It’s All About Moving Up, Only the Ladder Changes

Consider this nasty, self-righteous screed:

Christianity has died in the hands of Evangelicals. Evangelicalism ceased being a religious faith tradition following Jesus’ teachings concerning justice for the betterment of humanity when it made a Faustian bargain for the sake of political influence.

It’s amazing that people can so lack self-reflection that they don’t see they’ve destroyed themselves in the first sentence.  If the Christian Left isn’t about currying favour with the opposite side of the spectrum, by twisting the Gospel to conform with those whose first goal is to get laid, high or drunk, than I don’t know what it is.  As Julian Assange pointed out a while back:

The received wisdom in advanced capitalist societies is that there still exists an organic “civil society sector” in which institutions form autonomously and come together to manifest the interests and will of citizens. The fable has it that the boundaries of this sector are respected by actors from government and the “private sector,” leaving a safe space for NGOs and nonprofits to advocate for things like human rights, free speech and accountable government.

This sounds like a great idea. But if it was ever true, it has not been for decades. Since at least the 1970s, authentic actors like unions and churches have folded under a sustained assault by free-market statism, transforming “civil society” into a buyer’s market for political factions and corporate interests looking to exert influence at arm’s length. The last forty years have seen a huge proliferation of think tanks and political NGOs whose purpose, beneath all the verbiage, is to execute political agendas by proxy.

Or to put it more directly, everyone–including the self-righteous lefties–is shilling for someone.  Everyone wants to move up, the main difference is the ladder each has chosen to climb.

There was a time when ex-officials of the state were not permitted to be ministers or priest on account of the corruptionThere was even a time when the faithful were not permitted to vote, although the reasons for that were as much a secular insult as a spiritual one.  Now we’re all expected to be political animals, and enthusiastic ones at that.  We’re not permitted to admit that we were forced into this game by the wish to stay out of jail.

Personally I find all the climbing by people who profess and call themselves Christians hard to take.  But it’s the American way.  I guess we’re stuck with it for the time being, but the left doesn’t have any business being in denial about what they’re really trying to do.

In Defence of Prog

It was a sorry moment on Twitter when I found the Atlantic‘s James Parker’s “book review” on David Weigel’s The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock.  It’s not as much a book review as an assault on “prog” as it’s called.  Given that everything else “progressive” gets good press in the Atlantic, that strikes me as odd.  So I think it’s time for me to Stand Up (pun intended) for the one form of secular rock that really made an impact on me.

It’s not an understatement to say that, for a span of about four years (later years in prep school and first years as an undergraduate) prog rock dominated the turntable.  Principally it was Jethro Tull, but Emerson Lake & Palmer, the Moody Blues (and later Mike Oldfield, Kevin Ayers and 10cc) joined the domination.  They turned into tour guides on my 1976 trip to the UK, leading me to places such as the Fulham Road and Hergest Ridge.  The obvious question, then and now, is “What did you see in these groups?”  Prog, more than any other type of rock, is an acquired taste, and it’s one of those things that was acquired first and the “why” figured out later, if ever.

The first was that they were all British, or more broadly unAmerican.  To be raised where I was resulted in being raised out of touch with much of American life, and what most Americans thought important wasn’t on the radar screen.  The endless “hick moving to town” theme meant nothing to me.  Prog was a way to escape a culture I didn’t like and, in some ways, didn’t like me.

The second was, believe it or not, a product of church upbringing.  Let’s put it this way: when people raised on the “Red Back Hymnal” (one former Church of God state overseer refers to it as the “Red Neck Hymnal”) got into rock, they listened to Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, who themselves were raised in that kind of church.  For someone like me who was raised on the Episcopal 1940 Hymnal, prog artists like ELP fit the bill, to say nothing of Jethro Tull’s Aqualung.

That underscores another aspect of prog that’s forgotten: many prog artists, such as Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman, had classical training.  ELP’s Pictures at an Exhibition is, in many ways, the best rendition of Mussorgsky’s piano piece; Ravel is too restrained.  There was also Tull’s Bourée.  But classical influences and training are, usually, the kiss of death on this side of the Atlantic.

Parker’s characterisation of prog as the “whitest music” only shows his uncritical acceptance (along with much of the American left) of the white supremacists‘ racial model.  Prog is better described as European, as opposed to American.  That’s in evidence in the rhythmic clapping during Mike Oldfield’s Exposed (his live album of a Continental tour) rendition of Incantations.  His use of Longfellow’s Hiawatha as an “incantation” is hilarious, but much of his music had a satirical underpinning.  To look at things differently, at the time country and Southern gospel were very “white” forms of music, but the result is entirely different.

