Article VI Blog

"Religion, Politics, the Presidency: Commentary by a Mormon, an Evangelical, and an Orthodox Christian"

United States Constitution — Article VI:

"No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

  • When Truth Suffers

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 08:02 am, December 31st 2013     &mdash      2 Comments »

    Forgive me while I geek out for a minute.  Most people that read this blog will have made it through at least geometry in high school in their mathematical studies.  This is the first level in mathematical education where we learn how to put together a cohesive system of looking at things in a logical and precise fashion.  If you remember, you did proofs – lots of proofs.  This was how you built the system, each statement that became an important working statement was proven logically, from previously proven statements.  But if you remember thoroughly, you will member there were 5 “postulates.“  These were statements that could not be proven but were simply “assumed” to be true and from which all other geometrical statements are proven.

    The postulates are not arbitrary, they are formulated from a) massive and collective observation and b) an inability to prove them accumulated over the millenia.  To build a comprehensive logical structure such as geometry you have to start somewhere.  So you start by looking at the world around you and making statements about it.  You compare your observations with others to make sure they see the same thing – then you set about trying to prove all your observations to a point where the statements that you cannot prove are minimized as much as possible, but such statements seem to have an inherent “truth” because while you cannot prove them they are always observed to be true.  These are the basic stuff from which everything else is built.

    “What if the postulates are not true?” is a question that every reasonably serious student of mathematics has asked since the list of postulates was first formulated.  Well, pretty much everything we understand about the world around us falls apart.  From geometry we have meticulously built higher forms of math and they are the language of science.  If the postulates are not true we could not have gotten to the moon, or built a building much more complex than a mud hut (much of Euclid’s initial work was in support of the construction of the marvelous and ancient stone buildings we find in Greece still today) or just about anything else technological that we rely upon today.

    There are non-Euclidean geometries (geometry with different postulates) in math and in recent decades they have even proven somewhat useful in forming theories in the very weird realms of science like quantum mechanics.  But when you do stuff in the world we live in and experience on a daily basis without the aid of instruments, Euclidean geometry (what you learned in high school) works very, very well.  The postulates are true in any experientially meaningful sense of the word true.  We may be able to conceive of other postulates, but our daily lives tell us that the ones we have come to know and work with are functionally true.  Those non-Euclidean concepts, interesting though they are, just don’t work in any experience you and I can have.

    This thoughts occurred to me as I read Tom Coburn in this morning’s WSJ:

    The culture that Mr. Obama campaigned against, the old kind of politics, teaches politicians that repetition and “message discipline”—never straying from using the same slogans and talking points—can create reality, regardless of the facts. Message discipline works if the goal is to win an election or achieve a short-term political goal. But saying that something is true doesn’t make it so. When a misleading message ultimately clashes with reality, the result is dissonance and conflict. In a republic, deception is destructive. Without truth there can be no trust. Without trust there can be no consent. And without consent we invite paralysis, if not chaos.

    It seems that in how we conduct our public affairs we sometimes get a bit too interested in the “non-Euclidean” stuff.  We can conceive of it, we can find it fascinating, we can even experiment with it, but in the end it just does not work.  The practical truth of the postulates always seems to carry the day.

    Faith in the Almighty plays the role of postulate in our society.  Of course there will be many branches that spring from that root, but that root is what holds up the entire structure.  I read Coburn’s words on the heal of reading this from the Bible this morning (emphasis added):

    I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord,
    the praises of the Lord,
    according to all that the Lord has granted us,
    and the great goodness to the house of Israel
    that he has granted them according to his compassion,
    according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
    For he said, “Surely they are my people,
        children who will not deal falsely.” (Isaiah 63:7-8)

    This is heavy stuff for New Year’s Eve, a day that is supposed to be about celebration.  But celebration seems difficult when we live in a time where people seem to think the postulates, as Coburn points out, are arbitrary.  Obamacare is a glaring and on-going painful example of that.  As Jim Geraghty pointed out yesterday:

    So . . . we’re still ending 2013 with more people having lost their insurance than gained it.

    It just is not working.  Obamacare is a wonderful, even interesting, idea, but it is from the realms of non-Euclidean geometry.  It may even have some internal logical consistency, but it just does not work in the daily world.

    But there is another glaring example -  Sunday’s NYTimes’ report on Benghazi.  This blog will not attempt to dissect the facts reported, we’ll leave that up to the professionals.  Nor will we assume political motivation, although the political convenience of the piece is extraordinary.  But what seems clear as I read or listen to discussion after discussion with people in Congress investigating the incident is that it is not the whole story; it is not a complete and thorough investigation.  Consider this from the interview with Congressman Lynn Westmoreland just linked:

    HH: Congressman, Hugh here. Did Mr. Kirkpatrick attempt to talk to you?

