An American French Revolution

4 Sep

From the National Review: The Gospel of Jean-Jacques

“A central theme of Carlyle’s narrative is “the Gospel of Jean-Jacques” — Jean-Jacques Rousseau, author of The Social Contract and other utopian works. Rousseau is the leading spirit of the cultural Left, in our time as in his. He voiced the great paradox of the Left — libertarian selfism in morals combined with coercive, collectivist statism in political arrangements.

Rousseau’s first writings present an anthropology that, in essence, prevails on the cultural Left today. He envisions human beings as bundles of individual desire. He is preoccupied with autonomy, “the power of willing or rather of choosing, . . . and the feeling of this power.” He identifies self-love as the predominant human impulse. But (in sharp contrast to the doctrine of original sin and to earlier secular thinkers such as Hobbes and Machiavelli) he sentimentalizes self-love. He argues that human beings are fundamentally unaggressive by nature. He teaches a feelings-based morality and argues that compassion can ensure a benign social order. He imagines a prehistoric libertarian golden age, and he aspires to utopia.

Meanwhile, he denounces existing institutions as corrupt. The Social Contract famously opens, “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” Rousseau and the cultural Left that follows him must find their way from an autonomy-obsessed, hedonistic notion of human nature to a collectivist, coercive theory of government organized for purposes of reform. Rousseau accomplished this paradox with his theory of the General Will.about:blankabout:blank

Rousseau’s concept is that, human nature being essentially benign, the impulses of the general public inevitably tend toward the common good. He grounds this notion in a sentimental deism (“The voice of the people is in fact the voice of God”). True freedom therefore requires conforming each person’s will to the General Will. It is the “real will” of each citizen. Thus, as Rousseau expressly states in The Social Contract (and as Robespierre despotically asserted), people can be “forced to be free.”

These concepts readily passed from Rousseau’s sentimental deism, to Hegel’s doctrine of world-historical progress, to Marx, and to progressivism today. The concepts lend themselves to a mystical exaltation of the state (and of leaders who speak on its behalf) as constituting the General Will. Such thinking contrasts with most of Anglo-American political thought, which emphasizes human corruptibility, is adamant to place restraints on power, and seeks incremental reform.”

Read it all.

Above the Law: The Data Are In on Police, Killing, and Race

24 Jun

From the Public Discourse:

Police killing is not the work of vigilant warriors defending society at great personal cost, and sometimes going too far. It is the day-in, day-out petty tyranny of a taxpayer-funded bureaucratic lobby group. The difference is that, unlike other public sector unions, police unions have military-gra

Source: Above the Law: The Data Are In on Police, Killing, and Race

The Peculiar Case of Liberalism in American Political History

17 Jun

How liberal were the founders?  Does the word “Lockean” capture it well?  What was the nature of any liberalism they embraced (or rejected)?  What had religion to do with any of it?  Insightful essay in Law and Liberty by James Patterson.  Excerpt:

Recently, political philosophers D. C. Schindler, Mark T. Mitchell, and Patrick Deneen have decided to assess the state of American liberalism and decide whether it is worth defending. In their view, it is not. In Freedom from Reality, Schindler argues that that liberalism has its foundation in the political philosophy of John Locke, and Locke’s philosophy is “diabolical” in its original Greek meaning of “divisive”—that Lockean liberty divides the individual from firm notions of the good, from other individuals, and from attachment to the created world. In The Limits of Liberalism, Mitchell laments how liberalism facilitates the abandonment of place and tradition, in which the autonomous individual senses no obligation to her homeland or even her family, but rather is a citizen of the world committed to personal consumption and identity politics. Finally, Deneen, in his sweeping Why Liberalism Failed, outlines how liberalism relies on pre-liberal institutions to further its ideological goals of technological, economic, and political liberation. Technological liberation frees the individual from physical limits of the body. Economic liberation frees the individual from constraints on satisfying any number of personal preferences or desires. Political liberation frees the individual from external authorities that condemn the improper use of technology or money.

Read together, the summary position would be this: the divisions inherent in Lockean liberty divided individuals from their world, giving them a false sense of freedom from their neighbors and compatriots, and directed them to dissolve communities for the sake of cosmopolitan ends of global capital and imperial redistribution.While Schindler, Mitchell, and Deneen have offered forceful critiques of liberalism, their arguments have shortcomings, and one of them will be the subject of this essay. The shortcoming is methodological. One problem with political philosophy is the tendency to overstate the importance of ideas and understate the importance of other factors, especially contingency and the role of political actors. As a result, liberalism becomes, as Samuel Goldman has argued, a Geist and critiques of liberalism become Geistgeschicten. In other words, liberalism becomes a kind of trans-historical political actor driving the behaviors and events in the world, which then requires describing all those behaviors and events in terms of the advancement of liberalism. While liberal ideas have had a powerful influence on contemporary politics, they are simply insufficient and too diverse to explain either individuals or their responses to contingencies. To provide some needful correction, therefore, I will put the three authors in conversation with the work of Philip Hamburger, who has chronicled the relationship between liberalism as its developed among leading individuals and institutions in the American context.

However, Deenan and other Catholic scholars make a mistake when they attribute either absolutism and liberalism to Protestant Reformers.  See Mark David Hall’s article here.

Read the rest here

James Anderson on the Court’s [sleight of hand] Reasoning in Bostock

16 Jun

From James Anderson’s blog:

How then does the Court argue the point? First, it articulates a sufficient condition for violations of Title VII:

If the employer intentionally relies in part on an individual employee’s sex when deciding to discharge the employee—put differently, if changing the employee’s sex would have yielded a different choice by the employer—a statutory violation has occurred. (p. 9)

Having established this condition, it proceeds by way of illustrative examples to show that any SOGI discrimination will inevitably meet this condition and thereby violate Title VII. Here are the two paradigmatic cases offered by the Court:

Consider, for example, an employer with two employees, both of whom are attracted to men. The two individuals are, to the employer’s mind, materially identical in all respects, except that one is a man and the other a woman. If the employer fires the male employee for no reason other than the fact he is attracted to men, the employer discriminates against him for traits or actions it tolerates in his female colleague. Put differently, the employer intentionally singles out an employee to fire based in part on the employee’s sex, and the affected employee’s sex is a but-for cause of his discharge. Or take an employer who fires a transgender person who was identified as a male at birth but who now identifies as a female. If the employer retains an otherwise identical employee who was identified as female at birth, the employer intentionally penalizes a person identified as male at birth for traits or actions that it tolerates in an employee identified as female at birth. Again, the individual employee’s sex plays an unmistakable and impermissible role in the discharge decision. (pp. 9-10)

So here’s the reasoning in the first case. Both employees have the trait attracted-to-men. Only one is fired, and the reason he’s fired is because he’s a man. The other employee has exactly the same trait, but she keeps her job because she’s a woman. Ergo, the first employee was discriminated against based on his sex, which Title VII prohibits.

The problem with the example, though, is that it prejudicially describes the situation so as to deliver the conclusion that there was sex-based discrimination. Suppose we say that the relevant trait is not attracted-to-men but rather same-sex-attracted. Under that description, the biological sex of the employee turns out to be irrelevant: “changing the employee’s sex” would not have “yielded a different choice by the employer.” Presumably what the employer objects to is homosexuality as such, regardless of whether it’s male or female homosexuality. (I suppose there could be cases where an employer discriminates against male homosexuals but not female homosexuals, or vice versa, but obviously such cases aren’t in view here.)

Note in particular the reference to “the employer’s mind” in the excerpt above. What is the objectionable trait in the employer’s mind? Is it attraction to men? Or is it same-sex attraction? Clearly the two are not logically or conceptually equivalent. But the entire argument hangs on the first being the relevant trait rather than the second. Yet it’s most plausibly the second that serves as the basis for the discrimination. If that’s the case, the Court’s argument collapses.

