Saturday, December 6, 2008

I'm Still Here

It has been a while since I've been able to post. I've been snowed under with marking since getting back from the ETS in late Nov. But the end is in sight and I'll continue with the Dostoevseky stuff soon. I also plan to review some books and to discuss contraception and homosexuality over the next few weeks. Another post will review D. A. Carson's book: Chirst and Culture Revisited, which criticizes my Rethinking Christ and Culture. And I'll be discussing Rowan Williams' new book on Dostoevsky as well.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Upcoming Speaking Engagements

1. I'm speaking at a conference coming up on Mar. 13-14 on the legacy of John Howard Yoder sponsored by some folks in the Stone-Campbell movement. The conference website is here:

My topic will be "The Liberal Reading of Yoder: How Not to Read The Politics of Jesus." I'll be asking if and how Protestants can receive Yoder's work without turning him into a liberal pacifist.

2. On Mar. 21, I'll be a workshop leader at the Evolving Church Conference, sponsored by Epiphaneia. The conference website is here:

My topic will be "Liberalism and the Culture of Death." Students from my "Christianity and Culture" course at Tyndale will have some awareness of what is coming. But I do want to tie into the conference theme "Amidst the Powers" by talking about what it would mean to think of the culture of death as a "power" or as a result the activities of certain "powers."

3. I'm being interviewed by Michael Horton for the radio show "The White Horse Inn" next week, but I don't know when the interview will be aired. The topic is my book: Rethinking Christ and Culture: A Post-Christendom Perspective. I think you will be able to listen to the interview on the show's website. The website is:

4. I'll also be speaking at our church's Good Friday service and I'm really looking forward to preaching on the penal substitution aspect of the meaning of the cross. I'll post the title when I get one.

I've done enough theologizing about how penal substitution fits into an overarching doctrine of the atonement and I think I have a grip on how to approach it without falling into some of the traps that can lead us astray in trying to comprehend this mystery. Now it is time to let the rubber hit the road and preach it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Brothers Karamazov and Liberal Modernity

The Brothers Karamazov is (rightly, in my opinion) regarded by many as not only the culmination of Dostoevsky's artistic vision, but also as a genuine work of prophecy. Dostoevsky writes as a Christian to warn, predict, instruct and declare.

In the next few posts, I want to discuss the interpretation of the Grand Inquisitor's vision and how it contrasts to the vision articulated by the Elder Zosima in Book VI, which immediately following Book V, which contains the key chapters (4. Rebellion and 5. The Grand Inquisitor). Page references will be the the translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volkhonsky published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (1990).

I will also refer frequently to the stunningly insightful book by P. Travis Kroeker and Bruce K. Ward entitled: Remembering the End: Dostoevsky as Prophet to Modernity (Westview, 2001).
Much of my understanding of Dostoevsky is indebted to their fine work, although I also find that my understanding of Augustine and Yoder also helps to appreciate Dostoevsky's art. I find it astonishing and highly significant that such a high degree of unity exists between the 4th century church father, the 19th century Russian Orthodox and the 20th century Mennonite. I leave the reader to figure out how they fit together; I merely point out the fact.

The Grand Inquisitor

The Grand Inquisitor has been interpreted, wrongly in my view, as representing Roman Catholicism as a whole over against Orthodoxy. He has also be misinterpreted as standing for the totalitarian movements of National Socialism and Soviet Communism that occured in the 20th century.

The Grand Inquisitor actually represents, not a pathological offshoot of modernity, but modernity itself. The GI represents, ironically, not only political religion (i.e. the church siezing control of the levers of political power and using coercion to enforce its views on an unwilling population), but the GI also represents religious politics (i.e. the State assuming God-like proportions and implementing a soft totalitarianism that not only takes away the freedom of people in the name of equality, but which does so in such a way that the people beg the State to relieve them of the burden of freedom). So Hitler and Stalin were only crude prototypes of the GI, who relied on external coercion to rule. The GI, by contrast, will rule by popular acclamation and will assume the burden of freedom for people so that they can rely on the GI (the State) to meet their material needs and allow them to sin.

To understand how this is so, we must listen to Ivan as he speaks throught the mouth of the GI. In Ivan's poem, the GI has arrested Jesus, who appeared unexpectedly in Seville in the late 16th century on the day after the GI has burnt 100 heretics in a grand auto de fe. The GI has arrested Jesus and is now speaking to him in Jesus' prison cell. Jesus remains silent throughout the poem. The GI says "The dread and intelligent spirit, the spirit of self-destruction and non-being . . . the great spirit spoke with you in the wilderness . . . Was it possible to say anything more true than what he proclaimed to you in his three questions? . . . For in these three questions all subsequent human history is as if brought together in a single whole and foretold." (BK, 252)

The Grand Inquisitor as a Hegelian

Kroeker and Ward point out that the 3 temptations correspond to the 3 stages of world history in Hegel's philosophy of history. The first stage is the temptation to rule the masses by giving them bread and corresponds to what Hegel called the Oriental World. In every civilization prior to Christianity there was a unity of the religous and the political power (along with the economic and judicial and other powers) in the person of the Emperor, who personifies the empire.

The second stage is introduced by Christianity and is the development of individual freedom. The individual comes to understand himself as distinct from the hive, the totality - as more than merely a cog in the State machinery. Jesus is tempted to throw himself down from the Temple, thus calling attention to his unique status as God's son and the miracle which God would do to save him. The GI admits that Jesus reacted magnificently in refusing to tempt God, but asks how many of the common herd could do the same? Here he doubts the feasiblility of freedom for common human beings.

The third stage is the reconciliation of equality (the unified State) and freedom (individual consciousness). Here Jesus is tempted to worship the Devil and refuses. The GI proudly asserts that he and his colleagues have corrected Jesus' mistake at this point: "we are not with you, but with him, that is our secret!" (BK, 257)

Liberal Democracy as the End of History?

Modern liberal democracy claims to be the reconciliation of equality (Rousseau, Marx) and freedom (Hobbes, Locke, Jefferson) in a synthesis that works (American Pragmatism). Francis Fukuyama, a contemporary populizer of Hegel, claims that liberal democracy has triumphed over its foes and so we now stand at the "end of history. But Fukuyama does not admit that contemporary liberal democracy actually is a synthesis of the Marxist impulse toward equality and the Capitalist faith in the wealth-creating Market. "Pure" 19th century Capitalism no longer exists. Since the "New Deal" Capitalism and the Welfare State have been fused together. The Market God and the State God are both worshipped equally for one creates the wealth and the other redistributes it in such a way as to leave incentive for wealth creation without allowing such exptremes of wealth and poverty so as to incite revolution. Liberal modernity has triumphed over Communism precisely by absorbing much of the Marxist emphasis on equality into itself without ceasing to be itself. The Capitalist Welfare State has triumphed, but not because Capitalism has obliterated Marxism, but rather because it has co-opted it. The two party system in liberal Western states (liberal socialist and neo-conservative) is necessary to maintain the delicate balance. Those who call for less government (neo-conservatives) and those who call for more government (liberal) are just emphasizing two sides of the same integrated system.

Dostoevsky's prophecy is of a state in which the many would gladly surrender their freedom to their rulers in exchange for 1) material well-being and 2) sexual freedom. The GI says: "in the end they will lay their freedom at our feet and say to us 'Better that you enslave us, but feed us.' They will finally understand that freedom and earthly bread in plenty for everyone are inconceivable together, for never, never will they be able to share among themselves." (BK, 253) In other words, the equality of the first stage of history (the equlity of the hive) will characterize this State. But the GI also says: "We will tell them that every sin wil be redeemed if it is committed with our permission; and that we allow them to sin because we love them." (BK, 259) This tyranny is much more sophisticated than that of Hitler and Stalin because they had to rule by external coercion. People felt dominated and abused by them; this new tyranny will not feel that way. Instead, it will appeal to a real aspect of human nature: the sensuous desire for physical gratification common to all fallen humans. This is what makes it dangerous. Although Dostoevsky does not say it explicitly, we see his vision fulfilled in the sexual revolution. The State changes the law (allows us to sin) because it loves us. So infatuated with this "freedom" we gladly exchange our political freedom for it.

Dostoevsky is drawing a picture of a soft totalitariainism along the lines of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, in which promiscuity and drugs are what keeps the population quiet, while the State has taken over the business of human reproduction. The only ones who are unhappy in the GI's vision of the end of history are the rulers because they must govern on the basis of a lie. What is this lie?

The Grand Inquisitor: A Liar Like His Hero the Devil:

The lie is that freedom and equality have been reconciled and Hegel's synthesis has been achieved, that is, that the end of history is here. In actual fact it is more like a reversion to the pre-Christian Oriental World in which there is plenty of equality but no real freedom. The freedom of the subjects of liberal modernity is 'freedom to gratify one's physical desires here and now" but it pales beside the grandeur of the Augustinian definition of freedom as 'freedom to act toward the good for human nature,' which is true freedom. The freedom of liberal modernity is, from a Christian perspective, slavery to the lusts of the flesh and thus no freedom at all.

Yet, even if this version of history sounds less bad to you than other possibilities (eg. nuclear war that destroys civilization), you need to know that even this version is not feasible, as we shall see in the next post.

