“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”
--- L.P. Hartley
How right he was. There are fewer more serious errors in human thinking than the assumptions that “all people everywhere are basically alike” or “people in the past were just like us.”
Once we get beyond the basic physical needs and desires that we share with all animals, we are largely shaped by our own cultures and beliefs. Different cultures offer an astonishingly wide range of values and desires. The Greek historian Herodotus (5th Century BC) tells a story from the Persian Empire that makes this point very clearly:
“When Darius was king, he summoned the Greeks who were with him and asked them what price would persuade them to eat their fathers’ dead bodies. They answered that there was no price for which they would do it. Then he summoned those Indians who are called Callatiae, who eat their parents, and asked them (the Greeks being present and understanding by interpretation what was said) what would make them willing to burn their fathers at death. The Indians cried aloud, that he should not speak of so horrid an act. So firmly rooted are these beliefs; and it is, I think, rightly said in Pindar’s poem that use and custom is lord of all.” - Histories, Book III
While it is of course not the case that every individual in a given society is precisely identical to every other individual in that society, it is nonetheless true that every society produces a broad general consensus about a large number of issues that affect that society's institutions and practices, and these vary dramatically.
The old Romans valued military service so highly that no man who had not served in the legions could stand for high public office, while the Carthaginians valued it so little that most of their wars were fought with mercenaries. The men who made the American Revolution valued the right to participate in political life so highly that they were willing to risk their lives and fortunes for it, while the vast majority of the world's people accepted having no real political voice at all. Examples of extreme cultural differences between members of societies in different times and places are so numerous and so obvious that it is difficult to understand how anyone can believe that “all people are basically the same.”
But – and it's a big “but” - we must also note that different cultures can and do exist in the same time and place. Consider Judaism. The Jews have by unshakable faith in God and His Law maintained their cultural identity through centuries of persecution and discrimination in many different parts of the world, as have the Zoroastrians.
It is a commonplace to note that the United States and indeed all of the Western world is in the midst of a culture war. There are at least two major and a number of minor subcultures that are contending for dominance in that world today. The deepest original cause of that strife is a fundamental difference of understanding of the nature of humanity.
Some of these cultures reject the idea of the existence of God and therefore consider humanity to be the ultimate and sovereign authority in all matters. Those who hold that opinion see no need for any limits on human power or ambition. This is precisely what Dostoyevsky predicted in Dmitri's question to Ratikin in The Brothers Karamazov, "But what will become of men then?' I asked him, 'without God and immortal life? All things are permitted then, they can do what they like?” The suffering caused by this arrogant assumption of ultimate power by humans has been devastating. Millions of people have been killed by governments in pursuit of national power or human-imagined utopias. Social and political destabilization has been the inevitable result of the rejection of the idea that there exists any truths beyond mere human desires and opinions.
All of this is of course profoundly contrary and hostile to Christian faith and practice. I believe that it is increasingly necessary for us to realize that to be a Christian in our world today is to be a member of a subculture (or perhaps even a counterculture) that is under steadily increasing attack from many quarters.
Nominees for public office are often met with senatorial hostility for their Christian faith. Biblical moral standards are mocked, derided, and even criminalized by mass culture and the State. Taxation, much of it hidden, accumulates more and more economic power in the hands of government rather than individuals who may choose to support charitable and religious institutions. People are urged to look to the scientific, medical, technological, and political establishments as the sources of all good and the solutions to all problems. In too much of our society criminal behavior is tolerated, excused, or even celebrated, moral decay abounds, and beauty and truth are absent from much of our art and literature.
I believe that we are living in a new Dark Age, a technologically advanced but morally, culturally, and spiritually blind society, and that we must look to Christian history to discern principles for serving Christ in these circumstances.
The first and most fundamental truth that we must maintain is simply that there is indeed such a thing as truth and that our task as humans is not to decide what it will be but to recognize it and live our lives accordingly. The second is that there is but one perfect revelation of that truth, and that is Jesus Christ, who declares in John's Gospel 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
When pagan barbarians overran Christian Europe over fifteen hundred years ago, the faith survived in large part through the work of persevering lay people and monastic communities who strove through prayer and scholarship to preserve those truths despite most of the society around them being either indifferent or actively hostile. They succeeded, and when the failures and limitations of a society living in denial of those truths became apparent, they were able to reestablish Christ's truth as the guiding light for their civilization. Our task is similar. Patience and perseverance in prayer, worship, good works, and study, will in God's good time be rewarded.
Hold fast to the Word and be strengthened by the Sacraments, because Saint Paul's words in Galatians 6:7 are undeniably true, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” never doubt that we Christians are not merely products of one fallible and changeable human society in one particular time and place, but partakers of the life of Christ who is, in the words of Hebrews 13:8, “the same yesterday, and today, and for ever."
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.
Please click here to donate to St. Andrew & St. Margaret of Scotland
Tonight (and every Friday during Lent except for Good Friday), 7:00 PM, Stations of the Cross followed by light Lenten Supper
Saturday, March 25, 8:30 AM, Men's Group in the undercroft with breakfast by Chef Claude Crump and Bible Study with Bob Boyd. Food, fellowship and Bible study with other men of the parish.
Sunday Services, 7:45 AM, 9:00 AM, & 11:15 AM (for online participation for the services go to: https://www.facebook.com/saintsofscotland/ )
Sunday School, 10:30 AM
Monday, March 27, 7:30 PM, Vestry Meeting, undercroft
Wednesday at Noon – Holy Communion and anointing for healing (for online participation, check info under Sunday Services)
Holy Week Services:
Maundy Thursday, April 6, 7:00 PM, followed by the Watch in the Chapel of the Martyrs (Rectory Basement)
Good Friday, April 7, 12 noon and 7:00 PM
Confessions will be heard starting one hour before each Good Friday service in the confessional to be set up in the rear hallway of the sanctuary.
Your support of the Food Bank and MaRIH Crisis Pregnancy Center is needed. The lists below tell what is needed. If you cannot bring items to the church, you can also click on the donate button above and then on the dropdown menu that appears on the donation page choose Charity and Mercy to give a cash donation. In the comment box you can specify if the donation is for the Food Bank and/or for the MaRIH Crisis Pregnancy Center. Thank you.
Please help this month with a food donation if you are able. Christ House is very thankful for the food we provide to them each month. Please also buy low sugar cereals (and not the kid's types that have lots of sugar). Current needs include the following:
• canned meats (chicken, corned beef, spam)
• peanut butter
• canned vegetables (corn, green beans - (regular and low sodium)
• individual fruit cups (low sugar)
• canned fruit (low sugar)
• cereal (low sugar)
• pasta (regular and gluten-free)
• instant potatoes
• Macaroni & cheese kits
• Coffee, cooking oil, flour, sugar
Recently Updated List of Needs for MaRIH Center (crisis pregnancy center)
MaRIH Center with its all volunteer staff has been providing help to mothers-to-be and mothers in need. If you can provide some of the items that are needed, please do so. (You can leave the donations where the food for the food bank is collected on the pew in the undercorft.)
Baby wipes* (an ongoing great need)
Diapers (sizes 1*, 2, 3*, 4, 5*, & 6*)
Diaper rash ointment*
Spring/Summer clothing for 0-3 months and 2T*
(Bold and * are a critical need.)
Sleep Sacks: Girls 0-6 mos.
Socks: Boy/Girl 2T
Copyright © 2023 St. Andrew & St. Margaret of Scotland, All rights reserved.
Our mailing address is:
St. Andrew & St. Margaret of Scotland
1607 Dewitt Avenue
Alexandria, VA 22301-1625