Why Fox News Isn't the Best Judge of Religion in Public Life

First the story:

In mid-December, six-year-old Isaiah Martinez brought a box of candy canes to his public elementary school. Affixed to each cane was a legend explaining the manner in which the candy symbolizes the life and death of Jesus. Isaiah’s first-grade teacher took possession of the candy and asked her supervising principal whether it would be permissible for Isaiah to distribute to his classmates. The teacher was informed that, while the candy itself might be distributed, the attached religious message could not. She is then reported to have told Isaiah that “Jesus is not allowed at school,” to have torn the legends from the candy, and to have thrown them in the trash.

Such is the account of Robert Tyler of Advocates for Faith & Freedom, who is serving as media spokesman for the Martinez family. Organizations such as Fox News and Glenn Beck’s The Blaze latched onto the story with purple prose and pointed commentary to rally the base. The Daily Caller described the teacher as having “snatched” the candy from Isaiah’s hands, “and then—right in front of his little six-year-old eyes—ripped the religious messages from each candy cane.” Fox News said “it takes a special kind of evil to confiscate a six-year-old child’s Christmas gifts.”

Turns out the teacher in question is a Christian and her former pastor explains what may have happened:

Such behavior would be entirely unbecoming of Christians even if the teacher in question were all the things she has been called. In fact, she is herself a pious and confessional Christian, though it would be impossible to discern as much from the coverage of much Christian media.

I know this because I was present at her baptism; I participated in the catechesis leading to her reception into the theologically (and, overwhelmingly, politically) conservative Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod; I preached at her wedding; my wife and I are godparents to her children, as she and her husband (who is himself on the faculty of a Christian university) are to our youngest. Needless to say, I have complete confidence that her far less dramatic version of events is much the more accurate account.

Some will say that precisely as a Christian she should have had the courage of her convictions and allowed the distribution of a Christian message in her classroom. And yet, precisely because she is a catechized Christian, perhaps she understands that in her vocation she serves under the authority of others.

Perhaps it was wise in the litigious context of America’s public schools to confer with and defer to the supervising principal. Indeed, a lawsuit arising from virtually identical circumstances is still, ten years on, bogged down in the courts. If the answers to the pertinent legal questions are not immediately obvious to the dozens of lawyers and judges involved in this previous case, one can hardly expect them to be self-evident even to an intelligent primary school teacher. Thus, those critics who have dismissively counseled her simply to “read the Constitution” betray (in addition to a lack of charity) either an unhelpful naivety or a willful ignorance.

Of course, if you want to score points in some sort of publicity competition, demonizing this woman is not a bad strategy, though why Reformed Protestants also resort to such behavior (yes, I’m thinking the BeeBees and Rabbi Bret) is another question. But if you want to think through the layers of significance in such occurrences, maybe it’s better to check if as in this case the teacher belongs to a church and what her pastor thinks.


Not a 2K Candidate

John Miller’s recent piece in the National Review on Ben Sasse’s efforts to gain the Republican nomination for the Senate in Nebraska is well worth reading. Here is a part that stood out from an OL perspective because it is silent about Sasse’s religion (which happens to be 2k Reformed Protestant):

After growing up in Fremont, where he was the high-school valedictorian, Sasse left for Harvard: “Not because of superior academics, but because of inferior athletics,” he jokes. He wrestled for two years and specialized in head-butting his opponents. Sasse has a long scar at the top of his forehead, along his hairline, from falling off a hayloft as a boy. “I have no feeling there,” he says. “It gave me a small advantage.” He left the wrestling team to spend his junior year abroad, and then earned a degree in government. Next came an itinerant career in business consulting, combining full-time employment with full-time study. He roamed the country, working with clients such as Ameritech and Northwest Airlines, while he also pursued a master’s degree from St. John’s College in Annapolis, Md., and then a Ph.D. in history from Yale. His dissertation, on populist conservatism from the 1950s to the 1970s, won a pair of prestigious campus prizes. “He’s insanely disciplined and incredibly hard-working,” says Will Inboden, a University of Texas professor who lived across the street from Sasse when they were graduate students at Yale. “It’s amazing how much he did.” The virtue of work is a constant theme in Sasse’s speeches and conversation. “Work is where meaning is,” he says. “I don’t know how capitalism and America function if people work to get beyond working, just so they can get to leisure.” One of his favorite recent books is Coming Apart, by Charles Murray, especially for its section on the importance of industriousness.

