"No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."
I spent a good bit of yesterday getting people that owe me money, some of them for quite a long time, to pay me the money they owe me. In business we call this “collections.” Most business like mine is conducted on some sort of limited credit. When the economy is pumping along, it is usually not an issue. But when things are down, it can be a huge issue. People hoard money, they stretch their credit to the limit and if they owe you money, you have to ask to get paid.
Usually collections are a matter of course, you ask for the money, you get paid. Lately though it seems like it takes more than just asking. Threats of, and actually withholding, delivery is becoming something I have to do more and more of to get paid. Money up-front, C.O.D. terms and other more forceful methods are necessary to keep the receivables in line.
I find myself wondering why, if the economic signs seem hopeful – as the news proclaims and the market seems to think, am I having such a hard time collecting money? Is money tighter than we are being lead to believe? I think that is true in some markets and maybe I am stuck in those markets at the moment. But I think there is more at play. If the government is borrowing money at a break-neck pace, with no real plan or seeming intention to pay it back, why shouldn’t my customers?
The timely payment of debt is a matter of simple civility. By incurring debt I have pledged to meet that obligation. I consider myself an honorable man, a man of my word, so such an obligation is not to be taken lightly. And yet, if my situation is any measure, people are taking that obligation pretty lightly indeed. This is not a good thing.
When things are down in this fashion, a society/nation has two ways to turn – on itself or towards something bigger. America has always been about something bigger. Our word has always been our bond – we have always worked to improve for all so that things improved for the self. But one is forced to wonder if the nation is responding that way in the current times.
Empathy is always held up as a great virtue, but it’s remarkable how so few people have empathy with the total sum of the American experience beyond their own self-definition.
There are two ways to destroy a thing. You can either run it at while swinging a hammer with both hands or you can attack its structure until it no longer means anything.
The left hasn’t gone all out by outlawing marriage, instead it has deconstructed it, taking apart each of its assumptions, from the economic to the cooperative to the emotional to the social, until it no longer means anything at all. Until there is no way to distinguish marriage from a temporary liaison between members of uncertain sexes for reasons that due to their vagueness cannot be held to have any solemn and meaningful purpose.
You can abolish democracy by banning the vote or you can do it by letting people vote as many times as they want, by letting small children and foreigners vote, until no one sees the point in counting the votes or taking the process seriously. The same goes for marriage or any other institution. You can destroy it by outlawing it or by eliminating its meaningfulness until it becomes so open that it is absurd.
Anyone who has not noticed that “demands for apologies” have become one of the central political tactics of our day has simply not been paying attention. Like many effective tactics, it depends on an impulse that was originally good and right. It is the old Pottery Barn rule — you break it, it’s yours. Everybody knows that. But in our hyper age, we have gotten to the point where old high school pranks can be hauled out in presidential campaigns. This is simply pathological.
There is no civility here, there is only the desire to destroy what you have for the sake of what I want – whether it is destroying marriage of failing to pay debts, or forcing apology as a means of avoiding responsibility. Why, after 200 years of pitching in and working together towards a compromise solution to any dilemma are we turning on ourselves and devouring one another?
Like the unleavened bread of this Passover season, we are missing an ingredient. God, something bigger than all of us, is no longer a normal part of our thinking and discussion.
It’s Good Friday, the world is a dark, dark place. At church, Easter is coming, the light will return. But will it return to the nation? Only a future more distant than Sunday will say for sure. However, this I know – if we accept things as they are, if we keep our Passover and Easter celebrations within the confines of our Synagogues and Churches it will not.
I hate doing collections. I hate having to point out to people that they are being dishonorable and uncivil. I hate having to find a way to be nice to them when they are being so hard on me. But I have found through long years of experience that such is just what I have to do. Withdrawing means I never get paid. Becoming completely adversarial just costs me more money.
So it is with putting our faith back in its place as the leaven of our society. We have to undertake the unpleasant task of pointing out, and enduring, incivility while remaining civil. We have got to step out of our ghettos.
