Now This Would be Funny (or not)

Unlike this:

Tim Keller: (Walks outside on beautiful fall day, inhales deeply, and sighs contentedly) This is such a lovely day that you could never imagine unless you accepted that yesterday was so much more oppressive than you ever dared imagine (and then he sat on the bench at the bus stop to pose for pictures).

Rachel Held Evans: What exactly are you implying about Kathy Keller?

Keller: Umm. Nothing, really. I just am saying that this particular day is pleasant because I get to have lunch with New York Times reporter, Nick Kristof.

R. Scott Clark: You know that bus doesn’t go to Nebraska.

Keller: (Starts walking east on 83rd Street) Why would anyone want to leave the city?

Evans: You don’t know any reporters of color?

Keller: I don’t have to respond to critics. Never have, never will

What’s The Matter with Los Angeles?

Thomas Frank asked what was the matter with Kansas. Why did lower-middle class whites vote for the GOP when the Republicans did little for such voters economically. The interests of Kansans economically were supposed to be much more Democrat than Republican. But conservatives in the GOP used social issues — abortion, marriage, etc. — to attract support.

Frank’s argument makes me wonder the same about the Hollywood stars who live in the greater Los Angeles area. Simply on economic grounds, why would people worth millions vote for a party that wants to raise taxes on them?

Then there is the art-makes-viewers-more-humane-and-empathetic argument. Don’t actors in Hollywood play all sorts of American character types, from people who vote for Republicans to business owners, cops (how many cop shows and movies are there?!?), angry white men, and Christian nationalists? If art is supposed to help us see how others see the world, why are Hollywood actors like Meryl Streep so clueless about how so many Americans other than movie stars live?

Not to mention that in the aftermath of Debbie Reynolds’ and Carrie Fisher’s death, the missus and I watched Meryl Streep give a very fine performance in Postcards from the Edge (foul language trigger warning). She plays a Hollywood star who is a drug addict and whose life is hardly stable? If you play that kind of character — and I imagine Hollywood has more people like this than among the rest of the millionaire demographic — do you really get on a soapbox and instruct the rest of the country about how insensitive and vicious regular Americans are (with a straight face)? Don’t you perhaps remember that Hollywood types have their own clay feet (even if outfitted in Prada)?

One last anomaly. Meryl Streep has far more in common with Donald Trump than Mike Huckabee or Ted Cruz. Streep and Trump are both loaded, live lives becoming the rich and famous, cultivate celebrity, and are not overly concerned about abortion, gays, or sex outside marriage. Trump is one of Streep’s tribe.

And now the press can see how hollow and shallow Trump’s way of life is:

Trump understands one thing. In business, on TV and in conducting a presidential campaign, all that matters is making the news. He was famous and infamous, but most of all he was a media tsunami. He was not to be avoided. Fame is Donald Trump’s drug of choice. Being famous gives a person an automatic market value, a faux-virtue that comes from virtual supremacy.

Didn’t they understand that when Katy Perry and Beyonce were headlining for either Barack Obama or Hilary Clinton?

Not Blogging?

Remember the old days of trying to have a conversation about race. Turns out blogging is not where Americans are turning:

About 1 in 4 of those surveyed say the office of the president has the best chance of fostering healthy public conversations (23%), while about 1 in 10 say pastors of local churches (11%) or university professors (10%). Members of the media (8%) faired slightly better than business leaders (7%) or members of Congress (6%). Few Americans look to professional athletes (1%) or musicians (less than 1%) to lead healthy conversations about the nation’s challenges.

The most common response: “None of these” (33%).

Among other findings:

Southerners are more likely to look to the president (25%) than those in the Midwest (18%).

Those in the Northeast choose the media (11%) more than those in the South (5%).

Younger Americans—those 18 to 34—look to the media (12%) more than those 65 and older (3%).

African-Americans are the most likely ethnic group to choose local pastors (21%) and the president (37%).

Hispanic Americans are the least likely ethnic group to choose the media (3%).

Christians are more likely to look to pastors (16%) than those from other faiths (1%) or those with no religious preference (2%).

Christians (7%) are less likely to look to professors than those from other faiths (18%) or those with no religious preference (15%).

Americans with evangelical beliefs have faith in pastors (36%) but little faith in the media (3%) or professors (3%) to guide such conversations.

A couple observations.

Notice bond between Southerners and African-Americans (are they they same?) — they trust the president more than other groups. Makes sense for blacks but what the heck did white southerners not learn from that excitement back in the 1860s?

Notice also Christians’ regard for professors. Maybe this explains the lack of Christian intellectuals. The more intellectual, the less trustworthy among the faithful.

