Did Humans Flourish Before Modernity?

I hear more doom and gloom assessments that trace our cultural degradation to either to the overreach of the federal government or the egotistical bombast of Donald Trump. Many of these critiques seem to assume modernity (a term that includes everything from pluralism and democracy to capitalism and technology) has produced a set an unprecedented state of affairs that provide no check on human wickedness and offer no protection for the virtuous from the vicious. Today’s roundup:

Too much gubmint:

We must not mistake the sincere agony and lonely battles of the individuals we pastor as they seek to pursue godliness with the political culture that now reigns supreme. The latter seeks nothing less than total and thoroughgoing conformity to its amorality as a price for membership of civil society, no exceptions allowed. We cannot be sentimental about the ideology even as we must have compassion with those who fight their temptations every day. We must also be aware of how fast the law could be changing. In a week when a CNN poll indicated a majority of Americans opposed to the North Carolina ‘bathroom bill,’ we cannot assume that the plausibility framework for legal decisions will be remotely sympathetic to what – to quote Tony Esolen on the same point for the second time this week – ‘everybody believed the day before yesterday.’

Too much Trump:

But previous election cycles gave Catholic voters a prudential choice between candidates who embodied at least some of the major themes of the social doctrine. What is the thoughtful Catholic voter to do when neither of the presidential candidates is even minimally committed to human dignity, the common good, subsidiarity, and solidarity, as the social doctrine understands those concepts? When one party has elevated lifestyle libertinism to the first of constitutional principles (and is prepared to kill unborn children, jettison free speech, and traduce religious freedom in service to hedonism), while the other is prepared to nominate a fantasist who spun grotesque fairy tales about an alleged connection between an opponent’s family and Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before he closed the deal?

That will be a question to ponder carefully in the next six months. The immediate take-away that the American democratic experiment is in deep trouble—and that trouble has something to do with moral judgment.

The perfect storm of Trump and Target:

We are living in a new country. There’s a completely implausible op-ed piece on Ethika Politika today, blaming the Benedict Option for giving us Trump. The idea is that when orthodox Christians vacate the public square, people like Trump triumph. But there’s no evidence that American Christians have by and large vacated the public square. Most churchgoing Christians who are Republican voted for other candidates in the primaries; Trump’s victory showed how little power religious and social conservatives have now. No, most Christians have not left the public square; the public square has left them, so to speak.

That is, Trump is part of what it means to be in a post-Christian nation (and so, by the way, is Hillary, with the platform she’s running on). It is simply an illusion that traditional Christians are a silent majority in this country, and that if we only wake up, we can put matters aright.

So why is it that God was so upset with either humanity or his own people that well before the rise of telephones and open primaries he sent down massive punishments against sin and disobedience? Think of the generation that did not survive the flood:

The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:5-7 ESV)

Or what about Jeremiah’s prophecy against Judah?

Because the people have forsaken me and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah have known; and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents, and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind—therefore, behold, days are coming, declares the LORD, when this place shall no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter. And in this place I will make void the plans of Judah and Jerusalem, and will cause their people to fall by the sword before their enemies, and by the hand of those who seek their life. I will give their dead bodies for food to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the earth. And I will make this city a horror, a thing to be hissed at. Everyone who passes by it will be horrified and will hiss because of all its wounds. And I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and their daughters, and everyone shall eat the flesh of his neighbor in the siege and in the distress, with which their enemies and those who seek their life afflict them.’ (Jeremiah 19:4-9 ESV)

Yowza!

Shouldn’t Christians who are supposed to be Bible readers act like they’ve seen a wicked world before? Such a recognition doesn’t mean doing nothing. But it should mean not being more outraged than God that humans are fallen.

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Journalists and their Discontents

With the Vatican prosecuting journalists for publishing leaked information, Terry Mattingly thinks the pope may have some lessons for the press.

First Pope Francis:

The free press, secular and also religious, but professional; because the press, secular or religious, must be professional. It’s important that they are truly professional, that the news isn’t manipulated. For me it’s important, because the denunciation of corruption, of injustice, is good work, because there is corruption. And then the one in charge must do something, make a judgment, a tribunal.

