It's Official: We're an Elitist Snob Country Now

Well, it has been since 2008, but Janet Daley at the Telegraph has a Brit’s “déjà vu all over again” feeling about it:

What is more startling is the growth in America of precisely the sort of political alignment which we have known for many years in Britain: an electoral alliance of the educated, self-consciously (or self-deceivingly, depending on your point of view) “enlightened” class with the poor and deprived.

America, in other words, has discovered bourgeois guilt. A country without a hereditary nobility has embraced noblesse oblige. Now, there is nothing inherently strange or perverse about people who lead successful, secure lives feeling a sense of responsibility toward those who are disadvantaged. What is peculiar in American terms is that this sentiment is taking on precisely the pseudo-aristocratic tone of disdain for the aspiring, struggling middle class that is such a familiar part of the British scene.

Liberal politics is now – over there as much as here – a form of social snobbery. To express concern about mass immigration, or reservations about the Obama healthcare plan, is unacceptable in bien-pensant circles because this is simply not the way educated people are supposed to think. It follows that those who do think (and talk) this way are small-minded bigots, rednecks, oiks, or whatever your local code word is for “not the right sort”.

If this sticks–and there’s no reason to think it won’t, at least for a while–it’s a sea change in American life.  What’s really amazing about this is how blindly so many substantial segments of the American population–especially Generation Y–accept this and follow along, even if their economic interests are compromised in the bargain.  That’s why Barack Obama could get away with his “Bibles and guns” comment and the like.  Not only is the snobbery absolute, in this age of rapid dissemination of just about everything, it’s blatant, but people just go along with it.

Evangelicals need to take note of this, and do so in a hurry.  That’s because American Evangelicalism in particular is very populistic in nature, and has relied on a populistic culture to thrive.  If we don’t wake up and rethink our idea, life in this country for Evangelicals will continue to be the “nine yards and a cloud of dust” business it’s been for some time–at best.

There’s a cloud in every silver lining, though, and Daley notes it carefully:

What is most depressing about this – apart from the injustice of it – is that the people who have been disenfranchised and disowned are the very ones on whom both countries’ economic recovery depends.

I’m not sure that our élites–particularly those in government–especially care if we experience real economic recovery, as the upward social mobility that would result is always a threat to those already at the top.  But they may not like the social unrest that results, especially if it’s mixed with a debt-induced national bankruptcy.

Take the Celebration to the People

As many of you know, for me, in one sense, this is it: at the end of August, I will be leaving as Ministries Coordinator of the Church of God Department of Laity Ministries.  Next week is our General Assembly in Orlando, in many ways the place where I will make my parting “social.”

As this 13 1/2 year span of my life comes to a close, I wanted to recount something I heard some time back and have been thinking about it ever since.  It came from the Rt. Rev. Daniel Vassell (right), Administrative Bishop of the Church of God in Ontario.  Before he went to Canada, he worked for the church’s Youth and Christian Education department, and working in the same building we got to know each other.

One Christmastime I met him in the lobby, and I think I mentioned something to him about my Anglican activities.  For someone whose roots are Jamaican like Daniel, Anglicanism is a familiar thing.  You even see Anglican traits reflected in the way Pentecostal West Indian churches worship and operate.  I remember one church I preached at in New Jersey where the Grenandan pastor changed the colour of the pulpit stoles.

Daniel was emphatic at the mention.  “You mark it down,” he said, not wanting me to forget what he was about to say.  Anglican and other liturgical churches were, in some ways, better at taking the “celebration” outside of the four walls of the church.  Pentecostal churches gathered on Sunday, exuberantly worshipping, and, in too many cases, that was it.  Because of the constraints of the liturgy, other churches had to celebrate elsewhere–and if there’s one thing that West Indian churches like to do, it’s celebrate.  But it’s better when the church took the celebration to the community around it and not just kept it to itself.

In many ways, that encapsulates what is, IMHO, wrong with most of North American Evangelical Christianity these days.  To start with, our churches–especially our Anglo ones–are far and away too performance oriented.  That’s odd, considering we preach that Jesus Christ’s work on the cross is what gets us to heaven, not our own works.  But we’ve come to equate fulfilling the mission of Jesus with what amounts to a business model of performance.