That’s the best way I can come up with to describe Evangelicals generally and especially in politics. The same sex marriage arguments of the last couple of days have brought the confusion to the fore. For one thing it seems we are no better at distinguishing the legal argument from the personal/societal argument than the left is. On talkradio across the spectrum, I heard more people offer more arguments that would get them laughed out of the Supreme Court than I thought possible – and I’m not a lawyer. I can’t imagine what a lawyer would think about it.
This piece by Congressman Steve King points out what a marriage license is, and what it is not. People are currently granting the thing far more significance than it deserves.
It just seems like people cannot think straight anymore. They’re disturbed, upset, discontent, unhappy – they desire, they want, the “need” – but they just do not seem to think things through in an organized and reasonable fashion. They do not consider the ramifications of anything beyond their own personal and emotional perspective. Nor do they seek to contain that personal and emotional perspective in a purely personal and emotional space, but rather demand that the Supreme Court impress it upon the nation by fiat.
Christianity is more than simple a vehicle of personal salvation. Personal salvation is but a gateway – it is in fact the gateway to civilization as we have traditionally understood it. And not because we no longer feel guilty. Rather, because Christianity has taught us to rise above the purely personal and emotional – to the rational and societal.
If Evangelicalism is seeking a place to stand, perhaps it is there. Perhaps they should consider not merely bringing people to the gateway. Perhaps they should consider ushering them through and walking with them as they continue the journey beyond the personal and emotional.
I recently concluded reading a history of the city of Jerusalem, one of the oldest cities in the world. I am struck deeply by how we seem to be regressing as a society – how we look more like Jerusalem of thousands of years ago, than the United States of just a few decades ago.
Only the church can fix that.
Every day, you can discover some little subculture that a lot of folks dabble in, and some folks can get completely wrapped up in:
There are 211 million video-game players in the United States. For perspective, 130 million voted in last year’s presidential election.
About 35 million Americans and Canadians play a fantasy sport (fantasy football, fantasy baseball, etc.).
At least 31 million Americans are “foodies,” with an avid interest in food and culinary trends, as of 2008.
A site of “Bronies” — grown men and women who are really into “My Little Pony” — estimates that there are 7 to 12 million of them in the United states.
Mind you, the niche culture has been good for conservatives in a lot of ways. You could argue we’ve become a “niche” culture ourselves, with our own news channel (Fox News) and entertainment programming (“24”, the History Channel’s “The Bible” series, Sarah Palin’s reality show, some would argue “Duck Dynasty”), sports heroes (Tim Tebow, Jeremy Lin) , our own books, our own newspapers, magazines, web sites, morning newsletters . . .
But by becoming the well-cultivated niche, we’ve become this acquired taste, not always easily appreciated by newcomers and outsiders. Things that we think are absolutely vital, like the debt or Benghazi, end up being ignored by large swaths of the electorate, while things that seem absolutely unimportant to us, like the latest celebrity news, are given enormous attention and focus by millions of citizens who have a vote just like the rest of us. (Right now on YouTube, a guy getting punched by a street performer has 11 million views in three days. Remember, that’s about two-thirds of the audience of the most-watched broadcast television show last week.)
If you are lucky enough to find a way to keep your favorite childhood joy in your life as an adult, good for you. Some kids who grew up loving “Star Wars” ended up working in Hollywood, I’m sure almost every professional athlete loved their sport as a child, and so on. But as one of Harry’s commenters pointed out, “not everyone has the luxury of holding onto their childhood.” Some people had to grow up and put their favorite toys aside and become farmers and lawyers and accountants and doctors and parents.
Some argued that when television was an endless succession of “Friends” clones, our culture was celebrating an extended adolescence — the carefree dorm-room life extending well into your 20s. Seeing grown adults almost obsessively embrace something designed for children exacerbates this sense that our culture is having a hard time groping with the concept of maturity.
