Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Daring Proposal from Historians

In these trying times, a bold new message is being sounded from Washington:

WASHINGTON—With the United States facing a daunting array of problems at home and abroad, leading historians courteously reminded the nation Thursday that when making tough choices, it never hurts to stop a moment, take a look at similar situations from the past, and then think about whether the decisions people made back then were good or bad.

According to the historians, by looking at things that have already happened, Americans can learn a lot about which actions made things better versus which actions made things worse, and can then plan their own actions accordingly.

"In the coming weeks and months, people will have to make some really important decisions about some really important issues," Columbia University historian Douglas R. Collins said during a press conference, speaking very slowly and clearly so the nation could follow his words. "And one thing we can do, before making a choice that has permanent consequences for our entire civilization, is check real quick first to see if human beings have ever done anything like it previously, and see if turned out to be a good idea or not."

"It's actually pretty simple: We just have to ask ourselves if people doing the same thing in the past caused something bad to happen," Collins continued. "Did the thing we're thinking of doing make people upset? Did it start a war? If it did, then we might want to think about not doing it."

In addition, Collins carefully explained that if a past decision proved to be favorable—if, for example, it led to increased employment, caused fewer deaths, or made lots of people feel good inside— then the nation should consider following through with the same decision now.

While the new strategy, known as "Look Back Before You Act," has raised concerns among people worried they will have to remember lots of events from long ago, the historians have assured Americans they won't be required to read all the way through thick books or memorize anything.

Instead, citizens have been told they can just find a large-print, illustrated timeline of historical events, place their finger on an important moment, and then look to the right of that point to see what happened afterward, paying especially close attention to whether things got worse or better.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

In Memoriam Neale Pryor

There is no greater eulogy for a man than those who carry on consciously indebted to his life. In view of this, there is perhaps no man with a greater living memorial than Neale Pryor, who through a profound commitment to teaching and preaching has touched innumerable lives. Those who were fortunate enough to have known him gather today, in body and in spirit, to commit him to the ground for a time and to God forever.

Neale Pryor began preaching at the prodigious age of twelve and dedicated his life to the ministry. His sermons at countless churches, lectureships, university chapels, and Gospel meetings represent a body of biblical wisdom which few preachers can ever hope to match. His plainspoken, unpolished speech was both endearing and affective, giving the impression that you were not being preached at so much as having a candid conversation with a trusted friend. He would walk with you hand-in-hand through the tapestry of Scripture, navigating it by memory and gently guiding you toward the conclusions that a lifetime of study and experience had taught him were right. His preaching was lavishly sprinkled with anecdotes from his life and insights into his character, and so it is perhaps uniquely appropriate to remember him as he revealed himself in his preaching.

In particular, I have in mind a sermon he delivered at a recent Harding University homecoming Sunday before the early service at the College Church of Christ. The aptly titled "Coming Home" addressed in broad strokes the theme of what home was, the universal sentiment of homesickness, and the joy we feel at going home. Yet, as expected, as much as we may be moved by the man's treatment of the theme, we are equally touched by the man who is so self-revelatory, and therefore so self-sacrificial, in his message.

This comes out particularly in his candid humility, whereby he reveals his unashamed humanity. Well advanced in years, he recalls over the course of his sermon what it felt like to be a young man, hundreds of miles from home, in a foreign and unwelcoming place.

I know you would probably be greatly shocked to hear this. I've never confessed this before, so for you this is a first I guess, but my first day here at Harding was not all that much fun. I packed my bags in a '47 Chevrolet--which isn't as old as it would be now but it was old--and putted all the way down here. And I remember getting in to West dorm, one of the Hilton's of those days, there in that little room. And I remember that night, me looking at my roommate, and I said to him, "If I don't feel better tomorrow, I'm going home."

Willing to admit his weaknesses, he was also capable of owning up to his faults. He recounts another story of his early days at Harding when he encountered a new student, alone and clearly unhappy, and befriended him. The two would go on to be lifelong friends. His point is not to revel in the goodness of his action, however, but to lament how out of character it was. He said "it's to my shame" that "I seldom did that," because he can imagine how impoverished his life is for not having been as welcoming as he could. "I wonder how many potential best friends I passed by and never even took the time to say "Hi" to or tell them my name." I cannot express the profound effect it has to see a man who commands such respect and admiration admit his regrets. It has the dual affect of dampening our own feelings of regret and inspiring us not to share in his.

Yet, his own memory of how seldom he reached to people is betrayed by the memory of so many to whom he was so generous with himself. There are, certainly, countless warm and welcoming professors who walk the halls at Harding, but Neale Pryor alone was always Brother Pryor first and Dr. Pryor second. Offering more than just a cordial nod or a compulsory "Hello," he would gladly stop with anyone he passed and ask, "How are you" and leave with, "God bless you, brother." Even though you knew--though his mind was still capable of instantly recalling large passages of Isaiah--that he would have forgotten the conversation before he reached his destination, you were always equally confident that his interest was genuine and his love sincere. Even in the midst of self-deprecating humor, he tells of the night before the sermon was delivered when he offered his time to someone for whom Pryor represented home.

It's so interesting, I had a phone call last night, when I was trying to get this sermon ready and this fellow talked to me for thirty minutes. And I finally said, "Well it was good to talk to you, you know. Call you again some day." You know what he was? He was a former classmate of mine. He had gotten homesick, I guess, and he was calling me all the way from six hundred miles away.

That abundant love overflowed particularly for his wife Treva who he took every opportunity to dote on from the pulpit and the lectern. He probably would have shouted it on street corners if propriety would have permitted. During the course of his sermon, he never missed an opportunity to praise her, even above and beyond token references to what home meant for them. "I remember when we got married and moved to Illinois. And, of course, it was wonderful. Being with Treva is always wonderful, but you don't need me to tell you that. You already know that." Later, he recalls his disappointment at being young and single at Harding: "You know when I was at Harding as a student, I had my own circle of friends. I really didn't need would have been nice if I'd have had a good girlfriend, but the Lord was saving another one for me, so I'll not go into that."

Reflecting on a sermon about home is appropriate for obvious reasons, given the connection to our hope for an eternal home with God. Calling it one of the most beautiful passages in Scripture, Pryor quotes from King James Version of Isaiah 35: "And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away." Certainly these words can be a comfort for those who reflect on his death much as they were a comfort for him during life. But the theme of home is more than merely a vehicle for reflecting on eternity. In his sermon, Pryor dedicates more time than anything to the earthly homes we make for ourselves, not disparaging them as transient but encouraging us to embrace and to perfect them. He speaks of the obvious homes we have with our parents and later as adults, perhaps with our spouses and our children. He also speaks of the homes we make in our universities and our churches, through the communities of faith and friendship that we construct. We can understand our homesickness for heaven, if you will, only because we have true homes on earth to long for. They are the places whose foundations are a common love and a common memory which we can never be too far from, no matter where we are.

