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Tuesday, October 31st, 2006
Two of journalist Uwe Siemon-Netto's presentations from this last weekend have been posted on his blog at the Concordia Institute of Lay Vocation. The titles are "Priests in Aprons and Overalls" and "Bach, the Divine Spook." Allow me to tantalize you with this line from the "Priests" lecture: "Twenty years ago, Roland Peugeot explained the high quality of his cars with his family's Lutheran faith. The Peugeots hail from Montbéliard, a Lutheran enclave in eastern France." Don't miss out on these. This man is a treasure.
As a late addition to this post, I just noticed that the recording of the "Priests in Aprons and Overalls" lecture was also posted on the site of Faith Lutheran Church of Capistrano Beach, California. Click here for a downloadable mp3.
12:04 pm Pacific Standard Time
Sunday, October 29th, 2006
Dr. Uwe Siemon-Netto was in town this weekend to deliver a series of talks that were just wonderful to hear. Bach as the evangelist of Japan, Journalism, Luther's Two Kingdom Theory, the doctrine of Vocation and how it produces quality European carsthe breadth of the subject matter was breathtaking. There were many high points. But one high point on Saturday was Siemon-Netto's discussion of Luther's "good Saxon overstatement." Siemon-Netto said he had a right to expound on this because he himself was a Saxon born in Leipzig. This was how people of Luther's time and place spoke. Well, I am not German myself, but I love reading Luther. And his overstatement has always seemed to have come not just from his innate personality, though that was surely true. But some of it, as Siemon-Netto explained, came from the paradoxical nature of Lutheranism itself.
Overstatement is part of the Lutheran grammar. You speak a different language and you describe a different faith. It the very fabric of Lutheranism. Trying to iron out the wrinkle is like trying to iron out a felt hat. You may succeed, but you will no longer have a hat.
I once got into a battle with an editor at Modern Reformation. Okay, I got in several battles with several editors. (And no battles with a few really good ones.) But this one was in the early days of the magazine. They took on a very bright evangelical who had a great background in publishing, and wide exposure to a lot of different kinds of writing. There was nothing to question in his credentials. But there was a lot to question in how well he "got" us, especially the Lutherans. Our Reformed colleagues were Continental Reformed, and only a step away from us theologically. But they were comfortable working with people a step away from them in the opposite direction, people who were at least two steps away from us. (And our Reformed colleagues never saw why we couldn't make the little stretch to accomodate.) This was one of those times.
The issue was that I had stated something categorically where if you parsed it out, charting all the logical possibilities, it didn't prove true in every last possible instance. I was questioned about tightening up the language to be more accurate. I told the editor that I understood what he was asking, but that I had indulged in good Lutheran overstatement. He said something like, "Oh, no. I'm against that. I think we have to be careful with language and say things in a more measured fashion so that we cannot be misunderstood." Well, we were at philosophical loggerheads. I am thankful that he respected my autonomy as a writer and left the words as I had written them. But I had to ponder what had happened. In some ways I had just imbibed the culture of Lutheranism. But I am an engineer's son who gives great credence to precision. (If Siemon-Netto is right, a lot of good engineers come from these lands of overstatement. Think of that!) The real point was not that I believed in slovenly speech. The point, when you really got to it, was that I thought that the language of Law and Gospel in Scripture was such that you never really do get to iron things out. To iron them out is to change their meaning.
In Scripture, Law is often stated as if there will be no Gospel. "The Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name" (Exodus 20:7). And the Gospel is stated as if the satisfaction of the demands of the Law were no problem. "Even though I was once a blasphemer...I was shown mercy" (1 Tim 1:13). (Yes, you can parse this out other ways. They just don't work so well. My real point here is that anyone hearing Exodus 20 would NOT have expected that the mercy spoken of in 1 Timothy was conceivable. But it shows up, nonetheless.) The Law states our guilt in the harshest of terms. We are spoken of as being beyond the pale of forgiveness. But when grace comes, it is all the sweeter.
My point is not that people should begin ignoring the guard rails. The harsher warnings are there because such actions ARE spiritually dangerous. You don't have the power to grant repentance to yourself. When you sin like this you run the risk of dying in impenitence. But if you have a breath in you, God may grant repentance in cases we imagine are hopeless. The language of warning and the language of forgiveness are stated as they are for a reason. You cannot iron them out into one simple message. They are not meant to work like that.
For a Lutheran, this viewpoint is fundamental. The paradoxical ways of speaking must be maintained. Are they confusing? Perhaps. But the alternative is to come up with a system that it tight, simple, and true to Scripturesome Scripture, but not all of it. People will either find the Law hedging in grace such that only the really disciplined can be saved, or they will have the Gospel cancel the Law such that there are no moral standards and everything is okay with God, and the created order looks like a cesspool with the impenitent being God's favorites. The only thing worse than a paradoxical theology is a straightforward one.