Selah.

Why Mencken Matters

He is a reminder that belief is not normal (to fallen human beings).

The reason for that aside is Regis Martin’s article about the stupidity of atheists (trigger warning for the w-w deniers):

…people do not arrive at atheism as a result of hours heuristically spent perusing the philosophical journals. That is because it is not a matter of the intelligence that compels one to choose disbelief, but a movement of the will. One would have to be pretty witless if, on the strength of a syllogism, one were to conclude that there is no God. An atheist can no more eliminate God’s existence by his refusal to believe than a blind man can by his inability to see expel the sunlight. “The essence of God does indeed lie beyond the scope of intelligence,” Fr. Murray freely concedes, “but his existence does not.” And not to know at least that much, “is to nullify oneself as a man, a creature of intelligence.” Because belief in God is, very simply, the bedrock truth upon which everything else depends. To think otherwise, he argues, amounts to “a miserably flat denouement to the great intellectual drama in whose opening scene Plato appeared with the astonishing announcement that launched the high action of philosophy—his insight that there is an order of transcendent reality, higher than the order of human intelligence and the measure of it, to which access is available to the mind of man.”

In which case, we should never trust an atheist or unbeliever with any sort of responsibility (and we should live in a Christendom because only God-affirmers have the bedrock for truth).

But what if faith is not natural? What if philosophical inquiry and logical deduction still don’t make a man or woman believe? What if, get this, Paul was right?

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1)

Imagine that: Reformed Protestants take atheists more seriously than Roman Catholics because of the doctrine of total depravity. If you start with the reality that all people are lost in their trespasses and sins, that their minds are “darkened” as a result, you set your expectations of unbelievers accordingly. But if you look at faith as the bedrock of understanding the world (think w-w), and you need to trust your neighbors not to do irrational things, then you are going to attribute belief in God to them (and meanwhile deny total depravity).

Mencken matters because he’s proof that unbelievers are smart, and that the Holy Spirit is more powerful than reason in giving people faith in Jesus Christ as their savior.

Did Sam Francis Hold a Fundraiser for Donald Trump?

Of course, not. The paleo-conservative died in 2005. But what about Bill Ayers (the co-founder of the Weatherman) fundraiser for President Obama?

The reason for asking is elite journalism’s tic of recognizing the tawdry associations of president-elect Trump while never having taken seriously President Obama’s associations with the radical left. For instance, I read this in the New Yorker:

Throughout the campaign, he was accused of being the leader of a white backlash movement, waging war on minorities: he says that he wants to expel millions of unauthorized immigrants, and calls for a moratorium on Muslims entering the country. Since his election, many analyses of his political program have focussed on his ties to the alt-right, a nebulous and evolving constellation of dissidents who sharply disagree with many of the conservative movement’s widely accepted tenets—including, often, its avowed commitment to racial equality. This connection runs through Stephen Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, an “economic nationalist” who was previously the executive chairman of Breitbart, a news site that aimed to be, Bannon once said, “the platform for the alt-right.” Earlier this year, Breitbart published a taxonomy of the alt-right that included Richard Spencer, a self-described “identitarian” whose political dream is “a homeland for all white people.” At a recent conference in Washington, Spencer acted out the worst fears of many Trump critics when he cried, “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!” Later, Spencer told Haaretz that the election of Trump was “the first step for identity politics for white people in the United States.”

It is important to note that the link between Trump and someone like Spencer is tenuous and seemingly unidirectional. (When reporters from the Times asked Trump about the alt-right, in November, he said, “I disavow the group.”) But it is also true that partisan politics in America are stubbornly segregated: exit polls suggest that about eighty-seven per cent of Trump’s voters were white, which is roughly the same as the corresponding figure for his Republican predecessor, Mitt Romney. It is no surprise that many of Trump’s critics, and some of his supporters, heard his tributes to a bygone American greatness as a form of “identity politics,” designed to remind white people of all the power and prestige they had lost.

It is true, too, that Trumpism draws on a political tradition that has often been linked to white identity politics. One Journal author suggested that the true progenitor of Trumpism was Samuel Francis, a so-called paleoconservative who thought that America needed a President who would stand up to the “globalization of the American economy.” In Francis’s view, that candidate was Pat Buchanan, a former longtime White House aide who ran for President in 1992 and 1996 as a fiery populist Republican—and in 2000 as the Reform Party candidate, having staved off a brief challenge, in the primary, from Trump.

Three graphs of a long story on Trump and the alt-right even though the reporter also concedes, “what is striking about Trump is how little he engages, at least explicitly, with questions of culture and identity.” “[A]t least explicitly” gives the reporter room to disbelieve Trump and to leave readers inclined to think the worst thinking the worst.

