I just finished reading an excellent biography of Cato, not Inspector Clouseau’s Cato but Rome’s Marcus Porcius Cato a/k/a Cato the Younger (95 B.C. – 46 B.C.). Cato was known for his integrity in a time of intense political corruption and polarization in Rome that ultimately led to the fall of the Roman Republic when Caesar declared himself dictator for life in 44 B.C..
Cato stood against both political parties, the populares (Democrats) and the optimates (Republicans), in favor of the Republic and doing what was right. As a result, Cato was highly respected, and sometimes also despised, by both sides. That is the price of speaking the truth. Even the 1st century Christians held Cato up as an example of integrity in the midst of corruption.
The current U.S. political climate bears similarities to the Rome of Cato’s time. Political opponents today are demonized. There is no rational discussion by which consensus is reached. There is no middle ground. The reason for the polarization is that people are being brainwashed by the media. But before my friends on the right say, “Amen,” read on, because for polarization to occur there must be two poles, not one.
I ask this question seriously and not rhetorically.
Maybe it’s the pandemic. Actually, I am sure it’s the pandemic. But the pandemic is merely the context not the cause. I’m talking about what I’m hearing my Christian friends say, what they text me, and what they post on Facebook, specifically about wearing masks.
You see, I live in Texas, and our governor, one birthed from my noble profession, a former lawyer and judge, one who should know better, has lifted the mask-wearing mandate in Texas. Some of my Christian friends are thrilled because they think masks don’t mitigate the spread of Covid-19 and actually do more harm than good (“breathing too much of your own CO2, bro”). They’ve obtained these opinions from politicians, not from health care professionals, and that, to me folks, is C . . . R . . . A . . . Z . . . Y.
I mean who among us goes to the doctor because they notice blood in their urine, and when the doctor gives his diagnoses says, “Doc, no offense, but I think I will get a second opinion from my politician”?
Last year I fell short again of my goal of reading 50 books in a year.
It’s a lofty goal I have reached only a few times, but one that stretches me, which is a good thing. One of the reasons I fell short last year was I spent entirely too much time reading the news. I sometimes spent an hour consuming the news on my iPhone before I got out of bed in the morning.
Sure, some of that reading was focused on COVID-19 and the pandemic, which was useful in my job, but much of my reading was also about current events, and sometimes about celebrities, the Kardashians included.
And here’s the thing, when I finished reading the news, I never felt I had accomplished anything of any importance. I was up-to-date on the events of the day, but the next day there would be a new set of events, and I would repeat the process, taking the click bait of interesting and usually misleading headlines, and gleaning facts of no particular usefulness.
As we brace for the battle that is sure to come as vaccination becomes available to the general population, I thought some Kingdom history might provide perspective on the issue.
Small pox epidemics had occurred approximately every 12 years in New England in the late 1600s and early 1700s. Smallpox was a merciless killer and disfigurer, particularly of children. In the early 1700s the disease missed a cycle but then appeared again in Boston in 1721. This time, however, there was a man, a learned man, a learned, Kingdom man named Cotton Mather.
Mather was a polymath. He was the youngest student ever accepted at Harvard (11 1/2 years old). He published over 350 titles during his lifetime on subjects as diverse as the Bible, history, medicine, politics, and the demonic. He could write in seven languages. Mather was also the first American to be inducted as a Fellow of the the Royal Society in London, the most famous scientific society in the world. Mather set up schools for Indians and African Americans. He was also a Puritan and minister of the largest church in New England.
I was in a relatively small group of people in September 2016 before the election when a prominent Evangelical leader and author told us God had told him He had raised up Donald Trump to be a Cyrus. I thought his remarks inappropriate before a group who had assembled to hear about the kingdom of God, and I expressed my concerns to the host of the meeting, whom I deeply respect. We both said something to the effect of “Well, we will see.”
I have been an admirer of Cyrus the Great as a leader, not only because of the Biblical account but also because of Xenophon’s biography and Herodotus’s history, all of which describe a good, generous, and magnanimous ruler. I even named my Persian cat after Cyrus.
Here’s where we ended up with Trump in the final year of his presidency: (i) an out-of-control pandemic that while not his fault has to date killed 450,000 Americans (25% of those who have died worldwide) and was made worse because of Trump’s politicization of the issue; (ii) a racial uprising and riots like we have not seen since the late 1960s, not only because of a video of police killing black Americans but because of Trump’s pandering to white nationalists; and (iii) an insurrection which I doubt was intended by Trump but am convinced was caused by him.
Even if one accepts the Trump spin on all three of these crises, any one of them is sufficient to stain any president’s four year term; Trump had them all in one year. He is now the only American President to be impeached twice. Members of his own party have voted for his impeachment, and judges appointed by him have voted against his lawsuits alleging a fraudulent election. Was Donald Trump a Cyrus, or is there another Biblical character who Trump more closely resembles?