Put Out the Light: A City on a Hill

Another Announcement from The Blogger:

An Unashamedly Political Post

c. 85 CE
(Matthew’s Gospel)

In the Parable of Salt and Light in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says:

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid
(Matthew 5:14)

John Winthrop challenged his fellow Puritans as they set sail to settle in Massachusetts, that they would be:

“as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us”

President-Elect, John Kennedy, also speaking in Massachusetts, said:

… I have been guided by the standard John Winthrop set before his shipmates three hundred and thirty-one years ago, as they, too, faced the task of building a new government on a perilous frontier. ‘We must always consider”, he said, “that we shall be as a city upon a hill—the eyes of all people are upon us’.

Ronald Reagan, who adopted the phrase almost as his own, elaborated:

I have quoted John Winthrop’s words more than once on the campaign trail this year—for I believe that Americans in 1980 are every bit as committed to that vision of a shining “city on a hill,” as were those long ago settlers … These visitors to that city on the Potomac do not come as white or black, red or yellow; they are not Jews or Christians; conservatives or liberals; or Democrats or Republicans. They are Americans awed by what has gone before, proud of what for them is still… a shining city on a hill.”

It is 4:00 on a Sunday morning, no light showing at the windows, but it won’t be long. I, along with most of my friends and fellow Americans, am still sequestered against the plague that roams outside, seemingly free of restraints.

At the end of June, I quoted a professor I had in graduate school who suggested that

“the problem with Richard Nixon is that he hasn’t read enough Shakespeare.”

Today, we would settle today for a president who reads anything.

Today, I am thinking about light and the shining city on a hill, an image by which America has defined itself since the Massachusetts Bay colonists sailed.  Is there nothing that Shakespeare didn’t know?

As Othello prepares to kill Desdemona, in the darkness of an extinguished candle, he cries,

“Put out the light, and then put out the light.”

Our road from Richard Nixon to Donald Trump is paved with our own smug confidence that we had solved the problem, that we had risen from the ashes of that earlier aberration to our permanent status as Reagan’s shining city on a hill, that we had returned to our belief in the inscription on the Statue of Liberty.  And, most important of those paving stones was our willingness to look away from a growing population of men without jobs, women without health care, children without food.

Today, Watergate and the corruption of one man seem the soul of innocence.  They were not, of course, but today the lesson they might have taught is neutralized by an entire government full of people who haven’t the time for the lessons of history.



  1. This is not an excuse for our behavior, but I do believe it is a reason. We are “young”. As a history buff myself, I read about different civilizations that are no more, that survived a few hundred or even a few thousand years, and dissolved, or were morphed into new cultures for various reasons.

    We are the “teenagers” of the world, compared to Europe and Asia. And nobody can tell teenagers what to do because they think they know it all, or that nothing can ever happen to them. Unfortunately, there are consequences to all our actions and only time will tell how severe ours will be.


  2. I see your point, and I know that Europe and Asia have had their share of crazy dictators and various love affairs with violence. However, I do believe that we’ve found ourselves a leader who pretty much tops anyone since Caligula.


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