The Shocking (to Some) Truth About Prosperity and Morality

Tom Jacobs at the Pacific Standard finds himself surprised at the way voters conflated prosperity and morality, which eased their way to vote for Donald Trump:

The findings suggest the Trump campaign’s emphasis on the candidate’s success in business—which has subsequently been shown to be based largely on smoke and mirrors—increased the perception that he was a highly moral man, which in turn increased their likelihood to vote for him.

If Jacobs (and others) would exit their bubble, they would have anticipated this much sooner. But he’s not alone in surprise. When I joined the Pentecostal church in the early 1980’s that I’m still a part of, I was surprised the way that people assumed that, if you were prosperous, you were moral. And that was in a church that was still, for the most part, skittish about raw, straight up prosperity teaching a la Bob Tilton (whose church I attended in the late 1970’s) or Kenneth Copeland. The main beneficiaries at the time were the high income/net worth people in the church, who leveraged people’s attitudes to gain “street cred” in the church and the influence that went with it.

My experience growing up in Palm Beach, coupled with “traditional” (depends on the tradition, really) Christian teaching on the subject, taught me that the opposite was more often the case. It also taught me that standing up to the great of this world in church was doable, something that never got off the ground in this “go along to get along” culture.

It wasn’t always this way in Southern culture, and with God’s help I’ll elaborate on that in a future post. But as the left ascends in the moneyed classes of our society, they would do well to stop and consider that the attitude of “the rich are moral” has largely prevented the kind of social upheaval that growing income inequality promotes. If that attitude ever flips, we’ll have problems that make the #GiletsJaunes in France look like an outing in the park.

Book Review: Eric Patterson’s Just American Wars: Ethical Dilemmas in U.S. Military History

One of the surprises I’ve gotten is that, even in conservative American churches, there are those in positions of influence who are pacifists. How can this be, especially since their core ethnic group is the bellicose Scots-Irish? But life is an education. Although it’s tempting to regard Eric Patterson’s Just American Wars: Ethical Dilemmas in U.S. Military History (War, Conflict and Ethics) as simply a refutation of this idea, it’s more than that. Patterson, former Dean of the School of Government at Regent University, sets forth a treatise in support of not only the just war theory itself, but also its application in the various conflicts the United States has fought, starting with its own independence and moving forward.

Just war theory dates back to Augustine, and has been the moral and ethical basis of pursuing war in the West ever since (until recently, at least.) One thing that Patterson should have been more explicit about is that no state–especially a world power like the U.S.–can survive without military capability and the will to use it when appropriate. Many of the same pacifists who decry the use of the military also use the democratic aspects of the state to pursue their goals, but bluntly you can’t have one without the other.

We normally think of just war theory only in terms of going to war in the first place, but Patterson’s book has as its basic outline the entire idea of the just war theory, which can be broken down (like Gaul) into three parts:

  1. Jus ad bellum, the aforementioned going to war. Components of this include legitimate authority, just cause, right intent, likelihood of success, proportionality of ends, and last resort. One thing I’d like Patterson to have discussed is something I’ve complained about on this blog re the Confederacy. In addition to the lack of just cause (we’ll get back to the authority issue,) one reason the whole adventure was chimeric for the South from the the start is that the unequal resources of the two combatants guaranteed that the South would lose once the North got its military act together.
  2. Jus in bello, right conduct during the pursuit of the conflict. This includes proportionality and discrimination (the care taken to minimise casualities of non-combatants.)
  3. Jus post bellum, doing the follow-up to war right. This includes order, justice and concilitation. In some way this is the hardest part of the whole process, and Patterson does a good job in his discussion of what happens when the war is done.

Patterson’s basic case is that the United States, on the whole, has conducted its wars in accordance with just war theory at all phases of the conflicts. To support his case he goes back into some conflicts that have been forgotten, such as the pacification of the Philippines after the Spanish-American war or the bombing of Veracruz during the Mexican-American War. From a contemporary standpoint the most important discussion he has is Vietnam, the conflict that has poisoned American political and military life ever since. His thesis is that getting into Vietnam was right but the conflict got subsequently bogged down in personal ego (shame-honour) and domestic political considerations that proved harder to resolve than the conflict itself.