Beyond that, our obsession with worship has led us to focus our attention and resources on our Sunday service and how it’s done and housed.  That in turn has led both to wrapping our Christian life around our worship and to the expensive edifices that we’ve built to house that worship, edifices that have sapped the financial resources God has given us from directly ministry related activities, to say nothing of the celebration we’re supposed to be having.

But our life in Christ is to be celebrated, and that celebration needs to come out of the confines of the walls of our churches and into the world around us.  How that takes place depends upon the culture we’re ministering into and the legal status we have, but in a world racked by economic uncertainty the sight and experience of people who still have something to celebrate and do it is a powerful message.

So, as I prepare to venture out from the confines of the International Offices (my work has been part time, so the venturing in has been likewise) my message is this: it’s time to take the celebration of the life that Jesus Christ has given us out of the confines of our churches and into the community around us.   It’s time to take the celebration to the people.

Is This The Last Act for Civil Marriage?

Coming from a blog like First Things, it could be:

Legal recognition of marriage would become a purely civil matter. A couple who wanted to marry would have to get a license and go to a civil magistrate. If they then wanted their union sacramentalized, they would go to the Church. If the Church refused to marry them because they did not meet its criteria for a sacramental wedding—if both parties were of the same sex, for example—the state could do nothing about it, since the Church is a voluntary association protected by the free exercise clause of the First Amendment.

Fans of this blog know that I have advocated the complete abolition of civil marriage for a long time.  I would urge you to read this and the comments carefully.  He includes a quote from the American Spectator’s Emmett Tyrell calling for the privatisation of marriage.

I’ve talked about this for a long time, but I’ll reiterate the following:

  1. As long as our ministers are agents of the state in civil marriage, they will be subject to anti-discrimination attacks.  It doesn’t make sense, but that’s the way our law has gone (and it doesn’t make sense either.)  Ending their role as agents of the state isn’t a complete bar for legal attack, but it would put things well down the road.
  2. Doing the “two marriage” (civil and religious) deal, as is done in France, Germany, Russia and many other places, isn’t a complete guarantee that ministers would be free from attack either.  Many jurisdictions prohibit religious agents from sacramentalising marriage before its civil recognition, as Belgian King Leopold and Lillian Baels found out the hard way during World War II.

The only way to really solve this dilemma is to abolish civil marriage altogether.  Civil unions won’t cut it.  It’s that simple.  If the LGBT community won’t be the progressive group they claim to be on this, we should.

HT to Sanctus for this.

The Non-Economic Objectives of Trade Unions

This subject is getting some traction these days, so I’d like to repeat something I posted a long time ago about the non-economic objectives of trade unions.  The consequences of these are, IMHO, the biggest argument against them.

Trade unions and the labour movement in general have always loomed large for me. Our family business was unionised for most of its incorporated existence, both in Chicago and in Chattanooga. I have sat across the table from both shop stewards and representatives from the local (and a federal mediator at one point) through three contract cycles and a good number of grievances as well, some of which went to arbitration.

But growing up in a world where the “dictatorship of the proletariat” seemed headed for triumph put special focus on the activities of organised working people. Reading works such as Émile Zola’s Germinal (and later Mao Dun’s Midnight) gave the impression of a militant labour force, prepared to use violence to get their way. Such presentations both inspired fear and to some extent romanticised trade unions.

The one and only strike against our family business took place before I came back full time, but I was in town to witness it. To see it was a shocking experience; instead of full picket lines and vandalised cars and property, what I saw was lawn chairs, makeshift awnings and barbecue pits, a pattern pretty typical with strikes in our area, at least. They didn’t even stand up with their signs! Such a sight was deceiving to some degree, because inducing the workforce to decertify the union was beyond our grasp, as is the case in many other companies.

The ostensible purpose of a trade union is to secure higher wages/benefits and better working conditions for their members. To a large extent unions have thrown away the latter through their political activities, something that has cost unions in the long run. But anyone who has dealt with a trade union will tell you that it is very difficult to “buy” one out through higher wages. The reason for this goes to the heart of the “non-economic” rationale of American trade unions. Beyond more money, there are two related reasons why organised American workers stick with trade unions.

