Saturday, June 24, 2006

Generosity in Kings

I'm leaving on a big trip on Monday. I won't be back until August. I may do some posting during that period, but it will be off and on. Have a happy 4th, blow off some firecrackers, and also visit the Lutheran Carnival 26.

I'll leave you with these thoughts of Ghazan Khan:

One day in the presence of the emirs and grandees of the state he said, "The best thing a human being can do is to take on the qualities of God. This is particularly true for kings. Generosity and liberality are God's qualities, but that is a generosity such that no matter how much is given away it never decreases or ceases. What a human can do is but a drop in the sea compared to God; nonetheless, it is incumbent to try as hard as one can. Rulers and all people should spend as much money as they are able. If one gives without restraint for a few days and then is unable to spend anything or even to eat, what benefit is this to anyone? To give everything away to a few people and completely deprive others is not God's way. A ruler should be like the sun, whose rays reach everyone, and let his treasury be shared by all, especially the deserving, the needy, and those who have done good deeds -- among them the soldiers. How can it be proper to give to only a few people and then sit empty-handed and neither give to anyone nor be able to give? What benefit do they enjoy from such a person? What is the good of having imperial powers in that case?

"The generosity and liberality of kings should be like the water of a well or spring: no matter how much is taken out, more comes, and the amount never decreases. This is not possible without good administration of the kingdom, improvement of the land, fairness, and implementation of criminal retribution. Those who maintain an equilibrium in all things will receive compensation in proportion to the amount they give away. Otherwise, 'when you take away from a mountain and put nothing in its place, in the end the mountain will be leveled.'

"If we and you are inclined to wealth, generosity, and gift giving, we must practice justice and truth, for it is a characteristic of justice that to the extent that we know where the money comes from that fills the treasury, no matter how much we give away, the treasury will not be empty. It is good for us to be always capable of giving; otherwise, what use is a king who is capable one day and incapable the next, or rich for a time and poor for a time? Such is not the characteristic of a king. If it were, he would have to spend his days in grief and worry, and the people would be deprived of his gifts and learn to do without him as king.

"We must observe this rule and make it such that we give away however much comes in, neither piling everything up nor bankrupting ourselves all at once. There should always be a certain amount of capital, for it is the property of money that when there is a small amount of capital, more quickly comes in. It is like a hunter who has no bird to place in his snare for other birds of its feather to flock to: he can't catch anything. When he has one bird as his capital, with it he can catch many thousands of birds a year."

The emirs and ministers of state praised these words of the Padishah of Islam, and all were happy. From that date until this, gold and textiles have been flowing from the Padishah of Islam's treasury like water from a spring . . .
-- from p. 674-75 of the Compendium of Chronicles of Rashiduddin (also written Rashid al-Din), as translated by Wheeler M. Thackston.

Soliloquy of Ghazan Khan, Mongol ruler of the Middle East, 1295-1304, on the problem of cintamani governance.

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Friday, June 23, 2006

Where Is Justification by Faith Alone in the Creed?

Going from the Presbyterian (PCA) church to the Lutheran church (LCMS), one of the things that was different in worship was the regular recital of the creed. This was an interesting thing, in which we say things like "I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins" and so on. But one thing I wondered about is, "Where's the distinctive Evangelical doctrine in this?" If it isn't there, does that mean the "evangelical" part of our teaching is somehow secondary or less important than the "catholic" part?

It occurred to me a while ago, that the evangelical teaching, that we are justified by faith apart from the works of the law is right there in the beginning of the creed, and repeated more than any other article: it's there in the "I believe . . ."

Remember the creed has two uses, one old, primary, and vital, and the other recent, secondary, and not so important. The primary use is as a baptismal creed, in which we confess our faith as we are baptised, "Do you believe in God the father almighty . . . ? , Do you believe in Jesus Christ . . . ?, Do you believe in the Holy Spirit . . ?" "Yes I believe in God the father . . . , Yes, I believe in Jesus Christ . . . , Yes I believe in the Holy Spirit . . ." By believing these things (directly or with sponsors speaking for us), we show that we do indeed accept as true the promise of the baptism we are about to receive, and so receive what the creed concludes with: "the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting."

This is how baptismal creeds started, with affirmation of that "Jesus is Lord" (cf. 1 Cor. 12:3) and slowly responded to emerging issues. Already in the apostolic era, baptism in the name of the Jesus and baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were two possibilities (cf. Acts 19:5 and Mat. 28:19) with the latter prevailing. As the trinitarian baptismal formula prevailed, so did the trinitarian creed, already foreshadowed in places like 2 Cor. 13:14, Eph. 4:4-6 (in reverse order) and 1 Peter 1:2, prevail . By the third century a creed like this was being used:

I believe in God the Father Almighty.

I believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and died, and rose on the third day living from the dead, and ascended into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of the Father, the one coming to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit and the Holy Church and the resurrection of the flesh.

Compared to this, the use of the creed in the divine service is recent and secondary. As told by Dix, its origin is all too typical: the Monophysites in Egypt, stung by accusations from the Chalcedonians that they were heretics, in the late fifth century began adding the Nicene creed into their regular liturgy as if to prove, "See, we're not heretics; if we were how could we so boldly confess the creed?" Of course once the Monophysites had upped the ante, the orthodox Chalcedonians could no longer refuse to say it themselves, and the rest is history.

Thus creed as an indicative statement, a description to others of the faith I have, is always secondary to the creed as the baptismal response of belief in the facts of redemption. Believe these things, and you have them. We say "I believe" and not "I repent" or "I will amend my life" or "I will rededicate myself to Jesus."

But what about the other question that precedes baptism: "Do you renounce the Devil and all his works?" "I do renounce them." Isn't that a work? Doesn't that show that a work is condition of baptism, which is the promise of salvation?

The answer lies in what is "renunciation" -- is it a work? Is it a work on behalf of IU, for example, for me to declare, I support IU and renounce Purdue and all its boilermaking? Not in normal usage. Rather, renouncing Purdue is the precondition for then doing works for IU (attending games, cheering, and so on). Receiving the promise of baptism involves knowledge (of what the promise involves), assent (to what is promise), and faith (that I will get what has been promised from this source only). Renouncing the devil is simply the logical inverse of saying that Jesus Christ is our Lord. You can't believe that Jesus is our Lord, without disbelieving that Satan is our Lord. Likewise you cannot believe that Jesus promises you the "forgiveness of sins" unless you also believe that He has the authority to say what is sin and what is not, that is to say what is a work of the Devil and what is a work of God the Father. Renouncing the Devil's works is simply the inverse of accepting God's definition of what is sin and what isn't.

How good of a subject will I be of my new Lord? How good will my works be? How pure will my service be? These are good questions, but unlike the renunciation of the Devil they have nothing to do with the validity of the baptismal promise, or of my faith in the truth of the promise, the truth of the Lordship of Jesus, and in the fact that what He declares to be sin, really is sin.

The creed can be, and sometimes must be, used as a test, and indicative statement -- "Here's what I believe, what do you believe?" But such a usage is merely derivative from its first and greatest use as our baptismal confession.

"I believe . . ." and because this "I believe . . ." involves full knowledge, believing means "I renounce . . ." And by so renouncing and by so believing, I have what is promised: "the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting." Amen.

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Biblical Interpretation: Patristic, Reformation, and Modern

This post lists the major posts I have made on the topic of Biblical interpretation. This covers both the history of Biblical interpretation and my own views in general and on particular passages.

My basic perspective is that is the interpretation of a relatively small number of Biblical passages, not "world view" or "deep philosophical presuppositions," that is the most important factor governing theology. It is developed a bit here:

Putting It Down Where the Goats Can Get It
Nominalism Didn't Make Him Do It
Doubts About Josh Strodtbeck's Posts on Scripture

General Protestant theses on Scripture are defended here:

Does a Text, Any Text, Need an Authoritative Interpreter to Make Real the Moral Obligation to Interpret It Correctly?
The Church Did Not Create the Scriptures

Augustine on the Epistles of Paul

Who Is "The Man of Romans 7"? (continued here with reference to John Chrysostom)
More on Luther, Augustine, Jerome, and Paul's Epistles
Jerome and Augustine Again
Is Circumcision Sinful in Itself for a Christian?
Augustine on Predestination

Medieval Views of Scripture (according to McGrath) surveyed here

Luther on Genesis

Luther and Allegorical Interpretation
Luther and the "God of the Gaps"
Hard Teachings from Genesis
The Origin of Government
What It Means When God Changes His Mind

Various authors on 1 Corinthians 7 surveyed here and here



Hot Days in Indiana

It's been hot weather in southern Indiana* lately punctuated by thunderstorms. It reminds of one of the many luscious passages in W.J. Cash's exuberant and acerbic The Mind of the South.

