Voting for Ourselves: The Reality of the 2012 Election

Maureen Dowd, like many on the left, isn’t really happy with the outcome of the DNC:

In his renomination acceptance speech here on Thursday night, he told us that America’s problems were tougher to solve than he had originally thought.

And that’s why he has kindly agreed to give us more time.

Because, after all, it’s our fault.

“So you see, the election four years ago wasn’t about me,” President Obama explained. “It was about you. My fellow citizens, you were the change.”

We were the change!

We were the change? Us?

I have to admit it: this time Barack Obama is right.

Our political system has grievous faults.  Our two parties are far too enthralled to those who finance them.  The Boomers make politics a mess.

But we have had two starkly contrasting visions put in front of us, even though in both cases their actualisation is problematic.

The Republicans present an idea that we should return to a country where the system allows people to move up in a real economy.  This does not sit well with communitarians or the powers that be, threatened by any upsurge from below, be it revolutionary or in the system.

The Democrats want a system where our government directs how we should go and prevents (or at least mitigates to a large degree) the failure that results.  Restless individualists find this stifling, and resist.

That being the case, we are deciding, be it in an imperfect forum, what kind of country we want to be, and the kind of people we want to be.  In doing that we, voting from where we’re at, are telling the world–and ourselves–what kind of people we are.

Barack Obama has, to a large extent, done what many people who sent him wanted him to do.  They wanted to cut our consumption so that we would have less impact on the environment, especially the release of carbon dioxide.  The increase in energy prices and the stall/contraction in the economy has accomplished that.  They wanted more people to look to our government for their sustenance, and looking at the statistics on SNAP and SS disability, they’ve succeeded.  They wanted nationalised health care and we’re on our way to that (admittedly, Obama is taking the scenic route).  They wanted a less adventuresome foreign policy and they got one, albeit one that backs the same kinds of things that they desperately fear their domestic opponents want to impose on them.

So why is the left unhappy with Barack Obama?  Because to carry out his agenda the economy has had to stay in the toilet.  The left has entertained itself with the delusion that these things could not only thrive in a healthy economy; they would cause it.  But, like Solyndra, that was delusional.  People like Maureen Dowd would do well to understand the real nature of their own political and economic philosophy before complaining about the results.

It was this combination that sunk Jimmy Carter and brought Ronald Reagan to the White House.  So why is Barack Obama ahead in the polls?  Because we have changed.  In 2008, in all the soaring rhetoric, we said that hope and life came from an earthly messiah, that if he applied his healing touch to our lives, our government and our planet that life would be good.  The results are only a failure because the basic framework that Barack Obama and people like him work in does not make a great nation or a prosperous people.

The question we must ask ourselves one more time is whether we really want to be a great nation or a prosperous people, or do we just want to bounce along from generation to generation, watching our best and brightest emigrate to happier shores while those who are left take what’s handed to them.  We are frankly too swell-headed to think the latter will ever happen, but given our debt structure we are closer to the latter than we think.

As I say ad nauseam, it’s our move; we need to make it.

Egos Inflatable to Any Size: The ACNA-AMiA Fiasco

David Virtue lays the unpleasant mess out:

By any criteria, it has become one of the most disastrous and devastating ecclesiastical battles since the formation of the Anglican Mission in the Americas (AMIA) and the later birth of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). It may well be the greatest single spiritual blot on the emerging landscape of North American Anglicanism.

The genesis of this battle between Bishop Charles “Chuck” Murphy, leader of the AMIA, and the Most Rev. Robert Duncan, archbishop of the ACNA, goes back two years. It has escalated to the point that it now involves three African Anglican provinces (Rwanda, Kenya, Congo) and indirectly affects two Primates from the Church of the Province of South East Asia. As a result of the continuing war, positions have so hardened that reconciliation now seems virtually impossible.