Near the end of his sermon, Pryor confronts his audience with this: "It makes a great deal of difference to answer the question 'When I die, am I leaving home or am I going home?'" He leaves the question unanswered, hanging ominously in the air. I would like to believe that he would say "Both." While I certainly hope to see Brother Neale Pryor some day beyond this land of parting where the ransomed of God have a home forever, it seems undeniable that he has left a home here on earth, a home full of people who loved him, who were changed by him, and who will never forget him.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Stout on Civil Religion

Admittedly, I had very little positive to say about Harry S. Stout's Upon the Altar of a Nation, but I cannot praise to highly his well written introduction and the ideas it presents. I found particularly compelling his condensation of the nature of American civil religion. While his presentation will admittedly strike many as contrived (even as many such people are hot in the throes of civil devotion), it appears to me to very nearly approximate the way the American people conceive of their nation and their place in it as citizens. The following is an extended quote from the introduction which I have edited only for format in an effort to accentuate his points and make them more accessible:

Though lacking transcendent revelations akin to the Abrahamic faiths, the religion of a sacralized patriotism enjoys a complete repository of sacred rituals and myths. In fact, American civil religion borrows so heavily from the language and cadences of traditional faiths, many Americans see no conflict or distinction between the two. Many Americans equate dying for their country with dying for their faith. In America’s civil religion, serving country can be coequal with serving God. The evidences for an ongoing American civil religion are ubiquitous.

The Bible prevails as America’s most popular book, and often patriotism draws on familiar biblical themes to refer not to the church and its believers but to the nation and its citizens: “Exodus,” “chosen people,” “promised land,” and “New Israel” all represent staple metaphors in American speech and letters that express America’s messianic “mission” to be a “redeemer nation.”

The rites and rituals of civil religion are discovered less in the laws of the nation than in more informal folkways and traditions. These include a myriad of sacred monuments, chief among them the Mall in Washington, D.C., with recent monuments to the Vietnam War and World War II, and, above all else, the majestic Lincoln Memorial, bracketed by the transforming phrases of the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address. Key places evoke religious significance for many American tourists and patriots: Bunker Hill and Concord, Independence Hall, the Alamo, Gettysburg, and the Statue of Liberty all elicit reverential awe.

Though lacking a formal creed American civil religion does contain sacred texts, including most importantly the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the two Lincoln orations.

Patriotic songs [I would suggest the term "hymnody"] identify America with the sacred. “God Bless America” was sung repeatedly after 9/11, not the “Star-Spangled Banner,” generally viewed as lacking sacred gravitas. “My Country “Tis of Thee” reminds Americans that the transcendent smiles on their cause in unique and self-empowering ways.

America’s civil religion enjoys no weekly Sabbaths, but it does have its sacred days. For the first three centuries of America’s existence, fast and thanksgiving days, called by civic authorities (rather than churches) and observed on weekdays to judge or celebrate the nation, predominated, especially in the North. They would later be joined by Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day, Presidents’ Day, and Martin Luther King Day.

Nonsectarian prayers sacralize political events, including inaugurals and opening sessions of Congress. Historically these have often been expressed in schools in conjunction with the Pledge of Allegiance.

The American flag stands as America’s totem. Schoolchildren routinely pledge their allegiance to the flag—and the republic for which it stands, one nation under God. Until the late twentieth century, this pledge would be accompanied by prayers asking for God’s blessing on “His” American people. Soldiers killed in battle are buried in flags. America at war is a nation festooned with flags in 2005 no less than in 1861. American patriots reflexively invoke the “Stars and Stripes” or “Old Glory” as the object they are willing to kill and be killed for. Critics of America, at home and abroad, who burn the flag are accused of “desecration”—literally a trampling on the divine.

American presidents have traditionally been viewed as the prophets and priests of American civil religion. The presidency is the only “office” that cannot be left empty—even for one day. Laws are established to ensure instantaneous succession. As commander in chief of the armed services, presidents launch wars and the warrior generals who command them.

The United States Military Academy at West Point became, in effect, the first seminary of America’s civil religion, later joined by the other service academies.

The locus of American civil religion is not the church or the synagogue or the mosque. Rather, it is the state, which uses sacred symbols of the nation for its own purposes and perpetuation. The appeal proves so powerful and all-encompassing that some contemporary religious critics identify civil religion with idolatry. In a positive sense, scholarly analysts see in civil religion the social and cultural glue that binds a diverse people together and invests them with a collective sense of spiritual unity capable of withstanding internal disintegration.

Stout will later add, quite appropriately, that America develops a full blown martyrology surrounding its assassinated civic leaders and fallen soldiers. Finally, though Stout does not address this, American civil religion has a peculiar ethos populated by specific civil virtues which are invoked and embodied in the practice of civil religion: exceptionalism, liberty, free enterprise, bravery and with it a specific conception of “manliness,” prosperity, and activism.

It is interesting that with such a perceptive understanding of civil religion, Stout (as I noted previously) concludes his book by specifically endorsing America's messianic redeemer status for the world. He is, in short, a devotee of America's peculiar faith. I am decidedly not. That we can disagree so stridently on the appropriateness of such a civil faith only heightens for me the persuasiveness of Stout's rendering of reality. Regardless of one's stance toward it, I now struggle to imagine how anyone could argue the point that America and the trappings of citizenship therein have a sacred significance that is best described in religious rather than secular terms.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Wisdom of Stephen Prothero

With regard to the silly idea of so many pluralists that mere understanding will lead to peace, Stephen Prothero reminds us all that "People sometimes kill their enemies not because they do not understand them but precisely because they do."

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Because I have loved life, I shall have no sorrow to die.

