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."

  • 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 Response to Ross Douthat’s “Bad Religion”

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 03:56 pm, June 28th 2012     &mdash      1 Comment »

    I cannot think of a time when I have read a book where I agreed with so much of what was said, and yet so viscerally disliked it than when I read New York Times columnist Ross Douthat’s “Bad Religion.“  While I have a couple of arguments with the book, I found the tone, and to a large extent the writing, simply disagreeable.  But to start things off, a brief summary of the book is in order.  Pastor Tim Keller of New York’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church, about whom Douthat has several complimentary things to say in the book, wrote a good synopsis at the Gospel Coalition blog, so I shall borrow:

    Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion attributes Christianity’s decline in the United States to:

    1. political polarization that has sucked churches into its vortex;
    2. the sexual revolution that has undermined the plausibility of Christian faith and practice for an entire generation;
    3. globalization that has made the exclusive claims of Christianity seem highly oppressive;
    4. materialism and consumerism that undermines commitment to anything higher than the self; and
    5. alienation of the cultural elites and culture-shaping institutions from Christianity.

    What, if anything, can we do about the decline of Christianity? This question has triggered an entire generation of books and blogs. Douthat’s book is mainly descriptive and critical. He even admits that the book was “written in a spirit of pessimism.” Yet he rightly responds that for any Christian, “pessimism should always be provisional.” So in his last chapter he very briefly proposes four factors that could lead to the “recovery of Christianity.”

    First, he speaks of the “postmodern opportunity.” The same relativism and rootlessness that has weakened the church is also proving exhausting rather than liberating to many in our society….

    Second, he notes the opposite impulse at work, the “Benedict option”—a new monasticism that does not seek engagement with culture but rather the formation of counter-cultural communities that “stand apart . . . and inspire by example rather than by engagement.”…

    Third, he cites “the next Christendom,” meaning the explosively growing Christian churches of the former Third World could evangelize the West….

    Finally, he proposes that “an age of diminished [economic] expectations”—along with the devastation of the sexual revolution and the exhaustion of postmodern rootlessness—could lead to the masses again looking to Christianity for hope and help. A church that could welcome them, he warns, would need three qualities. First, it would have to be political without being partisan. That is, it would have to equip all its members to be culturally engaged through vocation and civic involvement without identifying corporately with one political party. Second, it would have to be confessional yet ecumenical. That is, the church would have to be fully orthodox within its theological and ecclesiastical tradition yet not narrow and harsh toward other kinds of Christians. It should be especially desirous of cooperation with non-Western Christian leaders and churches. Third, the church would not only have to preach the Word faithfully, but also be committed to beauty and sanctity, the arts, and human rights for all. In this brief section he sounds a lot like Lesslie Newbigin and James Hunter, who have described a church that can have a “missionary encounter with Western culture.”

    Let’s start with my arguments…

    …with the book and then move to the impressions.  My arguments lie almost entirely in his chapter on political polarization.  On the one hand I agree, deeply, with the essential thesis of the chapter (page 273):

    In the Bush era, liberal consistently portrayed the right wing version of this temptation as a theocratic menace to American democracy.  But the real danger has less to do with the specter of an oppressive ecclesiastical dominance of politics – which was never a plausible fear in a religiously diverse society – than with the political corruption of religious witness.  The present danger to our democracy isn’t that Christianity has gained too much power and influence over our politics.  Rather it’s that the heresy of nationalism co-option of Christian faith has left the faith too weak to play the kind of positive rile it has often played in public life.

    But the descriptives of the problem and the specific examples he chooses seem designed more to be deliberately moderate than to be examples of where the church may have been co-opted by political aims.  Note how the paragraph quoted focuses on co-option coming from the right, ignoring the accommodations of the left to which he devoted an entire early chapter, though not a politically focused chapter.  He seems to have a special animus for George W. Bush, and while he never uses the word “cowboy,” his discussion of Bush seems to drip with the implication.  One is forced to wonder if Douthat’s political viewpoint is not based more in discussions with his NYTimes colleagues than it is in thinking through the issues, his Catholic faith in hand.  Douthat reserves special scorn for the Iraq war and for waterboarding.  He is dogmatic in his rejection of these policies without giving them the kind of scrutiny and consideration that the rest of his book calls for.  In other words, when he comes off his lofty perch and gets into the weeds, he is guilty of the very sins he seeks to condemn.

