Nancy politely took me to task for a recent essay about commencement speeches. I understand. If it had been the only thing I’d ever written folks might understandably think I wear hair shirts and eat barbed wire soup.
The truth is, I’m partial to button down shirts made from 100% cotton. I love slapstick comedy and an occasional glass of wine for the stomach. I like being around young people. In fact, I like being around young people more than I like being around people my own age.
I guess what got me all riled up a couple of weeks ago was the incessant commencement talk about seizing the world. I think America’s youth would be better served to hear something like, “Get your feet on the ground” or “If you really want to do something revolutionary try doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly.”
I’m tired of revolutions and I’m sick to death of the recent history’s revolutionaries.
It’s said that Marx and Engels were idealists. They probably had the best of intentions when they wrote, “Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.” The communists won and the Kulaks, dissenters, and peasants starved while party bosses and their henchmen feasted. When the communist enterprise collapsed the Soviet Union had enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world. Meanwhile, the proletariat could scarcely find a loaf of bread to eat.
Much of the 20th century’s revolutionary rhetoric revolved around shedding religion or developing new religious beliefs to supplant the old ones. In the 1930’s, Robert Ley, a nazi party politician made this startling statement – “It was all due to the faith of one man! Yes, you who called us godless, we found our faith in Adolf Hitler, and through him found God once again. That is the greatness of our day, that is our good fortune!”
The world was still in the throes of counting the corpses when Mao Zedong came on the scene in China. His political philosophy was simple – “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” Mao and the Chinese communists killed millions to prove their point.
Revolutionaries are quite fond of painting themselves as men of the people. Nazi propaganda lionized young Adolf Hitler as a starving artist in Vienna. Mao loved being seen dressed in peasant clothing. Before Team Six found him, Usama bin Laden took great delight in presenting himself as a revolutionary whose sole purpose in life was to take down the Great Satan. From 9-11 on the media would be given occasional glimpses of him climbing some mountain, walking stick in one hand and automatic weapon in the other. In 2003 he mocked George Bush – “Bush, do you know where I am? I am among the Muslim masses – enjoying the grace Allah has bestowed upon me, by way of their support.” When all was said and done, bin Laden died in a million dollar compound. It’s reported that he always had to have plenty of Coke and Pepsi. There was also a considerable stash of pornography. I guess a revolutionary needs a few guilty pleasures when he’s hunkered down.
Donald Trump, who is no revolutionary, once famously said, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” That’s what most revolutionaries really want. They’re jealous. They want what others have. They take their cues from a buffoon who thinks that life is nothing more than amassing, or stealing, toys.
I know I have to be careful, but I think it’s time for me to inject a bit of personal religious reflection. When I was re-considering my atheist belief system years ago, I studied Jesus and compared him to other revolutionaries. Marx and Engels said that man was economically determined. Jesus said, “Man does not live by bread alone.” Mao said that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” Hitler wrote “Mein Kampf.” Jesus preached the greatest sermon ever rendered. He called his listeners’ attention to the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. He taught about love, mercy, and forgiveness. To those fixated on material wealth Jesus spoke of camels and the eyes of needles or a widow and her penny.
Jesus was a true revolutionary. He not only rejected society’s goals, but the means men use to achieve them. He lived what he taught. He didn’t appeal to human ambition. He said the role of servant was the one to prize.
Some say this is a post-Christian age and the message he taught and embodied has become too quaint or too revolutionary to consider. I guess that’s why the appeal to ambition seems so easy to embrace.