From What Machen Tried to Spare American Protestants

Walter McDougall reminds of the synergy between progressive theology and progressive politics:

Historians disagree on how to date and define the Progressive Era except to say it had everything to do with reform.[16] By the 1890s it was apparent that American institutions couldn’t cope with the modern problems thrown up by industrialization, urbanization, and immigration, including corporate trusts, labor strife, corruption, big city machines, public health, women’s rights, and more. To elites in the academy, government, business, and the clergy it seemed the modern solution to those modern problems was scientific management by credentialed experts. As one scholar put it, “The Progressives believed in a … national government directing the destinies of the nation at home and abroad. They had little but contempt for the strict construction of conservative judges, who would restrict the power of the national government to act against social evils and to extend the blessings of democracy to less favored lands. The real enemy was particularism, state rights, limited government.”[17]

Note the words “believed in,” “contempt,” “social evils,” and “real enemy.” We think of Progressivism as a secular movement inspired by the natural and social sciences of that era. Why then does a language of faith and good vs. evil come so easily to the historian of Progressivism and why does it go unnoticed by most readers? The short answer is that secularism is a myth or, to put it another way, if you don’t believe in sectarian religion you will believe in some species of civil religion.

For a hundred years after 1789 Americans were not conscious of a potential conflict between their mostly Protestant faith and their civil faith because the former encouraged republican virtue and the latter ensured free exercise of religion. But under the stress of the Civil War and the onslaught of modernism (Charles Darwin first published in 1859) the main-line Protestant churches surrendered their prophetic role to the civil religion, surrendered their faith in an inerrant Bible, and surrendered cultural authority to … the Progressives! That is why, in the words of my colleague Bruce Kuklick, “We should associate Progressivism most with the rise of a more relaxed Protestantism in higher education after the Civil War.” Ivy League universities, new ones like Chicago, Johns Hopkins, and Stanford, and land-grant universities devoted themselves to secular research on the German model, and the knowledge generated in science and engineering, sociology, political science, and economics easily persuaded politicians that cultural authority must pass from the clergy to the intelligentsia, who knew how to “manage God’s universe for the benefit of mankind.”[18]

Progressives meant to break up capitalist concentrations of power and wealth, purge federal, state, and municipal governments of corruption, and protect and empower the people. We know their accomplishments including trust-busting, the Pure Food and Drug Act, civil service reform, the income tax, direct election of senators, the Federal Reserve bank, women’s suffrage, and Prohibition. But these were also the heyday of Jim Crow laws. There was no contradiction in that because the science and social science of that era endorsed racial hierarchy, Social Darwinism, and “the propriety of American imperialism.”[19]

What has all that to do with “a more relaxed Protestantism”? The answer lies in the parallel Social Gospel movement whose preachers imagined their modern spirituality was the counterpart to modern science. “The law of progress is the same in both,” said Lyman Abbott, whose “applied Christianity” blessed philanthropic cooperation with Progressive government. The Social Gospel dismissed the Augustinian distinction between the City of Man and City of God.[20] It stressed collective reform over personal salvation. It made peace with evolution, put its faith in progress, and imagined good government could perfect society over time. In Walter Rauschenbusch’s exultation, “The social gospel registers the fact that for the first time in history the spirit of Christianity form a working partnership with real social and psychological science.”[21]

The origins of liberal theology are legion: the rationalism of the Enlightenment, the “Higher Criticism” of the Bible, Darwinian evolution, discoveries in geology and paleontology that seemed to debunk the Genesis account of Creation, psychological theory that seemed to debunk the concept of sin, and technological wonders that seemed to leave nothing beyond mankind’s reach. In the intellectual universe of liberal pastors Christ ceased to be a redemptive messiah and became a prophet of social uplift. Some post-millennialists even believed America was called to build a literal heaven on earth in preparation for the Second Coming and thousand-year reign of the saints.

