The Ottoman Tales II: Why All the Movie Eunuchs are Black, and Some Thoughts on Slavery

This continues a series inspired (somewhat) by Noel Barber’s The Sultans.  The previous instalment is here.

Ottoman culture has seeped into ours in ways we’re not aware of.  When we hear words such as divan, caftan and ottoman itself, we’re hearing about things that came from that culture.  Like most people, I like to take in the old movie.  Ever wonder why, when the movie involves a harem, the eunuch is always black?

The reason for that is simple: in the Ottoman Sultan’s palace, the head eunuch–the Kislar Aga, literally the head of the women–was always black, as were his underlings.  How he got to Constantinople and his high position was not a pretty process, as Thomas Sowell describes in Black Rednecks and White Liberals:

By a variety of accounts, most of the slaves who were marched across the Sahara toward the Mediterranean died on the way.  While these were mostly women and girls, the males faced a special danger–castration to produce the eunuchs in demand as harem attendants in the Islamic world.

Because castration was forbidden by Islamic law, the operation tended to be performed–usually crudely–in the hinterlands, before the slave caravans reached places within the effective control of the Ottoman Empire.  The great majority of those operated on died as a result, but the price of eunuchs was so much higher than the price of other slaves that the practice was still profitable on the balance.

The British, with their newly found aversion for slavery in the first half of the nineteenth century, found that their appeals to the Ottomans to end the institution went over like a lead balloon:

When the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire first raised the issue of abolishing slavery with the sultan in 1840, he reported this response:

…I have heard with extreme astonishment accompanied with a smile at a proposition for destroying an institution closely inter-woven with the frame of society in this country, and intimately connected with the law and with the habits and even the religion of all classes, from the Sultan himself on down the lowest peasant.

The Ottomans eventually “officially” abolished slavery, an abolition largely honoured in the breach.  The British for their part tried to help out, but sometimes it backfired.  Gen. Charles “Chinese” Gordon tried to stop the 80,000-100,000 slave trade through the Sudan, and the Sudanese responded with the revolt of the Mahdi. Gordon was killed and the British sent Lord Kitchener to finally put down the revolt.

As the British ambassador was told, slavery was interwoven into society from top to bottom.  In addition to the eunuchs, all of the harem women were slaves.  The Ottomans invented the devşirme whereby young Christian men, mostly from the Balkans, were taken, forcibly converted to Islam, and became the feared Janissaries of military fame.  The white Circassians contributed generously to the harem slaves; they had pride of place there.

And slavery was there at the end.  When Abdul Hamid II abdicated in 1908 as the Young Turks revolted, his Kislar Aga was executed for cruelty.  When the last Sultan, Mahomet VI, abdicated, a eunuch helped him aboard the HMS Malaya for his voyage into Italian exile, and followed his five wives who came later.

The Ottomans’ reluctance to part with involuntary servitude should give us pause about how “obvious” it was to eliminate it.  As Sowell notes:

While slavery was common to all civilisations, as well as to peoples considered uncivilised, only one civilisation developed a moral revulsion against it, very late in its history–Western civilisation.  Today it seems so obvious that, as Abraham Lincoln said, “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.”  But the hard fact is that, for thousands of years, slavery was simply not an issue, even among the great religious thinkers or moral philosophers of civilisations around the world.

We may wonder why it took eighteen centuries after the Sermon on the Mount for Christians to develop an anti-slavery movement, but a more profound question is why not even the leading moralists in other civilisations rejected slavery at all.  “There is no evidence,” according to a scholarly study, “that slavery came under serious attack in any part of the world before the eighteenth century.”  That is when it first came under attack in Europe.

Themselves the leading slave traders of the eighteenth century, Europeans nevertheless became, in the nineteenth century, the destroyers of slavery around the world–not just in European societies or European offshoot societies overseas, but in non-European societies as well, over the bitter oppositions of Africans, Arabs, Asians and others.  Moreover within Western civilisation, the principal impetus for the abolition of slavery came first from very conservative religious activists–people who would today be called the “religious right.”  Clearly, this story is not “politically correct” in today’s terms.  Hence it is ignored, as if it never happened.

