Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Doing God in Politics: Christianity in a Time of Secular Liberalism

Michael JensenABC Religion and Ethics 31 May 2016
Whatever politics we pursue, some notion of the transcendent good is invoked. Secular liberalism has its own faith. It just pretends that it isn't there.
Whatever politics we pursue, some notion of the transcendent good is invoked. Secular liberalism has its own faith. It just pretends that it isn't there. Credit: cosmonaut               

The Rev. Dr Michael Jensen is rector of St. Mark's Anglican Church, Darling Point.

At 9am on 20 February 1547, a red-headed nine year old boy named Edward Tudor stepped onto the barge that would carry him to his coronation as King of England. Disembarking at Whitehall, the soon-to-be-styled Edward VI was robed in ermine-trimmed crimson velvet, and then processed to Westminster Abbey followed by a train of nobles, gentlemen, servants and guards.

In the richly decorated Abbey itself, a damask and gold throne had been placed on a dais. On this throne the young King was to sit for the duration of the seven-hour ceremony, raised on two cushions, because he was so small.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer - by this stage sporting a beard as a symbol of his rejection of the old Church and in solidarity with the European Protestant reformers - addressed the young King in a short speech, as "Most dread and royal sovereign." Cranmer compared Edward to another young monarch, the Old Testament King, Josiah, who famously restored Judah to worship of the true God. Cranmer declared:

"Your majesty is God's vice-gerent and Christ's vicar within your own dominions, and to see, with your predecessor Josiah, God truly worshipped, and idolatry destroyed, the tyranny of the bishops of Rome banished from your subjects, and images removed. These acts be signs of a second Josiah, who reformed the church of God in his days. You are to reward virtue, to revenge sin, to justify the innocent, to relieve the poor, to procure peace, to repress violence, and to execute justice throughout your realms."

But Cranmer was also at pains to declare to all the assembled throng that his role as Archbishop of Canterbury was not to authorize the power of the sovereign, nor to take it away. The ceremony of anointing with oil, which Cranmer was about to perform on the King, is, he says:
"but a ceremony; if it be wanting, that king is yet a perfect monarch notwithstanding, and God's anointed, as well as if he was inoiled."
The bishop's role is to declare the Word of God to rulers, and to show what God requires of them. But the bishop has "no commission to denounce your majesty deprived," just as it was not in his power "to dispose of the sword and sceptre to whom [he] pleases."

Now, Cranmer's speech represents something of a pulling apart of religion and politics. In the middle of this grand coronation, in a richly festooned ecclesiastical building, we find a Church willingly and deliberately laying aside its claim to a legal right over the state. But it is not retreating from politics, or staying silent. It declares, by means of its chief bishop, that its role is not legal, but prophetic. The King shall answer to God. That does not mean that he will answer to God through the bishop. Not at all: rather, the bishop shall serve to remind the King that his duty is ultimately to serve God; and that he has his authority from God's hand.

Read more at http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2016/05/31/4472848.htm

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Main Reason Things Happen as They Do in Our Country

Brian Ross, FB 5.26.16
As a society, we often create our own problems, and then we fumble creating solutions. Why? Because of our faulty "faith" commitments.

Many progressives assume that historical ethics and spiritual narratives are a danger to society. Human beings should be free to be anyone they want.

Then, when evil happens, the answer becomes: legislate, legislate, legislate. Not realizing that their own narratives helped to grease the wheels towards evil. They have dismantled thick narratives of transcendence that serve as a check on human actions and motives.

Similarly, many conservatives (who pay lip service to historical ethics and spiritual narratives) assume that any check on unfettered markets is quite ridiculous. Human beings, economically, should be free to do whatever they want. And to entice anyone they want to- with the widgets they have for sale.

Then, when evil happens, the answer becomes to preach more and more about historical ethics and spiritual narratives. Not realizing, that the structures of autonomous markets that they have created- form self-absorbed individuals who are more inclined towards evil. You can't market to people all day along about "what they, as an individual, deserve" in regards to new shiny products and assume this won't impact their self-identities.

