I’m Featured in the New Humanist About Working in Heaven

It’s the topic that never seems to go away (sorry!) My first post on this topic was in 2012, but just a few weeks ago I wrote this in response–and amplification–to an article which featured my first post in, of all places, MEL Magazine (a secular publication for men.)

Now Ralph Jones has written a piece for the New Humanist which once again examines this question. And once again my pieces and also an email interview we did are featured.

There are two questions which bother me about this whole issue, at least the way I’ve been involved with it.

The first is this: why are secular publications seemingly more interested in this topic than Christians are? I think the answer is that churches and ministers, thinking that people are more interested in the immediate benefits of following Jesus Christ in this life than the reward on the other side, have emphasised the former at the expense of the latter. The interest in this topic by secular publications such as these challenge this assumption.

This isn’t the first time that a topic of interest has had secular people call out those who profess and call themselves Christians; it happened in 2007-8 when Brendan O’Neill called out Rowan Williams on environmentalism, which I documented in my piece Messing in Our Own Box.

The second is this: am I the only Christian to actively oppose the idea of working in heaven? Or are there other closeted saints who read the Scriptures the same way that I do who are afraid to voice their opinion? That, by definition, is a form of cancel culture.

Things Going Your Way? A Holy Week Reflection

Many of you know that I used to work for the Church of God Department of Lay Ministries.  One of my colleagues, who did most of the graphic design work, was a good friend in addition to being a coworker.  Sometimes he’d greet me with the phrase, “Things going your way?”

It’s an easy way to say “how are you” because you just assume that, if things are going your way, they’re good.  But the more I think about it the more I realise that there’s something missing here.  The assumption that, if things are going your way they’re going the way they should, needs some review.  I was raised in an environment where I was told that it really didn’t matter whether things went your way or not; you just dealt with what was thrown at you.  Finding out that much of the world doesn’t see it that way–especially Christians–has been a life long struggle.

No where is this more evident than full gospel Christianity, with prosperity teaching following.  The idea is very current that, if you’re in God’s will, things will be going your way.  If they’re not, something is wrong with you.  Many people who experience adversity decide that it isn’t them, and that’s the unrolling theodicy disaster we’re seeing now.  The practical application of this is that people–Christians and others–are conditioned to go to pieces when things don’t go their way.  We’ve seen this play out in the past year with the COVID pandemic, but it antedates that.  This kind of attitude makes life in the U.S. very difficult to endure.

Such an attitude is profoundly unBiblical, and the whole story of the Passion and what follows shows this.  From Palm Sunday things go downhill for Our Lord.  First Judas sneaks off, first to make the deal with the Jewish leadership and then to make good on that deal.  The other disciples are erratic at best; they can’t stay awake when Our Lord needs them the most and bail on him when the going gets tough.  He endures gruesome torture and ultimately death by crucifixion, taunted by things like this: “He saved others, but he cannot save himself! He is the ‘King of Israel’! Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He has trusted in God; if God wants him, let him deliver him now; for he said ‘I am God’s Son.'” (Matthew 27:42-43 TCNT)

But then things change: he rises from the dead, turns disciples into apostles by commissioning them to take the good news to the world, ascends into heaven, and sends the Holy Spirit to start the church.  (The church, sadly, has tried to do the job without the Paraclete, and has the results to show it.)

The lesson of this is simple: just because things aren’t going your way just now doesn’t mean that they aren’t going God’s way.  Our first objective in our walk with God is to follow him, not to expect him to follow us.  When we do that we can find the happiness he has for us, both here and on the other side.

Why Did They Cancel Charles and Mary Beard?

I recently completed reading Charles and Mary Beard’s The Rise of American Civilization, which at one time was one of the most influential texts on the subject.  The Beards, as is typical with textbooks in general, frequently revised the text, mostly adding to the end to keep that up to date.  The version I read ended with the inauguration of Franklin Roosevelt, which is an interesting point for me because this narrative started around that time.  Before I get into the subject of “cancellation” (which is somewhat but not entirely anachronistic) I’ll start with a few general impressions.

The first is general impression one gets is that the Beards consider the American nation as above all an economic arrangement, with different propertied groups (and later groups without property) competing for primacy in the system.  They’re a little too close to the events to apply this analysis to the Progressive Era (they could have if they had really wanted to) but overall that’s the impression one gets from the way they handle the facts.

