Mitt Romney and the Religion of the Middle Class

So we now have Mitt Romney as the Republican nominee for President.  It’s an odd thing in many ways, not because the party grandees threw their lot in with him–that’s par for the course.  It’s odd because they were able to get it past the people who supposedly dominate the party–the “Religious Right”, those dreadful Evangelicals who are supposedly gunning for a theocracy that would make John Calvin look like a wimp.

Such a result reminds us that only God is omnipotent.  Yes, we will have base enthusiasm problems, but both parties are having that, and those tend to get papered over with our polarised Electoral College system.  But there are still many Evangelicals out there who are uneasy about voting for a Mormon.  The obvious question is why.

There are serious doctrinal and theological differences between Mormonism and Christianity.  And I don’t think that it’s unfair to make the distinction either; many Mormons do.  Mormonism was intended to restore the faith to a supposedly pristine state, as the other churches were characterised as corrupt.  Since same churches (and the ones formed after them) haven’t gone along with the “Restoration” churches, it’s fair to say the Mormons’ basic opinion about the rest of us hasn’t changed, and we’re happy to reciprocate.

I could detail many of the differences between Mormonism and Christianity, and between Mormonism and itself.  For the moment, I’ll leave that to others.  What I want to concentrate on is the broader political and social implications of the conflict between Mormonism and Christianity on the one hand and both arrayed against a secularising culture with an “upstairs/downstairs” political alliance to advance that secularisation.

In trying to condense a great deal of American history and demography, let’s make a few stipulations.  First, if you want to be the central religion of a culture, you want to capture its key demographic.  In the United States, that means the “middle class” with all the complexities that go with that characterisation.  Up until the 1960’s, and especially in the immediate post-World War II era, that pride of place among religions belonged to Main Line Protestantism.  Other religions out there–including Evangelicals such as the Southern Baptists, the Pentecostals, the Roman Catholics, the Mormons and even in a different way the Jews–were on the outside, not just looking in but trying to arrive themselves.  Each of these had their enclaves, be they regional, ethnic or what not, but none of them had the broad appeal to the American middle class that Main Line Protestantism had.

The decline of Main Line Protestantism is a well documented story, and that decline has become especially steep in the last twenty years or so.  That has created is a vacuum, and one knows that nature abhors a vacuum.  Each of the aforementioned contenders would like to fill that vacuum, and a great deal of the story of Christianity the last forty years or so is the story of the various attempts to fill that vacuum.  (I emphasise Christianity because Judaism, and to a lesser extent Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism aren’t the seekers of converts that Christianity is).

But none of these groups has really gotten the job done.  Roman Catholicism, for all its ability to get its people into the middle and upper reaches of our society, lacks the strong pastoral system and desire to mobilise its laity either for God or country to command the field.  Evangelicals, incessantly demonised by their media opponents and hampered by their own “low hanging fruit” approach to evangelisation and church growth, can’t get the breakthrough they’re looking for.  Charismatics and Pentecostals are even further behind the demographic curve than their Evangelical counterparts, although they have one key advantage which they haven’t figured out how to make best use of: their broad appeal to non-white people groups.

That of course leaves the Mormons.  In many ways they are the perfect cast for the role: superbly organised, hopelessly bourgeois, economically prosperous.  Those reasons and more explain Evangelicals’ hostility towards them: from their own perspective, they see Mormonism as their most single dangerous rival.  More than the isolationist Jehovah’s Witnesses or the apolitical Seventh Day Adventists,  Mormons are to Evangelicals what Mao Zedong was to Chiang Kai-Shek: a cancer to be removed at all costs.  Having a Mormon President, with all the favourable publicity and testimonial value that he would have for the LDS church, is a major source of consternation for Evangelicals in particular.

Unfortunately there are more serious problems out there.  The most serious of those problems is the growing appeal of secularism in our society.  It’s hard to communicate what that means and the appeal it has in a society as consistently religious as ours has been, but the possibility of secularism becoming this country’s favourite middle class religion is real–except for one trout in the milk…

That smelly fish is, of course, the current structure of American liberalism, embodied in the Democrat Party and the current Occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  Same Occupant got there with what we call in politics an “upstairs/downstairs” coalition.  The way you keep such a coalition together is through patronage, which has become a powerful force in American politics, one overlooked by the mind-numbing pundits with their prognostications based on elections past.  The upstairs–be that upstairs employed by the state or by the very wealthy–basically spreads enough money around the downstairs so that the latter will keep them in power.  They get those funds from those caught in the middle, whom the upstairs thinks will continue working as always while they are taxed and regulated without relief.  When same middle falls down the stairs and quits being a cash cow, your economy collapses and you have poverty.

