How W-w Liberates

Dan Hitchens objects to an understanding of religion that sees faith as fundamentally opposed to freedom. Here is one version of it:

loads of us long to know our place and stay in it with strict rules and regulations so that we don’t have to be bothered with choice and can just do as the Rees-Moggs and religions tell us: get up, wash, eat, pray, wear and do this and that, before/after doing whatever, don’t eat/drive, carry money, work or speak on this or that day. Do not marry or mingle with a person from this or that class, caste, country, belief. We can have our days, weeks and whole lives planned out and pretend there is some sort of order and justice in the world. It’s so much easier than investigating, making your own mind up, or arguing day in, day out.

Hitchens adds:

This picture of religion—a round-the-clock holiday camp schedule in which scarcely a detail goes undictated or unsupervised—would be unrecognizable to many believers. But it is the picture which occupies the secular mind. Even Damon Linker, formerly a practicing Catholic, describes the 1992 Catechism as “filled with elaborate, absolute rules laying out in minute detail how God wants us to live,” as though it were a kind of technical manual—an impression which could be dispelled by opening the book at random.

Here’s the great thing about w-w: no matter what you do, rules or not, will be faith-based with the correct outlook. All of life becomes religious. Life is round-the-clock religious. No need for a manual. Just take every thought captive.

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This is Your Society on Antithesis

Damon Linker explains:

Slightly (but just slightly) below the level of national politics, reverberations from news of Harvey Weinstein’s allegedly atrocious behavior with women over a span of several decades continued to radiate outward from the movie producer. Instead of a united front of disgust at the details revealed by the story that brought him down, reaction (of course!) split along partisan lines, with leading liberal and conservative writers denouncing one another for hypocrisy and double-standards (the easiest and laziest forms of moral denunciation). So the right accused the left of going easier on Weinstein than they had on conservatives Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly after similar behavior was alleged against them, and the left accused the right of precisely the opposite sin.

Every single event in our public life is now instantly swept up into the centrifugal whirlwind of a political culture in which the center has completely failed to hold. Democrats are increasingly defined by their hatred of Republicans, just as Republicans manage to agree about little besides their loathing of Democrats.

Isn’t this precisely what happens when culture is an outworking of ground motives, and when policy is part of the plan of salvation? Living in God’s two kingdoms sure looks more attractive. But it is not nearly as fulfilling or energizing.

Tribalism Comes Naturally

Damon Linker explains why Marx and Plato were wrong:

Politics in all times and places involves a bounded community defining itself, and its citizens ruling themselves, in contradistinction to other bounded communities. The community can be a village, tribe, or city-state; a nation-state; or an empire. Certain forms of government are better suited to certain sizes than others. (A small community can work as a pure democracy, for example, but a vast empire never could.) But regardless of the community’s size, it always has limits (a border), and it always draws a distinction between those who are permitted to join the community and those who are not; between who is and who is not a citizen; and between who does and who does not get to enjoy the privileges that come with citizenship, including a say in making such determinations in the future. This may in fact be the most elemental political act of all, the basis of everything else the political community does. To declare that this act is prima facie illegitimate is to declare a foundational political act to be illegitimate. It is to treat politics itself as in some sense morally compromised. . . .

But then again, neither is it possible to justify in universal-rational terms the right to private property or, really, any form of inherited (unearned) wealth or privilege. The more you think about it, politics (very much including liberal politics) is an activity shot through with norms, practices, and beliefs that can be rather easily exposed as “fictions” once subjected to universal-rational scrutiny.

That’s why philosophers as otherwise so profoundly different as Plato and Karl Marx have concluded that the rule of reason and justice demands communism (the abolition of private property). Indeed, Plato went even further than Marx, to suggest that in a perfectly rational and just political system, property communism would need to be combined with communism of families, with children taken from their parents at birth and raised by the community as a whole. After all, isn’t deference to a mother’s love for her own child based on the fiction that she is always automatically best suited by nature to raise him or her?

