Friday, March 31, 2006

What Is this "Private Judgment" Business Really About?

After reading this comment box exchange at "Pontifications," followed up by this post, I think I know what is the real point of all this "private judgment" talk. Since it is rolls off the back of most Evangelical and Reformed believers like water off a duck, I've never understood why its proponents think it such a big gun.

But observing the context in which it is rolled out, I think I see against whom it works like a thunderclap: against persons in Protestant churches who have manufactured a private understanding of what their church believes (usually in an "evangelical catholic" or "Anglo-Catholic" direction) and are then rudely brought face to face with the fact that their church as a body does not actually teach that. Since of course, most of the big proponents of the "private judgment" argument spent time as committed "evangelical catholics/Anglo-Catholics" in Reformation churches, they naturally feel its force.

Christopher Jones had the fact that the LCMS endorses lay (=presbyterian) celebration of Holy Communion under certain unusual circumstances shoved in his face, with the Pontificator then drawing the conclusion: "See? You may be truly catholic in the Lutheran church, but that is only one option among many in your church -- you are exercising PRIVATE JUDGMENT" (cue Darth Vader music). I'll let Chris Jones speak for himself on how he'd respond (you can go look at the thread), but against me this has no emotional force whatsoever. The difference is, unlike Chris, I do not implicitly or explicitly judge the LCMS by fidelity to some model of "catholicity". For me, presbyterian celebration of Holy Communion is simply one of a couple of models for handling the distressing emergency of Christians lacking pastors (another is the chorepiscopus model of ordained semi-pastors for remote parishes). But if you think that "catholicity" absolutely prohibits celebration of the Eucharist by the unordained/consecrated, then what the private judgment argument is doing is not making some complex, epistemological point: it's simply saying that "The church you belong to doesn't actually agree with what you see as necessary to true orthodoxy." And when that is empirically true, it is a powerful argument.

But if you actually assent fully not only to what the church you belong to teaches, but to its claim to be truly well-founded on Christ (as I believe of the Evangelical Lutheran church), then excoriating "private judgment" amounts to simply abstract arguments about epistemology, which no one takes seriously. It's like Zeno's paradoxes proving that motion is impossible: most people refute them simply enough, by just moving away).

So it is the actual concrete contradiction between how certain "evangelical catholics" understand their religion, and how (for example) the Evangelical Lutheran church actually understands it, that gives the "Private Judgment" attack its emotional force. Of course, that shouldn't be a surprise since in the beginning, it was the contradiction between the imaginary phantasm called Anglo-Catholicism conjured up by the revisionist Oxford Movement and the reality that the Anglican church was founded as a Reformed church that led Newman to formulate the argument about "Private Judgment" in the first place. Had he actually been able to accept the Reformed foundation of the Anglican church, the paradoxes of "private judgment" would have struck him as nothing more than a lecture room curiosity.

So how do people respond to the Private Judgment argument? Of course as with every contradiction between two positions, they can resolve it in two ways (or of course, they can continue to just live with the contradiction). Those attacking Private Judgment demand that the "evangelical catholics" leave (say) the Evangelical Lutheran church, whose self-understanding they do not accept.

But "evangelical catholics" have another option: they can bring themselves fully in line with how the Evangelical Lutheran church understands herself, and recognize that the pre-Reformation views of faith and works, for example, are no more authoritative over the Evangelical church, than, for example, the pre-Constantinopolitan views of the Holy Ghost (most of which were "unorthodox" -- see here) are over the post-Constantinopolitan church.

UPDATE: Just saw this post, in which Pastor Fenton complains of "self-determination," in ways that make it clear he is feeling the emotional tensions of the "private judgment" charge. But note that the real basis of it is not some irreducible fact of Protestant identity, but the fact that he just disagrees with the decisions of the LCMS and yet remains in the church. If he agreed with the LCMS, he wouldn't feel that way, and the question of "self-determination" would be about as disturbing to his ecclesiastical identity as the curious fact that both he and the Pope put on their trousers one leg at a time.

UPDATE II: Watersblogged! has comment on the substance of the issue (lay celebration of Holy Communion) here, with a very good discussion. As he points out, the current LCMS position on this seems an awful lot like a de facto adherence to the WELS position, which is funny.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Hezekiah's Reformation

Every once in a while in the Scriptures, you find a detail that opens up a view to how the other side -- the bad guys, the ones on the other side of the prophets and martyrs -- thought. One such statement comes in 2 Kings 18:22. Here's the context: the Assyrians are besieging Jerusalem and the field commander (rabshakeh) of King Sennacherib is calling out to the besieged Hebrews convincing them that their hope is in vain. Egypt won't help, and even God won't help:

But if you say to me, "We trust in the LORD our God," is it not he whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, "You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem"?

This appeal probably bothered a lot of people since Hezekiah's officials responded nervously:

Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah [who was over the king's household], and Shebnah [the scribe], and Joah [the recorder], said to the Rabshakeh, "Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it. Do not speak to us in the language of Judah within the hearing of the people who are on the wall." But the Rabshakeh said to them, "Has my master sent me to speak these words to your master and to you, and not to the men sitting on the wall, who are doomed with you to eat their own dung and to drink their own urine?"

How vivid! Suddenly we see, like a landscape lit up by lightening, that Hezekiah's great reform, of smashing the high places and centralizing worship in the temple in Jerusalem was not at all popular. In fact, it was unpopular enough that the Assyrians figured even in Jerusalem (which stood to benefit substantially from the reform) opposition could be nurtured to form a defeatist parties with the walls of Zion.

The opposition were not pagans or Baal worshipers -- they were good Yahwists who simply felt that every city and district in Israel ought to have its own cult of Yahweh. They certainly had tradition on their side: worship at non-Jerusalem cult centers went back centuries. Patriarchs had long sanctified spots in Israel by their activities: Abraham at Shechem, between Bethel and Ai, and at Hebron, Isaac at Beersheba, Jacob at Bethel, and Joshua's camp at Gilgal. Heroes like Gideon built altars (Judges 6), Samuel sacrificed at a high place in Zuph (1 Sam. 9), and Solomon burnt incense at Gibeah (1 Kings 2). Of all the kings before Hezekiah, not one, even the good kings like Asa and Jehoshaphat, had eliminated the worship of Yahweh at the high places. And Hezekiah had the gall to even smash the bronze serpent that Moses had set up, simply because the Israelites had been incense to it! (2 Kings 18:4). Imagine the shock and outrage with which the traditional Yahwists must have greeted this iconoclasm. No wonder they were even willing to hand the land over to the Assyrians!

