I once read pop theologian Rachel Held Evans say a few years ago on her blog that the Ascension brought up “abandonment issues” for her. She wrote that she wanted Jesus to stay around longer because then Christians might have avoided historical problems like the Crusades or the Great Schism. She even accuses Jesus of being “inefficient” for working through flawed human beings and that He always “insist[s] on using people before they’re ready.”
Honestly, I can’t quite understand how any Christian could basically tell Jesus that he or she knows better. But even that temerity aside, there are big theological problems with seeing the Ascension as about abandonment or even just about an ending of Jesus’ time on earth.
This is not a view of the Ascension that does any justice to what is actually happening. In fact, it is a view of Jesus that does not account for Who He actually is. This view wants Jesus to “stick around” so that He can keep doing things here “on the ground.” It is essentially Jesus as a kind of activist Who is somehow incapable of seeing His work through now that He’s ascended. It is also a view of Jesus as something other than the God-man.
(Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick) Of course, he’s only saying that because he’s a misgynist and Rachel Held Evans challenges patriarchy. Nothing she said is the least bit fishy. The rest of Fr. Andrew’s blog is just rationalization.
Yeah, that’s the ticket! Nothing to see here. Move along now.
Rod Dreher riffs off Samuel Goldman’s Fusionism Once and Future in the current Modern Age:
What fusionism works out to in practice, it seems to me, is business interests using traditionalists (chiefly Christian conservatives) as useful idiots to get what they want out of government. Do you see the Republican Party standing up for traditional values and virtues in the face of the LGBT juggernaut within corporate America? … And the truth is, traditional values on matters of sex and sexuality are increasingly unpopular. We really are a post-Christian nation.
For too long, too many conservative Christians have acted as if the most important thing we can do for the country is to vote Republicans into office. Meanwhile, our churches have rotted from within. Massive numbers of Millennials are drifting away from the church, and those who stay are, like most of the older generations, really Moralistic Therapeutic Deists.
In his most recent column, Dennis Prager (who is Jewish) criticizes Trump-opposing conservatives:
I have concluded that there are a few reasons that explain conservatives who were Never-Trumpers during the election, and who remain anti-Trump today.
The first and, by far, the greatest reason is this: They do not believe that America is engaged in a civil war, with the survival of America as we know it at stake.
While they strongly differ with the left, they do not regard the left-right battle as an existential battle for preserving our nation. On the other hand, I, and other conservative Trump supporters, do.
Well, I wasn’t one of the Never-Trumpers, and I do believe that we are indeed engaged in a great battle in this country. The difference between Prager and me has to do with the nature of the war. The idea that Donald Trump is in charge of the forces of righteousness is farcical. And the idea that the line between the forces of good and evil in this war is drawn between conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, is delusional.
As I have written here, a conservative Evangelical friend who doesn’t like Trump told me that his crowd has gone all-in for him because “they don’t have a Plan B” — meaning that they have no idea what to do if they lose power. They don’t realize that they — that we — have already lost power, and if we keep telling ourselves that we can win it back, we will continue to neglect the most important work we can and should be doing right now.
We are not engaged in a battle to “preserve the nation”. We are engaged in a battle to save the church. It is entirely possible that we could preserve the nation, whatever that means, but lose the church. Both are important to me, but I know which one matters more.
UPDATE: Patrick Deneen has an essay about conservatism in the Age of Trump in the same issue. Excerpts:
In the roughly half century of political ascendancy of American conservatism, little was recognizably conserved.
If nothing else, the exceedingly narrow victory of Donald Trump may be understood as the last gasp of a dying conservatism that has been destroyed by American liberalism. That “instinctive understanding of inherent limits” may be the animating attraction to a vision of Trump’s promises for a nation with a border and a common culture; a foreign policy largely defensive instead of a de facto empire; a capital drained of cronies and riggers; and the liberty to call things as they really are, including men, women, and children. Yet protection of this instinct was given to a man with no apparent conservative values or vision, less a sign of hope than desperation. Conservatism may have a future in America, but it will arise most likely from families and intentional communities that live as a counterculture to self-immolating American liberalism, and not as something that will be created in a political laboratory by the educated or from the wreckage of a Flight 93 administration in Washington, D.C.