The most that might be said for our neoliberal almost-open-border advocates is that they think Plato should have gone even farther in subjecting politics to universal-rational scrutiny and advocated a completely communist state that is also boundless in extent, encompassing all people everywhere, without distinction.

In other words, Plato should have advocated the universal, homogenous state — which is precisely what many on the center-left seem to not-so-secretly believe morality demands.

That such a state is neither possible nor desirable (recall what I said about the largest political communities and their incompatibility with democracy) should be obvious. But then what do our universalist liberals hope to accomplish, not by raising perfectly reasonable objections to specific immigration restrictions, but by denying the legitimacy of having any immigration restrictions at all? There are many, many intellectually coherent answers to the two key questions of immigration policy (Who can come here? And how many of them?) — but many on the left seem to think there is only one legitimate answer to each question (Everyone. And all of them). This is ludicrous.

Linker could have added evangelicals and Roman Catholics who think that the parable of the Good Samaritan should inform how American Christians respond to outsiders:

So, as governments oversee matters of security, we will care for the hurting, calling Christians to embrace refugees through their denomination, congregation, or other nonprofits by providing for immediate and long-term needs, such as housing, food, clothing, employment, English-language classes, and schooling for children.

We distinguish that the refugees fleeing this violence are not our enemies; they are victims. We call for Christians to support ministries showing the love of Jesus to the most vulnerable, those in desperate need, and the hurting. This is what Jesus did; he came to the hurting and brought peace to those in despair.

Critical moments like these are opportunities for us to be like Jesus, showing and sharing his love to the hurting and the vulnerable in the midst of this global crisis. Thus we declare that we care, we are responding because our allegiance is to Jesus, and we seek to be more like him, emulating his compassionate care for the most vulnerable.

Granted, aid to refugees is not immigration policy. Nor is Emma Lazarus‘ poem.

But borders matter and Christians who want to assist those who have fled their homelands do so not as residents of planet earth but as citizens whose nations make laws that govern who comes and goes. Just try traveling somewhere outside the U.S. to minister the gospel or provide diaconal assistance without a passport.

Dueling Bubbles

Jim Wallis goes out on a limb by dumping on white evangelicals:

The issue here is not Christians voting differently from each other. That is normal and likely healthy given the independence that people of faith should show over partisan loyalties. This is about the moral hypocrisy of white American evangelical religious right leaders like Jerry Falwell Jr. causing a crisis in the church, dividing American Christians on racial lines, and astonishing the worldwide body of Christ — the international majority of evangelical Christians who are people of color — and whose leaders keep asking many of us what in the world is going on with white American evangelicals.

That number, 81 percent, has become an international symbol that tragically now represents what white American evangelicalism stands for. It dramatically and painfully symbolizes the white ethno-nationalism that Donald Trump appeals to and continues to draw support from among white American evangelicals. It is the most revealing and hurtful metric of what I will call the racial idolatry of white American evangelical Christianity, which clearly excludes American evangelicals of color and the global majority of evangelicals. The 81 percent number ultimately signifies a betrayal of the body of Christ — which is the most racially inclusive and diverse community in the world today.

But what are white evangelicals to do when the other side, the one that thought it was on the right side of history, looks at born-again Protestants the way that Jim Wallis does? Damon Linker explains how evangelicals, to be accepted, are supposed to agree with progressives, or else receive not policy papers but denigrating insults:

As I’ve argued on previous occasions, declaring opponents unacceptable, illegitimate, and out of bounds is a perennial temptation. That’s because politics always takes place on two distinct 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 those rules, the boundaries of what is publicly acceptable — and precisely where those boundaries will be positioned.

Far more than conservatives, liberals love to rule certain positions out of bounds in this second-order sense. They do this by appealing to the courts — the branch of government that reviews, alters, and overturns the rules of the political game. They also do it in the important institutions they control within civil society — such as mainstream media outlets, universities, corporations, movie studios, and other arms of the entertainment industry. When these institutions informally decide 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, they render it beyond the pale. As I wrote in a previous column on the subject, “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.”

