Vice Presidential Moderator’s “Tilt,” Equality in the Elitist Snob Age, and Good News about ‘Expelled’

World Net Daily is just brimming with interesting stuff.

First: it seems that the moderator for Thursday Night’s Vice Presidential debate, Gwen Ifill, is planning to release a new book on Inauguration Day entitled The Breakthrough, which celerates an Obama victory.  So much for an objective moderator…

According to WND, “she argues the “black political structure” of the civil rights movement is giving way to men and women who have benefited from the struggles over racial equality.”  But this is a strange argument when applied to this particular presidential race.

To start with, Barack Obama, whose ancestors never knew slavery (unless the Arabs subjected them to it at one time,) doesn’t share that experience–and the agony that went with it–with most black people in this country.  That’s something that the black leadership is painfully aware of, and it has surfaced from time to time.  It does make a difference.

Second, the “black political structure” isn’t going quietly, irrespective of what Obama or Ifill might want.  It may suit their purposes now, but Obama may find it a headache later (Jeremiah Wright and Jesse Jackson have given us a preview of that.)

Third, the struggle for gender equality (which parallels that of race) suddenly becomes meaningless for people like Ifill when a conservative like Sarah Palin becomes an exemplar of that.  But the party that threw feminism under the bus for Bill Clinton can’t be expected to be very supportive in this regard.

Fourth, in an Elitist Snob world such as Barack Obama moves in, equality is like Janis Joplin’s definition of freedom: another word for nothing left to lose.  To move up, one must show that one is superior and that everyone else must step aside as a consequence.  There are movements which give indication that they have figured this out.

Finally, some good news:

A federal court has decided against a claim by Yoko Ono that Ben Stein’s intelligent design film, “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” illegally used her husband John Lennon’s song, “Imagine.”

As WND reported, Ono brought the suit within weeks of the movie’s release this spring, claiming the brief use of the song in the film constituted copyright infringement.

“Expelled” is a documentary that highlights perceived academic persecution of scientists that espouse intelligent design, a theory that the universe is too complex to be ordered by chance and random evolutionary forces alone. The movie was an immediate hit, debuting in the national top 10 and becoming history’s No. 12 biggest box office documentary film.

Ono’s lawsuit, however, producers say, sapped the film of its momentum and dissuaded many people from seeing it.

“We heard from many people who wanted to see the film but were put off by the lawsuit and weren’t sure if they wanted to support a film that was under a legal cloud,” noted the film’s producer John Sullivan in a statement.

Now freed from the Ono suit’s legal entanglements, the filmmakers of “Expelled” plan to re-release it to the big screen for those that may have missed its first run. The film’s distributor has chosen to make it available for private screenings, offering “Expelled” to groups of 300 or more that want to bring it to their local theater, for a ticket cost less than most cinemas charge.

I covered this issue earlier.  There are a few people left who want to defend freedom.

Reply to James Alexander on Fundamentalism and Public Education

James Alexander has finally surfaced to reply to my two “blast from the past” posts (here and here) on the aftermath to Public Education: A Christian Perspective.

Before I plough into his response let me begin by making one opening statement.

If there’s one persistent bother I have with Evangelicals, it is that they are too deep into their own stuff.  They are so much the product of their own upbringing and development that they struggle to see the world from any other perspective other than their own.  For those of us who are not of such a background, it can be frustrating.  This seems to also apply to “recovering” types such as Alexander, who is making a career out of his “liberation” from his own “fundamentalist” background.  Frankly, that process hasn’t gone as far as Alexander would like us to believe, as will be shown.

So let’s get to what he has to say:

In an earlier posting, this site made reference to an article by Saul Adelman entitled “Antifundamentalist Rejoinder,” written in response to Warrington’s 1990 article dealing with Christian public education.  In the posting, Warrington notes that I cite Adelman in my recent book, Stories of a Recovering Fundamentalist:  Understanding and Responding to Christian Absolutism (Alexander, 2008).  Warrington takes issue with Adelman’s comments (in a 17 year-old article) and my citing of it.  He is especially concerned that he didn’t get credit for inspiring Adelman’s article in my book.

One would think that, given the enthusiasm he displays for attacking me in his response, he was highly remiss in passing up barbecuing me in the book.  He will find that he should have taken the chance when he had it.  Adelman took full advantage of the Forum’s print format and reticence in allowing me a response.  But Alexander is no Adelman.

I would like to respond to this on several fronts.  As freely admitted elsewhere on this site (quoted– approvingly, I might add), Adelman does not respond to Warrington’s appeal to add ‘a pinch’ of fundamentalism to the public school curriculum.  Adelman instead offers a rather ‘free ranging’ assessment and rejection of fundamentalism.  Indeed.  It is in that assessment and critique that I use Dr. Adelman as a source.  Why not?  Even this site recognizes the nature of Adelman’s assessment.

I’m not sure why the fact that “this site recognizes the nature of Adelman’s assessment” is such a big deal, other than perhaps to give me credit for knowing what I’m looking at, which is probably a major concession for Alexander.  What this site does recognise is that “Adelman showed a decided preference to attack an homme de paille of his own making rather than dealing with what I wrote.”

Part of the problem may be that Alexander, trapped in his own upbringing, doesn’t know what an homme de paille is.  It is a “straw man,” and straw men (or people, to be politically correct) are the bane of this whole discussion.  Adelman constructed one in his “Antifundamentalist Rejoinder,” and Alexander, while acknowledging that in a backhanded way, promptly turns around and does the same thing.  It seems that one thing that all “antifundamentalist” people have in common is an inability to deal with their opponents as they are, which makes one wonder what the real value of their “venting of the spleen” really is.

