40 years — a biblical number.
For 40 years, Moses was in exile, before returning to Egypt to free his people. For 40 years, the Israelites wandered in the desert before entering the promised land.
Our own advent has lasted 40 years as well.
Our preparation for this moment began 40 years ago, in 1968. Vietnam, the Democratic convention, political assassinations, riots in the streets.
“Off the pigs!” “Do your own thing!” “Don’t trust anyone over 30!” “Power to the people!” “Tune in, turn on, drop out!”
It was a time of enormous change. And it was just the beginning of enormous change.
The social tumult of the late 60s was indeed a revolution. Yes, the slogans now appear silly and self-important, but the changes they represented burrowed deeply into the soul of a country. Looking back at its superficial manifestations — tie-dyed T-shirts, bell-bottoms, long hair, communes, free love, getting stoned, rock ‘n roll — these things now seem profoundly foolish, the insanity of youth taken greatly to excess. But the changes of the late 60s and 70s were infectious and intoxicating, and were imbibed deeply by an entire nation.
In these 40 years, we have learned many things. We have learned that slogans about change are the same as change. We have learned that “do your own thing” is a principal worth inculcating into the very fabric of our lives. We have learned that how we feel is more important than what we do. We have learned that ideas do not have consequences — but are themselves consequences.
We have learned that our government is not to be trusted, that our country is not to be loved. We have learned that what our country can do for us is more important than what we can do for our country. We have learned that the government always lies; that the media is always truthful; that corporations are evil; that unrestricted license is good.
We have learned to be green, and to relish the obscene. We have learned that religion is patriarchal and oppressive; that social mores and morality are to be challenged and rejected; that “freedom of speech” means burning the flag, smearing Madonna with feces; immersing the crucifix in urine; being obnoxious, abusive, and vicious while never entertaining criticism or rebuttal.
We have learned not to think, but to feel; not to reason but to react; not to dialogue but to detest; not to take responsibility but to accuse. We have learned to bolster our self-esteem, and worship our self-gratification. We have learned that someone else should always pay; that we are entitled to whatever we want; that wealth and happiness are our birthright. We have learned that god is within; that our existence is a cosmic coincidence; that our purpose is self-aggrandizement and acquisition of money and power. We have learned that only the material is true; that spiritual principles and practice are but opinions; that there is no truth anyway, only narrative.
There is much we have not learned during our long advent.
We have not learned history — at least not any history worth learning. We have not learned reason, or logic, or deduction. We have learned nothing of human nature, of its inherent draw toward evil rather than good, of the necessity of moral restraint and regeneration before such mortal and moral gravity can be overcome. We have not learned the limitation of government nor the risks of its encroaching strangulation of our freedom. We have not learned patience, nor endurance, nor self-control, nor deferred gratification. We have not learned that there are things worth dying for, and therefore there might be something worth living for.
Our 40-year advent now draws to a close. The prime-time prophets proclaim the Messiah, who will save us from our spiraling descent with stirring words and mighty miracles. We stand poised to nominate, and perhaps elect, a charismatic individual who is the embodiment of all our heartfelt desires. He alone can end all wars; he alone can destroy tyranny with mere words; he alone can smite the haters, the greedy, the culturally insensitive, the religious zealots. He preaches hope, to those who know not why they are hopeless; he preaches change, to those who have no compass by which to judge its direction.
Imagine such a candidate, such a public figure, running for the presidency a mere 40 years ago. Imagine a presidential candidate with no experience, no portfolio, no principles beyond rhetorical flourish and false hope. Imagine a country which finds such a man not only eligible but epitomizing its very ideals.
You cannot imagine any such thing in any culture which cherishes the responsibility and robustness of its own leaders. Our postmodern evolution is complete; we have grown from a country of adults to a nation of infants. The fruit of our regression is upon us; we are no longer a nation, but a nursery.
“Power to the people,” indeed.
May God help us.