Tomorrow's Post: "The Nietzschean Correction of Hegel"
Third Post: "The Alternative Vision of the Elder Zosima"
Concluding Post: "Conservatism as the Rejection of Liberal Modernity"

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The American Election: Silver Linings

The election of a hard-edged, liberal ideologue who stands firmly against the culture of life as the leader of a country in Europe is now so common as to be expected, but for it to happen in the United States of America is a shocking event. More pro-abortion even than Bill Clinton or any other Democratic nominee for president, Barack Obama is by no means a centrist politican as defined by American politics. But does this mean that the center has shifted left in the US, as it has over the past 40 years in Canada? Was this election "transformational?" Should the pro-euthanasia activists, the re-definition of marriage activists and those advocating such things as cloning humans for spare parts all now stand shoulder to shoulder shouting "Yes we can"?

It has taken me four days to write this post because I wanted to put the election of Obama in the perspective of the election results as a whole. There is a lot of silver in the linings of this election, more in fact than one would expect after the American people had elected a man who stands for legalized private killing after a campaign in which the mainstream media actively campaigned for him to the point of comparing him to Lincoln.

There is no doubt that, in principle, it is a wonderful thing that the first African-American president has been elected. But the real story is that it is not that astonishing that a black man can be elected president. I really don't know how someone can be all that surprised. It speaks well of America that his policies, his abilities and his timing were all more important than his race - and it must be admitted that his race was actually a greater asset than liability in many quarters of America. And I'm not just talking about black America, but about white, liberal America where the eagerness to vote for a black president was extremely high. (I actually heard comments from white voters who were so excited to be able to vote for a black candidate that they were going to do so even though they disagreed with his policies!)

So what can we take from this election as positives for those who are neither Republicans or Democrats, but who are concerned to build a culture of life?

1. Obama Only Managed 52% of the Popular Vote:
In this election we had a Republican president with a 31% approval rating who had led the country into an unpopular war, run up a gigantic deficit, attacked civil liberties and squandered much of the good will in the world in which America has basked after 9/11. The big question the mainstream media will never ask, but which begs to be asked is "Why was the margin of victory so narrow?"

The answer is that the US was and remains a conservative-leaning (center-right) country. The abortion issue dragged Obama down and prevented a run-away win. McCain was nominated as a centrist Republican with a reputation for being a mavrick because the Republicans were trying to distance themselves from George Bush. Therefore, he did not excite the social conservatives within the Republican coalition and it took the choice of Sarah Palin to convince many social conservatives to vote this time. That decision, which was out of character for McCain, demonstrated that the Republican Party ignores the social conservatives at its peril because they represent a large part of the voting public. If McCain had chose Lieberman it likely would have been a blow-out for Obama.

2. Voters in California, Florida and Arizona Reject Same-sex "Marriage:"
Secondly, it is heartening that 30 states now have now enshrined the traditional definition of marriage in their constitutions. Activist federal judges be warned: America will not tolerate a repeat of the abortion scenario where 9 unelected citizens impose their morality (or lack thereof) on the nation.

The vote in California against same sex "marriage" happened despite the Obama landslide. In one of the most liberal states in the union in an election in which a Democrat opposing Proposition 8 is overwhelmingly elected, Proposition 8 should have been toast. Obama himself ran 13% higher than the campaign to support same sex "marriage," which strongly suggests that he was not elected with a moral revisionist mandate.

3. The Democrats Fall Short of the Super-Majority in the Senate:
This was close. If the Democrats (or the pro-abortionists of both parties) had gained 60 seats in the Senate, then the filibuster could have been over-ridden at a signal from Biden and Ried. But it looks right now that the Democrats have fallen just short of this threshold. This means the Republicans have at least one weapon to use to provide an effective opposition.

This development has huge implications for two crucial matters. First, it may mean that the Freedom of Choice Act will not be able to be passed. Or at the least, it may have to be watered down. This will be a major fight during the next 12 months. Second, it may put a little tiny brake on Obama's nominees for the Supreme Court. The good news is that the four anti-Roe votes on the court will likely survive the next four years, just as Ginsberg and Stevens have hung on to the end of the Bush years. Obama will only (we pray) have the opportunity to replace two liberal judges and no conservative ones. And without the Senate super-majority there will actually be a fight. Obama's nominees likely will be as far the left as Robert Bork was to the right and if the outcome is only that a slightly less liberal judge is appointed, that will be good for the country.

4. Obama did not win the Evangelical or Church-Going Catholic Vote:
Obama, for all that he had going for him, did not win the vote among those who actually practice Chrisitanity. He won among nominal Catholics and liberal Protestants, which is to be expected since he stands for what many of them believe in. But he did not win among those who read the Bible, attend worship, pray and try to live a Christian life. Over 70% of white Evangelicals, for example, voted for McCain even though many required a clothespin on their noses in order to do it. As one British newspaper opined recently, Obama is the first secular president.

It would have simplified things if two elections could have been held: one in which everyone could vote for or against George Bush and then another in which everyone could vote on who should lead the country in the future. Many people did not vote for Obama but against Bush. Many Catholics and Evangelicals were as unhappy as the rest of the country with Bush's out of control spending, tax cuts for the rich and his ruinous war. But they couldn't see how electing the most liberal member of the senate was going to fix those problems. And the life and marriage issues were just too fundamental to ignore.

If the Democratic Party had moved to the center on moral issues by upholding traditional marriage and advocating strict limits on abortion, it could have won a thundrous majority. But my sense is that it would rather maintain its extreme left ideology and win 52% of the vote - enough to give it power but not enough to limit its ideology.

5. The Republican Party is Now Out of Power:
This in itself is a very good thing. The party is the only available vehicle for the pro-life and pro-family social conservative coalition to utilize at this stage of American politics and it is badly in need of being overhauled. Opposition is where it needs to be at this moment because it needs to rethink conservatism.

Conservatism does not mean invading countries on wild adventures like Napoleon spreading the ideals of liberty, equality and faternity at the point of a sword. The neo-cons hawks like Rumsfeld, Cheney, Bolton and Wolfowitz should walk the plank. They are most responsible for the loss of power and they should be pariahs in the forseeable future.

Conservatism does not mean out of control pork-barrel spending while doling out tax cuts to those who don't need them. I know that many conservatives believe in cutting taxes in order to prevent overall government spending on entitlements to rise forever. But to use this as an excuse not to balance the budget is just reprehensible.

Conservatism does not mean extreme libertarianism. There is no future for the Republican Party if it repudiates its social conservative base in order to pander to a kind of libertarianism that joins forces with the cultural left on moral issues. Instead, Republicans need to give attention to how to strengthen families, appeal to the working class and be a balance to extreme, coastal, left-wing elites.

Being out of power is a good time to rethink these things.

6. Conservative Democrats May Constitute the Real Opposition to Obama:
One last silver lining is that many of the Democrats elected to the House in particular in 2006 and 2008 are well to the right of Obama. They won in parts of the countries that would never vote for the kind of liberal Obama is and yet they are Democrats. We will see how many of them will feel a need to oppose the most extreme aspects of the leftist social agenda that Obama and his inner circle will undoubtedly try to advance over the first two years of his mandate. (The first sign of how radical and determined Obama agenda will be is his choice for chief of staff.) These conservative Democrats in the House and Senate will need to keep an eye on their re-election prospects and they may prove to be something less than automatic votes for the Democratic leadership.

UPDATE: I have just learned that, in fact, 31 pro-life Democrats were elected to the House this time, 5 new ones and 26 re-elected. It was only the second time in 30 years that the number of pro-life Democrats in the House increased. This confirms my suspicion that if the Democratic Party wants to increase its majority it needs to come to terms with the reality that most of America is pro-life. And it confirms the suspicion that the most effective future opposition to the Democratic Party leadership may be the grassroots of the party itself. Such a development is probably a necessary step in the long-term fight against legalized private killing.

As usual in politics it is never as good or as bad as it seems. We pray now for the health and strength of the church in the United States, which is a more important factor than any parties, politicans or platforms. It is the church that constitutes a bulwark against social disintegration into hedonism, individualism and materialism. As weak and imperfect as it is, nevertheless it is the church that is the real vehicle for God's work in history. As the church goes, so goes the country.

Friday, November 7, 2008

First Banks, Now Auto Manufacturers: It's Time to Say No!

First it was the banks lining up to get taxpayers to bail them out on problems caused by their poor business practices, irresponsible profit-taking and short-term thinking. Now GM, Ford and Chrysler, after decades of pocketing profits, now are calling on taxpayers to bail them out of problems caused by their failure to build and market fuel-efficient cars even though peak oil was entirely predictable and their preference for short term profits rather than sustainable business practices. I say don't give them a penny.

The problem here is that there is too much concentration of the market in too few corporations. Huge multi-national corporations constitute virtual cartels and hold customers and employees hostage in order to extort money from the government. They are no better than the drug cartels in Columbia and they deserve to go under.

Capitalism is all about the private sector being more effecient than the public sector, about supply and demand, the laws of the market and business either going bankrupt or flourishing depending on how well they are run. So why not let big business go under? We are told that these business are so big that they have hundreds of thousands of employees who would all be unemployed. The loss of tax revenue, the payments of unemployment insurance etc. make it financially preferable for government to pay out large sums to private companies and thier shareholders. It is just protection money.

