John Huntsman leads the lemmings

I fear that John Huntsman may just be the first of many GOP Presidential hopefuls to endorse same-sex marriage.

The logic is simple: The game is over; defenders of traditional marriage have lost whether they know it or not. The GOP will become irrelevant it it doesn’t get on board with the Zeitgeist. The rest of Hunstman’s blather and cant can’t hide that calculating core.

The premise may be true. Rod Dreher thinks it is (here, here and here). I tend to think it is, too, though part of me wants to risk a glorious death in the battle anyway (metaphorically speaking). The real difference, though, may be that I don’t care about the GOP as an institution any more, while Dreher shows signs that he does care despite denying it.

One hopeful sign is that some supporters of same-sex marriage are beginning to admit that there’s nothing bigoted about opposing it if one still holds that marriage is the union of a man and a woman in a bond oriented toward procreation and formation of a biological family. The bad news is that that the admission has the whiff of a victor’s magnanimous throw-away line, and that almost nobody, including Republicans who have ritually opposed SSM, seems actually to hold that view any more.

I’ve started assembling a list of consequences and implications of the competing view of marriage – that it is only the contractual expression of a couple’s love and commitment to each other – and I may post it only so that when sanity returns, my posterity can point with pride and say “great-great-grandpa got it.”

This assumes, of course that people will still know and care, or will once again at least want to know and begin caring, about their ancestors. For all I know, my great-great-grandchildren will be conceived and gestated in a laboratory, with anonymous sperm and ovum donors, to serve as a prop for a same-sex pair of Society for Creative Anachronism members who want to create the simulacrum of an historic family.

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Larry Norman

Joel Miller blogged that this is the 5th anniversary of the death of Larry Norman, a giant in Christian Rock — who I not only met, but transported, all by my little ole’ self in my Volkswagen, from the Peoria Airport to the Bradley Campus for a concert.

I don’t try to keep up with today’s commercial Contemporary Christian Music racket (“if you like Guns’N’Roses, you might like This Pathetic Krustian Knock-Off”), nor, for that matter, did I try to keep up with Norman after a few years post-college. It appears that he had a head injury and maybe a bipolar disorder. He bought the whole Rapture/Great Tribulation heresy hook, line and sinker. He probably had other feet of clay, too.

Today, if someone tried to do his music in my Church, I’d be on them just a few milliseconds slower than I’d be on Pussy Riot if they decided to target my Church. “Christian music” it may be, but it’s not suitable for corporate worship.

But I tolerate music outside Church that I’d never allow in. And Larry Norman, as I’m reminded by a collection of YouTubes, was a true original, nobody’s knock-off.

May he rest in peace.

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

On not going away mad

I wrote yesterday about the “conversion (to Orthodoxy) story” of Father John Whiteford, who influenced my conversion from a much different Protestant tradition. Today, I want to share a few more excerpts of his story.

So while at [Southern Nazarene University], my studies went on several tracks at once: there was the material I had to read for class; there was the material I read to counter the [religiously liberal] material I had to read for class; there was the material I read because I became interested in a particular topic; and then there was the material I read because I was looking for something deeper.

Perhaps his professors were trying to “make a new contribution to theology.”

Of a Pastor he encountered at a “non-denominational Church”:

I noticed over time that this pastor would preach based on whatever he happened to be reading at the time. For a while he was preaching sermons based on a Christian novel about spiritual warfare entitled “This Present Darkness.” Then he started preaching from Watchman Nee’s book “Spiritual Authority.” It began to seem like that church’s doctrine hinged on what he had eaten the night before. I increasingly began to see the folly of non-denominational Churches that have no accountability to anyone or anything beyond the whim of the pastors who head them.

Been there, done that. Even a little bit in the Christian Reformed Church, though far oftener in generic Evangelical Churches with no higher authority than the pastor.

