Would Billy Graham be disgusted by evangelicals today?

The Washington Post, which features religion coverage well above average, asks as some length “Would Billy Graham be disgusted by evangelicals today?

My short and immediate answer was “If he was, we’d never know it.” I stand by that after reading the article. A Rice University professor gets it right:

Bill Martin, a professor emeritus at Rice University who wrote a biography of Graham, saw a sharp divergence [by Franklin Graham] from the elder Graham. “It was always hard for Billy not to like people. Franklin was always willing to draw lines,” Martin said. “His father was willing to erase or blur lines and widen the scope of people he was willing to associate with. I doubt he would’ve expressed plainly that he disliked Trump. He was polarizing for liking Nixon; Nixon was one of his closest associates. Billy always thought the best of people.”

He repented (I use that word deliberately) of his own at-times excessive political involvements, specifically after Nixon, and he was very much an evangelist — a preacher of the Gospel (as he saw it), and neither a theologian nor (most relevant for purposes of the WaPo question) a prophet.

He didn’t aspire to be a political “player,” and the press that doesn’t get that just doesn’t get him at all. That so many Evangelicals today do so shamelessly forsake a higher calling for that servile one is a damned (I use that word deliberately, too) shame.

[UPDATE: “He saw his calling as above public affairs. Urged in 1958 to run for the Senate, he realized, ‘Why should I demote myself to be a senator?’’’ Mark Feeney, Boston Globe.]

Michael Gerson recalls a wonderful example, from fairly early in his career, of how irenic Billy was becoming as well:

There was initial resistance to Graham’s work among mainline Protestants. As Graham announced more and more crusades, theologian Reinhold Niebuhr was not amused. Graham, Niebuhr warned, would “accentuate every prejudice which the modern, ‘enlightened’ but morally sensitive man may have against religion.” Graham responded: “I have read nearly everything Mr. Niebuhr has written and I feel inadequate before his brilliant mind and learning. Occasionally I get a glimmer of what he is talking about . . . [but] if I tried to preach as he writes, people would be so bewildered they would walk out.”

Maybe “subtle” would be a better term than irenic, but I really think not. Again: Graham was not a theologian whereas Niebuhr was that (and more), but not an evangelist. Billy knew his role, and knew that Niebuhr’s brilliance would be worse than useless if he aped it.

Once Billy stopped speaking for himself, I lost interest, and so overlooked how Franklin may have stage-managed his father to make him appear a Trump partisan. The WaPo article sheds some light on that. It’s probably somewhere in Shakespeare, too.

Memory Eternal to one of The Greats.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.2017 Town Cen

Alt-Right Christians?

[T]hose who ascribe the achievements of Western culture to race rather than providence have chosen Faust over Christ.

But to assert orthodox doctrine against __________’s heresies would be useless. His private dialectic, congregation of one, has transcended the old creeds. __________ wants to show that Christianity and the alt-right are compatible, not by declaring a new racist orthodoxy, but by denying that Christian faith is incompatible with anything at all.

________ thus places himself in the same camp as … every … liberal Protestant who preaches a liquid creed. For all of them, there is nothing stable at the heart of Christian faith, no set of propositions that must be judged true or false, no substrate of apostolic tradition or spiritual authority sustaining the Church through the ages; there is only that fickle goddess History, leading a perpetual process of discernment and evolution according to the self-loving demands of the “present.” Whether one uses this “infinitely malleable” Christianity to serve a liberal or a reactionary agenda is largely beside the point.

It’s an old phenomenon, perhaps best understood by Hans Kerrl, Nazi Reichminister for Church Affairs during the 1930s. In 1937, as the resistance of the Confessing Church grew bolder, Kerrl made a speech to loyalist clergy:

The Party stands on the basis of Positive Christianity, and Positive Christianity is National Socialism. . . . [Lutheran clergyman] Dr. Zoellner and [Catholic Bishop of Münster] Count Galen have tried to make clear to me that Christianity consists in faith in Christ as the son of God. That makes me laugh. . . . No, Christianity is not dependent upon the Apostle’s Creed. . . . True Christianity is represented by the party, and the German people are now called by the party and especially the Führer to a real Christianity. . . . The Führer is the herald of a new revelation.


That potent German concoction we call liberal theology—historical criticism, Enlightened reason, fellow-feeling, and Hegelian dreams—was far more susceptible to ideological manipulation by the Nazis than were the traditional dogmas of Roman Catholics or evangelical Lutherans.