The second is that much of the way I was taught American history (at least up to my high school days) followed the Beard idea in many ways.  That makes sense, because having grown up at the top of the society, an economic interpretation of the history of the Republic is a congenial one to the winners.

The third is that this interpretation gives a cynical tone to the narrative.  It was their idea that this Republic has never had true originalism in Constitutional interpretation, even when the Founding Fathers were alive.  They also note that we were good at waiving the rules when it suited us.  An example of this was the way the Federal government forced Latin American countries to make good on the debts of failed revolutionaries to American banks even when we wrote the repudiation of Confederate debt into the Constitution!

Today the Beards are out of fashion, or cancelled as we would say these days.  Cancellation isn’t anything new, as anyone familiar with damnatio memoriae in Roman history knows.  The difference now is in the speed and method of the cancellation.  But their idea is definitely isn’t what is being presented to Americans–academic or otherwise–on either side of the political spectrum.  The reason for this reflects both the nature of academia and the desires of Americans in how we would like to see ourselves.

As the Beards note, American universities adopted the German model towards the end of the nineteenth century.  That model was driven by research: graduate students conducted research in original topics, defended their idea, and by that process human knowledge is advanced.  The system was developed for the hard sciences, where such advancement, be it in large or small increments, takes place.  That system supposedly displaced the classics based system that the British set up in Colonial times.

That system doesn’t always translate to disciplines outside of the hard sciences very well.  It is subject to being driven more by revisionist desires rather than the advance of knowledge.  In the case of history–and it has been this way since Herodotus–the narrative of history is frequently based on the ideas of the historians–and the times they lived in–as much if not more than the facts in the period under study.

I said that the whole economic bent of the Beards’ viewpoint–one which they shared with their classical Marxist counterparts (as opposed to the cultural kind we have these days)–got to the point where it didn’t sit well with Americans, so they rejected it.  The “point” was World War II.  It’s hard to convince a generation to go, fight and in some cases die for a country that is primarily an “economic arrangement.”  The Beards themselves saw this kind of backlash during World War I and the push towards teaching “Americanism” in schools, and the wake of World War II, especially with the Cold War, this went on steroids.  Americans came to prefer a more “America as an ideal construct,” which went in a number of directions that we now know are seriously at cross-purposes with each other.

Beyond that, an economic view won’t sit well with those who are left behind.  One of the major lacunae of the Beard saga is the South after the Civil War, which just about falls off of the radar screen.  Southerners had to face the hard question, “How did we get left behind?” Instead of focusing on the weaknesses of their own cultures–planter and Scots-Irish together–they changed the subject to things such as states rights, or their problems with the black people, or whatever.  Needless to say those who were on the wrong end of their way liked it even less, which is why we had the civil rights movement sixty years ago and Black Lives Matter today.

It’s interesting to note that one of the Beards’ main detractors was Forrest McDonald, who with Grady McWhiney came up with the “Celtic South” hypothesis, which I have discussed at length on this blog.  While that explains many things that the Beards don’t, it doesn’t change the simple fact that those who do not properly apply themselves to economic advancement are eventually going to be left behind, something that bears repeating in these days of uninformed ideology.

Today our discourse is dominated by people who are driven by their own moral vision, which they think is what this country is all about.  Sooner or later we’re going to have a reality check which will put a stop to this.  The Beards’ economic vision of the United States isn’t one that sits well with many people, but it’s an improvement over what’s being presented now.

The Problem With Social Justice is That It Always Involves Changing Someone Else

Anne Kennedy makes an interesting observation in her piece “What is Really the Problem?”:

Second, human people are wicked. All people. ALL have sinned and fallen well and catastrophically short of the glory of God. All of the cries about white supremacy, white evangelicalism, patriarchy, and racism all illumine the very false and foolish idea that if you or I were able to fix “other” people, and the systems they inhabit, that all the bad things would not any longer happen.

I recently illustrated the social justice thread in the 1928 and 2019 Books of Common Prayer.  But the whole idea of “social justice” has bugged me since the 1960’s for various reasons.  I think that Anne has put her finger on the problem: social justice involves changing someone else rather than yourself.  For someone who came to a religion where the change was personal first, that’s never set well.

