Category Archives: Politics

more quotes

I’m still working my way through Baxter’s Life of Elder Walter Scott.  Baxter is a good storyteller.  The book has been enlightening on a number of points (e.g. I just finished the chapter that deals with the publication of Scott’s A Discourse on the Holy Spirit [1831]); I’ll try to share more of what I’ve gleaned from the book soon.

In other news, I’ve been reading John T. Lewis’ The Christian and the Government (1945).  The book is comprised of a series of articles published in the Bible Banner and (later) in Sound Doctrine during the period from 1942-1944, after Foy E. Wallace, Jr. changed his position on Christian participation in government and war and started to attack (along with his brother Cled and his friend W.E. Brightwell) those who disagreed with him as being “premillennialists.”  Here’s a sample from Lewis’ pen:

“The consistent conscientious objector is the only one that can and does obey Paul’s teaching in Romans 13:1-7.  Not being a partisan politician, he respects his government, and pays taxes to support it, regardless of the political party heading the government.  Therefore, I boldly assert that the consistent conscientious objector — non-political Christians — constitute the greatest moral force behind our Government today.  That is the reason the government respects their convictions.  For instance, when Herbert Hoover, the outstanding citizen of the world, was President of the United States, every little peanut Democratic Christian in the South cursed and maligned him as though he was the devil incarnate, responsible for all the ills in the world.  Not being a ‘political parson,’ I could, and did respect him as the head of our Government.  I was in Portland, Maine, in 1907, when that rock-ribbed Republican state went Democratic from constable to Governor.  Every Republican Christian, and that was about the only brand there, was absolutely certain that the devil had taken over their State Government, and was going to run it through or by the lowest strata of human society, the Democratic party.  A few years ago when the Northern and Southern Methodists were trying to unite, they had a great convention in the city auditorium, here in Birmingham.  I sat in the auditorium, one day during the convention, and heard an old time Democratic, Southern Methodist preacher from the ‘deep South,’ make one of the most touching and pathetic appeals that I ever listened to, he said: ‘Brethren, I had hoped to die, and go to heaven in the Democratic party, and in the Southern Methodist church; but now you are trying to turn the Southern Methodist church over to the Republicans.’  No doubt there were just as honest and as conscientious Republican Northern Methodist preachers, ‘down East’ who prayed just as fervently that the Northern Methodist church should not be turned over to the Democratic scum of the South….Brethren this is the brand of religion you have when you try to mix the elements of the temporal kingdom with the spiritual kingdom.  These elements were united in the fleshly kingdom of Israel; but separated by Christ in spiritual Israel.  What God has separated, let no man join together.” (pp. 51-52)

phillip blond on red toryism

A while back, Phillip Blond, British exponent of what he calls “Red Toryism” did something of an American tour.  The American Conservative this month reprints the substance of an address he delivered at Georgetown University titled “Shattered Society.”  Although he has direct reference to the current political and social situation in the UK, much of the diagnosis is directly relevant to the contemporary American context.  The answer to the main problems, he suggests, is neither statist liberalism nor “conservatism” (a code word these days, in Britain and the United States, for an intellectually and morally bankrupt libertarianism).

While we’re on the topic of conservatism, the Clarion Review contains an excellent interview with Roger Scruton that I just happened upon.  A couple of excerpts:

What distinguishes conservatism from classical liberalism?

The problem with classical liberalism is that it never pauses to examine what is involved in ‘not harming others’. Do I leave others unharmed when I destroy my capacity for personal relationships, through drug-taking, promiscuity, or porn addiction? Do I leave them unharmed when I stupefy myself with pop music? I have nothing against individualism, so long as it is recognized that the individual is created by a community and by the moral constraints that prevail in it. The individual is not the foundation of society but its most important by-product.

And:

What deleterious consequences does the free market have? And in what ways should the market be limited?

The market, left to itself, puts everything on sale; hence the problem of pornography. We don’t allow children to be sold – not yet: but we do allow them to be treated as market commodities when they are in the womb. It is very obvious, when you look at these facts, that the market is a good only when controlled by moral sentiment – as Adam Smith recognized. The market should be limited by laws reflecting the needs of the moral life. Certain things should be withdrawn from the market, in the way that religion has always tried to withdraw the aspects of human life on which the reproduction of society depends.

