30 April 2009

Secession in our future?

Clifford Thies thinks so and argues on three grounds: the inalienable right of secession, the international law of secession, and the US law of secession.

Interesting article. And no, he isn't arguing that any state should secede, at least not yet. But I think it clear he believes the day will come, though not, perhaps in our life-time. I hope not. I don't mind belonging to a federal republic; but living in a unitary one is sure getting on my nerves.

This is sure to be added to my dossier at DHS.
28 April 2009

Now that UAW owns GM and Chrysler, what's next?

The government and unions have got themselves some car companies, but no one has to buy those cars. But there's no guarantee it will be a profitable venture, like Amtrak. This ownership isn't going to work very well if Americans decide, in one of those great paradoxes that adds sweetness to life, that buying American, when it comes to some automobiles, may be, well, un-American.

Not to worry. A government subsidy here, a tax increase on "foreign" and imports there, a promise to make your car payment for you for nine months if you lose your job and it just might work. In other words: artificially decrease the cost (and, thus, the price) of the union-owned product, and artificially increase the cost (and, thus, the price) of the private-owned product. Why, I bet the taxes on your purchase of a GM or Chrysler product will be just about zero, but not the taxes on your foreign auto (say, for example, a Volkswagen Group product, like your Lamborghini, Bentley; or your Porsche, whatever). The taxes on those products will likely increase. But that might start a trade war.

27 April 2009

Is this how government really works?

Cruising YouTube a few nights ago and caught this.

That's right. Go after a group no one likes and is small enough to be too weak to protect itself. They should call the made-for-TV-movie The Gangs of Chicago.

It might be funny, if it weren't true.
25 April 2009

My kind of strip show!

Field stripping, that is.

A little FYI, here. Yes, you can try this at home. Make certain first that you clear the weapon. And you will know you've re-assembled it properly if the weapon racks and cycles. Pull the slide back then pull the trigger.
24 April 2009

Illegitimate Tea Parties -- Postscript

Listening to a caller to the Rush Limbaugh Show, hosted today by fellow Texan, Mark Davis, I'm reminded of a rather insidious line of reasoning which, supposedly, shows the illegitimacy of the tea parties. It goes like this, according to the aforementioned: The Tea Parties were not organized at the "grass-roots" level.

Let's assume that is the case. Therefore what, precisely? Well, ostensibly, therefore, they are illegitimate protests; and we can justly, and safely, ignore them.

Here's why I call it insidious. What we have here is an assertion about the organizers of, and the participants in, tea parties. We do not have a refutation of the proposition in support of which the tea parties were held. The tea parties were organized in support of the proposition that, as they put it, we are Taxed Enough Already. I've already mentioned Marie Cocco's attempt, in all fairness to her, one of the few attempts to deal with the proposition. But this line of reasoning is really a line of reasoning which would justify ignoring the protesters, a line of reasoning which would justify minimizing protesters' concerns without even having to refute the proposition.

Joe Schmo asserts P. In the course of discussing P, Joe says he is a grass-roots type of person. Someone antagonistic to Joe, someone who denies P, asserts that Joe is not a grass-roots type.

Here is the logic we're taking about:

1. Protesters assert P (i.e., P is true).
2. Joe is not a grass-roots type.
3. Therefore not-P (i.e., P is false).

Whether the organizing of the tea parties was grass-roots, is irrelevant to the question of whether anyone is taxed enough already.

There is another insidious line of reasoning in some criticisms of the tea parties. It goes like this. A recent Gallup poll found that only 46 percent of Americans say their taxes are too high. Fifty-two percent of those earning between $30,000 and $75,000 said their taxes were about right. This was reported on my evening news, right after their coverage of the tea parties, almost as if to say, "Since a majority of Americans believe that their taxes are about right, that must mean the protesters are wrong." Only a journalist could reason that way, I guess.

The insidious reasoning is that since a large number of Americans are relatively satisfied with their level of taxation, either (1) any protests of taxation are illegitimate and protesters should go along with, and share, the majority opinion, or (2) Americans are not being over-taxed, as tea partiers assert. (Vox populi vox dei. The voice of the majority is gospel.) The insidiousness is precisely this: it denies individuality. It denies to the individual the right to assign his own value to his own property.

It's also specious and tendentious reasoning. Let's take a group G, and examine its members' belief in a proposition P. Let's say a majority of those polled in group G believe P, and that a minority believe that not-P. The majority's belief that P means absolutely nothing to the truth value of P. Nothing whatsoever. Nada. Null. Not only that, but the majority's belief that P has no bearing on the minority's belief that not-P. It means nothing whatever to the minority that the majority believe that P. And for the minority's belief that not-P, the assertion that the majority believe that P is not a refutation: the majority's belief that P, tells us nothing -- absolutely nothing -- about the truth value of P.

So it is irrelevant to the question that 52 percent of Americans earning between $30,000 and $75,000 believe their taxes are about right. And this is important because this poll is reported as if it means that the tea partiers are not being over-taxed. Not only that, but 52 percent of Americans, each one of whom is free to value his tax dollars as he pleases cannot tell me how to value my tax dollars.

Anyone who thinks he's being over-taxed is absolutely correct. Yes, you read that correctly. And I wrote it correctly. If you think you are being over-taxed, then you are being over-taxed. For no one can dictate value to another, except for liberals who, as marxists (by and large), reject the subjective theory of value in favor of the labor theory of value (or some other intrinsic value theory) and do not mind dictating anything to anyone. But note, that assigning the value of a good to the labor involved in production is no less subjective than the subjectivity involved in the subjective theory of value. All we're really talking about in the labor theory of value is the subjective valuation by marxists, of labor over some other standard of valuation. And we are also talking about their imposition of that value upon others.

And that's the problem with Marie Cocco and her type. They believe there is some intrinsic, universally applicable value to all goods. Namely, their own; and, usually, the labor theory. They're sort of dictatorial like that. (It's for own our good.) But there isn't any intrinsic, universally applicable value to any good. If you believe you are over-taxed, then if liberty means anything (including the liberty to assign value to your own goods, including your own dollars), it means you are over-taxed. It's your money. You earned it. And you're free, or should be anyway, to value it as it suits you to do.

And this brings me to one thing with which I definitely agree with Rush Limbaugh about. Leftism is an assault on the individual. Nothing proves that better than when a leftist thoroughly denies an individual the right to determine the value of his own property, especially his money. Maybe I will get a tax cut this year. We'll see. But I'm not going to deny to my wealthy neighbor a right I fully claim for myself: the right to decide for himself the value of his money and whether he thinks too much of it is going into government coffers.

Having blogged twice on the tea parties, I do have this criticism of them. They focused too much on taxes. While I agree with the proposition that, on the whole, Americans pay too much in taxes (and I mean all taxes, at all levels), the real problem is spending. If more focus could have been devoted to spending, them some attention could have been given to inflation (i.e., increase in money supply). And inflation is important because, in addition to being a form of theft, that is where the federal government is going to get the money it doesn't get from taxes or borrowing. And the reason that fact is important is that inflation affects even those people who pay no federal income tax, especially those who live on fixed income, those who live on welfare, those who work for low wages. An increase in the money supply decreases the value, the purchasing power, of those dollars already in circulation (or deposit) at the time of the money supply increase.

But, given that there is still a relation between taxes and government spending, a "party" protesting taxes isn't a complete waste of time.

On the torture memos

Straight to the point: The release of the memos is part of the left's continued denial that the confrontation with terrorists is a war in any sense. It is a law enforcement matter, not a military one. And in law enforcement situations, suspects are not subjected to "harsh" treatment. You give them coffee, cigarettes -- you know, make them comfortable. Then you ask them, kindly and gently, whatever is on your mind.