“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
Quick, that closing quotation, where’s it from? Yep, the Bible. (I Cor. 13:11) Church, religion generally should teach more than theology or even a simple ethical code. In an age when education is largely propaganda, religion is the only force in society that pushed us towards maturity, some reasonable semblance of adulthood. This is one of the many reasons to preserve a place for religion in our society. Geraghty is right, we are rapidly becoming a culture of children. It shows up in more ways than you might think. Part of being an adult is wanting to stand on your own. When you are a child, you accept your parents care and it allows you to pursue childish things. Apparently now, we accept government care so we can pursue childish things.
Or is that “bread and circuses?”
Nor is it “crying wolf” to discuss preserving a place for religion in our society. Consider this brief blog post at Christianity Today of real university legal cases where, “nondiscrimination policies and religious freedom” have clashed.
Michaelson writes, “The notion that the U.S. Constitution protects all religious liberty is really a creation of the last 80 years, and the result of the work of marginal religious groups, not mainstream ones.”
Franck describes the report as:
…characterized by factual errors, the bullying language of the smear artist, passive-aggressive advancing of and retreat from very grave accusations, and a pervasive begging of important questions.
You really should read all three parts to get a flavor of this thing. The problem is a lot of people are going to buy this report. A lack of education about religion in our schools leaves people free to but all sorts of nonsense in the press about it. This includes, by the way, claims “marginal religious groups” like the Mormons at least were at one point in history – and even their cases go back more than 80 years.
Before we move on, there is some pressure that “religious freedom” should be the new theme for this blog. Thoughts?
How did we arrive in a place where this kind of nonsense could see the light of publication, let alone, be considered seriously by anyone? I really think we need to figure that out if we are to figure out how to recover from it. In pursuit of that question, one of the things that caught my eye was a series, just beginning, at Patheos by Bradley Wright, trying to define “Evangelicalism.“ Being an academic, Wright takes a very scholarly approach to the subject and reports on a number of approaches to the definition. This piece makes apparent something we have discussed here over and over and over which is it is pretty hard to decide just who is and who is not an Evangelical.
Of the many things Wright discusses, I found this most fascinating:
Historian David Bebbington defines Evangelical Christianity as having four main qualities (quoted from here):
* Biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible (e.g. all essential spiritual truth is to be found in its pages)
* Crucicentrism, a focus on the atoning work of Christ on the cross
* Conversionism, the belief that human beings need to be converted
* Activism, the belief that the gospel needs to be expressed in effort
Sociologist Brian Steensland and colleagues point to these characteristics: ”Evangelical denominations have typically sought more separation from the broader culture, emphasized missionary activity and individual conversion, and taught strict adherence to particular religious doctrines.”
I find both of those pretty good descriptives, and there are a couple of things I want to note about them. Note particularly that in the sociological description, you do not have to squint your eyes much to see a child taking his ball and going home. This takes us back to Mister Geraghty. The predominate religious expression in our nation is a bit childish in its very foundations. Evangelicalism could be viewed as a collection of niches. Fracture, schism, and church shopping are prominent features of Evangelicalism. Is it any wonder then that the culture grows childish?
Secondly, that historical description is quite a narrow description of what a religion should be about – particularly in comparison to the more robust expressions of Christianity like Catholicism or Mormonism. This narrowness ceded cultural territory, and hence people can claim that “religious freedom is a modern creation.”
How we got here has less to do with the pressures of our culture than it has to do with how we choose to exercise our faith. That is food for deep thought.
Remember last week when I excoriated Al Mohler? Well, fortunately some hardcore Protestants “get it.” Carl Trueman shows us how the seriously Reformed should write about their Catholic brethren.