So to keep this straight, evangelicals are hypocrites for caving on moral convictions. But liberals (and the evangelicals like Wallis who loves them) are hypocrites for caving on reasonableness. At least evangelicals are still relatively green in politics. What’s the left’s excuse?

Those Also Were the Days

Damon Linker remembers those crazies times under President Obama:

As Delmore Schwartz once joked, sometimes paranoids have real enemies, and the paranoid-in-chief occupying the Oval Office has some very real and very powerful enemies.

Anyone who denies this needs to go back and reread the most important (and unfairly maligned) magazine feature written last year: David Samuels’ 9,500-word New York Times Magazine profile of Obama administration senior staffer Ben Rhodes. Journalists hated the piece, but for reasons so self-serving that it’s hard to believe anyone took the objections seriously. (My colleague Noah Millman noted as much shortly after the essay appeared.)

Samuels portrays (and quotes) Rhodes as someone who views both reporters (“they literally know nothing”) and Washington’s foreign policy establishment (Rhodes calls it “The Blob”) with utter contempt. It’s that contempt that Rhodes uses to justify the propaganda shop he ran out of the Obama White House, subtly but significantly manipulating the story that the mainstream media told about the Iran nuclear deal by selectively and repeatedly leaking tiny bits of information to dozens of journalists who wove those bits of micro-spin into countless tweets and stories over the course of many months. The end result was a pro-Iran deal conventional wisdom — a pointillistic picture of reality composed entirely of colorful dots painted by Rhodes and his staff with the knowledge and support of the president.

While trying to get the Iran deal approved, Rhodes was in the position of needing to use journalists to defeat The Blob, which viewed with extreme skepticism (if not outright hostility) the Obama administration’s efforts to reach a nuclear accord with Tehran. But once Donald Trump won the presidency, old opponents found themselves firmly on the same side. Rhodes and his former boss, the bipartisan foreign policy establishment, and the nameless and faceless bureaucrats who staff the executive branch agencies and departments that make up the “intelligence community.” All of them were now united in standing against a president who had vowed to break far more radically from the established Washington consensus than Obama ever dreamed of doing.

What makes America great? Remembering sometime.

What’s the Difference between a Pro-Refugee Evangelical (Tim Keller) and a Democrat (Dianne Feinstein)?

Short answer: neither quotes the Bible.

Notice for instance the parallels among the National Association of Evangelicals, Ed Stetzer, Evangelical leaders (among them Tim Keller), and the Democrats.

The NAE:

“Christians and churches have been welcoming refugees for 2,000 years, and evangelicals are committed to continue this biblical mission. Thousands of U.S. evangelicals and their churches have welcomed hundreds of thousands of refugees over the past 40 years through World Relief and other federally approved resettlement agencies. We don’t want to stop now,” NAE President Leith Anderson said.

The Trump administration’s plans to make severe cuts to the admission of refugees are alarming. We call on President Trump to declare his support for the continuation of the U.S. refugee resettlement program, which is critical at a time when the world faces a significant refugee crisis.

Ed Stetzer:

Scott Arbeiter, president of World Relief, says it this way: “The decision to restrict all entry of refugees and other immigrants … contradicts the American tradition of welcoming families who come to the United States to start their lives again in safety and dignity. The American people — most of whom can trace their own families’ stories through a similar immigrant journey in search of freedom — are a hospitable people.”

He’s right. But, it’s not just because we are Americans. It’s because we are Christians.

God’s people should be the first ones to open their arms to refugees. We should welcome them and do what Christians, in your church and mine, have been doing a long time — showing and sharing the love of Jesus with them.

Tim Keller et al:

As Christians, we have a historic call expressed over two thousand years, to serve the suffering. We cannot abandon this call now. We live in a dangerous world and affirm the crucial role of government in protecting us from harm and in setting the terms on refugee admissions. However, compassion and security can coexist, as they have for decades. For the persecuted and suffering, every day matters; every delay is a crushing blow to hope.

