Monday, May 26, 2008

Faith of Our Fathers

The old hymn, Faith of Our Fathers, has always conjured for me somber images of my spiritual forbears who suffered persecution, torture, and martyrdom at the hands of the state church in 17th century Europe. I grew up hearing these stories in church, peeking at the gruesome illustrations in the hefty volume of Martyrs Mirror, and wondering if I would have the grit to take a radical stand with such dire consequences, should it be required. This disturbing history implied that caring for one's enemies, submitting to ill treatment and even accepting death for one's Christian beliefs was the ultimate expression of faith.

So when I cracked open John McCain's memoir entitled Faith of My Fathers, and found the first stanza and refrain of this familiar hymn introducing the body of the book, I was nonplussed. This book details the military exploits of the author, his father, and his grandfather (in fact, his whole genealogy is chock full of legendary fighters). He appropriates these lyrics as a celebration of the fierce nationalism that has been passed down through generations of his family and which elevates loyalty to one's country (as expressed through a military career) as the highest form of honor and courage. Willingness to kill, destroy, and die violently on behalf of one's government is, apparently, what the author means by "faith".

The second and third verses of the hymn in question directly oppose McCain's interpretation of the first:

Faith of our fathers, we will strive
To win all nations unto Thee;
And through the truth that comes from God,
We all shall then be truly free.

Faith of our fathers, we will love
Both friend and foe in all our strife;
And preach Thee, too, as love knows how
By kindly words and virtuous life.

Aside from McCain's distasteful misinterpretation of a venerable hymn, I found little of interest in the book. I really tried, but simply couldn't bring myself to read more a couple of chapters (including how he survived as a POW). So much for a well-rounded reading of the front-running presidential candidates.

1 comment:

  1. what a beautiful hymn, sister. I appreciate this entry.