Hand in hand with that proposition is another: that the leitmotif of American wars is not the overwhelming industrial and mlitary power that the United States can bring to bear on any conflict it gets itself into, but the moral purpose and direction of the war effort, from the debate before conflict through the conflict itself and the desires of the country in settlement. That morality was certainly operative in the wake of the two World Wars, with Wilson’s Fourteen Points (in reality, he overdid it) and the whole order the United States put together in the wake of World War II.

Unfortunately, from Vietnam onwards, scholars have cast aspersions on the whole moral nature of American policy. This has had an impact on American military conduct, especially in the overly restrictive rules of engagement that our military forces have been saddled with in Afghanistan and Iraq. Much of the motivation behind Patterson’s book is to refute these aspersions on American policy. If the book has a weakness, however, it is that Patterson’s refutation is too narrow and really doesn’t address what “sticks in the craw” of his liberal opponents.

I think it’s fair to say that the real problem that the left has with American law, polity and policy on the whole is that our current Constitutional and legal system, designed to force consensus and prevent rapid change, has not been sufficiently responsive to the implementation of their idea. They have “despaired of the republic,” to use Livy’s expressive phrase. That comes out most clearly in the whole discussion of the American Revolution, whose legitimacy Patterson upholds using just war theory and the desire of the colonists to assert their “rights as Englishmen.” The left has responded by challenging the whole idea of rebellion against the constituted authority of the English Crown. This challenge, which one would more reasonably expect from conservative Christian and Gothardian sources, strikes one as odd coming from the left.

The morality issue brings up something else: what happens when the basis of American morality changes? Such a change would certainly come into play if the country’s idea were to completely “flip.” We already see a streak in leftist thought that places more importance on who makes the decisions than what decisions they make. As an example, the same James Mattis who resigned to gasps of horror under Donald Trump was fired with little fanfare by Barack Obama, in both cases for a similar reason: he took a more hawkish position than his dovish Commander-in-Chief. Would a more uniformly leftist United States, for example, send troops to enforce same-sex civil marriage, something that was floated in anticipation of a Hilliary Clinton victory? Or to ensure the commercial success of an American tech hegemon? Patterson doesn’t really address these kinds of issues but does discuss the impact of postmodernism, which breaks down adherence to a just war paradigm–and not necessarily in a more pacifist direction.

Patterson, however, is better at sticking to his subject than I am. The just war theory, for all of its shortcomings, needs a defence in our current situation, and Patterson does a good job in giving it that. Just American Wars: Ethical Dilemmas in U.S. Military History (War, Conflict and Ethics) is just such a needed defence, and deserves its place in this ongoing debate.

Wake From Your Sleep: The “Modern” Christmas Carol With a Traditional Sound

 

A favourite pastime of the #straightouttairondale crowd is to trash just about every piece of Catholic music written after 1965 (except, of course, what they put out.)  Boosting the “Jesus Music” era is a goal of this blog, but this gem has an appeal that gets past not only their idea but Roman Catholicism itself: it’s a good carol for just about anyone.

A great carol for your Christmas service, but remember Catholics: if it doesn’t start at Midnight, it’s not Midnight Mass.

We Don’t Need “Secular Celebrants” for Civil Marriage

Sometimes I despair this country will ever get this right:

“It can’t be done by secular celebrants in a vast majority of states,” said Nick Little, vice president and legal counsel for The Center for Inquiry, a secular organization that advocates for keeping religion out of public policy.

The Center wants that to change. It filed a lawsuit last month along with Bratteng against the clerk of Dallas County, Texas, as part of an ongoing effort to change marriage laws. Similar challenges have already succeeded in Indiana and Illinois.

First, I still don’t think that we should have civil marriage at all.  The fact that certain groups have pushed to have it expanded only indicates that we’ll be saddled with it for the foreseeable future.

Second, if we do have this, it should be performed only by authorised and duly deputised officials of the state:

States care about who can solemnize, or officiate, a wedding ceremony because marriage is serious business, according to Robin Fretwell Wilson, a law professor and director of the family law and policy program at the University of Illinois. It comes with legal and financial benefits, like shared insurance coverage.

“Marriage is a vehicle for handing out so many benefits and protections,” Wilson said. “If you had a free-for-all, with basically anybody being allowed to marry you, you’d have fraud concerns.”

States reduce the possibility of fraud by limiting the pool of eligible wedding officiants. Typically, the only people who can solemnize a wedding are government or religious leaders.

