Monday, November 19, 2007

Getting Medieval

I am an adjunct college professor. It supplements my retirement, keeps me in touch with a wide variety of historical facts and keeps me young.

As other members of the professoriate know, grading papers is agony and ecstasy - unfortunately, mainly agony.

I bring this up because it seems to me to be primarily a function of student's secondary education. What I ask for is a relatively simple comparison of evidence between the pre-modern and modern eras (admittedly an an oversimplification) What is maddening is that so many students cannot deal with evidence - either analyzing it or effectively using it nor can they present a coherent answer to a (what is, at least in my mind) a fairly straight forward and unambiguous question. Finally, many of their language skills are very weak. How did we get into a state where most of a generation cannot analyze a question, clearly evaluate the available evidence, and order the evidence in a coherent, clearly argued paper.

I do not know what is taught in secondary schools (I live in Kentucky, where there is a requirement to submit a written 'portfolio'). What is in this portfolio is, based on my conversation with HS teachers whom I know, expressive prose. No analysis, no argument, no evidence.

I blame this on the collapse of the Trivium as a foundation of US education. Grammar - can you use the language correctly according to accepted norms (and I know that the idea of accepted norms is in peril); - logic: can you think clearly about a question on which evidence is either available or must be sought and the ability to weigh that evidence while acknowledging alternative arguments or evidence (and why you did not find it useful for your argument) and, finally, rhetoric. Can you use logic and evidence to present a convincing argument while being aware of the types of counter-argument that arrayed against it.

Maybe this is too much to ask. But a clear understanding of what secondary school should produce (leading to the curriculum that would produce it) seems to me best achieved by going back to basics.


Saturday, November 17, 2007

Partisanship - Can it end?

I ask this question not from some 'cumbyya', 'why can't we all just get along' desire for amiability and mutual self congratulation, but as a militant partisan. Recently on the 'Vast Right Wing Conspiracy' giant octopus of media hegemony, I heard the somewhat notorious question to John McCain "How do we beat the b....h" On another outlet of the 'Right Wing Hate Machine', a caller referred to Hillary Clinton as the 'anti-Christ'. Now as a student of the Reformation and the Wars of Religion, throwing around the term 'anti-Christ' is the mark of serious social and political schism. The next step is to refer to the Democrat Party as the 'whore of Babylon' As a partisan, there is a part of me that wants to get in touch with his inner 'Martin Luther' and affirm both these descriptions. I just wish it were not so in that this hyper-partisanship (for which I place most of the blame on the Democrats - no surprise there) is so self reinforcing.

I end up loathing and wishing maledictions on perhaps 40-45% of my fellow Americans and my attitude towards them is not one of shared concern for the future well-being of our country with different views on how to achieve that - although to say that these different views are such that they can be dispassionately argued on the merits is naive - I fear the gulf in attitude, world view, social and political philosophy and regard for international opinion and example are rapidly approaching the irreconcilable.

As the Bible before him, Lincoln said that a house divided against itself cannot stand. I am fearful that we are just such a house divided or are rapidly approaching it.
Looking for answers on PhDs

I am in the perhaps final stages of the stations of the cross of a PhD dissertation. The toll it has taken has been enormous - much of it my own fault and due to my own weaknesses - but not all.

I am wondering if any ABDs out there could share their experience. I have decided that I do not want to do research and frankly, historians (my doctorate will be in history, if it ever arrives) seem to have drained all the joy out of history - which to me is a crime.

I am fully prepared to be one of the undocumented aliens of the academic world - the adjunct. I guess I am looking for affirmation to say that this process is crazy and there is a life (with obvious limits) without the gown.

I fully recognize that no one may read this.


Monday, March 27, 2006

And the man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil

This is a bit late for the blogburst on Terri Schiavo but perhaps still useful and is part of a larger theme of mine.

As an adjunct history professor who does survey courses in Western Civ (or whatever other subject that needs doing and for which a paycheck will result) – one of the few jobs left in America where there is no shortage of U.S. citizens who will live an itinerant life for low wages – I have the challenge and privilege of trying to explain our civilization to young Americans and how it evolved in ways tha directly or indirectly shape their world and themselves. I might add that I take a certain subversive pleasure in extolling the majestic achievements of Christendom and the civilization that evolved with and from it (but no fairy tales or sugar coating either – the fallenness of man being one of the most useful interpretive tools I have)

I bring this up because I not only attempt to communicate important continuties but also the radically different world in which we live from all previous human experience. I tell my students that in many respects, their (my) lives are ahistorical.

