It’s All About Moving Up, Only the Ladder Changes

Consider this nasty, self-righteous screed:

Christianity has died in the hands of Evangelicals. Evangelicalism ceased being a religious faith tradition following Jesus’ teachings concerning justice for the betterment of humanity when it made a Faustian bargain for the sake of political influence.

It’s amazing that people can so lack self-reflection that they don’t see they’ve destroyed themselves in the first sentence.  If the Christian Left isn’t about currying favour with the opposite side of the spectrum, by twisting the Gospel to conform with those whose first goal is to get laid, high or drunk, than I don’t know what it is.  As Julian Assange pointed out a while back:

The received wisdom in advanced capitalist societies is that there still exists an organic “civil society sector” in which institutions form autonomously and come together to manifest the interests and will of citizens. The fable has it that the boundaries of this sector are respected by actors from government and the “private sector,” leaving a safe space for NGOs and nonprofits to advocate for things like human rights, free speech and accountable government.

This sounds like a great idea. But if it was ever true, it has not been for decades. Since at least the 1970s, authentic actors like unions and churches have folded under a sustained assault by free-market statism, transforming “civil society” into a buyer’s market for political factions and corporate interests looking to exert influence at arm’s length. The last forty years have seen a huge proliferation of think tanks and political NGOs whose purpose, beneath all the verbiage, is to execute political agendas by proxy.

Or to put it more directly, everyone–including the self-righteous lefties–is shilling for someone.  Everyone wants to move up, the main difference is the ladder each has chosen to climb.

There was a time when ex-officials of the state were not permitted to be ministers or priest on account of the corruptionThere was even a time when the faithful were not permitted to vote, although the reasons for that were as much a secular insult as a spiritual one.  Now we’re all expected to be political animals, and enthusiastic ones at that.  We’re not permitted to admit that we were forced into this game by the wish to stay out of jail.

Personally I find all the climbing by people who profess and call themselves Christians hard to take.  But it’s the American way.  I guess we’re stuck with it for the time being, but the left doesn’t have any business being in denial about what they’re really trying to do.

In Defence of Prog

It was a sorry moment on Twitter when I found the Atlantic‘s James Parker’s “book review” on David Weigel’s The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock.  It’s not as much a book review as an assault on “prog” as it’s called.  Given that everything else “progressive” gets good press in the Atlantic, that strikes me as odd.  So I think it’s time for me to Stand Up (pun intended) for the one form of secular rock that really made an impact on me.

It’s not an understatement to say that, for a span of about four years (later years in prep school and first years as an undergraduate) prog rock dominated the turntable.  Principally it was Jethro Tull, but Emerson Lake & Palmer, the Moody Blues (and later Mike Oldfield, Kevin Ayers and 10cc) joined the domination.  They turned into tour guides on my 1976 trip to the UK, leading me to places such as the Fulham Road and Hergest Ridge.  The obvious question, then and now, is “What did you see in these groups?”  Prog, more than any other type of rock, is an acquired taste, and it’s one of those things that was acquired first and the “why” figured out later, if ever.

The first was that they were all British, or more broadly unAmerican.  To be raised where I was resulted in being raised out of touch with much of American life, and what most Americans thought important wasn’t on the radar screen.  The endless “hick moving to town” theme meant nothing to me.  Prog was a way to escape a culture I didn’t like and, in some ways, didn’t like me.

The second was, believe it or not, a product of church upbringing.  Let’s put it this way: when people raised on the “Red Back Hymnal” (one former Church of God state overseer refers to it as the “Red Neck Hymnal”) got into rock, they listened to Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, who themselves were raised in that kind of church.  For someone like me who was raised on the Episcopal 1940 Hymnal, prog artists like ELP fit the bill, to say nothing of Jethro Tull’s Aqualung.

That underscores another aspect of prog that’s forgotten: many prog artists, such as Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman, had classical training.  ELP’s Pictures at an Exhibition is, in many ways, the best rendition of Mussorgsky’s piano piece; Ravel is too restrained.  There was also Tull’s Bourée.  But classical influences and training are, usually, the kiss of death on this side of the Atlantic.

