A Common Complaint from W-wers

Carlton Wynne objects to natural law and its influence among Reformed Protestants:

I believe this aspect of the Natural Law theory in view–that people can reason their way to actionable truths apart from God’s special revelation–is too optimistic about the powers of unaided reason after the fall. The general revelation of God in nature and beneath conscience must be “carefully distinguished from the reaction that sinful man makes to this revelation” (Van Til). The apostle Paul says that unbelievers “suppress the truth” that they know (including the truth of their moral obligation to God), that they are, at root, “hostile to God” (Rom 8:7); that they have become “futile in their thinking” (Rom 1:21). They are, Paul says elsewhere, “darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Eph 4:18).

These are hard words, no doubt. But they point to one side of what has been called the “antithesis” between belief and unbelief, a moral and spiritual conflict of basic commitments that touch all that Christians and non-Christians think about and discuss. According to this Scriptural principle, fallen man is slavishly committed to his own moral autonomy, while Christians are to view all things under the Lordship of Christ and the light of His Word. This means that, at the deepest level, there is no mutually acknowledged common ground between Christian and non-Christian. And this, it seems to me, leaves NL proponents calling for peace when there is no peace.

Fine.

If true, do you then only go to Christian physicians?

And if true, why would you ever let non-Christians into positions of political authority? If you assert the antithesis you wind up theonomic.

Will “common grace” really explain why you, a person who believes in the anti-thesis, choose a non-Christian physician or politician over Christian ones?

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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.

Would You Let Your Wife Teach in Public Schools?

As one of our regulars here suggested off-line, Tim Challies should sound so nuanced about movies (or stop slandering actors and actresses):

However, if we were to begin again today, I am quite sure we would not enroll our children in public schools. What concerns me is that our decision would not be based on conviction but fear, fear generated by statements we have heard from others about public schools and, in particular, about public school teachers. Over the years we have encountered hundreds of statements about the dangers of such teachers. We have been assured that public schools are the breeding ground for every kind of social evil, that they are the lair of predatory teachers, that they are full of tenured and unionized employees who care nothing for children. We have heard that public school teachers care only for ideology, that they will allow no leeway for Christian beliefs, that they will do their utmost to undermine the hard training of parents who attempt to raise their children with biblical ideals. In many Christian circles, public school teachers are made out to be the enemies of the faith.

Our experience of public school teachers has been far different and far more positive. And I don’t think we are the exception, not from what I’ve heard when speaking to people in my church, in my city, in my family, and even as I’ve spoken to many of you at conferences or churches or events. Of course some have had bad experiences, but not all. Not nearly all.

So in some spheres, the antithesis doesn’t go all the way down. It does in movies that show skin, supposedly. But imagine if Challies could concede that some films and tv shows that reveal flesh are “far different” from merely being about lust and “far more positive” in their portrayals of characters and social contexts. What if my experience of movies has not been all bad? That despite all the skin-avoiders say about “dirty” movies, these films and shows are about far more than lust, sex, adultery?

In other words, if you can entertain shades of gray with public education — one of the great sins for a certain strand of Calvinism — why not with television and film production? Conflicted minds want to know.

Can't We All Get Along?

Generally speaking, American Christians have a tough time perceiving Muslims as anything but a threat if they are promoting Sharia. But why oh why are not Christians similarly concerned about how threatening they might seem to those non-Christians with whom they share North American civil society? Two examples suggest that Christians have as hard a time fitting into modern secular society as Muslims. First, a Canadian iteration about the limits of public education:

To defenders of the North American status quo, school choice is shorthand for a set of policies that will undermine the effectiveness of a single education system, ensuring that all children are educated along similar core values. For those who advocate against big government and favour free market competition, school choice protects the freedoms of individual families and raises standards and performance. But what if most of us don’t actually make choices this way at the local level? In reality, there are two basic questions that parents ask:

Should we have more than one meaningful option as to where we will send our child to school?

Is every school appropriate for every child?