The antibiotic divide is about 60 years old, the generalized acceptance of complete equality for women (much less open homosexuality as normative – spare me the tirades about the Greeks et al – as any sin, it was an inherent component of fallen man but its open acceptance has not been a generalized cultural given), the conquest of time, of space, famine (you have to take positive steps to ensure a famine will occur – which is differnent from crop failure – the food can be gotten anywhere on earh in sufficient qantities to eliminate or survive any incipient famine unless fallen man erects obstacles – see Sudan, etc). We have to some extent conquered weather – heated and cooled to within a degree of our desires anytime and many places. No generation of humans have lived in a world like ours.

Now most people would hold this to be good, and much good has come of it. I agree with most of this– believe me, I am as big a fan of air conditioning as you can find and would have been potentially dead several times over from things that are now considered minor injuries. My wife and daughter and I frequently marvel at the almost magical circumstances of our lives – we live lives that King Solomon (or Louis XIV) could only dream of or as we say we live better than kings and queens of Narnia.


Since the material conditions of our lives are ahistorical, but our fallen nature is still unchanged and the requirements of our God are unchanged – we face a set of ahistorical moral choices. I have been haunted over the last several years, as the the speed and quality of new material marvels increase, by Gen:3:21: 21 The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. 22 And the LORD God said, "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever."
This haunts me because it seems that technology has taken us beyond (or is taking us or potentially will take us) beyond our finite capacity to make moral choices. Terri Shiavo is a manifestation of that, but so are many others. A moral world, a Christian world, would have rendered aid to Terri Shiavo, but absent the material capacity that is very recent – she would have died because we lacked to power to alter the ending of life in her case. Now, and increasingly and increasingly rapidly, we can. The ultrasound and other medical tests can tell us about what sex and often what condition a child is in. Good comes from this in that action can be take to ameliorate pre-natal conditions, but since we can know what up until a generation ago only God knew, we now are faced with new moral choices – abortion for sex selection (one of the most interesting and potentially appalling global phenomena is the consequences of the global shortage of young women as social preferences have resulted in the disproportionate abortion of girls in nations with the largest and often fast growing populations). The list of other issues is long and well known – cloning, organ transplants (and the harvesting of organs or the taking of organs), extreme preventative measures, the wrath of Altzheimers and other diseases of the aging population/

This is not a Luddite rant or an argument for indifference – although I know that I will likely be accused of both – it is merely to know that with Terri Schiavo and all these other things that confront us – we are outside the pre-existing bounds of ethics – even Christian ethics. The moral choices we face are a moral terra incognita. I know several deeply Christian physicians, and they are very uneasy with this argument. For them, modern medicine is a gift from God that allows them to do good and to heal. I am not denying that or wishing or thinking that it would be better otherwise. But I do know that Christians are beginning to face an ever increasing number of moral choices that no other generation has faced before and must defend increasingly unpopular positions that seem to leave matters in God’s hands or not to violate His commandments regardless of the real benefits to others of doing otherwise. This is a tough choice – it is also ahistorical. And unfortunately, we are now at that place that God knew we would eventually get to – we have beomce like gods in our material capacities, but I am afraid our knowedge of good and evil will prove insufficient for our new powers.

I fear we have tough times ahead.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

On the Misuse or Abuse of Prior Military Service

I am getting more and more outraged by the seemingly generalized acceptance that prior military service (almost always decades ago) makes one immune to sharp criticism about their policies and positions in the here and now.

A few points – great courage is not always accompanied by great wisdom or an absence of selfish ambition, foolishness, egotism, or even evil. People can change over time and be one thing in their youth or in one life situation and quite a different person at a later age and in a different life situation.

I would think that we all know these things in general, but it does not appear to be so; at least with respect to political discourse.

I am referring the famous ‘he served his country’ defense or, more correctly, red herring when someone is attacking the dishonest, self serving or imbecilic policies of John Murtha, John McCain, and even a made for campaigning hero like John Kerry.