Getting back to the UK trip, in addition to a guide it was a nice mental soundtrack, from 10cc’s fine motorway driving music at the start of How Dare You! to the late Lindsay Cooper’s haunting oboe solo at the top of Hergest Ridge.  Such were things that, in the day, made life sweet.So how did I “get past” prog?  That’s easy: it wasn’t that I tired of the music, but I tired of the message.  That occasioned a culture shock, but also a shift in music styles to what you see on this site.    There’s certainly Christian prog, but there isn’t a lot of it, and it was years before I found it.

Progressive music was the product of a world with universal health care, planned urban spaces and public transportation (as the Baker Street Muse knew all too well.)  Nearly a half century later, these are mostly unrealised in these United States.  Those who wanted them to happen and survived the years of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll should have worried about something else than what happens when the hick moves to town.

As for me, I think I’ll stick with the show that really, truly, never ends.  But leave my prog alone.

Bolshevik Revolution: Ten Days That Shook the World Still Shake

The Cruiser Aurora, where the “first shot” of the Bolshevik Revolution came from and began seventy years of communism. From a Soviet-era photograph in then Leningrad.

This week we remember the Bolshevik Revolution.  I’d have to say that the “ten days that shook the world” (to use John Reed’s phrase) have certainly shaken my life.  But it was the back end of that revolution–the collapse of the Soviet Union and its aftermath–where things really got interesting for me, and the world looks different after that experience.

A video of a 1990 trip to the then Soviet Union:

I’ve done many pieces on the subject, some of them are as follows:

And a couple of more videos…

The Shifting Sands of American Law

In the midst of a thumbs-up for the estate tax repeal and the step-up basis retention, a warning:

If the bill is passed without changes to these provisions, then planning will focus on maximizing basis step-up at death, perhaps with additional lifetime gift planning in anticipation of a reasonably likely future return of the estate tax in the future when political tides shift.

And shift they will.  American politics and law are cyclical; today’s fashion is tomorrow’s crime.  To have a properly functioning economic system one must have a legal system that is both transparent and stable, and ours is less of both as time goes by.  Thus, people have less incentive to build wealth under one legal framework only to see it change to another.  The only people who manage to survive these rough seas are those who either anchor their wealth offshore (and don’t mind getting outed occasionally) or those whose wealth/corporations are big enough to buy the influence necessary to keep their place.

In my years in business, this was a persistent problem, especially when we got the feeling that a target was being painted on our back.  It’s unreasonable to expect people to provide jobs under these conditions, and it’s amazing that our economy has retained the vitality it has under the conditions to which it has been subjected.

Evangelicals Took Over the Church of England? So What?

An eye-opener, indeed:

Fifty years later there’s good reason for evangelicals to believe Stott’s argument ultimately won the day. For instance, unlike his more liberal predecessor, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is a charismatic evangelical (and a member of Holy Trinity Brompton before he was ordained), and his counterpart in York, John Sentamu, comes from an evangelical background too. As Rev Dr Ian Paul, who sits on the Archbishops’ Council notes, while previous generations of evangelicals ignored senior establishment posts, today’s evangelicals are taking them on, so when it comes to its senior leadership, “the Church of England is more evangelical than it’s ever been”. According to Dr Paul, the growth of the Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) and New Wine networks is further evidence that evangelicals are having a strong impact on the Church. And the trend looks set to continue. Evangelicals now account for 70 per cent of ordinands entering training. A generation ago, the figure was just 30 per cent.

On the other hand…based on the last Welby-directed Primates’ meeting, it should be obvious that what’s being “evangelised” isn’t the Gospel.

There’s no question that the language and methodology of evangelicalism has affected just about all of Christianity, including the Episcopalians (who used to think such things were in bad taste) and #straightouttairondale Roman Catholicism.  But what’s the good news?  That we can live in like fashion to those whose first purpose is to get laid, high or drunk?

One thing that would simplify things or everyone is to make a clean separation of civil marriage from marriage in the church.  That has its problems but it would take some of the pressure from churches to make their idea of marriage conform with that of the state’s.

Stripped of a real Biblical ethic, “evangelicalism” is simply another b-school method of filling pews and offering plates.  God’s church deserves better, but getting that isn’t easy these days.

Healy Willan’s Missa de Sancta Maria Magdelena

It was the “standard” rendition of the Holy Communion when I grew up at Bethesda-by-the-Sea, and the paid youth choir did a proper job of it.  This rendition comes from St. John’s Cathedral in Detroit.

It remains one of the most moving “masses” (that term didn’t sit well with many Episcopalians) I have ever heard, and remains a favourite.

Note that the priest is ad orientem, which can get people into trouble in some places.