Parents make decisions regarding the education of their children in many ways. Accessibility to a desired school is among the most significant factors in real estate decisions. And while the range between the quality of schools in more affluent neighbourhoods and those in less affluent ones varies depending on the part of North America in which you live, the notion that common funding formulas automatically translate into equal educational quality is commonly understood to be mythical.

Parents desire different types of schools for all sorts of reasons. Whether they’re placing priority on the language, pedagogy, religious perspective, or any one of an additional dozen factors, decisions regarding schooling priorities can be as diverse as the population itself. The functional social question that emerges is two-fold: Which of these choices should be supported by the community? Should the same rules and the same funding apply to all of the choices?

I personally (all about moi) have great sympathy for this argument but at the same time we should remember that public schools were created to provide a common curriculum and basic level of education for citizenship in a republican or constitutional monarchy. If Christians opt out of public schools — and there are many good reasons — they are also opting out of a common project and claiming implicitly that their faith sets them apart from Canadian or American identity. This is more antithesis than common grace providence.

So where will Christian exclusivism end? Does it extend to vaccines? Maybe so:

Can parents have their children vaccinated with the MMR vaccine without compromising their pro-life principles—without cooperating with the Culture of Death? The National Catholic Register addressed that question this week, and although I cannot find any clear error of fact in the article, I think it creates a very inaccurate impression.

Relying heavily on analysis by the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC), the Register explains that parents who choose to have their children vaccinated are engaged only in “remote material cooperation” with abortion. Given the potential risks of disease, the article reports, the Vatican has stated that parents can be justified in chosing vaccination.

That’s all perfectly true. But reading the Register article, one might conclude that the Vatican has said parents should vaccinate. That’s not accurate. The Pontifical Academy for Life, in a statement released in 2005, said that parents could be justified in choosing vaccination. The statement did not say that this choice was preferable, let alone mandatory.

What the Vatican did say, with undeniable clarity, was that parents have a moral obligation to insist on vaccines that are not prepared by immoral means: vaccines not derived from fetal remains. The Pontifical Academy for Life wrote that “there remains a moral duty to continue to fight and to employ every lawful means in order to make life difficult for the pharmaceutical industries which act unscrupulously and unethically.”

Of course, the reasons against vaccination here are more complicated than parents simply questioning the w-w of the medical establishment. But it does again raise questions about the willingness of Christians to participate in a common life that runs according to shared standards of education, medicine, and science. I get it. No neutrality in every square inch. But how about commonality (at least in a Commonwealth)?

So could the author of the Letter to Diognetus say this about today’s Protestants and Roman Catholics in North America?

Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.

If he couldn’t, should that make Christians more sympathetic to Muslims who also want to maintain their religious ways?

If We Can Yawn about Blasphemous Cartoons . . .

what about public schools?

Paris has some Kuyperians thinking:

The tradition in which I am currently immersed–the Kuyperian tradition–tends to use the term secular like a curse word. The argument usually begins and ends by showing that there is no such thing – there is no neutrality or objectivity. Everything has a direction, a telos, and some form of religious grounding. It might be the worship of the true God, or it might be the worship of some idol–the point is every part of creation is caught up in a religious direction or grounding. I get it. This, however, is much more an argument against “secularism” and not secularity. Secularity, I believe, is the freeing of the world to be the world. That trees in fact are just as mysterious being trees as they are being the conduit of spirits or even God’s grace to us. Maybe God is happy letting trees be trees? In fact, as Charles Taylor argues in his work The Secular Age, secularity of this type can be traced back to the reform movement of the 16th century. That’s us… those who stand in the line of Luther and Calvin.

