That Pesky Johnson Amendment Strikes Again

This time for the Democrats, with Vice President Kamala Harris’ video for African-American churches:

Democratic leaders have pulled out the stops to try to help Terry McAuliffe in his struggling campaign for governor in Virginia. Figures from Barack Obama to Stacey Abrams have stumped for McAuliffe who is in a tight race with businessman Glenn Youngkin. The key for McAuliffe is black voters, and to spur turnout Vice President Kamala Harris has taped an endorsement of McAuliffe that is reportedly being played at hundreds of African American churches around the state. The problem is the “Johnson Amendment” makes such political pitches in churches a violation of federal law.

I was (and am) unenthusiastic about repealing the Johnson Amendment, as was the hue and cry from many white evangelicals during the Trump years:

I think that political activity needs to be the province of the laity.  And I’ve heard Christian politicians show a stronger grasp on what the Gospel is all about than ministers about political issues.  To put our ministers in the “driver’s seat” of political activity is to cede yet another function of the laity, reducing the latter to passive consumers of the church’s product.  And we have enough of that unBiblical kind of thing going on as it is.

As I said at the start, freedom is something that needs to be used wisely.  If you get it, be careful: you may end up losing it all if you blow it.

Although I am aware of the role that African-American churches have played in the civil rights movement, if things like this make political activity in churches de facto or de jure acceptable, it may have this effect for everyone:

The danger of the right is the same as Harry Reid’s doing away with the super-majority filibuster for nominees: if the political wind reverses, you’ve given yourself the shaft. In both cases the reality of the Gospel is obscured by our desires of the moment.

Nazir-Ali Swims the Tiber

As fellow swimmer Gavin Ashenden notes:

It has been announced that Michael Nazir-Ali, former Bishop of Rochester, has left Anglicanism and become a Roman Catholic.

He was received into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church, entering the ordinariate on his name day, the feast of St Michael, two weeks ago.

This is without doubt one of the most politically and theologically significant changes of allegiance in the Christian world for some time.

The problem here–and it’s one I pointed out with Ashenden himself–is that the current Occupant of St. Peter is gunning, one way or another, to remake Roman Catholicism into the image and likeness of the Anglicanism Nazir-Ali left. It was a good move for me a half century ago; now, not so much.

Given that Francis is putting the squeeze on the Tridentine Mass people, if some of same traditionalists decide that the Ordinariate is a reasonable alternative to the “hippy-dippy” Novus Ordo Mass, he’ll put the squeeze on them too. People like Ashenden and Nazir-Ali haven’t quite grasped that Roman Catholicism was just one bull away from going over the same cliff they’re trying to dodge, and some think that bull is either out or impending.

It’s not a happy situation to be in, but it’s where we are, and any amount of projection that it’s something else will only bring temporary relief.

Geniuses: From Suicidal to Criminal

Now the latter is under investigation:

Dr. James Clinton Oleson, an Associate Professor in Criminology at the University of Auckland, turned up this fascinating nugget of information after conducting anonymous surveys and interviews with 465 members of a high IQ society, who possessed an average IQ of 149. He compared their levels of self-reported criminality with those of a control group of 756 ‘bright’ individuals with an average IQ of 115, fifteen points above the societal mean score of 100. The ‘geniuses’ admitted to more crimes overall, and particularly committed more property crimes, white-collar crimes, and violent crimes.

I’ve discussed the suicidal aspects of genius in The Geniuses Commit Suicide, with some backup. As a society we make peoples’ lives miserable over observations about intelligence, and breathe “intelligence” and “meritocracy” in the same breath. But on the other hand we are obsessed with socialisation and, behind the facade, we are worried that the gifted will take over, so we beat them down. The result is that, in practical life, superior intelligence is a liability rather than an asset.

If we could just find a way to let people rise to their potential and let that benefit everyone, we’d have less suicide and criminality in those who happen to do well on IQ tests.

The Unsaid Lesson of Francis Collins

He gets is both barrels from Nate Fisher at the American Reformer:

Collins has long been celebrated by evangelical influencers, and upon his departure those praising him included Russell Moore, Tim Keller, and David French. The well-credentialed  evangelicals who populate urban churches like Keller’s have been taught to aspire to a “faithful presence” in elite institutions, and Collins is often viewed as epitomizing this. He succeeded not just at an elite level, but in the scientific world, a domain where Christians have a particularly hard time gaining respect.