(Connor Grubaugh) I don’t play the “Nazi” card lightly. Neither did Grubaugh.

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Detour & Frolic

We interrupt sporadic attempts at serious commentary to laugh scornfully at Jerry Falwell, Jr. (here), and to wonder just what the hell kind of educational institutions (both founded by Jerry Falwell, Sr.) could turn out such a clown.

We now return to our irregularly scheduled blogging.

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“While saints are engaged in introspection, burly sinners run the world.” (John Dewey) Be a saint anyway. (Tipsy)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

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Signs of the times

James Howard Kunstler probably coined the term “techno-narcissism.” He definitely uses it more than anyone I know. A related term is “techno-triumphalism.” I believe he uses that, too. He definitely does not think that technology is immanentizing the eschaton.

He may be understating it:

The second, Bitcoin, combines mania with techno-triumphalism. Almost nobody understands Bitcoing or Blockchain, but people are speculating in Bitcoin. One wise wag said “I know exactly what a Bitcoin is worth: one tulip bulb.” My theory that gold has no intrinsic worth (you can’t eat it, live in it or burn it for heat) commensurate with its totemistic value is similar.

Another bad signs: Mermaid academies, Abduction-for-hire services, and Designer cookie dough.

But if people couldn’t see doom in Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton for President, they’re unlikely to see it in any of these.

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“No man hath a velvet cross.” (Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scotland)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

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Spitting in the soup

That people associated with a university would invite a hateful mythmonger like Richard Spencer to campus is a tragedy; but it’s a greater tragedy that someone like Spencer is a public figure at all. That’s not something that even the best university administration can fix.

I might add that when people say that they want conservative ideas to be represented on campus and then invite Ann Coulter or Milo or Richard Spencer to speak, they have zero interest in ideas. They just want to spit in their neighbor’s soup.

(Alan Jacobs, part of his delayed reaction to the New Atlantis article I recently alluded to)

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Hatchet-Job History

[I]nexcusably sloppy editorializing posing as scholarship has becoming increasingly characteristic of the conservative movement as a media phenomenon. Editorial opinions dressed up as as scholarship and then placed in book form and mass-marketed have become part of the new highbrow conservatism …

Perhaps one of the most ludicrous examples of the conservative movement’s recent attempt at being sophisticated was an exchange of equally uninformed views by talk show host Dennis Prager and Dinesh D’Souza, on the subject of the fascist worldview. The question was whether one could prove that fascism was a leftist ideology by examining the thought of Mussolini’s court philosopher Giovanni Gentile (1875-1944). Gentile defined the “fascist idea” in his political writings while serving as minister of education in fascist Italy. He was also not incidentally one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century; and in works like General Theory of the Spirit as Pure Act, adapts the thought of Hegel to his own theory of evolving national identity. It would be hard to summarize Gentile’s thought in a few pithy sentences; and, not surprisingly, the Canadian historian of philosophy H.S. Harris devotes a book of many hundreds of pages trying to explain his complex philosophical speculation.

Hey, but that’s no big deal for such priests of the GOP church as Prager and D’Souza. They zoom to the heart of Gentile’s neo-Hegelian worldview in thirty seconds and state with absolute certainty that he was a “leftist.” …

I still recall a column by [Jonah] Goldberg in which he exiled to the far left ultraconservative opponents of the French Revolution, because they didn’t believe in human rights. He then went on to compare the Catholic counterrevolutionary Joseph de Maistre to a black feminist advocate of affirmative action, because both associated human beings with the national identities into which they were born. Apparently anyone who views others in terms of their ethnic origin, no matter at what point in history, is a certified leftist. At that time I was puzzled (but am no longer) that Goldberg had no idea that political camps in 1800 were different from what they are now.

Let me close these observations by noting the obvious. There are still many respectable historical works that are produced by scholars identified, however loosely, with the American right. But there is also a plague of genuinely ridiculous writings on historical subjects coming from conservative media celebrities that surpass in their arrogant stupidity almost anything I’ve encountered in professional journals. As for people who yap about the ideologically tainted work that originate in our universities, one might hope they’d be somewhat better than those they declaim against. That’s not always the case.