    LW: No.

    HH: Did he attempt to talk to any of your colleagues on the House Intelligence Committee?

    LW: Sir, I don’t know that.

    That pretty well defines incomplete investigation on the reporters part.  That puts the report in the realm of non-Euclidean geometry – interesting and even internally consistent – but not necessarily comporting with reality of daily experience.  Certainly not tested against it.

    Even more disturbing is when people get all wrapped up in their concepts, the foundations that replace the postulates can be horrifying.  For some, race is the root from which all things spring.  When that happens – stuff like this happens:

    The laughing starts almost immediately in the MSNBC segment. 

    But as the host and her guests yuk it up, I wanted to cringe. 

    The object of their derision, cloaked as it was in pointed humor? 

    A baby. A black baby, to be precise, being held on Mitt Romney’s knee. 

    Hysterical, huh? 

    This was Romney’s adopted grandson, in a big, professionally shot family photo. And yes, Melissa Harris-Perry kept cooing about how the baby was cute. The real target, for her and the guests, was Mitt. 

    As in, isn’t it funny that this white Mormon with a white family would find among his clan a black baby.

    Sarah Palin has this one absolutely right – Despicable.  to that I will add – Contemptible – apologies not withstanding.

    When we view our postulates as fungible we start to run into all sorts of problems.  This is deeper than culture wars or political parties.  This is the soul of the nation.  It is hard to celebrate a year just past where we have been bombarded with news of people in charge that have interesting theories totally disconnected from real life.  A year where the people that bring us the news have been shown again and again to view the world from inside their non-Euclidean theories rather than observe the world as it actually is.

    But the same faith that is our postulates tells us that tomorrow will be brighter.  I choose to celebrate that.

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    Fine Reading For Christmas

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 02:00 am, December 25th 2013     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Good books can be read on many levels.  Such is very true for a book due to ship New Year’s Eve – The Happiest Life: Seven Gifts, Seven Givers, and the Secret to Genuine Success by Hugh Hewitt.  I recommend this book in the strongest possible terms – hit the link and order it now.

    But let’s talk about the levels.  On the one level this is an eminently readable and delightful collection of stories from the life of a very interesting man in politics, government service, the legal profession and media.  It is a light little airy read that will leave a smile on your face – an enjoyable two or three hours.  This is the perfect airplane book.  If it stopped there it would be a success, but it does not.

    On the second level it is memoir.  Wikipedia says this about a memoir:

    Memoir is more about what can be gleaned from a few years or a moment in the life of the author, than from the author’s life as a whole.

    In this case, what can be gleaned is revealed in the title.  Beginning with the virtue of courage and proceeding to a call to generosity born of that courage, one learns to see life as a series of gifts both given and received.  In doing so one’s perception is altered.  Rather than seeing life as a series of duties and burdens, we come to appreciate the blessings that are in our lives on a daily basis.  Hewitt finds gifts in the large and the small – the mundane and the glorious.  In the discovery of those blessings we find ourselves happy.

    On this level this book is memoir at its finest.  It is not an exercise in the ego of the author, picking and choosing vignettes designed to paint the author in a good light, and stroke his insatiable need for praise. Rather, the author uses stories of his experience to draw us to a lesson we need to learn, with all appropriate humility.

    Which brings me to the third level.  Sometimes good books transcend the authors intent and I think that is true in the case of this book.  This book reveals two deep mysteries of the Christian faith.  Hewitt is not shy in the book about discussing his deeply held faith, but he also admits extensively to not being able to explain nor even understand much of it.  He seems to simply know that it works.

    book_heroThe first mystery revealed in this book is that in giving, regardless of the situation, we receive.  This I do think the author intended us to see.  This is a lesson of scripture and one plainly illustrated throughout the book.  This is a mystery that we see revealed in literature throughout the ages.  The great story of this season, Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” is one such example.  “The Gifts of the Christ Child” by George MacDonald is another example of a story in which gifts are given in the most tragic of circumstances.  This is a mystery because of the deep contradiction within, the giving discussed is not transactional.  There is no quid pro quo.  There is simply giving.  And blessing simply flows.

    But it is in Hewitt’s disclaimer of theological understanding of this first mystery that the second deeper mystery is revealed.  That is the mystery of the Christmas season – the mystery of incarnation.  Some matters are not subject to our understanding – we can see them, we can know their truth, but we cannot understand them.  Thus it was necessary for God to incarnate to show us these mysteries.  Not teach them to us, but show them to us.  By showing us the first mystery, Hewitt reveals to us the second.