One of the things that evangelicals have always said about everyone else who claims the name of Christ is that they are basically cultural Christians who have never made a personal commitment to the Lord Jesus.  Although these churches are good at producing people like that, it’s not universally true.  Growing up as an Episcopalian, I internalised many things from the New Testament, especially the Sermon on the Mount, and found that others had done the same.  Evangelicals in this country tend to ignore the Sermon on the Mount and concentrate on things like the Great Commission and the moral requirements of the faith.  The two trade insults along these lines; both are right and wrong at the same time.

With social justice warriors, it’s always the same: someone else is doing wrong, or is just inherently wrong.  Someone else is bigoted, homophobic, transphobic, the wrong race, the wrong religion, whatever, and must be beaten into submission, cancelled, or thrust into the outer void at the first opportunity.  There’s no real requirement for the warriors to be paragons of virtue at all: as long as they shove their righteousness down everyone else’s throat, they’re fine in their own eyes.

Some of the problem is that we have democratic process.  To get anything done, for better or worse, we must create a bandwagon effect, coupled with bribery at the right places, to achieve our purpose.  If our self-righteous elites would be honest with themselves and the rest of us, stop touting democracy as the ideal and rule in their self-righteous confidence by decree, the dynamic would be different.  But things like that are why our society is fundamentally duplicitous.

Evidently we have conveniently forgotten the following:

And why do you look at the straw in your brother’s eye, while you pay no attention at all to the beam in your own? How can you say to your brother ‘Brother, let me take out the straw in your eye,’ while you yourself do not see the beam in your own? Hypocrite! Take out the beam from your own eye first, and then you will see clearly how to take out the straw in your brother’s. (Luke 6:41-42 TCNT)

But in our post-Christian society, self-righteousness is no longer a sin, but a virtue.  Why Christians of all types blindly go along with this is beyond me.

Casting the Seven Mountains Into the Sea

David French’s piece on the “Seven Mountain Movement” is in intriguing look into something that I’ve heard discussed over the years but never really spelled out.  He describes the basics of the movement as follows:

In its distilled essence, the Seven Mountain concept describes seven key cultural/religious institutions that should be influenced and transformed by Christian believers to create “Godly change” in America. The key to transforming the nation rests with reaching the family, the church, education, media, arts, the economy, and the government with the truth of the Gospel.

Although stuff like this has induced panic into the left over the years, even with Trump the left has overestimated the ability of those who espouse this movement to make it a reality.  Looked at from a purely objective standpoint, the whole Evangelical movement to “take America back for God” has floundered along for too long, having its biggest triumph too late in the game for the results to stick.

French himself put his finger on the core problem, but I don’t think he realises its import:

Astute readers will by now have noticed two things…Second, you’ll note how much it emphasizes the importance of placing people in positions of power and control.

The left understands completely the importance of power and control, and has from the start.  They’ve played the long game to get where they’re at, even though many, in typically American fashion, have been impatient about results and frequently have overplayed their hand because of their impatience.  The left’s biggest problem is that, as I noted at the end of my novel, they don’t have a strong leader to really get their agenda over the top, contenting themselves with collectivistic gumming of their opponents.

Evangelicals have up until now lived in a country where you didn’t have to have power to have a good life.  The legal and political system allowed people to live well without having to have some kind of “inside deal” to get along.  They didn’t understand, unlike the left, that you have to “play for keeps” to really get where you want to go, and the game is not won by winning elections or getting many people on your side, but the right people, in which case the other two come eventually.

That’s all changed, and now Evangelicals have woken up to the fact that their opponents have been engaged in asymmetric warfare with a superior strategy.  So now they now try to target the right people, which is a game changer for Evangelicals, usually engaged in an eternal popularity contest.  In the course of this they have set as their objective control of society, because the left has taught them that, to do what you want, you need to have power.