The biggest problem with our economic system is that there are too many large corporations and not enough smaller ones. A car company does not have to be worldwide in order to be efficients. That is just a function of a marketplace that is regulated in such a way as to produce that result. What is needed is for governments to make policies that punish companies that take over whole markets and eliminate all competition. Keep companies smaller and owned by as diverse a group of owners as possible. Then, when some fail, it does not destroy the whole industry. The unemployed workers are simply hired by the surviving companies and opportunities are created for new companies. Engtrepreneurship and risk-taking should be encouraged and rewarded.

Just sitting there like a fat cat extorting taxpayers' money from governments because you are too large to be alllowed to fail is not risk-taking entrepreneurship. It is morally no better than running a protection racket. And it works only because we let them get away with it. Our problem is not that we have too much capitalism; we have too little and too much of what we have is of the wrong kind.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Separation of Atheism and State

Given that atheists (and agnostics and liberal Protestants) are so obsessed about and fearful of the possibility of modern, Western, secular, liberal democracies being taken over (at any moment) by churches and turned into Iran-style theocracies, I have been wondering what the right response is to such and idea and where it is actually coming from. The possibility of Canada or the US suddenly turning into a Christian theocracy is probably lower than Richard Dawkins' little green men coming back to check on whatever became of that life they created and left on planet earth billions of years ago.

How does this anti-theocracy rhetoric function? When is it employed? For what purpose? The anti-Morman commercial I commented on in the last post was a last-minute, desparate attempt to sway the voters in California and keep them from standing up for natural marriage in the face of the revisionist attempts to reject natural marriage and create artificial marriage. The liberal forces were afraid of losing so they resorted to bigotry and scare tactics - not to mention emotional manipulation. (You ought to remember this the next time you are confronted with an appeal to theocracy as the reason you must allow secular liberals to have their own way.)

But why is it that every religion is a threat to the public order and those who take religious views that do not fit snugly into the grid of traditional religions have a free pass to impose their views on the rest of us? Why do those who believe a man can marry a man just because the State says it is possible (even though it is metaphysically impossible) have the right to impose their ethical, metaphysical and religious views on us by taking over the education of our children and teaching them their creed? How is that separation of church and state? I call it an "atheistocracy" run by atheist mullahs and I find it oppressive.

Religions come in many forms and the denial of the existence of a theistic god is no barrier to a movement of ideas being called a religion. If Buddhism can be a religion, why not atheism? A strong case can be made from the history of western ideas that atheism in the West is a Christian heresy and, if it is a heresy, what else could it be but a religion?

So here is my proposal: let us launch a campaign for the separation of atheism and state. When people propose public policy and demand changes to laws based on a philosophical belief in atheism, then we have to rule those people out of order and demand that they accept our beliefs as the basis of public policy and law. Then, with the shoe on the other foot, they will get to experience first hand how it feels to be marginalized and vilified while another group implements its agenda over their heads.

Maybe, if the experience is unpleasant enough, they might then be amenable to a rational discussion of how everyone's religious and philosophical views should be allowed into the public square. Maybe then they won't be so quick to try to run Christians (and Mormans and Jews and Muslims) out of the public square just because they are religious. After all, why should atheistic philosophy be allowed to determine marriage laws and theistic philosophy not be allowed to do so? Let the debate be open and fair. But don't tilt the playing field so that religion is ruled out and atheism given a free ride.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

An Ugly Attack on Any Religious People is an Attack on All of Us

If you want to be shocked, watch this:

This is an ad produced by the so-called agents of "tolerance" and "liberalism" who are bent on getting their way on same-sex marriage in California. I am not a Morman and I do not consider Morman theology to be Christian. But I have the same reaction to this sickening and vicious attack on religious freedom as I would have had if had been Jews or Catholics or Muslims or anyone else being attacked for daring to speak out in a democratic way.

Mormans are Americans and they have the right to participate in the Democratic process just like anyone else. For someone to suggest, as this ad does, that for Mormans to vote and campaign for Proposition 8 in a thoroughly democratic manner means that the Morman Church is taking over the government is tantamount to saying that Mormans should shut up and stay out of politics because atheists, liberals, secularists and their liberal Protestant fellow-travellers disagree with them.

At what point is the tired old "theocratic" scare tactic just going to get so stale no pays attention to it anymore? Maybe it is time to work up a campaign for the separation of atheism and state. How about an ammendment to the constitition for that?

No religious minority should be attacked this way. No group that actually believed in tolerance, religious freedom and democracy would attack them like this. The mask slips and the true face hiding behind "tolerance" appears for a second.

It will be interesting to see who speaks up for the Mormans now. Tomorrow it may be Orthodox Jews or Roman Catholics. Who will speak for them? Remember, the religious liberty you protect may be your own. Those who attack religious liberty deserve to lose the election - every time.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Prayer for the American Election Tomorrow

As a Canadian, whatever happens in the United States has a huge impact on me and those I love. The dominance of the US media in Canada is powerful. When the US economy sneezes, the Canadian economy catches cold. Laws made in the US often decisively affect the making of Canadian laws. And on it goes. Yet I have no vote in the US elections.

Today for the first time in my life I wish I was an American citizen so I could vote against Barrack Obama and for John McCain. I pray that my fellow Evangelicals will not be led astray by the dishonest and illogical campaign that has been waged by Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo and Brian McLaren in support of the most liberal, most pro-abortion, most anti-marriage candidate for president in the history of the United States.

In many ways, the US stands alone now as the last bastion of Christian influence in Western culture. Europe is on its back. Canada, since the 1960's, has chosen public policies that emulate Europe rather than the US so that the moral fiber of our country has weakened to the point of collapse. The US is far from perfect; I could list its flaws. But the fact that up to half of its citizens are church-going, practicing Christians has meant that secularism has not completely succeeded in taking over all of the cultural institutions. The media, the universities and the military-industrial complex are all but lost to Christian influence. But the heartland of the country still contains large pockets of middle-class, church-going people who run for office, teach school, practice law, become judges, start businesses, raise families and generally create a conservative brake on the secularism, hedonism, individualism and disrespect for human life that fuels the culture of death. And the Evangelical churches are flouishing and growing even as the liberal Protestant churches are shrinking rapidly and descending into self-parody and perversion. In another encouraging sign, the Roman Catholic bishops have found their voice and are speaking out in this election season in support of the Church's moral teaching and the common good of the culture.

We should imagine the Church in the US as engaged in what Galadriel, in the The Lord of the Rings, calls "the long defeat" that she and others have fought down through the ages. If there is no dramatic, supernatural intervention in the form of a great revival of Christian faith in the 21st century, the West will surely fall. It does not matter if the external enemy is Communism or Islam or something else; no external enemy could possibly destroy the West by its own power. Like the Roman Empire, the modern West can only be destroyed by decadence on the inside. The core beliefs about God, human nature and morality have rotted away and no civilization can endure once its core beliefs have rotted. The culture of life created by the influence of the Gospel on Western institutions and thought has gradually been replaced by the culture of death.

The two sins against hope (according to the Baltimore Catechism) are presumption and despair. The proper response to the presumption that has led the West into utiopian schemes for perfecting human nature and society, which will be the occasion of our fall, is not to lose heart and despair. Anything could yet happen. We are not Deists. We believe that the God of Scripture can and does raise up and cast down nations. God's providence is often inscrutable, but His sovereignty is unchallengeable. The West will only fall if that is His will and if it does, then like Abraham Lincoln, we will consider the ways of the Almighty to be just and his judgments righteous altogether.

Many Evangelicals are thinking about not voting in this election. Disgusted by Bush's unjust war, (and rightly so), and unimpressed by the Democratic Party's morphing into the "party of death" they propose to succumb to apathy and say" "A plague on both your houses." But voting is not done for the benefit of one political party or the other. It is done for the sake of the country as a whole. To allow oneself to be reduced to inaction by the drumbeat that tries to discredit all conservatism by virtue of wrong decisions by someone who is not even running in this election is to allow oneself to fall into despair. And despair is a sin against hope.

A Prayer for Election Day in the US 2008
O Lord, who rules and reigns on high, by whose powerful Word the heavens and the earth were brought into being and who preserves and oversees this creation at every moment of every day. We bless your holy Name and we praise You for Your mighty works.

Look down today with compassion on Your people in the United States of America, who look to You for courage, help and comfort. May they experience a welling of up hope within them; may they be preserved from the temptation to despair. Use their willingness to work for the common good and their humble regard for Your laws to benefit the entire nation, including those who scorn Your Word and ignore Your will. Help your people to stand for righteousness with humility, determination and grace. As the democratic process moves on, may all of Your people be found to have been responsible, faithful and obedient to the moral law in the discharge of their duties as citizens.

Lord, send revival to your Church. We ask for revival over all the nations of the Western world, particularly in places where the Church was once strong and vibrant but now is cold and weak. We ask that you would forgive us our many sins and grant to us a spirit of repentance and openness to your chastisement so that the revival might begin with us.

