Solomon wrote, “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” (Eccl. 1:9)
Wise King Solomon. How we need to heed his wisdom today.
Triggered by recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia defacing and pulling down statues of significant people from American history has become a cause célèbre. Loud voices are now even demanding the razing of the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument in the nation’s capital. One has to wonder how the consciences of the Italian people have so long tolerated statues of cruel Roman emperors. Perhaps the Coliseum, the site of gladiatorial fights and Christian martyrdom, should be demolished in the name of social justice. And it is not just monuments of southern slave holders that are under attack. Statues of Christopher Columbus and Abraham Lincoln have been vandalized.
Certainly racism is to be deplored, and slavery is indefensible. As Christians we believe that all men are made in the image of God, and that He has “made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth.” (Acts 17:26) However, the removal a historical marker on public property ought only to happen by due process, under law. And that after careful lengthy deliberation. Otherwise it is just destruction performed at the whim of the mob. And that is something to be deplored as much as racial bigotry.
There is an old Latin expression, vox populei, vox dei, which means, “the voice of the people is the voice of God.” To Americans living in a democratic republic, where popular elections are a part of our governing process, this idea may sound sensible. After all, majority rule. But who says an angry mob represents the majority? And who ever said the majority is always right? Alcuin of York wrote to Emperor Charlemagne, “Nor are those to be listened to who are accustomed to say, ‘the voice of the people is the voice of God.’ For the clamor of the crowd is very close to madness.”
History teaches us that the mob of the French revolution sent tyrants and innocents both to the guillotine. In the 20th century it was mob violence that tyrants such as Mao, Hitler, and Mussolini used to intimidate the opposition and gain power. In our own country, the Ku Klux Klan was a masked mob that terrorized blacks in the Jim Crow South. More recently mob violence in Los Angeles in 1992 following the infamous Rodney King verdict left fifty dead, and destroyed over a billion dollars in property.
Rarely if ever does any justice come from an angry mob. It is rather an occasion for the pent-up depravity of man to manifest itself. What does beating a reporter, smashing windows, or looting a grocery store have to do with racial reconciliation?
The mob is nothing new. It is as old as the Bible. It was the responsibility of the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, to release the falsely accused Jesus of Nazareth. And he knew it. Three times he told the multitude “I find no fault in him.” But Mark 15:15 tells us “willing to content the people,” he released a murderer and delivered Christ to be crucified. He gave in to the voice of a howling mob.
It is the responsibility of government to enforce just laws and restrain the evil that men would do to one another. Law enforcement should never turn a blind eye and deaf ear to a destructive mob. And public policy should never be dictated by crowds of violent protesters.
One more thought to ponder: Some monuments remind us of events in history we would prefer to forget. That just might be good reason to leave them standing.