It is civil marriage, after all.  In the past secular states have basically required people to be married by an active official of the state, and not recognised anyone else to do it (such as churches and ministers.)  That was started by the French and this is the way it is done in many parts of the world.

But Americans, who claim to becoming more cosmopolitan by the day, once again refuse to do things like the rest of the world does it (as is the case with the metric system and merit-based immigration.)  You think American secularists would be interested in advancing that cause on a substantive basis?  Think again!

 

Joe “I have here in my hand” McCarthy Meets his Match at Harvard

When it’s time to shove social theory down the throat of people, things get tough:

Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana held what was promoted as a run-of-the-mill meeting to ensure the groups were aware of the latest school policies on alcohol and sexual assault, but the meeting quickly took another direction, according to the lawsuit reported by the Harvard Crimson.

The suit alleges that, at the meeting, Khurana waved a sheet of paper in the air that he said contained accounts of sexual assault: “Khurana said that the papers in his hand were very embarrassing to the clubs and that he could not guarantee that they would not be leaked. But, Khurana said, if some clubs became co-ed — systematically and soon — that would help the situation. It was an unmistakable threat.”

That, to me at least, echoes the speech that really launched Joe McCarthy into national prominence.  Speaking at a Republican Women’s Club (a single-sex organisation!) in Wheeling, WV, he made this statement:

I have here in my hand a list of 205 [State Department employees] that were known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping the policy of the State Department.

There’s been a great deal of discussion of the exact number on McCarthy’s list, or whether it was a laundry list he was using as a prop.  It would be interesting to call Khurana’s bluff and see whether his list was genuine.  But bullying and intimidation is what the two speeches have in common, and in both cases it worked.  For a while, at least…let’s hope that the fall of Khurana and his ilk is as spectacular as Joe McCarthy, their MO is the same.

Andy Kessel’s Woes at the Clinton Foundation

It looks like things are catching up:

Kessel told MDA “There is no controlling Bill Clinton. He does whatever he wants and runs up incredible expenses with foundation funds, according to MDA’s account of the interview. “Bill Clinton mixes and matches his personal business with that of the foundation. Many people within the foundation have tried to caution him about this but he does not listen, and there really is no talking to him.”

MDA compiled Kessel’s statements, as well as over 6,000 pages of evidence from a whistleblower they had been working with separately, which they secretly filed with the FBI and IRS over a year ago. MDA has alleged that the Clinton Foundation engaged in illegal activities, and may owe millions in unpaid taxes and penalties.

From a personal standpoint, I am grieved at this: Andy Kessel and I were friends at the St. Andrew’s School in Boca Raton together, we reconnected years later.  He told me he joined the Clinton Foundation after a successful career on Wall Street as a giveback.  I really think that Andy was trying to do a good thing.

Unfortunately, in a culture like Bill Clinton came out of, doing a good thing is easier said than done, and I think that Andy was unprepared for that.  My dearly departed mother, who was born and raised a few miles north of Bill Clinton’s hometown of Hot Springs, told me one time that the Arkansas way was “If you can’t win, cheat.”  She knew this opaque culture she came out of well, and she wasn’t shy about using it against others when she felt the need to do so.  (She wouldn’t vote for Bill Clinton either.)

It’s easy when looking at Clinton’s Ivy League education and his successful political career which led him to two terms as President (he outsmarted Newt Gingrich and many others, too) to forget that he’s a product of his Scots-Irish origins and upbringing.  But that upbringing made him the masterful politician that he is.  The Ivy League business–and to some extent Hillary herself–were necessary to build “street cred” with the Democrat elite.  But the core never changes.  (That’s something you need to remember about Elizabeth Warren, too.)

My prayers are with Andy and his family.  He’s going to need them.  I think he’s a good guy who is finding out that it’s easier to be Bill Clinton’s enemy than his friend.

Google Employees Have Missed a Few Important Things

This is evident in their campaign after the 2016 election to block conservative media:

Google employees debated whether to bury conservative media outlets in the company’s search function as a response to President Donald Trump’s election in 2016, internal Google communications obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation reveal.

Some context is needed here: these are the same Google employees who have refused to do defence contract work because it was the “business of war.

I’ve been called unpatriotic on both this blog and Twitter.  But the reality is simple: unless you’re prepared to defend the country (especially when you can get paid to do so) you don’t have any business messing around with its political processes in the way Google can.  These latter day hippie dreamers have the idea that we can go on being the liberal hegemon they like without the military capability to back it up.  That may have been true in the past (before World War II, in the 1990’s when there was no other superpower) but that’s certainly not the case now.