It strikes me also, that this is part of the incremental stripping away of national sovereignty. In a world in which a "nation" is simply a formality, those things which used to be justifications for wars are now causes of legal action. Just as citizens of a city, county, or state don't carry on private wars with each other but go to court instead; just as citizens who are harmed do not take the law into their own hands and get justice for themselves -- nations shall not carry on private wars, or act so as to get justice for themselves by military means. As the nation-state must go the way of the dodo bird in favor of world citizenship, so must the freedom of a nation to see to its own security. It's a denial, if you will, of nations' rights. If there is to be world citizenship (Obama obviously thinks so), then there is, or must be (eventually) a world state. Since a state must have a monopoly on the use of physical force, it stands to reason that the world state must have this monopoly. For that to happen, the monopoly enjoyed by the nation-state must be dismantled. So, no private security ops for the nation-state and, hence, no prosecution of wars by nation-states. Well, that's what I think, anyway.

From what we've been told, one would think the legal advice given to the Bush administration amounted to, "Hey, torture is okay, and it's okay to use torture when interrogating suspected or known terrorists." In actual point of fact them memos examined each technique in punctilious detail. Indeed, use of the term memo has been somewhat misleading. Most people's experience with memos is with document of two or three pages in length. These memos are larger than that. The briefest of the memos is 18 pages.

The so-called torture memos can be accessed here. Enjoy. With the release of these memos, outlining in great detail how we go about "torturing" people (including the very tight controls employed), we are probably out of reliable interrogation techniques. Now terrorists, if there really are any (clearly His Beatitude is doubtful), will be able to provide more intelligent SERE training for their "high level" operatives. There is nothing like knowing what to expect to help get you through potentially stressful situations. The worst part of almost anything is not knowing what to expect, and about how long it will last. Knowing exactly how you are going to be "tortured", and for how long, should be of inestimable benefit to terrorists -- if there were any, which there aren't. There can't possibly be: the President wouldn't make useful information available to an enemy.

Apparently, any technique which involves anything more aggressive than asking, "Do you have any plans to commit terrorist acts, specifically, to kill or otherwise harm anyone, anywhere, at any time; and, if so, what, specifically, are these plans?" is torture. Oh, I forgot to add, "Pretty please, with baklava smothered in syrup."

Hugh Hewitt makes a relevant point about the most heinous of these torturous acts:

As the commentators show their feathers to each other, see if any of them cite a single vote by the Senate or the House to define waterboarding as torture throughout the years when the Congress was fully aware of the practice. The DOJ legal analysis was the best effort of front-line lawyers in the aftermath of a massive attack on the United States. Their Congressional critics of today who did not demand a defining vote on what constituted torture are the worst sort of hypocrites. They are the lawmakers, and chose --even when House and Senate were controlled by Democrats from January 2007 to the present-- to avoid passing a law bringing clarity to the very gray areas of the law of interrogation.
When it comes to statutory provisions, the more specific the law the better; and the easier it is to prosecute violators. As it is, there is too much subjectivity in the law against torture. Heck, teenagers think, and act like, they're tortured if you take away their iPods, cell phones, or (God forbid) ground them.

We are, as many have observed, witnessing an attempt to criminalize dissent, specifically: dissent from leftist interpretations of the laws, or even just leftism itself. And to think, they accused the Bush administration of doing so. What's bad for the goose is good for the gander, I suppose.


The relevant statutory provisions (which are cited in the memos) are as follows:

As used in this chapter—
(1) “torture” means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control;
(2) “severe mental pain or suffering” means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from—
(A) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering;
(B) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality;
(C) the threat of imminent death; or
(D) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality; and
(3) “United States” means the several States of the United States, the District of Columbia, and the commonwealths, territories, and possessions of the United States. 18 U.S.C. Sec. 2340.

(a) Offense.— Whoever outside the United States commits or attempts to commit torture shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both, and if death results to any person from conduct prohibited by this subsection, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life.
(b) Jurisdiction.— There is jurisdiction over the activity prohibited in subsection (a) if—
(1) the alleged offender is a national of the United States; or
(2) the alleged offender is present in the United States, irrespective of the nationality of the victim or alleged offender.
(c) Conspiracy.— A person who conspires to commit an offense under this section shall be subject to the same penalties (other than the penalty of death) as the penalties prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the conspiracy. 18 U.S.C. Sec. 2340A.
22 April 2009

Illegitimate Tea Parties

Marie Cocco wants taxpayers to know that they are not being over-taxed. This, despite the fact that it's their money being taxed and therefore up to them to decide how they feel about the value of the money coming out of their paychecks. In other words, despite their own subjective valuation of their money, and their own subjective valuation of the use of those tax dollars, the protesters are not being over-taxed. Marie Cocco knows better. She is smart. She knows the protesters really don't have the proper valuation of the money coming out of their pockets. What's more, the money isn't coming out of their pockets. They don't know the facts; she is going to set them straight, because they actually have it quite good. After all, 95% of them are getting their taxes cut. They'd know that if they wouldn't let themselves be led astray by right wing party hacks.

Her argument is two-fold. First, the tax rates are actually quite low. So tea partiers shouldn't be complaining. Second, the money is going to good causes and, although she doesn't come out and say it, one can easily believe she would add that only the selfish and heartless would deny their hard-earned funds to these worthy causes. This takes us back to her underlying assumption, that the real masterminds behind the tea parties are partisan activists, not "real" people, working people, middle-class people. Working and middle-class people were not at the tea parties: they were working. Those people are warm, and kind, and compassionate; and they would never object to having money sucked out of their pockets to pay for worthy causes or -- even better -- to receiving tax cuts while the "wealthy" receive tax increases, unless their minds have been twisted by partisan activists who are "locked out of power and floundering with low public approval". Those partisan bastards. If only they weren't so partisan; if only they were more high-minded; if only they weren't so ideology-driven -- like Marie Cocco.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office...released an updated analysis of the effective federal tax rate -- that is, what individuals and businesses pay after they take exemptions, deductions, credits and so forth. And it turns out that the effective federal tax rate that households across the income spectrum pay is lower now than it was 30 years ago, with an average rate of 20.7 percent. That encompasses all federal taxes, including excise and payroll taxes.
Cocco wants us to feel good because the effective federal tax rate is, on average, 20.7%. Frankly, I'm shocked she didn't say only 20.7%. (As if federal taxes are the only sort anyone is bothered about.) "Look," she says, in effect, "in addition to the fact that you real taxpayers -- by virtue of being working and middle-class types -- aren't paying any income taxes, even if you were, you're being allowed to keep almost 80% of your money, so shut up. Stop being deceived by partisan activists who are locked out of power and floundering with low public approval." Let me stipulate to all that she says, only because nothing I have to say depends upon her being wrong, which she isn't, as far as she goes. The simple fact of the matter is that it is really for people whose money is taken from them to put a value on the money taken from them. It is for the people whose money is being taken to decide whether an effective federal tax rate of 20.7% is too high. What if I prefer an effective rate of 2.07%, rather than 20.7%? Who is she to tell anyone that they should gladly accept 20.7%, rather than 2.07%, as the effective tax rate? It isn't her money she's talking about. (And, as far as her money is concerned, she can pay as much in taxes as she wants. More power to her.) It long ago ceased to amaze me that people like her can be so glib about assigning value to other people's money.

Not only does she purport to tell people how to value the money coming out of their pockets, she also has the temerity to tell them how to value the things these tax dollars pay for:

So what do we really spend all this tax money on? About two-thirds of it goes toward defense programs and health expenditures, according to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.


Social Security accounts for another 21 percent of spending and big health programs -- Medicare, Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program -- another 20 percent.

Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Children's Health Insurance -- perhaps these are things we should value. Perhaps the people who benefit from these programs are helped by our money and should receive our money. But it is our money. Everyone else who wants our money either must give us something in exchange, or, for worthy, charitable causes like provision for the poor and elderly, the children, even university education, has to call my house, talk to me, and ask for it. And they have to ask nicely. And, should I say no, they have to live with it. They don't get to suck it out of my paycheck and tell me to shut up when I complain, on the grounds that these are worthy causes and I should be grateful to be left with whatever they don't decide to take. But, for people like Marie Cocco, my compassion for my fellow man is not properly demonstrated by what I freely do for him with my money, but what is done with money forcibly taken from me, or from my wealthy neighbor.

The message of the Tea Parties was quite simple: It's our money, whatever class we belong to. And I'm not going to be lectured by sanctimonious journalists. I'm not going to accept my middle-class tax cut on the grounds that my wealthy neighbors' taxes are being raised, any more than I'd accept it if Cocco put a gun to man's head and stole $100 from him and wanted to give a portion of it to me. As Mona Charen observes, some of us won't be bribed.

What angers me about the left is really quite simple. They are all pretense about how the right wants to impose their values on everyone. You know: anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, anti-porn, anti-drug, anti-Smurf, anti-Barney, anti-Tickle-Me-Elmo, anti-Teletubby, whatever. Now comes Marie Cocco and her ilk, as they have done for generations now, to impose their own values on us and draft the money for their values out of the pockets of whichever class has the bad luck to have earned Least Favored Taxpayer status. Today it's the wealthy. In other times and places it was the Jews. "Wealthy" is the new "Jew". You know, if these people reasoned about the wealthy the way they reasoned about other groups, we could justly call them anti-semites: Jews are disproportionately represented in the ranks of the wealthy; going after the wealthy means going after Jews.

Cocco is right about one thing. None of this is new:

[W]e must batten down the hatches for another one of those periodic Great Leaps Forward into statism that have afflicted us since the New Deal (actually, since the Progressive Era). The cycle works as follows: Democrats engineer a leap forward of activist government, accompanied by "progressive," "moving America forward again" rhetoric. Then, after a decade or so, the Republicans come in armed with conservative, free-market rhetoric, but in reality only slow down the rate of statist advance. After another decade or so, people become tired of the rhetoric (though not the reality) of the free market, and the time has come for another Leap Forward. The names of the players change, but the reality and the phoniness of the game remains the same, and no one seems to wake up to the shell game that is going on.


Much propaganda is made about the horrors of the deficit, of the necessity of "sacrificing" for the future, for our children, in order to help close the deficit. That is the excuse for the vanishing of [one] tax cut, to be replaced by [another]...tax increase..... And yet, at the very same time, there is supposed to be a massive spending increase. Why? For two reasons to "jump start the economy," which is [in]... a recession...; and second, to provide "investment" for an economy that has been stagnating...and needs more...investment.

Always with these people it is the same. No matter what the state of the economy, it is always been bad enough to warrant ever more statism. When one thinks about it, the tea parties were really about statism, which is nothing without taxes, regardless the effective rate.

Incidentally, the two quoted passages above are by Murray Rothbard, written, not during the last 92 days but in 1993. The first was written in January 1993, the second in May 1993. Admit it: You wouldn't have guessed.

20 April 2009

God cannot destroy the world

Someone else beat Him to it.
19 April 2009

Punished as wicked or scourged as a son?

They may look the same, superficially; but they are not the same.

"It is for chastening that ye endure" [Hebrews 12.7] not for punishment, nor for vengeance, nor for suffering. See, from that from which they supposed they had been deserted [of God], from these he says they may be confident, that they have not been deserted. It is as if he had said, Because ye have suffered so many evils, do you suppose that God has left you and hates you? If ye did not suffer, then it were right to suppose this. For if “He scourgeth every son whom He receiveth,” he who is not scourged, perhaps is not a son. What then, you say, do not bad men suffer distress? They suffer indeed; how then? He did not say, Every one who is scourged is a son, but every son is scourged. For in all cases He scourges His son: what is wanted then is to show, whether any son is not scourged. But thou wouldest not be able to say: there are many wicked men also who are scourged, such as murderers, robbers, sorcerers, plunderers of tombs. These however are paying the penalty of their own wickedness, and are not scourged as sons, but punished as wicked: but ye as sons. ~ John Chrysostom, Homily on the Epistle to the Hebrews, 29.
17 April 2009

Liberty and the "Super-power"

[P]retenses that they have "Saved the Country," and "Preserved our Glorious Union," are frauds like all the rest of their pretenses. By them they mean simply that they have subjugated...an unwilling people. This they call "Saving the Country"; as if...any people kept in subjection by the sword (as it is intended that all of us shall be hereafter)...could be said to have any country. This, too, they call "Preserving our Glorious Union"; as if there could be said to be any Union, glorious or inglorious, that was not voluntary. Or as if there could be said to be any union between masters and slaves; between those who conquer, and those who are subjugated. All these cries of having...[established] "a government of consent"... are all gross, shameless, transparent cheats...when uttered as justifications... for now compelling...anybody to support a government that he does not want. ~ Lysander Spooner, "No Treason", No. 6, XIX. (Emphases mine.)

As anyone who listens knows, Rush Limbaugh is quite at ease with the U.S. being a super-power. Consequently he was unhappy with what he called Obama's "World Apology Tour", and with this op-ed piece published in several central and south american papers, because he's helping the rest of the world in take us down a notch, which they desire to do because they object to our being the world's lone super-power. I make no secret of being no great fan of the current occupant of the Oval Office. And I made no secret that I wouldn't be a fan of his opponent's administration. So, in general, I share Limbaugh's antipathy for the present adminstration. But there is an element of Limbaugh's thinking, on the subject of super-powers, that concerns me.

Conservatives' inability (especially -- no surprise -- neo-conservatives) to see the relation between our super-power status and the loss of freedoms they (rightly!) complain of has bothered me for some time; but it has really come to a point in the last several years. I was never a big fan of our "superpower" status, specifically, being one of only two super-powers. I liked NATO because I thought it could be an alliance of super-powers, an alliance of free nations against the communist barbarians; but that was short-lived. What can I say? When you are young and hopeful, you tend to act young and hopeful. I hadn't realized, until I was part of NATO, how comfortable Europeans are with socialism. And once you're comfortable with socialism, buying communism isn't much of a stretch.

But never mind European style, democratic, socialism.

The simple fact is this: a super-power, no matter how benevolent, no matter how "democratic", simply cannot be ruled with a republican form of government, though it will maintain the facade of republicanism -- for a while, anyway. And you cannot believe in the consent of the governed without having the view of states' rights which I have and, as a consequence, you cannot be a fan of your nation's super-power status. Indeed, a confederacy (which is what we confederates believe the Constitution created, consistent with the notion of the consent of the governed) could never have become a super-power. How can that possibly have happened with constituent members (whose taxes will fund the super-power) free to leave the so-called union with impunity?

Put simply, it could not have happened. A super-power, member-states of which can freely leave, is a super-power which is always on the brink of extinction. That is why Alexander Hamilton, the Founding Father of "Crony Capitalism", and his ideological descendants (proponents of the American System), who sincerely desired a mercantilist empire of their own, don't like confederacies. They would be so proud of what this country has become, even including the recent bailouts.