    Hewitt has said repeatedly on his radio program that he wanted this book released on December 31 so that people could use it in the formation of the New Year’s resolutions.  This is admirable and all of us will be greatly benefited by resolving to be more giving of the seven gifts in 2014.  But this is also a Christmas book.

    It is a one part of the Christian life – one that cannot be taught – well illustrated.

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    A Christmas Thought

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:00 am, December 24th 2013     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    For to us a child is born,
        to us a son is given,
        and the government will be on his shoulders.
    And he will be called
        Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
        Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

    It’s Christmas!  You’ve heard this verse sometime in the last couple of weeks, you know you have.  And yet it seems when we do we focus on the names “Mighty God,” “Prince of Peace.”  I don’t hear a lot of discussion about:

    …and the government will rest on his shoulders.

    Some might ask, “Is it even American to say something like that?”  There is a point there.  In a land of religious freedom theocracy, which that verse can be interpreted to support, is not the way.  But that is a wrong interpretation of that verse.

    Historically, I would argue that America is the best expression of that verse to date precisely because we do not have a King anointed by the church nor do we have theocratic rule.  Historically what we have had is a country that relies on the people and the individuals they elect being good people because of their reliance on the Wonderful Counselor and Everlasting Father.

    The government rests on us and we rest on him.  This Christmas it is important that we renew our commitment first to rely on the child whose birth we celebrate and then our commitment to be active, smart, and good citizens.

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    The “Duck Dynasty” Kerfuffle – What It Is and What It Isn’t

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:25 am, December 19th 2013     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    So, apparently proclaiming homosexual behavior sinful is grounds for dismissal.  This is ugly, but perspective is important, so let’s grab for some.  Before we dig in full disclosure – A&E Networks is a client of a client and I deal with them regularly, though I have never dealt with the production and programming sides.

    First thing to remember here – this is not government censorship.  This is a private enterprise, A&E, making an independent decision about what they will and will not allow in their product.  That is a right they have, that we share, and that we would hate to do without.  In my opinion they have made a bad decision here, but it is their decision to make.   In some ways I even find the decision defensible.

    I have no data, only personal observation, but if pressed I would estimate that the percentage of homosexuals employed by A&E is far greater than the percentages represented in the general population.  I would also – again just observational guess work – estimate that percentage to be sufficient, if those employees threatened to walk out, to force the network to cease operations.  This is undoubtedly true if those employees convinced their sympathetic friends to walk with them.  What would you do in such circumstances?  At least in the short term?

    Again, all I have just said is pure speculation, but the general point to be made is that we do not know all of what is going on inside A&E, so before we condemn them as “Christian haters” we need to possess all the facts.

    I have little question A&E has been under an avalanche of pressure since the release of the GQ/Robertson interview.  The very Christian aspects of the show created enough pressure as it was.  Given the state of mind concerning faith by many in the LGBT community, comments like this would have, I am sure, pushed it over the top.

    What I find most troubling is the warping of the language and theology that has created the backlash.  Consider what most accounts I have read point to as the “most offensive” statement:

    “Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong… Sin becomes fine,” he said. “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.”

    Now, first of all, purely linguistically, that sentence groups homosexual behavior with bestiality and promiscuity but it does not equate them.  Second of all, the use of the term “behavior” draws a distinction between the impulse and the action.  I do not know a living male that does not have the impulse to promiscuity, most men; however do not act on it.  Robertson goes out of his way here to distinguish between the impulses we are born with and the behaviors we choose when they arise.

    In order to be outraged, given the actual utterance here, one must be predisposed to being outraged – looking for an excuse.  I would speculate that given the enormous success of the show and its blatantly Christian protagonists, and the desire to discredit Christianity on the part of the LGBT community, that that community has organized itself for some time to become irate at the show and has simply been waiting for a “trigger” event.

    But most important of all is the battle the church has lost in the minds of the nation.  “Sin” is a description of a universal human condition.  It may express itself differently in different individuals, but we all share the same condition.  Granted, it is not a good condition, but it is universal.  Because it is not a good condition people do not necessarily want to hear about it.  The theological distinction between the state of sin and sinful acts is as old as thought about Christian faith.  But sometime in the 60′s or 70′s, because of the desire on that part of people of faith to maintain popularity, they played on peoples desires not to hear about sin by emphasizing the state of sin, not sinful actions.  Rather than pointing to things that people liked, like some sexual expressions, as sinful acts to illustrate the state evangelists of many stripes began to talk about loneliness and emptiness as indicators of the state of sin we all exist in.

