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.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

More on Tolkien and the "Long Defeat"

I learned from a blog post by Alan Jacobs today that not only did JRRT refer to history as "a long defeat" in his letters, but also that this is a quote from LOTR. (I found Jacob's entry through Rod Dreher's blog "The Crunchy Con.") Here is the Jacobs entry:

As I noted in a previous post: Tolkien says in Letter 195: "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."

In LOTR, Galadriel says to Frodo: "For the Lord of the Gladhrim is accounted the wisest of the Elves of Middle-Earth, and a giver of gifts beyond the power of kings. He has dwelt in the West since the days of dawn, and I have dwelt with him years uncounted; for ere the fall of Nargothrond or Gondolin I passed over the mountains, and together through the ages of the world we have fought the long defeat." (Mirror of Galadriel, LOTR)

An entire philosophy of history and indeed, a spirituality, is contained in this hauntingly beautiful phrase "the long defeat." In the saeculum - the period between the Ascension and the Glorious Return of our Lord - we live in a period in which the world continues under the usurpation of the Enemy even though Jesus Christ has been exalted to the right hand of the Father and is the rightful Lord of the world. In this time the faithful people of God live under the tyranny of the Enemy and despite all our efforts the lesson is re-learned over and over again that we cannot establish the Kingdom of God by our efforts and we cannot re-capture Eden by our wisdom or power. We fight and occasionally we triumph for a little while. Yet evil always rises again and can never be destroyed by human hands. Our experience of the long defeat inclines us to pray fervently "Thy will be done, Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven." We long for heaven but most of all we long for heaven to come to earth in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are gradually made first courageous, then humble, and finally hopeful.

Blessed is he who neither takes "history" too seriously or not seriously at all, but just seriously enough.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Corporatism: What is It?

In my last post I discussed the fact that Rousseau laid the theoretical foundations for the modern, liberal state and called it "corporatist." I defined it briefly as follows: "Corporatism is the modern belief in the unitary power of the all-encompassing State that is the provider of goods for citizens and the final authority in all matters political, economic, religious and moral." But this is too brief to be of much good. Here I want to elaborate a bit.

The Threat to Humanity Today
The real threat to humanity today lies in the tendancy of the modern state to take over soveriegnty of all of life and to place all of life in the hands of rational planners. What was for Plato merest myth (only approximated by Sparta in the faintest respect) has become sober fact for us. Technology makes possible the total control of human society by the experts - a class of people shaped by studies in the social sciences and animated by a deep faith in the power of reason to shape the good life, eliminate evil and create our own Eden here on earth without the help of God, thank you very much. From Jeremy Bentham's horrible "panopticon" to Orwell's "Big Brother" to Huxley's "World Controllers" all twentieth century dystopias have featured the use of technology to rationalize, plan and control entire societies from before birth to death. Prophetic voices as diverse as Jacques Elull, Romano Guardini, Wendell Berry, Alexsander Solzhensitsyn, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis and Pope John Paul II have warned against the dehumanization of man through this type of totalitarianism.

The danger that the human race will destroy the planet through nuclear war, though very real in the second half of the twentieth century, has now, I believe been surpassed as a threat by the bio-technology revolution. Bio-technology represents the temptation for man (actually, as Lewis pointed, some men) to sieze control of evolution and re-make the race in their own image, quite likely degrading him in the process. (Can a man lose his immortal soul? Can that which is made, not begotten, by man be soul-less? Can the race as a whole degenerate to the level of the animals again? Can man undo what God has wrought? For the record, I do not know the answer to any of these questions; I can only suppose that the Last Days of the Book of Revelation must come to pass before these horrors come to pass.)

Capitalism and Socialism
I think that the tendancy to "corporatism" is as much a Capitalist as a Marxist temptation because both ideologies arise out of the rebellion of the Enlightenment. I see liberal democracy as a melding together of the capitalist faith in the market to create wealth and the Marxist (Rousseauean) ideal of (at least relative) equality. As long as relative equality is maintained by the welfare state, the market will be allowed to plough along crushing all the tradition, community and individuality unlucky enough to be in its path. So debates about Marxism versus Capitalism seem to me to be of little moment. To critique capitalism using Marxist analysis seems as amusing as trying to stop abortion with birth control, since in both cases both arise out of the same basic impulses.