The American Civil Religion implications of the Progressive Social Gospel were profound.[22] The cross got confused with the flag, which preachers like Josiah Strong and politicians like Beveridge made into a veritable fetish. “We cannot retreat from any soil where Providence has unfurled our banner … for liberty and civilization are God’s promises fulfilled, and the flag must henceforth be the symbol and sign to all mankind.”[23] William Guthrie, a University of Chicago professor, even preached a “religion of Old Glory” and “evolutional view of good and evil,” even prophesying the Stars and Stripes would become “the flag of a Federation of Nations” and “the Ideal of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.”[24]

In sum, the Social Gospel was the marriage bed wherein mainline Protestantism mated with the civil religion. Their offspring was a newly Progressive ACR that no longer preached virtue, prudence, humility, and self-reliance, and instead preached power, glory, pride, and paternalism at home and abroad.

Reading McDougall (and Machen) gives a new meaning to woke.

It’s Only POTUS

Michael Brendan Dougherty echoes the point that presidential elections are destroying America (and so we should let Congress pick POTUS):

The length of our presidential campaign atrophies self-governance. Instead of citizens governing themselves, Americans increasingly define their political lives by their membership in one tribe, and their support for its candidates. Instead of electing a leader, we pledge fealty as followers.

The bulk of our attention flows to the presidential race. And because there is so much attention there, the process attracts candidates who are merely seeking attention for themselves and not high office. In fact, that may be why the primaries feel more and more like reality television, and produced a reality TV president. Each debate is a new episode, and the political press waits for the latest news about which contestant is eliminated.

Because our mode of engaging with politics feels tribal, and because the process takes two years, many people experience it as a crushing psychological and social blow to be on the losing side. Citizens who identify with the losing presidential candidate feel like they are no longer a part of their country. They experience the transfer of the executive branch from one party to the other as a regime change that threatens them. Remember the red and blue maps of Jesusland and America that appeared during the Bush administration? Back then there was heady talk of Vermont seceding from the union to become a bastion of tolerance. Fast forward a few years, and conservatives were the ones spreading stories about Texas’ secession. This is not healthy. But it’s going to continue if we don’t begin to tame the presidential election itself.

The presidential election increases our sense that all issues are national issues. Even people who say they are addicted to politics often have no idea what is happening in their state or county government.

Dougherty adds a point that Aaron Sorkin, the creator of Jed Bartlet, the POTUS on West Wing, should take to heart:

One cause for the gigantism of our presidential election is the gigantism of the executive branch. The federal government employs more than 2 million people in the process of governing us.

Too bad that Sorkin doesn’t seem to recognize the monster that he fed (even if he did not create). His letter to his wife and daughters was typically hysterical (thanks to one of our southern correspondents):

White nationalists. Sexists, racists and buffoons. Angry young white men who think rap music and Cinco de Mayo are a threat to their way of life (or are the reason for their way of life) have been given cause to celebrate. Men who have no right to call themselves that and who think that women who aspire to more than looking hot are shrill, ugly, and otherwise worthy of our scorn rather than our admiration struck a blow for misogynistic s‑‑‑heads everywhere.

But if POTUS were little more than a glorified dog catcher, would the stakes be so high?

Thankful for Trump

I rarely see eye-to-eye with Michael Novak, but m(mmmmeeeeEEE)y reaction to the election was similar to his in the sense that I dreaded four more years of progressivism at that center of American life and felt a sense of relief when news came that Hillary Clinton did not win.

But a better expression of my thoughts comes from Damon Linker who recognizes, as few do inside the bubble of progressivism, that the United States includes more than elite institutions and their unofficial establishment:

The urge toward exclusion is a perennial possibility of politics. That’s because politics takes place on two levels. On one level is the back and forth of partisan conflict, involving persuasion, argument, electoral battles, triumphs, and defeats. On this level, pretty much anything goes as long as it abides by the rules of the political game. But there’s also a second, more fundamental level of politics that involves a competition over who gets to set the rules, the boundaries of what is publicly acceptable, in the first place — and precisely where those boundaries will be positioned.

