The Truth is Unknowable

Fellow Palm Beacher George Conger has written a fascinating summary of the 2008 Lambeth Conference in his article The Hollow Men: Lambeth 2008, What Happened And Why.

In the course of this, he focused on Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’ own consistent philosophy of religion:

Dr. Williams is a consistent thinker. Since his enthronement he has not deviated from the intellectual and theological principles that have guided his academic writings. Paramount among these is the belief that truth is unknowable. Certainty lies only with those who lack critical self-awareness: “For the fundamentalist, the will of God is clearly ascertainable for all situations, either through the plain words of scripture (as received in a particular but unacknowledged convention of reading) or with the aid of supernatural direct prompting: Christian revelation is there to offer clear and important information – how to be right,” he asserted in his 1994 book Open to Judgment (OTJ, p. 221).

When God does illumine us, “when God’s light breaks on my darkness,” he stated, “the first thing I know is that I don’t know – and never did” (OTJ, p. 120).

This denial of certainty is what the reign of Christ over us means: “Christ’s is the kingship of a riddler, the one who makes us strangers to what we think we know” (OTJ, p.131).

For Dr. Williams, theology does not reveal God; it reveals that there is no revelation, no single knowable truth. He who claims possession of the truth, and uses it to exclude others from the fellowship of the church, shows by his very actions that the truth is not in him.

That kind of thinking–that God, and the truth, are ultimately unknowable–is a throwback to a lot of the liberalism that I was presented with growing up in TEC.  It is a big step beyond the admission that God is infinite and that we as people don’t have the capacity to understand everything.  Buttressed by Higher Criticism, it was and is the religion of endless doubt and searching without resolution.

The result isn’t too hard to predict–people left a church with no answers and no definite position in droves.

Unfortunately, Williams makes himself an anachronism, even to the TEC liberals.  Washington Bishop John Chane is more certain of his own position in this post-Lambeth wrap:

WRITING IN his diocesan newspaper upon his return to Washington, leading liberal Bishop John Chane was not sanguine about the Communion’s future prospects, either, and defended his decision not to honor the moratoria.

In his attempts to be non-partial, Dr. Williams had favored the right, Bishop Chane charged. “There was far too much recognition of those who chose not to participate in this Lambeth Conference and far too little recognition of those bishops who chose to come,” he contended. Moreover, homosexuals continued to be a scapegoat for the Communion’s troubles. “Blaming the least among us continues to divert our attention away from the issues that threaten the very existence of humankind and the environmental health of our planet,” he wrote.

“I for one will not ask for any more sacrifices to be made by persons in our church who have been made outcasts because of their sexual orientation,” Chane said. “The Anglican Communion must face the hard truth that when we scapegoat and victimize one group of people in the church, all of us become victims of our own prejudice and sinfulness.”

Williams is finding that his liberalism is being left behind, both by the conservatives from the Global South (with their North American allies) and their left-wing opponents.  His position may be consistent, but it is untenable.

It’s Not What School You Went To, It’s the Kind of Person You Are

In the middle of all the other excitement followed on this blog, last weekend I got to do something completely different: attend my high school class reunion, the first one I had even been to.  People were taken aback that I was going to Boca Raton, FL, to do this, but there’s no mystery: someone’s got to go to high school in Boca, so why not me?

High school reunions can be difficult experiences.  In a class there are always winners and losers, and in a confined space such as a school there aren’t many places to hide.  Getting everybody back together only opens old wounds, although these are compensated for when the winners and losers find that they’ve traded places in real life.  As one friend of mine put it, if you’ve peaked in high school, you’re in real trouble.

In this case, the reunion experience was entirely positive.  The original social scene was more diffuse and not as stratified as in most places, so we didn’t start with a “pecking order” to work through.  Coupled with a high mortality rate in our class, we were just glad to see each other.  The school did a wonderful job in putting things together and we had a great time.

Readers of this blog, however, may be aware that I have my own baggage to deal with, not with the classmates, but with the school itself.  As I mentioned in my 2005 piece Dear Graduate, one thing that has always sat hard was my school’s adverse reaction to my going to Texas A&M University.  My decision to do this was a complicated one, but my complexities meant nothing to those who felt that I was Ivy League material and should honour the school’s reputation by going there.  I was pulled over by one faculty member and directly admonished about my choice; another publicly expressed his amazement.

But the pièce de resistance came the day I graduated.  One of our classmates was brilliant enough to get early admission to an Ivy League school, which meant that he spent his senior year in high school as a freshman in college.  We hadn’t seen him for a year.  Evidently someone had tipped him off, because, as we were assembling to march into the school’s chapel, he pulled me aside and griped about my choice.