The Myth of the Fall and Restoring Eden
I have become convinced that the origin of the modern corporate state (which can be communist, state socialist, liberal democratic or democratic socialist - it matters not) is mythological. The problem with modern society is the degenerate form of myth that animates it. Despite the power of the myth of evolution (which is great, I admit) I think that the modern West is yet to break free of the Christian myth and specifically that of the Fall. I think that rebellion against the myth of the Fall of Man and original sin explains much of modern life and certainly explains the motivation and rationale for the growth of the corporatist mindset. Modern man is trying to prove once and for all that the Christian myth of the Fall is false and the only way to do it is to establish Eden on earth. Atheists stand vigilant guard against the teaching of creation is schools and museums and to their dismay vast segments of the population still believe in creation. They know that the Fall explains more of history and daily life than their counter-myth of the perfectability of man and the power of technology and that this will always be so until they have created Eden.

The twentieth century saw great strides in this direction with central heating, better nutrition, extended life expectancy, mass entertainment and so on. But technology also brought about zyclon B, atomic weapons, Chernobyl and so on. And promiscuity spread AIDS, while sexual freedom led to child poverty and the "New Soviet Man" could only be created by means of the Gulag. So many obstacles to state-sponsored Eden remain.

Many people of the Left today view the State (meaning rational planning) as the solution to all these remaining problems. Conservatives are absolutely right to oppose them even if all they achieve is delay and incompleteness of implementation. But conservatives fail to see that to support unrestrained capitalism is to support not only freedom, initiative, hard work, self-reliance etc. (all of which are good), but also to open the back door to a corporatist mindset coming in through the rise of mult-national corporations controlled by a few and working in tandem with governments to establish rational (market driven) control over all of life. Large corporations, for example, love complex government regulation since it provides them with a way to drive small businesses, who cannot afford the documentation, out of business. Excessive government regulation provides a competitive advantage for large companies and fosters the evolution toward monopolies.

It is difficult to see, today, exactly where government ends and corporations begin. Take the university for example. Is it really a tool of business or government? How could one tell the difference? This is corporatism making use of capitalism for its own ends. Democratic control of the government is increasingly theoretical when a class of technical experts are the only ones who even understand fully what is going on in something like the current economic problems.

Rescuing Conservatism from the Neoconservatives
So how can one be conservative without being neoconservative, that is, without being drawn into the corporatist mindset against one's will? I believe we need a new economic philosophy to advocate instead of capitalism in order for true conservativism to be an effective opposition to modern, centralized, rational planning. I have begun to read about distributism, a relatively unknown economic system that arose out of Catholic social teaching around the turn of the 20th century and which was advocated by Chesterton and Belloc, among others. More on that later.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Rousseau and the Rise of the Corporate State

In The Social Contract, something fundamental changes in the development of modern liberalism that lays the foundation for modern corporatism. Corporatism is the modern belief in the unitary power of the all-encompassing State that is the provider of goods for citizens and the final authority in all matters political, economic, religious and moral. Corporatism can take a Fascist form or a Communist form, but it can also take a liberal democratic form. In the case of Fascism and Communism it becomes a "hard totalitarianism," but in its evolving liberal democratic form it becomes a "soft totalitarianism" or as Pope Benedict XVI called it: "a dictatorship of relativism." The seeds of "hard totalitarianism" are in Hobbes, but it is only with Rousseau that the groundwork is laid for the "soft totalitarianism" we see rising in the West today.

Rousseau agrees with Hobbes that all the evils of European society stem from Christianity and that the Church must be neutralized as a power in society. Thus, it appears that Hobbes' Leviathan is necessary because it takes up into itself both the civil power of the state and the religious authority of the Church. Yet, Rousseau is unhappy with this solution and finds Hobbes' Leviathan despotic; "horrible and false" is what he calls it. What is Rousseau's objection to Hobbes' police state? He objects that in such a state man lives only for the gaze of others, whom he hates. The individual is a slave and even those who command are slaves to opinion. There is no room for individuality. Modern liberal society makes men unhappy because this society is unnatural. As Manent puts if, for Rousseau (as for the ancients): "The good society can only be one that conforms to man's nature." (Manent, An Intellectual History of Liberalism, 73)

Now this seems, on the surface, astonishing! Is Rousseau advocation a return to the teleological anthropology of Plato and Aristotle? Is he perhaps going to advocate human rights rooted in the will and design of the Creator? Is he about to abandon the Enlightenment project? In a word, no.