And that leads to something else: if their idea is for only one side to be “out there” what’s the point of the United States?  Aren’t we supposed to be about freedom?  Unfortunately our discourse is dominated by a class that never knew real freedom to start with, and that’s most of the source of our problems.

If You Can’t Find a Crime, Make One Happen

That, according the Alan Dershowitz, is what Robert Muller has been doing:

The recent guilty plea of Michael Cohen of lying represents the dominant trend in Mueller’s approach to prosecution. The vast majority of indictments and guilty pleas obtained against Americans by Mueller have not been for substantive crimes relating to his mandate: namely, to uncover crimes involving illegal contacts with Russia. They have involved indictments and guilty pleas either for lying, or for financial crimes by individuals unrelated to the Russia probe. If this remains true after the filing of the Mueller report, it would represent a significant failure on Mueller’s part.

This is nothing new; we saw this with Scooter Libby (and I’m no Dick Cheney fan.)  But this is what happens when we try to use the criminal justice system to solve political problems (and whether they’re a problem depends of which side you’re on.)  We’re coming to the time when we won’t have a functioning political system because we’ve achieved Lenin’s goal: one political party in power and the other in jail.  Once that happens, we can transition to a Stalin who will make those who cheered this on regret it.

A Pesky Detail the “Religious Left” Overlooks on the Mission of the Church

In an excellent piece on the divide between the Remain-supporting clergy and the Leave-leaning laity of the Church of England, Giles Fraser makes this observation:

The job of the church is not to be a faintly Left-wing lobbying group for a slightly more redistributive tax policy or a more European focused Brexit deal. The job of the church is to point to this “other country”, God’s kingdom, and to set family, church and nation under its domain.

Religious left people love to decry “Christian nationalism” amongst their opponents, but they’re blind to the fact that they’re more often than not shilling for another form of nationalism (in this case the Procrustean and undemocratic EU, something Fraser explains elsewhere) and not for the true internationalism that the Christian Church as a whole was meant to have by its Founder.

Adopting that true internationalism will force people across the board in Christianity to abandon their pet secular goals, but that will be for the better, too.

My Response to Fleming Rutledge (@flemingrut) on Stewardship

In the run-up to Advent, the eminent Episcopal theologian Fleming Rutledge has posted an interesting piece entitled “Jesus’ Parable of the Money in Trust.”  It’s an interesting and informative piece, informative not only in its Biblical exegesis but also (doubtless unintentionally) about the Episcopal Church itself, and the changes wrought from the days when multi-generational Episcopalians (as I started out to be) gathered to worship “Gawd” on Sundays.

First the key takeaway: Rutledge is entirely correct to call out laity and clergy alike on the confusion wrought by the word “talent”:

As you can see, the master does not give out what we call “talents,” as in “gifts and talents.” The master gives out money. It’s unfortunate that the English word “talent,” meaning natural ability, is the same as the word for the gold coin in the original parable. As soon as we start talking about “talents,” we’re going to lose sight of the point altogether. We need to get “talents” out of our minds. This parable is about money. There’s this little slogan that Episcopalians use during stewardship season; I’m sure you’ve heard it—“time, talents, and treasure.” I don’t know who invented that, but in my perspective of the wider church, it’s done more harm than good. Putting time, talents, and treasure together distracts our attention from the real issue, which is money. For one thing, we don’t use the word “treasure” when we talk about money. Having those three “t”s sounds clever and quaint, but it also sounds irrelevant. It makes it too easy for us to avoid the issue of money. The slogan is ineffective because it lets people off the hook. If we can divert attention to time and talents, which aren’t very threatening, we don’t have to think about what really makes us nervous, namely, giving up some of our money. Over the years, various new titles for the parable have been proposed to correct the misunderstanding about “talents.” The best one is “The Parable of the Money in Trust.”[3] That we can understand.

Anyone with a decent classical education will spot this: the talent was a measure of the weight of gold in the Greco-Roman world, not a human attribute.  Having just marched through several books of Livy, the number of talents paraded in triumph becomes mind-boggling after a while.  Rutledge is right: in the narrative of the talents, we’re talking about money.