The first is to eliminate “employment at will” from the workplace. In an “employment at will” situation, an employer can terminate an employee without cause. Getting rid of this is an obvious protection for the employees, and the trade union enforces this through the grievance process.

An important corollary to this is that no “self-respecting” (to use a favourite expression) union will voluntarily concede any form of merit in promotion and compensation in the workplace. This is shocking on its face, but the union’s logic behind this is simple: any form of merit contains subjective judgement of employee performance, and this leads in turn to favouritism. In addition to producing an unhappy workforce (and one vulnerable to being organised,) consistent favouritism and “politics” in promotion and compensation will kill a private company through degraded performance. In government situations, however, favouritism and politics are very much evident in the process, and the government is insulated from the effects of this by its coercive powers of taxation. This is the central reason why public sector unions are the largest constituent of trade unions in the US today: public employees are (or at least feel) more vulnerable to favouritism, and this in turn is a stronger motivation to organisation.

Unions, left to themselves, will always favour seniority and classification/job description as the method of choice in promotion and compensation. Over time, this turns the union into an advocate for its members with the higher seniority at the expense of those with less. This trend tends to run unions down as it becomes difficult to attract younger workers into the union.

We would be remiss if we did not mention some of the mitigating factors to this picture. Police and fire fighters, for example, will think long and hard if going strictly on seniority leads to having a partner who will let you down when life and death are on the table. Construction trade unions mitigate this through their worker training programs which seek to add the value of their members to their employers. (Their employment situation tends to be more unstable than other industries due to the cyclic nature of construction.) We simply want to identify the ideal goal of the unions and its rationale, all other things being equal.

The second goal is related to the first: the union wants to control the workplace, or the “shop floor” as we say in manufacturing. Doing so makes enforcement of the first goal considerably simpler. This is also designed to insulate the workforce from changes induced by the employer, which unions generally assume to the inimical to the interest of the membership. It is generally done through classification/job description and workplace rules.

The Class Struggle Comes Back

It’s a Marxist’s dream:

Class, the Industrial Revolution’s great political dividing line, is enjoying Information Age resurgence. It now threatens the political future of presidents, prime ministers and even Politburo chiefs.

As in the Industrial Age, new technology is displacing whole groups of people — blue- and white-collar workers — as it boosts productivity and creates opportunities for others. Inequality is on the rise — from the developing world to historically egalitarian Scandinavia and Britain.

But not a Democrat’s one:

This should give Democrats an issue, theoretically. But to date, Obama and his party seem incapable of harnessing the growing middle- and working-class unrest.

In fact, according to recent polls, these have been the voters that Democrats and the president have been losing over the past year as the economic stimulus failed to make a major dent in unemployment.

Part of this problem lies with the party’s base, which the urban historian Fred Siegel once labelled “the coalition of the overeducated and the undereducated.” Major urban centres like New York, Chicago and San Francisco might advertise themselves as enlightened, but they have lost much of their middle class and suffer the highest levels of income inequality.

And their opponents can’t figure it out either:

What is not clear is whether conservative parties can abandon their often slavish devotion to big corporate interests to take advantage of these new dynamics. For years, these parties have relied on divisive social issues, like immigration, to win working- and middle-class voters. But it’s possible that a focus on profligate government spending might yet increase the right’s appeal among mid-income voters.

As this current shift to greater inequality continues, the self-styled “popular” parties’ tendency to ignore class issues could prove disastrous.

I don’t think that the obsession with deficit spending is a political winner.  Why?  Because solving the problem will involve cutting benefits (many of which go to the middle class) and/or raising taxes (which will again hit the middle class.)  If eliminating deficit spending was such a great political deal, the Republican Congress under George W. Bush would have done it.

I think it’s fair to say that we are beyond the point of no return on the deficit.  There is simply not the growth potential–not under this government, at least–to repay our obligations.  When the critical moment comes, the person or party which can seize the moment and the middle class discontent will make a dive for it, and then everything will be different.