Rousseau identifies human nature as what you have left once you have stripped away all "artificiality," that is, everything contributed by socialization into human society. The natural man is asocial and thus a cipher. Man is nothing in particular. As Manent observes, this is the "paradoxical moment when man's nature is most vehemently appealed to in the political debate, and when it ceases in fact to serve as its regulator and criterion. . . It is the point when revolution, in the modern sense of the term, becomes possible." (74)

Since a good political order (in Rousseau's view) must both enable individualism and also base itself on human nature, the solution is for the political order to itself become a perpetual revolution. The individual, whose essence is liberty, thus becomes one in essence with the State, whose essence is revoulution. The "general will" is the locus of all individual wills and is the new artificial individual (the State) with which all individual wills identify. The very process of change becomes a matter of the individual changing along with the State in a revolutionary process, which expresses the essence of man, namely freedom. As long as man is bound by nothing he may consider himself to be a free citizen of a free State.

Locke's property-owning individual citizens turn into Rousseau's citizens - Spartans. Rousseau's citizen is free in the sense of being autonomous but he is such only insofar as he is part of a State that is identical with his own nature by engaging in perpetual revolution. Manent comments:

"To say that with Rousseau modern political thought reached its limits is to say that after him there is no longer any political philosophy in the strict or original sense. As we have seen, once the idea of nature has been exhausted, the question of the best political regime conforming to man's nature can no longer be posed as such. Nature ceases to be the criterion, the reference, or the model. Two other criteria are going to take its place: history and liberty. All political considerations and theories after the French Revolution will develop within philosophies of history and will be subordinated to them." (78)

Rousseau represents the moment in Western civilization when the theoretical foundations were laid for the swallowing up of the individual in the maw of the corporate state. In a very important this represents the end of the West, that is, the end of that experiment in Europe in which the individual was held to precede the State and to be endowed with dignity and rights that come from Nature or God, but which the State could only recognize. With Rousseau the framework was put in place for the right-wing and left-wing horrors of the twentieth century.

Friday, October 10, 2008

J. R. R. Tolkein: Augustinian Conservative

I've been reading an interesting book by Joseph Pearce called Tolkien: Man and Myth: A Literary Life (HarperCollins, 1998). He does an excellent job of discussing Tolkien's Christian faith and how it is reflected in his fiction and his essays. He shows in detail and convincingly how the myth Tolkien created is not incompatible with the Christian myth.

However, Pearce never actually comes out and says, perhaps because he does not see, that that Tolkien actually created a myth for England comparable to the Norse myths for Northern Europe. The reason the Silmarillion and LOTR are compatible with the Bible is the same reason that the overall myth is compatible with English history and, indeed, participates in many of the same mythic archetypes as are found in English literature and history. The hobbits, Pearce shows, are explicitly intended by Tolkien to be Englishmen prior to the industrial revolution.

This book inspired me to take down my copy of Tolkien's Letters from the shelf and begin to go through them. Some of the most interesting quotes in Pearce's book are from the letters. Two in particular demonstrate a unique combination of elements of a world view that are unmistakeably Augustinian.

First, in a letter written in 1956 Tolkien writes: "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 my contain more clearly and movingly) some samples of glimpses of final victory." (Letter 195, p. 255 of the Carpenter edition, quoted by Pearce on p. 148). A while back, I read The Children of Hurin after it had come out as a separate work and I was nearly overwhelmed by the sadness of the story and the lack of what might be called "resolution" or "final happiness," though hope was not entirely absent. This quote seemed to me to express the sentiment of this story both concisely and precisely.

Second, in a delightful chapter entitled "Tolkien as Hobbit: The Englishman Behind the Myth" Pearce leads off with a quote from another letter: "I am in fact a Hobbit (in all but size). I like gardens, trees and unmechanized farmlands: I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food (unrefrigerated), but detest French cooking; I like, and even dare to wear in these dull days, ornamental waistcoats, I am fond of mushrooms (our of a field); have a very simple sense of humour (which even my appreciative critics find tiresome); I go to bed late and get up late (when possible). I do not travel much." (Letter 213, pp. 288-289 of the Carpenter edition, quoted by Pearce on p. 153, although his footnote mistakenly says this letter is found on pp 213-14 of the Carpenter volume.)

