Meritocracy? What Meritocracy? Just Pay the Money!

It’s pretty sad out there:

What many are calling the worst admissions scandal in higher education emerged Tuesday, with federal authorities announcing 50 indictments in a scheme that allegedly involved faux athletes, coaches who could be bribed, cheating on the SAT and ACT, million-dollar bribes and “guarantees” that certain applicants would be admitted to highly competitive colleges.

By the end of Tuesday, several coaches had lost their jobs (oddly, not for helping athletes, but for helping nonathletes) and some politicians were calling for investigations of college admissions. Meanwhile a broader debate has been renewed about the many advantages that wealthy families have — advantages that are legal. And advocates for black and Latino students were quick to note that just as a lawsuit against Harvard University could endanger many colleges’ affirmative action plans, fresh evidence has arrived that college admissions is far from a meritocracy. The investigation was dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues” by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Hopefully this–and more–will finally convince people of something that this blog has been saying for years: we really don’t have a meritocracy.  Never have, and probably never will.


The Limitations of “Trad” Catholicism

To be Roman Catholic these days is an unenviable business, especially if you’re aware of what’s going on in the Catholic Church (and many Catholics, sad to say, are not.)  It’s easy to comment on what’s happening, but what really matters is how one plans to fix the problems that face the Church.

DDVEnqXXUAAwiviLet’s start with what won’t work: the idea of the Pope and the “reappraisers,” to use Kendall Harmon’s expressive term.  As one who was raised in the Episcopal Church, one gets a “déjà vu all over again” feel about this.  As I’ve pointed out before, the idea of Francis and other “reverends pères jesuites” using their “morale accommodante” to advance the Church has a long history.  Progressive Protestants have done the same thing and the empty churches speak for themselves; Roman Catholicism can’t expect a different result.

So what is to be done?  One group of people with “the answer” to these problems are the “trads,” those whose idea is to return to some kind of traditional Roman Catholicism.  They’ve been around since their church was turned upside down with Vatican II, although many have had to operate in the shadows.  Now, as was the case with the Anglican-Episcopal world, the combination of the internet, social media and wider broadcast choices have made networking easier to do.  (A sympathetic former Pope didn’t hurt, either.)  So do they really have the answer?

I think the best reply to that question is…sort of.

Stating the obvious is the quickest way to get Americans angry, but let’s start there anyway.  “Trad” Catholicism is not, to use a good Scholastic term, univocal.  We have the #straightouttairondale types and we have the TLM (Traditional Latin Mass) types, and they don’t always get along.  That’s a typical problem with groups which focus on liturgical precision, and Trad Catholics certainly do that.  The first thing that Trad Catholics need to do is to promote unity amongst themselves, even if they don’t agree on every point.

That leads to the next problem: Trad Catholics are too focused on the sacramentals and not enough on the sacraments.  What Trad Catholics of all types are trying to do is to reconstruct the Catholicism of the pre-Vatican II years, down to the last devotion and spiritual discipline.  Their idea is that Vatican II wrecked the church by throwing the doors open, which led to the exodus of people and religious that has led to the current crisis.  This ignores something that Europeans should understand but Americans don’t: that the decline in Catholic numbers in Europe long antedated Vatican II, Tridentine Mass and all.  Vatican II was called in part to address this issue; for the American church, booming (like their Episcopal counterparts) in the post-World War II environment, such a reform was almost unnecessary.

The biggest challenge the Trads face, however, is the structure of the Catholic Church itself.

The church the Trads find themselves in is the result of the greatest triumph of long-term Trad Catholicism of all: ultramontanism.  The term means “beyond the mountain,” and refers to the centralisation of power and authority in the Pope.  Largely facilitated by the French Revolution and the Napoleonic upheaval, it eliminated practices such as the regale and curtailed the national autonomy churches had guarded for centuries.  The proclamation of the Pope’s infallibility at Vatican I (the same time the Italians trashed the Papal States) sealed the deal.  It eliminated meaningful national autonomy and certainly any lay input into the life of the church, something Vatican II tried to address without much practical effect.  Both autonomy and lay involvement would have been handy for American bishops to deal with the sex abuse crisis; instead, the Vatican ran interference and the American church will suffer the consequences.