We create our world, become shocked at what it becomes, and then we sadly double-down on poor solutions.

Power, Privilege, Heresy, and Playing Poker: Some Thoughts Post #UMCGC

We United Methodists of late don't appear to be united on many things, but for the most part we are opposed to gambling. Our Social Principles state,

Gambling is a menace to society, deadly to the best interests of moral, social, economic, and spiritual life, and destructive of good government. As an act of faith and concern, Christians should abstain from gambling and should strive to minister to those victimized by the practice. Where gambling has become addictive, the church will encourage such individuals to receive therapeutic assistance so that the individual's energies may be redirected into positive and constructive ends. The church should promote standards and personal lifestyles that would make unnecessary and undesirable the resort to commercial gambling-including public lotteries-as a recreation, as an escape, or as a means of producing public revenue or funds for support of charities or government (¶ 163G).

I'm very much in agreement with our position on gambling, but I must confess when it comes to the discussions we UMs often have on issues that deeply divide us, all too often I am reminded of the chorus from Kenny Roger's song, "The Gambler:"

You've got to know when to hold 'em

Know when to fold 'em

Know when to walk away

And know when to run

You never count your money

When you're sittin' at the table

There'll be time enough for countin'

When the dealin's done

The conversation on the issues that deeply divide us all too often resort to the continual holding and playing of two cards from the progressives-- the cards of power and privilege-- and one card from the traditionalists-- the heresy card. The continual and haphazard use of these three cards either stifles fruitful discussion or it leads us to talking past each other.

Read more at http://www.allanbevere.com/2016/05/power-privilege-heresy-and-playing.html

Monday, May 16, 2016

Corporate Idiocracy and the Manufacturing of ProducTrump

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Stop saying “love” when you really mean “liberal tolerance”

Sunday, May 15, 2016 — Adam Kotsko

I’ve noticed that among progressive Christians, “love” works as a kind of rhetorical trump card. Christians are supposed to “love,” hence you should be nice to people, hence you should be a liberal — or something to that effect. Are you worried about illegal immigration? Stop worrying and deploy some love. Does acceptance of homosexuality bother you? Well, I’ve got bad news — accepting homosexuality is a form of love, therefore you should do it. Case closed!

Presumably this rhetorical tactic does work in some individual cases,
Read more at https://itself.wordpress.com/2016/05/15/stop-saying-love-when-you-really-mean-liberal-tolerance/

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Meaninglessness of Our Political Discourse: A Lesson from George Orwell

By Randall Smith

In his famous 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell noted “the special connection between politics and the debasement of language.” “When one watches some tired hack on the platform,” wrote Orwell,

mechanically repeating the familiar phrases—bestial atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder—one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved, as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. . . . And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favourable to political conformity.

“Bestial atrocities,” “iron heel,” and “bloodstained tyranny” were the hack phrases of Orwell’s day, not ours. We look back on them with the amusement hindsight offers. We are less likely to be aware of our own sins against the English language, precisely because we are so close to the words and phrases that have become an automatic part of our vocabulary that we no longer realize how meaningless they are.

What if, in writing or speaking about important public matters, we have a similar problem using words or phrases that are meaningless?
Read more at http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2016/05/16920/

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Bearing the Cross

Posted on May 8, 2016

Read more at http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/bearing_the_cross_20160508

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Stanley Hauerwas on Mother's Day and Other Perversions in the Church

I assume most of you are here because you think you are Christians, but it is not at all clear to me that the Christianity that has made you Christians is Christianity. For example:

—How many of you worship in a church with an American flag?
I am sorry to tell you your salvation is in doubt.

—How many worship in a church in which the Fourth of July is celebrated?
I am sorry to tell you your salvation is in doubt.

—How many of you worship in a church that recognizes Thanksgiving?
I am sorry to tell you your salvation is in doubt.