As a boy, Sasse embodied industriousness: He spent his summers “walking beans and detasseling corn” — i.e., weeding soybean fields and controlling corn pollination. He describes cool and wet mornings, hot and humid afternoons, muddy furrows, sore ankles, spider bites, sunburns, and “corn rash,” which forms on hands, arms, and faces when corn stalks deliver nicks and bruises hour after hour, day after day. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and the most formative experience of my life,” he says. “When you survive a season of this, you’re a different person at the end.” He worries that young people don’t learn the same lessons today. “We have a crisis in the work ethic,” he says. “Politics can’t fix our culture, but politics can lie to us long enough to keep us from focusing on the cultural issues in our own lives.”

Sasse’s candidacy presents 2kers with a potential problem — namely, endorsing candidates who agree with our political theology. And that’s a problem because it would mean we are like the BeeBees. The affairs of the civil and temporal realm are one thing, the politics of God’s kingdom another. Just because a candidate may agree with that theological proposition does not mean he is best suited to serve as a congressman.

For that reason, support for Sasse should come from concerns about our common life, not from a desire to have our theological position vindicated. And given Sasse’s understanding of health care and the crisis that it represents, he has real merits. But this is above my pay grade. It belongs to Nebraska.

When Luther Sounded Constantinian

From Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Respecting the Reformation of the Christian Estate

We see, then, that just as those that we call spiritual, or priests, bishops, or popes, do not differ from other Christians in any other or higher degree but in that they are to be concerned with the word of God and the sacraments—that being their work and office—in the same way the temporal authorities hold the sword and the rod in their hands to punish the wicked and to protect the good. A cobbler, a smith, a peasant, every man, has the office and function of his calling, and yet all alike are consecrated priests and bishops, and every man should by his office or function be useful and beneficial to the rest, so that various kinds of work may all be united for the furtherance of body and soul, just as the members of the body all serve one another.

Now see what a Christian doctrine is this: that the temporal authority is not above the clergy, and may not punish it. This is as if one were to say the hand may not help, though the eye is in grievous suffering. Is it not unnatural, not to say unchristian, that one member may not help another, or guard it against harm? Nay, the nobler the member, the more the rest are bound to help it. Therefore I say, Forasmuch as the temporal power has been ordained by God for the punishment of the bad and the protection of the good, therefore we must let it do its duty throughout the whole Christian body, without respect of persons, whether it strikes popes, bishops, priests, monks, nuns, or whoever it may be. If it were sufficient reason for fettering the temporal power that it is inferior among the offices of Christianity to the offices of priest or confessor, or to the spiritual estate—if this were so, then we ought to restrain tailors, cobblers, masons, carpenters, cooks, cellarmen, peasants, and all secular workmen, from providing the Pope or bishops, priests and monks, with shoes, clothes, houses or victuals, or from paying them tithes. But if these laymen are allowed to do their work without restraint, what do the Romanist scribes mean by their laws? They mean that they withdraw themselves from the operation of temporal Christian power, simply in order that they may be free to do evil, and thus fulfil what St. Peter said: “There shall be false teachers among you,… and in covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you” (2 Peter ii. 1, etc.).

Just trying to complicate the minds of those (the BeeBees, the Reformed Rabbi, Doug Wilson, and William Evans) who think that 2k and Lutheranism are responsible for secularism, materialism, and Obamacare.

