First the Celebration of Life. Then the Cocktail Party.

One of the oldest pieces on this site (around ten years, I think) is A State of Being, which concerns the prominent and gracious Palm Beach socialite Helene Tuchbreiter (right.)  She and my mother were friends, and they worked together to found Palm Beach’s first (I think) resale shop: the Church Mouse.  Helene’s charitable work extended far beyond that: in the four decades she lived in Palm Beach, she raised money for no fewer than eighteen causes.

Shortly after her death in April 1996, my mother received an engraved invitation to her “Celebration of Life” at Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, R.S.V.P. and all.  After the service at Bethesda, the following was included:

Cocktail Dansant Reception
five until seven o’clock
The Pavilion at The Colony

The Colony, one of Palm Beach’s most prominent hotels, was the place where my parents had entertained Prince Alexander of Belgium thirty-one years prior.

It was only fitting.

Tea Parties: The Winners Count Their Money, and the Losers Cry Deal

Looking around at all of the “tea parties” today, the first thing that strikes me is one of my father’s old favourite experessions: “the winners count their money and the losers cry deal.”  It’s an old poker player’s expression, not something you’d expect from an “Evangelical.”

But unfortunately the losers cried deal all across the country.  They’d like to think that they’re the winners in our society.  But this country has changed, and most of its inhabitants–especially the younger ones–have a different idea of upward movement than raw capitalist enterprise, which is why the winners are who they are.

But same winners are setting themselves up for a fall.

The basic problem is that they’re not so much counting their money as printing it faster than they–or anyone else–can count it.  The deficits they are running up are enormous, and the only way they’re going to be paid back–especially with fading dollar hegemony–is with economic growth.  That economic growth, however, will be impeded, not only by the increases in taxes necessary to pay for the expanded government, but also by the erratic rule of law they are promoting.  Why should anyone want to grow an enterprise if they fear the enterprise, their position, or both be taken away from them by the government?  So capitalists will sit on their hands and their money (unless they’re engaging in capital flight, like their counterparts in Latin America.)

That won’t generate the growth necessary to liquidate the debt, at which time the government will go bankrupt, either literally or on a practical basis.  It’s possible at this point for someone to come in and pick up the pieces, and the “winners” we have now will be winners no more.

Unfortunately most of the current “losers” don’t have the patience or the vision to sweat this out, or even the willingness to make the interim sacrifice to get a more complete result.  But that’s the way American politics run.

While on the subject of picking up pieces, Texas Gov. Rick Perry ’72 tantalised his audience with the concept of Texas seceding from the Union.  If Barack Obama had any sense about him, he’s take Rick up on his offer, especially if he can take a neighbouring state or two with him.

To start with, that would “ice” the dominance of the Democrats in American politics.  Texas is the largest reliably Republican state in the Union; getting it out of American politics would end any and all hope of the U.S. being anything but a one-party nation for the duration.

Beyond that, it would get the oil and gas lobby’s central base of support out of American politics also.  Cap and trade would be a breeze to enact without Texas to deal with (and if Oklahoma and Louisiana could be shipped out with it, it would be even easier.)

Unfortunately presidents from Illinois seem to both inspire states to secede and also be unable to see the benefits to themselves.  Had Abraham Lincoln allowed the Confederacy to stay out, he would have instantly raised the per capita income of the U.S. and it would have moved towards a progressive social democracy far sooner than it has.  The Confederacy would have been eventually forced to abolish slavery (Brazil couldn’t hold out indefinitely) and it would have still experienced an exodus of white and black alike to the factories of the North.

But that’s one of those “what ifs” of history, except that an “old Ag” has tempted another President from Illinois to think outside the box.

Book Review: Unchristian America

I’ve regularly lamented on this blog the failure of the “Religious Right” to “bring America back to God.”  It seems that not only has our President proclaimed to the world that we are not a Christian nation, but also the likes of James Dobson has admitted that the whole effort has ended in failure.  How did this happen?  We “named it” but didn’t claim it; we “blabbed it” but didn’t grab it.  We worked campaign after campaign, election after election, to say nothing of the ballot initiatives.  But Roe vs. Wade is still law of the land, and the Ivy League (rather than Wheaton, Liberty or Regent) produces the elitist snobs that rule over us, and will probably do so until the end of the Republic.  How could this happen?

One explanation—one that, incidentally, predates the campaign of 2008—comes from Michael Babcock, professor of humanities at Liberty University.  His book Unchristian America: Living with faith in a nation that was never under God, lays out in fast-moving detail the history of the Religious Right, its significance in view of American history, its denouement in this decade and what he thinks it will take to get back to where we should be as Christians.

He sets forth his idea in two parts, appropriately titled “Losing the Battle” and “Winning the War.”  That idea is fairly simple.

