Missing the Obvious in the Senate

So Mr Sanders demonstrates the unfortunate choice in an interview on a minor post which has gotten news. Here the term “unfortunate choice” refers to a local phrase which gets repeated on this site. A choice, as in, “Is he stupid or evil?”. So which is it Mr Sanders? Are you dumb or just playing at dumb and are actually demonstrating evil-in-action? In an interview of a minor executive post nominee Mr Sanders pretends at naivete asking the nominee if he actually believes run-of-the-mill Evangelical soteriology. The nominee falls for the gambit and seizes (poorly in this writers view) at an attempt to Christian witness and doesn’t deny his beliefs (for which we might give half a thumbs up). Alas, the “falls for” is still there. The nominee missed the chance to ask Mr Sanders two things, being firstly how is this not an obvious religious test (a Constitutional and frankly assumed to be an American ethical no-no) and secondly which none commenting on the fallout of this exchange has noticed and is perhaps more important. Secondly … what is the obvious connection assumed but not stated logical connection linking Christian, or for that matter any religious, doctrine on soteriology have to do with public policy? How do you get from soteriology => policy => bigotry? I’m missing any link there.

Just a slight jump

For Mr Sanders and those supporting his notions that this particular belief is “bad” (see for exmple this post .. I can’t figure out if the author of the post approves or disapproves of Mr Sanders’ line of questioning) … an answer to the question why do you think that particular soteriological stance (Jesus is the only path to salvation) implies particular bias in policy? How do you leap from soteriology to policy?

A analogy perhaps might be illustrative. A pre-school teacher has in her class two children. One child she believes tonight will have invited to a grand ball, comfort, and a great party. The other is returning to an abusive parent and a home of poverty. She is not in a position to affect or remark on the evening outcome. However, which child is she likely to be more solicitous to in regard to the things she can do for those children in class. Which child is she more likely to favor in her class policies?

Seems to me our nominee’s favoritism might be more not less inclined to be generous to the non-Christian that not. Bigoted indeed.

Finally. No. One is not “bigoted” if one believes only those professing faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God will be saved. One is actually bigoted if they believe those who profess such a belief are themselves bigoted or racist (and Mr Sanders that includes you). And Mr Sanders which are you? Stupid or evil? Pick one.

And a final disclaimer. My personal soteriological belief is that Jesus will decide who will be saved and that in the here and now discussions of who will and won’t be saved are fruitless and often harmful.

A Wrong (but very common) Notion

Take two sets of actions and deeds, in the first set we have “things which are moral” in the second “things which are legal”. There may be overlap. Observing the fights about various things in our (mostly urban/rural cultural divide for which party serves as proxy) like marriage, divorce, abortion and so on .. many if not most people confuse the two and figure what overlap there is (most killing for example) is intentional and what is moral and what is legal in a “good” society would be a very close if not exact match. This. Is. Wrong. Very wrong. It is an unconstitutional and un-American idea.

Here’s the thing. The purpose of the law is to structure our society to promote life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (and happiness != pleasure but the meaning Aristotle and the like intended).  This structuring of law as constructed in our country leaves morality out of the metaphysical framework underpinning it. “Life, liberty and the pursuit …” is not the 10 commandments. It isn’t a call to act rightly. It isn’t a prescription of how to act or think. Our law is not encoded so that we will be righteous by what ever meta-ethic you or I live by. But free, alive, and able to pursue excellence.

This isn’t precisely true however. You notice our founders made particular exceptions for freedom of religion and the law subsequently has made a point to encourage religious practice. Many, especially of the academic left and press think religion and it’s place in our society is a relic and it’s time has passed. It might be worth noting a really good start in this discussion which shouldn’t be ignored is first to read through this discussion. Then argue from there.

This realization that law and morals (personal ethics) are independent has consequences. For example,

  1. For most, what is moral should take precedence. If you must do something because it is right, you must do it even if it is illegal.
  2. Take abortion as an example. If you think abortion is immoral, don’t do it and don’t advise those around you to do it. If you want to argue that it should be illegal those arguments shouldn’t center on how it is immoral but how it doesn’t exactly give a chance at, erm, life, liberty and pursuits to those who are among the weakest and smallest in our midst (there’s a Rawlsian argument to be made there). You could point out that excluding people from personhood based on particulars of their existence and not the ontology of their being has a very poor history of human rights vis a vis the 20th century. There may be good arguments on the other side of this question, but they are not known to me so I won’t attempt that. Similar “life &c” argument can be made with respect to most, if not all, of those things over with the rural/urban cultural divide quarrels.
  3. Moral instruction for children, an essential responsibility of parents, is quintessential. This is the most important thing a parent can impart to their child. Why? Because the civil environment (law) does not do that. But you can’t be happy (see link above) without ethics. After all ethics can be succinctly coined as a study in what is good (and doing that). Without know what excellence is, how can you be happy?

