A Warm Reception

I posted this piece before WordPress times and thought it could use reposting now, with a few modifications.

On 4 July 1911, the citizens of Houma, Louisiana, in Terrebonne Parish, gathered together to celebrate the 135th birthday of the United States. The concept of a Fourth of July celebration in South Louisiana is interesting in itself, given that this part of the U.S. is very unique in many ways. One thing that wasn’t unique was that the politicians showed up to deliver speeches. One of these was Judge W.P. Martin, and he began his speech as follows:

Ladies and Gentlemen: At the outset permit me to thank you for your warm reception. I cannot say that it is unexpected because Terrebonne has always been generous with me in the distribution of her favors. Some of the happiest days of my boyhood were spent among you and many of my warmest and dearest friends are in this Parish. Terrebonne has always extended me a WARM reception. When as a young man I courted the favors of the fair sex, other young men who were courting the same girls saw to it that I received a WARM reception. When I sought political preference, my opponents here extended me a WARM reception. And when in the course of human events, I shall shuffle off this mortal coil, it is my earnest hope that my reception in the world to come will not be as WARM as it has always been in the Parish of Terrebone.

If you want to avoid a warm reception in eternity, click here.

Running Scared: My Response to a Baptist Pastor on the Millennials

It’s not often that Vox gives a voice (which is what they’re supposed to do) to a Baptist, but one John Thornton, Jr., a youth pastor in North Carolina, has written an intriguing article about why millennials are so anxious and burnt out these days.  As a college professor who teaches in a state which is more Baptistic than North Carolina (more about that later,) I get to teach many of those millennials who are handed off to me after their youth pastors are done with them.  He’s said some things that need to be said, although my solution to the problem may differ from his.

Let’s start with the good part: I basically agree with his core thesis, which runs like this:

About a year ago, I decided I wanted to find out more about their lives. I’d heard from parents, teachers, and friends with children that kids today live increasingly busy and stressful lives compared to previous generations. I wanted to know not only what that looked like but how the kids themselves felt and thought about it. What I discovered gave me a good deal of pause about the world kids live in today and what it’s doing to them.

We hear a great deal about “snowflakes,” especially at the collegiate level.  I don’t think that’s justified.  What we have is a generation that’s running scared, one which has so much uncertainty under the surface that they really want to shut out anything that might upset the apple cart, including free speech, due process, etc.  If we want to get to the root of the problem we must understand what it is.  I think that the current anxious state of the millennials stems from four trends in our society that are driving their angst.

The first is the collapse of stable families.  The family is the first institution, one that antedates the state, and it’s the first one that we are exposed to as humans.  To live in a society where a family unit can collapse just because someone take a notion to find self-fulfilment is enough by itself to inspire anxiety.  Now the state exercises unprecedented power to interfere in the life of the family, inducing more uncertainty.

The second is the impact of environmentalism as a religion, and American environmentalism in particular, which regards the human race as unwanted and profligate intruders in the pristine wilderness they envision we started with.  That’s a major shift from the Christian concept that we are the pinnacle of creation, charged with the responsible stewardship of God’s creation.  The message today to all of us is that we don’t deserve to be here, although those who proclaim this the most loudly are in no hurry to lead the way to the exit.  Put another way, we have transitioned from being the GOAT (current usage, Greatest Of All Time) to the goat (my mother’s usage, the capricious barnyard animal that butts or the human counterpart.)

The third is our deteriorating economic underpinnings.  Thornton gets this:

Between 30 years of stagnant wages, the rising costs of housing, health care, and education, and a recession just as many of us graduated from college, it’s no wonder that millennials are on course to do financially worse than previous generations, just as Gen X did before us.

To this I would add our national debt, which has passed the point of no return.

The fourth is the warp speed advance of technology, which both creates and destroys careers.  This is amplified by the fact that, instead of buffering our people from the downside effects , it seems to amplify them.

Thornton sums up the result of all this:

While many of us who work with kids don’t want to name the likelihood that the generation behind us will do even worse than us, it’s hard not to see that we communicate it to them regardless. These kids aren’t even being told that the point of all the work and the stress is a better life — they’re being told it’s necessary just to survive.

So we come to the great questions the Russians like to ask: what is to be done? Thornton isn’t much at answering this, but his description of how our schools are approaching the problem is worth the read.  From his description of that “solution” it seems to me that it too is part of the problem.

The United States has gone on so long and been so successful that it has lulled its people into a false sense of security.  That only amplified the tendency of people to drift through life and just go along with the culture.   One of the things that separates people at the top of society from those at the bottom is the fact that the former tend to be more goal-oriented, which requires people to think ahead.  What the schools are trying to do is to push the ethic at the top down.  The problem is that they’re going about it the wrong way.  They’re trying to instil a careerist and corporatist ethic with an emphasis on socialisation, which gives them (assuming it works) a motivated workforce that won’t challenge the existing order.

