Official Piety

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Official Piety
by John Greenleaf Whittier

Suggested by reading a state paper, wherein the higher law is invoked to sustain the lower one.


A Pious magistrate! sound his praise throughout
The wondering churches. Who shall henceforth doubt
That the long-wished millennium draweth nigh?
Sin in high places has become devout,
Tithes mint, goes painful-faced, and prays its lie
Straight up to Heaven, and calls it piety!
The pirate, watching from his bloody deck
The weltering galleon, heavy with the gold
Of Acapulco, holding death in check
While prayers are said, brows crossed, and beads are told;
The robber, kneeling where the wayside cross
On dark Abruzzo tells of life's dread loss
From his own carbine, glancing still abroad
For some new victim, offering thanks to God!
Rome, listening at her altars to the cry
Of midnight Murder, while her hounds of hell
Scour France, from baptized cannon and holy bell
And thousand-throated priesthood, loud and high,
Pealing Te Deums to the shuddering sky,
"Thanks to the Lord, who giveth victory!"
What prove these, but that crime was ne'er so black
As ghostly cheer and pious thanks to lack?
Satan is modest. At Heaven's door he lays
His evil offspring, and, in Scriptural phrase
And saintly posture, gives to God the praise
And honor of the monstrous progeny.
What marvel, then, in our own time to see
His old devices, smoothly acted o'er,--
Official piety, locking fast the door
Of Hope against three million soups of men,--
Brothers, God's children, Christ's redeemed,--and then,
With uprolled eyeballs and on bended knee,
Whining a prayer for help to hide the key!