outlined the same principles for the Hebrews to govern themselves after they were to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land. The Torah required equality under the law for all and protected the private property of all a few thousand years before Locke wrote or Blackstone gave his commentaries on common law.
Today there are two nations created in that tradition and dependent on it for their survival. Those are Israel and the United States. They stand alone among all others with the charge of not just acting out that tradition but growing it and saving it as an example for the rest of the world. They are partners in preserving what can bring actual fulfillment to everyone and in advancing it. They are both nations based on a tradition of redemption for all. In each one, individuals are defined by their choices and behaviors, not their DNA.
But this charge also makes these two nations permanent targets. Evil is always with us and the fundamental elements of the Judeo/Christian tradition are its worst enemies. So both evil and its useful idiots are constantly marginalizing them, weakening them or openly tearing them down.
Evil does not care for individuals. It only seeks to control them. to take away their choices, their independence and their ability to reason.
So Liberty properly practiced is the deadly enemy of evil. It requires virtue. That is why the world’s evil must attack them both. Virtue and Liberty die together. Or they feed each other as they grow together, one strengthening the other.
I have recently written of standing on “death ground”. My opinion has not changed as to the position we as a free, self-governing society find ourselves. I still long to feel I am surrounded by those Americans that Edmond Burke characterized in the well of Parliament 250 years ago. Burke understood that the nature, the culture, of the people is more important the government. I still believe that evil forces are actively working to weaken and intimidate. I still believe that our fight is timeless but that our own responses and strengths help future generations in their fight. I believe it to be a duty.
Central to that fight is each of those virtues being defended, with strength, persistence and clarity. Simple clarity in the face of worldly pressure and distortion must fuel real action. Those two nations are the keepers of that culture of Liberty I have written about before, the one grown around the sanctity of the individual human life, the one which prizes faith in family, in dividual virtue and conscience and a higher truth than earthly powers and governments. It is a tradition that believes in both responsibility and redemption, one which is connected by the strands of history directly to those graves in that harsh land. It was birthed before the Bronze Age and has become the foundation rock of the freest, most productive and most just society ever known on this earth.
Today, those two nations are under a brutal attack. One is the direct victim of open murder meant to exterminate an entire population. The other is under a savage Jacobin assault on its foundations that has reached a rapid pace for the last decade and half.
In both cases, attacks are hardly on the nations themselves. They are on those traditions, values, virtues. The attacks are on that which has refused to submit to tyranny of government or the mob since the Bronze Age, which seeks to bring man to a higher accountability than himself or any other earthly authority. It is the difference between civilization and barbarism, between equal justice and tribalism, between dignity and dependence, between hopeful purpose and eventual despair. It is the difference between good and evil. And remember, evil will not surrender. It is not enough to defeat it for the moment or to restrain it. It must be fought continuously until it is destroyed by a stronger and more just hand than our own.
The fate of those two nations are tightly tied together. Both must realize that the destruction of one leaves the other alone in the battle. And as in all battles, clarity of purpose and strength of will are vital assets. And, of course, the final outcome will be determined by what one actually does. Mere thoughts and wishes, even hopes, do not win the day.
In a time when a worn and blindly repeated phrase is “speak truth to power”, it would be good not to think of clueless mobs shouting canned rhetoric, defacing monuments or pulling down statues. One might think instead of standing before Pharoh in all his power with only a wooden staff and steady faith as protection. Or perhaps, standing before King David to accuse him of murder. Or perhaps of an American commanding officer in a Nazi prisoner of war camp who was called upon to have the Jewish members of his command to step forward so they could removed to another fate. When on his command every member of the line stepped forward, he was again ordered to reveal the actual Jewish members of his command. With a pistol to his head, he answered, “We are all Jewish here.”
Clarity of both the true threat and the mission is essential when on death ground. How does one fight for core principles? You begin by adhering to them. You continue by internalizing the rational for them. And you understand that despite a recent popular non-sensical trope, silence is not violence. But it can be, and often is, an enabler. It can become a place to hide.
This central, vital tradition also teaches that its champions might be men of peace but are hardly pacifists. Time and time again, for century after century both men and women have boldly shown that the values of that tradition have to defended with blood and bone without hesitation if mankind is to witness and/or enjoy the possibilities offered. They answered the moral calling given to us all who live under the blessings of that tradition. There will always be a need for such people. The more who have the clarity to answer this call, the better the world will become. And the closer it will be to what is intended for it and those in it.
But remember, it is not any one person, one issue or even one nation that is the object of destruction. It is the ideas underlying that vital tradition which evil must see destroyed. And I will say again, evil will never surrender. If one small dose of it is accepted or tolerated, it will only strengthen. And the battle will be made harder.
But in a harsh land with a long and embattled history there are graves, bought and paid for with ancient silver, which tell us we are entrusted with mankind’s brightest and most eternal hope, that the task of preserving and growing it can remain unbroken for thousands of years regardless of the evil assaults upon it. And that its reach can began in a small corner of such a land and eventually touch every continent. It is our call to fill this next gap, mount this next critical defense so that someday it might touch every household and every heart.Published in