‘One day Saint Polycarp saw the ruler sitting in his chair and watching as the blood of Christians flowed like water.’—From the life of Martyr Polycarp of Alexandria (+4th century)
The murder of six innocent Christians at the Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee, by a deranged young woman in the grips of the demonic ideology of transgenderism seems to have opened the eyes of many to the reality of the spiritual warfare going on here in the States, that the forces of Good and evil are locked in a battle for the souls and bodies of the people we see all around us.
Much of the ruling class and many Blue States and cities agree with President Biden, who put out a statement on April 1st that reads in part,
‘Transgender Day of Visibility celebrates the joy, strength, and absolute courage of some of the bravest people I know — people who have too often had to put their jobs, relationships, and lives on the line just to be their true selves. Today, we show millions of transgender and nonbinary Americans that we see them, they belong, and they should be treated with dignity and respect. Their courage has given countless others strength, but no one should have to be brave just to be themselves. Every American deserves that freedom. Transgender Americans shape our Nation’s soul . . . .’
In a situation so unprecedented, so at odds with traditional mores, is there anything in the Southern tradition that can possibly help us here in Dixie to reestablish our feet on solid ground, to help us regain our bearings?
Deo Gratias, we have not been left without such help. Another one of Virginia’s great sons, the Rev. Robert Lewis Dabney, provides us with a diagnosis and a cure for the madness that is overwhelming society. In his book The Sensualistic Philosophy of the Nineteenth Century Considered, he foresees clearly the effects of rejecting traditional Christian teaching about God and man and accepting in its place various materialistic and atheistic theories. He begins an exceptional string of passages by explaining the motivations of modern man for denying God:
‘We saw that the practical effect of Darwin’s speculations was to make man one among the beasts. But Huxley and his comrades would end by reducing both man and beast to the level of the clod. Why is it, that any mind possessed even of the culture displayed in these ill-starred speculations, does not resent the unspeakable degradation which they inflict upon mankind? Men would not thus outrage their own natures, without an interested motive. That motive is, doubtless, in many, the craving for license from moral restraints, and release from that accountability to a holy God, which remorse foreshadows. In the more decent it is probably a semi-conscious vanity of intellect, itching for a place apart from the common crowd of thinkers, and a semi-conscious craving for liberty of an irresponsible self-will. They wish not to have this Christ to reign over them. To the sinful mind viewing its destiny superficially, it may seem a fine thing to have no omniscient Master; to be released from the restraints of law; to be held hereafter to no account for conscious guilt. But let us see whether even guilty man has any motive of self-interest to say in his heart, “There is no God,” whether atheism is not at least as horrible as hell.’
This describes very well the transgender crowd – seeking liberty from moral restraint, freedom from accountability to God. But there is a price to be paid for these actions. Following this rebellion, he says, comes profound sadness:
‘Some materialists have professed to believe in immortality. But should it be that man is immortal, and yet has no God, this itself will be eternal despair. For no materialistic theory can then expel from the man those immutable realities, sensibility, hope, fear, sin, guilt, accountability, remorse . . . . But now, if the materialist-theory is true, there is no remedy for these miseries. There is no God omnipotent to cleanse and deliver. There is no Redeemer, in whom dwell the divine wisdom, power, love, and truth, for man’s rescue. The Bible, the only book that ever professed to tell fallen man of an adequate salvation, is discredited. Providence and Grace are, banished out of the existence of helpless, suffering man. There is no object to whom we can address prayer in our extremity. In place of a personal God and Father in Christ, – the fountain and exemplar of all love and beneficence, to whom we can cry in prayer, on whom we may lean in our weakness and sorrow, who is able and willing to wash away guilt and heal depravity, who is suited to be our adequate portion through an eternal existence, – we are left to confront this infinite Nature, material, impersonal, reasonless, heartless.’
