Up From Bourgeois is Trickier Than It Looks

Wilfred McClay’s article on the 80th "birthday" of Elmer Gantry is an interesting study, in no small measure because of the critical view he takes of Sinclair Lewis.  That critical view is hard to find; Lewis of course won a Nobel Prize in 1930, was greatly influential in shaping liberal thought about Evangelical Christianity (including very possibly my contemporaneous ancestors,) and continues to do so today.

McClay makes some bold statements, such as this:

But the adult reader is likely to tire quickly of Lewis. His descriptions of even the simplest scenes are permeated with snobbishness and juvenile editorializing; his plots are studded with absurd and implausible twists. And his characters are as simplistic as those in comic books. They sometimes change, but they do not grow or develop. And there is no larger view behind his criticism, no sense of what kind of world Lewis would favor over the gimcrack one that he loathed so much but could not stop writing about.

Evidently other critics had their problems too:

In short, there is plenty of obsession but almost none of the marks of high novelistic craftsmanship in Lewis’s books, particularly "Elmer Gantry." As Rebecca West wrote in a scathing contemporary review of the novel, Lewis’s satire fell short because he did not "possess, at least in the world of the imagination, the quality the lack of which he is deriding in others." In other words, the narrowness he described was as much his own as that of the people he depicted. He lacked vision and generosity of spirit precisely because he was still fighting the intramural battles of his native world.

Evidently Lewis, unlike his Chinese semi-contemporary Mao Dun, was unable to see the "contradictions" in people he disliked.  Seeing those contradictions makes for great literature, if that literature doesn’t push the author’s point of view home as clearly as he or she would like.

But that’s the way it is with "bourgeois" people.  Our economic and political system produced a middle-class culture that is easier to criticise than to escape from, as advocates of same-sex civil marriage are evidence of.  Liberal thought promised freedom from dogmatism, but Sinclair Lewis’ work shows that actually delivering on that promise is trickier than it looks.

Personal note: Wilfred McClay is a Professor of History and the SunTrust Bank Chair of Excellence in Humanities at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where I taught on an adjunct basis for a while.  After the highly dogmatic war I witnessed on campus regarding evolution and creationism, it’s good to see this kind of analysis coming out of same institution.

Did God Intend Us To Be Vegetarians?

Recently the concept that God’s original intent for man was vegetarianism has surfaced and gained currency amongst Christians (to say nothing of the followers of synthetic Judaism that passes for Christianity in the US.)  This has been promoted for commercial gain by such movements as the Hallelujah Diet.

But is this correct?  A succinct case for this comes from, of all places, “Spengler” at Asia Times Online:

Genesis further tells us that humankind was only permitted to eat plants (1:29, 2:9) until the Flood, when God permitted the eating of animals under certain conditions (9:2-3). Wyschogrod sees this as a divine concession to our “innately evil drive”, and concludes, “It is difficult to escape the conclusion that God would prefer a vegetarian humanity.” Although only humans were created in God’s image, he adds, “It does not mean that the gulf between humans and animals is as absolute as that between humans and God.”

(Note to readers: I chose Spengler’s presentation just because it’s succinct, as opposed to the profuse verbiosity that is fashionable in Christian circles these days.)

Since Spengler gives us the Scripture references, let’s look at them:

“And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.” Genesis 1:29, 30, KJV.

“And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” Genesis 2:9, KJV.

There’s no question that fruits and vegetables were given to us and to the animal kingdom as food.  The reference to “meat”  in v. 29 is a KJV translation for the Hebrew term that signifies “stuff that you devour;” it does not mean that the fruits and vegetables act as substitutes for meat.

Let’s turn now to the last verse he cites:

“And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered. Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.” Genesis 9:2, 3, KJV.

This proclamation, given following the Flood, looks to complement the last one; now man is allowed to eat meat, and not only that but to hunt the meat down and kill it.  This verse should be engraved over the entry way of every hunting license issuing location in the Old Confederacy.

These verses seem to indicate that meat was prohibited to man before the Flood.  But perhaps we should consider this:

“And she (Eve) again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.” Genesis 4:2-5, KJV.

Abel kept sheep.  Not only did he keep the sheep, but he offered some of them in sacrifice to the Lord.  It’s hard to believe that, in the subsistence economy after the Fall, that Adam and his family did not eat the sheep after giving so much effort to tend to them.