What Evangelical and Mormon have come to realise–implicitly if not explicitly–is that it doesn’t matter who becomes the new middle class religion if there is no middle class.  We have to save the middle class before we can fight over it, among ourselves or with the secularists.

That, ultimately, is the glue that holds the Republican Party’s hostile religious groups together.  To succeed we must convince a critical mass of the American people that it’s still possible to succeed by merit in a real economic system, and stacked against patronage that won’t be easy.  Whether this new-found unity will be enough to make the difference in November will be one for the record books.

The Alethians and the Right Angle with David Pope: One Way

(Myrrh MST 6506) 1972 UK

One curiosity of Christian records in the “Jesus Music” era are albums where one side is recorded by a different group than the other. A helpful way for two groups to share the cost, it had the added bonus of not requiring one group to come up with more that 20-25 minutes of music. Given the quality of some of the groups, that was a big plus for everyone.

Although both groups get lead vocals from David Pope, that’s where the similarity ends. The Alethians are a straight-up, Fisherfolk type group whose acoustic guitars and very light percussion will gladden the heart of any 1970’s Christian folk fan. The Right Angle, however, did something that few other Christian groups tried: a “lounge lizard,” jazzy style that would be happier in a bar than in a church. Their “rat pack” rendition of “Pass It On” is an absolute classic, and reason enough alone to have the album.

The songs:

  • The Alethians:
    1. Come And Go With Me
    2. The Reason Why
    3. You Can ‘Tell The World
    4. Reflections
    5. Darkness
    6. One Way
  • The Right Angle:
    1. I Cannot Understand
    2. The Way Was Dark
    3. Pass It On
    4. Questions
    5. I Heard About
    6. A Quiet Place

And now a word about the Field Mass…

Last week I took a page from “cassock and surplice” Anglicanism–the funeral of World War I flying ace Manfred “Red Baron” von Richtofen–to show what “1662 BCP” Anglicanism looked like in a celebrated event.  The significance of my slighting the alb was well understood.  So I guess a little “equal time” might be in order.  (Well, sort of…)

The “field Mass” is part and parcel with Roman Catholics serving in the various armed forces they do.  In years past and in countries such as Italy and Austria-Hungary, the field Mass was an important part of their military tradition.  (We also see it in our own armed forces as well).

The photo at the right is one reason this is so.  It shows a field Mass during World War I for Italian Alpine troops in the Tyrolean Alps.  Italian Alpine troops were some of their nation’s finest, as were their Austrian counterparts.  Superbly trained and fighting in the most difficult conditions, it was a special duty for a chaplain to minister to them.

In the years immediately following Vatican II, American Catholics were told that, before that watershed event, the Mass was “vertical” in focus, i.e., towards God, while afterwards it was more “horizontal” (community) in emphasis.  Be that as it may, this photo shows the most vertical Mass I have ever seen.

As was the case uniformly before Vatican II, the priest is facing the altar and behind it.  Generally speaking the congregation in its turn is behind the priest.  But, in these conditions, the faithful had to view the elevation of the Host from whatever place they could stabilise themselves in.

We’re still waiting for Anglo-Catholicism to rival this…


Same-Sex Civil Marriage: Not Quite Ready to Go for Broke

The famous (if unlikely) team of Boies and Olsen are backpedaling on their case to overturn Proposition 8–and establish same-sex civil marriage by national default:

The two high-profile lawyers who started the nation’s most significant lawsuit attempting to gain marriage rights for same-sex couples told the Supreme Court on Friday that it might find it very interesting to take up that issue now, but urged the Justices not to do so in the only case now at the Court that could raise that question — the case testing the constitutionality of California’s “Proposition 8.”   Attorneys Theodore B. Olson and David Boies argued that the case has procedural flaws, made no change in the law, involves no conflict among lower courts, and might raise core constitutional issues that the Court may not be ready to confront.

I’ll try to avoid oversimplification, but there are two major tracks running through our court system on this subject.

The first are all the “DOMA” cases, such as this (HT to Rubin on Tax for keeping up with this).  Basically these seek to overturn the 1996 law, which denies federal recognition for same-sex civil marriages permitted by state law for purposes such as the tax code.  Success in this wouldn’t mandate same-sex civil marriage everywhere, but it would take the campaign to a new level.

The second are cases like this, which seek to mandate same-sex civil marriage based on equal protection under the laws.  Although opponents of same-sex civil marriage hate to admit it, our élite opinion has given an air of inevitability to the success of this venture.

