Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Whig Narrative and American Christianity, or I am a Christian, not a Whig

I am a Christian, not a Whig.


“Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer.
If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”  --Mere Christianity

(on phases) I assume that the creature has been through several of them before—they all have—and that he always feels superior and patronising to the ones he has emerged from, not because he has really criticised them but simply because they are in the past. (You keep him well fed on hazy ideas of Progress and Development and the Historical Point of View, I trust, and give him lots of modern biographies to read? The people in them are always emerging from Phases, aren’t they?) –Screwtape Letters


The Whig Narrative and American Christianity

In the August/September print edition of First Things (Subscribe!) R. R. Reno comments on the puzzling fact that bathroom access for transgender students ranks as high as it does on the presidential policy agenda. Given the many critical issues facing vastly more Americans, Reno asks, why so much attention to this issue?

Reno locates the answer in the legacy of post-sixties liberalism. While this explanation is useful to a point, I don’t find it fully satisfying. After all, the question is not simply how we got here, but how we got here so phenomenally fast. It wasn’t so long ago that gay marriage was the reductio ab absurdum in policy arguments over sexual orientation. And transgenderism, let alone questions of bathroom access for transgender students in public schools, was so far off the policy radar it was inconceivable that it would receive presidential attention.

The rapidity of the change cannot be ascribed merely to the political power of liberals, though they’ve done their part. Even among liberals, opinion has lagged the legal and policy changes. (Think of President Obama’s speedily evolving positions on gay marriage.)

There’s something deeper going on, something that renders Christian and conservative arguments on these issues particularly ineffective. These issues are framed by a fundamental outlook that is shared by most Americans, including most conservatives and Christians. This outlook sets up the liberal win and the Christian and conservative loss. For want of a better term, I call it the Whig narrative.
Historians deride as “Whig history” accounts that describe history as the ever-progressing movement toward more freedom, equality, and democracy. The Whig narrative is the popular version of Whig history. It sees history as always progressing toward the abolition of arbitrary differences between people: between lord and commoner, free man and slave, man and woman, the propertied and the property-less, black and white, rich and poor, etc. For Americans, America’s Founding is a singularly powerful unfolding of the Whig narrative, and with it the Whig narrative jumps into hyperdrive.
The Whig narrative might also be called the liberal or Progressive narrative. But those labels miss the centrality and breadth of the narrative. American Christians and conservatives imbibe this narrative as deeply as do liberals and Progressives—sometimes even more deeply. All Americans are Whigs, distinguished only by their more-liberal or more-conservative Whiggery.

Though the present-day implications of Whiggery are hostile to Christianity, Whiggery and Christianity walked in tandem in the U.S. for centuries. Many sermons of pre-revolutionary and revolutionary America glided all too easily between the political freedom promised in and by the revolution and the spiritual freedom promised in and by Jesus Christ. Likewise, the (Protestant) Whig narrative of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries emphasized increasing freedom from superstition (i.e. Catholicism) and from bondage to a foreign potentate (i.e. the pope).
Indeed, it is on the issue of “freedom” that the Christian narrative and the Whig narrative intersect (and diverge). Both narratives value freedom, but they understand it in different ways. For Christians, “freedom” ultimately looks to freedom from bondage to Satan and sin, albeit with implications for bondage to other humans. The Whig narrative adapts the Christian emphasis on freedom, with a different end in view. The Christian narrative has proven persuasive and powerful in the past. Whether it can rival the power of the Whig narrative in the current climate in America is the big question of the moment. (How it might do so, and the likelihood of success, is a topic for future posts.)

The intersection of the Whig narrative and American Christianity was merely tactical; the Whig narrative turned against its Protestant Christian counterpart in the twentieth century. Today, freedom from superstition means rejecting all religious belief, not simply Roman Catholicism. An enslaved conscience now is one that recognizes any religious authority, not simply one that submits to a human pope.

Because of the centuries-long vocabulary of the Whig narrative whereby Americans (largely) understood themselves and the American project, the recent progression of the Whig narrative beyond Christian comfort zones has caught American Christians and conservatives flat-footed. But the Whig narrative never recognized American Christianity as its terminus. The abolition of arbitrary difference continues its advance—abolishing limits on the marriage right based on the gender pairing of the couple, and now abolishing differential access to bathrooms based on a person’s gender self-identification.

Many American Christians who endorse the earlier phases of the Whig narrative balk at its more recent applications. But the power of the Whig narrative derives from the interlocking continuity of the narrative itself. In the logic of the Whig narrative, to reject any one phase of the narrative—such as the extension of transgender bathroom access—is to reject all previous phases as well. It implies the rejection of civil rights for blacks, votes for women, the abolition of slavery, the abolition of property requirements for voting; it implies the rejection of the whole historical march against arbitrary difference and power. It means being un-American, at least as the Whig narrative powerfully conceptualizes Americanness.