Conservatives like to believe they favor states' rights, just shy of talking secession. And when I converse with them and they discover my heresy, they give the nod to states' rights and invoke "federalism" but quickly point out that the United States would never have become the power we are today had the war for southern independence been successful. Being a super-power is, apparently, an unqualified good, such a good, in fact, as to require a limitation on the right of a state to give its consent to the central government. Anything which would upset that status is an unqualified evil. (Or, they point out, that the United States would be two countries, instead of one, as if unification is, again, an unqualified good. Well, it is for a mercantilist, anyway. Not so hot for freedom lovers, though.) So, for the sake of being a super-power, the rights of states must be limited.

One of my first responses is, "What United States? There are no united states. The word united connotes freedom: the states are freely united. But they are not freely united, not anymore. They are dominated. A little freer, perhaps, but they are united in the same sense as the members of the former Union of Soviet Swallowed Republics were united. They aren't united; they are unified, sort of like a team of horses. A team of horses, hitched to the same wagon, are not united; they are unified. They do not pull together; they are harnessed and then driven together. They are driven by a master, a central, controlling master, who drives the team in pursuit of his own goals, his own vision. The master may graciously, from time to time, inquire of the team as to their own preferences, goals, visions, whatever; but, in the end, if theirs do not cohere with his own, then his own shall prevail. The vision of the master makes the liberties of the horses a relatively minor consideration. The horses must all go in the same direction; some curtailment of freedom is to expected -- for the great good of the whole team. (As if the horses, who didn't ask to be on any team in the first place, should care about the needs of the team, which are not really the needs of the team but the desire and vision of the wagon-master.)

If the rights of states must be limited for the sake of being a super-power, it stands to reason that individual rights must also be limited, again, for the good of the whole. Your neighbors may believe that your use of your property must be limited so as not to adversely affect your property values. It just goes on and on.

I know: it sounds like confederate sour grapes. But if you're still with me, consider this. The language employed to discuss our super-power status is instructive. Consider the phrases "a super-power" or "the lone super-power", and note the singulars. How does a fifty state union become a or the super-power? They don't, but a fifty member dominion can do so. These are not united states: they are unified states. And there is a difference.

And so long as Rush Limbaugh and his fellow travelers are enamored of the super-power, the simple fact of the matter is that the encroachments upon freedom will continue. They may be halted occasionally, or slowed down, but only temporarily. The reason is quite simple: secession, even if only a last resort, was the only true check upon unlimited federal power. As Woodrow Wilson once wrote, the outcome of the War for Southern Independence established the principle that the federal government is the judge of the limitations of its power. Thank you, Yanks.

Lord Acton understood the relation between state rights and totalitarianism, as he wrote to General Lee (4 November 1866):

Without presuming to decide the purely legal question...I saw in State Rights the only availing check upon the absolutism of the sovereign will, and secession filled me with hope, not as the destruction but as the redemption of Democracy. The institutions of your Republic have not exercised on the old world the salutary and liberating influence which ought to have belonged to them, by reason of those defects and abuses of principle which the Confederate Constitution was expressly and wisely calculated to remedy. I believed that the example of that great Reform would have blessed all the races of mankind by establishing true freedom purged of the native dangers and disorders of Republics. Therefore I deemed that you were fighting the battles of our liberty, our progress, and our civilization; and I mourn for the stake which was lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which was saved at Waterloo.

General Lee definitely understood it, as he responded to Lord Acton (15 December 1866):

I yet believe that the maintenanceof the rights and authority reserved to the states and to the people, not only essential to the adjustment and balance of the general system, but the safeguard to the continuance of a free government. I consider it as the chief source of stability to our political system, whereas the consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of that ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it. I need not refer one so well acquainted as you are with American history, to the State papers of Washington and Jefferson, the representatives of the federal and democratic parties, denouncing consolidation and centralization of power, as tending to the subversion of State Governments, and to despotism.

There is no such thing as a super-power with a republican form of government, at least not for long. When the Romans acquired super-power status (albeit by means somewhat different from our own) they lost their republic. To be truly consistent with their profession, freedom lovers should stop being so devoted to the Unified States as a, or the, super-power, in preference of a union, a real union of free and united states.

The long and short of it is this. You can't have a free country and be a super-power, any more than you can have a free country and be a socialist power. My problem with His Beatitude is not that he's harming our super-power status. My problem is that he's not really big on freedom.

I was so glad to hear my Governor not shy away from the possibility of secession, when asked about it by a reporter at the "Tea Party" in Austin, Texas. That Perry -- not too shabby...for an Aggie.
14 April 2009

Musing on evangelicalism's coming collapse -- Part Five

(Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four)

At the end of this posting I raised the matter of educational philosophy. I don't want to take up the subject at length, but it occurs to me, as I continue to reflect upon evangelicalism's coming collapse, that before a Christian can do educational philosophy he needs to have done his philosophy. And I think that's a large part of evangelicalism's problem: too many of them haven't really done their evangelical philosophy. That is, many of the Christians who do philosophy take up questions being worked on by non-Christians, not entirely out of line, one could say, but perhaps not the best use of limited time and resources. Alvin Plantinga noted over two decades ago that philosophy is a social enterprise; and this fact has implications:

Christian philosophers...are the philosophers of the Christian community; and it is part of their task as Christian philosophers to serve the Christian community. But the Christian community has its own questions, its own concerns, its own topics for investigation, its own agenda and its own research program. Christian philosophers ought not merely take their inspiration from what's going on at Princeton or Berkeley or Harvard, attractive and scintillating as that may be; for perhaps those questions and topics are not the ones, or not the only ones, they should be thinking about as the philosophers of the Christian community. There are other philosophical topics the Christian community must work at, and other topics the Christian community must work at philosophically. And obviously, Christian philosophers are the ones who must do the philosophical work involved. If they devote their best efforts to the topics fashionable to the non-Christian philosophical world, they will neglect a crucial and central part of their task as Christian philosophers. What is needed here is more independence, more autonomy with respect to the projects and concerns of the non-theistic philosophical world.
Plantinga extended his remarks to all Christian scholars.

One might say evangelicalism has been poorly served by its scholars, who seem by and large to have been concerned to stake out claims in topics of interest to Princeton or Berkeley or Harvard. That is, after all, how one earns respectability. Perhaps. But neither has evangelicalism been very willing to be served by her scholars. Reducing the Christian life in the world, for the most part, to evangelism, evangelicals have asked their scholars, in varying ways, "How can you be so frivolous and selfish as to think about anything but the salvation of human souls? How can you be so wasteful of your time as to think of anything but evangelism and missions?" So, as Spencer observes, evangelical educational institutions have done little but staff their own needs. I know this: I have been the recipient of this attitude. Invariably, in talking to some evangelicals about my university studies as an undergraduate, I was asked how I, as a Christian, could justly study philosophy. One person, but only one, flat out told me there was no way I could be a Christian if I was studying philosophy. Hadn't I read Colossians 2.8? (In fact I had, which is why I felt comfortable studying philosophy and telling this gentleman he, not I, was the one who did not understand St. Paul.) For a time I was involved in the Christian Education at an evangelical church. Time out of mind I was chastised by parents for attempting to turn their children into philosophers, rather than Christians. (On a proper conception of philosophy, there isn't a difference.)

Incidentally, in those times I found encouragement in a passage from C.S. Lewis's, 22 October 1939 sermon, "Learning in Wartime":

If all the world were Christian, it might not matter if all the world were uneducated. But, as it is, a cultural life will exist outside the Church whether it exists inside or not. To be ignorant and simple now -- not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground -- would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defence but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered. The cool intellect must work not only against cool intellect on the other side, but against the muddy heathen mysticisms which deny intellect altogether. Most of all, perhaps, we need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion. A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age. ~ In The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses
It is important to note, given that my topic has been Christian education, that Lewis preached that sermon to answer the question, "When the world is advancing to heaven or hell, when liberties hang in the balance, how can students and faculty spend time on what seem to be trivialities in comparison?"