Or has it?  It’s sometimes hard to know why attorneys do what they do, but my guess is that Boies and Olsen are afraid that SCOTUS will issue a muddled, narrow opinion which would overturn Proposition 8 in California but which might in the long run make winning a broader case difficult.  That, more or less, is what happened with the Obamacare case, especially with the Medicaid issue, which is why liberals, while relieved at its basic upholding of the “Affordable Care” act, aren’t dancing in the streets just yet.

I still believe that abolition of civil marriage, with or without civil unions (I would prefer the latter) is the best way to go on this issue, and the one that advocates of “traditional marriage” should have pursued to start with.  Boies and Olsen are in a tight place right at the moment, but one of these days people will see Proposition 8 for the strategic error that it was.

The Difference Between Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood

On a recent edition of Stakelbeck on Terror, he discusses with Tawfik Hamid the difference between the Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.  (That discussion starts at about 13:30 into the video below).

Five years ago, I got into an extended email debate with an Indonesian Salafi.  One of the points he tried to make with me was that the Salafi Islam he practised was different from the Sayyid Qutb-inspired version that appeared in places such as al-Qaeda, one which incorporated concepts from Western political ideologies.  That certainly includes the Muslim Brotherhood; Qutb was a leading figure in the Brotherhood in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

To be honest, I was sceptical.  But now the two “versions” of political Islam are on display for everyone to see.  As was the case with my Sudanese imam friend on the difference between Sunni and Shi’a Islam, my Muslim contacts/debaters were more educational than sources on either side of our political divide, all of which look uninformed at times like this.  The difference between the two has practical significance; which one ends up on top in Egypt (and the Brotherhood has the distinct advantage at this stage) will end up driving events in the Middle East for some time.

If you want to learn about Islam, start by asking a Muslim, or better more than one, you’ll get more perspectives.

The U.S. and China: Passing Each Other in the Night on Academic Freedom?

Students in China are caught between two systems, one Marxist-Leninist and one capitalist.  The result is this:

The curious collision of ideological coercion and material opportunity births a conformity-breeding exhaustion. To resist the constant current of ideological homogeneity requires relentless energy and vigilance: to remember that no matter how compelling the words of the anchor on the nightly news, certain facts have been blacked out by the pernicious party pen; to read and trust media published in countries that you have been taught have interests antithetical to your own; to sustain beliefs that cannot be given voice beyond your own scattered thoughts. The few students who voice dissenting views emphasize that they have never raised these concerns beyond hushed conversations with one or two close friends. Socially, emotionally and academically, it is easier to follow the path of least resistance.

My university is now wrestling with how it plans to respond to the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s gripes about prayers at our football games.  But such high-visibility disputes mask the real drama that is going on in our educational systems: how do our students react to the conflicting demands placed on them?

China is a country that “started out” with Marxist-Leninist hegemony and a political system to enforce that, then grafted into the system capitalist achievement and the performance expectations to go with that.  So students getting an education and moving into a career find themselves caught between two worlds, both of which they feel they have to make happy to succeed.  So the result is silence.

The U.S. is a country going in the opposite direction.  We started out with a system that engendered economic and political freedom.  But now various “politically correct” groups are attempting to take the latter way by enforcing ideologies and thought processes.  But we still expect our students, before and after graduation, to perform as before and do so in an open way.  Although the court system has slowed this process down, it has not stopped it, and academics have all kinds of means at their disposal to make whatever ideology or life view they think their students should have a prerequisite to their success.

Although no one wants to admit it, my guess is that our students here are dealing with it in a way not so different from their Chinese counterparts.  They just keep their heads down and move forward; high-profile disputes are by far the exception more than the rule.  Our countries may be “passing each other in the night” without realising it.

The problem with this is simple: when the system’s cognitive dissonance issues finally push things to a crisis, you really have no idea where your people, silenced by years of “you can’t say that”! are really at.  The results are generally highly unpredictable and destabilising, to say the least.  The Chinese learned that the hard way in the years of “democrazy” and I guess that we may well get an expensive lesson in that too.

The High Price of Anti-Semitism

I’ve put off writing this piece for a long time.  The subject is sensitive for a number of reasons.  But given the things going on both here, in Europe and the Middle East these days, perhaps it’s time to visit this subject, although I’d be the first to admit the example I’m presenting isn’t the most profound.

My parents, after their divorce, both lived in Boynton Beach, Florida.  My father lived the last fifteen years or so of his life in very poor health.  When my wife and I would come to see him, sometimes after spending time he wouldn’t feel like going out to eat and would need a rest.  So we were on our own.