Since the inception of the refugee resettlement program, thousands of local churches throughout the country have played a role in welcoming refugees of all religious backgrounds. Ministries to newly arrived refugees are ready, and desire to receive many thousands more people than would be allowed under the new executive order.

The Democratic Party (according to Damon Linker):

Many liberals argue that refugees are among the most vulnerable people on Earth and so must be welcomed with open arms. That forcing undocumented immigrants to leave the country is gratuitously cruel, violates their rights, and so justifies municipalities flouting federal law by turning themselves into “sanctuary cities.” That banning entry to refugees or immigrants not yet within the United States can violate their due process rights under the U.S. Constitution. And that the desire to restrict immigration is invariably an expression of xenophobia, racism, and other forms of irrational animus and so morally (and perhaps constitutionally) indefensible.

All of these claims are, at bottom, expressions of a fundamentally anti-political humanitarian ideology that is unlikely to fare well in the next presidential election. Democrats desperately need to confront the vulnerabilities of this position and stake out a more defensible and pragmatic one if they hope to push back against Trump’s populist-nationalist message in upcoming years.

Of course, evangelicals don’t need to worry about running for election (though the likes of Russell Moore does need to worry about ministry dollars going somewhere other than the Southern Baptist cooperative program). But evangelicals who live in the United States may want to think (with help from Linker) about how to love their actual neighbors who live within U.S. borders (Walter didn’t see his buddies die face down in ‘Nam for open borders):

Many Americans believe that their constitution presumes or appeals to certain timeless, universal moral truths that apply to all human beings. But the U.S. Constitution itself — like the constitutions, fundamental laws, and commonly affirmed norms and rules of all political communities — is nonetheless instantiated in a particular place, rooted in a particular tradition. It also pertains and applies only to people who are members of the political community known as the United States of America.

Those who are members of this community are known as American citizens. They get a say in what laws get passed and how they get enforced. Those who are not members of this community — who are not citizens — don’t get such a say. The community is perfectly within its rights to decide which and how many of these outsiders will be allowed to visit the country, how long they will be allowed to stay, when they will need to go, and how many, if any, will be permitted to join the community permanently by becoming citizens.

This is one of the most elemental acts of politics: the community deciding who to admit and on what terms. To treat this act as somehow morally illegitimate is to treat politics as such as morally illegitimate.

In other words, evangelicals think like 1kers, as if the U.S. is a Christian community. Imagine welcoming non-Christians into fellowship in a Christian congregation. What sense does that make? So why should citizens of the United States act as if they are the United Nations of the World. As Linker says, it’s a complicated question how Americans decide what to do with outsiders:

Note that nothing I’ve said tells us anything about how many immigrants or refugees the political community of the United States should welcome at any given moment of history, or what criteria should be used to make this determination. I generally favor liberal immigration policies; many Trump voters take a very different view. The point, as Josh Barro recently argued in an important column, is that the policy debate needs to be made in terms of the good of the political community as a whole and in its parts, not in terms of abstract, extra-political moral duties owed to prospective newcomers. A political community exists in large part to benefit itself — to advance the common good of its citizens. There’s nothing shameful in that. It’s to a considerable extent what politics is.

And don’t forget, if godless Democrats and progressive evangelicals agree that Jesus is on the side of refugees, w-w has failed.

Islam’s Problem Has Nothing to do with Islam

I second John’s question and raise him a question. What am I missing about Islam that has so many people acting like Muslims are like United Methodists? I don’t mean to imply that all Muslims are terrorists any more than all Methodists follow John Wesley. But for Never Trumpers to argue about Islamophobia as if fears of Muslims are irrational — precisely forty years into various forms of Islamic terrorism, and while ISIS has been a major source of news coverage — is well nigh extraordinary.

Did anyone remember, for instance, when Graeme Wood wrote a piece not in the American Spectator but in Atlantic Monthly about ISIS’ Islamic convictions?

The most-articulate spokesmen for that position are the Islamic State’s officials and supporters themselves. They refer derisively to “moderns.” In conversation, they insist that they will not—cannot—waver from governing precepts that were embedded in Islam by the Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers. They often speak in codes and allusions that sound odd or old-fashioned to non-Muslims, but refer to specific traditions and texts of early Islam.