So doesn’t that make the New Yorker the alt-left equivalent of Breitbart?

The question is how to parse these associations and affinities. Do you rely on hard evidence? Do you define narrowly the overlap between the politician and the offensive action or idea? Consider how Noam Scheiber cleared President Obama of untoward associations with Ayers:

Suppose we were talking about a meeting Mike Huckabee attended during a (fictitious) run for state senate in the early ’90s. Let’s say the meeting took place in the home of a local pastor, who, back in the ’70s, had been part of a radical anti-abortion group that at times attempted, but never succeeded in, bombing abortion clinics. The pastor was never prosecuted and had since become a semi-respectable member of his community, where he also ran an adoption clinic for children of mothers he’d counseled against abortion.

If Huckabee had once addressed a group of local conservative activists at the pastor’s home, would that tell us anything about his views on political violence? Reasonable people can disagree about this. But I don’t think it would.

But that is not the standard that Kalefa Sanneh of the New Yorker is using for Trump or the alt-right. Although he has no clear links between Spencer and Trump, because people who like Spencer voted for Trump — kahbamb — association confirmed. But because Bill Ayers and former supporters of the radical left (even in its terrorist phase) voted for Obama, no connection. Just the way the system works.

Which is true. Bad people vote for good candidates all the time. We wonder why such candidates appeal to such voters. But to see the New Yorker do what Rush Limbaugh does is well nigh remarkable. Rush assumes that people who vote Democrat are overwhelmingly bad citizens or bad Americans. Turns out — thanks to the revelations that have arisen during Trump’s candidacy and election — that editors of “respectable” journalism do the same. If you voted for Trump you must be harboring views of white supremacy. Just because you think immigration and ISIS may be a problem?

History Doesn’t Have Sides (take it from a professional)

Citizens of the U.S. have become used to presidents talking about “the right side of history”:

Most recently, during his December 6 Oval Office address on terrorism, Obama said: “My fellow Americans, I am confident we will succeed in this mission because we are on the right side of history.” It’s a phrase Obama loves: He’s used it 15 times, in debates; at synagogues; in weekly radio addresses; at fundraisers. Obama is almost as fond of its converse, “the wrong side of history,” which he has used 13 times; staffers and press secretaries have invoked it a further 16. (These figures are all based on the archives of the American Presidency Project at the University of California Santa Barbara.)

But the expressions are hardly original to Obama. Bill Clinton referred to “the right side of history” 21 times over his time in office, while his staffers added another 15. Clinton also mentioned the “wrong side of history” several times. Ronald Reagan, for his part, wryly resurrected Leon Trotsky’s relegation of the Mensheviks to the “dustbin” or “ash heap of history.” Speaking to the British Parliament in 1982, the Gipper said, “The march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people.”

That kind of naivete from the smartest people in the country (minus Reagan, of course) makes you (okay mmmmeeeeEEEEE) wonder what it feels like to lose and be on the wrong side of history (now Democrats know how Jerry Falwell felt in 1993).

But this is not simply an American problem. Paul Helm (not licensed as a historian) points out that history is not so readily categorized as right or wrong. But it is the legacy of the Enlightenment and a departure from Augustinianism:

This idea of history having a ‘side’, which is liberal, enlightened and so on, harks back to the enlightenment of the 18th century, to the emergence of what David Hume called ‘these enlightened ages’, in sharp contrast to the side of the ‘dark ages’ of medievalism. The idea is that such a surge as the Enlightenment, having begun, is inevitable, tending unstoppably in one direction. This side of history is on the move to better times, and so if we wish these times for ourselves and others, we had better get on the right side. And that direction becomes ‘obvious’ to those with enlightened minds.

The forces of darkness, of barbarism and superstition, are history’s other side, its faltering side, the side of those intent on ‘turning the clock back’, impeding or interrupting and so delaying its progress. Sooner or later history’s other side is to be decisively supplanted by the enlightened. So that dark side is destined to fail. The light side of history will succeed. Who wants to be left behind? So do not get left behind, for the Light and its forces will ultimately triumph over Darkness, reason against unreason, liberty against slavery, and so on. This is somehow connected with what Herbert Butterfield and others referred to as the Whig interpretation of history. Though this seems to have been, insofar as it existed, a gentler version of the current ‘sides of history’ view, at least insofar as it is view of history that is the outcome of ongoing parliamentary debate. In fact it may be said that so long as freedom of speech and the working of government and opposition in Parliament continues, the enlightened ages continue.