The Ottoman Tales I: The Hem of His Garment

This is the first in a series inspired (somewhat) by Noel Barber’s The Sultans.

Although it’s largely forgotten these days (along with most important history, especially by Americans) for five centuries the Ottoman Empire loomed large in every sense of the word.  In its highest days (under Suleiman the Magnificent/Lawgiver) it threatened Christian Europe, a threat made more credible by Europe’s own religious and political divisions.  As Winston Churchill said, the Turks challenged the world; dismissing them then and now is unwise.

Until the opening of India and later China, the Ottoman Empire, which encompassed all the Middle East except for Persia/Iran, was “the Orient” for Europeans, thus when rail service ran from Paris to Constantinople/Istanbul it was the “Orient Express”, and their view was an interesting one.  For present day Christians, because of the current copyright expiration date of 1923 (the year after the Empire ended) much of the public domain commentaries and Bible study materials were produced in Ottoman times (such as this) and thus their view of the Middle East was different from the one we have today.

In some ways, it was clearer; although Middle Easterners don’t change as much as we or they would like to think they do, with stuff like this, the Ottoman world was, in many ways, close in technology and custom to the one we see unfold in the pages of Scripture.  The Turks, like the Romans, were better adapters than originators; they borrowed deeply from both Byzantine (itself a descendant of Rome), Persian and Arab civilisations.  They also lived in an autocratic society; democracy is still no mean feat in the Middle East, as the Arab Spring reminded the world.

To look at one good aspect of this, let’s start with a familiar passage of Scripture:

And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment: For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole. But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour. (Matthew 9:20-22 KJV)

I say “familiar”; for Pentecostals, it’s mind-numbingly so, it’s a favourite of Pentecostal preachers.  And it’s not the only place in the New Testament where someone got the idea of touching the hem of Our Lord’s garment:

And when they were gone over, they came into the land of Gennesaret. And when the men of that place had knowledge of him, they sent out into all that country round about, and brought unto him all that were diseased; And besought him that they might only touch the hem of his garment: and as many as touched were made perfectly whole.  (Matthew 14:34-36 KJV)

The Ottomans put fair stock in touching or kissing this hem.  When Sultan Abdul Hamid II was enthroned in 1876, he went in procession to the Eyub Mosque (the Friday procession of the Sultan and his retinue to the mosque for prayers was one of the highlights of the week for residents of Constantinople).  Once the dervishes had girded him with the sabre–the Turks were and are a military people–the Sultan took three steps towards his Grand Vizier (prime minister) who kissed the hem of his garment in the name of the people.  This gesture was done even under duress; in 1808, when Sultan Selim III was murdered and Mahmud II ended up as Sultan, his soon to be Grand Vizier Bairactar kissed the hem of the new Sultan’s robe.  (Bairactar didn’t last long; he was murdered by the Janissaries, but ultimately they came to the same end).

Although most of our ministers focus on the woman with an issue of blood desiring healing from Jesus, her choice–and others’–of the hem of the garment suggest that they were additionally making a declaration of Jesus’ royalty.  Such declarations were not lost on the Jewish leadership, who feared that Jesus’ objective was to become a secular king in opposition to both Rome and themselves.  (For a take on this with another Ottoman illustration, click here).

But although the woman’s declaration was certainly correct, Our Lord had another kind of kingdom in mind:

Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.  (John 18:36-37 KJV)

And that’s something that many in the world–both Jesus’ followers and his opponents–still do not understand.

The Firm That Facilitated an American “Aliyah” Calls It Quits

The Claude Reese real estate company comes to an end:

Founded at the end of the Roaring ’20s, Claude D. Reese Real Estate — often referred to as the island’s oldest real estate firm — has sold the office condominium it had occupied for about 10 years at 140 Royal Palm Way. The agency has no plans to reopen, said David Reese, its longtime broker and son of the agency’s namesake, the late Claude D. Reese Sr…

David Reese acknowledged that much had changed in Palm Beach real estate over the years. The entrance to the marketplace of major corporate-owned real estate companies in particular has made it more difficult for independent boutique agencies to compete, he said.

“There are so many big firms here,” he said.

