Why Isn’t Jamie Smith Alarmed?

Alarm sells more books (and Rod Dreher sells more books than Jamie Smith).

Jamie has a point that Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option traffics in alarmism (does that mean alarm is okay):

And in his much-anticipated book, “The Benedict Option,” blogger Rod Dreher has seen the apocalypse: “There are people alive today who may live to see the effective death of Christianity within our civilization. By God’s mercy, the faith may continue to flourish in the Global South and China, but barring a dramatic reversal of current trends, it will all but disappear entirely from Europe and North America. This may not be the end of the world, but it is the end of a world, and only the willfully blind would deny it.” Note, again: if you’re not alarmed, you’re not seeing things, a circular reasoning to help work yourself into a froth of fear.

But Rod is right that Jamie goes too far and virtue signals to elite journalists in the nation’s capital who may not view Calvin College in high regard these days (think Calvin alum, Betsy De Vos) when Smith trots out the standard Never Trump meme that alarmism is a version of white backlash. Jamie, who promotes charity, really did go here:

But the new alarmism is something different. It is tinged with a bitterness and resentment and sense of loss that carries a whiff of privilege threatened rather than witness compromised. When Dreher, for example, laments the “loss of a world,” several people notice that world tends to be white. And what seems to be lost is a certain default power and privilege. When Dreher imagines “vibrant Christianity,” it is on the other side of the globe. He doesn’t see the explosion of African churches in the heart of New York City or the remarkable growth of Latino Protestantism. The fear seems suspiciously tied to white erosion.

Jamie may work in Dutch-American country, but he’s no provincial.

So Rod feels betrayed:

I cite the research of Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith, who documents the stark decline of American Christian belief, compared to historical doctrinal norms. I cite the more recent findings, by Pew, by Jean Twenge, and by others, showing the unprecedented falloff of religious identification and practice among Millennials. And I cite the recent study by two eminent sociologists of religion who found that the United States is now on the same secularizing track as Europe (I wrote about that also here, on this blog.)

If you are a believing Christian who is not alarmed by this, you have your head in the sand. On his blog the other day, Alan Jacobs observed that some public critics of the Benedict Option seem to be operating from a position of “motivated reasoning” — that is, that they are reacting less about what’s actually in the book than in how the book’s premises, if true, threaten their own biases and interests. In other words, they may be motivated to react with hostility to it, beyond legitimate criticism. To put it more uncharitably, as the saying goes, it is hard to get a man to see something when his paycheck depends on him not seeing it.

Is that happening here? I don’t know. I can’t read James K.A. Smith’s mind. I do know that I find it awfully strange that he turned so sharply on the Benedict Option, in the time he did. And I find it especially dishonest — and, frankly, morally and intellectually discreditable — that he would impute racist motivations to me when the book I wrote, which he has in hand, makes a very different claim.

As I have indicated many times, what bothers me about the BenOp is that Rod only seems to understand a cultural crisis now when some Christians (the mainstream calls them fundamentalists) saw it at least a century ago. My sense is that Rod grew up fairly comfortable in mainline Protestant America and only when the mainline churches went really flaky did he look for Christian sustenance elsewhere — first Rome, then Constantinople. But he seems to have no awareness that Protestants circa 1900 saw trends in the mainline world that plausibly predicted what would happen to the Protestant mainline in the Angela Davis era.

One of those Protestants from the turn of the twentieth century who saw the crisis of modern society was a man who has inspired many of the faculty and administrators at the college where Jamie Smith teaches. The college is Calvin and the old Protestant is Abraham Kuyper. The Dutch pastor, university founder, politician and theologian knew alarm and encouraged it among his followers. Kuyper put the antithesis this way:

Not faith and science, therefore, but two scientific systems or, if you choose, two scientific elaborations, are opposed to each other, each having its own faith. Nor may it be said that it is here science which opposes theology, for we have to do with two absolute forms of science, both of which claim the whole domain of human knowledge…. [They dispute] with one another the whole domain of life.