In explaining the South's penchant for romance, he writes:

Moreover, there was the influence of the Southern physical world -- itself a sort of cosmic conspiracy against reality in favor of romance. The country is one of extravagant colors, of proliferating foliage and bloom, of flooding yellow sunlight, and, above all, perhaps, of haze. Pale blue fogs hang above the valleys in the morning, the atmosphere smokes faintly at midday, and through the long slow afternoon, cloud-stacks tower from the horizon and the earth-heat quivers upward through the iridescent air, blurring every outline and rendering every object vague and problematical. I know that winter comes to the land, certainly. I know there are days when the color and the haze are stripped away and the real stands up in drab and depressing harshness. But these things pass and are forgotten.

The dominant mood, the mood that lingers in the memory, is one of well-nigh drunken reverie -- of a hush that seems allthe deeper for the far-away mourning of the hounds and the far-away crying of the doves -- of such sweet and inexorable opiates as the rich odors of hot earth and pinewood and the perfume of the magnolia in bloom -- of soft languor creeping through the blood and mounting surely to the brain . . . It is a mood, in sum, in which directed thinking is all but impossible, a mood in which the mind yields amlmost perforce to drift and in which the imagination holds unchecked sway, a mood in which nothing any more seem improbablye save the puny inadequateness of fact, nothing incredible save the bareness of truth.

But I must tell you also that the sequel to this mood is invariably a thunderstorm. For days -- for weeks, it may be --- the land lies thus in reverie and then . . . (p. 48)

And here describing how the South could never rest with Anglicanism but needed a "personal and extravagant" faith:

With this heritage, moreover, the physical world sometimes joined hands. If the dominant mood is one of sultry reverie, the land is capable of other and more somber moods. There are days when the booming of the wind in the pines is like the audible rushing of time -- when the sad knowledge of the grave stirs in the subconsciousness and bends the spirit to melancholy; days when the questions that have no answers must insinuate themselves into the minds of the least analytical of men. And there are other days -- in July and August -- when the nerves wilt under the terrific impact of sun and humidity, and even the soundest grow a bit neurotic; days saturnine and bilious and full of heavy foreboding. And there are those days, too, when the earth whimpers in dread, when the lightning clicks in awful concatenation with continuous thunder, and hurricanes break forth with semi-tropical fury; days when this land which, in its dominant mood, wraps its children in soft illusion, strips them naked before terror (p. 57).

That's how to talk about the weather!

*Technically speaking, yes, I know southern Indiana is of course not the South, and true Southerners may regard it as mere presumption for me to even speak of the topic. But the weather here does remind me of a somewhat paler version of Mr. Cash's exposition.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Hat Honor

I am sorry that I haven't been able to reply to the very interesting comments threads. On Monday, I'm going on a big trip and I have had to prepared some conference papers for that. Last night I finished at the office around 12:30 AM and walking home was treated to a magical scene of the sky flashing with lightning over the horizon to the south, and hundreds of fireflies winking in the trees. The last week we've had several awesome rain storms, the kind where the rain seems to fall not in drops but in sheets blown along by the wind, and you stand in your door way and marvel. In the pools a few frogs have begun croaking.

Since this is part of what I've been working on, I would like to share some curious anecdotes from the life of Chagha'an, a Tangut expatriate in the service of Genghis Khan:

As child herding sheep in the fields, he planted a staff in the ground, and taking off his hat and placing it on the top of the staff, he knelt down and worshipped it with song and dance. Genghis Khan went out hunting and observing this asked him about it. Chagha’an replied, "When a man goes alone, then his hat is on top in the place of honor, and when two men go together, then the elder is honored. Now I am going alone, so therefore I do homage to my hat. Moreover, I have heard that there is a man in high office arriving and I am practicing courtesy and rituals beforehand." The emperor thought this a marvel, and so led him back to his home and spoke to [his lady] Börte Hüjin, saying "Today while going out hunting, I found a handsome boy; it might be good for you to take a look at him." He ordered him given into the service of the inner court.

When he became an adult, he was granted the family name of Mongol and married to a woman of the palace of the Qonggirad line.

Once when he encountered hardship on the road, he took off his boots and rested his head on the grass to sleep. An owl hooted next to him, and when he felt revulsion and threw his boot and hit it, there was a snake that fell out from inside the boot. On returning, he informed the emperor about this story. The emperor said, "That bird is one that people hate, but for you it became a good luck spirit. You should admonish your descendant to not kill birds of that kind."

Chagha'an's ceremony for his hat probably included offering it the cup of honor. Singing and dancing were part of the presentation of drinking cups in Mongol etiquette, something noted (with disgust, for the most part, by William of Rubruck -- here, chapter II).

Hat honor was a very important concept in England and colonial America. Quakers could be thrown in jail for not doffing their hats to the lords. Today the last traces of hat honor are being contested.



Saturday, June 17, 2006

Putting It Down Where the Goats Can Get It

The ancient masters of religion . . . began with the fact of sin -- a fact as practical as potatoes. Whether or no man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing. But certain religious leaders in London, not mere materialists, have begun in our day not to deny the highly disputable water, but to deny the indisputable dirt. Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved. Some followers of the Reverend R.J.Campbell, in their almost too fastidious spirituality, admit divine sinlessness, which they cannot see even in their dreams. But they essentially deny human sin, which they can see in the street. -- Gilbert Chesterton, Orthodoxy.

Original sin is foolishness to men, but it is admitted to be such. You must not, then, reproach me for the want of reason in this doctrine, since I admit it to be without reason. But this foolishness is wiser than all the wisdom of men, sapientius est hominibus. [I Cor. 1. 25 "The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men."] For without this, what can we say that man is? His whole state depends on this imperceptible point. And how should it be perceived by his reason, since it is a thing against reason, and since reason, far from finding it out by her own ways, is averse to it when it is presented to her?

It is, however, an astonishing thing that the mystery furthest removed from our knowledge, namely, that of the transmission of sin, should be a fact without which we can have no knowledge of ourselves. For it is beyond doubt that there is nothing which more shocks our reason than to say that the sin of the first man has rendered guilty those who, being so removed from this source, seem incapable of participation in it. This transmission does not only seem to us impossible, it seems also very unjust. For what is more contrary to the rules of our miserable justice than to damn eternally an infant incapable of will, for a sin wherein he seems to have so little a share that it was committed six thousand years before he was in existence? Certainly nothing offends us more rudely than this doctrine; and yet without this mystery, the most incomprehensible of all, we are incomprehensible to ourselves. The knot of our condition takes its twists and turns in this abyss, so that man is more inconceivable without this mystery than this mystery is inconceivable to man. -- Pascal's Pensees #445 and 434.

Too often in confessional debate and polemic, one gets the impression that it is immensely difficult simply to tell what Augustine or Luther or the Concordists actually meant. Did Augustine believe in double predestination? Did Luther believe in union with Christ? Do the Orthodox believe in original sin?

Sometimes the problem is thinkers changed their mind. And some issues are pretty complicated. And sometimes people are trying to make it sound as if all "our" authorities agree. But I think people need to make an effort at "putting it down where the goats can get it" in Garrison Keillor's phrase. It always seemed to me if one needs vast learning to simply understand what Luther or Augustine thought about predestination, then how can you be so sure that anyone else understood them either? And if no one understood them, then historically, it makes no difference what they believed. In which case, of course, one then has to investigate historical viewpoints which the bulk of pastors/priests in any given communion actually believed -- and there you are again at a belief system which is going to be fairly easy to expound.

And that gets us back to the citations on "original sin." Is it obvious or is it outrageous and shocking? Does believing in call for the utmost submission of reason to the incomprehensible, or does it just call for two eyes? How can the same doctrine be viewed in such opposite ways?

It depends on what you mean by "original sin": does it mean we are born with merely a tendency (however strong in its effects) to sinful actions, or is it actual sin, actual guilt, making us justly liable to actual punishment from the moment we were conceived, without us having done anything? The first is Chesterton's view, the second Pascal's. This then is the acid test: if you believe "original sin" can be observed with one's eyes, then what you are talking about is not really "original sin."

