Trump, Kaine, and more illusions

The following, instructive nugget comes from Times of London columnist Tim Montgomerie, writing in late July after a visit to a South Carolina evangelical church where he found delicious, post-service fried chicken – and Trump supporters willing to overlook their candidate’s sketchy credentials in the piety department:

“It was Mr. Trump’s ‘strongman’ vibe that they liked. At some length and with deep knowledge of the region, these articulate and informed South Carolinian Christians discussed how their fellow-believers were being wiped out across the Middle East and how, at home in America, secular judges were taking away religious liberties and ‘legislating from the bench.’ ‘We don’t need an angel to defend Christianity,’ one told me. ‘We need our own Putin.’”

No, friend, we don’t.

The notion that Donald Trump, self-professed admirer of Vladimir Putin, is going to defend persecuted Middle East Christians is as ludicrous as the claim that Mr. Putin, ex-KGB thug and current kleptocrat, gives a tinker’s dam about the Christian victims of ISIS. (No one running for office in the United States has the nerve to say it, but the only earthly way out for Middle East Christians is the reassertion of western political and military power in the Levant.) As for Mr. Trump, defender of traditional culture and religious freedom against “secular judges,” that forlorn hope is belied by the warm welcome afforded proponents of lifestyle libertinism – the principal driver of activist federal judging-as-legislating – at the Republican convention in Cleveland.

Recognizing those grim realities does not, though, lead to the conclusion that the Democratic ticket offers Catholics informed by the Church’s social doctrine a safe haven in this dreadful electoral cycle. On the contrary: Senator Tim Kaine’s presence in the number-two slot makes matters worse.

I don’t doubt the sincerity of the senator’s claim that, personally speaking, he holds “traditional” Catholic views on the life issues. Nonetheless, he’s been a reliably ardent supporter of so-called “abortion rights” throughout his political career, and he is now the vice-presidential nominee of a once-great political party that has mortgaged itself to the sexual revolution tout court – which presumably means that Mr. Kaine made clear to Mrs. Clinton that she need not fear pushback from him on the abortion, euthanasia, marriage, or LGBT fronts.

Such kowtowing would be expected of any Democratic veep nominee. What makes matters worse is that a Vice President Kaine will provide a veneer of Catholic cover for what will certainly be the most aggressive, pro-“choice” administration in U.S. history. And in doing so, Mr. Kaine will further tear the fabric of Catholic social doctrine in a pattern of irresponsibility and double-speak previously mastered by the late Senator Ted Kennedy, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, and outgoing Veep Joe Biden.

As for religious freedom, it was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who evacuated that first of civil rights of most of its content, reducing it to “freedom of worship” in her discussions of international human rights. Apply that hollowed-out notion of the first freedom to domestic public policy, and what do you get? You get the Obama administration’s contraceptive/abortifacient mandate on steroids and a full-scale legal assault by Clinton Administration 3.0 on the capacity of religious institutions to be themselves as they understand themselves to be: communities of religious conviction with a right to their own moral integrity, not mere instruments for delivering whatever the government deems to be a public service or a public good.

Anyone who imagines that a Vice President Tim Kaine is going to be an effective brake on this assault is living in fantasyland. Ideological imperatives (and financial clout) within the Democratic Party make any such principled resistance impossible, save for some 21st-century Thomas More. And there is nothing in the public career of Mr. Kaine to indicate that this decent man is willing to lay his head on the chopping block.

American Catholics for whom the noun, not the adjective, is determinative are thus faced with a brutal fact: our deeply wounded political culture has produced two impossible options in the 2016 Republican and Democratic tickets. Thus some of us, and perhaps many of us, are going to be investigating how to cast a write-in vote of conscience in November.

COMING UP: Did Christians ban the Games? Tales, myths and other fun facts about the ancient Olympics

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The 2020 Summer Olympics began less than a week ago, and as is usually the case, there’s been enough stunning athleticism, shocking upsets and yes, even a little bit of drama on display to keep the water cooler chatter abuzz until at least the 2022 games.

At their best, the Olympic games bridge cultural divides and unite countries around the world as the greatest living athletes around the globe compete for the coveted gold medal in their respective events. There’s a spirit of global camaraderie that welcomely comes about during every Olympiad; whether watching the Games at home with the family or going to a local bar to cheer on your favorite country, the Olympics bring people together in a way that most other sporting events do not.