Jacob Klapwijk explains that antithetical vision this way:

Throughout human society, in church, state, and community, the believer is called pro Rege, that is, he is called to follow King Jesus. Pro Rege means mobilizing Christian forces for the battle against idolatrous and anti-Christian powers at work in culture. To build science on Christian principles is part of that calling. The other side of the coin is that every form of s science based on, say, humanistic principles is to be opposed; demanded is a thoroughgoing antithetical attitude toward non-Christian thought.

That is part of the rationale that inspires the institution where Jamie Smith works. It’s the reason why parents send their children not to University of Michigan but to Calvin College. For Smith to act like alarmism is only a card that Rod Dreher plays is to be as historically unaware as Rod himself.

Alarmism happens. It’s even biblical:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:12)

I do wish critics of modernity like Dreher and Smith would remember that the world went south well before Alasdair MacIntyre or Charles Taylor started writing books. It happened when God barred Adam and Eve from Eden.

Called to Drink

Bryan and the Jasons don’t seem to update their blog much. Jason Stellman’s conversion narrative is still there. But no one at Called to Communion seems to notice where their call led Jason (thanks to our Michigan correspondent):

JASON STELLMAN, cohost of the podcast Drunk Ex-Pastors, is a Southern California native and transplant to Seattle who wishes he still lived in Europe. He served as a missionary with Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa in Uganda (’91-’92) and in Hungary (’94-2000). Ordained In the Presbyterian Church in America, he was called to plant Exile Presbyterian Church in the Seattle area where he served from 2004-2012. In September 2012, he was received into the Catholic Church. He drinks and questions his faith regularly.

Don’t get me wrong. I like a drink as much as the next man. But I haven’t made drinking a fruit of the Spirit or a reason to be Presbyterian (hey, wait a minute).

Why History Matters

Journalists and historians can — we get it — perform moral outrage well. Consider the Times on Stephen Bannon:

[T]he defining moment for Mr. Bannon came Saturday night in the form of an executive order giving the rumpled right-wing agitator a full seat on the “principals committee” of the National Security Council — while downgrading the roles of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence, who will now attend only when the council is considering issues in their direct areas of responsibilities. It is a startling elevation of a political adviser, to a status alongside the secretaries of state and defense, and over the president’s top military and intelligence advisers.

The quotation comes from John Haines piece on Bannon’s appointment to the NSC in historical perspective:

While Mr. Bannon has sardonically compared himself to “Thomas Cromwell in the court of the Tudors” (perhaps choosing to ignore how that role ended), his national security brief might better analogize to Nelson Rockefeller. As noted earlier, he succeeded C.D. Jackson as Special Assistant to the President for Cold War Planning in the Eisenhower administration. Mr. Rockefeller’s appointment was memorialized in a March 1955 memorandum to President Eisenhower from Rowland Hughes, the director of the Bureau of the Budget (later renames the “Office of Management and Budget”):

b.The appointment of Mr. Nelson Rockefeller as Special Assistant to the President to provide leadership on your behalf in the development of increased understanding and cooperation among all peoples and in reviewing and developing methods and programs by which the various departments and agencies of the Government may effectively contribute to such cooperation and understanding.

c.The assignment to a Special Committee chaired by Mr. Rockefeller of responsibility for coordinating the implementation of the policies contained in NSC 5505/110 and NSC 5502/1.

Mr. Rockefeller assumed a direct role in national security and intelligence operations when President Eisenhower named him chair of the Planning Coordination Group (PCG), which was subordinate to the NSC’s Operations Coordinating Board (OCB). The OCB was established by a September 1953 executive order “to provide for the integrated implementation of national security policies by the several agencies.”[26] According to a letter to Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles, “At the time of the issuance of the Executive Order creating the OCB the President designated his Special Assistant for Cold War Planning as his representative on the OCB.”

President Eisenhower authorized the PCG in a 10 March 1955 letter to Mr. Rockefeller. He directed that the PCG was to be advised “in advance of major covert programs initiated by the Central Intelligence Agency;” and furthermore, that the PCG “should be the normal channel for giving policy approval for such programs as well as for securing coordination of support therefor among the Departments of State and Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency.” The two referenced NSC reports — NSC 5505/1 (“Exploitation of Soviet and European Satellite Vulnerabilities”) and NSC 5502/1 (“U.S. Policy Toward Russian Anti-Soviet Political Activities) — are January 1955 directives for an “active political warfare strategy” against the Soviet Union.