Currently. Warrington has posted the article he intended for publication in 1990– the one which elicited Adelman’s “Rejoinder”– in full.  It is available on this site.  However, Warrington states that the published version was greatly truncated and the one posted on his site is the real McCoy.  How are we to evaluate Adelman’s response relative to a version of Warrington’s article which was not available to him?  It seems to stretch the generally polemical character of Warrington’s site into the realm of the absurd.

If I hadn’t have mentioned this difference, Alexander would have never known it.  But the truth is, Alexander has already evaluated that response himself: “…offers a rather ‘free ranging’ assessment and rejection of fundamentalism.  Indeed.”  He knows that Adelman didn’t really respond to what I was saying, as did Thomas Schwengler (one of the contemporaneous respondents in the Forum.)  It’s hard to conceive what he would have changed, and in fact Adelman’s response to Schwengler indicates that he would have changed nothing.

I also note that Alexander ignored my other stipulation that Adelman didn’t know: “…having grown up in South Florida, I was well familiar with Jewish people and their religion. One of the main reasons why he has run into so much ignorance on the subject is that there are so few Jews in the South. Many Southerners go through life with little or no contact with Jewish people.”  That may be so because Alexander himself falls into the latter category.

I did read Warrington’s full article.  I was non plussed.  It sets up the favorite fundamentalist straw man, “secular humanism,” and attempts to set the record straight when it comes to public schools.  Supposedly, the article responds a quote by Franklin and Parker, and states the quote is nonsensical (see this site).  Point well taken, it is.  But what is the context?  After pulling the “here’s my full article” trick in attacking Adelman, I take Warrington’s quote with a grain of salt.

I’m glad that Alexander takes my point well; it was a rather strange point that Franklin and Parker tried to make.  Now he comes up with this “straw man” business about secular humanists, and that deserves some discussion.

I hate to break the news to Alexander, but there are people out there who don’t believe in God.   I also should remind him of my “decidedly “European” theist/secularist dialectic.”  I actually spent some time in the original article elucidating that viewpoint. Most Europeans who object to any kind of Christian view (excluding, of course, the Muslims that now live there) are secularists.  Since 9/11 they have become quite vocal, because they realise they face being overrun by same Muslims whom they don’t have the stomach to fight.  So they attack the Christians once again, because they know the Christians won’t resort to force of arms to resist them.  They now have a growing following on this side of the Atlantic.  Bringing up secularists was and is a legitimate point.

But for people like Alexander who are still agonising from their own background, people such as this might as well live on (or come from) the moon.  Evocations of the French or Russian Revolutions (not to mention things like déconfessionnalisation in places like Québec) mean nothing to an individual whose worst demons come from his staggering through the “Jesus Movement” without resolution or satisfaction (a result that was not shared by everyone.)  It’s hard to communicate with people whose view of history is that narrow.

He says he desires to see a “Christian viewpoint represented.”  By this, I think he means a Christian fundamentalist viewpoint, for he surely does not speak for all Christians.

Neither, mercifully, does Alexander.  But I’ll issue a challenge to Alexander and anyone else: what kind of fundamentalist viewpoint is represented in blog posts such as the following examples:

  • Society and the State are Different: “The State is, and probably has to be Secular. It has a position of neutrality as regards religion.  But the State is in the service of Society – and does not replace it. Society cannot be secular because so many of its members are not secular – and their religious conviction manifests itself publicly just as people go to Football matches, the Last Night of the Proms or what have you. The only way to try and make Society secular would be to get rid of religion and its manifestation. This would “neutralise” it, “privatise” it and prevent it from occupying any public space in society. Such was the reaction against The Church at the French Revolution, later on the Communists tried the same thing and in our own day various ideological relativists like Richard Dawkins are persuaded that this is the vision that must be applied. But in so doing, the State ends up taking over all of the Public space that is normally occupied by Society.  And this is called Totalitarianism.”
  • Pope Benedict XVI and Ferdinand Lot On the Christian and the State: “It seems obvious to me today that laïcité (the French policy of exclusion of any religious content in the life of the state) in itself is not in contradiction with the faith. I would even say that it is a fruit of the faith because the Christian faith was, from the start, a universal religion, therefore not identifiable with a State and present in all States. For Christians, it has always been clear that religion and faith were not political, but another sphere of the human life…politics, the State, were not a religion but a secular reality with a specific mission… and both must be open one with regard to the other. In this direction, I would say today, for the French, and not only for the French but for the rest of us, Christians of today in this secularized world, it is important to live with joy the freedom of our faith, living the beauty of the faith and making it visible in the world of today. It is beautiful to be a believer, it is beautiful to know God, God with an human face as Jesus Christ… to show the possibility of belief today. Beyond that, it is necessary for today’s society that there are men who know God and can thus live according to the great values that he has given us and to contribute to the presence of values which are fundamental for the building and survival of our States and our societies.”
  • Book Review: Velvet Elvis: “Before I get into the book itself, I’m going to make a statement that will probably make some people mad.  (Having written some edgy stuff myself, I know that’s not difficult.)   I’ve just about come to the conclusion that the phrase “Protestant theology” is an oxymoron.  Protestants don’t have theology; they have doctrine.  They teach it, they make it a litmus test for acceptance and, if they’re really on their game, they live it.  But the word “theology” implies that one has to think out the “why”–the mechanics, to use an engineering term–behind something, and Protestants in general and Evangelicals in particular seem to be afraid of that.   Too many people have the idea that such a quest will end up with an unBiblical result.  That’s why I say that Roman Catholic theology, for all of its problems (the biggest of which is the institution of the Roman Catholic Church itself,) is the premier intellectual tradition in Christianity.  It also makes me glad that I spent my undergraduate years as an engineering student while ploughing through St. Thomas Aquinas on the side rather than sit in a seminary listening to “doctrine” be pompously exposited.”
  • Rowan Williams: Old Earth Creationists Still Hung Out to Dry: “For me, however, as a Christian, an old earth creationist, an adjunct and someone who deals with geological issues in Soil Mechanics, this was a perilous situation. If the evolutionists win, I get the boot over the origin of the universe and being a theist (the evolutionsts are for the most part rabid secular humanists.) If the new earth creationists win, I get the boot over the age of the earth. Real academic freedom these days consists of forcing the administration to find really creative ways to give people the boot!”