-- Amelia Burr

Friday, September 23, 2011

Review of Upon the Altar of a Nation

Yale professor of history, Harry S. Stout, in the introduction of his recent book, Upon the Altar of a Nation: A Moral History of the Civil War, proposes to offer the reader two things: to apply broadly accepted jus in bello standards to the conduct of both sides of the internecine conflict and to chart the role the Civil War played in the rise of American civil religion. In fact, it was reading a free sample of the introduction--with its audacious and compelling claims--that prompted me to purchase the book. Would that I had received instead a sample of the conclusion, I might have realized in advance was a self-indulgent, belabored, pell-mell work this would be. It is in his conclusion that Stout makes the ultimate, predictable judgment that the Civil War did not live up to any known standards of just war and then immediately exonerates both the Civil War--on the senseless grounds that "winners and losers alike would concede almost anything, it seemed, except the idea that their internecine war was ultimately meaningless or unjust"--and war in general--with the claim that "Judging the Civil War is not a brief for pacifism. Rather it is an endorsement of the idea of a just war. There are no ideal wars." It is also in the conclusion where Stout, rather than examining critically the rise of civil religion, is most concerned with label himself a devoted adherent (and eventually explaining, at length, what that means to him): "...they believed in Lincoln's characterization of America as the world's last best hope. And, further, I can only conclude that for reasons Americans don't deserve or understand, we are." Here, his critical history becomes subsumed under his civil faith, and this faith keeps him from too hard (or too accurate) a judgment of the justness of the Civil War. It is no wonder then that his book--all 576 pages of it--leaves the reader with the overwhelming sense of meaninglessness that Stout fails to attribute to any aspect of the war itself.

The first and greatest weakness of Stout's work is not the quality of his theses--which one inevitably walks away feeling are correct, if only Stout had bothered to prove them--but the way in which he goes about demonstrating them, or rather fails to do so. After introducing the common criteria of discrimination and proportionality at length in the introduction he neglects them for the rest of the work. In fact, the term proportionality won't appear after the introduction until the thirteenth chapter. After the fourteenth chapter, the subject will not be addressed again until Chapter 28. That sort of sporadic treatment of the supposed purpose of the book is characteristic of Stout's entire approach. Rather than approaching the problem with surgical precision, Stout undertakes to write a history of the Civil War which takes up his moral questions on convenient occasions, his issues of civil religion on convenient occasions, but otherwise is content to wallow in florid prose totally unconcerned with the fact that, rather than making an original contribution, Stout is merely regurgitating McPherson under the guise of contextualization.

Even those rare occasions when the subjects of civil religion or jus in bello do appear, Stout does not make his case so much as assume it. In his depiction of the rise of civil religion in particular, the reader discovers not the gradual unveiling of a more and more obvious religious sentiment toward the nation so much as a gradually freer and freer use of rhetoric by Stout. Arriving at Chapter 34, the reader is suddenly presented with this sentence: "Still the fighting pressed on as the warrior priests prepared for new sacrifices." Without any substantial or systematic examination of any possible language of generals as "warrior priests" or of deaths as "sacrifices," Stout flourishes the terms as if their appropriateness is self-evident. Before the book concludes, there will be some evidence that some thinkers thought some generals functioned as "warrior priests" but never any comprehensive argument that culture as a whole viewed them that way. While the case for an understanding of military deaths as martyrs sacrifices will be more convincingly demonstrated, what is not shown is that the Civil War in some way manifested this peculiarly or that it developed gradually over the course of the war as a result of an evolving American psyche.

In addition to his unsubstantiated assumption from the outset that his theses are incontestable, Stout makes rather unrealistic, fundamentally anachronistic assumptions about the nature of ethical discourse in war times generally and in the Civil War in particular. As early as the fourth chapter, Stout feigns surprise that the Northern intellectuals and press met the fall of Fort Sumter with patriotism rather than "sober moral reflection," as if the unprecedented outbreak of civil strife was the obvious occasion for ethical tomes rather than visceral, emotional response. Stout will continue on to find an appalling lack of moral commentary in the performing arts, painting, and popular music, expecting instead (I can only assume) a contemporary Bob Dylan to rise up and provide moral, cultural commentary for soldiers to hum as they marched into battle. Stout is everywhere disturbed to find that newspapers were more interested in sensationalism than moral reflection, politicians more interested in rhetoric than restraint, and preachers more interested in invoking the "God of Battles" than the "Lord of mercy." It is almost as if Stout had never read a paper, experienced an election, or heard a sermon. Perhaps most curious of all, Stout wonders in his conclusion at the fact that, "Privates may have been executed for rape, but no commanding officer was ever executed for creating the...culture in which rape could easily take place."

What the reader is left with is a history of the Civil War which ironically strives to make everyone look as morally reprehensible as possible--Stout eagerly injects "[white]" into many quotes (e.g. "[white] freedom," "[white] citizens," "[white] civilization") in an effort to read racism into every possible contemporary sentiment even where it is not indicated by context--and then absolves them or their moral fault in the end, explicitly preferring a "personal" response to the question of justice rather than an analytical one. In other words, the moral of Stout's moral story is that we should never fight another war again in the way the Civil War was fought, but that isn't to say that, given the opportunity, we shouldn't fight the Civil War again, even as it was fought. Convoluted? Apparently. Self-contradictory? Perhaps. Worth the price of the paper its printed on? Certainly not.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A War Weary People

In my recent readings, a quote from General Philip Sheridan in his memoirs has struck me as both appalling and relevant. Sheridan is describing the autumn campaigns of 1864 in which he, under the orders of President Lincoln and General Grant, was pursuing an extreme scorched earth policy in the Shenandoah Valley. In retrospect, he offered this as his justification:

Reduction to poverty brings prayers for peace more surely and more quickly than does the destruction of human life.

It nauseates me--and I use that term only because I cannot think of any stronger or more visceral image--just how true this continues to be. For nearly a decade, America has been at war, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq. For ten years, a substantial amount of the population cried eagerly for more, even as the combined multinational body count (civilian and military) is estimated to have exceeded 200,000. In the past two years, the political rhetoric and the popular mood has undergone a profound shift toward withdrawal. The motive, as Sheridan's prescient quote indicates, is not disgust with the carnage, the wanton loss of human life. Our blood lust, God help us, has not been satisfied. No, instead the calls to finally end the mindless violence spring from the dire state of the American economy.

If poverty really is the herald of peace, I hope this recession never ends.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Pat Robertson Encourages Divorce

Here is a striking nod to amoral pragmatism that I never thought I would see from Pat Robertson. With the question recently posed to him on the 700 Club about how to live with a spouse who has Alzheimer's, Robertson responded the man "should divorce her and start all over again" provided the abandoned spouse was medically provided for.

Terry Meeuwsen, Robertson's co-host, asked him about couples' marriage vows to take care of each other "for better or for worse" and "in sickness and in health."

"If you respect that vow, you say 'til death do us part,'" Robertson said during the Tuesday broadcast. "This is a kind of death."