Mr. Rockefeller’s brief was defined in a March 1955 NSC memorandum that discussed “The Foreign Information Program and Psychological Warfare Planning.” Declaring “the principle that propaganda in both peace and war is a continuing mechanism of national policy directed toward the achievement of national aims,” the NSC charged Mr. Rockefeller to conduct:

[A] high level review of the existing arrangements in the light of NSC 59/1 and NSC 127/1 should be undertaken with a view to preparing appropriate recommendations for consideration by the National Security Council. Such a review should be undertaken with a full understanding of the existing arrangements and current plans and programs in this field, as well as the status of planning for the possibility of limited or general war.

The NSC further directed that “responsibility for making such a review and recommendations [was] assigned to Mr. Nelson Rockefeller as Special Assistant to the President:”

[T]o provide leadership in the development of increased understanding and cooperation among all peoples and in reviewing and developing methods and programs by which the various departments and agencies of the Government may effectively contribute to such cooperation and understanding. In this assignment Mr. Rockefeller should be provided with such advice and assistance as he requires from the Bureau of the Budget, the Office of Defense Mobilization and the Operations Coordinating Board as well as the responsible operating departments and agencies.

Never let real historical details get in the way of surreal moral outrage. Do notice that Bannon is not as well dressed or coiffed as the Ivy League’s own, Rockefeller.

Calculating Vice

H. L. Mencken poked holes in the numbers:

How little dependence is to be put in the tales of vice “experts” was lately shown in New York, when a man employed by young John D. Rockefeller made the astounding statement that there were 26,000 white slaves in the greater city–not merely prostitutes, mind you, but white slaves, women “owned” by definite men and regularly robbed of their earnings by these men. A brief examination is sufficient to show the absurdity of such allegations. Go to the figures yourself. The present population of Greater New York, according to the usually accurate estimate of the New York World, is 5,173,064, but this includes the population of two suburban boroughs, Richmond and Queens, in which no white slave trade is alleged to exist. The population of the other three boroughs, Manhattan Brooklyn and the Bronx, comes to 4,476,098.

How many of these New Yorkers are female? According to the census of 1900, the last for which complete figures are available, the population of New York is almost evenly divided between males and females. This gives us, in the three boroughs, 2,373,049 females. But how many of them are of white-slave age? Let us assume, despite the crusaders’ donkeyish theory that a prostitute lasts but five years, that some of the white slaves are as young as 17 years and that others are as old as 34. This gives us a range of 17 years. How many women between these ages live in New York?

Going again to the census of 1900 we find that women between the ages of 17 and 34, inclusive, make up exactly one-third of the female population of the city. Now divide three into 2,373,049 and we get 791,016, which is the maximum number of possible white slaves in New York, counting in married women, college girls, suffragettes and all other indubitably virtuous women. Now divide 791,016 by 26,000 and we get just 30. What does this mean? It means, in brief, that young John D.’s “expert” alleges that one woman in every 30 in New York city, counting in even respectable women, is a white slave.

But ordinary prostitutes are yet to be considered. According to Young John’s “expert,” they greatly outnumber the actual white slaves. How far they outnumber them he doesn’t say: he will come to that by and by. But meanwhile, his statement that there are “many more” justifies the assumption that he means at least half again as many more, That assumption given us 39,000 as the number of ordinary prostitutes. Now add 39,000 to 26,000 and we get 65,000. What does this mean? It means that one woman in every 12 in New York is a prostitute!

Could absurdity further go? And yet such bogus statistics are accepted with the utmost seriousness and published broadcast. The newspapers print them, moralists weep over them, the public is appalled by them. But it seldom occurs to anybody to question them, just as it seldom occurs to anybody in our own dear Baltimore to question the grotesque overstatements of such ludicrous crusaders as Dr. O. Edward Janney and the Rev. Dr. Kenneth O. Murray.