Now if you want to distance the Muslim Brotherhood from terrorism, fine. But that doesn’t get you the faculty of Harvard University:

It’s fine to think that the Muslim Brotherhood is bad, terrible, authoritarian, or illiberal (in my book on the Egyptian and Jordanian Brotherhoods from the 1980s till today, I highlight the group’s illiberal nature at length). Eric Trager, who I have disagreed with quite strongly on matters relating to the Brotherhood, has called it more akin to a “hate group.” But even he has written against designation. The Brotherhood’s badness, one way or the other, has no bearing on whether or not it is a terrorist organization. Being a terrorist organization involves, among other things, ordering your members to commit terrorist attacks, something no one argues the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is doing.

Even promotional copy for events featuring two of the most western friendly and thoughtful interpreters of Islam, Mustafa Akyol and Shadi Hamid, notice that Muslim societies are not places where Washington Post editors send their children for university:

Predominantly Muslim societies suffer from low levels of political, economic, and civil liberties. Authoritarian political regimes, rigid social structures, and radical religious movements that suppress human liberty in the name of God loom large in the Muslim world. Is this liberty deficit due to a “dark age” of Islam, which can be overcome with reform and a different religious interpretation? Can Islam make its peace with liberal democracy, as Christianity and other religions did after their own illiberal ages? Or is there something different about Islam, making it inherently incompatible with a secular government and a free society? Mustafa Akyol, a longtime defender of “Islamic liberalism,” is optimistic. Shadi Hamid is more pessimistic, arguing that Islam is “exceptional,” in the sense of being essentially resistant to liberalism.

Maybe you want to claim that it’s all a matter of interpretation — some truth there — but that still leaves you having to distinguish better from worse versions of Islam according western liberal standards, which in and of itself means Islam is not United Methodism.

For that reason, it’s a little rich when Michael Schulson writes as if the problems of perception that surround Islam are really the constructions of President Trump and his advisers:

It is difficult to think of a definition of religion that does not include Islam — an ancient tradition with practitioners who believe in one God, pray and try to live their lives in accordance with a scripture.

So why has this particular canard taken off?

Wajahat Ali, a writer, attorney, and the lead author of “Fear, Inc.,” a report on American Islamophobia, traces the idea’s recent surge to anti-Islam activists David Yerushalmi and Frank Gaffney. In 2010, Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy published a report, “Shariah: The Threat to America,” arguing that Muslim religious law, or sharia, was actually a dangerous political ideology that a cabal of Muslims hoped to impose on the United States.

“Though it certainly has spiritual elements, it would be a mistake to think of shariah as a ‘religious’ code in the Western sense,” the report argued. It also suggested banning “immigration of those who adhere to shariah … as was previously done with adherents to the seditious ideology of communism.”

“They misdefine sharia in a way which is not recognizable to any practicing Muslim,” Ali said. But the idea was influential. By the summer of 2011, more than two dozen states were considering anti-sharia legislation. More recently, Gaffney reportedly advised Trump’s transition team.

For many Americans, confusion about religious law, political ideology and sharia may reflect a distinctly Christian, and especially Protestant, way of thinking about the nature of religion.

“It’s hard to talk about this sometimes because there is no equivalent of sharia in the Christian tradition,” said Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of “Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle Over Islam Is Reshaping the World.” “Even when you’re talking to well-intentioned, well-meaning people who really want to understand, explaining sharia is very challenging because there’s nothing in Christianity that’s quite like it.”

Actually, Christianity does have its equivalent. The mainstream media has called them theocons and Damon Linker, who wrote a book by that title, copped the plea:

Bannon and the intellectuals Neuhaus regularly published in First Things share the conviction that, at a fundamental level, the United States is a Christian nation — not just in the sense that an overwhelming majority of Americans describe themselves as Christians, but also in the sense that the country’s highest ideals and convictions (above all, about individual rights and innate human dignity) derive from a Catholic-Christian inheritance the vitality of which must be actively fostered and promoted by the culture. The two groups also tend to view the threat posed by Islamic terrorism in terms of a civilizational clash between Islam and the Judeo-Christian West (or “Christendom”).