Overstatement comes naturally to a Lutheran because he finds that at the core of the Christian message are paradoxical statements that cannot be given in carefully measured form. The pastor does have a pastoral role asking him to gauge his audience. But this is so he presents the appropriate message in the appropriate place. It is like knowing that you must treat a wound with heat or ice. You may need to gauge the wound to know which. But this is different from carefully setting the temperature of the water to lukewarm.
Siemon-Netto explained how our theology does not lend itself well to a soundbite culture. Someone quotes Luther's "Sin boldly" as if it were a stand-alone ethical system. They miss the context where it is said to someone of tender conscience whose scrupulosity is getting in the way of service to the neighbor. Another counsellor would have tried to remedy the solution by telling the person that what he was doing was not sinful. But that would have been dangerous in another way. That would merely desensitized the individual's conscience. No. Recognize your act of love as still containing sin. You will get your hands dirty in serving your neighbor. But boldy go to the cross and confess your sin. (In a lawless world you would not do this.) This is the only proper solution to this kind of dilemma. Our theology will not fit a soundbite. Would you value a theology that could?
11:12 pm Pacific Standard Time
Saturday, October 21st, 2006
What was that Bible story where one of the twelve, his name was Ioudas in the Greek, sells his loved one for silver, and the loved one is taken away bound, thought dead, and turns up alive in the end, with a kingdom to share with the destitute? Oh yeah. The story of Joseph from Genesis.
I just recently noticed that in the Septuagint, Judah was spelled the same as Judas is spelled in the New Testament Greek.
4:01 pm Pacific Standard Time
Last week I watched a Bill Moyers special called Is God Green?. It was about evangelical Christians bucking the Republican position on the environment. Much of it had to do with pollution of an egregious sort, where ground water was being contaminated and people were getting sick. Much of it also had to do with Global Warming. Different aspects of the question tended to be lumped together. But rather than address the facts of pollution, about which I have no expertise, I wish to discuss something else.
Moyers interviewed Reformed theologian E. Calvin Beisner. The interview shown on TV had Beisner making all sorts of unnuanced statements. These statements seemed all the stranger for the fact that Beisner's manner of speech seemed so careful. It was as if his bald statements were carefully chosen to be the best statements of his position. And this position just sounded ugly.
A key problem was that in the televised interview, Beisner seemed to answer anthropomorphic questions with philosophical answers. To the question of whether God willed Hurricane Katrina, an unnuanced "Yes" was offered. This would have had many listeners imagining that God was an old man in the sky blowing on New Orleans just to watch the suffering He could cause. Yet when I read the full transcript of the interview, I was surprised to find that Beisner made a bunch of the statements that I would have wanted him to make. I had actually sat down to write an angry critique, which would have said something to the effect of, "I would have agreed with his saying x, if he had gone on to say y in explanation." But he did say y. Y just didn't make it past the editor.
Another problem was that Beisner's views could easily have been taken as supporting the strip mining shown earlier in the show. But Beisner was interviewed about this and said such mining need not be pursued and that the people who were harmed should have the right to redress their situation through lawsuits. I take that to mean that if they were not able to be successful at this in the current legal environment, there was room for change, but that such changes that would allow private individuals to win against large corporations would be a better means of regulating than the government regulation we have now. The way the show was edited, however, did not show Beisner's sympathy for the suffering.
I'm not sure exactly what to make of this. I could find purely nefarious motives in this. That the editor tried as hard as possible to make Beisner appear bad. Or I could note that there were time constraints, and think that the editor merely wanted to catch Beisner's main statements rather than his nuanced explanations, that might have been less interesting to listeners. I suspect that some of each was involved. In any case, I hope that other viewers take the time to read the full transcript.
1:12 pm Pacific Standard Time
Friday, October 20th, 2006
Article VII of the Augsburg Confession tells us that the church is the assembly of saints in which the Gospel is taught purely and the sacraments are administered rightly. This is a simple definition in theory. In practice, it can be much more difficult either to use it to determine the status of a congregation, or to figure out what one's duties are in a given case.
On both sides of the issue, I hear a lot more certainty than I think is warranted. I'll define the two extremes without naming them. You can be pretty sure that you can draw a spectrum between them and find real examples all along the way. On the one end you find those who say that if any error has been publically tolerated, you should leave so as not to participate in the sins of others. On the other end you find those who would suggest that you are schismatic if you are leaving a congregation that can make any claim to right preaching or proper administration of the sacraments, whatever goes on around the edges. Most people are not at the far ends of this spectrum, but wherever people are, they're often quite sure they're right.
The trouble is on the conscience of the believer who has to hear this discussion take place and has internalized arguments from both sides. "You should go to church." "It is dangerous to subject yourself to bad preaching." "Think of the people in China who walk two hours to church." "In the old parish system, you would just automatically go to the church closest to your house." "You're just looking for the perfect church!" Well, I'm sure you've heard them. Some have their use in goading lazy old Adam out of bed. Some have their use in keeping the New Man from being corrupted. But what about when it isn't so clear?