The fact that Murtha, McCain and Kerry chose to serve and served honorably (or not in the case of Kerry) in a war of 30 plus years ago seems to me to be absolutely irrelevant in attacking the folly of a particular policy position in a vastly different time, place and set of circumstances. If Murtha, by his proposal, risked betraying the lives of 2000+ young Americans on the eve of a historic victory that could transform an entire reason, the fact that he was a good Marine in Korea does not add merit to his case or even remotely constitute a defense against those who would attack him on the merits of the present situation.

The same is true with McCain. In terms of assessing John McCain’s actions or statements, that he was a naval aviator and POW is not relevant – what is relevant is McCain’s desire for personal fame, the relationship between his ambition and his loyalty to party and principle and his presidential aspirations. His POWness is likewise not relevant to assessing the wisdom of his every surprising policy proposal. Moreover, I do not think the fact that McCain knows first hand that torture is, well, tortuous, adds a great deal to our understanding that it is not a good thing nor is our current law against it (which is clear and specific) is improved by McCain’s dangerously vague but transparently political useful bill. Moreover, I noticed that his brave service as a sailor and his seven years as a POW apparently gave him sufficient time to conclude the 1st amendment for which he was ostensibly fighting, was primarily intended for flag burning, performance artists and obscene art and only secondarily to political speech that might inconvenience him and his incumbent buddies.

All of which is to say that if McCain is a disingenuous ambition schemer (and the military services have plenty of those; who knows I might have been one too, just not as good as McCain) who would sell out the 1st Amendment and current soldiers and intelligence agents so as to position himself for 08, than I do not give a damn if he was a sailor – that is what he was; what is relevant is what he is now. The same with Murtha or any other (obviously as a former soldier, this opens anyone to question my patriotism - but given the general nature of the Left's idea of discourse, I was not under the illusion that I was in any way protected). If their policies endanger the lives of America’s soldiers, compromise the basic constitutional protections of this country, opportunistically seek to betray millions of those who trusted us, those things seem to me to be unpatriotic – lacking a primary loyalty to the best interest of the country, and for those who out of political opportunism would sacrifice Iraq and who are (if not explicitly) encouraging our enemies to kill more soldiers or innocent civilians to provide the justification (or just partisan ammunition) so that they can ride a U.S. defeat to electoral victory – that fits at least one definition of treason –giving aid (subverting the political will to resist them) and comfort (the belief that their continued sacrifice can really achieve victory) to the enemy. It is painfully apparent that the entire macro-strategy of the Democratic leadership is to use Iraq as dishonestly and opportunistically as possible to achieve a political goal of regaining power – I am sure they would prefer to not lose another soldier – just a precipitous retreat would suffice – but to achieve that end – well just listen to their words.

I am not accusing McCain or Murtha of treason, although they no doubt know that they are indirectly in league with those who are, but I am accusing them of being unpatriotic – in the words of ‘America the Beautiful’ ‘they [do not] more than self their country loved’. Were they patriotic when in uniform, I have no reason to believe that they were not. But that was 30 years ago and things and people change – patriotism does not.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Social Justice – The Concept of the Fool in Christian thinking about Social Justice; Introduction.

We have had an ex-convict AIDS sufferer living with us off and on for the last six years and despite two miraculous healing (one of which is something of a mystery to the neurological community and is being studied to find a secular explanation – although I suppose by definition miraculous healings are always something of a mystery), is not progressing in his walk. Why do I bring this up? Because, in the many frustrating episodes we have had with this individual, he refuses to act like a responsible adult. There are a host of reasons why he would not, given a horrific background, but since we believe that this background does not constitute an obstacle to the healing power of Christ, the failure to make changes is a source of frustration.

In dealing with this man, I have found the Biblical concept of the ‘fool’ to be an immensely useful explanatory tool. I might add that I have found more than a few ‘foolish’ things in my life and when I look at the lives of people around me, their relative success or failure can often be traced to the behavior ascribed to the biblical fool.

This is even more the case when dealing with ‘dysfunctional people’ – exactly the sort of person for whom modern ‘social theory’ would find a multitude of causative excuses.

