Jesus and Washington, lone wolves vs herds

This is a thought I may pursue before the day is out after I attend to some mundane chores. Otherwise I might just delete this post like a dandelion seed about to be blown to oblivion.


For an American George Washington is the first citizen of the land. He is the nation’s Father and Founder above all others. For Christians the same must be said of Jesus. George W. Bush was once roundly ridiculed when asked who his favorite “philosopher” was for answering, “Jesus.” That in a nutshell demonstrates the challenge of dual loyalties. By so honoring the founder of Christianity, even if thinking of him as a philosopher was a stretch, Bush offended the same crowd that Hillary Clinton may have had in mind when she called Trump folks “deplorables” and handed the Presidency to him.

Speaking for myself. I see Jesus, or what is known him, as akin to a philosopher far more than Washington. George was certainly an reader of the philosophical currents of the Enlightenment but he wasn’t a preacher. He was a practical farmer and businessman with a bit of a Romantic streak. In the Bible he might have played he part of one of the people who couldn’t deny that Jesus was on to something.

Jesus himself remains very enigmatic. As I read the Bible he didn’t claim to be the son of God. It was others who proclaimed this especially after his reported resurrection. He may even have encouraged this thinking but nothing in the four Gospels indicates he had anything other in mind than being a new brand of Jew. His observance was far more spiritual than law based. The philosophy he left us is a succession of aphorisms, prayers and parables. And none of this compares with the provenance of the great writers and philosophers of the ancient world whose works could be found in every ancient library around the Mediterranean. Today’s scholars think that for years following his death his words were confined to short handwritten lists that his followers passed around among themselves.

And most of the rubrics (red printed quotations in the Bible) only became “gospel” years after his execution. And even these words had to pass through faulty and sometimes fanciful human memory. There are many “books” about Jesus from the same period that have not been admitted to church cannon but which were honored by pious copyists in monasteries who hand copied them until the invention of Guttenberg’s printing press. Close readers of these handwritten texts, canonical and otherwise, have discovered what grade school teachers have always known. People make mistakes. People make alterations on purpose. People fill in blanks in the texts they copy when something is smudged. That’s called guessing. My Mother could manage a little calligraphy and when my sister Becky Welty won a certificate that competition officials were too busy to fill out she asked Mom to fill in her name. In the prettiest script you’ve ever seen Mom laboriously wrote B E C K Y W E C K Y on the document to my Sister’s chagrin. I thought it was funny. I hope the scriveners had a sense of humor too. Their years of labor made them hunchbacks and myopics.

Like many before me I believe that no matter what mysteries can be found in the words imputed to Jesus his overall message is reasonably clear. We should love our neighbors as we love ourselves – even the ones going to hell, I think.

Unlike Jesus there is a lot of historical documentation of George Washington a poor cousin to rich planters in the comfortable Tide water region of the colony of Virginia. He was not the philosopher of the Revolution. He was its general and, in leading the “nation’s” army, he was in charge of cats which are notoriously difficult to herd. There was no state yet just 13 separate states that balked at being told what to do as they marched into war against the most powerful nation on Earth at the time.

Here I will skip past another couple of pages of qualifications and prologue. To the Question/Questions: (Jesus and Washington, lone wolves vs herds)

Neither man was a lone wolf. Washington and Jesus both had disciples. But both men were challenging a much greater power from a starting point of dire weakness. To accomplish their tasks they needed a herd. Washington needed an army and a united confederation of squabbling colonies. Jesus was preaching new ways to live the life as God’s chosen people and he had pretty much given up on the here and now. And among Jesus’s innovations – he opened the door to non Jews albeit tentatively. Paul would fling it open without reserve in later years.

Washington did not turn his back on government. He simply wanted to establish one more to his liking. Jesus had little use for government on Earth. He was interested in living a life in the temporary now, the temporal, in order to gain admittance to an afterlife at the side of God. And Jesus had several enemies. Pious Jews outside the Temple were angered by his innovations in old testament laws. The priestly Levites, who collected religious taxes at the Temple, didn’t want him to overturn their prosperous apple-cart. And the Romans (the Great Britain of his day) had no use for anyone who made a stink about local traditions and who held Rome in low regard. And even among his followers Jesus had to contend with incendiary nationalists like Judas who wanted to see Rome defeated. Jesus had no use for that kind of zealotry. Instead he walked on water, caught fish, preached heresies, and healed sick people suffering hideous medieval ailments on the Sabbath. After his crucifixion and resurrection – whether this actually took place, his followers cobbled together ideas that became the great churches of antiquity, The Catholics, Arians, and Nestorians among others.

In the western tradition Paul commanded Christians to give loyalty to the government of Rome if not to its many pantheistic theologies. In this he was quite different from Jesus who told people simply to pay taxes to Rome, “render unto Caesar…”

Ironically, Jesus has had more to do with establishing nations than Washington ever did. His church supplanted Judaism and numerous Roman religions to become the state church of hundreds of European nations, this after the canny Constantine got the ball rolling in the 300’s.

I began this post four days ago after some very vivid thinking that evaporated before I actually started addressing its evocative Title.

Lone wolves? Herds? What was that all about anyway? I’ve just written that neither Washington or Jesus were lone wolves. Neither were they part of a herd. If anything, they both went against the existing herds to found new ones. Their examples are instructive especially considering that in their wake millions of people joined together in new and ever larger herds.

As we face new difficulties I suggest remembering how both Washington and Jesus bucked faulty, rigid systems not like lone wolves but more like teenagers dealing with parental hypocrisy. Both led coalitions of people which over time would form new herd-like coalitions. Rather than hewing unthinkingly to the coalitions or herds they made possible I would recommend casting same critical gaze that both Jesus and Washington applied to the herds of their day.

I’m sorry if you who waited four days for me to fill something in here are disappointed at my meager offering. I would have felt guilty simply deleting the tall order I left for myself.

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