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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.

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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.

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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Perhaps not all that was lost in the Lost Cause was a good riddance

17 Apr

Form Dr. Boyd Cathey:

it was a war between two ideas of government, and, in reality, two ideas of history and progress.  For the North, which now controlled the Federal government, it was a war to suppress what was seen as a rebellion against constituted national authority. For the states of the Southern Confederacy, it was a defense of their inherited and inherent rights under the old Constitution of 1787, rights that had never been ceded to the Federal government. And, more, it became for them a Second War for Independence against an arbitrary and overreaching government that had gravely violated that Constitution.

Thus, at Appomattox were set into motion momentous events in the future of the reconstituted American nation.  With the defeat of the South, the restraints on industrial, and, eventually, international capitalism were removed. The road to centralized government power was cleared. But even more significantly, there was a sea change in what we might call “the dominant American philosophy.”

In the old ante-bellum Union the South had acted as a kind of counter-weight to the North and a quickly developing progressivist vision of history. Certainly, there were notable Southerners who shared the growing economic and political liberalism of their fellow citizens north of the Mason-Dixon Line (e.g, DeBow’s Review). Yet, increasingly in the late ante-bellum period, the most significant voices in the Southland echoed a kind of traditionalism somewhat reminiscent of the serious critiques being made in Europe of “the Idea of Progress” and of the deleterious effects of 19th century liberalism.

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Why I Became a Conservative – Scruton

19 Jan

From the British Political Philosopher Roger Scruton:

I as brought up at a time when half the English people voted Conservative at national elections and almost all English intellectuals regarded the term “conservative” as a term of abuse. To be a conservative, I was told, was to be on the side of age against youth, the past against the future, authority against innovation, the “structures” against spontaneity and life. It was enough to understand this, to recognize that one had no choice, as a free-thinking intellectual, save to reject conservatism. The choice remaining was between reform and revolution. Do we improve society bit by bit, or do we rub it out and start again? On the whole my contemporaries favored the second option, and it was when witnessing what this meant, in May 1968 in Paris, that I discovered my vocation.

In the narrow street below my window the students were shouting and smashing. The plate-glass windows of the shops appeared to step back, shudder for a second, and then give up the ghost, as the reflections suddenly left them and they slid in jagged fragments to the ground. Cars rose into the air and landed on their sides, their juices flowing from unseen wounds. The air was filled with triumphant shouts, as one by one lamp-posts and bollards were uprooted and piled on the tarmac, to form a barricade against the next van-load of policemen.

The van—known then as a panier de salade on account of the wire mesh that covered its windows—came cautiously round the corner from the Rue Descartes, jerked to a halt, and disgorged a score of frightened policemen. They were greeted by flying cobble-stones and several of them fell. One rolled over on the ground clutching his face, from which the blood streamed through tightly clenched fingers. There was an exultant shout, the injured policeman was helped into the van, and the students ran off down a side-street, sneering at the cochons and throwing Parthian cobbles as they went.

That evening a friend came round: she had been all day on the barricades with a troupe of theater people, under the captainship of Armand Gatti. She was very excited by the events, which Gatti, a follower of Antonin Artaud, had taught her to regard as the high point of situationist theater—the artistic transfiguration of an absurdity which is the day-to-day meaning of bourgeois life. Great victories had been scored: policemen injured, cars set alight, slogans chanted, graffiti daubed. The bourgeoisie were on the run and soon the Old Fascist and his régime would be begging for mercy.

Read the rest here from the New Criterion

Two Americas

20 Oct

Gertrude Himmelfarb in her book One Nation, Two Cultures (2010) argued that America is comprised of two distinct cultures.  A traditionalist one (conservative, Puritan heritage) and a dissident one (counterculture of the 1960s).  She wrote:

As a minority, the traditionalist culture labors under the disadvantage of being perennially on the defensive.  Its elite — gospel preachers, radio talk show hosts, some prominent columnists, and organizational leaders–cannot begin to match, in  numbers or influence, those who occupy the commanding heights of the dominant culture; professors presiding over the multitude of young people who attend their lectures, read their books, and have to pass their exams; journalists who determine what information, and what ‘spins’ on that information, come to the public; television and movie producers who provide the images and values that shape the popular culture; cultural entrepreneurs who are ingenious in creating and marketing ever more sensational and provocative products.  An occasional boycott by religious conservatives can hardly counteract the cumulative, pervasive effect of the dominant culture.

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