So what does this have to do with what happened in France? Maybe reclaiming a healthy sense of secularity can be a tiny step toward preventing people from killing others over cartoons that, to be honest, are disgusting and offensive. (A colleague showed me a cartoon of the Trinity drawn by Charlie Hebdow… yikes!) But what if we all–Jews, Muslims, Christians, etc–recognized that these cartoons have no power, they do not strike at the heart of what we believe, and they are not all that funny. What if we learned to respond to issues like this with a collective “yawn” because the only power these images have is the power we give them? Yes we need to be politically and culturally engaged, Christians should be part of the debate about important issues. But at the end of the day, Charlie Hebdow, Obamacare, or the Green Bay Packers, should not be a reason to hate our brothers and sisters made in the image of God.

And yet, if everything comes down to antithesis, then isn’t enmity everywhere?

Will the Real Kuyper Stand Up?

From Crawford Gribben’s recent review of George Marsden’s book on 1950s America (and more):

His conclusion draws from the philosophy and political strategies of Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920), the renowned theologian, newspaper editor, and founder of the Free University in Amsterdam, who also found time to become the Prime Minister of the Netherlands (1901–05).

Kuyper’s theory of “sphere sovereignty” incorporated central tenets of the Calvinism he had inherited, but radically reconstructed its traditional political obligations. The Reformed tradition within which Kuyper operated had long assumed that the role of government was to uphold the moral claims of Scripture, and to effect a confessional culture in which societal norms paralleled those of believers. Kuyper’s great contribution to the Reformed tradition was to overturn this consensus, sometimes at substantial risk to himself, arguing for a more limited view of the responsibilities of government, and emphasizing that it ought not to intrude into the “spheres” of family, church, and voluntary associations. Kuyper argued that believers and unbelievers were divided by an “antithesis” that was simultaneously spiritual and existential, and so advocated the establishment of denominational schools and universities within which believers of different kinds could be separately educated.

This intrusion of sharp religious distinctions into the public square was balanced by Kuyper’s advocacy of “common grace”—the notion that all of humanity, as God’s image-bearers, were recipients of divine kindness—which permitted the construction of a public culture that could be non-confessional and non-denominational. Believers, in other words, could organize in robustly confessional institutions within a broader political environment that respected religious difference while enshrining the non-confessional principles of “natural law.” Kuyper’s utopia looked a lot like constitutional Americanisms, however far it would be from the sometimes theocratic assumptions of modern evangelicals.

This is a Kuyper behind whom I can line up. Church is a distinct sphere with limited responsibilities. Kuyperians use natural law instead of insisting on revealed truth in public life. Christian truth serves not as a basis for driving out the secularists and leftists but offers a strategy for embracing pluralism.

So why is it that the influence of neo-Calvinism flourished precisely during the most contested battles of the culture wars? One account would have to rely on Francis Schaeffer and his use of w-w to show why Christians could never bend the knee to a neutral public space. Along with that has to go a stress upon the neo-Calvinist notion of antithesis which does a handy job of dividing believers from unbelievers — why it doesn’t divide Calvinists from Arminians, or Protestants from Roman Catholics, or Christians from Jews is another matter.

Does W-w Lack Nuance?

While paranoid observers are still trying to sort out whether “bless you” is permitted in certain classes at the College of Coastal Georgia, evangelicals are upset about Vanderbilt’s decision to prohibit campus organizations from establishing their own standards for student leadership. Matthew Lee Anderson has come to the following realization in the light of increasing hostility to evangelical Protestantism at U.S. colleges and universities:

Many of the most hopeful and best parts of evangelicalism the past fifteen years have been encompassed by an incipient desire for respectability. The resurgent apologetics-evangelicals have sought to demonstrate the faith’s intellectual credibility, while the artistic evangelicals have made it quite clear you can still love Jesus and watch House of Cards, thank you very much. The politically-reformist evangelicals have put a hole in the “not like those Republicans” drum, while the social justice evangelicals have made everyone forget about the Four Spiritual Laws. And some of us—ahem—have pounded on about how we can read the old stuff, too, which can be its own form of “not like them folks there” attitude. . . . the vast majority of us will, I suspect, continue to fight and plead for a kind of respectability out of the earnest, good-hearted desire to see our neighbors convinced of our ideas—or if not of our ideas, at the very least of our sanity. Arguments for ‘civility’ and ‘tolerance’ and ‘pluralism’ and ‘respect’ are coming fast and furious these days, after all, even though they are fifteen years (at least) too late.