As for the Evangelical conception, here is Luther's statement on it in the Smalcald articles:

This hereditary sin is so deep and horrible a corruption of nature that no reason can understand it, but it must be learned and believed from the revelation of Scriptures, Ps. 51, 5; Rom. 6, 12ff ; Ex. 33, 3; Gen. 3, 7ff

Enough said.

Another example: double predestination. I would like to suggest that the acid test here is 1 Timothy 2:3-4.

For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.

Is this passage a problem for you, that needs to be "exegeted in context" (theologian-speak for "explained away") so that it doesn't mean what it appears to mean, that God wants/wills/desires (philosophers will quibble over the terminology, but you know what I mean) all children of Adam to be saved? Then you believe in double predestination.* But if you take it to mean exactly what it seems to, that God wants all people, without exception, in the world to be saved, then you don't.** By this test, Augustine certainly did believe in double predestination, as did Calvin and Luther -- to the very end of his life. (On Augustine, follow the discussion in the Enchiridion from section 96 to 106 here, and my comments here.) But the Concordianists did not, and the Lutheran church has (rightly) followed the Concordianists, not Luther here. By this test, double predestination is not something that Lutherans can attack Calvinists over, or Catholics can attack Luther over (at least if they don't include Augustine in their attack as well), but something which rattles around like a skeleton in both Catholic and Evangelical closets.

*Within double predestination, of course, one can be a meanie/supralapsarian or nice guy/infralapsarian, or like Augustine emphasize that God's will to save is particular and His will to damn is general.
**Of course you then have the problem of either explaining why what an omnipotent God wishes to happen does not come to pass, or else why such an explanation should not be expected. (Or one can be a universalist -- which has its own problems.)

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Mulberry Season

It's that time of year again, when the sidewalks get purple with splattered mulberry juice, and the birds get fat on one of the most delectable fruits too ignored by H. sapiens, or at least American H. sapiens. On campus and on my walk home I often stop by mulberry trees and spent ten or fifteen minutes picking the mulberries as students or pedestrians walk by and look at me funny.

Enjoy the photo "Mulberries for Breakfast, by Gayle P. Clement.

Friday, June 16, 2006

What Do You Do When You Wake Up with Your Foot in Your Mouth?

First you get your foot out of your mouth.

Then you try to find out how it got there in the first place and learn from the experience.

The post below was not (believe it or not) intended to be a bitter, humorless whine, although reading it over, I certainly sounds that way (even to me, and I wrote the thing).

Lessons learned:

1) When you're wondering if you should go for the "grabber headline," DON'T.

2) Self-pity (individual or group) is generally a bad frame of mind in which to write.

3) Tone doesn't come over well on the internet. So let me say what the tone of this is right off: rueful embarrassment.

4) One reason why the Missouri Synod "don't get no respect" may be that we tend to have a big chip on our shoulder, that perhaps other denominations don't have.
Should we have such a chip on our shouder? Well, I think most LCMS Lutherans feel that somehow, we have this great thing and no one pays attention. So occasionally we kick people's shins to make them pay attention. The results are not edifying.

5) Many of the points I made have been floating around in my head for a long time. The piece Mere Comments linked to and the its brief approving comment were merely occasions for me to "get it all out." In other words, someone "pushed my button." I am not surprised that the Touchstone editors wondered "What is he saying!?" because much of it (as I now see) was not directed at them, but at memories of things I've read long ago, etc.

6) In the internet, the distinction between famous people and unfamous people breaks down. In writing about Touchstone and Mere Comments, I never dreamed that Touchstone editors would actually read and take notice of what I wrote. People often complain about the internet's effect on discourse, but I think this is a good thing. I was putting the Touchstone editors in the category of the mighty "them" who sit high up in their Olympian world, and I gave myself the freedom to speculate about "them," that little people often do in talking about their betters. It's salutary to be reminded that jumping to conclusions about "them" is no more acceptable than jumping to conclusions about a friend or neighbor. So I would like to say (sincerely) to the editors "Thank you" for taking the time to teach me that lesson.

7) I should have considered the fact that S.M. Hutchens pointed out in his comment, that they don't necessarily think that much about the LCMS at all. In short I was falling into the usual pattern of thought of the paranoiac conspiracy theorist: everyone thinks about YOU all the time, and their thinking about YOU is driven by a deeply logical nefarious master plan.

I would take the whole post down, but that would make the link at Mere Comments dead. Really, I'd prefer to leave it up as a warning to resist the temptation to act the thin-skinned paranoiac in the future.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Why Do They Hate Us?

[UPDATE: I should not have written this this way. My apology is here. Let this stand as a monument not to wallow in thin-skinned self-pity.]

No, I'm not referring to the United States and the Islamic world, and "hate" might be a bit strong here. [Then why did I use it? Sheesh! Punch them in the face and then say "It was just a joke"?]

I'm referring to the whole world of Touchstone-style conservative yet ecumenical Christianity, and if I hadn't been looking for the grabber headline, I would have titled it, "Why Do They Disdain Us?" with the "us" being confessional Lutherans in the LCMS.

In practice, Touchstone magazine makes women's ordination and life issues its "touchstone" of orthodoxy in the new era. (S.M. Hutchens makes this point here.) One would think therefore, that their sympathies would be clear: LCMS good, ELCA bad. But no, that's not how it works at all. In the Mere Comments blog, Catholic David Mills refers approvingly to Russel Saltzman's survey of the situation in the LCMS. (It's printed in an annoying format, but well worth reading.) Pastor Saltzman is in the ELCA and the whole article has the tone of "Missouri is finally getting reasonable under Kieschnick."

What I find most mystifying is the sense in Touchstone that ELCA is "us" and the LCMS is "them," that we naturally look at the LCMS through ELCA lenses and wouldn't dream of looking at the ELCA through LCMS glasses. Why is that? I can think of several possible reasons but I don't know which one is right. [The whole point of this is to ask "I don't get no respect." -- It's good as a comic shtick, but unfortunately there was no comedy in this post.]

1) The LCMS has closed communion and hence is anti-ecumenical. (But so do Catholics and Orthodox.)

2) Missouri Lutherans are six-day creationists and Biblical literalists. (But so are the Southern Baptists who consistently get good press at Touchstone.)

3) Touchstone is basically about culture wars and sanctification and confessional Lutheran churches aren't very strong on these sorts of matters. Even when they hold the right opinion, they seem to have some block about getting all fired up about it. (But then neither do the Orthodox.)

4) At its core, Touchstone is an American version of the British-style ecumenism of Catholics and Anglo-Catholics: what they had in common was varying degrees of rejection of or discomfort with the Reformation and justification by faith alone. Protestants were welcome as long as they were "evangelical catholics" finding some way to "get beyond the old Reformation polemics." (But then why the welcome to Baptists?)

5) For opponents of the Reformation, Luther stands for that movement in a way that no other person ever has. Ever since Newman, the line that the Reformation inevitably leads to liberalism and then atheism has been a standard of Catholic and "evangelical catholic" apologetics. Perhaps this leads to sub-conscious resentment of churches like the LCMS which disprove it.

6) Perhaps Touchstone agrees that Luther's theology is fundamentally unusable for ecumenical purposes, while pietist, Methodist, and (presumably) Baptist theology isn't. (S.M. Hutchens argued as much here.) But if so, this amounts to a claim that Luther is essentially a cultist in a way that Wesley or Billy Graham is not, and ELCA is admitted into the fold because they don't really adhere to Luther, imputation vs. infusion, etc., any more. In short their version of "Mere Christianity" doesn't include the Reformation. Shouldn't we be told if they believe that's the case?

7) Socially, ELCA seminaries and colleges move in the same world as Catholic seminaries and colleges -- naturally when they look to the Lutheran world, mainstream Catholics and "evangelical catholics" ask their old friends in the ELCA for their opinion, even if those men are tied to a church that opposes their fundamental commitments? And just as the only doctrinal commitment that holds all Jews together is "That man Jesus is NOT the Messiah," so too the only doctrinal commitment which even the most conservative ELCA members adhere to is that "Back when we disagreed with the LCMS, they were always wrong."

I don't know which is the case, but something has to explain this odd disdain for the people in the Lutheran church who actually live by their ideas.

[Or maybe they don't spend that much time thinking about us at all, and I dreamed up these explanations out of bits and pieces of all my experiences that we "don't get no respect."]


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Is Circumcision Sinful in Itself for a Christian?

