Independence with a Twist

(Thanks to John Fea.)

A. A. Gill has a new book coming out on America, an excerpt of which appeared at Vanity Fair. A few excerpts might help the coals burn faster for an Independence Day barbecue:

When I was a child, there was a lot of talk of a “brain drain”—commentators, professors, directors, politicians would worry at the seeping of gray matter across the Atlantic. Brains were being lured to California by mere money. Mere money and space, and sun, and steak, and Hollywood, and more money and opportunity and optimism and openness. People who took the dollar in exchange for their brains were unpatriotic in much the same way that tax exiles were. The unfair luring of indigenous British thought would, it was darkly said, lead to Britain falling behind, ceasing to be the pre-eminently brilliant and inventive nation that had produced the Morris Minor and the hovercraft. You may have little idea how lauded and revered Sir Christopher Cockerell, the inventor of the hovercraft, was, and you may well not be aware of what a noisy, unstable waste of effort the hovercraft turned out to be, but we were very proud of it for a moment.

The underlying motif of the brain drain was that for real cleverness you needed years of careful breeding. Cold bedrooms, tinned tomatoes on toast, a temperament and a heritage that led to invention and discovery. And that was really available only in Europe and, to the greatest extent, in Britain. The brain drain was symbolic of a postwar self-pity. The handing back of Empire, the slow, Kiplingesque watch as the things you gave your life to are broken, and you have to stoop to build them up with worn-out tools. There was resentment and envy—whereas in the first half of the 20th century Britain had spent the last of Grandfather’s inherited capital, leaving it exhausted and depressed, for America the war had been the engine that geared up industry and pulled it out of the Depression, capitalizing it for a half-century of plenty. It seemed so unfair.

The real brain drain was already 300 years old. The idea of America attracted the brightest and most idealistic, and the best from all over Europe. European civilization had reached a stasis. By its own accounting, it had grown from classical Greece to become an identifiable, homogeneous place, thanks to the Roman Empire and the spread of Christianity. Following the Dark Ages, there was the Renaissance and the Reformation, and then the Age of Reason, from which grew a series of ideas and discoveries, philosophies and visions, that became pre-eminent. But at the moment of their creation here comes the United States—just as Europe was reaching a point where the ideas that moved it were outgrowing the conventions and the hierarchies that governed it. Democracy, free economy, free trade, free speech, and social mobility were stifled by the vested interests and competing stresses of a crowded and class-bound continent. Migration to America may have been primarily economic, but it also created the space where the ideas that in Europe had grown too root-bound to flourish might be transplanted. Over 200 years the flame that had been lit in Athens and fanned in Rome, Paris, London, Edinburgh, Berlin, Stockholm, Prague, and Vienna was passed, a spark at a time, to the New World.

The U.S. gained independence but it was not by any means a creation ex nihilo. And the dependencies apparently go both ways.

There is in Europe another popular snobbery, about the parochialism of America, the unsophistication of its taste, the limit of its inquiry. This, we’re told, is proved by “how few Americans travel abroad.” Apparently, so we’re told, only 35 percent of Americans have passports. Whenever I hear this, I always think, My good golly gosh, really? That many? Why would you go anywhere else? There is so much of America to wonder at. So much that is the miracle of a newly minted civilization. And anyway, European kids only get passports because they all want to go to New York.

So if you’re feeling provincial today, put another burger on the grill, let out the belt a notch, and slather on more Off.

Postscript: If you live near a good video store, Whit Stillman’s Barcelona is a perfect July 4th selection which not only features European condescension regarding the U.S. but also celebrates the virtues of the nation that gave us the hamburger and its friend, the bun.

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119 thoughts on “Independence with a Twist

  1. I read that article by the always interesting Gill in the always interesting Vanity Fair. One of the best magazines around and dirt cheap.

    I need to see “Barcelona” to complete the Stillman trilogy (now tetralogy?). I’m viewing them about as far apart as he made them.

    My daughter and her fiance worked 5 pm-1 am last night and 9 am -1 am today selling food at our community (made up of 5 small towns) 4th celebration last night. It’s one of the best around. Food in the park, live music, beer tent, carnival, nice fireworks show, talent show, patriotism, and on and on. Last year my son got to read an essay he wrote at the American Legion gathering where they read the names of the veterans from the community who have died going back to the civil war (it takes awhile). Growing up in a more cosmopolitan (university) town I didn’t get this growing up. Our small towns maintain some important traditions that our larger towns have forgotten — although my larger hometown did revive their parade a few years ago. We do have an awful lot to be thankful for as Americans that we shouldn’t take for granted.

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  2. Inspiration for TKNY? Shut yo’ mouth. He’s totally original. Do not diss the Bishop of Manhattan.

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  3. D.G.,

    Old Life is Cafe Culture (with Doug providing a side dish of Fever Swamp Culture, Richard a garnishment of Biblicist/Revivalist Culture, and the Callers a dash of Delusional Culture — Oh, and Tom providing a Pot Luck).

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  4. D.G.,

    You’re just feeling nostalgic for your days spent learning at the feet of Francis Schaeffer. What happened to you since then, by the way?

    I’m still anxiously awaiting that (first) Hart memoir. The second can come at age 75.

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  5. I just started Robert Graves’ “Goodbye to All That” recently. Is there a better genre than the literary/intellectual memoir? I once read Irving Howe’s memoir on a day trip to Adventureland. I tried the same with Frank Kermode’s a few years later but it got soaked in a downpour and on the Raging River ride.

    Yes, I am the weirdest guy you’ve ever met.

