Faith, Hope And…

JLH has taken a break from translating German to compose this essay about Christianity in America.

Faith, Hope And…

by JLH

I am not sure that St. Paul did us any favor when he wrote in the 13th chapter of his immortal first letter to the Corinthians, praising the quality of charity:

8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away…
13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

Later linguists disliked “charity” as much as they disliked “through a glass darkly” and chose to substitute “love” for the King James word. Not love in the sense of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (or if you prefer, Beyoncé and Jay-Z) but in the sense of (the outmoded, sexist and non-PC term) “love of fellow Man.” To the young, naive and inquiring mind, this posed just as many difficulties as its predecessor. But let us just assume that “love” is “charity” and vice versa. The formulation remains that there are three important qualities: faith, hope and love/charity.

I approach this summary of lasting values as a key to the differential unfolding of events in the Western World. At one time, Christians were persecuted and endangered, sometimes horrifically killed (or maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to use the past tense). Singly and in groups, they survived the empires and kingdoms of the ancient world, and lived to see their religion become a massive theocratic structure.

The Black Plague spread death and horror across Europe, shaking reliance on civic or religious authority. Crusaders returned from the Near East bringing a renewed interest in the wisdom and art of the ancient world. And the subjects and servants of a monolithic religious edifice watched as an independent-minded (some will say wayward) son of the Church created a crack in its battlements by nailing 95 theses to a church door. Now, instead of being persecuted by their own Church for being different-minded, Christians went to war against each other for the same reason. Rather than e pluribus unum, it was: out of one, many.

After a long slumber, there was a great awakening to the joys of art and music; and after the somnolence of enforced apathy, there was a sudden jolt of passion for religious partisanship. The leavening for this rising of unbridled spontaneity was provided by the Age of Enlightenment (die Aufklärung, le Siècle des lumières), also called the Age of Reason. It is striking to me that German and Austrian writers, among others, repeatedly emphasize the Enlightenment as the touchstone of European civilization. Displacing the so-called Judaeo-Christian heritage, deism and humanism have become the bedrock of Western civilization. Through reason and wisdom, humanity will inexorably improve, and without the help of an attending God. The future is within us.

This optimism about the future of humanity I am inclined to identify with the second of the deathless qualities named by Paul: Hope. And that is how I interpret the repeated references to the Enlightenment — as a pious hope that reason, civility, refinement and humanism will win out over the recent, crass interlopers.

Disciples of the Enlightenment were not only French, English, Scottish and German. They also included prominent Americans such as Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. But there is a difference in how we refer to them. Historians record that the Founders were men of the Enlightenment, but present-day discussions of creeping Islamization and sharia law do not emphasize this. Rather, they tend to emphasize either “American exceptionalism” or Christianity. If America is both Christian and exceptional, does this somehow define us? And if so, how is Christianity here different from the Christianity of the Old World?

First, there is the pure size and variety, in some ways reminiscent of the long ago explosive variegation of Protestant sectarianism. There are as many kinds of Catholics in America as there are ethnicities. There are at least two kinds of Orthodox. One of the fifty states is dominated by the Church of Latter-Day Saints. The number and variety of other large and small sects is mind-boggling.

Second, one early quality of Christianity which has continued and perhaps strengthened in America is evangelicalism. The “evangelicals” are, among other things, an identifiable political voting bloc. But their provenance is far more than today’s loosely associated, multi-titled groups might suggest.

What the evangelicals of today represent for me is, first, our coming into being under the aegis of a document that credits our Creator for our unalienable rights; and, second, our struggle — less than a hundred years later — to survive as a whole nation.

As the Crusaders exemplified the Church militant — Christianity defending itself from the enemy — there are two songs that epitomize for me the marriage of Christianity and the belief in an American republic. The first of them is native to this country and is indissolubly linked to one side in the American Civil War. It developed over time, beginning in the circuit camp meetings on the frontier. Originating in Scotland and England as a Protestant prayer meeting, the camp meeting in the New World became an instrument of the Second Great Awakening, sponsored by Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and other itinerant preachers in the early 19th century. It offered communion, fellowship, music, and even sometimes dancing. A popular hymn at these meetings was:

Say, brothers, will you meet us
On Canaan’s happy shore.(3x)
On Canaan’s happy shore
Glory, glory, hallelujah (3x)
For ever, evermore

After John Brown’s failed raid at Harper’s Ferry in 1859, intended to incite a slave rebellion, Brown was immortalized in a battle song to the same tune:

John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave; (3X)
His soul is marching on!
Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah! his soul is marching on!