We confess that we do not control history; nor do we rule over this earth. We know our Advasary the Devil overstates his claim to rule, yet his power is not inconsiderable. You alone are God. You alone rule over all. Help us to believe more strongly in what we already know.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord we pray. Amen.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Richard Dawkins and the Little Green Men

I watched Ben Stein's "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" today (thanks to my daughter and son-in-law's suggestion) and it was much better than I expected. I suppose I had been brainwashed by the review of the "controversy" it had generated. (Sigh . . .) In fact it was very well done.

All the Christians were open to believing in both some form of biological evolution (at least to some extent) and also in design by an intelligent Creator, while the scientests generally held that one must accept naturalism (ancient Epicureanism) and reject Christianity in order to believe in science. Of course, the science establishment doesn't speak for all working scientests, many of whom are believers, but there is not doubt that the crusading atheists hold the high ground when it comes to funding and science education and are not prepared to cede an inch of it.

I find it funny that they constantly talk about "believing" in science. I never hear of anyone talking of "believing" that 2+2=4. They talk of "knowing" it. Many atheistic science educators seem obsessed with polls measuring how many people "believe in Darwinism." This is not healthy. It bespeaks a deepseated insecurity and a mania for a certain religious point of view that they wish to impose dogmatically on all of society in the name of truth and academic freedom. It is totalitarian and inimical to free thought.

Anyway, the most eye-opening moment for me came when Stein was talking to Dawkins and asked him the question of what he would say if in the course of his scientific investigations he came to the conclusion that life could not have gotten started by accident and that it appeared to have required an intelligent designer to get it going. Would that not constitute evidence for design? Dawkins' reply was competely unexpected. Instead of hewing to the party line, he suggested the hypothesis that perhaps a highly advanced race of aliens had visited earth and dropped off some "life" that they had created in their (highly advanced) labs. Now, I think it was clear that he was not joking, although that was my first thought.

Richard Dawkins is so determined to disbelieve in God that he is willing to entertain a hypothesis that space aliens created us? Is that what it has come to? Space aliens? It reminds me of the saying (was it by Chesterton?) that when modern man ceases to believe in God, he does not for long believe in nothing, but rather is willing to believe anything. The recent Baylor study that found that religious believers (including Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christians) were less likely to be superstitious than atheists and agnostics is interesting in this regard. Christians were less likely to give credence to spiritism, astrology, etc. than the general population. Religion makes superstition less likely. Atheism does not.

But what can one say about poor Richard Dawkins? He has a hard time posing as a martyr in the train of Galileo. Here he has been given a prestigious chair at Oxford which demands nothing so hard as scientific research - all he has to do is spew out atheist propoganda full time. His books sell in the millions and he is lionized by the elite of Western culture for putting those dastardly Christians in their place. And all he has to offer us intellectually is little green men?

During the first Dark Ages it was the Church that kept the flame of reason and science alive and it appears that the Church had better gear up to do it again. The leading scientests have apparently gone mad en masse and have substituted wish fulfillment and juvenile rebellion for hard thinking and logic. Little green men - but no fairy tales. Really now!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

C. S. Lewis and Alan Jacobs on Richard Dawkins

Alan Jacobs has a short piece on Dawkins called "Sir Richard Rides Forth to Slay Another Dragon" that treats Dawkins and his anti-fairy tale crusade with just precisely the degree of seriousness it deserves.

As I was reading the piece by Dawkins the other day, the thought occurred to me that perhaps C. S. Lewis prophecied the coming of Dawkins in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. This evening, I looked it up. Lewis began his book as follows:

"There once was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. . . . He didn't call his father and mother "Father and "Mother," but Harold and Alberta. They were very up-to-date and advanced people. They were vegetarians, non-smokers and teetotallers and wore a special kind of underclothes. In their house there was very little furniture and very few clothes on the beds and the windows were always open." (1)

Apparently, Dawkins regrets not growing up in such a home as this. He laments the fact that his parents actually allowed him to read fairy tales and wonders if it might have "damaged" him. He concludes that it is a subject for "research." Lewis again:

"Eustace Clarence liked animals, especially beetles, if they were dead and pinned on a card. He liked books if they were books of information and had pictures of grain elevators or of fat foreign children doing exercises in model schools." (1)

It is interesting how Lewis' description fits our earnest scientest so well. Maybe that is because Dawkins' viewpoints are not at all "up-to-date," but rather the same old "modern" stuff we have been hearing about ever since the 18th century. It says something disturbing about our society that all you have to do is put a white lab coat on a guy and people think he is a great prophet and oracle of wisdom - when he wouldn't even recognize a dragon upon meeting one.

"At the bottom of the cliff a little on his left hand was a low, dark hole - the entrance to a cave perhaps. And out of this two think wasps of smoke were coming. . . . Something was crawling. Worse still, something was coming out. Edmund or Lucy or you would have recognized it at once, but Eustace had read none of the right books. . . " (68)

What a pity. He had read none of the right books. A pity indeed.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Original Sin: What is It?

In the last post, I gave a quick overview of the heart of liberal theology. Now I want to probe the concept of sin a bit further. Modernity is essentially Pelagian and the denial of the Christian (i.e. Augustinian) understanding of sin is at its heart.

Sin in modernity, strictly speaking, does not exist. It is mythical in the sense that unicorns are mythical. It is a fairy tale, not in the exalted Tolkien sense, but in the stripped-down Dawkins sense. It does not exist and need not be taken seriously by adults.

For Christians, sin is the libido dominandi, the lust for dominion, power and control. It is, to put it in modern terms, the will to power and therefore it is intricately bound up with technology and the science that undergirds it. The ability to manipulate the environment, sought by magicans and sorcerers down through the ages, has been grasped by modern, technological science.

For moderns, the individual creates value by an act of his sovereign will. To the extent that modernity has a religion (it is better to say that modernity is a religion), one can say that its religion is the worship of the goddess Liberty. This is a way of saying that freedom is the highest value in modernity and that freedom is basically understood as freedom from constraint: the freedom to do whatever the individual desires to do at any given moment.

Science certainly gives us this kind of freedom. It aids us in being free in the sense of being less and less constrained by repetitive, routine work. As we are set free from daily chores and routine work, we increasingly desire also to be set free from particular roles and duties to others that likewise constrain our freedom.

The only problem is that the more we achieve this negative vision of the isolated individual self, unfettered by work, relationships and duties, the less we know how to fill the empty time. So we turn to hedonism, materialism and entertainment to fill the void that used to be occupied with loved ones, duties and chores. We become increasingly isolated and all sense of purpose evaporates from our lives. In the most "developed" and secular states in the world, the suicide rates are the highest. Shopping and wide screen TV's simply do not provide identity, meaning and purpose for our lives. Is it any wonder that support for euthanasia is gaining ground?

This sense of anomie, this drifting and aimless existence could be termed sloth and it is a sin. More precisely, it is a sinful condition that results in sinful actions - or non-actions. It may seem surprising to a culture used to thinking of sin as the rebellion of the heroic individual who stands up to the establishment and refuses to conform to think of sin as something like clinical depression. But that is modern sin.

Augustine thought that our main problem is not that we desire too ardently, but that our desiring is too weak. Our problem is not that we are great rebels without causes, but that we are bored and boring. We are ripe for manipulation by advertisers and managers.

Modernity is so sure that we are not essentially sinful that it views us as perfectible. I think that the difference between the Augustinian and modern views of man come down to this issue of whether or not we are perfectible. Modern politics fancies itself as a "science" and pursues the perfect society relentlessly. All problems will be solved by experts and the problem of imperfect people will be overcome by the erection of perfect social structures.

Modernity's belief in progress rests on the assumption that science can be applied to human affairs, which is why we have departments in universities called "Political Science." Yet the application of the empirical scientific method to human behaviour results inevitably in the reduction of the human to the physical and the reduction of free will to laws of biology, chemistry and physics. The interaction of bits of matter according to the laws of physics "explain" why we love, laugh, dance, paint, compose, serve, hate and rejoice. Really. So human freedom turns out to be nothing but the apparently (but not really) random interaction of bits of matter! Oddly, this scientific determinism turns out to be a much worse type of falalistic determinism than the most extreme double predistinarian Calvinist ever dreamed of! And we got to this point by pursuing freedom?

It is ironic in the extreme that the worship of liberty should lead to the loss of liberty. For humans to worship liberty leads to humans not being free: this is the lesson of modernity. Liberation from constraints is not the same as true Christian freedom to be all that we were created to be. Truly, we come to resemble that which we worship. Thus, we can say that the modern exaltation of freedom, defined as freedom from constraint, is as good a definition of sin as any. Sin equals the worship of freedom and this is what sin means in modernity.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Liberal Theology: What is It?

What makes liberal theology liberal and not orthodox? I would suggest that it is the denial or twisting of a cluster of closely related doctrines that revolve around the person and work of Jesus Christ.

1. Divinity of Christ - liberal theology tends to view Jesus as merely a man of a special and unusual sort - a great teacher - but not consubstantial with God and the second person of the Trinity.

2. Atonement - liberal theology usually re-interprets the meaning of the cross in some sort of exemplarist fashion so that salvation becomes auto-salvation rather than trusting in the atoning work of Christ. The vicarious and penal nature of the atonement is almost always denied and extracted from the doctrine of the atonement.

3. Sin - the idea of sin is retained but understood as human beings failing to live up to their ideals and is not understood as disability and ruin. We can sin, but we can choose not to sin if we will.

