The Easter tweets (amended, annotated)

  1. I usually plan a tweet or two a day. But I’ll tweet every hour on the hour during Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.
  2. An Holy Week sermon on self-government and human nature in 80 tweets. I’ll reveal my closest political and religious sentiments and
  3. . . . in so doing, offend many and bore more. It’s an Easter argument to Christians, so forgive some alienating language and citations.
  4. The American experiment is an inquiry into human nature: can a person govern herself? And can people, collectively, govern themselves?
  5. Hamilton and Lincoln frame the Federalist and the Gettysburg Address, respectively – and the U.S. itself – around that second question.
  6. Lincoln’s open question is our open question: “… whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”
  7. (Lincoln’s “that nation, or any nation”: any “American exceptionalism” is in our universality, he says – our unexceptionalism.)
  8. It was an open question in 1863, and it’s an open question today. We’re an open question, in fact: we were dedicated to a “proposition.”
  9. It’s tough, existing as a proposition. It’s easier to be a nation of accreting culture, heritage, and language, for instance. And we are.
  10. But it’s not reserved for us only to accrete, to drift. We are what we say about mankind. Hamilton is resigned to it, as to one’s fate:
  11. “It seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question . . .”
  12. “. . . whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or . . .”
  13. “. . . whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.” – Hamilton, Fed. No. 1.
  14. So. Can men and women govern themselves? Is democracy possible, or even desirable, from what we know of human nature?
  15. Calvin and Hobbes, strange bedfellows even before the comic strip, say no. Humanity is too benighted to govern itself.
  16. And a demagogue’s polemics always imply we can’t govern ourselves. “Kenyan, anticolonial behavior” was spoken to his base’s baser angels.
  17. And yet a Pollyannaish view of human nature is no basis for self-government, either.
  18. Our idealism must be grounded in human nature. I’ll go further: idealism must work for ideal moderation: an ideal grasp of human nature.
  19. What do you believe about human nature? After all, Hamilton and Lincoln say that our nation is grounded on a certain view of it.
  20. Can a society of men govern itself? Too easy to say yes; too easy to say no. I answer: Fielding. Dostoevsky. Faulkner. High drama.
  21. (Moses, too. Reading Hobbes, I figured he’d try to get around “Ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests.” & in Leviathan, there it was!)
  22. We live the drama because we live the question. Some generations – Hamilton’s, Lincoln’s, ours – more than others.
  23. “’Man is a vile creature! … And vile is he who calls him vile for that,’ [Raskolnikov] added a moment later.” – Crime & Punishment.
  24. My own “moment” took twenty years. (Maybe Raskolnikov was faster because, like David after Bathsheba, his sin was always before him.)
  25. I’m not saying man’s not vile, but I’ve stopped saying he is. (After an identity crisis, I see mankind differently than I did before.)
  26. “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” – James Madison.
  27. “Since men aren’t angels, self-government is impossible.” – Calvin (in so many words). And Hobbes. And the Family Bookstore.
  28. (Man walks into a Family Bookstore. “Got anything by Dostoevsky?” Blank look. But are there better Christian novels?)
  29. Nothing comes cheap in Dostoevsky. Especially redemption. What height without depths?
  30. Many of Zondervan’s books imply that the possibility of self-government fell with the Fall. And that a prayer makes us angels.
  31. Idealism isn’t optimism. Optimism won’t touch pessimism any more than light will touch darkness.
  32. God “made darkness his secret place” (Psalm 18:11). We must, too, until we’re convinced of it. Dostoevsky did.
  33. “We had the sentence of death in ourselves” (2 Co.). What does that mean? Dostoevsky, who faced a firing squad before writing, knew.
  34. (Robert Bly: “To write differently, you have to change your life.” Dostoevsky’s sentence improved his sentences.)
  35. I can turn from left to right and back again. But my politics, like my religion, won’t deeply change until I reach bottom.
  36. (Not that, having reached bottom, we’d agree with one another. But I think we’d listen, maybe sometimes reverently, to our opponents.)
  37. Our political discourse will remain this coarse until we’ve reached bottom, tearing up much good and bad on the way down.
  38. (And politics and religion are inextricably tangled. Why else would I believe in Jefferson’s separation of church and state?
  39. Because we can’t speak of either, religion and politics are already enmeshed by implication.
  40. But at least we can speak of “the sentence of death in ourselves.” Barely, though, because death, too, is dying.
  41. Death is dying. I tweet about death, in fact, to keep it alive in me.
  42. (The imposed silence of euphemisms: “The departed.” “Passed on.” The hushed tone peculiar to visitations.)