But that’s where the continuities end.

At their best, the original theocons followed a tradition of Christian political reflection that insisted on placing the nation under the guidance and judgment of a transcendent God (and his extra-political Church) that stands apart from all this-worldly communities. That was in fact the theme of Neuhaus’ final book, published shortly after his death from cancer in early 2009.

Bannon, by contrast, tends to treat religious affiliation wholly as a function of ethno-national identity: “We” in the West must affirm our Christian identity or we will be overrun by dangerous outsiders (Islamists) who will impose a different identity upon us. In this respect, Bannon’s position is closer to Eastern Orthodoxy (and Russian Orthodoxy in particular), with its sanctioning of an official ethno-national church that mediates between individual believers and the Godhead.

Yet, to Linker’s credit, he can tell the difference between a good theocon and a fear-inspiring one, unlike many social justice types who think the campus of Princeton University is just like Ferguson, Missouri. I do wonder, though, if he remembers how his editors at Doubleday trumped up his book?

Do you believe the Catholic Church should be actively intervening in American politics on the side of the Republican Party?

Do you believe the federal government should be channeling billions of tax dollars a year to churches and other religious organizations?

Do you believe a microscopic clump of cells in a petri dish possesses the same rights that you possess?

Do you believe a doctor who performs abortions — and a woman who chooses to have an abortion — should be arrested and charged with murder?

Do you believe the public schools should actively teach children to doubt the scientific theory of evolution?

Do you believe legally available contraception is producing a “culture of death” in the United States?

Do you believe that the United States should be a Christian nation?

Do you fear Christians because you don’t fear Muslims?

No reason to fear Islam, no not one. Just think professional boxing and the NBA:

Can we imagine an America without Muhammad Ali, who was born Cassius Clay in Louisville and gained national fame when he won a gold medal at the Rome Olympics in 1960 as a light heavyweight boxer? In 1964, Clay defeated Sonny Liston, becoming the world heavyweight boxing champion. A few years earlier, Clay had gone to Nation of Islam meetings. There, he met Malcolm X, who as a friend and advisor was part of Clay’s entourage for the Liston fight. Clay made his conversion public after the fight, and was renamed by Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad as Muhammad Ali.

When he was reclassified as eligible for induction into the draft for the Vietnam War, Ali refused on the grounds of his new Muslim religious beliefs. Famously, reflecting on the racism he had experienced in America, Ali said, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong—no Viet Cong ever called me ni**er.” His conscientious objector status was rooted in the teachings of the Nation of Islam, as Elijah Muhammad had earlier been jailed for his refusal to enter the draft in the Second World War.

. . . Or think of my other great hero, another American Muslim, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The greatest basketball coach ever, the late John R. Wooden, thought that Kareem was the greatest basketball player ever. In his three years of eligibility under Coach Wooden at UCLA, Kareem was three-time player of the year, three-time finals MVP, and three-time NCAA champion. In other words, he had three perfect seasons while he earned his degree. He lost the same number of games at UCLA—two—that he did in high school.

Kareem converted to Islam in 1971, and excelled in the pros just as much as he did in college or high school. All in all, he won six NBA championships and six NBA MVP awards, was a nineteen-time all-star, and remains the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. Combine that pro record with his three NCAA championships, and I don’t know how you can make the case for anyone else as the greatest basketball player of all time.

Why Neo-Calvinists Are Like Feminists

Damon Linker comments on the folly of ideological purity in a democracy:

In a democracy, successful political movements go broad. They are ecumenical, seeking to bring as many people as possible into an inclusive coalition, because that’s how elections are won and mandates are forged, and because they understand that politics involves compromise and building bridges of partial agreement and commonality with those who disagree on some important issues but not on others. (Pro-life feminists tell Green that they’ve been inspired to attend the march by “cultural misogyny, the state of education and health care, and a desire for their own daughters to be able to lead.”)