Parker’s characterisation of prog as the “whitest music” only shows his uncritical acceptance (along with much of the American left) of the white supremacists‘ racial model.  Prog is better described as European, as opposed to American.  That’s in evidence in the rhythmic clapping during Mike Oldfield’s Exposed (his live album of a Continental tour) rendition of Incantations.  His use of Longfellow’s Hiawatha as an “incantation” is hilarious, but much of his music had a satirical underpinning.  To look at things differently, at the time country and Southern gospel were very “white” forms of music, but the result is entirely different.

Getting back to the UK trip, in addition to a guide it was a nice mental soundtrack, from 10cc’s fine motorway driving music at the start of How Dare You! to the late Lindsay Cooper’s haunting oboe solo at the top of Hergest Ridge.  Such were things that, in the day, made life sweet.So how did I “get past” prog?  That’s easy: it wasn’t that I tired of the music, but I tired of the message.  That occasioned a culture shock, but also a shift in music styles to what you see on this site.    There’s certainly Christian prog, but there isn’t a lot of it, and it was years before I found it.

Progressive music was the product of a world with universal health care, planned urban spaces and public transportation (as the Baker Street Muse knew all too well.)  Nearly a half century later, these are mostly unrealised in these United States.  Those who wanted them to happen and survived the years of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll should have worried about something else than what happens when the hick moves to town.

As for me, I think I’ll stick with the show that really, truly, never ends.  But leave my prog alone.

Bolshevik Revolution: Ten Days That Shook the World Still Shake

The Cruiser Aurora, where the “first shot” of the Bolshevik Revolution came from and began seventy years of communism. From a Soviet-era photograph in then Leningrad.

This week we remember the Bolshevik Revolution.  I’d have to say that the “ten days that shook the world” (to use John Reed’s phrase) have certainly shaken my life.  But it was the back end of that revolution–the collapse of the Soviet Union and its aftermath–where things really got interesting for me, and the world looks different after that experience.

A video of a 1990 trip to the then Soviet Union:

I’ve done many pieces on the subject, some of them are as follows:

And a couple of more videos…

The Shifting Sands of American Law

In the midst of a thumbs-up for the estate tax repeal and the step-up basis retention, a warning:

If the bill is passed without changes to these provisions, then planning will focus on maximizing basis step-up at death, perhaps with additional lifetime gift planning in anticipation of a reasonably likely future return of the estate tax in the future when political tides shift.

And shift they will.  American politics and law are cyclical; today’s fashion is tomorrow’s crime.  To have a properly functioning economic system one must have a legal system that is both transparent and stable, and ours is less of both as time goes by.  Thus, people have less incentive to build wealth under one legal framework only to see it change to another.  The only people who manage to survive these rough seas are those who either anchor their wealth offshore (and don’t mind getting outed occasionally) or those whose wealth/corporations are big enough to buy the influence necessary to keep their place.

In my years in business, this was a persistent problem, especially when we got the feeling that a target was being painted on our back.  It’s unreasonable to expect people to provide jobs under these conditions, and it’s amazing that our economy has retained the vitality it has under the conditions to which it has been subjected.

Evangelicals Took Over the Church of England? So What?

An eye-opener, indeed:

Fifty years later there’s good reason for evangelicals to believe Stott’s argument ultimately won the day. For instance, unlike his more liberal predecessor, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is a charismatic evangelical (and a member of Holy Trinity Brompton before he was ordained), and his counterpart in York, John Sentamu, comes from an evangelical background too. As Rev Dr Ian Paul, who sits on the Archbishops’ Council notes, while previous generations of evangelicals ignored senior establishment posts, today’s evangelicals are taking them on, so when it comes to its senior leadership, “the Church of England is more evangelical than it’s ever been”. According to Dr Paul, the growth of the Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) and New Wine networks is further evidence that evangelicals are having a strong impact on the Church. And the trend looks set to continue. Evangelicals now account for 70 per cent of ordinands entering training. A generation ago, the figure was just 30 per cent.

On the other hand…based on the last Welby-directed Primates’ meeting, it should be obvious that what’s being “evangelised” isn’t the Gospel.