This song became popular among Union troops and sympathizers. In 1861 the poet, author, and convinced abolitionist Julia Ward Howe heard the song at a public review of troops outside Washington, D.C. and her friend, Reverend James Freeman Clarke, suggested that she improve on the lyrics. She did, and published it in 1862. The Battle Hymn of the Republic became the most recognizable anthem of the North. Although the South had Dixie — its own iconic song — it is said that the Battle Hymn — also known as Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory — was sung on the Southern side as well.

It expressed vividly an evangelical fervor for victory, not just in the war between the states, but in the battle to assert Christianity. The martial tone becomes increasingly noticeable as the song progresses, cresting in the third stanza, and, in the usual last stanza[1], reaching an apotheosis of passionate devotion to Christ and an equally passionate dedication to fighting and dying in a just war. It is no coincidence that Donald Trump had this song performed during his pre-inauguration appearance at the Lincoln Memorial. Nor that it was sung at the funeral of Robert F. Kennedy in 2001 and the funeral of President Ronald Reagan in 2004:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword/
His truth is marching on.

Glory, glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, glory! Hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watchfires of a hundred circling camps;
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and lamps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps;
His day is marching on.

Glory, glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, glory! Hallelujah!
His day is marching on.

I have read a fiery gospel, writ in burnished rows of steel;
“As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;
Let the hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
Since God is marching on.”

Glory, glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, glory! Hallelujah!
Since God is marching on.

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat:
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgement seat;
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.

Glory, glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, glory! Hallelujah!
Since God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies, Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me;
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.

Glory, glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, glory! Hallelujah!
While God is marching on.

It is worth noting that even this expression of Christian dedication to a cause has been bowdlerized in later versions, including in the hymnals of the sects originally associated with revivalism. Instead of the effective and balanced formula, “As he died to make man holy/ Let us die to make men free” we now have — in all versions performed — a nonsense phrase: “As he died to make men holy/ Let us live to make men free.”

By now, you may think I have said enough on this topic, but I am not finished. There is another significant song, with lyrics written by Sabine Baring-Gould in 1865 and set to music in 1871 by his friend, Arthur Sullivan, of Gilbert and Sullivan. Its optimistic and martial tone appealed to the founder of the Salvation Army, who adopted it as its hymn. And like the Army, it spread from England to, and across, America. Again, we encounter the expression of Christianity in joyful but warlike tones:

Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.
Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;
Forward into battle see His banners go!

Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.

At the sign of triumph Satan’s host doth flee;
On then, Christian soldiers, on to victory!
Hell’s foundations quiver at the shout of praise;
Brothers lift your voices, loud your anthems raise.


Like a mighty army moves the church of God;
Brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod.
We are not divided, all one body we,
One in hope and doctrine, one in charity.


What the saints established that I hold for true.
What the saints believèd, that I believe too.
Long as earth endureth, men the faith will hold,
Kingdoms, nations, empires, in destruction rolled.


Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane,
But the church of Jesus constant will remain.
Gates of hell can never gainst that church prevail;
We have Christ’s own promise, and that cannot fail.


Onward then, ye people, join our happy throng,
Blend with ours your voices in the triumph song.
Glory, laud and honor unto Christ the King,
This through countless ages men and angels sing.


Does this really go beyond metaphor for those who sing it? I call as witness Sir Winston Churchill, who met President Roosevelt on the HMS Prince of Wales in August, 1941, and chose the hymns for the church service held there. Afterward, he explained his choice of Onward, Christian Soldiers.

“We sang Onward, Christian Soldiers indeed, and I felt that this was no vain presumption, but that we had the right to feel that we were serving a cause for the sake of which a trumpet has sounded from on high. When I looked upon that densely packed congregation of fighting men of the same language, of the same faith, of the same fundamental laws, of the same ideals … it swept across me that here was the only hope, but also the sure hope, of saving the world from measureless degradation.”