What is much more typical is when someone has a church nearby where you hear the Gospel. Only along with it you hear something else. The pastor offers a soup of his own concoction, where meditation on the text, homely stories, jokes, inspirational sayings off the internet (the ones that have all the smileys on them), and pious talk of a sort you don't find in the Bible ("You need to feel the touch of Jeeeee-zus") get brewed together in proportions that vary week to week. One week you would feel sorry to have missed is followed by three you're sorry to have caught.
Further, there is an old term, found among other places in the Smalkald Articles, the "mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren," (SA III IV) that comes in here. Not going to church does not automatically cut one off from the Gospel itself, especially where the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren is at a good level. Luther himself says that this is one of the five ways the Gospel comes to us. Now someone can well ask, "Why would someone want to limit the ways he or she would receive forgiveness?" The answer is, under normal circumstances they should not. But we cannot figure this out like algebra.
And this is what I tend to see happening. Some Lutherans frame this as if on the one hand grace were running out and the person needed the Gospel. Yet you bring up something going wrong in the preaching, and now the parishioner is supposed to be the perfect hearer who can withstand anything. Well, you either get to have it one way or the other. If we are in a world where these things are perfect, then the perfect parishioner who can withstand bad preaching can also remember the Gospel once heard unto life everlasting. If, on the other hand, we are in the world where things are not perfect, then the advantages to faith of the good parts of a sermon have to be weighed against the disadvantages to faith of its bad parts. Does the preaching tend to make the Gospel implausible in a way that other orthodox preaching does not? These questions are very real ones.
This is just another case in life where people have a tendency to see only one side of a cost/benefit analysis. You get caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, and instead of recognizing the dilemma, someone says, "Well, this is an easy one. Stay out of the water." "What?" "Stay out of the water. That's a whirlpool. You're probably not familiar with the ocean. If you had ever seen someone battered against the rocks, you wouldn't even think of going to sea." "Yeah, but there's the devil." "No. I'm serious. You need to look at just how fast that water comes in!" "But I grew up near the ocean. I understand all that." "If you did, you wouldn't even be suggesting going into the water."
These are difficult times. If you have a friend in such a dilemma, I would not suggest strong arming them into staying in a congregation. Better to let them go. But make sure you check up on them. Lazy old Adam can piggyback on a decision made for good reasons. The conversation of the brethren may be a needful thing in making sure that this situation really does make for an improvement rather than wash or a disaster.
4:13 pm Pacific Standard Time
Wednesday, October 18th, 2006
22Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know:
23Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:
24Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.
25For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved:
26Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope:
27Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.
28Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance.
29Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day.
30Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne;
31He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.
32This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.
33Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.
34For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand,
35Until I make thy foes thy footstool.
36Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made the same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.
Now when they heard this, they felt that the sermon was getting long, and said, How does that affect my life today? You're talking about the past. What we need to do is to move forward.
Then Peter said unto them, I have not yet earned the right to be heard. I'm sorry. I guess I should have done a survey to find out your felt needs before I spoke.
We will have to come up with good programs for both you and your children, better to separate you from each other.
And with many other words did he placate and appease, saying, You are a special generation. We will study you and pander to you.
Then they that liked to be appeased were added to the new church: those who listened to his earlier message and had been cut to the quick felt called to assemble, but there was nowhere to assemble.
The new church continued stedfastly in their own beliefs and in their generational niche, and in the eating of donuts, and the filling out of surveys.
6:18 pm Pacific Standard Time
Sunday, October 15th, 2006
This appears to be a matter where the more you dig, the more you find. And you have to zig-zag your way to the truth. I feel sorry that I do not know this matter better than I do. But the public discussion has not been as enlightening as it should be. Where is the leader who will offer an accurate history lesson on this subject before plunging in to what his side wants to do with the matter? Ronald Reagan was called the Great Communicator in part because he was able to do this. A listener had some sense that they were given an entryway into the discussion, rather than the sense of walking into the middle of an argument with two parties shouting "No it isn't!" "Yes it is!" and wondering "What do they mean by 'it'?"
Habeas Corpus is made a bit more difficult because the Constitution speaks of it as a reality that is already in existence. It doesn't define the reality as something it is creating. When we read in Section 9 of the Constitution, the section on the Limits on Congress, that "The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it," it may take some research to find out what is being done.
We hear much talk lately of "the right of Habeas Corpus." Yet the Constitution speaks of the "privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus." A privilege is not a right. Yet neither is the writ the full extent of the right. It may be that something pertaining to the right is a privilege, such that loss of the privilege still does not render you stripped of an important right.
One thing we have to consider is the fact that the privilege is limited in the section on the Limits of Congress. Why here? Would you expect to see exceptions to your other rights or privileges here? The point seems to be that Congress's privilege of issuing Writs of Habeas Corpus cannot be suspended except in these cases. Now what does it mean to call this a Congressional privilege?
