Where Are the Watchmen?

I’m attending the Eighth Day Symposium, an Orthodox-inspired but broadly ecumenical gathering, Friday and Saturday. The Symposium title is “Where Are the Watchmen?,” based on a September 2016 Harpers essay by Alan Jacobs.

Some highlights of Friday. Sit back. It’s long.

Kudos to the Cogi app for letting me capture highlights verbatim. Some of the expressions are a little goofy reduced directly to print — but that’s my experience of what happens to speech when transcribed. The written word is subtly different than the spoken word, and the written word, from intelligent and articulate people, can at times seem stupid and tongue-tied.

  1. Dyslexic Security System
  2. Secularity is the seminal American idea
  3. Evangelicalism’s Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin moment
  4. Renewing culture
  5. Stop the hijacking
  6. Rightly Reading Revelation
  7. Demoting Jesus
  8. Empire = Superpower
  9. Also missing: any public intellectuals


We 21st Century Western Christians have little to say to the public while our lives are so conformed to the conventional commitments — to security provided by insurance companies, Wall Street, burglar alarms, violence and guns and the military. I think of a house I saw in Michigan, which had a beautiful mosaic at the front of their property saying “In God We Trust” and then an irridescent sign in their front window “Beware of the Dog.”

(Alan Kreider, author of The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, sending regrets at his inability to attend.)

I assume that this was a dyslexic, who meant “In Dog We Trust.” Were he agnostic and insosmniac, too, he could lie awake all night, wondering whether there really was a dog.


The United States is becoming more and more secular. Now here will be my first strong controversial point: I think that an inevitable trajectory toward secularism was inherent in the founding of this country.

I hear people say “America was founded as a Christian nation” and I’m quick to correct them by saying “No, that was England.”

America took a different trajectory and said “Let’s experiment with what in fact is secular governance. We will not have a state Church. We will not have a state religion of any kind.” And this in fact is unique in human history at this point.

Although certainly in the 18th century, there was just a lot of Christian talk and vocabulary that was part of the culture, the actual structure of the Constitution and the ideal of America had a trajectory that in time was going to take it in a radically secular direction …

What passes for Christian America today is largely the nationalism of civil religion. And in civil religion, it’s not Christ that’s worshipped so much as the nation itself ….

(Brian Zahnd)


I’m not speaking about this as some outsider. I have had not only a front-row seat but a back-stage pass to the rise of the Religious Right. I was right there. I’ve sat with Jerry Falwell in his office. I’ve shared to platform in political rallies with Pat Robertson. I’ve been around all that and know that world quite intimately.

And I can assure you that the Religious Right — as that’s the most public face, the most prominent face of Christianity in American — was always more or less some kind of cult of celebrity. That’s what was behind it. And the cult of celebrity could be bought cheap for access to power and even symbolic access to power.

[T]his broad swath of a certain form of conservative Christianity came under the tent of Evangelicalism. And Evangelicalism became the de facto religious wing of the Republican party, which meant that Evangelicals were a tool to the Right, and an enemy to the Left — and prophetic to neither …

The overwhelming Evangelical support of Donald Trump, which was even more robust than for George Bush, or Senator McCain — any of the other recent nominees — in the name of Christian faith, is the Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin moment for American Evangelicalism, or Americanized Christianity.

I … know that we’ve arrived at a Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin moment when the movement that I was very much a part of, the Religious Right, who for generations said “character counts and we’ve got to have virtue” en masse goes to someone — in the name of Christ, in the name of religious values — they go in mass for a person who is basically the walking embodiment of the seven deadly sins.

And so you have to say “Okay, I understand: The is the eruption of the real. In never really was about character and virtue; it was about access to power. And if he’s Caligula, well that’s okay as long as he’s our Caligula.”

In the book of Daniel you have the story of Beltshazzar, defiling the holy items from the temple, treating as common that which is sacred. And the text tells us “and worshiping the gods of gold and silver” — or as we say today “it’s the economy, stupid!” … and then the handwriting on the wall ….

(Brian Zahnd) Emphasis added — this was a talk, not print.


I sincerely wish that every city in America had something like an Eighth Day Institute … where the renewing of culture is not approached as a Culture War legislative issue, that we have to grapple for the levers of power, but where we simply embody it ….

(Brian Zahnd)


One of the most important things that a Christian public intellectual can do right now is to vigorously, vocally, resist the hijacking of Christian faith by American Nationalism. Some will say that it’s too late — that it’s already occurred — nevertheless, I hold out hope that some prophetic voices may prevail … [I]f we see the full conscription of … Christianity by U.S. nationalism, we will witness a catastrophe that will take us generations to recover from if we ever do.

(Brian Zahnd)


The Book of Revelation is a prophetic critique of the Roman Empire and thus the prophetic critique of all empire … It is a very, very creative approach, written in the 90s, interpreting the tumultuous events of the 60s and 70s in light of Christ.

John the Revelator creates this wild and fantastic piece of literature that says … “Remember that at its heart the Roman Empire remains a beast.”

(Brian Zahnd) I do not know that the Orthodox Church would so interpret Revelation (that’s a complicated story), but I’m sure it would not interpret it as did Tim LaHaye.


“Jesus is Lord” is as political as theological. When the Church became

interested in acclaiming some Caesar as God’s means of redeeming the world, and they can’t just get rid of Jesus so Jesus gets demoted from “Lord” the “Secretary of After-Life Affairs.” … Too much of this has been our long, sad history.

(Brian Zahnd)


Empires are simply rich, powerful nations who believe they have divine right to rule other nations and a manifest destiny to shape history … We say “Superpower,” but it’s essentially the same.

(Brian Zahnd) Can you say “American Exceptionalism” and “Indispensible Nation”?


We see not the disappearance of the Christian Public Intellectual but of the Public Intellectual otherwise … Cornell West is probably the closest thing to a Christian Public Intellectual on the American scene right now. (Brian Zahnd)

* * * * *

“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.