The Shiny Sheet overlooked the fact that David’s dad facilitated what was perhaps the key real estate transaction in the history of the town:

Mentioning the Palm Beach Country Club brings up another ongoing transformative aspect to Palm Beach life: the island’s Jewish community.  Jews have come to Palm Beach since the beginning, in the early years readily mixing with their Gentile friends.  (For numerous reasons I prefer my mother’s term for the non-children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob over Leamer’s “WASP.”)  The whole saga of a Jewish community that is socially (and to some extent physically) separate from its Gentile counterpart began in 1944, three years before the founding of the State of Israel.  At that time Jewish entrepreneur A.M. Sonnabend offered to purchase a large tract of land and buildings which included the Biltmore Hotel and the original Flagler mansion.  Just as their Zionist counterparts needed an Arthur Balfour to facilitate their return to the Promised Land, so also did the Jews who wished to come to the island.  They found one in Claude Reese, scion of a pioneer family in Palm Beach County and an eminent realtor.  (The Southern Scots-Irish have always been the great interlopers between Jew and Gentile, and always with unexpected results.)  The Gentiles were furious at such an invasion, so Reese, mindful of his commission, came up with a plan.  Knowing that Sonnabend was undercapitalized, he offered to the residents the option to buy out his contract before he could come up with the money.  They could not bring themselves to do so, and Sonnabend was able to make the purchase.

The subsequent quasi-two-state history has pretty much paralleled its Middle Eastern counterpart, albeit with more money per capita on the table and less bloodshed.  (My brother did get a fractured jaw out of the conflict.)  The Gentiles fulminate and moan about the Jews and their ways, but with each passing year the Jewish presence in Palm Beach increases and the Gentile decreases.  Without enough fresh Gentile blood and money (and without the Palestinians’ death penalty for selling property to the Jews, we sold our house to a Jewish couple when we left in 1972) Palm Beach is transformed into a predominantly Jewish town, gripes about the Shiny Sheet looking like the Jerusalem Post notwithstanding.  (Personally I think that the paper’s coverage of Jewish holidays and other religious events is one of the best things they do.)  In the meanwhile Palm Beach life goes on with separate clubs, charity balls and other social events.  It’s a situation that doesn’t fit into anyone’s “politically correct” paradigm and Leamer has received criticism for discussing it.  But he is spot-on in his description.  I first commented on this state of affairs in 2005; its perpetuation isn’t really a credit to anyone on the island.

Sometimes you make money, and sometimes you make history.  It’s the rare bird that does both.

The Episcopalians Go From Smashmouth to Mealymouth

That’s one way of looking at Sarah Hey’s assessment of TEC’s new Presiding Bishop:

2) Presiding Bishop-elect Curry has a lovely speaking voice and will continue to offer nice sermons. This will serve, no doubt, to assuage some of the embarrassment that moderates and not a few liberal Episcopalians felt when they heard Katherine Jefferts Schori’s sermons.

3) Presiding Bishop-elect Curry will say quite a number of pretty things about “Jesus.”  This will be a great relief, again, to those who have had to struggle to defend or explain away the frank and rather coarse unbelief of Katherine Jefferts Schori.

This should, however, be put in the larger context of the Anglican-Episcopal world.  One thing Curry will become is a tool in Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s attempt to put the Humpty-Dumpty of the Anglican Communion back together again.  As I noted last year in discussion Welby’s snubbing of the ACNA:

In addition to centralising what it means to be in the Communion, Welby, for his part, is probably stalling for time until TEC elects a new Presiding Bishop to replace Katharine Jefferts-Schori next year.  While it’s unlikely that TEC will choose a less heterodox leader than KJS, their new choice may revert to a more traditionally Episcopalian mealy-mouth style and not KJS’s smash-mouth style.  If they do that, Welby may try to achieve a reconciliation while “holding the keys” to the communion.

TEC has done just that.  And there’s no doubt that they’ll peel off a few here and there, as Tory Baucum is evidence of.  But, in addition to the yawning chasm between the revisionists and the orthodox, we have one more factor at work: institutional inertia.  It’s hard to believe that, having put together their own province with their own army of bishops and one Archbishop, that they would simply revert en masse to TEC.  Sorting out ecclesiastical jobs has always been the bane of Christian institutional unity; it’s torpedoed denominational mergers even when issues such as divide TEC and ACNA are not on the table.