Twenty-eight years later, Dwight D. Eisenhower — supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe during WWII and then 34th president of the United States — was buried in his uniform as a five-star general, to the accompaniment of Onward, Christian Soldiers.

Compared to the Enlightenment, the revivalism-inspired Christianity of the USA is both simplistic and powerful. Reason can identify barbarism, but can it offer effective resistance and even counteraction? Because evangelical Christianity offers the self-confidence of belief that allows “a leap of faith,” I nominate it as fulfilling the requirement for the quality of Faith. If there is a shoal on which Islamization will founder, this is it.

And what shall we say about Paul’s overriding quality — charity/love?

Oskar Schindler was one of those who acted on the impulse of love thy neighbor to save those he could from the Holocaust. There is no denying the greatness of such selfless actions. But charity by proxy is another matter. Giving to save or protect people, animals or environments with which we have no direct contact and of which we have no direct knowledge is not heroic, even though it may be kind. And if it is to an organization whose administration absorbs the majority of donations or spends them on suspect activities, it is not even kind — just blinkered. To go further, sacrificing the security or livelihood of your neighbors to accommodate strangers, simply because it makes you feel good, is not generous, but self-destructive. When this fraudulently generous impulse is then seized upon and squeezed into a new shape by Anti-Fascists, or whatever anarchists are calling themselves nowadays, it becomes a heartworm in the body politic. From within the body, it uses any opportunity to cry “It’s terrible! It’s inhuman! Take it apart and start over!”

We have recently acquired a president whose unheralded acts of solicitude for ordinary people — told only by those who know him — are in stark contrast to the blunt force trauma of his rhetoric. This new president has, for the first time in living memory, drawn a red line of a different kind: between true generosity and being a sucker.

My reply to Paul’s third and most important quality is “Caritas begins at home.”

1.   There is one more stanza, not included in the original publication of the song, which has also been tinkered with. Among other, less significant word changes, the word, “succor” has been changed to “honor.” Possibly out of consideration for those who don’t want to learn a new word, or more likely, because the new word — “honor” — does not suggest actual supernatural help or assistance.

He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is wisdom to the mighty, he is succour to the brave,
So the world shall be his footstool, and the soul of Time his slave,
Our God is marching on.


18 thoughts on “Faith, Hope And…

  1. JLH, you have captured the exceptionalism of American Christianity in all its fractured glory. We are a nation of churches – few cathedrals, but thousands of churches, many with their humorous, or wry, or wrathful roadside signs inviting people to come in.

    As for Paul, his Hellene version of the Christ caused a lot of concern in Petrine Jerusalem, with its post-Resurrection experience, or even the much later Johannine proposal, “Logos”.

    So even at the very beginning, there existed all these fragments in tension with one another: the essential experience of Christ as love be it filia, or caritas, or agape – the latter word representing the pouring out of selfless love these early Christians knew as they began to wrestle with their experience of the living God.

    When Pope Benedict began his three encyclicals on the theological virtues, he started with love. See here:

    By the time he finished the third, he was too sick with Parkinson’s to continue, so it was put out under the current pope’s name.

    As a first-generation American, I was raised an Irish Catholic. But then the whole American Catholic Church in the mid-20th century was Irish American Catholic (far different from the original Irish version, I assure you). I lived in a Southern Catholic ghetto of sorts; we sang none of those Protestant hymns, thankyouverymuch. Being a small mollusk in a huge Southern Baptist sea, we used our Catholic universal glue – Latin – to hold together: even our hymns were Gregorian chant.

    It wasn’t until I moved north and found myself part of the majority – what a culture shock! – that I also met Italian Catholics, and a Portuguese variety. I met my first Greek Orthodox Catholic in the form of my landlady, but they weren’t part of the diocese so remained exotic.

    It was when I began to study theology and ran into the systematic theology of the northern Europeans that I started to glimpse the complexity of Christian belief. Unlike Elisabeth Barrett Browning, I never regretted “my childhood’s lost faith” – this version was far more interesting…

    But as an adult, I was forced to grapple with theodicy. Surely anyone who studies German theology also experiences, however secondhand, the existential shock of the juxtaposition of this massive intellectual endeavor devoted to the pursuit of God juxtaposed with bureaucratically organized genocide.

