The Thoma family just returned from a very short trip south to visit my parents. We met up with my sister, Shelley, and her family, too. My mom turns 70 tomorrow, and as it would go, we were actually able to sneak away for most of Friday and Saturday to celebrate with her. We met them all in South Bend, Indiana, which is about half way between us. My mom was glad we came. And thankfully, returning home yesterday, we managed to stay ahead of the storms, having arrived just before they hit.
At one point during our adventures, as it is whenever one travels, it became necessary to eat. Unfortunately, there weren’t many places near to where we were staying. As it would happen, however, right across the street from our hotel was a gas station with a pizza restaurant attached. When I saw it was a Noble Roman’s pizzeria, I more or less lunged.
Noble Romans was a thing for my family when I was growing up in Danville, Illinois. When we moved to Morton, Illinois, just before my junior year in high school, we left Noble Romans behind, and I can say that I probably haven’t visited one since I was sixteen or so. Still, seeing the sign brought back memories of pizza-making birthday parties and after-game gatherings with basketball families. Needless to say, I left the family to unpack, having promised them a delightful dinner. Because it was a fairly busy intersection, I decided to drive, which in essence meant crossing from one parking lot over the road to the restaurant’s lot. Easy enough. Except the restaurant’s parking spaces were full. No problem. I wasn’t staying long. With that, I pulled up next to a gas pump and parked.
Here’s where it gets interesting.
On the other side of the pump was a minivan adorned with bumper stickers—so many stickers, in fact, that there was very little uncovered space left on the back hatch of the vehicle. Had its pilot been a little less aware of my presence, I’d have taken a picture, because I think like me, you would have laughed at the spectrum of stereotypical concerns communicated by what was, in essence, a rolling billboard of “political correctness.”
There were stickers shaming big corporations beside stickers complaining about pollution’s effect on the natural environment. There was a sticker asking the viewer to save the lives of honey bees. There were stickers degrading guns and their owners. There were stickers decrying poverty and income inequality, one speaking rather specifically about raising the minimum wage. There were stickers warning of the dangers of climate change beside stickers selling the proposition that we’re killing polar bears. There was a “Black Lives Matter” sticker near a “Stop Police Violence” sticker. There were stickers lauding PETA. Of course, there were stickers degrading President Trump and his supporters. There were stickers promoting marijuana. There were stickers celebrating transgenderism near rainbow-colored “equality” stickers promoting same-sex marriage. There was a sticker that referred to organized religion as evil—although, it was by no means a generalized statement since it displayed a Bible with a red X through it. Humorously, just below the “religion is evil” sticker rested another one promoting Wicca, which is the modern pagan religion that employs witchcraft. And as if that wasn’t funny enough, only inches away from the Wicca sticker was a token “Coexist” sticker.
I suppose I’m sharing this for a reason. I’ll try to find my way to it.
I’ll get there by first saying I saw a meme re-shared this morning by a friend which offered, “Villainy wears many masks; none so dangerous as the mask of virtue.” For the record, the original sharer of the meme claimed the quotation’s source as Washington Irving, suggesting it could be found in his delightful little volume The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I know for a fact the line isn’t in that book. I say this because I read Irving’s story at least once a year. In truth, the quotation comes from the 1999 Tim Burton film “Sleepy Hollow.” This, too, is a favorite of mine, even though it’s hardly based on Irving’s story. I like the film because I appreciate Johnny Depp’s performance. I’m even more appreciative of Christopher Lee’s brief appearance at the beginning. As it would go, Ichabod Crane is the one who mouths the line in the film, and for what it’s worth, it’s well-placed as a nod to what I think is one of the sub-themes of Irving’s book—which is that while people may portray care and concern for others, in the end, most folks are really only concerned for the self, and this often results in a life of contradictory behavior. I’m guessing this is at the heart of the infamous line near the end of the book, something Irving writes with almost alarming plainness just after the schoolteacher, Ichabod, is thought to have met his end at the hands of the headless Hessian.
“As he was a bachelor, and in nobody’s debt, nobody troubled his head any more about him…”
This line is then followed by rich descriptions of the whole community simply going on without Ichabod. The reader is left with the feeling that for as virtuous as the community may actually be, it’s real creed is “better him than me.”
I suppose the quotation in the movie hints to the screenwriter’s knowledge of Irving’s work, and with that, it’s worth our while. Indeed, history proves that villains often prefer the mask of humble virtue, portraying concern for this or that issue, but in the end, only wearing it for the sake of “self.” They are a living contradiction in terms.
A similar bit of wisdom from Bernard Shaw comes to mind. With his tongue planted firmly in his cheek, even in the early 1900s, the Irish playwright tipped his hat to the inherent contradiction at the heart of virtue-signaling when he inferred sarcastically that the “more things a man is ashamed of, the more respectable he is.”
I guess what I’m trying to say is that the owner of the van beside me at the gas pump in Indiana was indeed a flaming meteor of ideological contradiction. He looked to be uprightly concerned for so many noble things, and yet he betrayed his darker devotion to “self” and its opinions.
Think about it.
Coexist, being sure to be tolerant of other beliefs, but do it leaving room in your tolerance for hating people who support Trump. And remember, all organized religions, namely the Christian denominations, are evil. Except for the Wiccan religion. That organized religion devoted to witchcraft is okay. Also, because life is very important, we ought to be mindful of it even in its tiniest form. Thusly, honey bees are important. But unborn human babies, not so much. Along those same lines, don’t forget to be mindful of the environment, being thoughtful of nature and its laws as they meet with society… except, of course, when it comes to the natural laws governing sexual orientation and gender identity. Even though those laws are pretty much foundational to humanity itself, it’s okay to confuse them. I mean, regardless of the long term effects, happiness must always eclipse truth, right?
I don’t necessarily know what the lesson to be learned here is, except maybe to say that sinful humanity most often lives by selfish opinion rather than fixed, objective truth. Of course, we all fall prey to such behavior. Even Christians. And it’s good to be aware of it.
But Christians know by the Word of the Gospel that while being aware of it is one thing, confessing and repenting of it is even better. Repenting and confessing is always met by the Lord’s forgiveness. His forgiveness continues to feed the ability to repent, confess, and amend our lives so that they realign with the truth of God’s Word. This keeps us from becoming a mess of contradictions that never really gain a firm grasp on actuality.
I dare say it’s what keeps genuine Christians from joining up with pro-choice, BLM, pro-LGBTQ groups, let alone slap their bumper stickers all over our cars.
Again, the Word of God is the Christian’s North Star. No matter our direction, whether we think we’re right or wrong, we can set our maxims by this standard—God’s standard. Established in this way, we’ll always be found in the impenetrably fixed grounds of Godly certainty.