Anderson is echoing a piece at Christianity Today in which Tish Harrison Warren commented on Vanderbilt’s decision:

I began to realize that inside the church, the territory between Augustine of Hippo and Jerry Falwell seems vast, and miles lie between Ron Sider and Pat Robertson. But in the eyes of the university (and much of the press), subscribers to broad Christian orthodoxy occupy the same square foot of cultural space. The line between good and evil was drawn by two issues: creedal belief and sexual expression. If religious groups required set truths or limited sexual autonomy, they were bad—not just wrong but evil, narrow-minded, and too dangerous to be tolerated on campus. It didn’t matter to them if we were politically or racially diverse, if we cared about the environment or built Habitat homes. It didn’t matter if our students were top in their fields and some of the kindest, most thoughtful, most compassionate leaders on campus. There was a line in the sand, and we fell on the wrong side of it.

I empathize with Anderson and Warren, and I can’t deny that a form of anti-Christianism exists in many sectors of the academy that resembles the sorts of prejudices that Protestants used to harbor against Roman Catholics (leaving room, of course, for good sorts of prejudices). But I do wonder why folks like Anderson or Warren are surprised by this outcome. After all, my theory is that gay marriage is simply the push back that evangelicals may be justly receiving for touting family values the way they have for the last three decades. “You want family values? Well, let’s add homosexuality to family values. How do you like them now?”

And now, Vanderbilt’s decision may be simply the consequence of promoting w-w for as long as Tim Lahaye’s wife has been writing about sex. What I mean is that evangelicals, following their neo-Calvinist superiors, have adopted the mantra that faith goes all the way down and separates believers from non-believers. This means that we cannot treat religion as a private matter since it must affect everything a religionist does. It means that the divide between the secular and sacred, between the public square and the church assembly is artificial and arbitrary. It means as well that a Christian scholar will study the arts or sciences differently from the secular scholar, and that the Christian college will be different because faith-soaked institutions will bring religion to bear on every nook and cranny of the curriculum.

In other words, for all the effort to employ “common grace,” the w-w craze has turned Christians into a group set apart on the other side of the antithesis. Even common grace winds up being divisive because it condescendingly grants to non-believers some truth but always reminds them that they really have no good reasons for accessing it. Instead of emphasizing in common spheres like the public square (however naked she may be) or the university what believers share with non-believers, w-w has fed the politics of identity and removed believers into a distinct tribe.

For that reason, can we really blame officials at Vanderbilt for not being able to tell the difference between Joel Osteen and Tim Keller? The way the religious right, with the help of their neo-Calvinist enablers, has carved up intellectual and political life, Vanderbilt is simply following what w-w Christians prescribed. It is further evidence of the old Gypsy curse’s power — “may you get what you want.”

The Lens of Scripture

I continue to be befuddled by the neo-Calvinist claim that Scripture speaks to all of life (of course, in general terms, never in specifics). A discussion has ensued over at Matt Tuininga’s blog that is better than a previous one at Dr. K’s shop. Still, in both cases, some claim that it is natural and ordinary for Calvinists to claim that we view all of life and everything in the world through the lens of Scripture.

So to test this I turned to the Kuyper Reader that James Bratt edited around the time of the centennial celebration of the Stone Lectures. In an essay against uniformity (political, cultural, and religious), which I like very much and that resonates with a localist strain of American conservatism, Kuyper writes this:

. . . do I need to argue the point that all such striving for a false uniformity, the leveling principle of modern life, the demand for one people and one language, run counter to the ordinances of God? You well know the divine word, full of holy energy, that Scripture opposes to that striving: “Else nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them” [Gen. 11:6b]. That all life should multiply “after its kind,” after its own, unique, given character is the royal law of creation which applies to more than seed-bearing herbs. That everyone who has been born from above will someday receive from the Lord a white tablet on which will be written a new name that no one knows except the one who receive it [Rev. 2:17]: what else is this but a most forceful protest against all the conformity into which the world tends to pressure us? (“Uniformity: The Curse of Modern Life,” 34)

