Friday, September 2, 2011
Today's image features our National Phallus, the venerable Washington Monument. Begun in 1848, but not completed until 1884.1 It's the usual project, overly ambitious and poorly-administered, soon running over budget and sitting half-completed for a generation before someone decided to just finish the damned thing. Which they finally did, after they gave up the plan for the Greek temple surround the base. And it wasn't even a government project.2
The Monument has been in the news lately, of course, because of cracks discovered after the recent East Coast earthquake; more have been discovered in the wake of Hurricane Irene. Reportedly, the Monument is sound and not about to fall over, but that hasn't stopped our modern-day Jeremiahs from discerning God's wrath in natural phenomena. Pat Robertson begins with "I don’t want to get weird on this, but," and realizing it's already too late for that, continues, "it seems to me the Washington Monument is a symbol of America’s power. It has been the symbol of our great nation. We look at the monument and we say this is one nation under God. Now there’s a crack in it. Is that a sign from the Lord?” Not to be outdone, a certain Professor of Practical Theology3 at Southeastern University speculates on what message God might be sending, asking, "If the crack in the monument is, in fact, a God-sent ‘sign’ for the moment, then what might God be saying? And to whom is He speaking?"
I sometimes think God is just some great, vaporous infant. He cries every time He's unhappy, which is most of the time, but He can't tell you exactly what the problem is.
Perhaps He's just gotten around to noticing that the founder of His Own Country was honored by constructing a pagan edifice. The Washington Monument is an obelisk, a style of monument that first adorned Egyptian temples and has no Christian connotations whatsoever -- although the things are so cool that even the Vatican still keeps one that was erected by the beloved Emperor Caligula.
We needn't be surprised at this. Who can't admire the architecture of the Classical Age? If you look around Washington, DC, you'll see a lot more references to classical Rome and Greece than you do to Christian sources, and the buildings all resemble Greek temples more than Christian cathedrals. Both Rome and Greece also copied the Egyptians' obelisks. The Romans not only built their own, but they plundered them from Egypt, too, long before Napoleon began the modern tradition of collection development, so that today only half of all surviving Egyptian obelisks are still found in Egypt.
Frankly, I don't mind a bit that, in honoring our primary Founding Father, Americans also honored one of the most accomplished cultures of the ancient world.
1. Which makes me think of Orwell's 1984, which was published in 1948 and gained its title by reversing that last two digits. But I can't quite make any other connections, so I guess I'll have to drop the whole thing.
2. If you look closely at the photo, even though it's backlit, you can see the difference in color between the marble in the original base and that used to complete the monument.
3. It's hard to even type that without giggling, isn't it?