By David Kowalski
[Edit — Though current events have changed since this piece was written in December of 2012 the abiding principles have not.]
At the moment, we are largely focused on the Mayan calendar, the Newtown, school shootings, and Christmas. Could there be a common moral to these three stories? I believe that taken together, these three highlight one grand truth that deserves our utmost attention.
The prediction of the end of all things on 12-21-12 is based on a misunderstanding of Mayan intent but the attention this misunderstanding has garnered reveals just how much respect we have for Mayan civilization. We are still amazed at the incredibly advanced understanding they had in subjects such as mathematics and astronomy. The Mayan calendar estimated the length of a year as 365.242036 days, which is more accurate than the 365.2425 days of the Gregorian calendar we use.
The Mayans were an especially advanced people but that did not prevent them from being a bloodthirsty society. Neither the arts nor the sciences have been able to make any culture thoroughly civilized. The renowned, Mayan reasoning led them to commit atrocities. They had common sense enough to realize that some kind of god(s) created and controlled all things. They also had enough sensitivity to their own consciences to know that the gods needed to be appeased with some kind of suffering and bloodshed. Not knowing the one, true God’s plan to send His Son to be a propitiation for our sins, the Mayan priesthood inflicted suffering on people (including children) whom they offered as blood sacrifices to their false gods.
We would be mistaken to think of the Mayans as an aberration of humankind. They were not especially cruel at heart. Mentally and emotionally they were just like us. We only abhor their brutality because it is not the same as ours, which we cannot see as wrong. No society thinks itself evil but all are quick to consider others so because of our inclination to justify ourselves and condemn others. Without God as a reference point, normal and abnormal (determined by the thinking and conduct of the majority of people) become synonyms for good and evil within a given populace. When bad is normal it seems right to us, and we have no means by which to call ourselves an evil people or a bad society. “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes” (Proverbs 21:2), and this is doubly true for organized groups of men.
The Newtown Shootings
We have had many school shootings in the United States since the first one recorded in 1764 (well over a hundred such shootings). We have seen a proliferation of these events since the late, 20th century, however. These modern, school shooters are products of our society. They listened to our music; watched our television programs and movies; surfed our internet; learned moral relativism in our schools; heard a materialistic, self-centered message in our churches; and played our violent, video games. We are horrified at their outcome and actions, but refuse to realize the degree to which we helped shape them.
We all rightly mourn the 26 victims at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, but few seem to mourn the approximately one million unborn whom we kill in the United States alone every year (according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute). The ancient Mayans sacrificed their babies in an effort to get better crops. We kill ours to avoid the inconvenience of having them at all. I suspect the Mayans might have considered such a concept barbaric.
I love America, but I must say we are just as blind as everyone else to our own barbarism. Beginning with the 1637 Pequot Indian massacre, we committed atrocities against Native Americans and forced them off of their lands because they were in the way of our progress. We enslaved Africans in our southern states and when we fought with one another, we did so quite brutally.
Around 56,000 men died due to the inhumane conditions in Civil War prisons (deaths American historians still try to attribute to the mere ignorance of captors). We indignantly recall the approximately 700 Americans who lost their lives in the infamous Bataan Death March of WWII, but barely remember the nearly 13,000 who died in the Andersonville prison camp when Americans fought Americans. The misdeeds of our mainstream history rarely seem very strange or bad to us because they represent our sins — sins that are normal for us. Our way is right in our own eyes.
Mayan civilization was essentially no different from any other expression of human civilization — including our own. We are together fallen. We cannot express the character and glory of God, either as individuals or as societies. We are unable to redeem ourselves and cannot even objectively evaluate our own conduct. Plato’s Republic was a pipe dream, as has been every utopian scheme since. Individually and corporately we are all broken and can’t fix ourselves. While we should do what we can to make our world a better place, perfect help must ultimately come from the outside.
This help came but we rejected Him. It seems fitting there was no room for Him in the inn. Our hope was born in the equivalent of a barn and slept in a feeding trough. He later spoke to the masses and performed wonders in our midst, but the very people God had prepared for His Son spat in his face and rejected Him (Matthew 26:67). The most advanced civilization of the day (quite barbaric in their own way, though) — the one we pattern our own civil polity after — also spat on Him (Matthew 27:30), and put him to death in one of the most cruel and ignominious manners imaginable.
Yet that very cross became the only basis for any hope we now have. God planned all along that our unjust, hateful, and barbarous killing of His Son would provide individual salvation now for those who believe, as well as corporate redemption from sin’s curse for believers when He returns.
Humanity has repeatedly shown its falleness and its need for redemption in Christ. Cultural barbarism and the Newtown shootings are symptoms that reveal this condition. Christmas points toward the cure. We have proven that we cannot be what we should nor do what we must apart from a king who is our savior, and we have nowhere left to look but up. We can only say what John said after his vision of the people and principles that would play out through history and intensify at the very end, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).
© Copyright 2013, David Kowalski. All rights reserved. Links to this post are encouraged. Do not repost or republish without permission.