But one should never underestimate the power of Anglican Fudge.  Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.

The Pope, Technology and Slavery

The Holy Father has once again ambushed American Catholics with Laudato Si, his encyclical on the environment and global warming.  As was the case with his earlier document on social teaching, we should not be too surprised; there is a great deal of precedent for this kind of thinking.  As R.R. Reno points out:

In this encyclical, Francis expresses strikingly anti-scientific, anti-technological, and anti-progressive sentiments. In fact, this is perhaps the most anti-modern encyclical since the Syllabus of Errors, Pius IX’s haughty 1864 dismissal of the conceits of the modern era.

Buried in the Catholic psyche is a longing for a Ptolemaic, village-centred world where the church, at the heart of things both physically and spiritually, rings out the daily cycle of Mass and prayer and orders the life of the people.  This was before Copernicus and Galileo had the bad taste to point out that the earth wasn’t the centre of the universe, which didn’t sit well with the Aristotelian intelligentsia that dominated Catholicism.  The fact that post-modern progressives find a congenial ally with such a mentality speaks volumes of their own scientific level.

(For my Anglican readers: this is a little different from Rowan Williams’ rolling over and playing dead on the subject; that was so bad even a gay atheist called him out on it, as you can read here.)

In any case, Reno is right: an anti-technological bias pervades the entire document.  But is technology (and I’ll leave the scientific part for elsewhere) really that divorced from moral life?  The kerfuffle over the Confederate flag in view of the recent shootings in Charleston provides an interesting answer to this question.

There’s a lot of argument about the motivation for the Civil War: slavery, tariffs, states rights, etc.  But there’s no argument that, when the country split apart, the disparity in economic and human strength was enormous.  The South had adopted an economy that was in part a plantation system worked by slaves and a small landowner (whether they really farmed the land was a mixed bag) collection for the rest.   It was a pretty traditional set-up: slavery had been a part of human civilisation for a long time, and the small landowner had been an ideal since Biblical times.

In the North we certainly had the small landowners, but we also had a robust industrial and technological base, the rail system to go with it, and sizeable cities.  Immigration (at that point mostly German and Irish) overwhelmingly went to the North because that’s where a livelihood was to be made; Texas was a notable exception for the Germans.  (And that immigration, BTW, is where American Catholicism got it real shot in the arm, one put on steroids by Italian and Eastern European immigration after the war, also favouring the North).

Had the South seceded in the 1820’s or 1830’s, things might have been different.  But by the time South Carolina stormed out of the Union 20 December 1860, the advance of technology was such that a serious manufacturing base was becoming a major advantage in fighting what was in many ways the first modern war.

The South certainly started out with, man for man, better military leadership and better soldiers.  And the North struggled in its early years with an overly politicised system of promotion.  But once the North got its act together, generals such as Grant and Sherman brutally used the numerical, industrial and technological advantages to basically grind the South to powder.  Under these conditions the South basically came to a “gunfight without a gun”, as one SCV relative put it.  (I had ancestors on both sides of this drama; some were on the receiving end and some were on the industrial end).

Americans in particular are a) always trying to make everything into a moral cause and b) always trying to gin up everyone’s motivation, which is why motivational speakers stay busy.  But once you have motivation you must have means, and North certainly had that to win the war.  Without the North’s technological and industrial advantage the War Between the States would have ended with the states still divided and the black slaves working the plantations.

If that’s the kind of result the Holy Father wants, he’ll get it.

The Eucharist, Spiritual and Corporeal

From Bossuet’s History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches, III, 12, this gem:

For although the Eucharist, as well as the other mysteries of our salvation, had a spiritual effect for its end, it had, like the other mysteries, that which was accomplished in the body for its foundation. Jesus Christ was to be born, to die, to be spiritually risen again in the faithful ; yet he was also to be born, to die, and to rise again really, and according to the flesh. In the same manner, we were to partake spiritually of his sacrifice; yet we were also corporally to receive the flesh of his victim, and to eat of it indeed.  We were to be united spiritually to the heavenly spouse ; yet his body which he gave to us in the Eucharist, in order to a mutual possession of ours, was to be the pledge and seal, as well as the foundation of this spiritual union; and this divine marriage, as well as the ordinary ones, though in a far different way, was to unite minds by uniting bodies. To speak therefore of the spiritual union was, in reality, to explain the last end of this mystery ; but to that intent, the corporal union, on which the other was grounded, ought not to have been forgotten.