I honestly think that it’s too late in the game for Evangelicals to attempt this.  I also think that Evangelicalism isn’t designed for societal domination in the way that, say, the Main Line churches were.  The latter, descendants for the most part of Old World (and some New World) state churches, lived in a world where the church and state set the agenda (subject to disputes as to what that agenda was) and everyone went along with it.  The Main Line churches dominated the scene in this country, not now the state church but comfortable with bringing people to cultural Christianity.  With the decline of Main Line churches, Evangelicals have tried to fill the void.  But Evangelical churches are, by definition, about a decision.  To be a truly national/societal church isn’t about decisions; it’s about setting the pace in a society.  Those who don’t like the pace they’ve set either must revolt (with the consequences of failure) or leave.

At this point, instead of playing around with “influencer” games, Evangelicals have only two choices.

The first is what I call the “Jehu Option,” i.e. a revolt until their opponents are gone.  Some would like to think that the riot at the Capitol 6 January 2021 was the beginning of such an option, but given the desultory way the rioters assaulted vs. the inadequate response of the Capitol Police, we’re a long way from that happening.  In any case I doubt Evangelicals (or any other dissidents) could pull it together to make it happen.  I’ve always felt that the fall of the Republic will come from outside taking advantage of internal weakness and division; the idea that we can replicate the American Revolution against ourselves is a non-starter.

The second is to recognise that we have lost control of the levers of secular power and plan accordingly.  In reality Evangelicals have not had their hands anywhere near these levers since at least World War I.  The events of the Trump era were an aberration; Evangelicals were forced to go along with someone who was very different from their idea of a good, respectable human being.  The fact that some tried to apply adoration to their icon only shows that it’s easier to try to get away from the apostolic churches than it is to actually do it.

I don’t think that the New Testament supports the “Jehu Option” in any form (the Old Testament wasn’t really happy about the outcome of that bloodbath either.)  Getting Evangelicals past their defective concept of the relationship of the Old and New Testament–which makes options like that and the American Revolution morally plausible–isn’t going to be an easy task.  Getting American Evangelicals past their a)conflation of their faith in God with their love of country and b)their idea that Evangelical Christianity is the “way up” isn’t going to be easy either, although the latter should be obvious in a country where there isn’t much of a way up for most of the population.

What Evangelicals need to do is to is to quit trying to scale/conquer the seven mountains and try to move one:

And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. (Mark 11:22-23 KJV)

To which the great Bossuet commented as follows:

Behold the wonder of wonders: man clothed in the omnipotence of God.

Go, said the Saviour, heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, case out devils: freely have you received, freely give.  (Matthew 10:8) Who ever gave such a command?

And he sent them to preach the Kingdom of God, and to heal the sick. (Luke 9:2) Who ever sent his ministers with such commands? Go, He said, into this house and heal those whom you will find there.  All were filled with wonder at such commands. And yet, he proceeded even further: All that you ask in my name, you shall receive. (John 14:14) You will be able to do all that I am able to do. You will do all of the greatest things that you have seen me do, and you will do even greater things. In fact, if one was cured on touching the edge of the robe of Jesus Christ while He was wearing it, weren’t even greater miracles being performed by St. Paul, when there were even brought from his body, to the sick, handkerchiefs and aprons, and the diseases departed from them? (Acts 19:12) And not only the linens which had touched the apostles had that power, but their very shadow: when Peter came, his shadow at the least, might overshadow any of them, and they might be delivered from their infirmities. (Acts 5:15)

Here, therefore, is the greatest miracle of Jesus Christ. Not only is He all-powerful, but here He renders man all-powerful and, if possible, more powerful than He Himself is, performing constantly greater miracles, and all through faith and through prayer: and all things whatsoever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive. (Matthew 21:22)  Faith, therefore, and prayer are all-powerful, and they clothe man with the omnipotence of God. If you can believe, said the Saviour, all is possible to him who believes. (Mark 9:22)

The performance of miracles, therefore, is not the difficulty.  Rather, the difficulty is to believe.  If you can believe.  This is the miracle of miracles; to believe absolutely and without hesitation. I believe, Lord, help my unbelief (Mark 9:23), said the man to whom Jesus said: If you can believe.

Work in Heaven? Rubbish!