I looking over these, it occurs to me that most of them assume that same European theist/secuarlist dialectic that stumps Alexander so badly.

In fact, he suggests we should consult the folks at Regents University to give us history and philosophy lessons.  Does he refer to Regents University founded by Pat Robertson, the guys who begs daily for money, heals folks and offers prophecies over the TV airways, and promised to “pray back” a hurricane when he was running for president?  Yeah.  Sure.  That’s a good place to learn about logic, reason, history, philosophy, etc.

The accreditation page for Regent University is here.  My suggestion to Alexander is for him to contact all of these accreditation agencies (starting, of course, with SACS) and convince them to pull their accreditation.  Perhaps that will absorb his time in a way that he finds satisfying (the accreditation agencies may have another opinion of that, however.)

Warrington makes a case for the role the Founding Fathers recognized for “Christianity in our society at all levels.”  Sorry, Don, try though you may, you cannot make the Founding Fathers into a bunch of fundamentalist.  The Creator they spoke of is decided not the fundamentalist God you represent.

Alexander is nothing if unoriginal: Adelman brought up the same point, and my response to both (if they bother to read it) is as follows: “The idea that the Founding Fathers were uniformly deists does no more justification to their thought than any other sweeping generalisation. On the one hand many of them asked for the aid of Divine Providence too often to justify the characterisation of true deists. On the other hand their acceptance of deism was tied to their acceptance of Freemasonry, not Protestant Christianity. This puts them in contrast with their fellow Masons in Europe, who were taught atheism in the Lodge, as was all too evident in the French Revolution.  It is interesting to note that liberals don’t discuss deism much these days. This is because they have progressed to the “living document” theory of the Constitution, that it is too hard to know the Founders’ original intent to attempt to discover it. This is their way using the non-ecclesiastical nature of the American state to facilitate state-imposed atheism as they are trying to do today.”

I don’t know if Alexander knows anything about Freemasonry, but Masons in this country generally posit that their God is the “Great Architect of the Universe.”  Same Masons posited in the Declaration of Independence that God was active enough in his creation to endow his creatures with inalienable rights.  Which leads to the question I posed in the original article: “What kind of inalienable rights do evolved creatures have?”

You seem to imply that the assessment that most Americans don’t want a religious state is wrong (see quote in article by Ralph Martin).  In a September 11 Pew Poll, less than 40% found abortion a very important issue in the current elections and less than 30% thought gay marriage to be a deciding issue.  But these are THE big evangelical/fundamentalist issues– and that is exactly the group that seems concerned about them.

If I imply such as thing, I am unaware of it.  As far as the two issues Alexander mentions are concerned, regular readers of this blog know that a) I seldom mention abortion and b) I believe that civil marriage should be abolished altogether.  (Some fundamentalist position that is!)  BTW, the term “gay marriage” is a misnomer, because it leaves out lesbians and does not properly delineate the nature of what is being demanded.  The LGBT community’s campaign is for “same-sex civil marriage,” and it should be termed that way.

All in all, I find a basic problem with all parts of your web site.  The overall idea is that you are right and everybody else is wrong.  Of course, as an evangelical/fundamentalist you are compelled to make sure the rest of us are as well.

Considering the problems Alexander is having just getting around this site, it’s hard to understand how he can make such an illogical sweeping generalisation!  But how many single-author blogs aren’t this way?  One thing for sure: if you want to see a one sided view of things, just visit Alexander’s own.  As he says, it’s impossible to get away from a fundamentalist background.  The best one can attain, based on that, is that one can only swap one form of fundamentalism for another, and Alexander does a stellar job in that regard.

Blast From the Past for Rosh Hashanah 2008 and the Shofar: Blowing Your Own Horn

I originally posted this 21 October 2005.  It’s appropriate with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur upon us, and it speaks for itself.

Everybody likes to blow their own horn whether they admit it or not. Politicians certainly do, especially if they can do it at taxpayers’ expense (this is at the core of the advantage incumbents have.) It was this way in New Testament times: Our Lord commanded us as follows: “When therefore you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honoured by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.” (Matt 6:2 NAS) He wouldn’t have made this commandment if it were not a problem.

The horn blowing we’re considering today, however, is the blowing of the shofar, the ram’s horn that was used in ancient Israel and still finds its place in the synagogue. It’s gritty, primitive sound has found its way into Christian worship in many churches. Today we’re told that, when the shofar is sounded, there is a special sweeping of the presence of God which results in praise and worship. We are also told that this is Biblical.

