Monday, March 27, 2017

The eclipse of man

...DeMille himself appeared on screen and addressed the audience. “Ladies and gentlemen, this may seem an unusual procedure, speaking to you before the picture begins,” DeMille said. “The theme of this picture is whether men ought to be ruled by God’s law or whether they are to be ruled by the whims of a dictator like Rameses. Are men the property of the state, or are they free souls under God? The same battle continues throughout the world today.” ....

...Ben Franklin made this proposal for a seal for the United States: “Moses standing on the Shore, and extending his Hand over the Sea, thereby causing the same to overwhelm Pharaoh who is sitting in an open Chariot, a Crown on his Head and a Sword in his Hand. Rays from a Pillar of Fire in the Clouds reaching to Moses, to express that he acts by Command of the Deity. Motto, Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.”

Franklin’s suggestion reminds us that the Haggadah’s central exhortation—that we must see ourselves as if we had been slaves in Egypt and had been guided out by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm—is not only a religious idea but also one with political and moral implications. Jonathan Sacks has noted that modernity was formed by four revolutions: the British (in 1688) and American on the one hand, and the French and Russian on the other. In Britain and America, one source of inspiration was the Hebrew Bible. Secular philosophy guided the French and Russian Revolutions. The former led to free societies, while French and Russian utopian revolutions ended in tyranny. Why, asks Sacks, did Britain and America succeed where France and Russia failed?
The explanation is surely complex but much—perhaps all—turns on how a society answers the question: who is the ultimate sovereign, God or man? ...For the British and American architects of liberty, God was the supreme power.... For the French and Russian ideologists, ultimate value lay in the state... when human beings arrogate supreme power to themselves, politics loses its sole secure defense of freedom.... Societies that exile God lead to the eclipse of man.
.... Sixty-one years after The Ten Commandments was released and went on to become the sixth-most-successful move ever made, I wonder whether we can ever again experience a culture where the American dream and my own heritage can converge....