What they need to do is to teach our people to think, and let their innate desire for personal improvement to take them where they can go.  Traditionally that’s done through the arts, but it can (and should) also be done through the sciences, especially mathematics.  It’s interesting to note that this is done in places like China, Russia and Iran, where the state is stronger and has the means and the will to keep the existing order in place.  That’s the risk: if you teach people to think, they will discover the extensive cognitive dissonance they are presented with and try to do something about it.  The current Exhibit A for this is France, where a people educated with that Cartesian logic realise that things aren’t working out as they thought they would or should.  Macron, taking a leaf from the B-school types in the Anglophone world, will try a managed debate in the context of a managed democracy, but whether that will work in France is still an open question.

Getting our school system changed in this way is a long and difficult process, filled with opposition from those who benefit from the current state of affairs.  But let’s consider this from another angle: what should Christian churches do in the face of this anxiety level?  I think that’s the question that Thornton, as a youth pastor, would like to get answered, and I would say that it is for me also.

Let me start by replicating a brief post I did three years ago:

From The World of Mathematics, this quotation from the British mathematician Augustus de Morgan:

I commend my future with hope and confidence to Almighty God; to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, whom I believe in my heart to be the Son of God but whom I have not confessed with my lips, because in my time such confession has always been the way up in the world.

Jesus Christ is still the “way up” in eternity.  But de Morgan’s problem of confessing Christianity as a way of worldly advancement has pretty much been solved both here and in the UK.  The sooner we come to grips with what that means, the better.

The basic problem we have in Evangelical Christianity is that it has been sold as the “way up” in this world.  DeMorgan lived in an England where membership in the established church was either a necessary or facilitating way to obtain positions and status in society.  It’s ironic that the Baptists, who strived to disestablish the same established church in places like North Carolina (and succeeded,) would eventually turn to make being a respectable religion a key part of their appeal.  And those who came behind the Southern Baptists have followed suit in one way or another.

But now Christianity’s appeal to be the “way up” in this life as a prelude to the next doesn’t work the way it used to, if it ever really worked at all.  And that’s the way it should be.  Jesus Christ did not come into this world to affirm the careerism that was and is endemic in the Middle East and now on these shores.  Instead we need to be presenting Christianity as an alternative to the careerist rat race that’s set before us, that ultimate happiness in this life and the next doesn’t come from checking off our bucket list or getting the dream career or even “changing the world” (and you should always be careful whom you’re shilling for.)  Most importantly of all, we need to make it clear that being a Christian will cost you.  There are things you may never get to do, schools you’ll never (or shouldn’t) go to, and positions you’ll never take.  But the joy of following Jesus daily will more than offset those losses, that joy buttressed by the fellowship of other Christians.

That’s what the New Testament sets forth.  Are we prepared to live it?  That’s the question in front of us, and we need to answer it quickly.

Beto O’Rourke, the Party Animals Favourite

It looks like the Democratic nomination race for 2020 (not in 2020, it’s already started) will be a crowded one.  Like the Republican race in 2016, a large field makes for an unpredictable result.  Last week we looked at Elizabeth Warren, that resentful Scots-Irish (and just about the last one in her party.)  This week I’ll take a quick look at Beto O’Rourke, the non-Hispanic who came too close for comfort to unseating Ted Cruz as Texas’ junior Senator.

He’s currently the darling to many in and out of his party.  But why?  Without having to rewrite everything, let me go back to a 2016 post:

Having grown up at the upper reaches of this society and not the lower ones, I can say with confidence that our elites, under all the gaudy rhetoric, have two basic priorities in life: getting laid and getting high or drunk, which facilitates Priority #1. Look at what’s been at the top of the agenda: contraception, abortion, the LGBT movement, the transgenders, all of it. It’s all about sex. That’s why real economic equality (and the economic development that makes it possible) has taken a back seat. And it doesn’t hurt that a society where wealth generation is held back tends to concentrate what’s left at the top.

O’Malley and his ilk in the pro-life movement have always spoken of a “culture of death.” But that’s not what this is really all about. It’s about a thrill-obsessed culture that’s ready to sacrifice anything, everything, anyone and everyone to kill the pain of its own worthlessness. The Democrats’ lame attempt to frame the issue on the timing of children was just that, as O’Malley justly points out.

That priority set–one that’s been a long time out there–makes O’Rourke a strong contender.  His street cred with the progressives leaves much to be desired, but hey, isn’t being in a rock band with the drunk driving to go with it more important?