I have been focusing on the issue of Luther's interpretation of Paul in a number of recent posts. One reason is that I don't think philosophy, world views, or deep structures of thought have much to do with the history of Christian doctrine. Instead, as I said here, "I would like to suggest that one's interpretation of a relatively small number of [Biblical] passages will determine one's theology." For example, is Romans 7 about Paul before he believed in Christ, or after? That, not nominalism, or any other philosophical idea, is going to shape your view of sanctification of the believer.

Another question no one has asked is: how come the Catholic monk William of Rubruck had such a different view of fermented mare's milk from the Eastern Orthodox? To put it differently, what was Latin theology doing right in its understanding of culture, that Greek theology was doing wrong? (Background for this question here).

The answer lies in Augustine and Jerome's debate over circumcision and the interpretation of the passages on circumcision in Galatians. Paul says in Galatians 2:3, that he did not have Titus circumcised, but in Acts 16:3 he did have Timothy circumcised. Jerome and Augustine had a great debate over this question. Jerome contended that just as Paul's conflict with Peter in Galatians 2:11 must have been a kind of play-acting, because for Jerome (and following him Erasmus) Peter as an apostle could not sin and was beyond attack, just so, Paul's circumcision in Acts 16:3 must have been a pretence, and "deceitfully" should have been added into the text there. That is, Paul fooled the Jews into thinking he had circumcised Timothy, because once Christ had come circumcision was fatal. (Luther sums up Jerome and Origen's view point with the adage, "But after Christ the ceremonial laws were fatal"; see Luther's Works, vol. 26, Lectures on Galatians, p. 123.)

By contrast in the Galatians 2:11 passage, Augustine wrote, "It is intolerable to suppose that there was pretense in Paul, for he confirms with an oath that he is speaking the truth" (cited in Lectures on Galatians, pp. 107-08, from Augustine, Expositio epistolae ad Galatas, 15). Similarly he argued that circumcision was "not to be withdrawn from Jewish practice as if abominable and reprehensible" (Bede the Venerable: Excerpts from the Works of Saint Augustine on the Letters of the Blessed Apostle Paul, p. 219). As the place of my citation shows, the series of letters between Jerome and Augustine debating this this issue was well known in the Middle Ages, and was referred to by Luther as early as his Lecture on Romans.

Here is Augustine arguing against Jerome:

It is I, Paul, telling you that if you have yourselves circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. (Gal. 5:2)
Di he deceive Timothy, then, and make Christ of no benefit to him [Acts 16:3]? Or, if it was done deceitfully, was it then no hindrance? But [Paul] did not specify, and say either if you have yourselves circumcised truly, or deceitfully, but without limiting it he said, if you have yourselves circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you.

As you want to make room for your interpretation, so that want us to supply the words 'deceitfully' [to Acts 16:3], so I am not demanding unreasonably that you also allow me to intepret the words if you have yourselves circumcised as being addressed to people who wanted to have themselves circumcised because they supposed that they could not be saved by Christ otherwise. [Or as Luther would say, they made it part of justification.] To those circumcised in this state of mind, with this desire and intention, Christ was of no benefit, as [Paul] clearly states elsewhere: 'If righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.' He also makes this declaration which you yourself have quoted: 'You who are seeking to be justified by the law have been cut off from Christ; you have falled from grace.' Surely he was rebuking those who were trusting in themselves, not those who were legitimately observing the [commandments] out of respect for the One who commanded them, not those who understood both why they were commanded -- to foreshadow the truth -- and how long they should endure [i.e. only until the Christ came].

. . .

I say, then, that circumcision of the foresking, and other things of this kind, were divinely given to the earlier people through the covenant that we call 'old', to represent the future things that were to be fulfilled through Christ. When [the future things] had come, these were left for Christians to read solely for the purpose of understanding the prophecies that had gone before. They did not necessarily have to be carried out so that the revelation of faith, which was represented here as to come in the future, may come, as if it was still being awaited.

But although these things were not to be imposed on the Gentiles, they were not to be withdrawn from Jewish practice as if abominable and reprehensible. Slowly and gradually, then, all this observance of prefigurations was to be ended by the passionate preaching of the grace of Christ, the only means believers have of knowing that they are justified and saved -- not by those prefigurations of things once future, but then already coming and present, as at the calling of those Jews whom the Lord's physical presence and the period of the apostles found in this state [i.e. circumcised]. This was enough to suggest that [this observance] was not to be avoided as abominable and similar to idolatry, but that it had no further use, lest it be supposed necessary -- as though salvation came from it and could not exist without it -- as heretics supposed. [The heretics, Judaizers in this case], while wishing to be both Jews and Christians, could be neither Jews nor Christians (Hurst, trans., pp. 218-19).

And here is Luther writing about their debate:

But even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek (Gal. 2:3)
. . .
Thus Paul did not reject circumcision as something damnable; nor did he by any word or deed compel the Jews to give it up For in 1 Cor 7:18 he says: Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. But he did rejected circumcision in the sense of something necessary for righteousness . . . Nevertheless when Jews who were believers but were still weak and zealous for the Law heard the statement that circumcision was not necessary for righteousness, they could not take it to mean anything else than that for this reason circumcision was altogether useless and damnable. . . In the same way we today do not reject fasting and other pious practices as something damnable, but we do teach that by these practices we do not obtain the forgiveness of sins. When the common people hear this, they immediately conclude that we are condeming good works. And the papists abet this impression of the people through their sermons and books . . .

. . .

Jerome and Augustine engage in a bitter controversy over this passage. The term "was not compelled" supports Augustine's case. But Jerome did not understand the issue. The issue here is not, as Jerome supposes, what Peter or Paul did about circumcising or not circumcising. Therefore Jerome is amazed that Paul had the authority to denounce in Peter what he had himself done [i.e. observe on occasion the Jewish law]; for, he says, Paul circumcised Timothy and lived as a Gentile among Gentiles but as a Jew among Jews. Jerome imagines that what is at issue here is not very important; therefore he concludes that neither Peter nor Paul had sinned, but he imagines that both had covered things up with a "white lie." As a matter of fact, however, this entire controversy of theirs was, and is, serious business; it deals with the gravest of issues. Therefore it was not a matter of covering things up.

The basic issue was this: Is the Law necessary for justification, or is it not? Paul and Peter are in controversy here over this particular hteme, on which the whole of Christian doctrine depends. Paul was too responsible a person to launch such a public attack on Peter in the presence of the entire church of Antioch on account of some trivial issue. He is attacking him on account of the basic doctrine of Christianity. For when there were no Jews present, Peter ate with Gentiles; but when the Jews arrived, he withdrew. Paul rebukes him because by his pretense he was compelling the Gentiles to do as the Jews did. The whole emphasis lies on the phrase "you are compelling." But Jerome did not see this.

Therefore Paul did not require that anyone who wanted to be circumcised should remain uncircumcised, but he did want to know that circumcision was not necessary for salvation. Paul wanted to remvoe this compulsion. Therefore he allowed the Jews to observe the Law as an obligation; but he always taught both Jews and Gentiles that in their conscience they should be free from the Law and circumcision, just as the patriarchs and all the Old Testament saints were free in their conscience and were justified by faith, not by circumcision or the Law

In fact, Paul might have permitted Titus to be circumcised; but when he saw that they wanted to compel him, Paul refused . . . (Lectures on Galatians, p. 84-85)

As one can thus see, Augustine had already gotten the debate on circumcision to a point pretty close to where Luther took it. One may presume, therefore, that readers in the medieval church had the chance to assimilate the Augustianian view of circumcision and hence religious culture (as I've termed adiaphora here). In this view, the issue is not such rituals in themselves, but whether they are done for salvation or not. This laid part (not all, but part) of the groundwork for Luther's reading of Jerome, and moreover, accustomed Luther to thinking that great figures in the church like Jerome could go badly wrong.

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Monday, June 12, 2006

Torture and inhumane treatment have long been banned by U.S. treaty obligations, and are punishable by criminal statute. Recent developments, however, have created new uncertainties. By reaffirming the ban on cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment as well as torture, the McCain amendment, now signed into law, is a step in the right direction. Yet its implementation remains unclear.

The President's signing statement, which he issued when he signed the McCain Amendment into law, implies that the President does not believe he is bound by the amendment in his role as commander in chief. The possibility remains open that inhumane methods of interrogation will continue.

Furthermore, in a troubling development, for the first time in our nation's history, legislation has now been signed into law that effectively permits evidence obtained by torture to be used in a court of law. The military tribunals that are trying some terrorist suspects are now expressly permitted to consider information obtained under coercive interrogation techniques, including degrading and inhumane techniques and torture.

