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Saturday, July 11, 2020

Father Rutler: Petulant Jacobins

Father George W. Rutler
July waves Old Glory and Le Tricolore. Jacques-Louis David based the French flag on the cockade of the Marquis de Lafayette, who had been urged to help the American colonists by the Duke of Gloucester, in a funk because his brother, King George III, disapproved of his marriage. At least there was no Reign of Terror in Philadelphia.
   Our unofficial “National Hymn” was written by a professor of English literature from Wellesley College after a trip in 1893 to Pike’s Peak, from whose twilight purple summit she could see grain fields hued in amber. An elderly parishioner of mine was a student of Professor Katharine Lee Bates and remembered her reciting the final 1913 draft of “America the Beautiful.” The melody, “Materna,” had been composed in 1882 by a church organist, Samuel Ward, on a ferry from Coney Island to Newark.
   In the “political correctness” and “cancel culture” of recent days, there have been attempts to censor “America the Beautiful” on the grounds that it is unfeeling to make reference to “alabaster cities [that] gleam undimmed by human tears.” En route to Colorado, Bates had visited the World’s Columbian Exposition where crowds were stunned by Nikola Tesla’s incandescent light bulbs. The illuminated “White City” was plaster and not alabaster, but it envisioned a culture enlightened by the Heavenly Jerusalem, just as another lady of letters, Julia Ward Howe, in the Civil War had seen earthly struggle from a divine perspective: “Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel.” No naïf, Professor Bates knew all about the human tears in Chicago slums and had worked with Jane Addams and her Hull House. But souls today, bereft of critical judgment, would decry mention of a “White City” and an exposition honoring Columbus.
   There are also demands to eliminate our National Anthem because the author owned slaves. In fact, Francis Scott Key freed his slaves and pleaded before the Supreme Court for the liberation of 300 African slaves captured off the ship “Antelope” along the Florida coast. He also worked with John Quincy Adams in the “Amistad” case to free 53 slaves.
   Key’s anthem was based on verses he composed in 1805 to celebrate the victory over the Muslim slave-trading pirates on the Barbary coast: “And pale beam’d the Crescent, its splendor obscured / By the light of the star-spangled flag of our nation. …” Although the founder of Islam was a slave trader, the bigoted zeal of contemporary rioters hesitates to menace mosques.
   Some of these petulant Jacobins demand to replace our National Anthem with the pretentious doggerel of the song “Imagine” by John Lennon: “Imagine there's no heaven / It's easy if you try / No hell below us / Above us only sky.”
   That is not quite Francis Scott Key, Julia Ward Howe, or Katharine Lee Bates. When the opioid bubble bursts, heaven and hell remain. Take your choice.
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Father George W. Rutler


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