(Emphases added) I’m disappointed in Dennis Prager.
The other day on this blog, in a discussion of Team Trump’s dodgy relations with Russian officials, I described Russia as a “hostile foreign power.” Some of you objected to that, saying that Russia is actually friendly. That’s simply not true. I mean, I wish the US and Russia were more friendly, but we are hostile foreign powers to each other. After all, it was the United States that pushed post Cold War NATO to the Russian border. Maybe we had good reasons for that (or not), but there’s no rational way for the Russians to see it other than a hostile act.
In The Atlantic last week, Sigal Samuel wrote about Russian (and Eastern European) anxiety about America’s hostility on the culture war front:
In many Central and Eastern European countries, people are concerned about America’s influence on Russia and on their own nations—and they want Russia to push back, according to a major new Pew Research Center survey.
The results of the survey—released, by coincidence, just hours after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited the White House and joked about Comey’s firing—reveal that in most nations with Orthodox Christian majorities, Russia is seen as an important buffer against the influence of the West. Because the study was conducted between June 2015 and July 2016, before Trump’s election, it does not capture any shifts in public opinion that his administration may have provoked. Still, the survey offers illuminating insights into how America is perceived, and about how those perceptions correlate with religious identity.
There are complex reasons why the Orthosphere nations see the West as a threat, including economic ones. However:
But the perception of clashing values goes beyond different economic models. Pheiffer Noble added that there is a widespread sense among Russians that they are safeguarding civilization, be it through the conservative gender norms and sexual norms they advocate, the literature they produce, or the soldiers they send off to war in every generation. “In Russian culture, they have their canon, and their canon is pretty impressive,” she said. “They’ve got Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. They’ve got iconography. They’ve got the idea of suffering as a cultural value—and they feel like they’re also winning at that.”
Sergei Chapnin, the former editor of the official journal of the Russian Orthodox Church, agreed that many Russians feel their country is both integral to European culture and superior to it. (Indeed, 69 percent say their “culture is superior to others,” the survey shows.) “We have a desire to cooperate with Europe and to call Europe an enemy,” he said. “These exist at the same time in the mass consciousness in Russia.” But he also warned that “politicians manipulate” this psychological tension, appealing sometimes to pro-Western feeling and sometimes to anti-Western feeling, in order to serve their own purposes.
Well, sure. But that doesn’t mean the psychological and cultural tensions aren’t real, and important. It’s very difficult for Americans to think of ourselves as anything but bearers of light and goodness to the nations of the world. Along those lines, many of us (especially secular liberals) see resistance to American values — and, more broadly, secular Western values — as a sign of irrational prejudice. The presumption that Western values are universal values is very strong.
(Rod Dreher, America’s Culture War On Russia) This is a fairly extended quote from the beginning of a longer article, which captures some of my own
ambivalence about hostility toward my homeland’s culturally imperialistic behavior toward Russia — and the rest of the more traditional cultures of the world.
Hey, sometimes cultural imperialism is defensible. It was a very good thing, for example, that the colonizing British in the 19th century put an end to the ancient Indian practice of suttee (widow-burning). Even so, we should practice self-awareness when we are being cultural imperialists, and understand how our cultural hegemony appears in the eyes of other civilizations.
Contemporary America most fundamentally operates on the principle elucidated by Justice Anthony Kennedy in the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey opinion:
At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.
Leaving aside the legal and philosophical incoherence of this statement, and the coercion it conceals, it is nevertheless an accurate précis of the way Americans think about the relationship between society and religion, or any other source of transcendent meaning. Orthodox countries rightly reject it, because it is profoundly untrue to their own traditions and ways of living.
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Men are men before they are lawyers or physicians or manufacturers; and if you make them capable and sensible men they will make themselves capable and sensible lawyers and physicians. (John Stuart Mill, Inaugural Address at St. Andrew’s, 1867)
“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)