Do the BeeBees Read American Conservative?

From Daniel McCarthy, “Why the Tea Party Can’t Govern,” American Conservative, Nov/Dec 2013

There was an absolutely natural backlash in the late 1970s against the hasty push from the left for further sexual revolutions. Contraception, abortion, and homosexuality had all gone from being little spoken of and sometimes restricted by law to becoming “rights.” Many Americans, particularly Christians, felt disenfranchised. So they voted. But they did so in reaction: what they were against was always more clear than how they could create an alternative— a modern alternative, not simply a return to an idealized past. Because the emphasis was on negation rather than a creative agenda, the question of what compromises power must make with imperfect reality could be avoided. In “principle,” divorced from practice, one can outlaw every abortion without exception and send homosexuals back to the closet.

Christian conservatives are as well-adjusted as anyone else on these questions in their own lives. But the Christian conservative who accepts sinfulness in reality cannot accept it in theory, and one who tries is liable to be trumped within the community by someone who asserts a harder line. Religious right activists thus radicalize one another and continually refine their ideology—then demand professions of principle from candidates. . . .

From the Moral Majority to the Tea Party, a right forged in opposition offers only images of a mythic past in place of present economic and cultural realities. Instead of a modern conservatism competing against what is in fact a creaky liberalism—whose corporate cronyism and cultural atomism have engendered wide dissatisfaction—we have only the conservatism of what was versus the liberalism of what is. This accounts for why the Republican Party, even as it has grown more right-leaning and “extreme,” has failed for 25 years to nominate a conservative for president. No one can take the no-compromise ideology of libertarianism or Christian conservatism and make it electorally viable, let alone a philosophy of government. Rather than find leaders who can build plausible resumes in elected office before running for president, the activists of the right lend their support to symbolic candidacies that represent negative ideals—the ideals not of government but of protest. Because ideological conservatives cannot accept the compromising complexities of a positive philosophy, the Republican old guard wins every time. The result is doubly perverse: instead of a serious conservative who speaks softly, Republicans wind up with unprincipled figures who become shrill in attempting to appeal to the right.

I guess the problem may be in wanting to be not conservative but Christian. Then when will the critics of 2k ever orm a Christian Political Party that eschews any pretense with compromise?

Has This Guy Been Reading the BeeBees?

A little dated but still fresh:

Indeed, many describe the Republican political faith as “American Calvinism.” It borrows several notions from the sixteenth century French theologian: the Bible is infallible; the “law” is driven by the Ten Commandments, rather than the teachings of Jesus; humans are totally depraved; and God has predestined who will be saved.

Despite its austere nature, Calvinism strongly influenced the original American settlers — many of who were Presbyterians. One historian noted, “in England and America the great struggles for civil and religious liberty were nursed in Calvinism, inspired by Calvinism, and carried out largely by men who were Calvinists.”

During the ’80s American Calvinism morphed into a conservative political ideology with the formation of the Christian Right. James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed, Pat Robertson, and others preached on political subjects and touted conservative “Christian” candidates.

In Republican hands, contemporary Calvinism has had two thrusts. It fomented the culture wars and accused Democrats, and non-believers, of advocating “sixties values” that would destroy home and community. The Christian Right was against abortion, same-sex marriage, the teaching of evolution, and the separation of church and state; they were for homeschooling, limited Federal government, and Reaganomics.

The second Calvinist thrust promoted capitalism. In his classic, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, German sociologist Max Weber observed that not only did the protestant work ethic promote capitalism but also worldly success became a measure of the likelihood of one’s salvation. “He who has the most toys, wins.”

Given the strong influence of Calvinism on Republican politics, it’s not surprising the GOP favors the rich, opposes new taxes, and continues to support Reaganomics with its myths of “trickle down economics” and “self-regulating markets.”

Safe to say, he hasn’t been reading Oldlife. But it goes to show why Calvinism continues to be iconic.