Needless to say, the imposing buildings of Aggieland were a welcome sight when I went for orientation later in the month.

As our reunion wound down, my wife and I got to talk with our class saluditorian, who is a very nice person and who helped make our reunion a reality.  She was horrified at my experience, and while relating her own educational odyssey (which did in fact take her up East) she expressed the sentiment that it’s not what school you went to, it’s the kind of person you are.

Needless to say, those were healing words.  It was worth making the trip to hear them.  Unfortunately, her opinion and mine are rapidly passing into the minority, on a practical level at least.

I’ve noted that we’ve not had a non-Ivy League President of the United States since Ronald Reagan, and if things keep going the way they are we won’t have another one during the life of this Republic.  I’d like to think that this is a problem solely of the left, but it isn’t.  During the Harriet Miers fiasco, Ann Coulter griped that Bush (himself a Skull and Bones Yalie, like John Kerry) had nominated an SMU graduate to the Supreme Court.  The conservatives (and many Evangelicals in the pack) have adopted, lemming-like, this mentality.

Along these lines I’d like to add something from Moses Maimonides, the Jewish philosopher:

The prophets have likewise explained unto us these things, and have expressed the same opinion on them as the philosophers. They say distinctly that perfection in property, in health, or in character, is not a perfection worthy to be sought as a cause of pride and glory for us; that the knowledge of God, i.e., true wisdom, is the only perfection which we should seek, and in which we should glorify ourselves. Jeremiah, referring to these four kinds of perfection, says: “Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me” (Jer. ix. 22, 23). See how the prophet arranged them according to their estimation in the eyes of the multitude. The rich man occupies the first rank; next is the mighty man; and then the wise man; that is, the man of good moral principles: for in the eyes of the multitude, who are addressed in these words, he is likewise a great man.  (Guide for the Perplexed, III, LIV)

And as for the school itself?  Well, it looks like they don’t have to worry about renegades like me any more.  When I went there, the school had only Grades 7-12.  Now they have them all, including pre-kindergarten.  The alumni director told me that parents who were seeking admission for their children into pre-K were already asking about the Ivy League admission rate.

It’s good that neither Jeremiah nor Moses Maimonides had to add the Ivy Leaguers to the list.  But we must.

More on Barack Obama and Huey Long

Evidently great minds think alike, even on the Internet, as The Republic’er also (and independently) made the connection between Barack Obama and Huey Long:

We Americans are faced with another Huey Long in the person of Barack Obama. He will pave roads, bring overreaching government programs to the people, and take money from the rich to give to the poor. He will be a socialist knight in shinning armor. Yet as he is placing penny’s into the hands of the poor he will shackle their wrists and place them into a government of dictatorship. When the government supplies you with everything they also are in a position to own you.

He’s also got some great videos of “the Kingfish;” check these out.  My own piece is here.

One thing that the Republic’er brought up that deserves some comment is the issue of public works.  Having spent a good deal of time riding over some of those public works in Louisiana, it’s true that he did upgrade the infrastructure of the state.  But there’s two things that need note.

First, public works have traditionally been a politician’s road to popularity.  In Louisiana, they were a good way to entrench yourself, both for the jobs they created and the roads and bridges that resulted.  Edwin Edwards did the same thing forty years later.  But, as politicians like Long and Edwards are secured into power, they become corrupt, and the money starts going to places other than public works.  It’s a great thing up front, but in the long run (sorry!) it goes downhill.  That’s the lesson of Louisiana politics.

Second, it’s unlikely that Barack Obama will pursue public works with the same gusto that Huey Long and other “old time” Democrat politicians did.  Before the 1960’s the Democrats sponsored many major public works improvements (TVA is a good example, Al Gore Sr.’s support of the Interstate Highway System is another.)  But the environmentalists–an important constituency for Obama–will simply not permit this.  The deficiencies in our infrastructure will not be addressed the way they need to be, even by the successor of Huey Long.

Affordable Housing: Henry, It Was a Great Idea, But…

Henry Cisneros gets himself into trouble again:

A grandson of Mexican immigrants and a former mayor of this town, Henry G. Cisneros has spent years trying to make the dream of homeownership come true for low-income families.

As the Clinton administration’s top housing official in the mid-1990s, Mr. Cisneros loosened mortgage restrictions so first-time buyers could qualify for loans they could never get before.

Then, capitalizing on a housing expansion he helped unleash, he joined the boards of a major builder, KB Home, and the largest mortgage lender in the nation, Countrywide Financial – two companies that rode the housing boom, drawing criticism along the way for abusive business practices.