The same analysis can be applied to the second example. In the decision of the employer, is the relevant trait identifies-as-male? Or is it identifies-as-other-than-birth-sex? If it’s the second, then there’s no discrimination based on sex, because “changing the employee’s sex” would not yield “a different choice by the employer.” Again we see that the example has been prejudicially constructed so as to ‘trigger’ the Court’s test for sex-based discrimination.

That’s not quite the end of the issue, however. Notice that the Court’s test asks whether “the employer intentionally relies in part on an individual employee’s sex when deciding to discharge the employee” (emphasis added). Gorsuch anticipates the kind of rebuttal I gave above and offers a response to it, namely, that an employer cannot determine whether an employee is homosexual or transgender without reference to the employee’s sex. Thus, for example, Frank can’t tell whether Andy is gay without knowing that Andy is male, and so Frank would have to “rely in part” on Andy’s sex in any decision to hire or fire him on the basis of Andy’s sexual orientation.

Here’s how Gorsuch tries to make the argument, again by way of example:

There is simply no escaping the role intent plays here: Just as sex is necessarily a but-for cause when an employer discriminates against homosexual or transgender employees, an employer who discriminates on these grounds inescapably intends to rely on sex in its decisionmaking. Imagine an employer who has a policy of firing any employee known to be homosexual. The employer hosts an office holiday party and invites employees to bring their spouses. A model employee arrives and introduces a manager to Susan, the employee’s wife. Will that employee be fired? If the policy works as the employer intends, the answer depends entirely on whether the model employee is a man or a woman. To be sure, that employer’s ultimate goal might be to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. But to achieve that purpose the employer must, along the way, intentionally treat an employee worse based in part on that individual’s sex. (p. 11; italics original, bold added)

The point is clear: the employer’s decision to fire the “model employee” depends in part on his recognition that the employee is female. Thus, reasons the Court, the discrimination “relies in part” or “is based in part” on the employee’s sex. The employer is quite self-conscious about this. The employer knowingly (and thus intentionally) reaches his decision partly on the basis of the employee’s sex.

The flaw in this argument is that it conflates two distinct things:

  1. discrimination on the basis of X
  2. discrimination on the basis of Y, with reliance on X in the process

That one has to take X into account in order to discriminate on the basis of Y simply does not entail that one is thereby discriminating on the basis of X. It’s entirely possible to adopt a normative stance with respect to Y (favoring some Ys over other Ys) without adopting any normative stance with respect to X, even if one has to take X into account when determining Y.

To make things more concrete, consider this scenario. George owns a store that sells shoes for both men and women. He hires two people as store clerks, Andy and Barbara. Over time, George notices that some of his stock is going missing. Based on good evidence, he concludes that one of his two employees has been stealing items. As he further investigates, he discovers that all the stolen items are men’s shoes. Reasoning that a man would be far more likely to take men’s shoes than a woman, he concludes that Andy is the culprit and fires him.

Now clearly George’s decision “relied in part” on Andy’s sex. It was “based in part” on the fact that Andy is a man rather than a woman. Moreover, George’s reliance on that fact was quite intentional. But should we conclude that George is guilty of discrimination based on sex? Did George violate Title VII?

If you think so, I doubt anything else I could say would persuade you otherwise. The “reliance on sex” in George’s decision-making is clearly benign, yet it parallels the “reliance on sex” in Gorsuch’s hypothetical scenario above. What was the relevant trait or action in George’s decision to fire Andy? Was it male-shoe-stealing or was it simply shoe-stealing? What was George’s motivation for firing Andy? Did it involve any prejudice regarding Andy’s sex? The answers to these questions should be obvious.

Enough has been said, I trust, to demonstrate the fallacious nature of the argument at the heart of the Court’s opinion. Even granting what the Court claims about “the ordinary public meaning” of the Title VII statute, the notion that “discrimination based on homosexuality or transgender status necessarily entails discrimination based on sex” is just flat-out confused. It’s a bad ruling that will have very harmful consequences (and not just for religious employers).

If you have the time and patience, I would encourage you to read all three opinions (the majority and the two dissents). Alito’s dissent is devastating; he completely dismantles Gorsuch’s arguments and lays bare the many problematic implications of the Court’s decision.

June 15, 2020, was not a good day for the Supreme Court of the United States.

Ryan Anderson on Gorsuch’s Reasoning

16 Jun

Sum: “Justice Gorsuch’s position would either require the elimination of all sex-specific programs and facilities or allow access based on an individual’s subjective identity rather than his or her objective biology. When Gorsuch claims that “transgender status [is] inex¬tricably bound up with sex” because “transgender status” is defined precisely in opposition to sex, he presumes the very sex binary his opinion will help to further erode.”

Read it all from The Public Discourse

The costs to society when sex is cheap (especially for men) – Mark Regnerus

5 May

From Slate Magazine

Why young men have the upper hand in bed, even when they’re failing in life.



The 1776 Project

5 May

Can political liberalism and religious liberty (accommodation) coexist?

29 Apr

Can political liberalism and religious liberty (accommodation) coexist?

Similar argument made in Smith’s game-changing book Pagan and Christian in the City: “The Supreme Court might soon address this issue. Four Supreme Court justices (led by Justice Samuel Alito) began 2019 by suggesting their willingness to revisit a landmark decision with stark views on this question. In the 1990 case Employment Division v. Smith, a five-justice majority (led by Justice Antonin Scalia) made it virtually impossible to secure, under the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause, religious-based exemptions to laws that apply to everyone and do not overtly or covertly discriminate against religion (what lawyers call “neutral laws of general applicability”). The Smith decision presumes a deep tension between religious exercise and the common good. In Smith’s view, the democratic process must almost always resolve that tension. Courts, therefore, almost always deny religious accommodation requests. Justice Alito and his colleagues, however, said Smith “drastically cut back on the protection provided by the Free Exercise Clause,” and effectively invited requests to reverse it.

Revisiting Smith possesses significant cultural salience. Many of today’s progressives, conservatives, and libertarians share — knowingly or not — Smith’s critical shortcoming: a failure to explain why religion in particular and religious exercise in particular should shape the common good, even when they go against the grain of secular visions adopted in law. Revisiting Smith provides an opening to address this shortcoming. The Court should take it, as this oversight puts the American tradition of self-government at stake.

Smith and many elements of the modern American left and right possess this shortcoming because they evaluate the social worth of religious pluralism against some set of liberal values that, in their view, should supersede religious duties. For Smith, the superseding value is majoritarianism: Religious pluralism is good when democratic majorities decide it is worth their solicitude. For progressives, religious pluralism is good to the extent it supports what law professor Mark Movsesian calls “equality as sameness.” Any religious practice, institution, or tradition that understands equality differently is publicly unacceptable. For some conservatives and libertarians, religious pluralism is good simply because self-expression is good. On this view, religious liberty deserves protection simply because self-expression deserves protection — nothing particular to religion here does any work. Finally, for other conservatives who dispute that the common good is served by diverse religious expression, religious liberty is part of the common good only to the extent it establishes a particular religion’s orthodoxy.

It is not surprising that what Stanford’s Michael McConnell called “the most thoroughly liberal political community in the history of the world” would strive to define even religion around liberal ideals — but it is problematic. Liberal democracy, as Alexis de Tocqueville observed, is “particularly liable to commit itself blindly and extravagantly to general ideas.” This is partly because liberalism is, as Samuel Huntington put it in Conservatism as an Ideology, an “ideational” ideology. It “approach[es] existing institutions with an ‘ought demand’ that the institutions be reshaped to embody the values of the ideology.” This “ought demand” is present in social-contract theory, and it poses a particular problem for religious liberty. More often than not, religious exercise is manifested in rituals and institutions that are prior to — and claim to outlast — political liberalism. Reshaping religious exercise around liberal values can therefore dilute religion.