Now if there is one thing it would be impossible to imagine, it would be a depressed hobbit. How could Tolkien view history as "one long defeat" and also be cheerful, fond of creature comforts and in love with nature? By being an Augustinian, of course.

Calling Evil Good: Morgantaler as "Hero"

Let there be no mistake about one thing. There can be no compromise on abortion. Why? Because the forces promoting the culture of death can never be satisfied with talk of abortion as a "tragic necessity" or the "lesser of two evils." They can never be satisifed with anything less than the "normalization" of abortion as a good thing. This is reflected in the campaign, which has now succeeded, to ram through an Order of Canada for Henry Morgantaler.

Numerous honorable Canadians have returned their awards to the Governor-General in protest, including Gilbert Finn, the former Lt. Governor of New Brunswick: and the Archbishop of Montreal:

Canada has the most extreme libertarian abortion regime on the planet. No laws restrict it in any way. Any time, any reason, any where. And the government writes the cheque. Father Raymond J. de Souza writes a lament for our country:

The culture of death is spreading in our country and euthanasia is next up for "normalization." The elderly, children, the handicapped and all those who are weak and vulnerable are in grave danger from those who have become so secularized that they have lost all fear of God and respect for human life as made in God's image. What Canadian Christians need most is courage, prayer and a willingness to suffer exclusion for the sake of truth. The future is in God's hands.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

I'm Catholic, Staunchly Anti-Racist, and Support David Duke: A Parody

Here is a link to an article by Bill Donohue, who parodies the stance of Biden, Pelosi and all the other Catholics (and Evangelicals) who claim to be pro-life and pro-choice all at the same time. Donohue's article is entitled: "I'm Catholic, Staunchly Anti-racist and Support David Duke." This article is a reply to a recent article by Nick Cafardi entitled: "I'm Catholic, Staunchly Anti-Abortion, and Support Obama."

Donohue is witty and extremely hilarious. Sample:

"I believe racism is an unspeakable evil, yet I support David Duke, who is pro-racism. I do not support him because he is pro-racism, but in spite of it. Is that a proper choice for a committed Catholic?

As someone who has worked with minorities all his life, I answer with a resounding yes. Despite what some say, the list of what the Catholic Church calls "intrinsically evil acts" does not begin and end with racism. In fact, there are many intrinsically evil acts, and a committed Catholic must consider all of them in deciding how to vote.

Last November, the U.S. bishops released "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," a 30-page document that provides several examples of intrinsically evil acts: abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, torture, racism, and targeting noncombatants in acts of war. Duke's support for racist rights has led some to the conclusion that no Catholic can vote for him. That's a mistake. While I have never swayed in my conviction that racism is an unspeakable evil, I believe that we have lost the racism battle -- permanently. A vote for Duke's opponent does not guarantee the end of racism in America. Not even close. "

Read the rest here:

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Rise of Liberalism as a Return to Pre-Christian Paganism in the West

I have been reading Pierre Manent, in his An Intellectual History of Liberalism (Princeton U. Press, 1995) with my Christianity and Culture class. Manent's book provides a fascinating and lucid discussion of evolution of European political thought from the Enlightenment to the 19th century and it clarifies how politics has become religion in modernity.

First, Manent argues that the origin of political liberalism in Europe was in an attempted solution to a "theologico-political" problem. What is this problem? Since the Church is concerned with an other-worldly good (salvation), its interest in not in this world. But, on the other hand, the Church's mission is to bring all people to salvation and so it cannot help but be concerned with everything that places salvation in peril. Since everything in human society could be considered as affecting salvation, including politics, the Church was led to claim supreme power in society - even over rulers. Manent writes:

"The remarkable contradiction embedded in the Catholic Church's doctrine can be summarized in this way: although the Church leaves men free to organize themselves within the temporal sphere as they see fit, it simultaneously tends to impose a theocracy on them. It brings a religious constraint of a previously unheard of scope, and at the same time offers the emancipation of secular life. Unlike Judaism and Islam, the Church does not provide a law that is supposed to govern concretely all of men's actions in the earthly city." (p. 5)

The rise of liberal states from the 17th century on was an attempt to push the influence of the Church back and create secular space by using the power of the State.