I have covered this issue before; I find it very disturbing.  Although such things are a part of human nature (Patristic students will think of Jerome and Rufinus, or to a lesser extent Jerome and Augustine) there are two factors specific to the situation that have turned a tricky situation into a real disaster.

The first is the metastable situation into which the ACNA was born to start with.  American Anglicanism was formed under the apostolic umbrella of several Anglican provinces (mostly African) and putting them together, with all the positional and structural complexities that go with that, wasn’t going to be an easy job.  It could have been accomplished–or at least done better–with patience and skilful negotiation.

But that leads to the second problem: Boomers are neither.  Having made a mess out of our existing structures, be they political or otherwise, this generation has turned around and screwed up a fix to one of the sorriest legacies of their own revolt, the 1960’s and revisionist Main Line churches.

For me, a humorous way of looking at this is to recall a comedy routine in our own church by a Lee University faculty member (who is, BTW, now a part of a Charismatic Anglican church).  He describes an “Inflatable Camp Meeting” which is like these inflatable playgrounds.  It includes, of course, campground, chairs, and stage.  On that stage are “general officials” who, in the routine, have “egos inflatable to any size”!  (Little wonder he had to make an exit from the church!  Long time readers will note that I have used this illustration before, in this situation and others).

Perhaps he’ll put together an “Inflatable Cathedral”.  Sad to say, the egos will be there as well.  They certainly have been up to now in the real thing.

It would be really funny if it weren’t so sad and destructive.  Our generation has a lot to repent of; this is but one thing.  But we are too full of ourselves to realise it.

The Best Part of Being an Aggie

Although the “official” entry of Texas A&M to the SEC was 1 July, the “grand entrance” (and for a Palm Beacher, the importance of this cannot be understated) will be this Saturday, when the Florida Gators visit Kyle Field.  One serious question, of course, is whether Kyle Field will stay, be remodelled, or built somewhere else, but that’s another story.

For Aggies living in Texas (and that’s most of them) entering the SEC wasn’t an obvious choice, and for some it was controversial.  For those of us who live in SEC country, it was a dream come true.  After years of being “in the wilderness” we’ve suddenly awoken to being a real part of the region.  SEC team fans–and in these parts supporting a school is a primary or secondary religion, depending upon the person–haven’t grasped what having Texas A&M in the conference means just yet.  But they will.

The subject of religion, however, brings up what is, for me, the best part of being an Aggie.  Today Texas A&M is truly a world-class institution academically, and certainly in the scientific and engineering fields being an Aggie is a major plus.  But beyond that my time at A&M was crowned not only by my academic accomplishments but more than that by the spiritual transformation that took place.

The backdrop to that transformation took place my last year in prep school, when I “swam the Tiber” and became a Roman Catholic.  Doing that not only got me out of a church being taken over by revisionists; it also broke me out of the élite cocoon that Palm Beach Episcopalianism had me in.  Both of these were crucial for what followed at Texas A&M.

Like everything else about the place, the set-up for Catholicism around Texas A&M was different.  For one thing, the distinction between the outreach to the students–the Texas A&M Newman Association–and the community–St. Mary’s Parish–were very much intertwined.   My first year I stayed out of Newman, but became a lector and got to vote in my first parish council election.  The last was slightly hilarious because my Calculus I teacher, an ex-seminarian, was running, and my voting against him did not prevent his successful election.

The second year was another story.  I decided to get involved in Newman.  Newman had very strong group cohesion, one which was partly a product of the spiritual movement there and partly a by-product of Aggie culture.  There I met people of my age who were serious Christians, something I had never done before.  They challenged me in ways that I had not experienced before.  They also introduced me to a coffeehouse ministry which, although a non-denominational counselling centre, had about a third of its staff as Roman Catholics.

My reaction to this was a combination of interest and reservations.  The interest of course was in the strong Christian fellowship to which I was instinctively attracted to.  That is what the New Testament had in mind, but up to then I had never seen it.  It was also good to run with people who put God first.