We’d cast about in the phone book (this before the Internet) for a good place to eat.  I spotted a restaurant called Streb’s, which recognised from my days at St. Andrew’s in Boca Raton.  It had a location in Boynton Beach, not so far from where my father lived.  So we ate there a couple of times.

Streb’s had two dishes which especially caught our taste.  The first was an excellent centre-cut pork chop, a dish that’s very difficult to prevent turning into sole (as in shoe).  The second was the baked sweet potato; it was the first restaurant we ever saw this at, and my wife, a big fan of sweet potatoes in just about any form, was enthusiastic about this.  Sometimes when we’d get there in late afternoon we’d catch the early bird special, which was a good deal (although they included a mandatory tip, something we don’t see back in Tennessee).

When we went down during the spring, we’d see the advertisement for the Passover meal.  We didn’t think anything about it; South Florida has a large Jewish population, and in any case we were impressed that such an Old Testament holiday was celebrated.

We finally got my father to go with us one night.  He went.  Once.  And only once.  We could not get him to go back.  He would not explain why.  When my brother spent their last Christmas together on the earth, they went to a restaurant called “The Clock”.  I think it was named that because you sat there and struggled to get the food down while watching the time, hoping it would pass quickly and you’d get out of there.

My father passed away and my mother, brother, wife and I went down for the “final visit”.  Again the question of eating came up and I suggested Streb’s.  We went there and my mother immediately picked up on why my father didn’t like the place: it was a “Jewish restaurant”.  My mother philosophically observed that it was really good to go and eat where the Jews did; they had no tolerance for poor food or bad service, so you were guaranteed a good meal if you ate with them.

I find it sad that my father would forego a decent meal because of an attitude like this.  But he was raised in a WASP world where there were Gentiles and there were Jews and n’er the twain met.  That kind of social segregation was the rule in Palm Beach when I grew up (and still is to a large degree).  Fortunately the schools, public and private (including St. Andrew’s) were not, so I had Jewish friends.

My mother’s more “philosophical” attitude was conditioned by the fact that she was a Southerner.  More to the point she was raised in a Baptist home where the Bible was taken literally and seriously.  The Jews were and are “God’s Chosen People”.  God did not choose the WASP or the Scots-Irish in this way.  When Judah Benjamin (later to become the first Jewish person to hold a cabinet level position in North America, in the Confederacy) was attacked by a Kentucky colleague for his religion, he replied that, while his ancestors (or one of them) were on the mountain receiving the law of God, his attacker’s were in the remote fastness of Northern Europe, raising pigs.  His attacker had to back down, not only because he knew the Bible, but because his own constituents were still doing the same thing!

Traditionally Christians have embraced what is called “replacement theology”, i.e. the concept that Christianity has basically replaced Judaism as God’s operating covenant.  Much of the hostility that Christians have had towards Jews has been justified by this and other ideas.  But, while the Jews (and many Christians) weren’t paying attention, people like J.N. Darby were positing from Scriptures that God’s purpose for the Jews hadn’t run out and that we should regard them more favourably.

Now with the Iranians pursuing nuclear weapons, the Egyptians governed by the Muslim Brotherhood, the Wahhabis still enthroned (literally) in Saudi Arabia and the West (especially the Europeans) in fear of these people, anti-Semitism, made odious by the Holocaust, is making a comeback, and becoming fashionable again.  But our memories are short.

We have forgotten that the Jews have survived the destruction of their nation and their Temple under the Romans, plus the endless persecutions of Christian and Muslim alike over the centuries.  Blaise Pascal noted that the continuation of the Jews was a divine act, and he was right.  But we have also forgotten all the Nobel Prizes awarded to Jews for all kinds of accomplishments, and that Palestine was a sparsely populated Ottoman backwater when the British established the Mandate after World War I.  Today Israel is a (maybe the) leader in technology, even courting the Russians, who have been unenthusiastic about Israel, to say the least.

The Jews have awoken to the fact that, in the Evangelicals, they have a reliable ally.  Same has a memory of some of the same things my mother had from the Bible, that supremely Jewish book.  They remember the mighty heroes they learned about in Sunday School–Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David and at the end Jesus Christ–were all Jews.  They remember that Paul, for all the differences he had with his fellow Israelites, proclaimed that they were still at the centre of God’s plan.  So they have become the darlings of the State of Israel (well, at least the Tourism ministry).

Many Jewish people find this astonishing, even disturbing.  Many are sceptical to the point of atheism; being affirmed on the earth because of a literal interpretation of the Scriptures is hard to take.  But why?  The Jews, masters at appreciating and laughing at the ironic and nonsensical in life, should be the first to catch the drift of this strange turn of events.