Continuing Musings on Government and Spirit

Much if not most of the hard divisions between right and left these days goes back to the often mentioned (by me) Habermas/Ratzinger debate. Mr Lieter has tossed a book into the fray, which was discussed in First Things. Mr Lieter questions the practice of government protection/privilege of religion, alas apparently without establishing a clear victory for the Habermas side of the debate previously noted. This continues the prior essay in which I started out in the essay with the idea that thinking personal moral beliefs (which we will abbreviate in the following as EMS for ethical/moral/spiritual which in turn follows Dimitru Staniloae’s book which notes that spiritual = moral/ethical far more closely than in Eastern than Western thought patterns). One of the discoveries, for me, was that my assumption on the start of penning that former essay was that the American assumption with which I was raised, namely that personal EMS notions do not mix with legal/state ones is likely flawed. However, I did not address or question (yet) the fitness of that the separation question (or for a future essay perhaps whether the suspicion that I have that the correctness of this separation is a key aspect of the left/right divide).

So, let’s follow a bit with the idea that the core notion in many if not most of the societal debates we are having right now hinge on the place in public square for personal or communal EMS thought. The two extreme positions in this debate are those which maintain that EMS is required or that it should be completely divorced from the public square, law, and government. There are arguments for both, but what is missed is by the extremists is that alternatives exist. But first, let’s examine the actual not pretended extremes. Far too often both sides are guilty of painting a straw man extreme as the nominal “other” side. But alas, for both sides, more moderate positions exist on both sides at which points the debate should be centering but isn’t. Perhaps because demonizing the opposition is far easier than confronting more reasonable ideas.

So we are going to identify six “positions” in the Habermas/Ratzinger political spectrum. There are two extreme straw man positions, there are two extreme positions which are held by many (not straw men) and there are two moderate positions on each side. Habermas and Ratzinger in their debate argued around the two moderate positions, btw.

The extreme H (Habermas) position is to insist on complete divorce/separation from the ethical/spiritual and government. Those things which are moral or ethical should not be used as reasons in government or law. Examples of this are rampant. Just witness the allergic reaction by some to incidental expressions of religion by government (10 commandment or Christmas displays for example which might occur on state properties). This side would hold that your particular ethical/spiritual/moral beliefs are personal. They shouldn’t be used as arguments or even mentioned in the halls of state (in Babylon after all where particular notions must always give way to abstract or consequential ones, which are all that are left after the ethical/spiritual ones are removed from play). What then is the extreme straw-man H stance, that would be the one where expressions of public EMS beliefs are illegal, where priests get sent to mine minerals in Kolyma in the archipelago. It is a real historical non-fictional existence, just one that nobody reasonable on the H side of the debate is actually advocating, hence it’s a straw man.

That same (dominant) voice would hold that the other extreme is some sort of theocratic backwoods unenlightened, inwards looking space. But this isn’t so. That too is a straw man. Yes in fact there have been mono-religious oppressive states.  So what?  This is the bogey man raised by many arguing against the R case, but again it’s a straw man. What then is the extreme R position that isn’t a straw man? I don’t know. Nobody debating against the R position argues against it, they move directly to the “theocracy” bugbear. Few, if any, in the US argue for anything I’d identify as a extreme R position? Comments or assistance in this regard might help some, I have a weak suggestion below … is that right?

So then, what in fact is the opposite number. Well, read the debate. What is the normal moderate Ratzinger state? It is one where the government realizes that the spiritual/moral/ethical life is *required* for a Democratic state to continue. What then is concluded? Just that therefore the members of that same state should find it natural to foster an environment where that life is encouraged and nurtured so that their society might prosper.

In some countries (very few in number) the religious beliefs of its constituents are predominantly of the same faith. This isn’t the case in Babylon, a community in which people from many nations, many people come together in one society. So the question at hand for those honestly participating in the H/R debate is to consider what these two states look like, for in fact they aren’t as different as one might pretend, the only difference is quite minor.

Both states (the moderate H and R) are by the thesis the argument are democratic. They have similar institutions, the only difference is that the H position holds that independent ethical/moral/spiritual (EMS) institutions are not required to keep the democratic regime functioning and the R position is that they are required. The extreme H position is that the EMS institutions, should be held at arms length, the moderate one that they should be given no advantage and not protected (the extreme straw man H position is that EMS institutions should be held as harmful and perhaps made illegal). The R extreme is that EMS institutions have legal standing and powers, the moderate R position is that that members of the society should realize that these institutions are essential, need to be protected, fostered, and nurtured and as noted, the extreme straw man R side is an actual not pretended theocracy.

So now that we have set the stage, …. the next essay might consider how this might affect our actual debates if cast from a moderate on moderate stances instead of straw man on moderate in either direction.