Another astounding thing about the Olympics is how they’ve endured over the millennia. Indeed, they provide a special glimpse into the history of the world and those common qualities of humanity that will never die; namely, the need for both unitive, universal community and friendly but fierce competition.

The first recorded Olympic games took place in 776 B.C., though some historians speculate that they could have began as early as the 10th century B.C. The games were held every four years in Olympia to honor the greek god Zeus as one of four Panhellenic festivals, this one coinciding with the second full moon following the summer solstice, usually at the end of July or early August. The Olympics became so significant that the term Olympiad was used to mark a year the games took place, and became a common unit of historical time measurement.

Now, the ancient world wasn’t exactly known for its amicability or even peacefulness, as indicated by the countless wars and power usurpations that took place throughout its history. However, Olympic festivals were marked by a truce among the Greeks called ekecheiria, which roughly means “holding of hands.” This ensured safe travels for athletes and spectators as they made their way to the festival and was a common basis for peace among the Greeks. That the Olympic games could get even the constantly feuding Greeks to lay down their arms and come together in a spirit of solidarity speaks to their significance in ancient history.

Early Olympic events included the footrace, wrestling, the long jump, the javelin throw, the discus throw and boxing. Of course, it’s nigh impossible to read about the ancient Olympics and not come across epic tales of chariot racing, an event which was briefly banned early on but was reinstated by the first century B.C. and drew the interest of several key Roman figures (more on that later).

By the fifth century B.C., athletes from all over the Greek-speaking world came to Olympia for the games. The footrace, also called the Stade or Stadion, was considered the most prestigious event, and is where the english word “stadium” is derived from. Stade was a unit of measurement in ancient Greece which modern historians say is the rough equivalent to 600 feet or 200 yards, though the actual length has been a subject of debate for many years. Either way, it represents the length which runners in the Stadion ran to prove themselves as the fastest sprinters in the ancient world.

Interestingly, very little record about the Olympics games during the time of Christ exists. History tells us that the Roman emperor Tiberius, who was emperor during Christ’s life, won the chariot races during the 194th Olympiad in 4 B.C. In 17 A.D., the popular Roman general Germanicus, who was Tiberius’ adopted son and the future father of the third Roman Emperor Caligula, won the chariot races in 17 A.D., presumably around the time Christ was a teenager.

About those chariot races: they were known to attract elite political figures, some of whom won based on true skill, and others who only wanted the appearance of winning to further exert their power and status. During the 211th Olympiad, Emperor Nero, known for his fierce persecution of Christians and rather narcissistic personality, forcibly moved the Olympic games set to take place in 65 A.D. to 67 A.D. so he could compete while on a tour of Greece. He participated in the chariot races (with six more horses than the other competitors), and declared himself the greatest Olympic victor of all time, though historical eyewitness accounts tell a different story. Nero actually nearly died after a severe wreck, but Nero being Nero, he was still declared the winner.

Thankfully, Nero’s title as an Olympic victor and the Olympiad he “won,” which did not adhere to the established chronology of the games, were subsequently stricken from the official Olympic records after his death.

The Olympics grew over the course of 1,200 years until 393 A.D., when Emperor Theodosius I banned all Pagan festivals from the Roman emperor after Christianity became adopted as the state religion. Popular culture and history has long maintained this story of Christianity being to blame for the halt of the Olympic games. However, in recent years, some historians have disputed this account, saying that it was not for religious reasons but rather economic reasons that the games ended when they did. In fact, even after Theodosius’ death, there are still records of Olympic games taking place up until the fifth century. As the administration of Roman Empire evolved, the Olympics could no longer be sponsored by civil funds and instead became sponsored more and more by rich elites of the time. Simply put, the games became too expensive, and no one wanted to pay for them anymore.

The Olympics did not make a return for 1,500 years, until the Athens Olympics in 1896. Over the last 125 years since their reinstatement, the Games have become an integral piece of modern culture and a remnant of ancient history that was revived to great avail. As the Olympics in Tokyo continue over the next week and athletes compete for the gold, the words of St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians serve as a pertinent reminder of how the spirit of an Olympian imitates closely that of a Christian:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:24-27).

So let the Games continue! And may the race be run not for a perishable prize, but an imperishable one.

Featured photo: Met Museum, Terracotta Panathenaic prize amphora (jar), ca. 510 B.C. Attributed to the Leagros Group.