National Feast Days

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Civic balls and dances, often in former churches, were given official encouragement, to celebrate great events such as the recapture of Toulon. Civic banquets were another feature of the revolutionary’s collective leisure…These banquets were also intended as a substitute for the old religious feast-days, revolutionary symbolism taking the place of Christian. [from The French and Their Revolution by Richard Cobb]

Martin Van Creveld in his history of the state claims that Revolutionary France was the first bona fide centralized national state. Prior to this age, the idea of a national feast or pretty much “national” anything was a bizarre notion, antithetical to freedom, and the idea of a secular feast day was, of course, blasphemous.

Americans, however, and especially right-wing ones, so obsessed with national “greatness,” and so ignorant of the history of the state, act with indignation at any suggestion that the American version of the French revolutionary banquets might be insidious. Of course, unlike the Christians of 18th century France, the modern American Christian, who sings nationalist hymns in his churches, is no longer supplanting even the religious commemorations of long ago, but is now so intellectually and theologically bankrupt, that he actually needs the state to give him an opportunity to do what he should be doing every Sunday.  Some are so obtuse and dense as to equate a criticism of Thanksgiving Day with a criticism of thanksgiving itself.

But ask yourself, Christian, would a first-century Christian have participated in an Empire-wide day of feasting proclaimed by the Emperor? The evidence is compelling that they would have done no such thing. Christians of most every age before modern times viewed secular feast days with skepticism, because they knew what the French revolutionaries knew. So why do now what the first Christians would have refused to do? Christians already have a weekly day of thanksgiving. It’s called Sunday, and it’s a day on which families are supposed to come together and spend time with each other. The fact that American families can’t be bothered with doing this unless some secular government encourages them to do so is a  nice illustration of just how well the state has triumphed over religion as a meaningful force in the lives of human beings.

1:04 am on November 27, 2009