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."

  • Religion’s Failure

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:24 am, December 10th 2013     —     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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    The Pope and Rush

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:32 am, December 6th 2013     —     1 Comment »

    So the relatively new Pope releases a document.  Being Pope such documents come in many arcane forms and designations.  Not being Catholic, I don’t understand it all, I just know that when the Pope writes it’s really important.  This document, because of its economic views. has been widely misunderstood and widely commented upon.  Sometimes not very smartly.

    Rush Limbaugh has quite now famously called it “Marxist.”  Even if true (and I am not saying it is), not a smart move on Mr. Limbaugh’s part.  Besides, Marx was not exactly original.  Any reader of The Acts of The Apostles, Chapter 2 would realize that.  Christianity has a communal economic impulse that rightfully runs deep.  Volumes have been written to reconcile the apparent socialism/communism of New Testament communities and clearly private property oriented sensibilities of the Old Testament.  This is not a theology blog, so we are not going to unpack that here, but I will bet the farm that the Pope has read a lot more on the subject than Rush Limbaugh.

    Again, not being Catholic, I have been trying to steer clear of this thing.  But I have finally seen some non-Catholic commentary that made some sense to me and deserves further comment.  William Murchison (an Episcopalian) at Real Clear Politics:

    Lost amid conventional media blather concerning the 47,560-word apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of Evangelism”) was any real sense of what Francis was up to: summoning the church to put off torpor and present Christ to a world in need of him. “I invite all Christians everywhere,” the pope said, “to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus … I dream of a missionary option, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything … ” And more of the same — much more.

    Amid tumult over the healthcare.gov website and animated speculation over who can beat Hillary, Francis addressed mankind’s spiritual calling. He shoved political matters to the side. More properly, he spoke of the world’s conundrums in the context of God’s love for the world. What kind of talk was this? Many wished to know.

    It was religious talk. That was the problem. The pope’s holistic view of the human condition broke across boundaries and surged down side roads, as well as broad boulevards familiar from the 6 o’clock news. He wanted to save souls! What an idea — one that meant submitting the whole human enterprise to divine oversight: in the name, yes, of freedom. “God’s mercy has willed that we should be free.” Really? How would that be? To talk of freedom is to talk of politics and economics — isn’t it?

    From the chair of Peter, the view is more encompassing. The mercy of God that leads to freedom, mercy apportioned to the weak as well as the powerless, the poor and the 1 percent, is the divine property the people would show the world. Economics, Marxist or classical, is a means — just that, a means — to the end the pope would show the world: barriers leveled, hatreds stilled, vices quenched before the throne of God.

    American religious traditions, particularly Evangelical ones draw on Kuyper and divide the world into spheres, starting with “secular” and “religious” spheres.  Kuyper knew these spheres, like great Venn diagrams, often intersect, but much modern religious thought – particularly Evangelical thought – does not stray into those intersections.  It just sort of says simply, “If you are a Christian, you will do x, y, and z when operating in this sphere and a,b,c when operating in that sphere.  That is not an intersection, that is a border crossing.  The intersections are messy and not subject to a simple little rule making.  They are full of individual, unique and unforeseen circumstances that require on-the-spot decisions that cannot be dictated by a set of per-ordained ordinances.

    In the intersections we may make capitalistic decisions and take capitalistic action, but we should have charitable and communal impulses and hearts.  I agree with Murchison here.  The Pope is speaking not to economics, but to hearts and impulses.

    And now I am going to be far more frank than perhaps I should be.  Rush Limbaugh is a vitally important voice in conservative politics.  But I have never heard him confess any faith beyond a simple acknowledgement of a generic Almighty.  I have never heard a thought from him (and I have listened a lot, though not in recent years) that seemed rooted in the teaching of any church or school of religious thought.  Rush simply strayed out of his wheelhouse here.  He is not worth listening to on things religious, Catholic, Protestant, or Buddhist for that matter.  Rush was, I think, victimized by the anti-Catholic impulses within a significant portion of his listening audience.  Impulses that the readers of this blog are all too familiar with.

    Unfortunately many Americans, particularly within certain branches of Protestantism, are not really worth listening to when it comes to bringing our faith into the public arena.  Their faith has boundaries. not intersections.  Thus they can, and often do step out of their wheelhouses.  I am not saying Francis is entirely correct here, I do not have the Catholic requirement to hold papal pronouncement sacred.  Nor have I examined the document with enough care to engage in serious criticism.  What I will acknowledge; however, is that the Pope is trying to tear down boundaries and build intersections.  That is worthy.

    It is something every person of faith should be seeking.

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    Forget The Politics For Just A Minute, And Focus On The Management…

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 08:35 am, December 1st 2013     —     Comment on this post »

    …of the building, roll out and incomplete rescue of “Healthcare.gov” in this morning’s NYT account of what is rapidly shaping up as the worst political disaster in governmental history.

    What you will see is a thorough and complete misunderstanding of human beings, how they behave and how they react to different situations.  Christianity starts with the understanding that humans are deeply flawed.  (Yes, we offer a path to get better, but we start with our flaws.)  The utopian visions of the left seem to cheerfully ignore this most fundamental fact.  That ignorance does more to account for the failure of this entire misguided enterprise than any other single factor.

    Once again we learn that faith matters, not religious identity, but something much deeper.  A lesson the nation needs to relearn.