To be sure, there are other narratives—significant and powerful narratives. But the Whig narrative is long-lasting and broadly shared. It is almost, if not quite, the official confession of American civil religion. It articulates an anthropology (to be human means to define oneself), an ethics (maintaining difference arbitrarily is wrong), and an eschatology (the progress of history). It contains a Great Commission and a form of redemption offered not only to America, but to the world.
Constructing and spreading a full-fledged Christian counternarrative won’t be the work of a moment. Such a counternarrative must not consist of mere rejection and reaction. The Whig narrative is entwined in the very warp and woof of what we think and how we think. Engaging it persuasively, both personally and culturally, will be no mean feat.

James R. Rogers is Associate Professor of Political Science at Texas A&M University.






Thursday, September 15, 2016

A Republican's Creed

I believe in the Dollar Almighty, maker of American greatness,
and in Capitalism, our Lord,
which was conceived by the Dutch and English,
re-born by the Objectivist Ayn Rand,
suffered under the Democrats,
was crucified, dead and buried under Communism and Socialism.
In the 1980's it rose again, and sitteth on the right hand of Donald Trump.
From thence it shall come to further enrich the 1%.

I believe in Friedrich Hayek,
the Holy Free Market,
the initiative of the individual,
the collection of debt,
the resurgence of Wall Street,
and the rational economic order. Amen.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Distinguish to Unite



This article beautifully expresses what I have long attempted to say...

Distinguish to Unite

Posted on May 12, 2016 by: Br. Albert Thomas Dempsey, O.P.
http://www.dominicanajournal.org/distinguish-to-unite/


The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

Isaiah Berlin once quoted this adage of the Greek poet Archilochus in his essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” using it to classify authors and intellectuals into two categories.  Berlin’s hedgehogs, like Plato, Dostoevsky, and Nietzsche, demonstrate a tendency to reduce things to simplicity. They “relate everything to a single central vision, one system, less or more coherent or articulate, in terms of which they understand, think and feel—a single, universal, organising principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance.”  Foxes, on the other hand, like Aristotle, Shakespeare, and Joyce, view the world as irreducibly complex, they “pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way, for some psychological or physiological cause, related to no moral or aesthetic principle.  These last lead lives, perform acts and entertain ideas that are centrifugal rather than centripetal; their thought is scattered or diffused, moving on many levels, seizing upon the essence of a vast variety of experiences and objects for what they are in themselves, without, consciously or unconsciously, seeking to fit them into, or exclude them from, any one unchanging, all-embracing, sometimes self-contradictory and incomplete, at times fanatical, unitary inner vision.”

Although Berlin warns of the limitations of over-pressing this dichotomy, he nonetheless finds it useful for literary criticism, proceeding in his essay to conclude that Tolstoy was a fox by nature behaving as a hedgehog because of his religious convictions.
Today, one still encounters both approaches.  Nor are they limited to the intellectual realm—these tendencies in thought shape people’s lives.

In academia, in medicine, even in social interactions, knowledge and practice are becoming increasingly fragmented.  Not wanting to over-simplify matters, scientists adopt models so complex that only a handful of experts can grasp them; doctors become so specialized in treating a particular disease that it becomes all they do; people increasingly separate their professional life from their family life and from their recreation.  This impulse to break things apart, analyze them individually, and determine the most effective course of action is quite strong and has benefited society immensely, producing technological marvels and record-breaking athletes.
Yet the fragmentation of knowledge remains in tension with another deep-seated human impulse: the natural desire to find connections between things.  Students delight in discovering the relations between material discussed in different classes; adults long to acquire wisdom, that overarching understanding of how all things fit together.
Unfortunately, the world has lost sight of true wisdom and seeks to find its unity in countless counterfeit ideologies that claim to solve life’s mysteries while really just ignoring actual distinctions.  Marxism, Nazism, Scientism, Scientology, Postmodernism, Gender Ideology, Moral Relativism—the list of pernicious totalitarian ideals, and the catalog of their calamitous effects in the last century, could fill volumes.

The Church’s common doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas, was neither a hedgehog nor a fox.  Instead, with angelic keenness of insight, he recognized that all things come from God and reflect some share of His splendor.  Yet the Creator is infinite and His creatures finite.  No creature can adequately capture the fullness of God’s majesty, nor can even the sum of all creation rival His brilliance.  Nevertheless, creation is like a vast, multifaceted gem—each of its myriad facets glimmering with some small reflection of the divine light.  God is the unifying principle the human intellect yearns to apprehend, yet this unity of origin does not negate the real distinctions among creatures: each shares a unique portion of God’s infinite goodness.  Thus, Aquinas and his students acknowledge a single universal organizing principle—God—without reducing the real differences among things.  Theirs is no spurious man-made sapience, but the wisdom of God revealed to mankind.