An Important Way Church Needs to Be a Safe Space

Anyone who works in a university environment these days–especially in a public university whose state support continually evaporates–has heard about the concept of “safe space”.  It’s an idea promoted by LGBT advocates where parts of the campus are designated as safe for such people to be without fear of opposition.  The problem with that is twofold.  One is that what’s a safe space for one group of people is a dangerous one for another.  The other is that campuses, with the current corporatist ethic run amok, are becoming safe spaces from independent thought of any kind.

The idea of a “safe space” per se isn’t a bad one.  Back around the turn of the millennium, while attending a meeting of the National Coalition of Men’s Ministries, I remember a speaker saying that church should be a safe place for hurting people (and that covers just about all of us) to live and move and have their being.  People being what they are, which is fallen, that’s not always easy, but the more we make it our aim the closer we can expect to reach our goal.

But it’s reasonable to ask: safe from what?  There are many dangers that we meet in this life, but with the forward march of the LGBT community there’s one thing in particular that churches need to learn in a hurry if they expect to survive intact.

In an earlier post I noted the following:

The one letter that never gets into this collection is “A” for abstinent.  The whole concept that someone would voluntarily abstain from sex for any reason is anathema to just about everybody in this deal: gay, straight, in between, you name it.  It’s particularly odious to those who, as noted earlier, define their lives by their sexual preference (and the activity that goes with it).  It’s the main driver why a) the LGBT community hates real Christianity the way it does and b) that hatred resonates with the heterosexual community.

Churches have dealt with the blow back from the sexual revolution for a long time.  They’re trying as always these days to figure out a way to “take a stand”.  It’s hard to take a stand when you don’t understand the ground you’re defending, and a little historical perspective is in order here.

Those of you who studied Greek and Roman mythology will recall that the gods and goddesses, like their human counterparts, were male and female.  They cavorted with and married each other, and when that wasn’t enough they went down and did the same with people.  That mythology was the religion of classical antiquity, which included the paganism against which prophets such as Elijah stood against.

Into this world came Yahweh, who had no consort and no equal and, strictly speaking, no gender either.  He set forth a way for Israel that dispensed with the fertility rites of the neighbours.  That didn’t sit well with neighbours like Jezebel and it didn’t go down well with Israelites like Manasseh either, but captivity and exile drove the message home.  When the time came for God’s son (also eternally generated without sex) to come into the world,  he did so by asexually conceiving him in a virgin.

By the fulness of time when Our Lord came into the world, the centuries of the wide-open sexuality that dominated the classical world was starting to wear a little thin.  Christianity triumphed in a world which had grown weary of its obsession with sex, and the genderless God brought the civilisation past a purely sexual/fertility cycle.

As in ancient Israel, that didn’t sit well with many.  The growth of secularism has been a resurgence in paganism with all the sex-obsessed business that goes with it.  It’s little wonder that one doctrine that is attacked mercilessly is the Virgin Birth: the idea that the world could be saved without sex engenders hostility in Christianity’s opponents as little else does.

But it’s not easy to deconstruct a civilisation, even when the wind is at your back.  It takes determination and people who don’t mind breaking eggs to make omelets.  That has come with the LGBT community, who are as opposed to abstinence heterosexually as they are to their own.  Acceptance of their idea ultimately is a reversion to paganism and the end of meaningful Christianity.  It’s also the end of the civilisation; a civilisation whose highest pursuit is the next hook-up isn’t going to get very far in any other way.

Christianity in the West has tried to manage the changes the best it can.  Evangelicals in particular, who claim (with some justification) a higher level of commitment, have tried to accommodate these things with stuff like “beauty pageant Christianity“.  It’s also shocking in many ways how Evangelicalism has tried to become a “waist down religion” like Mormonism.  But the game is up.

