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Irreligion in God’s Service
Friday, April 21, 2017, 1:53 PM

The good folks of the church in which I was raised taught me the Bible, and had the good sense not to edit out the violence in the Old Testament, for they understood it was there to teach us something. One account I have found memorable from youth is that of the ecumenical prayer conference of the prophets of Baal in I Kings xviii 21f. What I find most striking here is the deep religious sincerity of these devotees of the Lord (for that is what “Baal” means—an excellent interchurch device for friendly comprehension of the God of Israel with the gods of the surrounding districts). The prophet Elijah, as was, alas, his custom, showed no respect at all for their piety or devotion. In fact he made fun of it, demonstrating a most un-Christian attitude toward these sincere efforts to unify the Church, treating them instead as apostasy from the one, true, and embarrassingly proprietary God—and to top it off had the lot of them massacred at the end, sincerity and all. The narrative bears repeating:

Elijah came to all the people, and said, “How long will you halt between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him, but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people answered him not a word. Then Elijah said to the people, “I, and I only, remain a prophet of the Lord, but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Let them therefore give us two bullocks, and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under. I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under it.  Then you call on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord, and the God that answers by fire, let him be God.”

And all the people answered and said, “It is well spoken.” And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, “Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first, for ye are many, and call on the name of your gods, but put no fire under.”  And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which had been made. At noon, Elijah made fun of them and said, “Cry aloud, for he is a god.  Either he is conversing, or hunting, or on a trip–or maybe he’s sleeping and you need to wake him up.”  So they cried aloud, and cut themselves in their customary manner with knives and lancets, till they gushed blood. When midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any divine response.

Elijah said unto all the people, “Come near me.”  And all the people came near him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down. Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, “Israel shall be thy name.” With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed. He put the wood in order and cut the bullock in pieces, laying him on the wood, and said, “Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood.” And he said, “Do it a second time.” And they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it the third time.” And they did it the third time. And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water.

At the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet came near, and said, “Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that you are the Lord God, and that you have turned their heart back again.”  Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God.”

And Elijah said unto them, “Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” And they took them, and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there.

No one who understands this account will be overly impressed by supposed exercises in piety—like “much prayer,” “consultation with wise and devout brethren,” “earnest searching of the scriptures,” the “consensus of the Council of Bishops,” or even “Evangelical New Testament scholars!” or other modern forms of jumping up on the altar and calling on “God”–where plain, reasonably skeptical intelligence indicates the real point of the whole business is an attempt to evade doing the right thing. Really, does one even need to “pray about it” where we have already been instructed on what the right thing is?

Many examples come to mind, but here is one from personal recollection: I once knew a congregation that established a months-long prayer meeting to “seek the Lord’s face” on whether they should stay in a downtown location where they would be required to devote their ministry to the poor, the maimed, the halt, and the blind in a changing neighborhood–or move to a fine new suburban building. What do you think “the Lord” told them? Yep—you guessed it–God’s comfort zone matched their own–and could have guessed it before the meetings started.

Might one suppose it will be more tolerable in the Judgment for a church that made such a move (or even did something pretty wicked) just admitting it didn’t have enough faith for the work rather than making a religious show of justifying its own desires in God’s name—another way of taking it in vain? Might one think that some Elijah in that church who refused to attend the prayers and was labeled unspiritual for his recusance was the one who went down to his house justified?



Note to a Young College Professor
Tuesday, April 11, 2017, 10:47 AM

By questioning your school’s commitment to giving its students diversity training, even on the grounds that it’s not an academic subject, and not what they’re paying for, you have now identified yourself as a conservative (for only conservatives say things like that), and a word of caution is in order.  Never underestimate the depth of the hatred underlying the kind of liberalism you are encountering, for your question is not to the liberal merely academic, but personal, and what may appear a minor curricular matter on the surface has roots in, and resonates down to, a condemnation of the person that the liberal knows is both true and authoritative.

 

Take abortion, for example: liberals are characteristically in favor of it.  It’s part of the Democrat Party platform.  How could people who have hair-trigger reactions of conscience to other concerns–for example, environmental or racial, or saving dolphins and baby seals–just pass over as a matter of “a woman’s choice” the killing of a human fetus in utero?  They don’t acknowledge God, the real one anyway, but are condemned for gross hypocrisy by the moral canons to which they already hold.  So when one does something as slight as suggesting that some progressive idea might be subject to questioning, it is likely to set off a violent chain reaction, for its holders know what this means about their souls, and to say they don’t like it is an understatement.  Don’t be surprised at the extent or irrationality of what they will do by way of attempts to exterminate.

