The year 1988 and the place was Stanford University. From the crowd of about 500 activist leaders and students the chant went up, “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, western culture’s got to go.” From that time on, in 50 other universities across the country, no course on Western Civilization has been required. Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Western culture’s got to go.”
Twenty eight years later, in April of 2016, students on the campus of Stanford University came together and demanded that a course in Western Civilization be required for all Stanford students. The demand was turned down.
The text from the Old Testament for Sunday, Sept. 2, 2018: counsels us to “…take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children.” You could take of this statement from the Old Testament as a commandment—and it does have some commanding language to it. But from our vantage point at the present time, in the state of the world we inhabit now, it rings out as be a warning. “…Make these things known to your children and your children’s children”…or else…suffer the consequences.
There is clearly a fork in the road presented here for our consideration: the path of Western Civilization or a different path that uproots western culture in favor of political correctness. There is a divide in the way; there are two paths open to us.
I want to lay out in stark contrast the two paths open to us in the form of two stories: one from our own times and one from ancient times. The first story describes events that took place in Kabul, Afghanistan and were reported in the New York Times on Dec 26, 2015, the day after Christmas. The story concerns a young woman named Farkhunda who had been accused by some Afghan men of burning a portion of the Koran. A crowd of men gathered around Farkhunda shouting angrily at her for having disrespected the holy book. As the shouting increased, the crowd turned into an angry mob that kept growing in size. Two policemen standing on the roof of a house managed to grab Farkhunda and drag her up to the roof. But the enraged mob began throwing rocks and sticks at the young woman until the policemen lost their grip on her and she fell to the street below. The mob surrounded her calling for her death. They had ripped off her hijab (a covering for the head) and they were now hitting and kicking her. By now huge crowd of men had gathered around the violence and those on the outskirts of the mob were holding up their cell phones to get pictures of the scene. It wasn’t long before Farkhunda was dead. Her lifeless body was thrown over a ledge onto a street below. Her body was set on fire. Policemen now cautioned the crowd who’d perpetrated this violence to please be careful or they may get burned by the flames that engulfed Farkhunda’s body.
The second story I want to tell is quite different and it is a story with which many of us are still familiar because our fathers and mothers saw to it that we learned this story in Sunday School and in Bible studies. The story is, of course, that described in John’s gospel, the eighth chapter. The story has striking similarities to the one about Farkhunda and some amazing differences. It, too, concerns a woman who found herself in grave danger from a crowd of angry men. She, too, had been discovered in the commission of a sin: in this case, the sin of adultery. The story opens like this: early in the morning a man (they called him a teacher though he had no credentials) came to the temple. He sat down and began to teach the people. “3 Other men called scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5 Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” What, indeed, was he to say? The teacher said nothing actually. He bent down and started writing something on the ground. Then he stood up and said these words: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Then the man crouched down again and began to write in the dirt as he had done before. Slowly, one by one the crowd of angry men broke up and each man walked away.
Twenty centuries later, in the western world, it is absolutely impossible to imagine the stoning of a woman for any sin she might commit. Yes, great sins have been committed against women in the western world but every such sin against the daughters of God stands condemned in the reading of this short story of Jesus Christ, the man who faced down a mob of self-righteous men who’d lost their humanity. For 20 centuries this story of Jesus and the woman he saved has echoed down the long corridors of time. The Romans gave us our laws and republican form of government. The Greeks gave us our political philosophy. But Jesus gives Western Culture its heart. Make no mistake, those who chanted Hey Hey Ho Ho, western culture’s got to go meant that Jesus must go along with it. And if he, the light of the world should go, the rest is darkness.
We, in the western tradition do not have to shield ourselves from the dark side of the history of western culture. Because it is Western Civilization itself which teaches us to examine and critique and point out, and protest and cry out against its own shortcomings. This tradition goes back all the way to the ancient prophets of Israel who had the authority granted to them by God himself to walk straight into the court of the King and point a finger to say, “The Lord our God is displeased with Thee!
So, take care and watch closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; not for our sakes alone but for Farkhunda’s sake, for Farkhunda’s sake.
The writer is the pastor of St. Jacob’s Lutheran and Emmanuel Lutheran churches.