Feel free to comment and/or critique in the comment thread.  To the degree that I see cultural and social issues as relevant to what I usually discuss on this blog, I think these are worthwhile and, therefore, I bring them to your attention.  That said, I’m done with politics as such in this space for a while.

vacation

I’m on vacation from work this coming week, so I’m going to start cranking out more posts over the next several days.

The sun is shining in Nashville after a couple of days of hard rain.  My thoughts over the past few days have been with the Gulf Coast and the now-month-long oil spill.  Predictably, BP has acknowledged that the extent of the spill is much worse than they first reported.  (Here’s a brief summary of the latest news from the New York Times.)  Jason Peters at Front Porch Republic captures the issue well, I think:

…[T]hings could be worse. Not different, mind you, but worse, for it turns out that on our political landscape the difference between an elephant and a donkey—so far as energy is concerned—is a difference (if difference there be) of degree, not kind. The pachydermic Proboscidae and jackassic Perissodactyla are standing on our southern shores and looking at the most recent oil disaster as a technological rather than as a moral problem.

There is neither trumpeting from the former nor braying from the latter about how we shouldn’t be drilling offshore in the first place. There are only mixed noises about being more careful and better prepared should such an unfortunate technological malfunction (somewhat akin to a wardrobe malfunction) ever happen again. Hypermobility, long-distance exchange of goods, orange juice in the cold Fargo winters—these, as our former Vice President said, are non-negotiable.

But what we are staring at off our southern shore is most assuredly a moral rather than a technological problem. It is a moral problem because we have presumed upon the earth to provide for us a standard of living no one deserves or is entitled to, a standard that has quite obviously been acquired on the credit cards of the unborn. It is a standard that is nothing less than a sickness unto death.

Also relevant to how we got into this mess is Wendell Berry’s piece from the May 2008 issue of Harper’s Magazine, titled “Faustian Economics.” Well worth reading and pondering.  What should Christians do if they agree with Peters and Berry that this is a moral issue?  How should the church be involved?  If we don’t accept the notion that the church as such should be involved, how then should the individual be involved?  How do we begin to preach “limits” from the pulpit?

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In other news, a friend of mine recently pointed me to the National Marriage Project.  You won’t be disappointed by the time you spend there.  This is an incredible resource for elders and evangelists about the state of marriage (and other living arrangements) in America.  I’ve long said that we should be spending more time in Churches of Christ focusing on how to sustain marriages than trying to figure out who to blame when they fail; this is a good resource for helping us do just that.

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Finally, I link to this last piece because I’ve seen so little engagement by members of Churches of Christ with the New Atheism.  This preacher reviews a couple of Alister McGrath’s books on the subject and concludes with a surprisingly frank admission: the uber-rationalism of Enlightenment-era Protestantism (including Churches of Christ) has squelched the possibility of experiencing the Divine either in corporate worship or individually.

A snippet:

The church grew strong in the immediate aftereffects of the Enlightenment and the emphasis on reason and the rational. When confronted with Evangelicalism and especially Pentecostalism, there was a strong reaction, to the point where many to this day deny that God works miracles today (or, for that matter, that the demonic has any power at all). Anything that was experienced-based, regardless of its relationship to the revealed standard, was just too subjective and too questionable.

None of this is to say that all the various experiences that people claim to have with the Divine or supernatural forces are acceptable. We are strongly warned to avoid the black arts (Galatians 5:19-21). Everything must be tested by the standard of the truth as it has been revealed through the New Testament (Galatians 1:6-9, 1 John 4:1, Jude 1:3). Most of what has been promoted as the experience of the Divine has not been according to that standard, either because it was idolatrous (cf. Romans 1:18-32), or because it purported to be something that has been fulfilled (1 Corinthians 13:8-10).

Yet there is nothing in Scripture that teaches us that we should not expect to experience the Divine in any meaningful way. In fact, there is much in Scripture that teaches us that we should experience the Divine! We have seen in Acts 17:24-28 that we should “seek after God,” and that “in Him we live and move and have our being.” Our lives, therefore, should be saturated with the Divine in whom we exist and subsist.

There is a helpful acknowledgment at the end that we encounter God in the Lord’s Supper and in prayer.  One might like more detail and more discussion of the unique historical situation of Churches of Christ (I, for one, would like to see what he would do with Leonard Allen’s account of the dispute between Tolbert Fanning and Robert Richardson on this question in Participating in God’s Life), but this is certainly a start and it deserves to be discussed widely.

more deneen: on the health care “debate”

I try not to make a habit of delving into these sorts of issues on this blog.  I think, though, that anyone witnessing the tone and lack of substance of the current debate over health care has every right to concerned over the future of our society.