And what happened to the high places where many Levites had handled the worship? It is hard to believe the royal government didn't grab much of the land. Certainly the Levites found little employment in the temple, creating a whole class of resentful men.

What did Hezekiah had to go on as he bucked all the traditions of his fathers, the precedents of Solomon, Samuel, and Gideon, and even the patriarchs? Only some chapters in the law of Moses:

You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way. But you shall seek the place that the LORD your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation there. There you shall go, and there you shall bring your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, your vow offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock. And there you shall eat before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your households, in all that you undertake, in which the LORD your God has blessed you.

"You shall not do according to all that we are doing here today, everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes, for you have not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance that the LORD your God is giving you. But when you go over the Jordan and live in the land that the LORD your God is giving you to inherit, and when he gives you rest from all your enemies around, so that you live in safety, then to the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name dwell there, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, and all your finest vow offerings that you vow to the LORD. And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your sons and your daughters, your male servants and your female servants, and the Levite that is within your towns, since he has no portion or inheritance with you. Take care that you do not offer your burnt offerings at any place that you see, but at the place that the LORD will choose in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I am commanding you
(Deuteronomy 12).

Josiah discovered a book of Moses in the Temple -- a book! just a text! found in the temple! how convenient! -- and on that basis, he turned good Yawhist priests into pensioners and semi-employed lackeys:

He brought all the priests out of the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had made offerings, from Geba to Beersheba. And he broke down the high places of the gates that were at the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were on one's left at the gate of the city. However, the priests of the high places did not come up to the altar of the LORD in Jerusalem, but they ate unleavened bread among their brothers (2 Kings 23:8-9).

I'm sure modern source critics weren't the first people to say that Josiah must have just made his so-called book of Moses up.

This is the model of the Reformation. Whatever was said to Luther, couldn't it have been said to Josiah and Hezekiah? Purify the Asherah poles and Baal cults, fine, but why break up the Yahwistic high places? Have these kings had some second Sinai to justify breaking with the tradition sanctified by all their ancestors? And what about the specter of secular power being used against good Yahwistic priests? How can this be justified?

How indeed except on the authority of the Word of God outside us?

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Allan Carlson Challenges the Republican Mainstream

Lutheran family historian Allan Carlson has an important piece up at the Weekly Standard web site here.


In the internal politics of the Republican coalition, some members are consistently more equal than others. In particular, where the interests of the proverbial "Sam's Club Republicans" collide with the interests of the great banks, the Sam's Club set might as well pile into the family car and go home.

The modern "family issues" are actually about a century old. The first openly "pro-family" president was a Republican, Theodore Roosevelt. Between 1900 and about 1912, he wrote and spoke often, and eloquently, about the dangers of a rising divorce rate and a falling birth rate. He celebrated motherhood and fatherhood as the most important human tasks, and described the true marriage as "a partnership of the soul, the spirit and the mind, no less than of the body." He blasted as "foes of our household" the birth control movement, equity feminism, eugenics, and liberal Christianity.

However, the Rough Rider was the only prominent Republican of his time to think and talk this way. The dominant wing of the GOP tilted in favor of the banks, the great industries, and--perhaps more surprisingly--the feminist movement. Indeed, as early as 1904, the National Association of Manufacturers had formed an alliance with the feminists, for they shared an interest in moving women out of their homes and into the paid labor market.

Certainly at the level of net incomes, the one-earner family today is worse off than it was thirty years ago, when the GOP began to claim the pro-family banner. Specifically, the median income of married-couple families, with the wife not in the paid labor force, was $40,100 in 2002, less than it had been in 1970 ($40,785) when inflation is taken into account. In contrast, the real earnings of two-income married couple families rose by 35 percent over the same years (to nearly $73,000). Put another way, families have been able to get ahead only by becoming "nontraditional" and sending mother to work or forgoing children altogether. [More on this here.]

Concerning one-income families, the great corporations continue to view them as a waste of human resources, artificially raising labor costs by holding adults at home. Judging by its inaction and results, the GOP agrees. For the same reason, large businesses generally favor federally subsidized day care, for it creates incentives for mothers to work rather than care for their children.

Another troubling new issue is Title IV-D of the Social Security Act, the federal government's child support collection and enforcement program. . . . There is mounting evidence that the system now encourages marital breakup and exacerbates fatherlessness by creating a winner-take-all game, where the losing parent--commonly a father wanting to save the marriage--is unfairly penalized by the loss of his children and by a federally enforced child support obligation. Here we find objectively false feminist views--the assumption that men are always the abusers and women are always the victims--driving public policy.

Well, as they say, read the whole thing.

It is symptomatic that two dissenting movements from the Republican party mainstream have opposite views about Walmart and Sam's Club. For the Crunchy Cons, they're the problem. For the "Sam's Club Republicans" they're the emblem. The Crunchy Cons are Jeffersonians, for whom agrarianism, and small scale are the keys, and pro-family is only a part. The "Sam's Club Republicans" are the heirs of the Roosevelts, who have no problem with bigness, as long as bigness is pro-family.



Sunday, March 19, 2006

Betcha Didn't Know That about Jerry Falwell

An article by Zev Chafets in the New York Times highlights the debate team at Jerry Falwell's Liberty Unviersity. Coached by Brett O'Donnell, the team is winning top ranks at national debate tournaments. Jerry Falwell wants "champions for Christ" and hopes debate will train them.

Along the way you get this fascinating bit of history:

To get to O'Donnell's office, you pass the Jerry Falwell Ministries Museum, in which the most prominent exhibit consists of two Prohibition-era figures loading booze into a Model T Ford. One figure is said to be Jerry Falwell's father.

Carey H. Falwell was a successful Lynchburg businessman who founded two bus companies. He was also a hoodlum, who, in addition to moonshining, organized cock and dog fights and ran a notorious nightspot. In 1931, he shot his brother Garland to death. The killing was ruled self-defense, but it cemented Carey Falwell's local reputation as a very bad man.

This sort of family laundry is not usually hung in the personal museums of university founders. But Doc Falwell, as O'Donnell calls his boss, is proud of his hardscrabble, entrepreneurial heritage.