But it’s those Scriptures, and the living witness of those who are descended from the people who walked their pages (or scrolls), which confirm the Jews and Judaism.  God’s promises are still true, and it’s not good–and that includes eating bad food at a restaurant–not to live in them.

They will come from far away. They will come from the north and from the west, and they will come from the land of Sinim. Sing with joy, you heavens! Rejoice, you earth! Break into shouts of joy, you mountains! The LORD has comforted his people and will have compassion on his humble people. But Zion said, “The LORD has abandoned me. My Lord has forgotten me.” Can a woman forget her nursing child? Will she have no compassion on the child from her womb? Although mothers may forget, I will not forget you. I have engraved you on the palms of my hands. Your walls are always in my presence. Your children will hurry back. Those who destroyed you and laid waste to you will leave you. Look up, look around, and watch! All of your children are gathering together and returning to you. “I solemnly swear as I live,” declares the LORD, “you will wear all of them like jewels and display them on yourself as a bride would.” (Isaiah 49:12-18)

Cassock and Surplice Anglicanism's Finest Hour…

…or at least one of them: the burial of Manfred von Richthofen, the “Red Baron”, on 22 April 1918, at Bertangles, France.

He was buried by the Australians, as is clear from the uniforms.  I don’t know whether the chaplain, doubtless holding the 1662 BCP, was English or Australian, but the Anglican Church in Australia was not autocephalous until many years later.

I doubt wearers of the alb in the AC will match this any time soon…

The Reformation and Missions: Theology and Doctrine

From J. Herbert Kane’s A Concise History of the Christian World Mission:

One would naturally expect that the spiritual forces released by the Reformation would have prompted the Protestant churches of Europe to take the gospel to the ends of the earth during the period of world exploration and colonisation which began about 1500.  But such was not the case.  The Roman Catholic Church between 1500 and 1700 won more converts in the pagan world than it lost to Protestantism in Europe.  Why did the Protestant churches take so long to inaugurate their missionary program?  What were some of the contributing factors?

The first, and perhaps the most potent, factor was the theology of the reformers.  They taught that the Great Commission pertained only to the original apostles; that the apostles fulfilled the Great Commission by taking the gospel to the ends of the then known world; that if later generations were without the gospel, it was their own fault–a judgement of God on their unbelief; that the apostolate, with its immediate call, peculiar functions and miraculous powers, having ceased, the church in later ages had neither the authority nor the responsibility to send missionaries to the ends of the earth…

Moreover there were the Predestinarians, whose preoccupation with the sovereignty of God all but precluded the responsibility of man.  If God wills the conversion of the heathen, they will be saved without human instrumentality.  If God does not will the salvation of the heathen, it is both foolish and futile for man to intervene.  Calvin wrote: “We are taught that the kingdom of Christ is neither to be advanced nor maintained by the industry of men, but this is the work of God alone”.

Added to this was the apocalypticism which anticipated, with some dismay, the rapidly approaching end of the age.  Luther particularly took a dim view of the future.  In his Table Talks he wrote: “Another hundred years and all will be over.  God’s World will disappear for want of any to preach it”.

Federal Agencies and Ammo: Make Sure You Don't Overlook the Important Thing

Federal agencies such as NOAA and the Social Security administration are trying to contain the excitement over their substantial ammunition purchases:

Obscure federal agencies triggered a firestorm of conspiracy theories this week after they put out orders for thousands of rounds of deadly hollow-point bullets.

But the agencies, most recently the Social Security Administration, are trying to put a damper on the speculation — noting the ammunition is “standard issue” and simply used for mandatory federal training sessions.

“Our special agents need to be armed and trained appropriately,” said a message on the official blog for Social Security’s inspector general office explaining the purchases.

One question everyone overlooks is this: why does every Federal agency have its own security force?  Why can’t there be a single agency to help secure the rest?  Sounds like we have a duplication of effort problem that needs to be addressed.

There’s no question that our Federal government is, in a desultory way, “locking down” for a feared insurrection.  With all the panic-mongering the left has put over the years about the intentions of their opponents, it’s little wonder someone is putting shoe-leather and funding to this.

But, as I discussed in this piece inspired by some DoD types doing the same thing, our government better keep its financial integrity in order.  For all the ammo they may have on had, if Uncle Sam misses a payroll or two–or skips “the eagle flying”–all the security provisions they have made, be they good or bad, will be to little avail.

And, sad to say, there’s no sign that things are getting better with the financial integrity of our government.