Slippery Christendom, Theonomic Patriotism

The Baylys once again tightened my jaws by asserting that spirituality of the church folks don’t choose Jesus when the choice is between Jesus and the U.S. This is pretty nutty since, one, the Baylys choose the U.S. all the time when they fashion their message, rather than limiting it to what Jesus revealed; and, two, they constantly complain that spirituality of the church men won’t choose the U.S. and fight secularism, immorality, feminization. Damned if we do or don’t. That is life in a theocracy. See the Old Testament.

The BeeBees (brothers B for those who can’t remember the Brothers Gibb) take their cue this time from Doug Wilson who says rightly that American Christians need to be Christians first and give up American exceptionalism:

So when the decree comes down and we are told — as we are now being prepared to be told — that we cannot oppose same sex mirage and be good Americans, our first reply ought to be “very well then, have it your way. We shall be bad Americans.”

My citizenship, my affections, my loyalties whether national or regional, my manner of expression, my lever-action Winchester, my language, my love of pie, my Americanism . . . these are all contingent things. They are all creatures, because they are attributes of my life and existence, and I am a creature. Our nation, and all its pleasant things, is a creature. The grass withers, and the flower fades.

The purveyors of soft despotism want to arrange things so that we conform fully to their agenda, or consign ourselves to their idea of the outer darkness, which turns out to be the same kind of place as Stalin’s.

Because I think like a Christian, I don’t necessarily think it is a necessary choice at all. But it is only not necessary in a nation that is not despotic — and ours is metastasizing into despotism. So under their terms, under their rule, such a choice is mandatory — because in times of persecution, they will make it necessary — which means that I will swallow the reductio. Force me to choose between Jesus and America, and then watch me choose Jesus.

Wilson is clever but his cleverness is always tinged with hysteria — as in, we are about to be persecuted just like the early Christians were, because they would not bow to the emperor who claimed to be divine. Try to convince Wilson that Obama lacks divine pretensions and he can point to all the soft despotism that nurtures a reverence for the president akin to emperor worship (and forget all the freedoms Christians still enjoy — and for which they should not have a chip on their shoulder — that allow them to worship every Sunday and in most cases have the entire day off). It is never lines of demarcations but shades that blur from 21st-century U.S. to first century Jerusalem. A tax that is objectionable, becomes a tax that is unjust, becomes theft, becomes policy that nurtures disrespect for life, becomes murder. Forget distinctions, feel the similarities. (Or a New Mexico court ruling becomes a noose around Christians’ necks.)

The problem in part is that Wilson also traffics in an unspecified patriotism. Most of the viewers of Fox News and readers of World magazine distinguish between the U.S. as a government and America as a land, country, or people. So it is easy for Wilson to gain a following among these folks when he denounces Obamacare as sin, or Federal Treasury policy as abomination. Does he issue similar condemnations when George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan is in office? I doubt if Wilson was blogging during the Reagan years. (A quick search for Bush at his blog revealed this: “Because of the Incarnation, the bias of particularity in politics favors the anti-ideological, which is to say, it is a bias against idolatry. And that describes historic conservatism very well. At the same time, I grant that it does not describe George W. Bush’s spending habits very well — there the resemblance would be more like a pack of simians that got into an Congo merchant’s storehouse of trade gin.” Wow, the doctrine of the second person of the Trinity used to justify paleo-conservatism. What would Michael Oakeshott do?)

Most paleo-conservatives distinguish the U.S. from the national government. For them, patriotism is love of the people (Americans) who live in a particular place (the U.S.A.). Does Wilson actually look at the U.S. this way? I suspect he loves the land south of the Canadian border in a way differently from the way he might appreciate Europe or Palestine. But does he love the American people which includes a diverse lot of believers and non-believers, gays and straights, feminists and Sarah Palin? This isn’t a trick question, insinuating that Wilson hates non-Christians. It is though a question about Wilson’s love of country. Does he love America when populated only by Christians? Or can he love America when it includes idolaters (Mormons) and blasphemers (Jehovah’s Witnesses)?