Of an early interaction with an Orthodox Priest:

In that same course, our final paper, which we were each in turn to present to the class in the final days of the semester, was to be an exposition of our personal theology of the inspiration of Scripture …

Most of my research on the question of the inspiration of Scripture focused on the question of what Tradition had to say about it, and since at that point I had more or less a “branch-theory” understanding of what constituted the Church, I analyzed it in terms of what the “Early Church” had taught on the question, then what the Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox Church, and then the various major branches of Protestantism had historically taught… with a special emphasis on the branch that I was on at the time. What I found was that all Christians had affirmed the idea that the Scriptures were fully inspired, and were in fact inerrant. I had good sources for most of those sections, but not for the Orthodox. But I knew enough about the Orthodox Church to know that I needed to adequately cover their perspective. Since I had met Fr. Anthony Nelson and worked with him on several protests, I decided to call him up and discuss it with him. When he explained the Orthodox understanding of the inerrancy of Scripture, it made so much sense that it essentially became the final conclusion of my paper. In short, his explanation was similar to the one I later found in the writings of St. Augustine (Letter to St. Jerome, 1:3). We believe that the Scriptures are inerrant because God, as the one who inspired them, is on one level the author. If, however, we find something in Scripture that seems at odds with reason, we conclude that either we have flawed reasoning, or we have misunderstood the meaning of the Scriptures, or perhaps we have a bad translation or a bad manuscript… but we know the Scriptures are true… and if we don’t know for sure which of the above factors is the cause for the apparent conflict with reason, we don’t spend too much time worrying about it, because our understanding of the Scriptures as individuals is not infallible, nor should we expect it to be. The Church’s understanding of the Scriptures as a whole is infallible, and if we remain under the guidance of the Church, we will not go too far wrong.

No matter the question, one needed only to ask “What has the Church always taught on the matter?” Once you found the answer, the problem was solved; you just needed to conform to the teachings of the Church.

Of his realization that he probably was going to become Orthodox – which he hadn’t even told his wife yet:

[U]ntil I was sure that I wanted to do that, I didn’t let even my wife and closest friends know how serious my interest in Orthodoxy really was. Unfortunately, this had the effect of leaving many of my classmates and acquaintances thinking that one day I was a conservative Nazarene, and then on a whim I one day became Orthodox, but in reality it was the conclusion of a very long process and a great deal of intense study.

I had an analogous experience because I was an Elder in the Christian Reformed Church and had promised at my installation to not stir up trouble over any doctrinal doubts I might develop. For that reason, I bit my tongue and my eventual decision almost certainly seemed abrupt (though I absented myself for the public announcement, not returning except for weddings, funerals and such).

Of attending Orthodox Vespers Saturday, then presiding as Associate Pastor of a Nazarene Church on Sunday:

The contrast between these two very different styles of worship on a weekly basis had the effect of increasingly convincing me of the shallowness of Protestant worship in general, but especially the “contemporary” style of worship that my Nazarene Church was using. There were two “worship songs” that stood out as being especially shallow. One was “As David did in Jehovah’s sight, I will dance with all my might” – which had no meaning other than that we were going to jam to the tunes of the rock band that was playing the music. Another was “Blow the Trumpet in Zion,” which was based on words from Joel, chapter 2. However, this song twisted the meaning of the words in that prophecy to suggest that it was talking about what a powerful army the people of God were, when it fact the prophecy is a prophecy of judgment on the people of God who have sinned. The army that is talked about in that passage, that is about to  “run on the city” and “run on the walls” is an army that is coming to destroy Zion (Jerusalem) at God’s command. The trumpet is blown in Zion to sound the alarm, because Jerusalem is under attack. God is calling His people to repent, if they wish to avoid this judgment… but this “contemporary worship” song is anything but a penitential song. One Sunday, when I was asked to preach, I preached on Joel 2, and explained why this song distorted the meaning of the passage, and what it actually meant. Next Sunday, the “worship team” sang it again, as usual.

I managed to keep a fairly safe distance from such stuff even as a Protestant, but as our Church has a “worship skirmish” if not full-blown “worship wars,” I have heard “As a deer panteth for the water” (a “praise song” probably unknown now to anyone under age 15, such is the shelf life of such things) about a million times more than I needed to hear it. Note: The Groove was much more important than the Truth.