The reservations were along two lines.  The first was the distinctively anti-intellectual tendency of most of the Christians around me.  That was part and parcel with a good deal of the “Jesus Movement” Christianity of the era, a reaction to what the liberals had done with the faith.  But my intellectual interests were the opposite, primarily St. Thomas Aquinas.  But that in turn ran counter to a good deal of post-Vatican II Catholicism.

The second was the gnawing feeling that a great deal that I was experiencing was unsustainable.  I tend to spend too much time in the future; what would happen when the party was over?  And, coming from where I did, I realised that there were many out there who would shut the party down if they had a chance.  (The jury is still very much out on whether they will pull this off or not).

The result of this conflict was a year and a half internal tug of war, writing this in the middle of the thing.  But in the end–with some help from my parish priest back home–I made the decision to “go with the flow” in the living water.  The result was a grand last year at A&M, which offset my parents’ crumbling marriage back home and a challenging senior year in engineering.

I would be the first to admit that people in those times got into many strange things.  But Aggies are a practical bunch.  Most of the people I knew ended up in successful careers, stable marriages and families, and a continued commitment to God.  That kind of practicality made it easier to avoid things like covenant communities or outright communes.

That’s the kind of thing you like to take away from your time at university.  Texas A&M is more than an institution of higher learning; it is an experience, one like no other.  For me, the core of that was the spiritual transformation.  People say that an education cannot be taken away from you; in this case, the positive result is eternal.

No Dogs or…: Honduras Brings Back the Concession Areas

That, basically, is what the Hondurans are doing:

The government of Honduras has signed a deal with private investors for the construction of three privately run cities with their own legal and tax systems.

The memorandum of agreement signed Tuesday is part of a controversial experiment meant to bring badly needed economic growth to this small Central American country. Its weak government and failing infrastructure are being overwhelmed by corruption, drug-linked crime and lingering instability from a 2009 political coup.

Students of history (and there are fewer good ones with each passing day) will remember that, in the wake of the Opium Wars, the European powers carved out “concession” areas in major cities in Old China. In these areas Europeans were not subject to Chinese law at all.  This was the origin of the infamous “No Dogs or Chinese” sign in old Shanghai.  The concessions were a source of a great deal of resentment among the Chinese, and the Communists used that to help secure their victory.  We saw the same pattern in the Ottoman Empire as well.

What the Hondurans are doing is no different.  They’re a form of concession, albeit to private corporations instead of governments.  And I think that the long-term results will be no different from the ones we saw with the Chinese or the Middle Easterners: resentment.

It will be pleasant for the “foreign devils” that live there, but in the long run we may pay a higher price than we think.

A Pentecostal Finally Gets It on the Eucharist

It took long enough, but Jonathan Martin finally “threw his wallet on the table” about this:

I do not hold to the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation-it is too speculative for my taste. But I do believe very much in real presence, that there is a mysterious way that we partake in the presence and power of God when we come to eat and drink. That said, I love the emphasis in Catholic tradition that there is something objectively true on the table, something you can stake your life on. When I finally got around to Thomas Merton’s famous memoir of conversion, The Seven Storey Mountain, I was surprised to find myself largely unmoved. But the one part that haunted me was where he wrote that the main reason he wanted to live in a monastery was to abide under the same roof as “the host,” to be in the same space as the elements. Even as one who doesn’t believe in transubstantiation, that moved me-the hunger to be where the meal is, because you believe that deeply that God is at work in it.

Most regular readers of this blog know that I have advocated this for a long time.  I do have a couple of comments about this.

First, re his comments about transubstantiation, it’s a very technical concept, but even Catholics who are very familiar with the Church’s teaching on the subject will admit that it isn’t the only way to explain the transformation that takes place in the Eucharist.  The Orthodox believe in the real presence without transubstantiation, and of course Martin mentions Wesley and Luther.