 

You’re sitting on a powder keg, smoking a cigar, and if it goes off, one is past argument and into the realm of sheer irrationality in which one no longer should imagine he can use reason as either an offensive or defensive tool, but rather holds to it as a testimony of light in darkness, a moral duty of those who love Truth.  It does no good to worry or complain in such environs about the irrationality of one’s adversaries, but one goes about one’s business honorably, and as calmly and cheerfully as possible, never giving anyone just cause to question his goodness.  Ultimately this is because we fear God–and I suppose even the Kantian one would do for such purposes.

 

In your position I would give some thought to whether my father was using me as a tool to forward his own agenda.  In my own case I would reject the notion because it is subject to several major problems, the greatest of which is indefinite regress, for my father got his ideas from someone else, as it seemed good to him, and so back through a great many others.  I am not my father’s puppet if I freely agree with him and with those who think as he does when I am at liberty to disagree.  Somewhere along the line one has to abandon the charge that opinions and loyalties among conservatives are the product of psychological coercion, even when on occasion they may be.  And of course, the coercion table turns nicely, especially in the modern university that wants to have its students concerned with diversity, as long as its definition excludes anyone who thinks differently than a modern liberal.



The ACNA: Still Waiting for Phase 4
Tuesday, April 4, 2017, 2:42 PM

In January of this year the bishops of the Anglican Church of North America, in a pastoral communication posted on its website, said,

In 2012, the task force [on holy orders] was asked to develop resources to help guide the bishops’ future discussions on holy orders in general, and the ordination of women in particular. At our meeting this week, the Holy Orders Task Force presented Phase 4 of their work to the college. The College thanked the task force for the hard work that they have done on this topic in just a few short years. Having received the report at this meeting, the conversation then turned to the timeline for addressing these issues.

The Phase 4 report is being formatted and combined with the previous documents from the task force. This report will be passed on to the GAFCON Primates and to our ecumenical partners for feedback, and released to the whole Church in late February.

It is now early April, and I can nowhere find the Phase 4 report that was to be “released to the whole Church in late February.” There may be good reasons for this delay, of course, but one wonders why, if there are, they have not been made public after more than a month’s wait.

My own belief, as I have stated earlier in Mere Comments, is that

This task force’s conclusions on Part 4 can easily be extrapolated from Part 3, where no convincing reason for the denomination-wide adoption of any one of what are presented in it as four family rules [“churchmanship” varieties] could be found.  This is what one can expect in January from the Task Force, unless it is reconstituted or disbanded . . . .   Here is what the Task Force will conclude : Arguments pro and con [on women’s ordination] . . . all carry some weight, but at the end of the day they are, taken as a whole, inconclusive because they are associated with conflicting and inconclusive ecclesiologies. On that account, for the sake of unity, no departure from the status quo, that is, the denominational acceptance of women’s ordination, can be urged. There you have it.

How, indeed, can one effect divorce in a godly manner, breaking the “family” in a dispute over “rules?” And just what kind of people would be willing to do this?  Bad people, I daresay, very bad people, schismatic people who do not prayerfully seek for unity–so often the happy and peaceable fruit of doing precisely the wrong thing.

The bishops say they are not bound by these reports, but because such things are so often commissioned to deflect criticism from those responsible for the final decision onto an “advisory” body (this is how these shows operate), one wonders whether there might be a closer relation between the spirit of the bishops and the conclusion of the Reports than at present appears. But we don’t know yet, and must await developments. I am anxious to see whether I have been right about this business, and whether a mea culpa or an I Told You So is called for.



Betsy DeVos and the Immoral Society
Saturday, March 18, 2017, 3:57 PM

The appointment of Betsy DeVos as the U. S. Secretary of Education over the fevered and unanimous objection of Senate Democrats is a natural and perhaps inevitable (in hindsight, anyway) turning of the tide against the hegemony of the teachers’ unions in public education. Unions depict themselves as combinations of the weak against the strong in the service of justice, for fair pay, decent working conditions, and respect their members otherwise would not enjoy—goals not unworthy in themselves. The concentration of power in the teachers’ unions, with the full collusion of a Democrat Party dominated by its left wing, however, has given rise to a set of conditions unfavorable to education, and to which sensible Americans are now calling a halt.