I can only wonder what other kinds of metaphorical "death" Robertson might also use to justify divorce. Other degenerative diseases? Apostasy, a kind of spiritual death? Sitting through one too many episodes of the 700 Club? We may never know just how slippery a slope he has embarked upon.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Just War: The Pride of Catholicism

Rarely will you see me endorse just war theory or any of its principles and consequences, so enjoy this while you can.

Stacy Trasancos, a self-described scientist turned Catholic homemaker, has been in the "news" for the past few days because of a moral musing that she made the mistake of taking public. In this offensive diatribe, she calmly expresses her trepidation about taking her children out in public in Massachusetts for fear that they will encounter openly homosexual activity and have questions that she didn't think she would need to answer yet. One of the incidents that she cites as sparking concern happened while at the public pool:

When there were two men relaxing at the side of the pool unnaturally close to each other, effeminately rubbing elbows and exchanging doe-eyes, I was again anxiously watching my children hoping they wouldn't ask questions. They don't see Daddy do that with anyone but Mommy.

She follows up with this comment, which has been quoted the most in reports about the incident:

This is my community. I find myself unable to even leave the house anymore without worrying about what in tarnation we are going to encounter. We are responsible citizens. We live by the rules, we pay our taxes, we take care of our things. I'm supposed to be able to influence what goes on in my community, and as a voter I do exercise that right. But I'm outnumbered. I can't even go to normal places without having to sit silently and tolerate immorality. We all know what would happen if I asked two men or two women to stop displaying, right in front of me and my children, that they live in sodomy.

These incendiary remarks have sparked a swarm of outrage as the blog post went viral. Trasancos rightly highlighted this first comment:

I said...
What a c*nt.

I hope her children are kidnapped, raped, and murdered.

It would be better than having them grow up with such a twisted f**k for a mother!

Others were better only by comparison to that. Consider these gems:

Look in the Mirror !

You're the reason you can't go out, no one else.

Probably the stupidest cunt I've ever had the misfortune of reading about. You are a selfish slut. So you can go to the park, and perhaps kiss your husband/boyfriend, but a gay couple has no right to do such a thing? Oh wait! They were actually LOOKING at one another. Oh no! OH NO NOT ELBOWS TOO!? You are a dumb piece of shit. I'd tell you not to breed, but it looks like it is too late for that. I suggest moving to outer space, because gays exist, and will not cease to exist because you aren't bold enough woman to explain to your fucking children that gay people exist. You are pathetic, petty, and an absolute moron. Hopefully your kids grow up will, they certainly won't being brought up by you.

Here is my personal favorite:


It goes on like that for a while, but I think you get the drift. My point in sharing this is not to bring your attention to a plighted Christian or even to express my unqualified support for her position. (After all, I certainly don't think paying taxes should give her the political right to legislate morality, and, for my part, I think the wanton immodesty is the more obvious and pernicious problem at public pools.) I actually want to draw attention toward another post that Trasancos made in the aftermath of this debacle.

Some two weeks after the original post and as part of the ongoing response to her post, Trasancos shared an attempt at parody posted by one of her critics. In it, the author attempts to show Trasancos the logical flaw in her argument by recasting her thoughts into the person of an atheist upset by the unchecked presence of Catholicism in the public square. He proceeds thus:

When there was a priest and a boy relaxing at the side of the pool unnaturally close to each other, effeminately rubbing elbows and exchanging doe-eyes, I was again anxiously watching my children hoping they wouldn't ask questions. They don't see Daddy do that with anyone but Mommy.

While I agree with the basic sentiment of the author who tries to show the absurdity of transporting particular moral expectations into the public square of a pluralistic society, I was actually more impressed by the way Trasancos responded to this criticism. Here is what she had to say:

Round of applause for Mr. Kaz! You didn't finish though. You forgot how it ends.

See, while Catholics will read this, I can promise you with 100% certainty that there will be no herds of Christians following each other over to find you and tell you that you are a hateful, bigoted, Catholic-o-phobe. Absolutely no one would even consider telling you anonymously that they hope your children are "kidnapped, raped and murdered." There probably won't even be any more emotional reaction than a shrug because we've heard it all before, and we realize we stand among a rich history of saints and martyrs far better than us who have suffered for the preservation of our Faith. We don't demand that you approve of us.

In this response is seen that cherished Catholic just war principle of proportionality that the outraged atheists or liberals or homosexuals or whoever they may have been seem to have missed in their responses to Trasancos. It is a sick, sad world in which the appropriate response to differing opinions in a society--and especially in a vocal subset of that society--which prides itself on pluralism and liberty is personal attacks and dreams of rape and murder (particularly against those who are "guilty" only by association). It is the old cherished but self-defeating adage that we should be tolerant of everything but intolerance. We can welcome with open arms the man whose sexual proclivities tend toward dressing as a unicorn and urinating on a paraplegic but not the person who thinks that strange.

Trasancos made perhaps the greatest rhetorical move possible in responding the way she did, not with logic but with virtue. The latter, we should have long ago learned, has more sway than the former over the human heart. The true response of the Christian heart is not contention but peace, and peace in adversity especially. I hope that she proved to be right, that no Christians went and responded with the kind of disproportionate vitriol that characterized responses to Trasancos's thoughts. Regardless, her final stance is the right one. Speak boldly; live timidly.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Question of Historiography

At the September 5th Palmetto Freedom Forum, Ron Paul gave a not unsurprising glimpse into the historiographical paradigm which he believes governs all of history. In an introductory speech on the first principles of American government, Paul commented, "If we believe in liberty, we have to also understand exactly what our revolution was all about, because the contest then, at that time, was against tyranny--as all history has been, tyranny versus liberty." In the sweeping declaration of his final clause, Paul readily admits the prism through which he understands human history and the context in which he places his own struggle for reform.

Christianity, for its part, has proposed more dominant and enduring historiographical paradigms, the most popular of which has been the Fall-Redemption paradigm which has dominated Western thought at least since the time of Anselm and which found a profound invigoration from the dominance of Calvinism in Protestant culture. Panayiotis Nellas has proposed that, alternatively, Eastern Christendom has operated with a Creation-Deification paradigm for understanding history, which I find to be a superior system at least for understanding the overarching and decidedly metaphysical understand Christians have of history. It is clear to me, however, the Paul is not proposing so much of an ideological paradigm for understanding all of history so much as he is proposing a system for understanding the history of human governance. Christianity has a corrective answer for this as well.