Yet Collins’s record over his 12 years atop the NIH shows serious and repeated moral compromises. That he continues to be praised as a model by elite-adjacent evangelicals suggests that what matters is the “presence” in elite circles far more than faithfulness to any clear Christian moral standard.

If there’s one thing shocking about American Evangelicalism, it’s its blindness to the moral hazard of getting into the upper reaches of a society. Having been brought up in the upper reaches of this one, that moral hazard was definitely apparent.

And yet, with the “have it all” and “move up” mentality that permeates American Evangelicalism, there is a general blindness to that moral hazard. I’d be the first to admit that Francis Collins’ rise is amazingand objected to by secular types–but the things which Fisher lays out should be expected in an era when moral corners are to be cut, especially in the biomedical field.

I think Evangelicals should be more careful about the way they lionise people who move up the way Collins has, and more importantly quit encouraging people to constantly push themselves into positions where they have to make decisions and compromises such as Collins has had to do. Do we really need to push our children into elite schools? Did we think about the compromises we would have to make in a major political movement? Questions like these and many others go unasked and unanswered in the Evangelical world, which is a major reason we ended up with Donald Trump. Many of the same elite-adjacent evangelicals (such as those listed above) who have blubbered about the support for Trump have pushed people into aspiring for high positions and secular success, which in turn encourages successful political action, which in turn…

You can’t have it both ways; make up your minds.

Maybe, Finally, At Last, There’s Hope for Nuclear Power

It’s been a long time coming:

Environmentalists are increasingly coming round to nuclear energy. Younger people are clued-up on climate change and are less against technological solutions than many older environmentalists. They also like their technology and understand that we need clean electricity to power phones and laptops. The public’s openness to nuclear is reassuring, especially considering that anti-nukers, from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament to Extinction Rebellion, tend to dominate mainstream discussion.

This article, from nuclear activist and environmentalist Zion Lights, represents not only a major shift in opinion on the subject from the environmentalist side; it represents a generational shift towards a more scientific approach to the whole problem of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

It also comes from Europe (although there are advocates on this side of the pond such as Mike Schellenberger,) which is facing a grievous crisis this winter due to a confluence of events such as the effects of the stop-and-go economy caused by COVID and countries such as Germany shutting down nuclear plants before they had viable alternatives to them.

I think it’s fair to say that Europeans have been snookered by American environmentalists, who were operating from a different and highly unscientific frame of reference on this. American environmentalism is based on two premises, neither of which is rooted in science.

The first is that we arrived at the continent to a pristine, uninhabited wilderness and then proceeded to ruin it. Our task then is to restore it to that pristine state. The greatest enemy of that are the suburbs, where we have low-density development that takes up a lot of space. Packing people into small spaces and higher density is a key goal, which is a driver of New Urbanism.

The second is that we were more “authentic” in our primitive, pre-technological state, and that we must get back to that as much as we can. This is a core reason that nuclear power is a bete noire to most American environmentalists; it just produces too much prosperity with too low a power cost over the life of the plant (those blasted suburbs again.) Part of the reality of renewables is that their ability to fully power our current and foreseeable demands is limited in the near future, thus we must reduce. In some ways this is a Christless Christianity, where we are all called to poverty without the benefit of eternal life thereafter.

Coupled with the Boomers’ allergy to all things nuclear (thanks to the Cold War,) by 1980 nuclear power was pretty much out of the agenda of American life. Some nuclear power plants have been put online since then but not many.

With the new emphasis on global warming and managing atmospheric carbon dioxide, one would think that carbon-free nuclear power would be front an centre until our storage capabilities and renewables improve. But our unscientific elites prefer to believe “the science” rather than to practice “science” and so until fairly recently nuclear power was still not to be mentioned in polite company.

Europeans who took this to heart without understanding the underlying principles of the whole thing closed their nuclear plants, only to find out what was obvious to many: the substitutes they had at their disposal were either unable to deliver consistently or emitted more carbon (such as natural gas.) Now they face a bleak winter with the economic dislocation, suffering the death that goes with it. American “blue” states are going in the same direction of undevelopment, although there are signs that some people there are getting the message, a message that will be doubtless underscored by the same hard lessons that the Europeans will learn.

People such as Zion Lights and Mike Schellenberger are to be commended for their advocacy of an unpopular cause. Hopefully those who are coming after us will see their logic. My engineering students (or the ones I have broached the subject with) do; one of them was considering AOC’s Green Nuclear Deal until he got to the anti-nuclear part, at which point he was through with it It’s a good thing it’s happening because the viability of our scientific civilisation is at stake.