A driving force behind the transgender movement is the search for identity.  For all of the bawling about the fixed nature of human sexuality, as one Christian counsellor pointed out to me human beings are sexual: how they express that changes from person to person and even in time.  If we make the “discovery” (and that’s a duplicitous way to put it) of sexual identity the centrepiece of life, then ultimately we will have to force people to engage in a variety of sexual activities to make the discovery process experiential.  Sex is too powerful a force in human life, and the process too easily manipulated, for this process to result in anything else but a general disaster, where people’s little remaining autonomy is destroyed and adverse unintended consequences become the norm.

What churches need to be a safe space from is the idea that there is no meaningful life apart from sex. Part of that, of course, is to rid the church of child predators.  The campaign to do so in Roman Catholicism, comforting as it is and should be to the victims, has been pushed by people who, in the long run, have the opposite result on the agenda.  But another part is to present abstinence not as a void but as God’s way to getting people through a hormonally tumultuous period, and also by setting instant gratification aside to pursue life-long and eternal goals that get them beyond the next hook-up and bring enduring happiness.

That’s not going to be easy.  Evangelicals in particular like to try to edge up to the culture to “win” it.  But our culture is destructive except for those at the top (and it is for them in another way).  We need to make that clear.

It will be a costly road to take.  As noted earlier, there will be those who won’t take it.  But in the end it will be worth it.

On the Creation of the Universe: The Assistance of Divine Wisdom in the Creation of the Universe

Putting a wrap on Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, III, 8:

Now there is only this beautiful place in Proverbs, where the uncreated wisdom speaks thus: The Lord has possessed me, generated me, from the beginning of his ways.  I am myself this beginning, being the worker idea of this great artisan and the original model of all his architecture.  He has generated me from the beginning and before he made anything.  Before these works I was, and I was consequently from all eternity, as there was only eternity before all the ages.  From all eternity I was ordered, according to the Vulgate: I was the commandment and the same order from God which ordered all.  I was founded, said the Septuagint: I was the support and the upholding of all beings, and the word by which God carries the world.  I was the primacy, the principality, the sovereignty over all things, according to the original Hebrew.  I was from the beginning and before the world was made.  The depths were not yet and I, I already had conceived them; already formed in the womb of God and always perfect.  Before the mountains were formed with their heavy mass; before the hills and ridges I was born.  He had made neither the earth nor the habitable and inhabitable places, according to the Septuagint; neither that which holds the earth in its state and that which keeps it from dissipating into powder, according to the Hebrew; according to the Vulgate, the hinges and the supports of this heavy and dry elementI was with him, not only when he formed, but also when he prepared the heavens: when he held the waters in state and formed them in a circle, with his compass, when he raised the heavens; when he steadied the source of waters to flow forever and water the earth; when he made the law to the sea and fixed it in its borders; when he steadied the earth on its foundations and held it balanced by a counterweight: I was in him and with him composing, nourishing, ruling and governing all things: rejoice in me all the days, and saying each day with God that all is good, in rejoicing with me always, rejoice with me in the universe by the facility, the variety, and the agreement of works which I have produced: magnificent in great things, industrious in the little ones, and then rich in the little and inventive in the great ones.  And my delight is to converse with the sons of men: forming man, in a way more familiar and tender as he made him appear; because man merits well this particular meditation which we will do in the following days.

So, let us admire the work of the wisdom of God assisted and cooperating with his power.  Let us praise with the Sage and summarise all his praises in saying with him: The Lord by wisdom hath founded the earth, hath established the heavens by prudence.  By his wisdom the depths have broken out, and the clouds grow thick with dew. (Proverbs III:19-20)

Let us conclude: God has decorated and ordered the world by his word; it is in the decorating and in the order that the operation of his word and wisdom begins to appear, when he placed distinction and beauty in the universe.  It was only God who made the foundation as the order and decoration by his wisdom.  Because as have seen, if his wisdom alone could order and form the world, she alone could also make it capable of order and form.  We principally attribute to the word and wisdom, the order and decoration of the universe, because it is where his operation appears most distinctly and properly.  But for the rest, it is necessary to say with Saint John: In the beginning was the Word; by him all was made; and nothing was made without him.  By him heaven and earth were made with all their decoration.  All the work of God is filled with wisdom; and we ought to learn to put wisdom to good use.