—How many of you worship in a church that celebrates January 1st as the “New Year”?
I am sorry to tell you your salvation is in doubt.

—How many of you worship in a church that recognizes “Mother’s Day”?
I am sorry to tell you your salvation is in doubt.

I am not making these claims because I want to shock you. I do not want you to leave the Youth Academy thinking that you have heard some really strange ideas here that have made you think. It is appropri­ate that you might believe you are here to make you think, because you have been told that is what universities are supposed to do—that is, to make you think. In other words, universities are places where you are educated to make up your own mind. That is not what I am trying to do. Indeed I do not think most of you have minds worth making up. You need to be trained before you can begin thinking. So I have not made the claims above to shock you, but rather to put you in a position to discover how odd being a Christian makes you.

One of the great difficulties with being a Christian in a country like America—allegedly a Christian country—is that our familiarity with “Christianity” has made it difficult for us to read or hear Scripture. For example, consider how “Mother’s Day” makes it hard to compre­hend the plain sense of some of the stories of Jesus. In Mark 3:31–35 we find Jesus surrounded by a crowd. His mother and brothers were having trouble getting through the crowd to be with Jesus. Somebody in the crowd tells him that his mom cannot get through the mass of people to be near him. Which elicits from Jesus the rhetorical question “Who are my mother and brothers?” which he answered, noting, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Even more forcefully Jesus says in Luke 14:26: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” When you celebrate “Mother’s Day,” the only thing to do with texts like these is “explain them,” which usually means Jesus could not have meant what he plainly says.

Of course, the presumption that Christianity is a family-friendly faith is a small-change perversion of the gospel when compared to the use of faith in God to underwrite American pretensions that we are a Christian nation possessing righteousness other nations lack.

– Stanley Hauerwas, Working with Words: On Learning to Speak Christian (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2011), 116–7.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Book of Revelation: A Different Kind of “Apocalyptic” Text

Larry Hutardo

May 3, 2016

Prompted by a recent guest lecture on the Book of Revelation given here, I pondered to myself again how unusual the book is. We (scholars) typically associate Revelation with a body of ancient texts that we classify as “apocalyptic” writings. But, actually, Revelation stands out in a number of interesting features that may signal something historically significant.

Typically, for example, “apocalyptic” texts are pseudonymous, fictively ascribed to some ancient figure such as Abraham, Moses, Enoch or Ezra. And typically, the texts pretend to be revelations given to such a figure about events that were “future” for him, but are actually recent/past events for the real readers.  Examples include the Apocalypse of Abraham, the Book of Jubilees, 4 Ezra, 1 Enoch, 2 Baruch, and a few others. But perhaps the most well-known example is the book of Daniel in the Old Testament, especially Daniel 7–12.

The intended message in these texts seems to be to say to readers that those recent events (which are often such things as destruction, war, etc.) don’t signal God’s lack of control or care, for the texts claim that God forewarned about them.  The texts seem intended to comfort readers and assure them that God is really in charge, and so their faith is well placed.

It may be that the main reason for ascribing these writings to this or that figure of the biblical past was that by the time these texts were composed it was widely thought among second-temple Jewish circles that prophecy had ceased. So, you couldn’t easily hope to get a text accepted if it was presented as some new writing and revelation.

But Revelation is different in a number of striking ways.
Read more at https://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2016/05/03/the-book-of-revelation-a-different-kind-of-apocalyptic-text/?utm_content=bufferc7453&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

The Only Vote Worth Casting in November

Alasdair MacIntyre
University of Notre Dame

When offered a choice between two politically intolerable alternatives, it is important to choose neither. And when that choice is presented in rival arguments and debates that exclude from public consideration any other set of possibilities, it becomes a duty to withdraw from those arguments and debates, so as to resist the imposition of this false choice by those who have arrogated to themselves the power of framing the alternatives. These are propositions which in the abstract may seem to invite easy agreement. But, when they find application to the coming presidential election, they are likely to be rejected out of hand. For it has become an ingrained piece of received wisdom that voting is one mark of a good citizen, not voting a sign of irresponsibility. But the only vote worth casting in November is a vote that no one will be able to cast, a vote against a system that presents one with a choice between Bush's conservatism and Kerry's liberalism, those two partners in ideological debate, both of whom need the other as a target.