Beyond that, God showed a preference for Abel’s sacrifice of meat as opposed to Cain’s sacrifice of vegetables (and perhaps fruits.)  Theologically, this points to the future sacrificial system of the Mosaic Law, and ultimately to Jesus Christ’s own sacrifice on the Cross.  In same Mosaic system, the priests frequently ate of the meat sacrifice.  The signal that preference sent to Cain and Abel about the nature of what they were offering–both of which were edible–was unmistakable.

Moreover even the fruit of the ground went sour after the Fall:

“And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” Genesis 3:17-19, KJV.

Before the Fall, it makes sense to say that Adam and Eve did not eat meat.  But the evidence subsequent to that disaster–and it didn’t take long for that to occur–indicates that meat was eaten thereafter.

Now some will suggest that, if we want to get back to Eden, we should quit eating meat.  But the Biblical way of getting back to Eden is for us to have a relationship with Jesus Christ, who undid the work of sin that started with Adam’s fall.  Same solution explicitly rejects a salvation through dietary restrictions:

“And when he had called all the people unto him, he said unto them, Hearken unto me every one of you, and understand: There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.” Mark 7:14-16, KJV.

“But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.” 1 Corinthians 8:8, KJV.

“For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men. Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.” Romans 14:17-19, KJV.

From a health standpoint, there’s no question that we have too much meat in our diets in the West.  It is the product of prosperity, and if I speak of that I will grind down some other people’s theology.  When living in Texas, I heard people who started out with little–including people with earned doctorates–referred to the upcoming meal as “bean time.”  Beans were an important source of protein, and still need to be.

Moreover the meat we have today has a higher fat content than that our ancestors ate.  Consider this: when God called Abraham to leave Ur of the Chaldees for the Promised Land, did he load up his livestock on a truck to take them there?  Of course not, they answered God’s call on all fours.  That resulted in some lean meat, just as the cattle drives of the nineteenth century did.  One consequence of reducing meat consumption is reduction of fat intake, and that’s beneficial in weight and cholesterol reduction.

To spiritualise the whole thing, however, by an artificial reconstruction of what was eaten before the Fall just doesn’t make sense.  It’s another way of making Christianity difficult.  And that goes against another one of Our Lord’s sayings:

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:29, 30, KJV.

The Ridiculous Analysis of Global Warming and the Right

Dave Lindorff’s article Global Warming Will Save America from the Right…Eventually is ridiculous on a number of counts (leaving out the whole debate of the existence and pace of global warming):

  • One of the first victims of sea rise would be South Florida, certainly a bastion of left-wing life and politics.  Perhaps it’s not an accident that the Sun-Sentinel is featuring an article on the stiffest antidote to global warming out there.
  • Texas’ populated areas include Dallas-Ft. Worth, Austin and San Antonio, certainly not in the target of sea rise.
  • Palm Springs’ characterisation as a "right-wing retirement (community)" is wide of the mark; it has one of the largest communities of homosexuals relative to its total population of any city in the U.S., something it is proud of.  And it doesn’t get its water from the Salton Sea either.
  • Building Dutch-style dikes to save Boston and other cities in the northeast goes against the left’s aversion to public works as environmentally offensive.  The environmental impact statements of such an enterprise around Boston wouldn’t be complete in time to beat Lindorff’s timetable for flooding.  Just think of how long it took to slog through the "Big Dig."
  • Closer to home, he doesn’t have a really cogent explanation as to why a city such as, say, Baltimore, would be spared whereas one such as Savannah would not.  This gives little comfort to the readers of the Baltimore Chronicle, where this article is published.

And they wonder why they have credibility problems with global warming…

Benazir Bhutto: Like Father, Like Daughter

Benazir Bhutto’s assassination reminds me of an earlier post on the subject:

Most people don’t realise that Musharraf is one in a line of military leaders who have dominated Pakistan since Muhammad Zia-al-Haq overthrew Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977. The year before that, I had as downstairs neighbours a pair of Texas A&M students, one cowboy and one Pakistani. The cowboy lamented the fact that his apartment mate, a Muslim, wouldn’t eat fatback in his beans. The Pakistani griped that the law of his country was based on British law and should be replaced by one based on Islamic (Shar’ia) law. Sure enough, Zia-al-Haq did just that, executing Bhutto to round things out in 1979. (Note to college students: listen to your Muslim classmates and neighbours, you just might learn something!)