And now he pours out words of heart-breaking eloquence that capture the despair that is crushing the hearts and souls of so many people, and leading them to commit horrific atrocities:
‘There is no supreme, rational, or righteous government over man [in the materialist scheme—W.G.]; and when the noblest sentiments of the soul are crushed by wrongs so intolerable, that their perpetual triumph is felt to be more hateful than death; there is not, nor shall there ever be, to all eternity, any appeal to compensating justice! But our only master is an irresistible, blind machine, revolving forever by the law of a mechanical necessity; and the corn between its upper and nether millstones is this multitude of living, palpitating, human hearts, instinct with their priceless hopes, and fears, and affections, and pangs, writhing and bleeding forever under the remorseless grind. The picture is as black as hell itself. He who is “without God in this world,” is “without hope.” Atheism is despair’ (Christopher Coldwell, edr., Naphtali Press, Dallas, 2003, pgs. 152, 153-4).
Without Christ, without hope, drowning in their pain and fear, people like Audrey Hale have no reason to refrain from lashing out at those whom they believe are mistreating them.
To the question, then, that inevitably follows these abominable evils – What must we do to prevent them from happening again? – the answer, vis-à-vis Rev. Dabney, is not difficult to discern: Stop teaching people, especially the young, theories (evolution, LGBT ideology, transhumanism, etc.) that snatch the good seed of the Christian Gospel from their hearts, that extinguish the warmth and glow of healthy spiritual life from the soul; and do the opposite – cultivate the Gospel in the hearts of people.
Our proposals to effect that must be bold, however, to match the great danger facing us. We must tear out, root and branch, the sources of this revolutionary, this satanic, madness.
We must throw far away every vague reference to ‘Nature’s God,’ ‘Almighty Being,’ ‘Supreme Ruler of the Universe,’ and the like in the organic laws of our Southern States. These are not beings anyone knows anything about, or how to worship them, or what they require of us. We must speak instead of the All-Holy Trinity, the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost.
We must add to these same constitutions the highest calling of man. Many of the things listed in them are indeed good – protection of innocent human life, domestic tranquility, etc. – but without any reference to ultimate spiritual goals, they are in themselves deficient. C. S. Lewis put it this way: ‘Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”: aim at earth and you will get neither.’
In that vein, it is necessary to add to them the words of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ from His Holy Gospel, to give our Southern people the proper grounding and direction generation after generation:
‘And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent. The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory which thou hast given me in thy love for me before the foundation of the world’ (St. John’s Gospel 17:3, 22-24).
‘Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well’ (St. Matthew’s Gospel 7:25, 33).
Words from St. Augustine of Hippo (+5th century) could be added as well: ‘God is the source of our blessedness. He is the goal of all our aspirations. While we are searching for Him . . . we aspire to Him in our love in order to reach Him and find rest. We are blessed only insofar as we progress toward this goal. We have no other good except union with God’ (The City of God, 60, 3, quoted in Archimandrite Panteleimon, Eternal Mysteries Beyond the Grave, 2nd edn., Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, New York, 2012, p. 272).
Prayers like the following must ever be on the lips of those in our families, our schools, our government institutions, our businesses, and so forth. If we need to revise State constitutional clauses dealing with religious establishments, so be it. If we need to nullify federal Supreme Court rulings that try to squelch the public, communal practice of Christianity, so be it:
‘O Lord Jesus Christ, eternal God, who within time hast become perfect man from the womb of the Virgin: from thy heavenly throne hearken to our prayer for this land. Prepare it for us as a temporal homeland such that we may easily and safely travel therefrom to our true homeland with thee. Give strength to thy people and bless them with peace. As Joseph prospered when he sojourned in Egypt, so prosper the Church and her leaders during our sojourn in this land. Adorn our earthly rulers with the faith of Ehud, the hope of Barak, the steadfast trust of Jephthah, the holiness of Samuel, the prudence of Moses, the meekness of David, the wisdom of Solomon, the courage of Hezekiah, the zeal of Josiah, and the nobility of Zerubbabel.