Jon Meacham: Putting a Bullet in the Easter Bunny

That, according to Andrew Ferguson, is what Newsweek might as well have done in its recent coverage of Christian holidays:

He (Jon Meacham, Newsweek’s editor) ignored the truth that the old newsmagazine editors lived by: journalists who write to satisfy people like themselves will soon run out of readers. The magazine that lies dying in Don Graham’s arms violated this rule week by week.

To cite one obvious example: newsweeklies annually marked Christian holidays with a cover story on a religious theme, always respectful and sometimes celebratory in tone. I’m sure it was a strain, an exercise in self-denial; few journalists are religious in any conventional sense. The new Newsweek, by contrast, published holiday issues that any good secular journalist would like to read. One issue near Christmas offered a long and fallacious cover story on “The Religious Case for Gay Marriage.” Easter came and the magazine feted “The End of Christian America.” Pieces like this weren’t so much a challenge to traditionally religious readers as a declaration of war. Why not just put a bullet in the Easter Bunny while you’re at it?

What Newsweek and other magazines of the genre have been doing is putting a bullet in themselves.

Note: Jon Meacham is a native of Chattanooga, Tennessee, where I live.  Based on what I’ve read in Ferguson’s piece, it only reinforces my conviction that there’s no more insufferable than a white Southern liberal.

Driving the Church Underground in the U.S.: The Decline in Personal Evangelism

It’s taking place amongst American teenagers, even Evangelical ones, according to a recent Barna survey:

The most striking change was the fact that teenagers today seem much less inclined to have spiritual conversations about their faith in Christ with non-believers. The survey question specifically asked if the survey respondent had “explained your religious beliefs to someone else who had different beliefs, in the hope that they might accept Jesus Christ as their saviour.” Among born again Christian teenagers, the proportion who said they had explained their beliefs to someone else with different faith views in the last year had declined from nearly two-thirds of teenagers in 1997 (63%) to less than half of Christian teens in the December 2009 study (45%).

Kinnaman noted: “Christian teenagers are taking cues from a culture that has made it unpopular to make bold assertions about faith or be too aggressively evangelistic. Some of the Barna Group’s other research shows that the vast majority of these students agree with the statement it is ‘cool to be a Christian.’ Yet fewer young Christians apparently believe it is worthwhile to talk about their faith in Jesus with others.”

Anyone who has had contact with people in an area where Christianity is legally proscribed knows that one of the first things one notices is a lack of training and initiative in sharing their faith with others, or at least in an open way.  This is understandable; in many of these places, doing so with the wrong person (especially if they’re working for the police) can land you in a great deal of trouble.  The gospel is spread and the faith is shared in places like this, to be sure (China is example #1,) but not in the way we’re used to in the U.S.

Kinnaman’s statement that “Christian teenagers are taking cues from a culture” is a typically American way of papering over the reality that’s in front of us.  A “culture” just doesn’t wake up and decide that it doesn’t like something or someone, it’s pushed.  Where we’re at in this country is the result of that simple fact that those who own and operate this place (and if they’re in the government, operate the place when they don’t own it) don’t like Evangelical Christianity and have taken the appropriate steps to make their beliefs the norm in our society.

This amounts to a de facto driving the church underground.  The most recent prominent example is the University of Illinois adjunct professor who got the boot for stating that the Catholic Church’s view of natural law deemed homosexuality immoral, but there are others.  Our “guaranteed” freedoms are trumped by the control that hostile people have over our institutions, especially our judiciary.  We as Americans refuse to see what’s going on for what it is, but we (and in reality our opponents, who proffer explanations full of “tolerance”) are lying to ourselves.

I can’t say that what Christian teenagers are doing is particularly admirable, but it’s understandable.  And it’s noteworthy that the gospel is spread in places where it is legally (and, let’s go ahead and say it, “culturally”) restricted.  To do so here will take a paradigm shift in the American church, but if that’s what it takes, then so be it.