So there we have the Bible as the lens through which Kuyper regards the problem of cultural uniformity. Though it needs to be said that Kuyper’s writing is not rife with biblical citations, nor are his invocations of Scripture, like this one, the most compelling exegetically. So I am not sure that Kuyper exemplifies what Kuyperians claim — that Christians need to look at the world through the lens of Scripture. Self-consciousness, epistemologicial or psychological, might call for a Christian to be careful about attributing his opinions to the revealed words of God.

But then Kuyper goes on in a different part of this essay/speech to state some notions that surely most modern day neo-Calvinists (especially those without Dutch surnames) living in North American would not support (even though I again laud Kuyper’s Dutch chauvinism as a way of resisting globalism and universalism):

Hold the Dutch national character in honor. Drive out our national sins but still love our national ways. Be true to your nature as Hollanders, ladies and gentlemen! Remove from your midst the spineless tendency to bestow extravagant accolades on everything that comes from abroad, and in your appraisals give preference to the things that are made at home. Uphold Holland’s fame in learning foreign languages but let there be no language you would rather speak, and especially write, than that splendid, rich mother tongue in which alone Dutch people can express what a Dutch heart feels. Do no just feed your mind with what has been thought and sung abroad but drink of the vital stream of Holland’s life also from your own poets. Daughters of the Netherlands, do not make yourselves ridiculous by being old-fashioned but also have the good taste and modesty never to present yourselves in a foreign outfit conceived in the capital of France by Dutchmen who no longer understand the honor and dignity of being a Dutchman . . . .

May the illustrious history of your ancestors be more to you than a monument to the past; let it be for you the current of national life that you feel pulsating in your own veins. Yes, just let us be who we are: Hollanders! — in every circle and sector of life. Though our flag no longer dominates the seven seas, still we shall regain the rightful influence by which the legacy entrusted to our people may be made a blessing for all humanity. Let the Dutch people, standing on the blood-soaked soil of our fathers, rise again from its grave. . . .

Would that God gave us such a national will — but then a will anchored in his will. While every nation is subject to the deep truth that it strikes itself from the roster of nations by devaluing its piety, this applies all the more to the national existence of the Netherlands which owes its origin to a religious movement. . . . Without religion there can be no patriotism; where religion is most intense, there the love of country and people is most robust: so history teaches us on every page. (42-43)

Kuyper’s appeal to Dutch hearts, Dutch minds, and even Dutch fashions seems curious from a fellow known for putting the anti in antithesis. If Hollanders have a Dutch heart or mind simply by virtue of growing up on the “blood-soaked soil” of the Netherlands (sorry Dutch-North Americans of the 1.5 generation and beyond), then what happens to the idea that Christian Hollanders by virtue of regeneration share more in common with Protestant Canadians who hail from France? Where are Brazilian Calvinists supposed to go for dress fashions?

But aside from this hiccup in Kuyper’s mental digestion, where exactly is the method of viewing the world through the lens of Scripture? Sure, Kuyper was fallible and made mistakes (as we all do). But would not a biblical perspective on patriotism call for important qualifications to such nationalism? To be clear, what is wrong with this excerpt in (all about me) my estimate is not Kuyper’s reveling in Dutch culture and history — even exceptionalism. A person’s attachment to his people, country, and land is basic to being human — that is, part of the created order. It is not essential, however, to being redeemed. What is wrong, then, is thinking that such an argument is the product of a Christian w-w, in other words, the result of some form of epistemological self-consciousness. I could imagine any number of Dutch patriots, not members of a Reformed church, seconding Kuyper’s call for loyalty to Dutch traditions. I cannot imagine that Kuyper’s logic would appeal to someone who regarded the speaker not as a fellow-Dutchman but as a fellow believer.