Notably, David Lipscomb, would have objected to a characterization in which history could be reduced to a struggle for liberty against tyranny in which, Paul believes, the early days of America were the "best taste of liberty ever." Quite the opposite, Lipscomb insisted that America no less than any other civil government in history was an evil, violent, coercive institution which had set itself up in an arrogant attempt to usurp the governing authority of God. In contrast, Lipscomb proposed a Christian historiography which was best understood, not as a battle between liberty and tyranny, but instead a struggle between liberty and autonomy. Such a juxtaposition grates against our modern sense of freedom which considers "liberty" and "autonomy" to be near synonyms.

Embracing this modern construction of liberty, Paul appeals to the founding fathers: "Thomas Jefferson was very clear about liberty and he told us where liberty came from. It came from our creator; it didn't come from our government." While Paul clearly interprets the Declaration of Independence the way Jefferson intended it to be read, there is a hidden irony in the declaration that liberty comes from God. For Christians, freedom is not libertinism and it is not autonomy. Freedom is a freedom to actualize human potential, to become that which God in His infinite and beneficent wisdom has ordained for all of us. Liberty is a liberation from the evils of this world that would enslave and entangle us. That is why Paul (the apostles, not the politician) can in the same breath speak of being free and being a servant to all; it is why Peter can boldly declare that Christians are a free people and still slaves to God; it is why the psalmist can draw a causal connection between being free and being obedient.

It is this kind of freedom, secured by God and not by civil government, which is the truly substantial form of liberty and which can never be taken away. When we remember that it is the truth that sets us free and not a republican political ideal, we begin to see the flaws in Congressman Paul's historiography. History has not been, cannot have been the struggle between freedom and the rule of tyrannical governments because in truth liberty eschews all self-rule, whether it is "tyrannical" by Paul's standards or not. Political history is the sordid tale of humanity crying out for self-rule and then chaffing under their own structures of power, of Israel demanding of God a king and then having that royal house lead the charge into political, social, and religious chaos. Only when we embrace this historiography (insofar as it applies) can we begin to correct the modern Christian approach to self-government, both politically and personally. Perhaps then we can baptize and embrace another Jeffersonian principle and avoid entangling alliances between those governed by God and those pursuing self-rule. Or, in the rougher parlance of my former history professor, it is time to realize that when church and state get into bed together, inevitably it is the church who plays the whore.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

How Ben Witherington Renewed My Faith in Disagreeing with Ben Witherington

By way of disclaimer, let me just say that I consider Ben Witherington to be a highly intelligent man who just happens to be afflicted with the unfortunate human shortcoming of being constantly and belligerently wrong. (It is, of course, an affliction with which I could never have an sympathy.) Being directed recently (and reluctantly) to something he had written in commemoration of the World Trade Center attacks, I stumbled upon this rather unnerving paragraph:

Were it not for the U.S. government and the EPA the beautiful state of Kentucky would be one huge pollution cloud of coal dust and other pollutants. Shame on the current Kentucky candidate whose ad, I kid you not, runs ‘man of faith, he will fight the EPA to save our coal jobs and fight Obamacare’. What a platform! What do the latter two have to do with being a Christian??? Nothing! Indeed, creation care and care for the health of the elderly and the poor are part of the Gospel sir! Get with the program or stop posturing as a man of Christian faith.

This was by no means the only objectionable content in the article but it did strike me as a stand out and one that bolstered my strong opposition to Christian politics. While I absolutely agree with the general outrage of "man of faith" being part of a political slogan, I think it is even more appalling that Witherington objects not to the very fact of Christian political activism but merely of the route which is being taken here. In one fell swoop, Witherington calls into question the very quality of this current candidate's faith merely because he has had the audacity not to endorse the current administration's policy's regarding "creation care" and charity.

Witherington seems to have made the fatal, incomprehensible error of collapsing Christ's call to care for the sick into Obama's attempt to actualize that call (if you want to naively impute such pure motives to the president). Witherington has merged the Christian responsibility to creation with the particular policies of the EPA. Suddenly to care for the sick is to support the president's health care plan and to preserve creation is to endorse the EPA. Any dissent from this new Christian political maxim calls into question not merely right judgment but the very character of the dissenter as a Christian. Heaven forbid (literally perhaps, if Witherington is followed) that anyone might suggest that charity and environmentalism are personal and ecclesiastical imperatives rather than political ones. (After all, the government has always been better about doing good in the world than the church.)

Once again, we have a clear picture of the confusion and schism which political involvement injects into the Christian community. Perhaps it is time to realize that someone can oppose a "charitable" political policy and yet be themselves charitable. (Would Witherington like to compare his personal charitable giving to that of the candidate from Kentucky? Perhaps the former would still be vindicated, but it would certainly be a better gauge.) What more, someone might even have an appropriately Christian view of the morality of homosexuality and yet not oppose the legalization of gay marriage. A Christian may support a restrained view of humanity's privileges in creation and still not support the policies of the EPA. Still another might believe that prayer is inappropriate in public schools and still raise righteous, prayerful children. What disturbs me more than two Christians who differ politically is the Christian who thinks that disagreements over means in politics reveals spiritual flaws.

In other words, Dr. Witherington, mutual forbearance is part of the Gospel, sir! Get with the program.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Cow News

I am a little late in sharing this, but it warrants mention all the same:

The search for Yvonne, the six-year-old cow that dashed to freedom just before she was to be transported to a slaughterhouse in southern Germany, has been called off. The cow has become a star, drawing international attention to Zangberg, the Bavarian commune where she made her escape.

Yvonne has been at large since May 24. But she made headlines in late July, when she ran across a highway and nearly collided with a police car. That led authorities to deem her a threat — and they issued a call for hunters to shoot the cow on sight.

That order was later suspended, partly due to a public outpouring of support for Yvonne. But Monday, the local government made the suspension permanent — and forbade anyone to hunt her with deadly force.