One implication is a lesson for those who think progressively about Christianity making the world a better place (read transformationalism). Don’t mimic Enlightenment progressivism:

Also linked with the winning side of history view is the idea of Western leadership and hegemony, which causes the rising sun to shine on the Sunny Side until the entire world basks in it. These are the engines of light. Currently these are the forces of globalism, international corporatism, and the waging of the war against global warming. Its personal ‘values’ include unlimited tolerance, and the freedom from offendedness of various kinds, along with the renouncing of the vestiges of nationalism and popularism, two currently-favoured examples.. Though it is said that we are living in a post-Enlightenment period, the confidence of the Enlightenment persists. Whatever ‘post-modernism’ is, it is not pessimistic.

The solution? Thinking like aliens and strangers, not conquerors and transformers:

It is a feature of living ‘between the times’ that God’s activity in history, his macro activity we might call it – cannot be correlated with the ebb and flow of history. Why is this? Because there is now no fixity between the events in history and the saving purposes of God. The only possible exception is the history of the church. But that is also rather uncertain. During the eras if special revelation – in the call of Abraham, and the history of Israel, and of course in the coming into flesh of the eternal Son, there is redemptive history in something like the usual sense of history. There were times in which the purposes of God with those with eyes to see, could be discerned. Through the ebbing and flowing, a trajectory of the divine redemptive purpose is discernible. But no longer. There is no ‘open vision’. Attempts to make a connection between historical states as the centuries roll, and the redemptive purposes of God are doomed. . . .

Such an understanding of history and the place of the Christian church in it throws into sharp relief the New Testament teaching on Christians as pilgrims and strangers, whose citizenship lies exclusively in a future city whose maker and builder is God. Any ‘Christian’ activity which seeks to impact dimensions of this present age and its cities –through social policies, political agendas, or arts and crafts – as so many expressions of Christian faith, inevitably compromises the root importance of a pilgrimage of men and women who otherwise may agree on little else, but whose eyes and hopes are in the New Jerusalsem. Besides these, the questions of history, its various sides and significances, matter not.

Helm should add, this outlook is not inspiring. No conferences on “Embrace the Suck” or “Endure the Uncertainty.”

Happy Year’s End

For those staying in tonight, the Old Life movie recommendation for New Year’s reflections is Hudsucker Proxy, the fifth movie that Joel and Ethan Coen made. It is their homage to the genre of RomCom, and it even explains wisely (for mmmmeeeeEEEEE anyway) why people make such a big deal of changing wall calendars. From the script:

NARRATOR (VOICE OVER) It’s 1958 — anyway, for a few mo’ minutes it is. Come midnight it’s gonna be 1959. A whole ‘nother feelin’. The New Year. The future…

The SINGING, a little MORE AUDIBLE, but still not close, is “Auld Lang Syne.”

NARRATOR (V.O.) …Yeah ole daddy Earth fixin’ to start one mo’ trip ’round the sun, an’ evvybody hopin’ this ride ’round be a little mo’ giddy, a little mo’ gay…

We are MOVING IN TOWARDS a particular skyscraper. At its top is a large illuminated clock.

NARRATOR (V.O.) Yep…

We hear a SERIES OF POPPING sounds.

NARRATOR (V.O.) …All over town champagne corks is a-poppin’.

A big band WALTZ MIXES UP on the track.

NARRATOR (V.O.) …Over in the Waldorf the big shots is dancin’ to the strains of Guy Lombardo… Down in Times Square the little folks is a-watchin’ and a-waitin’ fo’ that big ball to drop…

The LOMBARDO MUSIC gives way to the CHANTING of a distant CROWD: “Sixty! Fifty-nine! Fifty-eight!”

NARRATOR (V.O.)…They all tryin’ to catch holt a one moment of time…

The CHANTING has MIXED back DOWN AGAIN TO leave only the WIND. Still TRACKING IN TOWARD the top of the skyscraper, we begin to hear the TICK of its enormous CLOCK. The clock reads a minute to twelve. Above it, in neon, a company’s name: “HUDSUCKER INDUSTRIES.” Below it, in neon, the company’s motto: “THE FUTURE IS NOW.”

NARRATOR (V.O.) …to be able to say — ‘Right now! This is it! I got it!’ ‘Course by then it’ll be past. (more cheerfully) But they all happy, evvybody havin’ a good time.

We are MOVING IN ON a darkened penthouse window next to the clock. The window starts to open.

NARRATOR (V.O.) …Well, almost evvybody. They’s a few lost souls floatin’ ’round out there…

A young man is crawling out of the window onto the ledge. With the opening of the window, “AULD LANG SYNE” filters out with greater volume.

NARRATOR (V.O.) …This one’s Norville Barnes.