Aquinas and his intellectual successors are famous—perhaps even infamous—for their love of distinctions.  Yet this is done according to an old scholastic axiom that one should distinguish in order to unite.  For example, the better one understands the distinctions among the three persons of the Trinity, the better one understands how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are related to one another in the most intimate union of the Godhead.  God can unite many things that seem quite disparate.  What could be further from the infinite, self-sufficient God than His finite, dependent creation?  Yet God entered into His creation, redeemed it, and is drawing it to Himself.  With the Incarnation, the limitless God clothed Himself with human nature, the uncontainable deigning to be contained in the womb of a virgin.  Similarly, when the Son of God ascended into heaven, He did not abandon His disciples.  Rather, He became more present to them.  Our first parents spoke externally to God and eventually tried to hide from Him.  Now, by virtue of baptism, the Holy Trinity dwells within the hearts of the Christian faithful, more present to them than they are to themselves.  Similarly, creatures can now receive the very substance of Christ every day in the Most Holy Eucharist.  O the sublimity of the union God has brought out of so great a difference! 

In this time when the Church commemorates the anticipation of the apostles in the upper room, let us pray that the Holy Spirit will come to us, uniting us to the true wisdom that is Christ.

Monday, September 05, 2016

A Meditation for Labor Day

Our Religion Of Economism Is Bankrupt

Monday, August 29, 2016

WHY, AS A CHRISTIAN, I CANNOT VOTE FOR GARY JOHNSON

 I renounced my Republicanism when Bush got us in the Iraq war, but I couldn't transfer my allegiance to the Libertarian party.

At the base of all Libertarian thought is the nominalist conviction that the only realities are particulars, or individuals. Libertarianism thus therefore replaces "community" with "collection," and cannot offer me a satisfying understanding of participation and the common good. Libertarians value autonomy and freedom as ultimate goods;

As Nathan Greeley explains in more detail,

For people who have accepted that autonomy is an unqualified good and a great truth, this view is difficult to conceive, much less tolerate, for it seems to bespeak sinister motives and a suspect character. This is because from the perspective of the true believer in autonomy, such people can only be regarded as being interested in controlling and limiting the rightful autonomy of others. And this is not just unfortunate or unhelpful in their eyes; rather, it is a perspective that constitutes a real threat to what is true and good. Christians, from this point of view, are either duped or dupers; in either case, they can hardly be regarded as a force for truth and goodness in the world.

So a rather stark conflict ensues. Advocates for autonomy and advocates for Jesus as Lord cannot ever truly make peace. They can, and ideally should, tolerate other views and even love each other as human beings, but any kind of genuine rapprochement between their perspectives is out of the question. A disconnect and incommensurability seems inevitable and intractable. Many people in our society are unaware of how deep this cleft goes, however, and many people who regard themselves as Christians give more credence to what is peddled under the banner of autonomy than they realize. As I said earlier, it promulgation is ubiquitous, perpetually inundating us in countless ways. For those who have come to revere autonomy, it really becomes a gospel, a source of good news, and such people will naturally want to share it with others, even if they are not fully aware of what they are doing. Sometimes, simply by telling people that they “need to be true to themselves,” for example, or by iterating similar statements which have taken on the character of axiomatic platitudes in our culture, is to proselytize the gospel of autonomy. The idea, though often not made explicit, is that each individual is the master of their fate, the captain of their soul, and this is an important reason why some ethicists still insist that any form of authoritative theistic ethic violates autonomy.>
http://moralapologetics.com/how-to-think-about-the-gospel-of-autonomy/

As a Christian, I hold that while freedom is a good, it is not THE good: God is the greatest good, and the source and end of all goods.

Paul writes, in Phil. 2:2-4, 19-21,
2 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others….19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. 20 I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. 21 For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ."
This is why, as a Christian, I cannot be a Libertarian.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Madonna del Soccorso,

Susan informs me that today is the Feast of the Dormition, and has sent me some images of Mary as Mother Bear... of course she knows that, like the Madonna del Soccorso, I would do anything to protect my kids!



Thursday, August 04, 2016

Interpreting scripture, interculturally



Beth Bilynskyj
I had an interesting intercultural experience this morning in children's church. We were discussing how Joseph's brothers were jealous of him, and threw him in the pit and sold him as a slave. JuEun, a young Korean girl, was puzzled by the story. "Why did they do that?" she wondered. "You can always get yourself a new coat...but you can't get another brother."