The professional press must tell everything, without falling into the three most common sins: misinformation, to tell one half but not the other; calumny, which is not professional – when there is no professionality, you dirty the other person, with or without truth; and defamation, to take away the good name of the person who right now hasn’t done anything wrong to anyone; maybe it’s something from the past.

These are the three defects that are an attack against the professionality of the press. We need professionality, what’s right: things are like this and this. And on corruption? To see the data well and say it: this, this and this. If there is corruption, they should say it. And if a journalist, if they are truly professional, gets it wrong, he should excuse himself. Things go very well like this.

Mattingly comments:

However, it goes without saying that – in the age of Kellerism (click here for background) – I found it interesting that the first thing the pope mentioned was the tendency for modern journalists to act, when covering many hot-button news topics, as if there is only side of a debate that is worthy of coverage, accurate coverage or coverage that shows respect. This is especially true when covering issues of moral theology linked to sexuality and marriage.

Then again, perhaps Francis simply believes that he has, at some point, been the victim of reporting that actually turns information into misinformation.

So what happened to Mattingly when reporting on the press’ coverage of David Daleiden? At that point he faulted journalists for only regarding Daleiden as a politically motivated actor and overlooking the “documentarian’s” religion:

So, basically, the impact of his Catholic faith (which has quite a bit to say, doctrinally speaking, on the sanctity of human life) on his work received the same amount of space – in terms of word count – as his hybrid car (shocking, one must assume, since he is a social conservative) and less attention than his socks.

Perhaps Daleiden is the wrong kind of Catholic?

But the key: When a reporter asks Daleiden why he does what he does, how does he answer that question? Is the Post accurate in its assumption that his primary motives are political?

Perhaps his motives are personal, the kinds of motives that would be explored in-depth in this kind of profile? That would have meant taking the contents of this phrase – “he described himself as the result of a ‘crisis pregnancy’ ” – MUCH more seriously.

But here’s the catch. Why don’t the pope’s remarks about journalists apply to Daleiden? That is how he identified himself — as a reporter and a Roman Catholic to boot — and yet he seems to be guilty of the very errors that Francis says afflict the press:

1: a misrepresentation intended to harm another’s reputation
2: the act of uttering false charges or misrepresentations maliciously calculated to harm another’s reputation

I guess we need another Jesuitical casuist to resolve this one.

In the meantime, sometimes the folks who point out the inconsistencies of journalists might take their own into account.

Does Anyone Remember Claudette Colvin?

That’s Colvin, not Calvin.

She was the fifteen-year old African-American girl who could have been Rosa Parks.

Other African-Americans had previously refused to give their seats to white passengers, says Hoose. “What was without precedent, though, is Colvin wanted to get a lawyer and she wanted to fight,” he says.

The lawyer she chose was Fred Gray, one of two African-American lawyers in Montgomery at the time. After speaking with Colvin, Gray says, he was prepared to file a civil rights lawsuit to contest segregation on buses in Montgomery. But after discussing Colvin’s incident with other local African-American community leaders, the community decided to wait, he says.

Colvin was just 15 and did not have civil rights training. Gray says the community was not quite prepared for Colvin’s situation.

“Later I had a child born out of wedlock; I became pregnant when I was 16,” Colvin says. “And I didn’t fit the image either, of, you know, someone they would want to show off.”

Nine months later, Rosa Parks did the exact same thing as Colvin. She was 42 years old, a professional and an officer in the NAACP. Hoose says Parks was the symbol that civil rights leaders were looking for.

The reason for bringing Colvin up is to calm the outrage over stories about the press’ coverage of Kim Davis, the Rowan County clerk in Kentucky who was refusing to give marriage licenses to gay couples. Now it comes out that she herself in addition to being a Christian is a three-time divorcee and so not necessarily the poster woman for religious freedom among the sanctified defenders of hetero marriage. Molly Hemingway does note in her wonderfully contrarian way that Davis’ conversion to Christian came after her prior divorces. So she is a little upset with the press’ slut shaming. Others have other thoughts about the matter.