When I was studying Martial Arts in High School, the style I studied was a form of Chinese Kung Fu. Now in my Martial Arts school we had a number of “converts” from Tae Kwon Do, who had for some reason decided that they wanted to learn Kung Fu. What was interesting though, is a neophyte could walk in off the street and they would have an easier time learning to do the forms and stances correctly. The problem was that many of the stances and forms, as well as punches and kicks were very similar – but just different enough to make it very difficult to learn to do it the Kung Fu way. But when it came time to put these techniques into practice – when we sparred – this problem became even more apparent. With time, many of these “converts” learned to do the stances and forms correctly (though the Tae Kwon Do influence could still be seen at times) but when they would spar – many of them would spar as if they had never studied Kung Fu at all. The instructor would often stop the action, and tell such people, “Look, Tae Kwon Do is fine, if you want to learn Tae Kwon Do, but you’re here to learn Kung Fu. If you want to learn Kung Fu, you’re going to have to put what you know about Tae Kwon Do aside and use the techniques that you’ve learned here.” The reason these people reverted back to Tae Kwon Do while sparring is simple – when you’re sparring, you’ve got to think and act fast, and Tae Kwon Do was what came natural to them – in fact it was preventing them from arriving at the point at which Kung Fu would become natural, and so until they could come to the point at which they would lay aside their Tae Kwon Do techniques – little progress in Kung Fu could possibly be made.

Similarly, in the Orthodox Church today there are many converts from Protestantism, who have seen in Orthodoxy that which they found lacking in their former Protestant experience, but very often they speak and act in very Protestant ways still. This doesn’t mean that a convert from Protestantism can never really become authentically Orthodox, but it does mean that he has some additional hurdles to overcome. I should also point out, however, that many “cradle” Orthodox who have grown up in America’s Protestant culture, often think in Protestant ways, and so many of them also have to go through a conversion process of sorts, if they are to acquire an authentically Orthodox mindset… and here, they can be even more disadvantaged than a former Protestant, because at least a former Protestant knows that he once was a Protestant. Too many of those born into Orthodox families are completely oblivious to the influence that Protestant thinking has had on them.

This is very, very true. I’ve been lucky enough to become Cantor of my parish, so I’ve been “forced” to attend services and absorb what’s going on, but have never had to ad lib a single word. I can think of far worse regimens for unlearning Protestant ways.

I should point out that I did not leave the Church of the Nazarene angry. I was grateful for all that I had learned that was good and true, and the many sincere and loving people I had encountered. At the time I left, I thought of the Church of the Nazarene as a conservative denomination with many good qualities, but after discovering the patristic views of what constituted the Church, I simply became convinced that, as well meaning as it was, it just wasn’t the Church of the Fathers.


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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

To make no new contribution to theology

I have written before about the role a monograph by Father John Whiteford (then a Deacon, not a Priest) had in my becoming Orthodox. Now, he has published the story of how he moved from Nazarene to Orthodox, which was a route different than I took and different that I would have surmised from his monograph.

One of his milestones was deep academic encounter with Protestant theologian Thomas Oden, who “wanted the epitaph on his tombstone to say: ‘He added nothing new to theology.'”

If you find that jarring and inexplicable as an academic aspiration, you’re very much part of the mainstream. But consider:

There was one chapter of “The Word of Life” (chapter 7, which dealt with the question of the “Quest for the Historical Jesus”) that was such a thorough critique of Protestant liberalism that I put Batman comic sound effects in the margin: “Boom!”, “Pow!”, “Smack!”, etc.

“We violate a primary ethical demand upon historical study if we impose upon a set of documents presuppositions congenial to us and then borrow from the canonical prestige of the documents by claiming that it corresponds with our favored predisposition. That lacks honesty. The modern attempt to study Christ has done this repeatedly. The text has often become a mirror of ideological interest: Kant’s Christ becomes a strained exposition of the categorical imperativeHegel’s Christ looks like a shadow-image of theHegelian dialecticSchleiermacher’s Christ is a reflection of the awkward mating of pietism and romanticismStrauss’s Christ is neatly weeded of all supernatural referents.Harnack’s portrait of Christ looks exactly like that of a late nineteenth-century German liberal idealist; and Tillich’s Christ is a dehistorical existential idea of being that participates in estrangement without being estranged…. The historical biblical critic was “not nearly so interested in being changed by his reading of the Bible, as in changing the way that the Bible was read in order to confirm it to the modern spirit”” (The Word of Life: Systematic Theology Volume Two, (New York: Harper & Row, 1989), 224f).
“The hermeneutic of suspicion has been safely applied to the history of Jesus but not to the history of the historians. It is now time for the tables to turn. The hermeneutic of suspicion must be fairly and prudently applied to the critical movement itself. This is the most certain next phase of biblical scholarship – the criticism of criticism” (Ibid., p. 226).
“One obvious neglected arena is the social location of the quasi-Marxist critics of the social location of classic Christianity, who hold comfortable chairs in rutted, tenured tracks. These writers have focused upon the analysis of the social location of the writers and interpreters of Scripture. Yet that principle awaits now to be turned upon the social prejudices of the “knowledge elite” – a guild of scholars asserting their interest in the privileged setting of the modern university…. The motivation to discover unprecedented critical findings increases as professional advancement is held out as a reward for original research. This perennial habit of the German academic tradition has led biblical criticism to new ecstasies of faddism, where the actual history of Jesus vanishes in a pile of theories and speculations as to the redactive transmission of the tradition of testimony about him…. It is hardly probable that Holy Writ has been inspired, provided, traditioned at high cost, and defended for twenty centuries for no better purpose than to keep historians busy or advance academic careers… Jesus had harsh words for such obstructionists: “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering” (Luke 11:52)” (Ibid., pp. 226-228).