What this means for the Trads is that, should the Vatican continue to move leftward, they will leave the Trads in the lurch.  That’s because it is difficult in the Catholic parish system, which have no voice in their selection of priests, to have a distinctive identity.  That’s what messed up the Catholic Charismatics forty years ago; they found it next to impossible to have Charismatic parishes.  Their solution was the covenant community system, but that had problems tooAnd ultimately those communities which remained found themselves being made offers they could not refuse.  The Trads, which are more dependent upon the sacerdotal and sacramental systems, are even more vulnerable to this kind of pressure.

None of this should obscure the fact that the Trads have some strong points: they have a definite idea of what Christian life should be all about, they’re good at attracting people to vocations (something that may be a life saver in a priest-starved church,) and their people, like Bossuet’s characterisation of God, tend to be fertile.

I’m not sure that the Trads Latinate, legalistic and overly sacramental view of Christian life will have the broad appeal they think it will, although they will attract some in this way.  I would like to see the Trads, to borrow more Scholastic terms, differentiate more meaningfully between the essentials and the accidentals.  But I’m afraid, as was the case with the Charismatics a generation plus ago, that the Church itself will be the worst enemy of those trying to renew it, and that’s the saddest part of the whole business.

Beating the Sheep Doesn’t Work

I recently reviewed Latta Griswold’s The Middle Way, this is another quote from that, in his advice on sermons:

The most ineffective, and ultimately the most objectionable of all preachers, is the scold. There is a vast difference between rebuking evil and exposing to a congregation the sins to which they are prone, and scolding. The scolding seldom reaches the members of the parish for whom it is in tended. Nothing is more fruitless than to rave to empty benches or a scattering of the faithful about the neglect of public worship. If a priest provides the best service he and his assistants can render, if he conscientiously preaches the Gospel as effectively as he can, if he is a faithful pastor, he discharges his responsibility to his parish. There is a point at which the effort to induce people to come to church ceases to be a virtue, and when they must be left to their own conscience.

This is referred to in Evangelical circles as “beating the sheep,” and Griswold is right: it doesn’t work. It’s usually an act of desperation, and that’s especially true these days.

Science Still Lives Somewhere

Recently I posted a piece entitled The Day Science Died where I lamented the fall of a real scientific/technological urge in our society after we landed men on the moon in 1969.

Evidently that urge is still out there, in this case Israel:

A dramatic nighttime launch from Cape Canaveral sent Israel’s privately funded lunar lander on its way to a rendezvous with history. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was on hand in the control room.

“It’s a big step for Israel but a giant step for Israeli technology. The strength of Israel in the world is rising, rising, rising and rising to the moon,” Netanyahu said.

Israel’s not the only country where STEM has “pride of place” in society, but it’s one that gets a disproportionate amount of attention, most of it negative.  One wonders but that the source of a great deal of antisemitism out there is jealousy and fear of the accomplishments of the Jewish people, both in and out of STEM.  When Nazi Minister of Education Bernhard Rust asked David Hilbert whether Göttingen’s Mathematical Institute had suffered as a result of the purge of the Jews, Hilbert replied, “Suffered? It doesn’t exist any longer, does it!”

Hopefully, unlike their American counterparts, both of these goals will be achieved:

“We want the Israeli kids and the Israeli youth to, we want to encourage them to learn STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and informatics – and we hope that they will have this mission we will create the effect and encourage them. The second goal is to promote the space industry here in Israel … And I think we got it – one of the goals is already achieved,” explained Dr. Ido Antebi, CEO of SpaceIL.

The Day Science Died

This week’s post comes on my companion website, Chet Aero Marine, and is entitled The Day Science Died.

But the other thing that came in reading this book was an ache–an ache for a time when we were literally reaching for the stars (or at least the moon.)  The passing of that time–something that basically lost its momentum after the moon shots and never quite got it back–is a point in history when something seriously died in this country, and that was a general commitment to the advancement of our state with science.