Ann Coulter Gets It on Afghanistan

Which is more than one can say about Bill Kristol:

Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele was absolutely right. Afghanistan is Obama’s war and, judging by other recent Democratic ventures in military affairs, isn’t likely to turn out well…

Our troops are the most magnificent in the world, but they’re not the ones setting military policy. The president is — and he’s basing his war strategy on the chants of cretins.

Nonetheless, Bill Kristol and Liz Cheney have demanded that Steele resign as head of the RNC for saying Afghanistan is now Obama’s war — and a badly thought-out one at that. (Didn’t liberals warn us that neoconservatives want permanent war?)

This will doubtless start a major row within American conservatism in general and the Republican Party in particular.  But it’s time for that debate, no matter how acrimonious it gets.  I haven’t agreed with Coulter on everything, and have had fun at her expense over her difficulties of voting in Palm Beach, but she has the prominence to take this stand and make it stick with a good number of people.

And her last statement should gladden the hearts of many over at Asia Times Online (such as Pepe Escobar, the late Julian Delasantellis would have also been amused) who rail against American hegemony:

I thought the irreducible requirements of Republicanism were being for life, small government and a strong national defence, but I guess permanent war is on the platter now, too.

The Swedes Spread the Love Around in Education

Secularists love to hold up the Scandanavian countries as models of economic and social excellence, but if they’re members of a teachers’ trade union, they may want to think twice:

But this is Sweden, willingly taken as an example by policies introduced in 1992.  Its education reform was “to improve the quality of its system, and diversify school offerings while liberalizing parents’ the school choice” says the Swedish centrist party MP Mats Gerdau. Municipalities finance all the schools based on number of children enrolled. All schools, public or private, secular or religious, are free for students from 3-20 years with this system. This model runs from kindergarten through 20 year olds.

The independent schools are paid by municipalities the same as public schools.  They must meet the same objectives and the same legal framework as public education, but may have different profiles, whether cultural, ethnic, educational or religious.  The results are very conclusive. The evaluations show that competition between schools has helped to improve the quality even in public schools, at least in areas where there are private schools.

There are two main obstacles to this in the US.

The first are the aforementioned teachers’ trade unions, who would sooner abolish compulsory education than to see this kind of competition (think opposition to vouchers, and the Swedes are using what amounts to a voucher system.)

The second is the secularists’ dread of funding any kind of religious schools.  But that cuts both ways: religious schools don’t want the secularising controls that would inevitably come with state or federal funding.  That in turn suggests another kind of competition: one between those educated in a secularistic way and those educated in a religious way.  Cut schools loose and let’s see who ends up on top.

In a country where freedom has been the hallmark, there are just too many people scared that change will leave them behind…

The Government Leans on the Church of England for Jeffrey Johns

Damian Thompson’s list for why Dr. Jeffrey John (the openly gay CoE clergyman who may become Bishop of Southwark) is a good one, but this item especially caught my eye:

David Cameron apparently supports Dr John’s candidacy. Nothing could underline Cameron’s right-on credentials more effectively than supporting the episcopal ordination of a Left-wing gay priest. He doesn’t even really open himself up to accusations of tokenism, since Dean John is the obvious choice: popular, clever and a former member of the chapter of Southwark Cathedral. The Bankside gay community would love having him as their bishop – and they might love Dave a little better for helping put him there. The fact that the PM’s constitutional right to intervene in the appointment of bishops is antiquated and undemocratic would be ignored just this once, I reckon.

First: the fact that this is happening at all is a sign that Rowan Williams’ main (only?) motivation for downgrading the Episcopalians is due to pressure from the Africans.  He reminds me of the old Cream song Politician:

I support the left, tho’ I’m leanin’ to the right
I support the left, tho’ I’m leanin’ to the right
But I’m just not there when, when it’s coming to a fight.

Second: the CoE is a state church in a state where LGBT privileges (and the attack on those who don’t go along with their idea) is enshrined both in law and in bureaucratic preference.  It was only a matter of time before same state would intervene on their behalf, and it looks like this is the place.

This simple fact of life is a major reason why I’ve counselled Anglicans on this side of the pond not to put stock in their relationship with the CoE, and now things are moving to their logical conclusion.