The consequences of dilution are not limited to religion. As our founders recognized, diluting religious exercise poses a problem for political liberalism; self-government presupposes certain moral virtues that religion cultivates and liberalism does not. In a culture that does not appreciate a distinct contribution from religious exercise, engagement with religion, both personally and in public life will erode — along with the corresponding cultivation of religious exercise’s personal and public goods.”

Read the rest from National Affairs (and definitely read Smith’s book Pagan and the Christian in the City).  Smith argues that there has been and always will be a vying for supremacy between the transcendent religion of Christianity and the immanent religion of modern paganism.  Compromises in the name of political liberalism are at best short-lived and at worst preferential towards modern paganism.  Any worldview that finds meaning and purpose and epistemological grounding in this world rather than another will always marginalize the transcendent religionists to the outer periphery of society (it’s a logical necessity of sorts).

Let’s Not Miss Solomon’s Point These Days…

8 Apr

Engraving by Gustave Dore (1832-1883)

No photo description available.

Let’s not miss Solomon’s sober discovery these days:

Ecclesiastes 2:1 “I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. 2 “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?” 3 I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.

4 I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. 5 I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. 6 I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. 7 I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. 8 I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart. 9 I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.

10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.”

It is becoming clearer to me, thanks in part to this virus, how looking for satisfaction in a life focused totally on that which is “under the sun” is pointless. It’s time to focus on what is beyond the sun instead, for “what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul?” (Mark 8:36). Best to store up for ourselves “treasures in heaven” (Matt. 6:19-21) where moth and thief (and viruses) can not destroy or rob us of that “pearl of great price” (Matt. 13:46). Augustine got where Solomon was coming from when he wrote in his Confessions, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” Time is fleeting in this mortal life; better to believe, realize and experience what the true “chief end of man” is now rather than later (or never). Beats chasing after the wind.


Christians tempted by the Democrats, don’t believe the myth that abortion restrictions don’t work. They do.

19 Feb

From Professor Kyle Blanchette (excerpt):

many pro-choice advocates, especially among the rank-and-file, have a more moderate view. They concede that abortion is (at least usually) morally wrong or bad, perhaps even seriously so — even if women are often not blameworthy for having them. And yet they still believe that abortion should be legal. I would venture to say that this is the most common pro-choice position.

Pro-lifers are often baffled by this combination of beliefs, but some moderate pro-choicers have an explanation at the ready: Abortion restrictions don’t work. Instead of lowering the rate of abortion, they simply replace safe abortions with roughly the same number of unsafe “back alley” abortions. If a law does not reduce the incidence of the problematic behavior that it targets, and it also has costs attached to it — such as creating unsafe conditions for women seeking the procedure, or imposing unfair burdens on women in a society that often treats them unjustly — then that law is unjustified, even if abortion is morally wrong or bad.

The logic of this argument is above reproach. But the factual assertion at its heart — that abortion restrictions don’t work — does not stand up to scrutiny.

Full article

Predestination and Church History (prior to Calvin)

11 Nov

From Professor Shawn Wright writing for Desiring God:

Luther’s and Calvin’s Catholic contemporaries argued against Reformed doctrine because it disagreed with the teaching of Rome. The Reformers argued, first, that their doctrines agreed with Scripture, but they also appealed to church history. Predestination and the other doctrines of grace were, according to them, not novel teachings, but teachings held as far back as the church fathers — especially Augustine.

Full article

JAMA Conversion Therapy Study (that isn’t)

8 Nov

From Mark Regnerus at Public Discourse:

In a “study” that arrived to much media fanfare last week in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, researchers affiliated with Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital purported to offer convincing proof that “conversion therapy” predicts longstanding toxic outcomes among Americans who self-identify as transgender, including greater recent suicidality and more severe psychological distress in the past month. Its results, the authors state, “support the policy positions” of such medical professional organizations as the American Medical Association and American Academy of Pediatrics.

I am agnostic on the topic of “conversion,” though I suspect the subject is more diverse and complicated than political soundbites let on. But I’m not agnostic about the new JAMA Psychiatry study. There are at least four good reasons for being leery of the results appearing therein.

Dr. David Ayers’s study on Evangelical Youth and Sexual Activity

30 Oct

Length to full study

Interview with the Gospel Coalition

Despite the clear biblical instruction, sex outside of marriage has become increasingly morally acceptable among young evangelicals. That’s one of the findings in a new research brief for the Institute of Family Studies produced by sociologist David J. Ayers, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs, and professor of sociology, at Grove City College. He uses data from the National Survey of Family Growth to gauge trends in sexual activity among never-married evangelical young people.

Ayers has taught college-level courses on Marriage and Family for about 30 years, and his most recent book is Christian Marriage: A Comprehensive Introduction (Lexham Press, 2019).

From Atheist to Christian at Yale – Dr. Paul Lim

19 Sep

Religious composition of Two-Parties; Nones nearly 1/3 of Democratic Voters

6 Sep

From PRRI:


Spiritual but not religious

6 Sep

From Pew:

Grading “The Family,” my review

20 Aug

How would I grade “The Family,” a Netflix documentary based on Jeff Sharlet’s book of the same title?

Central thesis: There is a secret conspiracy of fundamentalist Christians organized as “The Fellowship” led by “The Family” to seize political power in America and throughout the World.

Supporting Claims and Evidences



Because “The Fellowship” events and activities concentrate on political elites, The Fellowship believes that God favors the elites and is therefore out of line with the mission of Jesus.

Simply because a Christian ministry targets a subset, any subset, of a population doesn’t mean the ministry believes God favors that subset.  Do Nigerian missionaries believe that God favors Nigerians?  The Fellowship sees itself as a ministry/mission to politicians, who, along with all ensouled humans, are to evangelized.  No evidence, quotes, were provided to support the claim (made in the final episode) that the Fellowship/Family believes that God favors elites out of all humanity


“The Fellowship” is a society owned, operated, controlled by white evangelical fundamentalist right-wing zealots.  

The Fellowship has a disproportionate number of evangelicals and Republicans.  But Democrats, liberals, theological liberals, African-Americans, are present throughout the event and activities and inner leaders.  Also, evangelical and fundamentalists are never defined.  How can an evangelical or fundamentalist (which are not synonymous) deny the authority, sufficiency of the whole bible and emphasize only the gospels (as allegedly the Fellowship/Family does)? Is that cult-like activity, poor doctrine of scripture or is that lowest common denominator Christianity, maximizing their appeal theological conservatives, Protestant liberals, and Catholics. 


“The Fellowship” holds secret prayer breakfasts, indicating conspiratorial aims.  

Evangelicals, Christians of every kind, hold prayer meetings in secret if and when confessing of sin is to be a regular and important part of it (as the film clearly reveals about them here).  Like AA meetings.


“The Fellowship” is really doesn’t police itself, befriends or accommodates or fails to renounce subversive evil opportunists who seek to use the Fellowship as a door to U.S. politicians; if it isn’t wicked itself it is very naive and careless in this regard.

This part of the film was the most credible and most supported in terms of evidence.  However, Christians who are driven by evangelism are often naive and vulnerable/gullible.  They are notorious for being so forgiving and so gracious that they get duped at best, and even mistakenly err on the side mercy at the expense of justice or common sense at worst.  But that hardly makes them conspiratorial.  


“The Fellowship” has a single goal, power.  Everything else they talk about is a ruse.  

No evidence was provided that The Fellowship uses (or even could use) carrots or sticks to control anyone (a key ingredient of real and actual power).  They don’t have a reward/punishment system, not even campaign contributions, to achieve their goals.  The films doesn’t even explain what the power goals are (I suppose power for its own sake?).  As far as the evidence that was presented is concerned, they use prayer and fellowship across the political aisle to realize their stated objective, conversion of politicians to Jesus Christ in hopes of changing the world.    


“The Fellowship” activities and influence violates the Separation of Church and State enshrined in the Constitution.