Westerners who pine for democracy to appear in places such as Pakistan need to understand that a place like Pakistan is not for "moderates," and hasn’t been since it separated from India to become an independent nation.  Neither should we confuse moderates for slick politicians either:

Islamic law, with the madrassas to teach it, have become embedded in Pakistani society ever since. But Musharraf, possibly the slickest politician in the world (more so than even Bill Clinton, and in a lot more dangerous political arena) did a remarkable volte-face to support Bush’s “war on terror” after 9/11. His idea is primarily to keep the “balls up in the air” and not to get crushed by the U.S. (to say nothing of India) on one side and the Taliban/Islamicists on the other.

Her assassination, like her father’s execution, is a tragedy.  But given the arena, it’s not unexpected.  She doubtless knew this and we should stopped being shocked and start living in reality about Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s brainchild.

With Youth Ministry, A Gram of Prevention is Worth a Kilo of Cure

Travis Johnson’s piece on reaching people 18-35 is great but perhaps it would be interesting to look at the problem from another angle: how did we get into this mess of having to reclaim this age group to start with?

If we think about how young people are raised in this country, we’re looking at a situation where 9 out of 10 of them are basically incarcerated in the artificial environment of the public school, micromanaged as only a Boomer run system can, and subject to a wide variety of restrictions which grow every day.  All the while they are put into all kinds of performance-based scenarios which may or may not relate to reality.  Their eighteenth birthday comes, and poof! they turn into adults.  So what is their response?  They chuck all restraints and try to make up for the lost time of their delayed adulthood, which wastes another decade and forces them to learn yet another set of freedoms and restrictions in the process.

The church’s response is to go along with this trend.  They direct those who are born to parents in church through a series of ministries separate from the main life of the church–nursery, children’s church, middle school and high school youth ministries.  The magic number of 18 comes up again, and the church expects them to become adults in the church, to worship and take their part like the adults do.  But it means nothing to many young people because the church has been too busy trying to meet what the church thinks is their present need rather than prepare them for their certain future.  So they disappear from church, many never to return.

This is a classic example of the culture leading the church rather than the other way around, and the results are all too predictable.  In spite of their outward rebellion, young people instinctively are drawn towards maturity.  It’s true that Christianity is, in a sense, an attempt to preserve childhood.  Christianity’s enemies such as Philip Pullman know this.  But Jesus Christ never intended that the gospel be lived in a vacuum.  God’s coming to earth–which we celebrate at this time of year–is a sign that God intended his way to be lived in the reality we have, not simply under ideal conditions.  The goal in raising people in church is not to put them either a temporary or permanent childhood but to make the road to adulthood easier and more fruitful, fruitful both in a secular sense and certainly in the ministry sense.

And that leads to the best solution.  The church is the best place where young people become adults, and the best way to accomplish that is to involve them in the main life of the church–all of its ministries–at the earliest possible moment.  There are certainly risks to that.  But a church that does this for its young people–to say nothing for its adults–will have its young people stick around a lot longer than otherwise.  And it will attract other young people from the outside to join in, because they will see something in the church they’re not finding elsewhere in the society–real maturity and purpose.

Many years ago, I found myself drawn into one Catholic parish in part because it–out of desperation, not vision–literally called me out of the pews as a senior in prep school to do the work of God.  It’s time to bring Christian young people out of the ghetto of youth ministry and into the mainstream of the church, for their sakes and ours too.

The Aggie Definition of Political Correctness

David Virtue’s weekly digest contains this gem from College Station:

"Political Correctness is a doctrine, fostered by a delusional, illogical, liberal minority and rabidly promoted by an unscrupulous mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a lump of feces by the clean end." — 2007 winning entry from an annual contest at Texas A&M University calling for the most appropriate definition of a contemporary term.

Gig ’em!  You can play the Aggie War Hymn to go along with this.

Stacy Sauls and the Danger of Centralisation

Stacy Sauls’ recent address to the Chicago Consultation at Seabury-Western Seminary brings up an interesting issue he may not have intended:

There are proposals, of course, to make us either a federation or a confederation, or God forbid, a unitary governmental structure such as the Roman Catholic Church has. The draft Anglican Covenant is a serious concern in this regard, particularly because it abrogates the constitutional principles that make us Anglicans. It abrogates the principle of lay participation in the governance of the Church by placing disproportionate emphasis on the views of the highest ranking bishops.

