This story/parable, of which I learned through Rod Dreher several years ago, remains one of the most powerful and timely (maybe timeless) I know:
Consider, says Havel, the greengrocer living under communism, who puts a sign in his shop window saying, “Workers of the World, Unite!” He does it not because he believes it, necessarily. He simply doesn’t want trouble. And if he doesn’t really believe it, he hides the humiliation of his coercion by telling himself, “What’s wrong with the workers of the world uniting?” Fear allows the official ideology to retain power — and eventually changes the greengrocer’s beliefs.
Those who “live within a lie,” says Havel, collaborate with the system and compromise their full humanity. Every act that contradicts the official ideology is a denial of the system. What if the greengrocer stops putting the sign up in his window? What if he refuses to go along to get along? “His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth” — and it’s going to cost him plenty.
Because they are public, the greengrocer’s deeds are inescapably political. He bears witness to the truth of his convictions by being willing to suffer for them. He becomes a threat to the system — but he has preserved his humanity. And that, says Havel, is a far more important accomplishment than whether this party or that politician holds power…
(Rod Dreher, quoting Vaclav Havel) I suggest the possibility of it being “timeless” because I suspect that every society needs some rituals, however informal, to bind its members together. The governors of those societies don’t care what you believe so long as you enact the rituals.
It is this, and more than this, that I’m referring to when I categorize a blog as “Pinch of incense,” for offering the “pinch of incense” imperils not just humanity, but eternity:
And there the chief of the police, Herod, and his father, Nicetas, met [Polycarp] and transferred him to their carriage, and tried to persuade him, as they sat beside him, saying, “What harm is there to say `Lord Caesar,’ and to offer incense and all that sort of thing, and to save yourself?”
At first he did not answer them. But when they persisted, he said, “I am not going to do what you advise me.”
Then when they failed to persuade him, they uttered dire threats and made him get out with such speed that in dismounting from the carriage he bruised his shin. But without turning around, as though nothing had happened, he proceeded swiftly, and was led into the arena, there being such a tumult in the arena that no one could be heard. But as Polycarp was entering the arena, a voice from heaven came to him, saying, “Be strong, Polycarp, and play the man. No one saw the one speaking, but those of our people who were present heard the voice.
[…] But the proconsul was insistent and said: “Take the oath, and I shall release you. Curse Christ.”
Polycarp said: “Eighty-six years I have served him, and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”
(The martyrdom of Polycarp, circa 155 A. D.)
Today’s problematic “Workers of the World, Unite!,” today’s pinch of incense, today’s culture-binding rituals, are related to gay pride: pride flags in the window, hosting pride crossfit events and such, baking wedding cakes, observing rules that mandate use of your auditor’s preferred pronouns — you know, trifles like that. (It’s also pledging allegiance to the flag, standing for the national anthem and such — which I’m cussed enough to resist, but which I don’t fault others for observing. )
Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop is our Polycarp, Jordan Peterson our dissident greengrocer (and Peterson is expecting secular martyrdom). Both are among my heroes.
If you think I’m making a big deal out of nothing, then I think you’re part of the problem, and need to reflect more carefully on the eventuality — to you and to your countrymen or fellow believers who dissent, and who will have your pusillanimity thrown in their faces.
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