    This has continued to a point where naming a clearly theologically defined sinful act as sinful in now considered insulting and demeaning.  We abandoned this territory, they did not take it from us.  That’s a problem.

    Secondly, why is the LGBT community better organized to decry this than we are to defend it?  In part it is because while we find much that comes from that community in media tasteless and insulting (as they do what we say), we believe in their right to say it.  But that fact does not mean we do not defend ourselves – we simply do so with different weapons and in different ways.  I have seen a lot of finger pointing at A&E in the last 15 hours or so, but I have not seen many Christian leaders standing up in defense.  There are enough Christian media outlets for the message to be on my radar even if the mainstream doesn’t carry it, but I’m not seeing it.  I am seeing some counter accusation but I am not seeing any principled defense.

    In offering defense, forget the show and forget A&E – its a private enterprise and they get to say what they get to say, or not say.  But we have to defend the ideas that are at stake here.  The correct response to this particular squelching of religious expression is to be religiously expressive in other venues and more loudly so.  But also we have to be smart about that expression.

    Condemnation must be matched with grace, love, and an understanding of the universality of what is being condemned.  Generosity is another good companion to the pronouncement of that which is sinful.  It’s a warped world, but then it always has been.  We should be better at living in it and if our message is not improving it, then we must ask what we are doing wrong in carrying the message.

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    The First Boomlet of 2016

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 09:14 am, December 14th 2013     &mdash      1 Comment »

    Of course, there has been a lot of discussion of the potential field for 2016, but this week has witnessed a boomlet.  The dictionary defines “boomlet”:

    : a sudden and usually brief increase in business activity : a small boom

    But it is important to note the exemplary sentence with that definition:

    A few years ago, the town enjoyed a nice boomlet, but since then times have been tough.

    One of the definitional characteristics of a boomlet  is that they die.  The 2012 Republican primary was a series of boomlets – from Perry to Gingrich to Cain and back to Gingrich and then to Santorum.  These 2012 boomlets served the same role that the Huckabee candidacy did in 2008 – SPOILER.  They represent a significant subset of Republicans that are grossly dissatisfied with what they view as “business as usual” and they flail around like a chicken minus its head looking for an alternative.

    Needless to say, Democrats and the MSM love this group because they are just large enough to prevent a strong Republican cadre from coalescing, thus greatly increasing Democratic chances.  That’s what a spoiler does.  This bunch lack sufficient mass to win, but they have just enough to make sure the Republican they don’t like can’t.  We cannot forget where they were born – Iowa 2007.  They were born in direct reaction to Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith.

    Go back and read the archive of this blog in November and December of 2007.  It was practically open religious warfare.  The religion buzz was everywhere.  So much so that Romney had to whip out his speech on religion months before he wanted to.  It was working too.  Then Huckabee rang the religion bell in a NYTimes interview and well, the rest is as they say, history.

    Most fascinating about this is that every step of the way this spoiler group has only generated destruction of their agenda.  If not directly, although much has been done directly, then because they gave the media sufficient fodder to portray and divided and disorganized Republican party – weakening it and paving a path for Obama.

    And now this latest boomlet simply repeats that pattern.

    They are back where they started – Mike Huckabee.  TownahllHot AirThe FixJim Gerahty are all talking the Huckster.  Geraghty proclaims it “a highly coordinated rollout.”  But start with Townhall and the video that is generating a good bit of the furor.  Huckabee keeps talking about all the support he is getting from places like Iowa and South Carolina.  The Fix does a fine bit of political analysis as to why this is a pipe dream.  Regardless, there are a couple of comments to be made.

    I am the last person to talk about anybody’s body weight.  I used to be the size of a small city, gravitational field and everything.  Fortunately that is no longer the case – a heavenly blessing.  Mike Huckabee on the other hand has yo-yo weight.  He has been up down and every size in between.  Most extraordinary to me is that the man is master at manipulating the press photographing him.  When I went looking for pictures to illustrate my point, recent full body shots are hard to come by.  Based on his face, I would say his weight is currently coming down, but it is hard to judge that way.

    When it comes to weight, there is a far more credible possible with the same issue – Chris Christie.  I have not talked about this issue with him because he seems to be doing it right – he’s just losing the weight, none of this yo-yo stuff we have seen in the Huckster over the years.  Weight of itself is not a disqualifier for the office.  We have had more than one president of extraordinary girth.  But the modern campaign is an exceptional physical task.  Too much weight – as I am uniquely positioned to know – can simply make it impossible to keep pace.