It means that as a member of Congress, you may think that a person or a group of people were unjustly held. So you or the Congress issue a Writ of Habeas Corpus. This requires the parties holding people to explain to you on what charges they are being held. When this privilege is taken away, you as a party are not in a position to question the holding. This is a very real limitation on your power. It functions as a check on Congressional power, probably so that there are limits on how much division can be whipped up in Congress while the President is trying to pursue a war.
"But how does that relate to public safety? If what you're saying is true, the Congress is the threat to safety, not the detainee!" That would appear to be true if this didn't actually end up as a controversy during the Civil War. Members of Congress WERE divided against the President. The President DID see a threat to the union. Think of how limited Lincoln's power would have been if members of Congress could have had everybody he had jailed set free. (Down boy! I know some of my readers would like this. So would I, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But my point here is that Lincoln would have seen this limitation on Congress as helpful to the public safety even if the accused had retained rights themselves, as the Court said they did.)
This limit on Congress does not create an unlimited right to hold without reason. It just limits one party from doing the questioning. A party whose division against the President can easily thwart a war effort. The flip side of this is that Congress is supposed to deliberate on going to war in the first place. Once they decide to, they have surrendered some of their own powers into the President's hands.
My reading may not be accurate. (I defend my talking before being exhaustively informed on the grounds that I'll likely learn more quickly through arguing these points out in the comments. I would know more if I had gone to Law School. But in the Law Class I did take, argument was a key means of education.) I still suspect my reading is more accurate than the view that Section Nine is speaking of an individual's entire right or privilege of habeas corpus. The Supreme Court's writing suggests otherwise:
13. Suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus does not suspend the writ itself. The writ issues as a matter of course, and, on its return, the court decides whether the applicant is denied the right of proceeding any further.
In any case, a distinction between the privilege and the actual writ exists.
2:33 pm Pacific Standard Time
Saturday, October 14th, 2006
Luther's teachings on the Fourth Commandment and Romans 13 come up fairly regularly in our blogging circles. (Perhaps in part because I bring them up myself.) But I want to press some questions that arise out of Lutheran teaching. I think much of the time the response to my writing by some is just a head-shaking. "He just wants to be able to get away with x." But there are other questions to be asked. When we put Luther's teachings together and then look at our own society, it may not be so clear what is to be done.
Take education. Luther was one of the early promoters of common schooling. But in his time he suggested school taking an hour or two a day. And the instruction included religious instruction. In our time, education is secular and takes up much of children's time. And most of the pushes in recent times have been to increase that time, supposedly because the schools need more of children's time to be successful. Few ask if the cure is causing the disease. In addition to promoting common schooling, though, Luther said the following: "But where the Holy Scripture does not rule I certainly advise no one to send his child. Everyone not unceasingly occupied with the Word of God must become corrupt." [Ewald M. Plass, editor, What Luther Says, p. 449 entry 1327] So what does this mean about schooling in our time? More to the point, what would it have meant if certain laws had been promoted that outlawed all but our public schools? What would the Lutheran response have been? Obey the laws because they are given by God? Or should Christian parents pull their children from school and go to prison?
Thankfully our laws allow more parental choice than this. At least for now. But that is what makes this a good time for hammering this out. If the laws were to change, this discussion might cease to be possible. And then people would be in a situation where they had to choose their course in the absence of much help. Should they listen to their pastor? Will their pastor stand against bad laws on this matter? People always have the incentive to be cautious about getting themselves in trouble. If they go to prison for civil disobedience, what becomes of their children then? We can think of it as suffering under the cross, but such a label is only helpful to the conscience when matters are clear. When they are not clear, people become confused. Both options look illegitimate.
The older I get, the more I suspect Luther was right. I delve deeper into the Scriptures and find out just how much I have to unlearn. How little mastery of them I have. The problem is, I think the less people know, often the more satisfied they are that they know enough. They imagine surface knowledge is all there is to be had. "But how much knowledge do I need to be saved?" That isn't the right question. That question is designed (not usually by the one who asks it) to elicit an answer that either offers easy comfort, or a mean legalistic response that makes the whole business implausible. Surely God is nicer than that. But this is a framing problem. The questions should be multiple: "How much knowledge do I need to be equipped, not only to stay in the faith to life everlasting, but to draw others in? Others who may respond to books of Scripture I find foreign because they were written for people more like my lost neighbor than me? How much knowledge do I need to see what the church is really supposed to be so that I battle where I'm supposed to? How much knowledge do I need to know what kinds of vocations God can call people to, so that I can be the lone defender of someone who goes in a direction not sanctioned by my culture?" There are many more. We often only find the questions when we study Scripture. We slowly go from bringing questions from our culture to the text, to allowing the text to question the culture.