(Paul Gottfried, Right-wing Celebrities Play Fast and Loose With History) I’m disappointed that Dennis Prager collaborated so recently with Dinesh D’Souza. I guess someone needs to be his friend if he’s ever to be rehabilitated, but that shouldn’t include joining him in the hucksterism to which his tragic flaws have presently consigned him.

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Toxins and antidotes

I encountered one of this quotes before and may have shared it, but now I’ve read the whole article:

When I was at Yale in the 1980s, I was given so many tools for understanding the world. By the time I graduated, I could think about things as a Utilitarian or a Kantian, as a Freudian or a behaviorist, as a computer scientist or a humanist. I was given many lenses to apply to any one situation. But nowadays, students who major in departments that prioritize social justice over the disinterested pursuit of truth are given just one lens—power—and told to apply it to all situations. Everything is about power. Every situation is to be analyzed in terms of the bad people acting to preserve their power and privilege over the good people. This is not an education. This is induction into a cult, a fundamentalist religion, a paranoid worldview that separates people from each other and sends them down the road to alienation, anxiety, and intellectual impotence.

Now that I have thoroughly depressed you, let me end with a few rays of hope and some thoughts about what can be done. I began this lecture with a discussion of the fine-tuned liberal democracy, which is the hypothesis that human beings are unsuited for life in large diverse secular democracies, unless we can get certain settings finely adjusted. I think this hypothesis is true, and I have tried to show that we have stumbled into some very bad settings. I am pessimistic about our future, but let me state clearly that I have low confidence in my pessimism. It has always been wrong to bet against America, and it is probably wrong to do so now …

[I]f you want more hope, let me tell you why I think things are going to start to improve on university campuses, beginning in the fall of 2018: because as things get worse on campus, more people are beginning to stand up, and more people are searching for solutions. Some college presidents are starting to stand up. They all know they are sitting on a powder keg, and they want to defuse it. Also, they are generally liberal scholars, deeply opposed to illiberalism …

Professors are starting to stand up, too. At Heterodox Academy, we started with 25 members two years ago; now we have over 1,400, evenly balanced between left and right. We got a big surge of members after the violence at Middlebury because that was a tipping point. Professors are overwhelmingly on the left, but they are mostly liberal Left, not illiberal. My field—social psychology—for example, is quite sane. I have been raising the alarm about political imbalance and orthodoxy since 2011, and so far nothing bad has happened to me …

And most importantly, some students are beginning to stand up. At Reed College, one of the most politically orthodox schools in the country, social-justice activists had been protesting and disrupting the first-year humanities course for more than a year. They called the course an act of white supremacy because it focused on dead white authors. They said the course was traumatizing to non-white students. They brought their signs and chants into the classroom every day, making it hard for professors to teach or for students to learn. Many Reed students and professors objected, but none dared to do so publicly, lest they be called racist themselves. Finally, this fall, several Asian students stood up, criticized the protesters, and asked them to stop interfering with their education. Once these students stood up, support for the protesters collapsed. Many people had been going along out of fear, rather than conviction.

(Jonathan Haidt) This edited transcript of Haidt’s Wriston Lecture for the Manhattan Institute, delivered on November 15 has much more of worth than I have quoted, including analysis of how we got so polarized. A hint: I left the GOP in 2005, but there was handwriting on the walls ten years earlier (which I did not notice.)

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Our inhumane space fixation

This obsession with space is ridiculously adolescent. It is also vicious and inhumane, and founded upon a universally shared misapprehension.

Which is that there aren’t already aliens everywhere. We have all had close encounters of the first and second kinds and, occasionally, the third. As I write this thousands of them are shivering in doorways or under scaffolding in Manhattan and San Francisco, mumbling and screaming because they have spent years of their lives being silently urged to participate in the fiction of their own non-existence, and hundreds of thousands more are wearing MAGA hats and collapsing into ambulances in Ohio and Rhode Island and New Hampshire. I remember one from middle school, though I never once spoke to her, who smelled and wore bad clothes and had no friends; boys teased her for carrying around a Cabbage Patch doll. When she disappeared one day, no one noticed; later we learned that every afternoon after being either bullied or ignored at school she went home, where her uncle raped her.

The vastness of space is a meaningless void. The world we already have, of all things visible and invisible, is strange and mysterious and shot through with more beauty and majesty and brokenness and pain than we know how to account for, much less take care of. Let’s stop ignoring it.

(Matthew Walther, America’s alien freakout)

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.