Reinhold Niebuhr, in Moral Man and Immoral Society, a book as penetrating and significant now as when published in 1932, analyzes the inferiority of group morality to that of individuals in terms of a focused, collective egoism that repels self-criticism and is constitutionally bereft of the spirit of contrition and amendment that only religion can bring—an egoism by nature irreformable and increasingly destructive of both itself and its society.

Applying Niebuhr’s analysis to the teachers’ unions one finds a group of mainly decent people, few of whom are manifestly vicious or selfish, with many dedicated to the work of educating children, but who are part of a malign collective.  For the individual teacher as a positive moral agent there is a heavy price to pay for union membership, for only to a point will society accept the union’s plea that it only seeks justice for its members, especially when it detects that in the exercise of its power it has become increasingly inimical to the interests of the students it professes to serve.

When, for example, the teachers’ unions, in the spirit of Governor Wallace, enrich politicians for standing in the way of voucher programs that have helped underprivileged children receive better educations than have been available to them in the inner-city government schools, and for which Mrs. DeVos is a fervent advocate–programs for which their parents are clamoring, ignored by their Democrat representatives who do not send their own children to these schools (the Clintons and Obamas being recent examples)—nowhere is the hypocrisy and selfishness of these unions, and the necessity of breaking them as a negative social element, more evident.

It is likely the highest price paid by the teacher in exchange for the powers of unionization was his transformation in the public mind from a giver to a getter, from a self-sacrificing master in the tradition of Socrates and Jesus, to a skivvy due no more respect from his students or society at large than any other wage-earner, in whom whatever application there might be to the spiritual and intellectual enlargement of the next generation is decidedly subordinate to the interests of a hireling.

The status of “professional,” to whose educated opinions on the contents of the curriculum and the intellectual development of children the rest of us are supposed to be deferent, is an unstable mid-point between master and mere pedagogue, difficult to maintain where people are increasingly able to recognize the educational “authority” as impractical and self-interested–an impertinent plebeian liberty deeply resented and loudly protested by “experts” in the schools and teaching departments who are now feeling their government backing slipping down the same drain as their respect.

The DeVos confirmation does indeed point toward a popular and multi-racial desire for a revolution, a turn-around, in American public education, and should be a hopeful sign for competent, devoted teachers, since it affords the opportunity to demonstrate their independence as moral individuals from what has become the immoral society of the unions and their Democrat Party enablers. The minimization of union power inspired by practical concern for the good of the students presages–one would hope–the return of a more traditional order to the schools, and with it a return of the status of and respect for teachers that is necessary for serving their students.



Touchstone, the Election, Mere Conservatism, and Rush
Saturday, March 18, 2017, 10:34 AM

I have been asked whether there was a divide between the Touchstone senior editors on the 2016 presidential election–not, of course, whether any of us would endorse Hillary Clinton, but on whether to vote for Donald Trump, given the clear and public criticisms of his fitness for the presidency voiced by our colleagues Robert George and Russell Moore.  My answer has been no, I detect no significant division among us because the real divide in view here is not between “church-going conservatives,” as we are being called, who voted for Mr. Trump and those who did not, but between those for whom his moral flaws were a pressing, critical issue and those for whom they were not.  I have not polled my fellow senior editors on this because I don’t have to.  I cannot conceive of any of us disagreeing with Robby or Russell on the fundamental issue.

Rush Limbaugh tells a story about when he was first becoming nationally known as a conservative talk show host.  He was at an informal gathering of what are now called establishment conservatives when one of them took him aside and asked, “What are you going to do about the Christians?”–who were clearly, to him, a big problem.  Rush learned early on that he was going to have to make a choice here, and to his everlasting credit he decided to stay with the Christians and take whatever the dislike of left or right might come to mean for us. God bless him for it.