What A Turkey! Part 4: When Christianity Imitates Islam

For this trip I brought along reading that might give me some acquaintance with Turkey and its culture and history. This meant including a novel by the Nobel Prize author, Orhan Pamuk, who has set most of his stories in Turkey or the Ottoman Empire. I also brought along a book about Turkey’s political predecessor, the Ottoman Empire, just to get an overview of that regime. And because I wanted to consider the character of contemporary Islam, and because I have wanted to read the book for some time, I included in my bags Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran. I trust any readers of Turkish descent will not take offense that somehow I have equated Turkey with Iran. I brought along Nafisi precisely to see the difference between Turkey, a secular state that is demographically Muslim, and Iran, a republic ruled by Muslims. (In this sense, the U.S. is closer to Turkey than to Iran — a secular state that is demographically Christian.)

While reading these books I can’t help but notice parallels between political Islam and those Reformed Protestants who most emphasize the antithesis – to the point where it goes all the way down to every square inch. Pamuk’s novel, Snow, is all about the tension and sometimes conflict between radical Muslims who hate the West (i.e. Europe) for its its secularity and therefore its rejection of God. The following is an exchange from the novel between a Turkish official and a proponent of political Islam:

. . . because I happen to be a free man who can do as he pleases, I sometimes end up getting on a bus and traveling to the other end of Turkey to track down the perpetrator, wherever he is, and have it out with him face-to-face. So please, sir, answer my question. What’s more important, a decree from Ankara or a decree from God?

– This discussion is going nowhere, son. What hotel are you staying at?

– What, are you thinking of turning me int to the police? Don’t be afraid of me, sir. I don’t belong to any religious organizations. I despise terrorism. I believe in the love of God and the free exchange of ideas. That’s why I never end a free exchange of ideas by hitting anyone, even though I have a quick temper. Al I want is for you to answer this question. So please excuse me, sir, but when you think about the cruel way you treated those poor girls in front of your institute – when you remember that these girls were only obeying the word of God as set out so clearly in the Confederate Tribe and Heavenly Light chapters of the Holy Koran – doesn’t your conscience trouble you at all?

– My son, the Koran also says that thieves should have their hands chopped off, but the state doesn’t do that. Why aren’t you opposing this?

– That’s an excellent answer, sir. Allow me to kiss your hand. But how can you equate the hand of a thief with the honor of our women? According to statistics released by the American Black Muslim professor, Marvin King, the incidence of rape in Islamic countries where women cover themselves is so low as to be nonexistent and harassment is virtually unheard of. This is because a woman who has covered herself is making a statement. Through her choice of clothing, she is saying, Don’t harass me. So please, sir, do you really want to push our covered women to the margins of society by denying them the right to an education? If we continue to worship women who take off their head scarves (and just about everything else too), don’t we run the risk of degrading them as we have seen so many women in Europe degraded in the wake of the sexual revolution? And if we succeed in degrading our women, aren’t we also running the risk of – pardon my language – turning ourselves into pimps?

Of course, radical American Calvinists who detest what the West does to male and female relations and roles, don’t advocate that women wear scarves. But they do insist on female subordination to men, and some also speak favorably of Old Testament penalties being carried over to places like sixteenth-century Geneva. Why I have had exchanges in the blogosphere that resemble this one. A theonomist brings up the death penalty for adultery. I respond by mentioning that the state does not outlaw blasphemy and idolatry, a situation that works well for theonomist’s Roman Catholic or Mormon neighbors. But rather than trying to kiss my hand, this theonomist interprets my response as a form of infidelity, as if I don’t love the Lord.

Thankfully, political Christianity in the United States has imbibed enough of the West and its differentiation between religion and politics not to try to enforce their religious convictions with physical violence or political treason. The worst they do is defame other Christians and excoriate certain public officials — always in the name of God and his law.