Shofars have cropped up everywhere. At the beginning of this millennium I found myself working for a ministry which had a booth at a major ministry conference. We were right around the corner from the shofar salesman. We spent the entire week listening to one demonstration after another. This will drain the spirituality out of any event. But it got me thinking: is what people really say about this instrument true?

The biggest problem in associating the shofar primarily with worship is that the trumpets actually used in tabernacle and temple worship in the Old Testament were metal:


The LORD spoke further to Moses, saying, “Make yourself two trumpets (Heb. chatsotserah) of silver, of hammered work you shall make them; and you shall use them for summoning the congregation and for having the camps set out. And when both are blown, all the congregation shall gather themselves to you at the doorway of the tent of meeting. Yet if only one is blown, then the leaders, the heads of the divisions of Israel, shall assemble before you. But when you blow an alarm, the camps that are pitched on the east side shall set out. And when you blow an alarm the second time, the camps that are pitched on the south side shall set out; an alarm is to be blown for them to set out. When convening the assembly, however, you shall blow without sounding an alarm. (Num 10:1-7 NAS)

It is interesting to note that the trumpet wasn’t used here for worship; it was used as a signalling device for the movement of the camp and for summoning of the congregation.

But let’s look at the shofar itself. The word appears 72 times in the Old Testament, and the use of the ram’s horn can be broken down as follows:

  • Military application. The shofar was used as an instrument of war. Ancient armies used horns as signalling devices, using different note and rhythm sequences to give different orders in battle to different portions of the front. Proper blowing of the horn was critical in sending orders to the troops in battle: “For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle?” (1 Cor 14:8 NAS) The shofar, with its distinctive sound and long throw, was ideal, especially since there was an abundant supply of them growing out of the rams’ heads. An example of this was in the siege of Jericho: “Also seven priests shall carry seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark; then on the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets.” (Josh 6:4 NAS) Although many look at this as a praise and worship session, the reality is that the siege of Jericho was first and foremost a military operation which was ended by divine intervention, probably an earthquake. It could also signal a retreat or cessation of hostilities: “Then Joab blew the trumpet, and the people returned from pursuing Israel, for Joab restrained the people.” (2 Sam 18:16-17 NAS) Gideon used them in a military setting to unnerve (successfully, again with divine intervention) the Midianites: “And when they blew 300 trumpets, the LORD set the sword of one against another even throughout the whole army; and the army fled as far as Beth-pooptah toward Zererah, as far as the edge of Abel-meholah, by Tabbath.” (Judg 7:22-23 NAS)

It should be noted that using trumpets, bugles and the like (not necessarily shofars) survived in military usage through the American Civil War, and are in many ways the basis for modern military bands. A use of a ram’s horn that many of you have seen took place at the end of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, when Boromir blew his shofar for the last time.

  • Announcements: They were used to announce a new king: “Then they hurried and each man took his garment and placed it under him on the bare steps, and blew the trumpet, saying, ‘Jehu is king!’” (2 Kings 9:13 NAS) It also announced the return of the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem: “So David and all the house of Israel were bringing up the ark of the LORD with shouting and the sound of the trumpet.” (2 Sam 6:15 NAS)
  • Alarms: A blast of the shofar in a city frequently indicated impending attack or other disaster: “If a trumpet is blown in a city will not the people tremble? If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it?” (Amos 3:6 NAS)
  • Call to penance: It was used as a call to community penance: “Blow a trumpet in Zion, Consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly, Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, Assemble the elders, Gather the children and the nursing infants. Let the bridegroom come out of his room And the bride out of her bridal chamber.” (Joel 2:15-16 NAS) This is where its used survived in Judaism into modern times, in synagogues on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement: “’You shall then sound a ram’s horn abroad on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the day of atonement you shall sound a horn all through your land.” (Lev 25:9-10 NAS)
  • Praise: The one part of the Old Testament that speaks of the shofar as an instrument of praise is the Psalms. “Praise Him with trumpet sound; Praise Him with harp and lyre. Praise Him with timbrel and dancing; Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe. Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD!” (Ps 150:3-6 NAS) Here it is listed with a list of other instruments, including the human voice. Shouting before the Lord could be done with more than one kind of horn: “With trumpets and the sound of the horn shout joyfully before the King, the LORD.” (Ps 98:6 NAS) The following could better be interpreted as an example of heralding: “God has ascended with a shout, The LORD, with the sound of a trumpet.” (Ps 47:5 NAS)

Our point is all of this is to show that the shofar had a number of uses in ancient Israel, and that praise and worship (which was probably liturgical to some extent) wasn’t the first among them. Today in Israel some of these functions have been taken over by modern military communications in what is, person for person, the finest military force on the earth. Alarms can be sounded through air raid type sirens, radio and television. The Jews, however, have stuck to the shofar when the time comes to have their sins forgiven, and therein lies a lesson for us today.

Evangelicals have been very successful in reducing Christianity to its essentials. In the process they have stripped away many traditions built up over the centuries. A by-product of this process is that evangelical Christianity has lost most of its sense of “culture.” As long as Christians can identify with and lead the culture at large, this isn’t a problem. The problem comes now that Christians in the US find themselves following the culture, usually with disastrous results. Christians need some kind of group culture to help identify the community and keep it together.