Second, he notes that the growing power of the state in the name of a negative concept of freedom tends toward individualism. He writes:

"Freedom is less doing what I want than being able not to do what you want me to do. It is doing what I want so long as I do not constrain you." (p. 62)

But this individual freedom is achieved through representation and the idea of representation leads to the strengthening of the state at the expense of civil society (including the family and the church).

"All legitimate power is concentrated at the summit, in the political institution, in the state which alone represents members of society. The modern idea of representation leads naturally to a continuous increase of the state's power over society, because it continuously erodes the intrasocial powers that ensure the independence and solidarity of this society. This is the paradox of representation: reprentative power tends necessarily to dominate the civil society that it claims to represent. In the sense, those who deplore society's growing dependence on the state are right." (p. 63)

Once unleashed, the growing power of the state in the name of "individual freedom" is difficult to restrain and the tendency is toward a "soft totalitarianism."

Third, he notes the seminal influence of Thomas Hobbes and J. J. Rousseau on this process of the gradual monopolization of power by the "benevolent state."

"I have pointed out that Rousseau's principal modern interlocutor was Hobbes. . . They have one fundamental point in common: all the political misfortunes of European peoples come from Christianity, more precisely from the constitution of a Christian religious power distinct from and in rivalry with the political power: 'This double power,' says Rousseau, 'has resulted in a perpetual conflict of jurisdiction that has made any good polity impossible in Christian states.' He continues: 'Of all Christian authors, the philosopher Hobbes is the only one who correctly saw the evil and the remedy, who dared to propose the reunification of the two heads of the eagle, and the complete return to political unity, without which no state or government will ever be well constituted." (p. 68)

Fourth, he notes that the influence of the French Revolution on the evolution of European liberalism was to make liberalism itself into a secular religion:

"the first part of the nineteenth century was in fact extraordinarily 'religious.' I do not mean to say that the French docilely reintegrated the Church into society, which did not happen; nevertheless, they began to interpret political and social events in religious terms, such that their political considerations became inseparable from the religious ones. . . since what is at stake here is not the soul's salvation but the understanding of society, these authors religion to fit the century, and made Christianity a 'secular religion.'" (82)

The entire drift of political thought from Hobbes to the rise of Marxism is toward ending the uniquely Western doctrine of the Two Swords, i. e. the doctrine that the political ruler and the ecclesial ruler both have a legitimate claim to obedience in Western Christendom. Prior to the Fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of Western Europe, every society was unitary with the political, military and religious concentrated in the Emperor. Even the Byzantine empire united the religious and political authorities in the person of the Emperor. But in the West, the concept of the secular emerged for the first time in human history. There can be no denying that that it was not neat and tidy; many battles raged back and forth between the Church and political leaders. But in the tug and pull emerged little patches of the secular - space for dissent and the possibility of religious liberty.

The tendency of modern political thought is away from the dual power toward the unification of all political and religious power in the State. The religious power of the State is there in Hobbes at the very beginning of the tradition, but it took time for the privatization of religion (read Christianity) to work. Only after the French Revolution did the State begin to take on a religious hue and tone and this intensifies in the modern, technological and beaurocratic State in the 20th century. Christianity must make way for Leviathan - the great idol, which claims soveriegnty in the name of the "people" in such a way that even God must stand back and be dazzled by its power and might!

The Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians and Romans would have understood modern liberal political theory: its stress on the unity of political, military and religious power in one set of hands would be perfectly comprehensible. Why? Because they were pagan and so is modern liberalism.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

How Should Christians Be Involved in Politics?

In the last three posts I have argued:
1. The Church qua Church should not be involved in politics.
2. The Church qua Church has an evangelical responsibility to be involved in moral issues.

Now, I want to go on to discuss the role of individual Christians in the political process. I want to make a distinction between the role of the Church itself and the clergy and other leaders as its official representatives, on the one hand, and the individual Christian church member on the other. The individual church member is trying to work out his salvation with fear and trembling and is called by God to a variety of vocations and for some their vocation will be politics. All Christians, in modern liberal democracies, are citizens with certain rights and responsibilites. So how should Christians be involved in politics as citizens and, for some, as politicans?