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  6. I just finished chapter 2, including “Reformed Prospects in Eastern Europe.” In the Preface DGH writes “The prospect of writing a paragraph, let alone a section of a chapter, on religiious developments in sixteenth-century Poland is almost as scary as bungee jumping. But when ad editor at Yale University Press asked me to consider a history of Calvinism that would cover its global dimensions I immediately accepted, maybe becasue the only legal excitement available to me is one that comes with landing a golf ball on a green surrounded by land.”

    Tom,what page are you on?

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  7. BTW, I did suitably celebrate the 4th. Went to a AAA baseball game last night and sat with a large group of immigrants who were sworn in as citizens at the game. Today was a church picnic, complete with weekend warrior activities. The verdict: I still have the frisbee touch, but my softball swing has reverted back to a hardball swing. And I biked 40 miles currently enjoying a club soda /gin / lime.

    Maybe I should have started this with “Dear Diary,”

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  8. DG, Today – scotch… and no burgers but a independence chicken salad. We’re wimps when it comes to cooking out. Seriously though, I’ve read Gordon’s Calvin bio and also Selderhuis’ John Calvin. Yours looks to be a worthy follow-up on the aftermath.

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  9. DGH, it was an immigrant from the Dominican Republic. His throw was clocked at 92 with good late movement. He was immediately signed and sent to the Cubs A affiliate the Kane County Cougars.

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  10. I could’ve stood for some baseball today. Actually not a bad get together for a bunch of homeschooling, NRA loyalists. Fireworks were pretty good too. The pathological need for gun play for a bunch of folks who will never have legitimate use for a handgun continues to boggle a bit, but hey, it can be limited in the hobby arena down here in south texas. Meat is always a disappointment at larger gatherings, the cook is always afraid of the recoil from some on rare or med rare. Pie was good. Overall, not to bent for the conservative evanjellyfish crew. The children interaction I still find odd, the lack of segregation catches me off guard and eventually taxing. Infants I get, prepubescent and teenage-adult interaction for 8 hours is mind numbing.

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  11. Sean, to each man his own opinion as to what constitutes dire developments for our republic. To me, it’s kids who don’t know what a force out is, don’t know a runner can’t fly around the bases on a pop up, and who grip a bat with their hands several inches apart. At age 9 I wasn’t precise about what a balk is but this other stuff was like gravity.

    “Well, you know I… I never got to bat in the major leagues. I would have liked to have had that chance. Just once. To stare down a big league pitcher. To stare him down, and just as he goes into his windup, wink. Make him think you know something he doesn’t. That’s what I wish for. Chance to squint at a sky so blue that it hurts your eyes just to look at it. To feel the tingling in your arm as you connect with the ball. To run the bases – stretch a double into a triple, and flop face-first into third, wrap your arms around the bag. That’s my wish, Ray Kinsella. That’s my wish. And is there enough magic out there in the moonlight to make this dream come true?” – Field of Dreams

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  12. Sean, the local CREC congregation used to post pictures online of all their multi-generational shooting at church picnics. Weird. And Jeff Meyers loves him some shootin’. Don’t quite get how Federal Vision and firearms go together, unless you have a James Jordan-style Reconstructionist compound to defend.

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  13. Sean, what will happen if Tom finds out you favor segregation?

    You didn’t mention any adult beverages. I find they make the kids less irksome.

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  14. MM, I needed Vin Scully talking to me about what a beautiful day it was at Chavez Ravine and how Puig has caused him to re up for another 5 years.

    Darryl, there was nothing over 10% and I decided to hold onto my wits when somebody brandished a Ruger .357. I need to know you more than a few minutes before I relax around you and your walking advert for viagra. Tom will just have to kvetch.

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  15. DGH, then there’s Pedro. He was charismatic, he was cocky, he was a diva. Combining 1999 and 2000, he was 41-10 with a sub-2.00 ERA and 597 strikeouts at the height of the steroid era. He struck out 5 out of 6 batters in the ’99 All Star game. That same year the Bosox and Indians were in a deciding playoff game and the score was 8-8 after three innings. When Pedro came out the bullpen the city of Cleveland turned quiet as a morgue, and for good reason: he no-hit them for six innings. When his was throwing at 97 mph along with his changeup, curveball, and brushback it wasn’t even fair.

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  16. D.G.,

    I don’t think C.H. would be caught dead in a place called “Bucer’s”.

    The people in Moscow must think their town has been taken over by space aliens.

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  17. CW, I have a theory ranging from wanna be to never will be to pathetic to deviant. I haven’t missed yet.

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  18. C-dubs and Sean, bingo. Beware the Jack-of-all-trades pastor. Guess not all the doctrines of cultural relevance from evangelicalism got shaken off.

    Erik, some years ago there was once a OL post that linked to a Moscow town hall meeting with Christ Church (can never find it). What a fun disaster that was to watch.

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  19. Erik,

    That Bucer clip is beginning to haunt. I know one of the kids in that first clip. At what point does it not cross over into creepy old man. Or how is megalomaniac not right at the top of the check off list. I get the kids, but where’s is creepy old guy, lead singer(like that was ever up for discussion), self-awareness button. I promise you he’s on a scratchpad on some detective’s desk as a possible.

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  20. Wilson singing that song is interesting on so many levels:

    (1) The CREC used to be the “Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches”. “Confederation”, “Confederacy”, get it? They’ve since changed it to “Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches”, though. “Confederacy” is not useful when you are trying to plant churches in the north (just like “Southern” Baptist is not particularly useful).