4. Eschatology - liberal theology sees the kingdom of God as continuous with, and achievable within, history by people like us, providing we only follow Christ sincerely enough. Eschatology is historicized. The idea of a future, bodily return of Jesus Christ to judge the world and bring about the Kingdom in its fullness is dismissed as literalistic superstititon.

Any theological movement that substitutes social action or politics for the preaching of sin, repentence and grace is liberal in spirit and dangerous. Modernity disbelieves in the immortality of the soul but retains the symbol "God." Liberalism tries to re-interpret Christianity in such a way as to show its relevance to this world and it usefulness as a means of stimulating the progress that modernity believes is the way of salvation. Liberalism plays down the future life, the danger of eternal punishment and the need for forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ. Liberalism plays up social justice, concern for the poor and the need for activism.

To speak of the Kingdom as a human work is the first sign of liberalism. To think of the Kingdom as a social-political project is full-blown liberalism. To identify the Kingdom with a particular political ideology is idolatry come out into the open.

Liberal Protestantism has been almost entirely captured by liberal theology and liberalism has made significant inroads into the Roman Catholic Church and into Evangelical churches as well. May the Lord deliver us from this peculiarly modern heresy.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Why Neoconservatism Will Never Overcome Liberalism

Finally, someone else understands what is wrong with neoconservatism and why it cannot effectively challenge liberalism. Over at "What's Wrong With the World" Zippy Catholic makes the argument that the reason conservatives have been beaten so soundly by liberals is that (neo)conservatives actually are merely right-wing liberals.

He quotes Michael Bauman as saying:

"[The political Left] own[s] the schools and colleges; they own the Senate, the House, and soon the White House and Courts; they own entertainment; they own the news media; they own the laboratories; they own everything -- even lots of the churches. They ran the board on us, and it's not an accident."

He agrees with Bauman and asks why it is that conservatives are losing the culture wars so spectacularly. He writes:

"'Conservatism' is in our time not conservatism but right-liberalism: political liberalism with a few 'conservative' unprincipled exceptions. The exceptions are unprincipled in the sense that they are not founded in our liberalism, and we for the most part don't recognize their incompatibility with our own liberalism. For a while that meant that 'conservatism' was classical liberalism; now it means, for the most part, culturally 'big tent' neoconservatism. In general it means 'whatever liberalism was about 30 or 50 years ago'."

Conservatism in the US, the UK and Canada is not grounded in a single, coherent worldview. It is a mixture of three principle elements (my analysis): (1) libertarians (who are extreme liberals like Ron Paul), (2) American Imperialists (the neo-con hawks like Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Bolton etc.) and the (3) neoconservatives or social conservatives (Weigel, Novak, Dobson, Colson etc.) The basic worldviews of these three groups are not compatible with one another and none of them represent the conservative Augustinianism of Roman Catholic social doctrine. This is just a tactical alliance based on a common set of specific positions, (which explains why the social conservatives are often accused of being naive and of being used by group 2 - an accusation which is superficially plausible but untrue).

Zippy Catholic goes on to say:

". . . the hard Left has a whole core worldview which anchors it and which it will not give up for anything. The Right has nothing of the kind: the political Right is basically a classical liberalism/neoconservatism which is nominally against abortion and a few other enumerated issues."

I agree. We will never get the entire conservative coalition to agree on basic worldview issues, which are really a matter of religious faith at bottom, so what to do? I think the important thing is for Christians who are conservatives to get clear on what our basic political philosophy is and how it is rooted in our worldview. Since the politically involved conservative Christians consist mainly of two groups: conservative Catholics and Evangelical Protestants, the need of the hour is for both groups to learn Catholic social doctrine. Catholics don't know it well enough and Evangelicals are simply unaware of it. But only with this kind of basic philosophy will we be able to stand firm and make progress.

Some might despair over the fact that this approach does not even envision bringing the whole conservative movement under one coherent philosohpy. But we should remember that the same is true on the other side. The Democratic Party, which is currently so successful, is also a coalition of various groups and the hard-core, secular Left is not by itself able to gain a democratic majority. So it has to form tactical alliances with, for example, liberal Catholics, who are regarded by the real Left as "useful idiots" for voting getting purposes.

The difference between overturning Roe or not, getting a human life ammendment or not, protecting marriage or not, preventing cloning or not, stopping euthanasia or not, etc. is going to come down to which side has the most dedicated, knowledgeable and committed core. Conservative, Augustinian Christians can be that core for conservatism and this is the way we can be salt and light in a dark world. But we have to know what we are about and we have to overcome the sin of despair.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Augustinian Turn: Will Evangelicals Make It?

Caleb Stegall has a brief, but highly fascinating article in Touchstone on Evangelicals.

He says that 2008 may be remembered as the year that "the Evangelical political consensus - which had cohered so strongly around family values, industrial capitalism, and American exceptionalism - fell apart." He goes on to describe Evangelicals as believers in what Herbert Butterfield famously called "the Whig view of history" in which there is a progressive march through time to a glorious future.

This Whig interpretation of history can be seen in both left wing and right wing Protestantism: in George Bush just as much as in the Clintons and in Mike Huckabee as much as in Barack Obama. Jim Wallis is convinced that utopia is possible through the welfare state and for Michael Novak it can only come through capitalism.

Both liberalism and its daughter, neo-conservatism, are products of modernity. They both owe much to assumptions that lie at the roots of the two great Enlightenment secular religions: socialism and capitalism. And both are deferential to the great invention of the early modern period: the modern State. Neither the left or right have a specifically Christian political philosophy: they both function with a lame version of "What would Jesus do?" thinking.

Stegall notes, however, that an older (pre-modern) Christian tradition founded by St. Augustine is an alternative to what he calls the "restless Evangelicals." They are restless because they are sick of the corruption in the Republican Party, the failure of the leadership to appreciate them and the failure to derail homosexual "marriage" and abortion. Is there something more? Stegall recommends Augustinianism.

I believe that Stegall is right to say that Evangelicals are restless and he is right to commend Augustinianism. But I see the stakes as higher and the situation as more urgent than he does. If Evangelicalism does not make its way home to a more catholic faith it is doomed to go the way of Protestant liberalism. Already, we see Wallis and co. leading Evangelicals into moral compormise as they exchange a capitalist mess of potage for a socialist one.

And as Carl Bratten points out in an article entitled "The Gospel for a Neopagan Culture" the gnostic spirituality of late modern North America finds fertile soil in the pietist tradition. He writes:

"Evangelical pietism that has lost the catholic elements of the great tradition provides a fertile soil for such ahistorical spiritual religion. There are signs that American evangelicalism with its pietist background is breaking up under the impact of the "culture wars,' with one wing seeking to reattach itself to catholic and orthodox traditions, which we welcome, and the other wing allying itself opportunistically with the culture-conforming progressives in American religion." (Either/Or: The Gospel or Neopaganism, ed. C. Bratten and R. Jenson, Eerdmans, 1995, p. 20)

The political problem identified by Stegall is intimately related to the spiritual problem identified by Bratten. Gnosticism and liberalism go hand in hand and both are inimical to catholic orthodoxy.

Stegall describes Augustinian political thought as being built on the idea that what a man (or community) loves is determinative of the kind of man (or community) he will be. Modernity seeks a rationally-designed political system that is so perfect that no one need be good. This is seen in the neo-conservative idea that the greed of individuals results (miraculously!) in the welfare of all. It is also seen in the naive faith placed in the all-encompassing state and its rational planners by liberals. But Augustine will have none of that. He knows that who we worship determines what our community will be like. If we worship "Choice" we will have blood-stained hands as our will to power is exercised against the weak and helpless children who are inconvenient to our plans. Only the worship of the true God leads to shalom.

Augustinians do not see history marching toward glorious things and progressing inevitably toward the good society. Augustinians view life as eucatastophe - a joyful catastrophe. History is a long defeat with a twist at the end that saves the day. This is what it means to believe in the return of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. This life is important, not because it is an end in itself, but because it is the preparation for eternity and the place where our souls are formed for the telos of our lives - to see God and enjoy Him forever.

This is a spirituality with political implications and a politics that is spiritual. It is historic Christian orthodoxy and Evangelicals will either embrace it or they will pass out of the Church and into post-Christian Western paganism along with the rest of the Protestant Gnostics.

Richard Dawkins: A Narrow Minded and One Dimensional Thinker

One feels sorry for Richard Dawkins and those who look up to him. He is poorly read, philosophically shallow, theologically illiterate and able to think only in concrete and one-dimensional terms. His latest crusade is on how to bring up children "scientifically." He thinks fiction (specifically, myth) is dangerous and that debunking the supernatural is crucially important. In fact, he thinks that teaching religious beliefs to a child is child abuse.

According to a story in the Daily Telegraph, he is going to write a book on children and, although he hasn't read Harry Potter, he is fairly sure it is dangerous material. An excerpt from the article:

"The prominent atheist is stepping down from his post at Oxford University to write a book aimed at youngsters in which he will warn them against believing in "anti-scientific" fairytales. Prof Hawkins said: "The book I write next year will be a children's book on how to think about the world, science thinking contrasted with mythical thinking."