Honestly, I have a soft spot for Henry.  He’s an Aggie and so am I.  Aggies stick together.

I’ve noted elsewhere that no less of a left-wing pub than the Village Voice has pointed a finger at misguided government policies as the root problem in the current financial crisis.  In their case, they focued more on Andrew Cuomo, who succeeded Cisneros.  But such a crisis is too large for one person to pull off.

The interesting thing is this: we have to be the only nation on earth who would dream of improving the housing of economically disadvantaged people through single-family or low-density home ownership.  Most do so through the construction of large housing developments (“estates,” as they’re called in the UK) which make affordable rent possible.

Such a scheme avoids messes such as we have now.  However, the government–or the well-placed landlords who are “allowed” to build such things–keeps title to the place, or at worst has to concede condominium rights to the tenants.  The result is a nation of perpetual renters; ownership becomes the exception rather than the rule.  That in turn centralises control of the life of the nation.

My guess–especially with an Obama administration–is that someone in our government will push for this.  They will argue that we can afford neither financially nor environmentally afford the low-density housing we have had for so long.  So they will use both of these avenues to encourage this (and discourage the alternatives) and make it a reality.

Although this may sound entirely sensible for New Yorkers, the rest of us will probably not find it to our taste.  It will be politically unpopular.  But then we will run into the next problem: with restricted credit and a slower economy, people’s choices will be restricted.  And with other changes afoot, people’s political choices will be cut back.

Our system only works in an environment where discipline comes from somewhere other than the state.  It must come from God (a concept that escapes anti-fundamentalists) and/or from the free market.  When either or both are distorted, we have problems, as we have now.  We end up with a different country, where the state is all.

And, as noted elsewhere, it will not be nice.

The Perils of Increasing the Regulation of the Financial World, and a “New” Financial Order: Satanic or Idiotic?

In the wake of the financial meltdown that we are experiencing–and it’s not quite over with–there are calls for new regulations on the financial services industry.

That’s a tempting reaction, but one that needs to be carried out with caution.  This piece from the 16 October 2008 edition of the 700 Club is a good example of that, although the report doesn’t put its finger on why Wachovia pulled the plug on the jeweller in such a capricious way.

The reason goes back to the last major real estate induced crisis we had, namely the S&L crisis of the 1980’s.  This can be seen as the result of changes in the tax code which reduced the attractiveness of real estate investments, which in turn led to the collapse of the housing market, which took an entire financial sector (the savings and loans institutions) with it.  Congress’ reaction was moral outrage, which is its usual cover for doing something really constructive.

In this case it forced the whole banking industry into a Faustian bargain: the banking industry agreed to more oversight over its lending procedures in return for “business as usual.”

But it wasn’t business as usual for everyone.  Before this banks would work with borrowers who had an ongoing business and/or ample collateralisation through cyclic downturns in their business.  To make regulators happy, after this “bargain” larger banks especially simply evaluate notes “by the numbers.”  If a business’ numbers don’t match up to the bank’s criteria, the banks simply call the note.  Future business prospects–which got the loan in the first place–don’t matter.  Neither, for that matter, does the loss of value of the assets due to a “fire sale” liquidation, which can actually hurt the bank if the depreciated assets aren’t worth what the loan is.  (Since, with small businesses, banks almost inevitably make the owners personally guarantee the note, bankers don’t worry about that either.)

That’s what happened to this jeweller.  And that’s what ultimately happened to my family business, although we were certainly collateralised to handle what came along.

The upshot of this is that small businesses will avoid borrowing money from banks due to the horrific downside.  That will scale back small business startups and growth, which will in turn hurt the long-term growth of our economy.  It should be remembered that real estate, not business, loans were at the root of the mess we’re in.  But further regulation of our glorious financial system will doubtless only make problems such as this worse.

While on the subject of increasing regulation, we now have George Bush calling for a meeting to “resolve” this:

“I look forward to hosting this meeting in the near future … so we can insure that this crisis does not happen again,” Bush said after he welcomed Sarkozy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso here for talks on the economic crisis.

Just before the scheduled three-hour meeting, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he backed the idea of a summit by early December at the latest.

“We are in this crisis together,” Bush said, detailing steps that have been taken to bolster lending institutions around the world.

“These are historic measures suited to our system which I believe will work,” Bush said.

Ban has proposed holding talks at the UN secretariat in New York, saying earlier in Quebec City, Canada that would “lend universal legitimacy to this endeavour and demonstrate a collective will to face this serious global challenge.”