Given the axiom that being ‘made in God’s image’ conveys upon all men and women a special status – the falling short of which is an affront to God (and by way of reminder, it does not say, those saved are made in God’s image, but all are), part of Christian social ethics is to be emphatic that being a ‘fool’ is a defilement or debasement of a person made for a higher purpose – to comport him or herself in accordance with his intended purpose – subject to the limits of Fallenness.

It is a central tenet of my definition of biblical social justice (based on an argument that has not yet been made) to say that social justice is predicated first on the existence of effective prophylactic measures – things that prevent a person (made in God’s image and intended for some degree of commensurate nobility) don’t be a fool or a harlot.

Some of my more orthodox Reformed brothers (and perhaps others) would argue that, absent election, the it is a (a small pun intended) a fool’s errand to expect that those not redeemed by the Holy Spirit can be anything other than fools.

With respect to salvation, I agree; with respect to a Christian’s obligation to order the fallen world so as to achieve justice and mercy even for those who are not of the elect (and nowhere do I know of a distinction in our obligation to do justice and love mercy only for the elect), I absolutely disagree. Rather, the application of the moral principles that are conducive to a life that attempts to maximize a person’s potential to act in accordance with God’s image is to apply the concept of ‘common grace’. Principles that uplift, regenerate, protect and preserve, like rain, can fall on the just and the unjust alike.

So, in this introduction to the theme of the fool and social justice, there are two Biblical themes that are central. One is central to this whole argument and which (I fervently hope) protects me from the charge of theocratic thinking – that of Christian approach to social policy is an attempt at common grace – it is doing the best we as Christians know how to create a more just world. It is Christianity as a form of social science (actually a number of forms)

The second concept is that of the ‘fool’. That is what the next essayette will try to articulate. How does the concept of the ‘fool’ apply in creating a just society? In so far as the ‘fool’ is not highly regarded in Scripture (particularly in Proverbs), part of the challenge is to be able to define what a fool looks like (and Scripture says much on this) and then what social obligations a system of Christian social justice would have regarding said fool.

As noted, the idea of the fool has two elements – the most important one with respect to creating a just society is reducing the number of fools to an absolute minimum – this is preventative social justice. The second is how to deal with the fools that could not be prevented. As will be seen, Christian social justice with regard to the second category will appear to many to be ‘blaming the victim’, at the very least.

As already stated, the fool is not a victim (not in Scripture anyway) but a person who chooses to lead a life that is contrary to the wisdom of God (defined here as an aspect of common Grace). If foolishness or non-foolishness is not a function of election (and I believe that the use of that term in Proverbs – where it is predominantly found - would substantiate this), than one of the first steps in assessing social justice in accordance with Biblical understandings of judging human behavior is to determine if the action being judged is the result of a ‘fool’.

More to follow.

A note to readers, if any.

I know that blogs are supposed to be much more hare-like and timely than my somewhat glacial pace. I wish I could devote more time to this and, if I were to be a really successful person I would find the time to do more. But I teach a full load and am attempting to finish my dissertation so I am somewhat pressed for time and also just plain pressed in general. So, at the current pace (or lack there of – almost more of a heartbeat than a pace), if you care to see what’s new – it will be posted in the Christian Carnival.

Again, I sincerely welcome criticism. My Blog is actually more of a work in progress to which I accept any well intentioned contributions; than a rapid response endeavor.


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Why It is Not Just Wrong But Dangerous to Defend the Nomination of Harriet Miers because she is an ‘Evangelical Christian’

I have the good fortune to be able to listen to Hugh Hewitt while I drive back from a teaching job I have about an hour and a half away from home. I hear him on a Christian station, and I am a fairly regular reader of his blog. I mention this because Mr. Hewitt seems to be part of a group of Christian Conservatives who seem to believe that assurances that Harriet Miers is an evangelical Christian who, for religious reasons, would vote to overturn Roe v Wade is a good thing.

I could not disagree more. I believe that the mere suggestion that Ms. Miers would consider overturning Roe v Wade due to her religious beliefs is not only an unacceptable way for a person who is sworn to uphold the duties of a secular position to behave but it would be a disaster for both evangelicals and the eventual demise of Roe v Wade.