Instead of looking at other Christian churches that do have a definite culture and worship traditions, evangelical Christianity has turned to Judaism to try to fill the gaps. The main reason for this is that the Old Testament is the book of the Jews and it is easier to be Biblical (or at least look Biblical) if one follows what’s there. Another factor is the Darbyite change in how Christianity looks at Judaism, jettisoning “replacement theology” with a central place for the Jews in the end-time drama. This strategy has two dangers.

The first is that Christianity and Judaism are different in profound ways even if they have common roots and the same God. The rationale for the separation of the two is well documented in the New Testament. Evangelicals, with their narrow view of the history of Christianity, are unaware that part of the problem with institutions such as Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches is that they considered themselves the real replacements for temple Judaism and many of their liturgical and doctrinal practices are moulded around that vision, especially their concept of the priesthood. Evangelicals thus risk repeating history even as they try to remain faithful to the Word as they see it.

The second is that Evangelical Christians are too quick to mould what they see in the Word around their own view or idea without considering the real roots behind it. The issue of penitential rites—a central use for the shofar—is a case in point. Evangelical churches, largely because of their Calvinistic view of perseverance (not necessarily of election,) have consigned penitential rites to the Roman Catholics and Anglicans. They are simply missing in most Evangelical churches, even those who do not hold a Calvinistic view of perseverance (those in the Wesleyan tradition, such as Pentecostal churches.) But in Judaism the one use of the shofar remains in a penitential rite. Are we so triumphalistic that we think that we never need ongoing forgiveness for sins? “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8 NAS) And then there is the matter of war. Liberals don’t believe it, but evangelicals were drug into the public arena to defend the legality of their religion kicking and screaming. What will happen if and when persecution breaks out on a large scale in the US?

If we want to get back to the shofar’s original use, let’s start by scrapping these sappy “calls to worship” and blow the horn (preferably through the church PA system) to announce the end of Sunday School and the beginning of the service. From there we can have a shofar blast to announce a time of penance—not every now and then, but regularly in our services. Then we can take them to start our marches and public demonstrations. And then…but by then we would be far better off waiting for God Himself to do the job:


For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thess 4:16-18 NAS)

Palin-Biden: The Debate Nobody Wants?

After Republican hand-wringing on whether Sarah Palin is “ready for prime time,” this endorsement from the Obama camp:

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe told reporters Saturday that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee, is “a terrific debater” who could give Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden (D-Del.) a run for his money when they meet Thursday.

“We’ve looked at tapes of Gov. Palin’s debates, and she’s a terrific debater,” Plouffe told reporters on a conference call. “She has performed very, very well. She’s obviously a skilled speaker. We expect she’ll give a great performance next Thursday. “

The single vice presidential debate will be at 9 p.m. Eastern on Thursday at Washington University in St. Louis.

Lowering expectations is a common campaign practice before a debate. But the Obama campaign’s claims will surprise the Republicans who have begun to fear the debate following Palin’s performance in network interviews. The Obama campaign says they have nothing to worry about.

It’s an interesting match-up: Palin, as a governor, frankly doesn’t have a great deal of foreign policy experience.  (That, BTW, is a constitutional limitation.)  Biden, with all of his alleged experience from the Senate, is almost as gaffe-prone as Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.  And readers of this blog know how serious that is…

I think everybody’s worrying about this one.

From a purely personal standpoint, I think that being Palin’s foreign policy advisor would be a terrific job.  She has the small-town, people-reading skills (some of those honed in a church setting) that many of the pseudosophisticates we have in the upper reaches of our government lack.  What she needs is someone who can clearly brief her on the players and the scorecard.  What would really be great, though, is for someone to open her eyes as to what the Bible really has to say about Middle Eastern politics.  Had someone been able to do this with George Bush, we could have avoided much of the drag-out we’ve gone through with “democracy in the Middle East” in Iraq.

Police State Tactics From the Obama Campaign? Of Course!

Missouri Governor Matt Blunt is right in attacking Obama’s law-enforcement supported “truth squad” in his state:

St. Louis County Circuit Attorney Bob McCulloch, St. Louis City Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce, Jefferson County Sheriff Glenn Boyer, and Obama and the leader of his Missouri campaign Senator Claire McCaskill have attached the stench of police state tactics to the Obama-Biden campaign.

What Senator Obama and his helpers are doing is scandalous beyond words, the party that claims to be the party of Thomas Jefferson is abusing the justice system and offices of public trust to silence political criticism with threats of prosecution and criminal punishment.

This abuse of the law for intimidation insults the most sacred principles and ideals of Jefferson. I can think of nothing more offensive to Jefferson’s thinking than using the power of the state to deprive Americans of their civil rights.  The only conceivable purpose of Messrs. McCulloch, Obama and the others is to frighten people away from expressing themselves, to chill free and open debate, to suppress support and donations to conservative organizations targeted by this anti-civil rights, to strangle criticism of Mr. Obama, to suppress ads about his support of higher taxes, and to choke out criticism on television, radio, the Internet, blogs, e-mail and daily conversation about the election.

And if you think this is bad, just wait until he gets in office…

Americans simply don’t realise how close we are to a “one-party” state if the party in power chooses to employ all of the means at its disposal to criminalise its opponents.  The Democrats missed their chance to “finish the job” in the 1970’s.  But I doubt they’ll let another opportunity slip through their fingers, given the chance.

An Interesting Defence of Capitalism in the Face of the Financial Crisis

Since conservative Americans are deemed too boorishly provincial to defend our capitalist system (yes, The Elitist Snob is ahead in the polls,) it’s noteworthy that Chan Akya is doing so in Asia Times Online.