First, he says that the U.S. was never a Christian nation to start with.  Such a thesis would have been more straightforward had he defined what he thinks a “Christian nation” is.  (Except for the core theonomists, the Religious Right is likewise reticent to put a definition to this.)  He replicates the ideas of others such as former Yale University President Theodore Woolsey, and offers a reasonable explanation why his definition no longer applies to the U.S., if it ever did.  But ultimately one gets the impression that Babcock thinks that the phrase “Christian nation” is an oxymoron.  (I feel the same way about “Protestant theology,” but I digress…)

That leads to the second part of the book and the second pillar of his thesis: that the only way that Christians in this country are going to be the people that God intended them to be by adopting a New Testament model of behaviour and attitude towards the state.  One key element of such a model is a passionate commitment to life, and Babcock spends an entire chapter on the subject.

Babcock takes a tricky path by combining the history of the Religious Right movement with his own live and involvement in it.  But he makes it work with a good handle on the facts and a better sense of history than most Evangelicals (or Americans in general, for that matter.)  He sets in front of the reader two events that galvanised the whole movement: the proposal by the IRS to tax Christian schools which did not meet a racial quota in the student body (an event I alluded to in Public Education: A Christian Perspective) and Francis Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live as the Uncle Tom’s Cabin (the analogy is mine, but I think it’s apt) of the pro-life movement amongst Evangelicals.  He avoids the temptation to bend the facts to settle personal scores.  Being at Jerry Falwell’s own institution, he has ringside seats to a great deal of the story he tells.  And he uses his experience as the son of missionaries to Africa to illustrate that we don’t need an explicitly “Christian nation” to be Christians.  (We don’t need liberalism to be Christians either, another lesson that’s coming from Africa via the Anglican Communion.)

On the whole, Babcock’s thesis is reasonable as far as it goes, and that’s further than most American Evangelicals are prepared to.  But there are some items that I would have liked to seen dealt with differently.

The first is that Babcock’s perplexity over the ambiguities of the Founding Fathers would have been resolved if he had spent some time on the fact that our Fathers (almost to a man) were Freemasons.  Syncretistic Freemasonry, which sets its own deistic view of God above that of other religions, was either the basis or manifestation (take your pick) of mentalities such as Thomas Jefferson, who one minute acknowledged the inalienability of rights endowed by a Creator and the next excised portions of the New Testament which showed Jesus performing miracles.  If this country ever had an official religion, it was Freemasonry (and of course the Masons kept it a secret!)  Evangelicals would do well to deal with this issue, but Babcock obviously isn’t the one to tackle it.

I found amusing his replication of John McArthur’s idea that the U.S. was flawed because it was born in rebellion.  It would be interesting whether Babcock is prepared (as I do here) to extend that line of reasoning to Evangelical churches in general.  His idea that Christians didn’t have anything to rebel against from a religious standpoint if nothing else ignores the situation in the Southern colonies, where the Church of England was the only legal religion of the realm, as was the case in England.

His idea that the U.S. was destined to pass into post-modernity from its start smacks of historical determinism, that concept which Marx and Engels made fashionable with the left.  If nothing else, it doesn’t make sense vis à vis Europe, whose nations had a clearer vision of what a “Christian nation” was all about yet got to post-Christianity more rapidly that we did.

His chapter on life only underscores what a bunch of “Johnny come latelies” the Evangelicals were on this subject.  It makes me glad that I spent most of the 1970’s as a Roman Catholic, as we were treated to a connection between abortion, euthanasia and other “culture of death” issues from the pulpit from the Sunday after Roe vs. Wade onward.  It’s not a very happy thought that dour Calvinist Schaeffer, who only a few years earlier had trashed Catholic theologians such as St. Thomas Aquinas in Escape From Reason, should turn around and lecture Evangelicals on the importance of the sanctity of life.  (I dealt with Frankie Schaeffer, his son, during the campaign last year.)

Babcock’s exposition of the importance of the Sermon on the Mount was another one of those “where were you?” moments for me.  Growing up Episcopalian, one command that I followed slavishly was to give to those who asked, which make me a mark in boarding school.  Years later I dated a high church Episcopalian (from the Diocese of South Carolina, for you Titusonenine visitors) who also went to boarding school and did the same thing!

But these observations should not detract from what is a good book.  Today we’re back to the same question that Schaeffer posed in the 1970’s: how should we then live?  Babcock’s answer is challenging, succinct and keeps your interest, which is reason enough to delve into Unchristian America.

Special to Jethro Tull Fans: When Prayers for Souls in Kentish Town Get Answered

Tull fans may remember this line from A Passion Play:

We pray for souls in Kentish Town.