I think, however, that the biggest change that’s taken place is not in the correction of our understanding of what Our Lord was talking about when he referred to “talents” (and I would interpret the parable a little more broadly than she does, for reasons I will discuss.)  What’s changed more than anything else is the way Americans in general and Episcopalians in particular look at money, and that, IMHO, is what has made it possible for Rutledge to set forth the thesis she has done.

Particularly as a product of a multi-generational Episcopal background (on my paternal grandmother’s side) Episcopalians saw themselves as the keepers of a nice, aesthetically pleasing, old-money religion free from the intrusions of tasteless nouveaux-riches making a statement and getting away with it.  From a religious standpoint, Episcopalians were free from fulminations  before the offering of money-grubbing rednecks across the tracks.  Ironically, that was a major attraction for people like my mother, who was trying to escape (with mixed success) her dogmatic Baptistic past, not only about the money but about everything else.  Ironically the Episcopal Church gave cover to the many upwardly mobile people after World War II who wanted the supremely respectable form of Christianity without having to fight the uphill battle of changing the churches they were raised in.  The Episcopal Church’s greatest growth period was from the end of World War II to the mid-1960’s, a growth fuelled in part by that desire, and it’s been a bumpy ride downward ever since.

In any case, the hegemony of the “old money culture” has been swept away, not only by the social upheavals of the 1960’s but also by the Boomers’ stunning volte-face in the wake of that decade towards a “get rich” mentality.  Today we have people who have accumulated enormous sums of money in a short period of time being lionised as the moral guides of our society, additionally able with their new-found wealth to spread money-favouring patronage.  Their self-image as the moral guides of society is undeserved,  but in these United States, we’re obsessed with the money because that’s what it’s become about.

In this way, the traditional Episcopal paradigm about money, Biblical or not, has been blown away for good.  That demise is accentuated by the simple fact that, as the Episcopal Church has declined, Evangelical and Pentecostal churches have risen.  Especially with the latter, generous stewardship is not only encouraged, it’s expected.  It’s a revelation to many traditional Episcopalians, but churches which expect a great deal from their congregants fiscally also expect much–and generally get it–with other aspects of their congregants’ lives.  The “time, talent and treasure” triple of traditional Episcopalianism is  package deal: you get one, you get the rest.

This is one place where the Episcopal Church’s elevated demographics have worked against it: in general, the higher the income level and wealth, the smaller portion of it goes to any kind of charitable work, church or otherwise.  (I’m excluding the business of foundations, which aren’t Biblical either and are a source of patronage.)  And that goes for the rest of the contribution, too.  For all it’s social justice striving of the last half century, the Episcopal Church has not quite figured out how to transform the preferential option for the poor into the preferential option of the poor.  Had it done so, it would have also changed the commitment level of its congregants, too.

It’s interesting that Rutledge notes the following:

Affluent churches have a particular challenge in this regard. Building up large endowments is a hedge against an uncertain future. An endowment needs wise, shrewd management, that’s for sure. But it is human nature to be overly cautious in this regard. We don’t typically look for ways to give away money. Consequently, we’re likely to be uneasy about Jesus’ message. Instead of recognizing it as our charter of freedom, we feel it as a threat. So we cling to what we have and we don’t risk anything. The more comfortable we get in our churches, the more likely we are to hang on to our money, so that it just goes round and round in a tight little circle.

As the Episcopal Church’s membership has declined, its reliance on endowed money has increased, with the occasional looting of the endowments.  Rutledge’s call for better money stewardship amongst the parishioners can be seen as a response to that reality.  If the rest of the church world can get along without over-reliance on endowments, why can’t we?  It’s a serious question, but until the Episcopal Church figures out how to attract new people with a new level of commitment, that question will go unanswered.

And the biggest danger of emphasising the money aspect of this parable is that some will take it as reducing Christianity to giving in the offering plate.  I don’t think that’s Rutledge’s intent.  That reduction is the biggest fault of prosperity teaching: it reduces our relationship with God to a money transaction, and that’s patently false.  As noted earlier, the Christian’s commitment to God is a total one.  Although this parable is about money it’s also about more.

I think that Rutledge has given us a valuable contribution to the understanding of this parable.  But I also think that this understanding does not need to be taken out of context in the current climate in the US about it being “all about the money.”  It isn’t.  It includes that, but it’s much more, and the sooner we all recognise that fact, the better.