The third volume of his “Systematic Theology” was not published until 1992 …

In the second paragraph of his preface, he wrote:

“At the end of this journey I reaffirm solemn commitments made at its beginning:•    To make no new contribution to theology
•    To resist the temptation to quote modern writers less schooled in the whole counsel of God than the best ancient classic exegetes
•    To seek quite simply to express the one mind of the believing church that has been ever attentive to the apostolic teaching to which consent has been given by Christian believers everywhere, always, and by all – this what I mean by the Vincentian method (Vincent of Lerins, comm., LCC [Library of Christian Classics] VII, pp. 37-39,65-74; for an accounting of this method see LG [The Living God (volume 1 of his systematic theology)], pp. 322-25,341-51)I am dedicated to unoriginality. I am pledged to irrelevance if relevance means indebtedness to corrupt modernity. What is deemed relevant in theology is likely to be moldy in a few days. I take to heart Paul’s admonition: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we [from the earliest apostolic kerygma] had already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted [par o parelabete, other than what you received from the apostles], let him be eternally condemned [anathema esto]!” (Gal. 1:8, 9, NIV, italics added) (Life in the Spirit, Systematic Theology Volume Three, (New York: Harper & Row, 1992) p vii).

I mention this because, however alien it may be to the academic spirit, which has infused our schools of theology with the same “you must come up with something novel to earn a doctorate,” the urge to innovate is an open invitation to invention of new heresies (if any there be). It is contrary to the Orthodox commitment to preserve and transmit the faith once delivered to the saints, and I pray that our seminaries will never become so respectable academically that they invite innovation rather than deep insight into the tradition that’s already there.

I still (as here, here, here, here, here, here and here) positively revel in the backhanded compliment that Orthodoxy is “stagnant.” Nothing is so turgid and worthless as innnovation. Nothing so surely marks one as a lightweight as a desire for spiritual novelty. All that is not eternal is eternally irrelevant.

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Impeach Judge Polster

News from last week:

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio announced that on Friday 16 defendants were sentenced on hate crime charges growing out of a series of assaults on members of a rival Amish group in which the victims’  hair or beards were cut. (See prior posting.) As reported by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Bergholz Amish bishop Samuel Mullet received a 15 year sentence. Other defendants received sentences ranging from 7 years to just over one year. In imposing the sentences, federal district judge Dan Aaron Polster told the defendants:

Each and every one of you did more than terrorize, traumatize and disfigure the victims. You trampled on the Constitution.

(Religion Clause; emphasis added)

First, let me preemptively deny what a casual reader might suspect:

  • I’m not saying that bishop Samuel Mullet isn’t the mastermind of the attacks on completing Amish groups.
  • I’m not denying that the attacks were meant to humiliate, intimidate and to deprive the victims of an outward sign of their religious identity.
  • I’m not saying that the “beard trimmings” and “haircuts” were not motivated by hatred for the competing Amish.
  • I’m not saying that bishop Mullet’s group isn’t a cult or that he isn’t dangerous.
  • I’m not saying that unauthorized beard trimmings and haircuts shouldn’t be a crime or that they’re not crimes. They certainly are a form of criminal battery.
  • I’m not saying that 15 years is too long a sentence.

I now am saying that not one of the Defendants “trampled on the Constitution.”I am saying that the federal judge who said they did  sounds like a constitutional ignoramus or a motor-mouth, both of which disqualify him for a federal judgeship in my opinion. (I’m probably in a minority. In a world of Judge Judies, we seemingly want our judges to be tart-tongued purveyors of black-robed bread and circuses.)