The Fellowship isn’t a church, for one thing.  It has no institutional structure.  No formal creed. No legal status or designation.  So a church government isn’t being entangled with a civil government at all.  If the claim is that Christians violate the separation of church and state when they intentionally try to influence politicians, then this is simply a bad understanding of the first amendment, since Christian influence was not and is not unconstitutional in a republic any more than black influence or feminist influence.  Moreover, it would prove too much, because in the film Sharlet seems to condone and cheer Christians who attempt to influence politicians for the sake of the poor.  Can’t have it both ways.  In fact the most organized, oldest, and frequent number of religious lobbying groups (not talking prayer breakfasts, but registered lobbyists and their parent organizations) in D.C. are not right-wing or theologically conservative, but left-wing and theologically liberal, who believe that political activity is in fact part of the mission of the church.  If explicit religious influence bothers Sharlet, he must outraged by the religious left, but he’s not.


What made the film succeed in promoting a creepy conspiratorial narrative wasn’t the substance of the argument but the manipulation of the music, image and video editing, and radical interpretations.  But this doesn’t mean The Fellowship is innocent.  There is a legitimate criticism of The Fellowship or The Family, but it doesn’t come from Sharlet nor is it stated in the film.  It’s an internal and theological criticism.  It’s the notion, misguided notion, on the part of so many in the Christian Right but also the Christian Left that the way you usher in the Kingdom of Christ, the way that you impact the world for Christ, is through political processes.  This is an old but stubborn temptation.  “Convert or influence the politicians and you get Christian America” is a canard swallowed first by the Christian Left and then by the Christian Right and wrong-headed, misguided, and unbiblical in both cases.  The purpose of the Christian Church isn’t to make any nation Christian again.  It is to proclaim the gospel in Word and Sacrament and function as a separate Kingdom, a faithful witness to their heavenly Kingdom, in the midsts of the kingdoms of this world.  The church’s mission is spiritual in nature, and in pursuit of that spiritual mission, the host cities, societies or governments in which they find themselves may be impacted positively, although only incidentally.  The film didn’t prove that the goal was power.  It only proved that the goal was conversion as a vehicle to social/political change.  The Fellowship can be rightly criticized for embracing that methodology.      

Reality vs the Mass-Incarceration Hype

20 Aug

From City Journal

“Certain must-pass ideological litmus tests have arisen for the 25 declared candidates (so far) seeking the Democratic Party presidential nomination. Perhaps chief among them is subscription to the belief that the American criminal-justice system is racist and overly punitive. This Democratic unanimity makes sense in light of the criticism that many of the leading candidates have faced from activists, left-wing media, and other, more “woke,” presidential hopefuls for their earlier acceptance, or even endorsement, of proactive policing, quality-of-life enforcement, and incarceration as reasonable methods of combating crime….

“True, for a subset of America’s prison population, incarceration does not serve a legitimate penological end, either because these individuals have been incarcerated for too long or because they should not have been incarcerated to begin with. Justice dictates that we identify these individuals and secure their releases with haste. But none of the above claims advanced by the presidential hopefuls is correct—and acting on any of them would be disastrous.”

“Not only are most prisoners doing time for serious, often violent, offenses; they’ve usually received (and blown) the second chance that so many reformers say they deserve. Justice Department studies from 2000 through 2009 reveal that only about 40 percent of state felony convictions result in a prison sentence. A Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) study of violent felons convicted over a 12-year period in America’s 75 largest counties shows that 56 percent of the offenders had a prior conviction record.

Even though most state prisoners are serious and serial offenders, nearly 40 percent of inmates serve less than a year in prison, with the median time served about 16 months. Lengthy sentences tend to be reserved for the most serious violent crimes—but even 20 percent of convicted murderers and nearly 60 percent of those convicted for rape or sexual assault serve less than five years of their sentences. Nor have sentences gotten longer, as reformers contend. In his book Locked In, John Pfaff—a leader in the decarceration movement—plotted state prison admissions and releases from 1978 through 2014 on a graph. If sentence lengths had increased, the two lines would diverge as admissions outpaced releases; in fact, the lines are almost identical.”Percentage of State Prisoners by Category of Offense—2017 (Chart by Alberto Mena)

[Is it about racism?]

“On the morning of May 25, 2019, according to prosecutors, two men—29-year-old Michael Washington and 23-year-old Eric Adams—drove down a residential street in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago, on the city’s South Side. Leaked surveillance video from a police camera showed the car as it passed a small group of people near a parked vehicle. One of them was an unarmed 24-year-old black woman, Brittany Hill, holding her one-year-old daughter, who waved at the car just before the vehicle’s occupants opened fire. Hill shielded her child from the bullets but was fatally wounded in the abdomen (just below where she was holding her child) and collapsed in the gutter. Washington was on parole at the time of the shooting, after serving time for a drug charge. Citing prosecutors, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that “Washington has nine felony convictions, including for a 2004 second-degree murder charge and a 2001 battery charge that was reduced from attempted murder in a plea agreement.” Adams, the second alleged shooter, also had an active criminal-justice status at the time of the shooting. He was on probation following a conviction for aggravated unlawful use of a weapon in 2018. In addition to the gun offense, Adams’s Chicago police record includes arrests for public-order offenses relating to marijuana possession and gambling.

With these three men, it’s not hard to argue that the criminal-justice system failed the public. All three had troubling criminal histories, signaling a general disregard for law and social norms. Yet they were deemed fit for parole or probation, resulting in two murders. In each case, both the perpetrators and the victims were black. Though the decarceration crowd continues to point to racial disparities in criminal enforcement, the data on criminal victimization suggest that the burden of any crime increase that accompanied large-scale prisoner releases would mostly fall on low-income black communities. Though black men constitute about 7 percent of the population, they accounted for 45 percent of America’s 15,129 homicide victims in 2017, FBI numbers show. A BJS study of homicides committed from 1980 to 2008 found that the victimization rate of blacks was six times that of whites. The black homicide-offending rate was about eight times the white rate. These differences, not racial animus, go a long way toward explaining the oft-lamented fact that black men are six times likelier to be incarcerated than white males.

Countless citizens on Chicago’s mostly minority South and West Sides have been victimized by offenders like Washington and Adams who’d gotten one too many “second” chances. A January 2017 University of Chicago Crime Lab study found that, of those arrested for homicides or shootings in Chicago in 2015 and 2016, about “90 percent had at least one prior arrest, approximately 50 percent had a prior arrest for a violent crime specifically, and almost 40 percent had a prior gun arrest.” On average, someone arrested for a homicide or shooting had nearly 12 prior arrests, the study noted—and almost 20 percent had more than 20 priors. You find more of the same in crime-wracked Baltimore. According to the Baltimore Sun, “85 percent of the 118 murder suspects identified by police [in 2017] had prior criminal records,” with nearly 36 percent being “on parole or probation” at the time of the alleged crime.

The serial offender isn’t just a problem in the highest-crime American cities. Data show that such crime has been occurring in urban jurisdictions across the country for years. The BJS study on violent felons convicted in large counties found that offenders on probation, parole, or released pending disposition of a case constituted 37 percent of those convicted during the 12-year period examined. With so many of the nation’s most serious crimes perpetrated by people with an active criminal-justice status—and with 83 percent of released prisoners arrested for a new crime within nine years of getting out—the safety benefits of incapacitation become startlingly clear.”

From City Journal


The Rise of the Nones – Public Discourse

19 Aug

“The coming years will witness more heated debates as the new “religious” culture clashes with the Christian consensus that was. We will also see a decline in the public’s comprehension of principles that Christianity helped to articulate, even though those principles are not exclusive to Christian theology. Charity and civility will be necessary for navigating these waters. So will forthright and clear defenses of fundamental freedoms with vigorous legal and philosophical arguments.”