If these facts bother you, and you support this advertisement here (pdf), you might want to consider signing this statement of conscience.

Q: Aren't these the usual peacenik suspects?
A: Well, yes, many of them are, but some of them are not. But that's an unavoidable fact of political polarization -- just as criticizing Iran's human rights record, for example, and publicizing demonstrations there is mostly a matter of "neo-cons," so too protesting the use of torture in the war on terror will inevitably be mostly a matter of the left. Sometimes they're right, and this issue in my opinion is one of those times.

Q: Why should I support giving terrorists Miranda rights, free trials, and all that?
A: This statement carefully avoids any such fallacy that those captured in military conflicts have any civil rights under the US Constitution, or that those captured while engaging in unlawful combat have any claim to treatment as POWs. But all people have human rights, and not being tortured is one of them. And the American people have to set the limits for what they will allow their agents to do or not do to their country's enemies, real or merely suspected.

HT: verbum ipsum.



Saturday, June 10, 2006

Mixing Law and Gospel

Tim Bayly has linked to an article by Greg Johnson, a Presbyterian Church in America pastor, called "Freedom from Quiet Time Guilt." The point of the article is pretty simple: you shouldn't read the Bible daily and pray based on guilt (as a Law), but based on grace and Christian freedom. Tim Bayly doesn't like the article at all:

There are things here worth saying, some of which are downright helpful and good. But the admixture of truth and error ultimately renders this piece unsalvageable except as an exercise in the practice of that most-neglected-of-all-spiritual-gifts, discernment.

In the end, he concludes, it is "false teaching hiding behind the cover of 'grace'" and calls on his readers to demonstrate that fact in their comments.

His pupils have responded to their teacher's call for a exposure of the errors with a long comments thread.

Well, I have mixed feelings about one of the issues that has exercised Rev. Bayly: whether the danger of our times is legalism (i.e. too much guilt-tripping over devotional exercises) or anti-nomianism (i.e. too many people at ease in Zion, ignorant of the Bible, don't pray). Since the Small Catechism itself implies a fairly rigorous program of daily prayer and devotions, my sympathies are more with the latter.

But there's one massive error I find in Greg Johnson's article that virtually all of the Reformed commentators accept and even amplify. Unlike Tim Bayly, I'm just going to go out and tell you what it is. Greg Johnson writes:

And I hope we’ve dismissed the idea that prayer shows God how much we love him! It’s not a work, but a grace! But often we think that prayer is something we do to obligate God to bless us. This is the subtlest of errors, for it resembles the biblical teaching. Indeed, it is a caricature of the biblical picture of prayer. Grace-empowered, grace-motivated prayer does bring blessing, but prayer isn’t a work we do that obligates God to give blessing. It’s a subtle difference, but an important one. Prayer is a means of grace, not a work to merit grace.

Theologians have classically called prayer and Scripture (along with the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper) means of grace—highways along which the Holy Spirit tends to travel. The means of grace are the normal instruments God uses to accomplish his saving work in and through us. Does prayer change things? Yes, because God changes things, and prayer is an expression of our reliance upon him to accomplish his purposes.

As for this, I'd really say, it is such a confusion, nothing good can be made out of it. Prayer is a work. It is not grace. Nor is it a means of grace. The fact that prayer does not merit grace, can hardly be spun into the idea that it is grace. "Grace-empowered" and "grace-motivated" prayer is still a work -- a good work, one that all the saints will do, but a work.

This confusion is continued by the comment-box posts:

But, it seems to me the answer is never to abandon or denigrate the spiritual discipline, but rather to hold such things forth as the means of grace. Do you want to be close to God? Do you want to enjoy the benefits of relationship with him? Do you want to experience the peace and joy he promises, irrespective of life's irksome circumstances? Then undertake to use diligently the means he has given you to do that.


I agree with part of his statement, prayer is a means of grace. Baptism is a means of grace. Communion is a means of grace. Sexual purity is a means of grace. Godliness with contentment is a means of grace. Preaching is a means of grace. Holding fast to your confession in the face of the gallows is a means of grace.

Ultimately, everything done in faith is a means of grace.


The Problem: Broken homes and grieving parents
Cause: The curse of God on all mankind
Solution: The grace of God through Jesus Christ
Means of Grace (Solution): Preaching, teaching, prayer, Bible study, Eucharist, baptism (etc.)


As others have noted, I find the rigid distinction Johnson continually makes between a "work" and a "grace" to be fundamentally flawed. To be sure, the two words occupy opposite ends of the semantic spectrum, but this in no way requires that the two be mutually exclusive. Indeed, as Dave Curell suggests above, any act done in faith can be considered a "means of grace," and yet that act inevitably requires action. Nor is it correct to suppose that discipline and duty, both of which the author treats similarly, cannot also be means of grace.

No. Prayer is not a means of grace. Greg Johnson and the Reformed commenters simply have the whole thing confused. A means of grace is an action whereby one sinner makes clear to the senses of another God's promise of free pardon. It needs three people: God, the doer, and the recipient. If something is a means of grace, then God promises grace, the doer must enunciate that promise, and the recipient must believe in it. Faith is necessary for the recipient of the promise but not for its transmitter. Indeed the salvation of the transmitter is not the point of the promise at all. Preaching is a means of grace, as is baptism, the sacrament of the Altar, and absolution, because in all these things the pastor (or in emergency, any one) enunciates the promise for the flock, who is asked only to have faith in that promise. But once the flock has had this faith, then they will pray, and their pray will be a good work, a mighty work, a well-nigh omnipotent work. Luther says, about infant baptism:

For the Word of God is powerful, when it is uttered, to change even a godless heart, which is no less deaf and helpless than any infant. [This he says about the efficacy of the Word in itself, but he goes on to speak of the church's prayers.] Even so the infant is changed, cleansed, and renewed by inpoured faith, through the prayer of the Church that presents it for baptism and believes, to which prayer all things are possible. Nor should I doubt that even a godless adult might be changed, in any of the sacraments, if the same Church prayed and presented him; as we read in the Gospel of the man sick of the palsy, who was healed through the faith of others. I should be ready to admit that in this sense the sacraments of the New Law are efficacious to confer grace, not only to those who do not, but even to those who do most obstinately oppose a bar. What obstacle will not the faith of the Church and the prayer of faith remove? (Babylonian Captivity of the Church, in Three Treatises, p. 187; more discussion here).

The scholastic theologians had said that the sacraments can work as "efficacious signs" even without faith in the recipient but only as long as the recipient does not "oppose a bar" of deliberate disbelief. But Luther says, the sacraments must be received with faith to be efficacious, but once so received by the Church, the Church's power of prayer can convert even the most obstinate sinner.

And here, relating to the prayers of the mass, Luther wrote:

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; as James teaches us to prayer for one another that we may be saved, and as Paul, in 1 Timothy 2, commands that supplications, prayers, and intercessions be made for all men, for kings, and for all that are in high station. These are not the mass, but works of the mass -- if the prayers of heart and lips may be called works -- for they flow from the faith that is kindled or increased in the sacrament (p. 160).

We must not confound these two -- the mass and the prayers, the sacrament and the work, the testament and the sacrifice; for the one comes from God to us, through the ministration of the priest, and demands our faith [i.e. is a means of grace], the other proceeds from our faith to God, through the priest [here Luther is speaking specifically of the divine liturgy in which the pastor presents his flock's prayers], and demands His answer [i.e. is a good work]. The former descends, the latter ascends. Therefore the former does not necessarily require a worthy and godly minister, but the latter does indeed require such a one, because God heareth not sinners. He knows how to send down blessings through evildoers, but He does not accept the work of any evildoer (p. 167).

Back to Greg Johnson and the Bayly blog commenters: It is because the Reformed simply don't have the concept of "means of grace" in this Evangelical sense, that they then turn the means of grace into something we do to put ourselves in the way of the Holy Spirit (like hitchhikers trying to find the highway with the most traffic so they can thumb the Holy Spirit).

Since prayer is a work, Luther felt no compunction about expecting it, twice daily, morning and night, in the Small Catechism. Likewise the Evangelical tradition has traditionally expected daily Bible reading, and the regular attendance at church. But such things are works, and hence must be nourished by the faith that comes from the promises, spoken to us by a fellow sinner. When so nourished they are, corporately and individually, in our churches and homes, powerful for breaking down the greatest citadels of unbelief.