The bigger problem is Wilson’s commitment to Christendom. Is Wilson willing to say of Christendom what he says of America?

My citizenship, my affections, my loyalties whether national or regional, my manner of expression, my lever-action Winchester, my language, my love of pie, my Americanism Christendom . . . these are all contingent things. They are all creatures, because they are attributes of my life and existence, and I am a creature. Our nation, and all its pleasant things, is a creature. The grass withers, and the flower fades.

In other words, is Christendom a creation or is it heaven on earth? Does Wilson violate every canon of Christian and conservative conviction by immanentizing the eschaton? It sure looks like his postmillenniaism and repeated briefs on behalf of Christendom has a lot of immanentizing going on. Then again, it’s a slippery Christendom and a libertarian theocracy he advocates (oxymoron intended).

In point of fact, Wilson does not acknowledge that Christians are aliens and strangers. His model for Christian political and cultural engagement is Christendom (minus the Crusades, papacy, Index of Books, Jewish ghettos). It is not the Israelites in exile who went along with regimes that were suffused with assertions of pagan gods and did not whine, except to long for their homeland. Nor is it the early Christians who tried to fit in and honor the emperor but refused to worship him, and suffered the consequences. (I can’t imagine Paul blogging about Nero the way Wilson or the BeeBees do about Obama.)

Of course, the image of Christians as persecuted and martyrs doesn’t play well among folks who like to hurl “sissy” as an epithet. Turning the other cheek is not a model for cultural domination or for Mere Christendom — not sure it works for cultural engagement, actually. (And Wilson and others need to be clear that turning the other cheek is not what turned around the empire — the emperor, Constantine did; go figure.) Nor did turning the other cheek inspire political revolutions like the Dutch, the English, or the American. So alienated spirituality of the church men are not only strange but pansies in the eyes of the soft theonomists. I understand the stereotyping. I’m having trouble finding the proof text.

All Down Hill After John Witherspoon?

Anthony Bradley wonders (again) what has happened to Presbyterians and why they lost their momentum. First it was as popular voices among evangelicals, now it’s as dispensers of wisdom about the world:

I am wondering, then, for those who are raising their children in the Presbyterian tradition what resources exists for forming Presbyterian identity in terms of an understanding marriage & family (i.e., the relationship between covenant marriage & covenant baptism in America’s marriage debate), issues related to social & political power & federal political theory (which is derivative of federal theology), divorce and remarriage, war and social conflict, apologetics, and so on? How does a covenantal world-and-life view, and Presbyterian understandings of power structures, unlock the implications for a theology of work & economics when applied to international third world development, and so on?

By extension, I am also wondering what happened to Presbyterians as known and normative leaders of culturally leveraged institutions in American society and culture? Mark Twain and William Faulkner were Presbyterian. More Vice-Presidents of the United States have been Presbyterian more than any other denomination (Presbyterians rank 2nd for the US Presidency). Presbyterians rank 2nd in terms of placement on the Supreme Court in US History. I could go on. . . .

An initial thought is to wonder why Presbyterians need to go to another Presbyterian for instruction on the federal government. Isn’t reading the Federalists and Anti-Federalists (Presbyterian or not?) good enough?

Another wonder is whether Presbyterians have ever been all that influential as Bradley’s post assumes. To meet his criteria — “what Presbyterians are speaking to these issues or leading institutions that are (like think tanks or colleges and universities” — at least three sets of circumstances need to be in play. First, a person needs to be Presbyterian (what kind — Old Side, New Life, Neo-Calvinist — is another question)? Second, such a person needs to be writing on a vast number of public policy type subjects. So far Tim and David Bayly suffice. But then, third, and this is the kicker, the person needs to be sufficiently well known for folks in the pew to consult him or her (sorry, Tim and David). As it stands, lots of Presbyterians have lots of thoughts on all sorts of subjects and publish them (on the interweb). But no one of them stands out with Francis Schaeffer notoriety.