Evidently someone’s prayers along these lines got answered, as the former well-known sceptic A.N. Wilson attests:

A week ago, there were Palm Sunday processions all over the world. Near my house in North London is a parish with two churches. About 70 or 80 of us gathered at one of these buildings to collect our palms.

We were told by the priest: ‘Where we are standing in Kentish Town does not look much like a Judaean hillside, and the other church to which we are walking does not look much like Jerusalem. But as we go, holding our palms, let us try to imagine the first Palm Sunday.’

And there’s more to this too:

When I took part in the procession last Sunday and heard the Gospel being chanted, I assented to it with complete simplicity.

My own return to faith has surprised no one more than myself. Why did I return to it? Partially, perhaps it is no more than the confidence I have gained with age.

Rather than being cowed by them, I relish the notion that, by asserting a belief in the risen Christ, I am defying all the liberal clever-clogs on the block: cutting-edge novelists such as Martin Amis; foul-mouthed, self-satisfied TV presenters such as Jonathan Ross and Jo Brand; and the smug, tieless architects of so much television output.

But there is more to it than that. My belief has come about in large measure because of the lives and examples of people I have known – not the famous, not saints, but friends and relations who have lived, and faced death, in the light of the Resurrection story, or in the quiet acceptance that they have a future after they die.

From the dark, into ever-day…

Some More Thoughts on Same Sex Civil Marriage

I thought I’d get past Holy Week before delving into this in detail, now more timely that Vermont has legislated same sex civil marriage.

In response to my last post on Iowa’s Supreme Court decision, I received the following response from a friend on Facebook:

Living in the bible belt, and being very much a religious liberal. I get into quite a few discussions on this subject. I think this was a good ruling, I find the justification less legal hocus-pocus than matter of fact. I think the state has no dog in this fight except to do what’s right in terms of not putting legal impediments in front of people in how they want to live their lives (at least if not harming others).

I understand why some church communities are concerned – the argument I’ve heard is that they will force our minister to Marry gays in our church – which I think is paranoid of course, but there are a lot of people out there who don’t think the state has a real interest in their rights. But I would just say its fear of what they don’t know.

I just don’t understand how gay marriage threatens heterosexual couples, and why it seems to scare so many people.

Anyway, interesting to watch this progress.

First: it’s nice to have a reasonable conversation with a liberal.  Part of that comes from the fact that we went to prep school together, but it’s refreshing all the same.

There are a couple of things to consider.

The first concerns the issue of forcing ministers in all churches to marry same sex couples.  The problem here is our legal system.  When a minster, rabbi or imam marries someone in the U.S., they acting in two capacities: for God, and for the state.  The state issues marriage licences, but the officiant ultimately solemnises the marriage.  In doing so he or she is acting as an agent of the state.

Once same sex civil marriage is achieved, homosexuals can and will sue ministers who won’t go along with marrying same sex couples on the basis of their being agents of the state because, in that capacity, they are engaging in illegal discrimination, much as, say, someone at the drivers licence office (another agent of the state) refuse them a licence because they are LGBT.  And, knowing our legal system, they’ll probably win  unless the legislation (or court decision) gives a specific religious exemption, which is a hit or miss proposition.

The way out of this is to get ministers away from being agents of the state.  Recently a Hispanic colleague in the ministry “serenaded” his wife on Facebook for their 25th anniversary.  He’s from Uruguay.  They met at summer camp meeting in February (an interesting concept,) and then were married twice: once by the state and once by the church.  That’s the way it’s done in much of the world (things get complicated when it’s not done in that order, as Prince Alexander of Belgium found out.)

There are some in the LGBT community who want to do just that in this country, which–following an example that goes back to Calvin’s Geneva–has heretofore preferred to empower ministers to solemnise marriages.  But the simpler solution is to get rid of civil marriage altogether.

The second thing concerns his comment that “…there are a lot of people out there who don’t think the state has a real interest in their rights.”  The issue of “compelling state interest” is a legal one that has gotten a lot of play in this issue.  What that interest is depends upon how the state sees its own role.

If the state sees its own role as a facilitator and enabler of its citizens, then he’s right.  In this country the state has done this, allowing people to pursue their own gain and good.  This has resulted in no small measure in the success this country’s been.

If, on the other hand, the state sees itself primary as a governor/regulator/power holder, then people’s freedom is a real nuisance to the state, to be curbed when the state feels it has a “compelling interest” to do so.  What that “compelling interest” is depends on who’s in power at the moment, and most Evangelicals know they aren’t.

But that concept of “compelling interest” could extend to marriage and family in general.  One of the big reasons why the U.S. has had such a hard time of it in Iraq is that it was busy nation building in a culture where family, clan and tribe come first, and that priority is buttressed by the religion.  For a country (especially a multi-ethnic one like ours) to really work requires that the family give up some of its priority to the nation, and on the whole the Iraqis haven’t shown the inclination to make that a reality.