As welcome as the pacifism of political Christianity in the United States is, I do wonder if the Calvinists who hate secularism and its cultural consequences ever ponder their resemblances to political Islam. (Not to wind up the neo-Calvinists too much, but have they ever considered how intoleranttheir views of the French Revolution and political liberalism are.) Of course, Islam is not wrong simply because of its political embodiments like those in Iran. It could be that Christians should imitate regimes like Iran with imprisonment and execution of political dissidents and intolerance of deviations from orthodox practices. But since Jesus and his apostles left no traces of the political profile exhibited either by Joshua, David, or Mohammad, it could be that Christians pining for a regime that enforces their faith and practice is actually an alien notion among Christ’s followers. To prove the point, just imagine the Baptist Republic of South Carolina where Presbyterians are forced to dunk their adolescent children and Episcopalian men are required to wear white patent leather shoes.

Rabbi Bret Borrowing Capital from Those 2k Swiss Bank Accounts

On the one hand, I am touched that the good Rabbi would devote ten-plus paragraphs to refuting the a minor question I raised about epistemological self-consciousness. On the other hand, I am hurt that Bret shows more charity to Ron Paul than to me. Despite the crusty and vinegary exterior, I am really a pussy cat in person, without claws — the effects perhaps of living with cats for more than two decades — and not to be missed I can cry with the best of them, being the son of a private first-class Marine who was a weeper. I try to console myself that Bret is only opposed to 2k as a set of ideas; he does not dislike (all about) me.

Still, the tolerance that anti-2kers show to non-Reformed Protestants (e.g. Ron Paul) and even to non-Christian ideas (more below) is puzzling and suggests a level of personal antagonism that is unbecoming. In the case of Ron Paul, Bret tries to justify his intention to vote for the libertarian Republican as consistent with Christian faith because this proposed vote has received flak from a theonomist whom he apparently follows on Facebook. Bret explains:

I intend to vote for Rep. Ron Paul if I can I do acknowledge that there are issues he supports that I do not think are Christian. Paul’s recent vote supporting homosexuals in the military is not the vote a Christian man would have made. Also, Ron Paul’s fuzzy stand on illegal immigration is a head scratcher. I also would that Rep. Paul would clearly articulate that the Constitution as it currently stands outlaws Abortion, and because of that States should overturn laws on their books that are contrary to that Constitutional requirement. I also do not believe that Dr. Paul’s Libertarian instincts will work in a country that has been balkanized by both it’s legal immigration policy pursuit since 1965 and it’s benign neglect of illegal immigration. . . .

Our greatest need of the hour in order to restore biblical statecraft is for someone to slay the Leviathan State. This is the platform on which Dr. Paul is campaigning. Biblical statecraft will not be restored until the Leviathan state is slain. First things first. To suggest that any Christian who intends to vote for Ron Paul is abandoning biblical principles for voting and statecraft is like a Jew complaining that the person who stopped the rape of his wife was not circumcised. It is true that there are faults with Dr. Paul, but currently he is the gentleman who promises to help us with our most current and pressing problem. Mr. Ritchie just isn’t thinking correctly.

First things first? Does not the first table of the law come before the second table? Does not doing what is right in God’s eyes take precedence over what may be beneficial to the survival of the United States? In which case, could it be that Bret is letting his own political convictions dictate what comes first? As I’ve said a guhzillion times, Covenanters would not construe first things this way. They refused to vote, run for office, or serve in the military because the first thing — Christ’s Lordship — was not part of the U.S. Constitution. I disagree that the Constitution must include such an affirmation. But I greatly admire the Covenanters’ consistency and wish Rabbi Bret would be as hard nosed in the political realm as he is with (all about) me in the theological arena.

What seems to be operative here is that Rabbi Bret borrows selectively from 2k by using non-biblical standards for evaluating the United States’ political order. He says we must follow wisdom in the current election cycle. Well, what happened to the Bible as the standard for all of life? And just how do you get a license to practice such wisdom (when 2kers are the ones who issue them)?