2:42 pm Pacific Standard Time
Friday, October 13th, 2006
A lot of what passes for theology is emotional and social. I'm not sure how inescapable this is. When I first discovered it, I discovered it in some small ways. Mistakes I had made myself. Possessing a limited emotional vocabulary when I was younger, I used evangelical language of spirituality to express my feelings. Well, when I got depressed, I, like many other people in the past, got myself convinced I had committed the Unpardonable Sin. Why else would I feel so doomed? My dad was the only one to argue with me on a ground other than the "exegetical problem" I was bringing up. He did it in a kind of ham-fisted way, as he's not very articulate. (He's brilliant, but mostly in non-verbal ways. Because of him, I cannot equate verbal ability with intelligence in a one-to-one fashion.) But despite a less rich emotional vocabulary, I think he could "see" what was going on. My problem did only get solved through theology. And the theology ironed out a lot emotionally. But in hindsight, I saw how I had two mental tracks wound together a bit too tightly. To make headway in either area required some distinctions that I wasn't taught to make.
Another step in making the distinction happened in a theology class where we were discussing Original Sin. The prof said, "I don't think that we've really gotten this across when we use the word 'bad.' As in 'You're a bad person.' If we use that language there will be people from sick houses where it will resonate for all the wrong reasons. Quietly, they'll think to themselves, 'Oh. Yes. What you said was right. I always feared that was true and now you've confirmed it.'" This was a very seminal discussion.
I later noticed how some Reformed people made too easy a corresponance between inconvenient behavior on the part of their children and Original Sin. Though more recently, I've started rethinking. There are two ditches here. One involves imagining that the child has a grasp of the world he or she doesn't have. "I just spent an hour folding the clothes, and she pulled them out and threw them all over the room." Uh. Most adults have little grasp of how much work other adults have put into accomplishing things. Anyone who has worked in an office knows this. A 15-month-old surely won't grasp this, either. But the other ditch is thinking the child gets nothing. I'm often amazed at the intelligence of the very young. Their little minds are uncanny mixtures of deep insight and lack of experience. Mixtures we can't quite grasp.
Discussions of the therapeutic are often very shallow in our circles. Usually what gets held up to derision are pop psych elements that were preached from the pulpit. I really do wish such pastors would shut up. But not only because they are preaching something other than God's Word. They are also offering shallow versions of someone else's field.
People discuss self esteem in its popular version and don't know how much it has been cheapened since Nathaniel Branden did his work on the subject. Japanese children are much better at math than American children. But American children "feel better" about their math skills. So that's self esteem. Isn't it stupid? Well, that may be stupid, but that was not what self esteem was supposed to mean. I won't go into details. (Branden would probably say that self esteem could be built by helping a child do math well. A Japanese school could help toward this by dispensing with shame. An American school by increasing good discipline.) I'll just say that someone who would read Branden would not quickly find something to disagree with. And ironically, when they did, it would be a discussion of Original Sin where Original Sin was taken to mean 'badness' as discussed above. Psychologists will attack a sickness that has been theologized. This does not mean the theology was wrong. You cannot tell from the fact that Prozac worked that Adam's sin was or was not imputed to the race. You've stopped feeling 'bad'. But 'bad' wasn't the category.
The "unconditional positive regard" of Rogerian psychology is also misunderstood, perhaps by both sides. It is a practice. It is a practice under which I think people do heal. I don't think they heal specifically of Original Sin from such a practice. Nor do I think that this has reference one way or another to sin. It shouldn't, anyway. But some of its attackers and some of its defenders will muddle the categories.
Another one. It took me a while to "get" this one. Someone related to me something they had heard said by a pastoral counsellor in a couples group. "Well, the trouble is, you see the world in terms of good and evil, and she sees it in terms of right and wrong." (By trouble, he meant in communication.) Huh? Aren't these the same categories? No. I won't bother to explain this at length. The short answer might be that it's the difference between dividing the world into benevolence/malevolence versus dividing it into following the rules/not following the rules. That's a good hint, whether or not I'm hitting it dead center. But ponder the terms. In Lutheranism this may get confused because Germans like to be right.
When Luther decided to put all politics under the Fourth Commandment, I think he made a grave mistake. We are to see the ruler as a father. What could be wrong with that? Ask Sigmund Freud. This immediately raises dark categories as much as light ones. Add Romans 13 into the mix and tighten the screws and you suddenly tap into some very primal feelings. Adults who want to take a role like they had with mother when another naughty child was being spanked. There are ways of reading the Biblical material that lead elsewhere. The heir is no longer a child. Romans 13:6 says that we are to honor rulers for their attention to their rule. Well, some of the best attention ever given was given in the 18th century, when rulers argued and debated over how best to govern the government itself. Discussion that only becomes more important as the scale of the state looms larger, and the procedures of the state more mechanized. Mechanization is the opposite of attention. To ignore that and say that all authority is valid is to subvert the very reasons undergirding the Pauline argument.