    And yet…and still, our God is marching on….

    • Nice picture of John Brown and his “Beecher’s Bible”. I have never found theodicy to be the least troubling to me. If you expect to find, or even create a utopia on earth, you are always going to be disappointed. One of my main objections to Socialism is the idea that man can produce a utopian system, when in fact all his efforts remain flawed and imperfect. In our flawed and imperfect world, filled with flawed and imperfect beings and things, why would anyone expect that both good and evil should not exist, anymore than hot and cold, or any of dualistic nature of things that make up our world? The Bible teaches that you are flawed and do live in an imperfect world, so how exactly does it not seem reasonable to expect to find exactly that? Also, I don’t quite get the connection you are trying to make between Hitler and Christianity. If anything, Hitler sought a return to Nordic paganism, not Christianity, as it just fails as a philosophy to organize genocide around. You can accurately state that Christianity demands loyalty to the government however, which as an organizing principle is fairly critical for a stabile society.

      • Hitler did not like Christianity, not at all. If he had to have a religion, he said, he would have preferred Islam.

      • Theodicy was never a problem until I bumped smack dab up against the extremes of German culture…but then I’d led a sheltered life to that point. Eventually, those confusions disappeared as I recognized experientially the universal potential for evil, and that it has to exist at least potentially if there is to be free will. Otherwise, the concept of The Will is meaningless. Once I understood that the Will was not part of consciousness, it was an easy step. Doesn’t mean one can’t learn to strengthen and use it, just as one does any faculty, say discernment, or loyalty.

        I didn’t intend to make a connection between Hitler and Christianity. It was the sudden realization of their juxtaposition within the same culture. Tha was breath-taking.

        What I was attempting to describe was the initial cognitive dissonance in realizing that the same culture which produced generations of brilliant German theology (of which Pope Benedict’s last encyclicals are exemplars) was the same petri dish that gave us the fruits of Nazi ideology. Mine was the typical 20th century student’s journey of stumbling over the obvious.

        Not only does the Bible teach the inevitability of human evil, but that idea is inherent in Western (Greek) thought also. Thus the reality is woven into the fabric of each person’s understanding of their own limits if they can bear them and refuse to project them onto the Other. The only way past this dilemma, which Christ taught repeatedly, is forgiveness, repeated and ever more finely wrought. Thus the “seven times seven” a commonly understood notation meaning “endlessly”. The genius of his system was that we begin with forgiveness of the self *first*. Without forgiveness there is no love.

        It’s unfortunate that modernity has abandoned the wisdom to be found in the structures of sacramental theology. Orthodox Judaism has been wise enough to retain them. Those rituals were the working out of our recognition that from first breath to last we are embodied souls, or spirits, or whatever you want to call the difference man has noticed between the quick and the dead. We have a built-in need of colors and tastes and smells and special clothing and festive cycles that recall/remind us to both the sacredness of the quotidian and of our desperate need for one another.

        I’ve repeated often my favorite definition of Christianity’s essential insights, which are: that love is possible, evil is reversible, and we can live freed from our past. It’s as simple and as difficult as those three statements.

  2. Because evangelical Christianity offers the self-confidence of belief that allows “a leap of faith,” I nominate it as fulfilling the requirement for the quality of Faith. If there is a shoal on which Islamization will founder, this is it.

    The shoal upon which Islam will founder has been eaten away by massive pollution that is terribly hard to interdict.

  3. Judeo Christianity seeks those things which a pure lovely and of good report. Islam worships the male lusts and idiosyncrasies of a semi pagan bandit. There is a difference. And as society moves from the former to the latter, we should not be surprised if things go awry.

    When one assumes that God is dead (or is wheelchair bound) one sees the Judeo Christian success as purely man made and therefore never ending. So did doing things God’s way make America great, was it a synergy with the divine which is now breaking down as we move towards hedonism and barbarism.

  4. Christ left us all with a different perspective of how things could be for us on this planet, but what a pity that message became perverted at the Council of Nicea, and just to suit a selfish human agenda that has caused so much discord and harm to those who just wish to believe.