But in debate, the school's winning strategy is different from that of other schools. It doesn't have the real top champions, but it does develop an "overall program," a team that is strong on all three levels: novice, junior varsity, and varsity. Where that's the big factor, Liberty wins. But in single elimination shoot outs, the team doesn't do so well. O'Donnell:

"If we changed the way we recruit and concentrated on fielding an elite varsity, we'd definitely have a shot at winning the national tournament every year," he says. "But that's not who we are. I spend more of my time with the novices than I do with the varsity. The evidence we work up gets shared among all the debaters. Our goal here is to grow an entire program. We want to educate a lot of kids and instill them with a sense of mission. That's the secret of our success — that and a lot of hard work."

Some people quoted in the article think the debaters will end up loosing their Christian focus. To compete in policy debates, Liberty University debaters have to argue for, as well as against, Roe v. Wade. The whole culture is northeastern, and liberal. Will that change them?

The debate team wants winners, kids who aren't afraid to defeat the other guy. Curiously, the high percentage of home schoolers at Liberty is a problem:

Being a Christian is a necessary but insufficient requirement for making the Liberty squad. A lot of students are home-schooled; some have even taken part in special home-school debate leagues. But according to O'Donnell, they lack the starch for serious debate. "These kids pray with each other before the matches," he says. "They put a big emphasis on good manners. I've got nothing against manners or praying, but we want to win. I've never met a home-schooled debater who was aggressive enough for college competition." (This was an interesting comment in light of the debate going on in the Crunchy Con blog about home schoolers -- con and pro).

Somehow this article seemed to bring in all the themes of American Christianity today. Is the entrepreneurial instinct rampant in evangelicalism good? Should Jerry Falwell feel proud or ashamed of having a bootlegger for a dad? Should Christians in their vocations play the game like everyone else? Should they want to win as much the world wants to win? Are Christians team players, or individuals? Will playing with the secular schools cause you to lose your faith? Do you have to have a theology of glory to train "champions for Christ"?

It's a great piece of journalism that makes you think of all these questions.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Sacrifice and Prayers of the Mass

Luther's Babylonian Captivity of the Church (available here) had to deal with the whole question of the legacy of the traditional teachings on the Mass. Convinced by the Scriptures and his whole understanding of how God relates to man, he had to deal with the issue of the legacy of teaching that the Mass was in fact a sacrifice offered to God by the priest. What is striking is the degree to which, while preserving the most resolute Evangelical substance, he anticipated the "catholic" liturgical experimentation and historical theology of the twentieth century.

First for the Evangelical substance. Let this be the watchword:

For unless we hold fast to the truth, that the mass is the promise or testament of Christ, as the words clearly say, we shall the whole Gospel and all our comfort. Let us permit nothing to prevail against these words, even though an angel from heaven should teach otherwise. For there is nothing said in them of a work or a sacrifice. . . . For at the Last Supper, when He instituted this sacrament and established this testament, Christ did not offer Himself to God the Father, nor did he perform a good work on behalf of others, but He set this testament before each of them that sat at table with Him and offered him the sign (p. 162).

As distributing a testament, or accepting a promise, differs diametrically from offering a sacrifice, so it is a contradiction in terms to call the mass a sacrifice; for the former is something we receive, while the latter is something that we offer (p. 163).

Having set these ground rules, how does Luther deal with the “canon of the mass and the sayings of the Fathers?” He first establishes that if they go against the Scriptural understanding they must be rejected, but then seeks to find a reasonable interpretation of them, consistent with the Evangelical faith. Far ahead of his time, he found it in the offertory, exactly the liturgical action whose organic link to the mass the twentieth century liturgical movement was to re-emphasize, and where the earliest Christian theologian St. Irenaeus had located the oblation. (I wrote about this earlier here and here). There are historical errors about the elevation and the origin of the word “collect” but the basic historico-theological point is sound:

The Apostle instructs us in 1 Corinthians 11 that it was customary for Christ’s believers, when they came together to mass, to bring with them meat and drink, which they called “collections” . . . From this store was taken the portion of bread and wine that was consecrated for use in the sacrament (p. 163)

He linked the elevation of the elements to the Hebrew rite of “lifting up,” meaning to sanctify something by word and prayer, and continues:

For this reason the words “sacrifice” and “oblation” must be taken to refer, not to the sacrament and testament, but to these collections, whence also the word “collect” has come down to us, as meaning the prayers said in the mass.
(p. 163-64) . . . Let the priests, therefore . . . take heed, first that the words of the greater and lesser canon, together with the collects, which smack too strongly of sacrifice, be not referred by them to the sacrament, but to the bread and wine which they consecrate, or to the prayers which they say. For the bread and wine are offered at the first, in order that they may be blessed and thus sanctified by the Word and by prayer: but after they have been blessed and consecrated, they are no longer offered, but received as a gift from God. (p. 164-65; emphasis added).

Interestingly, Luther saw no aspect of “idolatry” in the elevation of the bread and chalice immediately after the consecration, nor something connected to the idea of sacrifice. Linking it to the Hebrew rite of elevating created things offered to God, he saw it as an acceptable stimulus to faith:

For it is faith that the priest ought to awaken in us by this act of elevation
(p. 164).

Luther also had to deal with the matter of prayers. If the mass was a propitiatory sacrifice for the living and the dead, it meant that mass could be communicated by prayer to persons (living or dead) or intentions for whom it was offered. Luther laid down that:

when a priest celebrates a public mass . . . he may at the same time offer prayers for himself and for others, but he must beware lest he presume to offer
[as opposed to receiving] the mass (p. 165; emphasis added).

We must, therefore, not confound the two -- the mass and the prayers, the sacrament and the work, the testament and the sacrifice: for the once comes from God to us, through the ministration of the priest, and demands our faith, the other proceeds from our faith to God, through the priest and demands His answer. The former descends, the latter ascends.
(p. 167).
I am ready, however, to admit that the prayers which we pour out before God when we are gathered together to partake of the mass, are good works or benefits, which we impart, apply, and communicate to one another, and which we offer for one another [he cites James and Paul in 1 Timothy 2 on prayer] These are not the mass, but works of the mass -- if the prayers of the heart and lips may be called works -- for they flow from the faith that is kindled or increased in the sacrament (p. 160).

The prayer may be extended to as many persons as one desires; but the mass is received by none but the person who believes for himself, and only in proportion to his faith (p. 161).

Luther concluded thus that while the mass remains the mass even when a wicked priest administers it, the prayers said on the occasion of this sacrament are affected by the priest’s worth and godliness. God hears the prayers of the righteous, not the wicked.

