The overwhelming winner of the popular poll in Russia to determine the greatest of all Russians is none other than Joe Stalin. There is at least one priest who keeps an icon of The Father of All Progressive Ideas in his study. Others like Pushkin and Catharine the Great came in a distant 4th or 5th. Ivan the Terrible came in a distant second. Tolstoy, Sakharov, Yuri Gagarin, even cranky old Solzhenitsyn, didn't even rate.
I'd like to be able to say that it's just because Russia is so weird, but I'm afraid the rest of us don't get off that easy. I remember at least one Russian colleague back in my commercial mural days, among many other Russian colleagues, who genuinely loved Stalin. Stranger still, he was a Russian Jew. He was once a great star among official artists in the old Soviet Union. His wife was a physics professor. They were among the Soviet official elite. When the Soviet Union crashed around their ears, they came to America to start a new life and found only humiliation. He found work as a decorative painter, and she could find work only as a hotel maid because she could not speak English.
I saw something similar in Italy with the crazy old signora who rented me a room in Florence 20 years ago. Her eyes would get moist with tears of fond nostalgia whenever she heard the name Mussolini. Her son was a minor official in the Italian Christian Democratic Party, notorious as a hideout for unregenerate Fascists after World War II.
As much as we protest that we love Liberty, Equality, and Brotherhood, in our heart of hearts we yearn for Big Daddy to make everything right, to protect us and our kind, and above all, to revenge us on our enemies. Maybe I'm getting cynical in my dotage, but I see this in political circles, and even more in religious circles these days. In an age of dramatic change and upheaval, a time of great anxiety such as the present, people want clarity and certainty. We want a holy instruction manual for getting through the world and a Big Daddy or a collection of Big Daddies to read it and interpret it for us and to tell us what to do next. We want God to be the biggest daddiest Big Daddy of them all. We want Him to come down in clouds of glory with loud thunder, lightning flashing, sword in hand, and wreak vengeance upon all our enemies. We want to bind their kings in chains and see them deeply wailing. That's what we really want in our heart of hearts. We don't want peace and love, we want revenge. We want power and glory. We want to see our enemies cringing before us begging for mercy. That's what we've always wanted if the Bible and all other ancient literature is to be believed.
I've always thought that German idealist business of history as idea coming into being was all balderdash. When it comes to History, I'm a complete atheist. I don't believe in cycles of history, or "History Will Judge," or zeitgeist. History is the biological struggle for survival and domination projected into the social sphere. The historical record is mostly a record of crime. If there is a providential plan in any of it, then it is known only to Providence.
And God did come down to earth; but, we didn't get that Big Daddy we always wanted. Instead, we got a tiny helpless baby completely at our mercy and dependent upon us. So much for Big Daddy.
And what a coincidence! December 29 is Holy Innocents' Day when we remember all the little ones slaughtered by Big Daddy Herod in his rage and paranoia.