The Problem
In the current situation, many Evangelicals are confused by the choice between the two political parties, neither of which seems to offer a consistently Christian platform. What to do? I have been arguing that part of our problem is that we fail to distinguish between moral issues, on which the Church can speak clearly and which require no debate, and political strategies, on which the Church should not speak and which require much debate and may even be impossible to resolve. My point is that we should be guided primarily by moral issues, rather than political strategies. Now, this leads to the problem posed by Sam in the comments thread of the last post that it seens that one party is better than the other on abortion but both have serious shortcomings. So should we just refrain from voting? Some, especially in the Anabaptist camp, are urging this approach this election year. How should we respond?

Stepping Back From the Immediate
Part of our problem is that many of us (most?) are somewhat naive about how politics works and we only get interested in the process once every few years when there is a media blitz of publicity concerning a presidential race or something comparable. So our participation is sporadic. In this situation, I think it is not surprising that we would be tempted not to vote and as we all know, voting rates in most western countries are falling overall. If we expect to be able to ignore the whole democratic process between elections and then be presented with black and white options in which choice is easy - then we are bound to be disappointed most of the time.

Let us assume a hypothetical situation in which we have a two-party system (as in the US) and both parties advocate positions incompatible with Christian moral positions. Let us say that one party advocates an unjust war and the other abortion. (Does this sound familiar?) Now, does that mean that individual Christians can just do whatever they want, i.e. vote for either or vote for neither? I think not.

First of all, Evangelicals should be involved in politics in multiple ways. The possibilities are local, state and national levels, working within one of the parties, running for office for one of the parties, running as an independent, working for a political action committee, working for a public policy advocacy group, working in a social justice ministry that educates the Church as part of its ministry, etc. I suggest that the long-term goal of Christians should be to be a swing vote that is educated on Christian moral issues and helps to bring those issues to the public consciousness.

Second, Evangelicals should try to form a Christian caucus in each party that tries to influence party policy with Christian morality from within. For example, I doubt that we will ever see abortion made illegal until the Democratic Party is at least divided on the issue. Even if one party is completely sold on making it illegal, the degree of determination with which the other party opposes it will be crucial. This may mean that some Christians are called to work within the Democratic party structures knowing that the Christian vote will not go their way until there is serious change to the party policy on abortion. I can thus imagine a Tony Campolo working within the Democratic party to try to moderate its position on abortion but not asking Evangelicals to vote Democratic until there is change. My problem with him at the moment is that he wants Evangelicals to vote Democratic when there has been no movement on abortion at all and that is highly problematic from a conscience perspective. This is compromise with evil, rather than transforming culture.

Third, Evangelicals should work outside the traditional partisan structures to make a compelling case for Christian moral positions in ways that do not depend on revelation and Scripture alone. This work can be done by appealing to the stated convictions of the non-Christians in power and showing how their own rhetoric of human rights and freedom should lead them to support Christian moral positions.

Fourth, some Evangelicals should run for office in order to be a witness to Christ in the government. Evangelicals who do so must be guided by the moral teachings of the Christian Church and not deny those teachings in order to get ahead politically. The John F. Kennedy strategy of promising to refuse to be governed by the teaching of his Church is not acceptable. After all, do we ask Secularists not to be governed by their highest philosophical ideals and committments? This may severely limit their acceptability to the major parties and, if so, the time may come when Christians run as independents. But at the moment, it is possible for Christians to run for the Republicans and maybe for the Democratic party as well. We should not give up on the Democratic party as far as trying to change it is concerned; all I have argued is that we must not allow ourselves to be changed by it.

Specific Problems With the Religious Right
1. It was led to an unacceptable degree by pastors as its public spokesmen. This, more than anything, created the "theocracy scare." It also placed the Church in politics up to its neck and thus undermined the Church's moral credibility.
2. It over-identified with the Republican Party to the extent that it seemed that the Christians vote has no where else to go and therefore could be taken for granted. If Evangelicals want to sit out this election in order to make the point that the Republicans need the Evangelical and Catholic vote and had better not take it for granted (say by appointing another disaster like Anthony Kennedy to the Supreme Court for example) then that is a reasonable position to take as a one-off strategy. I would not say that there is a moral obligation to vote Republican necessarily.
3. It could not keep specific moral issues (marriage, abortion, assisted suicide) separate from general neoconservative ideology (especially US exceptionalism and empire building and unregulated capitalism as the ideal). This also brings shame and reproach on the Church.