What neither Sauls nor his African opponents may be thinking about is that the long term deterioration of Christian orthodoxy in TEC started at the top, i.e., in its seminaries and clergy, and filtered down through its bishops and finally landing at its laity.  What liberals taught in seminaries and from parish pulpits eventually gained credibility as the truth when in fact it was not.  Giving laity a greater voice in the church is one way to counteract this kind of thing; the experience of the Southern Baptists is instructive in this regard.  On the other side, those who advocate the Anglican covenant are not thinking about what would happen if the top went left.  That’s the central problem they’re having with Rowan Williams right at the moment, but that’s gotten lost in the endless appeals to "authority" which are the staple of conservative Boomer thinking.  (That relates to the issue of authority in Protestant churches in general and Evangelical ones in particular, which I discuss elsewhere.)

Sauls’ position on TEC’s fiduciary responsibility is very lawyerly but a little disingenuous:

The obligation to protect property rights flow from fiduciary responsibilities, but carrying out those responsibilities reveals a polity and governance issue within TEC. A fiduciary duty exists in secular law for an organization’s leadership to guard its property for the good of the whole. It is a duty imposed additionally by vow in the case of the ordained and by canon in the case of others.

The problem here is that TEC cannot afford to litigate every property departure.  As a practical matter, TEC will have to pick and choose its battles carefully to properly husband its resources, which is also part of its fiduciary liability. Put another way, bankrupting the church isn’t the way to defend its property rights.  Since Sauls is doubtless in the centre of that thinking process, his remarks should be taken in that light.

His position on foreign oversight is almost laughable:

Another issue that threatens to seduce us into being untrue to the identity we have claimed for ourselves in our constitutional principles is the persistent call to submit TEC to some sort of foreign oversight, jurisdiction, or consultation, not as to matters of interdependence, but as to matters of autonomy.

Any organisation that resists foreign oversight on the one hand and enthusiastically supports the UN’s Millennium Development Goals is talking out of both sides of its mouth.  What do you think the UN is about anyway, if not reducing national sovereignty?  If it’s good for the US, why not TEC?

Archbishop says nativity ‘a legend’

The Archbishop of Canterbury says that the nativity story in the New Testament is ‘a legend’:

Dr Williams said: "Matthew’s gospel says they are astrologers, wise men, priests from somewhere outside the Roman Empire, that’s all we’re really told. It works quite well as legend."

That’s more than one can say for Rowan Williams.  He’s more of a nightmare than anything else these days, and his Advent letter doesn’t help matters.

Don’t Like Official Christianity? Just Move to South Florida

Elaine Glaser’s complaint about Christianity being Britain’s official religion and the impact that has on its Jewish minority may signal someone else who needs to bail out on that "right, tight little isle."

Why suffer through another dreary English winter when you can a) move somewhere that is warm and  b) find a place where the holidays are dealt with on an entirely different basis?  I wrote a piece two years ago–my first on Christmas and the culture wars–where I noted how this played out:

For those of us from South Florida, this issue is old hat. Merchants and governments there have long been sensitive about the subject because of the large Jewish population. This always made Christmas something of an adventure. Jews and Gentiles in jobs which required work on Christmas would swap days off so they could celebrate their respective holidays. We learned Hanukkah songs in public schools (I think the God-hating liberals at the ACLU have had that cut out.) My mother always insisted that we decorate for Christmas because “people would think we were Jewish” if we didn’t. Meanwhile a Jewish classmate of my brother’s would witness a “Hanukkah bush” sprout at his house.

I also suggested that Evangelicals need to be creative in their response:

Since evangelical Christianity is enamoured with all things Jewish these days, this situation suggests a new tack for Christians. Perhaps we should quit decorating for Christmas so people will think we’re Jewish! I am sure that there are Christian schools that are teaching Hanukkah songs, and we since so many praise and worship choruses are in the Hebrew style we can do the same thing for Christmas music. If we can’t force our opponents to clarity, perhaps we can gain victory through confusion!

The problem here–and in the UK also–is that too many people confuse a secular state with enforced atheism.  If we could ever get past that, things would be much simpler.