    To some extent, the second argument I have with him has been overtaken by events.  He neglects, almost entirely, the fact that conservative Christians have been pulled into the political arena kicking and screaming.  I think the church universal would like nothing more than to get out of the political game, but as government has been the proverbial camel with its nose in the tent of the Church’s business; the Church has had little option.  At the time the book was released the latest, and perhaps most brazen, of the government intrusions (Obama’s HHS ruling) had not come down, but the pattern was already well established.  Roe v Wade remains the most morally repugnant of such intrusions, but it is far less coercive on the church proper than much that has followed in its wake.  There is a limit to how much intrusion the church can accommodate before it must enter the fray or risk eviction from its own spheres.  To the extent that Douthat acknowledges this, and that once politics is engaged things will get soiled, he seems to neglect that reality when the discussion gets particular.  For Douthat, when it gets specific, there seems to be no battle lines, there is only negotiation and treaty.   One must wonder if the church can be preserved through such continual, if more peaceful, erosion.

    (more…)

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    The Field Is Coalescing, A Brief Book “Review” and more…

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:33 am, March 10th 2011     &mdash      1 Comment »

    Article Of The Week, So Far

    Depending on your viewpoint there are three candidate for that less than coveted title.  Based on our commenters and emailers, last week’s Economist hit piece on Mormons is the leading candidate.  As we said the article suffers from adding absolutely nothing to the discussion that has not already been said a thousand times before.  Not to mention only like six or seven really geeky people bother to read the Economist.  I can understand how my Mormon friends would be incensed by this cheap shot, but it hardly rises to a level to earn the title bestowed by this section of the post.

    That honor, in my book, goes to George Will’s excoriation of Huckabee and Gingrich as “spotlight-chasing candidates.” Remember when we divided the field into Media Candidates and Serious Players?  I think George Will owes us a dinner.  There is little question about Huckabee here – Gingrich is trying to position himself seriously, but I have my doubts he’ll succeed.  More on him in a bit.

    Story Of The Week, So Far

    Some might try to argue that it was Obama’s toxic embrace of Mitt Romney and Massachusett’s health care – with some help from his friends.  Something they can tie in with the resignation of Obama’s Ambassador to China to make the Mormon connection.  But this is so transparent as to not be effective.

    Some might say that it is the unraveling of the “first” GOP debate, but this has been coming for a long time so the impact does not rise to the level to make it important.

    For my money it’s how flat the “Faith & Freedom” forum in Iowa fell.  Even devoutly Evangelical sources note there is work to be done.  The country simply has its mind elsewhere this cycle.

    The Candidates

    Remember Monday when I said Newt Gingrich‘s serial infidelities would be a problem for him?  I love being ahead of the curve.

    Jon Huntsman continues to draw press, but as best as I can tell, little else.

    I grow very weary of the fact that Mike Huckabee always has an excuse, but never an “I was wrong.”  When it comes to illegitimate religious shots at Romney or cultural shots at Natalie Portman it’s distasteful.  However, this week I heard him, on Michael Medved‘s show,  do it with regards to his commutation of the prison sentence of people that then went out and killed police officers.  He did so on the show when a current officer that served with one of the dead officers in the same police force in Washington called.  That is just wrong.

    Tim Pawlenty is playing nice, and has some leftie friends, but he may be making a misstep.

    Haley Barbour is looking increasingly serious.

    Donald Trump and evangelical commentary.  The fact that there is serious commentary of Trump points to the fact that the Evangelical commenting is not serious.

    The far left LATimes took a very hard shot at Mitt Romney.  As did Michael Kinsley.  Such vituperation at this stage is proof the left is afraid of him.  But even David Corn noted that he is doing a good job of staying above the fray.

    Religious Reading

    Evangelical and LDS leaders meeting in Utah.  Very Interesting – even being analyzed politically.

    This is so backwards as to be astonishing.  The Church out of the marriage business?  Where in the world do they think the idea came from to begin with?

    Just so my Mormon friends know they are not alone.

    About That Book “Review”…

    A true book review requires that one read the book in question.  I cannot say that for the book I am going to comment upon here.  The book in question is The Religious Test by our old friend Damon Linker.  I read the first two chapters of the book and grew very annoyed.  Checked the index for references to Mormons looked at the first one and set the book aside never to be opened again, I hope.  When we reviewed his important article from the last cycle in our review of the last campaign we said:

    The piece suffered from two enormous problems.  One was it ignored the political realities of the United States, and two it confused religious adherence with religious fanaticism.  The piece assumed that a president could somehow run roughshod over all action of the US government, as if we had no checks and balances.  The fact of the matter is, if the nation did mess up tremendously and elect a president with a nutcase agenda, there is Congress to balance the scales.  Further, while the president of the CJCLDS is considered a prophet, adherents to that faith are very different than fanatical Muslims following the edicts of a crazy Imam.  And even Imams generally only have a few fanatic followers.  There are fanatical Mormons, as there are fanatics of every faith, but then Romney had an established record as governor of Massachusetts.  I doubt we were in for any surprises.