Additional evidence of the Rabbi’s appeal to wisdom and implicit use of 2k comes in a good post he wrote about the differences between “classical” conservatism and neo-conservatism. I’ll paste here only one of the piece’s five points (though the entire post is worthwhile for those who don’t know the differences among conservatism):

Neo-conservatives believe that America is responsible to expand American values and ideology at the point of a bayonet. This was the governing ideology of progressive Democrats like Woodrow Wilson who desired to make the world safe for Democracy. However, before the Wilsonian motto of making the world safe for Democracy (a motto largely taken up by the Bush II administration) Wilson understood the American instinct for a humble foreign policy by campaigning in 1916 with the slogan, “He kept us out of war.” Before American entry into W.W. II the classically conservative approach to involvement in international affairs was one of modesty, as seen in the previous mentioned Wilson approach to campaigning in 1916. Classical conservatism, as opposed to neo-conservatism embraced the dictum of John Quincy Adams who once noted that, “America is a well-wisher of liberty everywhere, but defender only of her own.”

However, today’s conservatism is internationally militantly adventurous. What is sold by those who have co-opted the title of “conservative,” is the exporting of American values but the dirty little secret is that the American values that are being exported in the name of Democracy is just a warmed over socialism combined with some form of Corporate consumerism.

Good point, but where exactly is the justification for this from Scripture or the Lordship of Christ or the antithesis? I’m betting that loads of Christian Reformed Church ministers and laity who invoke the antithesis every bit as much as the Rabbi does, would never countenance Bret’s understanding of U.S. foreign policy. In which case, either the Bible speaks with forked tongue about a nation’s military involvement or all neo-Calvinists are dictating to special revelation what their “wise” observations of the created order and contemporary circumstances require. Why then are 2kers guilty of doing something illegitimate if Rabbi Bret or liberals in the CRC do the very same thing?

Which leads me back to the deep emotional wound mentioned at the outset. In his response to my post on epistemological self-consciousness, Bret says that it all comes down to this:

I mean that is what this boils down to isn’t it? Van Til repeatedly emphasized the necessity of epistemological self-consciousness while Darryl is suggesting that each man must do what is right in his own unique epistemological self consciousness. One epistemologically self-conscious Christian likes Kant, another epistemologically self conscious Christian likes Hegel. Vive la différence!

This is an odd summary of the entire difference since at the beginning of the post Bret says that the notion of the Lordship of Christ was hardly a Dutch Reformed idea, and then he goes on to say that it all comes down to a point made (as he understands it) about the Lordship of Christ by a Dutch-American. But aside from the intellectual hiccup, does Bret really not see that his own support for Ron Paul throws the antithesis to the wind. Paul doesn’t have to be a Reformed Christian affirming the Lordship of Christ to gain Bret’s support. Bret’s analysis of conservatism doesn’t need to follow the dictates of the antithesis in order for it to be wise. And yet, if I or other 2kers don’t follow the antithesis when recognizing a common realm of activity for believers and unbelievers, or when finding truths by which to negotiate this common terrain other than from Scripture (only because the Bible is silent, for instance, on basements or how to remove water from them), we are relativists and antinomians. (We don’t even get a little credit for putting the anti in antinomian.)

Until the critics of 2k can possibly create a world in which the antithesis applies all the time, they will be indebted to 2k for borrowed capital. The reason is that it is impossible to live in a mixed society if the sort of antithesis that will ultimately result in the separation of the sheep from the wolves is going to be the norm. The antithesis requires not only withholding support from Ron Paul, but also opposition to a political order that would allow him on the ballot (not to mention that difficult matter of what to do with Mitt Romney’s Mormons or Rick Santorum’s Roman Catholics). Bret believes that the “Escondido” theology will one day pass away like the Mercersburg Theology did. I too believe it will, whenever God chooses to separate believers from unbelievers. But until then, as long as we live with unbelievers, guys like Bret will need and use 2k theology. I only wish he’d show a little gratitude and start to pay off the debt. He is well behind in payments and snarky about it.