I got this shout-out from MEL Magazine’s Miles Klee about my 2012 piece on working in heaven:

I was thankful to turn up one guy, Don C. Warrington, who, though a practicing Christian and once employed by the Church of God, wasn’t having this bull****. “The Scriptures are not very detailed on what our life with God on the other side will be like,” he argued in a 2012 blog post. “They speak of rewards, crowns, ruling and the like, but none of this suggests work. The whole idea of ruling is that someone else gets to do the work while you take the credit.” Moreover, he asserts, we won’t have to develop the infrastructure of heaven when we arrive: “Jesus promised that he would go and prepare the place.”

As I did then, I think the whole concept of working in heaven is profoundly unBiblical.  I laid out the case in that post and won’t go through it again.  What I want to concentrate on here is how this kind of belief got into Evangelical Christianity in this country.  Klee leads off with FBC Dallas’ Robert Jeffress pronouncement on the subject, but as he shows this kind of thinking has been embedded amongst our ministers for a long time.  (My original post nine years ago was in response to some pulpit pronouncements.)

I think this is a classic example of Evangelicals “engaging the culture” which ends up becoming “following the culture.”   Traditionally (in the South at least) Evangelical Christianity has always had an escapist streak in it, as anyone who’s experienced a “heaven song” medley will attest.  Americans, however, have a bad habit of defining themselves and their worth by what they do for a living, be that independent business or working for someone else.  Churches have not only picked up and tried to Biblicise that, they’re also playing to a bad dynamic amongst our ministers which makes the congregation essentially employees of the pastor, there to fulfil the pastor’s vision for the church.  This last point is weird considering that the money flow in a church is opposite to that of a workplace.

I think my own pushback to all of this, in addition to reading comprehension of the Bible, is assisted by my own status as a combination of old money snobbery and Scots-Irish laziness, the former of which is virtually unknown in Evangelical circles.  To begin with, I think it’s bad that Americans invest so much of their concept of self worth in their work. It’s bad from a career standpoint, as I point out in Advice to Graduates: The Two Promises I Made to Myself, and it’s also bad from a workplace operation standpoint.  In many workplaces everyone is trying harder to show that they’re up to their inflated publicity rather than doing the task that is in front of them.  Changing that would not only make our workplaces more productive; it would get rid of many of the gender bias issues that we seem to obsess so much about.

It’s also shocking that Christians invest so much of their self-concept in their work and that their ministers aid and abet this mistake.  Isn’t our first identity in Christ?  How can we oppose the critical race theory jockeys and still look to somewhere else other than our creator for our identity and worth?  I discuss this on a elevated social plane in my piece A State of Being.

That being said, I am one of these people who believe that we should come to work and do our best, and apply our mind to effectively do the task that is in front of us, up to and including challenging the concept of “we’ve always done it this way.”  But when it’s time to “lay our burdens down,” it’s time, and heaven ultimately is that time.  Klee laments that one Evangelical says that there will be no orgasms in heaven.  The Evangelical is right, but what we will experience in the presence of God will be far more intense and sustained than any orgasm we experience here.

At that point, the work will cease and the celebration will begin and never end.  Don’t miss it.

ACNA: About That Celibacy Thing…

Edgar Noble’s piece Yes to Gay Identity, No to Gay Sex? The Concept Shaking the Foundations of the ACNA is a thought-provoking piece on a subject that, to be honest, I didn’t think would come up this quickly in the ACNA’s life.  As I noted in the last post, we have TEC, why do people feel compelled to bring this into the ACNA? I’ll come back to that later.

I look at this as a “meaning of life issue.”  What is life all about?  What is our real purpose and goal?  What are we trying to accomplish along the way?  I grew up in a world–upper class and progressive at that–which put forth the idea that life was all about getting laid, high or drunk (in that order,) and that there is something basically wrong with people who didn’t subscribe to that.  That’s really the core of the conflict between the “arbiters of taste” in our society and Christians who uphold the traditional sexual ethic.

If you look at the culture wars the last fifty years or so, that’s pretty much the essence of the matter.  But it predates that: the ancient world was filled with fertility deities and all of the “wide open” practices that went with that.  Christianity (and before that Judaism) came and and opposed that, and the pagan world has hated us for it ever since.  The issue at its crudest is simple: is our God the creator of the universe, or does this deity reside between our legs?