The article deserves an full read, but some snippets.  First, a different source than usual for this debacle:

Just so we are clear though – the entire charade can be traced to the decision of Asian central bankers (or more importantly their governments) not to float Asian currencies. In a free-floating system, Asian currencies would have appreciated sharply, rendering returns on US government securities too low to bother. This would have shifted up meaningfully the US yield curve, destroyed the basic mortgage math of a few million Americans (that is, made mortgages too expensive for them), and thus failed to create the hundreds of billions in mortgage-backed securities that now swirl around the world.

Some on the other side of the Pacific would like to solve this problem by essentially reverting to interventionism, but Chan Akya shows that interventionism is what got us into this mess to start with.  It’s interesting to compare this to Kissinger Associates’ President Paul Speltz’ remarks on the need for Asian financial systems for more openness after the 1997 crash. It’s also worthy of note that the same argument can–and has, in the Village Voice no less–been made here.

The second is a litany of problems of state controlled economies:

  • Let us recall the standard of living of Russians when the Soviet Union collapsed under the sheer weight of lies imposed by communism in the early 1990s, their long bread queues, the low fertility and longevity rates and so on.
  • What about those socialists? Think of the shortages of coal and fish in Britain thanks to hare-brained socialist policies: an amazing achievement for an island country surrounded by fish and bedded on coal.
  • Spare a thought for the millions of people in Zimbabwe who suffer from hyperinflation, corruption and government oppression thanks to an interventionist geriatric sporting a Hitler-style moustache and espousing Leninist nonsense.
  • The income and wealth gap that opened up between India and South Korea from the 1950s to late-1980s, when the 3.5% annual growth of India left hundreds of millions in abject poverty. This is by far the greatest statistical evidence of the gap between capitalism and socialism in terms of trickle-down wealth effects.
  • The opening up of the Chinese economic system to capitalist forces by Deng Xiaoping, which ushered in one of the greatest periods of economic transformation ever witnessed on the planet. As a communist state with Maoist principles, it is unlikely that the Chinese economy of today would be even one-third of the size that it is.

Having seen some of this up close myself, I can attest to to the fact that we have no business forgetting such things.

The Bible, the Qur’an, and the Abrogations

People who read the Qur’an find pairs of ayat (verses) like this:

Surely, those who believe and the Jews and the Christians and the Sabians – whichever party from among these truly believes in ALLAH and the Last Day and does good deeds, shall have their reward with their Lord, and no fear shall come upon then nor shall they grieve. (Sura 2:62).

O ye who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians for friends. They are friends of each other. And whoso among you takes them for friends is indeed one of them. Verily ALLAH guides not the unjust people. (Sura 5:51).

How does one explain verses which seems to contradict each other in this way?

Although not all Muslims subscribe to it, the concept of the abrogations is probably the most widespread way of addressing the problem of verses in the Qur’an which contradict each other. They base this on the following:

Whatever message WE abrogate or cause to be forgotten, WE bring one better than that or the like thereof. Knowest thou not that ALLAH has the power to do all that HE wills? (2:106)

Although this might seem sensible to the Christian, it contradicts the entire Islamic concept of the Qur’an.

When we speak of the Bible as being the revealed Word of God, we understand that it was written over a long period of time with a number of human agents in the process:

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.” (Hebrews 1:1-2)

We also understand that the Bible, although certainly inspired, was not mechanically dictated:

“For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).

As explained in Apologetics for the Rest of Us:

Although the scriptures are God breathed, they are not without the human agency of the men that God chose to transmit his inspired word to. The phrase “carried along” is the Greek pheromenoi, which is the same root word used in conjunction with the wind at the end of another verse: Fearing that they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along (Acts 27:17b). Thus, although the Holy Spirit carried the human writers of Scripture along, the New Testament denies the concept that God did all the work and merely used these writers as tools. (p. 22)

As mentioned earlier, the Islamic concept of the Qur’an’s inspiration is entirely different:

Nay, but it is a glorious Qur’an, In a well-guarded tablet. (85:21-22)

And, indeed, WE sent Messengers before thee, and WE gave them wives and children. And it is not possible for a Messenger to bring a Sign save by the command of ALLAH. For every term there is a divine decree. ALLAH effaces and establishes what HE wills, and with HIM is the source of all commandments. (13:38:39)

The term “source of all commandments” is literally translated “mother of the Book.” Islam teaches that the Qur’an is a perfect, earthly copy of the Mother of the Book in heaven with Allah. Human transmission has no place in this process.

But herein is the source of the difficulty. On the one hand, Muslims state that it is a perfect book, a copy of the eternal original with Allah. But if that is the case, and given the fact that it was set forth in such a short period of time, one would not expect the need for abrogation or change in its message. These changes are especially important since Islam is a religion where one’s eternity depends upon what one does in this life.

On the other hand, if we toss out the abrogations and take the statements at variance with each other at face value, then it is possible to see Allah depicted as very changeable in his expectations. If his expectations changed in such a short period of time, then how can we know that his expectations will not change again? Or have not changed again? Now the way out of this is to assume some kind of progressive revelation. But progressive revelation makes more sense in the context and especially the time frame that the Bible is written in, and is more compatible with the method of inspiration that the Bible claims. But with the Qur’an, given the claims made for its nature, there should be no “progressive revelation” there.