    All this is to say that if the Huckster is slimming we’ll know he is serious.  But I have far more concerns about him than I do Christie.  Given that the Huckster ballooned like a child’s toy as soon as he was out in 2008 – the yo-yo thing – it shows that the entire episode was “a show” for him and not a serious endeavor to help himself and the nation.  Because Christie has not done the yo-yo thing, he still gets the benefit of the doubt.

    But the far more important comment is about this spoiler group.  Romney’s nomination in 2012 shows that they are smaller and less effective than they were in 2008, but his 2012 loss in the general contained strong indicators that this bunch stayed home, or left their presidential ballot blank, and that they could have spelled the difference.  And so this bunch may very well have put the nation in the deep pickle it finds itself in today.  Scandal upon scandal.  Somebody this past week, and I am sorry I cannot remember who, proclaimed Obamacare “the most disastrous piece of social engineering since Prohibition.”  We are on the brink of war on the China Sea.  There were Americans killed in Benghazi more and more apparently to influence an electoral outcome.  It is seriously questionable if we remain the leader of the world.

    And all this because a relatively limited group of people did not like the cut of Mitt Romney’s religious jib.  Oh sure, by 2012 nobody was talking religion directly, but come on, same people, same places – give me a break.

    I don’t know Mike Huckabee – but the fact that he would once again seek to capitalize on this bunch.  That he would give them air and hope and support, regardless of his personal conviction, is destructive.  Not merely of the Republican party, but as the last 5 years have shown – of the nation.  That alone disqualifies him in my book.

    Huckabee is not going anywhere – but how much damage will he wreak in the meantime?

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    Religion’s Failure

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:24 am, December 10th 2013     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    So, I was reading a piece in the Economist about how Americans trust in institutions and government has waxed and waned over the centuries.  The article points out that the current wane is different than previous, exacerbated by the deep political divides in the nation:

    Trust in institutions has risen and fallen over that same post-war period in line with external events, plunging after the Watergate scandal, for instance, and during recessions. Yet something new seems to be happening. Anti-government cynicism is feeding on gulfs in society.

    This is a fair enough observation.  The author then goes on to point at right wing cynicism over left wing motives as part of the problem.  Of course the left has been painting the right as “getting rich on the backs of the poor” for decades now.

    Obama may decry political polarization, yet his administration is the most divisive in memory.

    Some of this phenomena is due to the “media culture.”  There as been a recent spate of articles pointing out that life just does not follow the neat narrative of the “hero’s journey,” yet the media, and some of our politicians want to view the world that way.

    The changing of education is, of course, part of the problem.  Democracy is based on an educated public, hence public education has been part of the nation almost since its inception.

    But I think religion has failed in its role as well.  Evangelicalism is in decline.  This is, I think in part because there is “no there, there.”  At First Things, Carl Trueman writes:

    That the language of love has become utterly sentimentalized in our society is a commonplace.   Once it was a hardheaded, self-sacrificial, outward looking concept which looked to the well-being and needs of others.  Now it often means little more than that which makes me feel good or brings personal satisfaction.

    He discusses marriage in this post, but substitute “Christian faith” for the word “love” (they are part-and-parcel of one another) and those sentences will still ring quite true.  I wrote last Friday about how Evangelical thinking does not involve much thinking.

    Of course political gaps are growing because people no longer even know why they want something – they simply want and are willing to do battle over it.  Things becomes dogmatic instead of reasoned.

    As this blog began, one of the reasons I was willing to accept Mormonism into the fold of Christian faith was because I met far too many reasonable Mormons.  A cult is marked by the lack of reason – not necessarily in theological statement, but in the lives of adherents.  Leftism long ago took on cultic aspects.  We on the right won because largely as believers of some sort, we had reason on our side.  But our faith seems to be failing us, because many of us are simply as dogmatic in on our side as the left is on theirs.

    This has happened in churches because those of us on the right have retreated.  When the left assaulted the mainline denominations, institutions that have the infrastructure to support genuine debate, we retreated into our Evangelical congregations which lack any sort of serious infrastructure at all.  We bought into the “live and let live” idea and did not go to battle for our faith and its reason.  Or we fought but a single battle, lost, and then retreated.

    And now we stand on the brink.  We can still win, but not if we retreat again.  The battle must be joined or the war is lost.  As soldiers in that war we start by getting trained.  We need to start reading and build the reasoned underpinnings of our faith in our own lives.  We need to demand that our children and those around us not simply desire, but can argue for their desires.  We need to not be so self-centered that we cannot compromise.  We may need to lose a few more battles so we can win the war.

    These are perilous times.  They are not for the timid and they not for the weak.  Humble boldness and meek strength are the orders of the day.  Those things can only come from diving into our faith with a seriousness that we have not shown in recent decades.  It is time to be serious.

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