Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is once again threatening to leave the Republican Party if its leadership refuses to be outspoken critics of gay marriage. He made similar threats in March of 2013, which indicates he’s all bark and no bite. Regardless, every time I hear someone like Mr. Huckabee imply that the cultural decline of America begins and ends with a half-hearted rhetorical war with gay people, I cringe. Afterward, I think about how much better of a place America would be if those who believed in God spent less time listening to Mike Huckabee’s radio show and more time reading the works of Saint Augustine — “Confessions” in particular.
As hard is it might be for some Americans to believe, they could learn a lot from guys born over 1,600 years ago. Saint Augustine is one of them.
“Confessions” is a must-read for anyone who cares about preserving the intellectual brick and mortar of Western Civilization, but it’s also an amazing blueprint for Christians looking to share the faith. It may sound counter-intuitive, but in order to expand you must, on many levels, travel inward. Instead of pointing angry fingers at “You! And you! And you! And you! And you!” — we must take serious stock of our own spiritual shortcomings.
Take note of how Saint Augustine analyzes the time he sneaked into another man’s orchard to steal pears:
“Those pears were truly pleasant to the sight, but it was not for them that my miserable soul lusted, for I had an abundance of better pears. I stole those simply that I might steal, for having stolen them, I threw them away. My sole gratification in them was my own sin, which I was pleased to enjoy; for, if any one of these pears entered my mouth, the only good flavor it had was my sin in eating it. …
Covetousness desires to possess much; but you are already the possessor of all things. Envy contends that its aim is for excellence; but what is so excellent as you? Anger seeks revenge; but who avenges more justly than you?
Thus the soul commits fornication when she is turned from you, and seeks apart from you what she cannot find pure and untainted until she returns to you. All things imitate you — but pervertedly — when they separate themselves far from you and raise themselves up against you. …
What was it then, that I loved in that theft? And how was I imitating my lord, even in a corrupted and perverted way? Did I wish, if only by gesture, to rebel against your law, even though I had no power to do so actually — so that, even as a captive, I might produce a sort of counterfeit liberty, by doing with impunity deeds that were forbidden, in a deluded sense of omnipotence? …
See, my god, the lively review of my soul’s career is laid bare before you. I would not have committed that theft alone. My pleasure in it was not what I stole but, rather, the act of stealing. Nor would I have enjoyed doing it alone — indeed I would not have done it! What an unfriendly friendship this is, and strange seduction of the soul, eager to make mischief from games and jokes, craving another’s loss without any desire for profit or revenge of mine — only so that, when they say, “Let’s go, let’s do it,” we are ashamed not to be shameless. …
I fell away from you, my god, and in my youth I wandered too far from you, my true support. And I became a wasteland to myself.”
How many more people would Mike Huckabee draw to his message if he talked about all the times he became a wasteland unto himself instead of lashing out at gay people? Would the path to God be more easily found by non-believers if the radio host spent more time talking about his gluttonous past and youthful indiscretions, or if he continued to imply that those who believe in gay marriage are the dregs of society? Has Mike Huckabee ever viewed pornography? If so, what kind? How much? And if so, how did it spiritually damage him? It seems as though Saint Augustine’s decision to bare his soul before God is a much more productive strategy for growing the flock than throwing political temper tantrums at ideological allies while spitting invective at non-believers.
The Catholic Saints were not perfect when they walked the earth. They toiled with the same temptations as you and me. They anguished over the same kind of inner demons that plague man today. They understood, however, that “the commander triumphs in victory, yet he could not have conquered if he had not fought; and the greater the peril of battle, the more the joy of the triumph.”
Saint Augustine writes: “I was so fallen and blinded that I could not discern the light of virtue and of beauty which must be embraced for its own sake, which the eye of flesh cannot see, and only the inner vision can see.“
If a man makes it his life’s mission to cast aspersions on those around him, then it is much less likely that he will see what “only the inner vision can see.” The cultural road ahead for America is dark and dangerous due to years of neglect, but the path will be lighted if we first look within.