The problem of contradictory statements in the Qur’an-and we showed a good example of this at the beginning of this piece-cannot be solved. If we affirm the abrogations and say some verses nullify others, then the Islamic concept of the inspiration of the Qur’an is undermined. If we deny the abrogations, then Allah is depicted as rapidly changeable, which not only undermines representations of his character, but also undermines the idea that the Qur’an is a final revelation.

The First Presidential Debate: “No Knock-Out; But a Win”

This from Art Rhodes:

During the initial third of the debate on the economy, my scorecard showed a draw. Obama was very well prepared and stuck to his short, succinct answers that his debate coaches had instructed him to give. While his responses were very general, he easily held his own with McCain. In the case of a draw, Obama would be the winner. I actually responded to an e-mail in the early part of the debate, saying it could be a long night for McCain.

Then we moved to foreign affairs. At this point, Senator Obama should have gone home. I just kept waiting for McCain to start calling every foreign leader in the world by their nicknames. McCain was clearly more comfortable – and Obama was left to try to hang on.

Obama even had some noticeable sighs, reminding us of Al Gore in the 2000 election.

I found it most interesting that Obama started off very strong and very comfortable – but ended very uncomfortable. McCain was just the opposite, starting off very shaky (even his voice was trembling) but ending very strong. This was a 12 round fight. Had it gone 15 rounds, McCain would have gotten a knock-out based upon his building momentum.

I have a few additional observations:

  1. People talk about the “experience factor,” and although I know the Republicans have used this, it hasn’t resonated with me personally, until the debate.  Just watching these two drives McCain’s superior experience home.
  2. Obama came across as a college professor, lecturing McCain and everyone else.  I still don’t think that this approach really has traction in a country like the U.S., but perhaps I’m wrong. (And, yes, I have taught in a university setting!)
  3. One thing that both the debate and the events of the campaign have proven: Obama is anally fixated in his dislike of surprises.  I’m not one to subscribe to the media mantra that running a campaign is a proper preparation for the Presidency, but his inability to respond to McCain’s quick moves bodes ill in a crisis, especially with the unpredictable Arabs and Russians.
  4. McCain did one important thing in the economic portion: he pitched himself well to the independent voters as a bipartisan problem solver.  He definitely has the bipartisanship edge over Obama.  Although I know that right wing Republicans were scrambling for their barf bags at the thought, they’ll just have to get over it.

Thoughts on Infant Baptism and the Nature of the Church

Both Fr. Greg and Abu Daoud have weighed in on this post, itself a follow-up to my reflections on the Orthodox view of the Eucharist.  Let me respond to both and, in doing so, make some observations about these two important subjects.

To start with the end of Fr. Greg’s response: on a practical level, not all churches which practice believers’ baptism apply the concept of the age of accountability as rigidly as the one you described did.  Pentecostal churches can be very flexible about this.  I am a member of a local church that thinks nothing of baptising five and six year olds.  Some of these children make more coherent declarations of faith than the adults!  Some churches need to lighten up on this issue.

Getting back to the beginning, we really don’t know that the church baptised infants from the start.  The evidence, in fact, leads in the opposite direction, at least in the first century and a half.  We do know that infant baptism wasn’t the enforced norm until the end of the Western Roman Empire (don’t stick the knife in that our end collapsed first.)  One major reason for this was the fact that people delayed baptism because of the severities of the penitential system.  For some people, baptism represented their last rites!  Probably the most illustrious example of this was the Emperor Constantine, who presided over the most important gathering in the history of the church (Nicea I) unbaptised!  But he had spiritual advisors such as Eusebius of Caeserea, which shows that they don’t make bishops like they used to.  (Ambrose of Milan was another example of an unbaptised person thrust into a high profile Christian position.)

But that gets to Abu Daoud’s point: the nature of baptism is tied to the nature of the church.  And that’s where the problem is.  The triumph of infant baptism as the enforced norm of the church came hand in hand with the lowering of the church’s standards as to what it expected out of its people.  Once the penitential system fell down, the risk of baptising an infant relative to their subsequent conduct dropped as well.  One of the thing that fuelled the whole monastic movement was that men and women desired a higher walk with God that was unavailable in normal parish and diocesan life.  Although this also was driven by Late Roman social forces, if real life in Christ is that hard to find in a church, you’ve got problems.  And I experienced some of those both in TEC and the RCC.

Believers’ baptism speaks of a higher standard for Christians.  Since you brought up parental control over children, a good start would be for churches such as yours to give parents an open option regarding their children’s baptism.  But a better way would be to lower the age at which children’s declaration of faith in Jesus Christ is accepted a valid in preparation for baptism.

Let me say that I am aware that real life produces results that don’t always go with the ideal.  I had some fun on the very issue of baptism and salvation while writing this.

And now I can turn to Fr. Greg’s matter of ecclesiology.  I dealt with that issue (from a RCC perspective, at least) a long time ago in my piece We May Not Be a Church After All.  I’m fairly confident, however, that most of what I said applies to Orthodox churches as well.  But I think I need to make some further exposition relative to how I view the history of the church, because I tend to formulate things historically rather than theologically.

There are basically two ideas of what the history of the church is about.

The RCC/Anglican/Orthodox view is that Jesus Christ founded one church with his Apostles, and their successors constitute the only true church.  All the rest are schismatics.  The tricky part comes in when the successors don’t agree.  This can be interpreted as proof that these churches do in fact have the apostolic chrism, because the originals argued amongst themselves over who would be first as they do now.