I am glad they found her and delighted that the police came to their senses. It would be a shame to have executed this brilliant creature (which activists have called "as nimble as a weasel" in alluding capture). I encourage you to read the rest of Yvonne's amazing story.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Tentative Description of a Dinner Given to Promote the Impeachment of President Eisenhower

After it became obvious that the strange rain would never stop

And after it became obvious that the President’s general was doing everything in his power

And after it became obvious that the President’s general staff was still in contact with the President deep in the heart of Georgia while deep in the heart of South America the President’s left-hand man was proving that all the world loves an American

And after it became obvious that the strange rain would never stop and that Old Soldiers never drown and that roses in the rain had forgotten the word for bloom and that perverted pollen blown on sunless seas was eaten by irradiated fish who spawned up cloudleaf streams and fell on our dinnerplates

And after it became obvious that the President was doing everything in his power to make the world safe for nationalism his brilliant military mind never realized that nationalism itself was the idiotic superstition which would blow up the world

And after it became obvious that the President nevertheless still carried no matter where he went in the strange rain the little telegraph key which like a canopener could be used instantly to open but not to close the hot box of final war if not to waylay any stray asinine second lieutenant pressing any strange button anywhere far away over an arctic ocean thus illuminating the world once and for all

And after it became obvious that the law of gravity was still in effect and that what blows up must come down on everyone including white citizens

And after it became obvious that the Voice of America was really the Deaf Ear of America and that the President was unable to hear the underprivileged natives of the world shouting No Contamination Without Representation in the strange rain from which there was no escape – except Peace

And after it became obvious that the word Truth had only a comic significance to the Atomic Energy Commission while the President danced madly to mad Admiral Straus waltzes wearing special atomic earplugs which prevented him from hearing Albert Schweitzer and nine thousand two hundred and thirty-five other scientists telling him about spastic generations and blind boneless babies in the strange rain from which there was no escape – except Peace

And after it became obvious that the President was doing everything in his power to get through the next four years without eating any of the crates of irradiated vegetables wellwishers had sent him from all over and which were filling in the corridors and antechambers and bedchambers and chamberpots in the not-so-White House not to mention all the other various Golf Houses scattered thruout the land of prosperity

And after it became obvious that the Great Soldier had become the Great Conciliator who had become the Great Compromiser who had become the Great Fence Sitter who actually had heard of the Supreme Court's decision to desegregate the land of the free and had not only heard of it but had actually
read it

And after it became obvious that the President had gone to Gettysburg fourscore and seven years ago and had given his Gettysburg Address to the postman and so dedicated himself to the unfinished task

Then it was that the natives of the Republic began assembling in the driving rain from which there was no escape – except Peace

And then it was that no invitations had to be sent out for the great testimonial dinner except to politicians whose respected names would lend weight to the project but who did not come anyway suspecting the whole thing was a plot to save the world from the clean bomb from which there was no escape - except Peace

And women who still needed despair to look truly tragic came looking very beautiful and very tragic indeed since there was despair to spare

And some men also despaired and sat down in Bohemia and were too busy to come

But other men came whose only political action during the past twenty years had been to flush a protesting toilet and run

And babies came in their carriages carrying irradiated dolls and holding onto crazy strings of illuminated weather balloons filled with Nagasaki air

And those who had not left their TV sets long enough to notice the weather in seven years now came swimming through the rain holding their testimonials

And those came who had never marched in sports car protest parades and those who had never been arrested for sailing a protesting Golden Rule in unpacific oceans

And Noah came in his own Ark looking surprisingly like an outraged Jesus Christ and cruised about flying his pinion and picking up two of each beast that wanted to be preserved in the strange rain which was raining real cats and dogs and from which there was no escape – except Peace

And peddlers came in lead jockstraps selling hotdogs and rubber American flags and waving petitions proclaiming it Unamerican to play golf on the same holy days that clean bombs were set off on time

And finally after everyone who was anyone and after everyone who was no one had arrived and after every soul was seated and waiting for the symbolic mushroom soup to be served and for the keynote speeches to begin

The President himself came in

Took one look around and said

We Resign

(Lawrence Ferlinghetti)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Wisdom of J. C. Ryle: An Appendix

While J. C. Ryle's The Duty of Parents interested me primarily as a corrective for modern trends in child-rearing, I was surprised to find myself engaged and inspired by other quotes in his work which often had nothing to do with raising children. So, in addition to some extra quotes on children that did not make it into the previous post, I would like to share a few other quotes from Ryle's work that I found interesting.

More advice on raising children:

A true Christian must be no slave to fashion, if he would train his child for heaven. He must not be content to do things merely because they are the custom of the world; to teach them and instruct them in certain ways, merely because it is usual; to allow them to read books of a questionable sort, merely because everybody else reads them; to let them form habits of a doubtful tendency, merely because they are the habits of the day. He must train with an eye to his children’s souls. He must not be ashamed to hear his training called singular and strange. What if it is? The time is short, — the fashion of this world passeth away. He that has trained his children for heaven, rather than for earth, — for God, rather than for man, — he is the parent that will be called wise at last.

Never listen to those who tell you your children are good, and well brought up, and can be trusted.

Fathers and mothers, you may take your children to be baptized, and have them enrolled in the ranks of Christ’s Church; — you may get godly sponsors to answer for them, and help you by their prayers; — you may send them to the best of schools, and give them Bibles and Prayer Books, and fill them with head knowledge but if all this time there is no regular training at home, I tell you plainly, I fear it will go hard in the end with your children’s souls. Home is the place where habits are formed; — home is the place where the foundations of character are laid; — home gives the bias to our tastes, and likings, and opinions. See then, I pray you, that there be careful training at home.

On human nature:

Believe me, we are not made for entire independence, — we are not fit for it.

No created being was ever meant to be idle. Service and work is the appointed portion of every creature of God.

...there is an alphabet to be mastered in every kind of knowledge...

The active moving mind is a hard mark for the devil to shoot at.

On Christian practice:

Prayer is the simplest means that man can use in coming to God. It is within reach of all, — the sick, the aged, the infirm, the paralytic, the blind, the poor, the unlearned, — all can pray. It avails you nothing to plead want of memory, and want of learning, and want of books, and want of scholarship in this matter. So long as you have a tongue to tell your soul’s state, you may and ought to pray.

Strive rather to be a living epistle of Christ, such as your families can read, and that plainly too.

And still more:

The Bible tells us that God has an elect people, — a family in this world. All poor sinners who have been convinced of sin, and fled to Jesus for peace, make up that family.

Children have ever been the bow from which the sharpest arrows have pierced man’s heart. Children have mixed the bitterest cups that man has ever had to drink. Children have caused the saddest tears that man has ever had to shed.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Wisdom of J. C. Ryle

An incident recently brought to my attention has reignited my interest in a 19th century child-rearing manual that I had set aside for more challenging reading. When I heard about the family who had taken a contemporary manual and applied its teachings to the terminal detriment of their adopted daughter, I began to see in a new light the restrained, even-handed suggestions of Anglican bishop J. C. Ryle. In The Duties of Parents, Ryle offers seventeen suggestions for raising a Christian child that have a timeless quality to them. While his theology, apparent in some of his advice, takes a decidedly Calvinistic bent which may not sit well with everyone (myself included), the pedagogy Ryle outlines has the benefit of transcending the modern tendencies to polarize to the extremes of permissiveness or, in the case of the family in the news, cruelty. So, I offer these seventeen training tips now (with the full knowledge that I am someone without children of my own) both in the form of quotations from Ryle and my own translation of his advice into a modern idiom.