Lutheran Carnival XXV: Whitsunday

As you probably all know by now, Lutheran Carnival XXV is up at Mrs. T. Swede's "Journalistic Jargon." My favorite things about this particular carnival? The biography of the guy we all take for granted (C.F.W. Walther), and the first post by Der Bettler at Hoc est verum on Real Church Growth. Once you get past the cringe-inducing photo of Rick Warren, it's just three points in his plan and they're real simple.

UPDATE: Check out the comments thread on Der Bettler's post. Houston, we have a problem.



Friday, June 09, 2006

Why We Should All Be Glad Bob Jones Didn't Use a Catholic Bible

"Beware, my son, of all immorality. First of all take a wife from among the descendants of your fathers and do not marry a foreign woman, who is not of your father's tribe; for we are the sons of the prophets. Remember, my son, that Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, our fathers of old, all took wives from among their brethren. They were blessed in their children, and their posterity will inherit the land. So now, my son, love your brethren, and in your heart do not disdain your brethren and the sons and daughters of your people by refusing to take a wife for yourself from among them. For in pride there is ruin and great confusion; and in shiftlessness there is loss and great want, because shiftlessness is the mother of famine."

From Tobit's advice to his son Tobias -- Tobit 4:12-13 (RSV).

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Thursday, June 08, 2006

Walter Mitty Rides Again!

Imagine this: balding, mild-mannered accountant is at home, pottering about, when the phone rings, and a man from Oxford University informs him that he is a direct descendant of GENGHIS KHAN! In the male line, no less!

Imagine no more, it really happened to Tom Robinson, professor of accounting at the University of Florida: read more here, here, and here (free registration required), here, and here

Dr. Robinson was researching his family tree and had established that his great-great-grandfather, John Robinson, had emigrated from Cumbria in England to Illinois. Reaching a dead end, in 2003 he submitted a scraping of cells from the inside of his cheek to Oxford Ancestors. The company traces people's ancestry to specific regions of the world based on their Y chromosomes, which track paternal descent, or on their mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited through the female line.

"They told me my mother's side of the family came from France and Spain and my father's side probably originated in Central Europe," Dr. Robinson said in an interview yesterday.
. . .
Recently, Bryan Sykes, the geneticist who founded Oxford Ancestors, decided to look through his database of some 50,000 people to see if there were any anomalous matches with Genghis Khan's Y chromosome. "We get people wanting to know if they are related to Genghis Khan and they never are unless they come from China or Mongolia," he said yesterday in an interview from England.

Among his non-Asian customers was one hit: Dr. Robinson. "Someone rang him up and I think it came as a nice surprise," Dr. Sykes said.

This research builds on the identification of a Y chromosome sequence that has been related to Genghis (Chinggis to us purists) Khan. As the abstract for the research establishing this says:

We have identified a Y-chromosomal lineage with several unusual features. It was found in 16 populations throughout a large region of Asia, stretching from the Pacific to the Caspian Sea, and was present at high frequency: 8% of the men in this region carry it, and it thus makes up 0.5% of the world total. The pattern of variation within the lineage suggested that it originated in Mongolia 1,000 years ago. Such a rapid spread cannot have occurred by chance; it must have been a result of selection. The lineage is carried by likely male-line descendants of Genghis Khan, and we therefore propose that it has spread by a novel form of social selection resulting from their behavior.

How's Professor Robinson taking the news?

''I think I do have a certain number of administrative skills,'' Robinson said, noting he was once president of a local financial analyst society. "I haven't done any conquering, per se.''


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Responses to My Immigration Post

I've had some very interesting, high-quality responses to my immigration post. Since HaloScan will eventually delete the comment boxes, I thought I'd like to preserve some of them (and others were interesting, too, I just couldn't think of anything particularly insightful to say in response).

Kerner points out the difficulties of enforcement and the need for cheap, unskilled labor:

Present immigration law in the USA is just like prohibition. It is very restrictive in theory (as you say, legal immigration is almost impossible unless you have a relative here already), but it is not, and will never be, enforced. Here's why. The illegal immigrants are too intertwined with the income streams of every American today. If you go to restaurants, stay at hotels, buy gasoline, live or work in a place that has a cleaning or landscaping service, live or work in a place that has drywall in it, or (above all) eat meat or plant life, then chances are you have illegals working for you. It may be alarmist to say our economy would collapse without the illegal workers, but to eliminate them would put a strain on too many people to make doing so politically feasible. Say the government raided all the meat processing plants in Iowa (as happened once in the 80's) such that they actually had to shut down or scale back operations (as didn't happen, because political pressure compelled the feds to back off on enforcement). Sure, the illegals lose their jobs, but so do the office workers, sales force, truck drivers, managers at those companies. Farmers and others in the economic system also suffer. There's a shortage of meat, followed by a supply but at much higher prices.

In other words, the federal government will have just put thousands of non-immigrant voters in a world of economic pain, while simultaneously angering every hispanic voter in the state. Iowa is a swing state where a few thousand votes can make the difference. No president (not republican, not democrat, not anybody) is going to throw away Iowa's electoral votes, much less do the same thing all over the country.So, just like prohibition, we have the form of a law, with no possibility of society ever conforming to its provisions.

The implication of what Kerner is saying is that the US should create an open borders system, in which only unemployed aliens would be subject to deportation, but in which anyone who can find a job in the US (say, within a month of entry) is allowed to stay. (This is assuming that we do not wish to have laws that are widely flouted.)

The other implication is an interesting one: that the advanced industrial economy is basically non-self-supporting. Even in an advanced industrial economy, cheap unskilled labor will still be necessary, but such cheap unskilled labor can't be produced by the advanced industrial economy itself. Why not? Presumably (if the implication holds) because those born in an advanced information economy with the basic skills, reliability, and drive to make money end up getting more skills and pricing themselves out of the unskilled labor market.

Interestingly, this raises the possibility of a Rosa Luxembourg style argument, that advanced capitalism needs a backward periphery, with exploitable cheap labor, to survive. The only difference is that in the 1910s capital had to go to the labor (colonialism), while today, capital imports the labor (immigration). If all the world becomes like the US, Western Europe, and Japan, then the system will collapse through lack of cheap labor. But where will the revolutionaries come from then?

Or perhaps the difficulty is only one of short-term adjustment, and a lower supply of cheap labor would be compensated for by automization, and labor-saving technology. (Predictions of the demise of capitalism have a bad track record.)

Rick points out that despite my point 25, America is a nation of immigrants in some sense:

But even the dictionary definition would allow the phrase "nation of immigrants" (if it assumes "and their descendants"). My Random House dictionary defines immigrant as "a person who migrates to a country for permanent residence." Most people's ancestors qualify. And pictorially I think there is something to picture. (People stepping off of a boat, many having to learn English, make an oath of abjuration of the King of Prussia and an oath of allegiance to King George III, etc.) What we make of that for policy is another thing.

For some purposes, including some fairly important ones, he's right. If one is talking about relation to the land for example, or mobility, then one could say that the "English" and their descendants are immigrants as much as any one "fresh off the boat." Much of the cachet of American Indian spirituality, for example, comes from our sense that we don't have any organic relation to the land, hallowed by centuries of shrines and spirits of the dead -- and that's something we feel we want.

But for others purposes, I still think 25 and 27 apply. For example, contrast TK and Rick's response. Rick writes

On my dad's side of the family we go back at least to 1748, and in some lines further. On my mom's side, to the 1870's. I picture those pretty evenly.

In other words, his feeling of "bilateral" ancestry, gives him a sense that he can't really take sides for one or against the other.

But TK writes:

I am keenly aware of how recently my family came to America and even to North American. It was just 100 years ago that my great-grandfather, his wife, two kids, his parents and sister took Canada's offer of land to anyone willingly to try to successfully work the farm lands of Canada (the "English" had no interest in living there, but knew someone needed to settle the land). I was able to interview my grandfather extensively before he died 1 1/2 years ago and it is amazing how he took his immigration for granted and was totally not interested in his home country (we have no remaining relatives there, he said).

. . .

People have started to forget the awful way the immigrants of that period were treated. One example: in Canada, Ukrainians were treated as not capable of becoming as educated or cultured as the "English". They were treated terribly, even to the point of detaining Ukrainians in camps during WWI. Only recently has Canada started to address the sins of their forefathers and offer apologies.

