Saturday 11/5/16

  1. Spookiest sentence in the Bible
  2. Destined to unravel
  3. Neville Chamberlain’s bum rap
  4. Deplorable, irredeemable Vladimir
  5. John the Baptist to the coming of Trump


First Things

1

Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead’” (Luke 16.29-31).

Most of the time, when we read this parable, we focus on the picture of Hades and Paradise. Or we think about the failure of the Rich Man to take care of poor people like Lazarus. Or we consider the fact that in God’s eternity, all unfairness and evil will be repaired and all hurts will be healed by the Peace of Christ.

These are all true and important things. But they are not the main point of this parable. (Besides, it is a perilous thing to establish doctrine on the particular points of a parable that is meant to be interpreted allegorically. I am not sure that this story was primarily intended to form an eschatology.)

The main point of the parable — the whole reason, the moral, for why the Lord told this story — is nested in the last three verses …

Miracles, or spectacular signs and wonders, might be enough to start faith, but they are never enough to keep faith going. 

“And besides,” he continued, “even if someone does indeed rise from the dead, they wouldn’t be persuaded.”

This is perhaps the spookiest, most haunting sentence in the entire Bible.

Just Who is telling this story about the demand for drama, signs and wonders? Who is the One narrating this parable about what real life is about, what beauty looks like and what peace and light really are?

It is Jesus, of course, the One Who really did rise from the dead.

(Fr. Jonathan Tobias, Let Jesus Be Your Lazarus)

Tertiary Things

2

Starting in the 1980s, the Democratic Party—which previously represented the interests of labor unions and the wage-earning class—deserted that constituency in favor of urban professionals and various identity groups (African Americans, Latinos, liberated women, and gays). Meanwhile the Republican Party adopted a southern strategy, playing on white resentments lingering since the Civil War, cultivating the support of evangelical Christians, and making inroads among the languishing working class.

Packer doesn’t mention that American civilization was destined to unravel anyway. To understand why, we need an education in history and archaeology (read Joseph Tainter’s The Collapse of Complex Societies), an understanding of the implications of fossil fuel depletion (my own book The Party’s Over is not a bad place to start), and a little background in boom-bust economic cycles (try Turchin and Nefedov’s Secular Cycles, or David Graeber’s Debt). A small library of books has been written since the turn of the millennium describing the inevitability of civilizational decline or collapse due both to social pressures from unsustainable debt levels, increasing inequality, and rampant corruption; and to deeper infrastructural issues having to do with resource depletion, pollution (in the form of climate change), and the essential unsustainability of economic growth. Several authors, myself among them, have been warning that America risks coming apart. The current election cycle enables, or forces, us to watch the spectacle as it unfolds.

(Richard Heinberg, An order of chaos, please, originally published by Post Carbon Institute)

For what it’s worth, I think the Democrats started deserting the working class in 1972, not the 80s.

3

These five adjustments in America’s foreign-policy thought would be a good start:

First, Washington must relearn the art of the negotiated settlement …

Second, Washington’s foreign-policy elite must recognize, however belatedly, that the instrument of war is not the sole (and should rarely be the primary) tool of effective statecraft …

Third, we must cleanse ourselves of the destructive belief that global relations must be a zero-sum game …

Fourth, we must accept that not everyone in the world sees things through the same lens Washington does …

Fifth, sometimes it is to our advantage to “lose” tactical points in order to win strategically …

(Daniel Larison, “Munich” or Marvelous?) This is just a teaser. There’s much, much more, as hinted by my allusion to Neville Chamberlain.

4

Clinton’s strong views about Putin predated her arrival at Foggy Bottom in 2009 as Obama’s first secretary of state. As a U.S. senator, she condemned Russia’s military incursion in August 2008 in the Georgian republic and suggested that Putin, a former Soviet KGB officer who was then Russia’s prime minister, was a throwback to the country’s hegemonic past.

President George W. Bush had famously vouched for Putin’s character in 2001 by saying that he’d looked into the Russian’s eyes and gotten “a sense of his soul.” But Clinton, during her own first presidential campaign in early 2008, insisted that Bush had seen no such thing.

“He was a KGB agent — by definition he doesn’t have a soul,” Clinton said.

(Joby Warrick and Karen DeYoung, Washington Post)

Donald Trump has said many nasty things about many people, but Hillary’s “deplorable,” “irredeemable” and now “doesn’t have a soul” are in my mind even more chilling. Her policy toward Russia, including goading on protesters there, has been an ongoing provocation.

Cet animal est tres mechant; quand on l’attaque, il se defend. 

I have a premonition that scandal-plagued Hillary is going to be wagging the hell out of the dog — and painting her Republican adversaries as unpatriotic for questioning the Commander in Chief’s past while wars are being prosecuted.

5

In her proud ignorance, unrestrained narcissism, and contempt for the “establishment,” Palin was John the Baptist to the coming of Trump.

(George Packer, Hillary Clinton and the Populist Revolt, New Yorker; H/T Damon Linker)

As Damon Linker put it, enumerating the things that would give him perverse pleasure should Trump actually pull this off:

Never Trump conservatives would be forced to sacrifice their smugness. … No one who elevated or championed Sarah Palin … should be able to come out of the mess of this election with his smugness intact.

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.