I do believe in an objective text that came from outside of us. But I also have seen how easily people ride the text as they are ridden by primal feelings. I have seen myself do it after the fact. The odd part is, most of the text would be meaningless in a world without feeling. So dispensing with feeling is not the answer. We need to turn criticism onto it, though. These categories need to be part of the discussion.
After an initial post, I remembered one of my applications of what I'm talking about. It has to do with religious experience. When you dump the idea that a lot of the Scriptural language is experiential language, it doesn't do away with experience. It actually opens the door for people to differ more in their experiences. For instance, conversion experiences. If being "born again" is primarily an experience, then everyone must "experience" this. This is a bit different from saying that the new birth must happen. It is saying it must be felt. Then the discussion turns on, what does it feel like? And the pushy people get to define it. Those who are comfortable with talking as if everyone not wired like them is a lost soul. Those with a narrow palate for human types. Those who want to put everyone through some kind of sales training so they can be comfortable with them. "If you were more mature, you wouldn't be arguing this!" they probably want to say at this point. Sorry. Maturity works different for me. I listen to people. And a lot of people who can resonate with larger swaths of Biblical material than you ever run into in the "born again" world aren't comfortable in the narrow experiential world that represents.
I put this into practice as a call screener for the White Horse Inn. A woman started talking about her religious experiences. One of them seemed to be illustrative of grace. Only I wasn't sure how it related to faith in Jesus. So I said I was all for Christian experiences, but I was especially interested in those having to do with trusting Jesus. I shared Ephesians 2:8-9. Well, the light went on for her. I wasn't sure whether she might not have had some faith before this, and I honestly didn't care. My dogma says that convesion is instantaneous. I believe this. But I don't try to translate my dogma into a particular type of experience. Conversion may seem gradual. Perhaps there was a particular instant unknown to either of us when the light went on. Perhaps it only went on when I spoke to her about Ephesians. Perhaps it had been on earlier, but the flame and died down and resparked at that point. But the point is, Ephesians doesn't talk experientially. So I don't have to be an experience policeman, insisting on one thing or forbidding another. If anything, I think this opens the door for just hearing people be emotional about faith without judging it. We can share the Gospel with people who consider themselves Christians, and it doesn't mean that we have concluded they aren't. We know this knowledge is necessary to salvation, so we share it. If you don't know whether you are looking at wheat or a tare, decide it's wheat for the sake of charity, and plant a new seed just in case. And don't decide that the person has to be just like you for it to be real.
This has other applications for households where women are comfortable with experiential talk and men are not. The women decide that the men are failures as spiritual heads of the households. And it may not reflect any real deficit on the man's part. He's just wired for a different way of relating to spiritual things. It happens. If Jesus and the Bible resonate with him but the church they have chosen doesn't, this is often misinterpreted as spiritual immaturity when it is the opposite.
1:47 pm Pacific Standard Time
Thursday, October 12th, 2006
In her book The Feminization of American Culture, historian Ann Douglas tells the story of, as my book jacket describes it, "How the Victorian alliance between women and the clergy, and the popular literature to which that alliance gave birth, fostered a sentimental society and the beginnings of modern mass culture." Douglas studied under the late Perry Miller, an atheist historian who rehabilitated modern attitudes toward the puritans for at least several decades following the 1930's. From Miller and others, Douglas learned what it took to master the climate of thought in faraway times. She has more recently devoted her attention to the Cold War. In this book, however, we get to see some chapters in American religion that we might otherwise know little about. If the extent of our understanding is to think that we have our current time, and before it a stern Little House on the Prairie world, Douglas will tell us otherwise. The Puritans of old might see the yawning gulf between themselves on the one hand and both us and the Prairie church on the other, and fail to see much distance between the two forms of religion across the gulf. Unitarian clergy did much to fix that gulf, even where churches did not become Unitarian.
Here is what Douglas has to say about the nineteenth century:
Between 1820 and 1875, in the midst of the transformation of the American economy into the most powerfully aggressive capitalist system in the world, American culture seemed bent on establishing a perpetual Mother's Day. As the secular activities of American life were demonstrating their utter supremacy, religion became the message of America's official and conventional cultural life. This religion was hardly the Calvinism of the founders of the Bay Colony or that of New England's great eighteenth-century divines....By 1875, American Protestants were much more likely to define their faith in terms of family morals, civic responsibility, and above all, in terms of the social function of churchgoing. Their actual creed was usually a liberal, even a sentimental one for which Edwards and his contemporaries would have felt scorn and horror....Nothing could show better the late nineteenth-century Protestant Church's altered identity as an eager participant in the emerging consumer society than its obsession with popularity and its increasing disregard of intellectual issues.
[From Ann Douglas, The Feminization of American Culture (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977), pp. 6-7.]
Obsession with popularity. Well, at least we got over that one! I think my favorite turn of phrase, however, is the "perpetual Mother's Day." It stands for so many things. With the picture of aggressive capitalism, I have to imagine a greeting card company, where large presses noisily church out stacks of quaint-looking cards celebrating a non-industrialized world. This image stands for much of what our culture has become.