This is an example of what I meant by point 27. TK's perspective can't help but be different from mine, because she is responding to a different family history. She puts herself in the shoes of the immigrants, and feels it is important to remember the sins of the "English."*

Now, I share a lot with TK. But when she speaks like that there is a small part of me that gets its back up. Being one of the "English" (US division, not Canadian, but that doesn't change the point much -- immigrants to the US have their own grievances to remember) I wonder, why does one always have to remember the sins of my ancestors in particular? And why is it that whenever we tell the story of 19th century America, all the good things were (implicitly) done by all of "our" ancestors, but the bad things were done only by "my" ancestors. I mean, if my people get all the blame for nativism, can we also hog all the credit for creating a country that her ancestors want to come to?

Now, the sensible part of me knows that this way lies madness, that just as the Talmud says all Jewish converts are mystically present at Sinai to accept the Law, so too it is the whole myth of America that at Bunker Hill, and Trenton, and Philadelphia, and Gettysburg the ancestors of all American todays citizens were mystically present, that the Continental Army is "we" for all of us.

But that is the sore spot in the immigration debate. If you read John Podhoretz at the NRO's Corner debating John Derbyshire, it's crystal clear that the real issue for him is this: were the "Old Stock" Yankees** right in all the demeaning things they said about my immigrant forbears? And he demands that public policy today answer, NO! They were WRONG! And who can blame him for loving his family and loving his country and hence defending the action by which the two became joined? (A very well written, and less emotional version of the same idea is here.) And he sees that any form of exclusionary policy is tantamount to admitting that exclusion in the 1920s might well have been right in demeaning his people. But he hardly seems to realize that the people he is demanding be recognized as senseless bigots themselves have descendants who feel the same way about their forbears that he does about his.

This is the hidden fault line that runs beneath the immigration debate. It doesn't act in a simple and straight forward way. Most of us have feet on both sides. For example, I am "old-stock" in ancestry, but I thank God for the great wave of immigration that brought the Augsburg Evangelical Church to these shores and kept it confessional. I think we can live with this contrast in perspectives, and maybe even be strengthened by it. But as the contrast of comments shows, whether we like it or not, the fault line is still there.

*That's a Canadian term, I guess. In the US we don't really even have a widely used term for the equivalent, which is basically those whose ancestors were in the United State as free citizens before 1780-1790 or so. These were mostly, but not all, "English" -- they also include the Dutch of the Hudson Valley, the Germans of the Delaware valley ("Pennsylvania Dutch"), the Gaelic Scots of North Carolina, and the Huguenots scattered throughout the colonies, but especially in South Carolina. "Old stock" is perhaps the best term for what I mean.

**Outside the US, this means Americans, but inside the US, it means Northerners, and in the Northeast it means descendants of the Puritan settlers of New England.



Monday, June 05, 2006

It’s Nice to Be Right, But . . .

What was I saying about it being for all intents and purposes impossible to immigrate to the USA legally? (See points 4-6 here.)

Well I was following a link here and a link there and came to this post on Musings of an English Muffin (a quite nice blog, incidentally, in a Reformed sort of way). In between being generally happy being English, but also discussing emigrating to Australia or Canada (to which one can get a migrant visa), she considers the US and then pulls up short:

Anyway, mindless ramblings aside, this is all a pipedream. Emigrating to the US is about as difficult as me learning brain surgery, and just as likely. We couldn't do it on a family visa, and the green card lottery isn't taking applications from the UK. Apparently if we invest in an American business to the tune of $150,000, we could get a fancy Visa and leave to remain in the US, but that's a hefty amount of cash besides the other costs of the enterprise.

Why can't we see a public discussion of immigration in the USA, that starts off with the basic fact: it is currently illegal to move to the United States if you want to share in the American dream and have a better life for you and your family?

I still don't know where we want it go from there, but let's start at the truth.

It's nice to be right -- but in this case I wish I wasn't -- or if I was, I wish I could say it was that way because someone wanted it that way.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Cintamani Government

What's the cintamani (pronounced chindamani)? Read on!

Saturday's Washington Post has a fascinating article about Iranian President Ahmadinejad's style of governance. He's emphasizing retail politics, dragging along his cabinet for tours of the countryside, promising to help petitioners with a loan or a pension. And in Tehran he runs a customer complaints bureau:

"Each day we get between 130 and 150 requests," said Hamed Alizadeh at the walk-up window at an office in Tehran, set up around the corner from the modest townhome that symbolized Ahmadinejad's personal integrity during the campaign.

Labeled "President's Public Relations Office," the window receives hand-delivered letters from 8 to 5:30 six days a week. Alizadeh, part of a constituent service staff of 200, runs a highlighter over each essential passage, fills out a form for the relevant ministry, then hands the citizen a phone number to call after 10 days.

The requests can be amusing, he said: One woman wanted the president to find her a husband. But seven in 10 ask for money. The president's visit to Iran's poorest province, Sistan and Baluchistan, brought 200,000 letters alone.

"Everybody is saying he will actually solve the problems, so I've come all this way," said Ashraf Samadi, 47, who borrowed $320 from neighbors for the 16-hour bus ride to Tehran to deliver her letter in person. She wanted funds for a son's failing kidney and a daughter's wedding. "Is there any chance of seeing the president himself?" she asked.

The reporters wonders whether the PM can live up to his promises, and contrasts his reputation for kindness in Iran with his ferocious fire-breathing rhetoric towards the United States. Surely one of these must be just a show, the reporter implies. Not at all. Tradition lives: Ahmadinejad is following the old Iranian and Turco-Mongolian tradition of government by generosity.

The Persian historian Juvaini, in his History of the World Conqueror (one of the truly great works of pre-modern history writing, by the way) described how after displaying His wrath in the harsh campaigns of Genghis Khan (r. 1206-1227), the Almighty deigned to display mercy in the reign of his son Ögedei (r. 1229-1241):

After God Almighty . . . had tried His servants upon the touchstone of calamity and melted them in the crucible of tribulation . . . it became necessary in accordance with both reason and tradition that the treasures of the mercy of God -- great is His glory! -- should again be opened up and the ease and comfort of His servants again provided for (p. 179).

The Great Khan Ögedei was famous for his generosity, of which Juvaini told in 49 famous anecdotes. A typical example:

There was a person in Qara-Qorum [the capital of the Mongol empire] to whose affairs weakness and poverty had found their way. He made a cup out of the horn of a mountain goat and sat upon the highway and waited. When he saw the Khan's retinue in the distance he rose to his feet and held out the cup. The Khan took it from him and gave him fifty balish [a kind of ingot of silver]. One of the scribes repeated the number of balish [out of incredulity] and the Khan said: 'How long must I ask you not to deny my bounty and begrudge petitioners my property?' And to spite the censorious he commanded the sum to be doubled and with those balish he made that poor man rich. (p. 223)

And another:

At the time Shiraz [a city in modern southwest Iran] had not yet submitted, a person came from that place and bending his knee spoke as follows: 'I have come from Shiraz, because of the fame of the Emperor's generosity and goodness; for I am a man with a family and have many debts and little backing; and my petition is for 500 balish, which is the amount of my debt.' The Khan ordered his officials to give him what he had asked for and to add the same amount again. They hesitated, saying, 'To add to what he asked for is extravagance, if not ruination. He answered, 'Because of our fame this careworn wretch has traversed many mountains and plains and experienced hot and cold; and what he asked for ill not meet the expenses of his journey hither and his return home, nor will it be sufficient to cover his debt. . . How can it be considered just that a poor man after travelling so great a distance should return disappointed to his family and children? . . .' The poor man returned home rich and joyful, and with the Emperor there was left fair fame in this world.

Of course such generosity had to be paid for -- where did the money in the treasury come from?
The eleventh century Wisdom of Royal Glory, written in Turkish wrote:

The prince should be generous, yet keep a humble heart and quiet demeanor. It is through generosity that the prince acquires a good name, and it is through his name and fame that the world becomes secure. He then attracts troops who crowd about his standard, and with these he attains his goal. Here is how a successful warrior has put it: O brave one! strike, take, and give to your men. Be generous, give gifts, entertain with food and drink. And when you lack, then strike, take, and give again. The valiant man never lacks for wealth . . . (p. 107).