First, and this may be an unpopular position (I know that my wife would take exception), Ms. Miers may be a fine member of the Body of Christ, and I am glad if she is, but her religious beliefs have no place in the interpretation of a secular document. The U.S. Constitution is a product of man and not God, its principles (while clearly reflecting the benefits of a Christian culture) are not explicitly Christian. Therefore, Christian theology is not a valid basis for opposing Roe v Wade in terms of the constitutional basis for deciding it. Christian views on the sanctity of life are irrelevant in determining if the meaning and intention of the founders with respect to the right to privacy (an implied right at best with the exception of the 5th Amendment) and, if such a privacy right can properly be found in the Constitution the extent and boundaries of that right. This is a matter for scholars of secular constitutional theory and history. I am not saying that an evangelical Christian cannot do this, merely that one does not do it as an evangelical Christian, just as one does make medical decision differently if one were a Christian doctor (unless there is a moral question involved, but that does not change the technical procedures that the doctor would perform if he or she found that it was morally acceptable). To make a decision on the Constitution based strictly on Christian moral principles is as much an abuse as a secular progressive basing his interpretation of the Constitution based on his own set of preferred value outcomes. They are both warping the meaning to achieve an extra-constitutional objective.

What if a strict evangelical jurist held that the 1st Amendment did not apply to speaking ill of your father and mother – clearly a very serious sin, punishable by death. I believe many people (including me) would hold that that jurist, however correct the theology of not speaking ill of your parents, had improperly limited the clear intent of the Constitutional right to free speech.

In contrast, an evangelical Christian should hold that Roe v Wade is unconstitutional because it is almost universally held (even by many who support the outcome of it) to be one of the worst constitutional decision ever made, not as a matter of morality, but as an abuse of the power of Constitutional interpretation and of deeply flawed legal reasoning that is completely unmoored from accepted principles of constitutional interpretation.

The greater danger of a having a justice who seems to indicate that she would be led by her religious beliefs and not by her respect for and understanding of proper constitutional theory, is that it would complete de-legitimize any overturning of Roe v Wade and would provide limitless fodder to those who argue that Justice Miers is imposing her religious values on the U.S. – and they would be right to argue this. No matter how much evangelicals are misrepresented in their desire to make a more justice and merciful society through the only proven method – the application of the teachings of Jesus Christ and the moral redemption that comes through His saving grace - or their desire to stop an abominable practice, the fact remains that the separation of church and state would clearly be violated if any Supreme Court justice argued that Christian doctrine was the basis for holding a particular position in a case before the court. I may like the outcome, but I could not defend the means. It is illegitimate. If we want to have society behave in a way that is compatible with Christian morality, we have to do it retail; by changing the hearts of individual Americans. We cannot do it by fiat. If we were to do so, then almost every charge the secular world makes about our supposed propensity for theocracy would be, at least in part, true. Therefore, we would be no better off nor would our argument be any more legitimate (from a secular legal point of view) than Harry Blackmun’s reasoning that supported Roe.

We do not need to take that risk and we would lose more than we would gain. Again, I am glad Harriet Miers is a devout Christian, but she is being considered for the U.S. Supreme Court – not the Sanhedrin.

Supreme Court Judges Should be Elites

Reading the NRO Corner (as well as Hugh Hewitt and others – actually almost everyone in the Conservative blogosphere), I was a little taken aback by the discussion of ‘elites’ and how to recogniz e them. This is part of the ongoing dialog/tribe regarding Harriet Miers. First, I was puzzled by the notion that elite status is self defined – as in you can tell someone is an elite if they drink bottled water or drive a Volvo (with Kerry/Edwards or, even better, Gore/Lieberman bumper stickers) or read the Nation. As one of the people in the discussion noted, this is a way of increasing the probability of correctly identifying a liberal (an idea with which I agree), but, to me, it is an utterly useless way to find a member of any elite – it is a much better way of finding a part time check out person at a local coffee shop/book store.

Part of this seems to be an admission (perhaps grudging) that we on the Right have accepted that we are not in the elite and our battle is not with flesh and blood but with powers and principalities (the New York Times); or to use to words of a respected public philosopher ‘the people versus the powerful’.