According to the story, he thinks people lack the ability to distinguish between fiction and fact and to draw inspiration, truth and hope from fiction. "If it isn't literally true - it isn't safe" is apparently his motto. He is quoted as saying:

"I think looking back to my own childhood, the fact that so many of the stories I read allowed the possibility of frogs turning into princes, whether that has a sort of insidious affect on rationality, I'm not sure. Perhaps it's something for research."

If I were an atheist I would cringe to have this person speaking for my beliefs. He seems to be a caricacture - almost a straw man - except that he is real. I'd be willing to wager that if Richard Dawkins did not exist and some Christian apologist invented him as a character in a dialogue between science and religion everyone would look at that character and accuse the author of creating the easiest possible straw man to knock down.

It does raise the question of how someone who, by all accounts, is very good at his narrow speciality in science could be so ill-educated generally. It is a black mark on modern education, I suppose, and its determination to turn out technicians rather than liberally educated men and women.

Or maybe, he is such an extreme case that one should be careful not to place all the blame on the educational system and treat him as simply a person who just isn't intellectually curious outside his narrow specialization. After all, for every Dawkins Oxford turns out there is also a Tolkien. People like Dawkins are hardly dangerous to educated people, but they are dangerous to those who lack discernment or whose educational background is shaky.

Big Brother in Britain

Here is a story about how big government and its insatiable desire to monitor and control the lives of citizens is getting out of hand in Britain, where it seems to be marginally worse than here in Canada:

"It's not insane to be paranoid. That is the comforting message I took from the speech given this week by Sir Ken Macdonald, the Director of Public Prosecutions, who warned the Government not to abuse its “enormous powers of access to information”. In a direct hit on the Home Secretary's desire to record on an Orwellian database every e-mail, phone call and website visited, he said that “freedom's back is broken” if ministers give in to the pressures of a State that is insatiable."

Imagine! They want to have a record of every single email, phone call and website visited by every citizen. It is enough to make chills run up and down one's spine. This kind of information is power and power of this magnitude in the hands of mere mortals is bound to be corrupting.

There is no possible justiifcation for such intrusive and high-handed behaviour by one's servants - that is, by the people we elect to public office to do our will. Will the sheep revolt or will they just demand a slightly bigger pasture to graze in while being fattened for the slaughter?

Read the whole article here:

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Choice Before America

In the inscrutible providence of God, it appears that the ill timing of the economic meltdown and all the accompanying fear and anger among the electorate means that John McCain is likely to lose this election. Whenever the economy goes south, the incumbent party suffers the wrath of the electorate and it appears that the American public has decided that it will vote against the Republicans. Obama and the Democrats will be the beneficiaries. This is hard to understand, unless it is Divne Judgment, that is, God letting us have what we have desired.

Obama is well to the left of the American center. But he will take an election win as a mandate to end the abortion debate (by signing the Freedom of Choice Act), help impose same-sex marriage and open the euthanasia debate. Ironically, he will likely be fairly conservative on economic issues - given the constraints placed on a president (and congress) by an economic recession. If the recession is prolonged and deep, he may also be a one term president.

This video summarizes how different the two candidates are on the sanctity of life issue. Yes, the economy is important - but nothing is more important than protecting the innocent who are too helpless to defend themselves.

The momentum for euthanasia is gaining ground quickly in Britain and across Europe. By the end of an Obama presidency, killing the elderly who do not measure up to a certain calculus of heath and age (and level of insurance coverage) will likely be widespread in both Canada and the US. He will almost certainly appoint two pro-abortion Supreme Court judges. With the "settling" of the abortion issue in the last Western country where it is still in question, euthanasia will surge ahead as the West enters the next phase of the culture of death. We as a culture are becoming more and more callous and casual about taking the lives of the young, the weak, the handicapped the elderly and the depressed and we are not reproducing ourselves as the family continues to decline. By any objective measure, we are a very sick society.

Watch it and pray for a miracle.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The UK Continues Its Descent Into Darkness

Today's Daily Telegraph has a story with the headline: "Human tissue could be taken from the infirm without their consent and used for research." The on-going saga of the "Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill," a macabre piece of legislation that appears to confuse Huxley's fictional Brave New World with the Labour Party Platform, takes yet another weird twist as the whole notion of informed consent (a bulwark protecting human rights in medical ethics) is blithely tossed aside by the deep thinkers in the Labour Party. Here is an excerpt:

"On Wednesday MPs will vote on a bill which would allow the creation of human/animal hybrid embryos to be used for stem cell research, change the conditions for granting IVF, and possibly liberalise the abortion laws.

The passage through Parliament of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill has been dogged by controversy. Failed attempts to outlaw late abortion have dominated the debate, while scientists, medical ethics experts and religious leaders have clashed over the hybrid embryo issue.

Defenders of the bill have repeatedly stressed the importance of gaining consent from anyone whose tissue is taken for the creation of human/animal hybrid embryos.

It can now be revealed that a Government amendment, agreed after the main parliamentary debates, would allow tissue to be used from people who lack the "mental capacity" to give consent, children whose parents give permission, and anyone who has previously donated samples to hospitals for medical research but can no longer be traced.

Medical ethics experts and religious leaders are furious that the provisions, which they say ride roughshod over basic human rights, have already been agreed by an all-party committee of 17 MPs charged with scrutinising the bill, without any public debate or discussion in the main chambers of Parliament."

Read the rest here:

But of course the abortion debate doesn't really matter. People who are "fixated" on it are overly narrow and unconcerned about the broader picture. A reader writes in response to this article:

"The first time that non-therapeutic research was allowed, legally, on mentally incapacitated people, without their consent, happened in Germany, some time in the 30s. The head of the German government in those days was a small guy from the Austrian Innviertel going by the strange name Adolf Hitler. Mind you, I'm all for research, but there is a border that must not be crossed, because, we've been there once before."

Must we go there again?

Addendum to the Last Post: Defining Christendom

There are two basic definitions of "Christendom:" one generic and descriptive and the other specific and pejorative.

1. Christendom: the lands in which Christianity has historically been numerically dominant, especially Europe and those parts of the globe colonized primarily by Europeans such as North, Central and South America, Australia and New Zealand and, perhaps, large parts of Africa. Christendom once existed in Asia Minor, the Holy Land and North Africa, but has been destroyed in those regions by Islam.

2. Christendom: the union of Church and State with the Church the dominant partner or (as I defined it in my book, Rethinking Christ and Culture):

"Christendom is the concept of Western civilization as having a religious arm (the church) and a secular arm (civil government), both of which are united in their adherance to Christian faith, which is seen as the soul of Europe or the West. The essence of the idea is the assertion that Western civilization is Christian. Within this Christian civilization, the state and the church have different roles to play, but, since membership in both is coterminous, both can be seen as aspects of one unified reality - Christendom." (Rethinking Christ and Culture, p. 14)

It should be obvious that in the last two posts I was using the term "Christendom" in the first sense, not the second. It is perhaps less obvious, though no less true, that in those posts I am calling into question the adequacy of the second definition as it stands.

In the context of my book, I went on to link the term "Christendom" to the term "Constantinianism," which I define as "an eschatological heresy in which the kingdom is considered already to have come, or as being in the process of coming by means of events now underway in history." (See my book on Yoder for a full discussion of Constantinianism.) In the Rethinking book I say: "I prefer the term Christendom simply because it is a better-known term and less likely to be misunderstood." (p. 15) I now disagree with myself on that point; I think the term "Constantinianism" would be less likely to be misunderstood. I made a mistake in conflating the two terms and I would now like to distinguish them.

Constantinianism has two problems, which Christendom may or may not have depending on the historical situation under consideration.

First, Constantinanism involved the absorption and co-opting of the Church into the orbit of the State. But you can have Christendom with the Church and State remaining separate; the Church does not necessarily have to be co-opted.

Second, Constantinianism is an eschatological heresy. You can have Christendom without Constantinianism, but Christendom often does fall into the Constantinian trap.

So by conflating these two terms, I may have caused unnecessary confusion. I have also made it virtually impossible to advocate a kind of "Christendom" (definition #1) in which Church and State remain separate and Constantinianism is avoided. The absurdity of this situation is that I have backed myself into the corner of saying that in any country in which the overwhelming majority of the citizens are Christian, there we have Christendom inevitably. The "inevitably" must be challenged.

It would seem to me now to be absurd to say that a given country must be an example of Christendom and therefore be sinful just because the majority of the citizens have been converted to Christ. There are countries - and not just in Europe - where evangelism has resulted in the majority of the population becoming Christian without that country becoming an example of what I meant by Christendom in my book. Kenya, for example, is now over 90% Christian. What do we do with Kenya? Ask 45% of the population to volunteer to revert to paganism? Is Kenya doomed to repeat the errors of European Constantinianism because so many have embraced the Gospel? Any viable Christian social ethics must give some guidance on what to do in case evangelism is successful and the vast majority of people in a society are converted without coercion, but by the working of the Holy Spirit. My definitions fail on that point and need revision.

