Hamilton, American History, and How to Reconcile Complexity
In case you've been living under a rock, Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda's wildly popular rapsical about Alexander Hamilton and the Founding Fathers) launched on Disney+ on July 3rd, just in time for Independence Day. I'll admit I went in a bit skeptical, as I was getting tired of people relentlessly quoting the soundtrack and professing their love for "the greatest musical of the 21st century." But I finally got around to watching it, and I have to admit it was excellent.
There are very few things that are worthy of the hype they receive. Pop culture icons from fidget spinners to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice have received a tremendous amount of public attention only to fall out of vogue or disappoint fans.
Hamilton, however, is worth the hype. It is catchy, dynamic, creative, and a musical tour de force. I particularly love King George's "You'll Be Back" number; it's been stuck in my head for over a week.
I'm not the first person to tell you that Hamilton is awesome though, so why am I talking about it? I think the show does a tremendous job of exploring complex historical figures through an objective lens. People aren't as one-dimensional as our society would often like us to believe, and our readiness to "cancel" people on the Internet has created a "gotcha culture" that harms us all.
Hamilton explores celebrated yet flawed historical characters by showing both the good and the bad they did during America's founding. While the title character, Alexander Hamilton, was responsible for much of America's financial foundation and banking systems, he also advocated for an American monarchy and was repeatedly unfaithful to his wife.
Thomas Jefferson, another major player in the early years of our country's founding, wrote the Declaration of Independence, served as our third President, and spearheaded the Louisiana Purchase, but was also a prolific slaveholder and backroom-dealing politician. These men were undoubtedly flawed, and the show does not shy away from these flaws. Here's the thing though: Hamilton recognizes that their flaws do not invalidate their accomplishments.
This is an incredibly hot-button issue today as statues are torn down and old tweets are dug up. There is a push by elements of our society to judge people based on their worst moments and dole out punishments accordingly. But you know what? That's not right. As Catholics, especially, this behavior directly contradicts our calling.
I went to Xavier High School in Middletown. Our motto is "Be a man, a man like Christ." Could you imagine if Christ behaved this way? If God, in His divine power, chose to judge us based on our worst moments, or even to judge us fairly by the laws and reason of man, Heaven would be empty. God judges us with mercy and gives us endless second chances.
Make no mistake about it: this is the only reason we have a chance at spending eternal life with Him. Not to bring the fire and brimstone, but we are all sinners! We all make mistakes, and we all have things in our past that we'd probably like to leave there.
If we are called to be like Christ, how can we defend this vicious judgement we see doled out so often today? While making the world a better, more welcoming place for all is a part of our mission, so is recognizing that people are more than their lowest moments.
American history is full of both good and bad deeds, and we should absolutely acknowledge and explore both sides of that coin. But the bad does not eradicate the good, nor does it mean that the good is "tainted" because it was done by flawed people. News flash: everyone's a flawed person!
We should all endeavor to show a bit more mercy, especially on the Internet. While it may be tempting to dogpile and "cancel" people who have skeletons in their closets, we should place ourselves in their shoes and think before we act. As we read in Matthew 7:5, "You hypocrite! First, remove the beam out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother's eye."
From Jesus in the Gospels to Michael Jackson in "Man in the Mirror," this is a timeless but oft-forgotten message. We are called as Catholics to affect positive change within ourselves before turning that critical lens on each other, and now is a more important time than ever to remember that.
If you haven't seen Hamilton yet, take it from a fellow cynic: it's worth it. Give it a chance, and enjoy a brilliant musical. Even if you have seen it before, rewatch it and pay special attention to how the show examines characters' flaws while celebrating their accomplishments. We can all take a lesson from this depiction!
I hope you're all staying cool in this hot weather. Make sure to do your best not to get too heated (whether physically or in those comments sections). Be well, stay safe, and I hope to see you soon. God Bless.