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Heroes can thrive only where ignorance reduces history to mythology. They cannot survive the coldly critical temper of modern thought when it is functioning normally, nor can they be worshipped by a generation which has every facility for determining their foibles and analyzing their limitations. Reinhold Niebuhr

The people in this country who have the greatest appreciation for the seam between America and the rest of the world may very well be those in the bottom twenty percent of society—the immigrants and even illegal aliens—rather than the people at the very top. In ancient Rome, at least, the people at the top of society all spoke at least two languages. In America, it’s the people at the bottom of society who almost routinely speak two languages. Cullen Murphy

I look to historians for their power to illuminate not just the invisible lineaments of the present, but also that which is not present. What are the roads that were not taken that most shape our own time? Lately, the historian who’s been doing that best is Nelson Lichtenstein, who parlayed a career writing about midcentury capitalism and industrial unionism into extraordinarily penetrating accounts of why the economic regime we live under today is so deeply unsatisfying. One abandoned idea documented in his most recent book, “A Contest of Ideas: Capital, Politics, and Labor,” haunts me. Powerful people in the Democratic Party, like Senator Robert Wagner of New York, used to insist that the job of liberalism was to penetrate the “black box” of the corporation and turn the workplace into a more democratic institution. They believed that to leave decision-making in the great firms that dominate our lives merely to owners (as opposed to, say, the system of “co-determination” between labor and management under which the German economy now thrives) was no less than a violation of the Constitution’s 13th Amendment, which outlawed involuntary servitude. Now that such thinking is rare as a unicorn — and workers all but belong to their bosses during their working day — no wonder it’s hard to win the allegiance of the white working class to the Democrats. Rick Perlstein

Jonathan Edwards changed the story of America’s God. He changed how the people of his time engaged God, editing a theology that was often portrayed harshly and dogmatically. He made strides to shape it with words into an almost beloved relationship between a grandiose God and a broken and depraved American heart. His words set the stage for what would become a steady foundation for America’s God to revolt against the Old World and bring about revolution. Historian Perry Miller suggests that America’s Enlightenment began and ended with Jonathan Edwards. And Edwards played a most defining role in bridging the space between Puritanism and what would eventually become American evangelicalism. The Hellish Sermons of Jonathan Edwards, Malign Evangelist

The notion that Christianity is the solution to modern problems is laughable. The Westphalian nation-state, which religious critics of modernity almost always single out as virtually demonic, arose as a way of quelling the hugely destructive religious conflicts that followed the Reformation. The Christian roots of capitalism are well-known, and the majority of mainstream Christian groups are either actively proud of capitalism or calling for moderate reforms at best. Christian moral formation did nothing to teach the majority of Western subjects to resist nationalistic wars, imperialism, or the slave trade. In fact, Christianity was used to legitimate both colonialism and slavery. Christians in Germany were generally supportive of or silent about literally the worst regime in human history and, as a group, did nothing to stop or even impede an unprecedented systematic genocide. In short, if you were to rack up the greatest crimes of modernity, Christianity was deeply implicated in nearly all of them On the toxic nostalgia for Christian hegemony

The one golden rule is that there was and will be no golden age. As Tolkien reminds us, history is the Long Defeat with only occasional glimpses of final victory. Even in the mediaeval period, in which the political power of the Church was indubitably greater than it is today, corruption was rife both in society at large and in the Church herself. Even as the great cathedrals were being built, there were corrupt popes and sometimes two or three different people claiming to be pope at the same time. Even as the power of Christian Rome seemed triumphant, popes were being exiled from Rome itself. Even as the great saints walked the earth, great sinners walked beside them. Even as the Church defined orthodoxy, the world was being ripped apart with heresy. For every saint in Dante’s depiction of the so-called “golden age” of Christendom, there is a saint wallowing in his self-made hell. For every good and holy parson on Chaucer’s pilgrimage, there are drunk and avaricious friars and monks; for every noble and pious ploughman, there is an ignoble and uncouth miller. What is Christendom?

People and cultures are defined by the myths they create, but also by the myths they accept and propagate. Blood libel: a short history of a dangerous myth

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