There may be some utility in defining elites to mean entrenched interests and persons with power. But it is not a good definition of an elite in my view. Rather, we should use elite in the sense that we generally think it ought to be used and which some on the Right consider to be one outcome of a properly ordered society – an elite is a person at the upper end of a meritocracy in which ability, energy and accomplishment bring recognition and success. This is a value neutral definition in that there can be elite criminals, pornographers and left wing writers as well as philosophers, historians, artists (performance and otherwise) and right wing writers or even, just writers per se. Obviously, I would not place the various elites as equally worthy of consideration, but that is a value judgment and I am not afraid of those. In any event, an elite ought to be one who demonstrates ‘excellence’ - arête in the classical Greek sense. Moreover, this is not a question of where someone is from – academically or financially or culturally; but what they have done in life. It is for the Daniel Patrick Moynihans of our nation. I might add that Andrew Fastow – a true elite in the world of advanced financial chicanery – went to a very modest school as did an other acknowledged elite – Jonah Goldberg – alumnus of Grenier (?) Collge. I am sure many of those we legitimately call elites – people of true attainment came from modest or humble backgrounds and went to other than Ivy League schools; while the list of failures who have the advantages of wealth and privilege is legion – the whole Kennedy clan is certainly an example of the capacity of wealth and privilege to produce mediocrities in terms of substantive achievement.

So, elites are really not hard to find and they occur anywhere on the political dial. Buckley, Krauthammer, Robert Samuelson, Will, Goldberg, Blankley, Malkin, Reynolds, the Powerline people, JPod, Kristol, Himmelfarb, Barone, and many others all should be called elites – demonstrating the arête of the Right. And it is proper that they should be the first considered to speak for us – as they are. I am on the Right and am a writer of a blog (I use Captain Hook to track my hits on his fingers). I am not read nor has anyone asked me to speak for the Right. I would love to do so, but I have not yet, and may never (smart money) demonstrate the excellence that would make me a suitable spokesperson or perhaps just the sort of spokesperson the Left would want – a sort of cut rate Jerry Falwell.

What does the preceding have to do with Harriet Miers? Well, it seems to me that anyone appointed to the Supreme Court – like anything that carries with it both great responsibility and lifetime tenure, should be an elite – a person of demonstrated excellence in the field to which that person is appointed. It is the idea of tenure that makes elitism so important. We can rid ourselves of poseurs and pretty boys (persons) in electoral office if we have a mind to every two to four years. It would be nice if our elected officials demonstrated excellence (which, in my view, Bush does – he has a form of moral arête that is his most striking feature) but should they fall below the standards acceptable to the American electorate – in some cases a long perhaps bottomless fall – they can be dispensed with. Their fitness for the job is manifested in the job and should they fail, they can be fired.

Not so the Supreme Court. The job is intellectually demanding and is not (despite perhaps some people’s wishes) the sort of thing that would permit just picking up the document and trying to apply ‘plain hobbit sense’ to it. It has a history and a body of scholarship and decisions that cannot be ignored. One does not have to agree with something to know one cannot ignore it. For instance, I am still puzzled how the 2nd Amendment’s clear linkage of a militia and the right to bear arms leads to my right to have a 12 gauge under the bed. I am glad that it did, but the path that decoupled the militia idea and the right to bear arms for reasons completely unrelated to militia service is not self evident. Nor is the pernicious evolution of the establishment clause one that ‘plain sense’ can unravel.

Thus, the supremely important business of protecting our most basic rights and properly adapting our fundamental law to a rapidly changing world is not one that seems to a proper place for just good lawyers or decent people or even ‘evangelical Christians’ (note: I am one) but for people of demonstrated excellence in a demanding and vitally important area in which a mistake cannot be retrieved or only with difficulty and enormous cost (30 million babies and counting)

Moreover, the requirement for an elite in the job is not just so that they might render intellectually sound and defensible decisions. Rather you need constitutional elites on the court because they do more than just vote – they define, refine, revise or defend particular philosophical ideas that shape how the law is seen. Their words have lasting value and form the basis on which a body of constitutional theory can either be advanced, protected or even restored. Because of the intellectual importance of this task of articulating a view of the rule of law and the proper role of various branches of government and of preserving the fundamental meanings and protections of the Constitution, it seems to me that only the very best minds who have demonstrated during a lifetime of accomplishment that they have the attributes to equal to the task of not just rendering a proper judgment but articulating persuasively the intellectual and philosophical basis of that decision. Moreover, they have to persuasively demonstrate the dangers that lie in attempting to apply alternative visions of Constitutional interpretation that result from the frenzied dreams of progressive possibility that lie in the belief that the rule of law lies helpless at your feet to do with as you will.