Why should we reject both? Not primarily because they give us wrong answers, but because they answer the wrong questions. What then are the right political questions? One of them is: What do we owe our children? And the answer is that we owe them the best chance that we can give them of protection and fostering from the moment of conception onwards. And we can only achieve that if we give them the best chance that we can both of a flourishing family life, in which the work of their parents is fairly and adequately rewarded, and of an education which will enable them to flourish. These two sentences, if fully spelled out, amount to a politics. It is a politics that requires us to be pro-life, not only in doing whatever is most effective in reducing the number of abortions, but also in providing healthcare for expectant mothers, in facilitating adoptions, in providing aid for single-parent families and for grandparents who have taken parental responsibility for their grandchildren. And it is a politics that requires us to make as a minimal economic demand the provision of meaningful work that provides a fair and adequate wage for every working parent, a wage sufficient to keep a family well above the poverty line.

The basic economic injustice of our society is that the costs of economic growth are generally borne by those least able to afford them and that the majority of the benefits of economic growth go to those who need them least. Compare the rise in wages of ordinary working people over the last thirty years to the rise in the incomes and wealth of the top twenty percent. Compare the value of minimum wage now to its value then and next compare the value of the remuneration of CEOs to its value then. What is needed to secure family life is a sufficient minimum income for every family and that can perhaps best be secured by some version of the negative income tax, proposed long ago by Milton Friedman, a tax that could be used to secure a large and just redistribution of income and so of property.

We note at this point that we have already broken with both parties and both candidates. Try to promote the pro-life case that we have described within the Democratic Party and you will at best go unheard and at worst be shouted down. Try to advance the case for economic justice as we have described it within the Republican Party and you will be laughed out of court. Above all, insist, as we are doing, that these two cases are inseparable, that each requires the other as its complement, and you will be met with blank incomprehension. For the recognition of this is precluded by the ideological assumptions in terms of which the political alternatives are framed. Yet at the same time neither party is wholeheartedly committed to the cause of which it is the ostensible defender.
Republicans happily endorse pro-choice candidates, when it is to their advantage to do so. Democrats draw back from the demands of economic justice with alacrity, when it is to their advantage to do so. And in both cases rhetorical exaggeration disguises what is lacking in political commitment.

In this situation a vote cast is not only a vote for a particular candidate, it is also a vote cast for a system that presents us only with unacceptable alternatives. The way to vote against the system is not to vote.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Democracies End When They Are Too Democratic

That’s what’s scariest about Donald Trump.

Democracies end

when they are too democratic.

And right now, America is a breeding ground for tyranny.

As this dystopian election campaign has unfolded, my mind keeps being tugged by a passage in Plato’s Republic. It has unsettled — even surprised — me from the moment I first read it in graduate school. The passage is from the part of the dialogue where Socrates and his friends are talking about the nature of different political systems, how they change over time, and how one can slowly evolve into another. And Socrates seemed pretty clear on one sobering point: that “tyranny is probably established out of no other regime than democracy.” What did Plato mean by that? Democracy, for him, I discovered, was a political system of maximal freedom and equality, where every lifestyle is allowed and public offices are filled by a lottery. And the longer a democracy lasted, Plato argued, the more democratic it would become. Its freedoms would multiply; its equality spread. Deference to any sort of authority would wither; tolerance of any kind of inequality would come under intense threat; and multiculturalism and sexual freedom would create a city or a country like “a many-colored cloak decorated in all hues.”

Read more at http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/04/america-tyranny-donald-trump.html#