Some may wonder what the point of reflecting on Rome is for a Protestant. At least threefold,I would respond. First, Protestants benefit from a conservative papacy: on public square issues such as abortion, marriage and religious freedom, the RCC has a higher profile and more power – financial, legal, institutional – than any Protestant group. We all benefit from the cultural and legal power of the RCC in these areas. Second, your neighbours probably do not distinguish between Christian groups. A sleazy, morally corrupt RCC is like a sleazy, morally corrupt televangelist ministry: we are all marked with the same brush in the public eye and our task of evangelism becomes that much harder. Third, RC authors often offer more penetrating insights into secular culture than their evangelical equivalents. Comparing George Weigel to Rob Bell in such circumstances is akin to comparing Michelangelo to Thomas Kinkade.
And then there is this story. These stories have become a dime-a-dozen:
A Florida professor and high-ranking member of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party recently instructed his students to take out a piece of paper, write “JESUS” on it, then put it on the floor and stomp on it….
Apparently the exercise is a suggestion in the textbook, “Intercultural Communication: A Contextual Approach, 5th Edition,” and the school would not say if Poole would face disciplinary action, WPEC reports.
I have but one comment, “What the &^% is ‘intercultural communication’ and how does it rate a textbook, let alone the 5th edition of one?” That sounds like one of the courses I took to pad my hours – you know like “Underwater Basket Weaving 101.” Can you expect a professor that teaches something like that to do anything serious? Oh and by the way, I thought the purpose of college was to teach us to use our words and reason, not thrown childish tantrums and stomp on stuff. This was nonsense long before it was religiously offensive.
Yesterday I analogized today’s Christians in our nation to the Jews in Jerusalem during and immediately following the time of Christ. I wrote:
Christianity survived because between Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem (roughly 70 AD) it had spread its wings beyond Palestine and included the gentiles in the faith. While it prescribed to the same moral/ethical code as its Jewish ancestors, Christianity was far less stiff-necked, far less rigid that the Jews of Jerusalem and environs.
Christianity was indeed persecuted by the Romans for a while, but it eventually won the day.
Right now it seems Christians find themselves in a similar squeeze as the Jews under the Roman occupation. And if we behave like the Jews, we will likely be destroyed. But if we behave like those Christians of old, we will find a way to survive. So what was the essential difference?
The Jews were interested in ruling. The Christians were interested in souls.
I need to refine that a bit, based on reading Victor David Hanson this morning:
Even in its third century, America is still the most meritocratic nation in the world. Unlike the caste system of India; the class considerations of Europe; the racial homogeneity of China, Japan or Korea; the tribalism of Africa; or the religious orthodoxy of the Middle East, America is still a place where one can offer a new idea, invention or protocol that is judged on its merits, rather than on the background, accent, race, age, gender or religion of the person who offers it.
The mixture of consumer capitalism and constitutionally protected free speech — and all sorts of races, religions and ethnicities — sometimes means that America can be a wild place with a popular culture that appears crass and uncouth to those abroad. Our generation’s $17 trillion national debt, unfunded entitlements and nearly 50 million people on food stamps might convince the Founding Fathers that they had spawned license rather than guaranteed liberty.
Yet the upside to the wild arena of America is that almost anyone is free to enter it.
My refined point is this. The Jews of first century Jerusalem were not interesting so much in ruling so much as they were interested in “purity.” Christianity in its spread to the gentiles (A decision not easily made by the way, read the Book of Acts carefully and uncover the hearty debate between Peter and Paul on this matter.) plowed much the same ground that Hanson shows America plowing. Christians in Rome looked quite different than Christians in Jerusalem who looked quite different than Christians in Athens.
Yet it seems the Christians of America, especially the Evangelicals, are insistent on some sort of dogmatic purity to qualify for the game. From a checklist of issues to how they worship on Sunday morning, we seem always to be measuring candidates and leaders for their purity.
If we keep it up, like the first century Jews of Jerusalem we will be crushed. What’s really sad to me though is that this stance is both unAmerican and, as we can see in the decision of the first century church, unChristian. Which also says a lot about the relationship between Christianity and America.
This obsession with purity is also very unEvangelical. The very heart of the Evangelical movement, in the spirit of Paul reaching out to the gentiles, is to reach out and make new Christians. Something has indeed gone horribly wrong.