In the previous posting, I asked, "What is the student when he finishes the course of instruction at a Christian school -- other than qualified to go on to college or get a good job, be a good citizen of the U.S.?" Presently, I think the question is being answered better by the Orthodox, than by evangelicals. I think we should say that the student will be a knower of God when he completes the curriculum at his Christian educational institution. Does this mean that I think Christian schools should teach only Bible, theology, and so forth? Not at all. That would be to focus only on that form of God's revelation theologians call Special Revelation. There is also God's General Revelation -- his creation. As a revelation of God, the creation is also a means of union and communion with God. This is why Gentiles do instinctively the things contained in the law, why St. Paul could affirm that all men know God (even though they refuse to acknowledge and glorify him as God [Romans 1.18ff]).

The relation between Christian education and the coming anti-Christian spirit Spencer writes of is not forced. In this posting I asked what makes an education Christian other than the fact that it goes on in Christian schools, is provided by Christian teachers to Christian students (or the children of Christian parents) and includes chapel services once a week and a handful of Bible, theology, or Christian worldview classes. Someone who was opposed to "Christian" education could be made quite happy if a school would simply do away with its chapel services and its Bible, theology and Christian worldview classes. So when one thinks of this anti-Christian spirit one has to wonder: What is it that will make the object of this opposition Christian? It's one thing for Spencer to write of "intolerance of Christianity", but it is important to know whether the "Christianity" for which there will be this intolerance is characterized by careful devotion to Christ or by careful devotion to other things (such as "reclaiming" America for Christ). I suppose there are some who might argue that careful devotion to Christ has to mean, on some level, claiming (or reclaiming) America for Christ. In a sense that is true, if by "claiming" we mean something synonymous with evangelizing, which, by the way, is what I would mean. But, what with the "Dominionist" scare and all, I think people can be forgiven if they understand "claiming America for Christ" to mean getting legitimate control of the apparatus of the state and using that apparatus for Christian purposes (whatever "Christian" means, in that context) -- in other words Christian statism. (And I don't care if the personification of this Christian statism is Jim Wallis or Jim Dobson.)

If the intolerance of Christianity is, in fact, an intolerance of Christian statism (and I don't mean only Dominionist or Reconstruction varieties) I find myself being all for it, frankly. For me, Christian statism seems to have the same vision of an unfederal central government, promoting a utopian vision of "unity" over "disunity", engaging in just as much centralized control over public education as the current crowd, imposing its morality (however much I happen to agree with it) with same verve and gusto as liberals have done for decades. We'll probably be just as over-taxed to pay for the Christian state as we are to pay for the secular state. In other words, the Christian statism seems to me to be different from the secular statism in that it is Christian statism rather than secular statism. (But remember my question: What makes Christian education Christian?) Let me put it this way: I've always been bothered by the fact that the Roman Empire continued to be an empire after the Christians took it over. An empire is still an empire; and I don't like empires, no matter how benevolent. So if intolerance of Christianity is really, as I presently suspect, intolerance of Christian statism, then all we have here is one group of statists not tolerating another, rival, group of statists. Help me, Jack Bauer!

Of course, Christianity as careful devotion to Christ can be just as intolerable to statists as the other variety of Christianity. In the end, a statist is one who, as I mentioned here, worships man through the state. The Christian whose Christianity is careful devotion to Christ is perhaps even more intolerable to a statist (especially, perhaps, the secular statist) than the Christian whose Christianity is marked by careful devotion to "reclaiming" America for Christ. Statists cannot permit much in the way of loyalty to something higher than the state, so there is that possibility.

But I just don't think that our devotion to Christ is what's causing the problem right now. Yes, Jesus did say that those who hate him will hate his followers. But it is logically fallacious to believe that everyone who hates us does so because of him. When you see sad stuff like this (and we know that's just a sampling), in addition to acknowledging that evangelicalism seems to have difficulty giving its adherents resources to fight indwelling sin, you have to think, "It could be us." St. Peter said: "Let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evil-doer, or as a busybody in other people's matters. Yet, if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter" (1 Peter 4.13). It is possible for Christians to suffer persecution for reasons other than devotion to Christ. When evangelicals appear to care more about whether unbelieving Heather has two unbelieving mommies than about whether believing Juan Alberto Ovalle is trying to hook up with underage girls, one has to understand how devotion to Christ seems to be a bit lower on the order of business than it should be. It would be well for evangelicals to take that to heart.

I suspect, however, that when the difficult times Spencer discusses come, the vast majority of evangelicals will take comfort that the rapture is upon us. So persecution prone are they that they will take comfort in the fact that "so persecuted they the prophets" (Matthew 5.12), and so forth. (Some of the comments here bear this out, I think.) Their disdain for the spiritual disciplines as well as the charismatic thirst for spiritual gifts like tongues, prophecies, miracles, healings, pre-occupation with eschatology, etc, have left most of them (it appears to me) without the tools or the patience, for the introspection, the self-examination, the soul-searching necessary to revive themselves. Indeed, most seem likely to blow all that off as wasteful navel-gazing, or, worse, legalism.

I also suspect that those of us who would suggest that the coming suffering may not be, or may not entirely be, suffering for simply being a Christian, will be treated like those who suggested that perhaps some elements of U.S. foreign policy played a role in the 911 attacks. (I was not one of those, for whatever that's worth.)
10 April 2009

Good Friday

Perfect security and full peace
cannot exist in this world.

~ Thomas a Kempis

If we have hope in this life only
If in this life only
We have hope
It is not even that of the conquered,
Deceived by a Greek horse or
Defrauded by a crafty snake and
Since neither tears nor cries can rescue the perishing
I no longer endeavor to persevere
Under the weight of futile existence
Having tested myself and
Sought for meaning
In wine
In women
And philosophies

What we saw and heard and touched

Why should anyone take bricks for stone
And tar for mortar? Why not rather be scattered, nameless?
One toils
And another plunders
One produces
And another loots
Ancient cities, vigor spent, foundations shaken,
Recline and raze themselves to powder
The end of it all is vapor.

“I thirst.”

Adoration is recompensed with indifference
And love with infidelity
Blessed unions
Broken by premature death or
Thieving infirmity
Leave love cherished alone
In its given child

“This day you shall be with me…”

Mouths open and lies flee their hive
The passionate, desperate, clutching heat
Of flesh on flesh
(Consuming, ceaseless, desire)
Bears no fruit
No glazed donut monsters begging kisses
See the nursery, unused, converted
Into a spare bedroom
And useless seeds discarded

Arms nailed down…

I try to remember something
I’m supposed to remember
If only I could remember
About a light in a window extinguished
By a silver chord
To a grinding halt
For poverty in numbers
An act of fidelity
For one of betrayal
At about the sixth hour
If only I could remember
If only I could have seen a little something

Just a little spattering
Of an omnipresent brain
A little something now
A little something here
In this life
In this world

“Into your hands…”

A little something more
Than this sisyphean life
In a crust of bread from cursed dust
After the sweaty, pyrrhic victory over thistle and thorn
What goes in is eliminated
All that is filled eventually empties
That’s where he was, I think,
When his heart broke: under the thorns

Then blood and water flowed

~ James Frank Solís
Good Friday, 2009
08 April 2009

Someone must do our thinking for us

It never ceases to amaze me how accustomed some people are spewing platitudes, so accustomed as to be able to utter a self-contradictory assertion all the conviction of a claim such as that "All men are created equal."

Here's text of an exchange between Larry King and Penn Jillett, from 3 April 2009:

KING: Penn, do you want Obama to succeed?