The most obvious example of second-order politics in the American system is the judiciary, and especially the Supreme Court. Until the Obergefell decision in 2015, for example, the American people were engaging in a free-flowing debate about same-sex marriage, with some people in favor of allowing it and others opposed, and public opinion shifting rapidly in the “pro” direction. That was politics conducted on the first level. But then the Supreme Court stepped in to declare gay marriage a constitutional right. That was second-order politics in action: Suddenly the rules were changed, with the “pro” side summarily declared the winner throughout the nation and the “anti” side driven — and permanently excluded — from the political battlefield going forward.

But second-order politics isn’t only found in the formal strictures of a Supreme Court ruling. It comes into play when prominent institutions in civil society (such as mainstream media outlets, universities, corporations, movie studios, and other arms of the entertainment industry) informally unite in deciding that an issue, or a specific position on an issue, is simply unacceptable because it crosses a moral line that leading members of these institutions consider inviolable. Over the past several decades, a range of positions on immigration, crime, gender, and the costs and benefits of some forms of diversity have been relegated to the categories of “racism,” “sexism,” “homophobia,” “white supremacy,” or “white nationalism,” and therefore excluded from first-order political debate.

I’m not going to cry for progressives. They still have elite journalism, Hollywood, the most exclusive colleges and universities, and lots of agencies related directly and indirectly to the federal government. They just don’t have the White House for the next four years. Let’s see Aaron Sorkin make a television show about that.

Why Not Address President Obama?

I’m with Chris Bodenner that Brandon Victor Dixon’s remarks to Vice President-elect Mike Pence after a performance of Hamilton was not all that disrespectful or edgy. Here’s part of the speech:

We have a message for you, sir. We hope that you will hear us out. And I encourage everybody to pull out your phones and tweet and post because this message needs to be spread far and wide, OK?

Vice President-elect Pence, we welcome you and we truly thank you for joining us here at Hamilton: An American Musical, we really do. We, sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us — our planet, our children, our parents — or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us. All of us.

What does President Obama not need to hear in this advice? Should he have been governing in a way to keep BLM protests from happening, opponents of gay marriage from feeling marginalized, and Americans with pre-Affordable Care Act health insurance from having to lose benefits in their existing their plans? Of course, a president has to make choices and not all of the electorate will be happy. But why do the elites in the U.S. — Democrats in D.C., Hollywood, university faculty, and mainstream journalists — think that partisanship in politics only happens when Republicans get elected?

And I wonder what Dixon makes of President Obama acting in a statesmanlike manner in meeting and greeting President-elect Trump? Was the President properly empathizing with those Americans who not only refused to vote for Trump but view his supporters as deplorable?

With Friends Like These

Matt Tuininga qualifies and then insinuates:

we cannot simply take Calvin’s thought and apply it to our own time without substantial reflection. Calvin assumed the existence of Christendom. We inhabit a pluralistic society increasingly devoted to secular liberalism. There are self-proclaimed two kingdoms advocates today who would claim the two kingdoms distinction calls us to keep religion and politics entirely separate, as if they are hermetically sealed realms that have nothing to do with each other. Yet such is clearly a distortion of Calvin’s thought, which is decisively rooted in the New Testament’s rich distinction between the present age and the age to come.

Does he have Machen in mind?

In the second place, you cannot expect from a true Christian church any official pronouncements upon the political or social questions of the day, and you cannot expect cooperation with the state in anything involving the use of force. Important are the functions of the police, and members of the church, either individually or in such special associations as they may choose to form, should aid the police in every lawful way in the exercise of those functions. But the function of the church in its corporate capacity is of an entirely different kind. Its weapons against evil are spiritual, not carnal; and by becoming a political lobby, through the advocacy of political measures whether good or bad, the church is turning aside from its proper mission. . . .

To advance the conversation, why not comment on whether the deaconate should do medicine as Calvin recommended:

The fourth order of ecclesiastical government, namely, the deacons

There have always been two kinds of these in the early Church. One has to receive, distribute and care for the goods of the poor (i.e. daily alms as well as possessions, rents and pensions); the other has to tend and look after the sick and administer the allowances to the poor as is customary. [In order to avoid confusion], since we have officials and hospital staff, [one of the four officials of the said hospital should be responsible for the whole of its property and revenues and he should have an adequate salary in order to do his work properly.]