    Wilson has undoubtedly been influenced by Steve Wilkins and his Confederate sympathies. The Skynyrd song chides Neil Young, telling him, “A Southern Man Don’t Need Him Around Anyhow”.

    (2) A Protestant, Evangelical minister singing a “secular” song by a Southern Fried Rock band (which I like, by the way) is very 2K. Yet Wilson and the CREC are anything but 2K. They are “all of lifers” par excellence. How does one redeem Southern Fried Rock for Jesus?

    (3) At the same time, he is singing in a pub/coffee house called Bucer’s. The Pub is a common institution if there ever was one, yet someone in Moscow had to go and call it Bucer’s to put a Christian stamp on it.

    I’m not so much critical of all this as I am wondering why CRECers and their kissing cousins, the Baylys, feel it is necessary to bust our 2K balls as much as they do? By their actions they reveal an appreciation for the common as opposed to everything having to fall into either the sacred or the secular.

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  21. The case of Wilson entering (starting?) the CREC is a classic case of what might have been. He came from mainstream evangelicalism. Just as Joe Bayly made “The Gospel Blimp”, Wilson’s father was a conventional Postwar evangelical. What if instead of falling into the postmillennial, culture warrior, theonomic, James Jordan fever swamp wing of Reformed theology Wilson had been won over by the more elegant, culture affirming tradition of Machen & Hart? He has a first class mind, as do many of his followers. With his stress on literacy & education he could have been a leader in thoughtful 2K cultural engagement. Instead he does conferences for the Baylys. Yuck.

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  22. Erik, I don’t think 2k would’ve made a difference. 2k has too much tension and not enough ego. Fundamentalism resists a void and saying ‘I don’t know’ means you really don’t and you really aren’t. These cats, in the end, aren’t doing; ‘I’m not all that’. It’s one mid-life crisis after another.

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  23. >> live near a good video store <<
    Whether we are talking central South Carolina or the Philly suburbs there no video stores good or bad… Oh wait, those so-called "adult" stores do exist once you get north on 309 (Montgomeryville and further).

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  24. Erik Charter
    Posted July 10, 2013 at 11:01 pm | Permalink
    Fea – If you can endure the long-winded posts, it might be worth your time.

    crossposted @ TWILH

    Anyone who messes with Bill Fortenberry better have his texts in a row. The man’s encyclopedic.

    Not just the Bible, but Locke–in fact, Bill’s socio-historical definition of “Christian” is the one Locke argues, a belief in Jesus as the Messiah but with a lot of the other stuff [including Trinitarianism] optional.

    Since in the Founding era Trinitarians sat cheek-by-jowl with unitarians in New England churches–their schism came later, in the 1820s

    http://www25.uua.org/uuhs/duub/articles/unitariancontroversy.html

    for practical purposes–butts in the pews–Locke’s minimum was met. The rest was–and continues to be–theological niggling by those with a dog in the fight.

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  25. Tom,

    Sure, I’ll read this blog post by Darryl Hart. But for the record, I really can’t make sense of just about any sentence you just posted. Call me old fashioned, or something.

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  26. AB
    Posted July 10, 2013 at 11:42 pm | Permalink
    Tom,

    Sure, I’ll read this blog post by Darryl Hart. But for the record, I really can’t make sense of just about any sentence you just posted. Call me old fashioned, or something.

    Not old-fashioned enough, AB, is the argument. If you’d been a Congregationalist in 1770s New England, you’d know–perhaps even be seething–that the fellow next to you didn’t believe Jesus was God.

    But it took another 50 years to blow the church up over the issue. It’s actually very interesting and I’m not surprised you never heard the tale—secularists like to say the Founders were all deists and they have useful allies among the orthodox [esp R2kers] who like to argue that the Founding wasn’t Christian either because of the Trinity/Atonement issues.

    It’s sort of how J. Gresham Machen says of liberal Protestantism

    We would not indeed obscure the difference which divides us from Rome. The gulf is indeed profound. But profound as it is, it seems almost trifling compared to the abyss which stands between us and many ministers of our own Church. The Church of Rome may represent a perversion of the Christian religion; but naturalistic liberalism is not Christianity at all.

    Well, we get his point, and that of Sproul when he says Roman Catholicism isn’t “Christian” either.

    But how could I sign something that confuses the gospel and obscures the very definition of who is and who is not a Christian? I have made this point again and again since the days of ECT…this new document practically assumes the victory of ECT in using the term “the gospel” in reference to that which Roman Catholics are said to “proclaim” (Phil. 1:27).

    The Papists “proclaim” the gospel–the “scare quotes” meaning they don’t proclaim the true gospel.

    But those are theological distinctions, not socio-historicals ones. They had the same wars back in the day–the clergy and theologians sowing most of the discord. Historically speaking, they all considered each other Christian enough for rock’n’roll.

    And that’s the point of this whole mess. It’s more a 21st-century theological land grab than actual historical truth—he who controls the past controls the present.

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  27. Tom, there you go again with a distinction between history and theology that you think is so brilliant. Again, you are following the secularists by disqualifying theology from history. But you are also just plain dumb on this point. It was historical and theological and political when Nicea condemned Arianism. It was historical when Machen opposed liberalism and established a new seminary. If you think you can explain some parts of history without doing theology, you’re the Sam Harris of history. And yet — here’s the kicker, you’re the same guy who thinks that historians excluding religion from the founding are artificially excluding theology. You make no sense. Here’s how:

    You want historians to see how Locke is deriving his views from Calvinist resistance theory. Mebbe Maybe true. But if someone tries to figure out what the founders read and look into ways their thought deviated from Calvinism, you say, “wrong, now you’re doing theology.” This is idiotic.