JILLETTE: Well, the nice thing about hoping is that it doesn't work, so that you don't have to worry very much about what you're hoping. If what succeeding means is taking away -- giving too much of a safety net so that we can't live like Vegas, there's no reason to gamble if you can't lose, and I think it's really important that people have a chance to win and to fail, and I think too much of a safety net, it's just less fun to live.


KING: If his programs brought about health insurance that pleased all, taxes that pleased most, a better way of life for a lot of people, then that's the kind of success you would think you'd like.

JILLETTE: If you please everybody on anything you're doing something wrong. But luckily there's no chance of that. I just think that individuals are more important than a whole kind of groupthink and that individuals can do more than a top down kind of thinking. I don't think the government can solve all our problems or should try.

KING: We do have 300 million people. You can be individuals as much as you like, but somebody's gotta think for the masses.
We, the masses, can be individuals as much as we like, but somebody's going to think for us, the masses. No wonder these people look at us like we're Martians when we talk about the loss of individual freedom: they sincerely believe you can be as free as you want while someone else does your thinking for you. (They also sincerely believe they are smarter than those who disagree with them.)

We need a word, a Newspeak word for this self-contradictory concept, the individual who is free to be as individual as he wants to be while having someone do his thinking for him as a member of the masses.

Hmmm. How about individumass? Oh, better yet: freeslave. And the type of thinking we're talking about can be called topthink.

Maybe King is right: someone must think for the masses. I just wish he wouldn't lie to himself about being free to be as individual as he wants while someone else is doing the thinking for us.

Besides, if anyone should do the thinking for the masses it should be me, not Barak Obama Epiphanes.

I remember the good old days when only religionists and cultists could be accused of letting others do their thinking for them.

Actually, maybe His Beatitude's followers are cultists of a sort.

No. It couldn't be that.

Made-for-TV movie of the year?

The story of the re-taking of the Maersk Alabama from Somali pirates could be it.
06 April 2009

Musing on evangelicalism's coming collapse -- Part Four

(Part One, Part Two, Part Three)

Among many other things, I'm sure, I think evangelicalism's failure to withstand the rising tide of secularism is, paradoxically, rooted in the fact that it eventually set itself the task of defeating secularism in the first place. Ironically, it set itself to execute this mission by first accepting (as I mentioned here) secular presuppositions about Man and his epistemological norms. It's a fight-fire-with-fire sort of a thing, I suppose. The difference between Liberal Protestant scholarship and Conservative Protestant scholarship is, therefore, not one of presuppositions; both seek to engage in "scientific" Bible scholarship, and have the same conception of how the scientific task is to be completed. The difference is simply how consistently those presuppositions are applied. Frankly, the Liberals more consistently apply those presuppositions. It should surprise no one, then, that subsequent generations of Conservative evangelical scholars are increasingly more liberal than the preceding generations. Those of us who have studied the matter all know that it is only a matter of time. Shared presuppositions about the nature, task and methods of scholarship will have that effect. How can evangelicalism have withstood the siren call of secularism?

But the ultimate concern -- the matter of life and death -- of the Christian is not the crafting and promulgation of an ideology, not even a system of theology, with which to defeat secularism, or any other religious outlook. The ultimate concern is the worship of the Triune God. It is true that Abraham Kuyper, a hero to many evangelicals, said that, in the confrontation with secularism, principle ha to be carried against principle. But Abraham Kuyper, for any and all flaws and inconsistencies, desired first to worship the Triune God. The principles of the Christian worldview have, as I've said, no transformational power in themselves. Evangelicalism suffers, I think, because it has failed accurately to define the conflict. Its program (if its ad hoc approach to public theology can even be called a program) for the last several decades has seemed to assume, in the end, something we ought to reject. It has assumed that the conflict is between a schools of thought (rival worldviews) called "Christian" and "secular", where the end game is the latter's defeat, or, at least, the former's ability to withstand the latter.

On this issue I think the past holds a clue to both the present and the future. Many people, perhaps rightly, like to look to the experience of our Christian ancestors in the Roman world as a secondary guide to our own contemporary experience of life in Christ. That's a great idea when thinking about the "confrontation" with secularism. So, let's recall that Christians didn't turn the Roman world upside by trying to turn the Roman world upside. The Christians turned the Roman world upside down by doing one simple thing, and -- apparently -- by doing it well: they worshiped the Triune God.

That last point is important. For only the Second Person of the Triune God -- the Word become flesh, the true God-Man -- could nourish the Christian soul in a world which worshiped the Roman Emperor (i.e., a false god-man) as the expression of the divine on earth. What defeated the Roman world was the turning of a significant number of people in that world from the worship of a false god-man to the worship of the Lord Jesus Christ, the true God-Man.

The same is true today: either The State is god or God is God. Now, as then, the issue is worship. Unlike Liberal Protestants, I am not minimizing the importance, or the truth of the Christian worldview. But as I said previously, the Christian worldview gives no power to the Christian to resist or overcome sin, which is what secularism is. The only worthwhile reason for holding to that worldview is not because by it, and with it, we can defeat or withstand secularism, but rather because first of all we hold to Christ, without whom the Christian worldview is no more than the words used to define, explain and defend it. There is no Christian worldview without Jesus, first and last. There is no power in the Christian worldview, against any other worldview, apart from union with Christ.

Perhaps evangelicals have over-looked something in the haste to win the world. Perhaps they have overlooked the possibility that the way to win the world, like the way to keep one's life, is to give up on the world, and everything associated with it. (See John 12.25, among others.) That may mean, getting back to the subject of education, which started this stream of consciousness blogging, re-examining how we do education. Aping the secular counter-part may not be the best way. And I mean aping the secular counter-part in just about every way, especially since one of the obvious goals of the Christian school is to compete with the secular school. Clearly, the best way to do that is to offer the same product, with a big difference, of course. It is, as I've already said, an essentially secular product.

For example, and I know I'll sound prudish, or worse, in saying this. But, really, even if we grant the necessity (which, by the way, I do) of school athletics, do we really need cheerleaders? Maybe we do. I don't know. What I do know is that I have yet to hear an explanation. It is, apparently, an unquestionable given. Whether the school is secular or Christian, if you have athletics then you have cheerleaders. And that's the end of it, I guess. There could be a good reason; after all, as I've said, the Spartan's included dance as part of warrior training. I just don't know, yet, what that reason is, except that if the secular counter-part has it then so must Christian schools, in order to offer a comparable product. A comparable product is the reason, I think, why as Spencer asserts, evangelical education cannot withstand secularism.

I just wonder if Christian educators have really devoted hundreds of hours of attention to the question not what do students need to be taught (largely determined by the state anyway) but rather, what is the student going to be when we're finished with him. I mentioned Spartans learning dance, here. When the Spartan lad was finished with the agoge he was a soldier, a Spartan; that is, he had earned the right to be called a Spartan. When the student finishes law school he is, hopefully, a lawyer; or he will be if he passes his bar exams. When one finishes medical school, and passes the board examinations, he is a physician. But what is he when he finishes the course of instruction at a Christian school? Other than qualified to go on to college or get a good job, be a good citizen of the U.S. Needful things, I agree, but available -- free -- at secular schools. (Well, at the better secular schools, anyway.)

But this is to turn from evangelicalism's demise to educational philosophy.

Part Five
05 April 2009

Unceasing Prayer -- Wisdom Sunday

Many have contributed to the discussion of Paul's meaning in 1 Thessalonians 5.17. Here's an offering from St. Maximus the Confessor.

Unceasing prayer means to have the mind always turned to God with great love, holding alive our hope in Him, having confidence in Him whatever we are doing and whatever happens to us.
Someday I'll have to post Calvin's contribution to the discussion.
04 April 2009

Why is the rum gone?