The problem, then, may have less to do with Presbyterian decline than with the diversification of communication technology and the formation of diverse pockets of affinity.

At the same time, Presbyterians need not feel so bad, at least if misery loves company. Bradley’s question applies just as much to Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, and — boy does it ever — to Congregationalists (nee Puritans). Among Western Christians, Rome stands out as distinctly different in this regard since Roman Catholics have an endless supply of public intellectuals who are doing their best imitations of popes, who speak constantly to a host of issues below their pay grade. This may explain much of Rome’s contemporary appeal to converts. If you want a church with all the answers to life’s pressing questions — don’t go to Guy Noir but to the Vatican. But if you believe in the spirituality of the church and the sufficiency of Scripture, you don’t need a Presbyterian pontiff to tell you how to live. You go to church, say your prayers, work dutifully at your callings, and take your lumps.

One last thought about Anthony’s question comes from a period I know relatively well. During the first half of the twentieth century we did have Presbyterians who spoke on any number of issues, were well known and so had pretty large followings. These were William Jennings Bryan, Billy Sunday, J. Gresham Machen, and Carl McIntire. Maybe 1 in 4 isn’t bad. But if that’s going to be the percentage of Presbyterians we should heed when they start to pontificate about all of life, I’ll take my chances with guys who write for American Conservative.

Consistency is the Hobgoblin of Christianity

Anthony Esolen has a usually provocative post about the inconsistencies of our times. He calls this the Contradictory Values Syndrome.

. . . on Monday, the harridans of the National Organization for Women announce their great discovery that it is a bad thing for men to beat women black and blue. We wonder what took them so long to discover it. APPLES FALL TO THE GROUND, runs the headline, with the helpful addition, Effects on Agriculture Undetermined. So terrible a thing it is for women to be beaten that they must promote a national law, the Violence Against Women Act, to ensure the safety of women against the fist of a brawling boyfriend.

Then on Tuesday, the same harridans announce the great discovery that it is a good thing for women to join the infantry, to confront not boyfriends, but enemy men who will be at the peak of their physical prowess, armed to the teeth, and filled with the rage of killing and plunder and rape. The chivalry or plain common decency that once protected a woman against brawling—or war—is derided as a masculine plot to keep women in subjection. . . .

On Wednesday, the keepers of our national morality inveigh against a priest or a coach who entices a teenage boy into sodomy. On Thursday, the same keepers inveigh against the Boy Scouts, for shying away from scoutmasters who might do the same.

I am not about to take on Esolen, especially since the flip-flops he notices would be hard even for Ethan Coen to script. At the same time, I am a tad sensitive about consistency. One reason is that being a Protestant and belonging to conservative circles appears to be contradictory. Another is that practically every post the Baylys or Rabbi Bret writes in derision of 2k contains a huff about how inconsistent 2kers are who oppose homosexuality in the church but not in the public square.

At the same time, I wonder what the advocates of consistency make of the consequences of their quest (or if they notice that Roman Catholics and neo-Calvinists, both forged in the fires of the French Revolution, pursue the same end of a society rooted in Christian convictions — as opposed to the other kind [read secular]). The way I figure, consistency between faith and politics or church and the public square lands you in one of two places. The first makes society Christian (as in theonomy) and leaves no room for the un-Christian (read Jew, Protestant or Roman Catholic, Mormon, Muslim). Here society must conform to God’s law, a demand that is seriously at odds with the United States’ founding as well as the experience of Jesus and the apostles. The second makes Christianity conform to society (as in liberal Christianity) and regards non-Christians as Christian as long as they conform to Christian behavior. Both places feature the Christian moral code as essential to Christianity, though the theonomic morality is more tough minded than the liberal Christian (think adultery as a capital offense). Another difference is that the theonomist may actually acknowledge that a member of a Christian society needs to be regenerate to have any chance of observing God’s law. The liberal Christian generally conceives of human nature as sufficiently good to comply with the demands of biblical or ecclesiastical standards.