Perhaps John D. Rockefeller was applying “white slavery” in a Sermon-on-the-Mount way, those women who were “white slaves” in their hearts.

The New Normal

You can make this up:

After the election I thought, black lives won’t matter and people are going to die. But no matter what the outcome of the election had been, black lives still wouldn’t matter and people would still die. I marched in Washington not to protest against the President, but to renew my own commitment to participatory democracy, collective action, and personal responsibility.

Have an extra helping of hysteria.

The question is not, “Who is this President and what will he do,” it is, “With whom and for what will we stand?” The question isn’t, “What will we do about them,” but, “Who will we choose to be now?” The question is not whether or not we are afraid, but whether we will let fear have the last word.

Signal you are good and imply those who disagree aren’t.

I am a white, queer, temporarily able-bodied, cisgender pastor whose Christian tradition is not the only or best way to be religious, but one that equips and empowers me to stand with the most vulnerable among us. I live on land that is not mine on earth that belongs to our children. I marched because, while I drink clean water, people are fighting in it and protecting it at Standing Rock. I marched because, while I am white, my children are black. I marched for living wages and good health care and for my Muslim and trans and undocumented siblings. I marched for education and health and protection of civil and human rights.

But if the question is who we choose to be now, may I choose to be white, middle-class, hetero, Christian?

And people think Donald Trump is bizarre.

Choose Ye This Day

Donald Trump elicits the inner fundamentalist in all Americans. A recent expression is a drive-by blog post at Commonweal on Senator Ben Sasse:

Well, that didn’t take long. Ben Sasse, Nebraska’s energetic, open-minded, publically engaged Republican senator has been Trumpified.

Citizens expected him, as an outspoken and popular #NeverTrump-er who was relatively uncorrupted by power, to be part of the intraparty resistance to the new president’s ethos, tactics, and character traits. Surely he would have respect for the norms of the Constitution and engage his critics with reason, not mockery. This is, after all, a senator who gives encomia to the Constitution on Twitter and casually banters with his constituents and naysayers about politics and college football.

Sasse was at least critical of last week’s executive order. But this week, with the Supreme Court nomination of Neil Gorsuch, he has showed how quickly the new executive’s behavior can be imitated.

Last night and this morning, Sasse gleefully mocked both protestors and Sen. Minority Leader Schumer.

So the idea is that Sasse should have been sympathetic to protesters and not to President Trump’s nominee for SCOTUS. A sitting senator is supposed to choose unhinged American citizens — and it’s not like we haven’t seen many of such moralists the past 6 years — over the leader of the free world (for now).

And for Mr. Peppard to act as if the protesters to Neil Gorsuch’s nomination are not risible but serious is almost as risible as the recent spate of convulsions over President Trump:

just as worrisome, the fact that he publicly mocked peaceful protestors — which he did again on radio this morning — is an eerie warning that he’s been Trumpified. The new president has shown that he loves to “punch down,” something the old Sen. Sasse would not have done. But executives have a way of modeling behavior that those seeking advancement find difficult not to emulate.

Mocking in juvenile manner (pussy parade anyone?) the duly elected executive of the federal government is not worrisome? And you wonder why Trump is POTUS.

Before You Put On Any More Sackcloth and Ashes

Consider that secular judges are not always out to get Christians (even though it’s a good narrative to whoop up hysteria):

A decisive legal victory in British Columbia has put an evangelical Christian university one step closer in its bid to secure recognition for its proposed law school.

The Appeal Court of B.C. released a decision in favour of Trinity Western University on Tuesday, describing efforts by B.C.’s law society to deny accreditation to the school’s future lawyers as “unreasonable.”

The legal dispute centres around the university’s community covenant that bans its students from having sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage.

In a unanimous decision, a panel of five judges said the negative impact on Trinity Western’s religious freedoms would be severe and far outweigh the minimal effect accreditation would have on gay and lesbian rights.

“A society that does not admit of and accommodate differences cannot be a free and democratic society — one in which its citizens are free to think, to disagree, to debate and to challenge the accepted view without fear of reprisal,” says the 66-page judgment.

Warning: stay on your meds. No reason to return to the mania of postmillennial optimism.