The Religious Right would have been much more effective (and still could be) if if was lay-led, organized outside a party and more focussed on certain issues and not neoconservatism in general. (A caution: Coalition building will always be necessary and should not automatically be identified with compromise.)

Specific Problems with the Religious Left
1. It is also too often led by clergy (who often stand to the left of their congregations) and this tends to identify the Church with as left-wing ideology. This is a similar problems as on the right.
2. It is over-identified with socialism and big government as the answer to all problems.
3. It promotes a secular solution for the problems of the world and thereby renders itself irrelevant except as a cheering section for government action.
4. By endorsing the economic left, it also tends toward approving the cultural left, which brings it into conflict with many Christian moral teachings. So far (in the past 100 years) Christians who endorse the economic left have not been able to do so without endorsing the cultural left, which raises the question of whether or not this is even possible.

Last Point
I think that the way the Catholics approach politics has a lot to teach us as Evangelicals. The role of the bishops, the substance of Catholic social doctrine, and the way Catholics function as a swing vote all are models to us, I think. I will explore this point in future posts.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Should the Church Get Involved in Morality?

It seems to me that the flip side of the Church staying out of politics is the Church concentrating on its evangelical mission of preaching the gospel, converting sinners and building up God's flock. Integral to this mission is maintaining a clear witness to right and wrong, distinguishing between good and evil and calling the faithful (and all people of good will) to do the right and avoid evil.

Jim Wallis wants us to "vote out poverty." If only it were that easy. What he actually proposes is that the Church get involved in what could be termed "outcome-based politics." He holds up the Enlightenment ideals of democracy and equality as the outcomes we seek and then suggests that we work for those outcomes through all partisan political means possible. Morality must take a back seat to the more important goal of eradicating poverty. So we are told to support the Democratic Party even though it advocates clear moral evil in the form of legalized private killing. We must become morally complicit in moral evil for the sake of a greater good. This is utilitarianism and it contradicts Christian morality at the most fundamental level. As Pope John Paul II wrote in Evangelium Vitae: "the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral." (#57) As Brend Wannenwetsch, points out, it is the teaching of another of the pope's encyclicals, Veritas Splendour, that provides the background for this teaching. (See B. Wannenwetsch, "'Intrinsically Evil Acts'; or, Why Abortion and Ethanasia Cannot Be Justified" in Ecumenical Ventures in Ethics: Protestants Engage Pope John Paul II's Moral Encyclicals, ed. R. Hutter and T. Dieter, Eerdmans, 1998). In Veritas Splendour, Pope John Paul II made it clear that there is such a thing as an "intrinsically evil act."

In The Brothers Karamazov, Ivan tries to get Alyosha to answer the question of whether he would agree that it is acceptable to torture one little five-year old girl and inure yourself to her tears if that were the only way to "build the edifice of human destiny with the object of making people happy in the finale, of giving them peace and rest at last." Would you agree, demands Ivan? "No, I would not agree," Alyosha said softly. (Book II, Chapter 4 "Rebellion") Alyosha says that he would rather leave millions of people in misery than torture one innocent little girl. He is right, but not by any kind of utilitarian calculation. From a utilitarian point of view he is selfish and moralistic. But from a Christian perspective he is correct to fear God, refuse to commit an evil act that will imperil his soul and leave the results to God.

Now I know that Jim Wallis proclaims that Obama would reduce abortions and probably he really believes this in his heart of hearts. But Obama steadfastly declares that mothers have the "right" to kill their children and that he will defend this right legislatively. (I hear that a pro-life, pro-Obama website is about to be launched. As one wit said: Can the McCain for Pacifism website be far behind?) How can we take seriously those who say they want to reduce abortions when they vote for politicans whose policies ensure that abortion on demand will remain legal?

We who argue that Evangelicals and Catholics cannot support Obama are accused of being single issue fanatics who don't look at the big picture. But what bigger picture is there than the fundamental right to life? It seems to me that we are being invited to enter into the murky world of partisan politics and engage in compromises and trade-offs in order to achieve our ideological goals. This is exactly what the Church must not do. We don't have an opinion on every issue because not every issue is a moral issue and even when it is a moral issue it is not always clear cut. The Church has a right to say to its members and to society as a whole that to vote for abortion is to imperil one's soul. This is the subject that the Church is the expert on and this is the kind of issue on which the Church must speak. Morality, unlike partisan politics, is the Church's business.