The secretary general met with Sarkozy at the 12th Francophonie summit in Quebec City, where the French president pressed for a meeting of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialised nations, and others, to mull an overhaul of the global financial system.

The big problem here is that the Europeans’ situation is, if anything, more dire than ours.  So they’re eager for an overhaul to solve their problem.

Prophecy buffs are already seeing the formation of the unitary monetary system that accompanies the rise of the Antichrist.  And there’s no doubt that such a system is a necessary component of his system to control the world.

But there’s another way of looking at this too:

The combined recent liquidity injection by Western central banks could exceed US$4 trillion, yet that vast amount has created nothing real, not even one grain of corn.

To summarize, continental Europeans a week ago, on October 13, following the British plan for UK bank recapitalization, unveiled a plan requiring $2.55 trillion to recapitalize their banks, at the same time promising unlimited dollar funding in coordinated action with the US Federal Reserve.

The Fed, meanwhile, has injected $1.3 trillion in liquidity into the banking system and has decided to bypass banks and extend directly lending to borrowers. These sums certainly dwarf the $700 billion Troubled Assets Relief Plan (TARP) of US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke. If recent bailouts and liquidity injection are added together, the price tag could easily amount to 70% of US gross domestic product in 2008.

Certainly, Western central banks have not injected this much in real gross domestic product, that is, in millions of tons of commodities (rice, corn, milk, oil, vegetables, clothing). If they had done so, their action would have been most beneficial. They have only created money out of nothing. Some call it legal robbery, others call legal counterfeiting.

Their action has amounted only to a redistribution of real GDP and real wealth among two groups: the winners (bankers, debtors) and the losers (workers, taxpayers, pensioners, creditors). How will this redistribution take place? The answer is forced inflation.

Bailouts schemes on such a scale have no precedent. They are the outcome of cheap money policy followed in the past decade and the sophisticated speculation, call it financial engineering or exotic finance, which developed complex derivatives, proliferating fictitious credit to gain abnormal returns.

Now my question: ever wonder why the Tribulation will only last seven years? Answer: the smoke and mirrors will only last that long!

As for you, you are children of your Father the Devil, and you are determined to do what your father loves to do. He was a murderer from the first, and did not stand by the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he lies, he does what is natural to him; because he is a liar, and the father of lying. But, as for me, it is because I speak the truth to you that you do not believe me. (John 8:44, 45)

And you find out the Truth, and the Truth will set you free. (John 8:32)

The Last Debate

Again from Art Rhodes:

Overall, the third debate was by far McCain’s best performance. Although he is an awful debater, he was better prepared and seemed to be more confident during last night’s performance. Obama, as always, was cool and collective, even when under some pretty severe fire from McCain. McCain went after Obama on almost every issue that was raised.

While Joe the Plumber was mentioned better than 20 times, I did think that McCain could have been more forceful in going after Obama on his comment to Joe that he wanted “to spread the wealth around.” Obama has not made any truer statement during this campaign than his off the cuff remarks to Joe the Plumber. He DOES want to spread the wealth around. Every one of his proposals, from changes in the tax code to healthcare reform, involves taking from those who have worked for a living and redistributing that wealth to those who have not. Obama believes that he can create a socialistic Utopia – a scary thought indeed.

I wish that Art would remember Huey Long, but…I am obsessed with Louisiana politics.  It’s in the blood.

If John McCain wins this election, it will be because of Obama’s candor with “Joe the Plumber.”

Barack Obama: Huey Long for a New Century

Certainly sounds that way:

The fracas over Obama’s tax plan broke out Sunday outside Toledo when Joe Wurzelbacher approached the candidate.

Wurzelbacher said he planned to become the owner of a small plumbing business that will take in more than the $250,000 amount at which Obama plans to begin raising tax rates.

“Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn’t it?” the blue-collar worker asked.

After Obama responded that it would, Wurzelbacher continued: “I’ve worked hard . . . I work 10 to 12 hours a day and I’m buying this company and I’m going to continue working that way. I’m getting taxed more and more while fulfilling the American Dream.”

“It’s not that I want to punish your success,” Obama told him. “I want to make sure that everybody who is behind you, that they’ve got a chance for success, too.

Then, Obama explained his trickle-up theory of economics.

“My attitude is that if the economy’s good for folks from the bottom up, it’s gonna be good for everybody. I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”

Huey Long, Louisiana’s colourful governor and senator in the 1920’s and 1930’s, used to talk about “sharing the wealth.”  Even Franklin Roosevelt found his redistributionism an embarrassment and even dangerous.  Evidently my comparison of Barack Obama with Juan Peron is closer to reality than I thought.  And Huey Long is a lot closer to home than Juan Peron.