Since most moderns don’t want to exclude people from their societies (with the exception of undocumented aliens), theonomy is a tough sell. But the liberal Christian response is so common that even the pope can sound like he is giving into it.

The takeaway here is that the gospel cannot be applied “consistently” to society. Grace, mercy, and forgiveness are not the goals that motivate foreign or domestic policy (though the Amish may be giving it a run). Now, of course, someone may want to say that grace, mercy, and forgiveness are not of the essence of Christianity. Instead, the law is, and so making a society conform to Christian law is how we arrive at a Christian society. The problem with that logic, aside from Protestantism and all that material-principle-of-the-Reformation-business, is that it completely ignores what happened to the Israelites where the law did not lead to human “flourishing” but to human diaspora.

The other takeaway is that morality does exist without Christianity. We used to call this civic as opposed to spiritual (or true) goodness. Whatever the reasons for such goodness, it exists, whether in Sweden or at a street corner where a tatted and severely pierced twenty-something waits for a light to signal he can cross the street. Calvinists generally want to encourage the civic virtues for the sake of social order and the safety of the church. But the orthodox ones have always been careful to distinguish civic from Christian virtue.

Works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they may be things which God commands; and of good use both to themselves and others: yet, because they proceed not from an heart purified by faith; nor are done in a right manner, according to the Word; nor to a right end, the glory of God, they are therefore sinful, and cannot please God, or make a man meet to receive grace from God: and yet, their neglect of them is more sinful and displeasing unto God. (WCF 16.7)

Without that distinction you lose the fall, regeneration, salvation, and the third-use of the law (for starters). So the next time someone objects to the inconsistencies of 2k advocates, say “bless those 2kers for their gospel inconsistency.”


For those who think that we can have republicanism, constitutionalism, and Calvin’s Geneva (certain critics of 2k who live and work in the former Northwest Territory), Geoffrey Wheatcroft reminds about the contrast between pre-modern and modern times:

The challenge of Western modernity produced a remarkable ferment of speculation in the Islamic East, but not in a form that the West has found easy to understand. So “What went wrong” needs to be set in context. For many centuries political and philosophical thought had languished in the East, not least because the Ottoman rulers did not encourage it. As a consequence, the fruits of the European Enlightenment reached the East rather late. Thereafter, Easterners sought (and seek), in the eyes of many modern commentators, to acquire the superficial trappings of Western economic and material progress, without recognizing that these develop from a commitment to education, freedom of thought and enterprise, and an open, essentially secular society. . . .

I suspect that most critics of 2k would like Muslims to be 2k whenever the vigor of political Islam manifests itself. But if Christians want Muslims to keep Shar’ia law out of civil policies and legislation, why don’t they see a similar imperative for themselves. Wheatcroft duly observes that adapting to modernity in the West has not always been smooth:

Nor has progress always had an easy passage even in Europe or the United States. Resistance to a godless and secular society existed in rural areas (like Indiana and Ohio – editing mine) everywhere. Throughout the nineteenth century many conservative Europeans, completely unreconciled to the alien ideals of progress, abhorred every aspect of modernity. For the vast rural majority, especially in eastern and southeastern Europe, in France, Spain, and the mezzogiorno of Italy, these new political and social ideas had no meaning: the faithful usually believed what their priests told them. The resistance to change was not very different in the regions under Islamic rule. Andrew Wheatcroft, Infidels: A History of the Conflict between Christendom and Islam (297, 298)

But what happens for both Muslims and Christians is that the modern ones (the premoderns are not alive) embrace modernity partially:

The eminent political scientist Bassam Tibi has described this melange of tradition and modernity as “half-modernity,” which he calls a “selective choice of orthodox Islam and an instrumental semi-modernity.” Charles Kurzman puts it into a more precise context. “Few revivalists actually desire a full fledged return to the world of 7th century Arabia. Khomeini himself was an inveterate radio listener, and used modern technologies such as telephones, audiocassettes, photocopying, and British short-wave radio broadcasts to promulgate his revivalist message. Khomeini allowed the appearance of women on radio and television, chess playing, and certain forms of music. When other religious leaders objected he responded, ‘the way you interpret traditions, the new civilization should be destroyed and the people should live in shackles or live for ever in the desert.’” (314)

The take away is that both 2k advocates and critics are guilty of being half-modern; none of us follows the laws and policies of Calvin’s Geneva or Knox’s Scotland (though the Netherlands’ toleration of folks like Descartes and Spinoza may be much more of a model for contemporary Bloomington, Indiana and Moscow, Idaho – a historical point unknown to most Dutch-American critics of 2k – than any champion of Reformed Protestantism realizes). 2kers believe they have figured out a way to retain the truths and practices of the Reformation while also living in good conscience in the modern world. The way to do this is to recognize that the church, her truths, and ways are spiritual and do not bend to the logic of modern societies. This results in two standards, one for the church and one for the world. 2kers don’t expect the world to conform to the church.

Anti-2kers also believe they have figured out a way to retain the truths of the Reformation. They do this by insisting that the church’s morality be the norm for society. They do not insist that the church’s truth (doctrine) or practices (worship) be the norm for society, the way those truths and practices were the norm for Geneva and Edinburgh. By clinging to one ethical standard for church and society, without either its theological foundation or its liturgical consequences, anti-2kers think they are following Calvin and Knox. They are actually doing a good impersonation of the Ayatollah Khomeini.

Neither side is directly following Calvin. One side is deviating in good conscience.


Tim and David Bayly fault 2kers for not conducting a meaningful debate. They say that folks like moi (all about me) only heckle. Conversation is a waste of time. I guess they think that they can argue with me the way they argue with women. They are gender confused. As if someone could possibly debate this:

R2K men are intellectuals first and Christians second. Yeah, yeah; not all of them. As Ortega y Gasset said, “All true thinking begins with exageration.” Which is to say the entire world since the Enlightenment has been built around exagerations called “hypotheses” and I’ll be hanged if I’m going to let them rob us of the privilege of using them ourselves. But back to the point…

R2K men are Sorbonnists for whom the thought of applying Scripture and God’s Moral Law to all of life brings on fear and trembling and sickness unto death. And so it’s the height of irony that they are forced to throw the greatest intellectual of Reformed church history to the dogs, John Calvin himself.

How do you respond to “so, do you still hate the Baylys”?

And then our good friend Erik goes over there to try to clarify a few points and maybe even honor the ninth commandment — you know the part from the Shorter Catechism about protecting a person’s name. And he receives the Bayly Bro kiss off:

[NOTE FROM TIM BAYLY: Dear Erik, I told you that your refusal to honor our request concerning your posting multiple comments in quick succession on the same theme, many of which were taunting, if continued, would lead to us removing your commenting privileges. You refused to change your behavior, insulting us in the process. Reluctantly, then, we forbade you to comment again.

But here you are commenting again. We have barred three R2K men from commenting because of their refusal to abide by objective rules. What does it take to get you men to honor authority?

So I write this to make others aware that Erik Charter has been barred from commenting on Baylyblog, he knows he’s been barred, he’s been informed by private e-mail which he acknowledged receiving, and he goes ahead and comments anyhow.]

So the Baylys don’t really want debate. They believe in freedom for only those with their views. Reminds you of Stalin and the Communist Party.

The irony, as I say, is that these guys actually think Geneva of 1555 would be their kind of place. In fact, their slander against officers of the church would put them in the slammer. Only in Amerika!

Oh, you gotta love this novos ordo seclorum.