The first good use of wisdom which we ought to do, it is to praise God by his works.  Thus here let us sing in deed the song of the three children, and inviting all the works of God to bless them, let us finish in ourselves and invite ourselves in saying: O children of men, bless the Lord! May Israel bless the Lord: bless him, you who are his ministers and his sacrificers; bless him, servants of the Lord: souls of the just, bless him: bless him, O you all who are holy and humble of heart: praise him and exalt him for ever and ever.

Some Advice to Evangelicals on Major Division from Anglican/Episcopal Experience

Well, we’re up against it: we’re starting to see Evangelicals, generally thought reliable adherents to Scriptural Christianity, defect to the other side over the LGBT business.  For people raised in the system, this is a shock they are not mentally prepared for.  For those of us who came out of liberal churches of long ago, it’s plus de change, plus la même chose: the more things change, the more things stay the same.  There are some new twists and the institutional context is different, but there’s a lot to learn from the fallings away of the past.  So here’s some advice from such divisions, past and present, from someone who first tasted this bitter brew as an Episcopalian:

People whom you respect and admire are going to bail.  We’re already seeing that; Tony Campolo is the highest profile one I can think of, although there are others, and many are waiting in the wings.  This is painful.  Although Evangelicals are really big about how sola scriptura they are, the truth is that the way they look at those scriptures is moulded by many of the same high-profile people.  That will work itself down through the system; you will wake up to find a former pastor (or, God forbid, the current one) defect to the rainbow flag.  My parents were very much put out when Robert Appleyard, who baptised me at Bethesda, supported WO.  (And, IMHO, WO is an entirely different issue from what we’re looking at). The denominational systems/peer pressure may not come to the rescue the way you expect it to, as was the case with James Pike.

Much of this bailing is opportunistic.  This isn’t a nice thing to say, but it’s the truth.  And it’s the product of decades of propaganda that Evangelical Christianity is “mainstream” and that we are too.  When I joined the Church of God, I was informed that our denomination was “mainstream”, although I felt (and still feel) that this assertion is ridiculous.  So when the main stream of society changes course, some of us feel compelled to change with it to keep our status, income level, and acceptance in the culture.  It never seems to occur to anyone that, when Our Lord said that we could not serve God and Mammon at the same time, he knew the Gospel he was better than we do.

They won’t leave.  Although the looser organisational structure of Evangelicalism doesn’t make this the problem it was before, many of the defectors will attempt (and some will succeed) in retaining their positions within their denominations and organisations.  This is also opportunistic: they wish to keep their jobs, social structures, family connections within the church, etc. So they stick with the outward form of the faith which inwardly they have left.  And of course they’re eager to spread their new found lack of conviction to the rest of their colleagues in the denomination/organisation.

You won’t be popular.  Being the populist business that it is, Evangelicalism is in many ways a popularity contest.  That is coming to an end.  American Evangelicalism has already been at the receiving end of a thirty year campaign to trash it because of its political efforts, and that will only get worse.  It will be much more difficult to diffuse the Gospel in a society programmed to hate it.  But face it: if the Cubans and the Chinese can have widespread revival and we can’t, guess who needs to have a “come to Jesus meeting”?

But you’ll have new friends.  Those friends will mostly be outside the U.S. and mostly non-white like the Africans.  The saga of the Africans coming to the rescue of North American Anglicanism is one of the epics of recent Christian history, although the organisational aspects are messy.  Coming with that is the reality that the organisational centre of Christianity is passing from the West.  But it wasn’t our faith to start with, was it?

While on the subject of the Africans, one pressure point LGBT people will apply is an experiential hermeneutic of Scripture, a centrepiece of post-modern religious thinking, such as it is.  Concerning that I wrote this in 2007:

Beyond that, (Rowan) Williams’ idea that the experience of the church can mould its understanding of the Scripture only makes practical sense if that experience is univocal.  And that’s where the problem comes in: it’s not.  The Communion’s current stance is a perfect example of that problem.