The Protestant/Evangelical view is that Jesus Christ came to found a church based on his written Word and the body of believers’ faithful adherence to same.  All the rest are lost as geese.  The tricky part comes in that, since they deny their churches to be active redemptive agents, their assumption that everyone else are lost as geese cannot be automatically assumed.

I don’t really adhere to either school.  IMHO, the apostolic succession churches were the “original plan,” so to speak.  But their failure to effectively challenge their flocks to experience the radical transforming power of the risen Saviour–which is essential to eternal life–led to the raising up of other groups which would do the job.  I describe this process in an Anglican/Evangelical context in Taming the Rowdies, but other examples can be found.

Finally, to answer Abu Daoud’s question about the definition of a sacrament, as I explained to my Pentecostal bretheren some time back, I still prefer the Prayer Book one: an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.  But the differences between the two are minor.  However, I have come to realise that the integrity of any sacramental system–and the grace derived therefrom–depends on prior volition.  And that’s a major problem with infant baptism.

Fr. Greg mentioned that the arguments for infant baptism came after it was ensconced in the practice of the church.  But this may be an example of a method that a Russian friend attributed to his own people: act first, think later.  Perhaps this is one reason why they were herded into the Dniepr so willingly for their own first Orthodox baptism over one thousand years ago.

Response to the Comments on “Reflections on an Orthodox View of the Eucharist”

My four-part series on this subject got a few comments, which will enable me to expand on some things that obviously weren’t clear in the first part.

First thing to note: I got no responses from my Pentecostal bretheren on this subject, after the considerable back and forth on this subject here.  Sooner or later this will be an issue but, like everything else, Pentecostals have an entirely different dynamic in which doctrinal matters are discussed.

Let me first turn to two comments at Part II.  First Abu Daoud:

I wonder if your judgment of the sacramental system is not too rigid. “God is bound to the sacraments, but he is not bound by them.” Hi grace can operate outside of their visible signs. Even in the Roman Catholic tradition there is a baptism of blood (martyrs who do not receive water baptism, but are still saved) and the baptism of desire, for those who do not KNOW that they should be baptized, but would desire the sacrament had they known.

And then there’s Father Greg:

But then, you write above: “John tells us that our new birth is via baptism. This is something I cannot agree with.”

However, as with the Eucharist, the New Testament does not support such an interpretation. In the New Testament, beginning with John 3:5 and including Titus 3:5, “new birth” or “regeneration” is always associated with baptism.

The more I think about this issue, the more it’s apparent that the trout in the milk of this issue is infant baptism.

Let’s consider Holy Communion.  We agree that the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist validates many of the claims made for receiving the Holy Communion.  On the flip side the consequences of unworthy reception are as strong of an argument against a purely symbolic Eucharist as one could want.  As Pat Robertson pointed out last Sunday, people don’t die for unworthy reception of just a symbol.

In both cases, however, the benefits or curses of the sacrament are dependent upon the spiritual state of the recipient.  Now the Roman Catholic would come back and say that this in turn is dependent upon proper reception of forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance.  But that also is dependent upon valid contrition of the penitent (unless you’re Cardinal Richelieu, in which case only the fear of hell (attrition) is necessary.)  So the proper spiritual state of the recipient is still important.

In the case of infant baptism, however, such a state is irrelevant, because the infant cannot make such a spiritual decision for him or herself.  There have been many arguments advanced to try to fix this problem, from the “infant faith” business to shifting the responsibility to the godparents to the Augustinian solution of original sin.  All of this doesn’t take away from the core problem with infant baptism: the infant makes no decision, so you end up on relying entirely on the efficacy of the sacrament for whatever infusion of grace (in this case, the inheriting of eternal life) comes with the sacrament.

Once you have this with one sacrament, you compromise the whole system.  To directly address Abu Daoud’s remark, I don’t know of any responsible Catholic or Orthodox writer who would say that one could achieve eternal life solely on the reception of the sacraments, but on the operative level too many people are acting as if that is the case.  If it works in infant baptism, why not everywhere else?

Eliminating infant baptism and only baptising people subsequent to a turning to God through Jesus Christ eliminates this problem.  It sets up the same type of volition/sacrament pairing you have in the Holy Communion.  It also solves the relationship between baptism and salvation which Fr. Greg rightly points out is inherent in the New Testament.

Ultimately people have to decide whether they are Christians or not.  A church that ties that conscious decision to baptism makes a powerful statement with both.

As an aside, I should mention that the secular import of that decision is easier to see in some cultural settings than others.  I’m primarily thinking of secular cultures, but Islamic ones also come to mind.  That’s one reason why I lament the attitude that Evangelicals take towards Catholic, Orthodox and Coptic believers in the Middle East.  Same believers have to make a serious decision to remain a Christian in a culture whose pressure to become Muslim increases all of the time.  Evangelicals should take the time (as I did last weekend) to watch a Coptic priest like Father Zakaria lead Muslims to Christ on television.

But let me address Fr. Greg’s last comment:

“It is my prayer that this exposition will be enlightening, helping to patch a lacuna in the garment of Pentecost that has covered the world.”

Okay, but I have to ask: are we sure that the Lord’s Supper, as celebrated in the Church of God and in similar places, is in fact the same as that which is being celebrated in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches?

One of the purposes of this series is to move things forward to the point where the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is widely acknowledged by Pentecostal churches, at which point we can answer this question, if not in liturgy or perhaps in detailed theological explanation, in the affirmative.