Still, why don’t religious conservatives fighting the culture wars worry about style points? Why don’t they pick victims that are more squeaky clean than others? Why not understand that hypocrisy comes with the territory of headlines? If civil rights attorneys had to pick the right person to be the emblem of their cause, why don’t Christians have to make the same calculation?

It’s not like this is a problem that only believers face.

Telling Fibs about Saving Lives

The Lutheran Satire pastor, Hans Fiene, is the latest to defend David Daleiden’s deceit. Thankfully, he does not mention journalism. Unthankfully, he does mention fascist Germans:

The lie of the CMP is, therefore, the obliging lie — seeking to protect the lives of our littlest neighbors. It’s the same lie told by people who say to a frothing-at-the-mouth husband, “sorry, I haven’t seen her,” when his battered wife is safely asleep in their guest bedroom. It’s the same lie told by law enforcement officers who do undercover work to protect children at risk of sexual abuse or citizens at risk of gang-related violence. And if Tollefsen wants to compare the actions of the CMP with a figure from World War II, Truman and his decision to let thousands upon thousands of women and children die to end the war is far from an appropriate candidate. Rather, he’d find a much better fit in someone like Irena Sendler, the Polish nurse who deceived the German government by producing fake IDs for Jewish children in order to save them from the Holocaust.

Actually, not. PP officials were not asking Daleiden where the pregnant women were so they could abort and sell the parts. He was there not about the taking of life but the sale of abortions’ remains. If government agencies defund Planned Parenthood, the lives of unborn babies will still be taken by those providing abortions. Maybe PP’s rates will go up. Maybe they’ll take a hit in public relations. But abortion remains legal and these videos or the lies Daleiden told do nothing to change that.

So I’d like the analogies to be accurate. This is like Daleiden posing as a lampshade maker to meet with Nazi officials about the effects of those slaughtered in the concentration camps. His lies are all after the fact.

Meanwhile, Fiens identifies the basis for the resonance these videos have had:

We in the pro-life community don’t get many stirring victories. Granted, we see a reason to celebrate in the face of every woman who changes her mind and walks out of an abortion clinic with her child still safely in her womb. And we take comfort in the gradually declining abortion rate in America. But Roe v. Wade still stands, the most aggressively pro-abortion president in U.S. history still sleeps in the White House, and the Supreme Court still blocks implementation of state restrictions on abortions.

So when the Center for Medical Progress started releasing its string of undercover videos, most of the pro-life community felt a kind of joy we hadn’t felt in ages. Not joy over what Planned Parenthood was doing, of course, nor was it the kind of joy that wants to shout “busted!” in the face of the bamboozled enemy. Rather, the joy pro-lifers felt at the release of these videos came from the belief that maybe, just maybe, unveiling these particular horrors of the abortion industry would be enough to wake up previously indifferent Americans and start moving the wheels of justice for the unborn. Buried in the sewers of those nausea-inducing undercover videos, pro-lifers found a nugget of hope that lets us believe that a stirring victory for our cause is finally on the horizon.

That confirms my sense that these videos are pay back in the culture wars for same-sex marriage. I’m not saying such a desire for retribution is without basis (though I’m not sure it goes with turning the other cheek). But again, it would be helpful to be honest when defending dishonesty. (Is that a Christian haiku? Nah. Wrong w-w.)

The Un-Christian Option

The maker of the videos producing so much outrage about Planned Parenthood conducted an interview with Christianity Today. Among the statements made:

How did you get people to talk to you? There have been other undercover videos about Planned Parenthood in the past, so you would think they’d be more skeptical.

It’s reasonable to think they would be skeptical. We were quite surprised, during the course of this project, how trusting and how willing to talk and negotiate and let us into the inner circle Planned Parenthood was.

All we had to do was say two things. Number one, that we supported their work. And number two, that we wanted to buy their fetal body parts. Those were the magic words. And they were willing to bend over backwards to accommodate that. . . .