So that is government: you conquer and raid other people and distribute the largesse to your own people. Striking terror into the West and making it pay tribute is a key link in his ability to pay off the debts he owes to the poor of Iran. But revenue is not entirely external:

What need for a prince to hoard up treasure? Wherever he has ready troops, there treasure is at hand. Troops are needed to maintain the state, and wealth is necessary to pay the troops: a prosperous people is neede to attain this wealth, and for the people to be prosperous, you must maintain justice. If any one of these is lacking, all four are left behind: and when this occurs princely rule disintegrates (p. 107)

And while every other official needs to be generous, the treasurer must not be:

[The treasurer] ought to be close-fisted rather than open-handed. Then the treasury won't be squandered. Liberality is a find thing in its place, but not with another man's money! (p. 132).

He must not drink wine but must practice self-restraint . . . If he drinks, he will be too liberal with your money, scattering it about freely without receiving the equivalent. It is better for the treasurer to be rather niggardly and to keep close watch over your money (p. 131).

The prince, the khan: he alone must win the gratitude of the people (and the army) by giving gifts.

Yet there is always the danger, that taxation will not keep up with the ruler's generosity. In Ögedei's reign, North China was the great source of money, which was distributed to the more turbulent areas of the Middle East. The stories about Ögedei in China are not one of heroic generosity, but of grinding taxes and profiteering. In 1240, facing treasury shortfalls, Ögedei overrode the protests of his Chinese adviser Yelü Chucai, and allowed his Turkestani treasurer and tax farmer Abdu'r-Rahman to double (in one year!) the annual tax-quota for North China, from about 44,000 pounds of silver to about 88,000.

In ancient India, this problem of generosity outstripping revenues was well known -- and there was a well-known solution: the cintamani (pronounced chindamani) or wishing jewel that magically grants unending wealth. All your government problems are over!

This solution appears in a collection of famous jataka stories, or tales of the Buddha's previous lives. Many of them were popular legends or beast fables (including one hilarious Calamity Jane story) with the hero re-identified as a previous incarnation of the Buddha. The search for the cintamani is the center of two virtually identical tales: the longer "Great Charity Goes to Sea" and the shorter "Prince Virtuous."

Like the Buddha, the prince* goes out to see the world. His father has the world swept clean of misery, but the prince meets wretched people anyway:

As the procession proceeded it came to a group of people who were dressed in rags. Holding broken vessels, they cried out in a loud voice: 'Give us anything! Anything!' When the prince asked them the cause of their misery, some said they were homeless orphans without families, others said they had been long ill, still others said they had been reduced to begging because robbers had stolen everything they had (Sutra of the Wise and Foolish, p. 165).

The prince goes on to see all the sinful ways in which people make a living: butchers slaughtering animals, farmers plowing the fields (which exposes the worms so that they are killed by birds), hunters who had netted birds, and fisherman pulling fish out of the water.

The prince thought, 'Alas, it is because these people are poverty-stricken that they have no way to live except by killing. When they die, they will fall into the three evil states [hell beings, hungry ghosts, or animals] and go from darkness to darkness. How will they ever be liberated?' (p. 149)

He goes to his father and asks him for money to relieve their sufferings. His father replies, 'Son, it is only for you that I have gathered together all my jewels and treasures. How then can I deny you this? Make whatever gifts you desire.'

Great Charity then made a proclamation to all the people: 'Come! Gifts will be given.' Then the people, monks, brahmins, beggars, the starving, the sick assembled and filled the space outside the city to overflowing. . . Those who wanted clothing were given clothing. Those who wanted food were given food. Those who wanted jewels, gold, silver, lapis-lazuli, horses, carriages, parks, dwellings, or animals, were given them (pp. 149-50).

When a third of the treasury has been depleted, the treasurer (stingy, of course) comes to the king and complains, but the king protests that he loves his son.

Later, when two-thirds of the treasury was gone, the keeper again spoke to the king: 'My lord, your son's giving alms has left only a third of your treasures. What am I to do?' The king replied: 'I myself am unable to prevent my son from giving gifts. If you know what to do, do it.' Then the keeper of the treasury locked the doors of the treasure house and went about his business.

The beggars are left empty handed and Great Charity/Prince Virtuous thinks: 'This must be according to my father's orders. It would not be right to totally deplete his treasury and I shall find some other means of aiding beings.' Then he began to ask people what one did to obtain endless wealth. Some told him that one might become wealthy by raising cattle. Others recommended agriculture. Still others advised trade with distant countries. Some said that it would be well to go to sea in seach of jewels and the cintamani (p. 150)."

His parents are distraught, but the prince insists and eventually he goes in search of the cintamani.

What if a government found the cintamani? What if money grew on trees? Well, for now, it isn't growing on trees, but it is coming out of wells for Ahmadinejad. And if that money fails, there is always nuclear tribute from foreign lands, a device tried earlier by Kim Jong-il.

*Technically, Great Charity is the son of a rich brahmin, while Virtuous is a prince. But the whole story seems to make a lot more sense with the hero as a prince, so that's how I'm going to tell it.

Update: See also here for Ghazan Khan's take on generosity.

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Friday, June 02, 2006

"The Battle of the Infinites"

Our kitchen used to be shaken constantly by what my grandfather significantly called "the battle of the Infinites," especially when my Uncle Bill came home from Cambridge on his vacations, fully charged with syllogisms, which he hurled like catapaults back on the syllogisms which my grandmother had drawn from the armory of her blue book [Joseph Bellamy's True Religion]

My grandmother would say, for example: "Whatever sin is committed against an infinite being is an infinite evil. Every infinite evil deserves infinite punishment; therefore every sin of man deserves an infinite punishment."

Then Uncle Bill, on the other side, would say: "No act of a finite being can be infinite. Man is a finite being; therefore no sin of man can be infinite. No finite evil deserves infinite punishment. Man's sins are finite evils; therefore man's sins do not deserve infinite punishment." When the combatants had got thus far, they generally looked at each other in silence.

As a result, my grandmother, being earnest and prayerful, and my uncle careless and worldly, the thing generally ended in her believing that he was wrong, though she could not answer him; and in his believing that she, after all, might be right, though he could answer her; for it is noticeable, in every battle of opinion, that honest, sincere, moral earnestness has a certain advantage over mere intellectual cleverness.

Oldtown Folks, chapter 29 "My Grandmother's Blue Book" (Library of America edition, pp. 1246-47)



Thursday, June 01, 2006

All the Best Columnists Are on My Sidebar

I have put a bunch of columnists I regularly read on my sidebar, and I've got to say, these guys (and one gal) are performing great.

David Warren is on vacation, and Uwe Siemon-Netto only writes semi-monthly, so let's go to Spengler. This week's column is about the Da Vinci Code -- but it's not any of the usual stuff. Why Leonardo? Why now? He's got some very intriguing guesses.

For economics, I love Robert Samuelson because he's always got the right attitude: focus on the big picture, don't get caught in the news cycle's ups and downs. Plus he ought to get a medal for being the one guy (seemingly) in the .com boom to steadily insist that the business cycle has not been repealed and will not be repealed. And when he writes about immigration here he focuses on why the press never told you about the two key words: not "reform," not "comprehensive," not "amnesty," or "fence," but more or less. Do we want more or less, and will the bills proposed give us more or less?

Dick Morris is the most brilliant political consultant precisely because he really does believe in his heart that whatever the American people really think is true. Here's his analysis of the President's situation. What's hammering him is gas prices. Americans believe gas prices are set by oil barons (and there's no use trying to tell them otherwise). Bush is friends with oil barons. So they all think Bush is hammering them at the pump for profits. Can Bush stop this? Well, if he just waits, prices will come down. But if Bush just lets that happen he won't get credit for it. So he's got to announce a big initiative for oil independence. He announces it now, prices come down in the next couple of months (due to the short term mechanics of supply and demand) and voila! Bush brought down oil prices by sticking it to his oil baron buddies. Cynical, absurd, and brilliant -- but what makes it so charming is that Dick Morris really does believe that if the American people think supply and demand has nothing to do with oil prices, then it doesn't. The naivete of his cynicism is what makes him so sharp.

Anne Applebaum is off on vacation -- and her column on why offers a fascinating counterpoint to her column on "Cartoon Warfare: Why Does the Motherhood Debate Turn Into a Caricature-Building Exercise?"

And in Martin Kramer's "Sandbox/News" he has a hilarious, yet very insightful comparison of the watches and arm muscles of Bashir Assad and King Abdullah. Conclusion: King Abdullah looks good in a uniform and Bashir Assad looks stupid, and in the Middle East that means, put your money on King Abdullah.

Wretchard's only worth reading today, not his usual brilliant self -- even Homer nods, and he's still pretty good when he does.