What really alarms me now is the number of people (some of whom have read my book and some some of whom have read Yoder, Hauerwas etc.) and who think the following series of thoughts:

a) Christendom is always Constantinian
b) Therefore Christendom is always bad
c) Christendom is visible whenever the Church, or Christians as a group, influence the State or society as a whole in any way whatsoever (even if it is done nonviolently).
d) All conservative Christians are promoting Christendom whenever they try to defend human rights or the family in the name of the Gospel (eg. when the early Church convinced the Roman Empire to ban infanticide or the contemporary Church tries to convince the government to ban abortion)
e) Therefore a basically liberal individualist approach to politics, ethics and law is the only way to avoid Christendom today.

The fifth thought is often unconsciously refected in behaviour, whereas the first four are often stated explicitly. My concern is that the first four lead to the fifth in practice even when the person explicitly denies being a liberal. My point is that to accept points a-d is to leave one with no option other than practical liberal individualism even if one rejects theoretical liberal individualism. To attack conservative Christians (the Religious Right) while being unconcerned about same-sex marriage, assisted suicide, abortion etc. is in effect to accept liberal individualism in practice and the theory will eventually follow the practice.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

How Christendom Should Work

Historical Christendom was disasterous in many ways for the Gospel in that it tended to take away the freedom of individuals to respond to God's grace by an act of the will as it is enlightened by love. The Church sought too much political power and resorted to violence too easily. Minorities did not have religious freedom. There was persecution of the Jews instead of respect for the chosen people of God.

But one cannot be evangelical and regret the conversion of so many to Christ and it is an historical fact that whole nations did become Christian. Given the evangelistic success of the Chruch's mission, what form should the society have taken after that point? How should Christendom have developed differently? What should be the relationship between Church and State? How should a Christian majority treat a non-Christian minority? These are not merely theoretical or historical questions, but practical and contemporary ones. A short blog post is not the place to answer such questions in anything like an adequate way. However, a few thoughts to stimulate further reflection are in order. Here are 10 principles.

1. Christians need to behave as Christians 24/7, which means that they do not leave their faith behind when they enter political office or start teaching in the public school system. Christians are to be guided by their deepest religious convictions at all times.

2. Christians need the guidance of a comprehensive body of social doctrine that is: a) rooted in Scripture and faithful Tradition, b) flexible enough to be applicable in a wide variety of cultures and political situations and c) comprehensive in scope, but not merely a rationalistic system. We have this is Catholic Social Doctrine and we Evangelicals need to discover it and make it our own.

3. There must be separate, though complementary, roles for the civil and ecclesiastical authorities. They must be separate and must focus on their own areas of expertise. The Church's role is to instruct Christians on what is necessary for salvation and for the flourishing of society. The State's role is to govern the area of the secular and to do so in such a way as to be responsive to all the citizens of the State, Christian and other. The idea of the separation of Church and State should protect the freedom of the Church as much as the freedom of unbelievers. The State should not attempt to prevent Christians from living out the Gospel and when it does it becomes demonic and loses legitimacy.

4. There is such a thing as right and wrong because of the reality of the moral order inscribed in the universe by God. This is the minimum that a State must accept in order for it to guarantee peace and order without tyranny and oppression. Any State that does not accept the existence of a moral order is a pseudo-State - really a gang of thugs which has siezed power - and deserves only opposition and resistence from the Church. The twentieth century saw more than its share of such regimes.

5. The natural law is accessible to all who are open to truth, whether Christian or not. For the Church to argue for laws protecting the vulnerable or for the importance of the family from the natural law is not to impose anything foreign on non-Christians because as rational beings the truth of the natural law is accessible to them. Of course, there is always the possibility that because of sin a person or group may reject the natural law. That is no excuse to act as if it were not prefectly obvious from nature itself that, for example, murder is always wrong.

6. The Church must be careful not to legislate belief or coerce anyone into outward confromity to Christianity. God wills that man love Him freely and no amount of coercion can produce free assent to God's truth or a sincere love for God.

7. The Church may legitimately urge the government, however, to protect the weak and vulnerable by legislation. This is the proper role of government. Where Christians exist in sufficient numbers, the government may go further than where the Church is a minority in legislating morality. But the limit implied in #6 above must always be respected.

8. The Church must accompany persuasion and political actions (like voting) with a lived witness of love toward those who are weak, oppressed and neglected. The social witness of the Church must be both in word and deed and must always point the way by action, rather than merely calling on government to do something the Church is unwilling to do.

9. The Church qua Church should be committed to democracy in the sense of political freedom for all citizens. But the Church must be critical of democracy in the sense of licence to do whatever one's base desires incline one to do at that moment. In other words, the ideal is political accompanied by personal moral restraint. The goverment provides the former; the Church's mission is to instill the latter.

10. The family precedes the State and is not subject to the control of the State. People have the right to marry, found a family, raise children as they see fit and to be free from excessive State interference. Excessive State interference is any kind of law, regulation or intrusion that goes beyond protecting the literal physical life and health of children.

To go beyond these basics, we need to go into Catholic social doctrine, which I hope to do in future posts.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

How Liberal Modernity is as Bad as Christendom at Its Worst

It is customary in certain circles now to attack Christendom as evil and to hold that any attempt to "impose" Christian morality on society, even through the democratic process without violence, is wrong. This is a huge over-reaction to a legitimate concern. In my book "Rethinking Christ and Culture: A Post-Christendom Perspective" I may have contributed to this way of thinking inadvertantly by portraying Christendom in a one-sided way. Let me explain.

1. Before Christendom: Church and State as One
Prior to the rise of Christianity in Western Europe during the period from the shift of the imperial capital from Rome to Constantinople to the end of the Dark Ages, every known large empire had religious and political power united in the King or Emperor. This was true of the Roman Emperor and the Persians, Assyrians, Babylonians and Egyptians before him. The Byzantine Empire and the Islamic Empires did not break with this pattern.

2. During Christendom: Secular and Religious
As Western Europe developed during the 4th-13th centuries, something new happened. At first the Church stepped in to fill the void left by the gradual disintegration of the Roman Empire and helped establish order in society, but as the economy recovered, the population grew and political order became established, the Church drew back from day to day administration and allowed the secular rulers to govern. The theology of Augustine was the source of one of the greatest political ideas the world has ever seen - the idea of the "secular." The secular world was the world that was not governed by the Church. It was the world of commerce, politics and civil law.

It is true that the Church still claimed authority over the civil rulers, who were after all church members. But it was essentially the authority of church discipline. The Church taught the moral law and expected her members, including those who were rulers, to follow it. But while the Church was in that sense supreme, the Pope was not the Emperor and this was unprecedented. There were two authorities and two laws (civil and ecclesiastical) and two powers.

3. After Christendom: A Regression to the Past Unification of Religion and Politics in the State
After the Reformation, the rise of early modern states, and the Enlightenment, the modern world came into existence. As liberal modernity developed, one of the main themes was the attack by secular intellectuals and rulers on the authority of the Church. Religion was relegated to the realm of the private and personal, while the State claimed all authority. Hobbes, for example taught that the state must have the final say in biblical interpretation. What has happened in modernity is that the State has replaced the Church and assumed the kind of all-powerful role it had in the Roman Empire prior to the rise of Christianity.

In Christendom, there were times when the Church took over or allied itself too closely with the civil authorities and relied too much on coercion and violence to accomplish its mission. These are errors and failings that must be criticized. The Christendom temptation was for the Church to become totalitarian and take over the role of the State - fighting wars, deposing rulers, owning the bulk of the property etc.

But in Modernity the temptation is the opposite. The temptation is for the State to take over the role of the Church - by deciding for example to re-define marriage as not having procreation at its center and by denying human rights to the unborn. The State in modernity takes responsibility for making law, determining right and wrong and meeting all the material needs of the citizens.

The West was a great civilization and was founded on an incredibly important idea - the idea of the Church and State having distinct but complementary roles. In modernity, the goal has been to deny any role whatsoever to the Church or the Bible or revelation or God. This makes modern Western nation-states into idols, just as the great empires of the past were idolatrous. The City of Man is exalted as an absolute.

Christians who advocate the complete secularization of the West out of a mis-placed sense of shame at the failings of Christendom in the past are simple-minded, ignorant of history and naive about the dangers of letting the idea of the West die out. They are also, I fear, in the majority today. There is an unholy alliance between liberal Catholics, liberal Protestants and liberal Anabaptists who may be very different from each other in some respects, but who both promote either wittingly or unwittingly the privatization of religion and the ending of Christian influence on public life. They are aiding and abetting in the destruction of the only civilization in the history of the world ever to make religious freedom possible. The very dignity of the human person as a free being before God is at stake. There is no religious freedom in Islamic nations, none in Communist nations and none in nations in which the secular State has become all powerful.

When liberal modernity allows the totalitarian Church to be replaced by the totalitarian State, it is no friend of religious liberty. Rather it is as bad as Christendom at is very worst.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The US Supreme Court's Role in the Culture Wars

Richard John Neuhaus has the best reflection on the current state of American society I have read in a long while. In reflecting on the fact that the Supreme Court has taken one side in a deeply religious debate, it has interfered with the democratic process and brought its moral authority into question. This is something for everyone concerned about civic peace and order to reflect on soberly. Here is an excerpt:

"It is time to focus again, and this time relentlessly, on the question of the protection of innocent human life and the related and inseparable question of the role of the courts in our political order. Many who are sympathetic to his argument were nonetheless inclined to hope that Justice Antonin Scalia was exaggerating when, in his dissent from the 1992 decision Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in which he was joined by Rehnquist, Thomas, and White, he developed the analogy between that case and the infamous Dred Scott decision of 1857. What happened then is, in ways ominously parallel, happening now, Scalia said. Claiming to “resolve” a question in passionate dispute, the Court simply takes one side and demands that the nation follow. It did not work then, Scalia argued, and it will not work now.