To insure their “compelling interest,” the state could and does regulate family life.  We have quite a lot of that in children’s services, public education and the like.  In this scenario the family becomes an extension of the state.  It’s conceivable that the state could then “prequalify” marriages to insure its interests and control are protected (it is a license, after all.)  If same sex couples further the control of the state, than all the more reason why the state should promote it.

At this point it’s clear (to me at least) that the elitist snobs who have the upper hand now gravitate towards the latter view, which is why many are nervous at what’s coming down these days.

If there is no civil marriage, there is nothing to control or regulate, and that is a plus.

The French Reject Sanctions Against Downloaders

From Reuters:

By a show of hands, the National Assembly rejected Thursday a bill concerning hacking on the Internet which would have enacted a “measured reaction” up to and including the suspension of internet access for the authors of illegal downloading.

This dramatic turn of events was caused by the absence of deputies of the UMP, the majority in the Palace-Bourbon.

When the results were announced, the elected officials from the left rose to applaud.

It will be interesting to see if their counterparts in the U.S. will do the same if and when they are confronted by similar legislation.

Now He Tells Us: Rick Warren Bails on Proposition 8

This is really cute:

California mega-church pastor and author of The Purpose Driven Life Rick Warren says he apologized to his homosexual friends for making comments in support of California’s Proposition 8, and now claims he “never once even gave an endorsement” of the marriage amendment.

Monday night on CNN’s Larry King Live, Pastor Rick Warren apologized for his support of Prop. 8, California’s voter-approved marriage protection amendment, saying he has “never been and never will be” an “anti-gay or anti-gay marriage activist.”

“During the whole Proposition 8 thing, I never once went to a meeting, never once issued a statement, never — never once even gave an endorsement in the two years Prop. 8 was going,” Warren claimed.

The referenced article shows, however, that he certainly did endorse it.

The more I follow Rick Warren, the less admiration I have for him.  And this is only the last nail in the coffin.

Perhaps he and others who were behind Proposition 8 could have avoided their present debacle if they had taken heed to the following, on this blog in August 2007:

Before Christians in California go off and begin a quest for a constitutional amendment, they need to think about a few things.

First, without going into a long theological dissertation, marriage for the Christian is an institution of God.  Allowing the state to dictate the terms and conditions of that institution as blithely as American Christians do is a mistake.  We’ve already seen that many of those terms and conditions have been changed at law.  The opinions of both the Governor and Jr. Brown confirm the obvious: with marriage, what the state gives, the state can take away.  (The phrase “rational legislative purpose” is absurd; legislatures do all kind of things for all kinds of reasons, rational and irrational.)  The “rights” of civil marriage are in reality very ephemeral, which makes one wonder why some are fighting so hard to obtain them.

Second, in order for a constitutional amendment to be meaningful, it would have to enumerate each and every one of the rights that its proponents wish to preserve, which would make quite an amendment to write, let alone get through the referendum process.

Third, preserving the rights at the state level doesn’t do anything at the federal level.  What I specifically have in mind are the provisions of the Internal Revenue Code, which have the stability of Burnham Wood.  An example of this is the back and forth on estate and gift taxes, documented here.

Finally, ending civil marriage ends the quest for same-sex civil marriage.  This is why proponents of same generally oppose the abolition of civil marriage.  It will be interesting to see how advocates of same-sex civil marriage react to this.

But they didn’t, and Warren should have the courage of his convictions to stick to his guns on this.

One of the core problems with Evangelicalism in this country today is that it’s led by bourgeois, short-sighted chickens, and Warren is obviouly Exhibit A to demonstrate that this is so.

So Why, Gene Robinsion, Are You a Bishop?

He poses the problem:

“Let’s be honest, most of the discrimination … has come at the hands of religious people, and the greatest single hindrance to the achievement of full civil rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people can be laid at the doorstep of the three Abrahamic faiths: Christianity, Judaism and Islam,” Robinson said in Atlanta at Emory University’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion.

But he has no solution.  Or, more precisely, he isn’t a part of the solution.

If he really believes this, he should be a pagan, or an atheist or something–anything, but a bishop in a church that represents itself as Christian.

That’s what’s always bothered me about people like Gene Robinson.  He rejects many basic tenets of Christianity–and in some ways the remark quoted above is an acknowledgement of that rejection–but he still wants to be a part of a church.  This has never made sense to me, except perhaps that the pay is good, the work isn’t too hard and, for someone who was raised in this tradition, the surroundings are familiar.

If things keep going in the West the way they are, it won’t be too long before we will be able to say that the greatest hindrance for members of the three Abrahamic faiths to practice their religion in freedom is the LGBT community, but such is the way of revolutions.