Concerning the hospital

Care should be taken to see that the general hospital is properly maintained. This applies to the sick, to old people no longer able to work, to widows, orphans, children and other poor people. These are to be kept apart and separate from others and to form their own community.

Care for the poor who are scattered throughout the city shall be the responsibility of the officials. In addition to the hospital for those visiting the city, which is to be kept up, separate arrangements are to be made for those who need special treatment. To this end a room must be set apart to act as a reception room for those that are sent there by the officials..

Further, both for the poor people in the hospital and for those in the city who have no means, there must be a good physician and surgeon provided at the city’s expense…

As for the plague hospital, it must be kept entirely separate.

Instead of looking at the theory (theology), why not look at the circumstances and sciences that have differentiated a host of life’s affairs so that the church and religion is one among many spheres of life? But Lordship of Christ folks think, like Gregory VII during the Investiture Controversy, that the direct pipeline of Christianity to God trumps most spheres so that Christians have authority in medicine, biology, history, and dog-catching by virtue of — what? — faith.

2kers want answers. Simply repeating inspiring calls to engage the world doesn’t give them.

Localism is Great (beats pretty good) as Long as Charles Taylor is Your Neighbor

Joshua Rothman has a thoughtful piece on Charles Taylor and ends on a surprisingly hopeful note considering the recent election and how fly-over country voted:

[Taylor] is in favor of localism and “subsidiarity”—the principle, cited by Alexis de Tocqueville and originating in Catholicism, that problems should be solved by people who are nearby. Perhaps, instead of questing for political meaning on Facebook and YouTube, we could begin finding it in projects located near to us. By that means, we could get a grip on our political selves, and be less inclined toward nihilism on the national scale. (It would help if there were less gerrymandering and money in politics, too.)

One imagines what this sort of rooted, meaningful democracy might look like. A political life centered on local schools, town governments, voluntary associations, and churches; a house in the woods with the television turned off. Inside, family members aren’t glued to their phones. They talk, over dinner, about politics, history, and faith, about national movements and local ones; they feel, all the time, that they’re doing something. It’s a pastoral vision, miles away from the media-driven election we’ve just concluded. But it’s not a fantasy.

But what about Phil Robertson’s community? Not even the Gospel Allies are willing to countenance those parts of America:

That “cultural curtain” prevents Robertson from seeing the reality of the Jim Crow era, allowing him to look back in wistful fondness. Yet I think there is also a personal element that keeps the former “white trash” farmhand from seeing the segregation of his youth as it truly was.

Robertson makes it clear that he didn’t come to Christ until the late 1970s. During the 1960s he was abusing drugs and alcohol, cheating on his wife, and hiding out in the woods to prevent being arrested by the authorities. His former fellow farmworkers might look on the 1960s as an era when African Americans were gaining access to long-overdue civil rights. But for Robertson, that decade was a time of self-destruction and familial strife. Since then Robertson has turned his life over to God and become, to use his catchphrase, “Happy, happy, happy.” In his mind, godliness is equated with happiness.

That is why I believe that when Robertson looks back on his youth, what he sees is not African Americans suffering under the evil of segregation, but men and women who were godly, and thus obviously had what he has now: a happiness that transcends mortal woes. He seems to think that because they were godly, the exterior signs of happiness (singing, smiling, etc.) can be construed as a sign of their having inner peace, if not peace with the world. It’s a noble, if naïve, idealization of his neighbors.

Does that noble intent excuse his insensitive remarks about the segregated South? Not at all. Robertson is a public figure and when he gives interviews in the media, he must take responsibility for how his words are perceived. While I believe he was attempting to pay tribute to the African-American Christians who preceded him in the faith, he has inadvertently offended many of his African American brothers and sisters.