    BTW, the butts in the pew was in the context of a state church. I think you could find similar theological breadth in most European state churches in the 1770s. So making some deal of people being in the pews really doesn’t explain much. If you wanted to be somebody in 18th c. Mass, you better have your butt in the pew.

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  28. D. G. Hart
    Posted July 11, 2013 at 7:44 am | Permalink
    Tom, there you go again with a distinction between history and theology that you think is so brilliant. Again, you are following the secularists by disqualifying theology from history.

    Of course not. I’m the one who points at Calvinism’s influence on the American revolution. Problem is the secularists don’t understand [unless they’re ex-fundies who hate it] or the religious types are up to their eyeballs in their own religion, and that comes first. We lack for honest brokers.

    Again, you are following the secularists by disqualifying theology from history. But you are also just plain dumb on this point.

    Dumb. Uh huh.

    . It was historical and theological and political when Nicea condemned Arianism.

    True.

    It was historical when Machen opposed liberalism and established a new seminary.

    To you. Nobody else noticed. Now you’re doing ecclesiastical history, your</i. history, but mostly "history" doesn't give a spit. Your schism–one of virtually 1000s in Protestantism–doesn't even move the meter. No offense.

    If you think you can explain some parts of history without doing theology, you’re the Sam Harris of history. And yet — here’s the kicker, you’re the same guy who thinks that historians excluding religion from the founding are artificially excluding theology. You make no sense.

    Actually, you’ve just proved how your criticism of me makes no sense. I never exclude theology, at least before 1900. Then it gets squirrelly.

    You want historians to see how Locke is deriving his views from Calvinist resistance theory.

    Well, I don’t really say that, since there’s no direct textual link. However, Locke’s father fought in the Puritan Revolution of the 1640s. However, in the case of Locke, I’d say he was probably more influenced by Calvinism in the opposite direction, that of religious tolerance, during his self-exile in Calvinist Holland in the 1680s.

    But you’re not really interested in what I actually think, are you? I mean, are you?

    But if someone tries to figure out what the founders read and look into ways their thought deviated from Calvinism, you say, “wrong, now you’re doing theology.” This is idiotic.

    Oh, this is idiotic, all right—Your Calvinism. Whose Calvinism is it anyway? History is only interested in theirs, not yours. Darryl G. Hart’s Calvinism is theology, not history. Again you make my point for me.

    BTW, the butts in the pew was in the context of a state church. I think you could find similar theological breadth in most European state churches in the 1770s. So making some deal of people being in the pews really doesn’t explain much. If you wanted to be somebody in 18th c. Mass, you better have your butt in the pew.

    Yes, Congregationalism was the officially established church, but the unitarians were free to take their beliefs down the road. The Baptists and Anglicans and Quakers did, if they had a theological problem.

    But at least that’s a substantive objection, albeit not a probative one. Excellent. We’re getting there.

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  29. Erik Charter
    Posted July 11, 2013 at 9:02 pm | Permalink
    In our local paper two days ago:

    James P. Byrd: Was the American Revolution a holy war?

    Yes, the newest wave of scholarship is reclaiming the American revolution from the current secular “Harvard” narrative that makes it a product of the Enlightenment and the Founders all “deists.”

    “With its remarkable research and deft insights, [James P. Byrd’s] Sacred Scripture, Sacred War represents a major breakthrough in the study of religion and the American Founding. Never before have we had such a systematic investigation of how the Patriots actually used the Bible. Anyone interested in the Revolution will have to contend with Byrd’s book.” — Thomas S. Kidd, author of God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution

    This has been my own independent view and it’s certainly gratifying to see others agree. For instance, Byrd writes

    Even those colonists who normally had no use for the Bible found it helpful during the revolution. Thomas Paine would attack Christianity and call the Old Testament “a history of wickedness,” more appropriately judged “the word of a demon than the word of God.” But he did not publish these radical statements until after the revolution.

    In 1776, Paine quoted scripture like a revival preacher. His “Common Sense,” the most influential patriotic pamphlet of the revolution, had the feel of a sermon, deploying the King James Bible against King George’s tyranny. Scripture, Paine argued, clearly revealed God’s “protest against monarchial government.”

    Paine knew that “Common Sense” had to make biblical sense. He relied especially on 1 Samuel 8, which tells of the Israelites asking for a king. In that passage, God relents and gives them King Saul, but the prophet Samuel warns that their demand signals their rejection of God.

    Accordingly, Paine asserted that “monarchy is ranked in scripture as one of the sins” of the Israelites that would later bring curses from God; if Americans would obey God, therefore, they must reject British monarchy. The war for independence was a sacred duty.

    an argument we’d hit several years ago ourselves.

    http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2010/04/thomas-paines-common-sense-as-heard-by.html

    many people are aware of Thomas Paine’s anti-religiousness; few know that “Common Sense” is up to its ears in it.

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  30. Erik,

    Patriotic ministers did not shy away from biblical violence. They embraced it, almost celebrated it, even in its most graphic forms. For example, they cited the story of Deborah in Judges 5, about God’s condemnation of those who refused to fight his enemies. This text also includes the heroic story of Jael, a tent-dwelling woman who assassinated a Canaanite general by driving a tent peg through his skull. Ministers often quoted this story with an equally gruesome curse from the prophet Jeremiah: “Cursed be he that keepeth back his sword from blood.”

    Golly gee, they quoted the Bible. They must be good and honorable (never mind that they lie by quoting a book they don’t believe).