They used to call Huey Long–an old style, Southern populist–the “Kingfish.”  In a country where people know more about old TV shows than their own history, that needs to be left there.  But the point is this: socialists come in all colours.

The Poster Child of Syncretism

There’s been a lot of talk about syncretism on MissionalCOG, but what passes for it in the Church of God is nothing compared to this:

Bishop Geralyn Wolf of the Diocese of Rhode Island has inhibited the Rev. Ann Holmes Redding for publicly professing her adherence to the Muslim faith.

The notice states that the diocesan “Standing Committee has determined that Dr. Redding abandoned the Communion of the Episcopal Church by formal admission into a religious body not in communion with the Episcopal Church. The bishop has affirmed that determination…”

Redding’s knowledge of Islam grew after her arrival at Seattle’s St. Mark’s Cathedral (http://www.saintmarks.org) as director of faith formation and renewal in 2001. “There was already interest in the parish about interfaith relations, and of course interest in Islam grew exponentially,” she said. She currently lives in Seattle, but no longer works at St. Mark’s. She teaches at a Jesuit seminary but is canonically resident in Rhode Island and therefore under Wolf’s authority.

While serving at St. Mark’s, said Redding in an interview, “I was facing a personal crisis and I needed to surrender. I did know that the word ‘Islam’ means ‘surrender,” but I was surprised when I received what I believe is one of the few invitations I’ve received from God in my life, and that unexpected invitation was to surrender by taking my Shahadah.

In all of the inhibitions, depositions and lawsuits that have characterised Episcopal life these last few years, I have to say that Bishop Wolf–herself a convert from Judaism–has got it right.  You can’t be a Muslim and a Christian at the same time.

The immediate problem now for Redding is that Islam doesn’t have women imams, so she’s back to the mosque floor, so to speak.  And then, of course, there’s this

The Fastest Way to Solve Problems is to Boot the Dissenters

Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts-Schori is confident that the crisis in the Episcopal Church is over:

The Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori told a Columbus Dispatch newspaper reporter that she thinks the worst of the crisis in the denomination is over. She also predicted that openly gay bishops will be elected in the future, despite an agreement among bishops not to consent to such elections for the time being.

Ironically, this is the first time Mrs. Jefferts Schori has ever admitted that there is a crisis in the church, having told the church and press on numerous occasions that only a handful of people have left the church, and that the vast majority of people will stay.

In Virginia Beach in 2007, she said in an interview that congregations had “gotten a lot of attention and been very noisy,” but accounted for less than 1 percent of the country’s total number of parishes, which she put at 7,500.

“The Episcopal Church is alive and well,” she later told a group of Episcopal Communicators.

David Virtue probably won’t agree with what I have to say, but she’s right, at least by her own definitions.

It boils down to how you define the problem.

Virtue, along with the GAFCON Provinces, define the problem as the departure of TEC from the Christian faith.  That’s the way I look at it, but…

KJS, on the other hand, defines the problem as those with the bad taste to disgree with her and other revisionists about where they think that “faith” (I hate to append the adjective Christian to this) needs to be going in this world of ours.  Following this concept, the way you get rid of the problem is to either silence the dissent or boot the dissenters, and that’s the object of the legal “scorched earth” policy that she and Chancellor David Booth Beers have been following since she became PB.

Since most of the noisier dissenters have left and/or been booted (deposed, inhibited, etc.) and the rest are heading that way, I can see how she thinks she has solved the problems of TEC.

But in this life, solving one problem always leads to having solve another, in this case convincing people that TEC is worth getting out of bed for on Sunday mornings.  That’s the problem I posed to that legendary lesbian Susan Russell last year:

Three years ago, my wife and I visited Palm Springs.  Our flight left from Ontario on Sunday.  As we drove out of town, we could see the gay men at their favourite hangouts, taking in the morning.

The GLBT’s community in TEC—of which you are a prominent leader—does not face its greatest challenge from the reasserters.  You people have a knack for dealing with reasserters, although if you don’t use some wisdom it could cost you more than you anticipated.  Your greatest challenge is going to be to convince secular members of the GLBT community—and others—to give up their passing joy in taking in the morning and come to (and support) your church.  I’m glad it’s your job and not mine.  If you fail, the issue of inclusivity will be moot, because there won’t be anyone left to include.

As Gilda Radner used to say, it’s always something…

And don’t forget, political leftists have the same idea about their problem and how to solve it as their ecclesiastical counterparts.