To Sign or Not to Sign
A Reply to Mr Turk

The occasion of the Manhattan declaration has been one in which a number of evangelicals, the very active Frank Turk at Evangel, has decided that the primary reason he will not sign is that it was done in concert with Roman Catholics, and apparently even worse than that, with the Eastern Orthodox. His point of view, and in fact his very reason for not signing has a number of prominent bloggers and those who self-label as Evangelicals who share his point of view. He writes:

I’ve said it elsewhere, so it should be no surprise when I say it here that I am sure there are Catholics who are saved, and likewise for the occasional Eastern Orthodox you may run into who exercises an Evangelical (large “E” intended) understanding of Jesus and the consequences of Him; but to throw out the wide blanket and just call all of these groups “Christian” in an overly-broad sociological sense, and to call all of them “believers” in the sense required to make the rest of the reasoning in this document is much.

This, to my ears, sounds very Pharisaic. Here we have Mr Turk standing in judgement of the whole of Catholicism and Orthodoxy and finding them wanting … except those few who secretly are “Evangelical.” Well, fortunately (apparently) for me, Mr Turk is not my judge, for I have a Judge already. It seems to me the Gospel has a few things to say about those trying to put themselves in the place of that Judge. Continue reading →

Church and State: Exodus and the Modern Ideologies

Well, one benefit of excess time in airports and planes … is I’m getting some sleeping and a lot of reading done. I’ve finished the new uncensored In the First Circle by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and  The Unlearned Lessons Of the Twentieth Century by Chantal Delsol. The latter of these books pointedly demonstrates that the political and moral philosophies which led to the great human tragedies of the 20th century have not been abandoned. The former highlights life in the maw of one of those tragedies, that being life the “first circle” in Stalin’s gulag hell. Ms Delsol writes (pg 165-6):

The equality of collectivism was a fetish, and now hman rights have been reinvented as a fetish. The twenty-first century wil have to destroy idolized images of the Good just as the ancient iconoclasts destroyed images of God — not that they stopped believing, but they rightly saw these descriptions of God as diminishments that threatened his transcendence. The idolaters in the book of Exodus (20:4-5) prefigure the modern ideologies in the sacralization of the immanent. The texts in the Old Testament on the prohibition of idols, and Kant’s writings on the human ignorance of the Good, stigmatize certain permanent temptations of human thinking, ones that returned in full force in the totalitarianisms of the twentieth century. We have yet to call them into question.

[…]

It is, however, difficult to see how the destruction of idols could be accomplished without openness toward the spiritual. The suppression of spiritual referents is precisely what conferred on secular referents their abusive status as absolutes. The return of spiritual referents alone would make possible the destruction of idols: idolatry cannot be avoided except through the recognition of transcendence.

It might be noted, that while Ms Delsol’s essay certainly indicates she is friendly to and appreciative of the Christian religious tradition, to my reading she does not present herself as a member of it. It is also interesting that I flagged this page to note … and with myself being an iconodule.

Closed Communion and the UN

One of the defining differences between right and left today in the US is that the left is enamoured of the UN while the right thinks it mainly an execrable waste of time, money, and resources of which not the least is mention bandwidth on the global stage. For the most part, I don’t want to concentrate (with one exception at the end of this piece) on Mr Obama’s speech to the UN, which can be found here. Unlike his predecessor, Mr Bush, Mr Obama had nothing but nice and complementary things to say about the UN, which at the very least supports the statement made in the opening. One of the primary complaints that the right has about the UN is that it has a completely open membership. Dictatorships have equal voice with Democracies. Free societies with closed. Coercive with (mostly) non-coercive. For the left, somehow this is not a fault but a feature. For the right, as a feature, it is sort of like more like the “smell feature” the outhouse has over the water closet. Continue reading →

Church and State

Jonathan Rowe at Positive Liberty writes about Church and State (and his motivations for a long standing series of essays):

My own reason for debunking the Christian Nation thesis is I think sectarian religious passions in politics are dangerous, I want to quell that zeal, and see religious conservatives adopt a more live and let live attitude on cultural issues.

Conventional wisdom of today is in fact right in line with Mr Rowe’s thesis, i.e., that church and state must stay separate or great dangers lurk down that path. Continue reading →

On Byzantium: A First Look and … the poor

Recently (last week), it had occurred to me that while we look to Western European history and (Western) Rome and the Greece around the time of the Peloponnesian War to form the majority of our analogies and intuitions about political systems and theories. However, Byzantium stood for a millennia, had multicultural roots and influences but is left out. As an example, when church/state entanglements are noted as necessarily bad it might be noted that those entanglements were part and parcel of the Byzantine polis however why are the Reformation driven Wars the only instances noted of such entanglements. It might be said that the church/state entanglements sullied the church in Byzantium … but the question remains of what was the effect on the state? As a response last week, I was pointed to a number of excellent resources to begin familiarizing myself with Byzantine history. Today two arrived (one of which actually was not recommended but I impulsively got anyhow at Amazon).

Today I begin with the non-recommended book (it’s shorter). 🙂 It is set out in chapters discussing facets of Byzantine life and people. These include: the poor, the peasant, soldiers, teachers, … and so on. I begin with the poor (below the fold).

Continue reading →