I don’t think–and there’s nothing that you can say to convince me otherwise–that a country whose leading people are so sybaritic that their lives and political convictions revolve around pleasure is going to stay great very long.  Sooner or later someone with their eye on the ball (as opposed to those who, impaired, struggle to focus) is going to get ahead of us, and there are suitable candidates out there who fit the bill.  I’m not talking about never having a good time: I’m talking about making it a religion, right above global warming.

And it’s hurt them when they’re in power.  I still think that Barack Obama, had he approached his task with more vigour, could have delivered the death blow to the Republicans as a viable national party if he had concentrated on that and not spent so much time playing golf, hanging with Reggie Love, etc..

But I guess that such efficient energy defeats the whole purpose.

Elizabeth Warren and the Resentful Scots-Irish

Visits from grandparents are the joy of many families.  For us, it was usually the other way around.  After we we bounced from Chicago to Chattanooga to Palm Beach, we lived on the other side of the Palm Beach Country Club from my father’s mother.  With my mother’s parents, we usually went to Arkansas to see them.  They only came to visit us in Palm Beach once.  And it was enough: in a letter my grandmother wrote to a friend in Chicago, she noted the following:

I know when Vernell (my mother) lived in Chicago, and when I would stay several weeks at a time when the boys were Babies, how hungry I would be to be with God(‘s) children in an old time church.  And now they live in Palm Beach, Florida, and the same thing, and when folks aren’t spiritual minded they don’t care about the Lord nor his church in this world…

The idea of “the remnant”–that there are just a few of us hanging on to God–was born around the time the Israelites faced their first exile in Babylon with the destruction of the First Temple.  It’s one that’s resurfaced many times.  Church growth types decry the attitude of “us four and no more” but if you get enough “us fours” you can have quite a movement, and that was the reality of much of Southern Evangelicalism for many years.

What really strikes me about this more than half a century after she wrote it is the contrast to the fawning, sycophantic attitude towards wealth and the people it accumulates to (and the places they live) that is now standard in churches.  It didn’t matter that Palm Beach was and is one of the wealthiest communities in the United States; a proper Christian church was absent, thus it wasn’t a good place.  That reflects the attitude that eternity is what really matters.  It’s tempting to criticise (as N.T. Wright is wont to do) that it’s escapist and reduces the relevance of Christianity in this world.  But that’s not really true either: the legacy of “escapist” Southern Evangelicals is alive and well in ways that have been obscured by political shifts, but need to be re-examined.

The main thing Southern Evangelicals are remembered for is being atrocious racists. And there’s no doubt about that.  But buried in that web is a class element, too.  Descendants of a class-stratified British society, Americans in general like to think that they’ve gotten beyond class.  But it’s easier said than done, especially in the South.  Black people posed a perpetual economic threat for a people whose capacity for efficient work was fitful at best. That’s why they worked so hard to keep them down.

But the same people who despised those below them resented those above them as well.  After Reconstruction they sized control of state governments from those who had led them in the Lost Cause, instituting some of the rawest populism this Republic has seen before or since.  They tightly regulated activities that fuelled those they displaced, such as alcohol consumption.  (They also tightly regulated utilities, too.)  And the class-stratified nature of Southern Christianity insured that no one had to see someone from the “other side” of anything on Sunday morning, with their attitude buttressed by Scriptures such as the following:

Let a Brother in humble circumstances be proud of his exalted position, but a rich Brother of his humiliation; For the rich man will pass away ‘like the flower of the grass.’ As the sun rises, and the hot wind blows, ‘the grass withers, its flower fades,’ and all its beauty is gone. So is it with the rich man. In the midst of his pursuits he will come to an untimely end. (James 1:9-11 TCNT)

And they voted Democrat, reliably and Yellow Dog.  Their voter participation rates were below their Northern counterparts and and many of those when they elected were corrupt and/or of atrocious personal morals.  Today white Evangelicals are criticised for voting for Republicans with similar problems, but I guess it doesn’t matter when they’re Democrats.

But many of them took their populism to Washington and voted accordingly.  It’s easy to forget, but they also voted for such things as restrictive banking laws and 70% top marginal income tax rates.  People like Carter Glass and Wright Patman ruled the roost; LBJ himself physically bullied the head of the Federal Reserve.  Buoyed by this and the egalitarian spirit of a generation that fought World War II together, income equality had its golden age between 1945 and 1975, and it’s gone down ever since.

And that brings us to Elizabeth Warren.  As we’ve pointed out before, she’s not much of an Indian, but she’s certainly a Scots-Irish redneck.  She’s probably her party’s best heir to the legacy of Glass and Patman (to say nothing of Huey Long.)  Her circuitous route to fame through Harvard and Massachusetts is due to the fact that her fellow Scots-Irish have abandoned the Democrat Party.  But will her own brand of populism resonate in her own party now, especially since with the sexual revolution they have abandoned Christianity?