There’s no question that the language and methodology of evangelicalism has affected just about all of Christianity, including the Episcopalians (who used to think such things were in bad taste) and #straightouttairondale Roman Catholicism.  But what’s the good news?  That we can live in like fashion to those whose first purpose is to get laid, high or drunk?

One thing that would simplify things or everyone is to make a clean separation of civil marriage from marriage in the church.  That has its problems but it would take some of the pressure from churches to make their idea of marriage conform with that of the state’s.

Stripped of a real Biblical ethic, “evangelicalism” is simply another b-school method of filling pews and offering plates.  God’s church deserves better, but getting that isn’t easy these days.

Healy Willan’s Missa de Sancta Maria Magdelena

It was the “standard” rendition of the Holy Communion when I grew up at Bethesda-by-the-Sea, and the paid youth choir did a proper job of it.  This rendition comes from St. John’s Cathedral in Detroit.

It remains one of the most moving “masses” (that term didn’t sit well with many Episcopalians) I have ever heard, and remains a favourite.

Note that the priest is ad orientem, which can get people into trouble in some places.

The Strange Consequence of Luther’s Concept of Justification

Bossuet, in his History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches, I, 7, gets to the point:

Justification is that grace which, remitting to us our sins, at the same time renders us agreeable to God. Till then, it had been believed that what wrought this effect proceeded indeed from God, but yet necessarily existed in man; and that to be justified,—namely, for a sinner to be made just, it was necessary he should have this justice in him; as to be learned and virtuous, one must have in him learning and virtue. But Luther had not followed so simple an idea. He would have it, that what justifies us and renders us agreeable to God was nothing in us; but we were justified because God imputed to us the justice of Jesus Christ, as if it were our own, and because by faith we could indeed appropriate it to ourselves.

The defect in the Lutheran concept of justification is that it is unnecessary to internalise God’s grace as long as our name was written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.  Growing up Episcopalian, I saw too much of the result of that kind of thing: people whose lives had little evidence of alteration by the Gospel, even though the New Testament demands such a transformation.  The Roman Catholic concept of “Christ alive in us” (the concept set to music at the start of this album) is better, although it’s wrapped in a defective ecclesiology and obscured by the Roman Catholic concept of merit.

What we’re really after is to make that internalisation the centrepiece of Christian life, and from that standpoint the Reformation is either the first step or the greatest obstacle.

Justification by Litigation Doesn’t Work, Either

Certainly didn’t for the Episcopal Church in their “recovery” of the San Joaquin diocese:

What would you say of a trustee who spent $6.8 million of his trust fund’s money to recover just $1 million? Is that a healthy example of how a fiduciary should carry out his duties?

You probably already guessed before I tell you: the trustee in question is the Episcopal Church (USA); the trust fund is ECUSA’s endowment (some $366 million as of the end of 2016); the $6.8 million was loaned by ECUSA’s Executive Council to the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin to keep it propped up during its ten-year lawsuit to “recover church properties”; and the $1 million is all that the Diocese of San Joaquin is now able to repay after having been handed more than 25 properties by the crazy California courts.

There are several ways of explaining why the Episcopal Church has spent around USD40,000,000 to recover its property in this millennium of struggle that is the Anglican Revolt.

One way is to note that much of TEC’s “pastiche” is rooted in its historic properties (like this one) and that it needed them to “keep up the day” or keep its “brand.” But that puts the lie to a whole generation of social justice warriors such as this who wanted to break the church out of the “phony” suburbs and make it both relevant and reaching out to people beyond TEC’s elevated demographic.  (Face it, though: the course of the left since the 1960’s has been to backtrack from a real economic justice agenda, and we have the income inequality to show for it.)

Another is to say that TEC needed these properties to forward its “evangelistic” efforts.  And it’s true that property on the ground is useful in this endeavour.  But TEC hasn’t had a really good plan for growth since it appealed to the upwardly mobile in the 1950’s, and to say otherwise is to be  in denial, which certainly has motivated many to do foolish things.  The lack of practical growth plan is, from an economic standpoint, the key problem with its scorched earth litigation strategy: we got the property back, now what?  And how do we pay for it?