It is striking how these Lutheran formulas underlay, even in their denial, the Roman Catholic scholastic theology of the sacrifice of the mass after Trent. Sacrament (down from God) and sacrifice (up to God) are distinguished quite after the manner of Luther -- only this time both are affirmed:

The Sacrament of the Eucharist is something essentially different from the Sacrifice of the Mass. In truth, the Eucharist performs at once two functions: that of a sacrament and that of a sacrifice. . . . The real difference between them is shown in that the sacrament is intended privately for the sanctification of the soul, whereas the sacrifice serves primarily to glorify God by adoration, thanksgiving, prayer, and expiation. The recipient of the one is God, who receives the sacrifice of His only-begotten Son; of the other, man, who receives the sacrament for his own good.

Luther predicted that resistance would come to his teaching, because by denying the ex opere operato efficacy of prayers for the dead, it would overturn all the different votive masses: anniversaries, intercessions, applications, communications, etc. in churches and monasteries -- that is to say, he cynically concluded, their fat income (p. 159).

And indeed just as "received orally" and "by the righteous and the hypocrite alike" is the acid text distinguishing Reformed from Evangelical ideas of the Real Presence, so too the idea of a multiplicity of masses being celebrated individually for the deceased or various intentions is the acid test of the mass as a work being done by the priest. Read the article linked to above, from the Catholic Encyclopedia, which does indeed carefully try to reduce the more objectionable elements from the Evangelical point of view: its declares that the expiatory effect of the mass functions only "mediately" through the creation of contrition and penance (i.e. an "act of sorrow") in the beneficiary (change "contrition and penance" to "faith" -- which will then involve repentance -- and the Evangelical can fully agree). Thus, only relief of the temporal penalties of the deceased in purgatory is dispensed by the mass, not expiation of sin and salvation itself. The authors are likewise careful to identify as closely as possible the sacrifce of the priest in the mass with that of Christ, so it is as much as possible no longer seen as the priest's own work. "As much as possible" -- but how much? The acid test remains when it comes to what Catholic dogmaticians call the "special fruit of the mass" which is what benefits those for whom it is celebrated. If the priest's work is wholly identified with Christ, than the fruit of the mass would presumably be infinite, and a priest who has received stipends for various deceased souls and intentions could say one mass and cover them all, thus defrauding the payers of the value for their money:

The question now arises whether in this connection the applicable value of the Mass is to be regarded as finite or infinite (or, more accurately, unlimited). This question is of importance in view of the practical consequences it involves. For, if we decide in favour of the unlimited value, a single Mass celebrated for a hundred persons or intentions is as efficacious as a hundred Masses celebrated for a single person or intention. . . . But, since the Church has entirely forbidden as a breach of strict justice that a priest should seek to fulfil, by reading a single Mass, the obligations imposed by several stipends . . . the overwhelming majority of theologians incline even theoretically to the conviction that the satisfactory -- and, according to many, also the propitiatory and impetratory -- value of a Mass for which a stipend has been taken, is so strictly circumscribed and limited from the outset, that it accrues pro rata (according to the greater or less number of the living or the dead for whom the Mass is offered) to each of the individuals. Only on such a hypothesis is the custom prevailing among the faithful of having several Masses celebrated for the deceased or for their intentions intelligible. Only on such a hypothesis can one explain the widely established "Mass Association", a pious union whose members voluntarily bind themselves to read or get read at least one Mass annually for the poor souls in purgatory.

So in the end, what is it that keeps in business the idea that the mass -- Christ's last will and testament -- can in practice be treated as a limited, quantifiable work done by the priest? Luther's answer seems to still hold: it is the continued practice of having special masses celebrated for the deceased and for particular intentions.

The more I blog this the more I am confirmed in my feeling that the Babylonian Captivity is indeed the central work of Luther's theology. Well, that's the mass/Eucharist/Holy Communion/Lord's Supper. On to baptism!

Continued from here; back to the first post in this series.



Beauty and the Old Way of Seeing

All the Crunchy Con discussion has led me to think back about beauty and the Arts and Crafts movement that emphasized how beauty and functionality are not opposites, but both spring from the same root. This reminded me of how one of the most beautiful things created in the modern world are military jets.

As a 9-12 year old, I built scores of model jets and bought lots of books on the topic. Looking back I think what attracted me was the sheer beauty of so many of our military-industrial complex's finest creations. Perhaps it was the time when I was growing up, but it was the 70s generation, F-15s and F-14s, that exemplified that gangly yet strangely elegant grace of the modern warplane. Of course, you could also feel that beauty in the classics, like the Spitfire, and the wonderfully modernist SR-71. Not surprisingly, however, most of the 50s and 60s jets were somehow bland -- scarcely visible canopies, stubby wings , tiny air intakes -- the whole thing just bespeaks the idea that airplanes were just a defective missile. Even swing wings couldn't save the fundamental tedium of the FB-111.

And now, ugliness has been brought back in spades by: stealth technology. As someone once said about certain new brands of electric guitar, as compared to the Les Paul or the Stratocaster: they sound like they've been designed in a machine tool shop. (Well, wait, all of these fighters were designed in such a shop -- strike that.) Anyway, I don't think kids today will have the same sense of beauty in fighter jets that I had when these beautiful new things were coming out regularly, and you had the feeling that even cooler birds -- weirder, more original, more unexpected -- were just around the corner. Maybe in retrospect they'll have some beauty, but I doubt it: the whole idea of stealth, of being un-"seeable" by radar militates against it.

I'm going to be busy for a while, so I'll leave these for you to enjoy! And of course, check out the new Lutheran Carnival -- I have it on good authority that some of these guys are "a bit to the right of Attila the Hun".

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Short Takes

Jim and I had a debate about dual-income families and working wives a while back (my post here, but see the comments thread here). But I think we could both get on board with what Bradford Wilcox says in this interview. Highlights for Jim:

Lopez: Could the subtitle of your study be "Betty Friedan was wrong?"

Wilcox: Not quite. I think that Friedan was right to point out that a lot of married women at home — especially well-educated women — experience very real frustrations. Being at home with small children is challenging for anyone, especially someone who has enjoyed a rich and rewarding career outside the home.

and for me:

Lopez: The [single] most surprising [finding]?

Wilcox: Even feminist-minded women are happier when their husbands take the lead in breadwinning.

But the really big finding that Wilcox emphasizes is: marital commitment matters more for her happiness than does her labor-force status.