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    Finding Gratitude This Thanksgiving

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:02 am, November 26th 2013     —     1 Comment »

    I cannot find anyone who thinks the deal with Iran concluded over the weekend does anything other than brings the world closer to nuclear war.  Honestly the consensus is overwhelming, the only debate is in how bad the deal really is.

    Abounding are comparisons to Neville Chamberlain’s 1938 Munich deal with Hitler.  A deal that Chamberlain said achieved “peace for our time,” when all it really did was pave the way for Hitler’s takeover of Czechoslovakia.  The comparisons are apt.

    Bret Stephens points out this morning that this deal is much worse than Munich.

    Consider: Britain and France came to Munich as military weaklings. The U.S. and its allies face Iran from a position of overwhelming strength. Britain and France won time to rearm. The U.S. and its allies have given Iran more time to stockpile uranium and develop its nuclear infrastructure. Britain and France had overwhelming domestic constituencies in favor of any deal that would avoid war. The Obama administration is defying broad bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress for the sake of a deal.

    That certainly jives with my understanding of the events of that time and now.  But there is one difference Stephens does not discuss that I find truly terrifying.  When World War Two broke out in the wake of Munich, Chamberlain had enough common sense to appoint Winston Churchill as the First Lord of the Admiralty.  When, mere months later, Chamberlain’s inability to lead the nation in a war was boldly demonstrated he resigned in the wake of a no confidence vote and Churchill became Prime Minister.

    My concern is that as the crisis just worsened reaches its apex I do not think this administration has enough common sense to make the appropriate changes in its composition to change the tide.  Nor would the resignation of the President (which the ego of the current President would never grant) greatly improve matters, our succession rules to the office being what they are.

    It is one of those times when I am most grateful to have faith to rely upon.  If you read this blog you may express your faith in a quite a different way than I do.   But I bet we share this gratitude.  We find it much more difficult to change the tide of events than even the British did in the late 1930′s.  But we, because of our faith, have another place to turn to try and shift the tide.

    This is what I am most grateful for this Thanksgiving.

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    And So It Begins

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:38 am, November 22nd 2013     —     Comment on this post »

    This weeks editorial page of the Wall Street Journal featured op-eds from Marco Rubio and Scott Walker, chronologically ordered.  Make no mistake, these are two men testing the waters for potential national leadership of the party and the government.  This is how it starts.  It is upon us. Read these pieces carefully, and those that follow from other possibles.  The decisions before the party and the electorate in ’14 and ’16 are of more importance than any that have been taken since WWII.

    This is no time to choose lightly.

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    Remaining In Character

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:39 am, November 21st 2013     —     Comment on this post »

    The latest imbroglio about Obama’s reading of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address and the exclusion of references to God is one of those things that while important, we cannot really win fighting over.  That does not mean there is no war on religion, it just means that battle is a loser.  It is one of those “he said/she said”-no winner battles that can only make us look bad even if we “win” the fight.  Nonetheless, in other communications surrounding the anniversary of that ultimate American oratory, Obama makes plain in equating “gay rights” to civil rights that he disregards the concerns and values of the faithful in this nation.  We are in a war, the question is how to fight it.

    By pure coincidence, I ended up watching “Judgement at Nuremberg” on TCM last night.   While I will not equate our current troubles in this nation to those that lead to the rise of National Socialism in Germany, that movie did remind me of the importance of not merely “going along” with trends in a society that seem counter to faith and common sense.  If the fight over the words in the Gettysburg address is a loser, what fights are winners?

    The first and most important fight is to hold to our own personal integrity.  Now, more than ever in our history, we of faith must congregate regularly and devotedly if for no other reason than to shore each other up in our personal convictions.  We cannot allow our own commitment to faith and moral compass to slip.  But that is on a personal level, not a political one.  What do we do politically?

    Well, for one thing, we must keep in mind that politics in  America reflect culture they do not shape it.  At least not yet.  Shaping culture is in the little things, not the big things.  We do little things, the president does big things.  So, my first suggestion is a simple one.  The holidays are upon us.  Do not allow the culture to cause you to shrink from proclaiming Christmas wishes.  Of course, personally, this is not such a big deal.  I wish everybody a “Merry Christmas” when I am out shopping or whatever.  But I always worry about it with business.  I have many clients that are religious, but not Christian.  Mostly Asian, they come from all sorts of places on the Hindu/Buddhist spectrum.  Every year I am concerned I might offend, but every year I resolve to wish them a “Merry Christmas.”  Have not lost a client yet.

    This is a small thing, but it is an important thing.  It has resulted in some unpleasant encounters, but good will seems to carry the day.  Which is another thing of vital importance.  If we are of good will in the pursuit of all that we do, it will go a long a way towards carrying the day culturally.  Who would you rather hire?  The house painter that does an adequate job, but is a pest about a hundred little things and unpleasant to talk to or the house painter that does an excellent job, maybe even goes the extra mile, and greets you enthusiastically each day on the job?  Which one of those do you think describes the atheist and which the Christian?

    Thankfully, we are not in a place in our history where we are being asked to be complicit in atrocities like the defendants at Nuremberg.  We do not, for the most part, have to worry about losing our jobs to retain our integrity or become active agents of resistance, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  In situations like some of the mandates of Obamacare, civil disobedience may be necessary.  We may need to contribute treasure to support those that do so.  But these remain little things, not big things.

    Rome did not become Christian by virtue of war – it became Christian by the accumulation of thousands, even millions of little things.  It began with one man going to Rome to talk about his faith.  That’s all, just talk about it.  We don’t need to pick fights, we just need to talk about our faith.

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