    Likewise, preachers often called patriotic service in war a sacred virtue. As Massachusetts Congregationalist Eli Forbes proclaimed, not every “good Christian is of consequence a good soldier,” but one could not be a good soldier without “the principle and practice of Christianity.” Peter Thacher of Malden, Mass., insisted that “we are fighting … for our religion, that religion which the word of God hath instituted and appointed.”

    I guess that disqualifies Tom. Not a Christian, not a good soldier in the culture wars.

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  31. It seems to me that the relevant argument today is not whether the people of the Revolutionary generation were Christians who quoted Scripture, but whether or not their quotations of Scripture were on point. That’s what’s important to discern as people today continue to quote scripture both correctly and incorrectly to justify all kinds of things.

    Even the story on Francis granting the indulgences for World Youth Day participants quoted the passage in Matthew where Jesus gives Peter the power of binding and loosing.

    We have to make theological judgments to answer these questions, however.

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  32. Secularists who want to argue that everyone from the founding generation are off.

    Christians who want to argue that everyone from the founding generation were orthodox Christians who rightly interpreted Scripture in all they did are off.

    People who act like this debate is hugely important are off. We can (and do) what we want as a people regardless of who the founding generation was or what they did. The dead ultimately do not govern the living.

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  33. “Secularists who want to argue that everyone from the founding generation are off.”

    should say:

    “Secularists who want to argue that everyone from the founding generation were secularists are off.”

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  34. Tom is not a blank slate. Tom has an agenda. Mebbe Maybe theological, mebbe maybe not. Tom’s history is not just history. Not even historians with credentials claim they write “just history” unless you’re teaching at JHU in 1888. Tom is a rationalist who likes some kinds of religion — sort of like Jefferson. Tom lives in the 18th century. He hasn’t heard of Nietzsche, Foucault, or even Kuyper. Tom is an idiot savant. I think Dustin Hoffman played him in Rain Man.

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  35. My question for Tom (as a universalist or deist) is, why bother? It seems to be atheism warmed over with a touch of Christian religion. We may die and find out that Reformed theology is wrong (and by “find out” what I most likely mean is we won’t find out because we’ll just be dead and no longer capable of finding anything out). The same goes with the Callers Catholicism. At least Reformed people and the Callers have beliefs that are rooted in something coherent & historical — the Reformed in Scripture, the Callers in the teachings of a church that claims to be rooted in Jesus’ statements to Peter. When someone goes universalist, or deist, or even liberal Protestant, what are their beliefs rooted in except for their own thoughts and wishes? We and the Callers are at least rooting our beliefs in something far older than ourselves that claims to be transcendent and other worldly. I just don’t get why people waste their time on something less. Just be an atheist and say this life is all there is.

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  36. I think Tom has the belief that theological arguments are not worthwhile because there is no objective way to know who is ultimately right or wrong.

    Historical arguments, on the other hand, can have a winner because they are based on objective facts.

    The problem is, however, that even objective facts require interpretation, so historical arguments are not as clear cut as one would like them to be.

    Additionally, life is lived in the midst of many ongoing discussions in which we may not know who is ultimately right or wrong — this is why some people refuse to discuss religion or politics in mixed company. These questions strike at the core of our beings and thus our passions become inflamed.

    Life is an art, not a science. And doing theology is part of that art.

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  37. D. G. Hart
    Posted July 12, 2013 at 10:06 am | Permalink
    Tom is not a blank slate. Tom has an agenda. Mebbe Maybe theological, mebbe maybe not. Tom’s history is not just history. Not even historians with credentials claim they write “just history” unless you’re teaching at JHU in 1888. Tom is a rationalist who likes some kinds of religion — sort of like Jefferson. Tom lives in the 18th century. He hasn’t heard of Nietzsche, Foucault, or even Kuyper. Tom is an idiot savant. I think Dustin Hoffman played him in Rain Man.

    Darryl, so many things you know are not so.

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  38. Erik Charter
    Posted July 12, 2013 at 11:41 am | Permalink
    My question for Tom (as a universalist or deist) is, why bother? It seems to be atheism warmed over with a touch of Christian religion. We may die and find out that Reformed theology is wrong (and by “find out” what I most likely mean is we won’t find out because we’ll just be dead and no longer capable of finding anything out). The same goes with the Callers Catholicism. At least Reformed people and the Callers have beliefs that are rooted in something coherent & historical — the Reformed in Scripture, the Callers in the teachings of a church that claims to be rooted in Jesus’ statements to Peter. When someone goes universalist, or deist, or even liberal Protestant, what are their beliefs rooted in except for their own thoughts and wishes? We and the Callers are at least rooting our beliefs in something far older than ourselves that claims to be transcendent and other worldly. I just don’t get why people waste their time on something less. Just be an atheist and say this life is all there is.

    A non-snarky prop for The Callers? Excellent. Much closer to Machen than is the usual fare. I’m encouraged.

    People object to the Roman Catholics, for example, because they engage in “propaganda.” But why should they not engage in propaganda? And how should we have any respect for them if, holding the view which they hold — that outside the Roman church there is no salvation — they did not engage in propaganda first, last, and all the time? Clearly they have a right to do so, and clearly we have a right to do the same…

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  39. Erik Charter
    Posted July 12, 2013 at 12:03 pm | Permalink
    I think Tom has the belief that theological arguments are not worthwhile because there is no objective way to know who is ultimately right or wrong.

    Historical arguments, on the other hand, can have a winner because they are based on objective facts.

    The problem is, however, that even objective facts require interpretation, so historical arguments are not as clear cut as one would like them to be.