  5. Proliferation of Mexican/Central-American Pentacostal storefront-congregations in Brooklyn is worth noting. One near me (featuring a large picture of the apparently charismatic couple that runs the place) has a youth-organization called “G.A.N.G.”, standing for “God’s Annointed Generation Now.” The kids wear “Gang Warrior” T-shirts. (They all look like nice, gentle people, by the way.) It seems to me that these congregations might become valuable in the future. Somewhat related — there’s a Puerto Rican ex-boxer in my gym who’s a militant evangelical; I asked him whether the people in his congregation are aware of the possibility of future conflict with the Muslims and his answer was a definite “yes”. He quoted the “bear a sword” line.

  6. “At one time, Christians were persecuted and endangered, sometimes horrifically killed …..”

    Oh, you don’t think there was a reason for this? You don’t think that the arrogance of the new christians had anything to do with it?
    Fact is, thse new christians went out and harrassed Pagans in the street, defaced statues and toppled them…. went into temples overturning religious articles and statues, beating priests and priestesses everywhere and destroying Ancient Schools of Knowledge, and persecuting and slaughtering Pagans.

    Or do you think the Old Pagans should have just sat there and taken it? The Pagans were forebearing up to a point, then they finally, rounded up the arrogant new religionists.

    But what we hear of history, is from the one-sided view of christians.

    You should see the movie “Hypatia” to see the horrors, the violence the new religionists did against the Old Religion and it’s people.

    The only reason that christianity exists today, is because the Old Pagans were finally overwhelmed and taken down, like the Read Ants destroy living things!

    • Another reason for reading Emmet Scott’s book (sidebar). He mentions the case of Hypatia and points out that this was more likely a holdover from the well known Egyptian religiosity and its tendency to religious violence in its pagan days. When Julius Caesar was in Egypt a mob lynched a Roman Centurion for having the temerity to kill a cat, definitely a sacrilege in those days.

  7. Paul uses the word agape, Godly love (not caharity). The other apostles use the same word for the same opinion.
    This love overthrowed, defeated the overwhelming mighty power of the Roman empire. A power that was migthier (relative of course) than that of the USA today.
    Yet this agape-love used no weaponry of this earth. They had no armies. No air force a.s.o.
    What they had, they used: their lives. Why, how? Because they had agape-love.
    They used to exercise the first commandment, the second one then comes effortless.
    In these days we see in the USA and Europe the same phenomenon: the second command is exercised, without the first (no, joining services is not the same).

    We see in the countries where christians are persecuted, that the church growths enormous. They risk all they have, to worship God. No, not with sang and dance, choirs perfect, stirring sermons.
    But with agape-love.

  8. “To go further, sacrificing the security or livelihood of your neighbors to accommodate strangers, simply because it makes you feel good, is not generous, but self-destructive.” – The second commandment after the Great Commandment doesn’t say love some others as yourself. I don’t believe it means to help some at the the involuntary cost to others. Find another way if your help for some hurts others. You hear people so guarded about how things are phrased and how they allow things to be phrased that they have no opportunity to see their own logic or lack of. Would anyone ever go to a high school and tell all the girls (and boys) that we are bringing in some new people. Statistically 2 of you would have been raped in the next so many years. We calculate 10 of you will be now. Oh and also the little brother of one of you will be raped as well. We may bring in more next year.

  9. Christianity holds hardly any sway at all in the ranks of the American ruling class. Nothing beyond its ceremonial aspect remains. Is God central to the bulk of the population? Who knows. But my guess would be He is only central to a minority, a distinct minority. None of this is new. America has been a commercial civilization from the gitgo.

    But faith is not a requirement for a nation to defend itself vigorously. Confidence is. It was confidence that made America formidable in the 20th century. Britain, only nominally Christian, ruled one quarter of the globe in the 19th Century. It’s fashionable to assert that Western confidence is gone. Is it? Or has it been suppressed?

  10. Interesting. I didn’t know it was the “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”. We used to sing this song at campfires here in Bohemia: The Czech Republic, I guess – but the lyrics were about some John Brown who saw black man under the whip of a slave owner…

    These kind of songs are called “traditional” or “tramp songs” in Bohemia. We know they are originally from the US, but they are quite traditional here as well.

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