Book Review: Latta Griswold’s The Middle Way

If there’s one term that gets misused in Anglican-Episcopal circles more than any other, it’s the via media, the middle way, which Anglicanism is supposed to embody.  Probably it’s original intent was best expressed by the men who “translated” the King James Bible.  In their dedication to their “dread sovereign,” they said the following:

So that if, on the one side, we shall be traduced by Popish Persons at home or abroad, who therefore will malign us, because we are poor instruments to make God’s holy Truth to be yet more and more known unto the people, whom they desire still to keep in ignorance and darkness; or if, on the other side, we shall be maligned by self-conceited Brethren, who run their own ways, and give liking unto nothing, but what is framed by themselves, and hammered on their anvil; we may rest secure, supported within by the truth and innocency of a good conscience, having walked the ways of simplicity and integrity, as before the Lord; and sustained without by the powerful protection of Your Majesty’s grace and favour, which will ever give countenance to honest and Christian endeavours against bitter censures and uncharitable imputations.

These days it’s often used to either avoid taking a firm stand on something or to conceal the firm stand that’s being taken.  Where the middle is depends upon where the extremes are, and the major change in the Anglican-Episcopal world it the last half century or so is the location of those extremes, and thus the ever-shifting location of a middle that is increasingly impossible to maintain.

Before this excitement–but sadly not all of it–we had a church world whose divisions resembled those King James’ men faced (although, in their case, the Roman types were driven underground in Anglicanism, not to surface until the Oxford Movement.)  This is the world that Latta Griswold, Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Lenox, Massachusetts, lived and moved and had his being, and into which he wrote The Middle Way.  (He was probably related to Frank Griswold, Presiding Bishop and Sufi Rumi devotee, but I haven’t pinpointed the connection.)  Published in 1928, the same year of the fabled Prayer Book, it’s basically his idea on how to best implement that Prayer Book in the ceremonial of the church.

So what’s Griswold’s idea of “the middle way?”  That’s the first problem: Griswold is a committed high churchman, one who more than edges his way into Anglo-Catholicism.  He approvingly notes the importation of a great deal of Catholicising practices into a liturgy which had just made a major shift in that direction.  Trad Catholics and #straightouttairondale types would be at home with many of these.  One that surprised me was his approval of adding the “Last Gospel” at the end of the Mass, which is an import from what is called now the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM.)  As far as ad orientem is concerned, his comment that the “minister should face the altar when he addresses Almighty God, the congregation when he addresses or reads to them, and the opposite stall during other parts of the service” pretty much takes care of that.  Calling this “the middle way” is IMHO a stretch, but I will say that Griswold is more pastorally minded as to the sensibilities of his people than the absolutists who dominate the scene today.

Such a view and the topics he discusses might give the impression that he’s cooked up a recipe for a dull book.  But The Middle Way is anything but, especially for those of us who were raised in that tradition.  Griswold wrote novels as well; he crafts precise and sometimes witty prose, and probably the best way to give a feel for the book is to cite some of that.

Let’s start with his advice to ministers and the way they should be conducting the service:

His (the minister’s) demeanour during the service is important. It should be reverent, without being solemn; dignified, but not pompous; cheerful, but without levity; alert, but unhurried. If his personal mood does not accord with what he is doing, it can and should be concealed. Similar considerations apply to the choir. A service is like a play; it is a drama, and it needs to be rehearsed. The more faithful and carefully laboured the practice, the more natural, smooth, and satisfactory will be the performance. (emphasis mine)

Don’t let them know you’re having a bad day!

Twenty minutes is a wise limit for most preachers to set themselves for the sermon. If they do not use a manuscript, they should use a watch, and heed its monition. Nothing more defeats a preacher’s intention than to miss an admirable point at which to end his sermon.

That’s pretty standard advice for liturgical churches, but one which is often honoured in the breach.

If the service is well planned, if the musical setting, anthems, sermons, notices are not too long, such a Matins as has been described should not last over an hour, never over an hour and a quarter; and that is about the time the average congregation in the present day can concentrate upon divine worship.

We complain about the short attention span our people have today, but there really isn’t anything new under the sun…

Too often the presentation of the alms is conducted with so much pomp and ceremony, and this particularly in churches where ceremonial is affected to be despised, that it appears as if it were the climax of the whole service, a circumstance that invariably gives the intruding Philistine occasion to blaspheme.

Anglican-Episcopal types “trash talk” prosperity types, but this was a fault my home church Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach was notorious for.  We had the largest silver trays I have ever seen, and the celebrant’s elevation of same at the altar, accompanied by the organist’s all-stops-open rendering of the Doxology, outdid the elevation of the Host at Communion.  I’m sure the Philistines said some ripe things!

If some one could devise a method by which more people could he induced to attend evening services, he would be rendering the Church a great good.