Second, I don’t feel the compulsion that he does for a specifically “Pentecostal” theology on this or a variety of other subjects.  I think if we really believe that what the Church experienced in Acts is still for today, that we don’t need to carve out a theological niche for ourselves.  And we don’t need to set certain types of Christianity or certain periods of the history of the church as “off-limits”.

But this is good news.  The reaction to this will be interesting.

Affordability and Morality in our Social Welfare System

Janet Daley in the Telegraph lays out the stark choices we face:

What is being challenged is nothing less than the most basic premise of the politics of the centre ground: that you can have free market economics and a democratic socialist welfare system at the same time. The magic formula in which the wealth produced by the market economy is redistributed by the state – from those who produce it to those whom the government believes deserve it – has gone bust. The crash of 2008 exposed a devastating truth that went much deeper than the discovery of a generation of delinquent bankers, or a transitory property bubble. It has become apparent to anyone with a grip on economic reality that free markets simply cannot produce enough wealth to support the sort of universal entitlement programmes which the populations of democratic countries have been led to expect. The fantasy may be sustained for a while by the relentless production of phoney money to fund benefits and job-creation projects, until the economy is turned into a meaningless internal recycling mechanism in the style of the old Soviet Union.

Or else democratically elected governments can be replaced by puppet austerity regimes which are free to ignore the protests of the populace when they are deprived of their promised entitlements. You can, in other words, decide to debauch the currency which underwrites the market economy, or you can dispense with democracy. Both of these possible solutions are currently being tried in the European Union, whose leaders are reduced to talking sinister gibberish in order to evade the obvious conclusion: the myth of a democratic socialist society funded by capitalism is finished. This is the defining political problem of the early 21st century.

As the Democratic Convention gets under way in Charlotte, this is the key question, one which will not get a proper answer there and got a more fulfilling (but not entirely) one at the Republican gathering last week.

Most liberals believe that we have a “moral” obligation to create and finance an extensive social net.  Partly because of upbringing and partly because of the 1960’s, I’m soured on the concept of “liberal morality”.  That being so, the key problem here is this: there can be no welfare state of any kind without a productive sector supporting it.  If you kill the productive sector through disincentives such as high taxation and unreasonable regulation, the social net will become unaffordable and go with it.  That’s what’s being faced on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the days of the New Deal and the Beveridge Commission, expectations were relatively low, demographics for a productive workforce were stronger and politicians were practical enough to understand that a balance had to be struck.  (Well, most of the time…)  So the social nets started out as affordable.  Now we have electorates with unrealistic expectations and more elderly demographics, and between the two we have passed the critical point of affordability.  Thus the entire social model in the West is in serious trouble.

One time I read an interview with Willem Drees, the architect of the Dutch social net.  He said that the social welfare system was set up for those who really needed help and not just to put every high school drop-out on the dole.  In the years after World War II the Dutch managed to put together a booming economy and a social safety net in this way:

Drees was closely tied to the years in which the Netherlands was recovering from World War II. The economy had to be kick-started and everyone had to lend a hand. The emphasis was placed on cooperation rather than conflict. Employees agreed to low wages to achieve a competitive position for the Netherlands in respect of other countries. This meant that most people had to postpone buying a car or a television set. In politics, cooperation was the top priority, even though polarisation was ingrained in Dutch society during those years and most of the Dutch lived their lives within their own small social circle. Catholic boys joined a Catholic football club, socialists joined a socialist hiking association.

Drees himself was personally thrifty and austere, and that was reflected in his policies.  Today’s Boomers are anything but, which is why they’ve spent their way through the last decade and into this one.

