Lessons From A Lost Civilization

“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” ~ George Santayana

In his classic book, How Should We Then Live?, Francis Schaeffer wrote…

[Speaking of the Roman Empire] “… No totalitarian authority or authoritarian state can tolerate those who have an absolute by which to judge that state and its actions. The Christians had that absolute in God’s revelation. Because the Christians had an absolute, universal standard by which to judge not only personal morals but the state, they were counted as enemies of totalitarian Rome and were thrown to the beasts.

antonio_joli_-_rome_-_view_of_the_colosseum_and_the_arch_of_constantine_-_wga11961As the Empire ground down, the decadent Romans were given to a thirst for violence and a gratification of the senses. This is especially evident in their rampant sexuality. For example, in Pompeii, a century or so after the Republic had become a thing of the past, the phallus cult was strong. Statues and paintings of exaggerated sexuality adorned the houses of the more affluent. Not all the art in Pompeii was like this, but the sexual representations were unabashedly blatant.

Even though Emperor Constantine ended the persecution of the Christians, and Christianity became first (in 313) a legal religion, and then (in 381) the official state religion of the Empire, the majority of the people went on in their old ways. Apathy was the chief mark of the late Empire. One of the ways apathy showed itself was in a lack of creativity in the arts. One easily observed example of the decadence of officially sponsored art is that the fourth-century work on the Arch of Constantine in Rome stands in poor contrast to its second-century sculptures which were borrowed from monuments from the period of Emperor Trajan. The elite abandoned their intellectual pursuits for social life. Officially sponsored art was decadent, and music was increasingly bombastic. Even the portraits on the coins became of poor quality. All of life was marked by the predominant apathy.

As the Roman economy slumped lower and lower, burdened with an aggravated inflation and a costly government, authoritarianism increased to counter the apathy. Since work was no longer done voluntarily, it was brought increasingly under the authority of the state, and freedoms were lost.For example, laws were passed binding small farmers to their land. So, because of the general apathy and its results, and because of oppressive control, few thought the old civilization worth saving.

Rome did not fall because of external forces such as the invasion by the barbarians. Rome had no sufficient inward base; the barbarians only completed the breakdown — and Rome gradually became a ruin.

These words, penned in 1976, stand as a grave reminder of where we are in America today, 40 years later: Over-sexualized media, decadence, the rejection of absolutes, apathy, and the surrender of freedom to a government “nanny-state”. We have devolved into an abyss of lawlessness and corruption the likes of which we have never experienced in our great nation before. With every passing day, we are inundated — on both news media and social media — with stories of wrong doing, corruption, and deception… with mind-numbing regularity. What is truth anymore? What stories are legitimate and which are fabrications of a twisted and rudderless media? After all… it used to be that our news media would simply “bend” a story to their own end. Now, we find the news media making up stories, fabricating crises, and creating false narratives.

Case in point: Several years ago, while in the Middle East with a cameraman, we were in a region that had recently suffered through conflict. As a group of us were standing there, we noticed a few soldiers down the street on security patrol, simply keeping the peace. A group of youths were playing, just up the street from the soldiers. We watched as a reporter and cameraman from a major American news agency approached the youths, handed them rocks, and tried to entice them into throwing the rocks at the soldiers — obviously so they could report on a conflict that didn’t exist.

IMG_1905We are seeing the same thing now in our nation; a compromised news media that selectively reports (or omits) news in order to promote an agenda or narrative to further a liberal social agenda. We have veterans dying from lack of care, yet we have leaders who are more concerned that sexually confused soldiers get tax-payer funded “gender reassignment” surgery; “leadership” obsessed with turning our once mighty military into a social experiment. We have politicians with their hands caught in the proverbial “cookie jar” of greed and corruption who are given a pass, not just by those tasked with oversight and judicial process, but by a media that champions every despicable and ungodly policy said politicians stand for. We have radical leftists who, in their day, were considered criminals, who are now wandering the halls of academia, preying on young, idealistic minds.

Our nation is, by all accounts, in dire straits.

Yet we still have a hope. We can have freedom if we will embrace freedom. But in order to embrace freedom, we must do three things.

First of all, we must recognize the truth.

In John 8, Jesus said…

“… If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.
And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”~ v. 31-32

This is a simple-yet-profound principle, regardless of whether in a spiritual, political, or cultural context. Truth is what sets us free. Lying, manipulation, and subterfuge only hide a problem that will eventually come to the surface with a vengeance. Dishonesty begets dishonesty. No problem, conflict, or crisis can be truly resolved until all parties get honest about what the real problem is.

Second, we must stand up for the truth.

One of the reasons we are in much of the trouble we are in is because of an unwillingness of those who know the truth to take a stand. People don’t want their “apple cart” disturbed. Whether it be for reasons of political correctness, loss of benefits, loss of pleasure, or loss of any other personal advantage, most individuals these days are unwilling to take a stand against anything or anyone that is going to affect their comfort, health, or bank account. Whether out of fear of disruption of their personal world, or (as Francis Schaeffer pointed out) apathy to certain issues of our society because “it doesn’t affect me”, our once courageous people have become self-centered and feckless. We have abandoned personal goals of excellence in favor of “participation trophies”, and have traded the exploration of our world and communities for a virtual world of X-Boxes, reality television, and social media. If we ever want to see the diminishing greatness of our nation return, we must stand for truth. We must stand for righteousness. We must stand for integrity. We must endeavor to once again understand the past in order to build a desirable future. After the Nazi conquest and occupation of Germany and much of Europe, a Protestant pastor named Martin Niemöller famously stated…

martin-niemollerFirst they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Take a stand, speak up, vote… let your voice be heard and your presence be known. As the late Jim Elliot one said,

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.

Last of all, we must acknowledge THE Truth.

Jesus said…

“I am the way, the truth, and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through Me.” ~ John 14:6

Chalk outline - crossReally, this should be point number one, because it is the foundation of all truth… the One who is THE TRUTH. In a nation that has run so far afield from THE Truth, it is no wonder that we have a problem telling the truth from a lie. But when the Truth is rejected, as Christ has been in the American town square, it is a matter of time before any and all truth falls by the wayside…

We don’t like the message, so we blame the messenger.

We don’t like the outcome, so we corrupt the data.

We don’t like the facts are leading us, so we revise history.

We don’t like the reality, so we resort to a narrative of name calling and fear-mongering.

We don’t like the truth, so we make the ones telling the truth the villains.

As Christians, we shouldn’t be too surprised by any of this: Jesus brought the truth to the Roman-controlled world that Francis Schaeffer described above, and they rejected His message, and put Him to death.

And just maybe, these 2,000 years later, we’ll finally realize it didn’t work out so well for them.

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