    The book is the same mistakes writ long and large.  The book opens discussing Amish and Jewish sects that are “apart,” moves to  radical, violent Islam and then attempts to draw parallels to the Christian Reconstructionist movement as described by R.J. Rushdoony, as affiliated with The Presbyterian Church in America.  I am no fan of Christian Reconstructionism or Rushdoony for that matter but as weird as they are, they do not propose violence and have no history of violent action – a HUGE difference between themselves and radical Islam.  And to tie them with the PCA is about the same as saying that because I read this far in Linker’s book, I agree with him.

    When I turned to the first mention of Mormonism as gleaned from the index, what appeared before my eyes immediately?  Why the Mountain Meadows Massacre, of course.  Again, attempting to paint the whole by the actions of the radical few – a long, long time ago.  In his defense, Linker seems to bear no animus for any particular religion, apparently they are all places where violence is lurking just under the surface waiting to break out and stain us all.

    As far as I got, which is as far as I could stand, the book is simply anti-religious screed based on the thinnest of arguments, and with a presumption that the scientific method is the only means of determining truth, never addressing the fact that the scientific method has proven wholly inadequate to fully explaining human behavior and other non-mechanistic phenomena.  In other words the book is nonsense written in academic parlance to give it a sheen of respectability.

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    “City of Man” by Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner – A Review

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:30 am, December 2nd 2010     &mdash      4 Comments »

    “City of Man – Religion and Politics in a New Era” by Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner may be the best book written on religion and politics in many, many years.  I have one beef with it, which I will get to in a moment, but rather than tell you what the books says – consider a few choice quotations:

    Sorting out the proper relationship between religion and poli­tics is particularly difficult for Christians. Unlike Moses or Muham­mad, Jesus of Nazareth did not set out a political blueprint or ideal of any kind. He specifically rejected the political utopianism of some of His followers. He lived within a Roman Empire whose ex­istence He hardly mentioned. Jesus’ main arguments were with re­ligious authorities, not political ones. He proclaimed a kingdom “not of this world,” a kingdom based not on an alternative leader­ship but on transformed lives.

    Yet Jesus was executed as, in part, an enemy of the state. Con­temporary leaders, political and religious, found His otherworldly kingdom threatening because it demanded obedience to an au­thority beyond their own. Jesus’ followers were soon being executed for failing to show proper respect (that is, refusing to offer sacri­fices) to the Roman emperor. In the Roman world, Christians chal­lenged the political status quo on any number of issues, including slavery, infanticide, and the status of women. Christianity may not have laid out a blueprint for an ideal government, but “love your neighbor” had social and political consequences.

    That’s just from the Preface.  Consider this concluding the first chapter:

    There is no easy shortcut, no prepackaged formula that tells Christians when to get involved in politics and when to pull back, when speaking out on public matters will help or hurt their Chris­tian witness. This side of the heavenly city, we can only peer through a glass darkly. One day the clouds will part and all things will become clear. Until then, our obligation is to sort through, even in an imperfect way, the choices before us; to seek the coun­sel of people of wisdom and integrity; to examine and re-examine our motives and the state of our hearts; continually to revisit our approach and stance in light of events; and to pray, in the words of the author of Colossians, that God will fill us with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.

    The third chapter concludes:

    The Christian political movement is changing and maturing. The younger generation feels alienated by leading figures on both the right and the left. Along with so many of their elders, they are looking for something deeper and something better.

    The last chapter on “Persuasion and the Public Square” includes “A Primer for Christian Persuaders” with five basic tenets:

    • Maintain self-awareness
    • Maintain spiritual grounding
    • Maintain perspective
    • Maintain community
    • Maintain a spirit of grace and reconciliation

    I think that is enough for our readers to understand why I liked this book so much.  The premise is simple – how we are involved in politics is changing, we should do it well.  Further it cannot be a matter of slogans and issue stances – serious thought and reasonable engagement are required.

    That last sentence somewhat defies modern communication theory which says it has to be said over and over and over again in one sentence or less.  That fact alone may ultimately prevent the excellent vision of these writers from reaching a wide audience.  Even despite the fact that the book is short, concise and well written – it formulates as many questions as it provides answers.

    But such is not my bone to pick with the book, that is more my lament on the general state of things.  They quote James Madison “Justice is the end of government” and then go on to make the case that religion is the one force that has defined justice in terms other than “might makes right.” – fair enough.  But they then go on to make the case that as such, government should be involved in charitable acts.   Not surprising since their old boss make the same case in non-religious terms in the Washington Post just yesterday.

    I agree with the point, if not the tone, of John Derbyshire on The Corner this morning:

    It is the most elementary error, though — and certainly one no conservative should make — to confuse private charity with state action. When governments are generous, they are generous with our money, after ripping it from our pockets by force of law.