  43. Calvin was a forerunner of the modern religious state: I’ll tell you what God says, and you do it.
  44. What about a family model? A Christian minivan of a government with the father at the wheel? Locke’s first treatise wrecked it:
  45. Patriarchalism, King James’s pet notion, is as modern as the divine right of kings. Locke saw its threat to the medieval notion of equality.
  46. In a sense, the American Revolution was not a revolution but a war asserting rights under the English Constitution and medieval natural law.
  47. The crowd rushed Jesus to make him king. Later, the crowd rushed to throw him off a cliff. Each time he escaped.
  48. America will lead into the Millennium. Or it will fall until the Rapture. Like Jesus, America must escape the coronation and the cliff.
  49. Hobbes was partly & unwittingly a forebear of totalitarianism: There is no God, we are gods, you are people, and they are animals.
  50. But Jefferson and Lincoln paired a society’s ability to govern itself with the proposition that all men are created equal.
  51. Equal? Man requires a hierarchy (I’ll give Hobbes that), but Locke & Jefferson deliver: Man stands above Nature and below Nature’s God.
  52. Jesus declares an equality-in-hierarchy: “I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God” (John 20:17).
  53. Christianity even honors all three levels – God, People, and Nature – with separate resurrections in order of hierarchy.
  54. Man requires a hierarchy. So, from a political standpoint, there must be a God because there must be a man. That’s liberalism.
  55. Natural law is based on human nature set (and tugged) between angels and beasts.
  56. Villefort claims that this tug creates “apoplexy” in every person: “You [the Count] who, like Ariel, verge on the angelic . . .”
  57. “. . . are but an inert mass, which, like Caliban, verges on the brutal.” The Count of Monte Cristo, Ch. 48.
  58. How unequal can equal be? To scale, our mountainous world is smoother than the smoothest cue ball. God gives scale.
  59. Or as Donne says, “No man is so little, in respect of the greatest man, as the greatest in respect of God.” – Emergent Occasions, Ch. 2.
  60. God gives scale, so when we’re more equal, God is closer. (Equality’s goal is ideal moderation: an ideal grasp of human nature. Cf. 18.)
  61. Are there any liberals left? I.e., Lockean liberals? Locke believes man is naturally free and equal, which makes Raskolnikov possible.
  62. Locke believes people can reason about virtue & happiness, which makes freedom and a moral society – even a moral democracy – possible.
  63. Come now, & let us reason together: Calvin’s wrong. If people can’t reason about first things, revelation faces an apocalyptic future.
  64. But Bork is also wrong: if equality means majorities decide what’s moral, the American Revolution is just a decelerated French one.
  65. Majority morality: “Might makes right.” And in a democracy, the majority makes might makes right. In a short-lived democracy, anyway.
  66. Jefferson: People are “independent of all but moral law.” And so the Supreme Court should revisit John Marshall’s natural (& moral) law.
  67. Rousseau, Hobbes, and Calhoun have different takes on the state of nature, but Locke’s matches Christian metaphysics.
  68. In Locke’s state of nature, the individual preexists society and government. Inalienable rights require this existential metaphysics.
  69. Free & equal. But in a Christian nation, non-Christians are not human. Not politically. “Christian nation” is moronic. Oxymoronic, too.
  70. Voting speaks of our common humanity and even of our maturity: only a mature person understands his equality with others. Take Peter.
  71. Equality? Peter “accepts Jesus as his personal savior” (or whatever) and becomes the best Christian on earth by putting others down.
  72. “I love you more than they do!” No equality. No humanity, no conversion. (At the Last Supper, Jesus says Peter isn’t “converted” Lk 22.)
  73. After Peter denies him, Jesus almost mocks him: “Do you love me more than these do?” Peter (annoyed): “I like you.” Now we’re equal.
  74. Granted, the vote only points to maturity; it doesn’t create it. So what would Jesus do? “Let the most mature among you cast the first vote.”
  75. And granted, a lot of immature people vote. (Read the idealists Locke & Madison: human nature scared the shit out of them.)
  76. I worry about what a majority will do. But Jesus didn’t stop Peter from playing God. Jesus allowed freedom to teach Peter.
  77. Lincoln’s listeners dedicated children only to God. It must have shocked them to hear that the U.S. was dedicated to a proposition instead.
  78. “Dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Lincoln turned down the opportunity to declare us a Christian nation.
  79. But Lincoln discovered one of Christianity’s most-cherished principles in the Declaration of Independence:
  80. “You are all brothers” (Matt. 23). Equality: the possibility of redemption, of maturity, of self-government.


“Trill” are my Twitters. Tweet suites from @slowreads.

Detail of Jacopo Bassano’s The Last Supper. Public Domain.

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