It's clean out the pantry day at the Deviant Household. Seems Lady Deviant bought a bit too much and the pantry won't hold it all. Apparently, I have too many bottles of this and that (this=Captain Morgan's; that=Presidente Mexican Brandy). Apparently, the Bushmill's and the Svedka are not in the way.

Well, that's it for the rum. The rum is gone. Except for that flask back in the -- never mind: it's not in the pantry, so it doesn't count.

Did I say the rum is gone? Yes. I believe I did. But why? Why is the rum gone?

I have loved clean out the pantry day since I was a kid. Of course, in the Solís household there usually was only tequila.

Mmmm, tequila.

That reminds me: I wonder how that bottle of Sauza is doing.

Gotta go. The wife wants me to help with something. As if I'm not doing enough already. I mean, here I am, working my liver to the bone. Some people -- it's just never enough.

03 April 2009

Musing on evangelicalism's coming collapse -- Part Three

(Part One, Part Two)

In thinking about the collapse of evangelicalism, I've wondered about the role of evangelicalism's summation of the doctrine of justification sola fide, which pits idea against idea, as I mentioned in Part Two. There is, in my estimation, another problem with that summation. Sola fide -- faith alone -- has come to mean my faith alone. But the popularized conception of sola fide pays scant attention to the doctrine of union with Christ, without which there is no justification. (Indeed John Murray, in his Redemption: Accomplished and Applied [Eerdmans, 1955], 161, says that failing to take union with Christ into account makes our presentation of redemption defective and "gravely" distorts "our view of the Christian life". "Nothing," he says, "is more central or basic than union and communion with Christ.") This "defective" conception of faith (without union with Christ) easily becomes my faith alone in my Christ alone.

How is this so? Because the only thing in operation here is the professed believer's faith in Christ. And faith, despite protestations to the contrary, really does mean, by and large, mental assent to a statement of faith, together with any qualifications one wishes to stipulate based on one's judgment regarding the facts in the case. This is, after all, my faith. There is (for practical purposes) no attendant conception of the believer's union with Christ, and, therefore, with all other believers by virtue of their union with Christ. We are all "spiritual Lone Rangers", as my parents' old pastor used to say. (See Mom? I was listening. I just didn't believe.) And when that is the case, one can hardly perceive his communion with his brothers and, hence, does not need the church, which Calvin exhorts us to hold dear as our Mother. We really do not need the sacraments. Worship services are shared "Jesus and me" sessions, or theology lectures sandwiched between hymns and prayers, and, every now and then, some bread and grape juice handed round for a sanctified memorial snack (I speak as a fool, if you take my meaning). The Church, therefore, has no authority to prescribe for me who Christ is, and certainly no authority to lay any burden on me, such as set times for corporate prayer and fasting (especially since any burden laid upon me is legalism; and I'm saved by faith, don't you know).

(Naturally, of course, we will continue to speak of the Church as The Body (ha!) of Christ. It is easy to see why it is the parachurch organization, not the Church, which is the center of evangelical life. This is the notion of the Invisible Church on crack cocaine! Since Christ really doesn't have a plan for the parachurch, I'm not surprised that Spencer predicts difficult times for these organizations. In Spencer's article the coming plight of the parachurch organization is a lamentable result of the collapse. Also, he mentions the conversions of evangelicals to Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Noteworthy is the fact that for these two bodies the Church is central to the life of Christians. Growth of their parachurch organizations; the amount of money given to these organizations; the number of parishioners who depend upon these organizations for the bulk of their spiritual lives -- these are not symptoms of a healthy Church for the Catholic and Orthodox. Demise of their parachurch organizations would not be considered symptoms of bad health.)

This (christianized) individualism, which is probably worse than either christianized Platonism or christianized Aristotelianism, can never have withstood secularism. Indeed, this individualism is perfectly consonant with secular individualism, and, for that reason, powerless against it. The church, which St. Paul likens, among other things, to an army, is, in popular evangelicalism, an army of individuals (and not even an army of individual Davids ), all generals, no privates -- no platoons, no companies, no battalions, no divisions, but each a Special-Forces-A-Team-of-one, claiming to answer directly to the King. And together with its bastardized version of sola scriptura, asserting no place for the Church as Mother to exegete, interpret and apply Scripture, leaving it all in the hands of the individual, evangelicalism makes the individual Christian his own personal ecumenical council. And should the Church assert the authority to act as our spiritual Mother, we'll probably just go elsewhere. And when we get elsewhere, we'll still be wondering why evangelicalism is collapsing. Few, I think, will consider the possibility that there is never any victory without discipline.

Obedience brings victory. And victory is life. (I couldn't resist. I didn't try very hard, either.)

Here, in my estimation, is how this conception of faith -- my faith -- alone weakens evangelicalism. It accepts a secular presupposition, namely, that the individual human is not only capable of, but warranted in, judging of Divine matters. This includes judging of even the existence of God, which, though it seems "rational" enough, is very problematic. Whereas the commandment says, "Have no other Gods before me", the secular conception of the requirements of rationality, has it that the God who commands this be held not to exist until His existence has been established by Reason, and a non-theistic conception of Reason at that. (But see Psalm 14.1.) So the commandment may be violated until the individual human, who has irrationally determined himself a competent judge of the matter, establishes the existence of the God who commands it.

The faith, therefore, that the individual Christian has, really is his and his alone; and it consists only of those elements which he, himself, has established as true to his own satisfaction. One's own satisfaction, is one of the many things secularism seeks. The Self, in evangelicalism, is raised to the same height as the Self in secularism. (And we wonder why the lives of Evangelicals don't look much different than those of non-Christians! What shall we do for an encore, hit ourselves in the heads with hammers and express shock and dismay that our heads ache? But I digress.) And this faith, on this view of the matter, really cannot be shared with other Christians, not just Christians of other denominations but with fellow evangelicals. What they really share is the fact that they have come to the same answers to a set of questions. It is like two people who prepare their own meals, but sit together at the same table and call it a shared meal.

Also, this placement of the Self means that the disposition of the Self, regarding the truth value of the proposition, God exists, (or the contents of creeds, confessions, statements of faith) , by virtue of being the Self's internal disposition, can accomplish things for God. So, by accepting the same (anthropocentric) view of rationality, and the position of the Self, as secularists, evangelicalism set itself up for failure against secularism.

Don't shoot the messenger, folks.

Note: I realize that this part of the discussion raises the question, "What is faith?" I don't have time or space for that question, however.

Part Four
02 April 2009

Musing on evangelicalism's coming collapse -- Part Two

(Part One)

One assertion Spencer makes (here), and with which I agree, I found particularly worthy of comment:

Despite some very successful developments in the past 25 years, Christian education has not produced a product that can withstand the rising tide of secularism.

I think this is unarguably true. But I also think it must be pointed out, in all fairness, that 25 years is not as long a period of time as he seems to think, especially when the secular counterpart has been around at least twice as long, and is better financed. And, like a sick joke, evangelical taxes have comprised some of that financing.

Even with that in mind, it doesn't strike me that evangelicalism is poised for success against secularism. The reason, I think -- and I'm just spit-balling here -- is that this so-called Christian education is still really very secular. It has not been Christian paideia, the nourishing and training to full development of the Christian soul, the entire person. It's focus has been equally as secular, equally as materialistic, as any secular education. It has been Christian only by virtue of being taught by Christians to the children of Christians, and because it has included chapel services and instruction in Bible and Christian worldview. It has been secular by virtue of being relevant, that is, relevant to this world, practical in the sense of churning out worker drones, or Christian leaders. And, like all relevant education, it has largely ignored, as irrelevant, introduction to The Great Ideas, training in participation in The Great Conversation. (And where it has turned to that sort of education, it has done so after secular educationalists have done.) If it isn't going to help the student get to college so he can get a good job someday, then, being irrelevant, it will not be taught. Consequently, education has been reduced to two goals: missions and evangelism, or job training. I mentioned paideia above. If I had a nickle for every evangelical who, when discussing anyone's university major, asked, "What are you going to do [vocationally] with that?" I'd be independently wealthy.