If you'd like to think the world isn't totally irrational, read this interview.

And about that debate with Jim: one thing it showed me is the difficulty of consensus when reading the Bible "sociologically". To do so, you have to translated Biblical categories into modern categories, and that translation can be done differently. Take Proverbs 31 and a working wife with a demanding outside-the-home career, say, as a lawyer. Jim "translates" the wife's work in Proverbs 31 primarily in terms of income: she's earning money, so for him the Bible says a wife earning money (e.g. as a lawyer) is admirable. I "translate" the wife's work in Proverbs 31 primarily as income saving and generating work at home: making clothes, gardening to save money on fresh foods, careful shopping, and so on. Since a wife who is a lawyer has no time for this, Proverbs 31 would be against that.

I still think I'm right, but I have to admit, it's not a case I can argue apart from broader considerations. I can't just wave Proverbs 31 and say, "I'm right!" -- but then neither can Jim.

And finally, what did I say about the idea that "once we had community and now we've lost it!" history? Well, the Crunchy Cons are at it again! Bruce Frohnen writes:

The Puritans didn't go out into the wilderness to be alone with their families; they built their houses next to one another and COMMUTED out to the fields because they were afraid of Indians, afraid the Devil (literally) lived in the forest, and wanted to keep an eye on one another. For a good 150 years the pattern remained one of town life. And it was only after Thomas Jefferson's big land grab (Louisiana purchase) and French Revolution-inspired system for laying out land on a grid that left no room for towns that we started losing the habit of living in towns.

This is the perfect Fall story: once upon a time we lived in harmony. Then a big bad authority figure (and Crunchies attacking Jefferson strikes me as not very wise) did the evil deed, and now we are simply living in the ruins of the Fall.

Trouble is, not all American colonists were Puritan! Let's take a look at Albion's Seed. He defines four different cradle-cultures in Anglophone America: Puritan-Yankees in New England, Cavaliers in the Chesapeake Bay area, Quaker-Pietists in the Delaware Valley, and North Britons-Scotch-Irish in the Appalachian back country.

About the Puritans Bruce is right: the Puritan ideal was a town (the reality was a hamlet). But the Virginia "Cavaliers" preferred peasant (or slave) cottages around a manorial big house, far from any towns, in the Delaware valley they preferred small farm communities, and for the back country the ideal was living alone in the midst of a wilderness, lord of all I survey (since it's mostly unoccupied wilderness anyway). And any historian of colonial America will tell you that land speculation (buying up wilderness land and waiting until it was settled, before selling out big and using the proceeds to buy more land beyond the frontier) was one of the great constants. The Puritan clergy and town fathers didn't like it so much, but others were not so scrupulous.

And lest you then say that the great Fall occurred in the settling of America, first note that Bruce Frohnen is right about the Puritans. And then that the other three patterns, like the Puritan one, were all imported from Britain! Back in 1600 in Britain, some sub-cultures prescribed close-set towns and villages and some sub-cultures didn't!

Like I said, the past is diverse. Bruce is right to see (often ignored) "Crunchy" elements there in America's past. But he's wrong to say that's the only story.

Well, that's it for my "short" takes!

My Take on Erasmus

Josh S. has just put up his comments on Erasmus's Diatribe against Luther on the question of free will at Here We Stand.

I wrote the following comments about Erasmus's diatribe on Chris Park's now defunct Scopos blog (he seems to start them up and then delete them every couple of months or so). The page numbers are keyed to a different edition than Josh S. used, one by Ernst Winter which is now out of print. I should also note that in his introduction Prof. Winter is obviously more sympathetic to Erasmus than to Luther, and that Erasmus is presented in full and Luther only in selections. So one would assume the translation does him justice. (I've read Luther on the Bondage of the Will in the J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston translation.)

Having reread Erasmus's Diatribe over the weekend, I found my opinion well confirmed. It is execrable stuff. As a kindly, avuncular, yet professorial popular moralist he is a great writer, and even a solid thinker. But his work is an perfect illustration of why "moralism" is a bad word when speaking of Christian theologians.

In my following points, I am not being at all original. I find virtually every reaction I have is one that I remember reading in Luther's reply.

First, let me note: nowhere in the quotation you cited, and nowhere in the Diatribe is there any clear, ringing statement about what freedom Christ wins us. In fact apart from some perfunctory agreement with the Reformers' words on p. 80 (Ernst Winter's translation), he never speaks of rebirth, of release from bondage to sin, death, and the devil, of being made free by Christ. In a
Christian discussion of the will, this is inexcusable. Absolutely inexcusable.

Secondly, he speaks of grace, and even defines it, according to the scholastics (pp. 28-30), but whenever he speaks clearly of the role of grace that cooperates with the will, he seems to be speaking of common grace with which we are born (p. 86, 49, 68, etc.) Christ is referred to but only as the creator, p. 68, not as our redeemer from slavery (yes, he refers to "redeeming" or "redemption" as a word here and there, but in his argument he does nothing with it).

Thirdly, he simply flatly denies Paul on the purpose of the law. "No one is justified by the law, rather by the law we become conscious of Sin," "The law is the pedagogue to lead us to Christ," "Once I was alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came sin sprang to life and I died." Where even once does Erasmus agree with this? Rather at every point, he believes that the purpose of the law, whether natural, that of good works, or of faith (p. 24) is to make people actually better. Even philosophers can obtain through natural law can obtain some true love of God without Christ at all (pp. 27-28).

Fourthly, he clearly, if covertly, classified Scripture as simply "exhortation and persuasion", not as the foundation of true doctrine. Let's look how he does it. On p. 92, he divides Christian literature into two types. In "exhortation and persuasion" exaggeration is acceptable: to the discouraged you ascribe everything to free will, to the proud you ascribe everything to God's grace. But in "investigation of truth" exaggeration is not allowable. Yet throughout his discussion of the Bible, he claims that phrases like "without Me you can do nothing" (p. 67), "every hair on your head is numbered" (pp. 75-76) or "Oh man who art thou to reply to God?” (p. 50) are simply exaggeration for effect. Where does this put Scripture? In the category of moral preaching directed solely to a "free will." Where is there "discussion of the truth"? Among the Fathers, the scholastics, among the philosophers (I am sorry if I am beginning to sound like a fundamentalist ranter but this is the kind of thing that makes the most violent sort of fundamentalist rage seem fitting.) Indeed apart from this reading as a kind of second-rate devotional literature he seems to find little use for Scripture: "It is a fact that the Holy Scriptures is in most instances either obscure or figurative, or seems, at first sight, to contradict itself" (p. 94). For this reason he must use his hermeneutic of all passages being either moral exhortation to diligence or else dissuasions to arrogance.

