July 4, 2024 – and a “What would have happened?”

*   *   *   *

One time when Moses almost got stoned. (Imagine if he’d had to run for re-election…)

*   *   *   *

July 6, 2024 – For this post I’m going back 10 years, to the 2014 holiday just past, and The Bible readings for July 4, 2014. Also, from two days later, For Sunday of the July 4th weekend.

The morning of July 4, 2014, I sat “in a McDonald’s on Concord Pike northeast of Wilmington Delaware. (They have free Wifi.)” Later that day I posted, and the post mentioned – among other things – that “when any government or majority tries to influence the religious beliefs of others, they only ‘beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness.'” My comment, “Sounds like it was written yesterday!” (The post also mentioned a note that it was “wrong for ‘fallible and uninspired men’ to try and establish their own view of religious truth as ‘the only true and infallible.'”)

Two days later I found myself riding a train north from New York City to Montreal. “That means I had to find my passport, and in the process I found [it] makes for some interesting reading.” That led me to what Steinbeck said about Freedom: (You know, the kind for everybody?)

…this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world.  And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected.  And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual.  This is what I am and what I am about.

In other words, looking back ten years I remember the good things that happened.

But that process also brings up some questions: “What will life be like from now? In 2034, what good things will I recall about 2024?” There’s a lot we can hope for, but if past is prologue I’ll probably remember the good things and – hopefully – not think so much about the bad things. Which is pretty much how the Children of Israel thought about their time back in Egypt, when they were miserable slaves. And that brings up this question: “What would have happened if the ancient Hebrews had The Vote back when they were wandering in the Wilderness?”

One thing we know, they did a lot of complaining.

One example, Exodus 16:3, “If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” Another? Numbers 11:5, “We remember the fish we ate freely in Egypt, along with the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic.” And also Numbers 16:13, “Is it not enough that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the wilderness? Must you also appoint yourself as ruler over us?”

As such those ancient Hebrews may have been the first – in recorded history anyway – to fall prey to the Golden Age Fallacy. “Nostalgia is denial – denial of the painful present.” And who falls prey to that fallacy? People who “find it difficult to cope with the present.”

And who was the “who” those people complained about? Moses, the agent of God who delivered them out of slavery. And here’s the thing: They did not sit around pots of meat and eat all the food they wanted in Egypt. And they did not eat freely of fish, along with cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. They were slaves, and they were given slave rations; just enough to keep them functioning, barely. As such they initially reveled in being set free, but then found out they couldn’t handle it. Being “free” was harder than they thought.

So they blamed Moses and looked back at a Golden Age that never was. As for “what if they could have voted,” we know they were ready to stone him. (Not in a good way.) That’s Numbers 14:10, “The whole assembly talked about stoning them.” And so if they had the choice they would have voted Moses out of office and gone back to a time they remembered as better.

But a free people doesn’t go back in time, and especially not to a “better time that never was.” Which brings up that passport and a quote I found on pages 16-17, attributed to Teddy Roosevelt:  “This is a new nation, based on a mighty continent, of endless possibilities.” Get that? “Endless possibilities.” (Including the possibility that being free is sometimes hard work.)

But to get to that land of endless possibilities, our ancestors – the people with gumption and nerve – had to leave behind the old and corrupt ways of where they came from. (Another way of saying “conservative types,” but that’s a subject for later posts.) Which brings up the last quote, on page 28 of my passport, from the late astronaut Ellison Onizuka:

Every generation has the obligation to free men’s minds for a look at new worlds . . . to look out from a higher plateau than the last generation.

But to me that’s just another way of saying, “Sing to the Lord a new song,” not a stale rehash of times past. A way of saying you can’t “live up to, fulfill or implement” the promise of the American Dream if you interpret the Constitution – or the Bible – in a closed, narrow, or “strict” way. The bottom line? Our duty as Americans – especially Christian Americans – is to foster those endless possibilities of freedom, even if they also benefit some people we don’t especially like. Let’s not go back in time, so we can look forward to a Happy July 4th in 2034…

*   *   *   *

 Ellison Shoji Onizuka, American astronaut – and philosopher…

*   *   *   *

The upper image is courtesy of Stoning of Moses, Joshua and Caleb | Byzantine | The Metroplitan Museum of Art (It’s a mosaic from the 5th century.)  See also Stoning – Wikipedia, which includes another painting of the incident. The caption to that painting, under Punishment of the Rebels:  “The Punishment of Korah and the Stoning of Moses and Aaron (1480–1482), by Sandro BotticelliSistine ChapelRome.”  See also Heresy – Wikipedia

The Book of Common Prayer reference: The “corporate-mystical” prayer is on page 339, the post-communion prayer for Holy Eucharist, Rite I.

“Feast days” are designated days on the liturgical (church) calendar “set aside to commemorate events, saints, or doctrines that are important in the life of the Church. These can range from Solemnities, which are the highest-ranking feast days like Easter and Christmas, to optional memorials that celebrate lesser-known saints.” Feast Days: Celebrating the Church’s Calendar.

“What Steinbeck wrote.” See Quote by John Steinbeck. (It wasn’t in the passport.)

Re: Golden Age Fallacy. See also Good old days – RationalWiki, on “remembering only the positive aspects of times past while sweeping concomitant negatives under the rug.”

On Moses’ unpopularity, see On Moses getting stoned, from January 2016. And one possibly-relevant observation from the past, from a book I’m reading now, “it’s a truism in politics that early front-runners are more vulnerable to slipping…” To Rescue the Republic: Ulysses S. Grant, the Fragile Union, and the Crisis of 1876, by Bret Baier and Catherine Whitney, Chapter 10, “The Bitter Divide.”

As to singing a new song to the Lord, see for example Isaiah 42:10 and Psalms 96:1, 98:1, and 144:9.

Re: Lower photo, Ellison Onizuka (1946-1986) was an American astronaut “from KealakekuaHawaii, who successfully flew into space with the Space Shuttle Discovery on STS-51-C. He died in the destruction of the Space Shuttle Challenger, on which he was serving as Mission Specialist for mission STS-51-L. He was the first Asian-American to reach space.” See Ellison Onizuka – Wikipedia. His image is courtesy of that article. 

*   *   *   *