There are some critics, who share your beliefs about abortion, who are uncomfortable with the techniques you use. They say misrepresenting who you are and using undercover video is unethical. How do you respond to that claim? And what are the laws about undercover recording in states like California, where you recorded video?

California has a recording law that prohibits the surreptitious recording of what are called “confidential communications,” so California’s recording statute is limited.

I think that there are a minority of people who think that any kind of undercover work is prima facie wrong and unethical. I certainly don’t subscribe to that view. Most people don’t subscribe to that view. Undercover work is a pretty common tactic among law enforcement and journalists. I don’t think the techniques that we use are any more extreme than what is done every day by mainstream investigative journalists.

People don’t realize that it’s a common law liberty in the United States to change your name at will. I think it’s a little silly to say that it’s unethical when it is a common law liberty to present yourself however you want to present yourself. . . .

What are your personal beliefs and how do they inform the work you do?

I am Catholic, and I am a really big fan of Pope Francis. He has been a huge inspiration to me over the past couple of years, especially while doing this project.

Pope Francis’s emphasis on not being closed in on yourself but always moving forward and always being willing to go out towards the margins of human experience—in order to bring the gospel to those margins—was a huge inspiration to me during this project. I don’t think there’s any place more on the existential margins of society than an abortion clinic.

I think that when you have a place like an abortion clinic—which is a place where children are killed on an industrial scale—there is almost a sacramental value in bringing a presence to those places. We were there for good, out of love, and to welcome those children for the brief time that they will be in existence before they die. And to be in contact with and pray for all the abortion workers, the abortion doctors who are there.
As a Christian you are part of the body of Christ. So your presence, even in those darkest of places, can bring the presence of Jesus.

Notice the knots David Daleiden ties himself in. It’s “common law” here to change your name, so deceit is okay, saying exactly what you have no intention of meaning, like “we support your work” and “want to buy fetal body parts.” Well, isn’t isn’t it also legal to have an abortion? Not saying that’s a good thing. But if you use state law to justify violating on of the Ten Commandments, haven’t you given up any claim to moral authority against the other side which could argue in a similar fashion.

Then Daleiden claims the inspiration of Pope Francis and Christianity. Isn’t that a reason not to deceive? Think Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons. He could have saved his life if he had lied and taken the oath, right? If you took a 2k view of this and made it less religious calling and more secular vocation, perhaps you could argue that as a journalist you sometimes don’t follow all of God’s laws in order to get a story. But when you want to claim Christian standing for what you do and then violate Christian morality, that’s a violation.

When Did Christian America End?

For some it happened recently. This blogger doesn’t refer to the Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage, but it’s hard not to think he has it in mind:

The 350-year marriage of Protestant Christian theology and American popular culture is over. Christianity, it may be sadly said, is no longer the preeminent social influence in American life. We Christians who dared to presume that America was ever all and only ours are, apart from some God-ordained awakening, unlikely to “get our country back.” We will live and work henceforth, as do most other Christians around the world, amidst a public square hostile to our beliefs.

The odd wrinkle to Christian readings of the American revolution is that the United Kingdom was a Christian nation. Presbyterians were the established church in Scotland. And King George was head of a church that claimed George Washington as a member (and he was an orthodox Christian, you know). Plus, it seems that King George III wasn’t all that bad a king.

What the United States did was to establish itself without a Christian church. Advocates of a Christian America may not like the language of the separation of church and state, but what the United States did in comparison to Europe and 1500 years of history (and even compared to France where Napolean eventually made Roman Catholicism the established church) was to create a nation without a state church (at the national level — hello) and that prohibited religious tests for holding office. That also meant the churches (except for Congregationalists in New England) had to pay as they went on the basis of their own creative schemes for finding parishioners and persuading them to give (till it hurts — I mean, tithe).

So even though American has been secular for a long time — as long as the U.S.A. has existed — the events of two weeks ago seem to be decisive for making Christians of all kinds abandon the United States as a blessed, favored, or welcome place.