Fifthly, he says he is as uninterested as he possibly can get away with in assertions about the things of God (p. 6). This lack of interest in assertions comes in his believing that so many issues have not really been decided clearly, including not just Reformation era debates, but the Trinity, the two persons in Christ, and so on (p. 9). He even admits if he thought the Church taught wrongly, he would rather let it slide, rather than cause trouble (p. 11). Contrast this to what truly Christian writers (like Luther) know as the essence of Christianity: it is assertions upon which one will stake one's life: Christ died for your sins; Christ is the only-begotten Son of God; you are dead in your trespasses and sins; believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved; be baptized and wash away your sins; this cup is the new covenant in my blood.

And sixthly, he goes so far as to countenance dishonesty in teaching in the church, so as to keep the mob, the rabble, from getting out from under the knout of the Law (pp. 11-12). What is that but to admit either that what is taught in the church has nothing to do with salvation (since after all, its only certain content is moral law) or else that the common herd is incapable of salvation. Perhaps that is why he posits the soul and spirit of the philosophers--the pagans!--as the honorable part of human nature, the one which does not need redemption (pp. 63-64).

I am sorry to land a steaming pile of (not very original) evangelical denunciation on your weblog, but you
did ask for comments. The only thing to add to what Luther already said about Erasmus, is what we've learned in the last few centuries. People like him -- they go under the name of "broad churchmen," "latitudinarians," "modernists," "liberals" and they use slogans like "doctrine divides, mission unites", "pastoral sensitivity", and "possibility thinking" -- kill churches, if they are allowed to do so. May it never be!

Cross-posted at Here We Stand.



Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Cheetah and the Gazelle and the Groaning of Creation

One of Professor Richard Dawkins's most widely circulated points is about the cheetah and the gazelle. In River out of Eden (1995), he explains how, according to evolutionary biology, the cheetah is the product of an "arms race" with the antelope. As gazelles and other small antelopes gets faster and more alert over the millions of years, so too the cheetah gets faster and more skillful at stalking. After explaining this process, Richard Dawkins steps back and says, how can one still believe in a benevolent God after knowing all this? Here is the argument in the summary of Michael Ruse:

Natural selection presupposes a struggle for existence, and the struggle on many, many occasions is downright nasty. Using the notion of a "utility function" for the end purpose being intended, Dawkins drew attention to the interactions between cheetahs and antelopes, and asks: "What was God's utility function?" Cheetahs seem wonderfully designed to kill antelopes. "The teeth, claws, eyes, nose, leg muscles, backbone and brain of a cheetah are all precisely what we should expect if God's purpose in designing cheetahs was to maximize deaths among antelopes." But conversely, "we find equally impressive evidence of design for precisely the opposite end: the survival of antelopes and starvation among cheetahs." It is almost as though two warring gods were at work, making different animals and then setting them to compete with one another. If there is only one god who made the two animals, then what kind of god could it be? "Is he a sadist who enjoys spectator blood sports? Is He trying to avoid overpopulation in the mammals of Africa? Is He maneuvering to maximize David Attenborough's television ratings?" The whole thing is ludicrous (Dawkins 1995, 105). Truly, concludes Dawkins, there are no ultimate purposes to life, no deep religious meanings. There is nothing.

Indeed Dawkins notes that a similar argument about certain wasps and their habits of providing for their young is said to have made Darwin loose his faith:

Charles Darwin lost his faith with the help of a wasp. "I cannot persuade myself," Darwin wrote, ---that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars." Actually, Darwin's gradual loss of faith, which he downplayed for fear of upsetting his devout wife Emma, had more complex causes.

His reference to the Ichneumonidae was aphoristic. The macabre habits to which he referred are shared by their cousins the digger wasps. A female digger wasp not only lays her egg in a caterpillar (or grasshopper or bee) so that her larva can feed on it. According to Fabre she also carefully guides her sting into each ganglion of the prey's central nervous system so as to paralyse it but not kill it. This way, the meat keeps fresh.

It is not known whether the paralysis acts as a general anaesthetic, or if it is like curare in just freezing the victim's ability to move. If the latter, the prey might be aware of being eaten alive from inside, but unable to move a muscle to do anything about it. This sounds savagely cruel but nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent. This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot accept that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.

Professor Dawkins has presented this argument in so mesmerizing a form that other smart people like Michael Ruse have overlooked that it has nothing to do with evolution, Darwinian or otherwise, at all! In other words, the cheetah-gazelle point (or the ichneumon-caterpillar point) is one that any observer of nature can make directly, without ever involving the evolutionary past whatsoever. The addition of the arms race is a clever metaphor but adds nothing to the fundamental problem of theodicy (God's justice). As a passage from Stanley Jaki excerpted by the Pontificator notes:

One need not be a professional naturalist, it is enough to step out into one’s garden or the nearby meadow to see the grim spectacle of one species using other species for food. One may indeed stay in one’s house and watch the methodical cruelty of a spider as it traps in its web unaware insects which desperately try to shake themselves free.

It might seem, however, that the idea of a fallen creation can resolve the issue. God made cheetahs and gazelles good and innocent but in Adam's fall into sin they were, as part of creation, subjected to sin:

For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now (Romans 8).

Now this is indeed the truth about the matter: creation was made good and then was made subject to vanity. But simply mapping this onto Genesis 1-3 in the usual way involves a number of puzzles -- and again involves them entirely independently of whether one believes in evolution or not.

Let us assume according to a plausible reading of Genesis 1:29-30 that cheetahs and antelopes were both created on the sixth day and the both received the command of God:

And God said, Behold . . . to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.

So, presumably cheetahs were vegetarians and only with Adam's fall into sin did cheetahs begin chasing and eating gazelles. Thinking about this in terms of evolution and creation, one often hears the argument that evolution involves death before Adam's sin and that blames God for death and/or makes nonsense of Jesus's atonement abolishing death.

