LEADER TIMES WEEKEND RELIGIN COLUMN FOR
July 9, 2016 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 813-835-0129
The month of July hosts the celebrations of two national revolutions. July 4 marks the beginning of the American Revolution and July 14 marks Bastille Day, the beginning of the French Revolution.
The American Revolution lasted from 1776 until 1783, or seven years. It began with a carefully drafted Declaration of Independence that grounded the claim to liberty in the nature of God and the unalienable rights granted to man made in his image. It was defended in the pulpits of America and defined as “a new order of society.” It was not a rebellion against authority but a claim that the authority by which a people should be governed should be chosen by those people and not imposed from outside.
All wars are costly. Eight thousand men were lost in combat during the American Revolution with some seventeen thousand other casualties. However, when the fighting ceased there was a fully competent government in place chosen by the people who eventually gave us our constitution and the first truly democratic nation on the planet.
The French Revolution began with a mob attacking a prison. The rejection of authority was not only the authority of the crown but the authority of the church and Christianity. The Cathedral of Notre Dame was gutted and converted to a temple of the goddess liberty. The concept of “liberty” meant something entirely different in the French Revolution than it did in America. It had no theological roots. It was not grounded in the nature of God or the nature of man in God’s image. It meant little more than anarchy, the total rejection of all authority with no moral or spiritual boundaries.
The French Revolution lasted from 1789 until 1799. The guillotine came into being with the start of the Revolution. It was used by the reigning mob to decapitate over 15,000 people. In Paris alone during the first year and a half of the Revolution over a thousand people were victims of the guillotine. The total mortality rate for the French Revolution is estimated at about 40,000. If we consider the deaths from the wars of Napoleon the figure is beyond one million.
Words and ideas need definition. “Liberty, equality and fraternity” sounds good. Even Thomas Jefferson was impressed with the language. But he did not see that “liberty” meant something totally different in the context of the French Revolution than he meant when he stated in the Declaration “We are endowed by our Creator with…liberty.” Jefferson may not have been an orthodox Christian but he believed in Divine Sovereignty, usually stated in the period as “providence.”
We in America need to be aware that our political concepts are drenched in theology. When we talk about “tolerance” we need to understand that originally the idea was that God has given us the right to choose for or against his will. Our choice does not define right and wrong. It merely allows us to choose the right, or otherwise. Without that freedom there is no possibility of love, and God is love.
In the French Revolution liberty meant you agree with me or you get the guillotine. The logic sounds familiar to some sentiments I hear today, except the guillotine is not yet an acceptable concluding argument.
(Bill Scarle can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org). END-whs