1. Left to his own devices, your child will screw up with tremendous acuity. You must actively train a child in what is right or he will incline toward what is wrong.

Remember children are born with a decided bias towards evil, and therefore if you let them choose for themselves, they are certain to choose wrong. The mother cannot tell what her tender infant may grow up to be, — tall or short, weak or strong, wise or foolish he may be any of these things or not, — it is all uncertain. But one thing the mother can say with certainty: he will have a corrupt and sinful heart… for pity’s sake, give him not up to his own wayward tastes and inclinations. It must not be his likings and wishes that are consulted. He knows not yet what is good for his mind and soul, any more than what is good for his body. You do not let him decide what he shall eat, and what he shall drink, and how he shall be clothed. Be consistent, and deal with his mind in like manner.

2. Raise your child with a love and affection that is both genuine and apparent.

Love is one grand secret of successful training. Anger and harshness may frighten, but they will not persuade the child that you are right; and if he sees you often out of temper, you will soon cease to have his respect… Try hard to keep up a hold on your child’s affections. It is a dangerous thing to make your children afraid of you. Anything is almost better than reserve and constraint between your child and yourself; and this will come in with fear. Fear puts an end to openness of manner; — fear leads to concealment; — fear sows the seed of much hypocrisy, and leads to many a lie.

3. Remember that you are the greatest pedagogical force in your child’s life. Embrace that reality.

We depend, in a vast measure, on those who bring us up. We get from them a colour, a taste, a bias which cling to us more or less all our lives. We catch the language of our nurses and mothers, and learn to speak it almost insensibly, and unquestionably we catch something of their manners, ways, and mind at the same time.

4. Don't let momentary concerns cause you to lose sight of eternal ones. A child's soul is in your charge no less than his body.

Precious, no doubt, are these little ones in your eyes; but if you love them, think often of their souls. No interest should weigh with you so much as their eternal interests. No part of them should be so dear to you as that part which will never die. The world, with all its glory, shall pass away; the hills shall melt; the heavens shall be wrapped together as a scroll; the sun shall cease to shine. But the spirit which dwells in those little creatures, whom you love so well, shall outlive them all, and whether in happiness or misery (to speak as a man) will depend on you.

5. Begin to teach a child the Scriptures even while he is young. Let them be the bedrock of his developing character.

See that they read [the Bible] regularly. Train them to regard it as their soul’s daily food, — as a thing essential to their soul’s daily health. I know well you can not make this anything more than a form; but there is no telling the amount of sin which a mere form may indirectly restrain. See that they read it all. You need not shrink from bringing any doctrine before them. You need not fancy that the leading doctrines of Christianity are things which children cannot understand. Children understand far more of the Bible than we are apt to suppose.

6. Teach a child to pray, and thereby to confer actively and personally with God.

Prayer is one great secret of spiritual prosperity. When there is much private communion with God, your soul will grow like the grass after rain; when there is little, all will be at a standstill, you will barely keep your soul alive. Show me a growing Christian, a going forward Christian, a strong Christian, a flourishing Christian, and sure am I, he is one that speaks often with his Lord.

7. Instill in a child the value of being a regular participant in the life of the Christian community. He should know that to be a part of God's family and to participate in its formal life is a blessing not a chore.

Tell them of the duty and privilege of going to the house of God, and joining in the prayers of the congregation. Tell them that wherever the Lord’s people are gathered together, there the Lord Jesus is present in an especial manner, and that those who absent themselves must expect, like the Apostle Thomas, to miss a blessing.

8. Teach your child to have faith in your instruction, and give him no reason to doubt that trust. should train them up to believe what you say. You should try to make them feel confidence in your judgment, and respect your opinions, as better than their own. You should accustom them to think that, when you say a thing is bad for them, it must be bad, and when you say it is good for them, it must be good; that your knowledge, in short, is better than their own, and that they may rely implicitly on your word. Teach them to feel that what they know not now, they will probably know hereafter, and to be satisfied there is a reason and a needs-be for everything you require them to do...No doubt it is absurd to make a mystery of everything you do, and there are many things which it is well to explain to children, in order that they may see that they are reasonable and wise. But to bring them up with the idea that they must take nothing on trust, that they, with their weak and imperfect understandings, must have the "why" and the "wherefore" made clear to them at every step they take, — this is indeed a fearful mistake, and likely to have the worst effect on their minds.

9. Ensure that your child knows the virtue of obedience, because a habit of disobedience spills over into unexpected and dangerous quarters.

Teach them to obey while young, or else they will be fretting against God all their lives long, and wear themselves out with the vain idea of being independent of His control. Reader, this hint is only too much needed. You will see many in this day who allow their children to choose and think for themselves long before they are able, and even make excuses for their disobedience, as if it were a thing not to be blamed. To my eyes, a parent always yielding, and a child always having its own way, are a most painful sight.

10. Make sure your child always speaks the truth not merely that he doesn't lie.

Try to keep this continually before your children’s minds. Press upon them at all times, that less than the truth is a lie; that evasion, excuse-making, and exaggeration are all halfway houses towards what is false, and ought to be avoided. Encourage them in any circumstances to be straightforward, and, whatever it may cost them, to speak the truth.

11. Do not give much time to idleness, even though your child's idleness may be convenient for you.

Reader, I ask you to set these things before the minds of your children. Teach them the value of time, and try to make them learn the habit of using it well. It pains me to see children idling over what they have in hand, whatever it may be. I love to see them active and industrious, and giving their whole heart to all they do; giving their whole heart to lessons, when they have to learn; — giving their whole heart even to their amusements, when they go to play. But if you love them well, let idleness be counted a sin in your family.

12. Avoid over-indulgence. It is an easier and deadlier trap to fall into than small excesses in austerity.

It is natural to be tender and affectionate towards your own flesh and blood, and it is the excess of this very tenderness and affection which you have to fear. Take heed that it does not make you blind to your children’s faults, and deaf to all advice about them. Take heed lest it make you overlook bad conduct, rather than have the pain of inflicting punishment and correction...Do not, I pray you, make your children idols...