This is a struggle that Evangelical and Pentecostal churches are losing (or have lost) today for the same reason their Main Line counterparts did a century ago: secular pursuits by the congregation.  It surprised me that Griswold brought this up: I was raised with the idea that twice-a-Sunday church was something that “they” did, not “us.”

Happily there is a growing tendency to bring children to Confirmation much earlier than formerly…The child is to go on with religious education all the rest of his life–at least that is what we should hope. Postponing Confirmation to the period of adolescence, as is so widely the practice, seems to me to place it at the most unsuitable age of all. It is then that children are apt to be less interested in religion than at any other period of their lives.

This was another shocker for a Bethesda veteran–I don’t know if it was a diocesan rule (probably was,) but Bethesda wouldn’t present anyone to the Bishop for Confirmation until he or she was 12.  Griswold’s observation about the unsuitability of waiting until the teens for Confirmation was true enough in his day; it was on steroids in the 1960’s and beyond.

But apologetic sermons are better than a sort preached by some men, who seldom lose an opportunity of announcing from the pulpit how very little of the Christian religion they deem worthy of acceptance.

I think this passage should be etched on the tombstone (or other memorial) of people like John Shelby Spong.  Griswold was a minister in a church where the whole life of the church revolved around the Book of Common PrayerLex orandi, lex credendi not withstanding, the weakness of that type of spirituality is that it lulls the church into a false sense of security: if the BCP is being faithfully and aesthetically executed every Sunday, life is good.  But behind the BCP are the essentials of the faith from the Holy Scriptures.  In Griswold’s day the rot was already underway, propagated by the seminaries; the explosion of the 1960’s and again in the 2000’s were only the lighting of the fuse, the explosive material of unbelief was in ample supply both times.  Looking at Griswold’s time and the years immediately following leads one to think of a quote from Gregory the Great:

There was long life and health, material prosperity, growth of population and the tranquillity of daily peace, yet while the world was flourishing in itself, in their hearts it had withered away.

That’s the challenge in front of American Christianity today, Anglican and otherwise.  Do we really believe the basic truths?  Or will we too sell the pass?  That’s the challenge in front of us.  Are we up to it?

There is much in The Middle Way that may not interest too many people now.  For those of us raised in this type of Christianity, or those who attempt to maintain worship according to the 1928 BCP, it’s a fascinating read.  But some of Griswold’s pithy observations have a prophetic ring to them, and for those whose objective is to carry on where other churches have failed, it’s a worthwhile read.

About Those Honorary Doctorates in the Church of God…

I’ve spent the past several weeks going on about social and political things, but this week I’d like to discuss a pet peeve of mine in the glorious church Church of God I’m a part of: the issue of honorary doctorates, and the calling of their recipients “Doctor.”  Fortunately our Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Tim Hill (to use the Anglican form of address) has come out with a nice piece on the subject, Let’s Talk About It: Honorary Doctorates.  Coming from someone who a) received one, b) is called “Doctor” as a result, c) doesn’t require it and d) is now Presiding Bishop, it’s a welcome treatment of the subject.

I like Tim Hill, think he’s a man of integrity and transparency, know many in his family.  I think his personal qualities are worth far more than whatever title he holds. Putting that first comes from years of working in the Church of God at the denominational level, to say nothing of my years-long involvement in Anglicanism.  Pentecostals like for their leaders to have “the anointing,” but personal integrity before God and the church is really more important, and once that’s established the anointing will flow.

My own journey with this issue is only partially related to the fact that, much closer to the pearly gates than to my birth, I received my own earned doctorate.  A product of an Episcopal background and a Roman Catholic early adulthood, I didn’t join the Church of God until my late twenties.  To be honest, it was (and still is) an alternative universe.  Being in the construction industry, people with “too much education” don’t always get a warm reception (or maybe they do!) One professor at West Point even cautioned me about putting “PhD” after his name on my website, as he was concerned about the “warm reception!”

One thing I discovered early in my years in this church was that many in its upper echelons were called “Doctor.”  Growing up in a church with clergy equipped with plenty of formal education, that was no surprise.  It didn’t become apparent until much later that these doctorates were honorary doctorates.  Where I came from, the only people who were referred to as “Doctor” were either a) medical doctors or b) those who earned what accreditation types refer to as the “terminal degree.”  Some parts of the press only refer to people this way with (a).  So I thought this was strange, not only because it ran against general practice but also because I figured our laity wouldn’t take to educated people!