Is Religious Liberty Truly In Peril? A Warning. –

14 Aug

That the first amendment only protects your freedom to believe whatever religious thing you want, and not your religious practices, is precisely what the Supreme Court told the Mormons in the late 1800s and when it validated Congressional statutes disenfranchising Mormons, prohibiting them from serving on juries, an eventually even legally dissolving the LDS Church inc. altogether. If the first amendment only protects your religious beliefs, not practices, it actually doesn’t protect religion at all since no one has the capacity to get inside your head and stop you from believing anything.

“After French makes his case that religious liberty is besieged, Marci Hamilton responded, stating, “David French says that our constitutional tradition does not give religious believers absolute rights—even as he argues that they should be free, in most instances, from laws that they consider incompatible with their beliefs. But there is only one absolute right in the Constitution, and that is the First Amendment’s guarantee of the right to believe anything you want. The government may never prescribe beliefs.”

This is the most revealing paragraph in the entire exchange. Note carefully what Marci Hamilton is doing. She has reduced the constitutional right of religious liberty to a right merely “to believe anything you want.” This is a radically reductionist argument, which undermines the broad and crucial protections guaranteed and respected by the First Amendment. The First Amendment secures more than a mere right to believe, in private, anything you want.”

How the gospel gets displaced in our drive towards Social Justice in Christianity

27 Jul

Recent events and episodes in my life have made me see more clearly than ever how needed this distinction is. It’s needed in our evangelism and it’s needed in our Christian life, especially when so many well-meaning evangelicals seem more driven by making this age better than preparing souls for the age to come. It’s amazing how many people, particularly young people, even Christian young people, don’t know or appreciate the crucial distinction between law and gospel. This is not a quibble over fine points of theology; it is a matter of salvation itself. Recently I heard someone preach a sermon on the Good Samaritan, telling us that the main point of Jesus is that we must be better neighbors, who don’t discriminate. Was it? You’ve probably heard many sermons on the Good Samaritan. What you may not realize is the reason why Jesus gave the story in the first place. Jesus had been asked (Luke 10:25) what a man has to do to inherit eternal life. He was not asked how a Christian can be a better neighbor, although this is typically how the parable is presented. The person who was asking, a religious lawyer “who was trying to justify himself,” believed that he was a really good keeper of God’s law. He believed that he loved God with his whole being and that he loved his neighbor as himself. With the parable Jesus showed him that he, even he, someone everyone knew to be as perfect as men can be, even he was not in fact a good enough neighbor, not to or even like the Samaratin. So how did the good Samaritan parable answer the original question concerning eternal life? As repeatedly happens in the gospel accounts between Jesus and self-righteous people, Jesus uses the law to show how law-keeping is, even among those who are the morally superior in society, incapable of saving them. The law exposes our sin (bad news), and points us to look outside ourselves for salvation, since keeping the law of God perfectly is a divine commandment. But to where or to whom shall we look? Who can be our substitute? Answer: The perfect law-keeper and the perfect sacrificial lamb in our place, God Himself, Jesus Christ.

Now I’m going to guess that many of you, when you hear the parable of the Good Samaritan in a sermon, hear it as law. That is, you hear Jesus telling us or showing us how to be a great neighbor. He certainly does that, but that is not Jesus’s main point. He is not, first and foremost, showing us what to do or how to live. He is showing us how desperately we need Him to do what we cant. The point is to show us that we cannot be the neighbor that God requires, and so trusting in our efforts is a no-win situation. Therefore we are to look to another perfect neighbor as our only hope. Namely Himself. The Law says “DO this and live” (we can’t). The gospel says BELIEVE this and live. Believe what? That Christ came to save sinners by obeying the law perfectly and being punished for breaking the law, both on our behalf. This is our only hope, which must be built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.

Don’t make the mistake of replacing gospel with law, no matter how noble your social and moral causes may be. Jesus keeps the priority in the proper order.

Michael Horton on this critical distinction:

A New Study Blows Up Old Ideas About Girls and Boys | Psychology Today

30 Mar
For the sake of argument, let’s grant that point. So let’s study humans before birth. In recent years, there have been fascinating studies in which neuroscientists have studied the brains of babies in their mothers’ wombs.

The War on Poverty that Ended the Decline in Poverty

17 Oct

From Daniel Mitchell:

In Thursday’s Wall Street Journal, John Early and Phil Gramm share some depressing numbers about growing dependency in the United States:

During the 20 years before the War on Poverty was funded, the portion of the nation living in poverty had dropped to 14.7% from 32.1%. Since 1966, the first year with a significant increase in antipoverty spending, the poverty rate reported by the Census Bureau has been virtually unchanged…Transfers targeted to low-income families increased in real dollars from an average of $3,070 per person in 1965 to $34,093 in 2016…Transfers now constitute 84.2% of the disposable income of the poorest quintile of American households and 57.8% of the disposable income of lower-middle-income households. These payments also make up 27.5% of America’s total disposable income.

Read the rest

Jefferson the revolutionary liberal or Jefferson the Virginia conservative?

17 Jul

This has confused me for some time.  Here is Clyde Wilson’s take (he’s a Virginia conservative).

To one group of American conservatives who were bred to regard Thomas Jefferson as the paramount hero of states rights and constitutionalism, it is shocking to encounter the virulence with which another group of American conservatives attacks Jefferson as the archdemocrat. It is true that as a thinker Jefferson was free-ranging. But one is hard put to find genuinely radical acts of Jefferson the statesman. He favored some experimentation with the legal forms of society, but almost entirely in subordinate matters. I would be prepared to maintain in a forum where there is adequate space that none of the tinkering Jefferson did was as fundamental or as harmful as that of John Adams in riding his hobbyhorse of checks and balances. Certainly Jefferson was a more truly conservative statesman than that rash innovator, Alexander Hamilton, whom Russell Kirk has rightly described as not qualifying as a conservative.

Full article 

10 Great Theologians of which You May Have Never Heard

17 Jul

From Nick Batzig:

Sir Isaac Newton, borrowing a phrase from Bernard of Chartres, once noted, “If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” This maxim holds just as true in the realm of theology as it does in the sphere of scientific investigation. Anyone who has given himself or herself to a diligent study of theology will acknowledge that we are standing on the shoulders of such men as Augustine, Anselm, Athanasius, Bernard of Clairvaux, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, John Bunyan, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards and just about every other theologian whose name is “John!” While the hall of faith, full of men who have blessed the church with profound insights into the Scriptures, is well travelled, there are rooms in the annals of church history that have been, at various times, seeminly hidden from the sight of men–though they are also full of noteworthy theologians. As 2016 comes to an end, I want to introduce you to 10 theologians of superior giftedness–who have not always received their due respect–upon whose shoulders you may safely stand:

Full List

The Spirituality of the Church. What is the Church’s social duty?

16 Jul

D. G. Hart and John R. Muether

Extracted from Ordained Servant vol. 7, no. 3 (July 1998), pp. 64-66.

What is the Christian’s duty to society? Such a broad question suggests many different answers and conjures up images as diverse as the Good Samaritan, who loved his neighbor despite ethnic and religious differences, and the American Presbyterian John Witherspoon, who was the only minister to sign the Declaration of Independence. Typically, Reformed answers to this question are easily distinguished from those of other Christian traditions. For instance, Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., a theologian in the Christian Reformed Church, has argued that the Calvinist perspective on society has generally been regarded as “conversionist” or “trans-formationist” or “world-formative,” as opposed to the Lutheran or Anabaptist traditions that have harbored isolationist impulses. Plantinga’s assessment reiterates the classic statement of H. Richard Niebuhr on the relation of Christ and culture. Unlike Luther who made sharp distinctions between the temporal and spiritual, or body and soul, Calvin, according to Niebuhr, had a more “dynamic” notion of the Christian’s responsibilities in the world. Niebuhr also detected differences between Lutheran and Calvinistic understandings of the state. While Luther sharply distinguished the kingdom of grace from the kingdom of the world, Calvin argued that the state not only restrained evil but also promoted human welfare to such an extent that magistrates helped to establish the kingdom of God. As popular and as well-accepted as this interpretation of the Reformed tradition is, it fails to make sense of those Presbyterians who adopted a more restrained idea of the Christian’s responsibility in political and social affairs. Unlike some Reformed theologians who have posited a basic harmony between church and state in the execution of God’s sovereignty, American Presbyterianism has also nurtured an understanding of society that stresses fundamental differences between the aims and task of the church and the purpose of the state. Sometimes called the doctrine of the Spirituality of the Church and attributed to the southern Presbyterian tradition, this conviction also informed the views of Charles Hodge who adhered to this doctrine at a pivotal point in the history of the United States.