Sects (whether political or religious) have different priorities — like upholding ideological purity, enforcing conformity to official doctrine, policing the boundaries of acceptable opinion, and excommunicating those who fail to toe the party line. They prefer losing to compromising their principles.

So why do neo-Calvinist treat 2kers like they are not Reformed? Remember Lutheran?

And since when is neo-Calvinism the way to approach society and politics? If you think you have the “real” w-w, the one that is True Truth, the one that is orthodoxy in the church, how exactly does that build a political consensus? At least Abraham Kuyper didn’t approach church life or politics that way.

Constructing Neo-Calvinism

How do you go from the Puritans who had laws on the books for the execution of disobedient and recalcitrant male adolescents and who refused to let Presbyterians set up shop in Massachusetts, to Calvinism as the glue that makes Americans think the U.S.A. is exceptional?

Damon Linker explained way back on the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birthday:

Early in the eighteenth century, the vision of America as a new Israel specially chosen by God to perform a divine mission was primarily limited to the Puritan and post-Puritan elite of New England. But by the middle of the century, the more modest views of providence that until that time had dominated throughout the mid-Atlantic and Southern colonies had been supplanted by the stringent Calvinism of Massachusetts and Connecticut. America was New Englandized. According to historian John F. Berens, the motor behind this extraordinary transformation was the Great Awakening of the 1740s, which helped to spread theological concepts throughout the colonies. In the electrifying sermons of George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Gilbert Tennent, Samuel Davies, and many other preachers, colonists from New York to South Carolina encountered for the first time the potent providential ideas that had previously transfixed the minds of the Puritan settlers of New England.

Not that these ideas were identical to the ones that originally inspired John Winthrop, Cotton Mather, and other seventeenth-century writers. On the contrary, American providential thinking evolved dramatically as it circulated throughout the colonies. As Berens notes, the French and Indian War (1754-1763), which followed immediately on the heels of the Great Awakening, contributed decisively to the transformation. For the first time, Americans began to define themselves in contrast to a vision of tyranny — namely, the (political and religious) absolutism of Catholic France. Unlike France, they concluded, the American colonies were a bastion of political and religious freedom. This freedom had been won, moreover, with the help of God’s providence, which would continue to protect the colonies in times of danger, provided the colonists proved themselves worthy of it by maintaining their divinely favored civil and religious institutions. In Berens’s words, by 1763 — a full thirteen years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the outbreak of war with Great Britain over the supposedly tyrannical usurpations of King George III — the “ever-increasing intercolonial conviction that America was the New Israel” had come to mean that the colonies “had been assigned a providential mission somehow connected to the advancement of civil and religious freedom.”

Through the Revolutionary War, the years surrounding the ratification of the federal Constitution, and the early national period, pastors and presidents repeatedly praised the “great design of providence” that had led to the creation of a country dedicated to protecting and preserving political and religious liberty. Call it the consolidation of America’s Calvinist consensus. What were once the rather extreme theological convictions dominating a handful of rustic outposts on the edge of a wholly undeveloped continent were now the unifying and motivating ideology of a rapidly expanding and industrializing nation. Whatever difficulties the new nation faced — from the traumas of the War of 1812 to the gradual escalation of regional hostilities that ultimately issued in the Civil War — Americans remained remarkably confident that God was committed to the survival and success of its experiment in free government and would continue to intervene providentially in its affairs to ensure that outcome.

Lo and behold, Americans were on the ground floor of turning Calvin into a political theologian of national greatness, but the French also beat the Dutch to the punch, as Bruce Gordon explains in his biography of Calvin’s Institutes. Emile Doumergue’s biography first published in 1899 included this:

Far from being a man who seeks retirement or turns from the world and from the present life, the Calvinist is one who takes possession of the world; who more than any other, dominates the world; who makes use of it for all his needs; he is the man of commerce, of industry, of all inventions and all progress, even material.

(Did someone say, “stay thirsty, my friend”?)

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.