Perhaps the saddest thing in this whole Miers affair is the suggestion that a woman of enormous accomplishment and the highest character and rectitude – a person admirable in every way as a lawyer and a human being – is being portrayed as a mediocrity. Nevertheless, I cannot support her because, while she is clearly among the elite of corporate lawyers and perhaps, of Christian saints, she is not even in the running for consideration in a line of work which she chose not to pursue – conservative constitutional scholarship. To do the work of a conservative on the Supreme Court and to leave the enduring mark and to shift the direction of constitutional thought in America requires a member of a rather small elite - the very best Constitutional thinkers we can find. And Harriet Miers is not among them.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Here it goes - the big project - 'Christian Social Justice'

As I indicated in my introductory posting, one of my most intense interests is in articulating an orthodox Christian position on what is called 'social justice'. I have been noting for a while now the Left's self congratulatory use of this term and have become more angry with each passing encounter. The anger stems from two reasons.

1. The Left has no coherent idea of what is meant by this term and they have appropriated it as a useful political slogan, and as such it need have not specific meaning other than we don't like the fact that society has some less well off and it is someone else's fault, and the justice exists in finding those that have what the others lack, assigning blame for the lack to those that have (justice as a zero sum game) and then, given the policy and the power, to arrange for a redistribution. But since I believe that there is relatively little utility in attempting to engage the Left (and it, like the devil in my beloved Middle Ages), hates to be mocked, it should be dismissed and treated with contempt - it is not entitled to any respect on its intellectual merits or its results,

2. Much more importantly, however, is that orthodox Christians need to reclaim this term and give it the kind of rigorous analysis and careful articulation of what social justice should mean and what sorts of policies would bring it about. That is my objective.

Now, I am aware that there is a long and distinquished tradition of Catholic thought on the question of social justice - a mere google of 'social justice' reveals that. Moreover, the late 19th century/early 20th century doctrines of the 'social gospel' is something in which Christians should take some pride (with some theological reservations particularly about the evolution of the social gospel theology). [Purely political note: I believe that conservative Christians have overlooked or minimized the appeal and pedigree of social gospelChristianity - and in fact, most churches I know - orthodox conservative churches - are fully committed to the social gospel but as part of a larger vision of the Christian call in which good works are a means to an end; not the end itself. What makes this political is that I argue that those who think that Hillary will be revealed as some sort of liberal religious charlatan - a glib triangulizer like her husband(?) who had the rap (1960s term for speaking) of southern religion as a second language - are in for a surprise - I suspect that Hillary's bona fides as a social gospel Christian may be much stronger than her husband's were as a Baptist - she has both the rap and actual religion even if the orthodox may disagree with her). Plus it is tricky to argue against a real social gospel Christian when supporting 'faith based initiatives'. I think that the orthodox response should be that a social Gospel which does not put at its center the redeeming power of Christ may be good social policy but not Christianity. This distinction may well be lost on many Americans when a life long commitment to 'feeding the poor' is portrayed. End of political aside]. Having acknowledged that elements of modern Christianity have given the term 'social justice' much careful thought, I will be arrogant enough to suggest that they have deviated from orthodoxy in their zeal to aid the afflicted and, by that deviation, have separated themselves from both the one means of real redress - salvation - and also from the intellectual foundations that would have allowed them to arrive at solutions that might actually offer something more than short term palliatives that, like most liberal social policy (of which I will argue both Catholic social justice theory and contemporary 'social gospel' theology are merely sub-sets) actually make the problem worse. Because they have separated from the axioms of Biblical understanding, they necessarily will reach incorrect conclusions no matter how well intentioned.