Full article

Sex Change: Physically Impossible, Psychosocially Unhelpful, and Philosophically Misguided

15 Mar

Source: Sex Change: Physically Impossible, Psychosocially Unhelpful, and Philosophically Misguided

“Coach I Need a Ride”

28 Feb

via “Coach, I Need a Ride”

Of husbands and grocery lists

23 Dec

The Husband and the Grocery List
The husband and the grocery list have a peculiar and dynamic relationship. Consciously or unconsciously, wives send husbands to grocery stores with grocery lists like popes send sinners to purgatory. It’s an attempt to have husbands work off past sins and earn the reward of reentry into the home. And don’t try to refuse the trip. The use of the word “no” here will come back to haunt you in myriad ways. Don’t bother saying you’re busy either. No excuse will satisfy her, since nothing you could possibly be doing will be considered important when you aren’t physically at work (unless you are on the roof in the rain repairing a gaping hole or under the house drowning from broken pipes, it’s all just “tinkering” or “piddling” to wives). But husbands needn’t fear. It’s a crazy deadly maze, but if played right, you can survive and extend time away from purgatory. The key is to do well enough to avoid a woman’s scorn but poorly enough to avoid making it a common occurrence. Here’s some things to remember.
First, if the grocery list is roughly five items or less, by all means, get it right the first time. Returning with the wrong or forgotten items will be considered inexcusable since “it was only five things; seriously? Five things? You can’t get just five things right? I swear…” and so on. While you are going back to fix it, she’ll be making another list that’s even worse out of spite. Getting a five-item list right will maybe get you a kiss on the cheek, but don’t worry, she won’t think it means you are competent to handle the scroll-down or fold-over variety on a regular basis.
But if she gives you a longer list — more than five things — the rules, expectations, and strategy changes considerably. With more than five things, you are certain to forget one item or get an item or two wrong. Just accept it. You are going back. You are going to forget an item because carefully and exhaustively checking a long grocery list before leaving is boring and will strike you as inefficient. You are going to get an item wrong because precisely matching items on the grocery list (which will be far too vague for husbands to understand) with the actual products on the shelves (or freezers, or bins, or endcaps or wherever) is an impossibly confusing test that Einstein would fail because his male brain isn’t wired to pass it. And that’s fine. Hopefully, you’ll end up with just enough of the list wrong or forgotten to keep her natural pity from turning into anger. To be sure, having to “go back” with your tail tucked between your legs will be bothersome but it’s better than doing so well that she becomes confident in you. Wives are different and so individual results may vary, but you should operate according to a 10-15% list-error rate. Above it, woman’s scorn. Below it, she’ll be too proud and send you more often.
Now when you get to the grocery store things are often not what they appear to be. The list will say “pork sausage” but you’ll come home with “links” when you were supposed to get “patties.” Milk, for instance, seems simple enough, but it turns out that grocers do science experiments on milk so that some milk is “evaporated” and others “condensed.” If you are lucky enough to find these chemicals, you won’t be lucky enough to get the right size. Sometimes your item will be literally buried in a sea of the same species. Beans. They’ll have 27 flavors; baked, kidney, northern (must we import everything from yankees?), butter, etc.. Oh, and “peas” are not simply the green version of beans. In fact, some beans are green, but are cut in different ways (ways that she won’t specify on the list). Or you will find that “ranch dip” is not simply ranch dressing used for dipping, but is in fact a pack filled with powder and comes in bacon, buttermilk, onion, and so on. None will say plain or original, but that’s probably the one you were supposed to get. Ground beef is actually measured out in body fat percentages. You will be scolded for buying off-brand cereal or cookies but also scolded for buying name-brand dairy products. In fact, remember that. On any given item, there is a 50% chance that getting the off-brand was the wrong choice. Yet, spending too much money is as wrong to her as spending too little. If she tells you to buy “snacks,” be aware that there is no such thing. Snacks are abstractions, a category of food, not an actual item, although it will appear as such on the list. The snack error rate is astronomical. Bread. Just go ahead and buy a loaf, it will be wrong. But remember, you are only shooting for 10%.
Often you will find yourself simply overwhelmed and lost; kinda like when a child gets lost and just stops walking altogether. You will literally come to a complete stop in the middle of an aisle and find yourself just staring at nothing in particular. If you end up doing this, whatever you do, don’t stop. And don’t bother calling or texting your wife for clarification if possible. Every call/text results in a husband demerit. Besides, help is on the way. One of these motherly-mother types, usually with an empty nest, will inevitably find you in your pitiful state (remember, they aren’t like us, they are multi-taskers seeing hearing and sensing not only what is directly in front of them but also beside and behind as well). Motherly-mother types know where absolutely every food thingy is down to the centimeter. And you are no waste of time for them; motherly-mother types live for this kind of stuff. You’ll see the desire to nurture on their faces. Just stand there with your mouth partially opened looking classically confused, and their natural compassion for helpless husbands will guide them to you. Soon you’ll hear “Honey are you lost?” or “You look really confused, what are you looking for?” or “Just show me your list and I’ll save you a trip back.” She’ll feel good about helping a stray and you’ll get all the credit. It’s really a win-win.
Don’t stay gone too long because that will mean you wanted time away from her. And don’t make the trip too short because you just rushed it, not taking her cooking seriously. Should you add stuff to the list? Yes, as a personal reward, but eat it before you get home. If she gave you a written list, accidentally lose it. If it was texted to you, don’t.
With these things in mind, a husband will not be able to avoid grocery list failures completely. It’s science or something. But he can avoid the extreme sufferings that wives are by nature entitled to bestow upon foolish husbands. “Honey, I need you to get a few items from the grocery store.” “Sure babe. How many?” And so it begins.

A needed dose of realism in the current sexual misconduct crises

13 Dec

From Mark Regnerus:

The surprising avalanche of publicized sexual misdeeds rolls on, picking up actors, executives, and politicians along the way. What each are guilty of no doubt varies widely. But the court of public opinion is in no mood for fine distinctions.

What interests a sociologist is less the scope of the purge, its timing, or predictions about who’s next than what it all reveals about the social structure of sexual interactions between men and women, and how change here could actually happen. The revelations of late have plenty to do with the exchange model of sexual behavior, which is and will remain an accurate lens through which to understand sex. (There are other sensible lenses, too.)

The “Weinstein avalanche” highlights three stable observations about men, women, and the relationships they form. Ignoring them in the name of virtue signaling will not help. But it may require new perspective to guide our way forward toward less sexual aggression.

Read the rest

Christians, thankfully, have been standing against the social acids of sexual sin since ancient Rome.

17 Oct

From Tim Challies:

we are experiencing a sexual revolution that has seen society deliberately throwing off the Christian sexual ethic. Things that were once forbidden are now celebrated. Things that were once considered unthinkable are now deemed natural and good. Christians are increasingly seen as backward, living out an ancient, repressive, irrelevant morality.