13. God has a family over which He is the Father. He is the ultimate model for righteous parenting.

Now, reader, notwithstanding all these things, did you ever hear of a single child of God who thought his Father did not treat him wisely? No, I am sure you never did. God’s children would always tell you, in the long run, it was a blessed thing they did not have their own way, and that God had done far better for them than they could have done for themselves. Yes! And they could tell you, too, that God’s dealings had provided more happiness for them than they ever would have obtained themselves, and that His way, however dark at times, was the way of pleasantness and the path of peace. I ask you to lay to heart the lesson which God’s dealings with His people is meant to teach you. Fear not to withhold from your child anything you think will do him harm, whatever his own wishes may be. This is God’s plan. Hesitate not to lay on him commands, of which he may not at present see the wisdom, and to guide him in ways which may not now seem reasonable to his mind. This is God’s plan. Shrink not from chastising and correcting him whenever you see his soul’s health requires it, however painful it may be to your feelings; and remember medicines for the mind must not be rejected because they are bitter. This is God’s plan. And be not afraid, above all, that such a plan of training will make your child unhappy. I warn you against this delusion. Depend on it, there is no surer road to unhappiness than always having our own way...Reader, be not wiser than God; — train your children as He trains His.

14. Your child is watching you, and no matter what you say, he will learn first and best from what you do.

Instruction, and advice, and commands will profit little, unless they are backed up by the pattern of your own life. Your children will never believe you are in earnest, and really wish them to obey you, so long as your actions contradict your counsel. Archbishop Tillotson made a wise remark when he said, "To give children good instruction, and a bad example, is but beckoning to them with the head to show them the way to heaven, while we take them by the hand and lead them in the way to hell." ...Fathers and mothers, do not forget that children learn more by the eye than they do by the ear. No school will make such deep marks on character as home. The best of schoolmasters will not imprint on their minds as much as they will pick up at your fireside. Imitation is a far stronger principle with children than memory. What they see has a much stronger effect on their minds than what they are told.

15. In raising your child, never underestimate the pervasive power of sin.

You must not expect to find your children’s minds a sheet of pure white paper, and to have no trouble if you only use right means. I warn you plainly you will find no such thing. It is painful to see how much corruption and evil there is in a young child’s heart, and how soon it begins to bear fruit. Violent tempers, self- will, pride, envy, sullenness, passion, idleness, selfishness, deceit, cunning, falsehood, hypocrisy, a terrible aptness to learn what is bad, a painful slowness to learn what is good, a readiness to pretend anything in order to gain their own ends, — all these things, or some of them, you must be prepared to see, even in your own flesh and blood. In little ways they will creep out at a very early age; it is almost startling to observe how naturally they seem to spring up. Children require no schooling to learn to sin.

16. Do not be discouraged when your efforts at first appear fruitless. There is no way to know how a proper raising will carry on even after you are gone.

You may not see with your own eyes the result of careful training, but you know not what blessed fruits may not spring from it, long after you are dead and gone. It is not God’s way to give everything at once...Many children, I doubt not, shall rise up in the day of judgment, and bless their parents for good training, who never gave any signs of having profited by it during their parents’ lives.

17. Entreat God constantly on behalf of your children. Do not delude yourself into thinking that you are up to the challenge of raising them on your own.

The Lord is far more willing to hear than we to pray.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Touch of Confusion

Explain something to me: if a state university cannot be sued for breach of contract because of "sovereign immunity," then what is the point of universities signing contracts with individuals at all? And should professors, administrators, coaches, and custodians really feel safe with the supposed protections built into their contracts with the state?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Progress in Turkey

There has been some recent, encouraging news to come out of Turkey:

The Turkish government said it would return hundreds of properties that were confiscated from religious minorities by the state or other parties over the years since 1936, and would pay compensation for properties that were seized and later sold...Many of the properties, including schools, hospitals, orphanages and cemeteries, were seized after 1936 when trusts were called to list their assets, and in 1974 a separate ruling banned the groups from purchasing any new real estate.

There are still significant strides to be made, including (perhaps most significant of all) the re-opening of the Halki Seminary which is necessary for the continuation of Christianity in its historic homeland. An opinion article in the Egyptian Gazette explains why:

The problem, felt acutely as a source of deep pain by both the Patriarch and by Greek Orthodox Christians throughout the world, is that their seminary, where their students for the priesthood are trained, has been closed since 1971, under a law prohibiting private institutions of higher education and designed to bring universities under state control.

Turkish Law, though, requires that Orthodox priests in Turkey be Turkish. Put very bluntly, without Turks being able to train as priests, the Church in Turkey cannot function and its future is grim.

Situated one hour by boat from Istanbul on Heybeliada, one of the Princes islands, the Halki Seminary was founded in 1844, on a Christian site founded one thousand years earlier. It is a place of great importance for the Greek Orthodox Church throughout the world, since many of its greatest leaders, including Bartholomew himself, were themselves trained there.

Throwing reasonableness to the wind, it might also be nice if the Turks returned properties that were seized prior to 1936. (After all, some of the most important Christian holy sites were confiscated long before then.) But that is probably wishful thinking.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Happy Green New Year!

At the initiative of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, September 1st--in addition to being the first day of the liturgical year--has been declared a day to prayer for the environment. The so-called "Green Patriarch" has issued an encyclical chastising humanity for its "extreme exploitation" of the environment and linking environmental failures with spiritual short-comings:

Therefore, today, we praise the holy name of God for granting to humanity the gift of nature, which he preserves and sustains, as the most suitable environment for human beings to develop in body and spirit. A the same time, we cannot remain silent about the fact that humanity does not properly honor this divine gift and instead destroys the environment through greed and other selfish ambitions...After all this, it is clear that our good relationship with the environment develops parallel to our proper relationship with God.

Meanwhile, in Japan, the dolphin hunting season is set to begin, sparking worldwide controversy and protest.

Today is as good a day as any to remind Christians that the human thirst for violence extends beyond merely our lust for war. We do violence to God's order when we allow greed, self-indulgence, or apathy to govern the way we interact with His creation. He made this world to be inhabited and governed by humanity, not to be consumed by it. The patriarch rightly notes the parallel between the rise of our consumer society and the advent of large scale ecological violence. Christians have an ethical and social duty to stand as an ordained alternative to a culture which in the same breath deifies the natural world through its materialism and destroys it through its consumerism. Christians ought to be at the ideological forefront of environmentalism. Neither the church nor the environment can afford for that to be ignored.