So, in what will be a long internal meditation, I hope to define social justice - at least to my own satisfaction, if no one else's. However, as this is a blog my hope is that as I grope towards my definition, I will have a lot of help. Not because I am intellectually lazy (although there is an element of truth to this, at least with respect to research into secular thought on social justice and even in depth study of alternative Christian concepts) but because a vigorous dialog and critique by the many exceptionally informed fellow believers can be of immense help. As anyone who has read the forward to any academic writing knows, very few works are the product of one person alone, but reflect the thought and thoughtful criticism of well meaning people whose opinion the author has reason to trust. The difference with the Internet is that I have not yet met them, but I know they are there.

I recognize that one could argue that I have appropriated 'orthodox' as arrogantly and without clarification as I accuse the Left of (mis)appropriating 'social justice'. So, I will make a first attempt to address this fair comment. By orthodox I mean in full agreement with the Nicean Creed and Chalcedonian Christology as writen and literally read. It also requires that one accept fully the inerrant fundamental truths of Scripture. By fundamental truths, I mean that whether one is an absolute literalist (and I am not one), the first step in Biblical understanding is to accept the text as literally true; and when there are problems with a strict literal interpretation, one move to the closest metaphorical or analogous interpretation possible to the literal text. A perfect (to me) and timely example is Genesis 1: 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth'. Whether one is a six day literalist or a big bang supporter, an orthodox Christian accepts that in some way that is not crystalline clear or devoid of ambiguity and may in fact be a form of cosmological analogy as written in Scripture, of this one is certain - that the God defined in the Bible created the Heavens and the Earth. Timing, physics etc may remain a mystery, but the author of the universe is not. For those who say 'not good enough - theo-wannabee' , probably not, but it is an adequate start and I do not intend to get dragged into the fever swamps of credal beliefs and dogma - those are debates that have raged for millenia in some cases, and it is secondary to my purpose. Those who accept Nicaea as a clear and adequate articulation of Christian orthodoxy will perhaps allow this to pass. Those who want to argue about my definition of orthodoxy will be considered only insofar as those questions influence the purpose of defining Christian 'social justice'. If some reads this and starts laughting hysterically over such incredible naivete and pride - that I can gloss over what is orthodoxy in a brief paragraph - I would ask your forgiveness and more importantly your wisdom and insight. But I will not be diverted from my purpose, which is not defining orthodoxy but 'social justice'

So why so hung up on social justice? Because it is a command from God that we care deeply about social justice and not be put off by the fact that others are trying to do it also. I knew a pastor who was so opposed to the politics of the environmental movement (I share some of those feelings) that he decided that it was his duty to oppose them - not to offer a better (more
Biblical) solution. Likewise, that I see nothing but increased misery and human degradation in the policy prescriptions of secular and non-orthodox Christian social policy which aspires to achieve social justice, does not mean that I should merely oppose it, but rather I need to find a better and truer way. Why - Micah 1:8
He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

That is a command - the Lord requires it of me - that I do justice and love mercy.

The question is how do I do this and what would actual policies look like that reflect ths command. That is what I seek.

As my blog states - I am a political Conservative. But I am a Christian first. I believe that there is a high degree of congruence between a properly defined Christian 'social justice' and posiitons that are within the mainstream of current conservative political thought (but not complete congruence). However, a number of conservative blogs (and contributors to blogs) have shown, Christian conservatism is not universally loved and accepted by all other Conservatives (I have seen some RINO sites which are pretty explicit about wanting to have nothing to do with Christian conservatives). So, am I just a Christian values conservative/zealot fundamentalist anti-Christ to all libertarians hold dear and is anything I say irrelevant to those who are not Christian. Well some parts are, but one point in at least Calvinist theology is the idea of Common Grace - the Lord's provision for all mankind - the classic example is that the Lord permits rain on the just and the unjust alike. I might add that one of the central themes in my search - an axiom - is that all people are created in God's image (whether they believe in
God or not) and therefore, are of infinite worth and intended for dignity. Their degradation is not an acceptable status for what God intened to reflect his glory. So, Christian social justice aims at the elevation of people to as close an approximation of the glory as the human condition allows. But the human condition is another chapter.

So, if I succeed in at least gaining a little short term visibility of this project, I will be and welcome being a self hanging pinata. Whack away - severely but politely please, as I aspire to do as well.

Thanks for your help and insight. Please forgive my spelling (I cannot make my spell check work) and occasionally imprecise grammar. That which I do not want to do, that is what I do.