But this is hardly the first time Christians have lived out a sexual ethic that clashed with the world around them. In fact, the church was birthed and the New Testament delivered into a world utterly opposed to Christian morality. Almost all of the New Testament texts dealing with sexuality were written to Christians living in predominantly Roman cities. This Christian ethic did not come to a society that needed only a slight realignment or a society eager to hear its message. No, the Christian ethic clashed harshly with Roman sexual morality. Matthew Rueger writes about this in his fascinating work Sexual Morality in a Christless World and, based on his work, I want to point out 3 ugly features of Roman sexuality, how the Bible addressed them, and how this challenges us today.

Read the rest

Racially motivated police violence. And facts.

17 Oct

From the Phillipe Lemoine at the National Review:

According to this narrative, black men are constantly harassed by the police and routinely brutalized with impunity, even when they have done nothing wrong, and there is an “epidemic of police shootings of unarmed black men.” Even high-profile black celebrities often claim to be afraid of the police because the same thing might happen to them. Police brutality, or at least the possibility that one might become a victim of such violence, is supposed to be part of the experience of a typical black man in the U.S. Events such as the death of Brown in Ferguson are presented as proof that black men are never safe from the police. This narrative is false. In reality, a randomly selected black man is overwhelmingly unlikely to be victim of police violence — and though white men experience such violence even less often, the disparity is consistent with the racial gap in violent crime, suggesting that the role of racial bias is small. The media’s acceptance of the false narrative poisons the relations between law enforcement and black communities throughout the country and results in violent protests that destroy property and sometimes even claim lives. Perhaps even more importantly, the narrative distracts from far more serious problems that black Americans face.

Read more at:

Want to run some numbers yourself?  Use the Washington Post’s resource on crime stats

The Radicals, not the Protestants, have won. From Michael Horton

16 Oct

Much of the hoopla surrounding the five hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation has been blather. On October 31, 2016, at a joint service in Lund, Sweden, Pope Francis and the president of the World Lutheran Federation exchanged warm feelings. Rev. Martin Junge, general secretary of the mainline Lutheran body, said in a press release for the joint service, “I’m carried by the profound conviction that by working towards reconciliation between Lutherans and Catholics, we are working towards justice, peace and reconciliation in a world torn apart by conflict and violence.” Acknowledging Luther’s positive contributions, the pope spoke of how important Christian unity is to bring healing and reconciliation to a world divided by violence. “But,” he added, according to one report, “we have no intention of correcting what took place but to tell that history differently.”

Perhaps the most evident example of missing the point is the statement last year in Berlin by Christina Aus der Au, Swiss pastor and president of an ecumenical church convention: “Reformation means courageously seeking what is new and turning away from old, familiar customs.”  Right, that’s what the Reformation was all about: average laypeople and archbishops gave their bodies to be burned and the Western church was divided, because people became tired of the same old thing and were looking for nontraditional beliefs and ways of living—just like us!

The Wall Street Journal reports a Pew study in which 53 percent of US Protestants couldn’t identify Martin Luther as the one who started the Reformation. (“Oddly, Jews, atheists, and Mormons were more familiar with Luther.”) In fact, “Fewer than 3 in 10 white evangelicals correctly identified Protestantism as the faith that believes in the doctrine of sola fide, or justification by faith alone.”1

Many today who claim the Reformation as their heritage are more likely heirs of the Radical Anabaptists. In fact, I want to test the waters with an outlandish suggestion: Our modern world can be understood at least in part as the triumph of the Radicals. At first, this seems a nonstarter; after all, the Anabaptists were the most persecuted group of the era—persecuted not only by the pope, but also by Lutheran and Reformed magistrates. Furthermore, today’s Anabaptists are pacifists who generally eschew mingling with outsiders, rather than revolutionary firebrands such as Thomas Müntzer, who led insurrections in the attempt to establish end-time communist utopias (with themselves as messianic rulers).

I’m not talking about Amish communities in rural Pennsylvania. In fact, I don’t have in mind specific offshoots, like Arminian Baptists, as such. I’m thinking more of the Radical Anabaptists, especially the early ones, who were more an eruption of late medieval revolutionary mysticism than an offshoot of the Reformation. I have in mind a utopian, revolutionary, quasi-Gnostic religion of the “inner light” that came eventually to influence all branches of Christendom. It’s the sort of piety that the Reformers referred to as “enthusiasm.” But it has seeped like a fog into all of our traditions.

Read the rest

Premodern, Modern, Postmodern Epistemology

13 Oct

Source: Premodern, Modern, Postmodern Epistemology

Who has gone extreme?

12 Oct

“Democrats have actually shifted more over the past two decades on many key social and philosophical issues, trending relatively quickly toward liberal positions as Republicans have changed more slightly. And the totality of it shows that Democratic voters are actually more polarized than Republicans are.”

From temporary evil, to necessary evil, to positive good. How the South came to romantacize slavery.

18 Aug

In his book The Impending Crisis, David Porter writes about the change that took place in the northern and southern minds about slavery from 1830-1860.  Prior to this period, southerners joined northerners in considering slavery immoral, evil, and in tension with either Christianity, republican and founding values, or both.  And northerners joined southerners in assuming moral responsibility for it.  After all, Southern leaders had agreed that the slave trade was evil (and favored abolishing it in 1808) and agreed that the Northwestern Territory should exclude slavery in 1787.  There were more emancipation organizations/societies in the south by far than in the north prior to 1830.   Several southern states seriously considered joining northern states setting a target for emancipation. But between 1830 and 1860, as he says, “in an era of uninhibited romanticism, sentimentality, the southern upper class built a fully elaborated cult of chivalry,… castellated architecture, a code of honor, and the enshrinement of women.”  Their defense of slavery went from it being a temporary thing, a necessary evil, to a positive good for slave and society.  When compared to the “free labor” system of northern capitalism and industrialization, it was morally superior than the “impersonal, dehumanized irresponsibility of ‘wage slavery,’ which treated labor as a commodity.”  How did this happen?  How did the conceded paradox between slave labor and Christian/republican virtue give way to an ardent defense of the morality of slavery?  Potter suggests that before the philosophy of the South changed, the New England puritanical attitude about America and the South changed.   He blames radical abolitionism.  Abolitionism was a diverse movement with many motives, not most of which were righteous or humanitarian (though some were).  Abolitionists began to publish books, articles, songs, and pictures caricaturing the South as a wasteland of backwards, anti-progress (read capitalism), biracial, slow, uneducated, mixed race, people.  Slavery to them had no place in America, not only because it was distasteful, but also (and mainly) because it created a culture of disgusting racial integration, racial intermingling, and racial diversity.  Blacks impede the progress of whites and slavery disturbed the inevitable progress of white America from assuming its place among the great rich and powerful nations of the world.  Such a system made the south a drag on white American progress (influenced, as it was, by an inferior race in their midst) and robbed white “free laborers” of their racially superior rights to labor over blacks.  Lincoln himself explained his opposition to the expansion of slavery into western territories: “I am in favor of this not merely for our own people who are born amongst us, but as an outlet for free white people everywhere.”  As for the South, it was so far gone, so out of tune with the new vision of America’s destiny (more Hamiltonian than Jeffersonian) that it needed an invading, cleansing, occupation, of a superior unpolluted species of men (New Englanders) with the right view of America (no blacks, no Catholics, no immigrants, no Native Americans, but instead an industrial and world leading superpower blessed by God and engineered by white protestants).  Think “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”  Instead of socially integrating with blacks through slavery, America should socially segregate from blacks through deportation (or let them simply go the way of the “doto bird,” as one abolitionist said, when they get freedom and can no longer be fed, clothed, and protected by their masters).  Only then will real progress start and America can finally be what God had destined it to be, that “city shining on a hill.”  Some went so far as to support slave uprisings (e.g., financing the violence of John Brown and mourning his execution).  So demonized were southerners over this 30 year attack that the South developed a paradigm, a narrative, to try and occupy the moral high ground seized by their radical abolitionist attackers, making them fear northern moral crusaders as inevitably coming for them, their families, land, and “adopted servants” (as they like to think of them, erroneously).  This leads Potter writes, “Northern anti-slavery men had begun to abandon their tone of gentle, persuasive reproachful in discussing slavery and had fallen not only to denouncing slavery as a monstrous sin, but also to castigating slaveholders as hideous… One should not accept the apologia that the South would itself have got rid of slavery if this indiscriminate onslaught had not compromised the position of the southern emancipationists, but it does seem valid to say that, in the face of such bitter condemnation, white southerners lost their willingness to concede that slavery was an evil — even an inherited one, for which Yankee slave sellers [traders and creditors] and the southern slave buyers of the 18th century shared responsibility.  Instead they responded by defending slavery as a positive good.”  Porter pp. 458-460.

