The wise build, while the fool destroys:
We live in a time in the West where the work of centuries is being undone in days and weeks. Western civilisation took many hundreds of years to build, but it is being destroyed overnight. The radical left is on a mission to destroy everything in its sights.
We see this with groups like Antifa, Black Lives Matter, and so many other radical hard-left groups that hate the West and want to see it razed to the ground. The cancel culture of course is a part of this, as is the radical left side of politics.
One can offer plenty of analyses of such things, whether from a cultural or social or political or ideological perspective. But those who run with the Judeo-Christian worldview have the best vantage point by which to assess, understand, and rightly diagnose these matters. As Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once said:
It is a characteristic of any decaying civilisation that the great masses of the people are unaware of the tragedy. Humanity in a crisis is generally insensitive to the gravity of the times in which it lives. Men do not want to believe their own times are wicked, partly because they have no standard outside of themselves by which to measure their times. If there is no fixed concept of justice, how shall men know it is violated? Only those who live by faith really know what is happening in the world; the great masses without faith are unconscious of the destructive processes going on, because they have lost the vision of the heights from which they have fallen.
A key way to demonstrate the benefit of this vantage point is to examine the nature of the one who fully opposes God and his ways in all things: the devil. Jesus very succinctly summarised what his main activities entail: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10).
That is about as good a description as any of what we now see all around us, with rioting, looting, anarchy, arson and murder in our major cities. Satan has plenty of his minions working overtime to tear down, to demolish, and to desecrate.
I have been reading through the book of Proverbs again over the past few days, and I have already written about one main topic found therein: fools and folly. What Scripture says about fools very nicely describes those who are seeking to burn down our cities.
And one proverb that I read this morning jumped out at me in this regard. Proverbs 14:1 says this: “The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down.” What is true of the individual, or the household, is true of nations as well.
Fools destroy, but the wise build. And it is always so much easier to pull down and destroy than it is to raise up and build. As mentioned, it takes a very long time to make something valuable and of worth, but it takes very little time to bring it all down.
I have often quoted some key thinkers on these truths over the years, and they are worth being heard from once again. Will and Ariel Durant said this in The Lessons of History: “Civilisation is not inherited; it has to be learned and earned by each generation anew; if the transmission should be interrupted for one century, civilisation would die, and we should be savages again.”
Philosopher Roger Scruton remarked, “Good things are easily destroyed, but not easily created… The work of destruction is quick, easy and exhilarating; the work of creation is slow, laborious and dull. That is one of the lessons of the twentieth century.” Or as G. K. Chesterton put it in a slightly different context: “It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands.”
And in his important 1948 essay Notes Towards the Definition of Culture, T. S. Eliot said this:
I am talking about the common tradition of Christianity which has made Europe what it is and about the common cultural elements which this common Christianity has brought with it. If Asia were converted to Christianity tomorrow, it would not thereby become a part of Europe. It is in Christianity that our arts have developed; it is in Christianity that the laws of Europe have – until recently – been rooted. It is against a background of Christianity that all our thought has significance. An individual European may not believe that the Christian Faith is true, and yet what he says, and makes, and does, will all spring out of his heritage of Christian culture and depend upon that culture for its meaning. Only a Christian culture could have produced a Voltaire or a Nietzsche. I do not believe that the culture of Europe could survive the complete disappearance of the Christian faith. And I am convinced of that, not merely because I am a Christian myself, but as a student of social biology. If Christianity goes, the whole of our culture goes. Then you must start painfully again, and you cannot put on a new culture ready made. You must wait for the grass to grow to feed the sheep to give the wool out of which your new coat will be made. You must pass through many centuries of barbarism. We should not live to see the new culture, nor would our great-great-great-grandchildren: and if we did, not one of us would be happy in it. To our Christian heritage we owe many things beside religious faith. Through it we trace the evolution of our arts, through it we have our conception of Roman Law which has done so much to shape the Western World, through it we have our conceptions of private and public morality. And through it we have our common standards of literature, in the literature of Greece and Rome. The Western world has its unity in this heritage, in Christianity and in the ancient civilisations of Greece, Rome, and Israel, from which owing to two thousand years of Christianity, we trace our descent.
And often this quick destruction of a culture or a civilisation happens more from internal pressure and decay than outward resistance and attack. Many have spoken to this. Arnold Toynbee put it like this: “Civilisations die from suicide, not murder.” And Abraham Lincoln said this: “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”
Or as Will Durant put it, “A great civilisation is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within. The essential causes of Rome’s decline lay in her people, her morals, her class struggle, her failing trade, her bureaucratic despotism, her stifling taxes, her consuming wars.”
Ronald Reagan was right to say this: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children what it was once like in the United States when men were free.”
And Malcolm Muggeridge wrote:
So the final conclusion would surely be that whereas other civilisations have been brought down by attacks of barbarians from without, ours had the unique distinction of training its own destroyers at its own educational institutions, and then providing them with facilities for propagating their destructive ideology far and wide, all at the public expense. Thus did Western Man decide to abolish himself, creating his own boredom out of his own affluence, his own vulnerability out of his own strength, his own impotence out of his own erotomania, himself blowing the trumpet that brought the walls of his own city tumbling down, and having convinced himself that he was too numerous, labored with pill and scalpel and syringe to make himself fewer. Until at last, having educated himself into imbecility, and polluted and drugged himself into stupefaction, he keeled over—a weary, battered old brontosaurus—and became extinct.
The rage and hatred, the destruction and nihilism that we see fully on display from the militant left is the stuff of fools. Our culture is awash with fools, and it will not last long unless the wise, the responsible, and the righteous say ‘enough is enough.’ Who will stand against this destruction and degeneracy? Who will resist this flood of evil?
First published at BillMuehlenberg.com/2020/07/12/any-fool-can-destroy-things.
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Bill Muehlenberg teaches ethics, apologetics and theology at several Melbourne Bible Colleges. His independent blog, Culture Watch, has over 5,000 articles commenting on the major cultural, social and political issues of the day. Bill's podcast is exclusively produced for The Good Sauce audience.