Riddle me this: Why did the Spartans learn music and dance? What have they to do with being warriors?

Also, evangelicalism's unintentionally trite (and popularized) summation of the doctrine of justification sola fide, pits idea against idea, Christian principles against secular principles. But secularism is not first of all a set of principles. The heart of secularism is violation of the First Commandment. This is not a mere philosophical ideology. It is a matter of the heart, not the mind. We are talking about sin. This is worldliness in the Pauline sense, standing in opposition to God himself.

In reality, therefore, the popularized conception of sola fide pits a statement of faith against the sinful disposition itself. The sinful disposition isn't something one defeats with an idea. If someone commits a sin, we don't recite the Apostles' Creed! It's like flashing a crucifix at a vampire: it looks good in movies, but seriously, are you kidding me? Secularism isn't mere ideology, to be defeated, or simply replaced, with a contrary ideology. Evangelicalism's focus on teaching a Biblical/Christian worldview may thus have back-fired a bit. The Christian worldview, alone, is an ideology rather than a theology. (And by theology I mean way of life, not academic discipline.) Precisely as ideology it is, paradoxically, powerless against secularism. It could not be otherwise.

Permit me to illustrate. Let us take the proposition, God exists. Strictly speaking, a proof of God's existence is no more than a demonstration that the proposition God exists is logically derived from more basic propositions. This, in and of itself, doesn't mean that God exists. It means the proposition can be derived from other propositions. God exists, by such derivation, is not for that reason, a statement about reality. That's contentious, of course; classical apologists would disagree. The important thing, however, is this. Even under conditions which would render the proposition, God exists, a statement about reality, the proposition itself has no power. The true proposition, God exists has no power to save. The same is true of statements of faith. The assertions of a statement of faith may all be true, but there is no power in them. I can very well believe in the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of the dead. But the power to forgive sins; the power to raise the dead -- these are not in the creed.

This is not to say that statements of faith are unimportant. They are very important. They are important because they mark out doctrinal boundaries within which the Christian life is lived. But statements of faith are not the Christian life. It is the gospel (the subject of statements of faith), and not the statement of faith, which is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1.16). To learn the Christian worldview; to learn to articulate and defend a statement of faith -- these are not the same as to experience the power of God for salvation. They are not the same as possessing and living life in Christ. When young people are taught the contents of the Christian worldview, they are given nothing which can withstand secularism, anymore than they are given something which can withstand sinful temptations. There is no power in the Christian worldview. The power to withstand secularism; the power to resist temptation -- these powers are in Christ himself. A Christian education which teaches Bible, theology, and Christian worldview as academic subjects in which mastery is demonstrated by performance on a written test is doomed to failure.

Apart from life in Christ, the Christian worldview is an ideology. Secularism, however, is not an ideology; it is the current manifestation of the spirit of the age. Against that spirit, ideology, even a Christian ideology, is powerless. (See 1 John 4.4.) Presently, evangelicalism strikes one as an invitation to ideologically sick people to improve their ideological health by adopting a healthier ideology. In actuality the invitation is extended to dead men. (Am I suggesting, sub silentio that evangelicalism's real problem is Arminianism? Oops, my Calvinism is showing.)

Part Three
01 April 2009

Musing on evangelicalism's coming collapse -- Part One

This article by Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk, has been the subject of some conversation. (Here, for example.)

Some participants in the conversation have pointed out that it doesn't represent any original thinking: various evangelicals have been saying the same thing, or similar things, for years. This characterization is probably correct. I recall as a youth, attending church with my parents and listening to all the talk about how bad things were getting and how the day of the persecution of Christians was coming, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

But Spencer's article is valuable at least as a summation of a case made by others, mixed with some personal observations of his own as to why the evangelical collapse is coming.

I do have to disagree with the first reason he gives for evangelicalism's impending collapse:

Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This will prove to be a very costly mistake. Evangelicals will increasingly be seen as a threat to cultural progress. Public leaders will consider us bad for America, bad for education, bad for children, and bad for society.

It's easy enough for public leaders to identify evangelicals as a threat to progress. Alignment with the culture war and with political conservatism will be convenient excuses; but I doubt things would be much different if evangelicals had aligned themselves with Libertarians of the Friedman stripe, or if there were no alignment at all. The sort of leaders Spencer must surely have in mind are out-and-out Statists. And let me be clear: by Statist I mean people who, really, worship Humanity (i.e., themselves) by devotion to, and adoration of, the omnicompetent state.

In the end, evangelicals will not worship humanity by adoring the State. (Well, they shouldn't, anyway.) Rome's persecutions of Christians were motivated by concerns that were political. It was not as if Christians had launched a crusade to claim the empire for Christ. Indeed, by and large, they were dropping out and, well, "tuning in"...to Christ. In contrast, one gets the idea, listening to the spokes-persons for evangelicalism, that dropping out of the culture is the eighth deadly sin.

Getting back to Rome, though, one of the many things we fail to take note of is the fact that the word "gospel" (euangelion) was a word with political implications in the Greco-Roman world. It was frequently used with reference to the Emperor. Imagine how the use of that term, in reference to anyone else, especially a Jewish carpenter, must have struck the Roman world. Even in the best of times, it would not have required alignment with a culture war, or any extreme in the empire's political spectrum, to earn Christians more than a modicum. They simply would not worship the divine State, personified by the Emperor. They lacked pietas.And their use of such a seemingly insignificant word as "euangelion" with reference to their Christ was sufficient evidence of that.

The euangelion of Jesus Christ? That, alone, could have been seen as treason.

So evangelicals need not have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism in order to be seen as a threat to cultural progress, or for public leaders to consider us "bad for America, bad for education, bad for children, and bad for society." If Spencer's location of the cause of evangelicalism's demise is correct and identification with the culture war and with political conservatism is the reason for it, then the vitriol will be leveled against us for the wrong reasons.

However, within his first point, is a claim with which I do heartily agree:

The evangelical investment in moral, social, and political issues has depleted our resources and exposed our weaknesses. Being against gay marriage and being rhetorically pro-life will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of Evangelicals can't articulate the Gospel with any coherence. We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith.

But I think it's worse: evangelicals haven't traded the faith for a cause; we have, a sufficient number of us, identified a cause with the faith. (In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis calls this the problem of "Christianity And".) It is almost as if evangelicals have come to believe that if the world will not repent of their sins and turn to Christ, that's all right: we'll just make them behave as if they have done. This, of course, is why they cannot articulate the Gospel with any coherence. There is no need to articulate the Gospel when the power of the State can be brought to bear in correcting our social ills. (Those of my friends who have known me the longest will attest that I've never been a fan of this maneuver.)

Articulating the Gospel is for the minster. The mission of the "layman" is to write his Congressmen and vote for right-wing (i.e., socially conservative) causes (or left-wing [i.e., fiscally liberal] causes, for evangelicals of the Sojourners ilk). I'm being facetious only for rhetorical effect. The simple fact is, I think Spencer is right. Evangelicals do seem increasingly unable to communicate the Gospel. The answer must surely be that they are spending their time learning to do, or, in fact, doing something else. Not only that, but I think the inability is rooted in an unwillingness to communicate the gospel. And I have a sick feeling, in the pit of my stomach, that the reason for the unwillingness to communicate the gospel is an unwillingness to live it. I could be wrong about that; but I'm not.

Part Two

About Me

James Frank Solís
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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