Under these circumstances, the whole concept of celibacy is a form of secular blasphemy.  If life is defined by our sexual activity, then how is it possible for us to abstain and be human?  Part of the core of Christian belief and practice is that all of us have to practice celibacy at some point in our lives.  The fact that such periods exist for anyone is deeply offensive to those who make sexual activity the centre of their existence.

The whole course of the current LGBT movement needs to be seen in that context.  We have a group of people who are defined by their sexual activity, whose identity is bound up in that activity.  How is it possible for people to be celibate and yet claim this identity?  That’s a question the ACNA needs to find an answer for and not get lost in the post-modern mushiness that surrounds most of our cultural debates.

Noble mentions that people have been conditioned to view their sexual orientation as immutable.  That’s being challenged by the “T” part of LGBT, that not only should our lives be determined by our sexual activity, but that domination extends up to and including changing the tools out.  It’s a conflict that has led to the “TERF wars” of which J.K. Rowling is the most famous general.

And now we should consider a question we started with: why fight this battle in the ACNA and not simply move to TEC, which has embraced the LGBT community for many years.  One thing the left in this country is obsessed with is existing institutions.  They seldom think of starting their own; they work hard to take over ones that are already there.  Evidently the ACNA, in spite of its relative youth, is an “existing institution” of sufficient prestige to warrant such demands from the left.  Personally I think that the ACNA, like TEC, is a victim of its own privileged demographics.  Largely white and well off, it’s a natural target for movements like this.

That being what it may, the ACNA was born in the defence of basic Christian doctrine and life.  It either needs to stand for it or fold and admit that all of the money, pain and litigation were simply a waste of time.  American Christianity has for too long been a popularity contest.  Real Christianity has never been popular, and that simple fact needs to be understood completely.

ACNA, TEC and Those Social Justice Prayers

It’s worth noting that the following appears in the (relatively) new 2019 ACNA Book of Common Prayer:

For those of you who think this has its origins in that dreadful 1979 BCP, this also appears in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer:

Other than the modernisation of the language and the expanded doxology at the end (one reason why the 2019 BCP is so much longer) the two prayers are the same in content.  (This prayer was not in the 1892 BCP, FWIW.)  What this means is that the impulse towards social justice goes back a long way in American Anglicanism and is even perpetuated in the group that split off from the Episcopal Church.  I think some comments are in order because, the way the ACNA is going these days, there are elements in same that want to take it in the same direction as TEC went, which is silly because a) TEC is still there for those who want to go that way and b) it begs the question as to why the ACNA was started in the first place.

The first comment is that the existence of meaningful social justice movements depends upon the people’s freedom to express their opinion either individually or collectively in a meaningful way.  This is something that gets lost between those who see social justice as a Christian imperative and those who think it is profoundly unBiblical.  The New Testament was written in the Roman Imperial period, where there was really no way to petition the government to act on things like slavery, infanticide and the like.  (The Republic supposedly had mechanisms like that but, as the Gracchi found out the hard way, they didn’t deliver as one would like.)  Both of the prayers recognise that fact.

The second comment is that the quest for social justice is no substitute for personal regeneration in Jesus Christ.  Since we are not Southern Baptists, that regeneration doesn’t end at salvation; it continues, as I note in this comment re the comfortable words.  Liturgical churches’ greatest occupational hazard is in thinking that, just because we go through the liturgy and experience the sacraments, we’re okay with God and can move on to other things.

That leads to the third point: the social position of North Americans in the Anglican-Episcopal world is a two-edged sword.  It makes their quest for social justice potentially more effective but at the same time makes them part of the problem.  Evangelicals constantly prattle about being “influencers,” but Episcopalians (and now non-Episcopal Anglicans) are disproportionately that from the get-go.  Some reflection on that before you go off and try to “change the world” is certainly in order, especially since life has probably rendered you unable to grasp the lot of those you’re trying to help.

Finally, you need to understand that you don’t need to simply ape non-Christian social justice movements just because they’re trendy amongst your peers.  That’s especially important now since our moneyed interests are “woke,” and that many so-called social justice movements simply shill for those moneyed interests.  Put another way, it’s hard to speak “truth to power” when you’re really just part of power.

Social justice is a noble goal; the road to it, however, has many potholes.  Or, to put it in a more mathematical way, the arc of history may bend towards justice, but it may not be smooth, differentiable or even continuous.