The point here is that anyone who gets mere conservatism, much less mere liberalism, mixed up with mere Christianity has made a profound mistake–Christians have gone to the stake at the point of both “liberal” and “conservative” spears, and we oppose what is wrong in either of these chthonic impulses.  The Faith is something else entirely, not of this world.  And to be frank, Rush, to whom I have been listening for more than twenty years, looks less and less to me like a “conservative,” but a Christian identified with the Right by the Left, who also looks, from the higher regions of the Right, like a troubler of its own Israel.  Although I am sure this observation would make him uncomfortable, much of the hatred heaped upon Rush is actually hatred of Christ transferred.

 



The ACNA – Still Waiting
Monday, March 13, 2017, 2:09 PM

We are now hard upon the ides of March, and the report and recommendations of the Task Force on Holy Orders submitted to the bishops of the Anglican Church in North America in January, and slated by them for release to the whole Church in late February, is yet to be seen–at least I can’t find it online, or any explanation to the “whole Church” for its delay.

One does note, however, that the entire Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, which has priestesses, voted to affiliate with the ACNA on March 11.  Would that have happened without assurances from the highest ACNA authorities that the denomination would retain its inclusive stance on the issue?  That is conceivable, I suppose, but rather hard to imagine.

Meanwhile, the denomination’s website shows how very busy it is with all sorts of happy, encouraging, and forward-looking church-things.



Disney’s New Beauty and the Beast
Friday, March 3, 2017, 11:39 AM

 

This film, starring Emma Watson as Belle and slated for release at mid-month, is being criticized for its feminism and an “explicitly homosexual moment” involving Gaston and LeFou. There is much unfavorable comparison to the 1991 animated version, which many of its critics on these grounds regard as innocuous.

My impression of the 1991 film (on the screens when my children were young) was that it was highly feminist and that the effete sycophant LeFou was intended to be easily interpretable as Gaston’s homosexual hanger-on.   The new edition appears as evidence its producers thought the former was just not explicit enough, and that several of original points needed to be made clearer.

The opening segments of the earlier film show Belle’s utter disdain for traditional village life, with all its goofy, homely yokels, its provinciality, suppression of superior girls, and anti-intellectualism (she was regarded as odd because she read books and wanted to expand her horizons), combined with her kind and inventive, but confused and ineffectual father, and her longing to be free instead of captivated by her inferiors and their inferiority.  It is the soul of feminist elitism.

At the end, she tames the hyper-male beast into someone who appreciates the wonder that she is, and they waltz happily away into their egalitarian kingdom (where somehow one expects Belle to be calling the shots).  The Christian theme of the original story, redemption through love of the sinful and unlovely thing, has become almost unrecognizable in the hands of the Disney Corporation—the defect of ideology in the twisted product being, however, demonstration of the unfortunate fact that despite her feminism, Belle still wants a man, and finds herself, against every feminist ideal, embracing a “beast.”

I can’t really take much more umbrage at the new Disney version than I did the old.  The main difference is apparently that LeFou is now someone who will need to be explained to children as a homosexual rather than just a funny, boot-licking sidekick.  I would view this as a possible opportunity to explain homosexuality to my children, somewhat relieved that the particular homosexual in view is not an attractive character.  If I kept them away it would be because of the ugliness not of LeFou but Belle, and my own sorrow at seeing the pert and charming Hermione’s metamorphosis to cockroach.

 



The ACNA: Proceeding with All Due Caution
Thursday, February 23, 2017, 9:02 PM

The House of Bishops of the Anglican Church in North America met in Melbourne, Florida on January 9-13, and received, as anticipated, the fourth and final phase of the report of its Holy Orders Task Force. Of this the bishops said,

At our meeting this week, the Holy Orders Task Force presented Phase 4 of their work to the college. The College thanked the task force for the hard work that they have done on this topic in just a few short years. Having received the report at this meeting, the conversation then turned to the timeline for addressing these issues.

The Phase 4 report is being formatted and combined with the previous documents from the task force. This report will be passed on to the GAFCON Primates and to our ecumenical partners for feedback, and released to the whole Church in late February. The bishops will pick up these discussions at their next two meetings, in June and September of this year.

The task force’s report does not represent the position of the college, as our formal discussions on this topic are just now beginning, but it is our hope that this document will begin to give us a common language for conversation in the College, and aid dialogue in the larger Church.

