Rutledge: Let’s rediscover truth, democracy

In this season of Advent, Christians are asked to reflect on the holy family, their sojourn in Egypt, and what this might teach the faithful about how to treat the stranger among us.

The story of the holy family’s flight encompasses the entire second chapter of Matthew. When I re-read the story in a new Advent season, I can’t help but think of the many people in this, their own country — citizens, neighbors, relatives and members of the congregation to which I belong — who find themselves increasingly strangers in their own land, alienated from the place where they were born and raised.

Those of us who believed that democratic republicanism and rule of law was the water in which we as citizens swam like fish, now see it replaced with a growing authoritarianism and lawlessness that will, despite the recent election, be difficult to arrest. It has been embraced by so many that we who believe in the civic necessities of justice, fair play and truth have witnessed our system of justice mocked, persecution of refugees accepted, and reality itself perverted by a plethora of untruths.

As one who teaches the origins of democratic and republican governance as foundational to our system, I find the violent tremors that have shaken these foundations both distressing and shocking. The values of Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglass and Thomas Payne, the basic civic values of our founding documents, have come under relentless siege.

Lincoln’s uplifting message, “With malice toward none with charity for all,” has been persistently replaced with assaults against the common good and willfully cruel policies.

Martin Luther King’s exhortations to judge by the content of an individual’s character rather than the color of his skin, has gone up in a conflagration of racial animus. Increasingly, we are experiencing incitement to violence against Jews, Muslims, African Americans and our Hispanic neighbors seeking a better life in this country.

The unacceptable has become the norm. Shame and dignity appear retreating in the face of coarseness, vulgarity and incitement to violence.
Hannah Arendt, one of the 20th century’s greatest and most controversial thinkers, would tell us such disorientation is a symptom of a society in crisis, of a country whose essential freedoms are being usurped.

How did our moral and civic clarity concerning the bounds of what is decent and right become so obtuse?

The answer is too complex to address in a brief commentary. However, suffice it to say:

Those of us who assumed certain markers of how we relate to one another as citizens of a free republic, debate important issues pertaining to the common good and learn to trust in the honest faith of all sides now find ourselves strangers in a strange land — Israelites in Egypt.

Those of us who believe in decency, the rule of law and the acceptance of factual evidence presented by dedicated professionals now find ourselves strangers in a strange land — Samaritans in Judea.

Those of us who share a sense of history, a commitment to those who have come before and follow after after and a reverence for the aspirational values of liberty, equality, shared prosperity and mutual respect now find ourselves strangers in a strange land — the holy family in Egypt, grasping for hope in a sea of uncertainty.

Those of us who trust our selfless government officials, our public health care professionals and the scientific researches from whose brilliance we all benefit now see their charity, dedication and talent derided, abused and mocked by people who deny what is in front of them.

We are tested. In this darkest time of year, we crave some light, be it from family, scripture or history.

We are strangers in a strange land, but must remain strangers to despair, deception and ignorance all the same. We must remember in this season of Advent how none of us is ever a stranger if we can, with wisdom and clarity, regard one another as citizens of a free republic, not subjects beneath the heel of a divisive Herod’s whims.  

Originally from Oregon, Steve Rutledge moved back east to earn degrees in Latin, Greek and history at the University of Massachusetts, then a doctorate in classics at Brown University. After teaching almost 17 years in the Classics Department at the University of Maryland, he took early retirement in 2012 and returned home. He is now serving as an adjunct professor of history at Linfield University, where his specialty is ancient history and languages. He has published three books and numerous articles on early Roman history and literature. 


Bill B

".....our selfless government officials" I think not.

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