    Additionally, life is lived in the midst of many ongoing discussions in which we may not know who is ultimately right or wrong — this is why some people refuse to discuss religion or politics in mixed company. These questions strike at the core of our beings and thus our passions become inflamed.

    Life is an art, not a science. And doing theology is part of that art.

    Remember also

    “He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side; if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion.”–JS Mill

    A perfect argument based on false premises is no argument atall. The science is in getting the premises straight. After that, take out your crayons and make all the art you want.

    Like

  40. Tom is a clown.

    Me: It was historical when Machen opposed liberalism and established a new seminary.

    Tom: To you. Nobody else noticed. Now you’re doing ecclesiastical history:

    Tom to Erik: Excellent. Much closer to Machen than is the usual fare.

    Tom picks up the slack for Doug.

    Like

  41. Tom – A perfect argument based on false premises is no argument atall

    Erik – This is the point that the conversation with you always seems to break down because you appear to reject any religious premise as false on it’s face. In order to establish this you need to do the dirty work of showing why.

    This is what we do with the Callers and what they do with us. You say such work is beyond your pay grade, but if you are serious about discovering truth, this is where the action is at.

    If you’re a universalist or a relativist all I need to do to dismiss you is say, so what? If you’re right I’m no worse off being Reformed and the Callers are no worse off being Catholic, because you’re not really standing for anything.

    Same thing with atheists. If they’re right, so what? We’re all dead soon anyway.

    Like

  42. Erik Charter
    Posted July 12, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Permalink
    Tom – A perfect argument based on false premises is no argument atall

    Erik – This is the point that the conversation with you always seems to break down because you appear to reject any religious premise as false on it’s face. In order to establish this you need to do the dirty work of showing why.

    This is what we do with the Callers and what they do with us. You say such work is beyond your pay grade, but if you are serious about discovering truth, this is where the action is at.

    If you’re a universalist or a relativist all I need to do to dismiss you is say, so what? If you’re right I’m no worse off being Reformed and the Callers are no worse off being Catholic, because you’re not really standing for anything.

    Same thing with atheists. If they’re right, so what? We’re all dead soon anyway.

    And if we’re elect, we can’t get un-elect. Now that’s REALLY nice.

    As for perfect arguments based on false premises, the vivisection of Jason Spellman on the other thread is flirting with false witness. Take care.

    Like

  43. One of the things I marvel at living is a university town is the obituaries of some of the academics who have died. Their families run these massive obituaries touting everything these people did in their presumably weighty, fascinating lives as scholars. As a (pseudo) intellectual I place value on these activities, but in an atheistic universe these people are just dead. Most of what they did will be of little consequence to anyone very soon. Without some sort of transcendent religious truth we are all just dust and to pretend differently might comfort us during our brief time on earth, but that comfort is just an illusion.

    The same is true of all of your knowledge and mine, Tom. If I’m just dead in a few more decades it all comes to nothing.

    Like

  44. Tom – And if we’re elect, we can’t get un-elect. Now that’s REALLY nice

    Erik – You seem to have a chip on your shoulder about election. If it’s a false doctrine you should be able to show that from Scripture.

    It’s really not relevant to anything we are talking about here.

    Like

  45. Erik Charter
    Posted July 12, 2013 at 1:38 pm | Permalink
    One of the things I marvel at living is a university town is the obituaries of some of the academics who have died. Their families run these massive obituaries touting everything these people did in their presumably weighty, fascinating lives as scholars. As a (pseudo) intellectual I place value on these activities, but in an atheistic universe these people are just dead. Most of what they did will be of little consequence to anyone very soon. Without some sort of transcendent religious truth we are all just dust and to pretend differently might comfort us during our brief time on earth, but that comfort is just an illusion.

    The same is true of all of your knowledge and mine, Tom. If I’m just dead in a few more decades it all comes to nothing.

    Except for the religiositizing, you remind me most of Sartre.

    http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/shouts/2012/10/le-blog-de-jean-paul-sartre.html

    Like

  46. These are existential conversations.

    You need to realize is that if all you ever do is throw stones the only thing that you are making a case for is nihilism.

    Skepticism and cynicism is a world view, but it’s ultimately not a very satisfying one

    If I was a skeptic or an atheist I would bypass all of these religious and political debates and just go get laid.

    Like

  47. Erik Charter
    Posted July 12, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Permalink
    Stellman can defend himself. How would you know if it’s false witness? Wouldn’t you have to delve into evaluating theological claims?

    Gossiping about him like a bunch of old churchladies. If that’s the fruit you want to be known by, by all means rock on.

    Although Robert had a good point about trading the pope for some ecclesiastical confessions, one magisterium for another. Sort of Thomas More’s point vs. Tyndale. What’s the difference?

    Like

  48. “If I was a skeptic or an atheist I would bypass all of these religious and political debates and just go get laid.”

    There have actually been movies made about that very thing:

    Last Tango in Paris (1972)
    Leaving Las Vegas (1995) – Add “get drunk” to “get laid”
    9 Songs (2004) – maybe the worst movie I’ve ever seen

    In fact, most serious modern literature and film is about the (fruitless) quest to find meaning in a world without God.

    Like

  49. Erik Charter
    Posted July 12, 2013 at 1:51 pm | Permalink
    These are existential conversations.

    You need to realize is that if all you ever do is throw stones the only thing that you are making a case for is nihilism.

    Skepticism and cynicism is a world view, but it’s ultimately not a very satisfying one

    If I was a skeptic or an atheist I would bypass all of these religious and political debates and just go get laid.