    That being true in theory – I wonder if such “compassionate conservatism” is not at this stage in our history a political necessity?  I certainly thought so when I voted for Bush, both times.  But this also is changing in our political landscape.  Only time will tell.

    That caveat notwithstanding – this book is marvelous for its clarity and thoughtfulness.   Recommended to all.

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    A Sunday Quotation

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:57 am, August 5th 2007     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    This morning I am reading a sermon by John Watson entitled "OPTIMISM."  A bit about Rev. Watson:

    John Watson, widely known under his pen name of “Ian Maclaren,” was born at Manningtree, Essex, England, in 1850. For many years he was pastor of Free St. Matthew’s Church, Glasgow. He died in America in 1907. He enjoyed unusual popularity, both as a preacher and as a lecturer.

    The sermon begins with Rev. Watson proclaiming the optimistic attitude of many of the early Christian leaders, leaders appreciated by creedal and Mormon alike, Paul the Apostle and Augustine, and then comes this remarkable passage:

    They might be losing, but their commander was winning. The cross might be surrounded with the smoke of battle, it was being carried forward to victory.

     

    They were right in this conviction, but do not let us make any mistake about the nature of this triumph, else we shall be caught by delusions, and in the end be discouraged. It will not be ecclesiastical, and by that one means that no single church, either the Church of Rome, or the Church of England, or the Church of Scotland will ever embrace the whole human race, or even its English-speaking province. One can not study church history since the Reformation, or examine the condition of the various religious denominations today without being convinced that there will always be diversity of organization, and any person who imagines the Church of the East making her humble submission to Rome, or the various Protestant bodies of the Anglo-Saxon race trooping in their multitude to surrender their orders to the Anglican Church has really lost touch with the possibilities of life. Nor will the triumph be theological in the sense that all men will come to hold the same dogma whether it be that of Rome or Geneva. There will always be many schools of thought within the kingdom of God just as there will be many nations. Neither one Church nor one creed will swallow up the others and dominate the world. He who cherishes that idea is the victim of an optimism which is unreasonable and undesirable. The kingdom of God will come not through organization but through inspiration. Its sign will not be the domination of a Church, but the regeneration of humanity. When man shall be brother to man the world over, and war shall no longer drench cornfields with blood: when women are everywhere honored, and children are protected: when cities are full of health and holiness, and when the burden of misery has been lifted from the poor, then the world shall know Christ has not died in vain, and His vision shall be fulfilled.

    Just a thought for the day…

    [tags] sermon, thoughts, John Watson, ecclesiastical power, victory[/tags]

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    Prophecy and Quotation

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 11:38 am, April 28th 2007     &mdash      1 Comment »

    Lowell's faith and my own have decidedly differing views of prophecy, yet when I was recently reading the book I am about to quote I could not help but be struck by how very prophetic the words were, in the sense that either of us would use the word.

    The book I was reading is called The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter, and it is a classic of creedal Christian ecclesiastical literature.  Written in 1656, just a few years after the Reformation, the book is a guide to pastors in the then very new reformed faith as to the demands and expectations on their lives and work.  From its pages a couple of passages jumped out at me in light of this blog.

    And it is not ourselves only that are scorched in this flame, but we have drawn our people into it, and cherished them in it, so that most of the godly in the nation are fallen into parties, and have turned much of their ancient piety into vain opinions and disputes and envyings and animosities. Yea, whereas it was wont to be made the certain mark of a graceless wretch to deride the godly, how few are there now that stick at secretly deriding and slandering those that are not of their opinions! A pious Prelatical man can reverently scorn and slander a Presbyterian; and a Presbyterian an Independent; and an Independent both. And, what is the worst of all, the common ignorant people take notice of all this, and do not only deride us, but are hardened by us against religion; and when we go about to persuade them to be religious, they see so many parties, that they know not which to join; and think that it is as good to be of none at all, as of any, since they are uncertain which is the right; and thus thousands are grown into a contempt of all religion, by our divisions; and many poor carnal wretches begin to think themselves in the better case of the two, because they hold to their old formalities, when we hold to nothing. [Emphasis added.]

    And then a few pages later:

    Besides, consider what a disadvantage you cast upon your cause, in all your disputations with men of different views. If your principles be better than theirs, and their practice be better than yours, the people will suppose that the question is whether the name or the thing, the shadow or the substance, be more desirable, and they will take your way to be a mere delusive formality, because they see you but formal in the use of it, yea, that you use it not at all.

    More than a century before the founding of the United States of America, almost 200 years before Joseph Smith received his revelations and the LDS were born, this humble pastor in England seemed to see precisely the kinds of issues we would be facing in the greatest nation in history.

    Would that we listened.

    [tags]Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, prophecy, Reformation, religious plurality, strife, genuineness[/tags]

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