Patrick Deneen, in a piece at Front Porch Republic, gets to some of the deeper issues that neither side in this debate have stopped to notice:

This “debate” takes place in the backdrop of a set of deeper beliefs that pre-determine its outcome. First, we know that we are not likely to live in places for any appreciable length of time, so we require fungibility of care. This means that we come to expect impersonal care, and know that we will necessarily be treated as data. The question is, which data-keeper will treat us? We are treated as parts, not wholes, and so our illnesses are treated as discrete occurrences, not as part of a treatment that cares for the human creature in all of our personal wholeness, from diet to exercise to the essential belief that we belong somewhere among particular people. One argument never advanced in the health-care “debate” was that it would be invaluable to strengthen communities. The best health-care provider is the local family doctor who knows the general health – and beyond that, has a broader personal knowledge – of each person, from cradle to grave. The backdrop of the health-care debate was that we have rejected that option because of our addiction to mobility and its attendant “restlessness,” so that the debate all along was over means, not ends.

It follows that we need some kind of provider because generations no longer care for each other. Above all, children no longer care for their parents as they age and die, so we need to farm out that activity to another caretaker. That costs a lot of money. Further, we know deep in our bones that we live in a society in which upon our deaths we will be almost instantly forgotten. Whether one believes in an afterlife or not, in previous times, an afterlife was at least assured through the memory of successive generations who would remember and tend the legacy of departed ancestors. Today, all we have is the life we now live – and our dignity demands, if nothing else, that it be extended as long as possible, by whatever means. Lastly, we have come to define liberty as “the endless power after power that ceaseth only in death.” By that definition, death is the worst thing imaginable. We all live in the shadow of Hobbes, and have accepted that the basic motivation that animates us is fear of death. The character Nathan Coulter in Wendell Berry’s novel Hannah Coulter – who, learning of his terminal illness, refuses an intensive treatment of radiation therapy in order to die at home – is incomprehensible to us. In the light of these facts about ourselves, there is no fundamental disagreement that health and longevity are inalienable rights. The only question worthy of debate is who shall provide it – State-supported corporatism or corporate-supported Statism.

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Secondly, Lauren Winner on marriage.  In the newest issue of Christianity Today, she has contributed a book review that calls attention to a couple of academic studies of marriage counseling in the 20th century.  As she points out, it has become commonplace to say that marriage is “work.”  There is some truth to this: more couples need to know what they are getting themselves into when they make their vows.  But marriage, as the Orthodox wedding ceremony observes, is more even than this: it is martyrdom.  (And by that, I don’t mean playing the martyr.)  As Gordon Hauser observes:

A longstanding Eastern Orthodox tradition also recognizes that a marriage relationship is hard work.  This tradition sees marriage, in fact, as a vocation to martyrdom.

Sarah Coakley, professor of divinity at Harvard Divinity School, writes about this tradition: “To romantic Western eyes this may at first appear grim and masochistic; but on reflection it dignifies as ascetical the daily losses, displacements and ceding to the ‘other’ that constitute the ordinariness of the married state.”

Marriage is a kind of spiritual discipline that teaches us to surrender ourselves to God, which is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching.  Coakley goes on: “Herein lies life and joy and peace, according to the gospel: ‘finding’ my life–not as teeth-grinding, ‘achieved’ unselfishness, but as sheer loss, the surrender of all my well-made plans.  This is prayer at its purest; this is the true meaning of ‘ecstasy.'”

And from an Orthodox source:

As we said earlier, every Christian living in the world comes in contact with suffering. When Christians live together in a family this suffering is sometimes even magnified. In getting married; most young people today expect only happiness and a peaceful life of well-being. The Holy Church forewarns us about the essence of Christian marriage: it places crowns upon our heads–symbols of both victory and martyrdom, joy and sorrow. But we pay no heed to this. The world around us, with its false and unchristian pronouncements about the evil of sorrow and sufferings, does not prepare one for the inevitable, and when a person is faced with suffering and misfortune, he is totally unprepared to accept them, to cope with them. All too often, people seek to escape the difficulties of married life by divorce. Martyrs knew they would be tried and tortured, and they went to their martyrdom with joy, with the singing of psalms and a firm confession of Christ. In the same way, one should enter Christian marriage with a readiness to endure and to suffer, knowing that this is what is required, and that here lies a ready path to salvation.