In my recent readings in John Taylor Gatto, I have found further connections. The same Unitarian clergy, the elite of their time, were behind such horrors as compulsory schooling. These were no marginalized heretics shivering in catacombs while the established church came around to haul them off to the rack. They were the cultural vanguard. Your education and my education were in large part designed by them (and later people) to form attitudes which would give our religion a particular place in society. This is not mere separation of church and state, which was around before they were. Perhaps separation of church and mind would be a better term for it.
11:22 am Pacific Standard Time
Monday, October 9th, 2006
Mystery Writer Dorothy L. Sayers once wrote a book called Have His Carcase, which was a play on the Latin legal term habeas corpus. Habeas corpus comes from the opening formula of a kind of document that has been around since medieval times. Even back then, long before the founding of America, it was recognized under common law that the detainee had rights. You had to charge the individual with a crime, and not simply detain them for no reason.
These days this doctrine comes up in discussion of detainees held by the American government. President Bush is trying to argue that since these people are prisoners of war, and not citizens, they don't have the rights guaranteed to us under the Constitution. I think he is wrong on many counts.
In the Kentucky Resolutions, Thomas Jefferson quoted the Bill of Rights against the Alien and Sedition Act. Even aliens were protected by an amendment which has provided that "no person shall be deprived of liberty without due process of law."
Second, behind the Constitution is the Declaration of Independence which calls liberty an inalienable right.
Third, previous to the Declaration of Independence is English Common Law. Habeas Corpus had been part of English Common Law. It is referred to as the law of the land in the Magna Carta of 1215. It may have long preexisted even that. The Magna Carta says "...no free man shall be taken or imprisoned or disseised or exiled or in any way destroyed except by the lawful judgment of their peers or by the law of the land." So imprisonment without a trial was not allowed.
It really bothers me that people see no trouble here. "But they're enemy combatants!" So try them as such. Surely we can afford to do this. "But we just know they're guilty and can't prove it!" Then how do we know they are guilty? Probably some of them are and some of them are not. Wouldn't it be better to sentence the guilty and release the innocent? But when we hold them without trial, our behavior is suspicious. People don't trust us because it appears that we are unwilling to bring things into the light of day.
What's next? Spectral evidence? "We can't afford to let them out because they have powerful witchcraft they might work among us." The nice thing about the witch trials is that most involved in them later repented. That is rare. Increase Mather even said during the trials that "it were better that ten suspected Witches should escape, than that one innocent Person should be Condemned." This Biblical ratio of justice was apparently informed by Abraham haggling over Sodom, arguing for God to spare the city if even ten righteous could be found within it. Do you not imagine that there may be ten innocent men at Guantanamo Bay? Why can't we charge them if it is so obvious that there are not even ten?
11:41 pm Pacific Standard Time
Wednesday, October 4th, 2006
ABC's 20/20 program is a favorite news show of mine. Even to say that I like a news show is rare. But John Stossel seems to find interesting subjects. A recent episode went over the differences between male and female brains. I find subjects like this fascinating. First off, I find brain research fascinating. I have read a lot on the subject, especially enjoying work by Antonio D'Amasio and V.S. Ramachandran. Secondly, I find the discussions of differences between men and women ring true. I'll admit there are lots of exceptions, and my key reason for wanting to know about the differences is not to place limits. But the differences really do matter.
My aunt was visiting a few years ago and bought us a book called Why Women Can't Read Maps and Men Don't Listen. Among other things it reminded me of how in elementary school my second grade teacher would occasionally test to see if the class was listening to her. The test usually occurred while we were working on something independently of her. (Our desks made a rectangle around the room, with her desk on the outside. She would stand up at an open end of the rectangle to talk, if I remember correctly.) She would say "If you're listening, kneel beside your desk." A few girls nearer to the teacher's desk would be kneeling. They were said to be "good" on account of this. The rest of us were bad because we didn't listen. I remember wondering how we were supposed to listen to her while we were doing something else. I didn't have a little piece of my brain that I could direct towards her desk while I worked on the task at hand. The book on brain research tells me that the girls did. So a woman teacher would expect her male students to be able to do the same. The nice thing is that teachers are being taught that they must first get the attention of the male students before expecting them to listen. This is a sane application of current research. There are likely a lot of these that can be applied both to make life easier on men and women.
Another insight that I've gleaned is when I think back to how I've been taught athletic skills. When I was seven, I had a woman tennis teacher. I could learn nothing from her. She turned a stroke into four to seven things you had to do. It was a list she told us. When you would try to hit the ball, she would list the one element you were doing wrong or were forgetting. It was always something. I wondered how I was supposed to be able to say each of these words in my head fast enough to do them all. Later, I had male tennis teachers. The instruction was more visual, less verbal. The instructor showed you what the stroke looked like. There was no list. If you missed it, he would show you again. I could learn from this. This has not been listed as a male/female difference, as far as I know, but another friend said this matched his experience with male and female dance instructors. The woman would offer verbal descriptions that he couldn't make sense of. The man would move him into the appropriate stance. It makes me wonder how women process this stuff.