    I am no more a skeptic or an atheist than I am a Dodgers or Angels fan. I am a lover of clarity, however. If someone were distorting your theology, I would take your part. You don’t get me yet, but perhaps someday.

    The Sartre link is really good, BTW.

    Like

  50. Tom – I am a lover of clarity, however.

    Erik – So make clear what you believe and want. You’re starting to drive some good people away from Old Life because you’re driving them nuts. That won’t happen with me, but I have more tolerance for your schtick than most.

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  51. Gossiping? He’s disseminating this information out there for public consumption, evaluation and proselytizing purposes. CtC’s had him front and center on the virtual trophy case for months. The guy hung his shingle as RC apologist for hire about a day after he withdrew from the PCA. That’s about as discreet and circumspect as a Kardashian.

    Like

  52. Erik Charter
    Posted July 12, 2013 at 2:01 pm | Permalink
    Tom,

    Stellman’s made himself a public figure.

    You’re getting personal. Keep it above the belt. It’s the only way you’ll “win” that serves any greater good.

    It’s just my observation. I found him in the Called to Communion files before his “conversion” and he was treated with love and respect and his questions and challenges were answered forthrightly and enthusiastically. It wasn’t hard to see how and why they won him over.

    Your call, warrior child.

    Like

  53. ” I am a lover of clarity, however. If someone were distorting your theology, I would take your part. You don’t get me yet, but perhaps someday.”

    Honestly and with no malice aforethought, Tom, people who are most convinced of their own objectivity and clarity are typically those with the biggest blindspots and deficiency in self-knowledge.

    “Think!” (the Beatles, Back in the USSR)

    Like

  54. Mikelmann needs to figure out if he wants to help the poor, the blind, and the lame, or do stand up comedy.

    Like

  55. Tom,

    If I say something about his wife or mother you can hold my feet to the fire. If I am talking about his church memberships, his theological training, his conversion experience, or his past or current public teaching that’s another matter.

    He could have kept a low profile throughout this whole ordeal but he has done anything but.

    Like

  56. MM – the Beatles, Back in the USSR

    Erik – I’ve had “The White Album” in my car for most of the summer and, thanks to Kent’s encouragement, have come to appreciate it a lot.

    “Back in the U.S.S.R”
    “Glass Onion”
    “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”
    “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”
    “Martha My Dear”
    “Blackbird”
    “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road”
    “I Will”
    “Mother Nature’s Son”
    “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey”
    “Cry Baby Cry”

    Are all really solid. The diversity of styles on one album is truly amazing. The fertile period for Lennon & McCartney from 1963-1970 is one of the artistic wonders of the modern world.

    Like

  57. Erik Charter
    Posted July 12, 2013 at 2:41 pm | Permalink
    Tom,

    If I say something about his wife or mother you can hold my feet to the fire. If I am talking about his church memberships, his theological training, his conversion experience, or his past or current public teaching that’s another matter.

    He could have kept a low profile throughout this whole ordeal but he has done anything but.

    He’s doing exactly as Machen would have him do.

    People object to the Roman Catholics, for example, because they engage in “propaganda.” But why should they not engage in propaganda? And how should we have any respect for them if, holding the view which they hold — that outside the Roman church there is no salvation — they did not engage in propaganda first, last, and all the time? Clearly they have a right to do so, and clearly we have a right to do the same…

    And I’m not pointing at you personally, but the thrust of the vague criticism of Spellman is that he’s unintelligent or underinformed. That doesn’t make you look too good, that he was good enough to be an official in your church but now he’s not. What does that say about who’s still there? Considering that you yourselves are the product of a schism, perhaps you should just wish him well in his next church.

    Does he speak ill of you? I’ve only read as much as I’ve run across in investigating your OL/OPC thing but don’t recall seeing him do that.

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  58. M&M, I’m pretty convinced of my own depth and profundity. For instance: maybe in order to understand mankind, we have to look at the word itself, mankind. Basically, it’s made up of two separate words: “mank” and “ind.” What do these words mean? It’s a mystery, and that’s why so is mankind.

    Like

  59. Tom,

    He gets the same criticism as the rest of the Callers with the exception of Stellman getting criticism over the manner in which he “went public”. Think of LeBron leaving Cleveland for Miami.

    I don’t agree that he is unintelligent or underinformed. I think it is relevant to ask what his predispositions may have been as a seminarian or a pastor before he converted, however. Keep in mind that he made vows before many of his critics (fellow PCA ministers & officers) that he broke.

    If you left your wife, took up with an L.A. stripper, and touted it on the web a month later, talking about how great the stripper was and how many shortcomings your wife had, she would have grounds to give you a hard time.

    He subscribed to Confessions that put Rome in an unfavorable light. Now he’s shacking up with her.

    Like

  60. “Muddy, yes. It worked for Whoopi, Robin and Billy.”

    Then maybe he should use a Whoopi avatar. This place needs a Whoopi avatar.

    Like

  61. Erik Charter
    Posted July 12, 2013 at 6:22 pm | Permalink
    Tom,

    He gets the same criticism as the rest of the Callers with the exception of Stellman getting criticism over the manner in which he “went public”. Think of LeBron leaving Cleveland for Miami.

    I don’t agree that he is unintelligent or underinformed. I think it is relevant to ask what his predispositions may have been as a seminarian or a pastor before he converted, however. Keep in mind that he made vows before many of his critics (fellow PCA ministers & officers) that he broke.

    If you left your wife, took up with an L.A. stripper, and touted it on the web a month later, talking about how great the stripper was and how many shortcomings your wife had, she would have grounds to give you a hard time.