What in the last several decades came to be called the “culture wars” runs very deep, and there is no end in sight. Nobody who cares about this constitutional order can be happy with our present circumstance. Politics is supposed to be about persuasion, deliberation, and decision-making through the process of representative democracy. It is not supposed to be warfare conducted by other means. And yet it is hard to suppress the impression that we are two nations in conflict. The alignments are not always clear-cut and there are overlappings on some issues, but the general picture is evident to all who have eyes to see.

We are two nations: one concentrated on rights and laws, the other on rights and wrongs; one radically individualistic and dedicated to the actualized self, the other communal and invoking the common good; one viewing law as the instrument of the will to power and license, the other affirming an objective moral order reflected in a Constitution to which we are obliged; one given to private satisfaction, the other to familial responsibility; one typically secular, the other typically religious; one elitist, the other populist. These strokes are admittedly broad, but the reality is all too evident in the increasingly ugly rancor that dominates and debases our public life. And, of course, for many Americans the conflicts in the culture wars run through their own hearts.

No other question cuts so close to the heart of the culture wars as the question of abortion. The abortion debate is about more than abortion. It is about the nature of human life and community. It is about whether rights are the product of human assertion or the gift of “Nature and Nature’s God.” It is about euthanasia, eugenic engineering, and the protection of the radically handicapped. But the abortion debate is most inescapably about abortion. In that debate, the Supreme Court has again and again, beginning with the Roe and Doe decisions of 1973, gambled its authority, and with it our constitutional order, by coming down on one side."

Read it all here:

Obama's Outright Deception in the Third Presidential Debate

When John McCain accused Obama of voting against the Born Alive Infant Protection Act in the Illinois State Legislature, Obama replied by saying that he only voted against it because it was unnecessary, given that another Illinois State law required that such an infant be given medical treatment. This is his newest excuse. Previously, he claimed that he voted against it because it did not have a neutrality clause concerning Roe v. Wade. When the National Right to Life Committee brought forth documentary evidence proving that, while the original bill lacked this clause, the amended bill included it and Obama still spoke and voted against it anyway. Now he has another excuse: the bill was unnecessary.

But the law Obama is referring to says that only a "viable" child has a right to medical care and, further, that the abortionist is the one to decide whether a child is viable or not. So the law is carefully worded to protect the abortionist, who is never going to declare that a child who unexpectedly survived his attempt to kill it, is viable. That is why babies were born alive and placed in soiled linen rooms to die alone, as nurse Jill Stanek discovered to her shock and horror.
The Born Alive Infant Protection Act stipulates that if a child is born alive as a result of attempted abortion, then a second doctor must be called who then decides what care to give.

Robert George and Yuval Levin respond to Obama's debate deception in this excellent article:

Documentary proof of Obama's deceptions and actions re. the Born Alive Infant Protection Act can be found here:

No facts are actually unclear on this issue. Barack Obama is the most extreme pro-abortion politican ever to run for president and he is also a slippery and deceptive politican who hides his left-wing extremism with the collaboration of many in the media. No matter what one thinks of abortion, everyone should be very concerned about a man who lies so smoothly in order to cover up his past deeds and spins things in such a way as to deceive the general public. It makes one wonder what else he is covering up and how extreme he will actually prove to be once he makes it into power.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

J. R. R. Tolkien, War and Pacifism

J. R. R. Tolkien knew war first hand, having served in the British Army in World War I. He lost close friends and only just survived himself. His son Christopher served in the RAF during World War II and Tolkien's letters to his son make clear his distaste for the use of airplanes in war. He also makes clear his hatred of nuclear weapons and their use on Japan. He seems to have a realistic appreciation for the moral ambiguity of war at its best and no illusions about its horrors.

Is Frodo a pacifist? It is true that he does very little fighting in the story and none whatsoever in the scouring of the Shire. So is the message of the story that pacifism can overcome evil when swords are useless? I think not, for several reasons.

1. Frodo is dependent on his friends to escape the attacks of the Enemy. He may not fight, but they do with his approval.

2. When Gollum is choking Sam to death, Frodo draws his sword and puts it to Gollum's throat. He tells Gollum to let Sam go or "I'll cut your throat." Who doubts that he would have done it to save Sam?

3. To the extent that Frodo has a role in the story that does not involve fighting, but only suffering, he is a Christ figure. He gives himself totally in the service of a great quest aimed at the salvation of his friends and all of Middle Earth and does so because a specific 'doom' has been laid upon him.

4. But his quest also involves the destruction of Sauron, which Frodo earnestly desires.

In Letter 195, Tolkien discusses Frodo and pacifism:

"One point: Frodo's attitude to weapons was personal. he was not in modern terms a 'pacifist.' Of course, he was mainly horrified at the prospect of civil war among Hobbits; but he had (I suppose) also reached the conclusion that physical fighting is actually less ultimately effective than most (good) men think it! Actually I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect 'history' to be anything but a 'long defeat' - though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory." (Letters, Carpenter ed., p. 255)

In Letter 144, Tolkien speaks about Tom Bombadil:

"Tom Bombadil is not an important person - to the narrative. I suppose he has some importance as a 'comment.' I mean, I do not really write like that: he is just an invention (who first appeared in the Oxford Magazine about 1933), and he represents something that I feel important, though I would not be prepared to analyze the feeling precisely. I would not, however, have left him in, if he did not have some kind of function. I might put it this way. The story is cast in terms of a good side, and a bad side, beauty against ruthless ugliness, tyranny against kingship, moderated freedom with consent against compulsion that has long lost any object save mere power, and so on; but both sides in some degree, conservative or destructive, want a measure of control, but if you have, as it were taken 'a vow of poverty," renounced control, and take your delight in things for themselves without reference to yourself, watching, observing, and to some extent knowing, then the question of the rights and wrongs of power and control might become utterly meaningless to you, and the means of power quite valueless. It a natural pacifist view, which always arises in the mind when there is a war. But the view of Rivendell seems to be that it is an excellent thing to have represented, but that there are in fact htings with which it cannot cope; and upon which its existence nonetheless depends. Ultimately only the victory of the West will allow Bombadil to continue, or eve to survive. Nothing would be left for him in the world of Sauron. " (Letters, Carpenter ed. pp. 178-9)

Tolkien's position on war is consistently Roman Catholic. He believed in the just war tradition, which meant that not all wars or ways of waging war are right, but that some are. In saying that war is "just" or "right," however, one must also acknowledge that war is never a good, just a lesser evil. Even participation in a justified war is something for confession. He also sees vocational pacifism as a good and necessary sign. If reluctant and sad Christian participation in war is a testimony to the fallen state of this world and the impossibility of living without sin in it, the pacifism of certain members of the Church is a testimony to the future victory of the Kingdom of God when war will be no more, as well as a sign of contradition to those who would glorify war into a crusade of righteousness or over-invest it with utopian dreams. Both just warriors and pacifists need each other and Christian witness depends on both being present in the Church in every generation.

Protestantism has lost the pacifist witness because of its abolition of the monastic orders and its failure to uphold the pacifist standard for the ordained clergy. In this may be seen its utopianism and liberalism. Anabaptism, when considered to be the replacement of the monastic orders in Protestantism, can function as a witness to the future Kingdom. But Protestantism for the most part tends to oscillate back and forth between utopian, liberal pacifism for all and a holy war or crusade mentality that sees war as the means to utopia.

Matthew 25 and Obama

I suppose one must either laugh or cry and I choose not to let despair take me. It has come to my attention that there is an organization named the "Matthew 25 Network" that is promoting Obama for president, thinking by means of biblical references to lure unsuspecting Evangelicals and Catholics into voting for Obama. It reminds me of the saying in Matthew 24:24 "For false Christs and false prophets shall appear . . . to deceive even the elect - if that were possible." Well, in Novemember we will find out if it was possible or not.

How darkly humourous (and utterly sad) it is that this group should have picked this particular passage of Scripture to buttress their claims that Obama is worthy of Christian support. Here we read that 'whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." (25:40). The first thing that comes naturally into one's mind when one hears the phrase "the least of these" in these dark times is the unborn babies. Insofar as Obama stands for protecting the rights of abortionists to burn them with chemicals, cause them to be ejected from the womb prematurely and left to die and have their skulls crushed with cruel instruments of death, he stands for doing these things to Jesus, at least according to this Scripture.

Whenever I think of Matthew 25 and Obama, I remember that as far as Jesus is concerned how Obama treats the helpless, naked, unborn child is how Obama feels about Jesus. And it reminds me that such a man could never be supported by a Christian - except one who has been deceived.

If you are actually uncertain about whether or not Obama is the most pro-abortion politican ever to run for a major public office in the United States, you can read this article by Robert George of Princeton University entitled: "Obama's Abortion Extremism." It is factual, concise and comprehensive. It is, as far as I can see, unanswerable.