Then again, Temple Grandin talked about her world as a high functioning autistic woman. In Animals in Translation she describes a world that is far more visual and far less verbal than that of other people. There are tradeoffs in leaning toward one end of the scale or other. "Verbal overshadowing" was a trait found in many normal people where their verbal account of what happened overpowers their sensory memory. This idea was quite illuminating to me. I know that there are people further to that end of the scale than I am. One friend who was very fond of the Analytic Tradition in philosophy was convinced that almost all philosophical mistakes were due to being tricked by language. My problem with some of his applications on me were that I couldn't be tricked by language, since my beliefs were based on something I was picturing. I could have been wrong, but not for the reason he thought. I'm more inclined to see people falling into other kinds of ditches. Thinking something is contradictory because the two points are expressed in apparently contradictory language. I try to picture both ideas and see if there is a problem picturing both. If there is not, the contradiction may be due to ambiguities in the language.
Temple Grandin said that she wasn't surprised by the dotcom bust. When people talked about all their online businesses, in most cases they offered her nothing to picture. There was no "business" in many of these cases. (And where there was, it was easy to picture it.)
This probably has some pretty major implications for how people are with feelings. I am one of those "men who isn't very good about talking about feelings." And I don't think it is because I don't have them, or because I'm nonverbal. (I write far too much for that!) Nor do I think they're nonsense. It's more that most emotional vocabulary doesn't quite do it for me. I was really happy when Robert Bly spoke of the "male mode of feeling." I knew that some of my problem was that great portions of the vocabulary of feeling are dominated by women, to describe their own feelings. Men haven't taken as much ground. Or when they have they've done it through another language: poetry and metaphor, or music.
I sometimes think that people get into the charismatic movement because the environment allows them to speak on a more intuitive level. The main problem for me was adding a "Thus saith the Lord" to it. But I think these people are reaching for a vocabulary they don't otherwise have.
9:37 pm Pacific Standard Time
Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006
There is a bill in Congress "to authorize trial by military commission for violations of the law of war, and for other purposes" that gives the government broad powers over enemy combatants. People can argue over whether or not they consider this a good idea. I happen to think it is a bad one. But in any case, I would like them to consider what a former president had to say about such ideas. But first some of the text of the bill relating to Habeas Corpus:
(1) No court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the United States who has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.
(2) Except as provided in paragraphs (2) and (3) of section 1005(e) of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 (10 U.S.C. 801 note), no court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider any other action against the United States or its agents relating to any aspect of the detention, transfer, treatment, trial, or conditions of confinement of an alien who is or was detained by the United States and has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination..
[Full text of the bill can be found here.]
The idea here is to make our habeas corpus laws inapplicable to those defined as enemy combatants. The argument is that these people are dangerous and we cannot afford to mess around with legal technicalities when so much is at stake. The problem is that there will be times when someone is wrongly accused of being an enemy combatant. Such persons are allowed no redress for the wrongs done to them. Habeas Corpus laws don't say you can never jail someone. They require that you charge them, though. It has to be possible to make a good case in the first place. Otherwise anyone can easily be accused of being an enemy combatant, and they never get to argue their innocence. Imagine this happened to you. Some government official decides to list you as an enemy combatant. When they haul you away, they don't even say to you "Tell it to the judge." No. You get locked up. That's it. Feel safer now?
Here's what Thomas Jefferson had to say:
"The Habeas Corpus secures every man here, alien or citizen, against everything which is not law, whatever shape it may assume." --Thomas Jefferson to A. H. Rowan, 1798. ME 10:61
So this applies to both alien and citizen.
"Why suspend the habeas corpus in insurrections and rebellions? The parties who may be arrested may be charged instantly with a well defined crime; of course, the judge will remand them. If the public safety requires that the government should have a man imprisoned on less probable testimony in those than in other emergencies, let him be taken and tried, retaken and retried, while the necessity continues, only giving him redress against the government for damages. Examine the history of England. See how few of the cases of the suspension of the habeas corpus law have been worthy of that suspension. They have been either real treasons, wherein the parties might as well have been charged at once, or sham plots, where it was shameful they should ever have been suspected. Yet for the few cases wherein the suspension of the habeas corpus has done real good, that operation is now become habitual and the minds of the nation almost prepared to live under its constant suspension." --Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1788. ME 7:97
Note well. Jefferson doesn't say the government has no tools to deal with such matters as insurrections and rebellions. He just insists that we cannot throw away the laws. Whenever it has been done, for the best of motives, history has later shown that people were terribly mistreated.
2:45 pm Pacific Standard Time