No one except for Rusty Reno seems to recall that in 1996, a time when the Internet was just catching on, Christians were also worried about “The End of Democracy”:

The prospect of a purely political decision from the Court led me back to the famous First Things symposium published in November 1996: “The End of Democracy?” The occasion for that symposium was a federal circuit-court decision finding a right (subsequently overturned by the Supreme Court) to doctor-assisted suicide. The reasons given were identical to those used to justify America’s abortion regime. Richard John Neuhaus and the others who participated in the symposium were deeply concerned about the perverse way in which our constitutional system was turning liberty into an enemy of life.

No matter what the higher courts decided, physician-assisted suicide is still on the books in Oregon. And the number of Americans — since we are after the 14th Amendment now citizens not of the states but of the nation — dying with the help of doctors in Oregon is growing — from 16 in 1998 to 105 last year.

So what I wonder is whether Christian America ended in 1998. I also wonder why more Christians have not been outraged by a federal government that allows Oregon to persist in this law. Maybe secession is unconstitutional, but can’t the Union kick states out? And why single out same-sex marriage? Wasn’t Roe v. Wade worse?

Is it simply that the Internet now gives Americans more room to hyperventilate about Outrage Porn?

Unencumbered by W-w

Noah Millman is not merely on one roll, he’s on four. See below.

But his writing on contemporary events leads me again to ponder whether Christians are limited (dumber?) when it comes to non-spiritual subjects precisely because Scripture and church dogma establish limits that block creative and critical thought. (The 2k solution, by the way, is to say that Christians have great liberty where the Bible is silent.) I know Millman is a Jewish-American, but I suspect he is not bound the way Reformed Protestants are by divine revelation and faith-community officers.

And it is the sense of needing to run every piece of analysis or op-ed (“take every thought captive”) through the prism of w-w that winds up limiting the ability of Christians to interact thoughtfully in the wider world. If we/they simply looked at matters as regular human beings or as Americans or as bankers, would we be able to see the world the way Millman does? (My answer is, I hope so.)

But to their credit, Christians are attached to the Bible and to church teaching in ways that show great love for the truths of special revelation. That is something that is likely in short supply among those who only use their smarts to assess the world. T

So here is a quick summary of Millman’s recent w-w-free insights. On Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si:

To my reading, the encyclical starts with a fairy tale. Once upon a time, human beings lived in relative harmony with the environment, because we understood our place within creation. But with the advent of modernity, we have lost sight of that place, both in terms of our proper humility and in terms of our proper responsibility for good stewardship. And the devastating consequences for humanity and the non-human world are all around us. Modernity cannot really be repaired from within; it must be re-founded on a proper moral basis, such that the fruits of the earth are properly shared and exploitation of both the human and non-human world is no longer the basis of our world economy.

I call this a fairy tale because there’s no evidence offered that the pre-modern history is at all true. That is to say, there’s no evidence that medieval Europeans, or the cultures of Africa or the Americas before the arrival of Europeans, avoided exploiting their environment to the best of their ability. And this is to say nothing of the cultures of Asia, from China to India to the Fertile Crescent, which were much more systematic and effective at maximizing their exploitation of the local environment, and which consequently lived closer to the Malthusian edge.

Would that Roman Catholics were not so prone to root, root, root for the home team or for Protestants (like all about meEEEE) to be so suspicious.

On the Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage:

My (partial) defense of Kennedy’s opinion begins with the following thought experiment. Imagine that Loving had been decided the opposite way, upholding miscegenation statutes, and that, in response, an amendment to the Constitution had been passed with the following wording:

The family being the fundamental basis of society, the right to matrimony shall not be infringed.

The passage of this amendment would surely have overturned miscegenation statutes nationally – as it would have been intended to do. It would also have made it clear that prisoners, the mentally handicapped, the carriers of genetic diseases – that none of these can be denied access to matrimony. How, though, would it be applied today in the context of same-sex marriage? How should it be applied?

