A Wounded Nation Sows the Wind — and Reaps the Whirlwind
The current culture’s disregard of natural and divine law has reaped ruinous consequences.
When Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court after contentious hearings in 2018, he warned, “You sowed the wind. For decades to come, I fear the whole country will reap the whirlwind.” He predicted that the rancor shown at his confirmation hearings would only escalate.
Of course, the prophet Hosea coined the phrase (Hosea 8:7) “sow the wind, reap the whirlwind” to describe the consequences of Israel’s idolatry. Israel’s infidelity led to the fall of Jerusalem.
Kavanaugh saw the correlation with his own confirmation: disregard for the judicial process, that is, idolatry of a particular outcome over the neutral process, would have terrible implications down the road.
Furthermore, when a culture celebrates mob rule and destruction, it also ends up “reaping the whirlwind.” The virtues and priorities that came to us from our tradition are so ingrained that it’s nearly unthinkable to reject them. “I don’t agree with you, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it” and “it takes all kinds” are adages that were taken for granted. It was our culture. But is it anymore?
The attacks on Confederate monuments degenerated to the demolition of statues of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and St. Junípero Serra during the recent “Indigenous People’s Days of Rage” in Portland, Oregon, and San Rafael, California.
The destruction of monuments is itself a form of idolatry. The statues and monuments are imbued with so much power by the iconoclasts that only their obliteration can bring peace and racial harmony. But for the rest of us, statues are statues, not idols. We view them from many angles, including history, art history, propaganda and public art. Yet this isn’t true of those who would demolish the disagreeable. This is more than a will to destroy; it is an irrational emotion that seeks to destroy that which it can’t or won’t understand.
Professor James Loewen provides an example of the unintended consequences of mob mentality. Currently, he is professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Vermont and visiting professor of the same subject at the Catholic University of America.
But back in 1999, in his book Lies Across America: What Our Historic Markers and Monuments Get Wrong, in an appendix titled “Twenty Candidates for ‘Toppling,’” he wrote, “When someone topples a statue or monument in the United States, public officials usually denounced the act as reprehensible vandalism. However, we didn’t call it that when the people of Eastern Europe pulled down statues of Stalin and Lenin.”
He leaves the nature of the “toppling” open-ended and up to interpretation. Loewen wrote, “The proper response to some of our statues would be to topple them … A better solution than toppling may be to remove the offending object to a museum.” He also offers new interpretative signs to provide context as a solution. He concludes, “It should be clear that I use ‘toppling’ — in quotation marks — as a shorthand for the kind of civic discourse suggested above.” He uses shorthand when there is no reason to do so, as a form of plausible deniability.
And in the 2009 documentary Monumental Myths, Professor Loewen laments that Americans don’t topple enough statues and claims that “monuments make us stupid.”
“Stupid” or not, this June, Loewen was saddened when Boston’s Shaw Memorial to African-American troops in the Civil War was vandalized and denounced it. Evidently, the mob and he disagreed on this monument’s legitimacy.
And this July, he posted the article, “Don’t tear down the wrong monuments; don’t attack every holiday,” on George Washington University’s History News Network blog. Loewen mentioned a statue of James Longstreet at Gettysburg, writing, “Hopefully BLM protesters are informed enough to know not to tag or topple this Confederate monument.”
Loewen had elevated monument destruction to a virtue, only to be shocked that he had created a monster that destroyed anything in its path. In June, he rejoiced that the California State Capitol had removed its “idiotic Columbus statue,” but this October he was dismayed over the “mob in Portland that tore down Lincoln and Roosevelt.” In August, Loewen celebrated the destruction of conquistador statues in New Mexico, but back in June he wrote “Not every statue needs to come down,” an impassioned plea on behalf of the Emancipation Memorial in Washington, D.C.
As Professor Loewen would learn to his dismay, mob rule does not accept limits. Loewen took pride in his expertise, hoping mobs would listen to reason, when reason isn’t a feature of mob mentality.
This should have been foremost in the professor’s mind, because there are plenty of historical examples. During the French Revolution, when the Goddess of Reason was an object of worship, statues of the Kings of Judah on the front of Paris’ Notre Dame were symbolically beheaded. Since the statues represented the monarchy, they were destroyed. Remarkably, the statues’ heads would be recovered in 1977, found behind a mansion wall.
So-called “offensive” monuments remain as reminders of horrific events, lest they be repeated. Andersonville, the infamous POW camp of the Civil War, where thousands of Union soldiers died, is now a National Historic Site. Auschwitz, where Saints Maximilian Kolbe and Edith Stein were martyred, is a warning against fascist brutality. Christians did not tear down the Colosseum, where many died for the Faith in gruesome spectacles. As the great Roman orator Cicero said, “To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child.”
“Come, now let us reason together says the Lord” (Isaiah 1:18) contrasts with the irrationality of those enamored of destruction. The prophet warned against idolatry, writing (Isaiah 2:8), “Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their own fingers have made.” In a lengthy passage, Isaiah shows how unreasonable it is to attribute divine power to manmade objects (Isaiah 44:9-20).
Today, however, we have rejected history and the Bible. Statues are imbued with the powers of “colonialism,” “racism” and “patriarchy,” despite being inanimate objects. They have the power to make real people “discomfited.”
This contrasts with the opening genealogy of St. Matthew’s Gospel, in which Tamar (Matthew 1:3, Genesis 38:12-30), Rahab (Matthew 1:5, Joshua 2:1-24), Ruth the Moabite (Matthew 1:5, Book of Ruth) and Bathsheba (Matthew 1:6, 1 Kings 1:11-31, 2:13-19) are not omitted from Jesus’ family tree because of their unsavory histories. St. Matthew conveyed the whole truth of Our Lord’s past. He did not whitewash or tell half-truths simply to please his audience. Moses and St. Peter aren’t depicted as perfect, but in need of God’s grace like everyone else. Instead of obliterating the discomfiting past, the Bible shows how salvation is possible.
St. Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, warned (Galatians 6:7-8), “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” The current culture’s disregard of natural and divine law has reaped ruinous consequences.
An idolatry of destruction has turned manmade monuments into new false gods. However, this is no cause for hopelessness. After St. Paul’s dire warning, he writes (Galatians 6:9-10), “Let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men.”