‘Correct the laws of this land to guide aright men’s deeds and so make their hearts upright, and let us no longer shed innocent blood and be putrid with it, defiling ourselves with the works of darkness. Make our households to be like flocks of sheep, and our children like olive trees around our table. Go forth, O God, with our armed forces, protecting those that serve in them by the power of thy Cross. Grant peace to our cities, towns, and countryside, and by thy mighty right hand and wisdom support and guide the police and all those charged with enforcing the law. Enlighten with the true light of the Gospel the minds of all educators of this land, to whom we commend the instruction of ourselves and our children. Send us rain and sunshine, and also snow and wind from thy storehouses, all in due season. Make our harvests bountiful and multiply them to feed the poor of our land and of the whole world. Make honest the scales of the merchants and bankers, and make the earthly economy of this land ever more to reflect, even as in a mirror darkly, the supernal economy of thy Father. Guide aright the hands of all doctors, nurses, and other healers in this land, and grant that they may employ their arts for the sake of health and life in this world leading unto true life and salvation, and not for the sake of death and the devil’ (Orthodox Christian Prayers, St. Tikhon’s Monastery Press, 2019).
Looking at this from a different angle, we do not need a one-sided focus on STEM classes in our schools; we do not need to remake society into a total panopticon surveillance state; we do not need to ‘Make America Great Again;’ we do not need to be loyal to the Puritan/Yankee Empire and its worldview, all of which things amount to little more than a monstrous dialectical system that swings between the extremes of a smothering totalitarian uniformity and a chaotic individualism.
These are at variance with our Southern Christian patrimony. The Yankee Empire they are a part of is dying, and Dixie must seal herself off from their baneful influence, or she will die as well.
It is far better for us to heed the words of our Southern forebears like Rev. Dabney instead, who encourage us to embrace Christianity and put away infidelity.
And in doing so, we will also be able to tell our Southern neighbors who have fallen into the debauchery of transgenderism, homosexuality, and similar things, the good news that repentance is possible, that God welcomes back the penitent, the prodigal sons and daughters, and blesses them with abundant spiritual gifts if they strive for the heights (some have thankfully already discovered this for themselves). The life of St. Mary of Egypt (+5th century) is extraordinary proof of this. Early in life she fell very deeply into the depravity of prostitution, but later repented earnestly as an ascetic alone in the wilderness. She relates to the holy Elder Zosimus who found her in the desert,
‘Believe me, Abba Zosimas,” the woman said, “I spent seventeen years in this wilderness [after she had spent seventeen years in immorality], fighting wild beasts: mad desires and passions. . . . Abba, how shall I tell you of the thoughts that urged me on to fornication? A fire seemed to burn within me, awakening in me the desire for embraces. Then I would throw myself to the ground and water it with my tears. . . . After finishing my bread, I lived on herbs and the things one finds in the desert. The clothes I had when I crossed over the Jordan became torn and fell apart. I suffered both from the summer heat, when the blazing heat fell upon me, and from the winter cold, when I shivered from the frost. Many times I fell down upon the earth, as though dead. I struggled with various afflictions and temptations. But from that time until the present day, the power of God has guarded my sinful soul and humble body. I was fed and clothed by the all-powerful word of God, since man does not live by bread alone, but by every word proceeding from the mouth of God (Dt 8:3, Mt.4:4, Luke 4:4), and those who have put off the old man (Col 3:9) have no refuge, hiding themselves in the clefts of the rocks (Job 24:8, Heb 11:38). When I remember from what evil and from what sins the Lord delivered me, I have imperishable food for salvation.’
Falling headlong into sin; being lifted out of it by the Grace of God – Is this not a universal theme of our Southland, in our family histories, in sermons, in hymns, in our folk music? Let it be proclaimed everywhere, by everyone: from the lowliest homesteader to the most powerful officeholders, that Southern Christian blood no longer would ‘flow like water’, in Nashville or anywhere else.