Yet another is to note the blind hatred that TEC’s left has exhibited towards those who didn’t agree with the pansexual agenda actively promoted in the church.  That was very much in evidence during the years Katherine Jefferts-Schori was Presiding Bishop, and say what you will, she was more up front about that than her male predecessors and successor.  But that kind of hatred doesn’t become people who a) come from a supposedly “nice” religion and b) profess and call themselves Christians.

And this last point goes hand in hand with the American tendency to put way too much confidence in litigation and its successful outcome.  Americans are drilled in the absolute rightness of their legal system and the “rule of law” that supposedly goes with it.  Winning a lawsuit not only brings victory to the issue at hand; it also morally vindicates the successful plaintiff, and moral vindication is what life is all about in these United States.  The best way to describe this mentality is childlike, but that doesn’t stop people from pursuing a lot of stupid litigation.  (That masks much of the élite table tilting that has gone on with Episcopal property litigation, but that’s part of the game too, I suppose.)

It’s not a pretty picture.  The main result will be the sell-off of properties to pay the lawyers and other expenses, and that can bite back, as Jon Bruno will tell you.  As we approach the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, we can argue about justification by faith vs. works (not a really good dichotomy) but we can be sure that litigation doesn’t justify anyone.

The Tasteless Suburbs Were the Creation of the Government

Well, somewhat:

What image springs to mind when you picture “federally subsidized housing”? Most people imagine a low-income public housing tower, a homeless shelter, or a shoddy apartment building.

Nope—suburban homeowners are the single biggest recipient of housing subsidies. As a result, suburbs dominate housing in the United States. For decades, federal finance regulations incentivized single-family homes through three key mechanisms:

  1. Insurance

  2. National mortgage markets

  3. New standards for debt structuring

I’ve discussed the left’s hatred for suburbia more than once, most recently in my discussion of the offshore oil industry.  But this piece shows that their hatred may be misplaced: it should be directed to policies which are part and parcel with Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.  Without the credit controlling mechanisms and incentives that began with the creation of the FHA, American suburbs would not be what they are (and the housing bubble that crashed the economy in 2008 would not have taken place.)

I strongly urge my readers to go back to the original piece and look at the FHA’s mortgage evaluation list; that explains a great deal of why American suburbs are what they are today.

Inside of Intersectionality is an Intersection Where Collisions Take Place

That’s what’s going on in Los Angeles’ Boyle Heights neighbourhood:

If “the revolution devours its own,” as the saying has it, then anti-gentrification activists in Boyle Heights, a heavily Latino district just east of downtown Los Angeles, have been feasting. They have greeted liberal artists and hipsters with racial taunts, vandalism, boycotts, and mask-wearing demonstrators. In several cases, they have succeeded in forcing events and establishments to move their activities elsewhere.

One of the pipe dreams the left tells us that, “if we could get rid of these conservatives, we’d have harmony and comity.”  No where is that disproven more consistently than in California.  We’ve seen the slugfest over single-payer healthcare and this is yet another example.

The thing the left forgot which engenders debacles such as this is the class struggle.  For all of their talk about being the champions of the oppressed, liberals have forgotten about the importance of class differences.  Gentrification, for all the improvement it can develop, runs up already high housing and other living costs, dispossessing people of limited means.  It’s little wonder the current residents fight back.

As someone who sees first hand gentrification taking place in my community, I have mixed feelings about the process.  On the one hand, it does make for a spiffier looking neighbourhood.  On the other hand, the pushing out of the existing residents is clear.  In the South, that generally means mostly black neighbourhoods, and these, with their churches, were the place where the civil rights movement was born.  And, of course, it’s hard to take when we turn over parts of town to the people whose main claim to greatness is getting laid, high or drunk, no matter what their income level is.

What neighbourhoods like Boyle Heights need are community organisers with a vision to make the place better with existing residents and self-sufficient economics.  Instead we have too many which use their community prominence to move to higher office; Barack Obama is the outsized example of that.

If this trend continues, what we’ll end up with is the same thing we see in Europe, where the prosperous city centre is surrounded by suburbs ranging from good to hopeless.  Not only will our elites have to go over flyover country, but they’ll have to speed through ungentrified places to get to the airport.

Sailing the Last Voyage with Newton and Pascal

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