Some questions I’m asking while off to my white evangelical church

18 Jul

Source: Some questions I’m asking while off to my white evangelical church

Bernie Sanders and American Laicite

26 Jun

Love this post from my fb friend David Koyzis, whose book Political Visions and Illusions (…) I continuously recommend to students. It touches directly on the subject matter of my own research with Mike Lavender on a church/state phenomena we think America is currently experiencing; a concept we call “American Laicite” (the tendency in American political and social institutions to depart from either a strict separation model, where religion is excluded from public life or accommodationist model, where religion is indiscriminately included in public life, towards a selective accommodationist model where religion is included, and can avoid chastisement or penalties, so long as it accommodates itself to a higher creed driven by an alternate secular, humanist, or progressive worldview or sorts.

During last year’s presidential election campaign, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a latecomer to the Democratic Party, positioned himself as a voice for the downtrodden against big moneyed interests, something that many Americans, especially the young, found deeply attractive. In so doing, Sanders drew on a deep tradition of social justice with biblical roots, as evidenced in his powerful address to Liberty University two years ago. Recognizing that “there is no justice when so few have so much and so many have so little,” he laudably demonstrated his concern for the economically disadvantaged in our society. However, judging from his questioning last week of Russell Vought, the President’s nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, Sanders appears not to understand that there is no justice where religious liberty lacks protection.

At issue was a blog post Vought had written as an alumnus of Wheaton College, a Christian university near Chicago, in response to a controversy involving one of its faculty members. The offending passage was this: “Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.” While it may sound harsh to a nonchristian, Vought was in no way suggesting that Muslims cannot be good citizens or should be treated severely by the governing authorities. He was simply reiterating what the vast majority of Christians have believed for two millennia: that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and that no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:7).

But this appears not to satisfy Sanders, who has shown himself in this respect to be a good student of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), the Genevan political philosopher who famously proposes an ostensibly tolerant civil religion at the end of Book IV of his Social Contract.

There is therefore a purely civil profession of faith of which the Sovereign should fix the articles, not exactly as religious dogmas, but as social sentiments without which a man cannot be a good citizen or a faithful subject. While it can compel no one to believe them, it can banish from the State whoever does not believe them — it can banish him, not for impiety, but as an anti-social being, incapable of truly loving the laws and justice, and of sacrificing, at need, his life to his duty. If any one, after publicly recognising these dogmas, behaves as if he does not believe them, let him be punished by death: he has committed the worst of all crimes, that of lying before the law.

The dogmas of civil religion ought to be few, simple, and exactly worded, without explanation or commentary. The existence of a mighty, intelligent and beneficent Divinity, possessed of foresight and providence, the life to come, the happiness of the just, the punishment of the wicked, the sanctity of the social contract and the laws: these are its positive dogmas. Its negative dogmas I confine to one, intolerance, which is a part of the cults we have rejected.

Those who distinguish civil from theological intolerance are, to my mind, mistaken. The two forms are inseparable. It is impossible to live at peace with those we regard as damned; to love them would be to hate God who punishes them: we positively must either reclaim or torment them. Wherever theological intolerance is admitted, it must inevitably have some civil effect; and as soon as it has such an effect, the Sovereign is no longer Sovereign even in the temporal sphere: thenceforce priests are the real masters, and kings only their ministers.

One needn’t dig too far beneath the surface to discern rather quickly that Rousseau’s offer of tolerance could scarcely be more intolerant. Anyone who believes that God has revealed himself in specific ways to specific people and that even the state derives its authority from God cannot be a good citizen of the republic.

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The history of the Science vs Religion Myth

10 May

From The Gospel Coalition:

Ronald Numbers grew up as the son of a fundamentalist Seventh-day Adventist minister, attending Adventist schools and being taught young-earth creationism until adulthood, where he lost his faith and became an agnostic. Today he is perhaps the world’s leading scholar on the history of the relationship between science and religion.

If you were to ask Professor Numbers for the “greatest myth” about the historical relationship between science and religion, he would respond that it’s the idea the the two “have been in a state of constant conflict.”

Timothy Larsen, a Christian historian who specializes in the nineteenth century, agrees: “The so-called ‘war’ between faith and learning, specifically between orthodox Christian theology and science, was manufactured . . . . It is a construct that was created for polemical purposes.”

If these two historians—one an agnostic, one a confessional Christian—both agree this is a manufactured myth, then who is to blame for inventing it?

That distinction falls to American scholars from the nineteenth century: (1) Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918), the founding president of Cornell University, and (2) John William Draper (1811-1882), professor of chemistry at the University of New York.

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On being a Southener

18 Apr

By Barton Swaim at New Criterion:

Two-thousand-eleven marked the 150th anniversary of the firing on Fort Sumter, the Battle of Bull Run, and the beginning of America’s bloodiest war. In Charleston and in fields outside Manassas, Virginia, war re-enactors put on lavish displays of martial conflicts. Essays and articles on the War appeared in all the major newspapers, books on the conflict were widely reviewed, and PBS again ran Ken Burns’s documentary series The Civil War, provoking at least one observer to express irritation that the Confederacy lends itself so easily to romantic portrayal. Once again (or so I imagine) people found themselves asking, perhaps with the red and blue map of Electoral College results in the back of their minds: Who are these Southerners? Are they the racists and political reactionaries we’ve always suspected them to be? Are they Americans in the deepest, most genuine sense, or is the South some aberration about which we ought to be embarrassed?

Jacques Barzun once remarked that Darwin’s Origin of the Species is one of those books on which people have always felt free to discourse without having read it. That’s true of the American South, too, and has been for a long time. “In the Southern states, gaming, fox hunting and horse-racing are the height of ambition; industry is reserved for slaves”: so wrote a twenty-six-year-old Noah Webster who had never been further south than New York. Exactly that sort of confident ignorance has long animated the American entertainment industry. Every Southerner has a favorite complaint: the apparent inability of film and television producers to find actual Southerners to play the part of Southerners; the routine association of the South with incest and abject stupidity; the location of all forms of bigotry in the South, even those for which Southerners aren’t known; and of course the amazingly resilient idea that the Civil War was merely and exclusively about racism—a belief lampooned by Michael Scott (played by Steve Carell) in the television comedy “The Office.” Defending himself against imputations of racism, Michael remarks, “As Abraham Lincoln once said, ‘If you are a racist, I will invade you with the North.’”

Southerners themselves, or at least the writers and intellectuals among them, have long been preoccupied with defining Southern identity—often with results that confuse rather than clarify. Before the War, a number of influential Southern writers circulated the bogus notion that Southerners were descended from Cavaliers (mannerly, aristocratic, unmindful of money) and Northerners from Puritans (earnest, plain in habits, inclined to moneymaking pursuits). After the War, a disparate variety of journalists, industrialists, and politicians promoted something they called the “New South,” a region that would foster economic and cultural vibrancy without giving in to the worship of Mammon (or, for some, to racial equality). It was against this latter collection of hopes and ideas that the Agrarian intellectuals reacted in I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition. The twelve authors of that book—among them Robert Penn Warren, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, and Frank Owsley—inveighed against the project, as they felt it to be, to make the South more like the North: more vulnerable to the cultural volatility and spiritual shallowness of an unregulated economy, more hospitable to radical individualism.

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