Part of solving this mystery in the “alternative universe” came when I came back to teach regularly about ten years ago.  Since most of my colleagues have a PhD, some of the students called me “Dr. Warrington.”  I tried to dissuade them from this practice but found it a “whack-a-mole” proposition, as Tim Hill did.  I think that some of it was just habit but some of it was currying favor.  I suspect that this same motivation inspires our people as much as it did my students.

But a great deal of it, I think, comes from a deep-rooted inferiority complex in our people, and a desire to move up in the world.  That’s a reversal of some long-held values, but a reversal I was unaware of until it was, for me at least, too late.  Our people wanted to show that they had arrived, and having a surfeit of doctors at the top was one way of doing that.  I still think that this inferiority complex is dangerous and will get us into trouble sooner or later, if it hasn’t already.

So what’s there to be inferior about?  Modern Pentecost’s position in Christianity reminds me of an apocryphal story about Maurice Ravel, the French composer, and George Gershwin, the American one.  Gershwin decided to take some lessons from Ravel, who asked Gershwin, “How much do you make in a year?”

“Oh, a quarter of a million dollars,” Gershwin replied (this was back in the 1920’s.)

“Perhaps I should be taking lessons from you,” Ravel replied.

Most churches would do well to take lessons from the Pentecostals and Charismatics regarding their outreach and the growth that can come from it.

One pastor up north had a series of sermons entitled, “Trading Your Title for a Towel,” referring to the foot-washing in John 13.  When he quit his church to take another one, he should have entitled his last sermon, “Throwing the Towel In.”  Let’s throw the towel in on calling everyone “doctor,” stop worrying about our “inferiority,” and be the men and women God wants us to be.

Did Ronald Reagan’s Journey to the Right Begin in England?

We always talk about the old Soviet Union as an inspiration against socialism, but for Ronald Reagan that journey may have started in a more familiar setting:

Maybe the single biggest surprise is the couple of pages devoted to the four months spent by American actor, Ronald Reagan at Elstree Studios making a war movie called The Hasty Heart (pp.314-315). He was appalled by the filthy London smogs and rundown hotels, and – although he went out of his way to praise the director and all the other technicians he worked with – it was a grim first hand sight of socialism in action which, in his view, amounted to: stoppages dictated by the militant trade unions, six hour queues at hospitals, mile after mile of slate-roofed council houses in the rain.

So far so anecdotal: but Kynaston goes on to point out that Reagan himself, writing in the 1970s, pointed to this trip to Britain – seeing the natural economic order of free markets replaced by rationing and state interference at every level, and the resulting lack of all basic facilities overseen by the petty tyrannies of trade union shop stewards and local government officials – as a defining moment in his journey to the Right.

Considering Reagan’s centrality to world politics during the 1980s and the role he played in the collapse of the Soviet Union, of communism, and even of full-blooded socialism as viable political programmes, there’s a case for saying these few months in rainy Hertfordshire changed the history of the world.


A Warm Reception

I posted this piece before WordPress times and thought it could use reposting now, with a few modifications.

On 4 July 1911, the citizens of Houma, Louisiana, in Terrebonne Parish, gathered together to celebrate the 135th birthday of the United States. The concept of a Fourth of July celebration in South Louisiana is interesting in itself, given that this part of the U.S. is very unique in many ways. One thing that wasn’t unique was that the politicians showed up to deliver speeches. One of these was Judge W.P. Martin, and he began his speech as follows:

Ladies and Gentlemen: At the outset permit me to thank you for your warm reception. I cannot say that it is unexpected because Terrebonne has always been generous with me in the distribution of her favors. Some of the happiest days of my boyhood were spent among you and many of my warmest and dearest friends are in this Parish. Terrebonne has always extended me a WARM reception. When as a young man I courted the favors of the fair sex, other young men who were courting the same girls saw to it that I received a WARM reception. When I sought political preference, my opponents here extended me a WARM reception. And when in the course of human events, I shall shuffle off this mortal coil, it is my earnest hope that my reception in the world to come will not be as WARM as it has always been in the Parish of Terrebone.

If you want to avoid a warm reception in eternity, click here.