  • For liberals in the U.S. and Canada, their experience is moulded by the upper middle class world of TEC/ACC, where homosexuals are important players.  Rejecting them would mean ostracism from the circles they treasure, so they cave, rather than following a world-rejecting Gospel.
  • For conservatives in Africa, their experience is moulded by their contact with Islam, which abhors GLBT people and their lifestyle.  Accepting homosexuals would mean war with Islam.  The Africans’ ace in the hole, however, is that the Scriptures are consistent on the subject of homosexuality, rejecting it in the Old Testament and repeating this rejection in the New.

They’ll call the cops.  This is really the newest wrinkle to church civil wars.  The Episcopalians’ property disputes are but a shadow of the legal assault that is to come.  Back in 2007 (must have been on a roll then) I predicted the following:

Buttressing their idea is the thought that their philosophy will be reflected in the actions of the government…If we consider trends such as the emergence of hate crimes legislation, the use of child protection laws to take away children from real Christian parents, the application of the tax code to silence and destroy churches and other Christian institutions that don’t suit the fancy of those in power, all of these give the ultimate hope to the liberals at 815: that their opponents will not only be deprived of the church property they worship in, but also their freedom by the state.

That assault will not only come from the outside, but it will be also abetted by those on the inside of our churches as well.

Their church idea is unsustainable.  There are two reasons for this.  The first is that, once a church adopts the idea of the world around it, there is no reason for anyone to go there when they can get the same thing in a secular setting.  The second is that, when liberal people in churches are no longer useful to those in power, they will be dispensed with.

Before he went to trial, suffering, crucifixion and death, Our Lord exhorted his disciples in this way: “I have spoken to you in this way, so that in me you may find peace. In the world you will find trouble; yet, take courage! I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33 TCNT)  That has not changed.  Neither should our response.

The Country Where Merit is Run Down, Part III: The Asians Strike Back

With–what else?–a lawsuit, with complaints to the Federal government to boot:

Getting into Harvard is tough enough: Every year come the stories about applicants who built toilets in developing countries, performed groundbreaking lunar research, or won national fencing competitions, whatever it takes to edge out the competition. So you can imagine that the 52-year-old Florida businessman and author Yukong Zhao is incensed that gaining admission may be even harder for his children—because of their race.

“It’s not a political issue,” he says. “It’s a civil-rights issue.”

Mr. Zhao helped organize 64 groups that last month asked the Education Department to investigate Harvard University for discriminating against Asian-Americans in admissions. The allegation is that Harvard is holding Asian-Americans to higher standards to keep them from growing as a percentage of the student body. The complaint, filed also with the Justice Department, follows a lawsuit against the university last fall by the nonprofit Students for Fair Admissions.

I’ve been duly taken to task over the issue of merit in Ivy League admissions, but as you can see others aren’t happy about the situation.  In a loudmouth culture Asians aren’t much to rock the boat, but enough is enough, and frankly I’m glad to see they’re taking action.

There are a couple of other issues here.

The first is the current tendency of American elites to create a “mandarinate”, i.e. a country where advancement is based on a certain educational background which gains entry to a cursus honorum to the top.  The Chinese in particular understand mandarinate completely: they invented it through their examination system for the bureaucracy, which was in place until the end of the Ching Dynasty in 1911.  (And they made fun of it too, as Wu Ching-Tzu did in The Scholars).  In that sense our elites are hoisted by their own petard.  At one time getting ahead in this country wasn’t so tied to your educational background; changing that has had unintended consequences.

The second is that those STEM people are making things “complicated”:

Mr. Zhao runs through other stereotypes that he says are used against Asian-Americans, such as their strength in science, technology, engineering or math. “Right now we have huge gaps in STEM education, and actually in this area a lot of Asian-American kids perform really well. But when they apply to elite colleges, their strength becomes a weakness.” He notes that Albert Einstein was a quiet, violin-playing math whiz: “Einstein would not be admitted to Harvard today.” Unless the violin added to his holistic appeal.

Maybe not…yesterday I attended the first day of my wife’s state music teacher’s convention, which consists of the elementary and junior high piano competitions.  The state winners were almost all Asian.  So we were talking to one of the winners’ families.  Her dad is a structural engineer.

It just never ends…

 

Sailing the Last Voyage with Newton and Pascal

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