Woe Unto Thee, Atheist!

OK all you armchair political scientists.  Tell me who wrote this and the approximate time and place.

In reflecting on what has happened * * * I became keenly aware of our national humiliation and decline. In material respects our country has become insignificant. The level of our commerce and industry is at an all time low and the number of paupers steadily increasing. Politically we are in disarray, following a long series of constitutional experiments that have all failed. The soul of our body politic, the Nation, is hampered and frustrated. The lack of order extends to the whole of society: the distinction between estates has been abolished, there is unlimited competition, ancient bonds of love and subordination have been removed, workingmen are helpless over against the factory owners, the state of poor relief is increasingly ominous. Deterioration so widespread suggests the presence of a general cause.

But perhaps we have learned from experience and reflection and worked out more firmly established theories? The opposite is true. Never before has every problem been so uncertain. Our men of theory are skeptical and our men of practice are hesitant, content to deal only with matters imposed by the events from day to day. Never before have theories been so unpopular.

The same skepticism is apparent with respect to the foundations of religion, morality, and justice. On these questions our generation is hopelessly divided. Every view is subjective and individual, each one has his own belief, his own opinion, exchanged, as times and circumstances alter, for another one, equally fleeting. There are now persuasions and confessions without number, all supposedly Christian.  Controversy has diminished, not because of increasing consensus but because of growing indifference. Disputes over doctrine upset people’s sense of tranquility. Before long, our only hope, the truth itself, may be banned

Whence this regression, this confusion, this general decline? Do you blame the forms of government for it? We have had all kinds: democracy, aristocracy, monarchy,despotism, constitutional government — the whole storehouse of revolutionary governments has served us. Do you blame the circumstances? They have not always been unfavorable. Do you blame the degeneration of our people? They never fell so deep that they could not be lifted up again. Have we lacked men of ability and energy? There have been statesmen whom I for one would not deny talent and character, nor, for that matter, good intentions; so that we are all the more pressed to search for the reason why even their wisdom was deceived and their energy paralyzed.

Everything therefore points to a general cause, to which the political forms, the circumstances, the national character, and the acting personages have been subordinate. And this cause must be sought in the ideas which have predominated. I  agree * * * that “everything proceeds from doctrines:manners, literature, constitutions, laws, the happiness of nations and their misfortunes, culture, barbarism, and those terrible crises that sweep the nations away or else renew them, depending on their level of vitality.”

Historical events, in their main content and chief import, are nothing other than the shapes and contours that reveal the sustained action of the spirit of an age. This is what I propose to demonstrate to you in the succession of the revolutionary phases, in our country and elsewhere. Whatever may have been the subordinate action of secondary causes* * * the principal cause of history * * * for more than half a century has been the inevitable result of the errors that have made themselves master of the predominant mode of thinking.

In order to bring out the nature of this subject it is necessary to explain what I mean by Revolution and by Revolution ideas.

By Revolution I do not mean one of the many events whereby government is overthrown. Nor do I just mean by it the storm of upheaval that has raged * * *. Rather, by Revolution I mean the whole inversion of the general spirit and mode of thinking that is now manifest in all Christendom. {footnote in original: The Revolution is the unfolding of a wholesale skepticism in which God’s Word and Law have been thrust aside}.

By Revolution ideas I mean the basic maxims of liberty and equality, popular sovereignty, social contract, the artificial reconstruction of society by common consent — notions which today are venerated as the cornerstone of constitutional law and political order.

The conviction that many calamities suffered by our fathers and by our own generation have sprung from this wisdom and from its origin, the rejection of the Gospel, was reinforced in me by a fresh examination of the train of events. Once again I saw clearly that whenever these theories gain a foothold people are led about in a circle of misery and grief.

Let me give my main conclusions now. A strict, consistent application of the Revolution doctrine will bring men to the most excessive absurdities and the worst atrocities. However, whenever men become terrified by the revolutionary development (which they regard as exaggeration) and in reaction begin to insist on moderation, though without abandoning the principle, then to avoid anarchy, the only course of action open to them, since they shink back from the consequences of their own convictions, is a shilly-shally, capricious behavior which has no guide save in the succession and pressure of circumstances. Even today this very course of action is made out to be the height of political wisdom: I mean the method of consultation of the doctrinaires; the policy which under the name of juste-milieu or the middle-of-the-road is dominant at present: the theory of the conservatives; and the practice, or if I must speak the truth, the routine, the languor and lethargy, the rut which prevails in our own country.

The consequences of the Revolution ideas cannot be combated with any success unless oneScreen Shot 2016-05-11 at 3.38.07 PM places himself outside their influence, on the ground of the anti-revolutionary principles. This ground is beyond reach, however, so long as one refuses to acknowledge that the foundation of justice lies in the law the ordinance of God. * * *

The Revolution doctrine is unbelief applied to politics. A life and death struggle is raging between the Gospel and this practical atheism. To contemplate a rapprochement between the two would be nonsense. It is a battle which embraces everything we cherish and hold sacred and everything that is beneficial and indispensable to church and state.

Well, I had one correct guess, but more intriguingly, he guessed correctly because he had seen this pieces of this rhetoric replicated in the same places I had – the epistles of the Family Research Council and their affiliates – and had looked the curious artifacts of Van Dyke’s translation (e. g. “Revolution ideas”) up on the internet.

While there are some aspects of Van Dykes translation that might be adjusted to make van Printerer’s meaning clearer to today’s reader, the amount of consistency with the propaganda of the intolerant religious right is too much to be serendipitous.  I think it only fair to suggest that the 21st century Family Action groups are simply channeling the intolerance of 19th Century Dutch Reform Calvinism.

More to the point, I think it rather clear that these groups then are not looking for broader religious liberty; they are looking for nothing less than the abrogation of the social contract. In short, the religious right is correct: they are in a religious war, they started it, and we will all be much better off when their teeth have been pulled.

 


Dyke, Harry Van. Groen van Prinsterer’s Lectures on Unbelief and Revolution. Jordan Station, Canada: Wedge Publishing Foundation, 1989.

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