And so it looks like the Gospel Industrial Complex is a much on the side of President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s one-world order as they are part of an organizational enterprise that disdains denominational attachments (is Tim Keller Presbyterian?). Can anyone imagine an evangelical academic or preaching/teaching celebrity writing what Damon Linker did about universalistic cosmopolitanism and humanitarian liberalism?

any outlook that resists or rejects humanitarianism is an atavistic throwback to less morally pristine times, with the present always superior to the past and the imagined even-more-purely humanitarian future always better still.

Concerned about immigrants disregarding the nation’s borders, defying its laws, and changing its ethnic and linguistic character? Racist!

Worried that the historically Christian and (more recently) secular character of European civilization will be altered for the worse, not to mention that its citizens will be forced to endure increasing numbers of theologically motivated acts of terrorism, if millions of refugees from Muslim regions of the world are permitted to settle in the European Union? Islamophobe!

Fed up with the way EU bureaucracies disregard and override British sovereignty on a range of issues, including migration within the Eurozone? Xenophobe!

As far as humanitarian liberals are concerned, all immigrants should be welcomed (and perhaps given access to government benefits), whether or not they entered the country illegally, no matter what language they speak or ethnicity they belong to, and without regard for their religious or political commitments. All that matters — or should matter — is that they are human. To raise any other consideration is pure bigotry and simply unacceptable.

Earlier forms of liberalism were politically wiser than this — though the wisdom came less from a clearly delineated argument than from observation of human behavior and reading of human history. “Love of one’s own” had been recognized as a potent and permanent motive force in politics all the way back to the beginning of Western civilization, when Homer and Sophocles depicted it and Plato analyzed it. It simply never occurred to liberals prior to the mid-20th century that human beings might one day overcome particularistic forms of solidarity and attachment. They took it entirely for granted that individual rights and civic duties needed to be instantiated in particulars — by this people, in this place, with this distinctive history and these specific norms, habits, and traditions.

But now liberals have undergone a complete reversal, treating something once considered a given as something that must be extricated root and branch.

If people gave up their particular attachments easily, conceding their moral illegitimacy, that might be a sign that the humanitarian ideal is justified — that human history is indeed oriented toward a universalistic goal beyond nations and other forms of local solidarity. But experience tells us something else entirely. The more that forms of political, moral, economic, and legal universalism spread around the globe, the more they inspire a reaction in the name of the opposite ideals. The Western world is living through just such a reaction right now.

That means, of course, that Phil Robertson’s family, neighborhood, and church might harbor expressions that other people find objectionable. But since when did we think that people will always be easy to like and say things that make us feel happy? I guess the answer is — as long as we have been rearing children who go to college and expect to find nothing more challenging to their well being than cookies and milk (aside from the frat parties). Still, I wonder if those kids were accepted at every elite university to which they applied. If they received a rejection letter, did they burn the U.S. flag?

But We Don’t Want to Live in Lena Dunham’s World

We only want to watch it (sometimes).

That’s one thought that came to me when reading this (thanks to another of our southern correspondents):

During the eight years of the Obama administration, white evangelical Christians, who make up one-quarter of the U.S. population, felt that culture moving away from them. They watched gay marriage become the law of the land and Christians come under fire for saying they didn’t want to provide pizzas or cakes or photographs for those weddings. They heard college students demand “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings”; they heard “Black Lives Matter” and didn’t understand when they were demonized for responding “All Lives Matter.” Their president disparaged people like them who “cling to guns or religion,” and then said that religious employers should subsidize their workers’ birth control and anyone should use any bathroom they like.

But if evangelical Christians are like me, they watch a lot of television and should know that the rest of America doesn’t live as evangelical Christians do.

Even so, television is one thing, society is another.

And let’s think about what drove that whitelash. This kind of thing often happens when groups and identities feel under threat. We know this from history. And it mirrors developments in Europe, especially in the face of globalization and an influx of culturally-distinct immigrants.

Evangelicals and other Americans may have sensed that television shows were becoming the reality. When the President approves of rainbow lights on the White House after SCOTUS legalizes gay marriage, and then he sends letters that micromanage states’ bathroom policies, you begin to worry that you have entered Girls — get this — without your consent.