The Christian Church had the same issues in New Testament times.  It rose to the occasion and created its own safety net in a society which tended to throw away people (literally, in the case of exposure.)  So a balance had to be struck here as well:

For you know well that you ought to follow our example. When we were with you, our life was not ill-ordered, Nor did we eat any one’s bread without paying for it. Night and day, labouring and toiling, we used to work at our trades, so as not to be a burden upon any of you. This was not because we had not a right to receive support, but our object was to give you a pattern for you to copy. Indeed, when we were with you, what we urged upon you was– ‘If a man does not choose to work, then he shall not eat.’ We hear that there are among you people who are living ill- ordered lives, and who, instead of attending to their own business, are mere busy-bodies. All such people we urge, and entreat, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to attend quietly to their business, and earn their own living. (2 Thessalonians 3:7-12)

How we plan to discuss this need for sense in a political system lacking in it remains to be seen.  But papering over the productivity issue–which we will see a lot of in Charlotte this week–isn’t the answer.

Stewart Henderson: Whose Idea of Fun is a Nightmare

(Dovetail DOVE 35) 1975

One of the most difficult genres of albums to sell is the spoken word. That’s because it’s not easy to sustain the listener’s interest over a sustained period. Long talking head videos have the same problem.

This album is a glorious exception to that. Henderson, originally from Liverpool, regales us with hilarious (and profound) humour that entertains, holds the interest and provokes thought. He uses some interesting music to spice things up as well. It’s too English in spots for Americans to fully grasp, and some of his humour is a little dated, but this gem shows that Christian comedy doesn’t have to be banal.

Henderson, a poetry reader for the BBC, is presently collaborating with Martyn Joseph on their CD Because We Can.

The poems (for individual download:)

    1. Intro
    2. And I Received A Vision
    3. Way Past My Birth Time
  1. My Garden used To Look Ever So Nice
  2. Mind The Doors
  3. Yours, Not Ours
  4. Vegetarian Love Poem
  5. Splintered Messiah
  6. She Wrote This Poem, I Just Typed The Words
  7. To Write Of Love
  8. I Die Now
  9. I’m Dousing Myself With Cosmetics
  10. Crack, Rap, Snap
  11. Incident From A Sleeping Head
  12. Hammersmith Dream
  13. Typewriter Poem
  14. Poem For A Big Al
  15. Who Never Gets In The New Year’s Honours List

Atheists in the Pulpit? The Last Step, but Not the First

Albert Mohler documents the rise of the “Clergy Project”:

The Clergy Project’s own statement is even more blunt, describing itself as “a confidential online community for active and former clergy who do not hold supernatural beliefs.” Most people, believers and unbelievers alike, are no doubt in the habit of thinking that the Christian ministry requires supernatural beliefs. That assumption is what Richard Dawkins and the Clergy Project want to subvert. More precisely, they want to use the existence of unbelieving pastors to embarrass the church and weaken theism.

Atheist clergy may be the last step in the corruption of people of the cloth, but it certainly isn’t the first.  The saga of the fall of the Episcopal Church began when its clergy began to doubt and cast off the essentials of the Christian faith.  The rot then spread to the laity.  Denial of doctrines such as the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection and other key beliefs antedated the controversies that engulf our times.  That may be hard to remember for some, but it’s a fact.  And I have heard snippets, over the years, that certain Episcopal clergy didn’t believe in God.

That, of course, makes atheist clergy an interesting situation in liberal churches:

Dennett and LaScola made a very interesting and important observation in their research report. They acknowledged that defining an unbelieving pastor is actually quite difficult. Given the fact that so many liberal churches and denominations already believe so little, how is atheism really different? In the name of tolerance, the liberal denominations have embraced so much unbelief that atheism is a practical challenge.

From a Christian standpoint, the only way something like this and the unbeliefs that led up to it can stand is when the church is characterised as a social agency and not the Body of Christ.  Once you do that, the church is no different from the ill-starred Komen Foundation.

I also found this distasteful as well:

Why didn’t they just resign? Most shockingly, some openly spoke of losing their salaries as the main concern. So much for intellectual honesty.

The truth of the matter is that atheist clergy who stay are no better than the likes of Robert Tilton, for whom the money was the deal both doctrinally and personally.  They can set themselves up in the usual liberal self-righteousness but in the end if it’s all about the money and a career it’s no different.