This interpretation ends up, however, setting the most elementary biology on a collision course with theology -- entirely independently of the creation-evolution debate. Theology says the design of nature shows us God, that the natural world makes us think of and remember God. Among the things in the natural world that do so are the world of animals and plants. But if the natural world shows us God, and design, then we must notice that the cheetah is designed to eat meat. Even remote acquaintance with biology shows us that a cheetah, or an owl, or a crocodile, or a shark that eats plants is a simple contradiction: these animals are what they are as meat eaters. In other words if we accept the idea that the cheetah shows God's power and wisdom as an architect, then we must accept that the cheetah was designed by God for a world of death and killing. And if we deny that God designed anything for a world of death and killing, then we must accept that God did not design cheetahs, hawks, sharks, or weasels. Do we then say the devil designed the carnivores and God only designed the herbivores? Blasphemy, of course, and indeed in Job 38 and Psalm 104 it is God who provides food for the lions -- meat.

Are cheetahs and sharks and eagles good as they are today? And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day. But indeed this was said of the pre-Fall vegetarian version of these animals, and biology shows us that every sinew, every biochemical pathway, every nerve, and every habit of these creatures is built to facilitate meat-eating. Indeed all of what we see around us is in nature is predicated on death and dying. If "very good" applies only to the pre-Fall state then how can we confidently assert that creation today is "very good," when it is based on fundamentally different principles?

So I don't see how any theology of creation can work that says creation was wholly good and vegetarian on day six, and then subjected to vanity and meat eating only after Adam's fall. Rather, it seems to me that the goodness and the subjection to vanity must be "marbled" (like fat in meat) throughout the body of creation.

Of course, a lot of people deal with these paradoxes simply by denying the moral status of creation and meat eating in animals. In other words, to Dawkins's and Darwin's points about cheetahs and antelopes, wasps and caterpillars, they simply say, "Oh, piffle! Animal suffering cannot be considered in the same way, since 1) lacking souls and free will, they are not moral actors, and 2) they have less capacity for pain." So a wasp is not guilty for feeding a caterpillar alive to her young and the caterpillar cannot feel the pain as we would. So the animal world presents no problems of theodicy. Go ahead, admire how the digger wasp is designed to know where the ganglion is on a caterpillar so it can be delicately paralyzed, and don't worry that it seems to make God author of suffering.

Contrary to what you might think, this is not some new idea bred by factory farming or something. I can't remember where, but I remember reading something similar in Augustine. So it's a got a solid theological pedigree.

Now, I certainly agree that caterpillars seem to be rather less sensitive to pain than a mammal, but again biological knowledge is showing us how similar in many ways we are at least to the mammals, and perhaps to birds as well. At some point, the knowledge of pain, self-awareness, cooperation, and other forms of human-like moral responses in the animal world build up, and an absolute moral barrier between man and animals becomes implausible. At any rate, I can no longer sustain this distinction in my mind (I've expressed my skepticism of the "God's image in man lies in his capacity to reason" line before, and as a Lutheran, the whole obsession with free will in Catholic moralists just strikes me as misguided).

At that point we face the challenge that some author (I can't remember who, and can't find it, after hours of searching) said is posed to us by our continuity with animals. Once again, evolution can sharpen the challenge, but a good deal of it comes simply from synchronic observation of how similar we are: if there is continuity between man and animal, then we must either moralize the animal world, or immoralize the human world. The "human world is moral, the animal world is amoral" dichotomy is problematic the more we know about animal behavior. And given the choice of moralizing the animal world or immoralizing the human, the former seems the obvious choice.

Now, we who know that man (wers and women alike) are created in God's image know that the continuity is not total, by any means. And that too is observable: morally we are qualitatively different from animals. But when it comes to many of the aspects we intuitively feel are linked to morals, good and bad (pain, self-awareness, cooperation, war, rape, delight in killing, perhaps even awareness of death), we're not. Again deciding against genealogical continuity between man and apes does not dispose of the issue. When one reads about ape behavior, for example, it is hard to avoid the feeling that some of them are morally good and some morally bad, that gorillas, elephants, and Cape hunting dogs are, for example, over all, pretty good characters, and chimps, lions, and orangutans are over all, pretty nasty pieces of work.

What can we make of all this?

(continued here)

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Proud Dad

On the suggestion of her teacher, Claire wrote an entry for an online competition about "Advertising & Me" at "Merlyn's Pen," an online magazine of teenage writing. Her entry won first prize!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Are Diet Sodas Immoral?

In the last month, both Jeff and Claire have said something like "Wouldn't it be great if I could just eat forever and never get fat?" Thinking this was a kind of "teachable moment" I replied that since the purpose of food is for nourishment, then it would be contrary to the aim or end of food to be consumable without nourishing -- and of course that is what you would need to have food you could eat endlessly without getting fat. To desire such a thing is gluttony, a sin. (I'm not quite sure my reply was this well phrased, but that was the idea).

This got me to thinking: isn't diet soda then an exact parallel to contraception? In each case we have a pleasurable activity (eating, sex) which has a natural end (nourishment, procreation), and in which technology has created a way for us to enjoy the pleasure without making ourselves susceptible to the natural end? Augustine in his Confessions speaks of the pleasure in eating as something we must not seek as something good in itself, but accept only on account of the nourishment to be gotten from it. Of course, there is the difference that in sex, the natural end is the creation of a person who is an end in him or herself. But this only makes the comsumption of unnatural no-calories foods to be even less justifiable than that contraception, which can conceivably be justified on the basis of inability of the couple at the moment to raise a child in the proper way. Moreover, while the pleasure of sex has the natural end of bonding the couple who will be the parents of the child (nicely summarized as the "two B's, babies and bonding" purpose of sex), pleasure in food is related solely to nourishment and has no related purpose.

Is there a problem here? Is there something wrong in my reasoning? Should the consumption of sugar substitutes, olestra, and so on, be considered inherently immoral?

Saturday, March 04, 2006

More Thoughts on the Crunchy Con Debate

Having followed the crunchy con debate, I'd like to record some of my thoughts. These are going to be mostly critical, not because I think the Crunchy Cons are all wrong, but because I think they are really putting their worst foot forward in the debate.

1) One thing that really bothers me is the seemingly universal master narrative in which once upon a time thought patterns supposedly existed that made ordinary life sacramental, and now they have disappeared and we are left in the ruins. It's not true, people! I don't like to "pull rank," but really, take it from me, a professional historian, dividing all history into befores and afters is a guaranteed to be factually incorrect. Guys like Foucault will come along every once in a while and announce a big before and after story, like "Childhood didn't exist before the Romantic movement" or "Romance was invented by troubadours". But they will always be shot down sooner or later.