The Constitution limits government. Got that?

As my constitutional law professor, the late Patrick Baude put it, “If the Pope of Rome, the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem and the Rev. Billy Graham got together and engineered the assassination of the President because of some common religious animus, they would not thereby violate the Constitution.” The first amendment has no application whatever to what any church, priest, pastor, curate, or other officer of a religious society may do.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ….

The Constitution limits government.

There are too may people already who fancy that a Church or pastor can violate the “separation of Church and state.” We don’t need Federal Judges pouring gasoline on that fire.

Federal prosecutors argued that bishop Mullet should get a life sentence. I already hinted elsewhere that a law whereby a man might be imprisoned for life for unauthorized beard trimmings and haircuts if motivated by “hate” is a tool I don’t want government to have. But the prosecutors’ Happy Dance Press Release was a model of sobriety compared the judge’s sloppy extemporizing.

As long as I’m shooting off my mouth, let me add that we muddle matters when we pass federal laws like the “Matthew Shepard-James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act” (under which bishop Mullet was convicted) and call them “civil rights” laws. This summary, which illustrates the muddle, is mistaken – although it’s sharper than most people’s minds seem to be:

Civil liberties are protections against government actions. For example, the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights guarantees citizens the right to practice whatever religion they please. Government, then, cannot interfere in an individual’s freedom of worship. Amendment I gives the individual “liberty” from the actions of the government.

Civil rights, in contrast, refer to positive actions of government should take to create equal conditions for all Americans. The term “civil rights” is often associated with the protection of minority groups, such as African Americans, Hispanics, and women. The government counterbalances the “majority rule” tendency in a democracy that often finds minorities outvoted.

I dissent. “Civil liberties” and “civil rights” are substantially synonymous. I wouldn’t object if someone wanted to say that civil liberties keep the government caged and off our turf, and that civil rights have to do with things we may demand from government – if that list includes only things that are the government’s to give in the first place, such as the franchise, due process, jury trials and the like. But government these days has taken to putting its thumb on the scale balancing the rights of citizens among themselves and calling that “civil rights.” That’s wrong.

The quest for equal conditions for all Americans, insofar as it results in countermanding majority decisions that do not infringe civil liberties or civil rights, is a form of tyranny as it deprives the majority of its right to self-governance. Insofar as it burdens other citizens with obligations to be nice to people they may find odious, or to do business with those they might wish to shun, it is potentially a form of tyranny, and needs very substantial justification.

The Constitution limits government. Including courts. Even if the courts are motivated by a desire for greater equality than the constitution requires.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

The French way with words

The local paper Tuesday picked up a Fort Wayne News Sentinel column that made an interesting point about the Culture Wars.

The author, a “conservative with strong libertarian leanings — or a libertarian with strong conservative underpinnings,” noted that despite the rumored moratorium on social issues, he’s not feeling the love as he sees movement on:

• Women in combat.
• Gays in the Boy Scouts.
• Gun control.
• Immigration reform.
• Guaranteed sports access for the handicapped.

That would not be my list. Others would be. But the the author’s point is valid:

But it annoys me no end that most of the commentariat on one side feel perfectly free to browbeat the other side about polluting the body politic with divisive wedge issues — shut up about abortion and traditional marriage! — to the point where even some conservatives cave.

Oh, yes, let’s have a moratorium on social issues, urged then-Gov. Mitch Daniels. At the same time, they go about merrily pursuing their own wedge issues. And they feel absolutely no shame about it. Why should they, when they hardly ever get called on it?

This takes me back to one of my favorite remarks on the bigotry of the bien pensants:

One suspects that the bashing of the religious right amounts to little more than that right-thinking people find the religious right distasteful.  The logic is “We are good, true and beautiful.  But we find you repulsive.  Therefore there must be something very wrong with you.”  The reasoning is impeccable given the first premise, but perhaps the first premise is false.    The French have a witticism: “Cet animal est tres mechant; quand on l’attaque, il se defend.”  (This animal is very wicked; when you attack it, it defends itself.)  The religious right did not start the fight.  For more than a quarter century, elite, privileged, sophisticated, and “right-thinking” Americans have exhibited contempt for some fundamental values, and have exhibited even greater contempt for the religious traditionalists who hold them.

David Carlin, Right Thinking About the Religious Right, First Things, November 1994.

1994. Note that. It reminds me of another French saying: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.