In spite of fifty years of growing income inequality, Americans are still in denial about the reality of class inequality.  The left has addressed this by obsessing with intersectional identity politics.  The result of this that, while a few people have moved up, it’s easier to obscure the regressive nature of the society in virtue-signalling rhetoric.  As long as this is true inequality will continue to grow even if the Democrats get rid of their bête noire.  (That’s the unheeded lesson of the Obama years.)

Warren’s ancestors harboured a great deal of resentment towards those above them and shaped a great deal of public policy as a consequence of that resentment.  That’s what it’s going to take to get the kinds of policies passed the Democratic Socialists want, not the reality-obscuring intersectionality that dominates leftist rhetoric.  Whether they’re ready to appeal to a mentality that resents Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey as much as it resents the Kochs remains to be seen.  Whether the Democrats are ready to embrace someone like Elizabeth Warren also remains to be seen.  At this point I doubt it, but those who would discount a Scots-Irish politician would do well to remember Bill Clinton.

But the Democrats better make up their mind quickly.  If they’re gunning for the resentment vote, chances are Donald Trump has beaten them to it, and getting it back won’t be an overnight proposition.

What the Hashtag #straightouttairondale Means, and Why Traditional Catholics Need to Use It

I recently got an email from one of my visitors which went as follows:

came across the hashtag #straightouttairondale in some of your posts and wonder what it refers to …

My response:

It refers to trad (traditional) Catholics, who frequently (unless they’re TLM (Traditional Latin Mass) diehards) take their inspiration from EWTN, whose headquarters is in Irondale, AL…

Also, the movie which documented the start of rap music was called “Straight Outta Compton.”

Put the two together and you get…

#straightouttairondale

It’s cool.  It makes a point.  Use it.

Why I’m Leaving Facebook

It’s another New Year, an opportunity (hopefully) to do better than before. I’m taking the opportunity for new beginnings to do something I’ve thought about for a long time: leave Facebook. After nearly a decade on the medium (with the enormous amount of time to show for it) I’ve had enough. I’ll be leaving shortly. And I’m not alone either.

I like to take the long view of things, and that long view involves this site and its companions. I’ve been at this website thing for 21 years, had an internet presence long before the advent of social media or even the blogosphere. In the last decade that blogosphere reigned supreme, and although I was slow to adopt a real blogging platform I eventually did so. By that time social media was getting going and it has, tbh, eclipsed much of the activity of site such as this.

But deep down, I’ve always disliked the idea of being dependent upon someone else for expression. The internet, IMHO, was always supposed to be the place where ideas and knowledge could be disseminated openly, and being forced into a “gated community” like Facebook was never really to my taste. I always felt that, since it was their medium, they could control what went on it, and what you put on it one day could be altered or removed the next. But I was in the minority: the attitude was “this is great, what could go wrong?”

We now know what did go wrong: the medium was manipulated in many different ways, some with the connivance of Facebook, some without. And, of course, many on Facebook expressed their opinions which were, and are, contrary to the idea of the hegemons that control it. (Frankly I’m surprised they let it go on as long as they did, although this too contributed to their revenue stream.) The clampdown came, the people reacted in glee or horror, but the end result is that the growth of Facebook has stalled in this country and people’s trust in it across the political spectrum has diminished.

Much of that lack of trust as stemmed not only from the issue of manipulation but also from the data gathering problem. That too exposed peoples’ lack of sophistication. Anyone who has been online for any length of time and has thought about what is going one realises that anything to say or post on this medium–inside or outside the gated community–is is reality permanent and, like a police interrogation, can and will be used against you. I always tried to watch what I posted there, but it was still creepy when, while my wife attempted to make travel arrangements for our next trip, ads for hotels right where she was looking would pop up on Facebook. Obviously algorithms have outrun human caution.

As far as the experience, on the whole Facebook has been positive but time consuming. I’ve connected with many people, and those connections have lacked the acrimony (for the most part) others have experienced. As a medium to disseminate prayer requests and news, it has worked well. Two things stand out: one is my mother-in-law’s death over five years ago, where it’s easy to forget people who pass with so many miles (or kilometres) on the odometer. The other is my cousin’s trip to Jerusalem during the Temple Mount Rumble in 2017; she documented that event, complete with gunfire, while most reporters fled for safety. One thing that has become evident–and has driven my decision to depart–is that Facebook is limiting both what I look at from others and what others look at from me, and that defeats the whole purpose of the medium.

I’ll still be out there on social media; my Twitter feed is featured on this blog, and I’m also active on LinkedIn, to say nothing about this place and its companions. But with limited time and resources, I have to put them where they advance my objectives, and Facebook just doesn’t do that at this point. It’s been a good ride, but it’s time to move on.