Does that mean the past has no good ideas? Of course not! That would be just another before and after story (before bad, after good). But what it does mean is that every good idea and practice of the past is all mixed up with bad ideas and practices of the past. That life is much less coherent than you are taking it to be. That there is no Archimedean point, no thought pattern one can grasp (such as becoming spiritual, converting to Christianity, rejecting nominalism, turning your back on consumerism, recovering the sacramental vision, whatever) that will then effectively result in the resolution of the evils of this life.

Read Ecclesiastes, now! Please! And remember what J.I. Packer said about it, that this is a book written not for hopeless pre-Christians, but for new "white-hot," "on fire for the Lord" (or for a new vision of holistic living, or what have you) Christians, to tell them that being a Christian does not give you a oracular vision into the motherboard of reality.

Christian readers have no excuse for forgetting that there is only one before and after story of loss and exile, and that story happened long before recorded history.

2) "Over tacos and quesadillas, we talked about electromagnetism and gravitation, and how both the left and the right, in the main, seem to be out of good ideas on how to create a unified field theory." Is this a problem? That neither Ted Kennedy and Noam Chomsky, nor George Bush and Pat Buchanan can figure out how to unite gravitation with the other three fundamental forces? No? Why not? Because "left" and "right" are political concepts, and hence applicable to people working in the political field, and we don't expect politicians to have solutions to problems in advanced physics.

Well, what Rod Dreher was really talking about was restoring "America’s lost sense of community." (Side note: OK, the idea that America once had a sense of community, and then lost it, that's the kind of just plain wrong before and after story I'm talking about). He noted that this liberal urban developer had lots of great ideas about urban development. Is this a surprise? Why shouldn't liberal architects, for example, have good ideas about architecture? And why should we be disappointed that the left and right politicians don't have very good ideas about how architecture can anchor healthy communities? As Thomas Sowell sometimes says, no algebra textbook has any essential vitamins and minerals -- and is that a problem? A reason to criticize algebra textbook sellers? To insist that algebra textbooks be fortified with iron and niacin?

Let's expect from politics and politicians the things they can give us, which is not "a sense of community" (whether lost, or merely suffering one of its periodic downswings), but reasonably good courts, fair property tax assessments, etc.

3) I guess this brings me into my third point which is that just as all history can't be divided into before and after, so too all the people out there can't be divided into us and them. Rod Dreher quotes Russell Kirk:

The great line of demarcation in modern politics, Eric Voegelin used to point out, is not a division between liberals on one side and totalitarians on the other. No, on one side of that line are all those men and women who fancy that the temporal order is the only order, and that material needs are their only needs, and that they may do as they like with the human patrimony. On the other side of that line are all those people who recognize an enduring moral order in the universe, a constant human nature, and high duties toward the order spiritual and the order temporal.

In other words, the real political line is between philosophical materialists, and religious people (in the broad sense, including Platonists, Jews, Christians, etc.)

OK, is this supposed to be an empirical observation? If it is, then as Willmoore Kendall pointed out long ago, it is just plain false: at no point in American history (and I would venture to generalize in human history either), have all the devotees of permanent things been on one side and all the mere materialists been on the other.

Or is this supposed to be some kind of normative vision, some demand that the conservative movement expell the non-religious among them? If so, it's a dog, but let's let that slide. Let's assume one can actually form a political movement on this basis. If all the religious people are supposed to be on one political side, and all the materialists on the other, then I'm sorry to point it out to you, but that's the same as saying if that all the religious people are required by their religion to be on one political side. How is saying "Only idolators who worship stock speculation could oppose a tax on short term stock sales" different from saying "Only envious liberals who think 'Thou shalt not steal' doesn't apply to them could oppose a capital gains tax break"? Of course, this is not surprising: if we really have an "integrated view of life", well then, church and political party will be integrated, won't they?

When I first heard the "Crunchy Con" idea of life I liked it because it was going to dis-integrate our view of life, that is, show us how, just because I am a (fairly mainstream) conservative in politics, that says nothing about how I dress, how I eat, the friends I have at work and how we get along. Unfortunately, that's not how some people are playing it (and Rod Dreher seems really to be a lot better than many of his buddies on this score). Rather after first lamenting that "The existing political party lines put all us good religious people into different parties," what they are really proposing is that "We need to readjust our political party lines so that all religious people can feel comfortable supporting one party." What will follow on that? Well, go to some "Justice Sunday" "Moral Majority" church, switch around the issues a bit and you'll see. The same old lifestyle righteousness and the same old "vote how you pray" line. Count me out.

So no, don't quote Russell Kirk or Eric Voegelin to me on that. They're just plain wrong. Wrong on the facts, and even more wrong on their normative principles. Economic and political life is mostly about trade-offs and knowing the really permanent things gives little guidance there. Solomon was wiser than either of them when he said, "For who knows what is good for a man in life, during the few and meaningless days he passes through like a shadow? Who can tell him what will happen under the sun after he is gone?" And if that's so, let's cut each other some slack -- and that holds, whether it's the mainstreamers who need to cut the crunchies some slack, or the crunchies who need to cut the mainstreamers some slack.

4) All this talk about "reining in the market" and how that might be too strong medicine for the mainstream conservatives out there: to me it seems like pretty weak tea. Rod Dreher asks what we should do about the pornification of life? I have a great idea: throw pornographers in jail and don't allow their products to be transmitted through the mails or the data lines. If you want to do it and have the political will, it can be done. Not perfectly, of course, but as well as we prohibit bad checks or credit card fraud. And when that sort of thing is being done, who is out there on the frontlines? The much-maligned Christian right, that's who. But leaving that aside, let's not fool ourselves that "reining in the market" in general, and "critiquing the excesses of capitalism," let alone "recovering a spirit of community" is going to have anything more than marginal impact on pornography (or abortion, or divorce, or other social ills). Moral reform, absent direct legal measures, won't do the job. (Of course neither will legal measures absent moral reform.) So please don't sell it as if it will.

In short, I think the biggest problem with the Crunchy Con vision is the misapprehension that it is a new vision linking the political to the religious to the personal. As such it will fail to succeed and fail even if it succeeds to implement its aims, as such it will produce a kind of "new monasticism," and as such it will degrade religion into a new version of visible advertising and branding. But if the Crunchy Con vision is that politics and religion and the personal should be disconnected, that one should approach each in its own separate integrity, and not try to fuse them, then it will be helpful and salutary.

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