The answer hinges on the question of what marriage is. At the time of the passage of the amendment, it’s true, only a few would have argued that it encompassed same-sex unions. But in 2015 a great many people thought it did, and many states had come to express that view in their laws (whether prompted by the state-level judiciary or not). Once such a view is current, it becomes necessary for the Court to decide whether or not it is correct – because it is necessary to determine whether the definition of marriage restricting it to unions between men and women is, in fact, an infringement on a fundamental right. This is particularly the case when states have undertaken explicitly to define marriage as exclusively a male-female bond, and not merely done so implicitly.

That’s basically the situation the Court found itself in if it took the Loving precedent seriously. Loving clearly established the right to marry as fundamental, pre-political, and central to the Declaration of Independence’s concept of the “pursuit of happiness.” Note that there is nothing traditional about this idea. Traditionally, marriage was a matter better arranged by your parents than by you, and love was something you hoped would grow within and sustain happiness in marriage as opposed to marriage’s origin. Traditionally and cross-culturally, regulation or prohibition of exogamy has been more the rule than the exception. Loving certainly didn’t invent the idea of the love match, but it did raise it to the level of Constitutional principle.

Millman recognizes that it was the U.S. Supreme Court, not the General Assembly of the OPC, that decided this case, and that certain judicial precedents were in place. In other words, he didn’t have to worry about the Bible or about the Book of Church Order in trying to make sense of the Court’s logic. Can Christians do that? Should they?

On the Greek referendum and debt crisis:

The metropole (Brussels/Berlin) demands terms for renegotiation of Greece’s debt that leave Greece politically and economically utterly subservient to said metropole. The Greeks demand more favorable terms that allow their economy to grow again and have some measure of independence.

The Greeks have suffered far more from austerity than the American colonists did under British taxation. And the British metropole had at least as much reason to accuse us of ingratitude: its taxes were imposed to pay for a war waged on the colonists’ behalf, and the British were rather as disinclined as the German bankers are to have the relationship with the crown treated by the colonists as a blank check.

And, as with the American colonies, the remedy is either independence or genuine representation at the metropole. Either the EU needs to remedy its democratic deficit, creating political organs as powerful and responsive to the people as the ECB is to the imperatives of finance, or it needs to shrink from an empire to a club of like-minded states with already synchronized economies.

Of course, most evangelical and Reformed Protestants don’t care Eastern Orthodox Greece (talk about the limiting effects of w-w), but Millman reminds Americans (and perhaps the Scots) about the value of independence. Was it merely coincidence that the Greeks voted no only a day after the Fourth of July? I don’t think so!

Finally, Millman raises more good questions about the so-called Benedict Option:

Dreher’s surprise, honestly, feels to me just an index of alienation. Same-sex marriage is accepted as normal by a substantial majority of Americans now. How could it possibly be outrageous to learn that a sitting Supreme Court Justice is comfortable performing same-sex weddings in a jurisdiction where such weddings are legal? Wouldn’t it be more surprising if none of the sitting Justices held the same opinion as 60% of Americans?

But that’s not really the point I want to make. Dreher’s instinct, clearly, was that Ginsburg’s action was “outrageous.” That is to say: it provoked him to outrage. Now, I have to seriously ask this: is this feeling, of outrage, likely to be salved, or exacerbated by the pursuit of the Benedict Option?

The culture is going to go on, after all, doing whatever it does, and people all over the country will continue to produce Dreherbait, some of it far more obviously outrageous than Ruth Bader Ginsburg performing a legal wedding ceremony. (The article on quasi-Saudi-sounding practices of Manhattan’s upper financial echelons is a good recent example – and whadaya know, it turns out pricey Manhattan divorce lawyers say they’ve never heard of such a thing as a “wife bonus.”) But isn’t the collection of such stories, well, isn’t it kind of obsessing over precisely the parts of our culture that the whole point of the Benedict Option is to turn away from, in favor of a focus on one’s own community, and its spiritual development?

So I have to ask: is one of the strictures of the Benedict Option going to be to stop pursuing outrage porn? And if it isn’t – why isn’t it?

“Outrage porn.” Brilliant.

Make me smart like this guy.