In my Mere Comments posting of 28 June 2016, I indicated that in the previous (third) installment of the report, the Task Force demoted the issue of women’s ordination from being principally one of orthodox Christian theology by placing emphasis on the preservation of unity among the various strains of Anglican churchmanship found in the denomination, not all of which agree on the question.

Of this prestidigital diversion of the issue to lower ground by stressing the importance of unity over truth I noted,

The reason I cited C. S. Lewis’s essay “Priestesses in the Church?” at the beginning of this commentary was that I might stress the radical difference between his views (which reflect the theology of the great majority of the Church, past and present) and the ones the Task Force wishes the ACNA to adopt–in fact makes it immoral not to adopt. The view I identify with Lewis, is that the ordination of women is not in the first instance a matter of churchmanship within Anglicanism or anywhere else, but a involves the living symbolism in and by which the Church is defined and identified, so that a church with female priests cannot be identified as a Christian church any more than a church whose principal symbol is a circle instead of a cross. The Task Force has attempted to divert attention from this matter of indispensably central importance, presenting it a mere disagreement in which competing ecclesiologies, all defective in themselves and in need of others for completion, disagree on women’s ordination as one issue among others, and so can fall with the others into the category of things which reasonable and charitable people should overlook for the greater cause of unity. . . .

Here is what the Task Force will conclude [in the fourth segment of the Report]: Arguments pro and con . . . all carry some weight, but at the end of the day they are, taken as a whole, inconclusive because they are associated with conflicting and inconclusive ecclesiologies. On that account, for the sake of unity, no departure from the status quo, that is, the denominational acceptance of women’s ordination, can be urged. There you have it.

So, the fourth and final installment of the Task Force report is slated for public availability soon. I’ll let you know what it says and whether I was right about what to expect.  One can be sure we’ll get a clever piece of work.



Now’s the Time
Tuesday, January 31, 2017, 4:31 PM

While everything’s all stirred up in Washington anyway, it’s time to replace that dog of a National Anthem of ours with “America the Beautiful” (Bates/Ward).

At public events in states that border on Canada, often both countries’ national anthems are played.  Americans blush as the beautiful “O Canada” is sung, because they know they must follow it with an unsingable tribute to the daunserly light and the perilous fight.  Time to open this old file again and do it right this time.



Why They Savage Professor Esolen
Wednesday, December 28, 2016, 12:48 PM

Today’s [university] radicals are considerably more ferocious–and more radical–than those of the 1960s and 1970s.  They seek not to marginalize but to eliminate.  Any attempt to consider multiple points of view on serious issues in the humanities or the social sciences now risks being labeled as aggression and offense.  Where true liberal diversity once sought to recognize and understand points of view different, indeed contrary, to  our own, obedience to this new brand of “diversity” demands silence and recantation.  Alternative sociological views are in danger of being branded racist; much of literature threatens to be labeled homophobic or sexist; unseasonable philosophical inquiry into the meaning of morality and justice risks disturbing today’s “social justice” warriors, who already have the only acceptable answers; and all potential deviations from today’s orthodoxies are evidence of systemic racism in need of perpetual diversity training and reeducation classes.  Into all this a phalanx of thought-review administrators–“diversity inclusion and equity officers” as we learn from Ol’ Mizzou–now watchfully police the campus.  Nor is it simply offensive speech or racist slurs that “trigger” a radical response.  More serious, more offensive would be honest debate and reasoned argument.

Gone is any hope that under the regime of contemporary multiculturalism and diversity students will experience “enhanced classroom dialogue” (as the Supreme Court recently opined) and learn from one another.  Can, for example, an open discussion of the causes of black poverty or black crime–other than “racism”–be held in many campus sociology classes?  Can honest discussions of equality and its limits or the character of human nature be openly discussed in political science?  Today, identity politics masquerading as a demand for diversity has turned the university world upside down.  Some of our once best liberal arts universities risk becoming the most anti-intellectual institutions in the nation.

John Agresto, “Snowflakes and Storm Troopers,” Academic Questions 29:2 (Summer, 2016), pp. 150-151.

The task of the scholar in the arts and humanities is to remember the past and bring it to the present–an essentially conservative vocation which in a university context can inform the sciences and impress them with meaning and responsibility.  But when ideology has in fact quarantined the past as a persisting source of moral and intellectual contagion, the need for, and task of, these scholars is over.


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