The fact that there are difficulties in a marriage is not to say that the spouses do not love one another. But love has its price suffering. The holy Apostle Paul, in his epistle to the Corinthians, teaches that love beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. This is true love. The ancient Stoic philosophers recognized the interrelation of love and suffering, and for this reason they advised not to love anyone, otherwise one would inevitably meet with suffering. Epictitus formulated a rule: “Kiss your wife and children, demonstrate affection; however, do not love them! If you love them, you will become distressed if they die.”

Sadly, today’s couples are not prepared to accept the everyday shortcomings and weaknesses which they notice in each other: laziness, vain talking, criticism, all kinds of habits, tastes, offenses, rudeness. They annoy one another. In society one can conceal one’s weaknesses, one can hide behind a facade of propriety, but where is there to hide in a family? Husband and wife cannot isolate themselves from one another. They have to put up with one another, to endure suffering, t bear one another’s burdens. Constant effort is required in order to deal with the myriads of irritations and difficulties which husband and wife encounter almost daily through many years of Christian marriage. This is what might be called the asceticism of family life. In bearing these trials, these sufferings, in developing strength of will, patience and meekness, in placing one’s trust in the Lord and not in one’s own strength, husband and wife grow closer to God and to one another. This in turn serves as a lesson for the children.

Suffering is a spiritual school in which both parents and children are educated. In the words of one religious writer in Russia, “Religion cannot be learned, like a science; it is grasped not by the mind but by the heart, through action, through direct personal experience. It is a spring, flowing into eternal life, and no reasoning about the water, no knowledge about it can satisfy a man’s thirst if he himself does not drink from the spring.” Archpriest (later Hieromonk) Sergei Chetverikov likewise emphasizes that knowledge about God must be distinguished from knowing God. Fr. Sergei recalls how, like every child, he came to know God in his early childhood not through external experience and not through any rationalization, but through direct inner perception. Suffering provides an inner experience by means of which members of a family grow strong spiritually.

Deneen on modern “conservatism”

Given that conservatism originated in ways that cut against the conservative temperament, over time it’s hardly surprising that conservatism has begun to resemble non- and even anti-conservative positions not only in tactics but in content. Because conservatism defines itself relative to the current position of its more liberal opponent, it has come occupy space that has been abandoned by a leftward-moving opposition.

This is particularly true in contemporary American politics, where conservatism has not only crystallized into an “orthodoxy”—as Sam Tanenhaus argues in his recent book The Death of Conservatism—but into a political movement that employs scorched-earth political tactics in defense of ends and policies that stand to conserve very little. This is hardly a new development in response to the election of President Obama: in the 1980s, it was barely noted as peculiar that one of Ronald Reagan’s intellectual heroes was Thomas Paine—Edmund Burke’s bête noire—or that a subsequent generation of conservatives have defined themselves almost exclusively by their devotion to the revolutionary principles of the Declaration of Independence. Increasingly, political conservatism has stood less for a defense of the principles articulated by Russell Kirk—custom, variety, prudence, imperfectibility, community, and restraint of power—and has instead allied itself with national and even international objectives destructive to custom, variety, and community. Conservatives increasingly demand support for the expansion of military and economic power, resource exploitation with little discussion of impact upon future generations, a globalized market, a standardization of law that is increasingly based in Kantian (rather than common-law) reasoning, “democratization” abroad, federal rather than local allegiances, mobility, and a close affiliation with corporations and the financial industry—hardly hotbeds of conservative practice. The movement’s tactics—demanding obeisance by those who would adopt its label and destruction of those who would oppose it—strike one as more Alinsky than Kirk or Oakeshott.

— Patrick Deneen, “Counterfeiting Conservatism” in The American Conservative (April, 2010)

it’s official

From the New York Times, the implosion of the Episcopal Church.

Some analysis via Rod Dreher.

Obviously, I’m not an Episcopalian and have no dog in this fight, but it’s hard not to feel some sadness in this.

just one

My wife and girls are gone to see my in-laws this week.  I’m staying busy with work and reading.

Links for today:

Chris Hedges on the funeral of Michael Jackson and celebrity culture.  This is all I’m going to say about this.

Bill Kauffman on “Charlotte USA.” I love Bill Kauffman.

Lastly, Glenn Greenwald puts the pieces together regarding Goldman Sachs’ record profits.

And that’s enough MSM/celebrity/politics blogging for several weeks.  See you later.