    He subscribed to Confessions that put Rome in an unfavorable light. Now he’s shacking up with her.

    You sound like–how did you put it in another context–the annoying ex-wife. Once she opens her mouth you no longer question why he split. I mean you may have a case but it’s not doing you any good airing it.

    As for promises to a church being like breaking marriage vows, I’m not sure Protestants want to go there–for obvious reasons–and as for previously subscribing to anti-papist Confessions, that he ceased bagging on the papists and joined them could be said to be more akin to Paul on road to Damascus than Judas in the garden.

    Like

  62. Erik Charter posted July 11, 2013 at 9:04 am: “Tom – Anyone who messes with Bill Fortenberry better have his texts in a row. The man’s encyclopedic. Erik – Your very own Darrell Todd Maurina…”

    I’m guessing that isn’t intended as a compliment 😉

    Tom Van Dyke posted July 11, 2013 at 6:10 pm: “(Quoting Dr. Hart): ‘It was historical when Machen opposed liberalism and established a new seminary.’ To you. Nobody else noticed. Now you’re doing ecclesiastical history, your history, but mostly “history” doesn’t give a spit. Your schism–one of virtually 1000s in Protestantism–doesn’t even move the meter. No offense.”

    I’ll defend Dr. Hart on this one. In the context of the dominant role that the mainline churches played in the 1920s and 1930s in American social life, and especially considering that this **WAS** Princeton, after all, and considering that Machen was one of the major leaders of the fundamentalist-modernist conflict (yes, I know, Machen didn’t like that word, I think it’s fair to say that the Princeton-Westminster split got at least as much attention as Al Mohler and the fights in the Southern Baptist Convention, the difference, of course, being that the conservatives lost.

    Like

  63. Sean posted July 5, 2013 at 9:16 am: “I could’ve stood for some baseball today. Actually not a bad get together for a bunch of homeschooling, NRA loyalists. Fireworks were pretty good too. The pathological need for gun play for a bunch of folks who will never have legitimate use for a handgun continues to boggle a bit, but hey, it can be limited in the hobby arena down here in south texas.”

    Chortles Weakly posted July 5, 2013 at 9:46 am: “Sean, the local CREC congregation used to post pictures online of all their multi-generational shooting at church picnics. Weird. And Jeff Meyers loves him some shootin’. Don’t quite get how Federal Vision and firearms go together, unless you have a James Jordan-style Reconstructionist compound to defend.”

    It’s not a Federal Visionist or a Reconstructionist thing; you’d see the same thing from Baptists, broad evangelicals and even fairly liberal people here in the South. Our mayor is one of the few active Democrats around here to actually be able to get elected to anything, she’s a member of the only moderate-to-liberal church of any significant size in our county, and she was talking yesterday evening at the park board about how much she enjoyed growing up as a young girl hunting and fishing, and then coming back home to do target shooting to get better at the hunting part. That’s pretty typical and I’m quite sure nobody thought anything about it.

    I don’t think 2Kers want to try taking on the Second Amendment. Maybe that would work in the OPC, but not the PCA. I think that might make lots of Southerners in the PCA at least as angry as talking about gay marriage or abortion — for some, perhaps more so.

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  64. Erik, not a stripper but a worldly wise woman. A two-bit stripper would be Pentecostalism.

    But, Tom, the analogy still works and I fail to see why any Reformed Prot with a high view of the church would be wary to employ it, not to mention how one without any religious affiliation is any position to suggest otherwise. Speaking of analogies, it’s like an avowed bachelor pontificating about the married lives of others. Until you take the plunge, your blather is bad form.

    Like

  65. Tom – You sound like–how did you put it in another context–the annoying ex-wife. Once she opens her mouth you no longer question why he split. I mean you may have a case but it’s not doing you any good airing it.

    Erik – Fair points if it’s taken too far.

    Tom – As for promises to a church being like breaking marriage vows, I’m not sure Protestants want to go there–for obvious reasons–and as for previously subscribing to anti-papist Confessions, that he ceased bagging on the papists and joined them could be said to be more akin to Paul on road to Damascus than Judas in the garden.

    Erik – I wasn’t so much meaning to make that comparison but your point is fair if I had been doing that. The second part of your statement depends on the truth of what he left and the truth of what he left for, but I get your point.

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  66. DTM – It’s not a Federal Visionist or a Reconstructionist thing; you’d see the same thing from Baptists, broad evangelicals and even fairly liberal people here in the South. Our mayor is one of the few active Democrats around here to actually be able to get elected to anything, she’s a member of the only moderate-to-liberal church of any significant size in our county, and she was talking yesterday evening at the park board about how much she enjoyed growing up as a young girl hunting and fishing, and then coming back home to do target shooting to get better at the hunting part. That’s pretty typical and I’m quite sure nobody thought anything about it.

    Erik – Sounds like Sarah Palin did come south (to Missouri) to hunt some skunk. Did this lady ever shoot wolves from a helicopter?

    Like

  67. Zrim – I guess I feel better being left for Meryl Streep than I do for Kendra Wilkinson. When someone leaves the URC for the OPC I guess that’s like going from Ruth Gordon to Helen Hayes.

    Like

  68. D. G. Hart
    Posted July 12, 2013 at 10:47 pm | Permalink
    Tom, what about Rome’s vow to Jesus? Peter betrayed his Lord three times. Maybe four when Paul had to rebuke him. Could happen again. History.

    I would expect it to. Churches are made of men, and men can reliably be counted on to frustrate God’s will. Were the Roman Church–or any church–to be perfect, that would take all the fun [and free will] out of it.

    Like

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